How Vedanta Works

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHow words work in Vedanta
(based on essays from Sw. Dayananda and Ramji)

by Tan

Vedanta is a means of self knowledge through words called shabda pramANa.

It is able to give you direct knowledge of your eternal nature through words. In spiritual circles this will be generally criticized with the argument that the eternal self, enlightenment, the absolute, Brahman, the Tao or whatever you want to call it, is beyond words and indescribable. Therefore the conclusion is that it is impossible to get direct knowledge and know your “real” self through words. Continue reading

Who Slept Well – part 2

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is the second of a four-part article by Acharya Sadananda of Chinmaya Mission Washington (edited by myself) clarifying the nature of the deep-sleep state and addressing a number of problems which frequently cause confusion in seekers.

When I enter into a pitch dark room I cannot see the presence of any object there as it is too dark. I need a light to illumine the objects. In a pitch dark room, the existence or non-existence of any object cannot be established; they may be there or they may not. In essence, their existence becomes indeterminate or anirvachanIyam. On the other hand, I can see that the room is pitch dark and understand that it is because of this that I do not see the presence or absence of any object. Darkness envelops both the known and the unknown.  However, I do not need a light to see the darkness.  In addition, I know that I am there even when the room is pitch dark.  I do not need a light to know that I am there. I am a self existent entity and therefore a self revealing entity, and hence I do not need any pramANa to know that I am present in the dark room. It is similar to saying that I do not need a light in order to see another light.  Being a conscious-existent entity, I am also a self-revealing entity or self-luminous entity or I am aprameyam, not an object of knowledge for which a pramANa is required. In addition, my presence as a self-luminous or self-conscious entity is required to illumine any other object – tasya bhAsA sarvam idam vibhUti; it is by that light of consciousness alone that all objects get revealed. Therefore, the light of consciousness that I am can illumine the darkness as well as the light that opposes the darkness.  Thus I am the light of lights, since I light the lights and darkness too – jyotir jyotiH. Therefore, I say that I see it is pitch dark which is covering the existence as well the absence of all objects. Continue reading

Difference

differenceVive la difference!

I am still in the process of writing my next book on the Mandukya Upanishad and kArikA-s. I have just written the following section on the concept of ‘difference’. Since I posted a query to the Advaitin group, relating to what Swami Paramarthananda had said on the topic, I concluded by sending the completed section to the group. Accordingly, I am also posting this here.

In his commentary on this kArikA (2.34), Shankara touches on the logic of this concept of ‘difference’ and Swami Paramarthananda expands upon this. What, he asks provocatively, is the color of the difference between red and blue? Clearly, it is potentially a very important topic since, if it could be proven logically that the idea of ‘difference’ is incoherent on examination, it would effectively demonstrate the non-dual nature of reality. Numerous post-Shankara philosophers have looked into this and formulated involved arguments. There is extensive material in the post-Shankara texts of brahmasiddhi, iShTasiddhi, tattvashuddhi, khaNDanakhaNDakhAdya and chitsukhI/tattvadIpikA but, having looked at these, they seem too impenetrable to study in detail. (No references are given for these – you really don’t want to read them!) Continue reading

Review of article on Shankara – Part 6, and final

Maya

A tarka (reasoning, argumentation) is required for the analysis of anubhava, as both SSS and RB agree – consistent with Shankara’s position. That is, language and thought, needless to say, have a role to play, chiefly for exposition and analysis.

However, after two long, dense paragraphs RB contends: “If the tarka required to examine anubhava is itself completely dependent on ´sruti, then by no means is anubhava the ‘kingpin’ of pram¯an.as.”

Prior to this, SSS was quoted as maintaining that “for this unique tarka all universal anubhavas or experiences (intuitive experiences) themselves are the support.” The author states that this affirmation  involves circular  argumentation, and that to say that Shankara interprets the Vedas  as being consistent with anubhava is wrong, the truth being the opposite: anubhava is consistent with the Vedas: “it should be clear that according to Sure´svar¯ac¯arya, the direct realization is directly from just ´sruti itself, thus satisfying the criteria for it to be a pram¯an.a…. The direct realization of the self is from ´sruti alone.”  Continue reading

Q.343 – Meaning of Ishopanishad mantra

Q : The second line in the first Shloka of Ishopanishad begins with ” Tena tyaktena Bhunjeeta”. The literal meaning appears to be ” therefore, enjoy with a sense of tyaga or renunciation (as everything created in this world is permeated by Ishwara) but Adi Shankaracharya has interpreted these words to mean ” protect ourselves”. Is there a satisfactory explanation for this interpretation? 

Also, the second word of first verse of Ishopanishad: is it vasam (is full) or vasyam (should be considered full). Shankara says vasyam. Vasam appears more logical to me.

A (Ramesam): In order to fully appreciate and admire the beauty and profundity hidden behind the simplicity of a cryptic statement, one ought to know the background and the context against which that expression gets developed.  It is as much true when we talk of an equation such as E = mc^2 or a routine proverb like ‘Still waters run deep.’ Continue reading

Q.342 – Teachings of Nisargadatta and Ramana

Q: Is there a difference in the teachings of Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj?

A (Dennis): This is too general a question, really. The short answer is that the bottom-line message of any teacher of Advaita must be the same, obviously. But the methodology depends upon the teacher lineage. Nisargadatta did have a lineage, although his own style developed somewhat! And Ramana did not have a lineage at all. The absence of a lineage means that what is said lacks rigor and is subject to differing interpretations etc. This is why the recommendation is always to try to find a qualified, traditional teacher.

Q: I do realize that my question was too general and could not be dealt with in a short answer. What I had in my mind was with regard to their approaches to meditation/ self enquiry or the “path” recommended by them. In self enquiry Ramana stated that while enquiring into “who am I?” the I that is enquired into is the individual or the ego and not the Self. According to him, focusing on the ego or I would make one realize that it is a phantom and thus lead one to the Self. Nisargadatta, on the other hand, seems to suggest that one should focus directly on I am, which is the same as the Self. In this sense, I thought there was some difference in their teaching. Continue reading

Pramāṇam – 2

A quick recap of keys points from the previous article.

1. pramāṇam the word means, “Means of Knowledge”; it should be anadhigata – non-contradictible, abhādita – non-negatable and hitārtha bodhakam – says what is good for the Humans.

veda2. pramāṇam is of 2 types – pratyakṣam – direct, obtained by using the 5 senses; anumānādi – indirect, based on the direct but using reason. Both these pramāṇams are nitya parokṣa, and operate on everything other than the subject.

3. Knowledge is vastutantram – as the Object, so the Knowledge; and Knowledge will take place even if there is no intention on the part of the Knower since there is no will involved.

Continue reading

Pramāṇam – Means of Knowledge – Part 1

pramaanamPramāṇam the word means, “means of knowledge”. Pratyakṣam is direct knowledge – indriya viṣaya sannikarṣa jñānam – the knowledge gained when objects come into contact with the five sense organs, viz., sight, hearing smell, taste and touch. The sequence in which the senses are listed is meaningful and relevant, as it goes from gross to subtle. Eyes can see hundreds of meters; ears can hear within tens of meters; nose can smell upto a few meters; taste and touch have to be immediate and intimate.

In knowing, the means and the knowledge, there is no option –one has no choice over what one sees, the moment one open’s one’s eyes.

Continue reading

What is traditional advaita?

My teacher is a teacher of traditional advaita. I believe she is the only such teacher in the UK, if not in Europe. Some might look at what she teaches – Gita, Upaniṣads, Prakaraṇa Granthas (philosophical treatise) and stotras (devotional hymns) – and believe that they too, not only follow traditional advaita (because they too read these texts), but also have an additional, and arguably more powerful, key in the form of meditation or yoga or other such practice. Despite the surface similarity, however, I stick to my opening claim and will attempt to open up clear blue water between the teacher of traditional advaita simply by making clear what is mean by ‘traditional advaita’.

Two words set apart the traditional approach to teaching advaita from all others: sampradāya and pramāna.

Sampradāya is the established approach to unfolding the vision of Vedanta transmitted from one teacher to another. It is the traditional interpretation with a traceable lineage of teachers. Continue reading