Advaita Vision


Advaita for the 21st Century

Questions and Answers
Dennis Waite

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Dennis photo

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 noticed that you rarely cite any work from the swamis of the Ramakrishna Order (apart from a few quotes from Vivekananda).  Is there any particular reason for this or is that just that your own interests have lead you to focus on other authors (Chinmayananda, Dayananda, Parthasarathy, etc.)?

A: The reason that I do not often quote from the Ramakrishna tradition is that, following Vivekananda, their teaching began to diverge from that of traditional advaita, embodying teachings from the yoga tradition and blurring the original clear messages. This has been so significant that their teaching is actually given a name in India – neo-Vedanta (not to be confused with neo-advaita!). This is not to say that many of the books written by monks of the Ramakrishna order are not to be recommended – some of them are excellent – but one does need to be careful if still unsure of the ‘correct’ teaching.

There is a very readable essay from James Swartz at the website, which touches on this subject - http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/trad_neo/neo_vedanta_swartz.htm. In fact James is one of the most knowledgeable people I know on this particular area and he is very amenable to answering questions if you wanted to email him about it.

Q: I've been reading your site with interest. I have several questions.
1. Ignorance blocks knowledge. The removal of ignorance allows knowledge. To remove ignorance, we must study advaita philosophy. Is this correct?

2. I would like to start studying advaita philosophy, but much of advaita philosophy seems irrelevant - e.g. the minutiae of philosophical argumentation and cultural conceptions. Is there just a few concepts I can study over and over, rather than to study the vast, unending ocean of advaita literature?

3. I have recently bought "The Nature of Man According to the Vedanta," by John Levy. It is fairly short. If I just read that over and over, would that be enough to remove ignorance?

4. What are your views of Adyashanti? He seems to have the peace of mind which characterises jnana-phalam. But he doesn't recommend any specific practice. How about Eckhart Tolle? They seem to have different understandings of enlightenment from you. They seem to believe that if you remain "in presence" long enough and frequently enough, eventually the presence will take over.

1. ‘Enlightenment’ equals Self-knowledge, which results from removal of Self-ignorance. I know that Advaita ‘works’ in this regard. I presume that other traditions also work but have no direct knowledge of these.

2. For any given person, it is no doubt the case that some aspects of Advaita will be superfluous. The problem is knowing which ones! You are almost certainly not the best judge of this – the aspects that you consider unnecessary might be precisely the ones that help remove the blocks. This is one of the reasons that a teacher is considered to be virtually essential. I know you have said that this is not really an option in your present circumstances so that the best you can probably do is to read a variety of good books by various acknowledged experts. And discuss aspects that you do not understand in a good discussion group. I think I suggested books by Swami Dayananda – I know of none better.

3. I haven’t read the John Levy book but I can say that Direct Path teachings are not for everyone, whereas straight traditional teaching does cater for all.

4. I have not read any books by Adyashanti or heard any of his talks. Some of the material that I have read on the Internet is very good indeed – but his teaching is not pure advaita. In fact, I understand he began in the Zen tradition. If you were being taught one to one for a prolonged period, then maybe he would be a good choice but, as I have written at length, satsang (occasional, short, group question and answer) is hopeless as a teaching method. The same applies to Eckhart Tolle – his books (as far as I have read) are excellent for providing useful practical approaches but I feel that they are short on theory (and not in accord with traditional advaita). ‘Remaining in presence’ is an experience in time; it has a beginning and an end and has nothing to do with enlightenment.

Q: I understand the teachings of Advaita intellectually. I also know that there is in reality no I. But the "I" concept refuses to leave. What could I do to hasten the process of exorcising the I so that the Real (Self or Awareness or Brahman) may reveal itself.

As per my understanding, Self is always there but it is blocked by this false sense of "I". Once the false I has vanished, enlightenment would result.

A: Does your understanding of advaita come from a qualified teacher? How long have you studied? The reason I ask is that your question indicates possible misunderstanding. The fact is that your essential sense of ‘I’ is brahman. It is only the mistaken identifications with body, mind, roles etc. that have to be dropped. These errors arise through ignorance and fall away as a result of the gaining of self-knowledge. You do not have to ‘do’ anything. Indeed, you cannot do anything. Brahman never ‘reveals’ itself – to whom could it reveal itself when there is only brahman? In reality, there is no ‘false I’ so it cannot ‘vanish’. Enlightenment is simply the certainty that all this is so.

Q: I do not have any single Advaita teacher whom I consult with regularly. My knowledge of Advaita has come about from my readings of the teachings of gurus like Osho, Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta Maharaj and lately the Course in Consciousness written by Prof. Sobottka. I have been studying spirituality for almost 10 years now. Initially my study and efforts were aimed at purifying the mind and overcoming attachments and aversions. Studying the Bhagwad Gita and Osho helped greatly with the same. All this resulted in an epiphany in 2004 when I realised that all the world is a "mind game" and unreal.

However, I didn't know what is "Real". This is when destiny exposed me to the teachings of Ramana Maharshi. The enquiry process of "Who am I" was something I tried for some time after that. Whenever I do the self enquiry Who am I? I get silence for a few seconds and then the answer comes, "there is no I! It is all a mind game. Since there is mind there is this sense of I otherwise where is this sense in deep sleep?" After many months of this I could not proceed any further and this lead to frustration, so I gave up on it.

I started to search for a better way forward for myself. This is when I chanced upon "I am That" by Nisargadatta Maharaj. Reading the same did increase my intellectual understanding of Advaita but I could never understand and still don't understand what he means by the sense of "I am" that he preaches to hold onto. Thus that too did not help any more. My search entered a pause for a year or so.

Recently, I was enticed by destiny to read Prof. Sobottka's a course in consciousness online. This led to furthering my intellectual understanding on Advaita as also led to an important conclusion with the professors subtle guidance via email that "I" cannot do anything for enlightenment, it will happen when it happens. I had come across this concept of Ramesh Balsekar 6 years ago in some book but I could not digest it and was infuriated by his sense of fatalism. But now, after having struggled for past 4 years without much avail, I found truth and comfort in this concept. Also my personal observations in life have time and again shown me that all is destined and we only have an illusion of free will. But something in me refuses to let me rest! That something has led me to your website and to this email exchange.

Lately I have come to think that perhaps my problem lies in the fact that I am trying to conceptualise enlightenment or the Self and trying to experience it with my mind. This I know is not the right way forward, but I am at my wits end. I don't know what else to do! Thus I find comfort in Ramesh's concept that enlightenment will happen when it happens, I cannot do anything. Realising this concept in day to day life is happening with earnest in the last few weeks. I see that with every passing day I am getting disentangled from my "mind games". Even in my dreams I appear to be telling myself, "All happens, nobody can choose to do anything. We all behave as we are destined to behave." The latter I think is a sign that my conditioning of the notion of doer ship is melting away. But since this is a recent occurrence I do not know where this path leads.

I have a question about your last statement, "Enlightenment is simply the certainty that all this is so." Forgive me if I am wrong but my concept of enlightenment is that it is an experience beyond the mind and cannot be understood or expressed by the mind. I also happen to think that enlightenment can only result once the mind has vanished. I must admit I have never had any experience which was beyond my mind and even though I understand intellectually that all is Brahman, I have no experience of the same.

You have also said that my essential sense of I is Brahman but I don't know which I you are talking about coz the "I" that I know is a mind game (illusion) to me. At this stage I have no experience of the impersonal I which you are perhaps referring to. That is why I said that the impersonal I or Brahman is perhaps yet to reveal itself and is being prevented by my conditioned sense of individuality and that once this conditioning is gone the eternal Brahman will reveal itself or maybe the better way to put it is that the eternal Brahman will be all that is left.

A: Your view of enlightenment is incorrect. In my last book (‘Enlightenment: the Path through the Jungle’), I spent two chapters listing all of the mistaken views of enlightenment and then the correct views. If you don’t want to buy the book, I can email you the Ebook, which contains around 10% of the total material. One of the fundamental misconceptions is that Enlightenment is an experience of some sort – it isn’t. It is an event in the mind, subsequent to which it is known with certainty that the world is mithyA and that I am (and always have been) brahman. Note that it has nothing to do with ‘brahman revealing himself’. There are not two things – ever. It only seems that there are prior to enlightenment.

Your other main problem (from what you write) is your idea that whatever happens is ‘destiny’. This is not a helpful way of looking at things, even if it is not actually untrue in the final analysis.

For example, having emailed me, I might suggest that instead of reading Ramesh Balsekar and Ramana Maharshi, you read Swami Dayananda instead. (There, I have done!) Now, as a result of this, you might go ahead and do just that and, over a period of time, this might change your outlook substantially and eventually bring about enlightenment. Now, of course, you can say there is no free will involved – and this is true pedantically speaking – but, had you not decided to email me, this would probably not have happened. The way to think of it is not that ‘whatever is going to happen will happen regardless of what I do’. This is not true. It is that ‘whatever I do will cause something to happen and that will influence what happens next’. Yes, everything happens according to cause and effect but what you ‘decide’ to do now will affect what happens next.

Regarding your problem with ‘who am I’, you say: “Since there is mind there is this sense of I otherwise where is this sense in deep sleep?". It is true that the mind is quiescent during deep sleep but consciousness isn’t. Otherwise, how would you know that you experienced blankness, or peace or whatever you want to call it? The waking state changes to dream state changes to deep sleep state, and there is a notional waker, dreamer and deep-sleeper corresponding to each. But you are none of these. You are the unchanging consciousness that is present in and through all three.

Q: I understand what you have said about consciousness and how I am that. Sadly my understanding is only intellectual. I have no experience of that consciousness (or to put differently, I am not yet aware that I am that very consciousness). This is where I am stuck. I wish to do something to experience that consciousness but it is said that I cannot do anything - it will happen when it happens.

A: I think that, like most people, you underrate ‘intellectual understanding’. This is really the first stage of the advaitic ‘method’, called shravaNa – hearing the message and understanding it. This must simply be followed up by manana – which is the process of removing doubts. To do this, you read more, discuss aspects and generally go over the teaching learnt in part 1 until you are thoroughly familiar and happy with it. The third stage, nididhyAsana, is the eroding of all of the bad habits we have acquired in respect of dealing with the world, seeing separation, having desires for objects etc. What you should not expect is that there has to be some clear moment of revelation, before which you were confused, and after which all is crystal clear. It can be like this but, I suspect, usually isn’t. This means that you will not necessarily be aware of a clear ‘happening’.

Q: I  have a question about your key definition of enlightenment. I understand what you have said about the mind realizing the “Truth” but what worries me is that the mind by nature is fickle. Is it not possible that later in time it forgets the Truth and enlightenment is reversed?

A: Enlightenment itself is irreversible. However it is true that, since the enlightened one remains functioning in the world, it is possible to get attached again and for the knowledge to recede into the background. This depends upon the degree to which the mind was ‘prepared’ prior to enlightenment - the distinction between the j~nAnI and the jIvanmukta – see questions 105 and 161.

Q: I read the questions 105 and 161 but something in me is not convinced. If, as you say, enlightenment itself is irreversible then how is it possible for the mind to get attached again? Irreversible means that which cannot go back. Also if the mind can be attached again after enlightenment then no one alive can be said to be truly enlightened coz their mind is still around and could get attached again at anytime until their last breath.

I had once asked this question to my grandfather who has been a student of the Vedas all his life and is perhaps enlightened himself. He said that when enlightenment happens the mind gets dissolved in the universal consciousness. Then I specifically asked him, can the mind come back again? He said, "No".

Thus what I think is, if the mind can come back at a later date then it never got dissolved in the first place. Thus what we thought to be enlightenment was in reality just an experience, perhaps a glimpse into reality as I myself experienced 4 years ago.

What do you think?

A: True Self-knowledge (equals enlightenment) once gained, is never lost. However, if the mind was not fully prepared before this happened (i.e. sAdhanA chatuShTaya sampatti), then it will still be prone to old habits. So, if one is not continually vigilant until such time as nididhyAsana brings about jIvanmukti, then there is the clear danger of following desires etc. so that the knowledge is ‘pushed into the background’ so to speak.

The mind does not ‘dissolve’ on enlightenment – otherwise a j~nAnI would no longer be able to function in the world. (If you want to read literally hundreds of pages of discussion on this topic, see the archives of Advaitin Egroup from around mid-Jan to end Feb 2009. There were two or three who held your opinion but they were overwhelmed by all of the moderators and others presenting many quotations from the scriptures and Shankara. A j~nAnI does have a mind and body and does continue to interact with the world, despite knowing that everything is mithyA and there is only brahman.)

Q: The most intriguing promise of Advaita for me is its claim that ignorance blocks knowledge. Because ignorance exists in the mind, it's the transformation of the mind which allows knowledge. Once ignorance is removed from the mind, then reality is clearly perceived.

Eckhart Tolle and Adyashanti don't seem to address this. Eckhart Tolle's view is that if one takes the position of presence regularly (e.g. as the observer), then eventually the presence will dominate. Adyashanti seem to advocate a combination of stillness meditation and self-inquiry.

Both, however, maintain that it's only when a person is, to a certain degree, fed up with the mind-created dream-world, that enlightenment becomes possible.

Ontologically, their stance and Advaita are similar, e.g. no past and future, atman is brahman, etc. However, Advaita's idea that the transformation of the mind allows the perception of reality makes more sense to me.

Yet, who am I to say? Tolle and Adyashanti have "made it." If they don't emphasise the role of discursive argumentation to transform the body-mind, maybe they know better.

Do you, as someone who has accomplished the Advaita method, still experience identification with the mind? Or do you never experience identification with the mind these days? Do you experience fearlessness?

A: Because we are already free in reality, we need not (and cannot) ‘do’ anything to bring it about. No amount of practicing ‘being in the present’ or ‘meditation’ will ever bring enlightenment. It is simply that we do not know that we are brahman so the *only* solution is to remove the ignorance. I.e. it is not a ‘claim’ on the part of advaita. Once you accept the axiom of non-duality, it necessarily follows.
The ‘being fed up’ aspect is what often motivates people to become seekers. This is really the understanding that things in this life are never going to bring lasting happiness.

You need to be careful with the use of words, even to yourself. The idea of ‘perceiving reality’, for example, is likely to mislead. Enlightenment is the realization that reality is non-dual and that ‘I am That’ but, afterwards, we still see the world as before, just as we still see the sunrise and sunset while knowing that this is the earth rotating.

Your question regarding ‘identification with mind’ and ‘fearlessness’ relates to the often questioned distinction between the j~nAnI and the jIvanmukta – see questions 105 and 161 at the website.

Q: My question concerns the ring of gold analogy for the changelessness of Brahman.

I understand from the analogy that the ring is mithyA and the gold is brahman.   The implication being that 'change' as we perceive it is only at the apparent level while the substance (brahman) remains unchanged.  Is it then correct to say that brahman does indeed change but only in form?   I believe the answer is 'no' since the Upanishads clearly state that brahman is changeless.   That said, the fact remains that although I don't perceive an object's substance/essence (i.e. brahman) my senses do gather information that results in thoughts leading to the experience of change in the world of objects.  But if brahman doesn't change even at the level of 'form' then I don't know how to rationalize changeless brahman with the experience of a changing world.

Can you point me in the right direction on this one? 

A: This is one of those ‘mixing levels’ questions. The changeless brahman refers to paramArtha; the changing world refers to vyavahAra. brahman is never amenable to objectification in any way, is attributeless and without name or form. The world is intrinsically dualistic; ever changing and *only* name and form. So brahman doesn’t change. The apparently changing appearance of duality is the result of adhyAsa.

In the end it is part of the adhyAropa-apavAda teaching of advaita. First read Chapter 6 of the Chandogya Upanishad with Shankara’s commentary to learn all about vAchArambhaNa and then read the Mandukya Upanishad with Gaudapada’s kArikA-s and Shankara’s commentary to learn about ajAti vAda.

Q: Quoting from Swami Dayananda's introduction to his Bhagavad Gita commentary:

"... one who desires a particular end, any artha or kAma, does so for his or her own sake.

Suppose you say, 'No, Swamiji, it is not for my sake; it is for the sake of my son.' This only means that your 'me' has become a little extended, but it always reduces to 'me.' Your 'me' can extend to the community in which you live, to your religion and to your nation also. It is your ego - an extended ego - and the more extensions, the healthier the ego. Still, the end is always for your sake alone.

If you pray for your mother, father, children, humanity and all living beings, you do so because you can only be happy if others are happy. How can you be happy if everyone else is unhappy? When you know that, whatever you do, is for your own sake, everything becomes meaningful. "


1. What does he mean by "your own sake" ? Is he referring to Atman ? It seems as if he is referring to ego ("..It is your ego - an extended ego..")

2.  Does this imply that true altruism/selflessness doesn't really exist?  From my personal experience, everything I do is for me,  even 'selfless' thoughts & actions. All the sAdhanA I do is for my happiness, not yours (although, incidentally, shruti would say that your happiness is my happiness which is why I must strive for selfless action - but selflessness is not my actual motivation as I do it for my own happiness. I guess this is the same for all of us ?)

3. In this light, the whole notion of selflessness as advocated in Vedanta seems to be fairly superficial since those who do act 'selflessly' do so for their 'own' mokSha, or their 'own' spiritual progression (where 'own' = ego). I thought that, according to Vedanta, selfishness is not a desirable quality. But is not the desire for mokSha (which is a key pre-requisite for mokSha) intrinsically selfish ? Isn't EVERYTHING we do for "our own sake" as Dayananda says?

I suspect I may have totally misunderstood Swami Dayananda's point here. I would really appreciate your clarification.

A: While you believe that you are a separate individual, everything you do is ultimately for that imagined individual. You are right – every action is selfish, even the so-called self-less ones. However, part of the preparation for the mind (sAdhanA chatuShTaya sampatti) involves such things as vairAgya and control of the senses etc. Also, karma yoga (which is also a valid preliminary for j~nAna yoga for those who are not yet ready) involves action for its own sake, i.e. endeavoring to transcend both selfish and selfless action. Once you actually attain self-realization, you understand that there are no others and, once this knowledge becomes established, the concepts of both selfish and selfless lose their meaning.

So, concepts such as altruism are meaningful in vyavahAra for those seekers who are practicing karma yoga. And, since every concept and action *only* has meaning in vyavahAra, this is fine. The entire karma kANDa (the first part of the Vedas is concerned with such things but it is all in the nature of preparation for those who are not yet ready to take on board the final truth of advaita. It is more than superficial in an absolute sense – it is totally meaningless! But, from the point of view of a beginning seeker, it is very important indeed because the world and our interactions within it constitute reality for them.

Q: The notion of karma yoga transcending both selfish and selfless action is entirely new to me (I thought it was all about selfless service). This is an interesting point, which raised a few more questions:

1. If selfless action is ultimately selfish (for the ego), why should I be engaging in so called 'selfless activities' (which are actually just me being selfish, but with a slightly extended ego  as Swami Dayananda says)? This would surely just serve to reinforce my identity with my own selfish ego (which is contrary to the truth of advaita) ?

2. Karma Yoga enables us to transcend selfish & 'selfless' action. So does this imply that so called selfless action may be contrary to karma Yoga? This seems to be what Swami Dayananda also suggests in one of his books 'The teaching Tradition of Advaita'.  For example, say I have started voluntary work in an attempt to increase the amount of so called 'selfless service' I am performing. Does this have NO value (in terms of my spiritual progress)at all ?

3. According to Swami Dayananda, the key factor in defining the practice of karma yoga, is the performance of dharma (whether I happen to like my dharma or not). So, if it is my dharma to perform relatively selfish acts for the sake of my own survival & happiness, then is this OK according to shruti?

It seems to all boil down to this notion of dharma. I have never really understood what exactly my 'svadharma' is. In 'The Book of One', you say "we all know what our duties are", without much further explanation. It always seems to be a rather grey area. I really don't know what my 'duties' are. For example, a big dilemma I can never fully resolve is whether I must follow the house-holder life style, or that of a saMnyAsin (I'm 23 yrs old). I know there are certain qualifications for both. However, I feel kind of stuck in the middle. I'm certainly not qualified for the life of a saMnyAsin at present. However, I feel I may have a realistic potential to develop those qualities fairly quickly if I were in the company of a Guru. But then everyone always seems to advise the safe route of a householder. I can appreciate this but I don't know if that is my dharma. I figured out the only way I will know is if I go to India & spend some time with some mahatma's. Any advice?

4. If I don't know my svadharma, is the practice of karma yoga impossible ? (I guess it is.)

A: When I used the word ‘selfless’, I actually meant ‘unselfish’ - apologies for the confusion! The idea behind karma yoga is that neither doing something with the intention of benefiting yourself, nor doing something with the intention of benefiting someone else is beneficial – both incur karma phalam, which furthers saMsAra. The aim is to do action purely in response to the need without any thought of ‘benefit’ for anyone – simply because that is the appropriate response to that situation. You might call this type of action ‘selfless’ – because there is no ‘self’ or ego involved in the motivation. If so , then selfless action is good and is the aim of karma yoga. Hope this is now clear.

But karma yoga cannot bring about enlightenment. No action can, since enlightenment is purely the result of self-knowledge, i.e. eliminating self-ignorance. It functions as a preparation for the mind, instilling self-discipline etc.

The concept of dharma is a difficult one unless you are brought up with the idea, which I wasn’t! But, in general in this context, it relates to behaving in accordance with the laws of society and accepted standards of morality. svadharma is simply that which applies to ourselves in our particular job and social environment. We know what our job responsibilities and family responsibilities are and know that we ought to follow these. But, again, this is part of the preparation for the mind so that it is ready and able to take on board the teaching of advaita when it is presented by a qualified teacher.

I shouldn't get too hung-up on the nature of your ‘lifestyle’. The four Ashrama-s  are related to Hindu culture rather than a necessary path to be followed by the spiritual aspirant. If your aim is enlightenment (as I assume it must be), this can be gained at any stage of life. It is self-knowledge only. It can be pursued whilst following an everyday job if you are prepared to make that commitment, study, try to find a teacher, forego the more usual pleasures of life etc.

Q: To deepen my understanding of Advaita Vedanta I am reading your excellent book - "Back to THE TRUTH - 5000 years of ADVAITA". But I am a little puzzled when reading chapter 6 - Who I Really Am, the section - Describing the Self. In subsection 'Even Consciousness is not the Final Reality', you reference Nisargadatta Maharaj and (primary) Robert Powell to state that Consciousness is not the final Reality.

A: Advaita is a progressive teaching, gauged (by the teacher) to the current level of understanding of the student. Many things are taught by traditional teachers in the early stages that are later supplanted by more sophisticated explanations, as the seeker’s understanding grows. Nisargadatta is not a traditional teacher. His style of teaching tends to work by shaking up and breaking down all of our preconceived notions of the way things are. Thus it is that he does not go through all of these early stages, trying instead to go straight to the final truth. Indeed, in his later works, what he says is often so ‘uncompromising’ that it is difficult to understand at all unless you have been reading/learning/studying for many years.

What is said in the section to which you refer is an attempt to point towards this ‘final truth’. Since reality is non-dual and there is, from that absolute standpoint, no creation at all, everything has to go in that final analysis. Most Upanishads are concerned with various aspects of the earlier stages of teaching and you do not find these ultimately radical statements in most places. The best known of the sources where you do is the Gaudapada kArikA, which is a commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad and almost has equivalent status. Here you have statements such as: “There is no dissolution, no origination, none in bondage, none possessed of the means of liberation, none desirous of liberation, and none liberated. This is the ultimate truth.” (2.32) and “No kind of jIva is ever born nor is there any cause for any such birth. The ultimate truth is that nothing whatsoever is born.” (4.71)

The Mandukya Upanishad, in the 7th mantra, itself come closest to describing the nature of absolute reality:
chaturthaM manyante nAntaHpraj~naM – the fourth (chaturtha) is not that which thinks itself to be (manyante) the internal, subtle world (antaHpraj~na), i.e. not the dreamer, taijasa;

na bahiShpraj~naM – nor the external, gross world of objects (bahis means ‘outside’), i.e. not the waker, vishva;

na ubhayataHpraj~naM – nor both (ubhaya), i.e. not some intermediate state;

na praj~nAnaghanaM – and not that which is a (compact) mass of (ghana) consciousness (i.e. not the deep-sleep state, in which the mind is resolved and there is consciousness which is ‘conscious of nothing’);

na praj~naM – neither simply ‘consciousness’, awareness or sentience; 

na apraj~naM – nor unconsciousness, unawareness or insentiency.

adRRiShTam – (it is) unseen (by any of the senses) [dRRiShTa means, seen, perceived, visible, apparent]; also means 'beyond the five j~nAnendriya-s [sense organs];

avyavahAryam – nothing to do with ‘worldly’ things [vyavahArya is to do with common practice, ordinary life, conduct, behaviour etc. i.e. transactions within vyavahAra];

agrAhyam – beyond understanding [grAhya means to be perceived, recognized or understood]; also means beyond the five karmendriya-s [organs of action] - grahaNa literally means to catch, where the organs of action are involved in catching but is used in the sense of comprehension.]

alakShaNam – without any characteristics [lakShaNa is a mark or sign or, more commonly in advaita, a pointer] also translated as ‘un-inferable’;

achintyam – inconceivable, beyond thought;

avyapadeshyam – indefinable;

ekAtmapratyayasAraM – its essence (sAra) is certainly (pratyaya) the same as (eka) Atman;

prapa~nchopashamaM – negation (ama) of the experience (pash) of all plurality of the universe (prapa~ncha);

shAntaM – peace, tranquillity;

shivam – favourable, propitious, auspicious;

advaitaM – non-dual; 

sa AtmA – that is the Self;

savij~neyaH – that is to be understood.”

The upshot of this is that no word can ever describe the nature of reality and, indeed, anything that we predicate of it cannot be true. Even to speak of it as ‘consciousness’ or ‘non-dual’ or ‘brahman’ has to be, in the final analysis, merely an attempt to understand it with our feeble mind.

Q: Surely "even Consciousness is not the Final Reality” is itself a piece of Knowledge and there cannot be any knowledge without a conscious entity behind it or without consciousness itself being there behind it. 

A: Of course, all that you say is correct. The point is, however, that all of this is vyAvahArika knowledge, even though it is according to shruti. Knowledge, in our usually understood sense of the word could have no meaning in a pAramArthika sense. Similarly, consciousness – brahman has neither parts nor attributes; neither name nor form. This was my point in answer to the original question.

Q: 1) What is the relationship between antaHkaraNa (ahaMkAra, chitta, buddhi, manas) & the physical brain ?

Modern neuroscience & psychology have conclusively proven there is certainly some sort of link between the physical & subtle entities. Clearly, different electrical brain activates correspond to different functions such as perception, memory, emotion etc.

2) The fact that ingested food & drugs DO have an effect on the antaHkaraNa - e.g. you can take LSD or Ecstasy & experience 'blissful' states associated with the subtle realms perceived/enjoyed/known by antaHkaraNa - suggests that the antaHkaraNa is NOT a subtle instrument as I think Vedanta would claim; it must be gross if physical matter can affect it. what is Vedanta's view?

3) Does the antaHkaraNa physically reside in the brain, or does it somehow permeate everything in space-time, or is it outside space-time ?

4) You are a big advocate of 'traditional vedAnta'. I fully agree with the reasons for this (practicality & effectiveness of teaching method). But I still struggle to resolve how NON-vedAnta 'sages' in other spiritual traditions (e.g. Buddhism ), apparently attained mokSha. If vedAnta is a means of knowledge for the Self, then how can any jIva who has never employed this means ever attain mokSha on their own ? Technically, without vedAnta, is should be impossible.

5) Leading on from above, is Buddhism the same as Advaita Vedanta ? I believe Shankara and his Guru specifically criticized Buddhism on certain teachings. What were these objections? Is the Buddhist notion of enlightenment (nirvANa) the same as Vedanta's definition of mokSha?

Every time I read snippets of Buddhist texts, I never have heard anyone teaching about Non-duality. Is this even asserted within Buddhism as the nature of Self ?

A: 1) – 3) Both antaHkaraNa and brain are mithyA so there is no future in pursuing such questions. It is like asking about the relationship between entities in the dream that you had last night. Another way of looking at it is that both are simply name and form of brahman so that there is no question of ‘relationship’ – you can only have a relationship between two things.

4) There is a great danger for confusion here. You ask whether other approaches can lead to mokSha but you are using the advaita term ‘mokSha’ with its advaita meaning. Unless the other approach uses the same definition, you are not talking about the same thing. For example, the concept could have no meaning at all for those branches of Buddhism that believe that shunya is the nature of reality. But advaita is a means to an end only and is itself mithyA so there is no reason why other non-dual paths such as Sufism, Taoism, etc should not have their own equally valid teaching methods for leading one to the truth. My own search happened to lead me to advaita and, in it, I found completely reasonable explanations for everything; explanations that did not conflict with my scientific upbringing.

5) As far as I am aware (and my knowledge of Buddhism is extremely limited!), the only branch that is close to advaita is the yogachAra sect. And their belief is that Consciousness is ‘momentary’, arising with a thought or perception etc and dying an instant later. So even this branch is not the same as advaita. You will find that the Mandukya kArikA-s and the Brahmasutra address (and dismiss) the other spiritual approaches that were prevalent at the time.

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012