Q: Many Vedanta teachers, nonduality, and especially Direct Path teachers answer the question “Who am I?” with these kinds of constructs:
‘I am that which is aware of objects. I am the awareness of objects. I am awareness.‘
I understand the intention of this way of formulating things; it moves the seeker away from the notion that s/he is this or that object (body, mind, etc.). But my problem with the formulation is that it seems to be presented as satyam, but it is in fact mithyam. (When taught properly it’s a good adhyAropa apavAda device, but many of the nonduality teachers I’ve read teach it as an ultimate truth, the foundation of their teachings.
The true (satyam) answer to “Who am I?” is “I am Atman/brahman.” And this is NOT synonymous with saying “I am awareness (or anything else that can be conceived, envisioned, described)” because Atman/brahman is beyond all attributes. So, if one were to avoid using the Sanskrit terms, my answer to “Who am I?” is something like:
‘I am the mystery.‘
My question for you as a traditional Advaita teacher is: What is the validity/usefulness of the “I am … ” constructs I listed at the beginning of this email?Continue reading →
[Note: Dennis posted at the other thread a cryptic comment that says, “… whether self-enquiry can reveal the true self. If you say it can, then what is the pramANa?” My response to it has become too long and because I expect that there could be questions or more comments on my comment, I have taken the liberty to make my comment into a separate Post.]
The remark that was recently posted by Dennis hinting that vicAra cannot possibly be a valid means for Self-realization leaves one rather nonplussed. It, at one stroke, blunts the entire approach of jnAna mArga, which is a highly valued and respected method for liberation in Shankara tradition. Or in order not to make that statement invalid, one has to force oneself to assign a very narrow meaning to the word pramANa conforming to the concept that the author has in his mind rather than what is understood to be a pramANa in scriptural literature.
Four years, four weeks and a fortnight ago exactly to this day, we discussed Deep sleep in these columns. As we know, the traditional Vedanta (TV) following mANDUkya upanishad and Gaudapada’s kAkrikA, considers Deep sleep as one of the three states that plays on the substratum of turIya (the Fourth). Even amongst the TV people, there are schools that hold that prAjnya is no different from turIya. Swami Ishwarananda of RK Mission, Kerala produced a short monograph expounding this theory supported by Upanishadic quotes. I presented those arguments in a three part series of posts here, here and here. The followers of Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswati of Holenarsapur too support this contention. Atmananda Krishna Menon (1883 – 1959) who propagated the “Direct Path” (DP) approach of Self-Inquiry too taught that Deep sleep itself was Pure Consciousness knowing Itself as Itself. The actual experience of Consciousness experiencing Itself in Deep sleep cannot be known or conceptualized by the awake state mind. The Consciousness knows Itself by being Itself and another name for that is Happiness. Happiness here does not mean any state of excitement or arousal. It is simply the absence of ‘unhappiness.’ In other words there exists during Deep sleep neither a sense of lack nor any desire. It is not a state triggered by or obtained through the contact of the sensory systems. It is acausal. Continue reading →
Whatever may be one’s understanding and knowledge, surprisingly and embarrassingly, simple questions can sometimes throw off one face down flat on the ground. You want to hide somewhere. One such simple question used to be an outstation visitor asking me in the small place I lived in India: “What is the best place to eat in your town?” What can I say when I myself never ate anywhere outside, having been brought up in a family where it is considered that it is a despicable thing to eat out? (Of course, this was much prior to the IT and DINK (Double Income No Kid) culture made its worldwide invasion!)
I faced a similarly embarrassing question in Vedanta the other day. A friend on one of the ubiquitous social networks first appreciated my ability to answer lucidly on Advaita related questions. I naturally got inflated. Then she enquired if she could ask a question on Bhagavad-Gita. I readied myself to brace any challenge feeling inside me that BG cannot be a problem. When I expressed my willingness to answer, she shot at me: “What is the best Bhagavad-Gita translation that does not deviate from the original in its meaning I would recommend to her.” There were two limiting conditions. She was a Westerner studying Advaita Vedanta on the Direct Path; and two, she did not know Sanskrit. Though I read many BG translations, I had not read any BG version without Sanskrit. Further, Bhagavad-Gita is commonly taught in the Traditional Path of study as it is one of the three canonical texts (prasthAna trayI). I did not know any of the Western Advaita teachers who melded BG verses into their teaching. I was totally deflated. I literally had to run for cover and hide my face. Fortunately for me, a few good friends came to my rescue. I share the information I got from them here as others may find it useful. Continue reading →
For most advaitins, traditional as well as Western, the term ‘experience’ seems to be a red rag. I would like to open our minds to a more comprehensive understanding of the word.
What exactly is an experience? It is a mind phenomenon, possibly following a sense perception or an action. Tasting food is a sense perception. But to evaluate it as enjoyable or as disgusting makes for a pleasant or unpleasant experience. Similar with activities: just to be active – walking, talking, gesticulating etc. – is not an experience yet. Experiencing comes about when the mind gets involved, usually with an evaluation of the activity. An experience can also come about without a sense perception or activity: understanding a joke or having a nightmare can make for purely mental experiences, the first usually pleasant the latter unpleasant.
The whole world of non-advaita is ruled by the hunt for experiences of various kinds. Continue reading →
[The latter part of the article requires a bit of mathematical (or at least arithmetic) orientation in the reader. If you know the addition, 1 + 1, that is enough. Otherwise, it could prove slightly boring!]
We shall tackle now the question of how we wake up to be what (we think) we were before we went to bed.
I said in my previous argument that our waking up to a new morning and into an awake state is comparable to another cycle of creation. So I suggest we examine how creation itself takes place.
From a scientific perspective, creation seems to be happening from ‘nothingness’ and dissolving back into nothing. Vedantins prefer to call nothingness as ‘Beingness’ simply because even ‘nothingness’ has to ‘Be.’
If we go by what Quantum Physics tells us, what we may refer to as ‘nothingness’ is not just emptiness. There is an enormous amount of energy in ‘Emptiness.’ Physicists have been able to measure this energy of empty space.
The energy within the empty space of the nucleus of an atom is the main reason for the weight of the nucleus (and hence of the matter we are all). The energy of the emptiness within the intergalactic space is the reason for the expanding universe causing the colossal and mighty galaxies to recede from one another at speeds exceeding the speed of light. This vast energy is the result of constant creation and annihilation of virtual particles smaller than sub-atomic particles. Thus creation-dissolution is an ongoing unstoppable roiling and boiling process from emptiness to emptiness within emptiness!
[The topic of Dreams is something I have not originally planned to include here in this series which was primarily designed to address the issue of Upanishadic support for considering deep sleep itself as Liberation (moksha).]
Please allow me here to take a short digression to discuss dreams because of a few questions raised by our esteemed readers.
Fig. 1. Sleep Hypnogram (After M. Walker, 2009) – Click on the figure for enlarged view.
First of all, I would like to correct the misconception that some of us have that the moment we hit the pillow and get lost in sleep, we just flow through one continuous phase of dreaming, then deep sleep and, lo behold, we get up refreshed in the morning. So, to this extent, the sequence of Awake state (A), Dream state (U), and Deep sleep (M) corresponding to AUM as presented by Mandukya Upanishad is awfully way out. *** The Upanishad says that these three states arise in an everlasting turIya which is compared to the ‘silence’ at the end of AUM. *** Several experimental studies carried out over a period of more than half a century demonstrate that the architecture of our sleep pattern is vastly different as experienced by us every night. A typical hypnogram (the nightly sleep cycle) we go through each night is shown in Fig. 1. (Please click on the figure for an enlarged view).
Q: As you know, all spiritual traditions in Tibet, many in India and even the early Christians took reincarnation for granted.
In Advaita however the idea is blatantly refused. Balsekar says, since there is no ego and the idea of an individual person is an illusion, what or who is there to be reincarnated?
Does this mean that the other traditions are wrong or is it a question of understanding, meaning that the people who argue differently do so from a different level of understanding / consciousness? Continue reading →
Q: How do you explain two enlightened people (in the advaitic sense) that have different teachings? For instance, I think someone like Greg Goode and Swami Dayananda would disagree on many things despite both arguably being enlightened. For example let’s take Greg’s essay on idealism (http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/teachers/idealism_greg.htm).
I don’t think Swami Dayananda-ji will agree with the core position that an object doesn’t exist unless perceived. In fact I have asked Swami Tadatmananda this question (in the form of ‘does a rock exist before someone sees it?’) and he answered in the traditional sense saying that it does. From your point of view does this still fall under the umbrella of differences in teaching style? I also believe we could get a debate between the two on the topic of Ishvara and freewill. Continue reading →
In my Talk on “Inquiry in Science and Vedanta “, the slides numbered 50 and 51 are about the three states of consciousness — Awake, Dream and Deep Sleep. (The full PowerPoint Presentation can be viewed at : http://beyond-advaita.blogspot.in/ ). The three worlds are represented by the three distinct circles I, II and III and a ‘Me’ is shown by the circle IV in the Slide 50 (Fig. 1 below). In our normal understanding, we think that “I am a separate ‘self’ (individual) and I pass through three distinct worlds viz. the Wakeful world, the Dream world and the Deep Sleep world.” We also take that the worlds to be external to ‘me.’
Fig 1: The Normal Worldview – an individual “I” (IV) passes through three distinct worlds (I, II, III) that are external to ‘me’ during a day of 24 hrs.