Q: Many Vedanta teachers, nonduality, and especially Direct Path teachers answer the question “Who am I?” with these kinds of constructs:
‘I am that which is aware of objects. I am the awareness of objects. I am awareness.‘
I understand the intention of this way of formulating things; it moves the seeker away from the notion that s/he is this or that object (body, mind, etc.). But my problem with the formulation is that it seems to be presented as satyam, but it is in fact mithyam. (When taught properly it’s a good adhyAropa apavAda device, but many of the nonduality teachers I’ve read teach it as an ultimate truth, the foundation of their teachings.
The true (satyam) answer to “Who am I?” is “I am Atman/brahman.” And this is NOT synonymous with saying “I am awareness (or anything else that can be conceived, envisioned, described)” because Atman/brahman is beyond all attributes. So, if one were to avoid using the Sanskrit terms, my answer to “Who am I?” is something like:
‘I am the mystery.‘
My question for you as a traditional Advaita teacher is: What is the validity/usefulness of the “I am … ” constructs I listed at the beginning of this email?
A: As you know, I have said that any teaching is ok as long as it ends up at the truth of non-duality. To be able to comment upon a specific teaching, you have to be aware of its starting and end points, the means that it employs to get you from the start to the end, and the language that it uses. For example, there is no problem with Nisargadatta’s using ‘awareness’ instead’ of ‘Consciousness’ as long as those using his teaching have the correct understanding of what is meant. (Although why he couldn’t use ‘Consciousness’, I’ll never know…)
Basically, I don’t like the phrases that you refer to. The first is pretty obvious but the second and third are increasingly liable to confuse or turn off. Traditional does not really take this sort of approach. Compare for example the five sheath ‘model’ in the taittirIya upaniShad. But saying that, if you can perceive it, you cannot be it takes you in a similar direction. ‘I am the mystery’ does not do it for me. Sounds like a new-age cop-out. You ARE That, so although you may not be able to describe it, it is not unknown to you.
Q: Let’s see if I can zoom in on what it is that disturbs me … : Many ‘nondual’ teachers (even Advaita teachers) use consciousness to point to Atman/brahman. ‘Who-I-really-am is Consciousness. Consciousness is that in which all experience appears. Consciousness is that with which all experience is known. Consciousness is that out of which all experience is made. Brahman is <pure> Consciousness.‘ And so on.
What about consciousness makes it inherently useful as a pointer to Atman/brahman? I don’t see the fundamental connection between the two! It seems arbitrary. Why not, instead, say: Love is brahman. Or inner stillness is brahman. Or brahman is the totality. Or even better, use existence as a pointer to brahman instead of consciousness. It has the advantage of being even more fundamental than consciousness *and* has no objects. I guess traditional Advaita does pretty much exacly this with: Tat tvam asi. Yes? So why all the talk about consciousness?
A: Isn’t consciousness our most fundamental ‘attribute’? Surely Consciousness is more fundamental than existence? A stone exists but it doesn’t reflect Consciousness – it isn’t ‘conscious’. Everything ‘reduces’ to Consciousness. praj~nAnaM brahma is one of the four mahAvAkya-s – Consciousness is Brahman. Read all about it in the Aitareya Upanishad! ‘Love’ and ‘stillness’ are very much in the vyAvahArika realm (and depend upon Consciousness).
Q: I think we’re running into the classic confusion of levels! Can we agree that:
Consciousness = satyam, brahman, no subject/object;
consciousness = mithyam, ‘consciousness of,’ subject/object
I’ve been talking about consciousness not Consciousness … consciousness is what all these teachers seem to be pointing to when they say “I am that which is conscious of I.” The construct ‘conscious of’ doesn’t make any sense when applied to Consciousness.
So my question, hopefully framed more clearly this time, is: Why is consciousness (lowercase) used so often as a pointer to brahman? Consciousness and consciousness are categorically different, and for me the pointing makes things unclearer intuitively, not clearer.
In terms of Consciousness being more fundamental than existence, yes of course it’s true: brahman trumps everything, even existence. But consciousness doesn’t, and that’s what I’ve been talking about. “I am” trumps “I am conscious of.” It’s built right into the sentence!
My main question for you is: Why is consciousness (lowercase) used so often as a pointer to brahman?
A: I didn’t think there was any confusion of levels. It is understandable that consciousness is highly regarded since, without it, there is no experience of any kind. If we don’t have it at all, we are (as good as) dead. When we are dead, we are still Consciousness but no longer have consciousness. Lower case consciousness is reflected Consciousness. I don’t know that I am aware of any true teachers who knowingly use consciousness to point to who I am in reality. If they do, either they really mean Consciousness or they don’t know what they are talking about.
The statement “I am that which is conscious of I” is not a very precise one, is it. Without careful definition, it is meaningless. Unfortunately, many modern (neo) teachers do not define their terms before use!
So I guess my answer to your question would have to be that there are lots of ‘teachers’ out there who do not deserve that appellation.
Q: Perhaps the confusion of levels was just on my end, not yours.
That consciousness (lowercase) is highly regarded makes sense. But that it is used as a pointer to Consciousness/brahman … doesn’t.
Here’s an excerpt from an interview with Rupert Spira, a Direct Path teacher I really like (and you too, I think). Would you agree that he is using consciousness (being aware of) to point to Consciousness:
Rupert: Are you aware?
Rupert: What happened between the question … between the thought ‘Are you aware,’ and the thought ‘Yes?’
Seeker: Some billions of neurons fired and interpreted the words …
Rupert: No, no. What happened in your experience: we hear the question “Am I aware,” pause. You didn’t pause long, it’s true, but you are seasoned at this, you don’t need to pause long. We hear the question “Am I aware,” pause.
Seeker: There’s a moment of reflection perhaps.
Rupert: Pause, answer “Yes.” The question “Am I aware” is a thought, the answer “Yes” is a thought. What takes place in-between those two thoughts? You become aware that you are aware.
Seeker: Yeah, there’s a moment of self-reflection, of introspection.
Rupert: I become aware that I am aware; it’s a long hand version of the statement in the Old Testament: “I Am that I Am.” I am that which is aware that I am. The ‘I’ that is aware knows that it is aware. That experience of being aware of being aware, took place in-between these two thoughts.
A: Yes, I agree he is doing that. Presumably you have read my review of his first book? I like Rupert (having met him a couple of times) but that does not mean I like the way he teaches Advaita. I think I am actually a bit anti ‘Direct Path’ these days. It is obviously a much more serious and organized teaching than neo but it is still trying to get the seeker directly to realize the nature of Self and reality through experience.
I am currently writing what will be a fairly long analysis of knowledge versus experience. This was initially to answer Venkat’s questions in the blog. Then I decided it would form a new chapter in a rewrite of ‘Back to the Truth’. But now it has developed in a new book of its own (‘For the Confused Seeker’). And I am seeing the necessity of understanding very clearly that enlightenment is a knowledge thing. I think perhaps the Direct Path exercises can bring one to think about this sort of thing more clearly but I also worry that maybe it can take one down a cul-de-sac. (I’m thinking aloud here and haven’t actually followed-up that idea.)
That which ‘sees’ things (in an objective sense) has to be consciousness, not Consciousness (which does not ‘do’ anything). If you rewrite “I become aware that I am aware” as “I realize that the one that is referred to as ‘I’ is really reflected Consciousness and that the ‘real I’ is that original Consciousness”, then I would say that is ok.
Dennis: “That which ‘sees’ things (in an objective sense) has to be consciousness, not Consciousness (which does not ‘do’ anything)”
That statement comes very close to the teaching of Nisargadatta whereby he distinguished between ‘dynamic’ and ‘static’ consciousness. The former dimension or aspect is the one that ‘does’ things (subject-object relationship, etc.), while static consciousness, according to him, is equivalent to awareness or (pure) Consciousness, a higher – or highest – ontological level, as per the copied sentence above. Nisargadatta also used the term ‘awareness’ in this last sense.
I didn’t think I was saying anything very profound. Any ‘perceiving’, ‘experiencing’, ‘doing’ etc. has to have a subject, object and instrument so is firmly in duality. It is only that which we call ‘Absolute’, ‘Brahman’, ‘Consciousness’ that we (mentally) regard as the non-dual reality.
I don’t remember hearing the term ‘static consciousness’ before. That adjective implies that it could also be ‘moving consciousness’, so I would never use the phrase to refer to Brahman. This is why I still think that Nisaragadatta can be very confusing for seekers!
This is Arun. Hope you remember me. I have authored a book, ably supported by two other co-authors and the title of the book is “Pearls of Vedic Wisdom to Succeed”.
I want to engage in a debate, not necessarily disagreeing with what you have said so far in this blog, but to provide additional interpretations and points of view I had expressed in my book. Would be interested in your valuable opinions and I hope this exchange would be found interesting and enjoyed by the visitors of your blog.
I want to drive home my interpretations by taking one small step at a time so that we do not resort to very lengthy conversations.
I agree with you that Consciousness is the source which enlivens the mind, energizes the mind or without which the mind cannot function. The mind is capable of reflecting a tiny or little bit of the Pure Consciousness and it is called reflected consciousness.
In the same way, the Consciousness energizes and powers our various other instruments like eyes, ears, tongue, hands, legs, heart, lungs, brain, mind, etc. Without Brahman or Pure Consciousness, none of these organs can function.
In your comments above I hope you intended that the Consciousness enables one to see, though it itself does not see (it does not ‘do’ anything). It (Consciousness) does not hear but without which hearing is not possible, it does not speak but without which speech is not possible, etc.
What is written in the above two paragraphs is what is conveyed by Aitareya Upanishad (3.1.1 – 3.1.2), Kena Upanishad (1.1 – 1.8) and Brihad Aranyaka Upanishad (3.4.2, 3.7.16-3.7.23, 3.8.11).
Brahman is also known by several other names such as Self, Atman (soul), Prajna (Consciousness), Indweller (dweller within the body), Sakshi (witness), Kutastha (unchanging), Chetana (energy or potency), Chit Shakti (Sentient Energy), etc.
Hope you agree with what I have written. Would like to hear from you before I proceed further.
I’m afraid I am too busy at present to embark on any other discussions. I am currently involved in ones with Ramesam and Venkat but do not really have time to pursue those. I have been trying to progress with a new book that I am writing but keep getting diverted. So I must apologize and decline to comment at this time.
But I did not disagree with anything you said here.
I recognize and value your time and shall share all my thoughts in this one comment as crisply as possible. I humbly request you to go through this and assure you that it would not be waste of your time.
I am glad to know that you are not in disagreement with what I wrote earlier and hopefully I think you may not disagree with what I shall share now.
As part of doing my Manana where I was trying to comprehend, assimilate and reflect on the Vedic literature I had read, I got few thoughts which helped me understand some of the Vedic concepts easily, yet comprehensively. In fact, the very purpose of trying to engage with you right from the beginning was to share those thoughts here and obtain feedback from you, other bloggers and visitors of your website. Here we go.
In a Television, the electrical energy energizes and powers various parts like display, speakers, Integrated Circuits, Printed Circuit Boards, Signal Receiving Unit, Signal Decoding Unit, etc. Without electrical energy, none of these parts can function.
Electrical energy enables the screen to display pictures though it itself does not display (it does not ‘do’ a thing). It does not make a sound but without which speakers cannot produce sound, it does receive and decode signals but without which signal receiving and decoding is not possible, etc.
It is astounding to notice that the above two paragraphs are similar to the two paragraphs I had written in my previous comment.
I had mentioned a few different names of Brahman and Vedic literature makes use of a particular name depending on the context and the discussion. Here I want to use the name of Brahman as Chit (Sentience) or rather Chit Shakti (Sentient Energy). As it energizes all organs in our body and sustains life, I called it as Life Energy or rather Sentient Life Energy in my book.
Just by using this name Sentient Life Energy it helps immensely in doing our Viveka (reasoning) and Vichara (inquiry). I am not deriving any conclusion here. I am only requesting to stay with the term Sentient Life Energy and observe how it dramatically makes it easier to understand various concepts about Brahman provided in the Vedic literature.
1. Traya Avasta – Three States
It makes it much easier to understand Traya Avasta discussed in Madukay Upanishad which are Jagrat (waking state), Swapna (dream state) and Sushupti (deep sleep state).
In the waking state the Sentient Life Energy powers the gross body (all external organs), subtle body (Manas (mind), Buddhi (intellect), Chitta (memory) and Ahankara (ego)) and all the internal organs such as heart, lungs, intestines, liver, kidney, respiratory, circulatory, digestive systems, etc.
In the dream state, the Sentient Life Energy powers the subtle body and the internal organs while the gross body rests.
In the deep sleep state, the gross and subtle bodies are rested while the Sentient Life Energy powers the internal organs.
Among the three states, as we move from one state to another, the Sentient Life Energy continues to be present in all the three states without a break. We shall talk about Turiya later.
While discussing Traya Avasta it makes it very easy for human comprehension when we use the term Sentient Life Energy instead of using the word Consciousness.
When we use the term “energy”, nobody will ask to see it (barring light energy). Everybody understands that they cannot “see” gravitational energy, electrical, heat, etc.
In the same way, Life Energy cannot be shown (Mundaka Upanishad 3.1.8, Svetasvatara Upanishad 4.20).
Nobody can “think” about or “comprehend” any energy in the mind. We cannot understand gravitational, electrical or heat energy by “thinking”. They have to be experienced to understand them.
Nobody can “think” and “comprehend” Life Energy (Kena Upanishad 1.5). Definitely, Sentient Life Energy can be experienced and we shall see that aspect later.
4. Nityam – Eternal
The first law of Thermodynamics states that the energy can neither be created nor be destroyed.
Vedanta also says that the Sentient Life Energy is Nityam (Eternal) (Katha Upanishad – 1.2.18, Bhagavad Gita 2.20 – 2.21) meaning it can neither be created nor be destroyed.
Here we are effortlessly making a huge leap (Mrutyorma Amrutangamaya – From death to the nectar of immortality) because normally we get stuck with the question as to how the Consciousness can continue to exist after the body is dead. It is mainly because of the wrong use of the word “Consciousness” and the term “Sentient Life Energy” comes to our rescue with a very affirmative backing from Science by relying on the first law of Thermodynamics.
If a bulb goes bad it means that though electrical energy is very much present, the bulb is unable to manifest it. In the same way, when a body is dead, the Life Energy is very much present, though the body is unable to manifest it anymore.
Bhagavad Gita (2.21 – 2.25) describes the “Life Energy” as indestructible, eternal, unborn, undecaying, can’t be cut by a weapon, can’t be burnt by fire, can’t be wetted by water, can’t be dried by air, beyond modification and thought.
This description very well applies to all other energies also.
If we do not use the word “Energy” then it necessitates this kind of adept verbal dance and nifty wordplay to make one understand and Vedic literature is proficient at it.
6. Ekam Eva Advitiyam – One without a second
For example, we understand that there cannot be two different electrical energies.
Ekam Eva Aditiyam Brahman (Chandogya Upanishad 6.2.1) meaning there is only one and there are no two different Life Energies.
If we consider Electrical Energy as a thread, then all the electric and electronic devices in the world are individual beads of pearls strung on the same single thread.
If we consider Life Energy as a thread, then all of us are individual beads of pearls strung on the same single thread uniting this entire world into one single beautiful necklace (Bhagawad Gita 7.7).
7. Instant Pervasion
Let us say, the main switch is turned OFF and all the electrical equipment such as bulb, heater, refrigerator, etc. are turned ON. Then when the main switch is switched on, the electrical energy instantly reaches all the instruments and they all start working at the same instant.
In the same way, when we wake up from the deep sleep, the Sentient Life Energy instantly powers all the organs such as hands, legs, eyes, ears, mind, etc. and they all start operating at the same instant. Kaushitaki Brahmana Upanishad (4.19) says, “When one wakes up, just like from a blazing fire the sparks go forth in all directions, in the same way, the Life Energy rushes to all stations and positions in the body up to the end of the nails and hairs of the skin”.
8. Nature of Brahman, the Sentient Life Energy
In Vedic literature the Sentient Life Energy is described as Nirvikara (changeless), Nirakara (formless), Avyaya (undecaying), Niramaya (without any diseases), Nirabhasa (without any appearance), Nirvikalpa (without any modifications), Nirguna (without any qualities), Nitya (eternal), Nirmala (stainless), Nischala (immobile), Anantha (endless), Ajara (ageless), Amara (deathless), Akartha (does not do anything), Abhokta (does not enjoy anything), Ekam (one and only one), Ekam Eva Advitiyam (one without a second), etc.
If we carefully observe, all the above descriptions are applicable to any energy be it electrical, magnetic, heat, light, gravitational energy, etc.
However, the Vedic literature gives some more descriptions that are applicable only to Sentient Life Energy and do not apply to other energies.
All other energies are Jada (insentient) but Life Energy is Chit (Sentient). Sentient Life Energy is Swayam Prakasha (self-luminous or self-effulgent), Prajna (Consciousness or Awareness), Jnatha (Knower), Sakshi (Witness), etc. These descriptions are not applicable to other energies.
Sentient Life Energy
If we just see the light, we understand Light Energy. It is that simple. But after knowing about the Light Energy can we make a person who is born blind understand the Light Energy? Can we communicate using as many words and examples as needed and somehow make the blind person clearly comprehend the Light Energy?
It is precisely the same predicament the Vedic literature had to confront. Using mere words, the Vedic literature is trying to make us understand the Chit Shakti (Sentient Energy). Despite the difficulty, the Vedic literature and great Vedic masters have done a pretty good job in making us understand the Sentient Life Energy.
Thus instead of identifying ourselves with our body, mind, intellect, and ego if we identify ourselves with the underlying Reality which is the Sentient Life Energy then it would result in Happiness, Peace, and Oneness.
Ego – The Veil
We are engaged in selfish activities due to our unending desires which are in turn caused by the ignorance of our true nature which is we are not our name and form but we are the formless, eternal, infinite, peaceful Sentient Life Energy. This ignorance is caused by the Ego, which acts as a veil over the Sentient Life Energy.
According to Mundaka Upanishad (3.1.1 – 3.1.2) due to the Ego, when the mind is engaged in ceaseless thoughts, becomes restless and agitated, we lose our happiness and forget our Silent Awareness and fail to abide by Sentient Life Energy.
It is impossible to be in Silent Awareness and experience the Sentient Life Energy if we have even a little bit of selfishness or self-centered thoughts due to the Ego (Mundaka Upanishad 3.1.8).
Our poor mind is not the culprit. It is the Ego which is the culprit (Maha Upanishad 3.16 – 3.21).
It is the Ego which discriminates as “us” and “them” (Brihad Aranyaka Upanishad 4.3.31). In the name of religion, sect, language, nationality, etc. the Ego provokes hatred and animosity in “us” towards “them”.
Experiencing the Sentient Life Energy
Every energy is experienced differently. By jumping in the air and landing back on the ground, we experience the Gravitational Energy. To experience the Heat Energy, just feel it using the skin as the instrument. To experience the Light Energy, just see it using the eye as the instrument.
To experience the Sentient Life Energy, we need to make use of its Sentience and the instrument required is the calm mind (Kena Upanishad 3.1.8).
We need to first understand the Self, using the mind by doing Vichara (inquiry) and finally reach and abide in the Self, using the same mind again by doing Sadhana (practice and implementation) (Katha Upanishad 2.4.11).
When the Ego, I, me and mine is not there, then the mind is not disturbed as there are no thoughts, becomes peaceful and that allows the Self, the Sentient Life Energy, the real nature of the human being to be experienced (Bhagavad Gita 2.71).
Dropping the Ego helps us to free from the clutches of desires. Once free of desires then our true Self, Atman, Sentient Life Energy gets revealed (Brihad Aranyaka Upanishad 4.4.6 – 4.4.7).
Basically, all the good qualities and virtues help purify the mind. A pure mind is highly essential to experience the Self by being in Silent Awareness (Kaivalya Upanishad 1.4)
A thinker can comprehend the mind, but the mind cannot comprehend the thinker (Kena Upanishad 1.1 – 1.3, Brihad Aranyaka Upanishad 3.7.20, 3.8.11). We need to leave the domain of “thinking” and enter the domain of “experiencing”, “existing” and “being”. Just exist as a thinker without doing any thinking, devoid of any thought. Exist as Sentient Life Energy being in Silent Awareness.
By constant attempt and practice, one can succeed in just being in Silent Awareness (Mundaka Upanishad 2.2.2 – 2.2.9). Just be. Be silent. Just exist and become aware of your silence. Brihad Aranyaka Upanishad (4.4.23) emphasizes the same.
The state of dropping the Ego and experiencing the silent Consciousness is called Turiya, the fourth state (Mandukya Upanishad 1.7).
All the points are extracted from my book “Pearls of Vedic Wisdom to Succeed”. If you like what I have written then we could discuss where to take it from here. My idea is if we could come together and enable Advaita to reach a much larger audience and if possible have a backing from Scientific community then that would be a small service from my side to Sankaracharya, to whom I am greatly indebted for whatever little knowledge I possess.
Metaphors such as these – electricity, petrol, and so on – are useful to get the idea of Consciousness ‘enabling’ without being affected. But they are only pointers and it is easy and dangerous to take them too far. Advaita is endeavoring to lead the mind to realize the ineffable. You cannot describe or really even speak about the non-dual reality, because that would still be duality.
We already, effectively, ‘experience’ the Self all the time. How could we not when there is only the Self? The problem is that most are ignorant of this. Accordingly, the aim is to remove that ignorance. ‘Getting rid of desires’ is part of the process of ‘purifying the mind’; not in itself a mechanism for Self-realization.
‘Experiencing the Self’ is not turIya – who would be experiencing what? And turIya is not a state, it is another name for Brahman – the non-dual reality that is the ‘substratum’ of waking, dream and deep-sleep.
Mandukya Upanishad after explaining three states, while talking about Turya it calls it Chaturtha, the fourth. I was quoting directly from the Upanishad. But always after this, it is important to explain that it is not a distinct state like the other three. In fact, it is the substratum of all the three states and your answer provides this explanation.
“Experience the Self” – The phrase is used to convey the point and should not be taken literally. But definitely, when one sits for meditation and meditates upon the Self if the concentration is keen and steady at some point the meditated and the action of meditation get dissolved leaving only the meditator. In the same way when one concentrates on observing the Silent Awareness and if the concentration is strong then at some point the observed and the act of observation get dissolved leaving only the observer.
I was definitely not intending that getting rid of desires and purifying the mind by itself is Self-realization. In the next point, I specify that the pure mind is highly essential to attain Self-realization (Kaivalya Upanishad 1.4).
Vedantic literature uses several metaphors to make one understand the concept such as clay (and all containers made of clay), gold (and all ornaments made of gold), etc. I used the modern-day example, electrical energy (and all electrical and electronic devices). Use of electricity provides two distinct advantages.
1. Unlike clay, gold, wood, etc. electricity is subtle and can better serve as an example for Brahman which is also subtle.
2. The way different electrical devices which differ in the names, forms, and functions such as bulb, refrigerator, air conditioner, radio, television, etc. metaphorically represents the Brahman more closely the way Brahman or Consciousness operates in each one of us.
I was not trying to explain the ineffable Brahman. Everything I wrote was the quotes directly extracted from the Upanishads.
My object was to enable someone to do better Viveka and Vichara. If while doing Viveka whatever is said in the Vedic texts are understood more clearly without any doubts then it would give better conviction to do the Sadhana and perform the Nididyasana more intensely. Today after tons of Vedic texts and explanations, thousands of hours of video lectures, zillions of articles, still we struggle to understand what is said. If there are any doubts then it hinders in doing successful Nididhyasana.
When I read about Invisible, Incomprehensible, Eternal, etc. I could not help noticing that they perfectly apply to all the energies Science has discovered. As I had written, several more descriptions of Brahman also are applicable for the energies we know such as electrical, magnetic, heat, light, etc.
Brahman also energizes all our organs. It also enables electrical energy, heat energy, chemical energy, biological energy, mechanical energy (hands and limbs), etc. within our body. Maybe Brahman could be the mother of all energies and much more.
My idea is to explore whether Vedanta can be explained in a scientific way as far as possible and permissible so that it becomes acceptable to Scientists, Scholars, Mathematicians, Physicists, and all other great thinking minds. If we have the backing of the Science then Vedanta and Brahman could be introduced at the school level. It is only then we could propagate Oneness and Peace in everyone’s mind, eliminate the ever-rising human greed and if possible curtail the needs and encourage everybody to lead a simple, yet peaceful and contended life. This thinking was also endorsed by your own countryman Paul Brunton who firmly believed that Advaita could be the way to end violence and wars in this world.
You said: “But definitely, when one sits for meditation and meditates upon the Self if the concentration is keen and steady at some point the meditated and the action of meditation get dissolved leaving only the meditator.”
Yes, this is right. But then the meditation comes to an end and one is back in the same dualistic state, none the wiser. samAdhi is not enlightenment; and not a pramANa.
I’m all in favor of using modern metaphors such as electricity to help explain Advaita. Just as long as one is not tempted to try to equate Brahman and energy!
Some scientists do seem to be starting to think along Advaitic lines (e.g. recent book by Amanda Gefter – Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn) but in general science can never ‘investigate’ or ‘prove’ non-duality. See my series of posts beginning https://www.advaita-vision.org/science-and-the-nature-of-absolute-reality-part-1/.
If the meditation is a success then only the Subject is left and the Object and the action involving the Object get dissolved. This is called Nirvikalpa Samadhi for which a great deal of Sadhana is required. Once the meditation is over as you said the meditator is back in the dualistic state. But with proper Viveka, one could still abide in the Self, giving up the sense of doership and ownership even while engaged in action and this is called Sahaja Samadhi. These are the states which every true Advaitin aspires to achieve and if the Sadhana is still intense then one could achieve the state of JivanMukta.
I went through the link you had given and read the entire four-part series that discusses Science and Absolute Reality. I completely agree that as long as Science is involved with a Subject studying an Object, then it is impossible to get close to the Absolute Truth, be it Science or any Seeker. As the Truth lies with the Subject itself and as Subject cannot be Objectified, the Subject has to just exist in silence, be in silent beatitude for the Truth to be revealed. Hope sometime in future the scientific community understands this and undertakes this study.
I particularly enjoyed reading where you explain how wood is the underlying Reality of the wooden chair, the cellulose and fiber are the underlying Reality of the wood and so on until it cannot be broken down further and that indivisible point is the Brahman. Thus Brahman is the underlying Reality of everything.
It had a great impact on me and gave me better clarity in my understanding. As I was reflecting on this for quite some time then a thought occurred to me “What about all energies discovered by Science such as magnetic energy, gravitational energy, etc?”. They are not divisible like matter into sub-components. But they have to be Brahman otherwise it would not be non-duality. So that means all the energies discovered by Science have to be Brahman. Then all the properties applicable to energies should be a subset of the properties that are used to describe Brahman such as Nityam (eternal), Nirakara (formless), Nirmala (pure, unadulterated), Nirvikalpa (without any modifications), etc.
As I had mentioned earlier I happened to notice that the descriptions used for Brahman were applicable to energy and hence was able to accept those descriptions. Otherwise, I was struggling to accept them.
For example, it is said that Brahman does not die and continues to exist even after the body is dead. Brahman is Existence, Consciousness, Bliss. How can the Bliss continue after the body’s death? How can Consciousness be there after the death? How can Existence continue after the body has ceased to exist?
Bhagavad Gita (2.21 – 2.25) says Brahman is indestructible, unborn, undecaying, can’t be cut by a weapon, can’t be wet, can’t be burnt, etc. I used to wonder what kind of thing that could satisfy these properties and then I used to think that maybe that’s why it is called Anirvachaniya (ineffable). But still, it never gave me comfort and had to grudgingly accept though internally I was feeling it as an insult to my common sense.
With the new understanding that all energies are also Brahman, then it is imperative that Brahman’s properties must and should include as a subset, all the properties applicable to energy. Now we can easily sail through the discomfiture posed by the above two points. (1) All energies are eternal and (2) no energy can be cut or wet or burnt. As Brahman’s properties are a superset of those of the energies it is no surprise now that it can exhibit the properties of the energy.
Until now I had noticed the similarities between the properties of Brahman and that of energy and used it to understand those descriptions of the Brahman given in the scriptures. Now thanks to this exchange with you, in my mind I am stumbling on the fact that all the energies are also Brahman. I wonder that though I had identified the similarity between the description of energy and Brahman, I had remained oblivious to this simple fact that energy is also Brahman.
From the above articulation we see that Matter is Brahman and Energy is also Brahman. The great scientist Albert Einstein has said that Matter and Energy are two sides of the same coin. Hmmmmm. How closer can Advaita and Science can get than this?
Advaita goes one step further. It also says that Brahman is Atman of all living beings (Kena Upanishad 4.6). That means all life forms such as human beings, the animal kingdom, and the plant kingdom are created and sustained by Brahman.
The Matter is Brahman. Energy is Brahman. All lives are Brahman. Is there anything other than these in this earth or for that matter in the entire Universe? Thus the Brahman is the underlying Reality of this entire Universe and what we see or cognize are appearances of Brahman in various names and forms.
I hope these discussions help one do robust Vichara and clarify one’s doubts. I feel that my own understanding has improved with the discussions we have had so far.
Coming to the introduction of Advaita Vedanta at School level, I feel that it is very important for the future and wellbeing of mankind. Just like Mathematics is taught at various levels, such as before High School, at High School and undergraduate levels, a similar method should be adopted. Only those who specialize in Mathematics at undergraduate and later at Masters level are taught the most advanced concepts. In the same way, the most basic concepts of Advaita need to be taught and the advanced concepts should be for those who want to pursue further.
For example, if we succeed in imbibing that “I” is not the body, mind, and intellect that should suffice. Using some basic concepts from Viveka Chudamani, the concepts like Ekam-Anekam Viveka, Nitya-Anitya Viveka, Anthar-Bahya Viveka, Chit-Jada Viveka could be taught which rely completely on reasoning. Similarly, basic concepts from other works such as Atma Bodha, Tattwa Bodha, Aparoksha Anubhuti, etc. could be included. Sadhana Chatushtaya also should be introduced.
The idea is to enable everyone to identify the Ego at early stages of life, keep the greed and selfishness in check, promote Oneness, Peace, and Harmony by imbibing the fact that everybody is nothing but Brahman irrespective of the differences in names, forms, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, etc.
This would help the ethics and morality to spring from inside rather than being thrust from the outside. This is the only way to ensure better, prosperous and peaceful living for future generations.
By the way, the basic concepts are not just meant for the children alone. In fact, we should be starting with the same basic concepts if we start engaging with the Scientific community by arranging and participating in debates and discussions at various colleges, universities, conferences, etc. Just by sheer reasoning, we should convince the Scientists, Scholars, Philosophers, etc. that “I” is not the body, mind, and intellect and proceed from there. Only if we have the backing of the scientific community then it would become possible to introduce and include Advaita into the curriculum and get it adopted in large scale.
I will leave you to read my thoughts on jIvanmukti etc. in the other recent threads. Regarding ‘describing Brahman’ or talking about attributes, here is a very brief extract from the book I am currently writing:
According to Vedanta, words can reveal only four categories: jAti – species; guNa – quality; kriyA – action; sambandha – relationship.
. jAti or species (e.g. we can talk about a ‘bristlecone pine’ which we haven’t ever seen, when we understand what a ‘tree’ is);
. guNa or property (e.g. we can refer to the ‘blue’ car with the ‘dent in the bonnet’);
. kriyA or function (e.g. we can ask the ‘waiter’ to call the ‘manager’);
. sambandha or relationship (e.g. the ‘father’ of the ‘bride’).
Brahman does not belong to any species, has no qualities, does not act and has no relationship with anything – there is nothing that is not Brahman in reality. Therefore, no word could directly reveal it.
All the words you are using are merely ‘pointers’ so that the mind can intuit what we might be talking about until such time as you gain the Self-knowledge for yourself.
You said, “All the words you are using are mere ‘pointers’ so that the mind can intuit …”. Yes, that’s correct. I have been saying all along that these explanations are to help one to do a robust Vichara and Viveka. After any amount of such help still, a person has to walk the path of Sadhana alone to obtain the knowledge of the Self.
In fact, what you have said is also nothing but an aid to do Vichara. For that matter, the entire material on your website is also that which help in gaining the understanding and do intense Shravana (learning) and Manana (Comprehending). Then one has to do a concentrated Nidhidyasana to obtain the Self-Knowledge.
You mentioned that in the book you are currently writing you are writing about jAti, guNa, kriyA, and sambandha and you said Brahman does not belong to any of these. Now for a moment consider any of the energies that Science has discovered and put them through the same test. For example, the electrical energy does not have a jAti, does have any guNa, does not do any kriyA by itself though it is the cause by which the electrical devices perform the action and finally the electrical energy does not have any sambandha.
What does this indicate? It indicates that the energies are the closest we know that display several properties that are attributed to Brahman by the scriptures.
So far we discussed what Brahman is not. It does not have any jAti, no guNa, does not do any kriyA and does not have any sambandha.
Vedic scriptures also mention what Brahman is. They say Brahman is Satyam (Existence), Jnanam (Knowledge or Consciousness), Anantam (Limitless).
Now we shall put the energies through this new test.
Existence is Brahman. But none of the energies we are aware of pass this test. For example, Existence is NOT Electrical Energy.
Consciousness is Brahman. Again none of the energies pass this test. All the energies we know are Jada (insentient) whereas Brahman is Jnanam (Consciousness) or Chith (Sentient).
Limitlessness is determined though the Parichheda (limitedness) test. There are Desha Parichheda (limited by the form in the space), Kaala Parichheda (limited by time) and Vastu Parichheda (limited by object).
Everything is limited by its form and its form occupies a finite amount of space. Brahman is formless and hence does not have Desha Parichheda. So are all energies which are formless and are not limited in space.
Everything that has birth and death (creation and destruction) are limited in time. There is a time before which the object did not exist and there is a time after which the object ceases to exist. Brahman is not limited by time, it is beginningless and endless and is eternal. So are all energies which eternal.
Finally discussing Vastu Parichheda, any object is different and distinct from all other objects in this world. If we consider a book present in this room then it is not present in any other room or anywhere else in this world. But Brahman is present in every object at any instant or there is nothing in this world that is not Brahman. Hence Brahman does not have Vastu Parichheda. Now consider Electrical Energy. It is currently in my room, it is also in the other room and it is also present in millions of other places in this world. But at the same time, Electrical Energy is not present in several other objects in my room such as book, pen, glass, table, etc. Though in this test the energies fare better than gross objects and are capable of being present in several objects at the same instant they are not as capable as Brahman to be present in everything at the same instant.
Thus all energies are Brahman and Brahman itself is much more and properties of energies are a subset of the properties of Brahman.
Hope from now on we start considering the energies discovered by Science whenever we discuss or write what Brahman is and what Brahman is not.
Though you have been busy I want to Thank you and highly appreciate you taking the time to reply to my comments.
I kind of feel that we have been ordained to have this exchange as few new things came out which I had not thought of before. I also feel that now in this single web page we have now accumulated quite a lot and important information that could immensely help any ardent seeker. I myself feel that if I had come across a web page such as this about 10 years back it would have helped me in making much more rapid progress in understanding concepts of Advaita.
Don’t have time to read your whole comment, I’m afraid – I have a plane to catch.
Sorry, but electricity does not fulfil the criteria by a long way. It is not even a ‘substance’ in its own right – it is movement of electrons, which belong to the ‘class’ of fundamental particles. It has ‘relation’ with magnetism. It has ‘form’ of particles or waves. And it certainly acts upon the devices through which it passes, generating heat, light or whatever.
Have to go!
Advaita is the only school which encourages questioning and reasoning. No other schools such as Vishishtadwaita, Dwaita, and several other religions demand faith and trust and do not encourage questioning.
If a person knows only English then if somebody gives a lecture in French and German then the person would not be able to understand it no matter how great and informative the lecture may be.
That’s the reason why I am keen on using terminologies related to Science so that more people could easily understand.
I guess you were trying to say that electricity does not have jAti. jAti is used to indicate jAti – jAti bheda (a cat is different from a dog) and swajAti bheda (one domestic cat is different and distinct from another domestic cat). Now here we are not interested in whether the cat is made of different body parts. In the example cited by you, the pine tree is made of different parts such as root, trunk, branches, leaves, etc. But we take it as a whole and identify that this particular tree is different from another tree. In the same way, it is not correct to be dividing electricity into electrons and not recognizing the fact that as there can be two cats there cannot be two different electrical energies.
We know that Brahman powers all our organs in the body and as mentioned earlier within our there are electrical energy, heat energy, chemical energy, etc. But still, we say that Brahman itself does not anything though because of which several things might happen in the body. The same yardstick should be applied to electricity also when it produces heat, light, etc. when it operates the electrical devices, but it itself does not do a thing.
The previous argument holds good for sambandha. If electricity has a relationship with magnetism then apply the same yardstick and declare that the Brahman also has ‘relation’ with electrical, heat, chemical energies, etc.
If still not convinced then please consider gravitational energy which probably might not have the objections you had about electrical energy.
The idea is wherever there are similarities between the description of energy provided by Science and the description of Brahman provided by Vedantic texts then it should be spotted and highlighted. This would aid as a great pointer and help in better understanding. It also highlights the fact that what science has discovered in the last couple of centuries matches some of the descriptions provided in Vedic literature which are several thousands of years old. This would make one revere the intellect and wisdom of the great Vedic masters and attach great importance what these masters have said.
You had responded to what I had written about “what Brahman is not” – jAti, guna, etc.
Would appreciate your comments on what I had written about “what Brahman is” – Satyam, Jnanam, Anantam.
Apologies for delay. As I indicated earlier, I was going on holiday and I have only just returned.
I’m afraid your thinking is faulty. In your earlier comment, you said: “Brahman is not limited by time, it is beginningless and endless and is eternal. So are all energies which eternal.” This would contradict Advaita, would it not? If there is brahman AND energies, that is duality. Also, to take electricity as a sample energy: electricity is movement of electrons; electrons are matter; matter is created (in the interim teaching); therefore electricity cannot be eternal, since it did not exist prior to the creation of the electrons.
Regarding your question about satyam, j~nAnam, anantam, Shankara writes extensively on this in his bhAShya on Taittiriya 2.1. The explanation of this takes some 200 pages in one of the commentaries I have. I have no intention of trying to summarize this in a short comment! I do suggest that you obtain a copy and read it – it really is excellent and will clarify much for you. (TaittirIyopaniShad with shAMkarabhAShyam, Two volumes, Divyaj~nAna Sarojini VaradarajAn, Selva Nilayam, Coimbatore, 2014. No ISBN.)