Mistakes and Misconceptions In Vedantic Investigation – 2/2

Part – I

Historically, Buddhism and Zen came to the West prior to the Advaita philosophy. Their teachings made a deep impact on the Western mind. Particularly, the Mountain and River Sutra and the Return of the Bull to the Market are well-remembered today even by those who moved on to the Advaita philosophy. The Mountain and River Sutra runs something as follows:

“When I first began to practice, mountains were mountains and rivers were rivers. As I trained, mountains were not mountains; rivers were not rivers. Now that I am established in the way, mountains are once more mountains and rivers are once more rivers.”

However, when viewed from an Advaita philosophy angle, the last line above gets modified roughly as: ‘Now that I am established in the Advaita way, I find that mountains are the Self, rivers are Self, and there is Self Alone and no second (thing).’ In the second story too, the fulfilled seeker would usually end up with no interest in the market or conducting transactions within it, because his/her sense of doership – experiencership (kartrutva – bhoktrutva) doesn’t continue after Self-realization is fully achieved.

But the Western Advaita teachers like to hold that “nothing needs to change” on the attainment of Self-realization and that the multifaceted world and their interactions within it will continue. In order to buttress their argument, they tell us that Ramana quotes Shankara to say that, “brahman is the universe” and being already brahman, the world cannot get affected. From their own personal code of conduct and behavior (see The Pre-requisites, we referred to in Part – 1), an observer gets the impression that they would, as though, like to keep their one leg entrenched in the dualistic world and its allurements.

[Note: True, nothing needs to change ‘out there.’ But a change does happen in one’s “vision” after Self-realization, as we will see towards the end of this article.] 

The Ramana quote claiming brahman is the world does sound a bit strange; It’s like saying all Gold is ring. But did not Shankara Continue reading

Mistakes and Misconceptions In Vedantic Investigation – 1/2

Shankara, the 7th-8th CE AcArya and unquestionably the biggest exponent of Advaita, maintains that:

नोत्पद्यते विना ज्ञानं विचारेणान्यसाधनैः 

यथा पदार्थभानं हि प्रकाशेन विना क्वचित्      —  11, aparokShAnubhUti.

Meaning: Knowledge of the Self is not brought about by any other means than inquiry, just as an object is nowhere perceived without the help of illumination.

Thus, “inquiry” or “investigation” is the unique and incomparable tool available for a committed seeker in search of Truth in the Advaita philosophy. The prominent trio of Advaita teachers of the 20th century popularized this method of approach called ‘Self-inquiry’ through what they often referred to as the Direct path. With its simplicity of expression and the promise of directness of access to the Self, the Direct path attracted many Westerners into its fold, resulting in a mushrooming of teachers, more condensed processes like Neo-Advaita, and even premature declarations of attainment of the Self.

Alas, people have totally forgotten what Shankara said in a verse just ahead of the one quoted at the beginning of this article. He said: Continue reading

Q.510 Direct Path vs Traditional – Pt. 3

Part 3 – Free-will (continued)

Q: I reflected a bit more about the logic I used in my previous email. In one sentence I said: “the person has no free will, because there is no person.” Rephrasing it, the logic goes: There is no person -> therefore, the person has no free will. I looked at it a bit more, and I realized that if the person truly doesn’t exist, then it doesn’t make sense to talk about ANY qualities about something non-existent, not just free will. So I think a more accurate and targeted line of questioning would be: ‘okay so the person is non-existent, but I am very obviously present, aware, and seeing these words right here and right now, so let me investigate the nature of myself.’ So this would lead to some form of self-inquiry. I guess in a way this is the essence of the direct path, to take a stand as awareness, and investigate your beliefs against the data of direct experience (in this case, the belief that I am a separate consciousness).

Nowhere in that line of questioning does free will come up!

I also found these quotations from Rupert Spira and Greg Goode about the topic of free will, maybe you’ll find them interesting:

The idea that we have the freedom to choose whether or not to become entangled with thoughts and feelings is a concession to the separate self we believe and feel ourself to be. From the separate self’s point of view, it has choice, freedom. If we think we are a separate self, then by definition we feel that we are making choices.

For this reason the teaching says, ‘You have the choice. You have consented to limit yourself. You can choose not to. Choose to disentangle yourself. Make that your first choice in life, to disentangle yourself from the body and the mind and to know yourself as you truly are.’

Rupert Spira [https://rupertspira.com/non-duality/blog/philosophy/the_disentanglement_of_the_self]

Continue reading

Q.506 – Prayer

Q: I have been studying Advaita for the last 20 years. I have read multiple books on the subject and I am presently reading your book “Answers…” but have only read 213 pages so far. 

The dilemma I have concerns praying or addressing myself to what I call ‘Infinite Consciousness’. 

I start by asking that the veil of ignorance be lifted from the mind so that ‘what is’ may be revealed. Next, I give thanks for the day, for all things done, for animals and vegetables eaten and meaningful words read. But, in so doing, 3 questions have occurred:

  1. Adhering to the teachings of Advaita, I find myself asking: “Who am I praying to?” and
  2. “Who is praying?”. 
  3. If I am simply an expression of ‘God’, am I addressing myself in these prayers (because if so, I have a huge issue with an ego inflating itself)?
Continue reading

Q.503 Seer-seen discrimination

Q. How can we inquire into our true self, if the one inquiring (mind) is not actually the self?

A: You are not the mind – it is an instrument if you like. You are the Consciousness that ‘reflects’ in the mind.

Q: By saying that the mind is an instrument, are you suggesting that the mind can refer to our true self (pure consciousness) during contemplation?

A: I am not clear what you are asking here. By ‘mind is an instrument’, I mean that who-you-really-are is not the mind; you are using the mind to interact with the world. (Indeed the ‘mind enlivened by Consciousness’ effectively ‘creates’ the world by separating out forms and giving them names.) The mind is itself inert and cannot do anything without Consciousness (your ‘true self’).

Q: If thought has some form of awareness, as demonstrated by introspection, and its ability to refer to contents of the mind, would it be out of the realm of possibility to assume that it is the one responsible for direct experience of mental objects? How can we be certain that awareness is an independent entity when it is something that seems to also be possessed by thought in some instances?

Continue reading

Role of bhakti in jnAna mArga:

A highly respected Vedantin late Shri S. N. Sastri (see here) observed in his introduction to vivekacUDAmaNi that “There is a wrong impression among some persons, particularly Western scholars, that Sri Sankara did not attach importance to devotion to a personal God.” At the other end, we have some people who say that Shankara was a great devotee and cite the innumerable hymns in praise of various Gods and Goddesses he is supposed to have authored. Naturally, this situation raises the question on the “role” of devotion (bhakti) in Advaita Vedanta, particularly, in the Knowledge Path (jnAna mArga).

As a matter of fact, we cannot really think of exclusive compartmentalized approaches separated by rigid walls in Vedanta. The various methods (upAya-s) suggested in Advaita Vedanta are all only broad generalized schema. One cannot, therefore, take a position that bhakti is required or not required in Advaita. Many things work together in leading a seeker to arrive at the Ultimate im-mediated understanding (aparokSha anubhUti) of Non-dual Oneness. Continue reading

“All this is the Self “

There has been an interesting discussion going on at one of the Online Advaita fora on Self-inquiry. One of the discussants posted the view of the well-known 16th Century Advaitin, Swami Madhusudana Saraswati in understanding the oft-quoted statement, “All this is the Self.” Madhusudana Saraswati says in his magnum opus, Advaita siddhi as follows:

एतच्च सर्वमुक्तं विवरणे – निषप्रपञ्चास्थूलादिवाक्यानुसारेण ‘इदं सर्वं यदयमात्मे’ त्यादीनि निषेध्यसमर्पकत्वेनैकवाक्यतां प्रतिपद्यन्ते ; सुषुप्तौ निष्प्रपञ्चतायां पुरुषार्थत्वदर्शनादिति |

Meaning: All this has been said in the panchapAdikA vivaraNa – Sentences such as “All this is the Self” must be interpreted in such a way as to indicate the negation of the world’s reality, so that there is consistency of meaning with sentences that reveal the nature of brahman as one completely devoid of the world, such as “not gross”, etc; for the achievement of the fundamental aims of human existence lies in the attainment of brahman in which the world is completely absent, which is experienced in deep sleep. [English Translation by:  Sri S. Venkatraghavan. Accension by me.] Continue reading

Can brahman be a ‘percept’?

A few events seem to have conspired against the peaceful summer slumber at this site prompting me to pen a few words. Hope you will enjoy and add a few of your thoughts.

I have been struggling for a couple of months to locate the original Upanishadic quote for the phrase ‘sacchidAnanda‘ popularized by Shankara in all his bhAShya literature. I couldn’t. We all know that the phrase ‘sacchidAnanda’ does not come from any major Upanishads. So, I sent a query to our Dennis if he could help me out. Pop comes back the response in a jiffy from him giving me the mantras where this sobriquet for brahman appears. One of the Upanishads is maNDala bhrahmaNa Upanishad which, perhaps many have not heard even. I was floored! It was amazing how he could search so many of the Upanishads so fast especially when we know none of them are in the form of a searchable database. Not only that Dennis has a such a large collection of books, his Upanishadic knowledge too is so vast that one cannot but applaud and admire. Which, anyway, we often do here. Continue reading

Q.457 Using meditation to ‘find the self’

Q: Undaunted by my belief that meditation to find the self (soul) is difficult, I would like to try, but there are no teachers in my area. Therefore, in the first instance, I would really appreciate your advice regarding a book to follow for this type of meditation that is suitable for a beginner.

A: The purpose of meditation is to help gain control of the mind and senses so that you can cultivate dispassion and discrimination and still the mind when listening to the teacher.

Meditation cannot enable you to ‘find the self’. You are already the Self – you just have not realized this. What has to happen is for the mind to receive knowledge about the Self, clear any misunderstandings, resolve any doubts etc. Ideally, you need a qualified teacher for this – someone who knows the truth and is able to convey the relevant steps (via story, metaphor etc.) to help someone else come to the same understanding.

As an introduction to Advaita, there are three books I would recommend:

1. ‘Introduction to Vedanta’ by K. Sadananda – see https://www.advaita-vision.org/vedanta-introduction-sadananda/;

2. ‘Book of One’ (2nd edition) by myself – http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/thebook/thebook.htm;

3. ‘VEDĀNTA the solution to our fundamental problem’ by D. Venugopal (This is serialized at the website (https://www.advaita-vision.org/vedanta-the-solution-part-1/).

Kubera’s Search for The Self:

 [The world and everything in it are imaginary (mithya) ‘names and forms’! Therefore, tradition depicts Ishwara as a pauper because he does not possess any worldly wealth. However, he transcends the worldly objects and is said to be an embodiment of the Self. In contrast, Kubera possessed a lot of worldly treasures, a collection of mere names and forms, but lacked the real wealth of Self-knowledge. So, he sought guidance from Ishwara.]

Lord Ishwara was holding court in Kailasha. His consort and both his sons were also seated with him. There were several nobles and other gods in attendance. The gurgling flow of the Ganges from the matted hair of the Lord and the chirping of the birds and other creatures around were sounding like a background drone reciting the name of Shiva-Shiva-Shiva. The God of Riches, Kubera, famous for his wealth, came to meet Ishwara. He bowed to the Lord and worshiped him as per the tradition. Kubera had a deep philosophical question and posed the same to Ishawara requesting the Lord to relieve him from the doubt. Continue reading