pratibandha-s – part 1 of 7

Here begins the promised article on pratibandha-s. It is actually one of the topics in the book that I am currently writing called ‘Confusions… for the seeker in Advaita Vedanta’. The book will be in two volumes: Vol. 1 – Knowledge, Experience and Enlightenment; and Vol. 2 – The World of Ignorance.

The first volume is specifically about aspects relating to what enlightenment is, how it is achieved, and its results; e.g. (facetiously) whether you gain it by reading books, dropping out of society or going into a permanent trance. The second volume will deal with what is actually taught by Advaita regarding the world, creation etc. and the various miscellaneous topics encountered on the way, such as ‘grace’, ‘teaching through silence’ etc. It will also cover the massive topic of ‘Ignorance’, although logically this might have been included in Volume 1.

Accordingly, if you read the posts of this topic (there will be 6 parts), you will encounter references to other sections and to sources that will only be referenced in the Bibliography. Please ignore these (apart from deciding that you must buy the book when it appears – probably second half of 2021.)

This post on pratibandha-s will cover the following sub-topics. Accordingly, please do not post comments on an early post that are likely to be addressed in a later one. Ideally, wait until all parts are posted before commenting, although I realize that some may find this difficult. 😉

      pratibandha-s – Part 1

  • prArabdha – Part 2
  • vAsanA-s
  • nididhyAsana – Part 3
  • viparIta bhAvanA
  • avidyA lesha
  • j~nAna phalam – Part 4
  • vij~nAna – Part 5
  • ‘Who am I?’ in communication
  • ‘Who am I?’ in thinking
  • The ‘mixture of Atman and mind’ – Part 6
  • No one is ever liberated
  • Post-Shankara contributions to the concept – Part 7

pratibandha-s

[Meaning: These are a special type of vAsanA, the residual impressions in the mind, i.e. those that cause anger, passion etc. Monier-Williams defines pratibandha as ‘obstacle, hindrance, impediment’ and pratibandhaka as ‘obstructing, preventing, resisting’. The term is not explicitly used by Shankara but there are clear indications of the idea. pratibandha-s are effectively the negative elements of prArabdha karma.]

A top athlete will exercise assiduously every day, eat a controlled diet, avoid alcohol, and so on, all with the purpose of ensuring that his or her body is in optimum condition for competing against others. But the body is a material construct, albeit an extremely sophisticated one. It is subject to attack by viruses or bacteria, and even to accidental damage simply from moving about in the world. It is also possible that the body’s own make-up may have inbuilt propensity for undesirable problems resulting from DNA coding.

Thus, despite the supremely high level of physical fitness, the athlete is still subject to colds and other occasional illnesses, even though this may be infrequent compared to the non-athlete. Also, because of the fitness, the athlete will not be affected by the illness to the same degree and will tend to recover much more quickly.

A ‘j~nAnI’ is someone who has gained Self-knowledge and knows that he or she is really the non-dual Brahman seeing a mithyA world through the inert, subtle senses of a mithyA body-mind. The gaining of the Self-knowledge will have been facilitated through the practice of sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti, and consequently there will be a high degree of viveka, vairAgya, shama, dama etc. But the j~nAnI having gained Self-knowledge does not immediately drop the body-mind. The teaching is clear that the prArabdha karma that brought about this particular embodiment continues to play out ‘like the arrow shot from the bow’. Only when all of this karma has been completed does the j~nAnI’s body-mind die, never to be reborn.

[Note that, if the j~nAnI’s body dies before the prArabdha karma has been used up, the j~nAnI attains videha mukti, if he/she was not already a jIvanmukta – see 3o – p;.the j~nAnI does not have to endure a further birth to complete the process. Normally (for an aj~nAnI), there would then be future births because of unused saMchita karma and newly gained AgAmi karma. Of course, we have to remember that the entire teaching of karma is only an adhyAropa-apavAda tool in the teaching and has no ‘real’ existence. The word ‘mukti’, incidentally is synonymous with ‘mokSha’.]

The mind of the j~nAnI is analogous to the body of the athlete. It is subtle matter, consisting of the usual ‘components’ (broken down by Advaita into manas, chitta, buddhi and ahaMkAra for the sake of being able to talk about its different functions). The fact that the j~nAnI’s body-mind was born shows that the mind was not ‘perfect’, in the sense of having been purified and having gained Self-knowledge.

Following the mental practices and gaining of Self-knowledge, the mind will now no longer be affected to the same degree by the usual vicissitudes of life. But this is not to say that such things will not occur. Family members will die; belongings will be lost or stolen, etc. And manas will inevitably react to these. The mind of a j~nAnI will still react! Some situations will trigger anger, some sorrow. The difference is that it is now known that all of these things are mithyA and the ‘severity’ of the response will be much reduced.

The ‘severity level’ will depend upon the extent of the j~nAnI’s ability to control the mind, which in turn will depend upon the degree of prior accomplishment in respect of sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti. If the mind is now totally controlled and automatically exercises dispassion, discrimination etc., then there will be no adverse reaction to the problems of life. All will be handled in a detached manner. Such a person is a jIvanmukta – someone who has gained the fruits of enlightenment (j~nAna phalam) in this life. If control is less than perfect, there will be effective mental obstacles preventing the dispassionate response. These obstacles are called pratibandha-s or pratibandhaka-s.

Although, as noted, Shankara does not explicitly use the word, it is clear from his writing that he accepts the fact that a j~nAnI may still be subject to desires and should make efforts not to succumb. Here is an extract from his bhAShya on Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3.5.1. I have emboldened key phrases:

“Therefore the knower of Brahman, after renouncing desires, should try to live upon that strength which comes of knowledge. Those others, who are ignorant of the Self, derive their strength from the means and results of actions. The knower of Brahman avoids that and resorts simply to the strength which comes of the knowledge of the Self, which is naturally different from the means and results of an action. When he does this, his organs have no more power to drag him down to the objects of desire… Strength is the total elimination of the vision of the objects by Self-knowledge; hence the knower of Brahman should try to live upon that strength.” (Ref. 8)

And here is another, from Brihadaranyaka 1.4.7:

“…nevertheless, since the resultant of past actions that led to the formation of the present body must produce definite results, speech, mind and the body are bound to work even after the highest realization, for actions that have begun to bear fruit are stronger than knowledge; as for instance an arrow that has been let fly continues its course for some time. Hence the operation of knowledge, being weaker than they, (is liable to be interrupted by them and) becomes only a possible alternative. Therefore there is a need to regulate the train of remembrance of the knowledge of the Self by having recourse to means such as renunciation and dispassion.” (Ref. 8)

When I gain enlightenment, nothing actually changes from an empirical, physical perspective. I am still verifiably present in the world, outwardly functioning as a normal human being. I do not suddenly don a suit of armour that henceforth protects me from all of the physical and mental vicissitudes of life. Nor does the body drop dead instantly leaving me to float away to ‘attain’ or ‘merge with’ Brahman or expand to fill the universe. Nor does the world disappear. There is no outward change at all.

The change is at the cognitive level. I now know that this entire world, including my own body-mind, is mithyA, being none other than Brahman at the substantive level. I know that ‘I’ am really Brahman, that none of these pleasures and pains of life can affect who-I-really-am. It is this knowledge that ‘protects’ me or ‘insulates’ me from them.

Desires and fears are part of the conditioning of the mind. Our upbringing, education and social interactions breed automatic, defensive reactions to particular situations and so on. This is the natural functioning of the mithyA mind and has nothing to do with who-I-really-am. The new Self-knowledge means that I now know this, and the intellect is consequently able to override the automated reactions to some degree. But its ability to do this is dependent upon intellectual ‘skills’ such as discrimination, to realize what is happening; dispassion, to be relatively immune to the results; clarity of mind and sense control to see what is occurring without being distracted by other considerations.

Thus, it is the case that we can still be subject to all of the usual problems of life yet not ‘suffer’ in the way that we used to as a result. Our new Self-knowledge means that we know that ‘I’ am not affected, only the mithyA body-mind. However, the problem-causing events are still present and it is still necessary that a) the mental disciplines are still functioning optimally, and b) the Self-knowledge remains firm, if I am not to be disturbed by them. It is the function of nididhyAsana to ensure that this is the case.

This explains how it can be that the scriptures clearly maintain that knowledge brings happiness and freedom from misery etc, as well as liberation. What it brings is the knowledge that I am really unaffected by whatever the world may bring. The pain of Ramana’s throat cancer was still there but there was no suffering because he knew it was only the body that was in pain, and he was not that. But, if the mental purity is not fully established or the Self-knowledge is temporarily forgotten, then suffering may still happen.

It also explains why some teachers specify that after gaining Self-knowledge, a seeker should give up the worldly life and become a renunciant (saMnyAsin). This removes them (mostly) from situations that might disturb one’s tranquillity. Many modern teachers insist that Shankara himself also advocated this, whereas he was speaking of something much more subtle. But this is the subject of a later topic!

…. Part 2 to be posted 28th Jan

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