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: I have heard a teacher say that, if you have listened to Vedanta / Upanishads teaching, you have heard the truth; if you do not honor this by continuing to deepen the listening, there are the following consequences : you will not hear the truth for thousands of lifetimes, and have to be reborn starting again from plants, insects and so on. Can you shine some light on this please?
A (Dennis): What you have heard is nonsense. The most important requirement for pursuing Advaita is what is called mumukShutva, which means the ‘burning desire’ to discover the truth. Once you have that, you are going to continue seeking anyway. The other requirements are things such as a still mind, ability to concentrate and discriminate, ability to control the mind and senses so that your attention is not easily distracted, being prepared to put provisional trust in what is said by the teacher.
The theory of karma says that your actions will have lawful consequences in this life or the next. But this is all interim teaching anyway. The ‘bottom line’ is that who-you-really-are was never born in the first place and is already perfect, complete and free. You just don’t realize this. Hence the requirement for finding and listening to a qualified teacher.
Q: The link http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/past_messages/freewill_waite.htm is about your convincing argument that there is no free will. The Q ( for which I have no free will!!) is whether the lack of free will is an obstacle in pursuit of Self- realization? It would seem that one has no ‘choice’ in the pursuit for it will follow the law of cause and effect. What are your views? Incidentally you have a supporter in Stephen Hawking [‘Grand Design’].
“Though we feel that we can choose what we do, our understanding of the molecular basis of biology shows that biological processes are governed by the laws of physics and chemistry and therefore are as determined as the orbits of the planets. Recent experiments in neuroscience support the view that it is our physical brain, following the known laws of science, that determines our actions, and not some agency that exists outside those laws. For example, a study of patients undergoing awake brain surgery found that by electrically stimulating the appropriate regions of the brain, one could create in the patient the desire to move the hand, arm, or foot, or to move the lips and talk. It is hard to imagine how free will can operate if our behavior is determined by physical law, so it seems that we are no more than biological machines and that free will is just an illusion.”Continue reading →
Part 6 of the commentary by Dr. VIshnu Bapat on Shankara’s Tattvabodha.This is a key work which introduces all of the key concepts of Advaita in a systematic manner.
The commentary is based upon those by several other authors, together with the audio lectures of Swami Paramarthananda. It includes word-by-word breakdown of the Sanskrit shloka-s so should be of interest to everyone, from complete beginners to advanced students.
Part 6 concludes the look at the six sAdhanA-s (shamAdhi shakti sampatti), and in this part addresses samAdhAna (contemplation) and mumukShutva (desire for liberation). This also concludes the examination of sAdhana chatuShTAya, the fourfold spiritual path.There is also a hyperlinked Contents List, which will be updated as each new part is published.
Q. I come from an atheistic upbringing, and in addition I have studied a good chunk of modern Western philosophy and science, and such a position has become my “default mode”. A day came a couple years back where I found myself in a deep existential crisis (one that is most certainly still ongoing), and so I looked for a spiritual path that could reconcile what I knew of philosophy/science with spirituality. Advaita seemed to be the one that not only fit the bill the best, but also resonated with me the most. But on this path, I find myself constantly slipping into the habits of thought that I am used to. I try to cling to the pieces that don’t fit neatly into the materialist story, but I’m very much aware that I’m hanging on to them because I’m worried, not because I have a strong belief in their truth. If there is a teaching that goes against the grain of most scientific thought, even slightly, I tell myself I must discard it – “otherwise you’re just fooling yourself”, I say.
I notice this thought process, and it’s disturbing to me. I want to be open to what Advaita has to offer, but it’s incredibly tough – I worry often that a spiritual path of any kind is not possible for someone like me. I have a good deal of mumukshutva, but no shraddha. Can someone without shraddha somehow gain it? How necessary is it? And how can I break through my old habits of thinking, and gain that faith that there’s something more than just this body?Continue reading →
Q: In your answer to Q. 12 (http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/q_and_a/q_and_a2.htm#q12), you said: “At the level of appearance, yes, there is only causality to account for actions. But this does not lead to passivity. Darwinian selection naturally inculcates competition, ‘development’ and ‘progress’. And there is no escaping the fact that we feel as though we have free will. We feel good when we get what we want and bad when we don’t. All of this stuff will carry on regardless but there is no need to feel negative about it. It really is all quite amazing, isn’t it? It is all arising within you, for your enjoyment, as it were!”
And in your answer to Q.22 (http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/q_and_a/q_and_a3.htm#q22) you said: “At the level of the phenomenal, all proceeds according to cause and effect (or the laws of Ishvara if you prefer!). Also, there appears to be free will (although I have argued – and believe it to be the case – that the evidence is that there is no free will even at the level of appearance). Again, at the level of appearance, there are clearly individuals (jIva-s) and they are affected by all of the influences (including their own apparent volition) according to the cause-effect laws.”
(My italics to highlight what triggered my question.)
If there’s only causality to account for actions, there should be no space for free will, as all of my actions are causal. And if there is just a feeling that we have of a free will, then there is no free will. To put it in other words, if there is no free will, how can I actually do mumukShutvam (if desire also is a kind of a free will)? For intense Longing for Liberation to happen, I should be blessed with Free Will.Continue reading →
Q: I think I understand “Dispassion” and it’s importance, I’ve read “even loathing for worldly objects”. But I do have some passions or so it feels like it. For instance, I enjoy fabric and sewing “alot” is this just Brahman? At times it feels like an addiction. I don’t think there are judgements againt whatever passion one may have?? I guess I am just a bit confused. I am I guess in the beginning of my journey.
A (Ted): The Sanskrit word for “dispassion” is vairagya. Vairagya is defined as “indifference to the results of one’s actions.” Thus, dispassion is not so much a matter of the absence of desire as it is a matter of not depending on the satisfaction of any desires one does harbor for one’s sense of wholeness, completeness, and wellbeing.
As long as one is ignorant of one’s true nature as whole, complete, limitless awareness, one’s desires spring from a sense of incompleteness and inadequacy. In other words, discomfited by the mental, emotional, and physical limitations with which one seems afflicted as an apparent person, one feels that if one obtains certain desired objects, attains a certain desired status, achieves certain desired goals, accomplishes certain desired feats, or becomes established in a certain desired state of mind, then one will transcend the limited, inadequate, incomplete person one takes oneself to be and consequently become better or whole or even enlightened.Continue reading →