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: 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?
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.
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 Of course, if one takes the pAramArthika viewpoint, the theory of karma has to be rescinded along with everything else (according to adhyAropa – apavAda), but it plays a key role in the teaching.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: 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 →
This is the first of a 3-part blog that I originally posted to Advaita Academy, on the subject of the pa~ncha kosha prakriyA, probably better known to most as the metaphor of the ‘Five Sheaths’.
Simplistically, this is the idea that there are various levels of identification of ‘Who I really am’ with aspects of the body-mind and that these have to be recognized and dropped so that I can realize my true nature.
However, because of the way that this idea is sometimes presented, there is often a serious misunderstanding on the part of the seeker who, taking the metaphor in a more literal sense, mistakenly believes that the self is literally ‘covered over’ by these ‘layers’ and somehow has to be ‘uncovered’, like some Russian doll. This misunderstanding may be reinforced by the notion of the Self being ‘hidden in the cave of the heart’ – another potentially misleading idea that I have discussed before. Continue reading →
Three Q/A from QUORA (on brain, philosophy, QM, NDE, consciousness)
How does the brain understand philosophy?
M. The brain… understanding philosophy? My reply to this is similar to the one I gave recently to another question and which was based on Socrates’ answer to an observation that someone was making. The man saw a pool of water being stirred by a stick held by a man and said that the stick was stirring the water. To which Socrates replied: ‘Is it the stick, or the man moving the stick?’ (Which one is the real agent – the material, or the instrumental cause, in Aristotelian terms?).
Equally, is it the brain, or the mind which ‘moves’ the brain which moves the stick which stirs the water?
Is it the brain, or the mind which (using the brain as an instrument) understands philosophy?
Actually, it is consciousness (as a substrate) using the mind using the brain… Consciousness itself does not do anything.
Q: Seeing-feeling that ‘I’ am not this body (aggregate of cells) and not this external world (job, house, possessions) is much easier for me than seeing that I am not this mind (thoughts, memories, personal history, feelings). The body seems like a suit of clothes, and the external world like a bunch of random stuff. But the mind seems real. At a deep level, I identify with it, feel I am it.
It’s hard to see mental ‘arisings’, particularly those that have strong emotional resonance, as impersonal objects. It feels like my internal, mental life is the ‘real’ me.
A: If you are the mind, what happens to you in the deep sleep state?
Q: I’ve been on the direct path for a few months, limiting the scope of ‘what I know’ to what I directly experience. Speaking from that point of view, I have no clue what happens to ‘me’ in deep sleep. I don’t even know there is such a state as deep sleep, because I have no memory of having experienced it.
A: Presumably there is elapsed time between waking/dream periods. Since you have no experience or knowledge of it, do you think the Self ceases to exist during that period? Continue reading →
This can be seen from two perspectives: 1) lower or empirical, and 2) higher or spiritual (I try to avoid the word ‘metaphysical’). I am not going to consider what Christianity or Islam hold about any of these two perspectives, only the non-duality of Advaita Vedanta (Buddhism does not contemplate individual existence per se). According to the Advaitic tradition the individual self (jiva) can be considered as a reflection of the higher Self and then his/her faculties (basically memory, mind, and sense of self) as well as all bodies are separate and individual – this pertains to ordinary, transactional life. This is the realm of ignorance (avidya). Continue reading →
Part 21 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 21 begins the chapter on micro and macrocosm with a look at the jIva and its distinction from Ishvara.
There is a hyperlinked Contents List, which is updated as each new part is published.
Those who have read any of my books, or the brief biography that is available on this site and others, will know that I began my ‘philosophical investigations’ with the School of Economic Science, as it is known in the UK. And you will also know that I have commented frequently upon the misguided notions that were propagated by the school in the name of Advaita. One of the key misunderstandings that I had, which was not cleared for many years, despite reading widely and discussing Advaita with many people on the Internet, relates to ‘action’.
As usual, this was a Sankhyan idea effectively being passed off as belonging to Advaita. It was the notion that it is ‘the guNa that act’, or that action is a function of prakRRiti. In the first edition of ‘The Book Of One’, I actually had a chapter called ‘The Myth of Action’ and the first section of this was entitled ‘Only the guNa Act’. Here are several paragraphs from this:
“The three qualities of nature, the guna, of which all of nature is constituted, are in constant motion and this is the only ‘action’. Yes, the body acts – it is constituted of the three guna – but we do not. Here is a useful practical example of this: It may be that you cycle from time to time. I enjoy cycling in the New Forest, where I live – free exercise in beautiful surroundings and fresh air. However, there are a few hills along the routes, and sometimes you have to go up these rather than down. Many people just get off and walk their cycle up. Others take it as some sort of challenge and insist on trying to cycle to the top without having to dismount. When the going becomes hard, they make an extra mental effort, along the lines of ‘I am damn well going to get to the top, even if it kills me’! This is the hard way!Continue reading →