Substance, Substratum and Show

Yes, the entire superstructure of the edifice of Advita Vedanta is built on three words –‘Substance, Substratum and Show (or Appearance).’ These three words are very basic to its logic. All further development of its concepts, definitions and finer and more complex definitions of the doctrine depend on what the trio of words – Substance, Substratum and Show (or Appearance) – conveys.

Therefore, it is of utmost necessity that a student of Advaita should first have a clear and unambiguous grasp of what these words (or rather their equivalents in the original Sanskrit language) mean. Even a hair width of lack of clarity in understanding these three innocently looking words can lead to disproportionately disastrous misconceptions and misinterpretations of what Advaita is all about!

Let us first look at what any simple English dictionary gives the meaning of these three words to be. Starting there will help us appreciate better what the Sanskrit equivalents connote and how an aura of technicality surrounds those words when we use them in Advaita Vedanta. Continue reading

Q.510 Direct Path vs Traditional – Pt. 3

Part 3 – Free-will (continued)

Q: I reflected a bit more about the logic I used in my previous email. In one sentence I said: “the person has no free will, because there is no person.” Rephrasing it, the logic goes: There is no person -> therefore, the person has no free will. I looked at it a bit more, and I realized that if the person truly doesn’t exist, then it doesn’t make sense to talk about ANY qualities about something non-existent, not just free will. So I think a more accurate and targeted line of questioning would be: ‘okay so the person is non-existent, but I am very obviously present, aware, and seeing these words right here and right now, so let me investigate the nature of myself.’ So this would lead to some form of self-inquiry. I guess in a way this is the essence of the direct path, to take a stand as awareness, and investigate your beliefs against the data of direct experience (in this case, the belief that I am a separate consciousness).

Nowhere in that line of questioning does free will come up!

I also found these quotations from Rupert Spira and Greg Goode about the topic of free will, maybe you’ll find them interesting:

The idea that we have the freedom to choose whether or not to become entangled with thoughts and feelings is a concession to the separate self we believe and feel ourself to be. From the separate self’s point of view, it has choice, freedom. If we think we are a separate self, then by definition we feel that we are making choices.

For this reason the teaching says, ‘You have the choice. You have consented to limit yourself. You can choose not to. Choose to disentangle yourself. Make that your first choice in life, to disentangle yourself from the body and the mind and to know yourself as you truly are.’

Rupert Spira []

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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. 497 Knowledge and Understanding

Q: Knowledge, which is in or of the mind or intellect, must ultimately be given up. So really, is it knowledge or just ‘pointers’ to the truth of things? Like the pole vaulter letting go of the pole to get over the bar, the mind must be given up or let go of, which includes the knowledge. So really, knowledge isn’t the key or final secret. Simply abiding as Consciousness (what we really are), is the real point of all of this. 

And, witnessing seems to be of two ‘kinds’:
. Subject-object witnessing the normal person does all day
. The non-experiencing witness, which is the pure Consciousness that sees all within itself. I.e. like the analogy of the movie screen and movie. 

Really, it can be summed up by the fact that knowledge is not the key but only a pointer to ‘what really is’, which is the non-experiencing Witness. 

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Q.455 Physical changes on enlightenment

Q: In his book of talks called ‘The New Freedom’, Rajneesh (Osho) has stated that awakening disturbs the body and brain so much that a majority of people leave the body. Those who survive may suffer some severe physical deformity or inability to speak etc.

In the Gospel of Ramakrishna, Mahendranath Gupta relates how the Paramahamsa suffered on awakening. One of the changes that occurred was an enormous release of energy in the body which was unbearable. Adyashanti also states that the disturbance of the nervous system takes years to settle down. In ‘The Mystique of Enlightenment’, U. G. Krishnamurti has described at length the many drastic changes that took place in his body on account of awakening. In ‘Nothing is Everything’, a book on talks given by Nisargadatta Maharaj, the Sage is quoted as saying: “This body is on fire. Self-knowledge has a strange quality. Sometimes it is unbearable”.

What I want you to throw some light on, if possible, is the following:

Does awakening lead to drastic physical changes? Are they the same for all individuals or do these changes vary from person to person? Should one be deterred from attempting self-realization?

Steven Norquist, who claims to have awakened, told his audience in a 2010 talk available on the internet, that they should not seek awakening but should be ‘spiritual’. One of the reasons he mentioned was the bodily changes I have referred to.

I would also be obliged if you could suggest some literature on the subject, if it exists.

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Q.453 Consciousness is happiness?

Q: I have just read your book ‘How to meet yourself’. I am not sure if I understand what you mean when you say that “Consciousness is happiness” and that “I am happiness”. Since everything is an appearance within consciousness, wouldn’t happiness be just that? Why would we equate consciousness to happiness?

A: Before answering the question, it would be useful to note the difference between Consciousness and consciousness. Consciousness with as capital ‘C’ is used throughout in all of these answers to refer to Brahman, the non-dual reality. The mind is conscious because Consciousness is reflected by the mind. The body and mind are both inert in themselves. It is important not to confuse these terms.

The actual paragraph is:

“Fourthly, it would not be meaningful to talk about Consciousness being happy or unhappy. Being complete and without limitations of any sort, it is more appropriate to say that Consciousness is happiness. This, then, is an aspect of my true nature. Since I am Consciousness, there is nothing that I need, nothing to be achieved, nowhere to which I have to get. I am already perfect and complete – I am happiness”.

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Q.483 Inert elements?

Q: The five elements of this universe (space, air, fire, water, earth) are considered inert by nature and in Vedantic teachings. However, Brahman is the substratum for everything and is Consciousness. So, how can the 5 elements be fundamentally be considered inert?

A: In reality, there is no matter. What appears to be matter, from the standpoint of phenomenal existence, is actually Brahman (Consciousness) but we see ‘forms’ and give them ‘names’ as if there were separate entities.

The elements are certainly inert. But so also are the bodies and minds of humans. (We differentiate these of course as being ‘gross’ bodies and ‘subtle’ minds but they are all still inert.) The difference between a mind and a rock, is that the mind ‘reflects’ Consciousness, whereas the rock does not. Thus the mind expresses consciousness (small ‘c’) but the rock doesn’t.

You always have to remember that explanations such as these are ‘interim’ only, in order to point the mind towards an intuitive understanding of the nature of reality. You can never have ‘true’ explanations because reality is non-dual.

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 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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pratibandha-s – part 2 of 10

Read Part 1


The ideas that the person ‘ends’, mind is ‘destroyed’ etc. when one gains enlightenment all contradict one of the key teachings of Vedanta – karma. Of course, if one takes the pAramArthika viewpoint, the theory of karma has to be rescinded along with everything else (according to adhyAropa – apavAda), but it plays a key role in the teaching. The ‘person’ (body and mind) is here because of past karma. And it is taught that the person’s life continues until that part of the karma that caused this embodiment is exhausted. And this applies to the j~nAnI also. This is undeniable because the person’s life does not come to an end on gaining enlightenment.

On enlightenment, the j~nAnI realizes that he was never the body-mind; that these are mithyA, just as the dream is realized to have been completely unreal after awakening. That being the case, he also knows that the idea of prArabdha too belongs to this mithyA appearance. But that does not stop the whole thing continuing to play out from the standpoint of vyavahAra. The world does not ‘disappear’ either! (Creation and all its ramifications will be discussed in Volume 2 of the ‘Confusions’ book.) The prArabdha belongs to the mithyA body-mind, not the satyam Self, and both body-mind and world continue from the empirical standpoint. It is true that the j~nAnI no longer identifies with the body-mind but the body still eats and sleeps; the mind still responds to sensory input and so on. 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