‘Tipping Point’ in Advaita Vedanta

Question:  “I’m curious what is the ‘Tipping Point’ in the Advaita philosophy.”
Just as it is easier to say what the Self is apophatically, perhaps, the “Tipping point in Advaita” too can be expressed only by stating what it cannot be!

4.4.5, BU clearly establishes how everything, including objects, actions, interactions, thoughts, emotions, feelings etc. etc., in short our entire ‘perceptual knowledgebase’ gleaned from the time-space-causational world we are familiar with and live in, is merely upahita caitanya (conditioned Consciousness). Continue reading

Q.541 Knowledge in the Vedas

A (Martin): I’d 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 which could be said to be somehow contained in it, even if in embryonic or potential form.

The knowledge inherent in the Vedas is metaphysical rather than mystical. According to it there is one and only reality: consciousness (Brahman, or the Absolute), 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 or a name or symbol for reality – since the referent of the symbol is unfathomable – 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’, ‘unifying theory…’). Not all physicists are reductionist, some of them having seemingly mutated into philosophers with an understanding of the core of Vedic teachings.

‘adhyAropa’ to ‘adhiSThAna’ – 4/4

Part – 3

What happens by the ascertainment of the implied meaning of the words in the sentence “You are That”?

Just as the idea of a snake is negated from a rope (in the snake-rope analogy), everything of the nature of non-Self is negated from the eternally existing Self implied by the word “I.” In other words, ‘ignorance’ vanishes (immediately on the attainment of right Knowledge) – 18.4-5, US.

In addition, the (false) conception of the pain with regard to the Self vanishes forever when the right Knowledge of the Self arises like all kinds of pain which is experienced in a dream comes to an end as soon as one wakes up.

What action should I take to augment my “understanding” and attain brahman?

Shankara tells us,

चतुर्विधमेव हि सर्वं कर्म कार्यम् — उत्पाद्यमाप्यं विकार्यं संस्कार्यं वा ।  – 1.2.12, muNDaka B.

Meaning: All the effects of actions are of four kinds: Production; Acquisition; Modification; and, Purification. Continue reading

‘adhyAropa’ to ‘adhiSThAna’ – 3/4

Part – 2

It is said that brahman Itself gets deluded by Its own magic. Does it not then imply that there is really creation and a (created) world out there?

Shankara is never tired of pointing out that there is actually no creation at all and the purpose of all the scriptures, when they talk of creation, is NOT to establish creation as a fact. For example:

1. न चेयं परमार्थविषया सृष्टिश्रुतिः ; अविद्याकल्पितनामरूपव्यवहारगोचरत्वात् , ब्रह्मात्मभावप्रतिपादनपरत्वाच्च — इत्येतदपि नैव विस्मर्तव्यम् — 2.1.33, BSB.

Meaning: “The Vedic statement of creation does not relate to any reality, for it must not be forgotten that such a text is valid within the range of activities concerned with name and form called up by ignorance, and it is meant for propounding the fact that everything has brahman as its Self.” Continue reading

‘adhyAropa’ to ‘adhiSThAna’ – 2/4

[Part – 1]

When and how does the process of ‘imagination’ (creation/projection) happen?

Shankara contends in his ‘adhyAsa bhAShya’ (Intro to his ‘Commentary on the brahma sUtra-s) that the formless, featureless and functionless, unbounded, immutable Beingness does not ‘cognize’ or ‘act’ unless Its Infinitude is somehow compromised. He writes, “The unrelated Self cannot become a ‘cognizer’ unless there are all these mutual superimpositions of the Self and the body and their attributes on each other, because perception and other activities (of a man) are not possible without accepting the senses etc. (as his own); the senses cannot function without (the body as) a basis; since nobody engages in any activity with a body that has not the idea of the Self superimposed on it.” [Slightly re-arranged the clauses for easy comprehension.] Continue reading

‘adhyAropa’ to ‘adhiSThAna’ – 1/4

    राजविद्या राजगुह्यं पवित्रमिदमुत्तमम् 
प्रत्यक्षावगमं धर्म्यं सुसुखं कर्तुमव्ययम्   — 9.2, BG.

[This is the Sovereign Knowledge, the Sovereign Profundity, the best sanctifier; directly realizable, righteous, very easy to practice and imperishable.]

What is this world that is available for our experience?

“The world is a ‘superimposition’ (adhyAropa). In other words, it merely appears to be present but does not really exist. It is like ‘casting forward’ a non-existing or unreal “form” (objects) onto the Eternal, Immutable and Real ‘Substratum’ (adhisThAna) or the Supreme Self,” avers the Advaita Vedanta. Because of our inherent inability to know what “exactly” out there, our intellect ‘confabulates’ what could be present out there and ‘externalizes’ the imagined ‘form’ as a projection.

Shankara in his introduction to the Vedanta aphorisms (sUtra-s) explains to us that this ‘superimposition’ is natural (naisargika) to us – i.e., it exists from our birth itself. Left to itself uninvestigated, adhyAsa seems to have no locatable or known beginning-point (hence, anAdi); nor an end-point (hence, ananta).

No meaningful answer can be given to a question like “What is north of North Pole?” Similarly, a point of ‘beginning’ cannot be indicated for something which is outside of our familiar time-space dimensionality. “anAdi” also implies that it lies beyond our time-space framework. As a result, we find ourselves inexorably caught up in its snares and suffer the consequences as helpless victims trapped within the jaws of a mighty ‘diaphanous power.’

A superimposition or a projection is, however, an ‘action.’ There cannot be an ‘action’ without an ‘agent’ who does the act.

If I am just a ‘victim’ and not the doer of this projection, who is the ‘agent’ that does the ‘superimposition’? Continue reading

Meaning of anubhava

The Sanskrit term that is interpreted by many modern teachers as ‘experience’ is anubhava. And indeed ‘experience’ is one of the translations given by Monier-Williams, along with the expansion “knowledge gained from personal observation or experiment”. (Ref. 179) But words such as ‘understanding’ and ‘apprehension’ are also given and these are much closer to the intended meaning.

Continue reading

Q.537 Need for a Guru

A: It is highly desirable to have a qualified, traditional guru. There do not seem to be many of these around today and it is unlikely that you happen to have one conveniently close by! Consequently, the best you can do is to read books that reliably present material in the traditional manner (unfolding scriptural texts and Shankara commentaries) and listen to recorded talks from similarly reliable sources.

Continue reading

What is Truth or Reality?

Neti, neti.

Reality is ‘everything there is, all in a bundle’ (a tentative definition) – inner, outer, manifest and unmanifested, known and unknown, thought of and imagined. Reality is not a bundle of separate truths, though, since ‘everything’ is interconnected in mutual dependency. Reality is indefinable; ungraspable by the mind (it requires a silent mind and a ‘leap of faith’ – a constancy of purpose). ‘Those who think they know know not’ (Upanishads and common knowledge). Reality is subjective and objective at the same time (nay, there is no such dichotomy in it). Reality is Knowing and Being, beyond the seeming individual, the latter as partaking of it. Reality, truth, cannot be transmitted or expounded – it is at the same time ‘personal’ and impersonal, or neither of them. Only metaphysics (non-duality) and contemplation, love of truth, not mere philosophizing, can take one to it.

Q.533 Value of practice

Q: Do you know of any effective (tried and true) praxis methods for Advaita? Meditations, contemplations, visualizations, prayers, mantras, hymns, and so on. Particularly methods that nurture the understanding of the mahavakyas. I’ve been meditating daily and I’m open to different approaches.

I suppose I might do okay with reading, rereading, fathoming, and contemplating the mahavakyas, one by one. But if there are already good praxis methods out there, I’d love to give them a try.

A: The ‘problem’ is Self-ignorance and the ONLY remedy for this is Self-knowledge, which comes from scriptures, ideally interpreted/explained by a qualified teacher.

Having said that, the only value of any practice is to enable the above or enhance the ability of the mind/intellect to do the above. sādhana catuṣṭaya sampatti tells you what practices are of value. But practicing to the extent that you are able to still the mind at will and give all your attention to what is front of you, dropping desires etc., is of no value (as far as Advaita is concerned) unless you give that attention to scriptures/teacher.

You do that in the form of shravaṇa-manana and then go away and regurgitate-reassimilate that until it is fully accepted. ‘Doing’ of any sort, such as learning shruti by heart, singing mantras, trekking to the Himalyas etc. is not going to achieve anything.