Me, “The Seer” and World, “The Seen”

Dhruva was an adorable little boy. He saw his half-brother, Uttama, sitting and playing on the lap of their father, King Uttanapada. He too desired to climb on to the lap of Uttanapada. But his step-mother could hardly tolerate that. She gave a tight slap to him declaring that he was unfit to sit on the lap of the King as he was not born to her but to another queen. Crest-fallen and deeply hurt, the little kid, with his eyes full of tears, ran to his mother. His mother, a highly noble lady, consoled him and advised that he should achieve something so that people look at him with awe. The little Dhruva left the royal palace and went away to a distant forest. He met with a group of Sages in the forest and narrated to them his soulful story. They advised him to meditate on Vishnu. So, he embarked on a very austere and rigorous course of meditation. Regretting heavily the developments, the King and all his retinue, his mother, the queen and all his family implored that he should give up his askesis and return home. The King was even ready to abdicate the throne and promised to coronate him. But Dhruva was unrelenting. He did not succumb to the temptations and was uncompromising in his resolve. He pursued his meditation with greater vigor. He meditated on Vishnu, the Ultimate. Continue reading

The myth of Rahu


The scriptures utilize many stories and metaphors to coax the mind towards an understanding of Brahman – after all, this is one of the few ways this can be done since Brahman cannot be described. One that is rarely encountered is the myth of rAhu.

According to Monier-Williams (Ref. 179), the word ‘rAhu’ means ‘the Seizer’. It refers to a story in the Hindu purana-s (sacred books of mythology and cosmology), although the myth also occurs in much older Buddhist texts. The fable has the gods ‘churning’ the ocean in order to extract the ‘nectar of immortality’ (amRRita). One of the demons who are watching this, disguises himself, steals a portion and drinks it, thereby becoming immortal too. The sun and moon gods witnessed this and told Vishnu, who subsequently cut off the demon’s head. The head became known as rAhu and the rest of the body (with the tail of a dragon) as ketu. They were then evicted from the earth, from where rAhu continually tries to wreak revenge on the sun and moon by eating (‘seizing’) them. We see these attempts when eclipses take place. Continue reading

pratibandha-s – part 5 of 10

Read Part 4


Shankara differentiates what might be called ‘ordinary’ or ‘intellectual’ knowledge (j~nAna) from ‘transformative’ knowledge (vij~nAna). The knowledge becomes transforming – i.e. making it efficacious in conveying the status of jIvanmukti – when the gaining of it has been preceded by successful sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti. In his bhAShya on muNDaka upaniShad 2.2.8, he says:

“Wise, discriminatory people (dhIrA) see through vij~nAna; vij~nAna is a special (vishihtena) knowledge (j~nAna), born out of the teaching of shAstra and AchArya (shAstra AchArya upadesha janitam), and received in a specially prepared mind, born (udbhutena) out of total detachment (vairAgya), having control of inner and outer organs (shama and dama), and which is therefore capable of upAsanA to begin with and later of nididhyAsana which together are called meditation (dhyAna). Through such a vij~nAna, wise people realize that the nature of the Atman (Atmatatvam) is non-different from the nature of Brahman (brahmatatvam)…” (Ref. 10)

‘Who am I?’ in communication

Who are we speaking of when we use the words ‘I’ and ‘you’ in writing and speech?

Since we are Advaitins, there are actually three possibilities:

  1. ‘I’ could mean Atman/Brahman, if used from the ‘as if’ pAramArthika viewpoint;
  2. ‘I’ could mean the reflected Consciousness (chidAbhAsa);
  3. ‘I’ could mean the usually understood ‘named person’.

Continue reading

Consciousness, Ego and Self-knowledge

Verse 3.42 of the Bhagavad Gita says that the sense organs are superior to the gross body, the mind is superior to the sense organs, the intellect is superior to the mind and the Atma is superior to the intellect. Superiority also refers to subtlety.  Our interest is in the mind, the intellect and finally in the Atma.  There are five fundamental elements called panchabhutas.  They are space, air, earth, water and fire.  The subtle body is made of panchbhutas in their primary or nascent forms.  When the panchabhutas undergo a process of compounding among themselves, the gross or physical body emerges. The mind and the intellect belong to the category of subtle body, i.e., made of the five elements in primary form.  The Atma is beyond the panchabhutas because It is not a thing or physical entity.

We all know that we are a conscious entity. We also feel so.  We are also certain that consciousness is different from the gross body. However we are not so sure whether the consciousness is different from the mind because consciousness ordinarily gets mixed up with the mind.  Vedanta says that the consciousness is different from the mind. It is based on the axiom that the subject (observer) is different from the object (observed). This is Seer-Seen discrimination (Drg Drisya Viveka). 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

The Chrysalis (Part 1)

This is the first of a 3-part blog that I originally posted to Advaita Academy, on the subject of the pa~ncha kosha prakriyA, probably better known to most as the metaphor of the ‘Five Sheaths’.

Simplistically, this is the idea that there are various levels of identification of ‘Who I really am’ with aspects of the body-mind and that these have to be recognized and dropped so that I can realize my true nature.

However, because of the way that this idea is sometimes presented, there is often a serious misunderstanding on the part of the seeker who, taking the metaphor in a more literal sense, mistakenly believes that the self is literally ‘covered over’ by these ‘layers’ and somehow has to be ‘uncovered’, like some Russian doll. This misunderstanding may be reinforced by the notion of the Self being ‘hidden in the cave of the heart’ – another potentially misleading idea that I have discussed before. Continue reading

Q.402 – Witness vs jIva

Q: Please correct my logic below:

  • The ‘negating’ (neti, neti) is actually done by the not-Self (intellect, jIva).
  • The things negated are not-Self (body, senses, mind/intellect, jIva itself?)
  • The witness cannot be negated because it precedes the objects of negation and the act of negation.
  • The witness itself cannot negate but it is because of it that misidentification and negation are possible.
  • The knowledge that ‘I am That which cannot be negated’ is in the intellect, which is not-Self, and therefore unreal.
  • Once that knowledge takes place, then there is no further thoughts such as ‘I am an individual, so and so, this/that’. And I know that I never was.
  • Although the knowledge is in the intellect, it is as if the Self regains knowledge of itself. This individual ‘being’ just became sentient due to my reflection in it?
  • It is ‘me’ that is reflected in all apparent individuals?

A (Dennis): That is mostly correct. Just a couple of points. The ‘witness’ also has to be negated intellectually, since the act of witnessing has to take place through the body-mind-intellect, which is not who you really are. And the Self-knowledge also takes place in the intellect – it is the jIva who gains Self-knowledge. ‘Self-knowledge’ doesn’t apply to the Self, which is never anything other than the Self. And it does not ‘know’ this in the sense that this word implies – to ‘know’ something requires seeming duality and an intellect.

Tattvabodha – Part 19

Part 19 of the commentary by Dr. VIshnu Bapat on Shankara’s Tattvabodha.This is a key work which introduces all of the key concepts of Advaita in a systematic manner.

The commentary is based upon those by several other authors, together with the audio lectures of Swami Paramarthananda. It includes word-by-word breakdown of the Sanskrit shloka-s so should be of interest to everyone, from complete beginners to advanced students.

Part 19 looks at the traditional description of the formation of the mental aspects from the sattvika qualities of the five elements and the formation of the organs of action from the rajasika aspects.

There is a hyperlinked Contents List, which is updated as each new part is published.

The Mystery – Part 5

Continuing this new, short series presenting the booklet by Bimal Prasad, in which he answers some ‘Rarely Asked Questions’ on Life. Primarily from the perspective of Advaita, questions addressed include the nature of happiness, consciousness, mind and ego. There is also practical guidance on meditation in the final chapter. Answers are relevant and succinct, so that many of the issues of interest to the seeker are covered.

This fifth part looks at how we can be ‘in the present’ and at how the mind functions. See the Contents List or go straight to Part 5 of the series.

The complete (electronic form) booklet may also be purchased from Amazon.

Sharp vs. Subtle Intellect

A suggestion has been made elsewhere in these columns that “Vedanta differentiates between what is called ‘sharp’ intellect (tIkShNa buddhi) and ‘subtle’ intellect (sUkShma buddhi).”

Experienced Vedantins may differentiate ‘sharp intellect’ from ‘subtle intellect’ in trying to make a point in order to explain contextually some specific concept they would like to amplify on.  But it is doubtful if Advaita Vedanta itself has  anywhere  highlighted the difference between ” ‘sharp’ intellect (tIkShNa buddhi) and ‘subtle’ intellect (sUkShma buddhi).” If we ask whether there is a vedAnta vAkya or shruti mantra to support a claim of difference between the two types of buddhi, the answer is perhaps a resounding “No.”

Vedanta does, of course, contrast ‘sUkshma‘ in relation to ‘sthUla‘ form of  many entities (e.g. sharIra, buddhi, loka-s). Bhagavad-Gita too talks of a stratified order from gross to finer when referring to objects to sensory organs to mind to buddhi &c.


There is also an idea promoted in some quarters that  ‘sharp’ intellect (tIkShNa buddhi) is useful more often in Science whereas ‘subtle’ intellect (sUkShma buddhi) is utilized in Vedantic study. The reason given is that “The former is the analytical mind characteristic of the scientist [whereas] the latter [i.e.] the ability to integrate rather than divide [is the requirement of Vedanta], to see the unity in diversity.” Continue reading