Short questions and answers No. 2

Here are a few more short Q & A’s which do not merit a separate post of their own: (Dennis’ answers, so don’t blame any of the other bloggers!)

Q: Nisargadatta says : Delve deeply into the sense ‘I am’ and you surely discover that the perceiving centre is universal, as universal as the light that illumines the world. All that happens in the universe happens to you, the silent witness. On the other hand, whatever is done, is done by you, the universal and inexhaustible energy.

My question in two parts:

 1. If my awareness is the absolute one and there is no other – then yours does not exist?

 2. If they both exist as the Absolute but are separately perceived by two minds why am I not aware of your experience as well as my own?

 So far as I can see, without reliance on solipsism, non-duality/Vedanta must posit a reality where the Absolute is being “dipped into” by separate minds?

A: I suggest you read the essay I published –—An-Examination-of-chidAbhAsa.ashx.

At the empirical level, there are separate people with separate minds and sensory equipment. A has A’s mind and sees through A’s eyes; similarly B has B’s mind and eyes. A doesn’t see through B’s eyes or know what is in B’s mind. But A functions by virtue of the non-dual Consciousness being reflected in A’s mind; similarly so does B.

In the metaphor in the essay, you can imagine the sun shining onto two mirrors. The light is reflected off the first into room X and off the second into room Y. The first does not illuminate Y and the second does not illuminate X but the source of the light is the same.

At the absolute level, of course, there are no rooms, mirrors or people – all are mithyA and there is only Consciousness.


 Q: Obviously we have been born in the past so as to have taken this present birth. A soul polluted by worldly contaminants such as love for family, money etc is said to be the cause. For the self-realised soul there is no attachment and no birth. My question is how is that a pure soul (before it could have taken its first birth) was still forced to take birth? This would mean that some factor forced the pure souls to take birth for the first time. Does this not contradict self-realisation per se which is going back to the purity of soul and ending the chain of births and deaths?

A: All ‘living things’ have an associated jIva according to traditional Advaita. The nature of the next birth for a human is determined by past karma. Non-human organisms do not gather new karma but could still have karma from earlier human lives – you can go round and round, up and down in saMsAra until such time as you gain enlightenment. Only then are you not reborn. But, as you will appreciate there are countless plants, insects and animals still to come to a human birth, as well as gods and heavenly beings who did not attain enlightenment to come back down.

But all this is vyAvahArika explanation only. for those who want it and can feel satisfied by it. From an absolute point of view, where is the question of a ‘rebirth’ when there has never even been a first birth at all? Don’t confuse the two levels!

You can read my blog ‘Between Lives’ – and the following one, ‘Fires of Reincarnation’ – for more on this.


 Q: While I understand I am not my limbs and some other body parts how can I not be depending on my heart to be conscious, I mean alive? How can we say there will be this sense of being after the heart stops? And if we cannot, is it possible that non-dualism is just another belief system?

A: You are making the same error as the scientists in concluding that Consciousness is a phenomenon that arises in the body (brain). In fact it is the other way round – the entire (apparent) universe, including bodies and minds, and including your own body and heart, are appearances arising in Consciousness. See the article I wrote for Yoga International on this –


 Q: One of the ways to liberation some Neo Advaita teachers recommend is to focus on the question “Who am I?“  Accordingly, from an examination of this, it is not hard to perceive that the “I” is simply a concept, and to ignore it as such.

However, it would seem that the roots to this “I” may go deeper, and may in part be based on past negative experiences, which are much harder to dismiss as mere concepts, even though they happened in “time”, also a concept.

 Would you have any advice re the “I” and past negative experiences, and how to resolve these within the Advaita teachings?

A: Experiences, whether positive or negative, can never lead one to an understanding of the nature of the Self. They are necessarily dualistic – experiencer-experience-experienced – and reality is non-dual. This understanding has to come from another source. The traditional one is hearing about it from a qualified teacher, questioning to remove doubts, and reflecting upon it all until such time as understanding dawns. The real value of negative, past experiences is in leading one to the realization that happiness is never going to be found in worldly things. Eventually, the desire to search for the truth becomes the overriding one and, with a bit of luck (grace) one finally comes to the teaching of Advaita.


 Q: it is my experience that I can get enmeshed in the dream for short periods. No problem, they certainly don’t last long. 

 My question is: Is this a common experience? Would this be the experience of a Jivanmukti?

A: If someone has totally prepared the mind prior to enlightenment, he or she becomes a jIvanmukti and will not thereafter be deluded in any way by the world or otherwise ‘forget themselves’. If, on the other hand, mental preparation was incomplete then, although there will be enlightenment, there may still be periods in which the person behaves as though not enlightened.


Q: Is this understanding directly about what we truly are, and are not?  Does all of this actually come down to that specific understanding of True Identity?  Or, is it a more “full” understanding of the scientific facts of life, the cycles, the elements, etc.?

Please help clarify!

A: The scriptures from which the teaching of Advaita derives cover all these aspects. But the point is that only the Self is truly real; everything else depends upon the Self for its seeming reality. Much of the ‘scientific’ description will seem archaic to the modern mind. For example, only 5 elements are described (space, air, fire, water, earth). But this is ultimately irrelevant anyway and does not detract from the essential presentation and unfoldment of the nature of ‘life, the universe and everything’. Rather the opposite – the relative simplicity makes it easier to avoid getting bogged down in irrelevancies. Aspects relating to human behavior, motivation, spiritual practices and so on are timeless, anyway.

Q: So at the “end of the day”, EVERYTHING is pointing to THAT!? And ALL of the stories and explanations and removing of ignorance is also to ultimately get to THAT??

 If so, this helps BIG TIME and takes sooo much effort and struggle away from trying to figure everything out!!!  

A: Shankara’s précis of the message of Advaita is: “brahman is the reality; the world is mithyA; the jIva is non-different from brahman” and you could say that the entire message of the scriptures is contained in the mahAvAkya ‘tat tvam asi’ – you are That. So yes, it is all very simple. But you do not need to be told that it is also contradictory to everything we experience and most of what everyone else tells us. So ideally you do need a teacher to explain it all step by step and answer your questions. Simply reading the scriptures is extremely unlikely to bring you Self-knowledge, even if you can read Sanskrit!