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

The Chrysalis (Part 1)

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 Qs & answers

Three questions & answers

Three Q/A from QUORA (on brain, philosophy, QM, NDE, consciousness)

  1. 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.

Continue reading

Q.442 Witnessing and the Self

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

Two questions (relationships & eternity)

1) How is one’s self related to other selves.

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

Tattvabodha – Part 21

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.

Who (or what) is it that ‘acts’?

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

Overview of Western Philosophy – Part 7

(Read Part 6 of the series.)

The Mind-Body Problem

Descartes’ separation of man into the two aspects of mind and matter also became the principal way in which Westerners subsequently viewed the world. Matter is extended in space, can be divided and so on, while mind is indivisible and seems to exist separate from the body, somehow outside of space. This is the theory known as Cartesian Dualism. Unfortunately, he was never able to explain how such completely different ‘substances’ were able to interact. The idea of an immaterial ‘little me’ somehow sitting in the brain (Descartes thought the soul resided in the pineal gland) and interpreting the information transmitted from the eyes and other material senses just did not make sense. How could this interface work? The so-called ‘mind-body problem’ has intrigued philosophers ever since and no universally accepted model of the nature of the self has yet emerged.

One of his disciples, a Dutchman called Arnold Geulincx, suggested that the mind and body were separately governed by God, who kept the two in synchronisation, like clocks. Thus, when we decide to do something and it happens, such as getting out of bed, there is no actual interaction between the two, no ‘willing’ as such, it is simply the consequence of the two being synchronised. A similar theory, called Occasionalism, was proposed by the French priest, Nicolas Malebranche. He said that neither mental nor physical events cause other events. Instead, what we call a cause is simply the occasion for God to exercise his will and instigate what we call the effect; there is no actual connection between the two events at all. All of this meant that life is strictly deterministic, with no place for free will and everything happening according to physical (or divine) law. 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

Vedanta the Solution – Part 30

VEDĀNTA the solution to our fundamental problem by D. Venugopal

Part30 concludes the discussion on the ‘description’ of brahman as satyam j~nAnam anantam and then looks specifically at the meaning of ‘existence’ (sat) with reference to the body-mind-sense-complex.

There is a complete Contents List, to which links are added as each new part appears.