Experience versus knowledge – a brief look at samAdhi
I do not know an awful lot about neo-Vedanta. The term is generally applied to the teaching ‘introduced’ by Swami Vivekananda and carried on by the disciples of the Ramakrishna movement. There has been much written on this topic (which I have obviously not read!) and those who are interested will know that there are many contentious issues. Refer, for example to the book ‘Neo-Vedanta and Modernity’ by Bithika Mukerji, which may be read or downloaded at http://www.anandamayi.org/books/Bithika2.htm.
However, one aspect that I am aware of is that neo-Vedanta claims that enlightenment is attained through the experience of nirvikalpa samAdhi. They also insist that Shankara himself stated this, whereas what I would call ‘traditional’ Advaitins believe that Shankara’s teaching was that it is self-ignorance that obscures our understanding of the truth and that only self-knowledge can remove it. Thus, one of the key issues around the topic of neo-Vedanta is that of experience versus knowledge. Accordingly, at the risk of inciting acrimonious discussions (!), I would like to look briefly at this assertion that samAdhi is a sine qua non for enlightenment. Continue reading →
Several times in the past we have had detailed discussions in these columns on the question whether a jnAni needed to continue the observation of some or other ‘practices’ after gaining jnAna (Self-Knowledge). We had also seen that there is a divergence of opinion on ‘ekajIva vAda’ both in the theoretics of the doctrine and also its relevance as a ‘prakriya‘ (a process system) for an earnest seeker.
At one of the popular traditionally oriented Advaita fora, I found a very significant Post that simultaneously touches on both the issues of (i) The ‘need’ of practices in the post-jnAna phase and (ii) ekajIva vAda as a prakriya. Without further ado, I reproduce below the authentic words of the Poster: Continue reading →
When Ed Witten, the legendary genius Physicist of Princeton, proposed his theory integrating the four or five disparate string theories during the mid-nineties, he called it the M-theory. He did not specify what exactly M stood for. So Science Communicators went wild with their own interpretations. Some said M is for Mother to say it is the mother of all theories. Others said M is for Meta. Still others said M is for Membrane or Matrix. Some even suggested M is for Mystery or Magic.
I leave it to the imagination of the reader what AV stands for in the title of this Post.
It can mean Another View, Advaita Vedanta, Alternate Version, Astonishing Vision, Absolute Veridicality or one can even split the two words and pair them to suit to their taste — like Absolute Vedanta or Another Version etc.
First Kudos to Dennis for a smooth and clear explication of a topic usually considered abstruse and difficult in his recent post titled “Knowledge, Action and Liberation.” He takes off with an elan and panache that only he can. But en route he hits a patch of misdirecting metaphor. The promised destination, alas is missed! Continue reading →
Most readers will be aware of the Brahmasutras – the third ‘leg’ of the prasthAna traya (the threefold set of scriptures that constitute the authority for Advaita – and some will even have read them! And you may also know that the first, famous sutra is athAto brahma jij~nAsA – Now, therefore, an enquiry into Brahman. It is the claim that Brahman forms the subject matter of Vedanta and has to be enquired into if we are to gain Self-knowledge.
The author of the Brahmasutras is said to be vyAsa, also known as bAdarAyaNa and the purport of the work is to summarize, in an extremely abbreviated form, the philosophy of vedAnta, showing how this naturally derives from the (last portion of) Vedas. (Of course, this does not mean a summary of Advaita. Others have written commentaries on the Brahmasutras and shown how it is commensurate with the philosophies of dvaita and vishiShTAdvaita.)
What fewer readers will know is that there is a similar (much longer) work, called the pUrva mImAMsA sUtra-s, written by the ‘father’ of pUrva mImAMsA philosophy, Jaimini. And, surely not coincidentally, the first sutra in this work is athAto dharma jij~nAsA – Now, therefore, an enquiry into dharma. This makes the claim that dharma forms the subject matter of the Vedas and has to be enquired into if we are to gain liberation from saMsAra. The word ‘dharma’ is often translated as ‘duty’ and the meaning of this word relates to what we ought to be doing with our lives. Their claim is that knowledge is useless, since it cannot produce any benefit. They utilize only the first part of the Vedas – the karma kANDa – believing that only actions can achieve anything and that, consequently, we must assiduously follow the injunctions, rituals and meditations prescribed there in order to attain liberation at some point in the future.
Following on from the l-o-n-g discussion we had on this topic under the thread ‘akhaNDAkAra vRRitti – The End of Suffering‘, I have written what was intended to be the commentary on kArikA 3.40 in my next book (OM: Waking Dreams… and Reality), which covers the essence of this discussion. I have decided that I will probably simplify this considerably for the book, because it is intended to be an accessible and readable book, rather than an academic one. But, because of its relevance, I am posting the entire section, as first written, below.
You now know all about adhyAropa and apavAda and acknowledge that all of the teaching is only interim, to be used to lead us to the final understanding and then discarded. The corollary to this is that, in principle at least, any teaching could be used for this purpose. If it works, it is valid. So it is hardly surprising that there are other methodologies altogether, which can have the same ultimate purport, e.g. Zen Buddhism, Taoism, Kabbalah etc. (I don’t have any personal knowledge of these other systems but understand that their essential teaching is non-dual.)
As far as Advaita Vedanta is concerned, the finer details of the teaching differed from one teacher or branch to another, both before and after Shankara. And some modern-day proponents tend to adhere to some elements and some to others that are apparently contradictory. None of this matters in the final analysis but does tend to lead to some quite heated discussions on the Internet! Continue reading →
Part 15 of the serialization of the presentation (compiled by R. B. Athreya from the lectures given by Swami Paramarthananda) of upadeshasAhasrI. This is the prakaraNa grantha which is agreed by most experts to have been written by Shankara himself and is an elaborate unfoldment of the essence of Advaita.
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Q: As I understand, the sense of “I” (distinguished from the ultimate I/Self) is the source of “ignorance”. “Ignorance” leads to “the fear”, which inspires us to attempt to find “enlightenment”. The attempt to find “enlightenment” is the delusion that there is something to gain. The teachings tell us that “enlightenment” is the nature of existence. What needs to happen is the destruction/removal of ignorance, rather than the acquisition of anything. I already feel as if I have approached the “screen” upon which phenomenon occurs. By practicing “neti neti”, I attempt to see what always is, which is a temporary attempt to disregard things that can be seen. Once this happens, there is the inference of blankness/darkness/all-inclusiveness/voidness. And once this practice of “neti neti” is over, I begin to see things come of themselves, from little sparks … flakes of concepts … to their blooming as a climax of a concept. The climax wanes and the concept disappears of itself just as it arose.
A short time after this attempt at enquiry, the ease I had with reality fades. The sense that reality is not okay begins to gradually return. It feels as if I missed something from this experience. At other times, I feel as if perhaps this effort is part of the problem. Maybe the enquiry is meant to be a last ditch attempt to notice the fallacy of trying to do something, or even the attempt to try to do nothing.
Is this the realization? That effort is resistance? That surrender to this fact is the ultimate motion?
How does it happen that one can know “in the mind” that one is free, and yet continue to fall back into the conundrum of no longer feeling this freedom? Moments of complete freedom … knowing that it’s not my business to “do” life, not even to attempt to not “do” life … and yet slowly fall back into the habit? Continue reading →
Q: How would it be possible to deal with our common Bhagavad Gita in terms of Advaita Vedanta?
A (Ramesam): Please appreciate that Bhagavad-Gita is not the primary or basic text for Advaita. Though many of the verses in it are almost exact mantras from various Upanishads, prior to Sankara (8th Century A.D), Bhagavad-Gita was not perhaps as popular a scriptural text for teaching Vedanta as it is today. It was a part of the mythological story, Mahabharata. Some people hold that the Bhagavad-Gita of Mahabhrata contained 745 verses. Some others opine that the original Gita was much smaller and it was Sankara who compiled the present Gita putting together diverse verses from different sources. None of these opinions, however, have any credible supporting evidence. The first extant gloss on the Gita is by Sankara and it contains 700 verses (one or two verses are still disputed and said to have been later insertions). Continue reading →