Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Vivekachudamani - An Advaitic Prakarana Grantha of Shankaracharya

The Viveka Chudamani, literally "The Crest-Jewel of Wisdom" is a famous work by Adi Shankara that expounds advaita vedanta philosophy. Having written commentaries to the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Brahma Sutras Adi Shankara composed many sub-texts in simple Sanskrit, called Prakarana Granthas, with the objective of reaching the message of the Vedas and Upanishads to laypersons. The Viveka Chudamani, as the name implies, is the crown jewel of such texts.

Read Full Translation of Viveka Chudamani from the following links:

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Shivanandalahari (Sivanandalahari) - An advaitic Hymn by Adi Shankaracharya

Shivanandalahari (Sivanandalahari) is one of the greatest poetic prayer couched in an undercurrent of practical philosophy by Sri Adi Sankara Bhagawatpada. Unlike Soundrya Lahari, this stotra does not seem to have tantric implication. It is more simpler and enriched with several alankaras. Any one reading this and understanding it would get peace, steadfast mind and knowledge of God and Philosophy.

Prayer to the teacher

Imkara hrimkara rahasya yuktha
Srimkara gudartha Maha vibhoothya
Om kara marma prathi paadinibhyam,
Namo nama Sri Guru Padukabyam

I bow before the holy footwear of my teacher,
Who taught me the meaning of “OM”,
Which is the inner meaning of the sound “Srim”,
Being a holy combination of the sounds “Im” and “Hrim”.

Translation : Click here for full translation

Friday, February 22, 2008

Bhagavad Gita Sankara Bhashya

Shankaracharya's Bhagavad Gita Bhashyam

Translated by Swami Gambhirananda Presented here is the Bhagavad Gita with the commentary of Sri Adi Sankaracharya translated by Swami Gambhirananda. This is one of the most important and revered works of Sri Sankaracharya along with his commentaries on Brahma-Sutras and Upanishads. Together called as "Prastana Traya" bhashya, these commentaries by Sankaracharya forms the central basis for the Advaita philosophy that he propounded.

Read the Actual Bhashya Here: Shankaracharya's Bhagavad Gita Bhashyam

What is the nature of maya?

Is maya real or imaginary?

Let me first attempt to state the questioner's viewpoint. Unless mAyA is already present, neither concealment nor projection can take place. Is mAyA then coeval with brahman? Do they exist side by side? Does this not contradict the non-dual status of brahman? Where does mAyA operate? What is its base of operation? These questions raise very profound issues.

The base of activity of mAyA cannot be brahman because the latter is Absolute luminosity and there is no place in it for ignorance or darkness. Nor can the jIva be the base of operations of mAyA. For jIva itself cannot come into existence until mAyA has operated. There seems to be an irresolvable logical difficulty here.

But the difficulty will vanish once we realize that we are here making an implicit assumption that is not valid. We are actually assuming the prior reality of time and space before the appearance of mAyA. Otherwise we could not have asked the question: Where does mAyA operate? When does it come into existence? These questions are valid only if you have a frame of reference in time and space independent of mAyA. But time and space, says Shankara, are themselves creations of mAyA. (cf. `mAyA-kalpita-desha-kAla- kalanAt' in his dakshiNAmUrti-stotra, sloka no.4).

In fact, this is also the answer to the physicist's question: When did time originate? Time did not originate in a timeless frame because we would then be begging the question. The very fact that we are conscious of the passage of time is a consequence of mAyA. So questions such as, `Where does mAyA operate?' and `When did it start operating?' are not properly posed. Time and space cannot claim prior existence. It is therefore wrong to ask whether mAyA is prior to jIva or later than jIva. Ultimate Reality is beyond space and time. In the words of Swami Vivekananda, time, space and causation are like the glass through which the Absolute is seen. In the Absolute itself, there is neither space, nor time nor causation.

As in the field of modern physics, so in the field of vedanta, time and space are modes incidental to sense perception and should not be applied to what is trans-empirical. jIva and mAyA are both given a priori in our experience and we have to take them as such. They are anAdi (beginningless). The only relevant question that you can ask about them is about their nature and final destiny. Examination will show that mAyA is neither real nor unreal.

`I am ignorant' is a common expression, within anybody's experience. Hence mAyA is not completely unreal. But it disappears with the onset of knowledge. So it is not real either. Thus it is different from both the real and the unreal. In Sanskrit it is therefore called `sad-asad- vilakshaNa', meaning that it is different from both the real and the unreal. And for the same reason it is said to be `anirvachanIya', meaning, that which is undecidable or that which cannot be defined one way or the other. It is in this sense we say that the world of perception, the common world of experience, cannot be rejected out of hand as totally false, like the hare's horn or the lotus in the sky; nor can it be taken to be totally real because it suffers contradiction at a higher level of experience. It is real in the empirical sense and unreal in the absolute sense.

This is also the case with a dream. For the dreamer, the dream is real. The acceptance of the reality of the dream to the dreamer is the king-pin of Shankara's explanation of Advaita. He bases many of his arguments on this phenomenal reality of the dream. This reality, called `vyAvahArika-satyaM' is in between the total unreality - `asat' - of the barren mother, and the total reality - `sat' - of brahman. The dream and similarly the perceptible universe is neither `sat' nor `asat'. It is `mithyA'. The meaning of the word `mithyA' is not falsehood but comparative unreality. It is not total non-existence like hare's horn but it is midway between the absolute truth of brahman and the absolute falsehood of hare's horn.

There are actually different analogies to explain the peculiar relationship between brahman and the universe. The analogy that Shankara very often uses is the relationless relationship of the rope that is mistaken for the snake, because of poor lighting. The rope appears as a snake no doubt, but actually there is no snake there, ever. Even when it appeared to be there, it was not there. But the one who saw it did really get scared on `seeing' the snake and only when help came in the form of better lighting did the person realize that what `was there' all the time was only a rope.

The second analogy that is used in the literature is the appearance of water in a mirage. And the third one is that of the dreamer and his dream. Each of these three analogies has its own limitation in explaining the relationship between brahman, which is invisible, and the universe, which is visible. Brahman is the rope; the visible universe is the snake. What appears as the universe is not really the universe. When spiritual illumination takes place we will know that what was there all the time was only brahman. Similarly in the example of the mirage and water, the water appearance is only an illusion. What is there in reality is only sand, no water. The dream of course is totally a mental aberration, fully subjective and it vanishes the moment the person wakes up.

The three analogies are not however just three analogies in place of one. There is a gradation, says Ramana Maharshi. First it may be questioned, with reference to the analogy of the rope and the snake that when the lighting situation improves the appearance of the snake is no more there, whereas, in the case of brahman versus universe, even after learning that brahman is the substratum of truth, and the universe is only a superimposition like the snake on the rope, we still continue to see the universe; it has not disappeared!

For this the Maharishi wants you to go to the analogy of the mirage. Once you understand it is the mirage and no watershed, the appearance of water is no more there. But now there is another objection: 'Even after knowing that there is only brahman and the universe is only an appearance, one gets certain wants fulfilled from this appearance of a universe: one gets one's hunger satisfied, thirst quenched and so on. But the water in the mirage does not quench one's thirst; so to that extent the analogy is inappropriate'.

The analogy of the dream meets this objection, says the Maharishi. The dreamer has his thirst quenched in the dream. The thirst itself is a dream thirst and it is quenched by drinking (dream) water in the dream; so also the wants that one feels in this universe like hunger and thirst are also quenched by corresponding objects in this universe. Thus in this sense the analogy of the dream is reasonably perfect. Maybe that is why Shankara uses the analogy of the dream so emphatically to describe the reality or unreality of the universe.

In Advaita the concept of reality is always comparative. Relative to materials, things made out of the materials are unreal. In other words if a bucket is made out of plastic, the bucket is unreal relative to the plastic. It is the cause that is `more real' than the effect. The cause of the world versus the world itself gives us a comparison about their relative reality. When we say that the universe is unreal, we mean that it is unreal as the universe, but it is surely real as brahman, its cause.

In order to explain this relative unreality the theory of superimposition is meticulously worked out by Shankara. While the snake is superimposed on the rope, the rope undergoes no aberration or modification in the process. It is the same rope all the time. What appears to you is only in your mind. The visible universe is just a perishable (kShara) superimposition on brahman. Brahman does not undergo any change in the process. All the time brahman remains as brahman, the imperishable (akShara) substratum. This is where the nirguNa (attributeless) character of brahman is effectively applied by Shankara to his explanation of this mysterious relationship.

This phenomenon of brahman not being visible but something else, the universe, being visible, is exactly what the term `mAyA' means. It does two things. It hides brahman from you. Simultaneously it projects the universe to you.

The declaration that this is what is happening comes forth from the Lord Himself in Gita IX - 5, 6. 'Everything that is perceptible is pervaded and permeated by Me, who is unmanifested. All the beings are established in Me but not I in them; they are not in Me either, this is my divine yoga.'. He remains unmanifested while what is visible is basically a permeation by him. While he remains unchanged, and imperceptible, the universe is what is perceptible. Everything visible is supported by Him as the only substratum, whereas He Himself is not supported by anything. He is His own support.

The snake appears on the rope, the rope does not undergo any change, but the snake is supported by the rope, (meaning, without the rope there is no snake). But in reality the snake was never there and so it is also true to say that the snake is not in the rope. To the question: Where is the snake?, the answer is: it is in the rope. To the question, Is the snake there?, the answer is, there is no snake, the snake was never in the rope. It is in this strain that the Lord gives out, almost in the same breath, what appears to be two contradictory statements. Everything is in Me; and nothing is in Me. This is the cosmic mystery of the existence of the Universe. It is and is not - sad-asad-vilakshaNa, mAyA!

More Resources: Shankaracharya's Advaita Vedanta

Does Advaita believe in reincarnation? (part 2)

Q: But if reincarnation is not real at the ultimate level, what happens to dharma and ethics?

All dharma and adharma operate at the transaction level only. They are as real as jiiva and Isvara. Everything is included in that One - which is real from the absolute point.

When we say 'I am', 'I' stands for the consciousness aspect and 'am' stands for the existence aspect. When we say ‘I am this’, there is the confusion of identification of the subject ‘I am’ with the object 'this'. That is due to error ,which is due to the ignorance of not knowing that 'I am'. Right now 'I am a jiiva' is the notional understanding while ‘I am Brahman’ is the vision of my self according to the Upanishads. That true ‘I am’ has to realized or recognized.

The body is only a vehicle or instrument required to exhaust my vAsana-s. Essentially, vAsana-s decide the type of body required - man or woman, white, brown or black skin etc. I, the jiiva, gravitate towards the environment that is conducive to my vAsana-s. Hence they are called 'kAraNa shariira' or causal body.

Hence what birth I take next depends on the most powerful vasana-s that are ready to germinate next. There is my ‘total bank account’ of karma (saMchita karma), of which I brought into this life only those that can be exhausted (prArabdha karma) and, if in the process I make new ones (AgAmin karma), which cannot be exhausted in this life, these are deposited to my account. Until all vasanas get neutralized, I will continue taking births in one form or the other. By yoga or sAdhanA, I neutralize the vAsanas. When I realize who I am - I am ‘not this, not this’ etc. (since I am the subject that can never be an object 'this') - I recognize that I am that sat chit ananda and then there is no more ownership of any karma. All are transcended in that knowledge of who I am.

As long as I think I am a jiiva, these notions are regarded as facts and Brahman does not come into picture – ‘I am Brahman’ is only realised from the state of absolute knowledge. Until this is recognized as a fact and not merely as a thought, jiiva-hood is there and vAsana-s operate. So karma and its kShaya (dominion) are there as long as you are there to question, since the questioning is done by a jiva.

As long as I am dreaming that I am being chased by a tiger, that dream tiger is as real as the one who is being chased. I have to run away as fast as I can to save myself from that tiger. Only when I am awakened to the higher state of consciousness, are the tiger and the one whom the tiger is chasing, as well as the forest and the ground upon which I am running, all resolved into my own mind.

The dreamer thinks that the dream world is real until he is awakened to a higher state where there is only one mind that projects the world of plurality. The plurality is real as long as dream lasts. The problem in your questions is that you want to place one leg in the waking state and one leg in the dream state and then question the validity of each from the other reference point. Any question from the Brahman viewpoint whilst still sitting at the jiiva position is like a dreamer asking about the waking mind. The waking mind is one – Advaita. The plurality of the dream world is from the viewpoint of a dreamer who thinks he is different from the tiger and the trees in the forest.


More Info: Philosophy of Advaita Vedanta (expounded by Sankaracharya)

Does Advaita believe in reincarnation?

To answer simply, Advaita is not based on any single soul - there is no soul and not-soul at that ultimate understanding - there is only one non-dual sat chit and ananda. Existence-consciousness-ananda cannot be divided. If one sees divisions they are only apparent and not real. If one takes the apparent as real, then all others factors become as real.

Jiiva (soul) itself is a notion and when that notion is taken as real - all other problems become as real as jiiva. Hence reincarnation and transmigration of soul are all real in that frame of reference.

Look at this way: gold, iron and copper look different if these difference as taken as real. They can exist in different forms - now as ring, now as bangle, now as chain, now as bracelet - gold undergoing transmigration or reincarnation into different forms.

If one understands that all are nothing but electrons, protons, neutrons etc., then from that perspective gold, iron, copper are just bunches of electrons, protons and neutrons - which themselves are nothing but energy-states.

I can understand as a scientist they are all one - yet I can transact in the world taking gold as different from iron and copper. Transactions are done at one level while understanding is at the ultimate level - there is no confusion if one understands correctly. I know that the sun neither rises nor sets but I can still appreciate the beauty of sunrise and sunset.

That is advaita in spite of dvaita - that is no incarnation in spite of reincarnation. Karma (action) is at the transactional level. At the absolute level I realize that I am never a kartRRi (doer). That is Advaita. Advaita in spite of dvaita.


More Info: Advaita Vedanta of Shankaracharya

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Advaita Articles: Oneness in spite of Duality

An Article posted to Advaitin EList By Madathil Nair:
Knowledge, inferential or direct, is necessarily dualistic. There is a knower and there is a known. It is the apparent chasm between the two that necessitates ‘add ins’ like body, mind, intellect etc., which are absolutely necessary if we get down to analyzing the process of knowing and of which, however, we are not at all aware through most of our waking moments. The question now is if we can get rid of, or at least limit, the sense of duality while keeping our eyes open and experiencing the world. The sense of duality emerges only when ‘we get down to analyzing’. Otherwise, it is all One. This is the exact reason why empirical sciences unfailingly fail at appreciating Reality because they stick their nose deep into ‘enquiring’. Well, that is their job. Can't help it.
This reminds me of a story of a king and his consort which I read in some old philosophical work. The lady was a realized being and the king was a spiritual struggler. She taught him Vedanta and, as a result, he reached a stage of spiritual evolution where he was able to enjoy samaadhi at will - but only when he sat in a particular posture and kept his eyes closed! His consort was not happy with the situation. She continued helping him until at last he opened up like Arjuna saying "naShTo moha"! He no more needed a posture or closed eyes to be One with everything. He ‘knew’ that he had always been just That!
As advaitins, we know duality and we know that there is only Oneness despite duality. In acquiring this knowledge, no doubt, we necessarily made use of concepts like adhyaasa, body, mind, intellect etc. But, isn't it yet time we kept these tools and equipment on the shelf, opened our eyes, looked upwards at the Sun and chanted the gAyatrI mantra or showed the lighted lamp to our smiling devI (She is my iShTadevata) and said "na tatra sUryo bhaati ………." or looked at the splendour of the night sky and thrilled heaven and earth by singing from dakshinAmUrti stotram: "Naanachchiddra ghatodarasthithamaha deepaprabhabhaasuram….."?
Will you feel any sense of duality then? I am sure no. You then have no time to entertain duality. This guy called duality is there in your sitting room only as long as you care to entertain him.
The whole of waking life or most of it can thus be rendered ‘non-dual’. We don't have to necessarily turn ‘inwards’ to do that. There is no ‘inwards’ or ‘outwards’ in this business. All directions are the same. An ‘inwards’ can exist only in relation to the limitations of the body-mind-intellect equipment. Haven't we already placed it on the shelf? Neither have we got to negate anything. We can be just That inspite of everything. In other words, we accept everything and see them from a different angle, wherefrom only the oneness in diversity is perceived. This is my ‘I know’ - the common denominator of all transactions.
I am reminded of two situations Swami Dayananda Saraswatiji mentions in this context. You are alone and there is a beautiful sunset. That makes you extremely happy. There is no wish fulfilment here. Yet, you are happy, because you are essentially happiness and the sunset made you forget your limitations for a second. In other words, you tasted oneness. The second situation (slightly embellished by me): You are with your business rival in his sitting room struggling to sort differences out. You hate the man because he is a big pain on the neck. And suddenly you spot his baby. It is smiling at you - a toothless, innocent smile. You forget everything for a moment and break out into being a tender expansiveness in spite of the fact that that baby is not yours and its father is your bitter foe.
These are classical examples where duality vanishes without a trace. There is no body-mind-intellect equipment here unless you sit back later and analyze. You are then inviting the guy - the unwanted duality - back into your sitting room.
It is within us to make each and every moment of our life ‘non- dually’ happy if we really contemplate and endeavour. The ‘I know’ (or jaanaami) explanation helps. One can even reach a point where one is able to spot, appreciate and love the endearing ‘cherubicity’ (my coinage) behind the bushy moustache of Saddam Hussein without any sense of separation. (I was a war prisoner in his Iraq some time ago. I, therefore, have every reason to love him, for the hardships I then underwent taught me great lessons.). There are masters around us living this truth. Why can't we at least aspire to be in their footsteps?
With advaitic contemplation, we begin to spontaneously glow like glow-worms. It is the waking, continuous glow of knowing (jaanaami) without a sense of separation. Deep sleep, experiences (!) of anaesthesia and hypnosis are within that glow. The concept of non-existent death too. Who cares? I have got to glow. I don't have time to see what happens to this body-mind-intellect equipment. It is there on the shelf. I can take a look at it when I want. It does not matter if it was the same one which I left there last time!
More: Advaita Vedanta Resources

Advaita Articles: Creation Theories in Advaita

The following was posted to the Advaitin Egroup in June 2003:
Advaita does NOT teach a single theory but rather several theories, depending on the student's level of insight and spiritual progress. At the lower (vyAvahArika) level are the more dualistic sRRiShTi-dRRiShTi-vAda (what has been created is perceived) and dRRiShTi-sRRiShTi-vAda (perception is simultaneous with creation). The higher (pAramArthika) level teaches ajAti vAda (creation is not an absolute and real event). Shankara drew on all these views, whereas later Advaitins tended to emphasize one or the other. (Therefore it is misleading to over-emphasize a few selected quotations from Shankara. Like Ramana and the Upanishads, he sometimes seems to 'contradict' himself, because he addresses a wide variety of students.)
Basically, sRRiShTi-dRRiShTi-vAda is for beginning students, who naturally see the world as distinct from themselves, since this is the normal human reaction. This illusory view is intimately connected with the equally illusory view of oneself as an individual jIva (soul): they are two sides of the same coin. This jIva is the 'I am' of small-self affirmation, not the pure 'I' of Self affirmation. If we divide ourselves from the 'world' by drawing a conceptual boundary around what we are pleased to call our (small) self, then that same boundary 'causes' a distinct and seemingly real world to spring into being. ('Real' here means that the world appears as a distinct 'existing' entity, as do we.) Such a world needs a 'creator', and this is supplied by Brahman in its lower illusory conceptual representation as ISwara. This is also the view of Judaism, Christianity, Islam and other philosophically-challenged religions. (Ooops! There I go being prejudiced again!) Finally, there is not just one jIva but a multiplicity of them (as in the JCI religions).
From a purely logical point of view, this accordance of a measure of independent reality to mAyA (i.e. the 'world') clearly contradicts the mighty mahAvAkya which says Brahman is One without a second, which is the very essence of advaita. Nevertheless, in this lower 'dualistic' teaching, there is still a subtle distinction with the truly dualistic sAMkhya philosophy. It is understood that mAyA does not have an ultimate existence distinct from brahman. In sAMkhya the closely related concept of prakRRiti does indeed have an absolute existence of its own. The lower teaching of Advaita understands that mAyA is reabsorbed into brahman as illusion is dispelled.
The other 'dualistic' view is dRRiShTi-sRRiShTi-vAda (perception is simultaneous with creation). This view says that the various jIvas 'create' the world in the act of cognition. The webpage author finds similarities to subjective idealism and the Buddhist vij~nAnavAda. Whether this is true depends on just what is meant by 'create' here. In my view, subjective idealism and vij~nAnavAda do NOT create a distinct world but rather absorb the seemingly distinct world into perception, which is in turn an aspect of consciousness. Then one must ask if there is some subtle distinction between perception and the consciousness which is conscious of the perception. I believe that ultimately there is not, but there is a long tradition in Advaita which distinguishes between the Consciousness and the mind (including perceptions). Again, I believe that this distinction is only at the vyAvahArika level. Indeed, all distinctions of any kind must be at the vyAvahArika level, since at the pAramArthika level brahman is One without a second. QED.
Anyhow, let us move on to the last and highest (i.e. non-dual) advaitin view. This is ajAti-vAda (creation is not an absolute, real event), or, stated differently, creation never occurred. THIS is what I call subjective idealism and vij~nAnavAda. This is the view that mAyA (i.e. the apparent world) has no reality in itself, as brahman is the only reality (One without a second). (Advaitin math is very simple!) The seeming reality of the 'external' world is only an illusion projected or superposed (adhyAsa) by the mind upon the sole reality of Consciousness, like the snake on the rope, and this is called mAyA. This disappearance of mAyA naturally occurs as the jIva is understood to be an equally illusory creation of the mind. Conversely, ajAti-vAda is incomprehensible as long as one clings to any notion of oneself as a discrete self-existing entity (i.e. jIva). As mentioned above, these are two sides of the same coin.
The ajAti-vAda was taught by gauDapAda, Shankara's paramaguru, who may perhaps be considered the 'purest' advaitin since he was so unequivocally non-dual. (I imagine gauDapAda as being a true forest dweller.) Shankara dealt with a much vaster audience and had to teach a variety of views in order to accommodate the levels of the different students. An infant cannot learn to run until it first learns to walk. We embark on the spiritual path with a firm belief in the reality of what is revealed by our senses.
The article states that ajAti-vAda is also the realization that the true brahman is nirguNa, i.e. without attributes. When brahman is thus understood, mAyA dissolves, which establishes an interesting correspondence between the apparent reality of the world and the view of God with attributes. As brahman is realized in its essential nature as nirguNa, the world simultaneously 'disappears'. (By the way, the notions of nirguNa brahman and the disappearance of the world bear a striking resemblance to the 'emptiness' of mahAyAna Buddhism, but I won't belabor that point here.) I would only caution that the 'disappearance' of the world is not like a television screen going black when switched off. Rather, it means that there is no longer the dualism of perceiver and perceived, of jIva and jagat (world). It is in this sense that one says that this state is adRRiShTam (unseeable), agrAhyam (ungraspable), alakShaNam (without any attributes), acintyam (unthinkable), avyapadeshyam (cannot be indicated as an object), advaitam (nondual), and so forth.
Although this state is realized in its purest form in the 'fourth' stare of turIya [the other three states being jAgrat or waking state, svapna or dream state, and suShupti or deep sleep state], we must not forget that turIya encompasses these other three states and is in fact the essence of consciousness, the substratum itself. That is why the realized man can operate in the world as jIvanmukti. The turIya or realized state is one of complete peace and bliss, as all disturbance and suffering arise with the activity of the mind, as does the illusion of the world.
As the bRRihadAraNyaka says (Part 2 Chapter 4):
"For when there is duality, as it were, then one smells another, one sees another, one hears another, one speaks to another, one thinks of another, one knows another. But when everything has become the Self, then what should one smell and through what, what should one see and through what, what should one hear and through what, what should one speak and through what, what should one think and through what, what should one know and through what? Through what should One know That owing to which all this is known - through what, my dear, should one know the Knower?"
At this highest level the reality of the world is indeed denied, in the sense explained above. In my opinion, this is close to if not identical to subjective idealism and I could quote countless unambiguous passages from Shankara, Ramana and Nisargadatta in support of this view. Those who suggest that a few passages of Shankara seem to postulate a 'real' world simply do not understand that different views of 'creation' are taught in Advaita, depending of the level of the student.

Author: Benjamin
More: Advaita Vedanta Resources and Texts

Advaita Articles: The Enlightenment 'event'

A discussion from Advaitin Mailing List:

Dennis: What is the nature of the event that must occur before we can make the 'transition' from an intellectual acceptance of who we really are to full liberation?
I am not asking 'what do I have to do' or anything similar - I know that there is nothing that 'I' can do; indeed nothing that 'I' do at all. It has also been said that enlightenment is rather a 'non-event'. What I am interested in is the 'lead up' for want of a better phrase to the 'paradigm-shift' of realisation.
Greg: The lead-up is quite often a two-phase process.
The first phase is often a very strong desire to know the Truth, to finally BE it. This desire is sweet and benevolent, not agitated. It is stronger than anything else, and it places itself in the background behind all other thoughts and feelings. Whenever you are not thinking about the business of the day, you will think of getting at least a tiny glimpse of this Truth. Your mind will just be there, aligned with that desire to Know/Be. The strength will develop so that it's more important than life itself.
The second phase, closer to the 'non-event', is often an indescribably sweet feeling of being summoned home. Of being beckoned back to a place that you can't describe phenomenally, but which feels soft and inviting and altogether familiar nevertheless. And as time goes on, there is a greater and greater feeling of confidence and realisation that this will happen. From this perspective, it is probably considered a real and quite momentous phenomenal event, but the feeling of momentousness and reality attributed to this event also softens with time.
Dennis: Some of the new, 'neo-advaitin' teachers are saying that no 'event' need actually occur. Once we have an intellectual appreciation of the truth, the seeking can effectively end and we should simply wait for this knowledge to 'sink in', as it were. What do you say to these claims?
Greg: Definitions such as 'Enlightenment = the end of seeking!' are a logical misunderstanding, and even a trivialization of enlightenment, compared to its articulation in the great traditions such as Advaita Vedanta.
If we propose two definitions:
(A) If Enlightenment, then no seeking. (B) If no seeking, then Enlightenment.
The logical misunderstanding consists partly in confusing (A) with (B). According to most time-honoured definitions of enlightenment, something like (A) would be true, whereas (B) would be false.
Incidentally, one thing that modern interpreters of Advaita do is to attribute a lion's share of suffering to the seeking itself. I've heard many spokespeople say: "Enlightenment = the end of seeking!" This is quite a psychological definition of enlightenment, together with a personalized preoccupation with one's feeling states and one's progress on the path.
This kind of seeking-based suffering is often a self-indulgent and intellectually-acquired thing. There are lots of other kinds of suffering that can remain even when seeking ends. E.g., I know one lady whose seeking ended, but in despair. She even had a mild resentment towards what she considered the charlatanry of some modern teachers, and went on to live her life doing other things. No more seeking, but still various kinds of suffering.
Dennis: But what about the actual transition?
I mentioned, before, the idea of a paradigm shift. I suppose it must be something like the change that came about when man, originally believing that the earth was the centre of the universe, suddenly understood the implications of Copernicus. And yet there, the event that tipped the balance was the assimilation of new knowledge. Is this all (!) that is happening here? In fact, could it happen without the knowledge of the shruti (direct or indirect)?
What 'sort of' event is it, in vyaavahhaarika terms? Is the elusiveness caused by trying to describe the indescribable again, because the 'event' is a sort of intersection of noumenal and phenomenal?
Greg: In the same terms as your question -- It's the transition between seeing it as an event, and not seeing it as an event. It's the transition between seeming to experience a real difference between the noumenal and the phenomenal, and not.
As seen from 'before'", there's a before and after, and an imagined phenomenal distinction. As seen from 'after', there is not.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Free Will and Predetermination - Do we have Free Will?

Aeshines - A Newly Discovered Socratic Dialogue

SOCRATES Hail to Thee, Aeschines! From where do you return to visit us now?

AESCHINES I have just returned from my father's kitchen where I was assisting him in making his famed spiced meat delicacies.

S. Yes! Charinus makes the finest sausages in all Athens, that is beyond dispute.

A. Thank you, Socrates. Next to my father, I love you dearly. I hope I shall never leave you. Strike me with your staff, for you will find no wood hard enough to keep me away from you, so long as I think you've something to say.

S. Only the sausage-maker's son knows how to honour me. 2 I wish all my friends were as loyal as you, Aeschines. In some ways, your respected profession has often appealed to me as most enviable. You assist your Father whom you love, earn an honest livelihood, exercise great care and attention keeping the restless mind in check, and what is more, create delicacies for the citizens of Athens to enjoy with wine and fill their bellies, which when digested, turns to thought and hopefully beneficial actions.

A. Thou speakest truth as always, Socrates. I have toiled to excel at this work, selecting the choicest herbs, learning to pound the cooked rare meats into a paste and blend them, pack them in an edible skin and make them look as appetising as possible.

S. I am persuaded of your eminent skill, Aeschincs. I trust you will not refuse me a sample of your labours.

A. Here is one of Father's latest concoctions, a mixture of lamb and rabbit flavoured with honey, thyme and black pepper.

S. Thank you. I shall relish it more after our conversation but now ask me whatever you will.

A. You said earlier that my food after being digested, stimulates thought which leads to action.

S. I recall having said that.

A. Does this mean I am indirectly responsible for my clients' thoughts and deeds?

S. After a fashion, partially, but not completely. Thoughts need food stuff to make them happen.

A. But surely Socrates, man is responsible for his own thoughts and actions, and has the freedom to decide his acts?

S. Dear boy, I hope you will not be shocked when I tell you that man has no freedom of will, and is not responsible for his actions.

A. But surely Socrates, this goes against the 'consensus gentium' of educated people and their commonsense. I feel and I know that I am responsible for my acts. When I think to do something, I carry it out.

S. Are you so sure, my dear fellow? Let us examine this matter more closely. Sit down a while. You say you think; where does the thought that you have, come from, in the first instance? Where does it arise?

A. From me, of course.

S. From Me. Tell me, who is this Me? Can you find him inside? Now watch closely. Where do thoughts actually come from? Be very honest.

A. Well, surprisingly they seem to arrive from nowhere, out of the blue. From the Gods, perhaps.

S. Now you see that you did not create the initial thought. It arrives from you know not where. Then what happens?

A. It commences the faculty of reasoning.

S. Yes. It touches your mind, and either the thought is rejected as unworthy or accepted as useful, according to needs, standards of upbringing and so forth; and it starts a process called thinking.

A. But surely I start the process of reasoning.

S. Are you sure? Look closely now. See what actually happens. A thought arrives from nowhere, touches the mind which reacts according to its patterns of education and what it believes to be the right response, and some more thought weighs the matter up.

A. But surely in the weighing I choose from the alternatives offered by commonsense and reason?

S. I mistrust your commonsense and conventional opinion, the so-called reason of the masses. Only the philosophers understand the nature of choice, and not too many of them, I suspect.

A. Do you mean I didn't choose?

S. What happens if you watch, dear sausage maker, is that the mind or thoughts present alternatives, and according to your disposition you choose what you consider to be the most practical, pleasurable and in the best interest for you. But there is no daemon inside to choose. The choice happens mechanically, like an abacus, and then the mind foolishly ascribes it to itself as "a free agent", boasting arrogantly "I CHOOSE."

A. Please continue, Socrates. This is most illuminating.

S. Truly the choice was inevitable. The so-called act of choosing was part of the structure of predetermination. The choice was inevitable, because it appealed to your hidden tendencies of pleasure, and what you believe to be appropriate. In fact there was never any freedom to choose anything other than that which was chosen.

A. But surely if a man does good deeds, they are his own, just as the man who does evil deeds?

S. Again, Aeschines, let us examine very closely. Watch how everything happens. A train of inevitable events leads one man to the good, another to the so-called evil.

A. How is that?

S. One man is born into a noble womb, with refined educated parents, another into an uncaring home of ignorance. Patterns of behaviour are laid down like a mosaic, by example and imitation. What you call good and bad habits are largely mimicry.

A. But surely, Socrates, there are innate tendencies of good and evil that men are born with?

S. Yes. Souls are transmigrated with these tendencies laid down.

A. So what determines this behaviour of these souls?

S. Examples from parents, family, teachers, people you meet, heroes, reading, and so forth. You are determined all the time, by each new event.

A. Is this the way the Gods control our destiny?

S. Broadly, yes.

A. I see. So when I choose, I imagine I'm choosing, but really it's all predetermined.

S. Exactly. You are beginning to see the point.

A. Then tell me, Socrates, the idea that I can do anything of my own free will, is that falsely imagined?

S. Yes.

A. Then how do I live?

S. Choose as if you have choice, knowing you really have none. This is a step towards freedom and the Good. It will remove guilt, and stop you from blaming others for their so called bad deeds, and stop you from flattering others for their so called good deeds, according to society's approval or disapproval.

A. If this was generally understood, what would our tragedians have to write about?

S. Very little. But about good and bad, the Nubian, Libyan and Egyptian have quite different standards to we Greeks, neither better nor worse except according to our opinion. Moreover, each tragedy illustrates a chief characteristic which prevents the hero from coming to Self knowledge. Such was the blindness of Oedipus.

A. But how will I live, knowing all this?

S. Enjoy yourself, my boy. Be happy. Love your work, and study philosophy, but don't attribute your actions to an imaginary ME who doesn't actually exist which is the real slavery.

A. Thank you Socrates. But…

S. There are always 'buts' - listen! This idea that men can act independently of the Gods is at the root of their bondage, and enslaves master and boy alike. To be free, a man must know this clearly. This is my point. I hammer it home continuously.

A. How do I see this clearly?

S. Some time, reflect on major events of your day and examine how much they really happened through your free will? This will undermine your vanity and your pride.

A. Thank you.

S. The tyrant is the imaginary ME who has usurped the Good which is our birthright of freedom. Sacrifice him to the Gods, and all will be well, I promise.

A. Thank you again, Socrates.

S. Come, my dear friend, let us enjoy your sausage with some Cypriot wine; Ah! I can see Alciabides approaching.


The Unreal

Most of us believe that we are a 'person' with a unique body and mind. Possibly there is a 'soul' that survives death in some way. We think that there are other individuals and separate objects out there, alien and potentially threatening. We are constantly searching for happiness but, all too often, finding only misery.

But is any of this really true? The notion of a 'person' stems from the Latin persona, referring to the mask worn by actors in the ancient Greek theatre. It is used now in psychology when talking about the artificial facade that we display to others and behind which the 'real' I hides. And we do recognise the sense of an unchanging 'I', the same now as it was when we first acknowledged it. Our bodies are older and larger, our thoughts and beliefs more mature but most of us feel that I have a body and mind, not that I am a body or mind.

The body is nothing but the food that we eat, cleverly rearranged into more complex proteins, serving specific functions, by the mechanical instructions of the DNA, itself nothing more than processed food. Our opinions and thoughts are an inevitable product of our upbringing. Parents, peers, teachers and books conspire unwittingly (or not) to 'educate' us into our outlook on life and our aspirations. We need to look behind this facade.

The process by which we 'attach' our true Self to a mistaken idea of what we are is called in Sanskrit ahamkara. This literally means 'the making (kara) of the utterance 'I' (aham)'. It is often equated to the Western concept of 'ego' and it must be controlled by the intellect if we are to make any 'progress' on a spiritual 'path'.

Similarly, the 'states of consciousness' with which we are familiar are illusory. Only when our minds are completely still or 'in the interval between thoughts' if you like, are we truly ourselves. This 'background' state is called turiya and underlies all of our experience.

To the vast majority of people in the world, the topic of happiness is both mystifying and complex. Philosophers in the west have thought about it for the past two and a half thousand years; psychologists and sociologists have experimented and conducted polls on it for the past hundred. Still there is little consensus and, if anything, there appears to be less happiness in the world today than ever.

To the Advaitin, on the other hand, the subject is ever so simple. There is only the Self and, accepting that we can never speak of this objectively, by definition, we can say that the Self IS happiness. And that is really all there is to it.

Likewise with the question of ‘meaning’ and ‘purpose’ in our lives. In the world in general, there are likely to be almost as many ideas and answers to these as there are people. As far as the Advaitin is concerned, of course, there are no people so perhaps this does not count for very much! Furthermore, we know that concepts of meaning and purpose are simply that – ideas in mind. As such, their value is, at most, in their utility as tools to take the mind to the brink of understanding. Once there, all ideas must be surrendered so that the final leap can be made, extinguishing forever all identification with ego and mind.


Necessity of a Guru in the trdition of Advaita Vedanta

Advaita vedānta requires anyone seeking to study advaita vedānta to do so from a Guru (teacher). The Guru must have the following qualities (see Mundaka Upanishad 1.2.12):
  • Śrotriya — must be learned in the Vedic scriptures and sampradaya
  • Brahmanishtha — literally meaning established in Brahman; must have realised the oneness of Brahman in everything and in himself

The seeker must serve the Guru and submit questions with all humility in order to remove all doubts (see Bhagavad Gita 4.34). By doing so, advaita says, the seeker will attain moksha (liberation from the cycle of births and deaths).

More Info: Necessity of a Guru in the trdition of Advaita Vedanta

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Bhakti in Advaita Vedanta Philosophy

The orthoprax advaita tradition is closely allied to the smArta tradition, which follows the system of pancAyatana pUjA, where vishNu, Siva, Sakti, gaNapati and sUrya are worshipped as forms of saguNa brahman. In some sources, the concept of the pancAyatana is replaced by the notion of shaNmata, which adds skanda to the above set of five deities. The worship is done both on a daily basis and on specific festival occasions. Questions of who is superior, vishNu or Siva, which are very popular among many groups of Hindus, are not relished by advaitins. In the words of Sri Chandrasekhara Bharati (1892 - 1954), the accomplished jIvanmukta, "you cannot see the feet of the Lord, why do you waste your time debating about the nature of His face?"

That said, vishNu and Siva, the Great Gods of Hinduism, are both very important within the advaita tradition. The sannyAsIs of the advaita order always sign their correspondence with the words "iti nArAyaNasmaraNam ". In worship, advaitins do not insist on exclusive worship of one devatA alone. As brahman is essentially attribute-less (nirguNa), all attributes (guNas) equally belong to It, within empirical reality. The particular form that the devotee prefers to worship is called the ishTa-devatA. The ishTa-devatAs worshipped by advaitins include vishNu as kRshNa, the jagadguru, and as rAma, Siva as dakshiNAmUrti, the guru who teaches in silence, and as candramaulISvara, and the Mother Goddess as pArvatI, lakshmI and sarasvatI. Especially popular are the representations of vishNu as a sAlagrAma, Siva as a linga, and Sakti as the SrI-yantra. gaNapati is always worshipped at the beginning of any human endeavor, including the pUjA of other Gods. The daily sandhyAvandana ritual is addressed to sUrya. The sannyAsis of the advaita sampradAya recite both the vishNu sahasranAmam and the SatarudrIya portion of the yajurveda as part of their daily worship. In addition, "hybrid" forms of the Deities, such as hari-hara or Sankara-nArAyaNa and ardhanArISvara are also worshipped.

Full Article: Position of Bhakti in Advaita Vedanta Philosophy

Free Will according to Advaita Vedanta

Apart from karma, there is scope for free will (called “purushartha”) in human lives. Good action and good thought can reduce papa and increase punya. Whether free will or karma will prevail or to what extent free will can mitigate karma depends on the relative strength of the two. Since there is no way of knowing what one’s karma is, wisdom lies in doing good actions and entertaining good thoughts. One should not lose faith in the efficacy of good actions and good thoughts; good actions and good thoughts are bound to bring about a better balance of punya papa and, consequently, mitigate suffering and increase happiness in the present janma itself or in future janmas.

Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, fifth chapter, fourteenth section talks of the beneficial result of the chanting of the famous Savitri mantra in the Gayatri metre.

Full Article: Free Will according to Advaita Vedanta

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Status of the world according to Advaita Vedanta

Advaita teachings that the universe is false often confuse people. Adi Shankara says that the world is not true, it is an illusion, but this is because of some logical reasons. Let us first analyse Adi Shankara's definition of Truth, and hence why the world is not considered true.

  • Adi Shankara says that whatever thing remains eternal is true, and whatever is non-eternal is untrue. Since the world is created and destroyed, it is not true.
  • Truth is the thing which is unchanging. Since the world is changing, it is not true.
  • Whatever is independent of space and time is true, and whatever has space and time in itself is untrue.
  • Just as one sees dreams in sleep, he sees a kind of super-dream when he is waking. The world is compared to this conscious dream.
  • The world is believed to be a superimposition of the Brahman. Superimposition cannot be true.

On the other hand, Adi Shankara claims that the world is not absolutely false. It appears false only when compared to Brahman. In the pragmatic state, the world is completely true—which occurs as long as we are under the influence of Maya. The world cannot be both true and false at the same time; hence Adi Shankara has classified the world as indescribable.

Full article: Status of the world according to Advaita Vedanta