A Question asked at a Social Network Group:
“Is there a room for a concept of karma within non-duality? Is karma not another concessionary concept, useful only for the mind still caught in the belief of cause and effect?
It is very important and valuable in Shankara Advaita to have a correct perspective on ‘karma.’
It is, however, futile to expect or to give a one word or even a one line answer to the question. To do so will be an insult to the question itself!
Your hunch that “karma is another concessionary concept, useful only for the mind still caught in the belief of cause and effect” is very true, if you consider the seeker to be no more than a distilled mass of 2-3 lbs of brain. But fortunately or unfortunately, that mass of brain always comes with many appendages and appurtenances. Those can never sit tight! Continue reading
Many of the current popular Non-dual teachers in the West, both from the USA and UK, seem to present a version of Advaita which is a mix of Shankara’s philosophy and Kashmir Shaivism. Their audience, who are usually less inclined to accept the requirement of a prolonged prior mental preparation (called the “Purification of the mind” (cittasuddhi) insisted by the traditional Advaita, savour this mix essentially for two reasons. One is that the Karma theory and the concept of rebirth which are very much an integral part of Shankara’s teaching gets rarely mentioned by the Western teachers. The other is that the Western tech-savvy mind appears to prefer a world that is One seamless Whole without divisions (a–dvaita) as the Reality in preference to a world which becomes totally apparitional as Shankara avers, post Self-realization.
A recent publication titled “Liberation and the World- in Advaita Vedanta and Pratyabhijna” by Klara Hedling** attempts to pin point precisely where the Advaita philosophy of Shankara differs from the Non-dualism of Kashmir Shaivism. An excerpt from it follows: Continue reading
Q: I have just been initiated into japa meditation. I just wondered: is the mantra a sound or a word?
And if Atman and Brahman are one, I am interpreting that correctly to mean that in my deepest Self (soul) I am divine – at one with Brahman? And that that signifies a unity (oneness) not sameness (identity)?
To put it in Christian terms, in my soul the Spirit of God dwells (as Eckhart said: ‘the I with which I see God is the same I with which God sees me’ and ‘my ground is God’s ground, God’s ground is my ground’).
Thus Advaita: ‘not two’ (but not completely one either – monism). In Christianity: ‘whatever you do to the least of these, you do unto me’ (Matthew 5: 45).
A: ‘japa’ meditation is the mental repetition of a sound or a mantra. You could use the name of a god but it would still function as a sound. I.e. you are not supposed to ‘think’ about it, dwell on its significance etc. – that is a different form of meditation entirely. You give attention only to the repeating sound, ignoring any other thought. The repetition gradually loses its intensity and frequency and you are eventually left with complete mental silence. (May take a few years to get to this point!)
Atman and Brahman are two words for the same non-dual reality. The former is from the perspective of the (apparent) person and the latter from the as-if-perspective of absolute reality. Ishvara is the name given to Brahman from the perspective of empirical reality. Everything (including you and Ishvara) is simply name and form of Brahman. The relevant metaphor is that of bangle, ring and necklace being name and form of gold.
It would be best for you to temporarily forget all about Christianity and any other religion/philosophy until such time as you fully understand Advaita. Then you will be able to see that all the others are attempts, with varying degrees of success, to approach an understanding of the same truth. Trying to reconcile the views will only lead to confusion.
M. Thank you for your well-argumented comment. Empirical science is one thing; philosophy another. Other than Monism there is Non-duality (‘not-two’). Ultimately there is no essential distinction between matter and consciousness which latter, logically and epistemologically, is prius; equally, no distinction between subject and object, observer and observed. The existence and reality of consciousness, which is independent of all phenomena, doesn’t need a proof. Continue reading
Q: Which metaphor in Advaita is the closest to truth? For example:
1. If I take the “Snake in rope” metaphor, I must consider that “there-is-something” called rope, which is mistaken for something else (snake). So, in this metaphor, there is a TRUE rope and UNTRUE snake.
2. If I consider the “Water in Mirage” metaphor, there is the UNTRUE water, but there is no substrate on which this is happening (there is no rope equivalent here).
3. If I consider the “Dream” metaphor, there is the UNTRUE dream cosmos and dream characters and there is the TRUE dreamer in whose mind all this is happening. So the substrate is the dreamer’s mind – though it is “no-thing” in itself.
The doubt is…
Metaphor 1 gives an impression that there “is-something” out there, but we mistake it for something else and give it name & forms etc.
Metaphor 2 gives an impression that there is “nothing out there” and what we see is only inside our mind (the mirage has no substrate out there, but just an error in our mind).
Metaphor 3 is somewhat in the middle of metaphors 1 & 2 – Like metaphor 1, it has a TRUE substrate (the dreamer’s mind) but that substrate itself is just mind stuff (like metaphor 3) which can appear and disappear instantly, following no rules of any sort (rope will follow some rule, but a dream elephant may fly).
So is there something “out there” (some ineffable substrate – say energy) which is misunderstood as something else (say matter, forms) OR there is “nothing-out-there” and whatever we see is only our minds-stuff in motion?
Many thanks to the teachers for having this forum where seekers could ask their questions and helping others see the great truth! Continue reading
My answer: A given individual can live without technology – telephone, radio, TV, automobile – but society in general can no longer go back (how far back?) to the time of 3 or 4 generations ago. Everything has been ‘piling up’ and become more and more complex and, at the same time, integrated or intertwined more or less haphazardly. We need modern technology even if only to take us out of this mess – a mess which I don’t need to describe in any detail and which affects the whole world.
Are we at the point of no-return? Nobody knows. While there are dangers, there are also opportunities, advances and turn-backs. Each individual is like a cog of a great machine (or a thread in a tangle?), and only individuals can bring about some change for the better – others do it for the worse. It is like the ancient lore of good and evil in endless battle. The myth of Prometheus (and also that of Pandora) loom over all of us. The Greeks understood all this very well.
‘Advaita Vision’ is an antidote.
Q: I have been reading and studying your website and Advaita Vendanta in general and I ran across a few questions while recently reading an article.
“Vedanta states that the search for happiness in the world is based on a mistaken idea about the source of happiness. The things of the world are seen as objects of one’s desire for achieving completeness and therefore satisfaction and happiness through actions directed at attaining those objects. Objects themselves are neutral, says Vedanta, but one projects a positive or negative bias on the object according to past experience and conditioning. As long as there is the belief that the objects of the world are the source of happiness the endless cycle of desire, action, result, and experience will continue, sometimes with disastrous consequences. “
Does this apply to goals that are not neccesarily objects but still something of the world? Like say for instance studying in college in a field you are interested in. If you are not just studying for the diploma itself and a high pay grade but for the love of the knowledge itself and for being more able to serve those around you would that still fall under mistaking the source of happiness?
I dont know if I am putting this the right way so I hope maybe you can understand what I am asking despite that. I just was wondering does Advaita Vedanta advise not having goals in life at all? Is it disadvantageous to the self to pursue goals in life? If desire for things outside of yourself doesn’t lead to happiness is it a mistake to desire knowledge and service to others as well?
Also, do you know where I could learn more about how western psychology and Advaita Vedanta are similar and different? Do you have any thoughts on this? I know western psychology is a very broad subject but didnt know if you know of any books or articles that relate the two. Continue reading
Q: Advaitins believe that Atman is omnipresent / all pervasive and therefore doesn’t transmigrate after death. Only the subtle body does the travelling.
If such is the case, then why do some advaitins use the term ’embodied’? The term ’embody’ means, putting something inside a body. For example, once you put something inside an enclosed thing like water in a bottle, and then upon moving the bottle the trapped water also moves along with the bottle.
Is this what they really mean by embodied, that atman remains trapped/enclosed/embodied within the bottle called subtle body, and upon death, atman while being trapped moves along with the subtle body to a new physical vessel?
But then, if Atman moves along with the subtle body at death (i.e. if we take the word embody seriously), then it contradicts the teachings of advaita where they say that Atman is all-pervasive/omnipresent and has no need to change locations. That it is indivisible and cannot be enclosed by any bodies.
What exactly do they mean by embodied then?
A: Yes there is always a danger that, if you latch on to a particular way of phrasing things, you will be confused! The problem is that you cannot really talk about the reality at all so that teachers have to provide ‘explanations’ that are not actually true. You move forward in your understanding one bit at a time, discarding the earlier explanations as you go.
The ‘Atman’ is the word that Advaita gives to the reality as it ‘applies to’ the individual person. ‘Brahman’ is the word that Advaita gives to the reality as it ‘applies’ to the totality, universe and everything. And one of the key teachings is that Atman = Brahman. The word ’embodied’ is certainly used by some teachers but it is quite misleading. Atman is NEVER ‘in’ the body. A much better way of looking at it is that the reality (Brahman, perhaps better thought of as ‘Consciousness’) is ‘reflected’ in the mind of the person. This is why we seem to see separate individuals; the ‘quality’ of the reflection depends upon the quality of the particular mind. But body-minds are inert. They are conscious (small ‘c’) by virtue of Consciousness (large ‘C’) reflecting or animating the body-mind’. Continue reading
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