Language and Color

Those people who regularly read my articles will know that, although my educational background is that of a scientist, I frequently criticize science in respect of its inability to say anything useful about the nature of reality. Because science can only operate by virtue of a subject making observations on an object, it only has validity in the empirical realm (vyavahAra). Nevertheless, I do acknowledge that science can sometimes throw light upon the thorny topics that we frequently encounter in advaita.  An obvious example of this is the findings of Benjamin Libet and Daniel Wegner regarding free will, about which I have written several times. Accordingly, I was very interested to hear recently (on a BBC Horizon program about how we perceive color) that scientists have carried out experiments which demonstrate that language affects the way in which we see the world.

I did not expect to see anything relating to advaita in the program but, when they described an experiment concerning the Himba tribe of northern Namibia, it quickly became clear that this was relevant to the vAchArambhaNa sutras from the Chandogya Upanishad.  

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Consciousness and the world

What is the scriptural basis for Advaita consciousness being an awareness preceding the universe?

That’s an ‘easy’ one. 1)  Consciousness and awareness are the same for Advaita Vedanta. 2) Atman-brahman, or Consciousness, is the sole reality – the universe is, in essence, not other than Atman (Consciousness or ‘Spirit’). 3) Consequently, there is no creation – no causation, including space and time, which, like everything else, are phenomena, appearances.

Mundaka Upanishad 2.1.10: ‘the world is brahman alone’. 

K 3.18. In this karika Gaudapada demonstrates that creation is only apparent because reality is unchangeable (and it is taught that the effect is not other than the cause).

Katha Up. 2.1.10: ‘Whoever sees difference between what is here (individual Atman/’soul’) and what is there (brahman) goes from death to death’.

Brihadaranyaka Up. 2.5.19: ‘The supreme being is perceived as manifold on account of Maya’ (magic).

Taittiriya Up. 2.6: ‘Brahman, which is the absolute reality, became reality (satya) and unreality/appearance (asatya)’. That is, the cause itself appears as various effects due to superimposition, which is itself the core, or definition, of ignorance (avidya). Cf. Tai. 2.6, Chandogya Up. 2.8.4, and Bhavagad Gita 4.13 and 13.2.

One to many to One – 2/2

Part – 1

The Redemption:

Suggesting a way out of this quagmire of samsAra, Shankara observes:

तं पुनर्देहाभिमानादशरीरस्वरूपविज्ञानेन निवर्तिताविवेकज्ञानमशरीरं सन्तं प्रियाप्रिये स्पृशतः 

Meaning: The same Being, however, when, Its “ignorance in the shape of Its notion of the body being the Self” has been set aside by Its Knowledge of its real “unbodied” nature, then pleasure and pain do not touch It.

धर्माधर्मकार्ये हि ते ; अशरीरता तु स्वरूपमिति तत्र धर्माधर्मयोरसम्भवात् तत्कार्यभावो दूरत एवेत्यतो प्रियाप्रिये स्पृशतः

Meaning: The reason for this (i.e., the absence of pleasure and pain) lies in the fact that pleasure and pain are the effects of merit and demerit, while the real nature of the Self is being unbodied, so, that merit and demerit being impossible in the latter, the appearance of their effect is still further off. Hence, the pleasure and pain do not touch It.

It is important to understand here that unlike the bodily pleasure and pain, the Bliss of the Self is something inherent to It. That Bliss is not a transient feature like ‘touch’ which appears and disappears. We have support for this contention from other shruti mantras too. Shankara writes: Continue reading

One to many to One – 1/2

Shankara’s genius in imparting the true unadulterated message of Advaita (a-dvaita) philosophy shines with the brilliance of thousand  Suns in his commentary at the mantra 8.12.1, chAndogya Upanishad.

Prof. M. Hiriyanna writes in his book, “Outlines of Indian Philosophy,” 1993, that “In some passages the Absolute is presented as cosmic or all-comprehensive in Its nature (saprapanca); in some others again, as acosmic or all-exclusive (niShprapanca).” The cultural Heritage of India,” Vol 1, 1937, observes that the chAndogya Upanishad “seems to teach mainly the ‘saprapanca’ view of Reality.”

Gaudapada, the first human preceptor of Advaita Vedanta, however, writes with unwavering certitude in his kArikA-s (3.48 and 4.71) on mANDUkya Upanishad, “No individual is ever born; there does not exist any reason which can produce an individual creature.”

The chAndogya, Upanishad, follows the popular teaching ‘methodology’ of Advaita, called the “Superimposition – Sublation model.” This model assumes that a world created by a Godhead pre-exists the seeker who is born into it. Thus, the very structure of the model requires positing Lord Ishwara as the Creator and a world for him  to ‘lord’ over. In line with this thinking, this Upanishad ends declaring that the seeker attains ‘brahmaloka‘ (the world where the Lord lives) on the death of the gross body. It says in its mantra, 8.15.1: Continue reading

How is self-knowledge different?

A sense of not-knowing is uncomfortable and prickly. The very idea that one could be ignorant about a topic seems to draw out an urge to know. Once knowledge of the said topic is gained, there is a brief moment of resolution. This resolved state of mind only lasts as long as one’s attention is not drawn to the next novelty. Suppose one hears the word ‘photon’ for the first time and looks up its meaning. Having scraped the ignorance of a photon, the notion ‘I am ignorant’ is removed only from the standpoint of a photon. There’s some joy (jnᾱnᾱnanda). But one’s ignorance from the standpoint of ‘neutrino’ is still present. Therefore the resolution remains inhibited. Self-knowledge is different. After having mastered an extensive body of knowledge, Narada Muni goes to Sanathkumara complaining for want of mental peace. He reveals that he has mastery over all the Vedas, Purana, grammar, mathematics, sciences, music, art, astrology and the list continues. The list is representative of all Aparᾱ vidyᾱ.

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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.505 Creation and Enlightenment

Q: I am struggling to reconcile the empirical account of what may be called ‘creation’ (the Big Bang, followed by billions of years of mechanically unfolding interactions with no sense of self, until the absurdly *recent* emergence of consciousness after further millions of years of blind evolution) with the advaitic concept of ‘creation’ (the absolute Being, timeless and changeless, manifesting in Itself as experience). 

A: The ‘bottom line’ of Advaita is that there has never been any ‘creation’. There is only Brahman. Everything is Brahman. You are Brahman. The ‘universe’ is simply a ‘form’ of Brahman, to which you have given ‘names’ implying that there are separately existing entities.

The scriptures (from which Advaita derives) certainly give ‘empirical accounts’ of a creation. But these are interim explanations only to satisfy the enquirer temporarily until ready to accept the truth.

Science does attempt to rationalize consciousness as an emergent phenomenon, but it is doomed to fail because it cannot objectify the ultimate subject. See my article on ‘Consciousness – Not Such a Hard Problem’ beginning https://www.advaita-vision.org/consciousness-not-such-a-hard-problem-1-of-2/. Also https://www.advaita-vision.org/science-and-consciousness/. Science in general is intrinsically unable to address the problems dealt with by Advaita. See my 4-part article on ‘Science and the nature of absolute reality’ beginning https://www.advaita-vision.org/science-and-the-nature-of-absolute-reality-part-1/, which may contain useful pointers. And the 3-part article by Dr. Sadananda beginning https://www.advaita-vision.org/science-and-vedanta-part-1/

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chAndogya, 3.14.1:

We have had a long discussion on the mantra at 3.14.1 of the chAndogya Upanishad in Oct 2020. We examined its significance from both epistemological and ontological angles. We had also noted that the full thrust of the mantra can be appreciated only if the entire section, and the mantra at 3.14.4 and particularly Shankara’s commentary there on are also taken into account. Otherwise, there is a danger that one may try to read into the mantra a meaning which is not its purpose at all!

Somehow all of us missed a very highly relevant and meaningful point that Shankara makes about this mantra at 1.3.1, BSB . It has a clear bearing on our discussions and settles the issue, IMHO, without any scope for even an iota of doubt. I like to bring it to the attention of all the interested members. Continue reading

How To Be Disembodied?

The Post on “The ‘I-am-realized’ Delusion – 5” said, quoting Shankara, towards its end, that “Disembodiedness is the intrinsic nature of Atman” and that is liberation.

अशरीरता हि आत्मनः स्वरूपम् ।   —  Shankara at 8.3.4, chAndogya.

The immediate question that arises then is “How to be disembodied?”

Before we answer this question, it is necessary to be absolutely clear in our mind about who is asking this question and why. If the question is being asked on behalf of the body and the reason for asking is to get rid of the miseries, sorrows and pains that the body undergoes in the world, well, Advaita in general and disembodiment in particular, is not the solution.

Does it mean that the body’s problems of disease, decay, hunger, destitution cannot be solved at all? One cannot say “No.” However, one has to look for some other routes to achieve that. But those routes will not lead one to ‘Liberation’ – freedom from being born in the world. Continue reading

From the Grossest to the Subtlest – 2/2

Part – 1

Narada climbs up the staircase from Name up to Spirit almost hopping and jumping spurred by his own enthusiasm and curiosity.   He asks his venerable teacher at each step after meditating, “What’s next?”  He, however, falls absolutely silent after meditation at the level of Spirit, the 15th itself. He has another flight of steps to take to reach the Ultimate, the Absolute!

Swami Krishnananda of the Divine Life Society tells us that the 7th chapter of the Upanishad expounds the magnificent doctrine of the bhuma, the Absolute, the plenum of Being, the fullness of Reality. But also cautions us that “As we go further and further in this chapter, we will find it is more and more difficult to understand the intention of the Upanishad. The instructions are very cryptic in their language. Even the Sanskrit language that is used is very archaic, giving way to various types of interpretations.” Though the words may look familiar, their meaning is significantly different and connote a much deeper sense. Continue reading