Understanding the nature of brahman, understanding
what self-knowledge is, understanding how Vedanta
reconciles duality with nonduality is not very
easy. It is at the heart of the teachings, and
I cannot claim in any way to be an expert. But
I know that discussing the teachings is useful
for mananam, so with that in view I begin.
Two things to consider at the outset are that
the teachings of Vedanta do deal with a subject
matter which at first appears to be paradoxical.
How can I, who appear to be a body/mind/sense
organs individual, be brahman, the unchanging
self, and in reality the truth of all that exists?
How is that possible?
And even if it is possible, what is all of this
duality which I see, if nonduality is the truth
of it? How can the duality, which I see, be reconciled
with the nondual nature of brahman which the
Upanishads tell me I am? So those are some questions
which the jIva has.
Another thing I would like to say is that, from
the point of view of duality, we cannot really
reconcile duality and nonduality by using the
same measure we use to explain duality from within
duality. In the end, as much as is possible,
we have to take the stand from the point of view
of brahman, and then look at duality and explain
So from that point of view, what does it mean that a j~nAnI
does not act, and from that point of view can the mind
of a j~nAnI have thoughts and still be called
a j~nAnI's mind?
When we look at a j~nAnI from the point of view
of duality, what do we see? We see a body/mind/sense
organs individual who is performing actions.
I don't think we need to doubt the information
that our eyes give us in this regard; I think
rather we need to look at what the words, 'the
j~nAnI does not act' are actually pointing out.
Those words are pointing to the nature of brahman,
which the mind of the j~nAnI has realized the
j~nAnI's true nature to be. Brahman never acts.
Brahman doesn't move. Brahman doesn't change.
Brahman is not bound by time or space.
When the mind of the j~nAnI has this cognition
(which does occur in the form of a 'thought'),
then the body/mind/sense organs of the j~nAnI
do not change their functioning from the point of view
of duality, but the apprehension of reality for
the mind of the j~nAnI does change.
Thus the j~nAnI, now knowing without a shadow
of a doubt 'I am that brahman', also knows that
in reality 'I never act, and I have never been
bound by time and space.'
What changes is that the j~nAnI's mind now comprehends
what has always been true. So duality, time and
space do not end. It is realized that for me
(brahman) they have never been. It isn't that
the j~nAnI ceases to act from the point of view
of the body/mind/sense organs. It is that the
j~nAnI realizes I (brahman) have never at any
time performed an action.
Well then, how does one bring that understanding
out into duality, as it were, and make sense
of the information our senses give us? We cannot
bring our dualistic understanding to bear upon
the understanding of j~nAnam, rather it has to
be viewed from the other way round. We need to
bring the understanding that j~nAnam gives us
to examine duality.
The teachings tell us that there is only, in
truth, the nondual reality. So we have to examine,
from that perspective, what duality is. Is duality,
in the end, really dual? The teachings tell us
that it is not. Well then, what is the dual world
which the senses perceive? The teachings tell
us it is brahman which, due to the power of mAyA,
manifests as duality.
Now, if a j~nAnI has recognized that not only
do 'I' brahman never move, but all of duality,
which appears to the senses, is in the end really
brahman, then this direct cognition does away
with the apparent paradox of duality.
The ability to recognize at once the satyam
in the mithyA world of change explains away in
an instant the paradox of a brahman, which never
moves, and a creation, which does nothing but
move, being the same 'thing.'
The understanding which j~nAnam brings is the
reconciliation of, and comfort with, seeming
paradox. Thus, the body and mind of a j~nAnI
continue to function as before, only now the
j~nAnI's mind knows that 'I' brahman do not move.
At the same time the j~nAnI's mind, knowing and
apprehending that everything is in the final
analysis brahman, realizes that nothing is ever
away from brahman.
There is no problem with thoughts arising. There
is no problem with activity. All is brahman.
All is my self alone. Whether manifest or unmanifest,
it doesn't create a problem for my mind, and
that is the beauty of j~nAnam.
Wherever the body is in the creation, 'I' am
at home, because first of all, brahman never
changes, and secondly, within the changing reality
everything is brahman. Everything comes from
me, is sustained by me, and returns to me without
affecting me at all. I cannot be away from myself
because I am everywhere, and at the same time
'I' am entirely stable.
Lastly, there is a story which I would like
to relate that is it quite relevant to this
In March of 2008 I had the good fortune to attend
some talks which Swami Dayanandaji gave in Sydney
Australia. One evening some musicians, who are
closely associated with Swamiji, gave a small
concert. They sang bhajans of Swamiji's composition,
including a bhajan to mother Meenakshi.
Although I did not have the good fortune to
be born a Hindu, nor do I know Sanskrit aside
from a few words, the beauty of the bhajan touched
Some of us accompanied Swamiji to the airport
in Sydney prior to his return to India. We all
sat together at a table in an airport café drinking
coffee. I remarked to Swamiji how beautiful the
Meenakshi bhajan was although I couldn't understand
Sitting there Swamiji quietly began to hum.
Then he began to sing a few verses in Sanskrit.
Then in English he translated, "That very
mAyA which brings forth the mithyA creation,
gives liberation in the form of a mithyA vRRitti.
The akhaNDa akAra vRRitti"
I know that my memory cannot do justice to the
true beauty of Swamiji's words. With those words,
the understanding and the bhAva they created
in our hearts, and tears in our eyes, we accompanied
Swamiji to the gate and he was gone.
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