Atma vichAra

The Self cannot be ‘known’ in any objective sense because it is the ultimate subject – there is no other subject that could know it. This is why science can never tell us anything about the Self. Science works by collecting data and analyzing it; formulating theories and then using them to predict what will happen when data are gathered in a different situation. This can never be applied to Self/brahman, because brahman has no data.

Strictly speaking, vichAra refers to investigation into ‘things’ so that Atma vichAra is effectively a contradiction in terms; the Self is not a thing. Spiritual investigation has to be done rather differently. The correct term is shAstra mImAMsA and it is really scriptural ‘investigation’ that we must conduct in order to find out about the Self. Monier-Williams translates mImAMsA as “profound thought or reflection or consideration; investigation, examination, discussion”. The philosophical branch that studies the Upanishads etc at the end of the Vedas (Vedanta) is called uttara mImAMsA. (uttara means “later, following, subsequent, concluding” but also “superior, chief, excellent, dominant”.)

We ‘discover’ the Self by removing ignorance. If someone holds up a screen in front of our face and then brings an object to show us, but keeps it behind the screen, we can say nothing at all about the object. However, as soon as the screen is taken away, the object is revealed to our senses and the perception takes place automatically. Similarly, knowledge of the Self is obscured by ignorance but as soon as that ignorance is removed, the Self is immediately self-evident; we do not have to do anything to ‘investigate’ it.

Scripture functions like a mirror. When we look into a mirror, we do not literally see our face and body, we only see an image of it. Yet this enables us directly to perform whatever actions are required on the body itself – combing the hair, shaving and so on. We do not shave the image but the actual hair on the face. Similarly, the scriptures do not directly represent the Self but the information therein, when explained by a qualified teacher, directly enables the ignorance in our mind to be removed, revealing the Self-knowledge which is as though hidden beneath.

Actions will never bring about Self-knowledge, since action is not opposed to ignorance. Nor will practices such as meditation or prayer. As Swami Paramarthananda puts it, meditation will only bring about quiet ignorance.

As Shankara puts it (if he was the author of vivekachUDAmaNi v.13): “It is through reflection over the words of a truly benevolent soul that one comes to a knowledge of reality, and not through bathing at sacred places, charity or hundreds of breathing practices”. [1] I.e. it is through shravaNa, manana and nididhyAsana and not through asking ‘Who am I?’ that one gains Self-knowledge.

[1] The Crest Jewel of Wisdom; viveka-chUDAmaNi, commentary by Hari Prasad Shastri, Shanti Sadan, 1997. ISBN 0-85421-047-0.

Tattvabodha – Part 2

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPart 2 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 2 provides an introduction to the series and begins the discussion of sAdhana chatuShTAya sampatti. There is also a hyperlinked Contents List, which will be updated as each new part is published.

Tattvabodha – Part 1

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am pleased to announce that Dr. VIshnu Bapat has granted permission for us to host his unpublished commentary 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.

Here is the link to Part 1. This provides an introduction to the series and covers the Invocation. There is also a hyperlinked Contents List, which will be updated as each new part is published.

upadesha sAhasrI – Part 22

upadesha22Part 22 of the serialization of the  presentation (compiled by R. B. Athreya from the lectures given by Swami Paramarthananda) of upadesha sAhasrI. 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. Note that this is the concluding part of the series.

Subscribers to Advaita Vision are also offered special rates on the journal and on books published by Tattvaloka. See the full introduction

upadesha sAhasrI – Part 21

upadesha21

Part 21 of the serialization of the  presentation (compiled by R. B. Athreya from the lectures given by Swami Paramarthananda) of upadesha sAhasrI. 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.

Subscribers to Advaita Vision are also offered special rates on the journal and on books published by Tattvaloka. See the full introduction

What is Brahman? (Part 1)

Enlightenment is the realization in the mind of a person that ‘I am Brahman’. So what is this ‘Brahman’ that I am supposed to realize? Knowing this must constitute a significant aspect of the Self-knowledge that I need to acquire in order to become enlightened.

(The following analysis is loosely based upon Swami Paramarthananda’s talks on Shankara’s bhAShya [analytical commentary] on the Brahma Sutra.)

Before we can investigate anything, two criteria must be satisfied:

1) We must know what it is we are investigating (a definition)

2) We must have an appropriate means of acquiring data (a pramANa). Continue reading

upadesha sAhasrI – Part 20

upadesha20

Part 20 of the serialization of the  presentation (compiled by R. B. Athreya from the lectures given by Swami Paramarthananda) of upadesha sAhasrI. 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.

Subscribers to Advaita Vision are also offered special rates on the journal and on books published by Tattvaloka. See the full introduction

Knowledge and the Fruit of Knowledge

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFollowing 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

upadesha sAhasrI – Part 19

upadesha19

Part 19 of the serialization of the  presentation (compiled by R. B. Athreya from the lectures given by Swami Paramarthananda) of upadesha sAhasrI. 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.

Subscribers to Advaita Vision are also offered special rates on the journal and on books published by Tattvaloka. See the full introduction

upadeSha sAhasrI – part 17

upadesha17

Part 17 of the serialization of the  presentation (compiled by R. B. Athreya from the lectures given by Swami Paramarthananda) of upadesha sAhasrI. 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.

Subscribers to Advaita Vision are also offered special rates on the journal and on books published by Tattvaloka. See the full introduction