Mithya, Mythology, and Metaphysics – an exchange

(Under part 4 of my ‘Review of article on Shankara’ 9 ‘thoughts’ or
comments were made, the last one on May 8th, 2013. Following that,
Peter and I continued our dialogue, which took us in different
directions, resulting in a 12 page thread. We both thought that our discussion might merit publication in AV. Quite sadly, Peter passed away one week after he wrote his last reply within our exchange. This is the first part, to be followed sequentially).

Martin (M) – How interesting that myths (different from ‘mithya’) give rise to different interpretations, perhaps mostly due to one’s cultural background and held views on life, etc. When you say ‘literal’, in this context, I understand something like an interesting story, mostly for children; but if myths say something about man’s life, his struggles, aspirations, etc., how can they be just nice, imaginative stories? (‘literal’ x2 is for those who believe – in the recounting of The Garden of Paradise – that that is how it actually happened; I don’t count you among them, of course).

 About your points (Peter’s (P):

  1. Right, not unity, but union (Creator/creature, lover/beloved, etc.); therefore bhakti, with its bond of love and surrender on the part of the creature – which can lead to a state of unity (advaita) once Knowlege or realization has dawn. No?
  1. a) “with us” is not plural; it is first person singular when the subject is God, a king, or someone in authority speaking for the law or from a chair of authority, which is impersonal. If you have the KJ version of the Bible, it reads: “man is become as one of us, to know good and evil” Gen., 3, 22.

      b) P: “Before Adam was ‘one with’ God, (i.e. before he knew right from wrong), what was he?” My (M) answer: ‘one of us’ sounds rather sarcastic, No? Yes, man knew duality by his ‘individualistic’ act, but was not like God; this cannot be the meaning of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). With the New Testament, things are no longer oppressive, based on fear and ‘the law’: Jesus brings liberation through knowledge, love, and compassion, and man is seen as theomorphic (capable of assuming his divinity in Oneness). cf.  St. John’s Gospel and the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas.

  1. a) M: The serpent “presaging Jesus”? At one time Jesus said: “you must be wise as serpents”, meaning to discriminate between acts (and people), but, other than that, the serpent is ‘the Tempter’ and the representation of evil (egotism?), and henceforth there will be enmity between it and mankind (“it  shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Gen., 3,15).

        b) P: “what’s wrong with having the knowledge of right and wrong?”.

M: ‘Seeing’ duality everywhere*, precisely – the pairs of opposites – and thus becoming judgmental and stuck in that limited, constricted vision, the consequence being the loss of Paradise in union with God. “You will be like gods” was the promise of the serpent. Duality (plurality) pertains to the dimension of God or Ishvara (‘I’ and ‘other’, heavens, hells, etc.). Right and wrong belong to thinking (vritti/s), as you well know, and it can be a problem unless you just observe it as such (i.e., an object for Consciousness). Did the couple know that they were immortal? I don’t know, and probably they did not know either. Continue reading

Logical enquiry into ‘Who I am’ (1/4)

maskAt some time or other in every person’s life the question of identity arises in some form or other. For most people, the answer seems pretty obvious: I am a unique human being, a man/woman, in this body, with these parents, these siblings, and these ideas. I am defined by my wealth, my social class, my education, my tastes, my network of contacts, my race. I am shaped by my biology, my physiology, my psychology. Anything beyond this is ‘philosophy’, and one thing I am not is a philosopher!

If, however, people knew the life-changing value in finding the true answer to the question, ‘Who am I?’ they might be prepared to dig a bit deeper for that truth. Vedānta gives us a very good reason to pursue the question. It says that because we do not know the truth of who we are, we take ourselves to be an amalgam of the body and mind (thus pretty much confirming the majority view). The inevitable consequence of identifying with something that is as changeable, limited and vulnerable as the body and mind, is that ‘I’ is also taken to be changeable, limited and vulnerable. And it consumes a whole life of sweat and slog in trying to build up adequate self-protection. Continue reading

Reincarnation – Q.335

Q: As you know, all spiritual traditions in Tibet, many in India and even the early Christians took reincarnation for granted.

 In Advaita however the idea is blatantly refused. Balsekar says, since there is no ego and the idea of an individual person is an illusion, what or who is there to be reincarnated?

Does this mean that the other traditions are wrong or is it a question of understanding, meaning that the people who argue differently do so from a different level of understanding / consciousness? Continue reading

Different Teachings – Q.334

Q: How do you explain two enlightened people (in the advaitic sense) that have different teachings?  For instance, I think someone like Greg Goode and Swami Dayananda would disagree on many things despite both arguably being enlightened. For example let’s take Greg’s essay on idealism (  

 I don’t think Swami Dayananda-ji will agree with the core position that an object doesn’t exist unless perceived.   In fact I have asked Swami Tadatmananda this question (in the form of ‘does a rock exist before someone sees it?’) and he answered in the traditional sense saying that it does.   From your point of view does this still fall under the umbrella of differences in teaching style?    I also believe we could get a debate between the two on the topic of Ishvara and freewill. Continue reading

Kaṭha Upaniṣad Review

The Kaṭhopaniṣad with Śaṅkarabhāṣyam
Based on Swami Paramārthānanda’s lecture
Compiled by Divyajñāna Sarojini Varadarājan

The main teaching of the Kaṭha Upaniṣad is Death’s response to the request by a young seeker, Naciketas, for Self-knowledge. Any serious student of advaita will want to know the answer as this is our own question too: using logic we may well be able to arrive at what we are not, but we still need to know clearly what we are. For this reason this book by Smt. Sarojini Varadarajan, based on Swami Paramarthananda’s traditional unfoldment of the Upaniṣad and Śaṅkara’s commentary theron, is a valuable addition to any seeker’s library.

One way of approaching this Upaniṣad is to note that Naciketas standing at Death’s door (literally) remained steady-minded enough to press his request for Self-knowledge – in spite of Death’s initial resistance to answer. And, by the end of the Upaniṣad, after Death finally gave in to the young man’s request, Naciketas ‘became pure and immortal’. Is it really possible that we can also reach the same point by closely following the teaching that Naciketas hears, especially as we are living lives grounded in fear? Continue reading

Does practice make any difference? (Q. 315)

Q. Dennis–I have read your books( and appreciate them) and many books and tapes from many teachers on advaita and “neoadvaita” .  There have been glimpses and experiencing here in the last 15 years  resulting in much lightness in this life. The real freedom came when it was realized there was no more need to “decide” “who to listen to or follow” and “I” have followed them all.   I have one question which seems to separate your views from Parsons yet he, you and the others all state that “the bottom line is “nothing matters”  and whether or not an apparent person “gains” self knowledge makes not the slightest difference to reality-oneness.  The question is this: 

If the truth is ultimately only oneness always present, what difference does it make whether “I” as a separate individual meditates or doesn’t, “prepares myself for awakening or doesn’t etc, etc or does whatever “I” thinks it is doing??.  If I rob a store which seems to be out of the nature of this ‘I’,  why do you( or the traditional Advaita scriptures) say this is “dangerous” if not prepared??.  Whatever apparently  happens is going to apparently happen anyway with no “doing” by “me”  The freedom here has come from having intuitive trust and let life guide. Continue reading

What is traditional advaita?

My teacher is a teacher of traditional advaita. I believe she is the only such teacher in the UK, if not in Europe. Some might look at what she teaches – Gita, Upaniṣads, Prakaraṇa Granthas (philosophical treatise) and stotras (devotional hymns) – and believe that they too, not only follow traditional advaita (because they too read these texts), but also have an additional, and arguably more powerful, key in the form of meditation or yoga or other such practice. Despite the surface similarity, however, I stick to my opening claim and will attempt to open up clear blue water between the teacher of traditional advaita simply by making clear what is mean by ‘traditional advaita’.

Two words set apart the traditional approach to teaching advaita from all others: sampradāya and pramāna.

Sampradāya is the established approach to unfolding the vision of Vedanta transmitted from one teacher to another. It is the traditional interpretation with a traceable lineage of teachers. Continue reading