Q. 385 – Is enlightenment meaningless?

Q: If Brahman is perfect, not ignorant, and the sole subject, what is the purpose of enlightenment as proposed by Advaita as the perfect one needs none?

If the ignorant jIva-s are nonexistent and Brahman is perfect, ignorance is nonexistent, therefore perception of separation is nonexistent.  It appears that Advaita, while advocating non dualism and a perfect sole subject, in fact is dualist, reaching out to a nonexistent audience to fix a nonexistent issue, to provide realization that the absolute already witnesses.   Can you shed some light on this?

A (Dennis): Coincidentally, an answer I gave recently to a different question effectively answers yours also:

<<< You have to decide whether you are talking form the empirical viewpoint or the absolute. If you don’t do this, you just get confused because the ‘explanations’ differ.

You are brahman, whether or not you know this. There is ONLY brahman from the absolute standpoint. No one has ever been born so there is no one to be reborn.

Empirically, the path of the j~nAnI differs markedly from that of the aj~nAnI. The aj~nAnI is reborn repeatedly until attaining Self-knowledge. The j~nAnI is not reborn. You say: “in an absolute sense what happens to my subtle body should be no different to what happens to the subtle body of a j~nAnI (as both are mithyA)”. This is not right. In an absolute sense, there are no subtle bodies at all; no j~nAnI-s or aj~nAnI-s.

As long as you keep the viewpoints separate, there should be no problem! (Of course the absolute viewpoint is actually from the empirical viewpoint, too if you want to be pedantic!)

The purpose of enlightenment, if you like, is to remove the suffering of the person who thinks he/she is a separate entity in a real world. Yes, there is no real person – there is only Consciousness. But, from the point of view of the ‘not real’ person, there is apparently real suffering!

Here is a story from ‘The Book of One’ (2nd edition):

<<< Swami Paramarthananda tells the story of another amusing game played by children on an unsuspecting newcomer to their group. They use saliva to press a coin onto the new child’s forehead so that it sticks. And they tell him that he can hit himself on the back of the head to make the coin fall and, if he can do this with three hits, he can have the coin. So they then press the coin to his forehead for perhaps 10 -15 seconds and then, unbeknownst to the child they actually take it away. But it feels to the child as though the coin is still there and he proceeds to hit himself increasingly harder on the back of his head trying to dislodge the non-existent coin. Even when he is allowed further tries, he is doomed to continue to fail because there is no coin there to fall.

And so it is with saMsAra. We try to escape from the cycle but who-we-really-are was never on the cycle. The Atman was never born and will never die, so where is the question of rebirth? Only bodies are born and die and those are only insentient matter. Enlightenment is the realization of all of this – the understanding that there was no coin attached to begin with.>>>

Q: That’s a bit fascinating in circular fashion.

Can I sum up your teaching (in brackets) to the idea below? [The purpose of enlightenment is to remove the suffering of the person who thinks he/she is separate, there is no real person, only Consciousness. But to the ‘not real’ person, there is apparently real suffering.]

Sum up As: the sole subject acts the part of a separate being, acts the part of suffering, and plays the role of removing that suffering. Though there is no suffering, but to the sole subject there is potential for the appearance of real suffering within the act?   

If we can see it in this way, can I make the further conclusion that if the goal of enlightenment is an *action* rather than just *watching/hoping*, namely Conscious Decision (Conscious Action): to “*remove* the role play of suffering of the brahman who role-plays as jIva, who acts as separate” Then sole consciousness is not merely the witness but also the conscious decision maker (it is able to control what it is aware of), meaning free will?

I ask because if there is no conscious decision making done by sole subject (free will), then we cannot *do* anything, not *realize* enlightenment nor *remove* suffering (no verbs-decisions allowed).  Watching Advaita Vedanta by logic would soon be displaced by other information feeds that are observed. Then, as one actually curious in practical Advaita, is it:

X) It matters not if consciousness acting separately witnesses the truth described by advaita vedAnta, because it can only observe but not *do,* (no free will) therefore it can only watch and see *IF* suffering is ever removed – or not removed, and thus, soon advaita on the ”TV” screen of consciousness will soon be replaced by some other equally meaningless TV program? 


Y) It matters because consciousness of this truth allows *doing,* to not just watch if anything ever happens but to *do* and *realize,* *remove,* and *achieve* (these verbs you used in your response).   I would assume separating the doer from perceiver would be duality and would be impossible because having a separate decision making process of what unfolds and a witness process seeing that unfolding would automatically force the world to have time, space and position and we are back to a materialist model.

A: You are being too intellectual here! And you are also trying to do that which I said is the cause of most problems of understanding, namely confusing real and empirical.

In reality there is only brahman… ever.

Brahman does not ‘do’ anything, has no desires etc. So it is not role playing or enjoying the world at ‘our’ expense, or any other thing that you can imagine, because there is nothing other than brahman, not even a ‘dream’.

But, from our perspective, there does seem to be a world etc. All explanations and reasons are at this level. And everything at this level is not real in itself, it is all just name and form of brahman; the rope mistaken for a snake. Trying to decide whether or not this snake is poisonous is really a waste of time! What matters is realizing that it is a rope.

In reality, there is no such thing as enlightenment, because there is no one to enlighten. Everything is already brahman, always was and always will be.

Q: I totally agree if there is no doer then the 2nd scenario, case Y) “vedanta/enlightenment just another entertaining late night TV show” must be true But before the eye of consciousness passes over Vedanta and enlightenment for something more hilarious, let’s see if Brahman’s awareness remains on enlightenment just a little longer…  with some twists in development…

Advaita Vedanta is unique in that it bases its teachings on sound logic rather than religious faith, and “trust me-you’re wrong” type reasoning. Love that. This is something that is excellent because in a way it means the truth is discoverable to all.  In fact many predict it is the one teaching that will be accepted in the scientific community in the near future.

Therefore I hope we can develop it further using logic & reasoning:  As there is no doer, all possible modes of consciousness must be simultaneously ongoing at once. Meaning, rather than consciousness deciding upon a finite set of things to cognate (which requires “choosing”) we have *everything* that is ever possible existing concurrently in grand infinity such that no decision has to be made, and there is only awareness of them.  The only problem I’m finding with this is that if everything that could possibly arise in consciousness arose once on an infinite scale, including their exact opposites, seemingly objective phenomena could not arise in consciousness. Imagine if tree 1, not tree -1, exist 2, not exist -2, guitar 3 not-guitar -3 existed at once, it would all cancel into the 0 -the void.  If a rope is seen as a snake, consciousness had to explicitly decide on snake as opposed to it simultaneously appearing as all possible forms: garden hose, pink dragon, squid car, Barack Obama, not-George Bush, which then requires no decision making. But the issue is, phenomena in consciousness are perceived, in either objective positive or negative values  as -1, -3, 5, anything other than 0. Anything other than 0 would require decision making, because why -1, why not -3, why not 10, or 11? Why the snake?

Is there any way you could help wrap this up for us?  Not sure if string theory and parallel universes as conscious phenomena help to remove the need to *choose*.  But I just noticed the question is another way of phrasing: who the hell pulled all of this nonsense over brahman’s eyes, I was having a nice time in the 0.

A: You are still confusing the two views. You are never going to be able to ‘explain’ the appearance in terms of the real. The various suggestions, imputing reasons to brahman, are just interim explanations to satisfy the ignorant. They all have to be taken back eventually. Brahman is beyond time, space and causality, without attributes of any sort, indescribable, unthinkable. I suggest you read ‘A-U-M: Awakening to Reality’, it is effectively a commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad and Gaudapada kArikA-s with Shankara’s bhAShya, which aims to provide a reasoned explanation of the nature of reality. If you just want to play with these ideas, no one is going to convince you of the validity of Advaita in a few short exchanges – and I don’t have the time to try. If you really want to understand, you have to commit… everything! Ideally, you would look for a traditional teacher and expect to study for years (at least). Failing that, read the book – then maybe ask a question!

2 thoughts on “Q. 385 – Is enlightenment meaningless?

  1. Shri Q
    ” If Brahman is perfect, not ignorant, and the sole subject, what is the purpose of enlightenment as proposed by Advaita as the perfect one needs none?”

    This is a brilliant conclusion, the very goal of Advaita. And if this is really your conclusion, you have come to the end of this journey if there was one? You have thrown that final branch of wood that stirred the funeral pyre into fire. It does not matter who pulled the nonsense on Brahman. It does not matter how or through what you came to this conclusion. All the theories, definitions, models including advaita are gone and like you say you are having nice time – call it I, You, nice time, zero or Brahman.
    What you stated in the beginning IS the conclusion of advaita – all you do is ask and you will be showered with references from advaita regarding this conclusion. But at this stage for you it will be like a person sitting in Chicago looking at postcards on Chicago.
    Now, if this was more of an intellectual question to satisfy your intellect or challenge someone’s intellect then this will be a very very long post…….

  2. There is only Brahaman. Everyone is B. Because of veil of ignorance, one is ignorant of this Truth.[ How has ignorance ‘begun’ is matter of another discussion. Pedantically, even ignorance is B.] These are from the viewpoint of the B. The confusion arises when we try to explain the Reality from empirical level.Therefore teaching has to be in stages and gradual to pierce the veil of ignorance. When the veil is completely lifted, there is no ignorance, and one regains Self-hood. The paths of Bhaktiyoga, Karmayoga and Rajyoga begin with duality and finally lead to jnan ( knowledge) of non-duality and removal of ignorance.

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