Substance, Substratum and Show

Yes, the entire superstructure of the edifice of Advita Vedanta is built on three words –‘Substance, Substratum and Show (or Appearance).’ These three words are very basic to its logic. All further development of its concepts, definitions and finer and more complex definitions of the doctrine depend on what the trio of words – Substance, Substratum and Show (or Appearance) – conveys.

Therefore, it is of utmost necessity that a student of Advaita should first have a clear and unambiguous grasp of what these words (or rather their equivalents in the original Sanskrit language) mean. Even a hair width of lack of clarity in understanding these three innocently looking words can lead to disproportionately disastrous misconceptions and misinterpretations of what Advaita is all about!

Let us first look at what any simple English dictionary gives the meaning of these three words to be. Starting there will help us appreciate better what the Sanskrit equivalents connote and how an aura of technicality surrounds those words when we use them in Advaita Vedanta. Continue reading

What exactly is “Self-Knowledge”?

There is a lot of earnest discussion, here and elsewhere, on self-knowledge, self-realisation. But what exactly is it? What does knowing that ‘I am Brahman’ actually mean, when Brahman cannot be known?

For all the words that have been written by Sankara: on creation, on satyam / jnanam / anantman, on ‘tat twam asi’, on knowledge rather than action – what is the essence of it all?

Surely the essence is this, and this only. Self-Knowledge is the utter dis-identification with the not-Self, the most difficult of which is the body-mind.

And That (which remains, which cannot be defined) is the ananda, the peace, of a jivanmukta.

The sruti is the means of knowledge, in that it points this out. Sruti is said to be the only means of knowledge, because normal sense perceptions and reasoning would not inevitably lead to this very radical self-challenge: I am not what I fundamentally believe that I am.

The seeker hears it, mulls over it, develops the conviction that it is true that s/he is NOT the body-mind, and lives on the strength of it. And in so doing that habitual body/mind – identification is dissolved. Hence why desirelessness is both a path to and a fruit of knowledge – if there is no body/mind identification, then what desires can there be?

And sruti tells us that utter desirelessness is the cause of the highest joy.

Q.511 Direct Path vs Traditional – Pt. 4

Part 4 – Experience

Q: While I agree with your statement about philosophers over intellectualizing the truth, there is something about Greg’s writing that is so magnetic to me. I really think he is the most articulate writer I have ever come across. Usually when I write, I feel a big part of what I’m trying to get across gets lost, whereas with Greg, I feel like 100% of what he’s trying to express comes through perfectly. I’m going through Standing as Awareness at the moment and the clarity with which he writes is so so beautiful.

But as you can probably sense by my emails, I’m a bit disappointed with the direct path. It is without a doubt the clearest and most direct teaching I have come across (so far), and the teachers themselves are brilliant, and I have no doubt that they understand the truth, and also live their understanding, but I feel I am craving something more systematic and formalized, that can answer these questions I have without confusion.

Continue reading

Q.508 Direct Path vs Traditional – Pt. 1

Part 1 – Prerequisites for Enlightenment

Q: I’ve been on the direct path (Krishna Menon, Jean Klein, Francis Lucille, Greg Goode, Rupert Spira) for about 3 years now and the journey has been incredible. Recently, while browsing your website, I came across Shankara’s sAdhana chatuShTaya, which, if my understanding is correct, are the prerequisites for self-realization according to Shankara. But I’m confused as to how some of these are prerequisites. I feel like some of them can only be fulfilled once one has realized their true nature, not before.

I can see how viveka and mumukShutva can be considered prerequisites – that is very reasonable. However, if we take vairAgya, or uparati, I cannot fathom how an apparent, separate self can satisfy or practice these requirements. How can it be possible for an apparent, separate self to be indifferent to joy and grief, like and dislike? A separate self is, almost by definition, strongly affected by likes and dislikes, joy and grief. In order to be indifferent to pleasure and pain, joy and grief etc., I feel like one has to have at least tasted the truth a few times and be able to (through something like self-inquiry) ‘walk back’ to and ‘rest’ as one’s true self, and only then be able to successfully practice uparati.

Then why are things like vairAgya considered prerequisites for self-realization, if (in my book) self-realization is a prerequisite for being able to satisfy the vairAgya requirement? How can an apparent separate self prepare or practice something like uparati (one of the shamAdi ShaTka sampatti), without it being completely fake? In my experience, uparati is only possible (and completely effortless) once you have realized the self. So the whole things seems backwards to me.

One explanation is that here Shankara is talking about final Self-realization in which there is no falling back to the old conditioning. But that implies that it is possible to realize the self clearly but, out of conditioning, fall back to the old patterns. (I’m not sure what traditional Advaita’s stance on this is yet). I may have answered my own question but I’d love to hear what you have to say about it!

Continue reading

Q.504 – Covid and Enlightenment

Q: According to Advaita, God is  ONE, and manifestations are  many. The term ‘God’ is also called ‘Consciousness/Awareness’. It is a fundamental principle that there is nothing beyond Consciousness; everything arising from  Consciousness is Consciousness only. Dualities such as good-bad are not found in Consciousness.

If all this is the case, can the  virus COVID-19,  which is  shaking the world,  also be termed  as ‘Consciousness’?

A: Yes indeed – the substantial reality of Covid is also Consciousness, since there is only Consciousness. It is like the metaphor – bangle, chain and ring are all only gold.

But in the empirical reality of the world, the form of Covid brings disease whereas the form of vaccination brings protection from disease. No real problem – Consciousness is not affected by any of it!

Q: Thank you very much for your reply. However I have the grievance that I, the individualized spirit, cannot stop worrying  about the distress caused  practically , even though my ego mind is convinced with the theory of Advaita.

How can I reconcile the practical difficulties which  I face  with the teaching of advaita? What  you have stated is  only based on Advaita theory. I am badly hit by the above disease. Please advise.

Continue reading

Q.502 Brahman and Awareness

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 useful.

Continue reading

Desire and Enlightenment

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.


It was mentioned in 2.g that desire stems from the belief that we are lacking something in our life, and that acquiring the desired object (gross or subtle) will somehow make us complete. The fact that this appears actually to happen albeit only for a short time, if we get the object, reinforces this belief. When Self-ignorance is removed, it is realized that we actually are the complete, infinite Brahman. Accordingly, it is reasonable, natural and, indeed, inevitable that desires are effectively dissolved instantly. There is nothing other than me that I lack and could want. (The proviso here is that some desires may seem not to have disappeared because the associated action was habitual. This is discussed at length in 3.s – pratibandha-s.)

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)

Continue reading

Q.499 Svadharma

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.

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. 

Continue reading

Q. 497 Knowledge and Understanding

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. 

Continue reading

Q.458 Taoism

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!