[Note: This is a long Q&A. Any help that other bloggers and readers can give to resolve the questioner’s concerns will be welcomed!]
Q: If waking life is a kind of dream or modulation of awareness then why is it so continuous? Many Advaitins see waking life as some form of dream, correct me if I’m wrong.
Dreams when asleep are always very new, different and unpredictable. And then they disappear and you wake up and forget the dream. And most likely you will not continue where it ended next sleep. On the other hand, waking life reappears after sleep and it is the ‘same’ as yesterday and it only seems to disappear if you die.
A: There is a lot more to it than that. And it cannot all be explained in a couple of sentences. Pretty much all of my book ‘A-U-M: Awakening to Reality’ was about this. (It is a commentary on Mandukya Upanishad and the explanation by Gaudapada.)
There are 3 states of consciousness – waking, dream and deep sleep and none of them are ‘really real’. Waking seems to be real for the waker. The dream is equally real for the dreamer (who thinks he is a waker)! The true reality is the Consciousness that is the basis of all 3 states. Waking life is said to be like a dream so that you can use this as a metaphor for gaining enlightenment. Continue reading →
The scriptures utilize many stories and metaphors to coax the mind towards an understanding of Brahman – after all, this is one of the few ways this can be done since Brahman cannot be described. One that is rarely encountered is the myth of rAhu.
According to Monier-Williams (Ref. 179), the word ‘rAhu’ means ‘the Seizer’. It refers to a story in the Hindu purana-s (sacred books of mythology and cosmology), although the myth also occurs in much older Buddhist texts. The fable has the gods ‘churning’ the ocean in order to extract the ‘nectar of immortality’ (amRRita). One of the demons who are watching this, disguises himself, steals a portion and drinks it, thereby becoming immortal too. The sun and moon gods witnessed this and told Vishnu, who subsequently cut off the demon’s head. The head became known as rAhu and the rest of the body (with the tail of a dragon) as ketu. They were then evicted from the earth, from where rAhu continually tries to wreak revenge on the sun and moon by eating (‘seizing’) them. We see these attempts when eclipses take place. Continue reading →
Shankara leaves no scope for any doubt when he declares at the end of his commentary at 2.1.33, sUtra bhAShya, that “The shruti statement of creation does not relate to any reality, for it must not be forgotten that such a text is … meant for propounding the fact that everything has brahman as its Self.” (Translation by Swami Gambhirananda).
Shankara also asserts in his commentary on mantra 2.1.20, brihadAraNyaka: “Therefore the-mention in all Vedanta texts of the origin, continuity and dissolution of the universe is only to strengthen our idea of Brahman being a homogeneous unity, and not to make us believe in the origin etc. as an actuality.” (Trans: Swami Madhavananda).
He makes it abundantly clear in his commentary at 3.15, Gaudapada kArikA that “Therefore, we have reasonably to conclude that the scriptural statements regarding creation, etc., are for the purpose of helping the mind to realize the oneness of Atman, and for no other purpose whatsoever. Therefore, no multiplicity is brought about by creation, etc. (Translation by Swami Nikhilananda.)
The 35th Sringeri Acharya HH Sri Abhinava Vidyatirtha was unequivocal when he told a disciple that “To cater to the doubts of such people (i.e. less advanced aspirants) as regards creation, the scriptures speak variously of origination. Scriptures are actually not concerned with creation at all.” Continue reading →
The uncompromising position of Advaita Vedanta is that “Nothing is ever born” as Gaudapada tells us in his mANDUkyakArikA (verse) at 3.48 and repeats it for emphasis at 4.71. As many as four Upanishads wrap up the Absolute Reality from the Advaita viewpoint in the following verse which appears also in Gaudapada’s kArikA:
न निरोधो न चोत्पत्तिर्न बद्धो न च साधकः । न मुमुक्षुर्न वै मुक्त इत्येषा परमार्थता ॥ — 10, amRitabindu upanishad; 2.31, Atma upanishad, 11, avadhUta upanishad; 5.13, tripuratApini upanishad; 2.32, Gaudapada kArikA.
[Meaning: There is neither Dissolution nor Creation. There is neither bondage nor any seeker for freedom. There is neither any one wishing for salvation nor any one who achieved it. This is the absolute Truth.] Continue reading →
When Arjuna laments at the prospect of killing his loved ones in the war, Krishna tells him, “It was not that I was not existing before nor will I stop existing in the future.” That means there is no beginning or end, nor do the birth and death exist. Life is merely a transitional form that arises in between the unreal appearance of birth and death. Since birth and death are unreal, we (as the Self) are already liberated.
“How can you perceive the relation between the Self and avidyA? It is not indeed possible for you to perceive your Self as related to avidyA, at the same moment (that your Self cognizes avidyA); for, the cognizer (Self) acts at the moment as the percipient of avidyA. (The Self cannot be both the perceiver and the perceived at the same time). Continue reading →
Q: What exactly (in Reality – i.e. Brahman is the only reality) is experience?
I know that there is a relative level where there are jIva-s and objects and minds and Ishvara, but if we talk about the absolute reality – Brahman – then I believe that there is no experience possible.
Brahman is the only reality and Brahman does not have experiences of any kind – yes?
So if I realize myself as Brahman, then I have to see all my experience as mithyA, yes?
SO: if you are agreeing to the above, and if I am following correct logic: why do so many teachers of non-duality and even of Advaita Vedanta say that experience is the only means through which we can explore reality?
As jIva-s in the relative realm, the only thing we have to navigate reality, is our experience. So again: what is an experience? Is there no reality to an experience?
Many teachers who are famous and well-respected point to the Presence of God as a palpable experience of peace, fullness, truth, love which comprises the reality of all our experiences. They say Presence is Brahman in manifest form and is eternal.
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.
What we have are clearly two entities. They are the kShetra, the field comprising all that which is the knowable, and the kShetrjna, who is the Knower. If ignorance and misery were to be the inherent properties of the Self, it amounts to say that Self perceives Itself because the Self is able to know them (the misery and nescience). That obviously is an absurd position, “since one and the same thing cannot be both the agent and the object of an action.” Whatever is perceived, as for example form and color, cannot be a property of the perceiver.
Likewise, it is the Self that perceives joys and sorrows. They cannot perceive themselves. They are objects to the Self; they are not the Self. For the Self to perceive these, they must be different from the Self. Only then can they be experienced. If the object is totally identified with the Self (me), it cannot be perceived anymore. It itself becomes the Self.
Hence it is incorrect to say that “nescience and misery and the like are the attributes and specific properties of kShhetrajna.” Continue reading →
Shankara is very categorical in his observation that “Very rare is the person who attains discriminating wisdom. The ignorant don’t follow the man of Wisdom, because of their attachments and evil passions which necessarily lead to action.” He regrets that such people resort to even black magic. He adds that “Therefore, samsAra is only based on avidyA and exists only for the ignorant man who sees the world as it appears to him. Neither avidyA nor its effect pertains to Kshetrajna, pure and simple.”
9. A Man of Erudition (paNDita) vs. A Scholar:
Shankara says that, not only many of the common people, even some of the scholars (Experts in shAstra-s) fail to understand the essential message of the scripture. Proud of their knowledge in the Vedic rituals, they think that they are the doers (with a strong sense of a “me”) and believe they will attain great merit (as “mine”) in this life-time so that they can reap the fruits of their meritorious actions in the next world. They perceive their body, life-force, senses, and mind, but are unable to grasp their innermost Self (pratyagAtmA) which is the actual witness to all that they perceive. If they are able to recognize their inner Self, they will easily cognize the Supreme Self (paramAtmA) that is present everywhere and in everything. They will come to realize that their inner Self is not different from the Supreme Self. As the Gita says,