Q1. Many advaita teachings suggest that on the absolute level of reality, there are no objects, no people, no selves, and many times, people will say that, ‘from awareness’ point of view, there is just awareness’… However, in my experience it seems that awareness has the ability to know finite objects because ‘I’ (awareness) am the observer of thoughts, feelings, and sensations (all finite objects). So how can we say that from awareness’ point of view there are no objects, when awareness is aware of finite things? To piggyback off of this, is there some way to differentiate between the witnessing position and the absolute viewpoint? because I think this is where I am really getting mixed up.
Q2. Why does it seem that awareness can know something finite when it is infinite? I’ve heard from certain advaita teachers that consciousness takes the form of the mind in order to know finite objects, but this confuses me because that would imply that awareness becomes the mind, but is also simultaneously aware of the mind. It seems a little far fetched in my opinion, but maybe I’m just not understanding it completely.
A: I never use the term ‘awareness’ for precisely this sort of reason. It is a term used by Nisargadatta and his disciples and causes much confusion. I only use it in the context of X being ‘aware of’ Y, in duality.
The non-dual reality in Advaita is called Brahman, strictly speaking. Being non-dual, it has no ‘attributes’ If it had the attribute X, this would mean that it could not be ‘not-X’, which would then negate the fact that Brahman is said to be unlimited or infinite (anantam). You might find the 3-part post beginning https://www.advaita-vision.org/satyam-gyanam-anantam-brahma/ useful.
Following an extended, off-line discussion, I have added a new sub-section to Volume 1 of my next book, ‘Confusions in Advaita Vedanta’ and I am posting this below. I am currently in the process of editing the proof copy of the book and it will be published by Indica Books in Varanasi, hopefully in 2022. Details will, of course, be provided as soon as it is available. It will be printed in hardback and paperback but unfortunately not in electronic format.
As Sureshvara puts it in his Naiṣkarmya Siddhi (1.73):
“And tell me what possible cause could there be for action on the part of one who is established in the Absolute and has become everything, both individually and collectively, not seeing anything as other than himself.” (Ref. 7)
Q: On your website ‘Advaita vision’” in the article ‘Consciousness, Ego and Self-knowledge’ is the axiom mentioned that the subject (observer) is different from the object (observed): the Seer-Seen discrimination (dŗg dŗśya viveka). Are there other such fundamental axioms within Advaita Vedanta and if so, can you give an overview of the main ones?
A: I would say there are not really ‘axioms’ in Advaita. What there are is ‘prakriyā-s’. These are teaching ‘techniques’ to help you to an understanding. The end-point of the teaching – that there is only Brahman, the world is mithyā and you are Brahman – is not provable. It is ‘realized’ to be true when you have listened to the teaching and cleared any doubts. Hence ‘Self-realization’. Seer-seen discrimination is a practical exercise to bring you to the understanding that anything that you are aware of cannot be ‘you’; that you are the ‘ultimate subject’. Read any good book on the essentials of Advaita and other prakriyā-s will be given.
Q: Thank you for your almost instant reply and clear explanation.
First I would like to complement you with your website, which carries a valuable treasure of information. I am exploring every part. Secondly I would like to ask your reflections on a question I have.
Background In our daily western life I see many people unhappily following the path they are on, not having the strength to make a change. In my view this is mainly the result from the way they are (more fundamentally) conditioned: materialistic, externally and scientifically oriented, as well as having a strict dualistic paradigm. At the same time I see how difficult it is for most of the Westerners to switch to a (more spiritual oriented) approach of introspection, in finding a more profound meaning in life and happiness. As I am convinced the ‘internal way’ is ‘the only way out’ in finding real happiness, I have adopted a personal mission: the endorsing of the spiritual regeneration of people around me. The challenge I faced was finding an approach to make this successful, instead of annoying people with my convictions.
Q: Knowledge, which is in or of the mind or intellect, must ultimately be given up. So really, is it knowledge or just ‘pointers’ to the truth of things? Like the pole vaulter letting go of the pole to get over the bar, the mind must be given up or let go of, which includes the knowledge. So really, knowledge isn’t the key or final secret. Simply abiding as Consciousness (what we really are), is the real point of all of this.
And, witnessing seems to be of two ‘kinds’: . Subject-object witnessing the normal person does all day . The non-experiencing witness, which is the pure Consciousness that sees all within itself. I.e. like the analogy of the movie screen and movie.
Really, it can be summed up by the fact that knowledge is not the key but only a pointer to ‘what really is’, which is the non-experiencing Witness.
Q: I am just back from a vacation in Greece where I enjoyed a few days of reading Taoism: living in the spirit of Tao is the easy way of just floating with the stream of life. This means just living from our intuition instead of using our intellect performing the mental acrobatics of Advaita Vedanta. Indeed, as Wittgenstein pointed out correctly, one should remain silent instead of speaking (words are merely hindering tautologies) the unspeakable.
We lost our so-called enlightenment through our education/conditioning which did not happen where people still live (or lived) in harmony with the ‘natural flow of life’. This also means that, for us to recover enlightenment, life (Tao) is the only teacher and no so-called person should be considered a teacher.
A: It is certainly true that silence avoids the ambiguity of words! But since our problem is one of Self-ignorance, clearly knowledge is needed. I don’t believe that life can bring you that knowledge. My own experience is that life tends to increase identification and sense of separation. I suggest that most people leave life with greater Self-ignorance than they had to begin with. The words of Advaita do not, in any case, speak the truth; they merely point to it.
It is not the case that we begin our life in an enlightened state. ‘Enlightenment’ means Self-knowledge, not innocence. Innocence has much more in common with ignorance! In any case, are not education and conditioning an inevitable part of life? In which case, if life brought us to this condition, how should more life now remove it?
Living a life of tranquility, away from the trials of modern life at one with nature might well be very nice (though not very practicable for most people). But it would not bring about Self-knowledge!
Q: Undaunted by my belief that meditation to find the self (soul) is difficult, I would like to try, but there are no teachers in my area. Therefore, in the first instance, I would really appreciate your advice regarding a book to follow for this type of meditation that is suitable for a beginner.
A: The purpose of meditation is to help gain control of the mind and senses so that you can cultivate dispassion and discrimination and still the mind when listening to the teacher.
Meditation cannot enable you to ‘find the self’. You are already the Self – you just have not realized this. What has to happen is for the mind to receive knowledge about the Self, clear any misunderstandings, resolve any doubts etc. Ideally, you need a qualified teacher for this – someone who knows the truth and is able to convey the relevant steps (via story, metaphor etc.) to help someone else come to the same understanding.
As an introduction to Advaita, there are three books I would recommend:
On the face of it, this is a well-written and readable book, ideally suited for a new seeker. E.g. the sections on ‘The Illusory Nature of the Separate Self’ and ‘Knowledge Dispels Ignorance’ are excellent.
Unfortunately, should any reader accept everything that is written at its face value, they will come away with some serious confusions. In what follows, I apologize in advance for some of what may seem to be harsh criticisms, but my own perception of these points is heightened as a result of spending the last year writing my own work on ‘confusions’ of precisely this sort.
The author uses the traditional teaching method of adhyāropa-apavāda but it is not made clear when what is being said is only provisional. Also, there are very few references to the source of what is being presented. (And one of those that is provided doesn’t exist!) There are many places where the author writes ‘as Shankara said’ but scarcely a single pointer to where he said it. There are numerous places where I, as an informed reader, need those references before I will even consider what is being said to be credible!
[Beingness, Knowingness and Infiniteness is brahman.]
Unending Beingness and Knowingness is the nature of brahman.
There are two endpoints for anything in this world — one is the beginning and the other is the ending. But brahman, The Knowingness, as the Upanishad says is Infinite, without limitations or edges or endpoints. It has neither a beginning (origination) nor an end (culmination).
From a common sense point of view, it may be argued that “Knowingness” cannot exist on Its own in the absence of a knower and something to be known. Can Knowingness ‘be’ in a vacuum? Is Its presence not dependent on a knower who would have been the locus for It? In the usual parlance, knowingness is that which interlinks the ‘knower’ with the ‘known.’ With the two end-members being absent, can ‘Knowingness’ exist on its own independent of the other two? Continue reading →
Q: There is potential confusion between ‘knowing about it’ and actually ‘being it’; between ‘self-realization’ and ‘self-actualization’. ‘Knowing about it’ is in the mind, whereas ‘being it’ has nothing to do with the mind. Along these lines is why Nisargadatta always said that who-we-really are is prior to the body-mind and Consciousness and to leave them alone.
What are your thoughts about all this?
A: Basically, we are already Brahman. The problem is that we do not know it. Remove the ignorance and we realize the truth. You cannot ‘experience’ or ‘perceive’ Brahman. You can only realize that we are it. Hence, the term ‘anubhava’ is misunderstood and modern teachers have been propagating a misunderstanding of the teaching. The term ‘self-actualization’ is definitely a modern one, I think, and can mean nothing. How can you ‘make actual’ what is already the case?Continue reading →
(K3.31 – K.32) Everything that we perceive, we perceive through the senses; everything that we ‘know’, we know through the mind. Consciousness functions through the mind – the concept known as chidAbhAsa, explained in Appendix 3. When the mind is inactive – for example, in deep sleep or under anesthetic – we are conscious of nothing. It is the mind that effectively imposes duality on the non-dual. We see the forms and, by naming them, it is as if we create separate things where there is really only brahman. Once this apparent duality is imposed, all of the negative emotions of desire, fear, attachment, anger and the rest follow. It is the mistaking of the really non-dual as dual that brings into existence all of our problems, which Advaita summarizes as saMsAra.
Having recognized that it is the mind that is the effective source of our problems, it is only natural to conclude that, by somehow ‘getting rid of’ the mind, we will solve those problems. This is the concept called manonAsha, which found favor with Ramana Maharshi in particular, who is claimed to have stated that this should be the aim of the seeker. (manas refers to mind in general; nAsha means loss, destruction, annihilation, death.) Once we have ‘destroyed the mind’, it is said, there will be no more duality.