Q.475 Witness-Consciousness

Q: Can you help me to clear the following doubts?

  1. What part of the body is referred to as the mind?
  2. Why cannot the witness consciousness be a 5th part of the mind, Ego (changing subject), Emotion, Reasoning, Memory and the witness (unchanging subject)? In other words why cant the witness Atman be limited?
  3. Why cannot there be multiple witness consciousness or multiple Atman’s.
  4. Can each Mithya have different Satyam? To me it is quite a big jump to say Satyam of everything is one and the same. I can get that everything can be reduced to atoms and particles but beyond that it is difficult to conclude that there is one Satyam?

Continue reading

Q. 472 Embodied Atman

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

Experience vs. Knowledge

Q. ‘Is finding true self also a feeling or emotion?’ Quora

SK. Emotions and feelings are deeper than thoughts. Attachments and aversions are deeper than emotions and feelings. True self is deeper than attachment and aversions. Even though some people think of it as feeling or emotion, in reality it is much deeper than just that. The reality of true self only comes with direct experience of prolonged practice of consistent meditation for a long period of time. Continue reading

Q.471 More on Consciousness versus consciousness

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

Q.467 Clarifying pratibimba

Q: I’ve recently been reading about the reflection theory (pratibimba vAda). I’ve gone through a few articles that explain the theory, but still find the ‘bimba’ aspect confusing. I know it’s the pure original consciousness Brahman but what is its actual location? Is bimba (the original consciousness) located in the body or outside the body?

A: The bimba is Consciousness, with a capital ‘C’ – the non-dual reality. In reality there is only Consciousness; all seeming ‘things’ are just name and form of it. But, for the purposes of ‘explaining’ the empirical reality (vyavahAra), we say that each jIva has a ‘reflection’ of Consciousness in their mind. This is called chidAbhAsa or pratibimba. The ‘bimba’ is not located anywhere. If you like, everything is located in the bimba. Think of ‘space’ and ‘jar space’.

Read the essay and discussions at the site:
https://www.advaita-vision.org/chidabhasa/ and
https://www.advaita-vision.org/continuing-reflections-on-reflections/ and discussion at https://www.advaita-vision.org/discussion-on-chidabhasa/

Q: In your article ChidAbhAsa, you’ve added a passage from Shankara’s Brahma Sutra commentary, where he has said the following: Continue reading

The Chrysalis (Part 3)

Read Part 2

The sheath-related verses in the Panchadashi occur in Chapter 1:

  1. The five sheaths of the Self are those of the food, the vital air, the mind, the intellect and bliss. Enveloped in them, it forgets its real nature and becomes subject to transmigration.
  2. The gross body which is the product of the quintuplicated elements is known as the food sheath. That portion of the subtle body which is composed of the five vital airs and the five organs of action, and which is the effect of the rajas aspect of Prakriti is called the vital sheath.
  3. The doubting mind and the five sensory organs, which are the effect of Sattva, make up the mind sheath. The determining intellect and the sensory organs make up the intellect sheath.
  4. The impure Sattva which is in the causal body, along with joy and other Vrittis (mental modifications), is called the bliss sheath. Due to identification with the different sheaths, the Self assumes their respective natures.
  5. By differentiating the Self from the five sheaths through the method of distinguishing between the variable and the invariable, one can draw out one’s own Self from the five sheaths and attain the supreme Brahman.

(These are from the translation by Swami Swahananda.) Continue reading

The Chrysalis (Part 2)

Read Part 1

The original metaphor seems to come from the Taittiriya Upanishad. (It is also outlined in the Sarva-Sara Upanishad and the Paingala Upanishad.)

 Here are some extracts from Swami Nikhilananda’s translation of the Taittiriya:

 II.1.3.  From the Atman was born AkAsha; from AkAsha, air; from air, fire; from fire, water; from water, earth; from earth, herbs; from herbs, food; from food, man. He, that man, verily consists of the essence of food. This indeed is his head, this right arm is the right wing, this left arm is the left wing, this trunk is his body, this support below the navel is his tail.

 II.2.1. Verily, different from this, which consists of the essence of food, but within it, is another self, which consists of the vital breath. By this the former is filled. This too has the shape of a man. Like the human shape of the former is the human shape of the latter. prANa, indeed, is its head; vyAna is its right wing; apAna is its left wing; AkAsha is its trunk; the earth is its tail, its support. Continue reading

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:

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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