Q.476 – Metaphors

Q: Which metaphor in Advaita is the closest to truth? For example:

1.      If I take the “Snake in rope” metaphor, I must consider that “there-is-something” called rope, which is mistaken for something else (snake). So, in this metaphor, there is a TRUE rope and UNTRUE snake.

2.      If I consider the “Water in Mirage” metaphor, there is the UNTRUE water, but there is no substrate on which this is happening (there is no rope equivalent here).

3.      If I consider the “Dream” metaphor, there is the UNTRUE dream cosmos and dream characters and there is the TRUE dreamer in whose mind all this is happening. So the substrate is the dreamer’s mind – though it is “no-thing” in itself.

The doubt is…
Metaphor 1 gives an impression that there “is-something” out there, but we mistake it for something else and give it name & forms etc.

Metaphor 2 gives an impression that there is “nothing out there” and what we see is only inside our mind (the mirage has no substrate out there, but just an error in our mind).

Metaphor 3 is somewhat in the middle of metaphors 1 & 2 – Like metaphor 1, it has a TRUE substrate (the dreamer’s mind) but that substrate itself is just mind stuff (like metaphor 3) which can appear and disappear instantly, following no rules of any sort (rope will follow some rule, but a dream elephant may fly).

So is there something “out there” (some ineffable substrate – say energy) which is misunderstood as something else (say matter, forms) OR there is “nothing-out-there” and whatever we see is only our minds-stuff in motion?

Many thanks to the teachers for having this forum where seekers could ask their questions and helping others see the great truth! Continue reading

The Chrysalis (Part 3)

Read Part 2

The sheath-related verses in the Panchadashi occur in Chapter 1:

  1. The five sheaths of the Self are those of the food, the vital air, the mind, the intellect and bliss. Enveloped in them, it forgets its real nature and becomes subject to transmigration.
  2. The gross body which is the product of the quintuplicated elements is known as the food sheath. That portion of the subtle body which is composed of the five vital airs and the five organs of action, and which is the effect of the rajas aspect of Prakriti is called the vital sheath.
  3. The doubting mind and the five sensory organs, which are the effect of Sattva, make up the mind sheath. The determining intellect and the sensory organs make up the intellect sheath.
  4. The impure Sattva which is in the causal body, along with joy and other Vrittis (mental modifications), is called the bliss sheath. Due to identification with the different sheaths, the Self assumes their respective natures.
  5. By differentiating the Self from the five sheaths through the method of distinguishing between the variable and the invariable, one can draw out one’s own Self from the five sheaths and attain the supreme Brahman.

(These are from the translation by Swami Swahananda.) Continue reading

Jagat Mithya – World is an Illusion

Article and Book Extracts by Arun Kumar

Sri Adi Shankaracharya, the great master of Advaita who lived in the early part of the 8th Century said, “Brahma satya jagat mithya, jivo brahmaiva naparah”. It means Brahman (name of the Ultimate Reality) is the only truth, the world is illusory, and there is ultimately no difference between the individual Self and the Brahman.

Mithya means neither true nor false. The world cannot be false because we all clearly see and perceive it. Shankaracharya says that the world is not true either, because it is constantly changing and everything that the world has to offer is temporary, transient and impermanent.

A fine dining experience gives us joy. Try doing it continuously for a few days and one would start nauseating. A trip to a nice resort is highly relaxing. After just a few days the charm of the place wears out. Eagerly awaited vacation trip to someplace, after hectic running around and visiting various tourist sites for days, finally the heart cries “Home! Sweet Home!!” and longs for the comfort of the home.

That’s why Shankara calls this world as Mithya which means anything in this world can only give temporary happiness and not permanent happiness. Continue reading

Shankara’s Direct Path Method

 Shankara spells out the most Direct Path method of Self-realization on a here and now basis in his short treatise, aparokShAnubhUti. He explains very lucidly in simple words, through the 144 verses of this text, the means to have the direct experience of brahman. He boldly declares right up front the unreality of the three entities, jIva-jagat-Ishwara, the model commonly used in teaching Advaita. He avers that ‘action’ (karma) or worship (upAsana) cannot deliver liberation. However, he says an intense yearning for liberation (mumukshatva) has to be present in a seeker.

Shankara’s Direct Path has nothing to do with the changing or manipulating the external world or one’s own body-mind system. It is all about how the world is perceived. The three possible worldviews are: Continue reading

Q.436 Ishvara and the existence of fossils

Q: Dinosaur fossils point to a world history that greatly exceeds the history of human beings. I realize that from the Absolute perspective, there is no creation, no world, and therefore no fossils. However, I also realize that Advaita is not equivalent to solipsism. When ‘I’ die, the relative world will still continue in ‘my’ absence. What is puzzling is why there should be any such consistency. When I go to sleep tonight, I do not expect to pick up the dream from where I left off last night. Yet on waking, I definitely expect to be in the same room I went to bed in, with the same clothes hanging in the closet, etc. In short, there is a direct continuity that occurs in jAgrat that does not apply to svapna. Doesn’t this very continuity (e.g. fossils having existed for millions of years before ‘I’ was born) point to a definite need for a Creator, aka Ishvara or saguNa Brahman? Otherwise, I don’t see how the continuity would make any sense. ‘I’ as the jIva cannot have had anything to do with it!

A: Ishvara is just as real as the world. Ishvara is the order that we see, the laws that govern it and so on. All this is empirically real, not absolutely real; it is mithyA. You and I and Ishvara and the world and jAgrat and svapna and suShupti are all mithyA. So yes, if you are talking about fossils and dinosaurs, Ishvara is needed as the creator of the world and of the laws of evolution etc. that enable such things to be a part of our history. Ishvara maintains the waking dream so that I have some clothes to put on when I wake up.

States of Consciousness – 2, 3, 4 and 1/2?

Okay, here is your starter for 10 – your time starts now! (If you’re not familiar with this phrase, it relates to the quiz show ‘University challenge’, which was on British television for many years.)

The question is: how many states of consciousness are there?

I can almost see your mind tripping up and reading that question again. Surely, you will say, there are three states of consciousness – waking, dreaming and deep sleep. What can I possibly mean by querying this? Well, actually, depending upon how you answer this question, the number of states of consciousness could be two, three or five (or 4 ½) or you could argue that the very question is misconceived!

It is true that most of the scriptures refer to 3 states. If you have read my book ‘A-U-M: Awakening to Reality’, you will know that it refers to jAgrat, svapna and suShupti. These three states are mithyA and the reality underlying them is called turIya. In the tattva bodha (attributed to Shankara), the question is asked: avasthAtrayaM kim? – What are the three states? Admittedly, this is a somewhat leading question but the answer is given: jAgratsvapnasuShuptyavasthAH – they are the waking, dream and deep sleep states. And it goes on to explain each in turn. Continue reading

Q. 421 – Creation and lIlA

Q: I ‘understand’ that Brahman is Eternal, Changeless, Being, Its the mAyA aspect that is puzzling. Why create an illusion and then ignore it thru dispassion, observation, witnessing, spiritual practice, etc… the very thing you (Brahman) made for your play of a world/dream you now must awaken from. I have often pondered that Brahman did not make/create the world but the mind/Self did thru a type of mis-creation a false identification. Does this make any sense?

A: The ‘final’ message of Advaita is that there is ONLY brahman (i.e. really, really ‘non-dual’). Ideas such as mAyA are part of the interim teaching to help lead the mind to that final realization. Eventually, they have to be dropped. brahman did not create anything – there is no world as a separately existing entity – it is all only brahman. So yes, as you say, the apparent separation is effectively generated by the mind as a ‘false identification’. Read the adhyAsa series that I posted – https://www.advaita-vision.org/adhyasa-part-1/ – or better still read my book ‘A-U-M: Awakening to Reality’, which is all about this ‘final message’.

Q. 416 – More on evil

Q: If everything is the manifestation of consciousness, is there any explanation for so much pain, suffering, illness, disease, starvation, depression etc?

I have read and understood that Consciousness manifests itself in everything and  through human beings in order to experience the life (or dream) it created.

If this is so then one comes to the conclusion that sadism and masochism are experiences Consciousness also wants to feel, bearing in mind the atrocities that humans are committing nowadays.

A (Dennis): This is a question I am sure many will relate to. I can provide an answer in a number of ways.

Firstly, similar questions have been asked before. See, for example, Questions 100, 120 and 134. Secondly, I could throw this open to the other bloggers who may look at it from different angles. Let me know if you want me to do this. Thirdly, here are a couple of ideas that may help.

If, by ‘Consciousness’, you mean the non-dual reality (which I assume you do – so do I) then you have to concede that from that point of view there can be no ‘experiences’ and no value judgments. If you accept the conclusion of Advaita – ‘all there is is Consciousness’, then Consciousness is all there is! It is a bit like using steel to make scalpels and also to make daggers. From the standpoint of the steel, both are steel only. It is only the person who says one is good and the other bad. And the person, too, is only Consciousness.

Another way of looking at it is by comparing it to dream. Presumably you have dreams in which ‘bad’ things happen? Why do you do this? Why not always dream about good things? But, when you wake up, does it really matter? Was the bad thing really bad? When you realize the truth, you also know that the waking world is ultimately no more real than the dream world. Both are turIya, only.

Finally, you should note that Consciousness does not do anything, does not desire anything. Nor does it experience anything, either for itself or ‘through’ the supposedly created entities. The ‘bottom line’ of Advaita is that nothing has ever been created.

Q.407 Why not commit suicide?

Q: Since the world as perceived by our senses is mithyA, and we are Brahman, any suffering or pleasures that we derive during the ‘vishva’ or ‘taijasa’ state are mere illusions. As this realization dawns, I am forced to conclude  that living or dying (both concepts being associated with the vishva state) are meaningless.

Rather than meditating etc, and deciding to live life as it is with the knowledge that it is mithya, why shouldn’t someone just end his existence in this state? He is Brahman anyway and it doesn’t matter if he lives or dies in an illusory world borne out of his senses.
Rest assured, this is more of a rhetorical question, to understand if any of the proponents of vedanta have addressed this.

The very act of my writing to you is in itself irrelevant in the broader context.

A: This is the sort of question that Ramana or Nisargadatta would answer with the question ‘Who is asking?’

The point is that the world and its vicissitudes are real for the jIva. Hence the teachings about karma and rebirth. If the jIva ends his/her life before gaining Self-knowledge, there will be rebirth according to the accumulated karma. Also the pleasures and sufferings during waking and dreaming are not illusions; they are mithyA – a world of difference! It is only from the vantage point of absolute reality that you can say that living and dying are meaningless. The unenlightened do not commit suicide as a result of believing that their lives and the world are real. The enlightened do not kill themselves even though they know that their life as a jIva is not real. Indeed, they KNOW that their true self cannot be killed!

avastha-s and prakriyA-s

One may be motivated to find out the Ultimate Truth by reasons of either epistemological curiosity or soteriological aspiration. If it is the latter, s/he would obviously go by the guru vAkya or shruti vAkya (instruction of a teacher or a canonical text). From an epistemological perspective, however, our ancient Seers and Sages used essentially two approaches in imparting whatever they found to be the supreme unquestionable “really real” ultimate ‘Thing’ for which they did not even give a name. They referred to It simply as “That” but declared It to be ‘ekameva advitIyaM‘(one only without a second). Thus did the a-dvaita (not-two) philosophy was born and ‘brahman ‘ became an indicator word for That, whatever ‘That’ is or, inexplicably, is not. Continue reading