NDM: What is the difference with simply being enlightenment in the advaitin sense, knowing one is Brahman, infinite, eternal non-dual awareness and so on and being a Jivanmukta?
Ramesam Vemuri: The first and foremost thing is the knowing of information “I am brahman.” This has to be understood by the mind intellectually. It is the shravaNa (Listening) phase. Next is to assimilate it and internalize it to the extent that no doubt remains in one’s mind about the Truth of that statement. This is the manana (Reflection) phase. After being firmly convinced and free of doubts, one needs to continuously stay with it as brahman (not become brahman but be brahman). This is the nididhyAsana (Contemplation and Meditation) phase. Jivanmukta is one who unwaveringly and unbrokenly abides as brahman.
NDM: Why would one person become enlightened and get the added benefits of bliss, no aversions, fears, desires and being a Jivanmukta, while another may not? Is this grace, karma, or because of one’s practice or some other factors involved?
Ramesam Vemuri: If one continues to mistake the rope as snake or the understanding is only superficial, his understanding is obviously incomplete. Continue reading →
NDM: When you say: “The most basic point to remember is that in order to talk in terms of vAsanA-s and so on, one has to first believe in the ‘reality’ of the existence of a cause, an effect and a relationship between them.Looked at from the position of a Jivanmukta, there are no different entities, one as a cause and another as an effect and a formula expressing a relationship between them. The entire thing is One. And that is the only Truth. Not so many different things and their inter-relationships which are all imaginary.”
So are you saying that the Jivanmutkta no longer acknowledges that there is an empirical relationship of cause and effect on this relative level. (samvriti-satya or vyâvahârika-satya)
That they only recognize or acknowledge the absolute perspective? (pâramârthika-satya). That they in fact deny that a relative level even exists like some of the neo advaitins do.
Ramesam Vemuri: The terminology of Absolute Truth, transactional reality and dream-like reality and stories around them are inventions for appeasing a seeking mind. They have as much value, meaning and significance as the conversations and technologies of a dream experience have in the wakeful world. You may dip into a river and next thing suddenly be flying over a mountain peak in a dream. You could do so in the dream because you possessed that technology in your dream. But what relevance has it in the wakeful world? Similarly, the terminologies and classifications and theories used in the wakeful world carry no meaning or relevance to a Jivanmukta. Continue reading →
NDM: When you say: “Who and what for does one set these standards? Are the standards not highly contextual, local, artificial and subjective? Does qualifying anything – vAsanA-s or actions – based on such purely judgmental aspects have any holiness? A society’s imposition of rules and regulations, howsoever high may be the value and whatsoever may be the morality and nobility, does not have Absoluteness. They may have a societal sanction but lack intrinsic Sanctity. Who to say right or wrong or good or bad? Things just exist. Nothing is positive or negative until a ‘thought’ interferes.”
But what about dharma? The natural laws of the universe or God as some would call it. Some vAsanA-s violate dharma, others do not. Such as a vAsanA for smoking cigarettes like Nisargadatta had, is an unhealthy vAsanA but it’s only going to injure his lungs at most. Someone like the American guru Adi Da had extreme vAsanA-s such as having sexual relationships with his students, physically and psychologically exploiting and abusing them. How does dharma play into this equation?
Ramesam Vemuri: ‘Dharma’ to me in the context of Advaita is synonymous to brahman, undefinable, ungraspable. The Sanskrit word for the “Natural Laws of the Universe or God” is ‘niyati.’ Thus these two words are not the same for me. Continue reading →
NDM: When you say “he clearly understands the falsity of the cause-effect relationship and other such mechanisms and patterns conceived by the mind,” are you also referring to saMskAra-s and vAsanA-s and can you please explain what these are?
Ramesam Vemuri: That is right. Jivanmukta understands the unreality of samskAra-s and vAsanA-s too.
Let us see what these words stand for.
samskAra-s and vAsanA-s are the learned behaviors. If I wish ‘Good Morning’ to Mr. X, my samskAra (culture) expects an appropriate response from him. If I run away in disgust at the sight of a rotting carcass giving off unbearable stink or if a baby cries with fear on seeing a dark scary spider, it is as per the blueprint (vAsanA-s) of the learned behavior stored in the genes. Continue reading →
[John LeKay, Artist and Editor-Owner of the Non-duality Magazine (NDM) did a lengthy Interview (in two stages) almost a decade ago (July – August 2010) on the broad topic of Jivanmukta and Jivanmukti. The Conversation is not readily available now at the NDM Website (which is under renovation). John has, therefore, kindly permitted its republication and Dennis Waite, has very graciously consented to host the Interview as a Series of Posts at Advaita Vision Website because of the relevance of the topic even today. (A few words are tweaked here and there for better readability).]
NDM: Can you please tell me how you became interested in Jivanmukti?
Ramesam Vemuri: It is rather difficult to mark a specific date or relate my interest (in Advaita and Jivanmukti) to a particular event; it happened as a process of nature and nurture in the general atmosphere of Indian cultural milieu I grew up in. Perhaps it was smeared on to my brain cells even when I was a young boy! I was born and brought up in a family steeped in philosophy (my father was a Theosophist and author of several philosophical works). I had been fortunate to be exposed to Mr. J. Krishnamurti’s talks early in life (even before I could fathom their full import). Both these situations could be the triggers for my interest in Jivanmukti.
Q: Brief scenario: While walking I notice the floor is wet. I decide to walk carefully because I fear I might slip and fall otherwise.
I could think that the entire situation takes place within Consciousness (Jnana) , all of it is in fact Consciousness (Jnana) alone. That would mean that the fear of slipping and falling, and the decision made to walk carefully (or even the decision not to walk carefully) are also Consciounsess (Jnana). Am I correct here or do I depart from Consciousness each time I make a decision and execute it etc as in that scenario ?
If “yes”, why? If “no”, why ?
A (Dennis): Floors, walking, slipping, deciding etc. are all mithyA – they are not real IN THEMSELVES. Their substratum – Consciousness – is the only reality. But neither are they unreal. From the standpoint of Stephen, in the world, they are real. so walk with care!
Swami Dayananda often referred to the story of the sage running from a rogue elephant. Here is how Krishnan Sugavanam told it:
“I remember a story which once Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati narrated. There was a King in whose court there were a number of preceptors from various philosophies, including one from Advaita. The King was very close to the Advaitin and the other philosophers were looking for the first opportunity to prove the Advaitin wrong. One day, when the King and his retinue were walking in a forest, suddenly there appeared a wild
elephant. The Advaitin was the first one to take off and run for cover.
Later, when all of them assembled in the King’s court, preceptors of other philosophies wasted no time in grasping the opportunity to point out to the King, that though the Advaitin taught everything was “Mithya”, he was the first one to run on seeing the wild elephant – and they asked “Why would the Advaitin run on seeing the wild Mithya elephant?” The Advaitin queried them back calmly “yes I did run – but who said my running was Satyam – it was also Mithya”. :-)” Continue reading →
Analogy of the Rope and the Snake
This example originates from the commentaries of gaudapAda on the mANDUkyaupaniShad. Seeing a rope in the dark, it is mistaken for a snake – an error or adhyAsa. We mistakenly superimpose the image of an illusory snake onto the real rope. In just such a way we superimpose the illusion of objects etc. upon the one Atman .
If there is total dark, we would not see the rope so could not imagine it to be a snake. Hence ‘ignorance is bliss’, as in deep sleep – there can be no error. Similarly, if there is total light we see the rope clearly – in complete knowledge, we know everything to be brahman. Knowledge is also bliss! The error occurs only in partial light or when the eyes are defective. Then there is partial knowledge; we know that some ‘thing’ exists. This part, that is not covered by darkness or hidden by ignorance is called the ‘general part’ and is ‘uncovered’ or ‘real’. That the ‘thing’ is actually a rope is hidden because of the inadequate light or knowledge. This specific feature of the thing, that it is a rope, is called the ‘particular part’ and is covered. In place of the covered part, the mind substitutes or ‘projects’ something of its own, namely the snake. Continue reading →
Q: At the end of the day, what does knowledge of self give us ? It does not help to answer the burning question of why the appearance/dream/mAyA that we are experiencing as humans or animals exists. Also, it appears that even if one attains knowledge of self in one life, he/she can actually become a cockroach in the next due to karmic effect, ie we are not really liberated from the brith-death cycle. The only benefit I do see in a life in which one attains knowledge of self is that one might lead a life devoid of misery in the mind as we sail through good and bad times, even though we may experience physical pain.
A (Dennis): Self-knowledge removes Self-ignorance and it is that which makes us think we are limited, unhappy, doomed to old age and death. With Self-knowledge we realize that we are not human, living in an inhospitable world; we are brahman. The world appears as separate because of our ignorance. On gaining Self-knowledge, we realize that it’s substance is nothing but brahman.
From the perspective of the ignorant person, there is rebirth (possibly as a cockroach) and we are subject to karma. With Self-knowledge, we realize that there is no person, no birth or rebirth, no death, no creation.
The idea that knowledge is pointless is actually the main argument of the pUrvamImAMsika philosopher. They believe that only the karmakANDa portion of the Vedas is relevant – rituals that we have to perform in order to gain benefits. They say that the Upanishads etc are only supporting material to be meditated on. In the Brahmasutras, I.1.4, Vyasa effectively refutes all those philosophers who deny that brahman is the principal topic of the Vedas. But he does this with the single word ‘tu’ (tattu samanvayAt). Fortunately Shankara takes the opportunity to take up arms against pUrvamImAMsA. Whilst he agrees that knowledge in itself is often useless – we need actually to do something in order to gain some benefit – there is one situation in which ONLY knowledge bears fruit. That is when the problem is one of ignorance. The classic example is the rope mistaken for a snake. As soon as we find out that it is a rope, all our fears etc disappear. And our essential problem in life is that we believe we are a limited person. The knowledge that is to be gained from Advaita is that we are brahman – and that reveals that we have no real problems at all.
Q: As an artist and casual reader of advaita-vedanta, I wanted to ask about advaita-vedanta’s opinion on Art (be it music, painting, dance etc.).
Generally speaking, we can classify art into broadly 2 categories – sentimental art and non-sentimental art. But, as a practitioner of the former and a student of the latter (I had strict classical music training), I almost think of myself as being ‘attracted’ to art – as in, there is this sense of desire to create music. Personally, I have been advised by several elders to continue producing and practicing music. But does this go against the advice of advaita-vedanta? Am I acting on desires? Will art get artists permanently stuck in the cycle of samsara?
I ask this question because – There are so many Slokas, mantras, verses (sam-veda) that are musical… so it seems like music is encouraged by the vedas and the upanishads. But at the same time, it seems like a thing of desire. This confusion needs to be cleared!
Q: For the last few years I have been trying to develop a manuscript detailing a working model which marriages the teachings of Advaita Vedanta with contemporary research on NDE or “Near Death Experience” and similar fields of inquiry. There are several questions I have, but for now I will only bother you with one: Is it possible the Atman does possess a “spiritual ego”?
Clearly the culprit for the ignorance of our real self as the Self is the wrongful identification with the body-mind. Shankara explains the identification with the kosha-s perpetuates the illusion, which is nothing more than a superimposition of the kosha(s) on brahman helped by mAyA.
The way I see it, our greatest enemy is the ego, the human ego. This ego comes from the mind and is maintained alive by desires. But I have many reasons to suspect there is also a “spiritual ego” present in the Atman, which similarly perpetuates the ignorance of the wrongful identification by the so-called discarnate “spirit soul”.
The metaphor I have used is this: there is an actor in the “spiritual world” (the Atman) which wrongfully identifies with a spiritual ego preventing it from realizing brahman. This actor goes through an induced amnesia, after agreeing to play the role of a character in the Grand Stage of the world. This is the incarnation stage. The human ego is the combination of the spiritual ego – which carries the saMskAra-s and the vAsanA-s – plus particular influences on the personality traits caused by internal factors such as the brain/mind of the new body, as well as external factors such as family, society, education, etc. This is the embodied Atman as the jIva.Continue reading →