You do not have to have been studying Advaita for very long to know that the words Atman and brahman both refer to the non-dual reality (even if are not yet convinced of this reality). After all, one of the four, particularly well-known mahAvAkya-s is ‘ayam Atam brahman’ – this Atman is brahman.
In fact, we have to expand this vocabulary. Atman usually refers to jIvAtman – what is sometimes (erroneously) called the ‘embodied’ Atman or even the ‘soul’. Also frequently encountered is the term ‘paramAtman’, and this refers to Ishvara, or saguNa brahman – that aspect of brahman which ‘manifests’ as the world, using the ‘power’ of mAyA. It is to be differentiated from the ‘real’, nirguNa brahman which is indescribable, unthinkable, infinite, unlimited etc. and is the ‘Absolute’, non-dual reality. (Note that paramAtman is often translated as ‘supreme Self’, and it might be thought that this means nirguNabrahman. But, if we are in the context of doing something in the world – being the ‘inner controller’, ‘witnessing’ or ‘perceiving’ or ‘creating’ – then it has to mean Ishvara, saguNa brahman, since nirguNa brahman does not do anything.)
Once you are much more familiar with the individual scriptural texts, you will know that sometimes these words are used almost interchangeably. For example, in his bhAShya on the Brahmasutras, Shankara uses the word ‘brahman’ throughout to refer to both nirguNa (brahman) and saguNa (Ishvara) – he expects that, by the time you reach this text (having studied all the major Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita), you will know what he is talking about in each individual case! Continue reading →
Q: Based on your own search and discoveries over all of these years, and the writing of all of the books and blogs, if you had to summarize all of this, the truth of life, what would you say?
A: Not sure what you are looking for here. My ‘personal’ view is surely not important and I could scarcely find any better summary than Shankara’s. Anyway, I spent an hour thinking about it (while washing up and vacuuming) and here is my one line summary:
The form does not matter – it is the substance that is important.
Q: How do we know that energy/matter is Consciousness and not just what it is as energy/matter? And why does it matter? Can’t Consciousness just be what it is by itself and simply aware?
A: Energy and matter are both objects of experience. They are transient and finite, changing one into the other and ultimately ending in Absolute zero. Consciousness is the non-dual, unchanging, eternal and infinite reality.
It does not matter from the standpoint of absolute reality. It does not even matter to most jIva-s, since they just get on with the usual pleasure-seeking aims. It matters to one who is seeking Self-knowledge.
Consciousness DOES just be what it is (there is nothing else) but is not ‘aware’ in the usual meaning of the word, since there is nothing else of which to be aware. Continue reading →
Q: Dinosaur fossils point to a world history that greatly exceeds the history of human beings. I realize that from the Absolute perspective, there is no creation, no world, and therefore no fossils. However, I also realize that Advaita is not equivalent to solipsism. When ‘I’ die, the relative world will still continue in ‘my’ absence. What is puzzling is why there should be any such consistency. When I go to sleep tonight, I do not expect to pick up the dream from where I left off last night. Yet on waking, I definitely expect to be in the same room I went to bed in, with the same clothes hanging in the closet, etc. In short, there is a direct continuity that occurs in jAgrat that does not apply to svapna. Doesn’t this very continuity (e.g. fossils having existed for millions of years before ‘I’ was born) point to a definite need for a Creator, aka Ishvara or saguNa Brahman? Otherwise, I don’t see how the continuity would make any sense. ‘I’ as the jIva cannot have had anything to do with it!
A: Ishvara is just as real as the world. Ishvara is the order that we see, the laws that govern it and so on. All this is empirically real, not absolutely real; it is mithyA. You and I and Ishvara and the world and jAgrat and svapna and suShupti are all mithyA. So yes, if you are talking about fossils and dinosaurs, Ishvara is needed as the creator of the world and of the laws of evolution etc. that enable such things to be a part of our history. Ishvara maintains the waking dream so that I have some clothes to put on when I wake up.
Back in April I wrote an article which looked into the concept of chidAbhAsa – https://www.advaita-vision.org/chidabhasa/. This is the idea that the ‘notion of I’ is a reflection, in the mind, of the non-dual consciousness. The theory is called pratibimba vAda in advaita. It says that there is only one ‘real’, pAramArthika or witnessing Consciousness, although there are many jIva-s; one ‘original’ (bimba) and many ‘reflections’ (pratibimba-s).
But of course, reality is non-dual, so it makes no sense to talk of a ‘Consciousness’ and a ‘reflected Consciousness’! So how do we explain this? In order for there to be a reflection, there have to be two things: an original thing, and some medium in which a reflection can take place. This is obvious in the case of the mirror. We cannot see our face in order to be able to shave or apply make up by looking into empty space. We cannot even do it by looking at a blank wall. There has to be a mirror or some reflecting medium which can serve as a mirror. Here, we seem to be saying that there is Consciousness and a reflecting medium – the mind. But of course if we have these two things, then we’re talking about dvaita not advaita.
Shankara’s Advaita introduces the concept of mAyA to provide a sort-of explanation for the world-appearance but the dvaitin may argue that, pedantically, brahman and mAyA are still two things. Only if we can explain everything in terms of paramArtha alone, he might say, can we establish non-duality. Of course, we can be pedantic too – you cannot explain anything in paramArtha, only in vyavahAra! But we acknowledge that mAyA is mithyA. In reality, there are no jIva-s, no world, no reflections. So, the bottom line is that reality is non-dual, so that we do not really have to justify the theory at all! Continue reading →
Q: Over the past eight years I have developed a personal relationship with a God of my understanding – or should I say with a God of my non understanding and I know that the term God is loaded and perhaps not word enough. I love God and naturally want to be with God.
I have some experience of Hinduism and spent time studying Buddhism, I even spent time living at a Buddhist center while going about my ordinary business of work, life and family. I couldn’t continue with Buddhism even though they were wonderful people because in my heart I knew it was not the right path for me and I felt conflicted. I returned to my love of Hindu practices because it felt more right for me and over the past two years I have tried to find my way. I have deepened my understanding through reading books, internet teachings on you tube and meditation.
More recently I have ventured upon Advaita Vedanta and it feels right for me. However, I have no teacher and no one to ask when I have questions. Sometimes it all gets a bit too non dual for me and I feel disconnected from the love part with all the philosophy and intellectual explanations. I experienced the grace of God eight years ago when I was in a desperate plight and Divine Grace is an absolute for me. What I want to know is how does Grace happen, is it Brahman or Divine consciousnesses. Thank you for any time and consideration you might give to answer my question.Continue reading →