‘Tipping Point’ in Advaita Vedanta

Question:  “I’m curious what is the ‘Tipping Point’ in the Advaita philosophy.”
Just as it is easier to say what the Self is apophatically, perhaps, the “Tipping point in Advaita” too can be expressed only by stating what it cannot be!

4.4.5, BU clearly establishes how everything, including objects, actions, interactions, thoughts, emotions, feelings etc. etc., in short our entire ‘perceptual knowledgebase’ gleaned from the time-space-causational world we are familiar with and live in, is merely upahita caitanya (conditioned Consciousness).

Using the illustration of a khilya (a finite lump) of saindhava (salt) dissolving back into the ocean waters, Sage Yajnavalkya explains to his wife that the “ending of the ‘particularized consciousness’ itself is Liberation” (I.e. the end point of Vedantic pursuit).  When the individual, similarly, loses his/her sense of separation (khilyatva), s/he does not survive to tell us what the “Residuum is like” after the deliquescence (pravilApana) — see 2.4.12, BU and bhAShya there on.

Likewise, the perfect ending of the sense of separation without even a trace of the dehAtmabuddhi etc. (i.e. ‘I am this body or mind’), can be said to be really real Realization. One name given to it is “sadyomukti.”

To illustrate a real life example of one who attained sadyomukti, we may consider the case of Sage Yajnavalkya himself.

How does his teaching end? Or what happens at the end of instructing his wife about Atma jnAna (Knowledge of the Self)?

As 4.5.15, BU and bhAShya tell us, the Sage just, simply, “left” after the teaching is completed.
No information on where he went is available; nor any forwarding address is mentioned. Nothing was revealed with regard to his gross body or subtle body, where it got its next meal and so on. It appears as though the time-space causational world, which is the result of ignorance, simply ceased for him!

The scripture does not give a lecture on “Ignorance goes, but mAyA remains” or impute “bAdhitAnuvRtti,” thankfully at that point.

From elsewhere in the shruti, we can gather that only One uniform homogeneous undivided formless and featureless vijnAnaghana (Mass of Consciousness) beyond even hunger and thirst remains once the Supreme Self is “realized” without any delusion. That is the final “Tipping Point” in Advaita Vedanta.

[May also see: “Post-Enlightenment Perception“]

14 thoughts on “‘Tipping Point’ in Advaita Vedanta

  1. Dear Ramesam,

    Surely the purpose of the teaching is the teaching. Once that is finished, there is no further utility. What purpose would be served by telling us where the teacher went for his next meal or whatever?

    The point of my making this point is that the wording of this passage tells us nothing about the continuation of the world or not, whether for the teacher, the shishya or both. In fact, since we are reading and talking about this teaching, clearly it did not signal the end of the world…

    Best wishes,

  2. Dear Dennis,

    I am aware that you are yourself fully knowledgeable of the answer to your question. I presume that you raised it so that a casual reader may appreciate Shankara’s position on the point made by you. I attempt below to provide an answer from such a perspective.

    Shankara himself clarifies through several examples like “satiation” after eating food, absence of experiencing an external world during deep sleep, and so on, the “realization of the Self” too is known and understood from the pov of first person and not based on the third person’s view.

    I shall quote below an excerpt from Shankara’s commentary (that cites another example of exclusively first-person experience which will not be available as a third person evidence) from 4.3.21, BUB.

    “This is explained by the text. As the intended meaning is vividly realized through an illustration, it goes on to say: As in the world a man, fully embraced by his beloved wife, both desiring each other’s company, does not know anything at all, either external to himself, as, ‘This is something other than myself,’ or internal, as ‘I am this, or I am happy or miserable’— but he knows everything outside and inside when he is not embraced by her and is separated, and fails to know only during the embrace owing to the attainment of unity — so, like the example cited, does this infinite being, the individual self, who is separated (from the Supreme Self), like a lump of salt, through contact with a little of the elements (the body and organs) and enters this body and organs, like the reflection of the moon etc. in water and so forth, being fully embraced by, or unified with, the Supreme Self, his own real, natural, supremely effulgent self, and being identified with all, without the least break, not know anything at all, …” (Trans: Sw-M).

    Thus, while the world with all its travails and tribulations, miseries and occasional joys, afflictions and tApatraya-s (the three evils perpetuated by AdhyAtmika, Adhibhautika and Adhidaivika powers) may continue for the rest of us, the Self-realized individual will be in happy Union with the Supreme Self like a man united with his spouse and other examples given by Shankara.


  3. Dear Ramesam,

    You are mistaken – I do NOT agree with you. This extract is talking about how the suspension of ignorance during deep sleep means that we are no longer aware of the appearance of duality and are effectively ‘resolved’ into the non-dual reality. When we reawaken, we again see the world.

    On enlightenment, the ignorance is now dissolved instead of being merely suspended, and we know that the world is actually name and form of Brahman, DESPITE its continued appearance. It was the ignorance that “projected the idea of difference”, as Shankara-Madhavananda puts it in BUB 4.3.21.

    Best wishes,

  4. Hi Dennis

    I am not sure what you mean by “the world is actually name and form of Brahman”?

    1) I thought Brahman was formless, without parts, homogenous
    2) Gaudapada emphasises in many places in MK that the waking state is equivalent to the dream state and not in any way real.
    3) Do you have any Shankara references that support this?


  5. Hi Venkat,

    Reason is really good enough. We see the world, and even intereact with it – you are posting this question for example. Yet we accept that there is only Brahman. Hence, this world must be name and form of that Brahman.

    However, here are a couple for you:

    Praśṇa Upaniṣad Bhāṣya (6.3):

    We admit two aspects of one and the same unconditioned Ātman — one being conditioned by name and form on account of avidyā and the other being unconditioned in the absence of avidyā — Ātman is assumed as conditioned by name and form on account of ignorance because it is so talked of by śāstra for the purpose of bondage and liberation. In reality, it is one non-dual entity which is unconditioned, and which cannot be comprehended by the intellect of logicians; it is fearless and bliss (itself). There is no question of its being creator or enjoyer or its having any action, agency or fruit, as everything is non-different from that Ātman.

    And Brahmasūtra Bhāṣya (2.1.14):

    God conforms to the limiting adjuncts — name and form — created by nescience. And, within the domain of empirical existence, He rules it over the selves which identify themselves with the (individual) intellects and are called creatures, and which though identical with Himself, conform, like the spaces in pots etc., to the assemblages of bodies and senses created by name and form that are called up by nescience.

    Best wishes,

  6. P.S. That is the meaning of mithyA in the statement ‘brahma satyam, jaganmithyA etc.’ MithyA means ‘name and form of Brahman’.

  7. Hi Dennis,

    Your original comment was: “On enlightenment, the ignorance is now dissolved instead of being merely suspended, and we know that the world is actually name and form of Brahman”

    The references that you quote say that ‘name and form’ is created by ignorance. So when ignorance is dissolved, the ‘cause’ for name and form is no longer there.

    Therefore one can’t say the “world is actually name and form of Brahman”, because the world is a product of nescience, and Brahman is “one non-dual entity which is unconditioned”; and as BUB says elsewhere of Brahman homogenous, partless.

    It is like saying ignorance is actually Brahman. Sort of, but no.


  8. Hi Venkat,

    They are Shankara’s quotes – not mine. And I didn’t invent the concept of mithyA. How do you define it?

    Best wishes,

  9. Hi Dennis,

    Your original quote says that on enlightenment, you know that the world is actually name and form of Brahman.

    Sankara, in your cited quotes, is saying that name and form is created by ignorance. So the implication of Sankara, is that on enlightenment, when ignorance is dissolved, there can be no name and form (since they are a creation of ignorance; absent the cause there can be no effect).

    So it must be incorrect to say that the enlightened know that the world is name and form of Brahman, because that world, that name and form, is NOT actually Brahman, but ignorance, a superimposition.


  10. Hi Venkat,

    There is ONLY Brahman, ever. If there were actually a ‘thing’ called ignorance, that would have to be Brahman, too. In fact, it is just the name we give to ‘lack of knowledge’.

    The metaphor that corresponds with your description is the mirage. We think we see an oasis in the desert. We gain knowledge that it is actually sunlight being refracted through the changing density of air above the hot sand. But we still see the mirage after gaining this knowledge.

    The world is not ‘created’ by ignorance. It is always there; it is Brahman. Before enlightenment, we think that the separate things that we see are realities in their own right, just like the mirage water. Afterwards, we know that they are simply name and form of Brahman.

    Best wishes,

  11. Hi Dennis

    “[The world] is always there; it is Brahman . . . Afterwards, we know that they are simply name and form of Brahman”

    Your Sankara quote itself says name and form are created by nescience, not that name and form are actually Brahman.

    Further, BUB 2.1.20 clarifies this point:
    “For the Self has been ascertained to be homogeneous and unbroken consciousness, like a lump of salt, and there is the statement, ‘It should be realised in one form only’ (IV. iv. 20). IF THE SRUTI WANTED TO TEACH THAT BRAHMAN HAS DIVERSE ATTRIBUTES such as the origin of the universe, like a painted canvas, a tree, or an ocean, for instance, IT WOULD NOT CONCLUDE WITH STATEMENTS DESCRIBING IT TO BE HOMOGENEOUS LIKE A LUMP OF SALT, without interior or exterior . . . the Supreme Self is intrinsically without parts”

    “For the essential meaning of all the Upanishads is to remove all finite conceptions about Brahman. Therefore we must give up all such conceptions and know Brahman to be undifferentiated like the sky . . . Therefore all relative conditions in the transcendent Self are only possible through the limiting adjuncts of name and form. The relative conditions of the self is not inherent in it. It is not true, but erroneous, like the notion that a crystal is red or of any other colour owing to its association with limiting adjuncts such as a red cotton pad”

    So to summarise Sankara:
    1. There is only Brahman, consciousness, which is undifferentiated, homogeneous, without parts, like a lump of salt
    2. All relative conditions (ie the world) are only possible, because nescience has created limiting adjuncts of name and form.

    Since the world self-evidently consists of parts (names and forms) it cannot fulfil the description of Brahman, as a partless, homogeneous unity. It is a relative conception.

    So the world of names and forms cannot be Brahman but avidya, a superimposition. And the upanishads are silent on how / why avidya arose.


  12. Hi Venkat,

    Even Brahman does not ‘create’. How could something called ‘nescience’ create? Furthermore, if there were something called nescience, that would be (at least) two things, even before it started to create more things.

    The world is not an ‘attribute’ of Brahman. It IS Brahman. It is we who impose the name and form. I entirely agree that Brahman is actually “homogeneous and unbroken consciousness”. So is the world, in reality. (As it must be, since there is ONLY Brahman.) Knowing it as such is ‘enlightenment’. But knowing this need not (and does not) negate the appearance. (c.f. the mirage.)

    The Upanishads are silent about the origin of avidyā because there is no such entity. We should actually talk about lack of Self-knowledge. And that is provided through shravaņa manana nididhyāsana.

    Best wishes,

  13. Shri Andre Marques happened to post an excerpt from a 2013 publication yesterday at one of the FB Shankara Advaita Groups. It impacts directly on the topic of discussions here. So, I am copy-pasting his post below for the kind information for all:


    “The state of being the knower (pramātṛtva) is synonymous with jīvabhāva (the individual self). To negate (apavāda) its limitations, two methods (prakriyā) are employed: sākṣitva (Witness-Consciousness) and Sarvātmatva (universality of the Self). Pramātṛtva has two aspects: tripuṭi-rupa jñāna (knowledge involving the triad of knower, known, and knowing) and paricchinna-jñāna (limited knowledge). Sākṣitva is attributed to our true nature to negate the limitations of tripuṭi-rupa jñāna. Sarvātmatva is used to negate the limitations of our seemingly fragmented knowledge (paricchinna-jñāna).

    However, some people misunderstand this concept as follows: “First, one must realize the Ātman as the Witness or pratyagātman. But that is not enough. It is not the complete knowledge of Brahman because there are many Witnesses. Therefore, one must also realize that the Witness is one and the same for everyone, being the Witness of all. Only then does Sarvātmabhāva or Brahmabhava arise.”

    This understanding is incorrect because there is no need for two stages or two different interpretations. The Witness itself is Sarvātman. When sākṣitva is understood or intuitively experienced (anubhava), the Witness is naturally seen as Sarvātman. Sarvātman is not a separate principle from sākṣitva. Therefore, there is no additional step of knowing Sarvātman after realizing sākṣitva. Furthermore, there is no plurality of Witnesses. As the Śruti states, “sākṣī cetā kevalo nirguṇaśca” (Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad 6.11) meaning sākṣi is merely by itself without qualifications (kevala) and without a second (Advaita).
    Examining the error in the aforementioned pūrvapakṣa (prima facie view), we find that it considers the pramātṛ (knower) as the Witness after excluding the aspects of agency (kartṛtva) and experiencership (bhoktṛtva). This leads to the misconception of multiple Witnesses.

    Consequently, the third misunderstanding arises, which states that the nature of the Witness cannot be Sarvātman (the Self of all). Therefore, the pūrvapakṣin proposes an additional step of transcending Witness-Consciousness to become Sarvātman.

    However, the truth is that the act of [empirical] knowing that relies on another object, and individuality (paricchinnatva) are not two separate principles to be negated. They are merely two aspects of pramātṛtva. The term “sākṣī” negates the knowledge that involves the triad of knower, known, and knowing (tripuṭi), revealing knowledge that is free from any such limitations. The term “Sarvātman” eradicates the limitations of individuality.

    When sākṣitva negates the limitations of tripuṭi-jñāna, the limited individuality does not remain. If individuality (paricchinnatva) persists, then it cannot be considered a true sākṣī. When one aspect is negated, the other inevitably disappears because they are essentially one and the same. Therefore, when pramātṛtva is transcended, individuality also dissolves. Hence, sākṣitva itself is Sarvātmatva.

    — From Adhyatma Prakasha Magazine , Volume 82 – Issue 8: April 2013.

    Quote ends.


  14. Dear Ramesam,

    Might you possibly translate this into simple English and indicate its relevance to the discussion? Please note that I am not being sarcastic or provocative here but, for us non-Sanskrit scholars, it would otherwise require many read-throughs and I feel that some readers would therefore not bother. (I regret I must include myself amongst this number! – 😉 )

    Best wishes,

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.