Q.501 Experiencing AtmA

Q: I would like to tell you about an experience I had recently.

I was walking the park and suddenly everything became clearer before my eyes and I was astonished I was like “ah….” in those few moments everything was myself and I was everything.  I was the pavement I was walking, the trees, the bushes, the fences and the whole space was filled with myself without slightest gap like water fills a sea.  I was everything and everywhere.  I was omnipresent and all pervasive. I didn’t have a specific location as I normally experience with out body a specific location.  At that very moment of experience I asked myself “what am I?” The answer very clearly and immediately dawned in me “peace, consciousness and bliss” it was an incredible experience of peace and awareness.  It left a profound peace and awareness in me that since then all my desires have disappeared and I am in total peace all the time and nothing however good or bad from the outside moves me any longer. 

Is this the experience or awareness of the Atma?

A: This is not really a question that is amenable to a short answer. There is a lot about it in my next book (‘Confusions in Advaita, Vol. 1’).

The short answer is ‘no’. You cannot ‘experience’ Atman. Experience requires an experiencer and a thing experienced – and that would be duality. You could also say that anything you experience cannot be Atman. You are Atman – the conscious experiencer – and anything experienced must be anAtman. But you might also say that, since reality is non-dual, there is only Atman-Brahman. Therefore, whatever you experience must also be Brahman.

Enlightenment is the intellectual realization of the truth of all this. It requires mental purification and then a process of listening to the teaching from a qualified teacher, clarifying any doubts through questioning and then a period of mentally going over all of this until it is clear and certain.

But your experience is not to be denigrated. It should serve as an incentive to investigate all of this properly!

Q. 500 Thinking about chidābhāsa

Q: How can I be sure that the true nature of Brahman is happiness? Also, can Brahman’s nature be happiness if happiness has objective qualities, and Brahman doesn’t?

A: Brahman cannot be described. If it had a property, it would have to ‘not have’ the opposite property. And Brahman is non-dual – there is nothing other than Brahman. All ‘adjectives’ apparently used to describe Brahman are not in fact adjectives in the usual sense. They are ‘pointers’ to help you to understand Brahman intuitively.

Read my answer to Q. 446 – https://www.advaita-vision.org/q-446-satyam-jnanam-anantam-brahma/

Read the 3-part post on the subject beginning https://www.advaita-vision.org/satyam-gyanam-anantam-brahma/

Q: Oftentimes in my inquiry, phrases will pop up that say, ‘I am not thought,’ ‘I am not that which I am aware of,’ ‘I am the awareful witness,’; however, aren’t these phrases simply just contained, and being said by thoughts themself, thus invalidating their truthfulness? – thought is not awareness, thought is thought.

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Q.491 Individuality and the world

Q: Does individuality survive enlightenment? In other words, putting aside any genetic differences, age, etc., would 50 realized people act the same in the same environment? Would they have the same preference for food, clothes, etc?

If not, why not? It seems that If the ego is completely destroyed, and a soul does not exist, and a person is in a permanent state of enlightenment, there wouldn’t be any difference between any of them. (My definition of an ego includes all past experiences.)

In addition, people often say something like, “I always wanted to do that,” or “Deep inside I always knew I would be a doctor or a scientist,” etc. What is that? Where does this “knowing” come from? Is it just an ego playing its games? 

Thank you, I appreciate your help. Your books are really great. I’ve enjoyed reading them.

A: Good questions! But, before I answer them, you have to always bear in mind that questions like these refer to the appearance, not the reality; vyavahAra, not paramArtha. In reality, no one has ever been born; there is no ‘creation’; there is only Brahman. (I’m assuming from what you say that you have read ‘A-U-M’, in which case you will be happy with this!) So the answers are academic, in line with traditional Advaita, but are all mithyA in reality.  Continue reading

Gaudapada and World Appearance

(Extract from the book)

What exactly happens when a person is enlightened or ‘gains mokSha’?  A popular, although somewhat incomprehensible, belief is that the world somehow ‘disappears’; that, for the j~nAnI, there simply is no longer any duality. Quite how the j~nAnI (apparently) continues to eat, drink and converse is not adequately explained by those who hold such a view. But Gaudapada approaches it from a different and even more dramatic angle.

Prior to my enlightenment, I make the mistake of identifying myself with the body-mind, believing myself to be a separate entity. This is the result of my Self-ignorance – not realizing that I am the unlimited Atman. Gaudapada says that this ignorance is beginningless (anAdi) (K1.16). At the dawn of Self-knowledge, I recognize that I am not the waker, dreamer or deep-sleeper but the non-dual turIya.

As to whether or not the world then disappears, Gaudapada effectively asks: how can it disappear when it didn’t exist to begin with? “If the visible world actually existed, there is no doubt that it might stop (i.e. disappear) (as soon as j~nAna was gained). (But) this (apparent) duality is merely mAyA (and) the absolute truth is non-dual.” (K1.17) Continue reading

The Disappearing World

The recent post by Ramesam – Ignorance goes, but mAyA remains? – continues to draw discussion. It has now reached nearly 50 comments! Ramesam’s last comment kindly referred to Gaudapada’s kArikA 1.17 and, looking this up in my book ‘A-U-M: Awakening to Reality’, I found that I had put together a very useful post to the Advaitin E-group back in 2009. Accordingly, it seems appropriate to post this here and, since it is longer than a simple comment, I am starting a new thread.

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 A favorite topic on the Advaitin discussion group (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Advaitin/) (where I am one of the moderators) has been what exactly happens when a person is enlightened or ‘gains mokSha’.  A popular, although somewhat incomprehensible, belief is that the world somehow ‘disappears’; that, for the j~nAnI, there simply is no longer any duality. Quite how the j~nAnI (apparently) continues to eat, drink and converse is not adequately explained by those who hold such a view. But Gaudapada approaches it from a different and even more dramatic angle. Continue reading

Q. 482 What happens after videha mukti?

Q: When the jIva removes the ignorance of his real nature, and realizes Atman is his Real unchanging Self, if the body dissolves, what happens afterwards?

If there is no further birth, do we then remain as Absolute, without name and form, without knowing anything other than pure Self? Is it like space all being uniform without any form? Is there nothing that is known? Surely it doesn’t remain In an absolute ‘stateless state’ of no Knowing?

A: There have been a couple of questions around this before – see http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/q_and_a/q_and_a44.htm#q263 for example.

Your question is based on a misunderstanding. At the empirical level, there is indeed a ‘person’ who may or may not become enlightened. If he/she does gain Self-knowledge, then clearly the outlook of the person for the remainder of his/her ‘life’ is going to be different.

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AbhAsa vAda

This is effectively Part 6 1/2 of 10 in the pratibandha series. It follows on from the heading of “The ‘mixture of Atman and mind’”. Apologies for the misleading and changing part numbers. This is the result of writing ‘as I go’ rather than completing the entire topic first.

Read Part 6

xi) AbhAsa vAda

This theory was mentioned briefly above in 2b, when bhAmatI and vivaraNa were discussed in the context of sources for mistaken views of Advaita. AbhAsa translates as ‘fallacious appearance’ and it is effectively the term that is used to describe this ‘mixture’ of Consciousness and intellect. Shankara addresses this in his upadesha sAhasrI, principally in chapter 18 ‘tat tvam asi’. The following analysis is with the help of Ref. 211.

As the chapter heading indicates, the topic is the mahAvAkya and how the knowledge of its truth is all that we need in order to gain enlightenment. We are already free and always have been, so once we realize this, there is nothing more that needs to be done. The idea that, after gaining ‘merely intellectual knowledge’ from shravaNa, we have somehow to gain ‘direct experience’ of Brahman before we are liberated, is called prasa~NkhyAna vAda. This is discussed and rejected in detail below, under the topic of ‘meditation’ but in this chapter Shankara introduces an objector who has these notions and the subsequent arguments are relevant to this topic of pratibandha-s. Continue reading

pratibandha-s – part 6 of 10

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The ‘mixture of Atman and mind’

While the body-mind remains alive (i.e. continues to be animated by Consciousness), the person is a mixture, as it were, of both. If I am enlightened, I know that I am really the original Consciousness, Brahman, but I cannot escape the fact that I am also still a jIvAtman, with that same Consciousness reflecting in the intellect. If I am unenlightened, I either do not know about paramAtman or do not believe that this is who I really am. Instead, I identify with body, mind, attributes or functions. I mistakenly superimpose (adhyAsa) the properties of the mithyA body-mind onto the paramAtman.

The same applies even to ‘knowing’. When we say ‘I know’, whether or not we are enlightened, it has to be the reflected ‘I’ that is speaking. Shankara says in his bhAShya on Bhagavad Gita 2.21:

“ …the Self, though verily immutable, is imagined through ignorance to be the perceiver of objects like sound etc. presented by the intellect etc.; in this very way, the Self, which in reality is immutable, is said to be the ‘knower’ because of Its association with the knowledge of the distinction between the Self and non-Self, which (knowledge) is a modification of the intellect and is unreal by nature.” (Ref. 6)

Thus, it can be seen, that this provides an explanation for the fact that I may be enlightened and yet the mind can still be affected by pratibandha-s. It there are none, because the mind was purified prior to enlightenment, then I am a jIvanmukta, enjoying all of the benefits of a mind unsullied by negative emotions. Otherwise, I must continue to perform those sAdhana-s that will eliminate such tendencies before I can reap the ‘fruits’ of enlightenment, j~nAna phalam. Whilst both are still inevitably a ‘mixture’, the one with pratibandha-s still says ‘I’ with a significant element of jIvAtman; the one who has purified the mind says ‘I’ with a predominant element of paramAtman. Continue reading

pratibandha-s – part 5 of 10

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vij~nAna

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:

  1. ‘I’ could mean Atman/Brahman, if used from the ‘as if’ pAramArthika viewpoint;
  2. ‘I’ could mean the reflected Consciousness (chidAbhAsa);
  3. ‘I’ could mean the usually understood ‘named person’.

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pratibandha-s – part 4 of 10

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j~nAna phalam

Here is the sequence of events that I believe represents the traditional understanding:

  • A would-be seeker practices sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti for a length of time in order to gain the qualities of mind (and the overriding desire to attain mokSha) needed to qualify for ‘approaching a qualified teacher’.
  • The seeker gains Self-knowledge from listening to a qualified guru, i.e an enlightened shrotriya [someone with deep knowledge of the shruti, including Sanskrit], who belongs to a qualified sampradAya [teaching lineage]), as he explains the scriptures. This is the stage of shravaNa.
  • When there are no further doubts, the ‘final hearing’ triggers akhaNDAkAra vRRitti (same as brahmakAra vRRitti, but used more frequently) and the seeker thereby immediately becomes a j~nAnI.
  • Whilst there are still doubts, the seeker asks questions of the teacher to clarify and explain. This is the stage of manana. shravaNa and manana are then repeated for as long as needed.
  • The gaining of Self-knowledge simultaneously means that the seeker now knows that he or she is already free. (You can say that they are ‘simultaneously liberated’ if you really want, but this conveys the erroneous notion that they were not free before.) Note that the phalam of ‘j~nAna phalam’ cannot simply refer to mokSha (mukti) because you cannot gain as fruit something that you already have!
  • If the seeker had done sufficient sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti (SCS) previously, he or she also simultaneously gains the phalam (= become a jIvanmukta). (See Section 3o for a discussion on the topic of jIvanmukti.)
  • If their SCS was insufficient, they do not immediately gain the phalam. I.e. they have pratibandha-s and they need to do more nididhyAsana in order to remove them. Thus, they may get the phalam later in life. If they do not, they get videha mukti at death of the body-mind (when the prArabdha karma is used up). (see section 3p)

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