Q.492 Consciousness and consciousness

Q: Shankara often wrote the descriptor “pure Consciousness” to point to Brahman.
1. What does “pure Consciousness” have to do with conventional consciousness, as in “I’m conscious of this or that?” Does chidabhasa explain it?

A: chidAbhAsa is the best metaphor, I think, (it is pratibimba vAda and associated with vivaraNa). The other main one is avachCheda vAda, associated with bhAmatI, which uses the idea of upAdhi-s. Consciousness (big ‘C’) is typically used to refer to non-dual reality; ‘c’onsciousness is the manifestation of ‘C’onsciousness in the mind of man.

2. Is there a difference between Consciousness (as-if paramartha level) and existence?

A: As you know (!) you cannot define or say anything objective about Consciousness. Ideally  you should read the long Shankara commentary on satyam j~nAnam anantam brahma in Taittiriya Upanishad 2.1. That explains how such ‘descriptions’ work. The adjectives qualify-support-limit each other so that you do not take any single one as in any way a descriptive attribute. If you want, you could say that Brahman is limitless-existence-consciousness. But at the pAramArthika level, you cannot say anything at all about Brahman!

3. If there is a difference, which is more fundamental: Consciousness or existence? I.e. which gives rise to which? Why (not the other way)?

A: I cannot really add anything to the previous answer.

The Disappearing World

The recent post by Ramesam – Ignorance goes, but mAyA remains? – continues to draw discussion. It has now reached nearly 50 comments! Ramesam’s last comment kindly referred to Gaudapada’s kArikA 1.17 and, looking this up in my book ‘A-U-M: Awakening to Reality’, I found that I had put together a very useful post to the Advaitin E-group back in 2009. Accordingly, it seems appropriate to post this here and, since it is longer than a simple comment, I am starting a new thread.


 A favorite topic on the Advaitin discussion group (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Advaitin/) (where I am one of the moderators) has been what exactly happens when a person is enlightened or ‘gains mokSha’.  A popular, although somewhat incomprehensible, belief is that the world somehow ‘disappears’; that, for the j~nAnI, there simply is no longer any duality. Quite how the j~nAnI (apparently) continues to eat, drink and converse is not adequately explained by those who hold such a view. But Gaudapada approaches it from a different and even more dramatic angle. Continue reading

Q.488 Reading Minds

[Note: This is a long Q&A. Any help that other bloggers and readers can give to resolve the questioner’s concerns will be welcomed!]

Q: If waking life is a kind of dream or modulation of awareness then why is it so continuous? Many Advaitins see waking life as some form of dream, correct me if I’m wrong.

Dreams when asleep are always very new, different and unpredictable. And then they disappear and you wake up and forget the dream. And most likely you will not continue where it ended next sleep. On the other hand, waking life reappears after sleep and it is the ‘same’ as yesterday and it only seems to disappear if you die.

A: There is a lot more to it than that. And it cannot all be explained in a couple of sentences. Pretty much all of my book ‘A-U-M: Awakening to Reality’ was about this. (It is a commentary on Mandukya Upanishad and the explanation by Gaudapada.)

There are 3 states of consciousness – waking, dream and deep sleep and none of them are ‘really real’. Waking seems to be real for the waker. The dream is equally real for the dreamer (who thinks he is a waker)! The true reality is the Consciousness that is the basis of all 3 states. Waking life is said to be like a dream so that you can use this as a metaphor for gaining enlightenment. Continue reading

Q.446 satyam, j~nAnam anantam brahma

Q: Does the phrase satyam j~nAnam anantam brahma means truth-knowledge limitless or Existence-consciousness limitless? (The latter is the definition given by Swami Dayananda in one of the summer camp tapes.)

A: Strictly speaking, sat means real, existence or being; sattA means being or existence; satya means truth or being. If you look up ‘existence’, you will probably find asti or astitvam. If you look up ‘sat’ in Monier-Williams, one of the meanings is ‘that which really is, entity or existence, essence, the true being or really existent’. If you look up ‘sattva’, you get ‘being, existence, entity, reality, true essence’.

So the answer is that both are used in either context and there is no clear meaning associated with either (and I have come across both being used in both meanings. I am fairly sure that Swami D has used both to mean ‘existence’ and both to mean ‘truth’. Sanskrit is a very versatile language! (But, if you ever come across me using it clearly in one way and Swami D using it in another, take Swamiji’s meaning! He knew Sanskrit inside out; I don’t!) Continue reading

Q. 445 Experience and brahman

Q: What exactly (in Reality – i.e. Brahman is the only reality) is experience?

I know that there is a relative level where there are jIva-s and objects and minds and Ishvara, but if we talk about the absolute reality – Brahman – then I believe that there is no experience possible.

Brahman is the only reality and Brahman does not have experiences of any kind – yes?

So if I realize myself as Brahman, then I have to see all my experience as mithyA, yes?

SO: if you are agreeing to the above, and if I am following correct logic: why do so many teachers of non-duality and even of Advaita Vedanta say that experience is the only means through which we can explore reality?

As jIva-s in the relative realm, the only thing we have to navigate reality, is our experience. So again: what is an experience? Is there no reality to an experience?

Many teachers who are famous and well-respected point to the Presence of God as a palpable experience of peace, fullness, truth, love which comprises the reality of all our experiences. They say Presence is Brahman in manifest form and is eternal.

Is experience comprised of Brahman-as-Presence?

Continue reading

Is a single neuron conscious? (From Quora)

 A short discussion.

M. Advaita Vedanta’s perspective is better seen from the top-down rather than from the bottom up. Consciousness or awareness can be considered (there is a consensus on this) as a ‘fundamental ‘property’ of (or a pointer to) reality’, not reality itself, which is unfathomable and indescribable. Consciousness permeates every apparently external – and also every internal – phenomenon, which is thus an expression or manifestation of Consciousness. Accordingly, a neuron, an electron, is a manifestation of Consciousness – ‘the One without a second’. Alternately, neurons, atoms, etc. are embedded in Consciousness or reality.

PB. I think the best words you can use to characterize reality are awareness/consciousness, existence/beingness, and bliss/love. However, I wouldn’t identify reality with consciousness, the other two concepts, or all three together. They are just the purest manifestations of reality that we can identify. True reality is not a thing or concept, it is beyond definition.

But yes, I would agree that neurons, electrons, etc. are phenomena of consciousness, as are these words and the bodies and minds that write them.

M. Metaphysical truth is sometimes called apperception, or direct supramental perception, and it is non-transferable. Nicholas of Cusa put it this way: “The highest wisdom is this, to know… how that which is unattainable may be reached or attained unattainably”. Metaphysics (philosophia prima, or first philosophy of medieval times) is not science, and its truths are often dressed as paradoxes, analogies, and metaphors; they are not meant to convince anyone who is not open to them.


A metaphysical truth appeals to intuition; it is an experience or knowledge-experience… It is not speculation and is not amenable to subject-object relationship or distinction.

Continue reading

Q. 482 What happens after videha mukti?

Q: When the jIva removes the ignorance of his real nature, and realizes Atman is his Real unchanging Self, if the body dissolves, what happens afterwards?

If there is no further birth, do we then remain as Absolute, without name and form, without knowing anything other than pure Self? Is it like space all being uniform without any form? Is there nothing that is known? Surely it doesn’t remain In an absolute ‘stateless state’ of no Knowing?

A: There have been a couple of questions around this before – see http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/q_and_a/q_and_a44.htm#q263 for example.

Your question is based on a misunderstanding. At the empirical level, there is indeed a ‘person’ who may or may not become enlightened. If he/she does gain Self-knowledge, then clearly the outlook of the person for the remainder of his/her ‘life’ is going to be different.

Continue reading

Q.481 Robert Adams and Reincarnation

Q: I discovered Advaita Vedanta by beginning to read the satsangs of Robert Adams, an American disciple of Sri Ramana Maharshi. I also read books about the latter. These readings have had a considerable impact on “my”  existence, which started to take another turn.

However, there is one point that bothers me, if may say so. Let me explain :

In his satsang “It’s All A Dream” of October 18, 1990, Robert Adams says:

So today we think we are going to make this a better world in which to live, and we are going to save the world, and so on. The world has its own collective karma. It’s going through a phase. Your job is to save yourself. If you find yourself in a burning building, you do not stop to admire the pictures on the wall, you get out of the building as fast as you can. So, when you know you have a short time in this existence you do not stop to play the games of life, you try to find yourself and become free as fast as you can. Continue reading

Debate with a crypto-buddhist – 6

S. Almost every Buddhist school recognizes Madhyamika as important teaching, but it is almost always subordinate to the direct teaching of the Buddha or the teacher you study with. Every Buddhist school is also in debate with other Buddhist schools. Theravada/Mahayana, Vajrayana/Dzogchen, Dzogchen/Mahamudra, Nichiren/Zen, etc. It is mostly academics that engage in these debates which never solve a thing. A real teacher will never involve you in comparative mind. They always show you the recognition of your nature which is never seen as a ‘thing’ and never separate from any ‘thing’. They leave philosophy behind. This is not to say that philosophy cannot inspire.

The tendency in all of us to want to believe in something lasting, all-knowing, and final, must be regarded in the same light as our learned beliefs that we acquire from our conditioning and cultures. The idea of racism, that one color, nationality, or faith is superior to another, for example, is embedded in all cultures. Through our ordinary minds, we can work this out to the point of disbelief, or even disappearance from our thoughts and feelings that will allow us to treat each other with respect and dignity.

In the same fashion, we can look at ideas and concepts of philosophical and religious meaning and believe that these hold truths and even ‘take refuge’ in them. These conditioned ideas get reinforced through group belief, authoritative declarations, and our grasping desire to find some lasting truth in something that we can experience or know. We never really grasp what these teachings are talking about except in our conditioned mind, our ability to retain and repeat, and believe. Continue reading

‘sAdhana in Advaita’ – 6/6:

[Part – 5

One may think that the household and other responsibilities are impediments standing in the way of Non-dual practice. If one has followed this talk carefully, it can be seen that those are not obstructions at all. The seeker has to dissolve them all into his/her ‘Knowingness.’  People who are unable to do so call it as their ‘prArabdha’ – the inescapable effect of past actions. Concepts like the effects of past actions is invalid in Advaita. In fact, Advaita holds that the world itself does not exist because there is no creation and nothing was ever born. How then can prArabdha exist? There is no scope for rebirth or prArabdha when birth itself has not taken place. Continue reading