Advaita Vision


Advaita for the 21st Century

Questions and Answers
Dennis Waite

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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' .

The relative status of jIva, world, Ishvara and brahman

Q. I have been listening to Swami Dayananda�s lectures and also I have been reading about advaita. Please go through the following and see if my understanding is correct.

The only truth is consciousness. I am conscious is the fundamental fact and everything else (including my mind, body, this world that includes Swami Dayananda and even God) are secondary and so do not have independent existence. This implies that if I am not conscious of something, that something does not exist. Upon the death of my body, I am not conscious of my body, mind and this world and which means that they cease to exist. This seems logical to me until I come up with this example: if I walk in an unknown place with my eyes closed, I am not conscious of the presence of a wall - will I bump into it or not? Logic says that I will. Can you please help me reconcile this paradox?

Let us ignore the above problem for the moment. I understand that there is only one knower in this world and that is I. Everybody else is an apparent knower and everybody else and everything else (including my body and mind) just go by a script that was written by me (in so many lives before) unconsciously due to the incorrect thinking on my part that I am my body/mind/intellect. The actions that I did (with my erroneous ideas) form the seed for this entire universe. Everything in this universe exists just for my own sake. Some good things I did are the cause for Swami Dayananda�s (and even Lord Krishna�s) existence and their teaching and the only intended recipient of that teaching is I. Once I come out of the habitual thinking that I am separate from the rest of this world and realize that this entire universe is just a manifestation of my karmas and I am just 'I am', the game is over and there is no necessity for this world (or any world). This world will continue only until my body/mind remains alive.

The conclusion is that, once I realize my true nature, I will not suffer since I know that nothing in this world (including the sufferings of other people) is really real. And, I will not have any necessity to teach anyone since no one is real.

I�m afraid you still have some confused ideas. If you continue reading Swami Dayananda and listening to his talks (or those of Swami Paramarthananda, which I can recommend even more highly as far as listening is concerned) you will undoubtedly clarify them.

The areas of confusion relate to brahman versus jIva versus Ishvara and the status of the world with reference to karma. The net result is that your ideas sound more like solipsism than advaita.

It is probably best if you do not use the word consciousness, which you seem to be confusing with being conscious of (i.e. aware of) something. Call who-you-really-are Atman or brahman � the non-dual reality. There is only That from the standpoint of absolute reality. But there is an apparently dualistic world, with other people and this appearance continues after you are enlightened and after the death of your body. It is only an appearance even now; in reality, it is only name and form of brahman but the ignorant mind mistakes it to be something separate.

When you wake up from your nighttime dream, your dream world disappears because it was all in your mind. But when you �awaken� to the reality (i.e. become enlightened), the world does not disappear because it is not inside your mind. The world is not your projection. According to traditional advaita, the world is the projection of Ishvara, using the power of mAyA. From the standpoint of absolute reality, Ishvara too is brahman alone. In reality, there is no creation, no separate jIva-s and so on. But while the appearance lasts, the interim explanations are needed.

Your own body, mind and environment are the result of your past karma. The present world is the result of humanity�s combined karma. So your not being aware of something does not make it cease to exist � Ishvara is still aware of it.

And you cannot talk about there being only one knower in the world (you). This is again confusing levels of reality. If you speak of there being only One, you are speaking as if from the standpoint of absolute reality (paramArtha). On the other hand, if you speak about there being a world, you are talking from the relative or empirical standpoint (vyavahAra). You cannot talk about both at the same time because this would be meaningless.

Who-you-really-are can never suffer, whether you are enlightened or not. Equally, the body and mind may suffer irrespective of your enlightenment. Enlightenment is permanently to cease to identify with body and mind, even though these will continue until their death.

Q. I read your response, thought about it and I write the following. Please see if my understanding has become better.

I understand that �I am conscious� (not of anything, but just the fact that I am conscious) is more fundamental than the fact that I am conscious of something.

I understand that the world will continue as it is even after I am enlightened but with full understanding on my part that the world is just nAma-rUpa.

The appearance of the world even after my enlightenment is due to the continuation of my body and mind which are due to my prArabdha karmas still being active (and so my body may still suffer).

But I still don�t understand how you can say that the world will continue after my death. Even in my deep sleep, when I am supposedly still 'alive', there is no world.

The continuity of this world after I come out of my deep sleep is due to my memories, which still existed in some form during my deep sleep, due to the force of my prArabdha karmas.

And so I still tend to think that when I am not conscious of the world, the world does not exist. (I do admit that this idea that the world will cease to exist upon my death gives me a certain peace of mind, for there is no family I leave behind to suffer.)

I do understand that the world is not a projection of my mind since I group my body, mind and the world in the same order of reality. The world is not my projection; myself and the world are all projections. All 'idam-s' are projections (that includes my body, mind, thoughts and the world). If I say that these are Ishvara�s projections, then if Ishvara is 'not I', the subject, he also becomes an idam and so becomes another projection. So Ishvara should be the same as the I, the subject. What is mAyA, then? Can I say that mAyA is nothing but the ignorance in the mind of myself?

I think you are still missing the point about Consciousness, with a capital �C�. This is often used as a synonym for brahman, the non-dual reality. It does not mean �conscious� as in self-aware. Everything is �Consciousness�, including a stone, which is clearly not �conscious�.

Presumably you have had friends or relatives that you knew and who have since died? And the world did not end when they died. Why should it end when you die? From the standpoint of empirical reality, the world is real, people are real and separate and the world carries on when one of them dies. From the standpoint of absolute reality, the world is mithyA, as is your body and mind. This reality is forever unaffected because there is no world and no people. This differentiation has to be very clearly understood.

You cannot deny that your experience is very much that the world does continue when you are asleep. It is the next day when you awake; your body is refreshed but now hungry; the ground is wet from the night�s rain etc. From the standpoint of the waker, the reality of the waking world is undeniable, just as from the dreamer�s standpoint, the dream world is real. You can say, if you like, that �your� waking and dream worlds are in potential or unmanifest form when you are in deep sleep. But, as I explained before, while your dream world is entirely within your own mind, the waking world has apparent external reality and this is in common for all wakers so you have to postulate Ishvara as the creator of this. It does not work to say that it is a projection of your mind unless you say that you are the only �real� person in this waking world. This view, as I suggested before, is solipsism.

Again, from the absolute standpoint, you can indeed say that you are Ishvara but, while you still believe you are a separate body-mind in a separate world, you are clearly not. Ishvara is said to be sarvaj~na � all-knowing. He does not have any ignorance but uses the power of mAyA to create the world according to humanity�s karma. But again we are at the level of the waking world, which is mithyA.

I do agree that this is one of the most confusing aspects of traditional advaita, which is why neo-advaitin teachers in the West attempt to ignore it completely and talk as if from the absolute viewpoint all of the time. This may perhaps be less confusing but it does not help the seeker understand the appearance or how to move from a position of ignorance and suffering to one of Self-knowledge.

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012