The Final Paradox – ahaṃ brahmāsmi

Shankara’s explanation in Bhagavad Gita bhāṣya 2.21

[Note that this is a ‘stand-alone’ article which nevertheless supplements the material asking ‘Who am I?’ in the pratibandha posts beginning It provides a response to Venkat’s challenge at]

Reality is non-dual. All Advaitins know that this is the teaching, even if they have not yet succeeded in reconciling this with the appearance of the world and their own apparent individuality.

The Self does not act. The jñānī knows this. The well-known statement in Bhagavad Gita 5.8-9 tells us that: The balanced person who knows the truth thinks: ‘I do nothing at all; it is only the senses relating to their sense objects,’ even whilst seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, eating, going, sleeping, breathing, speaking, excreting or grasping; even just opening or closing the eyes. It is all simply the ‘play of the guṇa-s’, name and changing form, like the movement of waves on the surface of the ocean – all is always only water.

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Q.518 Reincarnation and Enlightenment

Q: I have been trying to wrap my mind around the question posed here:

Specifically: if reincarnation is not actually true and is just a part of adhyaropa-apavada — then why study Advaita at all when the probability of enlightenment is so low! Seems like life efforts would be better spent then trying to maximize ephemeral happiness.

The only way I can rationalize the practical utility of advaita is to accept that reincarnation is true in vyavaharika — that its a natural law, like gravity. Is that a fair understanding or is reincarnation truly just a teaching tool?

A: Where did you get the view that the probability of enlightenment is low? I know that this is implied in a few places in the scriptures but I rather think the point there is to ensure that only those who genuinely have mumukShutva pursue these ideas. If you are merely ‘interested’, you are going to lose that interest sooner or later and return to seeking the usual gratifications of empirical life. One of the seekers in the Upanishads is ecstatic when he is told that he ‘only’ has to live another few thousand lives before gaining enlightenment!

I believe that one of the main reasons that people today think that it is extremely ‘rare’ is their notion that there is ‘intellectual’ understanding that comes relatively easily and then there is experiential understanding that is extremely difficult to acquire. This is wrong! It is the erroneous understanding in the mind that keeps us in saMsAra and the correct understanding in the mind that frees us. It is perfectly possible to gain Self-knowledge in a single lifetime if you have the determination to do so. Obviously the best way is to find a qualified teacher. Then maybe years would be enough. If you have to read books and discuss with other seekers, it could take decades – especially if you read the wrong books!

As regards reincarnation, I wouldn’t worry about that too much. Whilst you really believe that the empirical world is real, then karma and reincarnation make sense. Without them, the ‘lawful’ nature of the universe appears to break down. The ‘good’ apparently suffer while the ‘evil’ triumph. Just look upon it as a mechanism that science is unable to explain or even believe. As I said in that other question, read the book by Muni Narayana Prasad if you want to understand more.

An Interview with Swami Dayananda

The following is an interview with Swami Dayananda Saraswati, conducted by John LeKay for Nonduality Magazine. That site is no longer available and the article was submitted by Dhanya. It is in three parts.


Swami Dayananda Saraswati is a contemporary teacher of Vedanta and a scholar in Sanskrit in the tradition of Sankara. Swamiji has been teaching Vedanta in India for more than five decades and around the world since 1976. His deep scholarship and assimilation of Vedanta combined with a subtle appreciation of contemporary problems make him that rare teacher who can reach both traditional and modern students.

          A teacher of teachers, Swami Dayananda taught six resident in-depth Vedanta courses, each spanning 30 to 36 months. Four of them were conducted in India and two in the United States. Each course graduated about 60 qualified teachers, who are now teaching throughout India and abroad. Under his guidance, various centers for teaching of Vedanta have been founded around the world; among these, there are three primary centers in India at Rishikesh, Coimbatore, Nagpur and one in the U.S. at Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania. There are more than one hundred centers in India and abroad that carry on the same tradition of Vedantic teaching.

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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 –

Read the 3-part post on the subject beginning

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.

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Q.450 Witness – mind or Brahman?

Q: Talks that I have been listening to use the terms ‘witness’, ‘eternal witness’ and other synonyms. Is pure consciousness or Brahman this ‘Ultimate Witness’? If so, obviously, it can’t witness unless there’s a manifesting medium to do so, correct? But ‘to witness’ implies duality. Also, it is often said that Brahman is transcendent or beyond the body-mind, and something other than the mithyA universe. So that means, again, that it can witness everything.

How do you reconcile the fact that knowledge is in the mind with Brahman being the witness beyond and apart from it? And how does this fit in with non-duality – there can’t be two things?

A: The effective explanation is ‘adhyAropa-apavAda’. The reality is that there is only non-dual Brahman or Consciousness. You begin with the conviction that the world is real, you are your body etc. Advaita gradually disabuses you of such notions by use of prakriyA-s (teaching ‘ploys’) such as analysis of the states of consciousness, cause and effect, real and unreal, seer and seen. Each of these takes you a little further in understanding. But, once the particular example has served its purpose, it is discarded. Analogy and metaphor can only take one so far; they are means to an end. Metaphors to illustrate this are leaving the boat behind once you have crossed the river, and letting go of the pole in pole vaulting before you go over the bar.

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Q.489 Creation and reincarnation

Q: Is Ishvara/mAyA the one responsible for the form of the universe or is the jiva responsible for it?

If Ishvara/mAyA:

  • then who/what is Ishvara and how does it create the universe?
  • then how does adhyAsa come into the picture because if Ishvara is the creator then even if adhyAsa is removed then the appearance of the world will still be there.

If the jiva

  • then why does the world not disappear upon enlightenment (a jiva is responsible for the dream at night whilst asleep, therefore the dream disappears upon waking)

I have heard many examples of gold/ornament with regards to the universe and Brahman (Gold being brahman, the names/forms being the ornaments). I’m not sure I have fully grasped this comparison, in what sense does matter depend on Brahman?

I see that all things are experienced IN consciousness and therefore in that sense the world of objects/atoms/quantum fields etc depends on consciousness/Brahman because the world can not be experienced without consciousness. It doesn’t seem right to me, because it’s not something you could ever refute. Obviously we can’t experience the world without consciousness. Continue reading

Q.481 Robert Adams and Reincarnation

Q: I discovered Advaita Vedanta by beginning to read the satsangs of Robert Adams, an American disciple of Sri Ramana Maharshi. I also read books about the latter. These readings have had a considerable impact on “my”  existence, which started to take another turn.

However, there is one point that bothers me, if may say so. Let me explain :

In his satsang “It’s All A Dream” of October 18, 1990, Robert Adams says:

So today we think we are going to make this a better world in which to live, and we are going to save the world, and so on. The world has its own collective karma. It’s going through a phase. Your job is to save yourself. If you find yourself in a burning building, you do not stop to admire the pictures on the wall, you get out of the building as fast as you can. So, when you know you have a short time in this existence you do not stop to play the games of life, you try to find yourself and become free as fast as you can. Continue reading

The names of Brahman

You do not have to have been studying Advaita for very long to know that the words Atman and brahman both refer to the non-dual reality (even if are not yet convinced of this reality). After all, one of the four, particularly well-known mahAvAkya-s is ‘ayam Atam brahman’ – this Atman is brahman.

In fact, we have to expand this vocabulary. Atman usually refers to jIvAtman – what is sometimes (erroneously) called the ‘embodied’ Atman or even the ‘soul’. Also frequently encountered is the term ‘paramAtman’, and this refers to Ishvara, or saguNa brahman – that aspect of brahman which ‘manifests’ as the world, using the ‘power’ of mAyA. It is to be differentiated from the ‘real’, nirguNa brahman which is indescribable, unthinkable, infinite, unlimited etc. and is the ‘Absolute’, non-dual reality. (Note that paramAtman is often translated as ‘supreme Self’, and it might be thought that this means nirguNa brahman. But, if we are in the context of doing something in the world – being the ‘inner controller’, ‘witnessing’ or ‘perceiving’ or ‘creating’ – then it has to mean Ishvara, saguNa brahman, since nirguNa brahman does not do anything.)

Once you are much more familiar with the individual scriptural texts, you will know that sometimes these words are used almost interchangeably. For example, in his bhAShya on the Brahmasutras, Shankara uses the word ‘brahman’ throughout to refer to both nirguNa (brahman) and saguNa (Ishvara) – he expects that, by the time you reach this text (having studied all the major Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita), you will know what he is talking about in each individual case! Continue reading

Q.399 – Self-evident Atma

Q: I want to ask about the following quotation from your series on upadesha sAhasrI – part 19 (upadesha sAhasrI compiled by R. B. Athreya from the lectures of Swami Paramarthananda):

Atma, though a knower of everything, is not a known object, because, if Atma were to be a known object it will need another Atma to know, leading to what is known as infinite regress (anavasta dosham)Atma cannot be known by itself, because, to be known by itself, it has to become both the subject and the object, which is not possible as one and the same entity cannot function as subject and object simultaneously.

We cannot also say that one part of Atma can be known by another part, as Atma is by definition partless.  Thus, Atma is ever the knower but not known by others or by itself. 

As Atma is self-evident, its existence needs no proof.  That I am conscious is evident to me.  The very search for proof is possible because of my being conscious.  Thus, Atma is revealed as self-evident Witness Consciousness which illumines everything and which cannot be objectified by anything.  This Atma is my real nature.  All the known attributes belong to the known objects and cannot belong to the knower, Atma (consciousness).” Continue reading

Q.398 – Use of metaphors

Q: There are two concepts, super-imposition and manifestation, in Advaita to  describe the ‘relationship’ between Brahaman and the empirical world. Super-imposition means that the world is super-imposed on Brahaman. Manifestation means that the world is a manifestation of Brahaman. My doubt is as to how a manifestation can be super-imposition also? My gut feeling is that there is a subtle link between the two concepts which I am unable to ‘see’ because of the proverbial ‘ignorance’. 

A (Dennis): They are each a metaphor to give the mind some insight into the nature of reality. The reality is non-dual so that all metaphors and all ‘explanations’ are ultimately untrue. The world and the jIva are mithyA. Brahman has no relationships. Use the metaphors and explanations of the scriptures and teachers to help guide the mind to realization of the truth but don’t ever take them as more than what they are. And do not worry if one ‘explanation’ disagrees with (or even contradicts) another. They all have to be dropped in the end!