Advaita Vision


Advaita for the 21st Century

Questions and Answers
Dennis Waite

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How to Meet Yourself cover   The Book of One cover  Back to the Truth cover  Enlightenment: the path through the jungle

Read extracts from and purchase my books: For beginners to Advaita - 'How to Meet Yourself (and find true happiness);
For intermediate Advaita students - 'The Book of One';
For advanced students - 'Back to the Truth: 5000 Years of Advaita'.
For a comparison of teaching methods in advaita - 'Enlightenment: the Path through the Jungle' .

Q: I have a niggling doubt regarding the "reflected consciousness"(chidAbhAsa), insomuch as I don't really understand the conveyed meaning of the term. Is it another word for the ego?

A: Yes – the term actually occurs only twice in my currently published books – once in a quote from Ramana Maharshi and once in the glossary (both in ‘Back to the Truth’). This is because you do not often encounter the term (or at least I hadn’t!). It refers to the reflection of Consciousness (sAkshI) in the mind of the jIva. Simplistically, you can equate it with ego or ahaMkAra. It is a concept that is needed because we cannot accept the non-dual reality as a knower or doer, since that would involve change and the non-dual reality must be changeless. It is a bit like needing Ishvara in order to account for the world and jIva-s and karma etc. I.e. from the pAramArthika standpoint, all of these things are mithyA but from the vyAvahArika standpoint, they are necessary explanations for the way things appear to be.
You can read some discussions on the subject in the current ‘Knowledge’ series at the website. In particular, Part 19 and Part 22 talk about it. Of course, this series is quite advanced stuff and you may have a bit of difficulty reading these parts alone without starting from the beginning. But if you just read the paragraphs talking about chidAbhAsa, you should be able to appreciate what is being said.

Q: In the description of mistaken superimposition (adhyAsa), it is said that we superimpose the 'is-ness' of the rope onto the snake. How is this possible, when the snake is unreal and never existed in the first place?. Also, the 'is-ness' of objects is not an attribute, it's their very essence, and therefore non superimposable.

A: I agree that it is a strange way of putting it and you could certainly argue that pedantically it cannot be so. However, the actual situation regarding the rope-snake is that the snake does not exist while the rope does exist. Yet we say with certainty ‘there is a snake’. What it seems that we have done is to take the ‘is-ness’ of the rope and superimpose it upon the illusory snake, thereby giving it seeming existence. A more rational way of speaking about this is to say that we have projected the mental image of a snake onto the rope but (pedantically speaking) this is superimposing the illusory snake onto the real rope and the ‘is-ness’ still belongs to the rope (which it does anyway of course). Certainly, since we believe that the snake exists, we must also believe that the snake has ‘is-ness’, even though it is ultimately discovered to have been illusory. To this extent, we must have ‘borrowed’ the is-ness from the rope.

It’s really only playing with words in order to understand what is happening and it is probably best simply to say that we are mixing up real and unreal.

Q: My initial training was in a non-dual tantric tradition that emphasized the awakening and unfolding of Kundalini Shakti. In this tradition, Kundalini can be defined as that power (shakti) innate in Consciousness that enables Consciousness (Shiva) to recognize Its true nature as both transcendental and immanent Being. Kundalini is the light of Consciousness that illumines Its own Self.

The great Shankara wrote "Anandalahari", The Wave of Bliss, as an expression of his devotion to Kundalini. Ramakrishna said that true spiritual awakening is not possible as long as the Kundalini is dormant. We remain entranced in the illusion of separation as long as Kundalini sleeps and dreams her dreams of mAyA. When Kundalini awakens, mAyA becomes lIlA. And Ramakrishna's disciple, Swami Vivekananda, introduced Kundalini, along with Advaita Vedanta, to Americans in the late 1800s and wrote about Kundalini in a number of places.

Every authentic teacher of Advaita in any of its expressions that I have ever met had active Kundalini, whether it is a part of their teaching or not. So the question is, what part do you see Kundalini having in advaita teachings, practices, and realization, and why?

A: I’m afraid that I know very little about kundalini yoga. My understanding is that it is nothing to do with advaita, nor anything to do with enlightenment. It may be relevant to the body, energy and the mind and, to that extent, it may be of some help in preparing the mind for gaining of sAdhanA chatuShTaya sampatti but beyond that my opinion is rather negative, I’m afraid. It always seemed to me to be on a par with siddhi-s and the like, i.e. for people who wanted power or experiences rather than self-knowledge. I would be surprised to hear that Shankara had written specifically on this topic. But then many books are attributed to him but disputed by scholars. (Even vivekachUDAmaNi is not thought to have been penned by him.)

Sorry for the negative words! Of course, it may be that the word is used by some as a synonym for self-knowledge?? No doubt akhaNDa kAra vRRitti often brings with it a powerful, if incidental, experience.

As to the ‘why’ of my opinion, anything that is physical and/or an ‘experience’ must be mithyA and therefore irrelevant to  satyam.

Please try to convince me otherwise if you strongly disagree!

Q: Thanks so much for your honest response. No need to convince you, I respect your wisdom and just wanted to see what you had to say on the matter. So, thanks.

My sAdhanA/search manifested through gurus, traditional K yoga/ lots of meditation, but the end result was what you might call a neo-advaita realization of its all God, there is only God (or whatever one wants to call This) so what is the problem? This realization sort of negated all of the stuff "I" did to get there as it became apparent that there is no "there" to get to. This is. Always is.

And so it seems the "path" I took negated itself. This is curious, as I no longer can recommend the path that I took.

I agree Kundalini sAdhanA has been corrupted for marketing to the West and the New Age. Most of what passes for K is simply the movement of prANa through-out the psychic system creating all sorts of experiences, but my  understanding/experience is that true K is that power innate within Consciousness that frees its identification with so-called karmic patterns, saMskAra-s, vAsanA-s, including the sense of a separate jIva, and thus recognizes Itself as both Immanent and Transcendental Consciousness. Put more simply, K is the power that allows the wave to know it is both the wave and the ocean and always has been. 

But, as I said, I no longer use nor recommend K yoga as a way to enlightenment.

A: Thanks for the comments – interesting to know where you are coming from. You say that: “true K is that power innate within Consciousness that frees its identification…”. But Consciousness is never identified and always free; it is the mind that is confused and the only thing that can remove that is Self-knowledge. The ‘recognition’ is what happens in the mind of the jIva when the ignorance is removed. Although I know nothing about it, as already admitted, my view would be rather that the ‘feeling’ of kundalini is what (sometimes) happens to the jIva when Self-knowledge finally takes place. This would make it an effect rather than a cause… but that’s just my idea.

Q: I think some of our differences are simply semantic. I am not a scholar ( that should be obvious enough ) and I have enough wisdom not to pretend to be, but it seems that in Vedanta, puruSha always stands free of prakRRiti and is never identified ( or is that sAMkhya? ), while in Tantra of K, Shiva is always free and yet paradoxically manifests the universe as Shakti contracting into form. And the paradox is that, even as seemingly limited and identified as form, it is still Shiva - always free, including free to  experience apparent limitation much like we "choose"  to experience apparent limitation by watching a good movie that we get totally sucked into.

But finally, we do agree: the mind is confused ( and even in its confusion, it is That ) and the only thing that can remove confusion is true Self-knowledge.

A: Yes, although certain concepts fall clearly into one philosophy or another (the prakRRiti – puruSha distinction is sAMkhya, for example), there is certainly much in common with many of them and it is possible to get into arguments over the differences when, as you say, it may be simply semantics. But bottom-line messages are important – sAMkhya is a dualistic philosophy, for example.

Q: I’ve just read your enlightening article in Watkins magazine.

Your  statement that speech and thought are dualistic came as a bit of a blow. Though retrospectively self evident, this of course explains the necessity for a begging bowl lifestyle: it would seem that enlightenment and planning are mutually exclusive and that industry, even to achieve subsistence (except where instructed by others,  and that can be performed automatically and meditative) cannot co-exist with enlightenment.

My question is this: “Is enlightenment a state that can only exist in between periods of thinking (necessary for the planning and execution of tasks) and as such cannot be a continuous state?”

A: As you say, this is self-evident if you think about it but I’m not sure how you get from there to the begging bowl. The life of a saMnyAsin may have been appropriate in ancient India but it is certainly not appropriate to modern Western society. And there is no reason why one should resort to it.

Enlightenment is the event in the mind after which the truth is known about the nature of reality but the appearance does not change. The apparent world does not disappear. It is like knowing that the earth rotates yet still seeing the sun rise and set. The j~nAnI still functions in the world, though knowing that all is mithyA and that no one is doing anything in reality. And, if he travels, he still has to look up the times of the trains/planes and organize his time so as to catch them. And so on – the appearance continues and the enlightened and unenlightened alike continue to be a part of that appearance. So enlightenment and planning are not ‘mutually exclusive’. Enlightenment itself is part of the appearance – the Self is already free.

As to your specific question, enlightenment is not a state, continuous or otherwise. As noted above, it is simply the event in time. Before it, the mind thinks ‘I am a person’; after, it knows ‘ there never were any people; there is only brahman’. Before, it thinks that the world is real; after it knows that the world is mithyA.

Q: Your reply is very clear, but I still have a lot more understanding to do to understand “the mind” in your reply:

“ Before it, the mind thinks ‘I am a person’; after, it knows ‘ there never were any people; there is only brahman’. Before, it thinks that the world is real; after it knows that the world is mithyA.”

If I understand  correctly then, before enlightenment, the person’s mind formulates and executes plans to fulfil its desires e.g. survival. In doing so, it interacts with other “people” with the intention of achieving that desired outcome. It has to take account of other people’s agendas, misinterpretations, judgement, gossip, etc. where those people can affect the outcome. If after enlightenment the mind still makes plans e.g. for the body to survive, it must still carry out these interactions with a view to achieve the desired outcome. So what’s different?

My other questions are:

1. If there is no “person”, who generates the desire to survive? (the desire that gives rise to the plan / action e.g. for which catching the train /  plane is required etc?)
2. If (dualistic) speech and thought have to happen to put the plan into action (to catch trains planes etc. to fulfil the desire), then how can speech and thought emerge from an enlightened mind?
3. If enlightenment is binary, why does practice need to continue? What more could be achieved if it’s already happened?

I suspect that these are rather puerile questions. I’m finding this really difficult. I am so fed up of me. I thought I was at the “Who cares” stage some years ago (re Ramesh Balsekar), but clearly not.

I’ve recently read the “Big Mind Big heart” neo.. book. The Big Mind process gets me to the same place as the “Who am I?” meditation – infinite, impersonal, comfortable and totally safe space. The Big Heart gets me to this all encompassing love that has been quite a familiar feeling in my life. However, I don’t feel that either of these convey the sense that no people exist or that life is a dream.

A: You are right. The mind functions in the same way after enlightenment as it did before. The crucial difference is that, before, the mind believed that all this was real whereas, after, it knows that it is all mithyA. This makes all the difference! Traditional advaita explains this by saying that the prArabdha karma that effectively brought this body into existence has still to be used up, even though this person, since now enlightened, will not incur any new karma.
Regarding your subsequent questions:
1. desires and fears are just thoughts. No one generates them; they simply arise as a result of the particular circumstances and the particular nature of that body-mind; it is simply a cause-effect nexus.
2. As already noted, the enlightened mind still operates according to the nature of minds in general so there is no problem about thinking, planning or speaking etc.
3. Practice may need to continue in order to gain j~nAna phalam – the ‘fruits of enlightenment’. See Question 160 in the Q&A section.
The questions are not puerile. Indeed, if a question such as these is causing you problems, you must ask it no matter how silly you feel it to be, The only truly silly question is that one that goes unasked. I don’t know the book to which you refer but it is worth remembering that no practice will ever bring about enlightenment, and feelings such as spaciousness, all-encompassing love or whatever are not enlightenment.

Q: If we are one with God, then why are we subject to lust, disease and pain, while God is not?

A: Who-we-really-are (God, if you want to call it this) is not subject to anything because there is nothing else. It is who-we-think-we-are who seems to be subject to all of these and undergoes suffering as a result. The reason that we make this mistake is that the mind is ignorant of our true nature and the remedy is Self-knowledge.

Q: I have been reading your website with great interest, however, there are a few misconceptions being put forth in your Q&A section about neo-advaita that should perhaps be corrected.  You are no doubt a more learned person than I, yet I have run the gamut of looking into spiritual matters, grew up in a metaphysical western religion, closely studied Ramana Maharshi, Papaji and Nisargadatta and have at last found what the so-called “I” was looking for: the non-existence of a personal “I” and the freedom to just BE.  The truth is always simple.  If a philosophy is considered valid because it has 5000 years of practice behind it, why are there so few in those 5000 years who have found what they sought by its practice?  It does not take years of practices and memorization of hundreds of scriptural verses.  It takes no more than an instant of clarity to see that layering concepts over concepts only further muddies the essential and clear truth.  I came to this instant of clarity through neo-advaita.  Once you have seen the pretense of the “me” for the illusion that it is, it can no longer be returned to.

You stated: “This idea that there is no one to act, no free will and therefore no responsibility is one of the most dangerous ideas to have been taken up by neo-advaitin teachers. It runs completely contrary to traditional advaita by failing to recognize that, at the level of the world (apparent though it may be), people exist as separate individuals who act and interact. It is intrinsic to the whole process of seeking on a path and eventually becoming enlightened. This process cannot be bypassed by attempting to deny it before the mind is ready. As you say, these false ideas effectively license the ego to do whatever it wants. This is, of course, completely contrary to what advaita is really about.”

I don’t know exactly from whence you take this assumption that neo-Advaita gives anyone’s ego license to do whatever it wants.  Just the opposite.  Losing the sense of the reality of ego eradicates any selfish desires the ego would bring with it that would give rise to acting against the desire of others.  Once the individual is faced squarely with the naked truth through neo-Advaita that the individual “me” is only a concept, an arising of form out of the great primordial soup, with which we identify, then all desires fall away.  Why would the human form named “George” or “Lilith” or whoever the form thinks itself to be desire more than the All that it now knows itself to be?  Once the “me” falls away, it becomes obvious that selfish striving for power, money, fame, and other such trappings are obsolete because you are and have nothing less than All.  The only desire left is to give this wonderful freedom to others, knowing full well there are no “others” yet for as long as we appear to be here we are to treat them with no less love and compassion as we would treat ourselves because we are them and they are us, we are all the All.  I know this to be true because I am living it as are many others who are seeing the simple truth through neo-Advaita.

Nisargadatta’s teacher told him “You are That.”  And it connected to Nisargadatta’s truth of being.  He knew it to be true the instant he heard it.  He did not need 5000 years of tradition to help him know this.  Neo-Advaita says to start from the standpoint that “You are that.”  And Ramana said to inquire into who “you” are.  “You” is a false concept, just a thought or collection of thoughts that float in and out of consciousness.  I AM is the Presence and Awareness that is always there with or without a concept called “you.”  This is neo-Advaita in a nutshell.  It is beyond the direct way and is the end of the endless study and searching for who we are of which the “me” or ego is so fond.  For the ego will perpetuate the illusion of a “me” with a past, present and future searching on and on ad infinitum as a survival mechanism and it particularly enjoys using ancient religions for the purpose.  The longer it keeps the “me” hypnotized by such ideas that great study and perseverance are necessary, the longer the ego can continue to survive.

Your statement “The sense that is carried by them, to those who may not be as ‘enlightened’ as Ramesh, is just as you say; namely that we can ‘do what we want’ as long as we believe that it is not really ‘me’ who is doing these things,” carries no water. The moment the “me” is seen through, there is an instant sense of expansiveness and awareness that only the I AM, the Oneness of everything is real and true.  And with that comes a sense of such acceptance of All and everything that there is no desire anymore to do things contrary to anything’s or anyone’s well being, or even to interfere in the perfect goings-on of That essence of perfect Allness.  And in fact, where would that idea even arise from a sense of Oneness and completeness of All?  One could never call someone enlightened who exhibited such tendencies, since those two states of mind originate from such opposite sources.

A: Thanks for your considered comments on the material – these are always appreciated.

In response to the points that you make:

1. “If a philosophy is considered valid because it has 5000 years of practice behind it, why are there so few in those 5000 years who have found what they sought by its practice?”

Do you have any statistics on this? I don’t, and must admit that I don’t know how one would acquire any. I think that we tend to hear about those who subsequently went on to teach or write about what they found. But what determines that is the nature of the person involved, since obviously there is no ultimate purpose in teaching when there is, after all, no one to become enlightened in reality. I suspect that most who become enlightened remain in obscurity.

Traditional teaching removes ignorance, incidentally; it doesn't ‘add new concepts’.

2. “I don’t know exactly from whence you take this assumption that neo-Advaita gives anyone’s ego license to do whatever it wants.  Just the opposite.  Losing the sense of the reality of ego eradicates any selfish desires the ego would bring with it that would give rise to acting against the desire of others.”

This seems to be the central point that you are making. Let me say that first of all, I have always said that neo-advaitin teaching *can* bring about enlightenment *for those who are ready*. This effectively means for those who have previously been through years of more traditional enquiry ‘to no avail’. But that prior teaching prepares the ground, as it were and gives considerable intellectual understanding and this, I suggest, makes all the difference when it comes to hearing the minimalist message of neo-advaitin teaching. For someone new to seeking, the statements that ‘there is no person’, ‘no one does anything’, ‘there is no such thing as free will’ can so easily lead to the conclusion that, therefore, anything that I might do is irrelevant, hurts no one and ‘I don’t have any choice anyway’. Of course, the teacher does not intend that it should be taken this way but then they are no longer around after the talk has ended.

For those who do understand, and certainly for those who are ‘enlightened’ by the message, there is certainly no danger of subsequent licensed, unbridled behavior but then how many of those attending a particular satsang go away enlightened?

You say: “The moment the ‘me’ is seen through, there is an instant sense of expansiveness and awareness that only the I AM, the Oneness of everything is real and true.  And with that comes a sense of such acceptance of All and everything that there is no desire anymore to do things contrary to anything’s or anyone’s well being”

Of course – I agree entirely but the point is that the vast majority of readers/listeners to Ramesh do not actually see this straight away, if at all.  

3. “Nisargadatta’s teacher told him “You are That.”  And it connected to Nisargadatta’s truth of being.  He knew it to be true the instant he heard it.  He did not need 5000 years of tradition to help him know this.”

Yes – so the story goes. I don’t know whether or not it is apocryphal but I do know that Nisargadatta attended his teacher, Siddharameshwar’s  (traditional) talks for many years, taking notes, before this realization came to him. (The book of translation of his notes is available if you don’t believe this.)

And, regarding Ramana Maharshi, here is a quote from him about the need (or lack of it) for preparatory practice: “The means that make one qualified for enquiry are meditation, yoga, etc. One should gain proficiency in these through graded practice, and thus secure a stream of mental modes that is natural and helpful. When the mind that has in this manner become ripe, listens to the present enquiry, it will at once realize its true nature which is the Self, and remain in perfect peace, without deviating from that state. To a mind which has not become ripe, immediate realization and peace are hard to gain through listening to enquiry. Yet, if one practices the means for mind-control for some time, peace of mind can be obtained eventually.” (Excerpt from Self-Enquiry (Vicharasangraham) Of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi.)

4. “This is neo-Advaita in a nutshell.  It is beyond the direct way and is the end of the endless study and searching for who we are of which the ‘me’ or ego is so fond.”

Have you read the Mandukya Upanishad and Gaudapada’s kArikA? If you do, you will see that the simple, final statements of neo-advaita were being made as early as the 7th Century AD (if not long before). They are not new. But traditional teachers emphasize that this particular work should only be approached after all of the other major Upanishads have been studied with the help of a qualified teacher. If you think of the analogy with quantum mechanics, some of the formulae of higher mathematics may well have elegant simplicity… but they can only really be understood if you have learnt elementary arithmetic first.

Q: Seeking the "ultimate truth" is a strange thing because it assumes that there is an end-point to arrive at. But, as many who have "arrived" "there" testify, they quickly see that there never was a path in the first place. Anyhow, that's not what I wanted to say.

I would rather bring to your attention a curious fact. Most people who will never take part in a spiritual or knowledge quest are as Enlightened as anyone else. What I mean is that if Oneness is all then their lives are also supported, nurtured, and made possible by the One. And, it most likely makes no difference whether they know it or not. So for anyone who is on the Path, here's a bit of advice. Just relax, take a deep breath, grab a drink, or even go for a run, for no matter where you are, this journey that we call LIFE is it, every bit of it!

A: From the standpoint of the absolute truth, ‘there is only That’. That being the case, you do not go far enough. There are no people even to tread an imaginary path. Not only is there no one who has ‘arrived’ but also there is no one who has set out either. What meaning could breathing, drinking or running possibly have? Nothing is changing; nothing has ever been created – neither world nor person to inhabit it.

But this is all from the standpoint of absolute reality. The apparent world is not like this. Here there is suffering; here there are people who do not even know where their next meal is coming from, let alone their next guru. Try telling such a one that they should simply be enjoying this ‘journey called life’! As I keep repeating: yes, everyone is already ‘free’, if this is what you understand by ‘enlightened’, but most do not know it. What I understand by ‘enlightened’ is coming to know that one is free as an irrefutable fact.

Q: I am playing devil's advocate here, but how can we/I be sure that this awareness of awareness is not seated in an area of the brain which we no nothing about...and consequently when the mind/brain/body dies...all the awarenessing dies with it?

A: This is an interesting topic and I have been intending for some time to write a book on Consciousness, looking at Western theories and then contrasting these with the approach of advaita. But this is still some time away – perhaps the book after two after the next one (assuming I don’t write another novel in between)!

I don’t like the way that you phrase this question actually and suspect this may be causing you problems. You say ‘awareness of awareness’. If you are talking about Consciousness in the absolute sense, i.e. brahman from the pAramArthika standpoint, it is not ‘aware of’ anything since there is nothing else for it to be aware of and it is not meaningful to speak of this (or anything else if it comes to that). As has been quoted (Wittgenstein) by many writers, including myself, ‘whereof we cannot speak, thereof we should remain silent’.

If you are talking about the relative, empirical level, then the mechanism by which the mind becomes aware of anything, whether a supposed external object or an internal thought or feeling is being described (in very great detail!) by the current series on vedAnta paribhAshA at the website. And this essentially involves *reflected* consciousness in the mind ‘becoming one with’ the ‘consciousness of the vRRitti of the object – this is what constitutes ‘knowledge of the object’.

But you must realize that observer, knowledge, observed and everything else is only ever Consciousness; unchanging and eternal. Every supposed separate entity, conscious or inert, is only name and form of that same Consciousness. Once this is truly known, then all such questions as those you pose become redundant.

Regarding your specific question, ‘how can I be sure’ relates to the mind and its reasoning faculties etc. ‘Being sure’ normally means having scientifically verifiable evidence or some such and, you will already realize the answer to this – you can’t! Advaita is an Astika philosophy, which means that it derives its premises, if you like, from the shruti or ‘unauthored’ scriptures. The criteria for these to be valid as a pramANa or means of knowledge is that they are not available from any other pramANa, i.e. perception, inference etc. But, for them to be acceptable, they must also not be contradicted by any other pramANa either. So the bottom line is that, you initially accept ideas such as ‘the mind arises in Consciousness and not vice versa’ on faith. You cannot get this information by looking into the brain and finding out for yourself, nor by sitting down and thinking about it. But, although it may initially seem to be a weird idea, the more you find out about advaita and verify those things that can be verified, the more convinced you become that the philosophy is sound. And there comes a time, maybe, when you realize that there is no longer any doubt whatsoever that this is how it is. This is called enlightenment.
Hope this (sort of) answers your question!

Q: According to the principles of Advaita, there is no difference between jIvAtman and paramAtman. If so, why should an atma ever be encapsulated in a body (of ignorance)? Also, why is such an encapsulated atma not capable of performing actions that “Paramatama” is capable of?

When everything in this material world that you can perceive is unreal, how can it be that everything in the “higher world” is real? Even in this unreal world, there should exist something real to guide the “worthy” ones. Of these “real” things, there should be “Truth”, “Justice”, “Faith” etc. When one is exposed to what is perceived as “Injustice”, is it unfair to expect the perception of “Justice”?

A: The absolute truth is that the Atma has never been ‘encapsulated in a body’; there are no jIva-s; there is no world; nothing has ever been ‘created’. There is only brahman. Also, paramAtman performs no actions at all.

The world, the people in it, their actions, concepts such as truth, justice, faith etc are not unreal but neither are they are real in themselves. All is mithyA – name and form of brahman only. What guides you to this truth is the shAstra, and ideally this should be unfolded by a skilled, self-realized guru.

Q: What do you mean by saying "The world, the people in it, their actions, concepts such as truth, justice, faith etc are not unreal but neither are they are real in themselves"? Please correct me if I am wrong: what is not unreal is the same as real (double negation =  positive). Also, please explain what you mean by saying "neither are they real in themselves". (Specifically the stress seems to be on "in themselves".)

A: The sort of example that is used to illustrate the ‘neither real nor unreal’ problem is that of gold and ring. The ring clearly exists since you can see it on your finger. Therefore it is not unreal. However, it is not a thing-in-itself; ring is not a substance. I could say to you that I will take the gold and let you have the ring! The fact of the matter is that the ring is only a particular form of gold, which we have chosen to honor with a name of its own to recognize its shape and function. The reality is only ever gold. Similarly, the world and the jIva are not things-in-themselves. They are only forms of brahman which we have chosen to give names to recognize their roles and appearance.

Q: I understand that "waking consciousness" is not Brahman. Does it mean we are completely ignorant of our true nature in the waking state ? What is the relation between this "waking consciousness" and Brahman.

The "waking consciousness" : is it the reflection of Brahman or it is Brahman itself limited by antaHkaraNa?

Why is Brahman is referred to as "Pure Consciousness" ? what does "pure" mean here?

In Sri Ramana Maharshi's path of self-enquiry , I understand the method is to find the source of " I " /Ego. Who should do this ? Intellect(Buddhi) or Ego ( ahaMkAra) itself ?

A: As is so often the case with these questions, you have to think carefully about the standpoint from which you are asking them.

From the standpoint of absolute reality, there is only brahman. So you cannot say that waking consciousness is not brahman. On the other hand, from the standpoint of empirical reality, no 'thing' is absolutely real. The world, the 'person', ego, thoughts, objects and everything else is mithyA, which means that they are only name and form imposed upon the non-dual substratum, brahman. Any 'explanation' that anyone gives you about all of this is provisional only. If it helps you to move forward towards a full realization of the truth, then it is useful; if it does not then it isn't useful.

In the waking state, the absolute consciousness (brahman, turIya) is associated with gross name and form. At the individual level, this is called the waker; at the cosmic level, it becomes the gross objects of the universe. The (subtle) mind may be ignorant of the true nature of reality or, in the case of an enlightened person, it will have recognized the truth. This does not mean that the world will no longer appear for the realized man, just that he now knows it to be not other than brahman, his own self.

In reality, since there is always only brahman, brahman can never be limited. Since there is ignorance of this fact in the mind of the unenlightened, it 'seems as though' brahman is limited. There have been volumes written about the nature of ignorance (avidyA at the level of the individual, mAyA at the cosmic level) so I would not even attempt to summarize this. However Shankara has said that, since there is only brahman, then brahman 'has to be' the locus of avidyA. But this should all be seen as mithyA.

Again, since there is only brahman, I also am That. Who-I-really-am is brahman... always, whether I know it or not. But, whilst in the thrall of this ignorance, I believe I am a body or mind, separate from all other things and people. And it is from this apparently limited position that Ramana's self-enquiry begins. Both investigation and enlightenment relate to the mind. ahaMkAra is better thought of as the process by which we identify with body, mind, role etc. There is a concept in advaita, called chidAbhAsa, whereby 'pure' consciousness (i.e. brahman) is said to be 'reflected' in the mind and this reflection may also be equated with ego or a 'false sense of I'. This 'explains' how it is that some people always seem to be calm and able to discriminate etc. whereas others are confused, quick to anger and so on. It is compared to moonlight being reflected from the surface of still or agitated water. But, again, if you find it useful to think of it in this way, do so, otherwise don't bother.

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012