Sanskrit: language of the gods part 1

 

I am in the process of reviewing old material relating to Advaita Academy as part of my background research for a 2nd edition of Back to the Truth. There are a number of essays, blogs and book reviews by myself and others which I will be reposting here over the next few months (they can no longer be found on-line at present). Here is the first of these – a two-part essay by Peter Bonnici, explaining why Sanskrit is so valuable and why a qualified teacher is necessary. Dennis

Sanskrit: language of the gods – Peter Bonnici

There are many who declare themselves to be students of advaita vedAnta but do not see the value in pursuing the study of texts in Sanskrit as they believe that the proliferation of translations and commentaries on texts like the Upanishads and Bhagavad GIta available in native languages are sufficient. Then there are those who have a working knowledge of Sanskrit who feel that, armed with a dictionary and other necessary tools, they can arrive at the meaning of texts by themselves.

Both are missing something, and for the same reason: namely, the enormous expressiveness, subtlety and flexibility of the language to express the precise meaning that the speaker or writer wishes to convey. (Most of the valuable teaching of advaita was passed on orally and the written form came later.) Not only is one missing out the subtlety of meaning by side-stepping the language, but one can also be lulled into a false sense of security by the book knowledge one has. An example of this can be seen when one compares translations. Here are three translations of the first verse of shankara’s DakShiNamUrti Stotra:

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.461 A jIvanmukta’s prArabdha

Q: I have the following doubt. I look forward to your comments.

     Having completed the study of Tattva Bodha, this mumukshu has a doubt with regard to karma – sanchita, prarabdha and agami.

     The doubt exists in a narrow compass and concerns karma and the Jivan Mukta. Tattva Bodha states that on realization, sanchita and agami karmas of a gyani come to an end. But the same logic is not extended to prarabdha which it states continues even after realization and that on its exhaustion the Jivan Mukta drops the body.

     Advaita Vedanta is recognized as a logical and rational system of thought and it is therefore difficult to accept this assumption regarding prarabdha for the following reasons: Continue reading

Question on Atman and suffering

Does Advaita Vedanta acknowledge the existential reality of suffering and non-suffering occurring in Atman even after the spiritual liberation, or suffering becomes impossible in Atman after the spiritual realization?

https://www.quora.com/Does-Advaita-Vedanta-acknowledge-the-existential-reality-of-suffering-and-non-suffering-occurring-in-Atman-even-after-the-spiritual-liberation-or-suffering-becomes-impossible-in-Atman-after-the-spiritual-realization/answer/Alberto-Mart%C3%ADn-2

‘The existential reality of suffering and non-suffering… in Atman’? You write ‘suffering and non-suffering’, which makes no sense, as written, in the case of the highest principle, Atman (Atman-brahman or the Self) – there cannot be suffering in the Self, only non-suffering. Further, the way the question is written… ‘existential reality’, implies that you have in mind ordinary or worldy experience, but this confuses the issue, since ‘suffering and non-suffering’ cannot be ascribed to either the Self or the (empirical) self (jivatman- seen as individual and separate). Indeed, it is the lot of the self (ego or mind) to be immersed in a sea of difficulties and troubles – opposite ‘realities’ or experiences – but here it is suffering (samsara) what charterizes the life of an ordinary jiva — not ‘non-suffering’.

On self-realization what is eliminated, or, rather, disappears of its own, is psychological suffering – once and for all. No one is mentioning here physical pain, which is a foregone conclusion, as acknowledged by all spiritual traditions – no one more word about this.

One could say more about the cause of suffering by relating it to mind, when the latter (or the ego) is given some reality of its own instead of realizing that it is an illusory superimposition on the Self – all this being an essential doctrine of Advaita Vedanta.

Two questions answered in Quora

Is soul different from consciousness?

I agree with the responders here that equate both concepts – soul and consciousness – which in themselves are just pointers to what is real/reality. Reality can only be one, not multiple; thus, to make a distinction between soul and consciousness, or between spirit and matter, God and the world (or ‘I’), experience and knowledge  – or between Brahman and Atman – is either provisional (an intermediate doctrine or teaching) or confusing and limiting.

Another polarity which is ultimately unreal (only verbal or conceptual) from an unitary or metaphysical perspective is singularity/multiplicity. Language has its rights, but in this rarefied realm I would also equate spirituality with metaphysics, knowing full well the risks or misunderstandings that it can lead to. Continue reading

Q. 432 ‘Definition’ of brahman

Q: So brahman is, ‘by definition’, that which is beyond mind, conceptualization, understanding etc. If one takes this seriously, not just metaphorically/allegorically, how can one validly say anything at all about brahman? E.g. Brahman is: unchanging, timeless, attribute-less.

If it’s unknowable, how can we know these attribute-less attributes about it? We are told that Brahman is real; we are Brahman. But if we can’t know Brahman, how can we know it is real or that we are it? Does it ultimately all come down to believing the conclusions and insights of the scriptures?

A: Brahman is not anything ‘by definition’, because we cannot define it.

It is true that you cannot, strictly speaking, say anything at all about it. All of these statements from the scriptures are simply pointers. You know what those words mean so that your mind can gain some insight. Ultimately, the accumulation of insights enables the mind to make that catastrophic (in mathematical terms) ‘rearrangement’ that we call enlightenment. The problem is simply that all concepts and objects are ‘known’ so cannot be Atman-brahman. Atman is the ‘knower’ and there would have to be another knower to know it. Since there is only brahman in reality, there cannot be anything else to know it.

But Atman is not something that is not known. Indeed it is known more intimately than any concept-object because we are the Atman. And the Atman is neither an object nor a concept. Here is what Sureshvara says (naiShkarmya siddhi III.47 – 48):

“Because the Self is of the form of constant awareness, it requires no second means of knowledge to reveal it; because it is without sound or other attributes it is beyond the sphere of doubt. The Self cannot be known through the empirical means of knowledge such as perception, etc, which are but phlegm coughed up by the thirst for life. Indeed, it is not a possible object of empirical cognition, since it is the innermost Self and since it exists for its own sake.”

Another reason is that all forms of perception are directed outwards, so that we could never ‘perceive’ the Self. And, since inference is itself based upon perception, we cannot infer the Self either.

So, yes, you are effectively right that, when it comes down to topics such as this, the scriptures are the final, indeed the only, authority. But it is not exactly ‘faith’ as this word is normally understood. The scriptures do not ask us to believe in anything that is unbelievable. That we are the Atman is effectively self-evident. What the scriptures tell us is that this Atman is Brahman.

* Note that I have posted a series of four articles, entitled ‘What is brahman?’ that discusses this whole subject and explains the two ways in which we can talk about brahman – svarUpa and taTastha lakShaNa-s, intrinsic and incidental definitions. The articles begins here: https://www.advaita-vision.org/what-is-brahman-part-1/.

 

Q. 429 Discussion on ‘I am That’

Q: I have a couple of questions about ‘I Am That’.

As I understand it, this essentially says: Atman = brahman. So the ‘I’ is not the ahaMkAra ‘I’, rather the Atman ‘I’.

1. Did I get that right?

2. When one begins to reflect upon ‘I Am That’, is one expected to feel the I as the ahaMkAra I? And then move, gradually, towards realizing the I is in fact Atman?

3. The reason I ask (2) is because I have a great deal of difficulty ‘feeling’ my ahaMkAra I. It just doesn’t ‘compute’ with me. Does this brain/body sense things, have feelings, emotions, thoughts; am I aware of external and internal things? Yes! All the time. But are these sensations, feelings, thoughts, etc. = ahaMkAra ‘I-me’? No. They’re just… stuff that happens, electrochemical dances in a brain in a skull in a body that is identified as ‘Jack’ Is this a problem – that I can’t consciously/directly feel my ahaMkAra I? That when I look for it, I see mithyA, nothing of essential substance? Could my not being able to directly experience my ahaMkAra I be a stumbling block? Continue reading

Truth or Reality

Truth Reality Bhavagam (God)

Bhrigu said, ‘Truth is Brahma; Truth is Penance; it is Truth that creates all creatures. It is by Truth that the whole universe is upheld; and it is with the aid of Truth that one goes to heaven. Untruth is only another form of Darkness. It is Darkness that leads downwards. Those who are afflicted by Darkness and covered by it fail to behold the lighted regions of heaven. It has been said that Heaven is light and that Hell is Darkness.

Mahabharata Santi Parva Section CXC

*

‘Reality’ is a metaphysical concept or notion (which thus combines reason and intuition. As a concept, it purports to refer to something which is actually existing and is not just verbal (that is, it exists outside its verbal expression). Continue reading

REALIZATIONISM

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X. Belief is not the same as knowledge or understanding. Concepts and ideas are not reality itself – they are pointers to reality (a ‘finger pointing at the moon’); they are things of the mind to begin with, but it is un-logical to think or say that any one of them has, or can have, no contact with reality – directly or indirectly.

Y. We never really grasp what these teachings are talking about except in our conditioned mind. Continue reading

Q.396 – Atman cannot be known

Q: Swami Paramarthananda makes the following comments in his talks on upadeSha sAhasrI:

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. 

No Proof Needed

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