Book Review: Heart of Sri Shankara

Sri Satchidanandendra Saraswati Swamiji
(5 January 1880 – 5 August 1975) was the founder of the Adhyatma Prakasha Karyalaya in Holenarasipura, Hassan district, Karnataka, India. Born as Sri Yellambalase Subbarao, he worked as a school teacher in the Indian state of Karnataka. He gave many lectures and wrote many articles on the Vedanta in English, Kannada and Sanskrit.

Satchidanandendra Saraswati was a philosopher who dedicated all his life for the Vedanta sAdhana and attained brahma-j~nAna. He was known as a jIvanmukta sage. He was the best example of a Sanskrit saying, “One should spend one’s life until sleep and until death only in Vedantic contemplation”. (Wikipedia)

Heart of Shri Shankara Swami Satchidanandendra, translated by A. J. Alston. A detailed consideration of what Shri Shankara said about the nature of ignorance, and other views. A translation of a work by Shri Swami Satchidanandendra first published in 1929 under the title Refutation of Root Ignorance or The Heart of Shri Shankara. It considers the philosophical view that there is a ‘root-ignorance’ that ‘creates’ the phenomenal world and which in some sense really exists. The Swami sets out to show that this view arose among Advaitins after Shri Shankara and is contrary to his true teaching.

978-0-85424-050-0 £12.00 from Shanti Sadan in the UK, http://www.shantisadan.org/bookstore/heartshankara.php (Still £12 over 10 years after this review was written!) or available as a PDF download from http://www.adhyatmaprakasha.org/Volumes/PDF/english/042/index.pdf.

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Q.516 World outside of perception

Q: According to science, there was a world prior to humans where there were no living, conscious things. If nothing can exist independently of consciousness like Advaita suggests, then how could there have been a world prior to a perceiver? If there was no sentient being to experience the Big Bang, how could it have possibly existed?

A: Your questions relate to the apparent creation. The final teaching of Advaita is that there is no creation – there is only the non-dual Brahman. This means that the entire teaching of Advaita is interim only since it takes place in what is only empirical reality.

Having said this, the traditional teaching says that the creation, maintenance and dissolution of the universe is ‘managed’ by Ishvara, using the ‘power’ of mAyA. This means that He governs all of the laws that relate to creation and the jIva-s who inhabit it. Now you have to realize that science has ‘advanced’ significantly since the time of the Vedas. While they speak of the raw elements being space, earth, water, fire and air, we have a somewhat more complex cosmology! And I don’t think it is particularly fruitful to try to map one onto the other. Science can never explain Consciousness so is of no value in trying to understand the nature of reality.

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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

Gaudapada on the Non-disappearance of the world

प्रपञ्चो यदि विद्येत निवर्तेत न संशयः ।

मायामात्रमिदं द्वैतमद्वैतं परमार्थतः ॥… १।१७

prapañco yadi vidyeta nivarteta na saṃshayaḥ |

māyāmātramidaṃ dvaitamadvaitaṃ paramārthataḥ ||… 1.17

Gaudapada: If the perceived manifold were real then certainly it would disappear. This duality (that is cognized) is mere illusion (māyā). Non-duality is (alone) the Supreme Reality.

Shankara:  If the knowledge of non-duality (turīya) be possible after the disappearance of the perceived manifold, how could non-duality be said to exist (always) while the perceptual manifold remains? This is explained thus: This would have been true if the manifold really existed. This manifold being only a false imagination, like the snake in the rope, does not really exist. There is no doubt that it would (certainly) disappear if it really existed. The snake imagined in the rope, through false conception, does not really exist and therefore does not disappear through correct understanding. Nor, similarly, does the illusion of the vision conjured up by the magician exist and then disappear as though a veil thrown over the eyes of the spectators (by the magician) were removed. Similar is this duality of the cognized universe called the Phenomenal or manifold (māyāmātraṃ dvaitaṃ) a mere illusion. Non-duality turīya like the rope and the magician (in the illustrations) is alone the Supreme Reality. Therefore the fact is that there is no such thing as the manifold about which appearance or disappearance can be predicated.

Nikhilananda: The manifold does not exist in the sense of a separate Reality. If it had any such existence then alone could it obstruct the eternally non-dual nature of the turīya by the appearance (of the manifold). If anyone says that the manifold disappears, that is only because he believes in its reality. But this is not the Truth, because the appearance of the manifold is only an illusion and not a reality.

People say that duality disappears only because they believe in its reality. But really duality does not exist, therefore it does not disappear. If anyone believes in the reality of such illusory appearance then can one believe in the reality of the disappearance.

Extracts from:

The Mandukya Upanishad with Gaudapada’s Karika and Shankara’s Commentary, Translated by Swami Nikhilananda, Advaita Ashrama, 1932. No ISBN.

Q.456 The ‘hard’ problem

Q: Could you say something about the relationship between the ‘hard problem’ of consciousness in modern science and Advaita’s māyā?

A: Science’s problem is trying to explain how consciousness can ‘emerge’ from inert matter. Advaita’s problem is trying to explain how the world can emerge from Consciousness.

The concept of māyā is an interim explanation only. If it satisfies the listener and moves them forward towards accepting non-duality, then it has served its purpose. Ultimately, it is rejected by Advaita. There is only Consciousness. There cannot be Consciousness and a force called māyā.

Every(seeming)thing is non-dual Consciousness. There only seems to be separate things because our mind differentiates forms and gives them names. Just as in the clay-pot metaphor.

The concept of mithyā is better for ‘explaining’ the nature of the world. The world is not real ‘in itself’; it depends upon Consciousness for its existence just as the pot depends upon clay.

There is an essay – ‘Consciousness – not such a hard problem’ – on precisely this topic in my book ‘Western Philosophy Made Easy: A Personal Search for Meaning’.

The “I-am-realized” Delusion – 5:

Part – 4

The Non-dual message of the Advaita doctrine is so deceptively simple that one feels tempted to say “I got It,” though in reality s/he has not. Fortunately for us, various scriptures and authorities like Shankara offer a number of means to test ourselves on our progress on the Knowledge Path so that we do not foreclose our sAdhana (practice) too soon. All through this Series of posts, we have been trying to provide many hints and markers that may help a committed seeker in protecting himself/herself from deluding prematurely that s/he is “Self-realized or Enlightened.” It has been our endeavor to present reliable self-appraisal mechanisms based on authentic sources and we shall continue below with a few more easily doable means of verifying the state of our “Realization.”

Shankara does not mince his words when he says at both 1.4.7 and again at 1.4.10, brihadAraNyaka:

अविद्याशोकमोहभयादिदोषनिवृत्तेः प्रत्यक्षत्वादिति चोक्तः |  — Shankara at 1.4.10, brihadAraNyaka. Continue reading

The “I-am-realized” Delusion – 4:

Part – 1               Part – 2              Part – 3 

We have from Bhagavad-Gita:

ब्रह्मार्पणं ब्रह्म हविर्ब्रह्माग्नौ ब्रह्मणा हुतम् ।
ब्रह्मैव तेन गन्तव्यं ब्रह्मकर्मसमाधिना ॥            —  4.24, Bhagavad-Gita.

Meaning:  brahman is the offering, brahman the oblation; by brahman is the oblation poured into the fire of brahman; brahman verily shall be reached by him who always sees brahman in action.

Some people who delude themselves to be Self-realized cite the above verse and argue that they see each and every object to be brahman. It is blatantly an inadmissible argument because it would imply that the indivisible brahman has divided Itself into multiple bits and pieces.

The shruti is very categorical when it tells us:

एकधैवानुद्रष्टव्यमेतदप्रमयं ध्रुवम्    —   4.4.20, brihadAraNyaka:

Meaning:  It should be realized in one form only, (for) It is unknowable and eternal.

Shankara comments at the above mantra:  “Since It is such, It should be realized in one form only, viz. as homogeneous Pure Intelligence, without any break in it, like the space; for It, this brahman, is unknowable, owing to the unity of everything (in brahman).” Continue reading

Gaudapada and World Appearance

(Extract from the book)

What exactly happens when a person is enlightened or ‘gains mokSha’?  A popular, although somewhat incomprehensible, belief is that the world somehow ‘disappears’; that, for the j~nAnI, there simply is no longer any duality. Quite how the j~nAnI (apparently) continues to eat, drink and converse is not adequately explained by those who hold such a view. But Gaudapada approaches it from a different and even more dramatic angle.

Prior to my enlightenment, I make the mistake of identifying myself with the body-mind, believing myself to be a separate entity. This is the result of my Self-ignorance – not realizing that I am the unlimited Atman. Gaudapada says that this ignorance is beginningless (anAdi) (K1.16). At the dawn of Self-knowledge, I recognize that I am not the waker, dreamer or deep-sleeper but the non-dual turIya.

As to whether or not the world then disappears, Gaudapada effectively asks: how can it disappear when it didn’t exist to begin with? “If the visible world actually existed, there is no doubt that it might stop (i.e. disappear) (as soon as j~nAna was gained). (But) this (apparent) duality is merely mAyA (and) the absolute truth is non-dual.” (K1.17) Continue reading

The “I-am-realized” Delusion – 3:

Part – 2

We come across very often in the Western Advaita circles, teachers and well-read writers who do not hesitate to say “I am realized.” Such a  deluded belief in claiming Self-realization appears to be based principally on two fallacies. One is that when they say that “I know I am aware,” they falsely assume that they are in touch with the Absolute Awareness. The second is that they think that they see a world of multiple objects even after Self-realization, because the  objects apparent to them are preexistent to their perception, all the objects being already ‘brahman‘ — as if the indivisible brahman has made it especially easy for them to perceive Itself (brahman).

As Swami Sarvapriyananda lucidly explains in this Video, about 30 to 32 min into his talk, the awareness one knows when one says “I am aware” is the fallacious or shadow consciousness and not the Absolute Consciousness. An easy verification can also be made by oneself to ascertain if it is the chidabhAsa (reflected Consciousness) or the Absolute brahman through a simple test as suggested by the Swami Ji in that talk. Thus the awareness that they assume to be in touch is not brahman, but the reflected Consciousness only. Continue reading

The “I-am-realized” Delusion – 2:

Part – 1

Dennis raised a question on how one can conclude that the word “this” in the 3.14.1, chAndogya would mean “the ‘Universal’ substratum of the world and not the nAma-rUpa-vyAvahAra which are the perceivables.” His contention is that “this” refers to the percept itself.

If what is directly available for the five sensory organs + mind is itself brahman, neither the Upanishads nor the Advaitic teachers right from Gaudapada, Shankara and so on need to have taken any trouble at all  to point out to the seeker what brahman is. On the other hand, all the teachers go to considerable pains to explain that what is available to perception “veils” the Reality, the Substratum and that what is available for perception is a superimposed “falsity” out of our ignorance.

Shankara, in fact, is so tired of repeatedly pointing this fact in all his bhAShya-s that at 2.1.22, BSB, he writes out of exasperation that “We Continue reading