I am in the process of reviewing old material relating to Advaita Academy as part of my background research for a 2nd edition of Back to the Truth. There are a number of essays, blogs and book reviews by myself and others which I will be reposting here over the next few months (they can no longer be found on-line at present). Here is the first of these – a two-part essay by Peter Bonnici, explaining why Sanskrit is so valuable and why a qualified teacher is necessary. Dennis
Sanskrit: language of the gods – Peter Bonnici
There are many who declare themselves to be students of advaita vedAnta but do not see the value in pursuing the study of texts in Sanskrit as they believe that the proliferation of translations and commentaries on texts like the Upanishads and Bhagavad GIta available in native languages are sufficient. Then there are those who have a working knowledge of Sanskrit who feel that, armed with a dictionary and other necessary tools, they can arrive at the meaning of texts by themselves.
Both are missing something, and for the same reason: namely, the enormous expressiveness, subtlety and flexibility of the language to express the precise meaning that the speaker or writer wishes to convey. (Most of the valuable teaching of advaita was passed on orally and the written form came later.) Not only is one missing out the subtlety of meaning by side-stepping the language, but one can also be lulled into a false sense of security by the book knowledge one has. An example of this can be seen when one compares translations. Here are three translations of the first verse of shankara’s DakShiNamUrti Stotra:
You do not have to have been studying Advaita for very long to know that the words Atman and brahman both refer to the non-dual reality (even if are not yet convinced of this reality). After all, one of the four, particularly well-known mahAvAkya-s is ‘ayam Atam brahman’ – this Atman is brahman.
In fact, we have to expand this vocabulary. Atman usually refers to jIvAtman – what is sometimes (erroneously) called the ‘embodied’ Atman or even the ‘soul’. Also frequently encountered is the term ‘paramAtman’, and this refers to Ishvara, or saguNa brahman – that aspect of brahman which ‘manifests’ as the world, using the ‘power’ of mAyA. It is to be differentiated from the ‘real’, nirguNa brahman which is indescribable, unthinkable, infinite, unlimited etc. and is the ‘Absolute’, non-dual reality. (Note that paramAtman is often translated as ‘supreme Self’, and it might be thought that this means nirguNabrahman. But, if we are in the context of doing something in the world – being the ‘inner controller’, ‘witnessing’ or ‘perceiving’ or ‘creating’ – then it has to mean Ishvara, saguNa brahman, since nirguNa brahman does not do anything.)
Once you are much more familiar with the individual scriptural texts, you will know that sometimes these words are used almost interchangeably. For example, in his bhAShya on the Brahmasutras, Shankara uses the word ‘brahman’ throughout to refer to both nirguNa (brahman) and saguNa (Ishvara) – he expects that, by the time you reach this text (having studied all the major Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita), you will know what he is talking about in each individual case! Continue reading →
Q: Based on your own search and discoveries over all of these years, and the writing of all of the books and blogs, if you had to summarize all of this, the truth of life, what would you say?
A: Not sure what you are looking for here. My ‘personal’ view is surely not important and I could scarcely find any better summary than Shankara’s. Anyway, I spent an hour thinking about it (while washing up and vacuuming) and here is my one line summary:
The form does not matter – it is the substance that is important.
Q: How do we know that energy/matter is Consciousness and not just what it is as energy/matter? And why does it matter? Can’t Consciousness just be what it is by itself and simply aware?
A: Energy and matter are both objects of experience. They are transient and finite, changing one into the other and ultimately ending in Absolute zero. Consciousness is the non-dual, unchanging, eternal and infinite reality.
It does not matter from the standpoint of absolute reality. It does not even matter to most jIva-s, since they just get on with the usual pleasure-seeking aims. It matters to one who is seeking Self-knowledge.
Consciousness DOES just be what it is (there is nothing else) but is not ‘aware’ in the usual meaning of the word, since there is nothing else of which to be aware. Continue reading →
Back in April I wrote an article which looked into the concept of chidAbhAsa – https://www.advaita-vision.org/chidabhasa/. This is the idea that the ‘notion of I’ is a reflection, in the mind, of the non-dual consciousness. The theory is called pratibimba vAda in advaita. It says that there is only one ‘real’, pAramArthika or witnessing Consciousness, although there are many jIva-s; one ‘original’ (bimba) and many ‘reflections’ (pratibimba-s).
But of course, reality is non-dual, so it makes no sense to talk of a ‘Consciousness’ and a ‘reflected Consciousness’! So how do we explain this? In order for there to be a reflection, there have to be two things: an original thing, and some medium in which a reflection can take place. This is obvious in the case of the mirror. We cannot see our face in order to be able to shave or apply make up by looking into empty space. We cannot even do it by looking at a blank wall. There has to be a mirror or some reflecting medium which can serve as a mirror. Here, we seem to be saying that there is Consciousness and a reflecting medium – the mind. But of course if we have these two things, then we’re talking about dvaita not advaita.
Shankara’s Advaita introduces the concept of mAyA to provide a sort-of explanation for the world-appearance but the dvaitin may argue that, pedantically, brahman and mAyA are still two things. Only if we can explain everything in terms of paramArtha alone, he might say, can we establish non-duality. Of course, we can be pedantic too – you cannot explain anything in paramArtha, only in vyavahAra! But we acknowledge that mAyA is mithyA. In reality, there are no jIva-s, no world, no reflections. So, the bottom line is that reality is non-dual, so that we do not really have to justify the theory at all! Continue reading →
A frequent contributor to the site, Vijay Pargaonkar has provided the following valuable information rearding the terminology of Nisargadatta Maharaj:
When references to Nisargadatta Maharaj and his teachings come up at the AV forum during discussions, the arguments often seem to become tangential. I think this is mainly due to the differences in terminologies and definitions used by the followers of Nisragadatta and the ones used in traditional Advaita forums.
Last week I came across a rare Satsang tape in Marathi where Maharaj clearly lays out his version of the Creation Model and Prakriyas while explaining various Advaita terms according to his definitions. I have excerpts of this Satsang translation (as I heard and understood) below, where I have indicated the Sanskrit/Marathi terms along with the English terms used by the translator – the translator has actually chopped the live recording and inserted his English translation in between.
Prior to your waking is Nirguna, the substratum of Waking. The Nirguna is not at all bothered by this samara (samara = ‘war (of life)’). In Nirguna appeared knowledge (Bodha). This is pure Consciousness or Beingness or the Sense “I am” that has no shape or form. In this pure Consciousness there appeared a slight perturbation or movement and the pure Consciousness then grabbed a body-form (deharupa). After wearing this body form it started calling itself a man or woman while bound by different concepts (I am this; I am that; I am going; I am coming etc.). These concepts are all imaginary (Kalpana) and not real. Continue reading →
Q: Over the past eight years I have developed a personal relationship with a God of my understanding – or should I say with a God of my non understanding and I know that the term God is loaded and perhaps not word enough. I love God and naturally want to be with God.
I have some experience of Hinduism and spent time studying Buddhism, I even spent time living at a Buddhist center while going about my ordinary business of work, life and family. I couldn’t continue with Buddhism even though they were wonderful people because in my heart I knew it was not the right path for me and I felt conflicted. I returned to my love of Hindu practices because it felt more right for me and over the past two years I have tried to find my way. I have deepened my understanding through reading books, internet teachings on you tube and meditation.
More recently I have ventured upon Advaita Vedanta and it feels right for me. However, I have no teacher and no one to ask when I have questions. Sometimes it all gets a bit too non dual for me and I feel disconnected from the love part with all the philosophy and intellectual explanations. I experienced the grace of God eight years ago when I was in a desperate plight and Divine Grace is an absolute for me. What I want to know is how does Grace happen, is it Brahman or Divine consciousnesses. Thank you for any time and consideration you might give to answer my question.Continue reading →