Q.502 Brahman and Awareness

Q1.     Many advaita teachings suggest that on the absolute level of reality, there are no objects, no people, no selves, and many times, people will say that, ‘from awareness’ point of view, there is just awareness’… However, in my experience it seems that awareness has the ability to know finite objects because ‘I’ (awareness) am the observer of thoughts, feelings, and sensations (all finite objects). So how can we say that from awareness’ point of view there are no objects, when awareness is aware of finite things? To piggyback off of this, is there some way to differentiate between the witnessing position and the absolute viewpoint? because I think this is where I am really getting mixed up.

Q2.     Why does it seem that awareness can know something finite when it is infinite? I’ve heard from certain advaita teachers that consciousness takes the form of the mind in order to know finite objects, but this confuses me because that would imply that awareness becomes the mind, but is also simultaneously aware of the mind. It seems a little far fetched in my opinion, but maybe I’m just not understanding it completely.

A: I never use the term ‘awareness’ for precisely this sort of reason. It is a term used by Nisargadatta and his disciples and causes much confusion. I only use it in the context of X being ‘aware of’ Y, in duality.

The non-dual reality in Advaita is called Brahman, strictly speaking. Being non-dual, it has no ‘attributes’ If it had the attribute X, this would mean that it could not be ‘not-X’, which would then negate the fact that Brahman is said to be unlimited or infinite (anantam). You might find the 3-part post beginning https://www.advaita-vision.org/satyam-gyanam-anantam-brahma/ useful.

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Gaudapada on the Non-disappearance of the world

प्रपञ्चो यदि विद्येत निवर्तेत न संशयः ।

मायामात्रमिदं द्वैतमद्वैतं परमार्थतः ॥… १।१७

prapañco yadi vidyeta nivarteta na saṃshayaḥ |

māyāmātramidaṃ dvaitamadvaitaṃ paramārthataḥ ||… 1.17

Gaudapada: If the perceived manifold were real then certainly it would disappear. This duality (that is cognized) is mere illusion (māyā). Non-duality is (alone) the Supreme Reality.

Shankara:  If the knowledge of non-duality (turīya) be possible after the disappearance of the perceived manifold, how could non-duality be said to exist (always) while the perceptual manifold remains? This is explained thus: This would have been true if the manifold really existed. This manifold being only a false imagination, like the snake in the rope, does not really exist. There is no doubt that it would (certainly) disappear if it really existed. The snake imagined in the rope, through false conception, does not really exist and therefore does not disappear through correct understanding. Nor, similarly, does the illusion of the vision conjured up by the magician exist and then disappear as though a veil thrown over the eyes of the spectators (by the magician) were removed. Similar is this duality of the cognized universe called the Phenomenal or manifold (māyāmātraṃ dvaitaṃ) a mere illusion. Non-duality turīya like the rope and the magician (in the illustrations) is alone the Supreme Reality. Therefore the fact is that there is no such thing as the manifold about which appearance or disappearance can be predicated.

Nikhilananda: The manifold does not exist in the sense of a separate Reality. If it had any such existence then alone could it obstruct the eternally non-dual nature of the turīya by the appearance (of the manifold). If anyone says that the manifold disappears, that is only because he believes in its reality. But this is not the Truth, because the appearance of the manifold is only an illusion and not a reality.

People say that duality disappears only because they believe in its reality. But really duality does not exist, therefore it does not disappear. If anyone believes in the reality of such illusory appearance then can one believe in the reality of the disappearance.

Extracts from:

The Mandukya Upanishad with Gaudapada’s Karika and Shankara’s Commentary, Translated by Swami Nikhilananda, Advaita Ashrama, 1932. No ISBN.

Q.498 Brahman and Appearance

Q: How can we be sure that Brahman is transcendent of the level of appearance? How can we rule out the possibility that it is imperceptible due to the limitations of our mind? Could Brahman be similar to that of a higher dimensional being that is non accessible to human minds, but able to be perceived on higher levels of reality? And wouldn’t this then invalidate claims of it being infinite and eternal, given that these are constructs built on the idea that Brahman is non-phenomenal?

Also, how can we make the connection between ishvara (creator), and sakshi (awareful witness)? Are they both referring to the same being? I am confused.

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‘Not Two’ – a Critical Review

On the face of it, this is a well-written and readable book, ideally suited for a new seeker. E.g. the sections on ‘The Illusory Nature of the Separate Self’ and ‘Knowledge Dispels Ignorance’ are excellent.

Unfortunately, should any reader accept everything that is written at its face value, they will come away with some serious confusions. In what follows, I apologize in advance for some of what may seem to be harsh criticisms, but my own perception of these points is heightened as a result of spending the last year writing my own work on ‘confusions’ of precisely this sort.

The author uses the traditional teaching method of adhyāropa-apavāda but it is not made clear when what is being said is only provisional. Also, there are very few references to the source of what is being presented. (And one of those that is provided doesn’t exist!) There are many places where the author writes ‘as Shankara said’ but scarcely a single pointer to where he said it. There are numerous places where I, as an informed reader, need those references before I will even consider what is being said to be credible!

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Q.453 Consciousness is happiness?

Q: I have just read your book ‘How to meet yourself’. I am not sure if I understand what you mean when you say that “Consciousness is happiness” and that “I am happiness”. Since everything is an appearance within consciousness, wouldn’t happiness be just that? Why would we equate consciousness to happiness?

A: Before answering the question, it would be useful to note the difference between Consciousness and consciousness. Consciousness with as capital ‘C’ is used throughout in all of these answers to refer to Brahman, the non-dual reality. The mind is conscious because Consciousness is reflected by the mind. The body and mind are both inert in themselves. It is important not to confuse these terms.

The actual paragraph is:

“Fourthly, it would not be meaningful to talk about Consciousness being happy or unhappy. Being complete and without limitations of any sort, it is more appropriate to say that Consciousness is happiness. This, then, is an aspect of my true nature. Since I am Consciousness, there is nothing that I need, nothing to be achieved, nowhere to which I have to get. I am already perfect and complete – I am happiness”.

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The world does NOT disappear

(Response to those who claim it does)

Some time ago (31st Oct 2020), during our prolonged discussions (beginning early Sept 2020) upon whether the world literally disappears when a jIva gains enlightenment (Ramesam and Venkat say that it does and I deny that), Ramesam asked me to provide references to support comments that I had made. Since this topic is very relevant to Volume 2 of my book on ‘Confusions in Advaita’, I have been researching and writing about it for the past 6 months. Since the various aspects now take up some 30,000 words plus, I will not be posting any more material – you will have to wait for publication of the book, unfortunately unlikely to be before 2023.

Apologies to readers who will find that this post is not particularly readable or directly helpful. The book presents all of the arguments in a logical and readable manner, only using the indicated quotations as supporting material. Here, the references only are presented solely to complete the earlier discussions and provide ‘answers’ to Ramesam and Venkat as the pUrvapakShin-s.

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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