The World and the One ‘brahman’

mANDUkya Upanishad’ mantra 7 tells us that anything that is sensed, perceived, experienced or even thought about or conceptualized is not brahman. Consequently, Sages admit that “Advaita philosophy is incommunicable” (7, mANDUkya); “We do not know how to teach Advaita,” (1.3, kena). But at the same time, the Upanishadkars exhort us that “You should know It.”

Shankara too urges us in the Gita bhAShya (Ch 6, 9, 15.3, BGB;) and also at kaTha bhAShya that we should make every effort to attain the Knowledge of the Self in this life itself because “here alone it is possible to have a vision of the Self as clearly as (seeing) the face in a mirror, whereas this is not possible in other worlds apart from that of brahmA, which, however, is difficult to attain” (2.6.4, kaTha UB).

Hence, the teaching of Advaita philosophy is done adopting an apophatic approach, via negativa. It is the famous “na ( = not) (stated) iti ( = thus); not (stated) thus; na ( = not) (stated) iti ( = thus),” or netineti (2.3.6, BU); thus denying anything said about the Self is NOT It! Continue reading

Shankara Answers Beginner’s Questions

Shankara bhagavat pAda, a committed and earnest Commentator (bhAShyakAra) that he was, rarely, if at all, deviates from the immediate text on which he was making his explanatory observations. Fortunately for us, he relaxes, with compassion, his own self-imposed constraints of being a strict commentator and provides a detailed exposition on the subject matter occasionally. One of such instances is his 27-page long commentary at 2.1.20, brihadAraNyaka Upanishad (BUB). It comes before taking up the dense and meaty philosophical discussions on “the Highest Wisdom of Vedanta” beginning at the Fourth section, called Maitreyi brahmaNa. He provides answers to many typical questions that some one new to Advaita philosophy is likely to ask. I trust Shanakara’s replies help satiate the curiosity of the novice. We shall recapitulate below some of the questions and Shankara’s answers thereon. Continue reading

mAyA an attribute of Brahman

Q: Can Advaitins explain how Maya can be an attribute of the supposedly attributeless Brahman? Why was the creation needed if Brahman alone existed? What is Ishwara?

A (Martin):

 1) Maya is not an attribute of Brahman which, as you say, is attributeless. Maya is a diffuse, or polyvalent, concept that gives rise to much confusion, particularly by translating it as ‘illusion’ (see below). This concept can be viewed from psychological, epistemological, and ontological perspectives. Purely from the standpoint of Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta, Maya is tied in with the concept of ‘ignorance’ (avidya), which is prior to it; that is, avidya is the necessary condition for Maya. Once ignorance has been annihilated by knowledge, Maya disappears. That means that from the higher (of two) point of view, Maya does not exist. This is contrary to most post-Shankara authors, with the exception of Suresvara, who taught that Maya is a positive entity or force. If that were the case, how could a positive entity be removed by knowledge? Swami Satchidanandendra, practically alone in the 20th Cent. has defended the former, Shankarian position.

Maya can also be viewed as the power or energy of Brahman to create the world, and etymologically the word comes from ‘magic/magician’.

But note that the (phenomenal) world is not pure illusion, as stated above, but mithya (relatively real)

2) ‘Brahman alone is real. The world is appearance. The world is not other than Brahman’ (one of the ‘great sayings’ – mahavakya).

3) Ishvara is Brahman considered as creator and ‘personal’ by those who need or are proclive to a devotional relationship (creator/creature). It is also known as ‘saguna brahman’ (Brahman with attributes), as (apparently) different from ‘nirguna Brahman’.

Supreme Consummation of Self-knowledge (in Summary)

[This Article, “The Supreme Consummation of Self-knowledge (in Summary)” is about the aspect of “How To” attain the unbroken abidance in/as the Self by a mature and ready seeker. It is (mainly) based on Shankara’s explanation at 18.50, BGB.]

Q: Of what nature is the Self-knowledge?

A: Of the same nature as the Self.
(In other words, Self and Self-knowledge are one and the same).

Q: Of what nature is the Self ?

A: Of the (same) nature as described by Lord Krishna (in the Bhagavad-Gita) and (also) as mentioned in the Upanishads.

Q: But the Upanishads say that the Supreme Self is formless and featureless. For example, 

अरूपम् (formless)  — 1.3.15, kaTha Upanishad. 

Further, it is also said that the Self is not an ‘object’ that is available for perception:

न सन्दृशे तिष्ठति रूपमस्य न चक्षुषा पश्यति कश्चनैनम् (His form does not exist within the range of vision; nobody sees Him with the eye)  – 4.20, Shwetaswatara; 2.3.9, kaTha.

In addition, the Self is,

अशब्दमस्पर्शम् (soundless, not touchable)  –  1.3.15, kaTha.

The Self and the cognition (*) there of being formless and intangible, how can there be constant consummation on the Self? Continue reading

mANDUkya upaniShad Part 10

*** Read Part 9 ***

Mantra 9 (and kArikA K1.19)

जागरितस्थानो वैश्वानरोऽकारः प्रथमा मात्रऽऽप्तेरादिमत्त्वाद्वाऽऽप्नोति ह वै सर्वान् कामानादिश्च भवति य एवं वेद ॥ ९ ।

jAgaritasthAno vaishvAnaro.akAraH prathamA mAtra.a.apteraadimattvaadvA.a.apnoti ha vai sarvAn kAmAnAdishcha bhavati ya evaM veda || 9 ||

prathamA mAtra – The first mAtra (of OM)
akAraH – the letter ‘a’
vaishvAnara – is vaishvAnara
jAgarita sthAno – the waking state
ApteH – (because of both having the characteristics of) being all-pervasive
va – or
AdimatvatvAt – being the first.

ya evam veda – Whoever knows this
ha vai Apnoti –  certainly obtains
sarvan kAmAn – all desirable objects
cha – and
AdiH bhavati – becomes the first.

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Appearance and Substance

Perhaps it may not be far from truth to say that many people hold the idea that the world is an “appearance” and the real “substance” behind is the featureless and formless ‘brahman.’ Several teachers too pronounce that ‘The world is the manifest form of brahman.’ It is presented that ‘brahman‘ is “the ‘as-though’ kAraNa” (cause) and the world is the kArya (effect).

“Most religions stop with a [that] description of the creator as pertaining to the intelligent cause for the universe. vedAnta goes one step further to define Ishvara as not only the intelligent cause or nimitta kAraNa, but also the material cause or upAdAna kAraNa as well. We thus have an improved definition for Ishvara as ‘jagat kAraNam IshvaraH’, where kAraNam or cause involves undifferentiable intelligent and material cause (abhinna nimitta upAdAna kAraNa).” [Please see here ] Continue reading

Shri Atmananda (Part 2)

The second of a two-part article by Philip Renard, about the Direct Path master, Atmananda Krishna Menon.

*** Read Part 1 ***

And so it goes on, in a sense, throughout the book. Is this confusing? At first it may seem so, but by really reading what the teacher says, really understanding what the meaning of the distinction is, and what is true in the ultimate sense (which means not being able to separate anymore because the ‘substance’ that makes up the objects being noticed as such), you will be able to see the value of this dance. If you never have noticed consciousness itself (often rightly capitalized as ‘Consciousness’) because it is never an object, it is very useful that you are being pointed out that consciousness itself can indeed be recognized and realized. Without being pointed out, it is possible that you keep looking over consciousness itself because of your habituation to objects. Atmananda himself says the following about the apparent two approaches:

During the period of preliminary investigations in the study of Vedanta, you are asked to try to separate body and mind from the ‘I’-Principle. It is only to make you understand the relative values of the terms. Such a separation is not really possible; because, separated from the ‘I’-Principle, the other two do not exist at all. Therefore they are really nothing but the ‘I’-Principle. Vedanta asks you only to recognize this Truth.

   From the position of Consciousness one can say that everything else is not. But from no position can you say that Consciousness is not. Because one has to be conscious of the Truth of that very statement before making it. Therefore Consciousness stands as the background of even that statement.

   Hence even the statement that ‘Consciousness is not’ only proves that Consciousness IS. Therefore Consciousness is self-luminous and permanent.8

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Q.526 MithyA

Q: In your comment on the article by Arun Kumar, I was confused but intrigued that you define Mithya as something that simply explains the fundamental nature of the Brahman in life and its objects. I have not so far found any dictionary that defines mithya as anything other than false or illusory nor discovered any major scholar-philosopher who thought that Shankara viewed this world as a reality – as real as the ornament in your metaphor. You say that Shankara himself by discriminating between the waking and dream states suggests that novel meaning of Mithya. Is this your own interpretation or does Shankara himself link the ability to differentiate between those states to explain mithya?

You raise the example of how jumping into the middle of traffic would help one realize why this world is NOT an illusion… but it is not convincing enough. Potentially, both a person jumping in front of a truck and his consequent “death” could be perceived as illusory events too. The real question I have is whether Shankara himself viewed this world as illusion and used Mithya to convey that or not. And, if it was an illusion for him, what did he think the meaning of life was? If on the other hand life was Not an illusion to him, as you seem to suggest, what was its purpose in that case?

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mANDUkya upaniShad Part 3

Mantra 2

*** Read Part 2 ***

सर्वं ह्येतद् ब्रह्मायमात्मा ब्रह्म सोऽयमात्मा चतुष्पात् || 2 ||

sarvaM hyetad brahmAyamAtmA brahma so.ayamAtmA chatuShpAt

sarvaM etad – Everything here
hi – (is)certainly
brahma – brahman.
ayam AtmA – This Atman
brahma – (is) brahman.
saH ayam AtmA – This very Atman
chatuShpad (= chatur + pAda) – (has) four aspects.

Absolutely everything is brahman. This Atman is brahman and has four aspects.

In the first mantra, OM was said to be everything. (How this is so will be analyzed in mantras 8 – 12.) The Upanishad now asks what is the nature of this Self, Atman; mantras 2 – 7 make this enquiry.

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Q.523 Science and Reality

Q: Can we still hold that modern science is far from realizing the unreality of the world, the basic teaching of Advaita? (Quora)

A (Martin): Clearly, philosophical statements such as “the world is unreal”, “life is a dream “or “reality is spiritual” express not empirical but a priori propositions or enunciates. As such, they are independent of sense experience in that their truth or falsity is not determined by the facts of sense experience. Such statements can neither be confirmed nor confuted by sense experience. Observation and experiment are simply irrelevant to their truth or falsity. Thus, they fall outside the realm of the empirical sciences, whatever be the speculations of individual scientists when assuming the role of members of the laity. Further, in the contexts in which they most often occur, such statements are not regarded as provisional truths subject to refutation or revision as in the sciences, but as absolute and irrefutable truths.