Q. 542 ‘Doership’ and Osho

A: Osho is not a reliable source of teaching according to Advaita. I have read a few of his books and was most impressed by his breadth of knowledge. But his sources are many and he does not always differentiate. There are several non-dual teachings and any may take you to the final understanding. But my own knowledge is now strictly oriented towards traditional Advaita (Gaudapada-Ṥaṅkara-Sureshvara).

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I am the Light

A (Matin): Realization of witness consciousness is not brought about by anything or ‘anybody’. Consciousness does not perform any function, and there is nothing beyond or other than it. Finally, however, only intuition can nudge one towards it.

I am the Witness-Self; I am the basis of all experience; I am the light that that makes experience possible. – Yoga Vasishta.


A (Martin): By the evidence of the ages – of innumerable sages and mystics, their outpourings, and the teachings they left us that are like the fruits of wonderful trees – the answer has to be yes! They tell us, especially to those capable of fathoming their words (‘those who have ears’), that the depth of understanding what is real and inescapable, reality itself, is practically limitless, to the point of becoming one with it in a seamless unit – no more subject-object distinction, the root of suffering.

And that is so because, as Matthew Arnold put it referring to some people: … ‘He who makes the determined effort to see life steadily and see it whole…’. There is a caveat, though: ‘Without love, the mind cannot understand’ – Sine desiderio mens non intelligit (Nicholas of Cusa). Is love anything more, or other, than that determination Matthew Arnold was speaking of? That is a high price, or is it not?

Shankara Answers Beginner’s Questions

Shankara bhagavat pAda, a committed and earnest Commentator (bhAShyakAra) that he was, rarely, if at all, deviates from the immediate text on which he was making his explanatory observations. Fortunately for us, he relaxes, with compassion, his own self-imposed constraints of being a strict commentator and provides a detailed exposition on the subject matter occasionally. One of such instances is his 27-page long commentary at 2.1.20, brihadAraNyaka Upanishad (BUB). It comes before taking up the dense and meaty philosophical discussions on “the Highest Wisdom of Vedanta” beginning at the Fourth section, called Maitreyi brahmaNa. He provides answers to many typical questions that some one new to Advaita philosophy is likely to ask. I trust Shanakara’s replies help satiate the curiosity of the novice. We shall recapitulate below some of the questions and Shankara’s answers thereon. Continue reading

What is Truth or Reality?

Neti, neti.

Reality is ‘everything there is, all in a bundle’ (a tentative definition) – inner, outer, manifest and unmanifested, known and unknown, thought of and imagined. Reality is not a bundle of separate truths, though, since ‘everything’ is interconnected in mutual dependency. Reality is indefinable; ungraspable by the mind (it requires a silent mind and a ‘leap of faith’ – a constancy of purpose). ‘Those who think they know know not’ (Upanishads and common knowledge). Reality is subjective and objective at the same time (nay, there is no such dichotomy in it). Reality is Knowing and Being, beyond the seeming individual, the latter as partaking of it. Reality, truth, cannot be transmitted or expounded – it is at the same time ‘personal’ and impersonal, or neither of them. Only metaphysics (non-duality) and contemplation, love of truth, not mere philosophizing, can take one to it.

Q. 532 Brahman, name and form

Q: To speak of levels or to even say ‘name and form’, isn’t technically correct, is it? There’s only Brahman – period. I ask or say this because it does make a big difference between understanding and ‘living it’.

A: You are right. Pedantically there is only Brahman and even that is saying too much. But all transactions take place in vyavahAra (often referred to as ‘transactional reality’) and that obviously includes the teaching itself. That is why we have words like ‘mithyA’, so we can acknowledge the appearance of duality. We undeniably perceive form and refer to it by name, but acknowledge that it is mithyA – owing its substantial existence to Brahman.

Q: Having this final understanding, does the Mithya go on as:
1. As Ashtavakra Gita says… “a dry leaf being blown in the wind”? 
2. An actor knowing he’s an actor and playing roles like a movie?

A: The reasoning behind metaphors is to nudge the mind into appreciating the teaching of something that is counter-intuitive. Once you have ‘got it’, the metaphor should be dropped. The nature of the remainder of the life of a j~nAnI will be dictated by their individual prArabdha karma so will be different for everyone.

Purpose vs. function

Q (From Quora): As a doctor, what did you learn in medical school that is forever etched in your brain?

A (Martin): In my 1st year of medical school, I read a footnote in ‘Samson Wright’ (the best book on physiology at the time and for many years) something that – to this day – continues to be a nostrum from the side of science but that I never fully accepted: (Referring to the workings of organs) ‘in science, we don’t talk of purpose, only of function’ — as if ‘function’ does not imply ‘purpose/intelligence’, an intelligence that is built into nature, of which the operation of the kidneys, liver, brain, etc. is proof.

From the perspective of Advaita Vedanta, purpose, function, are at most superimpositions on the one reality (Brahman, to give it a name) pertaining to the empirical realm. Cannot one affirm, though,  that intelligence is not just an anthropomorphic quality built into or added to existence, but something inherent in being/existence itself – sat, chit – despite admitting that the ultimate (Brahman) is attributeless? Then sat-chit-ananda is/are the least, or the most, that can be said about the ultimate reality.

The Paradox of Free Will (Feb 2011)

We haven’t discussed this favorite topic in Advaita for some time! This is an article I wrote for Yoga International over 12 years ago but it only appeared on-line for a short time at Advaita Academy.

Why do you act the way that you do? If it is because you feel you ought to do something, you probably recognize there is little free will involved. You are being coerced by society or family, or influenced by concerns over what might happen if you don’t act in that way. On the other hand, if you do something because you want to, then perhaps you believe you are exercising free will. But is this true even when you trace the source of your desire? For example, you see a cream cake in the window of a shop, and the thought arises, I would like some cake. Did you freely choose to have that thought? Indeed, can you choose to have any thought? Do they not simply arise?

Anyone who has thought deeply about spiritual matters knows that one of the fundamental problems is how to reconcile our day-to-day experience with claims about God or a nondual reality. The first level seems concrete and demonstrable while the second is speculative, to say the least. Among the Indian philosophies, advaita Vedānta is the only one that speaks of orders of reality. There is the absolute nondual reality (paramārtha); the empirical level (vyavahāra); and the illusory level of dreams (pratibhāsa). Correctly differentiating among these levels is essential if we are to understand the subtleties involved in the question of free will.

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Subject-object dichotomy

Any Advaitin worth their salt knows that the dichotomy of subject-object is not transcended by the unsupported mind, which in itself is inert.

Empirical experience seems to be undeniable, and with it that polarity, but one knows from Shankara – and only from Shankara – that it is based on ignorance, that is, failing to distinguish between the Self and the intellect or mind, which leads to the superimposition of either one on the other. Thus, the non-dual and undifferentiated Self – alone real – appears to be an agent and a knower, whereas, in reality, It is a ‘witness’ (a witness that is none other than pure Consciousness); and It is so by Its mere presence, not actively. The dichotomy referred to above does not exist – in reality

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Q.531 Consciousness and reality

(Question posed in Quora  forum.)

Q: What is reality in the absence of consciousness? (Someone responded: ‘I’m beginning to be convinced that in the absence of consciousness, there is nothing. Can anyone shed some light on this?

A (Martin): That is an impossible, or a self-defeating, question. If there were no consciousness in the world, you could not write that sentence. What is more, no communication would be possible (books, newspapers, radio, etc.). Still more, no life and no evolution of life, because life depends on the communication of information (DNA, neuronal synapses, etc.), which itself derives from what is no less than a conscious universe. There is no need to believe in a personal (anthropomorphic) god to have this understanding or realization.

It is the same if we say, ‘absence of intelligence’. It is consciousness/intelligence which originates the universe and inheres in it. In Dante’s words, “l’Amore che muove il sole e l’altre stelle” (the Love which moves the sun and the other stars) – and that is so because without love there is no life, Love being a synonym of Being and of Light. The supreme triad is Being-Consciousness-Will, or Being-Consciousness-Bliss (or Beauty). — And Beauty and Love are the same.