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

1. Metaphysics – 2. Is Advaita a trap?

  • If metaphysical entities cannot be verified to exist, how can we say anything meaningful about them?

My position is that everything is metaphysical – cf. Is everything metaphysical?

(Originally answered in Quora)

So, everything that exists is metaphysical, including language and thought: sticks and stones, trees, all bodies, etc.; IOW there is nothing that is ‘material’ or physical per se (which is a pure abstraction, or a metaphysical theory*). Language divides ‘what is’, the whole of existence, into parcels having particular meanings which, having specific referents, are not purely verbal or conceptual (i.e. language constructions), but are based on particular experiences. The experiences are either sensorial, purely mental or intellectual (thought, emotions), or intuitive, transcendental or spiritual, that is, transcending the mind; these last being metaphysical properly so called, for example pondering about, contemplating the nature of the universe, of matter, time, space, the nature of life, of origins or causality, ‘subject-and-object’, ‘value’, consciousness, mind, the meaning** of ‘soul’ or individuality (plurality). Pondering about the nature of experience and what may be called nonduality is intellectual as well as metaphysical or spiritual – this is not a neat distinction; the scope is what counts here.

*Metaphysical theories, being the product of thought (and language), are metaphysical themselves, it goes without saying. Their import or thrust “in the scheme of things” is something else.

**‘Meaning’ (a word or concept – or question mark in the mind ), merges here with its referent, ‘the thing itself’, by an act of intuition or comprehension.


  • Is Advaita a trap?

Yes, it is a trap for individual mind – that is, the mind that considers itself a separate and independent individual, a doer and enjoyer. After usually many years of seriously studying Advaita (emphasis on ‘seriously’) with full force and dedication, it may dawn on that mind that the belief described above was actually a trap and a lie. Realizing this, by a stroke of magic as it were (so one might think without straying much from the truth), BINGO! you are free… free from the mind’s doubts, fears, hopes, projections and tribulations. You then realize that only universal consciousness (a.k.a awareness) is true, and that that is what You are —the quotidian mind has disappeared, become no-mind, that is, pure unalloyed consciousness.

Q.443 A ‘simple summary of advaita’

Q: Based on your own search and discoveries over all of these years, and the writing of all of the books and blogs, if you had to summarize all of this, the truth of life, what would you say? 

A: Not sure what you are looking for here. My ‘personal’ view is surely not important and I could scarcely find any better summary than Shankara’s. Anyway, I spent an hour thinking about it (while washing up and vacuuming) and here is my one line summary:

The form does not matter – it is the substance that is important.

Q: How do we know that energy/matter is Consciousness and not just what it is as energy/matter? And why does it matter? Can’t Consciousness just be what it is by itself and simply aware?

A: Energy and matter are both objects of experience. They are transient and finite, changing one into the other and ultimately ending in Absolute zero. Consciousness is the non-dual, unchanging, eternal and infinite reality.

It does not matter from the standpoint of absolute reality. It does not even matter to most jIva-s, since they just get on with the usual pleasure-seeking aims. It matters to one who is seeking Self-knowledge.

Consciousness DOES just be what it is (there is nothing else) but is not ‘aware’ in the usual meaning of the word, since there is nothing else of which to be aware. Continue reading

Sada Shiva Brahmendra Swami, a jIvanmukta

Samadhi of Sada Shiva Brahmendra Swami

It was about 300 years ago. A Brahmin pair from Andhra Pradesh region moved to the banks of the river Kaveri worshiping Gods to bless them with a child. The couple were Mr. Somasundar Avadhani Moksha and his wife Mrs. Parvatamma. They were overjoyed when finally their prayers were answered and a boy was born to them. He was named Shiva Ramakrishna. He was the apple of their eyes and they were very fond of him.

However, even as a little kid, Shiva Ramakrishna seemed to be very disinterested in worldly things and showed a detached attitude towards everything. This got his parents worried. So they decided to get him married early.  They found a suitable girl and celebrated the marriage when he was seventeen years old. After a few years when the girl attained puberty, Mr. Shiva went to visit her and also celebrate the first night. It was quite late in the evening and already very dark by the time he reached. He was hungry and so he headed straight to the kitchen. His Mother-in-law, however, told him that it would take a little more time and requested him to wait outside. Continue reading

Advaita Vedanta & Neuroscience

Contrary to consciousness being an emerging property of the mind, as someone has answered, thus reifying the latter, I would hold the inverse: mind is a property or, better, a projection of consciousness. Consciousness is universal, mind particular, individual – standing in the relationship essence-accident (or substance-form). The first is without a beginning, the second temporal, The first, necessary as principle, the second contingent. First unmoving, second changeable.

All this is clearly spelled out in the philosophy and metaphysics of Advaita Vedanta and also, even if with different analysis and import, in Aristotelian metaphysics. Continue reading

The devil’s teaching part 2

Eka jIva vAda – the devil’s teaching (part 2 of 2)

Read Part 1

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

The Pull and Push Factors – Part 2/2

[Part 1]

 Let us take a simple case of “I see a tree.”

Whenever we have an “experience,” like I see, I walk, I do and so on, we should remember that the entity “I” has first separated out from the “Whole” that-IS and positioned itself as the “subject” (agent) of the action. Thus, at the moment of experience, it is not anymore a single entity, Oneness.  There are two —  the experiencer, “I,” and the experience. But the “experience” in turn consists of the object experienced and the act of having the experience (experiencing). So whether we are aware or not, a multiplicity got introduced. Continue reading

The devil’s teaching part 1

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.460 Is reality really real?

Q: In your answer to Q. 228 you wrote:

Reality is that which never changes; that which is the only existent, conscious ‘thing’, which lacks nothing and is limitless. Every, seeming ‘thing’ in creation is, on the other hand, transient and limited.

But this view of (pointer to) reality is not the only viable view, right? I mean viable in general, not within the Advaita worldview.

Couldn’t we say, instead, that reality is whatever happens to exist, in this moment, in the consciousness of the beholder? Reality as qualia, as subjective experience. In which case every seeming thing that exists in the moment is real (in the moment).

Or that reality is change, is transformation?

Or that reality is a concept that points to ___________ (the mystery)?

I could go on sharing other views of reality. Continue reading

The Pull and Push Factors – Part 1/2

 The Pull factor:

We have from kaTha upaniShad:

नायमात्मा प्रवचनेन लभ्यो मेधया बहुना श्रुतेन   —  I-ii-23,  kaTha upa

Meaning:   Atman (brahman) cannot be attained by the study of the Vedas, or by intelligence, or by much hearing of sacred books.

Shankara’s special treatises too make that point abundantly clear declaring:

स्नानेन दानेन प्राणायमशतेन वा      —    verse 13, vivekacUDAmaNi

Meaning: Neither sacred baths nor any amount of charity nor even hundreds of breathing exercises can give us the knowledge about Self.

अविरोधितया कर्म नाविद्यां विनिवर्तयेत् |      —               verse 3, Atmabodha

Meaning: Any action cannot destroy ignorance, for action is not a negator of ignorance. Continue reading