Q.436 Ishvara and the existence of fossils

Q: Dinosaur fossils point to a world history that greatly exceeds the history of human beings. I realize that from the Absolute perspective, there is no creation, no world, and therefore no fossils. However, I also realize that Advaita is not equivalent to solipsism. When ‘I’ die, the relative world will still continue in ‘my’ absence. What is puzzling is why there should be any such consistency. When I go to sleep tonight, I do not expect to pick up the dream from where I left off last night. Yet on waking, I definitely expect to be in the same room I went to bed in, with the same clothes hanging in the closet, etc. In short, there is a direct continuity that occurs in jAgrat that does not apply to svapna. Doesn’t this very continuity (e.g. fossils having existed for millions of years before ‘I’ was born) point to a definite need for a Creator, aka Ishvara or saguNa Brahman? Otherwise, I don’t see how the continuity would make any sense. ‘I’ as the jIva cannot have had anything to do with it!

A: Ishvara is just as real as the world. Ishvara is the order that we see, the laws that govern it and so on. All this is empirically real, not absolutely real; it is mithyA. You and I and Ishvara and the world and jAgrat and svapna and suShupti are all mithyA. So yes, if you are talking about fossils and dinosaurs, Ishvara is needed as the creator of the world and of the laws of evolution etc. that enable such things to be a part of our history. Ishvara maintains the waking dream so that I have some clothes to put on when I wake up.

24 thoughts on “Q.436 Ishvara and the existence of fossils

  1. Hello Questioner,

    This extract from Peter Dziuban’s article may help clarify how ‘history or past’ is all actually in the present:

    “Go ahead, try as hard as you can to come up with a little bit of a “past,” or a whole lot of it, in some place other than the current thought of it. It’s impossible.

    No matter how far one tries to mentally shove a “past” back there—it actually has had no prior existence. The only place all of it would appear to be found is in the very thinking-dreaming of it starting now. That’s all there would be to all of the so-called “past”—just that one big mental “panorama” or “thought-collage”—all of which begins now.

    This is clear only from the vantage point of the Absolute Present, wherein no time has been. Otherwise one mistakenly assumes time has some other, prior beginning. It doesn’t.

    Imagine watching a scene of a movie. In this movie scene it is the year 2000. The movie characters themselves are in a theater. They are watching another movie, taking place in 1980. Now suppose within that inner 1980 movie scene being watched, that second set of characters is watching a third movie, taking place in 1960—a movie within a movie within a movie—and so on, as far “back” as one cares to go. One really is not going back in time at all. All scenes, all years, appear to be projected right there in the one overall current picture.

    In the exact same way, the entirety of what is mistakenly called “history”—both “recent past” and “ancient past”—are encapsulated in the one momentary mental snapshot or thought in terms of it. From the vantage point of Absolute Present Awareness, it is clear that the entirety of so-called “history” isn’t history or old at all—for it’s all one mental panorama being instantaneously thought or dreamed now. Always, it would be current thinking only imagining there is oldness.”

    You can read the article here at this site itself:


  2. I suggest that all of this is a confusion of words and concepts, paramArtha and vyavahAra.

    Of course, anything we think or say now, we must do so in the present. Accordingly, our views on the past are present views and may or may not be correct. But to say that there is no history, no past events that led to this being-here-now-present, is nonsense and cannot be helpful for any seeker. What of karma? What point in action? Did one’s (now deceased) parents have no prior existence? Has one’s body-mind come into existence this instant, complete with all of its memories of an imagined past childhood etc?

    Since this ‘coming into existence’ must happen every moment, this means that the present consciousness can have only momentary existence. This is the belief of the Yogachara or kShaNika vij~nAna vAda Buddhists. And Shankara explicitly refutes this view in his commentaries on the Mandukya Upanishad and Brahmasutras.

  3. “But to say that there is no history, no past events that led to this being-here-now-present, is nonsense and cannot be helpful for any seeker. ”

    Dennis is absolutely correct when he says that it cannot be helpful for a seeker if s/he is told “that there is no history, no past events.” But, unfortunately, that is the ultimate understanding that a seeker has to come to in order to fully appreciate the Advaitic message.

    Hence, while I am totally reluctant to join Dennis in a debate on the issue, I just would like to humbly submit that it is too harsh an epithet to describe the way that Peter expiates as “nonsense.”

    We assume that there is already a time-space-causational world into which “I” am born when questions like “What of karma? What point in action? Did one’s (now deceased) parents have no prior existence? Has one’s body-mind come into existence this instant, complete with all of its memories of an imagined past childhood etc” are raised or answered.

    shruti also principally adopts the method of agreeing with the seeker who thinks that s/he is born into a world that is pre-existing and then negates all those beliefs as its intended message is ingested gradually.

    For any action to occur or for any cause-effect relation to operate, the arrow of time is primal. So we hang on to that perch and answer the above questions of parent-offspring relation, action-result connection etc. etc.

    But what if that assumption of a “pre-existent time-space-causational world” itself is wrong?

    The very word “a + dvaita” clearly rules out the possibility of the co-existence of a second one. “No two,” it says. So, if at all, any “confusion of words and concepts” could arise only if we have one leg on paramArtha and another on vyAvahArika, and talk in terms of one taking the stance of the other.

    Advaita is unequivocal that the time-space itself is an imagination and Gaudapada goes into great lengths to point out the non-existence of cause-effect relationships in his kArikA-s, as Dennis knows.

    So if we disembark from that perch of time-space, does Advaita then become something like what the Yogachara or kShaNika vij~nAna vAda Buddhists say?

    Absolutely not.

    Advaita agrees and goes with the Yogachara or kShaNika vij~nAna vAda Buddhists to say that all appearances are momentary and have neither permanency nor history. (Actually one should say the other way because, the Buddhist concepts came later historically (!) than Advaita).

    The Buddhists hold on to the concept of essencelessness, whereas Advaita speaks of an eternal, impartite, immutable and immanent substratum on which the appearances arise.

    “GK [Chpater] IV (alAtaSAnti prakaraNa) refers to the mahAyAna school of buddhism as agrAyana. Moreover, the very metaphor of the alAtacakra is a peculiarly buddhist one. The alAtacakra is a burning firebrand that is waved in a circle, creating an impression of a continuous circle of fire. It is interesting to note here that gauDapAda characteristically inverts the use of the buddhist metaphor. The buddhist uses the metaphor to insist that the impression of a continuous circle is an illusion, there being nothing more than the momentary spatial positions of the burning brand. Hence, from the buddhist prespective, it is plainly an error to see the burning circle as having any svabhAva – “own-nature”. gauDapAda on the other hand points out that the burning brand is itself the substratum of its momentary spatial positions and the illusion of a burning circle caused by waving the brand. Hence, according to him, even if the burning circle is an illusion, its svabhAva is nothing other than that of the burning brand.”

    (Adopted from: http://www.advaita-vedanta.org/avhp/gaudapada.html ).

    Also see here:

    “Yogcara is called Kshanika vijanavadi and Madhyamika is known by the name sunyavadi. Both agree in one thing. That there is no external world of objects. The difference is with respect to subject. Whether there is subject or not. Yogacara accepts the subject as the consciousness. He says there is consciousness which is the subject. There is no world other than this subject consciousness. Madhyamika says there is no external object and there is no subject also. Sunya is the truth. Between these two who is close to advaitin. Yogacarah is close to advatin. Both say there is not external world. What is the difference between the two? We also say vijnaana vyatirikta padarthah nasti. They also say. But there is a difference. In defining the nature of consciousness we differ. Is it nityam or anityam? Yogacara says consciousness is kshanikam. So it is anityam. Not even anityam like our body but it is kshana bhanguram. Kshanika vijnanam is satyam for them.


    What do we say for this? Vijnanam is nityam. Consciousness is nityam. Why? Because if consciousness is khsanikam quickly coming and going, to know that it is coming and going you require a permanent consciousness. How do you know it is kshanikam? So to experience that kshanikam caitanyam you require a nitya vijnanam. So truth is nityacaitanyam. It never comes and goes.”

    (From: “https://www.scribd.com/document/2345570/Mandukya-Upanishad-Alatasanti-prakaranam ).


  4. Ramesam,

    In Buddhist view of consciousness, there is no one consciousness as an entity. Consciousness is attached to each of the senses, such as eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, etc. Each moment, the impressions of the senses are changing. They are not static and neither is the consciousness that is associated with it. Sometimes they are referred to as frames as in a movie.

    The construction of a center, a ‘me’, a ‘person’ that controls and witnesses all of this is a mental formation and not something concrete. It is a mechanism for relational purposes and has no ultimate existence. But, this is all philosophy, conceptual thinking. It is like taking the part for the whole. Trying to figure out if Yogacara or Advaita is correct is the wrong approach. The correct approach in anyone’s case is to see the illusory nature of the person and how this is propagated, constructed, etc., through our perception/memory/cognition. Trying to state what is ultimate is useless. Trying to assert the supremacy of Awareness or Emptiness or Brahman is a trick of the mind and not in accord with Life. The only problem is the sense of person and personalizing one’s experience which is a separative movement and leads to anguish. You know this already. Direct experience is the only possibility of knowing what the wisdom teachers are talking about and for that to happen, the words must be let go of, be they Buddhist or Advaitin.

  5. Gaudapada endeavors to speak from an ‘as if’ pAramArthika standpoint. As long as this is clearly known as the intention, it is fine. One can acknowledge the ultimate impossibility of using words (thought) to describe reality but use those words as indicators to lead to an intiutive understanding.

    Shankara comes down a step from there. He is more considerate of his students, allowing them to work their way up from the worldly level. The technique of adhyAropa-apavAda allows this gradual development from action and consequence in a dualistic world up to the final realization of the non-dual reality despite the appearance.

    Dziuban is making the classical (neo-Advaitin) mistake of ‘mixing the levels’. He speaks of ‘thinking’ and concepts of time, making it clear that this is a ‘vyAvahArika’ discussion. But then mixes this with concepts of ‘absolute present’ and momentary consciousness which, whilst they do not quite equate with an Advaitin pAramArthika standpoint, are certainly not vyAvahArika either.

    For a teaching methodology to be useful, it has to have validity in what the seeker initially believes to be the ‘real world’. I recognize the validity of the past every time I go to retrieve something that I remember I left in another location. I recognize the validity of the future every time I plan a journey, buy tickets etc. By all means, teach that time is a fiction within the context of absolute reality but don’t attempt to imply that it is so even from a practical point of view. It confuses the seeker and insults his/her intelligence.

    From a practical point of view, we ARE born into ‘a time-space-causational world’. And it is simply not helpful for a teacher to try to claim otherwise. Had it been so, the majority of the entire corpus of Vedantic literature would have been dispensed with and traditional Advaita would simply have been teaching Gaudapada and a few others for the past 2000 years.

  6. Very good points Dennis. Reminds one of the fellow who, as an elephant comes charging in his direction, remarks that the elephant (as all phenomena) is unreal… the rider of the elephant then urges him to, nevertheless, get out of the way for his own good!

  7. While not disagreeing with anything said so far, I will like to say the following in way of making things clearer.

    To Anon’s point:
    The effort in my previous post was not directed to assess or adjudge any system.
    Let me emphasize that Kena Upanishad mantra 1-4 says: “That (Whatever that Self is) is different from the Known, and is also higher than the Unknown.”
    The Upanishad explains that the “known” is what we perceive through the mind and senses. Its coverage extends over the whole of the “gross universe”, as well as the “subtle world”. All of it is the ‘known.’ The unknown in this context is “ignorance” — that which is not known by the mind or senses.
    Thus The Self cannot be known through the senses or mind.

    The part from about 12 min to 16 or 17 min could be interesting to watch in the Video, “Be Aware of Yourself by Rupert: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uaa1O8mErus

    To Dennis’s Point:
    I do not know what one would define the neo-Advaita approach to be. If I understand it to be to take the stance that “there-is-no-doer-hence-nothing-to-be-done,” well, I am sure we cannot put Peter Dziuban in that basket. He definitely does not advocate that a seeker has nothing to do. He does advise inquiry, but from the stance much like that of Gaudapada – ‘as if’ you are the Self. Maybe his teaching did not fully come across in the short excerpt quoted by me regarding the concept of ‘time.’

    To Martin’s point:
    The very fact that we invoke such a metaphor betrays our own dual stance rather than that of the “fellow” about whom we seem to make our comment.
    While it is a fact that we cannot read what was the stance of that “fellow” (whether empirical or Absolute), we should note that are making such a comment based on the subliminal backdrop of keeping the vyAvahArik worldview in our mind from where the “fellow’s” action looks inappropriate.


  8. I think the difference is to differentiate between negation and denial of the objective world. If the difference is clear that we are not denying the world, as the so-called neo Advaitas apparently do, then we can successfully negate the world with the help of the scripture.

    Since this is fairly difficult to differentiate, the non-origination teaching is fairly unsuited for beginners.

    Does that make sense?

    Ps I got that from James swartz commentary on verse 91, chapter 4.

  9. Georg,

    Mandukyakarika is not about denying vs negating the world; it is about denying the ego / jiva. This is the whole focus of Gaudapada, and indeed Ramesam’s clarification of the putative “fellow” and elephant.

    This is the commentary of Sw Chinmayananda (who Swartz claims was his guru) on 4.91:

    “From the standpoint of the ultimate reality, turiya, the world of delusion available for our cognition in the lower three planes of the ordinary consciousness is not cognisable in the realm of the Subject; the world of objects merge and melt to become the One without a Second; the perceptible world constituting the sense objects, the mental feelings and the intellectual ideas are all available only for the ego-centric perceiver in us. Reality putting on the vestures of matter plays the part of the foolish mortal to whom alone is the cognisable world of plurality a painful reality; with the transcendence of the equipments, the perceiver disappears, and with the perceiver, the perceived also.”

  10. Thanks Venkat,

    I don’t understand what you are trying to point out exactly. To my understanding negating the world implies the negation of the ego and Jiva.

  11. There is a great danger of falling into old arguments here! Chinmayananda had a tendency to speak in flowery language that could sometimes be taken too literally. The world does not ‘disappear’ or ‘merge into Brahman’ on gaining Self-knowledge. It is the Self-ignorance that disappears and the world is subsequently known to be only name and form of Brahman. But the senses nevertheless still perceive it as dualistic.

    I tend to agree with Georg, here. Gaudapada is effectively negating the world and saying just what I have said above – the perceived, dualistic ‘world’ is actually none other than the non-dual turIya. But he does not deny that there still seems to be duality. The world is name and form of Brahman; the jIva-s are name and form of Brahman. And Consciousness is still (as if) reflected in the mind-form of the jIva to make it seem as if there is an individual ego, even though the j~nAnI knows that this is all just ‘seeming’.

  12. Georg

    I’m not sure that there is much merit in distinguishing between denial and negation. The dictionary definition of denial is a statement that something is not true, is not real.

    Sankara, in his Upadesa Sahasri wrote:
    17.20 All this world is unreal and proceeds from nescience, because it is seen only by one afflicted with nescience and is not seen in dreamless sleep.

    Swartz is peddling a diluted teaching (far more appealing to our westernised egos in its ease of attainment!) which is simply that intellectual knowledge of scriptures is liberation – and in this context, clearly negation is an intellectual act.

    But negation – neti, neti – is only a pointer to Brahman. It has to be realised.

    This is what Alston wrote in his Sankara on the Absolute:

    Sankara’s distinction between the standpoint of nescience and the standpoint of knowledge is not the same as that between different grades of reality (pratibhasika, vyavaharika, paramarthika) set up by his later followers. Anything experienced in the state of nescience is a superimposition on the Absolute and has no reality whatever, except as the Absolute. For there can be no perception without a perceiver, and the perceiver himself is the result of erroneous mutual superimposition of the Self and the non-self. This implies incidentally that the highest part of the upanishadic message is such that it cannot be known through the mere authority of revelation. It demands to be realised in actual experience. One cannot claim to know that one is immortal spirit and distinct from the body on the mere authority of the upanishadic texts, since all acceptance of authority depends in the end in falsely identifying oneself with the perishable body, senses and mind in order to apprehend the authoritative statement. However until the final enlightenment comes one has to accept the deliverances of perception, inference and Vedic revelation in the spheres to which they respectively belong.

  13. Venkat,

    So can you explain exactly what you think Alston/Shakara mean by “It demands to be realised in actual experience.”? (Since experience is necessarily dualistic, who would be experiencing what?)

  14. The English word “experience” is certainly tricky when it is used in the context of teaching the Advaitic concept of what in Sanskrit is called “anubhUti.” In normal parlance, many Indian teachers use “anubhava” also in place of “anubhUti,” because of the fact that strict adherence to specific words has never been the tradition in the ancient Indian culture. A word’s meaning is understood mostly depending on the context.

    Further, to add to the problem, English being an agentative language (it always requires the subject – agent – in the syntax of a sentence), any verb does not and cannot stand on its own to make a meaningful sentence.

    So someone brought up in the English language tradition finds it meaningless if an Indian language person just says “raining.” They have to bring in an “it” (though meaningless) to complete the sentence – “it is raining.”

    Under these circumstances, it’s no wonder that it becomes difficult for an English speaking man to appreciate the meaning of “experiencing” – as used in Indian Vedanta teaching – without the necessary presence of an ‘experiencer.’

    In order to differentiate the two words anubhava and anubhUti, some authors translate:

    anubhava as an “objective experience” by a subject (agent) of an object (finite thing).
    anubhUti, as “non-objective intuitive immediated experiencing” just happening.

    Though I know both Dennis and Venkat may not appreciate my referring to Rupert for their own different reasons, he is at least one Englishman who is able to convey very ably the Advaitic understanding of the word “experiencing.”

    I list below a few of his Videos (out of literally 100s on “experiencing”) wherein he clearly explains that “Experiencing is Awareness Itself.” IOW, they are synonyms. You may watch here at the links below – I picked a few that are the shortest.

    1. All Experience Shines with Transparent Awareness – 07:57 min

    2. The Indivisible Reality of All Experience – 09:20 min

    3. The Indivisibility of Experience – 04:34 mins

    4. Keep Your Heart with the Knowing of Your Experience – 03:53 mins

    5. Past and Future are Never Actually Experienced – 09:26 mins

    6. Oneness and Intimacy of All Experience – 11:42 mins

    7. The Sacred Reality of All Experience – 19:03 min

    8. All Experience Takes Place in the Placeless Place of Pure Knowing – 08:02 mins

    Though one may not be able to say now what exactly “Alston/Shakara mean by actual experience,” the above Videos can show that there is “experiencing” which is not dualistic.


  15. If you are claiming that ‘experiencing’ as used here is non-dual, then clearly you are referring to an abolute truth. In which case it must be there all the time. In which case there is nothing we have to do in order for it to be the case – it does not have to be ‘realized’. If, on the other hand, you want to say that it is not there all the time, then ‘realization’ will mark a beginning of it. And (as Shankara or Gaudapada said – don’t remember which), if it has a beginning, it will also have an end. I.e. it cannot be mokSha.

    (Sorry, I don’t have time to listen to Rupert at present. If he says something useful, can it not be summarized in a couple of sentences?)

  16. Venkat,

    Your quotation from Alston is not a quotation of Shankara’s. The reference is to a work by Satchitanandendra. Some pages later on there is a quote, which is a direct Shankara translation:

    “Attainment of the Self is nothing other than knowledge of the Self. Attainment is not here, as it is in other contexts, attainment of something that one does not already possess, because there is here no difference between the attainer and that which he wishes to attain. If the Self wished to attain the not-self, then the Self would be the attainer and the not-self the object of his attainment. And the object of its attainment would be something not already possessed, something which required action for its attainment or even production. It would have to be attained by some act brought about by the requisite instruments of action. Such an object of attainment, not yet possessed, would necessarily be impermanent. It would proceed from action, which in turn proceeds from desire, itself born of wrong knowledge. Its ‘attainment’ would be like the ‘attainment’ of a son in a dream.

    “But this Self is the opposite. As it is one’s own Self, it never becomes separated from itself through the typical forms of activity such as production. Being eternally attained by nature, the only impediment to its possession is ignorance. One may be perceiving a piece of nacre and yet not perceive it on account of its appearing through error as a piece of silver. Here, the only barrier to the possession of the nacre is wrong knowledge, and right knowledge is the only means for its attainment, because right knowledge has the quality of cancelling wrong knowledge, the obstacle to the attainment of the nacre. The same is the case with the Self. In non-attainment of the Self, the sole barrier is ignorance. Therefore attainment of the Self can never be anything other than removal of ignorance regarding it through right knowledge.”

    Brihadaranyaka Upanishad bhASya (I.iv.7)

  17. Dennis

    I think when you refer to ignorance and knowledge, you are referring to it in an empirical sense, as in “my ignorance meant that I did not believe in man-made climate change until that ignorance was removed by authoritative knowledge that negated this, from scientific evidence”

    When Sankara refers to Knowledge and Ignorance, he means Knowledge = Brahman (as in the knower of Brahman becomes Brahman) and Ignorance = Jiva / ego (the erroneous superimposition).

    Alston quotes Sankara from Bhagavad Gita 18.50:
    “It follows then that there can be no injunction to acquire knowledge of the Self. All that requires to be effected is the cessation of the superimposition of name and form and other items of not-Self onto the Self”

    Sankara’s comments ascribing Yajnavalkya’s response to Maitreya’s query on why he taught that ‘after attaining oneness the self has no more consciousness’ is also instructive (2.4.13):
    “I did not attribute them to the same entity. It is you who through mistake have taken one and the same entity to be possessed of contradictory attributes. What I said was this: When that individual existence of the self which is superimposed by ignorance and is connected with the body and organs is destroyed by knowledge, the particular consciousness connected with the body is destroyed . . . so that Pure Intelligence which is the transcendent Brahman remains unchanged.”

    And in Upadesa Sahasri, Sankara makes clear that this knowledge (of identity with Brahman) can only happen to a mind that is austere, ie empty of its conditioning:
    17.22 For knowledge manifests in a pure mind as if reflected in a clean mirror, and the mind can be purified by the five restraints, by the enjoined daily sacrifices and by acetic practices
    17.23 A man should carry out the best forms of physical and mental asceticism if he wishes to purify his mind, the highest goal. The mind and senses should be kept concentrated and under control. The body should be exposed to the rigours of the climate.
    17.24: The highest asceticism is the one-pointed concentration of mind and senses. This is greater than all duties. It is said to be the supreme duty.

    There is no ‘continue to function in the vyavaharika world, whilst always knowing the paramarthika reality’ here. There is but a simple message: the world is unreal; turn away from it and focus your attention on the Self, without regard for your material well-being; hence his eulogy of the life of a renunciate monk.

  18. Sorry, Venkat, but you are not convincing me.

    If, by ‘knowledge’, Shankara means ‘Brahman’, then the extract from Br.U Bh I quoted has such statements as: “Attainment of the Self is nothing other than Brahman of the Self.”; “the only barrier to the possession of the nacre is wrong Brahman, and right Brahman is the only means for its attainment…”; “In non-attainment of the Self, the sole barrier is jIva.”

    I don’t dispute that the way in which the ignorance manifests is in superimposition of anAtman on Atman but that is not to deny the empirical existence of vidyA-avidyA.

    Also, I am sure you have made the point before: “There is no ‘continue to function in the vyavaharika world, whilst always knowing the paramarthika reality’” But this does not recognize the fact – which you are explicitly acknowledging – that ones such as Shankara (who I presume you concede was enlightened) continue to function in the world, teaching, writing, arguing…

    • Dennis

      1. The upanishads define Brahman as satyam jnanam anantam. Clearly words have to be used as pointers. But actually your last quote is right on the spot: “In non-attainment of the Self, the sole barrier is jIva”

      2. Sankara clearly prescribed necessary steps to purify the mind for it to be ready to receive Knowledge from the Upanishads / guru. So this knowledge clearly goes beyond intellectual, empirical knowledge through reading / understand sruti.

      3. I wonder if the ego that was Sankara, on enlightenment, was what then continued to function in the world? Sankara himself says in Bhagavad Gita, that a jnani’s actions, if s/he acts, are only for the good of the world.

      • Dennis

        See Upadesha Sahasri:

        18.203: One should accept that the Self is its own means of knowledge, which is synonymous with being (directly) knowable to itself. On our view, when the ego is dissolved, experience of one’s own Self is realised.

        • 1. “Actually your last quote is right on the spot: ‘In non-attainment of the Self, the sole barrier is jIva’”.

          This does not work. Who is attaining or not attaining the Self? It can’t be the Self; it has to be the jIva. And to say that the jIva is the barrier to the jIva makes no sense.

          2. “Sankara clearly prescribed necessary steps to purify the mind for it to be ready to receive Knowledge from the Upanishads / guru. So this knowledge clearly goes beyond intellectual, empirical knowledge through reading / understand sruti.”

          I don’t see how the second sentence follows from the first. Where would knowledge ‘go’, other than in the mind?

          3. “I wonder if the ego that was Sankara, on enlightenment, was what then continued to function in the world? Sankara himself says in Bhagavad Gita, that a jnani’s actions, if s/he acts, are only for the good of the world.”

          I don’t see what point you are making here. It does not contradict what I said, namely that Shankara still functioned in the world, despite being enlightened.

          4. Regarding the upadesha sAhasrI quotation, “when the ego is dissolved, experience of one’s own Self is realized” is not a correct translation. The word ‘ego’ does not occur; the sense is ‘removal of adhyAsa that is preventing the self-evident Atman from being realized’. ‘Experience’ also is not correct.

  19. Dear Ramesam

    Thank you for the links. I will have a look at them. This ‘experiencing’ you talk of is captured in v.17 of Sri Ramana Maharishi’s Aksharamanamalai:

    “[Arunachala]! Devoid of eyes yourself, you see all, yet do not see, abiding as the eye of the eye for those who see. Who could see you (how,and with what eye)? May you yourself grant me your grace and look upon me (so that I may look upon you with the eye of that grace).”

    Sri Muruganar (Bhagavan’s great disciple who wrote down Guru Vachaka Kovai) comments on this verse:

    “As far as the empirical world is concerned, in which we lack [true] knowledge, it is entirely false to speak of seeing without an eye. This may be so, but this true seeing is another, wondrous kind of seeing unlike the differentiated vision, based on mental imagination, in which we perceive in terms of the triad of seer, sight, and thing seen. It is for this reason that it is termed ‘seeing without seeing.’ In the state of supreme Reality, Arunachala, the pure consciousness of the Self, exists as Himself alone with nothing else whatsoever. However through mental imagination, phenomena, apparently real, but existing only in appearance, are perceived by the ego-self, in which the pure consciousness of the Self is reflected. Thus that wondrous seeing, in which He sees without seeing, is simply Himself, enduring and shining as all those phenomena, which are merely unreal appearances superimposed upon Him.”

  20. With regard to the three significant observations made by Dennis in his reply to Venkat, it will be interesting to see what the position of the scriptures is.

    1. Liberation for whom?
    “Who is attaining or not attaining the Self?

    We have a clear answer for this in the brihadAraNyaka mantra, I-iv-10 that begins with
    ब्रह्म वा इदमग्र आसीत्तदात्मानमेवावेत् । अहं ब्रह्मास्मीति । तस्मात्तत्सर्वमभवत् …… …

    Meaning: This self was indeed brahman in the beginning. It only knew Itself as “I am brahman.” Therefore, It became all…. …..“

    It is brahman Itself who alone was there to start with and It became many. Therefore, it is brahman Itself that becomes brahman again after losing Its ignorance.

    Answering the question as to who has ignorance in order to have to obtain Self-Knowledge, in his long commentary on the above mantra, Shankara observes that, while it is true that brahman cannot have any ignorance, one has to posit “as though” It has. The reason he gives is that brahman being the only sentient entity, and there being no other sentient entity anywhere, “ignorance” has to be supposed to be with brahman only because no insentient thing can have ignorance.

    Further, there is a famous adage among traditional Advaitins (as quoted by Shri V. Subrahmanian), that says:

    ब्रह्मैव स्वाविद्यया संसरति इव, ब्रह्मैव स्वविद्यया उच्चत इव ||

    Meaning: brahman alone out of Its own ignorance is as though in bondage and brahman alone out of his own Knowledge of true Self becomes as though liberated.

    In addition, we have from Gaudapada who says very clearly that it is brahman Itself that, out of its own power of mAyA, imagines the multiplicity.

    कल्पयत्यात्मनात्मानमात्मा देवः स्वमायया ।
    स एव बुध्यते भेदानिति वेदान्तनिश्चयः ॥ Gaudapada kArikA II-12

    Meaning: Atman, the self-luminous, through the power of his own mAyA, imagines in himself by himself (all the objects that the subject experiences within or without). He alone is the cognizer of the objects (so created). This is the decision of the Vedanta. (Swami Nikhilananda’s translation).

    Shankara adds in his commentary on this verse:
    The self-luminous Atman, himself, by his own mAya, imagines in himself the different objects. It is like the imagining of the snake etc., in the rope. He himself cognizes them, as he has imagined them. There is no other substratum of knowledge and memory.

    The answer to the Question appears to be that it is brahman who ignores and attains back Its Self as there is no other ‘actor’ in the town!

    2. Regarding Knowledge and liberation:
    “Where would knowledge ‘go’, other than in the mind?”

    Undoubtedly, it is the mind that is the portal for “receiving” the Knowledge.

    Sage Vasishta explains in Yogavasishta that the Self-Knowledge first destroys all the nescience and then destroys itself. The analogy given is that of the fire first burning a faggot of wood and after the wood is fully burnt, the fire does not survive. It burns itself. In this illustration, fire is the Knowledge, the faggot is the ignorance.

    Shri Subrahmanian explains in detail that “actually there is no difference in Advaita between jnana and mokSha. jnAnam is vRttijnAnam that destroys ajnAnam. And this alone is sufficient for mokSha since the jIva is always nityamuktasvarUpa. Ignorance alone was obstructing his knowing that he is ever free. When ignorance is removed by knowledge, his native mokSha svarUpa shines by itself. Hence there is no need for any separate action for ‘attaining’ mokSha. And there is no need for anyone to ‘give’ mokSha afresh.”

    Shankara in his commentary on the smanvaya adhikaraNa in brahma sUtras (I-i-4) says that Self-knowledge directly gives liberation. He cites several mantras from munDaka, taittirIya, bruhadAraNyaka, chAndogya, prashna etc. Upanishads in support.

    In Br.up.B 4.4.6 Shankara declares much more emphatically. He says:
    तस्मात् अविद्यानिवृत्तिमात्रे मोक्षव्यवहार इति च अवोचाम, यथा रज्ज्वादौ सर्पाद्यज्ञाननिवृत्तौ सर्पादिनिवृत्तिः ॥

    Meaning: Therefore, we have said: removal of avidyA itself is mokSha. Just as the removal of the error of snake, etc. is concomitant with the removal of the ignorance about the rope, etc.

    Thus, Knowledge and mokSha are non-different in Advaita.

    3. Regarding the upadesha sAhasrI quotation :
    “The word ‘ego’ does not occur; the sense is ‘removal of adhyAsa that is preventing the self-evident Atman from being realized’. ‘Experience’ also is not correct.”

    The original verse 203 in tattvamasi prakraNam 18 of upadesha sAhashrI reads:

    स्वसंवेध्यत्वपर्यायः स्वप्रमाणक इष्यताम् |
    निवृत्तावहमः सिद्धः स्वात्मनो S नुभवश्च नः ||

    swasamvedhyatva paryAyaH swapramANa ishyatAm |
    nivRittAvahamaH siddhaH swAtmanaH anubhavashca naH ||

    Meaning . Therefore accept the Self as self-evidence which means the same thing as self-knowledge. The knowledge of the Innermost Self according to us thus becomes possible when the ego vanishes.

    (Translation by Swami Jagadananda, Published by Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai. Available online at:
    http://www.celextel.org/adisankara/upadesasahasri.html ).

    Shri Jagadananda also used the phrase “when the ego vanishes” in his translation.
    Moreover, the word “anubhava” which is usually translated as “experience” also occurs in the verse as the last but one word in the verse.


  21. Ramesam,

    Point 1 is a paramArtha versus vyavahAra problem. Since there is only Brahman in reality, it has to be the case that Brahman has the ignorance and gets the knowledge (except that these things have no meaning from an absolute standpoint!). From an empirical perspective, the seeker seems to be a separate individual having ignorance and, once Self-knowledge has been gained, realizes that he/she was always Brahman. All of the ‘explanations’ of Brahman doing this and that, imagining and forgetting etc. are adhyAropa metaphors and stories. In reality there is always only Brahman, ‘doing’ nothing.

    It is pointless trying to bend the reality to explain the phenomenal. You have to talk about gaining Self-knowledge at the vyAvahArika level and, here, when one seeker is enlightened, this does not result in everyone else being enlightened! There are LOTS of other actors in town (most of who are not interested in becoming enlightened)!

    Point 2: I don’t really disagree with any of what you say here. But I am not sure why you are saying it – it implies that I said something different. It is a fact that, since we are really Brahman, we are already free. It is also a fact that most people do not know this. They are ignorant of the fact and, in order to realize it, they need to gain Self-knowledge. When you gain the knowledge, you gain the realization.

    What Venkat said was A) that Shankara specified mental purification before shravaNa; B)Therefore knowledge goes beyond the merely intellectual.

    And I was simply saying that I did not understand why B followed from A.

    Point 3:
    swasamvedhyatva paryAyaH swapramANa ishyatAm |
    nivRittAvahamaH siddhaH swAtmanaH anubhavashca naH ||

    A straight translation, using the most commonly encountered word-for-word meanings can rarely do a scriptural verse/shloka justice. It needs ‘unfolding’ by someone who really understands it. I have not studied the upadesha sAhasrI. I have just listened to some of the commentary by Swami Paramarthananda. Unfortunately, there is more Sanskrit and Tamil in the discourse than English so I found it rather hard going and would need to listen several times to extract more meaning. One point that was made clear is that ‘anubhava’ does not mean experience here. Swami P says that to translate it thus would lead to confusion; it means ‘aparokSha j~nAna’.

    I suggest we call a halt to the discussion here. I am trying to complete my Q&A book and this is too much of a diversion!

    Best wishes,

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