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 →
One of the five great sayings (mahavakyas) of Vedanta which proclaims the highest truth of Non-Duality or Advaita is “Thou art That” – Tat Tvam Asi, occurring in the Chandogya Upanishad in 6.8.7. Here “Tat” refers to Brahman/Self. So in the most common sense rendering of the statement, it means – “You are Brahman”. This saying is not saying, “You must ‘become’ Brahman”. What it says is that one is already Brahman. Such is the case and one just has to know it to be so.
I had to bold and italicize the last lines of this paragraph because even when it is clearly stated, people are not able to overcome this notion of “becoming”. This is seen in the most advanced ‘practitioners’ of Advaita. In fact this notion of “becoming” is actually Maya, which keeps one tied to doership. This Maya is extremely hard to overcome, a fact which was anticipated and stated, both by Gaudapada and Shankaracharya, whom I shall be quoting in articles coming subsequently in this series.
In fact, this sense of Maya or “becoming” or “doership” is so powerful and so blinding that even after the Mahavakya says this to be the case; even after I shall show that all forms of doing are Maya; after giving all forms of quotes, logic and arguments: the notion of Maya/becoming/doership is very hard to root out. The Bhagavad Gita gives words to this predicament in the verse,
Among thousands of men, one perchance strives for perfection; even among those successful strivers, only one perchance knows Me in essence
S. Letting go of ideas includes letting go of ’emptiness’. If you discover this emptiness, its reification is almost certain except in the cases of very deep realization. Why? Because of the latent tendencies of consciousness (not separable from mentation and all other sensory perceptions and modes) to re-create from habit energy. The letting go of all ideation continues. There is no thing called consciousness to hold on to or live inside of. It is all dependent origination. There is nothing that is uncaused that you can separate out from anything. It is impossible. There is just the stopping of all effort to change or transform what arises because the very nature of what arises is the same as this emptiness, which is not empty. It is free of all extremes including non-duality and oneness. It is a realization, no position, no attachment, no grasping. It is beyond imagination. There is no easy way to discuss it. Maybe it’s better to say nothing at all.
I wanted to interject another thought into our conversation. I find that you keep reducing our chat to a debate of Advaita vs Buddhism. This is not my intention. I am trying to speak from my actual experience and not throw in all the quotes of various scriptures, etc. After all, it is only through our own direct experience of the way things are that will have any meaning for us. Quoting the Buddha will not make me more right or more certain about some things if I don’t actualize them. I can even quote other sources that point to the same thing, but I don’t see the point. l don’t need to convince you of any of this. It’s not possible. An intellectual understanding will not suffice in these matters. It has to be in your bones.
S. Almost every Buddhist school recognizes Madhyamika as important teaching, but it is almost always subordinate to the direct teaching of the Buddha or the teacher you study with. Every Buddhist school is also in debate with other Buddhist schools. Theravada/Mahayana, Vajrayana/Dzogchen, Dzogchen/Mahamudra, Nichiren/Zen, etc. It is mostly academics that engage in these debates which never solve a thing. A real teacher will never involve you in comparative mind. They always show you the recognition of your nature which is never seen as a ‘thing’ and never separate from any ‘thing’. They leave philosophy behind. This is not to say that philosophy cannot inspire.
The tendency in all of us to want to believe in something lasting, all-knowing, and final, must be regarded in the same light as our learned beliefs that we acquire from our conditioning and cultures. The idea of racism, that one color, nationality, or faith is superior to another, for example, is embedded in all cultures. Through our ordinary minds, we can work this out to the point of disbelief, or even disappearance from our thoughts and feelings that will allow us to treat each other with respect and dignity.
In the same fashion, we can look at ideas and concepts of philosophical and religious meaning and believe that these hold truths and even ‘take refuge’ in them. These conditioned ideas get reinforced through group belief, authoritative declarations, and our grasping desire to find some lasting truth in something that we can experience or know. We never really grasp what these teachings are talking about except in our conditioned mind, our ability to retain and repeat, and believe. Continue reading →
Shankara differentiates what might be called ‘ordinary’ or ‘intellectual’ knowledge (j~nAna) from ‘transformative’ knowledge (vij~nAna). The knowledge becomes transforming – i.e. making it efficacious in conveying the status of jIvanmukti – when the gaining of it has been preceded by successful sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti. In his bhAShya on muNDaka upaniShad 2.2.8, he says:
“Wise, discriminatory people (dhIrA) see through vij~nAna; vij~nAna is a special (vishihtena) knowledge (j~nAna), born out of the teaching of shAstra and AchArya (shAstra AchArya upadesha janitam), and received in a specially prepared mind, born (udbhutena) out of total detachment (vairAgya), having control of inner and outer organs (shama and dama), and which is therefore capable of upAsanA to begin with and later of nididhyAsana which together are called meditation (dhyAna). Through such a vij~nAna, wise people realize that the nature of the Atman (Atmatatvam) is non-different from the nature of Brahman (brahmatatvam)…” (Ref. 10)
‘Who am I?’ in communication
Who are we speaking of when we use the words ‘I’ and ‘you’ in writing and speech?
Since we are Advaitins, there are actually three possibilities:
‘I’ could mean Atman/Brahman, if used from the ‘as if’ pAramArthika viewpoint;
‘I’ could mean the reflected Consciousness (chidAbhAsa);
‘I’ could mean the usually understood ‘named person’.
One may think that the household and other responsibilities are impediments standing in the way of Non-dual practice. If one has followed this talk carefully, it can be seen that those are not obstructions at all. The seeker has to dissolve them all into his/her ‘Knowingness.’ People who are unable to do so call it as their ‘prArabdha’ – the inescapable effect of past actions. Concepts like the effects of past actions is invalid in Advaita. In fact, Advaita holds that the world itself does not exist because there is no creation and nothing was ever born. How then can prArabdha exist? There is no scope for rebirth or prArabdha when birth itself has not taken place. Continue reading →
‘pratyabhijna’ and ‘pravilApana’ form the two limbs of Advaita sAdhana. We have to practice these two with full involvement and clear understanding. Total commitment and unswerving focus are necessary for this practice to happen.
All our thoughts are the particulars sparkling out of the Knowingness. If we look at our thoughts from the stance of Knowingness, everything that is noticed including the body will dissolve in that vision. It is pravilApana.
We have to keep paying attention to the Beingness everywhere. Be focused on the all-pervading space-like Beingness which is present at every spot and ignore the form that pops up at each locus. It is important that we should not look at the Beingness as if it is an object sitting out there. We should get the feel that it is “I” as Beingness and Knowingness that is present at each locus. Such a vision requires total involvement. Continue reading →
If the world is the superstructure, like what is seen in a magic show, the Magician is the Knower, the Substratum! A seeker on the Knowledge Path pierces through the multiple layers of the superstructure to discover the base. He finds what is at the core. He knows that the ‘Universal’ has to be present wherever a ‘particular’ manifests. For example, if there is a bubble or foam or spray or a wave, he knows that water is the substance inside them all. Even an eddy can “be,” only if there is water.
The Advaitic seeker, hence, goes behind the apparent form to find the ‘Reality.’ He is aware that the world is merely an appearance of The Supreme Self and that the Universal and the particular exist woven together as the warp and the weft. Therefore, he understands that there is no occasion to be overwhelmed by the ‘appearance.’
I would like to announce publication of my book ‘Answers… to the Difficult Questions’. It will be ‘in the shops’ (if you know of a shop that sells this sort of book) on March 27th.
All seekers encounter problems periodically. A question arises which appears to challenge the veracity of their chosen path. If an answer is not found quickly, there is a great danger that the particular teaching will be abandoned and another sought. I cannot speak for other teachings but I know that traditional Advaita has answers to all (seeker-related) questions. This book records the questions from hundreds of seekers over the years and the answers I gave. (I first invited questions to my website in 2005.) It would be surprising if your particular worries are not covered somewhere and it is likely that there will be answers to many questions that have not yet occurred to you! (If you have one which is not answered, contact me via the website!)
The questions that are covered (over 450) can be read here but there are several problems with doing this. Firstly, the questions here appear in the order in which they were asked; questions covering a particular topic could be anywhere. Secondly, my own understanding and knowledge has obviously increased over the 15 years since I first began answering questions. Accordingly, my answers to early questions may not be as informed as they would now be. Thirdly, there is no introductory or summary material for the various key topics in Advaita. Continue reading →
Our mind is accustomed to get the impression of an object which has a finite shape (form). It is easy for the mind to think of finite forms. But AtmA is formless. Further, if AtmA were to be located at a particular place, the mind can see in that direction to find the AtmA. But AtmA is everywhere. It exists in all directions, at all points; there is no specific locus for It. The mind cannot look for It in all directions at the same time. The doctrine also says that AtmA is not an object to be seen but is “my own real nature.” How do I see my own nature? Therefore, it feels like a big effort to get a thought that corresponds to the AtmA.
As a result, we find the practice (sAdhana) in Advaita to be difficult. However, the very problems could be the cues which help us to have AtmAnubhava. We have from Bhagavad-Gita,