It is extremely difficult to accept that what we see, what we experience, what we take to be real is not quite real. Even Swami Dayananda wrote of his utter shock on realising that the solid universe is made up of nothing but words and meanings. I personally remember the first time I saw his demonstration of close-up magic when he held up a clay tea cup in the meeting hall, one hot afternoon in his Gurukulam in Anaikatti. “What am I holding?” he asked and then answered for us: “You say cup, I say clay. Tell me which bit of this is cup? My fingers touch clay, the weight of what you call cup is the weight of clay. The feel of the cup is the feel of clay. The colour of the cup is the colour of clay. Where is the cup? Is it on the clay? If it is I can remove it. Maybe it is in the clay?” In this way, as we watched, the thing called ‘cup’ vanished in front of our very eyes. ‘Cup’ is nothing but the name given to a particular form of clay for the sake of distinguishing it from other things made of clay and all other things as well.
Now extend this to all objects that can be traced back to a common cause: even science supports this view. Then at each stage we just have names: Shirt is the name of a form of material, material is the name of yarn, yarn of cotton, cotton of fibres, fibres of atoms, atoms of sub-atomic particles, etc till we arrive at a single cause. (Vedānta śāstram goes one step further than science in stepping from the perceptible to the non-perceptible world.) Continue reading →
As long as I believe in the absolute reality of the things around me, as long as I believe in the absolute reality of the body-mind amalgam, and further, as long as I believe that the body-mind amalgam is Me, I will be insecure and unhappy. Why? Because, if the world is real and this body-mind amalgam is real then threat and danger surround me: the treat may be to my life and wellbeing but, more often than not, my fragile ego is vulnerable to outside events and circumstances.
There is always someone richer or cleverer or wiser or more beautiful or more influential than me. In their presence I am unworthy and powerless. Poor unworthy me could lose all my friends to more attractive people, to cleverer people or to richer or more powerful people. I live my life dreading the moment that I will be found out to be a fraud or lose my job. Deep down I believe I am unlovable and that I will end my days sad and lonely. My fragile body-mind amalgam is not really up to the onslaught from the more powerful forces of the universe. I am not good enough to gain all the security I need to cushion myself from ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ (as Shakespeare’s Hamlet puts it). My life (or the life of loved ones) can be wiped out in an instant by a monster wave or powerful wind or fire or earthquake, or a drunk behind the wheel of a car or a mugger or a mentally deranged person or by a tiny bug invisible to the naked eye. And even if the threat doesn’t come from outside, my very own biology can suddenly conspire to pack up: cancer, dementia, palsy, blindness, deafness, a blockage in the artery, stroke. Continue reading →
by nature;amRRiteShu teShu = in the immortals; katham = how; punaH =again; mRRityu
dhiyaH = of the notion of death; avakAshaH = possibility.
The vanquisher of mortality (Lord shiva) destroys the “I am a devotee’ notion of those who have sought protection in him. Thereafter in them, who are immortal by nature, how can there be a notion of death?
Lord shiva is called mRRityu~njaya. He destroys the mortality of those who seek his protection. What does this mean?
I, as the individual see myself as limited. I consider myself as a part in the whole. A natural consequence is the rest of the world is the other part and the Lord is the protector of all parts. There is this feeling and need of being salvaged by the protector and one becomes a devotee. This devotee-hood though seems religious and serene makes once life stagnant and redundant, in that, the division is set and maintained forever. One has to grow beyond this. At the beginning, it is helpful to consider oneself a devotee, but carrying it too long will stunt a person’s spiritual growth. Continue reading →
Advaita seekers in the West want to find out whether it is true that they are neither body nor mind, but in truth are one, eternal, free and all-pervasive. Most of all they are interested in the answer to the question: „Who or what am I?“ They do not really care what the world is.
But once the true import of the understanding that I am all-pervasive and One dawns, then we can no longer ignore the question about what appears to be a second thing: What about the world?
The knowledge that I am limitless in time and space (one and all-pervasive) is incomplete if no explanation is included in it of that ‘which somehow is also there’. My true nature is non-dual – but body/mind, other living beings, the ocean, the continents, space, objects and possible subtle beings – what about all that? After all this is pure duality, isn’t it! If the mind does not find an adequate explanation for it, a feeling of incompleteness of the Self-knowledge of non-duality is likely to persist. Continue reading →
The aim of my previous blog on this topic was to clarify the term mithyā and thereby bridge the apparent gap between everyone’s perception of a diverse and ‘real’ universe and the advaita teaching that says that there is only one single non-dual Reality. Mithyā is that which cannot be dismissed as unreal nor can it be accepted as absolutely real. Due to a mistranslation of the word, many declare the mithyā universe to be an illusion and consequently act as though it can be discounted as if it was absolutely non-existent. Through the analogy of water and wave we are led to understand that, whilst still perceiving the wave, we nevertheless know that what we’re seeing is nothing but water. Similarly when looking out at the mithyā universe the wise person knows that what’s being seen is nothing but Brahman, pure existence-consciousness without limit.
Adi Shaṅkara’s vision of advaita is most succinctly expressed in the following pithy statement: Brahma satyam, jagan-mithyā; jīvo-brahmaiva nāpara. (Brahman is Absolute Reality, satyam; the universe is dependent reality, mithyā; the individual, jīva, is none other than Brahman itself).
In this statement there is one word that has caused great confusion by being wrongly understood – much of the critical rejection of advaita (as well as the fundamentalist stand on non-duality adopted by some Western advaitins) can be avoided if this word is understood correctly. The word is mithyā.
Traditional advaita vedānta postulates two orders of reality: absolute and relative. The name given to the relative order of reality is mithyā, commonly mis-translated as ‘illusion’. Whereas the neo-advaita teachers accept only one level as valid (i.e. satyam), vedānta accommodates both levels. In the Taittiriya Upaniṣad it talks about two birds on the same tree: one enjoys the fruit of the tree, the other just witnesses. The Īśa Upaniṣad says that one should see everything as the Lord, but if that’s not possible due to attachment to the body then one should live a life performing one’s duty. The very structure of the Vedas themselves reflects this acceptance of a two-fold reality and prescribe (in the karma kāṇḍa section) the best way to live the worldly life and in the vedānta section it reveals the vision of truth. Satyam is the absolute level of reality, mithyā is the ‘as though’ real. Continue reading →
[A few friends asked me about Moksha to be explained in simple words without any mystifying scriptural references, quotations and citations. This is what I wrote to them.
The points are made accordingly with no hyperbole, no mystique but merely as barebones facts without any frills – bibliographic references, supporting evidence etc. for the sake of brevity. I thought of sharing it here so that it can be corrected / sharpened in expression and improved in an overall way. ]
There is nothing mysterious about it. It goads the spirit of inquiry in us.
Recently there was an interesting question about the disappearance of ‘me’ when a patient is administered anesthesia in preparation for a major surgery. It is quite intriguing where the missing ‘self’ has gone and when under anesthesia (Q. 313).
Peter, Sitara and Dennis answered the question very ably explaining the Vedantic philosophy behind the various states of consciousness (as we usually understand the term). The false concept of the sense of a separate ‘self’ we think we possess and the reality of an eternal Self; the misunderstanding that arises if we take the word Consciousness to mean the same in psychology (& medicine) and Advaita; the possible existence of multiple ‘minds’ which derive their illumination from an unchanging, everlasting, self-effulgent One Brahman were dealt with by them. Hardly can anything be added to their clear exposition made from the stance of Non-duality beyond saying a word of our appreciation and gratefulness to them.
I would like to use this opportunity, if I may, to bring to the notice of a wider audience an approach I developed in 2004 relating the state of our alertness to our body-mind system in order to understand who we really are. We shall also in the process examine what are Deep Sleep and Death and what is the condition of the brain under different states, including awake, dream, deep sleep, death, coma, anesthesia etc.
Refutation of the claim by the Dvaitin that “A Principal statement like tat tvam asi is neither acceptable nor can be rejected. It does not serve any purpose”
A Principal sentence negates the identification with the three gross, subtle and causal bodies for the seriously inclined student of Vedanta and such identification is the cause of the birth and death cycle. It generates the knowledge of the self (which equates to liberation) instantaneously. If one can accept the God and Creation through the Veda pUrva (karma kANDa) texts, why not accept the same Vedas’ Principal statement “tat tvam asi” as equally valid? When a sincere seeker is taught a Principal statement like “tat tvam asi”, “aham brahmAsmi”, “ayam Atma brahman” etc, his or her own attachment to the body certainly goes away. But, in the case of ordinary people, the false notion continues, in spite of repeated hearing of the above texts. Without the removal of false identity with the body-mind-intellect complex the transmigratory existence through cycles of birth and death cannot end. Continue reading →
Most seekers who have investigated the teaching of Ramana to even a small extent will be aware of the concept of manonAsha. This is often presented as the idea that enlightenment is synonymous with the ‘death of the mind’. And indeed this is its literal meaning. Consequently, some writers claim that, following enlightenment, the j~nAnI literally no longer has a mind. This goes along with similar ideas such as that, for the j~nAnI, the world literally no longer exists.
This way of thinking is unfortunate. Shankara himself emphasised that we should not discount either our experience or reason, when it comes to interpreting the scriptures. And, speaking for myself, whenever I have encountered writings on Advaita which significantly contradicted my perception of what seemed to be ‘reasonable’, they have always proved to be misguided or incomplete, if not plain wrong. Continue reading →