Q. 500 Thinking about chidābhāsa

Q: How can I be sure that the true nature of Brahman is happiness? Also, can Brahman’s nature be happiness if happiness has objective qualities, and Brahman doesn’t?

A: Brahman cannot be described. If it had a property, it would have to ‘not have’ the opposite property. And Brahman is non-dual – there is nothing other than Brahman. All ‘adjectives’ apparently used to describe Brahman are not in fact adjectives in the usual sense. They are ‘pointers’ to help you to understand Brahman intuitively.

Read my answer to Q. 446 – https://www.advaita-vision.org/q-446-satyam-jnanam-anantam-brahma/

Read the 3-part post on the subject beginning https://www.advaita-vision.org/satyam-gyanam-anantam-brahma/

Q: Oftentimes in my inquiry, phrases will pop up that say, ‘I am not thought,’ ‘I am not that which I am aware of,’ ‘I am the awareful witness,’; however, aren’t these phrases simply just contained, and being said by thoughts themself, thus invalidating their truthfulness? – thought is not awareness, thought is thought.

A: You are that which is prior to the thought. Of course, in order to put something into words, you have to go via thinking and so involve the mind. And you are not those! Perhaps if you think of one of the frequent problems that seekers have, thinking that they are not present during deep sleep. In deep sleep, the mind is inactive; there are no thoughts. If I ask you if you were aware of anything in deep sleep, you will say that no, you weren’t. But if I then ask if you are sure that were not aware of anything, you will say that you are sure. How can you be sure if you were not there?

Q: your response is greatly appreciated, but I think that my question may have been poorly worded, and the subsequent answer, while helpful, was not exactly what I was looking for. I’ll try my best to restate my question:

In my inquiry, insights will often pop up in the form of thoughts that say things like, ‘I am the witnesser of all experience,’ or, ‘I am awareness;’ however, every time I remind myself of this true self, these affirmations are shot down by something in me that says, ‘thought cannot say that it is the witnesser of experience; thought cannot claim that it is awareness; thought is thought, it is not awareness.’ And it feels like some sort of paradox that I cannot escape, that opposes everything that I have been trying to learn about the teaching. So ultimately, I think that my question boils down to, is it valid for thought to affirm that it is awareness?

A: You are Brahman but Brahman does not think. Brahman does not ‘do’ anything.

I think what is happening is that you are confusing Brahman with the reflection of Consciousness in the intellect. When you say ‘I think’, you are identifying with the reflection. The recognition that you are Brahman is something that the intellect does. Enlightenment is an ‘event’ in the mind. You say that you, Kevin, are now enlightened. But nothing has happened to Brahman. In reality, you have always been Brahman because there is only Brahman. ‘Kevin’ is mithyā.

Read the following and hopefully all will become clear:

https://www.advaita-vision.org/chidabhasa/ and https://www.advaita-vision.org/continuing-reflections-on-reflections/ and discussion at https://www.advaita-vision.org/discussion-on-chidabhasa/

‘Who am I?’ in Communication, ‘Who am I?’ in Thinking, and The Mixture on Atman and Mind. You will find these in https://www.advaita-vision.org/pratibandha-s-part-5-of-7/ and https://www.advaita-vision.org/pratibandha-s-part-6-of-7/.

Q: I am having trouble connecting the concept of reflected consciousness in the mind to sensing… In the writing about chidābhāsa, it is said that ‘It is the reflected consciousness in the mind that perceives objects via the senses’. Is this excerpt comparable to saying that the mind is like a prism that the light of pure consciousness is refracted into? And that the colors created by this refraction in the prism are representative of the different senses that consciousness takes the form of? 

Piggybacking off of the last question, I have heard metaphors that suggest that the mind is like the moon, and consciousness is like the sun, in the sense that the sun reflects off of the moon to illumine the world in the same way that consciousness reflects into the mind to illumine objects. However, where I get confused is, is the reflected light coming from the moon supposed to be representative of sensing and the world representative of the objects that are perceived through the senses?

In the section titled, ‘‘Who am I?’ in communication’ in the writing titled, ‘pratibandha,’ you detail the three possibilities of the ‘I’ in communication, which resonated with me heavily, but later you say that, ‘The situation is rather different when it comes to thinking.’ However, assumed that these instances of communication and thinking when using ‘I’ would be the same, because in both cases, you are ‘speaking’ – in thought you are internally ‘speaking,’ and in communication you are externally ‘speaking.’ (not the greatest way of putting it, but hopefully you get the point)

One more thing too: in the same section, you also say, ‘I may, for example, say ‘I am Brahman’ without realizing that this is just a thought in the mind. I need to have a deep understanding of some key aspects of Advaita; not just ones such as chidābhāsa but also the difference between paramārtha and vyavahāra.’ I am not very familiar with the concepts paramārtha and vyavahāra – can you elaborate on these, or direct me to a writing that speaks about these?

A: What you are saying here implies to me that you are trying to jump to what are perhaps the most important concepts of Advaita without going through the more ‘mundane’ teaching. If you want to have a clear understanding, I  don’t think you can really avoid the more fundamental stuff. The entire process of teaching in Advaita relies on adhyāropa-apavāda, which means that you get the simple explanations first. These are later supplanted by more sophisticated ideas. This often repeats quite a few times until you are able to take on board the ‘bottom line’. I have attached a list that someone once asked me to prepare of books that I would recommend for the relative beginner.

Metaphors are used a lot in Advaita and can help a great deal. But they can also hinder, because they are only triggers to make you think about something in a different way. Your ‘prism’ metaphor is a good example. It could be useful but could also definitely lead to confusion. The moon metaphor is just to help you to disassociate with the idea that you are the body-mind of X. You are not – you are the ‘original’ Consciousness. (As you have to be of course, since that is all there is in reality.)

You have to differentiate between ‘I’ as X, when speaking to someone else and ‘I’ when contemplating the truths of Advaita. When speaking, you are almost certainly identified with being the body-mind, communicating with a different body-mind. Of course, who-you-really-are is not the thoughts either but the understanding of Advaita, and the realization that you are Brahman, have to take place in the mind.

paramārtha is the term for absolute (non-dual) reality; vyavahāra is the term for the transactional seeming-reality in which the body moves.