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?Continue reading →
We all know that the shruti predominantly adopts the model of adhyAropa–apavAda (superimposition – sublation) in imparting the incommunicable Advaita message. There are other types of models and prakriyA-s also available in the scripture and tradition but they do not seem to be as popular. The adhyAropa–apavAda model superimposes an “imagined” or illusory creation on the really real Reality and as the student ingests the core Advaitic teaching, the superimposition is sublated. We find, however, that the shruti spends more time dealing with diverse aspects of the superimposed creation (birth, sustenance, death, action, fruits of action, rebirth etc.), the sublation being left to the ingenuity of the student as s/he reaches her/ his final understanding. One teacher estimates that Shankara in general devotes 90 percent of his time in most of his works on expiation of the Advaita doctrine and the attendant practices, leaving only a minor part on sublation and the outcome of the practices. This situation in some quarters has given rise to an insistence that the shruti teaches creation and that we have to take only the shrutivAkya-s and Shankara’s commentary on them as the pramANa (reference standard) for understanding the Advaita message forsaking other methods and vAkya-s in the scripture. Is that the intention of shruti? What is the final position of the shruti about creation from an Advaita perspective?Continue reading →
Here is how I described this teaching some years ago:
First of all, however, I will say a little about sRRiShTi dRRiShTi etc, since I have mentioned these above. I once thought that these were the principal creation theories of advaita. sRRiShTi is the Sanskrit word for creation. The mythical stories of God creating a world, for example over six days as in the Bible, are called krama sRRiShTi, meaning ‘gradual creation’ (krama means ‘ progressing step-by-step’). dRRiShTi is the Sanskrit word for ‘seeing’ or the faculty of sight. Thus, sRRiShTi dRRiShTi vAda means that a world is created and then we perceive it. dRRiShTi sRRiShTi vAda, on the other hand, supposes that perception precedes creation. This effectively boils down to a form of subjective idealism; i.e. the world only exists in our mind. This, in turn, implies that there are no other individuals than ourselves; i.e. solipsism. (The theory that there is only one person is called eka jIva vAda in Sanskrit.) Continue reading →
Eka jIva vAda – the devil’s teaching (part 1 of 2)
The ‘bottom line’ of Advaita is that there is only Brahman. The world with all its objects, bodies and minds, is mithyA – it is not real in itself but ‘borrows’ its existence from Brahman. Who-I-really-am is Brahman.
But all of this is already saying too much. We cannot actually say anything at all about Brahman. We ‘know’ it by ‘being’ it; that is all.
This, then, is the ‘final’ message of Advaita. Advaita is a teaching methodology that functions by removing all of the misunderstandings about the world and our ‘real Self’. It progressively removes Self-ignorance (neti, neti) until the time comes when the intellect can make the intuitive leap to a realization of that final truth which is beyond words and concepts.
The teaching utilizes various devices to enable us to remove misconceptions. These might be stories (e.g. ‘tenth man’), metaphors (e.g. gold and ring, wave and water) or more elaborate ‘prakriyA-s’ such as pa~ncha kosha or avasthA traya. The purpose of all of them is to draw attention to a particular aspect of the way in which we presently think about the world, and then to show by examination (comparison etc.) that we might be mistaken. In each case, by making us look at the situation in a different way, we advance our ‘non-dualistic outlook’.
But these new ways of thinking about the world are themselves only temporary, to help us to readjust our mental boundaries. They, too have to be discarded eventually because, as pointed out above, we can never truly ‘understand’ any of it. Once they have served their purpose, we drop them – adhyAropa-apavAda. Continue reading →
Q: Advaita often uses certain language and metaphors, and these can often come across as sort of a “subjective idealism plus”. Where subjective idealism argues that the “outside world” is a completely nonexistent illusion produced in a mind, Advaita sometimes seems to say yes, that’s true – only, behind that mind that imagines the world is consciousness witnessing the mind, which is “projected” onto consciousness by the mysterious maya. In other words, Berkeley was right, only he didn’t go far enough. This leaves Advaita sounding like total solipsism, blended with hardline idealism. Consciousness, some sort of unimaginable void incapable of anything, is having a mind and a world “imagined” onto it by maya, which despite the incapability of consciousness to do anything is still a “power” of that consciousness. (Of course, this is very much a conceptualization, taking these metaphors too literally and looking at these terms and concepts through a very Westernized lens. But this is often the way some teachings sound!)
But in addition to the talk of all things being total illusion, I will also hear that Advaita is realist – that the universe is not a hallucination; that it is, in one sense, “actually there”; and that it is in comparison to the changeless paramarthika viewpoint that vyavahara is “unreal”. This position makes much more sense to me than imagining the universe to be some sort of magic trick.
Now, I recognize that these explanations – both of them – are attempts to “point” at truth, and not a tidy description of truth itself. Ultimately, there is only brahman; there are no “illusory things” and no “real things”. But I’m far from truly grasping that yet, so I suppose my question is: which of these descriptions more accurately reflects the nature and relation of vyavahara and paramartha? Or are both illustrations only as useful as what they can communicate to a student? Or am I just getting way too caught up in concepts here?Continue reading →
Part 18 of the serialization of ‘The Dream Problem’ by Dr. R.V. Khedkar. Vasishta discusses with the dreamer the cause of dreams and whether we can determine their nature. He concludes with an explanation of the nature of the physical body.