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.
Q: How can I be sure that the true nature of Brahman is happiness? Also, can Brahman’s nature be happiness if happiness has objective qualities, and Brahman doesn’t?
A: Brahman cannot be described. If it had a property, it would have to ‘not have’ the opposite property. And Brahman is non-dual – there is nothing other than Brahman. All ‘adjectives’ apparently used to describe Brahman are not in fact adjectives in the usual sense. They are ‘pointers’ to help you to understand Brahman intuitively.
Q: Oftentimes in my inquiry, phrases will pop up that say, ‘I am not thought,’ ‘I am not that which I am aware of,’ ‘I am the awareful witness,’; however, aren’t these phrases simply just contained, and being said by thoughts themself, thus invalidating their truthfulness? – thought is not awareness, thought is thought.
Q: If thoughts arise from Consciousness, and Consciousness is the Absolute, AND we are all connected to the Absolute, why do we not all have the same thought simultaneously?
A: This is one of those many questions which confuse reality and appearance. The absolute reality is that there is ONLY Consciousness and, from that perspective you cannot say any more. At the level of empirical reality, there is clear duality – world, object, separate people etc. At this level, separate people have distinct thoughts, which are private. You cannot mix these two levels except to acknowledge that the empirical level is only an appearance (even though we believe it is real most of the time). As a crude metaphor, you might suppose that you take a lump of gold and make a ring and a bangle from it. If you drop the ring in some chemical and it is tarnished, you might ask why, since the ring and bangle are the same gold, does the bangle not become tarnished also. But this metaphor has its limitations!
Every sensation, emotion and thought is the direct result of past karma (action). In each incarnation we bring forth parabdha karma – that portion of sanchita karma, our total karmic bank account, meant to be experienced, learned from and neutralized in this life.
Think of parabdha karma as images on a film strip, vasanas (impressions) in consciousness left from past action. The light of true self, awareness, then shines through these impressions, creating a three dimensional, five sensory experience called me and my life.
Like any good movie, it’s easy to become hypnotized by the drama and lose touch with what is real. In realizing we are not the projected story but the awareness which animates it, we release the life or death grip we have on moment to moment experience. This is the process of dis-identification or non-attachment the Buddha spoke of.
Imagine the sky with clouds moving through it. The sky is a metaphor for awareness and clouds, the objects of sensation, emotion and thought. In meditation we practice welcoming the clouds, blessing them and then bringing our attention back to the breath. In time, we even let go of the breath and dwell in the space between the clouds – awareness, a reflection of our true nature appearing in the mind. Continue reading →
Q: Should a person have compulsorily experienced nirvikalpa-samādhi in order to know that he has a mind which is prepared for jñāna? In other words, is experience of nirvikalpa-samādhi a must as a sādhana?
A (Venkat): Nirvikalpa-samAdhi is an experience of the absence of objects, for a finite period of time, which the experiencer eventually exits to re-perceive the world. As it is not permanent, it is not real. Any temporary experience that is witnessed cannot be a pre-requisite for j~nAna – since j~nAna is the permanent dissolution of the illusory I-thought.
“Abiding permanently in any of these samadhis, either savikalpa or nirvikalpa, is sahaja. What is body consciousness? It is the insentient body plus consciousness. Both of these must lie in another consciousness which is absolute and unaffected and which remains as it always is, with or without the body consciousness. What does it matter whether the body consciousness is lost or retained, provided one is holding on to that pure consciousness? Total absence of body consciousness has the advantage of making the samadhi more intense, although it makes no difference to the knowledge of the supreme.” – Sri Ramana MaharshiContinue reading →
This is the mental ‘occurrence’ which supposedly causes enlightenment. It is the vRRitti (thought modification) in the form of (AkAra) the formless or undivided (akhaNDa). (Personally, I no longer favor this view and will endeavor to find some quotations which show that it is not quite like this for most people!)
Please submit your quotes, short extracts or personal blogs on this topic!
Attention surely is timeless. If I am listening, I am all there. Being totally in the present, I am not thinking ‘about’. That may come afterwards. But in the moment of giving attention, listening, I am there, in the present; I am Presence itself. I am not in time; the past plays no part whatsoever in giving attention, in being aware, nor does speculation on the future. If I have even the least expectation (as desire or fear), I am not fully attentive but indulge myself within the realm of thought. I am indeed totally fulfilled in the moment. What prevails is a state of total freedom, and death has lost its sting.
It looks to me that we are besieged by two genres of thought.
When I say two genres, I do not mean the yes- no- thoughts or being double minded and undecided in our view about things. Nor do I refer to split personalities. Actually it has NOTHING to do about the “content” of the thought. What I have in mind is about the suite or family of thoughts – based on their possible source of origin (real or apparent).
As advaitin-s, we all know that everything is a manifestation of brahman. We shall use the term ‘Universal Self’ for It. The Universal Self is kUTastha – does not do or intend to do anything. It is changeless, actionless, eternal and It is Beingness-Consciousness-Infinity. We also know that we act, talk, walk, eat, breathe and live as an individual. We shall use the term ‘self’ for this separate entity. Continue reading →
Free Will by Sam Harris, Free Press, 2012, pp: 83, ISBN 978-1-4516-8340-0
I always wondered at the American marketing wizardry of bite-size chocolates and peanut butter cups that lure the consumers. If a book on a highly intriguing, tantalizing and no less controversial a subject like Free Will is presented in bite-size, even a die-hard Advaitin can hardly hold his temptation to take a bite! And I did.
Perhaps one should call it a long essay discussed under eight or so subheadings rather than a book. You hardly open the cover and right away, the text begins with “The question of free will touches nearly everything we care about” — no Intros, no Forewords, no time wasted. And then as suddenly, the author explodes the myth of ‘our viewing one another as autonomous persons, capable of free choice.’ He writes:
“If the scientific community were to declare free will an illusion, it would precipitate a culture war far more belligerent than one that has been waged on the subject of evolution. Without free will, sinners and criminals would be nothing more than poorly calibrated clock-work…… And those of us who work hard and follow the rules would not “deserve” our success in any deep sense. It is not an accident that most people find these conclusions abhorrent. The stakes are high.”
The stakes may be high; but Advaitins will surely cheer the author, Sam Harris, a Ph. D. in Neuroscience on those scientific declarations. Continue reading →
Yogavaasishta is a remarkable Advaitic text in many ways. It is at once a theoretical text and a practical Manual. It combines the abstruse Vedantic concepts of Non-duality with simple doable tips and presents them in an engrossing manner. Sage Vasishta often uses the technique of bringing home the most intricate philosophical point through a fictitious tale crafted on the spot with imaginary characters representing with high fidelitythe point to be illustrated in an unforgettable manner. One such story is of Kadamba Daasura**. It tells us about the untenability of the perceived world. Daasura is shown to be living on the last tender leaf of the topmost branch of a Kadamba tree (Anthocephelus – Latin name: Adina cordifolia) where sustenance for any being, leave alone a human, is impossible. Sage Vasishta intends to impress on us that the sustenance of a world (which we take to be real and functioning) to be equally impossible.
Daasura teaches his son that the world is a creature of the ‘thought’ that thinks it. Intent on ending the world, the son who is hardly in his early teens enquires what is thought and how thought itself originates and what are the means of annihilating the thoughts. Daasura’s response to these questions is very profound and a summary is presented below. Continue reading →