Q: I’m struggling (a lot) with ‘believing in’ Brahman.
I realize the problems inherent in this struggle: (1) It’s probably futile in my early stage of Advaita studies; (2) Brahman is beyond mind, so any attempt to truly apprehend it is doomed to failure. And yet I persist. 😉
I can walk with Advaita Vedanta through all the Neti-ing – I/Truth am not this, not this – but when Advaita makes the leap to IS THIS … I shake my head and turn away. Brahman seems like an abstraction born of fear/uncertainty, like other similar abstractions such as Heaven, The Ground, The Truth, etc. (I am not saying I know that Brahman IS an abstraction born of fear, rather that it seems to me that it could be.)
So I keep looking for analogies, things I can/do or ‘believe in’ that might be similar enough to Brahman that I could relax into it a bit.
Today I thought: Perhaps Brahman is (quasi-)synonymous with Nature? Nature – ‘everything that is’ – is all-encompassing in a way that suggests Brahman to me. Science’s take on Nature is conceptual, but the essence of Nature is, I think, not conceptual.
So: ‘Everything that is’ + non-conceptual – this sounds Brahman-esque to me. Yes? No?
A (Dennis): In a sense, it seems as though you are saying that you want to be enlightened before you are enlightened. You will accept brahman for what it is when you gain self-knowledge. Until then, it is best not to try to leap ahead. This, after all, is what the neo-Advaitin teachers do. And they do not succeed very well! Advaita is a stepwise process: hearing a bit, asking questions until you understand, and then letting it sink in. Intellectualising in this fashion is trying to bypass the process.
So, to provide a not very satisfactory answer to your question: you can think that ‘everything is brahman’ if you like, but not ‘brahman is everything’. (It is a bit like saying that the ring is gold, but gold is not the ring.) A better way of thinking about it is that ‘everything is mithyA’, where ‘mithyA’ means name and form of brahman. Also, brahman is not ‘non-conceptual’; rather it is itself a concept.
Q: Could be. Though how I feel it is: wanting to know what I’m getting into before I commit. To take a crass example, I might find the initial stages of Scientology very compelling. But when I found out what the path of Scientology had in store for me, the foundation upon which it was built so to speak, I’d no doubt run away screaming!
Advaita says: You will KNOW, once you have gone through the program. But I am manipulable enough to be convinced (for a while) of most anything, provided it is presented in a compelling way. And Advaita is compelling.
A: You have to commit at some point and stop dabbling! In Advaita, ‘faith’ is being prepared to put your trust in someone/thing who you perceive as being trustworthy, until such time as you realize the truth for yourself. As I said, you want to know it’s true before you discover it to be so for yourself. Not possible!
Q: Intellectualizing in this fashion is, for better or worse, a key part of my process.
A: Not too serious a problem. Always been partial to a bit of intellectualizing myself!
Q: As I’m sure you know, saying that ‘brahman is a concept’ is confusing, since I’ve been reading over and over in your books, James Swartz’s books, online, etc., that the only thing that IS real and not a concept is brahman.
But I’m guessing you mean that the word ‘brahman’, and any thought or image of brahman (no matter how subtle/sophisticated), is a concept. Yes?
A: Correct. Unfortunately, we can only think/talk about brahman from a vyAvahArika perspective and brahman is the next level up. Imagine the characters in a dream talking about a ‘waker’ who is really ‘dreaming’ them all.
Q: So the thing I’m reading about, the thing I understand Advaita to be founded upon … is but an illusion. In fact, I will not know what Advaita is founded upon until I spend more time studying it. Is that about right?
A: You need to be very careful with the word ‘illusion’. Rather use the word ‘mithyA’. Brahman, although it is concept from the empirical standpoint is nevertheless the only reality. You know that you exist, quite irrespective of a body growing old or a mind trying to understand Advaita. You are brahman.
Q: I hope you’re not getting too frustrated with me? For whatever reason, getting IT right is terribly important to me, and I will not leave any stone (that I’m aware of) unturned.
A: Not at all. You are asking very intelligent questions and I recognize where you are! I was there up until some years back.
Q: As part of my daily practice, I’ve been ‘Neti neti’ -ing a bunch. Yesterday on my walk I realized that everything I sensed, perceived, thought was … mithyA. How cool is that?!
Neti-ing comes easy/natural for me. Being aware of Self (= Brahman) does not. But with a little finagling/effort, I sometimes (feel like I) can get there; apprehend ‘what is’ as a non-dual oneness. The problem is that I don’t know if I’m fooling myself, talking myself into seeing what I’m not really seeing. I’m good at that, as are we all, right? 😉
So my question is:
Is it of value, at my current level of understanding, for me to try to apprehend the world as Self/Brahman? (Gently, not violently, more like: to encourage the apprehension to arise on its own.) Could this be a good practice, a way to switch my focus from mithyA to satyam? Or is it best to stick with Neti-ing? Or not to try to do anything at all?
A: That’s good, yes. ‘Glimpsing’ how things really are is always reassuring. But you are still talking about practice and seemingly trying to equate it to knowledge. ‘Trying’ (to see everything as brahman or whatever) is ‘doing’. ‘Doing’ is not opposed to ignorance so can never bring about enlightenment.
You can never ‘see’ or ‘apprehend’ non-duality anyway. Even the j~nAnI still sees duality in the world; the difference is that he/she knows that it is just name and form of brahman.
So, no, you shouldn’t try to increase the frequency of these glimpses. They are not really important anyway. What you are after is the certainty that, irrespective of what you see or feel, there is only brahman. That will happen only when the ignorance is swept away by knowledge.
Superb answer/s Dennis. I wrote yesterday, replying to someone who just had a spiritual experience and was eager for more (she called it a ‘turiya experience’),
“Turiya – not a ‘state’ – is reality Itself, or a name for It”. States are experiences
that come and go (similarly in sufism). Turiya is also called ‘universal witness’, the background of all states and experiences, and, as such, cannot be an individual experience, which is dualistic by nature. Better to disclaim such experiences which, at most, can give some reassurance in the way to truth (not a confirmation or certification).