One of the more difficult ideas for some Western seekers to accept is God, the Lord. The usual picture is of a highly judgmental white-bearded figure, sitting in heaven, dispensing punishments and rewards. God, in this picture, is all-controlling, all-powerful and thus I am small and insignificant and a mere pawn in his game. This sort of idea of the Lord is also prevalent in the East. For the godless, prayer and worship obviously have no place, and for the theists, prayer and worship are ultimately to secure a place in heaven or worldly comforts and pleasures. In one of her talks to her London students, Swāminī Ātmaprakāśānanda put all of this into perspective so that anyone with an open mind could get a wider, more liberating vision of these important and vital matters. This part deconstructs the concept of Lord…
What is this world? The world is nothing but a world of objects – different objects, perceptible through different senses. You can reduce the whole universe into five types of objects, perceptible through the five different senses. Every object becomes as good as non-existent if it is not perceived by the appropriate sense organ.
Despite its size, the universe would be as good as non-existent if you didn’t perceive it. The universe has the status of being existent only when it is perceived by you. The Gītā says: “They say the sense powers are superior (to sense objects); the mind is superior to the sense organs; the intellect is superior to the mind. Whereas the one who is superior to the intellect is He (ātmā).” (BhG 3.42) Continue reading →
Q: As I understand, the sense of “I” (distinguished from the ultimate I/Self) is the source of “ignorance”. “Ignorance” leads to “the fear”, which inspires us to attempt to find “enlightenment”. The attempt to find “enlightenment” is the delusion that there is something to gain. The teachings tell us that “enlightenment” is the nature of existence. What needs to happen is the destruction/removal of ignorance, rather than the acquisition of anything. I already feel as if I have approached the “screen” upon which phenomenon occurs. By practicing “neti neti”, I attempt to see what always is, which is a temporary attempt to disregard things that can be seen. Once this happens, there is the inference of blankness/darkness/all-inclusiveness/voidness. And once this practice of “neti neti” is over, I begin to see things come of themselves, from little sparks … flakes of concepts … to their blooming as a climax of a concept. The climax wanes and the concept disappears of itself just as it arose.
A short time after this attempt at enquiry, the ease I had with reality fades. The sense that reality is not okay begins to gradually return. It feels as if I missed something from this experience. At other times, I feel as if perhaps this effort is part of the problem. Maybe the enquiry is meant to be a last ditch attempt to notice the fallacy of trying to do something, or even the attempt to try to do nothing.
Is this the realization? That effort is resistance? That surrender to this fact is the ultimate motion?
How does it happen that one can know “in the mind” that one is free, and yet continue to fall back into the conundrum of no longer feeling this freedom? Moments of complete freedom … knowing that it’s not my business to “do” life, not even to attempt to not “do” life … and yet slowly fall back into the habit? Continue reading →
Here is a short poem, contributed by Ananda Wood (a direct disciple of Sri Atmananda Krishna Menon) and inspired by the book Philosophy of a Biologist by J.S. Haldane.
Here is what he says to introduce the poem:
I recently came across a book by J.S. Haldane, called Philosophy of a Biologist. I found it interesting because of its approach through reflective enquiry. In particular, I was interested by Haldane’s account of Western Philosophy from Descartes and Spinoza onward.
In particular, Haldane discusses philosophical questions progressively: in relation to Physical Science (Ch. I), Biology (Ch. II), Psychology (Ch. III), Religion (Ch. IV). And he concludes with a short chapter called Retrospect, where he approaches God as the inmost spirit of a universal personality. This is done in much the same way as the purusha-prakriti duality is used by Shri Shankara to investigate beyond all “knower-known” or “subject-object” duality.
This led me to write a piece of verse called Scientific enquiry: which tries somehow to summarize Haldane’s line of investigation. Continue reading →
Ānanda is of two types): ātmā ānanda and koṣa ānanda (we will retain the word ānanda without translation because it loses its expressiveness in translation). We need to understand the difference between these two types of ānanda before entering into the enquiry.
Ātmā ānanda means fullness – the very nature of one’s own self. Every individual’s intrinsic nature (svarūpam) is ānanda. Vedānta says: you are happiness, because you are fullness. Just as heat is the intrinsic, inseparable property of fire, so too happiness or fullness is the real nature of the individual. Continue reading →
It is extremely difficult to accept that what we see, what we experience, what we take to be real is not quite real. Even Swami Dayananda wrote of his utter shock on realising that the solid universe is made up of nothing but words and meanings. I personally remember the first time I saw his demonstration of close-up magic when he held up a clay tea cup in the meeting hall, one hot afternoon in his Gurukulam in Anaikatti. “What am I holding?” he asked and then answered for us: “You say cup, I say clay. Tell me which bit of this is cup? My fingers touch clay, the weight of what you call cup is the weight of clay. The feel of the cup is the feel of clay. The colour of the cup is the colour of clay. Where is the cup? Is it on the clay? If it is I can remove it. Maybe it is in the clay?” In this way, as we watched, the thing called ‘cup’ vanished in front of our very eyes. ‘Cup’ is nothing but the name given to a particular form of clay for the sake of distinguishing it from other things made of clay and all other things as well.
Now extend this to all objects that can be traced back to a common cause: even science supports this view. Then at each stage we just have names: Shirt is the name of a form of material, material is the name of yarn, yarn of cotton, cotton of fibres, fibres of atoms, atoms of sub-atomic particles, etc till we arrive at a single cause. (Vedānta śāstram goes one step further than science in stepping from the perceptible to the non-perceptible world.) Continue reading →
Adi Shaṅkara’s vision of advaita is most succinctly expressed in the following pithy statement: Brahma satyam, jagan-mithyā; jīvo-brahmaiva nāpara. (Brahman is Absolute Reality, satyam; the universe is dependent reality, mithyā; the individual, jīva, is none other than Brahman itself).
In this statement there is one word that has caused great confusion by being wrongly understood – much of the critical rejection of advaita (as well as the fundamentalist stand on non-duality adopted by some Western advaitins) can be avoided if this word is understood correctly. The word is mithyā.
Traditional advaita vedānta postulates two orders of reality: absolute and relative. The name given to the relative order of reality is mithyā, commonly mis-translated as ‘illusion’. Whereas the neo-advaita teachers accept only one level as valid (i.e. satyam), vedānta accommodates both levels. In the Taittiriya Upaniṣad it talks about two birds on the same tree: one enjoys the fruit of the tree, the other just witnesses. The Īśa Upaniṣad says that one should see everything as the Lord, but if that’s not possible due to attachment to the body then one should live a life performing one’s duty. The very structure of the Vedas themselves reflects this acceptance of a two-fold reality and prescribe (in the karma kāṇḍa section) the best way to live the worldly life and in the vedānta section it reveals the vision of truth. Satyam is the absolute level of reality, mithyā is the ‘as though’ real. Continue reading →
I call myself an Advaitin, but lack the rigor of scriptural or linguistic (Sanskrit) study attained by other writers on this site. When I feel “left out”, I call myself a mystic or perhaps a Zen Buddhist. I am reminded of a recently told joke of a cowboy who sits down in a bar next to an attractive lady and is asked what he is.
“I am a cowboy. I rope and brand cows, fix fences, and break horses. Who are you? What do you do?”
“I am a lesbian. I dream of women, of running my hands all over them, of having ecstatic sex.” Continue reading →
Q: I can see that whatever is seen cannot possibly be me, the seer, the perceiver. The perceiver cannot be perceived because it is perceiving. That seems really obvious and clear (usually, not always, don’t need to claim any more than is really the truth at present.) Whatever practices, meditations I’ve ever done always end up at the same place: I come back to I/me, the perceiver. Whatever experiences of bliss, ecstasy, I’ve had always end up going away. I come back to: I, the perceiver. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t care whether some bliss state occurs because I know it won’t last, and, ha, it took many years of going through the same thing over and over again. I’d have that bliss state, or whatever we might want to call it, try to hold on to it, be disappointed when it went away and then “work” to get it back again!!! Seems absurd now… …the question is: I guess I continue to understand that I can’t be what I perceive, whether outwardly, in the world, or inwardly, persona maybe….just continue to come back to “I” perceiving all this? There is no particular joy in this or happiness, in the sense that I know all these experiences don’t last. But there seems to be some bed-rock perceiver which doesn’t go away except in deep, dreamless sleep…As I’m writing this I think again that I really need a teacher, but don’t see that happening anytime soon. In the mean time….books, being the perceiver and not the perceived…I guess!!! Thanks. Continue reading →
[A few friends asked me about Moksha to be explained in simple words without any mystifying scriptural references, quotations and citations. This is what I wrote to them.
The points are made accordingly with no hyperbole, no mystique but merely as barebones facts without any frills – bibliographic references, supporting evidence etc. for the sake of brevity. I thought of sharing it here so that it can be corrected / sharpened in expression and improved in an overall way. ]
There is nothing mysterious about it. It goads the spirit of inquiry in us.
We are very fortunate to have access to Bhagavad Gita – described as Mother, Goddess, Shower of the Nectar of Advaita and the Release from the Endless Cycle of Rebirth – to answers the many questions that relate to our day to day living. The advice relates to every person who, like Arjuna, find that, when the minds alone is involved, it is clear what’s needed, but when feelings become engaged they are no longer convinced they know what’s the right thing to do. And, at the end of each chapter, Gita is described as Brahma vidya [Knowledge of Reality] and yoga shAstra [scripture that prepares the mind for Brahma vidya]. So the questions start from this point: Enlightenment is the unshakable knowledge ‘Aham BrahmAsi’ [I am Brahman]…
Q: What stops us from knowing this truth of oneself 24/7? Gita: Mind has three basic defects:
1. it is impure (i.e. it is ruled by appetites and aversions)
2. it is unsteady (i.e. it is unable to hold one thought for any prolonged period of time, let alone forever – i.e. it is NOT capable of being ‘unshakable’)
3. what it holds to be true is erroneous.
Krishna describes this sort of mind of the irresolute as ‘bahu shAkAh anantAh’ – many branched and endless. Continue reading →