Q.521 External Objects

Q: Do objects exist independently? For example, if one is not seeing the moon then does moon exist or not?

A: From the perspective of absolute reality (paramArtha), of course there is no problem; no question or answer! There is only Brahman; no creation and no objects. But I assume that your question relates to empirical reality (vyavahAra). Here, Advaita teaches that Ishvara governs the ‘creation’, setting and maintaining the physical laws that apply to the universe and the karmic laws that apply to the jIva-s. It is only some post-Shankara philosophers who try to make out that there is only one jIva so that, as soon as this jIva is enlightened, the apparent creation comes to an end. You can read all about the ‘world disappearing on enlightenment’ in the seemingly endless discussions we had on that topic beginning in 2020 (I think).

So, as regards your specific question, objects continue to exist when you go out of the room (for example). Otherwise, other jIva-s would not be able to enjoy them! Suppose that you go outside at night with a friend and both look at the moon. And suppose that you turn away but your friend doesn’t.  If the moon ceased to exist, so would your friend (who is also an object at the gross level).

Advaita is not subjective idealism. Objects are not ‘in the mind’ (although the names and forms that we give them ARE in the mind – hence we can see a rope as a snake). But the moon is not ‘real’ in an Advaitic sense; it is mithyA. The story of the sage and the wild elephant is relevant here. A seeker saw his guru run away when a rogue elephant charged. Afterwards he asked why his teacher had run when he would say that the elephant is mithyA. The teacher replied that the ‘running away’ was also mithyA. (At least, that is how I recall the story.)

Language and Color

Those people who regularly read my articles will know that, although my educational background is that of a scientist, I frequently criticize science in respect of its inability to say anything useful about the nature of reality. Because science can only operate by virtue of a subject making observations on an object, it only has validity in the empirical realm (vyavahAra). Nevertheless, I do acknowledge that science can sometimes throw light upon the thorny topics that we frequently encounter in advaita.  An obvious example of this is the findings of Benjamin Libet and Daniel Wegner regarding free will, about which I have written several times. Accordingly, I was very interested to hear recently (on a BBC Horizon program about how we perceive color) that scientists have carried out experiments which demonstrate that language affects the way in which we see the world.

I did not expect to see anything relating to advaita in the program but, when they described an experiment concerning the Himba tribe of northern Namibia, it quickly became clear that this was relevant to the vAchArambhaNa sutras from the Chandogya Upanishad.  

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Q. 514 Some thoughts on ‘Truth’

Q: Are true and false relative opposites, like fast and slow?

A: Wow – a difficult one!

To some extent, I think both depend upon context (so would have to be ‘relative’). Fast and slow are a good analogy. These still have an ‘absolute’ sense: ‘Fast’ (with capital letter) must be speed of light; ‘Slow’ must be stationary. Similarly, most statements can be construed as true or false ‘to a degree’, can’t they?

Here is the opening from the Philosophy Foundation website on ‘Truth-Falsity’:

Are these a) true, b) false, c) neither or d) both?

    ‘I am 20.

    ‘I am me.’

    ‘The Simpsons is a really good programme.’

    ‘I am shopping in Lewisham’ (when the speaker is shopping, but not in Lewisham)

    ‘This cake is made of jelly’ (when it is half jelly and half something else).

    ‘2 + 2 = 4’

    ‘Unicorns only have one horn.’

    ’10 grains of sand make a heap.’

    ‘This sentence is false.’

    ‘Aliens exist.’

Makes you think, doesn’t it?!

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Q.513 Negating the negator

Q: You wrote: We say ‘neti, neti’ not just to all of the presumed objects in the world, and to our body and mind, but also to the ahaMkAra ‘I’ that relates to this body-mind. The ‘I’ that is able to do this is the ‘witness’. It is the ‘negator’ that is left when everything else has been negated.

You also wrote: The ‘witness’ also has to be negated intellectually …(Answer to Q.402)

The first passage seems to imply that the witness cannot be negated, but that contradicts the second quote. Could you please clarify?

A: The point is that the entire teaching of Advaita necessarily takes place in vyavahAra. The ‘neti, neti’ practice is negating all of names and forms with which we identify and saying that it is the ultimate ‘identifier’ that we really are. But an ‘identifier’ is still a vyAvahArika concept. We have to recognize this fact (intellectually) and ‘as if’ negate the idea of witness too. Ultimately, the intellect has to ‘let go’ of everything, including ideas about Brahman and Non-Duality, in order to appreciate the final reality. But we know that this is still an intellectual exercise in vyavahAra, and (in vyAvahArika reality) we cannot negate the witness!

Neo – Advaita & Traditional Advaita

Martin. In this seeming world of so-called saṃsāra (or vyavahāra) language and understanding, is there an entity or entities that understand, judge, etc.?

Neo-Advaitin. This is simply ‘life’. ‘Being’ appears to talk to ‘Being’ about things that ‘Being’ already knows (and need no reminding). It is just ‘playing’.

Since there is never an actual central ‘self,’ there could be no separate entity that asks a question or makes a reply. There is no separate entity that asks or answers. It is simply Life answering Itself.

But it seems that you don’t get this, or are not able to discuss it without going back into concepts and the need to find the correct label to assign, whether that is ‘nihilism’, ‘Advaita Vedanta’, ‘spontaneously self-realized’, ‘abhāsa’, etc. I suggest you drop all that, all those presumed ‘things you know.’ Freedom lies in the unknowing, the moment-by-moment un-nameable, not in the knowledge, information, and labels that the ‘mind’ thinks it has gathered. Who is the ‘you’ called ‘Martin’ writing this question?

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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)?
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Q. 497 Knowledge and Understanding

Q: Knowledge, which is in or of the mind or intellect, must ultimately be given up. So really, is it knowledge or just ‘pointers’ to the truth of things? Like the pole vaulter letting go of the pole to get over the bar, the mind must be given up or let go of, which includes the knowledge. So really, knowledge isn’t the key or final secret. Simply abiding as Consciousness (what we really are), is the real point of all of this. 

And, witnessing seems to be of two ‘kinds’:
. Subject-object witnessing the normal person does all day
. The non-experiencing witness, which is the pure Consciousness that sees all within itself. I.e. like the analogy of the movie screen and movie. 

Really, it can be summed up by the fact that knowledge is not the key but only a pointer to ‘what really is’, which is the non-experiencing Witness. 

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Q.451 Nothing to be done?

Q: After reading and listening to non-duality teachers I got to know that there is nothing that can be done; there is nothing to attain and nothing to achieve. Whatever ‘is’, simply is.

So what should we do actually? After knowing this truth how should we live our life? Earlier I wanted to do sAdhana to attain self-realization and enlightenment. Now I have understood that it is the ego which is asking that.

Now in my life I have a feeling that, whatever activity I undertake, it’s just about keeping my mind and body engaged. Be it any activity – reading a book, doing meditation, working at the office – I feel that there is a separation between ‘I’ and the ‘mind’. When an activity or any kind of work starts, then the Mind and body are involved in it but I am separate from all of them. When the activity finishes, I again have my body and mind available to be engaged in another activity.

A: You seem not to be differentiating between absolute and empirical reality (paramArtha and vyavahAra). From the absolute viewpoint, there is only Brahman so that doing, enjoying, knowing etc. have no meaning – there is no one, no thing. But from the empirical perspective – from your personal viewpoint – there is a world and people. And there are j~nAnI-s and aj~nAnI-s (people who know the truth and those who do not). If you do not know the truth, you will suffer in life, so what can (and should!) be done is to find out the truth: that who-you-really-are is Brahman. Of course it is the ego that wants to do this but this desire is the one desire that is not only permissible, it should be encouraged!

Once your mind truly and irrevocably knows the truth (this is the meaning of being ‘enlightened’), you can then do whatever happens to be your svadharma or ‘calling’. This may just be carrying on doing your everyday job, living a family life, or whatever. But you may need to continue nididhyAsana in the form of study, reading, teaching, discussing Advaita so that the Self-knowledge is consolidated and you benefit from peace and happiness etc. for the remainder of the jIva’s life.

Q.494 Brahman and the World

Q: There is potential confusion between ‘knowing about it’ and actually ‘being it’; between ‘self-realization’ and ‘self-actualization’. ‘Knowing about it’ is in the mind, whereas ‘being it’ has nothing to do with the mind. Along these lines is why Nisargadatta always said that who-we-really are is prior to the body-mind and Consciousness and to leave them alone.

What are your thoughts about all this?

A: Basically, we are already Brahman. The problem is that we do not know it. Remove the ignorance and we realize the truth. You cannot ‘experience’ or ‘perceive’ Brahman. You can only realize that we are it. Hence, the term ‘anubhava’ is misunderstood and modern teachers have been propagating a misunderstanding of the teaching. The term ‘self-actualization’ is definitely a modern one, I think, and can mean nothing. How can you ‘make actual’ what is already the case? Continue reading

Q.491 Individuality and the world

Q: Does individuality survive enlightenment? In other words, putting aside any genetic differences, age, etc., would 50 realized people act the same in the same environment? Would they have the same preference for food, clothes, etc?

If not, why not? It seems that If the ego is completely destroyed, and a soul does not exist, and a person is in a permanent state of enlightenment, there wouldn’t be any difference between any of them. (My definition of an ego includes all past experiences.)

In addition, people often say something like, “I always wanted to do that,” or “Deep inside I always knew I would be a doctor or a scientist,” etc. What is that? Where does this “knowing” come from? Is it just an ego playing its games? 

Thank you, I appreciate your help. Your books are really great. I’ve enjoyed reading them.

A: Good questions! But, before I answer them, you have to always bear in mind that questions like these refer to the appearance, not the reality; vyavahAra, not paramArtha. In reality, no one has ever been born; there is no ‘creation’; there is only Brahman. (I’m assuming from what you say that you have read ‘A-U-M’, in which case you will be happy with this!) So the answers are academic, in line with traditional Advaita, but are all mithyA in reality.  Continue reading