samAdhi (part 1)

Experience versus knowledge – a brief look at samAdhi

I do not know an awful lot about neo-Vedanta. The term is generally applied to the teaching ‘introduced’ by Swami Vivekananda and carried on by the disciples of the Ramakrishna movement. There has been much written on this topic (which I have obviously not read!) and those who are interested will know that there are many contentious issues. Refer, for example to the book ‘Neo-Vedanta and Modernity’ by Bithika Mukerji, which may be read or downloaded at

However, one aspect that I am aware of is that neo-Vedanta claims that enlightenment is attained through the experience of nirvikalpa samAdhi. They also insist that Shankara himself stated this, whereas what I would call ‘traditional’ Advaitins believe that Shankara’s teaching was that it is self-ignorance that obscures our understanding of the truth and that only self-knowledge can remove it. Thus, one of the key issues around the topic of neo-Vedanta is that of experience versus knowledge. Accordingly, at the risk of inciting acrimonious discussions (!), I would like to look briefly at this assertion that samAdhi is a sine qua non for enlightenment. Continue reading

Vedanta the Solution – Part 56

VEDĀNTA the solution to our fundamental problem by D. Venugopal

Part 56 concludes the examination of the idea that enlightenment involves an ‘experience’ – this is a misunderstanding of the concept of anubhava. And there is an extended analysis of the ‘tenth man’ metaphor, showing how the mahavAkya-s can give direct knowledge of the Self – aparokSha j~nAna.

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

Q.443 A ‘simple summary of advaita’

Q: Based on your own search and discoveries over all of these years, and the writing of all of the books and blogs, if you had to summarize all of this, the truth of life, what would you say? 

A: Not sure what you are looking for here. My ‘personal’ view is surely not important and I could scarcely find any better summary than Shankara’s. Anyway, I spent an hour thinking about it (while washing up and vacuuming) and here is my one line summary:

The form does not matter – it is the substance that is important.

Q: How do we know that energy/matter is Consciousness and not just what it is as energy/matter? And why does it matter? Can’t Consciousness just be what it is by itself and simply aware?

A: Energy and matter are both objects of experience. They are transient and finite, changing one into the other and ultimately ending in Absolute zero. Consciousness is the non-dual, unchanging, eternal and infinite reality.

It does not matter from the standpoint of absolute reality. It does not even matter to most jIva-s, since they just get on with the usual pleasure-seeking aims. It matters to one who is seeking Self-knowledge.

Consciousness DOES just be what it is (there is nothing else) but is not ‘aware’ in the usual meaning of the word, since there is nothing else of which to be aware. Continue reading

1) Knowledge and the Vedas; 2) Is everything metaphysical?

Do the Vedas really contain any advanced knowledge as so many people claim they do? (Quora)

I would say the Vedas contain the most fundamental and ‘advanced’ knowledge there is, though usually portrayed  in the form of paradox (analogy, metaphor, story, etc.), so that one has to crack the code in order to find the wealth hidden in them. That knowledge is not like empirical science, which is cumulative and provisional, and can be said to be somehow contained in the latter, even if in embryonic or potential form. That knowledge or perspective is metaphysical rather than mystical. According to the Vedas there is one and only reality: consciousness (brahman, the Absolute, etc.), which pervades the whole universe; it is immanent in it as well as transcendent… “the smallest of the small, the largest of the large”. It cannot be measured or understood by the mind, for which it is ineffable, but it is that by which the mind comprehends… it cannot be expressed in words but by which the tongue speaks… it is eye of the eye, ear of the ear, mind of the mind, as expressed in the Upanishads.

Modern physics is having a hard time trying to explain away what consciousness is in terms of physical phenomena (neuronal activity in the brain), but consciousness is not an irreducible phenomenon or datum; it is reality itself, everything being comprehended in it (theories, doubts, projections, emotions, things, thoughts, intelligence, observer and observed, you and I). For the Vedas reality is one, and present physics is trying to find out in which way it is so (‘theory of everything’, ‘unificatory theory…’). Not all physicists are reductionist, some of them having seemingly mutated into philosophers with an understanding of the core of Vedic teachings.


Is everything metaphysical? (Quora)

‘Is everything metaphysical?’ My answer is a resounding Yes! despite the widely accepted, prevailing, physicalist theory: everything is reducible to matter/energy. This last position is being insistently questioned ever since the rise of the new physics (the role of the observer, uncertainty principle, etc.). Nobody knows what matter is intrinsically, and why an atom is an atom – its nature is a mystery; scientifically we can only talk about mechanism, ‘behavior’ or function, in relation to physical processes. Thus, everything is metaphysical – including tables and chairs or, rather, the material they are made of, wood (hilos) – which means non-reducible to the physical. Psychology, mind, selfhood are equally non reducible to the physical – nor are they purely mental or purely conceptual – , thus they are metaphysical, however psychologists may protest. ‘Man’, ‘personhood’, are metaphysical or philosophical notions.

Metaphysical doctrines are couched in LANGUAGE (concepts, plus logic and reasoning -tarka), which de facto is dualistic, but that is a springboard and a conditio sine qua non for realization or uniting with the TRUTH or REALITY which is indivisible, non-relational, and inexpressible by the mind (anubhava).


Q.461 A jIvanmukta’s prArabdha

Q: I have the following doubt. I look forward to your comments.

     Having completed the study of Tattva Bodha, this mumukshu has a doubt with regard to karma – sanchita, prarabdha and agami.

     The doubt exists in a narrow compass and concerns karma and the Jivan Mukta. Tattva Bodha states that on realization, sanchita and agami karmas of a gyani come to an end. But the same logic is not extended to prarabdha which it states continues even after realization and that on its exhaustion the Jivan Mukta drops the body.

     Advaita Vedanta is recognized as a logical and rational system of thought and it is therefore difficult to accept this assumption regarding prarabdha for the following reasons: Continue reading

Vedanta the Solution – Part 51

VEDĀNTA the solution to our fundamental problem by D. Venugopal

Part 51 explains the roles of action and knowledge in attaining mokSha. Shankara provides the reasoning why the function of karma is to purify the mind while j~nAna removes the ignorance that prevents the realization that we are already free.

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

Conversation with ‘H’ (Knower, Witness) Prelude & Part 1

H. ‘… as regards the somewhat artificial distinction (ontologically speaking) that I make between awareness and consciousness, then this is something I do of my own choosing, accepting that there is an objectless state of mind that cannot correctly be termed ‘consciousness’ as it is not ‘with knowledge’ of any kind. In its stricter, more formal sense, then in the language of Pali this would be one of the Arūpajhāna, as you may well know – i.e. neither perception nor non-perception. I often find myself in dispute with phenomenologists over whether an objectless awareness is possible. Although the (8th) Arūpajhāna itself is of course a very rarified state, the very fact that it is a state gives me – I hope – the liberty to introduce the idea of a Tabula Rasa of mind, and which, again due to the ubiquity of the term, I call ‘awareness’ for the purposes of creating a template for learning only. I do not consider it to be its own ontological category.’ Continue reading

Q. 459 The Unbridgeable Gap

(Question answered by Martin, Ramesam, Charles and Dennis)

Q: I have a few doubts regarding Advaita. I was fascinated by this philosophy when I started perusing different philosophies but, on reflection, I found it to be untenable or a logical travesty at best.

I suspect that ajAtivAda is the ultimate tenet of advaita – creation never happened, ontologically speaking. And yet, inexplicably, this vyAvahArika world with its jIva-s exists. And, to end his purported suffering, the jIva has to realize this ontological oneness or sole existence of unqualified Brahman.

Now, to be a little antagonistic, according to the frame of reference of the jIva, his realization will not have any effect on the pAramArthika Brahman because jIva, world and liberation are all only vyAvahArika truth. As ajAtivAda explicitly states, jIva, world, liberation and bondage do not exist.

I suspect that advaita is also not a realization (mental state) of the jIva as Brahman cannot be an object of knowledge or experience so, at the apparent instant of realization (apparent because of ajAtivAda) nothing really happens from the point of the jIva also. Even for the jIvanmukta, his mind and body exist, yet neither his body nor mind can get liberation because it will turn Brahman into a subject. Continue reading

Vedanta the Solution – Part 49

VEDĀNTA the solution to our fundamental problem by D. Venugopal

Part 49 explains how the mahAvAkyatat tvam asi‘ produces knowledge of brahman via the akhaNDAkAra vRRitti in the mind.

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

Q. 433 Seeking ‘nondual experiences’

Q: For the better part of four decades, I was on the hunt for spiritual experiences that would ‘expand my consciousness.’ I now realize and understand that only Self-Knowledge can provide lasting peace, and any experience is something that comes and goes in time and therefore can never be a permanent condition. However, I still find it very difficult to drop the search for a Big Bang event, after which I can safely say: “Ok, now I am enlightened for sure.”

What is confusing about this is that there are so many teachers who seem to have a pretty clear grasp of nondual teaching and still speak in terms of what happened during their awakening or enlightenment event. Francis Lucille, for example, talks about his experience in Eternity Now. (“For a few moments, the pure I-thought seemed to vacillate, just as the flame of an oil lamp running out of fuel, then vanished. At that precise moment, the immortal background of Presence revealed itself in all its splendor.”) Franklin Merrell-Wolff provides an amazingly clear description of the ‘Recognition’ events that happened to him after studying Shankara. Ken Wilber talks of having been consciously aware for 11 straight days, even through deep sleep, etc. Clearly, Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj both went through Big Bang type spiritual awakenings, and of course, there are numerous other similar reports by various sages and gurus. Continue reading