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!
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: 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.
Q: Talks that I have been listening to use the terms ‘witness’, ‘eternal witness’ and other synonyms. Is pure consciousness or Brahman this ‘Ultimate Witness’? If so, obviously, it can’t witness unless there’s a manifesting medium to do so, correct? But ‘to witness’ implies duality. Also, it is often said that Brahman is transcendent or beyond the body-mind, and something other than the mithyA universe. So that means, again, that it can witness everything.
How do you reconcile the fact that knowledge is in the mind with Brahman being the witness beyond and apart from it? And how does this fit in with non-duality – there can’t be two things?
A: The effective explanation is ‘adhyAropa-apavAda’. The reality is that there is only non-dual Brahman or Consciousness. You begin with the conviction that the world is real, you are your body etc. Advaita gradually disabuses you of such notions by use of prakriyA-s (teaching ‘ploys’) such as analysis of the states of consciousness, cause and effect, real and unreal, seer and seen. Each of these takes you a little further in understanding. But, once the particular example has served its purpose, it is discarded. Analogy and metaphor can only take one so far; they are means to an end. Metaphors to illustrate this are leaving the boat behind once you have crossed the river, and letting go of the pole in pole vaulting before you go over the bar.
Shankara differentiates what might be called ‘ordinary’ or ‘intellectual’ knowledge (j~nAna) from ‘transformative’ knowledge (vij~nAna). The knowledge becomes transforming – i.e. making it efficacious in conveying the status of jIvanmukti – when the gaining of it has been preceded by successful sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti. In his bhAShya on muNDaka upaniShad 2.2.8, he says:
“Wise, discriminatory people (dhIrA) see through vij~nAna; vij~nAna is a special (vishihtena) knowledge (j~nAna), born out of the teaching of shAstra and AchArya (shAstra AchArya upadesha janitam), and received in a specially prepared mind, born (udbhutena) out of total detachment (vairAgya), having control of inner and outer organs (shama and dama), and which is therefore capable of upAsanA to begin with and later of nididhyAsana which together are called meditation (dhyAna). Through such a vij~nAna, wise people realize that the nature of the Atman (Atmatatvam) is non-different from the nature of Brahman (brahmatatvam)…” (Ref. 10)
‘Who am I?’ in communication
Who are we speaking of when we use the words ‘I’ and ‘you’ in writing and speech?
Since we are Advaitins, there are actually three possibilities:
‘I’ could mean Atman/Brahman, if used from the ‘as if’ pAramArthika viewpoint;
‘I’ could mean the reflected Consciousness (chidAbhAsa);
‘I’ could mean the usually understood ‘named person’.
Q: I feel that reading and writing feeds the mind. But, when I am in Presence I don’t feel the need to read and don’t really have anything to say. For me this is a problem, since reading and writing are for me pleasant activities.
So my question is whether it is possible to read and write while respecting and being in Presence, or is it direct contract with no-thought Presence that is necessary?
A: ‘Presence’ is not a term that is used in traditional Advaita. I assume that you mean just witnessing what is happening without mental commentary and without any investment in the outcome, whether ‘favorable’ or ‘unfavorable’. This practice is just that – a practice, helping you to become proficient at controlling the mind. Mental discipline and control of the senses are required to a degree, along with discrimination and dispassion before you can (successfully) undertake the real activities of Advaita. These are listening to a qualified teacher explain the scriptures and then asking questions to clarify any doubts. The end result is to gain knowledge about your Self and reality. That is enlightenment. Just ‘being present’ will never give enlightenment, no matter how long or how frequently you stay there.
Introduction Verse 3.42 of the Bhagavad Gita says that the sense organs are superior to the gross body, the mind is superior to the sense organs, the intellect is superior to the mind and the Atma is superior to the intellect. Superiority also refers to subtlety. Our interest is in the mind, the intellect and finally in the Atma. There are five fundamental elements called panchabhutas. They are space, air, earth, water and fire. The subtle body is made of panchbhutas in their primary or nascent forms. When the panchabhutas undergo a process of compounding among themselves, the gross or physical body emerges. The mind and the intellect belong to the category of subtle body, i.e., made of the five elements in primary form. The Atma is beyond the panchabhutas because It is not a thing or physical entity.
We all know that we are a conscious entity. We also feel so. We are also certain that consciousness is different from the gross body. However we are not so sure whether the consciousness is different from the mind because consciousness ordinarily gets mixed up with the mind. Vedanta says that the consciousness is different from the mind. It is based on the axiom that the subject (observer) is different from the object (observed). This is Seer-Seen discrimination (Drg Drisya Viveka). Continue reading →
Why cannot the witness consciousness be a 5th part of the mind, Ego (changing subject), Emotion, Reasoning, Memory and the witness (unchanging subject)? In other words why cant the witness Atman be limited?
Why cannot there be multiple witness consciousness or multiple Atman’s.
Can each Mithya have different Satyam? To me it is quite a big jump to say Satyam of everything is one and the same. I can get that everything can be reduced to atoms and particles but beyond that it is difficult to conclude that there is one Satyam?
Q: I have been reading Vedanta for a few years and have a question. We are always playing some form of role such as Employee, Worker, Husband, Son etc. My understanding is that Advaita tells us to let the role do its own work but you remain who you are which is the ‘Absolute witness’.
How do we practice this in our daily life? It seems difficult to have the same kind of energy when you are in that state.
A: What you are speaking of is karma yoga as preparation for j~nAna yoga. The aim in daily life is to respond appropriately to whatever is in front of you, perform the task with attention and do not be attached to the results. This is all a part of the process of acquiring discrimination, mental discipline and detachment. You need these in order to study Advaita (by listening to a qualified teacher explain the scriptures). It is not the purpose of any of this to acquire ‘good energy’ (whatever that means). Continue reading →