Q: What exactly (in Reality – i.e. Brahman is the only reality) is experience?
I know that there is a relative level where there are jIva-s and objects and minds and Ishvara, but if we talk about the absolute reality – Brahman – then I believe that there is no experience possible.
Brahman is the only reality and Brahman does not have experiences of any kind – yes?
So if I realize myself as Brahman, then I have to see all my experience as mithyA, yes?
SO: if you are agreeing to the above, and if I am following correct logic: why do so many teachers of non-duality and even of Advaita Vedanta say that experience is the only means through which we can explore reality?
As jIva-s in the relative realm, the only thing we have to navigate reality, is our experience. So again: what is an experience? Is there no reality to an experience?
Many teachers who are famous and well-respected point to the Presence of God as a palpable experience of peace, fullness, truth, love which comprises the reality of all our experiences. They say Presence is Brahman in manifest form and is eternal.
Is experience comprised of Brahman-as-Presence?
A: You are essentially correct in your analysis here.
The best quote to remember for this sort of question (what is real?) is that of Shankara, often used to summarize the teaching of advaita: “brahma satyam, jaganmithyA, jIvo brahmaiva nAparah” – brahman is the reality; the world is mithyA; the jIva is not other than brahman. So, if you are trying to speak of the ultimate reality, you are obliged to say that there is only brahman. Consequently, brahman does not act or enjoy; there is nothing else. And, crucially, there is no ‘experience’.
You have to be very careful with the words you use when talking about this. You go on to say “then I have to see all my experience as mithyA”. Certainly, you have to realize that this is so. But you (the jIva) will continue to see the world as separate. You cannot ‘see’ brahman, or ‘see’ the world as brahman or Consciousness.
It is certainly true that some teachers claim that ‘experience’ plays some part in enlightenment. E.g. they might say that, having understood the teaching intellectually, you then have to go on to ‘directly experience’ this. This is nonsense. It may be a misunderstanding or possibly a conflation of advaita philosophy with that of yoga. (The neo-Vedantins – Vivekananda and followers do this.) Yoga is a dualistic philosophy and it claims that nirvikalpa samAdhi has to take place in order to realize the truth. Only the particular teacher could explain the reasons behind their statements (perhaps!).
How could one ‘explore’ reality, if it is non-dual? Who would be exploring what? We cannot ‘navigate’ reality. Or rather we must be navigating reality all of the time because that is all there is! It is just that most do not realize the mithyAtva of this.
To return to Shankara’s statement, although the world is mithyA, the substantial aspect of this world is brahman. The world is name and form of brahman, mistakenly seen by the jIva as separate. So, at its heart if you like, the ‘experience’ is ‘real’ in the sense that everything is brahman. It is just that there is no duality in any of it. You cannot even say that brahman is ‘experiencing itself’, since there is only brahman. But putting it like that may help, and some teachers do.
Attempts to ‘explain’ any of this by bringing ‘god’ into the equation do not really help. The best way of looking at Ishvara to my mind is as the ‘laws of nature’ which govern how everything (apparently) takes place in the world. References to peace, stillness, harmony etc are of no help in understanding reality except in so far as a still and peaceful mind is necessary in order successfully to conduct shravaNa.
Q: If there is no experiential basis for self-realization then are you saying it is an intellectual theory that one has to sort of decide on and commit to? Like the sub-atomic field of potentiality in quantum physics maybe? I.e. this makes good sense so I’ll commit to this?
What other than an experience of the ‘truth of Brahman’ would make an individual mind feel convinced enough to gain self-knowledge that the self is Brahman and Brahman is All?
The truth is true and knows the truth because it is the truth? Isn’t that truth experiential for the jIva?
A: It is not a theory. But it is a fact that it is the mind that has Self-ignorance so that it must also be the mind that eliminates this when it gains Self-knowledge. The best way to appreciate this that I have come across is the idea of bhAga-tyAga-lakShaNA or jahad-ajahal-lakShaNA. Read the explanation of this in ‘Book of One’ or at http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/definitions/bhAga.htm and see if it helps. And knowledge is not experience.
Q: The whole problem we humans are having, as opposed to the problems of animals, plants etc, is that we human jIva-s are suffering because we feel that we are in a dualistic, hostile world with little to no freedom from problems.
So then the reason we are in this predicament is ignorance – yes? The solution comes in the form of knowledge that we are Brahman, the nondual reality of All.
What I don’t get it is: what is this nondual ‘Brahman reality’ knowledge going to do for the jIva? The jIva will still see duality; it will still have the experience of living in duality which is nothing but pain.
How does the ‘knowledge’ solve the problems of the experienced mithyA-world-jIva situation? What does the jIva get in terms of better experiences after gaining the knowledge of Brahman?
To me it seems like your husband or wife dies suddenly; the agony mows you down; you think all this is only apparently happening in nondual consciousness, which I and my husband both are and always were and will be – but it doesn’t do anything to help the agony!
A: The dream state is a useful one to think of in reference to this question. Have you ever had a lucid dream? Dreams can be wonderful or terrifying experiences but they are manifestations of our own mind and, if this is recognized in the dream itself, then we can modify events according to our inclination and simply enjoy it all.
The waking world is said (in the interim teaching) to be a manifestation of the cosmic mind. Hence, the individual is unable to modify events in the same way as in dream. Nevertheless, knowing that none of it is real inevitably ameliorates any suffering. E.g. the child may initially be terrified of visiting the dentist, worrying about imagined pain and discomfort. Once it is discovered that the situation is nowhere near so bad as was thought, future visits can be made without that initial level of anxiety. (This may not be such a good example but I’m sure you get the idea.)
Just thought of perhaps a better example. We are moving quite quickly into realistic 3-D computer simulations. Maybe these will eventually replace today’s cinema. You can imagine someone unfamiliar with this technology, say from a hidden Amazonian tribe, being brought to ‘civilization’ and subjected to this experience. They would presumably be terrified, thinking it to be real. Only after much explanation and education would they accept the experience as a computer-generated manifestation and maybe actually enjoy it.
I suggest that you read the answers to questions 24, 32 and 33 for more insight into this.
The point is that ‘experience’ is not just what is happening outside, it is also very much dependent upon how I interpret this. Knowing that everything is Consciousness and that who-I-am cannot be affected by anything makes all the difference.