The Ignorance that Isn’t – 4/8

Part 3/8

7.  Self is The Knower of All Experiences:

Any feelings, like joys or sorrows, that we experience are not what we are. They are experienced by us. Everything is known by that one no-thing thing which is the Knower (Knowingness). It is we who experience even birth and death. After all, death does not experience its death, nor does birth experience its birth. Whatever experiences the birth and death cannot Itself be born nor can that die. Once we are able to clearly discriminate and understand this truth, we will stop identifying ourselves with the wrong entities like the body. Knowing clearly who we are, and abiding as that Knowledge is liberation from ignorance. Liberation is not something that we attain in some heavenly abode, a remote Vaikunta or Kailasha. Nor it is to be attained sometime in the future. It is right here and right now.

There is no separate self within us waiting to be liberated. Liberation is our very nature. Joys and sorrows are not our nature. That which comes (Agama) and goes (apAya) is not what we are. That which we perceive is not us. We perceive a thing only if it is different from us. What is inherent to us, what we are, namely the Self, cannot be perceived, nor is It something we can add on to nor can be gotten rid of. We are It, spacelike, all-pervasive, formless, and blemishless. Continue reading

The Ignorance that Isn’t – 3/8

Part 2/8

5.  Discriminating the Self (Atma) from the not-Self (anAtma):

That which cannot perceive, but can become an object of perception is anAtma (not-Self). For example, our body is inert. It has no sense of “I am.” It cannot perceive anything. But our consciousness can perceive the body. Just as we perceive body and mind, we also perceive joys and sorrow, likes and dislikes.  The polar pairs of opposites like joy and sorrow, are also a result of our ignorance. Consciousness Itself is untouched by them.

Consciousness alone is Atma. Everything else in the world is insentient. Not only inanimate objects such as chairs and tables, but also our bodies, life-force, and senses are insentient. Movement does not imply sentience. Wind moves, but wind is insentient. The air around us, the light that travels through space, and the five fundamental elements are insentient. Only Awareness that can feel “I AM” is sentient. Every object is known to our Awareness, but no object is aware of its own being-ness. A tiny spark of Awareness that is aware of all the objects is within every one of us. It is the Inner-Self (pratyagAtma). Continue reading

The Ignorance that Isn’t – 2/8

Part 1/8

4.  Ignorance is Indeterminate:

Ignorance is like a gossamer sheath that covers up and conceals our true Knowledge. An analogy may help. Think of a muslin cloth in which a few pieces of asafetida are kept wrapped in. The smell of asafetida lingers on the cloth even after the asafetida is consumed and the cloth is washed. Like the smell persisting on the cloth, impressions from the past experiences get stored in the causal body. Just like the smell of the asafetida that cannot be gotten rid of easily, the clinging impressions on the causal body too are difficult to be eliminated.  These lingering traces of the effects of past actions are called as the vAsanA-s. They get expressed as the desires in the mind, including the individual’s likes and dislikes, proclivities, etc.

The Yoga system of Patanjali says that the causal body must be controlled so that the machinations of the vAsanA-s could be neutralized.  Shankara advises us that the causal body must be completely annihilated because suppression and control give scope for its return. He says that it must be completely melted away leaving no trace of the vAsanA-s that engender the names and forms. This process of dissolving the causal body is called pravilApana. Continue reading

The Ignorance that Isn’t – 1/8

1.  Introduction:

We are all familiar with our gross physical body. It is available to our direct perception and it gives us our ID. Vedanta tells us that we are blessed with two more bodies — the subtle body comprising life-force, the mind and the intellect), and a totally imperceptible third body, subtler than the subtle body. It is called the causal body, the source of the other two bodies. Advaita Vedanta avers, as we all know, that what we truly are is Pure Consciousness. Consciousness is our nature. It is the very Self that knows “I AM.” It is not that the Self possesses Consciousness. Self is Consciousness. We are actually none of these bodies.

But for some unknown and indeterminate reason, the Self, instead of being the Subject, the Knower or the Seer, got contaminated. We superimposed the Self with the known and the seen, the objects.  We shifted our ID from being the Self to being a body – mostly as the gross physical body, but sometimes to be the subtle body. That is a great fall for the Self – from Self to not-Self. The strong association we experience with the three bodies stands as a proof of the apparent fall. The severity of the fall could have been far less had we considered the bodies to be “mine” instead of taking them to be “me,” and identifying ourselves with them as “I am my body.” Continue reading

The 4-M’s:

In any information transmittal in general, four elements have to be present, not counting the recipient who is the beneficiary. They are:

  • The Master or the Expert or The Knower;
  • The Message or the Content or the Doctrine;
  • The Method or the Model or the Technique; and
  • The Medium or the Means or the Instrument.

They are the four M’s we are referring to here.

The beneficiary usually places the Knower at a higher pedestal and such an attitude does help in developing a faith not only in the teacher but also in what is being taught, thus enabling the student to absorb the message with focus and full attention. Some times a student may get so attached to the teacher emotionally with devotion that her vision is blurred to distinguish between the Master and the other three M’s or between the message and the medium and so on. Continue reading

Birth and Death

One of the most startling passages that I encountered when I first began to study advaita was that in chapter 2 of the Bhagavad-Gita in which Arjuna bemoans the fact that he is expected to kill his teachers and relatives. Krishna responds with the following amazing statement (II.19 – II.20): “He who thinks that the spirit kills, and he who thinks of it is killed, are both ignorant. The spirit kills not, nor is it killed. It was not born; it will never die: nor once having been, can it ever cease to be: unborn, eternal, ever enduring, yet most ancient, the spirit dies not when the body is dead.” (Ref. 1)

Needless to say, the idea of death is one that disturbs most people. Indeed, it is probably the most feared event for the vast majority whether or not they believe that it signifies the literal end of their existence. Life appears to have the profile of a hill. We start at the bottom; slowly we begin to make an impression on life, ‘making a name for ourselves’, acquiring all of those things that are considered to make life significant – job, spouse, peer recognition, house and money etc. And then, there comes a time when we feel that we have achieved all that we are going to achieve. Ambitions cease; physical and mental capabilities decrease; ailments become more frequent; there is a gradual slide into physical decay and ultimate death. As Macbeth puts it so depressingly:

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more.

Or, as Jaques puts it in ‘As You Like It’:

Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
Continue reading

Q. 387 – Value of Self-knowledge

Q: At the end of the day, what does knowledge of self give us ? It does not help to answer the burning question of why the appearance/dream/mAyA that we are experiencing as humans or animals exists. Also, it appears that even if one attains knowledge of self in one life, he/she can actually become a cockroach in the next due to karmic effect, ie we are not really liberated from the brith-death cycle. The only benefit I do see in a life in which one attains knowledge of self is that one might lead a life devoid of misery in the mind as we sail through good and bad times, even though we may experience physical pain.

A (Dennis): Self-knowledge removes Self-ignorance and it is that which makes us think we are limited, unhappy, doomed to old age and death. With Self-knowledge we realize that we are not human, living in an inhospitable world; we are brahman. The world appears as separate because of our ignorance. On gaining Self-knowledge, we realize that it’s substance is nothing but brahman.

From the perspective of the ignorant person, there is rebirth (possibly as a cockroach) and we are subject to karma. With Self-knowledge, we realize that there is no person, no birth or rebirth, no death, no creation.

The idea that knowledge is pointless is actually the main argument of the pUrvamImAMsika philosopher. They believe that only the karmakANDa portion of the Vedas is relevant – rituals that we have to perform in order to gain benefits. They say that the Upanishads etc are only supporting material to be meditated on. In the Brahmasutras, I.1.4, Vyasa effectively refutes all those philosophers who deny that brahman is the principal topic of the Vedas. But he does this with the single word ‘tu’ (tattu samanvayAt). Fortunately Shankara takes the opportunity to take up arms against pUrvamImAMsA. Whilst he agrees that knowledge in itself is often useless – we need actually to do something in order to gain some benefit – there is one situation in which ONLY knowledge bears fruit. That is when the problem is one of ignorance. The classic example is the rope mistaken for a snake. As soon as we find out that it is a rope, all our fears etc disappear. And our essential problem in life is that we believe we are a limited person. The knowledge that is to be gained from Advaita is that we are brahman – and that reveals that we have no real problems at all.

Adi Shankara

lamp and grassMost people (or at least those who visit this website!) will be aware that the dates for Shankara’s birth and death are a trifle hazy. It is generally assumed that he lived around the ninth century A.D. and had a fairly short life, dying at around the age of 32. Fewer people will know, however, that one of the principal Maths – namely that at Sringeri – actually has his date of birth as 44 BCE. And 509–477 BCE are the dates based on records from other Maths!

In fact, there are endless discussions in the academic world over details such as these. The sort of argument that is used takes a quotation from some writing attributed to Shankara, in which another person, place or quotation is used. If the date of that cited material is known, then it can be concluded that Shankara must have been living at a time later than this. (Such arguments enable the BCE dates to be discounted.) Unfortunately, in most cases, the dates of the cited person or place are not known either! Basically, Indians in the past have not been particularly good at recording their historical events. Plus, enlightened sages are not in the slightest bit interested in having their name associated with any recorded words or in having anyone record their biographies. Continue reading

Tattvabodha – Part 9

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPart 9 of the commentary by Dr. VIshnu Bapat on Shankara’s Tattvabodha.This is a key work which introduces all of the key concepts of Advaita in a systematic manner.

The commentary is based upon those by several other authors, together with the audio lectures of Swami Paramarthananda. It includes word-by-word breakdown of the Sanskrit shloka-s so should be of interest to everyone, from complete beginners to advanced students.

Part 9 looks at the makeup of the subtle body, its functions and purpose, from one birth to the next.

There is a hyperlinked Contents List, which is updated as each new part is published.

Q.379 – Practice, Enlightenment and Reincarnation

Q: My understanding is that the purpose of spiritual practice is to purify the intellect so that it ‘reflects’ Consciousness without distortion. This enables the mind to recognize the delusion caused by ahaMkAra. This would mean that ‘enlightenment’ is a function of the mind. Is this correct?

If this is so, it would seem to mean that any ‘benefits’ gained from enlightenment would only apply to this body-mind, in this life. Is this so?

Scriptures indicate that one may have to undergo many lives before gaining mokSha, and suggest that fruits of previous lives accumulate to enable this. But, if enlightenment is an event in this mind, how can previous lives be of any benefit? Is there something in the mind that is ‘carried over’ into future births?

A (Ramesam): The most fundamental aspect of Advaita teaching is that an individual (jIva) is non-different from the Supreme Self (brahman). It follows, therefore, from this that a seeker is already of the nature of ever pure, all-knowing and liberated entity. As Gaudapada explains in his kArikA on mANDUkya Upanishad, by Its own freedom, brahman takes the form of an individual (and the world) and there is neither a creation nor liberation, neither a seeker nor something to be sought. Continue reading