Q.449 Definition of Consciousness

Q: Do you have the perfect definition of Consciousness as per Advaita Vedanta?

A: Traditional Advaita prefers to use ‘Brahman’ as referring to the absolute reality, although the aitareya upaniShad says ‘praj~nAnaM brahma’, which is translated as ‘Consciousness is Brahman’. Probably the most famous ‘definition’ (as far as that is possible) is the one in the Taittiriya Upanishad (2.1.1): satyam j~nAnam anantam brahma – Brahman is real/truth/existence – knowledge/consciousness – limitless.

And in 3.1.2, the same Upanishad says that one should strive to know that from which all these beings are born, that in which they live and exist, and that to which they return – that is Brahman.

Brahman is the sRRiShTi sthiti laya kAraNa – the cause of the creation, maintenance and destruction of everything.

And so on! There are lots of ‘pointers’ but no definition as such, as explained in the answers above.

Q: Maybe I’m asking about consciousness with a lower case ‘c’ – I just want to know how you would define that word.

A: Nothing special here. The Sanskrit word is ‘chit’. Swami Dayananda’s definition is ‘limitless self-effulgent awareness; the self-revealing’. The book ‘A-U-M’ tells you all about the ‘states of consciousness’ and that their ‘substratum’ is turIya. See the article I wrote about ‘states’ of consciousness (https://www.advaita-vision.org/states-of-consciousness-2-3-4-and-1-2/).

Consciousness, brahman and mokSha

The taittirIya Upanishad explains brahman as:

सत्यं ज्ञानमनन्तं ब्रह्म ।  — 2.1.1, taittirIya upa.

[Beingness, Knowingness and Infiniteness is brahman.]

Unending Beingness and Knowingness is the nature of brahman.

There are two endpoints for anything in this world — one is the beginning and the other is the ending. But brahman, The Knowingness, as the Upanishad says is Infinite, without limitations or edges or endpoints. It has neither a beginning (origination) nor an end (culmination).

From a common sense point of view, it may be argued that “Knowingness” cannot exist on Its own in the absence of a knower and something to be known. Can Knowingness ‘be’ in a vacuum? Is Its presence not dependent on a knower who would have been the locus for It? In the usual parlance, knowingness is that which interlinks the ‘knower’ with the ‘known.’ With the two end-members being absent, can ‘Knowingness’ exist on its own independent of the other two? Continue reading

How To Be Disembodied?

The Post on “The ‘I-am-realized’ Delusion – 5” said, quoting Shankara, towards its end, that “Disembodiedness is the intrinsic nature of Atman” and that is liberation. The immediate question that arises then is “How to be disembodied?”

Before we answer this question, it is necessary to be absolutely clear in our mind about who is asking this question and why. If the question is being asked on behalf of the body and the reason for asking is to get rid of the miseries, sorrows and pains that the body undergoes in the world, well, Advaita in general and disembodiment in particular, is not the solution. Does it mean that the body’s problems of disease, decay, hunger, destitution cannot be solved at all? One cannot say “No.” However, one has to look for some other routes to achieve that. But those routes will not lead one to ‘Liberation’ – freedom from being born in the world. Continue reading

From the Grossest to the Subtlest – 2/2

Part – 1

Narada climbs up the staircase from Name up to Spirit almost hopping and jumping spurred by his own enthusiasm and curiosity.   He asks his venerable teacher at each step after meditating, “What’s next?”  He, however, falls absolutely silent after meditation at the level of Spirit, the 15th itself. He has another flight of steps to take to reach the Ultimate, the Absolute!

Swami Krishnananda of the Divine Life Society tells us that the 7th chapter of the Upanishad expounds the magnificent doctrine of the bhuma, the Absolute, the plenum of Being, the fullness of Reality. But also cautions us that “As we go further and further in this chapter, we will find it is more and more difficult to understand the intention of the Upanishad. The instructions are very cryptic in their language. Even the Sanskrit language that is used is very archaic, giving way to various types of interpretations.” Though the words may look familiar, their meaning is significantly different and connote a much deeper sense. Continue reading

From the Grossest to the Subtlest – 1/2

Shankara opens his commentary on the 6th chapter of chAndogya with a very brief intro. bringing out the context of Svetaketu’s story and its relationship (sambandha) to the rest of the Upanishad. He says that the 6th chapter explains two important points, which are:

  1. “How this whole universe proceeds from, subsists in and becomes absorbed (or merged) into brahman because the seeker has been previously ASKED TO MEDITATE, free from all love and hate and being self-controlled, upon that universal brahman to be the source, sustainer and dissolver at 3.14.1 of the Upanishad”; and
  2. “How when the Knower of the Truth has eaten, the whole universe becomes satiated.”

Appropriately enough, after the completion of the 16 sections, at the end of the chapter, he makes the following concluding remarks:

Continue reading

On the Seer and the Seen

  Quoting from the talk of an Advaita teacher on the message of the aitareya Upanishad:

“It is Consciousness that impels us to feel hungry. It is Consciousness that impels the food to let itself be eaten. Consciousness propels us to perceive the world and It commands the world to be seen by us. Our seeing becomes meaningless if there is no world to be seen. The appearance of the world is meaningless if there is none as the seer. Both are impelled in their actions by the One Consciousness.   Continue reading

The Fires of Reincarnation

 

 

(Continued from – ‘Between Lives’)

To summarize then, the stages through which the jIva is said to go after death, and leading up to the next birth are as follows:

 

Location or ‘Fire’ (agni) Offering in the metaphorical sacrifice Result or phalam of the ‘cooking’
1. Heaven (svarga) water (jala) moon (soma)
2. Cloud (megha) moon (soma) rain (vRRiShTi)
3. Earth (bhUmi) rain (vRRiShTi) food (anna)
4. Male (puruSha) food (anna) seed in the male body (bIja)
5. Female (nArI) seed in the male body (bIja) the new baby (puruSha, sthUla sharIra)

Continue reading

Q. 422 loka-s – ‘planes’ of existence

Q: I’ve just started reading about advaita and Hinduism and wondered about the concept of loka-s. Are these physical or mental places or do they not really exist at all? What do Advaitins believe now, after 2000+ years of advancement of scientific knowledge?

A (Dennis): Advaita is a ‘gauged’ teaching – the teacher aims to address the present level of understanding of the student. This is why the seeker should always try to find a traditional teacher and should not merely attend random satsangs given by non-traditional teachers travelling around the world and probably staying in one location for no more than a week or two. A ‘course’ of traditional teaching may take a lifetime and would certainly be expected to continue for a number of years.

The way that it works is that the teacher provides an explanation that is suitable for the seeker at that time, and advances the latter’s understanding. Later, that explanation will be taken back and a more sophisticated one provided in its place. The methodology is called adhyAropa-apavAda. The teaching of loka-s etc is an ‘early’ one, and was aimed at Hindus who were used to worshipping gods, believing firmly in reincarnation and so on. Continue reading

Between Lives

I occasionally get asked questions about reincarnation, in respect of advaita. And the sort of answer that I usually give is along the lines of saying that who-we-really-are was not born and neither will it die. Accordingly, it is really a waste of time to worry about if, why and how, the unenlightened jIva navigates through saMsAra.

But there is a whole section in the Brahma Sutra  dealing with this somewhat abstruse, and seemingly ultimately irrelevant topic. It has some interest, and raises a few questions. So, for those who feel that they are doomed to return for at least another lifetime, here are some details about what the scriptures say is involved.

In the past, I had always assumed that the nature of the body into which a jIva is born in any given life is determined sometime between the events of procreation and birth. Not so! A rudimentary, ‘minute body’ is actually allocated at the time of the death of the previous body (according to the scriptures). This new gross body, along with the subtle and causal bodies, life forces (prANa-s), mind, sense organs and organs of action (j~nAnendriya-s and karmendriya-s), together with the accumulated saMskAra, then ‘travel’ (gati) to the next birth. Consciousness or chit does not travel, of course, since it already exists everywhere! Continue reading

adhyAsa (part 5)

Notes on Shankara’s examination of the nature of ‘Error’ in the introduction to the brahmasUtra.

Read Part 4 of the series

Proofs for adhyAsa  
There are two shruti-based pramANa-s for adhyAsa , the first is ‘postulated’ and the second ‘inferred’.

Postulated
The first takes an observed fact – for example I wake up one morning and find the road outside is flooded – and postulates an explanation for this – e.g. heavy rain occurred whilst I slept. Since I slept soundly, I have no direct knowledge of any rain but, without such a supposition, I have no reasonable way to explain the observed phenomenon. Other ‘unreasonable’ explanations may be put forward but the one suggested is the most plausible to the rational mind. In order to justify an improbable explanation, the more plausible must first be discredited. Since the observed fact can only be explained in this way, the explanation becomes a pramANa or valid means of knowledge. This pramANa is ‘perception-based’. as opposed to ‘shruti-based’. Shankara’s concept of adhyAsa is in fact a shruti-based ‘postulate’ since there is no mention of the subject in the veda-s themselves and it is in this way that it becomes a valid knowledge in its own right.

Just as this principle can be used to explain the flooded streets, shruti-based postulates can be used to explain that the ideas that we are mortal, doers and enjoyers are all due to error. For example, the kaThopaniShad (II.19) says ‘If the slayer thinks that he slays or if the slain thinks that he is slain, both of these know not. For It (the Self) neither slays nor is It slain.’ Also the gItA (V. 8) tells us that one who knows the truth understands that we do not act. We are not ‘doers’ or ‘killers’ or ‘killed’. Therefore, any statement such as ‘I am a doer’ or ‘I am an enjoyer’ must be an error, from shruti (and smR^iti) based postulate. Continue reading