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

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


The ‘Real I’ verses the ‘Presumed I’ – An Examination of chidAbhAsa

Ramana Maharshi’s instruction to seekers to ask themselves ‘Who am I?’ is lauded by many modern Western teachers as sufficient, on its own, to lead to enlightenment.  I suggest that this is not strictly true; that what it can do is rather to give us insight into what we are not and thereby point us in the direction of traditional teachings to learn about our real nature. It is inciting us to conduct Self-inquiry in the proven manner, i.e. by listening to a qualified teacher interpret the scriptures, rather than merely providing a mantra or formula to provide an answer directly.
An explanation of how traditional teaching can lead us to an understanding of who I am might begin with an analysis of our three states of consciousness – this is the so-called avasthA traya prakriyA of traditional advaita.
We almost certainly begin with the belief that who-I-really-am is only fully present in the waking state. In the dream state, I am not in command of my mental faculties so that the mind free-wheels outside of my control even though I am not actually unconscious. And we no doubt accept the deep sleep state as one in which mind and body rest and recuperate in order to be ready for the trials that the next day may bring. According to this interpretation, consciousness in deep sleep is in a resting state, as indicated by the lowered activity shown by EEG displays. (This view, also supported by many Western philosophers, claims that consciousness is a by-product or ‘epiphenomenon’ of the brain; an evolutionary advantageous development to enable an animal to find food and mate more efficiently than before. This is also the view of the chArvAka-s or materialists of thousands of years ago – it is certainly not new!) Continue reading

Q. 383 – Alzheimers

Q: Does an enlightened one stay enlightened when he gets Altzheimer’s disease? You seem to be saying that enlightenment is knowledge, self knowledge. Can one loose that knowledge again?

A (Dennis): This is the sort of question that first requires very careful definition of terms. What do you mean by ‘enlightened’? Who is the ‘one’ you are asking about? Who gets Alzheimer’s? Who loses the knowledge?

Do these questions answer your question? Have you read my ‘chidAbhAsa’ and ‘manonAsha’ articles?

A short answer might be that body, mind, intellect and world are all mithyA. Consciousness is the only satyam. And Consciousness does not get Alzheimer’s.

Vedanta the Solution – Part 27


VEDĀNTA the solution to our fundamental problem by D. Venugopal

Part 27 begins the enquiry into the nature of the jIva. It looks at the various explanations for how Consciousness manifests in the body-mind and the special role of the buddhi.

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

Seven Stages of Chidabhasa

chidAbhAsaGuest Author – Vijay Pargaonkar
Seven Stages of Chidabhasa

Based on Panchadasi by Vidyaranya Swami

Chapter 7.0 “Trupti Deepa”(marathi translation by Pundit Vishnu Shastry Bapat (1908) and hindi translation by Pundit Ramavatar Vidyapati (1912))

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4-4-12



“If a man knows the Self as “I am This” then desiring what and for whose sake will he suffer in the wake of the body.”
(The entire Trupti Deepa chapter of Panchadasi is based on this shruti mantra)

Kutastha, the pure Consciousness, is asanga (without any association) and avikari (immutable). This Kutastha is also the adhisthana (substratum) of “bhrama” (illusions- not to be confused with Brahman) of indriya-sharira (body- mind complex). When it gets associated (the association is only vyavaharic/transactional and not real) with mind through anyonya-adhyasa (mutual superimposition) it is known as Jiva. Kutastha’s reflection in mind “chidabhasa” alone cannot be the Jiva since it has no existence of its own without Kutastha – image in a mirror is not possible unless there is a face behind it. The mixture/combination of chidabhasa and Kutastha is also referred to as purusha in the the shruti above. Continue reading

Who Slept Well – Part 4

This is the final part of the series from AchArya Sadananda, (only edited by myself).

Deep-Sleep State

When we go into the deep sleep state, we start withdrawing each of the kosha-s, one by one, with the desire or thought of going to sleep. The ‘I want to sleep’ thought forms the contents of the vij~nAnamaya kosha or the intellect, when it goes to sleep or when it goes into an unmanifested state.  In the process of sleeping, there is a withdrawal of each of the grosser kosha-s into the subtler ones: annamayakosha to prANamayakosha, prANamaya to manomaya, manomaya to vij~nAnamaya.  At the time of sleep, the vij~nAnamaya or intellectual sheath becomes unmanifested with all the kosha-s as part of its ingredients, but in undifferentiated form. That unmanifested state of the intellectual sheath with all its constituent kosha-s is now called Anandamayakosha, since there is absence of any discriminative thoughts and associated relationships, other than the homogeneous thought of ignorance or avidya. This is referred to as avidya vRitti.  It is, in a sense, an experience involving the knowledge of the absence of anything and everything.  Hence the Mandukya (mantra 5) says – na ki~nchana kAmam kAmayate – there is absence of desire for any object, since there is no perception or recognition of any particular object of any kind in that unmanifested state. Continue reading

Who Slept Well – part 3

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAExperiencer of the Deep-Sleep-State

As noted in Part 2, we have three experiences in the deep-sleep state: 1. I exist, since I say I slept well; 2. I have the knowledge of homogeneous ignorance, since I say I did not know anything; 3. I was happy or I did not experience the pains of BMI, since I am not conscious of the BMI or any duality. The question remains: if the mind is not there, then who experiences these and who recollects these experiences on waking up, since the experiencer and the recollector have to be one and the same? These appear to be puzzling questions that need to be addressed. Who is going to provide the answer to this – a sleeper or a waker? For this, scripture alone becomes a pramAna, or means of knowledge, since the mind that uses logic cannot provide the answers. No objective tools can be used or would be valid to analyze the deep sleep state, since all objective entities (apart from ignorance) are absent in that state. Hence, objective scientists also have no tools available for investigation. These aspects have to be clear even when we are studying the opinions of other philosophers such as Shree Atmananda-ji , unless these opinions are shruti based. Continue reading

Two Genres Of Thought

“The Problem is I can’t tell the difference between a deeply wise, nudge from the Universe and one of my own bone-headed ideas!”

(Copy right: Bradford Veley)

It looks to me that we are besieged by two genres of thought.

When I say two genres, I do not mean the yes- no- thoughts or being double minded and undecided in our view about things. Nor do I refer to split personalities. Actually it has NOTHING to do about the “content” of the thought.  What I have in mind is about the suite or family of thoughts – based on their possible source of origin (real or apparent).

As advaitin-s, we all know that everything is a manifestation of brahman. We shall use the term ‘Universal Self’ for It. The Universal Self is kUTastha – does not do or intend to do anything. It is changeless, actionless, eternal and It is Beingness-Consciousness-Infinity. We also know that we act, talk, walk, eat, breathe and live as an individual.  We shall use the term ‘self’ for this separate entity. Continue reading

Q. 354 – Consciousness and reality

Q: I have an odd question, a question that I am not even sure how to formulate, it concerns consciousness. Why does Advaita philosophy insist on calling the ultimate reality consciousness? The word consciousness implies intelligence and thought – how do we know that anything outside of brains is in any way conscious?  Does this mean that physical reality amounts to the “thoughts” of this consciousness? Can the transcendent consciousness send messages to an embodied consciousness? 

 I know that an advaitin will say that there is only a non-dual reality but I mean this (however unreal or relative a reality my individual reality may be from an ‘ultimate’ perspective’) in much the same way that, until you received this e-mail from me, you were not aware of any ‘message’ or meaning from me.

  If I see a figure in clouds or a face in some wood-grain, should I see this as information with meaning? Does the consciousness ‘behind’ or ‘underneath’ everything communicate meaning with physical events (pictures, or ‘my thoughts’ , or even ambiguous hand-writing!) the way we normally communicate meaning with words and concepts? In other words–if the entire universe is consciousness, can anything be truly mindless or meaningless? Continue reading