Q.484 Sense of Self

Q: About six years ago I was looking for the separate self through directly paying attention to the sense of self in my immediate experience. I did this over about a week or ten days during regular life. I followed this sense of self when it shifted say from the body to the thinking mind, to the sense of will etc. Suddenly everything dropped away and what was seen was just openness/absence of self /no me /nothing +everything.

I’m not sure how long this lasted. Then the mind came back. I felt liberated from all worry and desire for a couple of months. Then slowly old habits reestablished themselves. Since then I am at a loss what to do. 

So I have no problem accepting Advaita teachings but I could do with some further guidance. 

A: Presumably you are prepared to accept the basic premise of Advaita – that reality is non-dual. If it is true, then it must be the case that you already are the ‘Self’. So it is not really a case of ‘looking for it’ but rather realizing that you are already ‘It’. So you can ask yourself the question ‘who would be looking for what?’. The ‘sense of self’ is not the Self; it is a feeling or an idea in the mind.

If you practice meditation seriously (twice a day, 30mins at a time, for several years), you will eventually experience periods of samAdhi, which correspond to the experience you describe. But this is just an experience – as you can tell because it has a beginning and an end. Realizing the truth of Advaita, becoming ‘enlightened’, is Self-knowledge, not an experience.

Having said that, it is possible to gain Self-knowledge and yet still not have the ‘sense of bliss’, fulfillment or whatever, that you believe ought to result. This is because of ‘obstacles’ in the mind (pratibandha-s) remaining from having insufficiently ‘prepared’ the mind beforehand (sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti).

The book I am currently writing is all about the confusions that are brought about in seekers as a result of wrong understanding by many modern teachers. pratibandha-s will be one of the topics covered and, because there has been much discussion on related issues at the website recently, I will be begin posting the material for this topic within the next week. It is quite long so will be in 3 or 4 parts. I suggest you look out for it and join in any subsequent discussion if you like. [Since this Q&A, I have posted the pratibandha series, now in around 11 parts, and it begins here.]

pratibandha-s – part 10 of 10

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Other Related Teachers

bhAskara was mentioned briefly earlier in respect of the related philosophy of bhedAbheda vAda. He was probably approximately contemporaneous with Shankara and addressed similar issues. Regarding the continuation of ‘obstacles’ post-enlightenment, he had this to say (in his commentary on the Brahmasutras 1.3.20):

“There is no escape from experiencing the whole of the portion of merit and demerit which initiated the body through which liberation is attained. And one who supports a body inevitably undergoes pleasure and pain. Therefore those who say that there can be no liberation for one who is yet alive go beyond the teaching of the Veda. They also contradict perceived experience.” (Quoted in Ref. 100)

Dayananda

Swami Dayananda’s influence today is considerable, so it seems perfectly admissible to include his views on the subject here. After Self-knowledge has been gained from shravaNa and any doubts have been removed by manana, it is necessary to eliminate any habitual modes of behavior that prevent enjoyment of the fruit of that knowledge (j~nAna phalam). Swami Paramarthananda, one of his direct disciples, says:

“And then comes fifth and final stage of sAdhana called nididhyAsana, which is meant to remove my habitual reaction; the removal of vAsanA, because of my regular unhealthy responses in life, I have developed a habit. And habit is developed in-time and habit can go only in-time. This deliberate invocation of the Vedanta, so that I can get rid of un-Vedantic reactions in life. Every disturbing reaction is un-Vedantic reaction. So anxiety, frustration, self-pity, sense of insecurity, fear, attachment; all of them are unhealthy vAsanA-s. This vAsanA nivRRitti or viparIta bhavana nivRRitti is the fifth and final stage called nididhyAsana.” (Ref. 208) [The first 4 stages are karma yoga, upAsanA, shravaNa and manana.] Continue reading

pratibandha-s – part 9 of 10

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Ramana Maharshi

As I have pointed out earlier, most of what is referred to as Ramana’s teaching comes from recorded talks or answers that he gave to visiting seekers. Not only were those answers aimed at the level of understanding of the questioner but the transcriptions were made by others, who may not entirely have understood the answers, and they have been translated from those transcriptions by others who may also not have been especially knowledgeable. The text known as ‘Guru Vachaka Kovai (The Garland of Guru’s Sayings)’ is a collection of his teachings recorded by Muruganar, who lived with Ramana for several years. Ramana is stated to have edited and added to the work so that we can assume it does not suffer to the same degree from those shortcomings (although it has been translated from Tamil).

In this work, Ramana specifically addressed the concept of ‘obstacles’ (pratibandha-s) in Chapter 22. It does read as though it applies mainly to the seeker rather than the j~nAnI but verse 620 refers to ‘reaching the destination’, which may then be construed as the entire ‘path’ through to final liberation (videha mukti):

“619. Just as a gem taken from a mine will not have full luster if it is not polished on the grindstone, so the real tapas, the sadhana which one is doing, will not shine well if it is not provided with trials and tribulations on its way.

 620. For a big temple-chariot to go along the streets and safely reach its destination, not only the strong linchpins but also the obstructing blocks, which prevent it from dashing into anything by running to the sides of the streets, are indispensable.” (Ref. 204) Continue reading

AbhAsa vAda

This is effectively Part 6 1/2 of 10 in the pratibandha series. It follows on from the heading of “The ‘mixture of Atman and mind’”. Apologies for the misleading and changing part numbers. This is the result of writing ‘as I go’ rather than completing the entire topic first.

Read Part 6

xi) AbhAsa vAda

This theory was mentioned briefly above in 2b, when bhAmatI and vivaraNa were discussed in the context of sources for mistaken views of Advaita. AbhAsa translates as ‘fallacious appearance’ and it is effectively the term that is used to describe this ‘mixture’ of Consciousness and intellect. Shankara addresses this in his upadesha sAhasrI, principally in chapter 18 ‘tat tvam asi’. The following analysis is with the help of Ref. 211.

As the chapter heading indicates, the topic is the mahAvAkya and how the knowledge of its truth is all that we need in order to gain enlightenment. We are already free and always have been, so once we realize this, there is nothing more that needs to be done. The idea that, after gaining ‘merely intellectual knowledge’ from shravaNa, we have somehow to gain ‘direct experience’ of Brahman before we are liberated, is called prasa~NkhyAna vAda. This is discussed and rejected in detail below, under the topic of ‘meditation’ but in this chapter Shankara introduces an objector who has these notions and the subsequent arguments are relevant to this topic of pratibandha-s. Continue reading

pratibandha-s – part 8 of 10

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Yogic Advaita

This is a term, which I had not encountered before, coined by Fort in Ref. 200. He uses it to refer to those teachers and texts that incorporate elements of sAMkhya and yoga philosophy into their supposedly Advaitic teaching. This applies to texts such as yogavAsiShTha and jIvanmukti viveka, as was already indicated in the discussion on vidyAraNya above. There are also 20 of the later, minor Upanishads that relate to Yoga (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoga_Upanishads) and there is a danger of referring to these to support ideas that are actually alien to traditional Advaita. These ideas are characterized by the notion that Self-knowledge gained through the usual route has to be supplemented by something else before liberation is achieved. Typically, this might be samAdhi or destruction of ego/mind, as discussed above (and below) but even ideas from other traditions might be incorporated. The yogavAsiShTha also has much emphasis on the ‘illusory’ nature of the world. The j~nAnI acts or does not act without any attachment, according to circumstances.

Rather than prArabdha, yogic Advaita tends to refer to vAsanA-s as being the key ‘obstruction’ to mokSha. While we have them, we are bound to the body; once they are purified, we are freed from saMsAra. When destroyed, we gain videha mukti. Continue reading

pratibandha-s – part 7 of 10

Read Part 6 1/2

Apologies for the delay in continution of this series. I had to do some more background research and I have also been switching to Windows 10 and a new PC for the past 3 weeks!

Post-Shankara contributions to the concept

(I am indebted to Ref. 195 for many of the scriptural citations in this section.)

It is certainly true that there are few references to the word pratibandha in prasthAna traya and Shankara bhAShya, although a number of discussions can be interpreted as referring to the concept. One can certainly argue that the idea of jIvanmukti itself strongly implies that of pratibandha-s. Being ‘in a body’ is clearly a limitation compared to not being so constrained. Indeed, having a body to begin with is said to be the result of ignorance, so the fact that there is still one present implies that there must be some aspect of ignorance still present.

Accordingly, whether or not you accept the idea of prArabdha karma being the reason for the j~nAnI continuing to inhabit a body, it seems that ‘freedom’ cannot be total until the body drops. It is therefore reasonable to think that this body-mind might be susceptible to ‘obstructions’ of various types, while this embodiment continues. The body has needs, after all, and even though there is no longer any identification with the body post-enlightenment, the mind is still very likely to be affected. And the j~nAnI still continues to utilize the Atman-animated-buddhi, as described above.  I.e. pratibandha-s are implicit in the differentiation between jIvanmukti and videha mukti.  Continue reading

pratibandha-s – part 5 of 10

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vij~nAna

Shankara differentiates what might be called ‘ordinary’ or ‘intellectual’ knowledge (j~nAna) from ‘transformative’ knowledge (vij~nAna). The knowledge becomes transforming – i.e. making it efficacious in conveying the status of jIvanmukti – when the gaining of it has been preceded by successful sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti. In his bhAShya on muNDaka upaniShad 2.2.8, he says:

“Wise, discriminatory people (dhIrA) see through vij~nAna; vij~nAna is a special (vishihtena) knowledge (j~nAna), born out of the teaching of shAstra and AchArya (shAstra AchArya upadesha janitam), and received in a specially prepared mind, born (udbhutena) out of total detachment (vairAgya), having control of inner and outer organs (shama and dama), and which is therefore capable of upAsanA to begin with and later of nididhyAsana which together are called meditation (dhyAna). Through such a vij~nAna, wise people realize that the nature of the Atman (Atmatatvam) is non-different from the nature of Brahman (brahmatatvam)…” (Ref. 10)

‘Who am I?’ in communication

Who are we speaking of when we use the words ‘I’ and ‘you’ in writing and speech?

Since we are Advaitins, there are actually three possibilities:

  1. ‘I’ could mean Atman/Brahman, if used from the ‘as if’ pAramArthika viewpoint;
  2. ‘I’ could mean the reflected Consciousness (chidAbhAsa);
  3. ‘I’ could mean the usually understood ‘named person’.

Continue reading

pratibandha-s – part 4 of 10

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j~nAna phalam

Here is the sequence of events that I believe represents the traditional understanding:

  • A would-be seeker practices sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti for a length of time in order to gain the qualities of mind (and the overriding desire to attain mokSha) needed to qualify for ‘approaching a qualified teacher’.
  • The seeker gains Self-knowledge from listening to a qualified guru, i.e an enlightened shrotriya [someone with deep knowledge of the shruti, including Sanskrit], who belongs to a qualified sampradAya [teaching lineage]), as he explains the scriptures. This is the stage of shravaNa.
  • When there are no further doubts, the ‘final hearing’ triggers akhaNDAkAra vRRitti (same as brahmakAra vRRitti, but used more frequently) and the seeker thereby immediately becomes a j~nAnI.
  • Whilst there are still doubts, the seeker asks questions of the teacher to clarify and explain. This is the stage of manana. shravaNa and manana are then repeated for as long as needed.
  • The gaining of Self-knowledge simultaneously means that the seeker now knows that he or she is already free. (You can say that they are ‘simultaneously liberated’ if you really want, but this conveys the erroneous notion that they were not free before.) Note that the phalam of ‘j~nAna phalam’ cannot simply refer to mokSha (mukti) because you cannot gain as fruit something that you already have!
  • If the seeker had done sufficient sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti (SCS) previously, he or she also simultaneously gains the phalam (= become a jIvanmukta). (See Section 3o for a discussion on the topic of jIvanmukti.)
  • If their SCS was insufficient, they do not immediately gain the phalam. I.e. they have pratibandha-s and they need to do more nididhyAsana in order to remove them. Thus, they may get the phalam later in life. If they do not, they get videha mukti at death of the body-mind (when the prArabdha karma is used up). (see section 3p)

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pratibandha-s – part 3 of 10

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nididhyAsana

nididhyAsana is recommended to remove any mental impediments that remain. This may consist of any activity that serves to consolidate the knowledge and fully assimilate the teaching – e.g. reading scriptures, listening to talks from qualified teachers, writing about Advaita oneself, discussing with other seekers and so on. The logic is simple: these activities produce puNya karma which ‘cancels out’ the pratibandha-s.

The vivekachUDAmaNi (267 – ) speaks about this at length:

“Even after knowing that substance (the Atman), powerful desire, which is beginningless (in the form of ‘I am the doer and enjoyer’), which is the cause of the world, does not die. It remains there. What can be done with that? You must do away with that desire carefully, because that is freedom – the lessening of desire. That should be done even after realization.

 “The idea of ‘me’ and ‘mine’ remains in the body and in other things that are non-Self. This is called adhyAsa, and should be given up by the sage identifying himself with the Atman.

 “Knowing the real Self, which is the witness of the intellect and its actions, by this thought, ‘I am That’, conquer the false idea of ‘I am’ in the non-Self.

 “First, give up following the world, then following the body, and then following the scriptures and, in that way, do away with your ignorance of identifying the Self with the non-Self.” and so on… (Ref. 62)

Continue reading

pratibandha-s – part 1 of 10

Here begins the promised article on pratibandha-s. It is actually one of the topics in the book that I am currently writing called ‘Confusions… for the seeker in Advaita Vedanta’. The book will be in two volumes: Vol. 1 – Knowledge, Experience and Enlightenment; and Vol. 2 – The World of Ignorance.

The first volume is specifically about aspects relating to what enlightenment is, how it is achieved, and its results; e.g. (facetiously) whether you gain it by reading books, dropping out of society or going into a permanent trance. The second volume will deal with what is actually taught by Advaita regarding the world, creation etc. and the various miscellaneous topics encountered on the way, such as ‘grace’, ‘teaching through silence’ etc. It will also cover the massive topic of ‘Ignorance’, although logically this might have been included in Volume 1.

Accordingly, if you read the posts of this topic (there will be 6 parts), you will encounter references to other sections and to sources that will only be referenced in the Bibliography. Please ignore these (apart from deciding that you must buy the book when it appears – probably second half of 2021.)

This post on pratibandha-s will cover the following sub-topics. Accordingly, please do not post comments on an early post that are likely to be addressed in a later one. Ideally, wait until all parts are posted before commenting, although I realize that some may find this difficult. 😉

      pratibandha-s – Part 1

  • prArabdha – Part 2
  • vAsanA-s
  • nididhyAsana – Part 3
  • viparIta bhAvanA
  • avidyA lesha
  • j~nAna phalam – Part 4
  • vij~nAna – Part 5
  • ‘Who am I?’ in communication
  • ‘Who am I?’ in thinking
  • The ‘mixture of Atman and mind’ – Part 6
  • No one is ever liberated
  • Post-Shankara contributions to the concept – Parts 7 to 10

Continue reading