Q: I went to a satsang a few weeks ago. At the end of the last session, someone came forward to ask to be accepted as a disciple (at least I think that was what was going on). The teacher put his hands on the man's head and there was a moment of quiet. I wondered if you could explain what the implication of this ritual is?
A: Regarding your description of the satsang, I do not actually know the teacher or his writing. I have heard that he does have a strong presence but you should be careful not to be taken in by this. The way in which anyone ‘presents’ themselves is part of the nature of the body-mind organism. This is obvious in the case of a deep, commanding voice for example, which is clearly dictated by the construction of the larynx etc. But things such as self-confidence, persuasive power, oratory ability etc. are all learned or conceivably inherited characteristics and have nothing at all to do with non-duality. I cannot imagine what he was doing in respect of the ‘laying on of hands’ but this could never achieve anything other than simple physical reassurance or comfort. If someone makes a habit of this one would have to assume it was an affectation to encourage guru worship – hardly something which could be interpreted as authentic. All of our ‘suffering’ (or whatever you want to call it) is the result of ignorance and ignorance can only be removed by knowledge. Knowledge cannot be transferred by touch unfortunately!
Under the book titled "A Natural Awakening" you
wrote the following: "Many students of
Advaita think that to become enlightened is
to attain a permanent state of peace and happiness
in which they no longer have any worries or
fears." Is this not so? According to everything
I've read it is. Maybe you were saying that
a person with an ego thinks that the ego will
become enlightened, etc. Then I would agree.
But if you're referring to Self-Realization,
then I think I'd have to disagree; enlightenment
is a permanent state of peace and happiness,
A: There should not be a paragraph break between that first sentence and the following ones. I have now corrected this – thanks for drawing it to my attention. Please read the first paragraph again with this in mind and see if you still have a question.
When I say ‘I want to be happy or have
a peaceful life’, I am talking about the
(non-existent) person, am I not? There will still
be times for the ‘enlightened person’ when
there is physical pain in the body or emotional
distress in the mind. The difference now is that
it is known that ‘who-you-really-are’ is
unaffected by any of these things – satyam,
j~nAnam anantam brahma.
Q: Thanks for responding. I think I understand your view now, but am not sure if I agree with it. On the one hand, there was physical pain for both Osho and Sri Nisargadatta. Later in his life, I think Osho made the statement that "This body has become a nightmare." I can accept that there may be physical pain as long as the body lasts, but I'm not so sure about emotional distress. There has to be an ego for there to be emotional distress.
About Suffering in general, Sri Ramana tells us that when individuality is lost, suffering will be non-existent. I would categorize both physical pain and especially emotional distress as suffering. Some quotes from discussions with Sri Ramana:
"If one scrutinises one's own Self, which is bliss, there will be no misery at all in one's life. One suffers because of the idea that the body, which is never oneself, is 'I'; suffering is all due to this delusion."
"When you remain as the Self, as in sleep, the world and its sufferings will not affect you. Therefore look within. See the Self! Then there will be an end of the world and its miseries."
To me these statments and others seem to very clearly state that one who has realized the Self cannot experience suffering, as there is no individual to experience it. So the problem I have with your statement that an enlightened 'person' suffers are thus:
1) Statements like those of Sri Ramana declare that an enlightened one cannot suffer.
2) Even if your statement is correct, the residue of human problems would be nothing compared to the peace of the Self experienced at the same time.
3) Even if your statement is correct, and even if there was acute suffering, the life of the body will be over in a flash, along with all of the suffering. Then one will be abiding as the Self forever in perfect unalloyed bliss.
4) If you are saying that a person, the small 'I', won't have
permanent peace and happiness, then that's true. However, the
statement is confusing then because it implies that permanent
peace and happiness, etc. aren't attributes of the Self, which
they are. And even if the small 'I' doesn't have peace etc.
then what does it matter, because the universal 'I', our true
nature, which is infinitely greater than the ego, does have
5) You said that 'who-you-really-are' is unaffected by these things (suffering). Why make the statement at all then that an Advaita student thinks that there is no suffering upon enlightenment, when you admit that it's true by saying that they don't affect your true nature?
A: This is a language problem again – as are many of the confusions in this teaching. I have never used the word ‘suffering’ in respect of ‘enlightened persons’ and would agree that this is something from which they do not suffer! However, I do maintain that their bodies are still subject to physical pain and their minds to emotional stress. Ramana is, I believe, reported as having been moved to tears by external events or the reports of others (I don’t recall details but can probably locate them if you like). The key difference is that there is no identification in the case of the realized man. The pain or emotion is felt but let go with no subsequent attachment, whereas the ordinary ‘person’ will dwell upon it, recollect it etc. It is not the case that there has to be an ego for there to be emotional distress. Emotion is to the mind as pain is to the body and the realized man still has both body and mind, though he knows that he is neither.
The other frequent point of confusion relates
to the word ‘happiness’. As used
by the ‘person’, it is invariably
in the sense of ‘I want to be happy’,
as opposed to being miserable. In fact, in the
phenomenal realm, happiness and misery are the
two poles of the emotional state. The word traditionally
used in relation to the non-dual Self is Ananda,
which is usually translated as ‘bliss’.
This would seem to be paradoxical in that it
implies that, if the realized person is experiencing
bliss, she cannot simultaneously be feeling misery.
The paradox is resolved, however, by understanding
it as ‘limitless’. It is used clearly
in this sense in the phrase satyam, j~nAnam
anantam brahma (from the Taittiriya Upanishad)
which I quoted above. According to Shankara,
this is ‘effectively’ a definition
of the Self. The point is that the Self is always truth-knowledge
without limit, regardless of whether happiness
or misery happens to be temporarily dominant
in the mind.
In conclusion, therefore, I only use the word ‘suffer’ when there is identification with the emotions. Consequently, since there is no identification in the case of the realized person, there can be no suffering. There may still be happiness and misery but it is known that ‘I’ am not them and they pass much more quickly, leaving no residue.
Hope this clarifies the points of contention.
Q: I can allow the possibility that a realized man may have physical or emotional pain but be dis-identified with it. You say that pain will not be dwelt upon, or brought up again by a sage. However, in the original statement we were discussing you say that an Advaitic student thinks that there will be no worries and fears, implying that there are. Worrying is thinking about problems of the past and projecting them onto the future, which doesn't fit with your statement that a sage won't dwell upon or recollect pain. As to fear, Sri Ramana tells us that one quality of the guru is "unshakable courage at all times, in all places and circumstances." You say that Sri Ramana was known to show emotion based on external events or reports (please provide a credible source for this). I find this hard to believe, considering He knew the world to be an illusion and was always telling others so. Also this is contradictory to a response by Sri Ramana to a question:
Seeker: When we suffer grief and complain and appeal to you by letter or mentally by prayer, are you not moved to feel what a pity it is that your child suffers like this?
Bhagavan: If one felt like that one would not be a jnani.
In your second paragraph you wrote "The paradox is resolved, however, by understanding it as 'limitless.'" Are you referring here to the Self, Bliss, or both. I did a search for satyam jnanam anantam brahma, and found one translation as Truth, Knowledge, and Infinity. Is this the same as sat-chit-ananda, different, or at odds with it?
Also, I'm still wondering why you made a point of saying that many students of Advaita think that pain, etc. are not part of the enlightened 'state' when it doesn't seem like a big deal even if they are, as the Self isn't affected by it and these problems will end with the death of the body. My apologies if it seems like I'm debating just for the sake of debate; I'm just trying to clear confusion and gain a greater understanding.
A: We are still arguing about the meaning of words here and you choose how you want to use them. The point is that the body-mind, cause-effect actions take place just the same for the ‘realized’ as for the ‘unrealized’. The difference is that, in the case of the ‘realized’, there is no identification and thus no claim that ‘I am happy’ or ‘I am miserable’. I have chosen (arbitrarily, perhaps) to define ‘suffering’ as being an identification so that this means the realized man cannot suffer. I have chosen, again arbitrarily, to define ‘misery’ as being an automatic activity of mind so that this means everyone is subject to it, realized or not.
Since you have been confused or even misled by this use of the words, I am willing to concede that perhaps it would be better to make ‘misery’ an identification word, too. I have no problem with this. With regard to the words ‘worry’ and ‘fear’, these were used without sufficient thought. I do agree with what you say and I have now deleted that part from the sentence in the book review – it is definitely misleading.
Nevertheless, the main argument still stands. Many seekers do labour under the misapprehension that enlightenment is all about ‘me’ attaining eternal happiness, never being sad henceforth etc. and of course this is not true. Also many teachers do cater for this type of seeker, teaching psychology rather than Advaita and judging success by the extent to which the seekers feel better. As you rightly say, the physical and mental pain is not a ‘big deal’ afterwards anyway but there isn’t going to be an ‘afterwards’ for seekers who still have this attitude. If they continue to think that enlightenment is for ‘me’, there isn’t going to be any.
Regarding a quote of Ramana being unhappy, I am sure there are several but they are not easy to locate. Here is one that I did manage to find, which also suggests that he is recollecting pain as well:
“Bhagavan related how Echamma, after she lost her own daughter, brought up her brother’s daughter, this Chellammal, and added, ‘Chellammal used often to go to me as a school girl. Afterwards too, she always thought of me. In every letter of hers, she would refer to me both in the beginning and the end. She died soon after she gave birth to Ramanan, the boy who is now in Bombay . They brought the boy here, (it was soon after we came here and we had only a small thatched room in which the tomb was located and I was also staying). On seeing the babe, I could not help thinking of its mother and I wept for her.’ (Bhagavan was moved even now after several years when recounting the event to me).” (From Day By Day with Bhagavan, 2002 p. 315)
When I said “The paradox is resolved, however, by understanding it as ‘limitless.’”, I was referring to the Sanskrit word ‘Ananda’. The word ‘anantam’ means ‘without limit’. The term sat-chid-Ananda is the one most often encountered in ‘descriptions’ of Brahman and ‘Ananda’ does mean ‘happiness’. This direct translation leads to confusion, however, as we have discussed, so I was pointing you instead to the ‘definition’ in the Taittiriya Upanishad, which is also favoured by Shankara. This does not have the same propensity for confusion.
Q: In Sanskrit, why is it that for instance in the 4th verse of Arunachala Pancharatnam the 'm' in the word 'mahiyam' is pronounced as 'n', ie 'mahiIyante'? This also happens in the the word samsara.
A: I am not actually a Sanskrit expert and don’t even know any declensions or conjugations. However, the ‘m’ in saMsAra is not actually an ‘m’ at all but (in ITRANS) an ‘M’. In fact, the ‘a’ and ‘M’ together is called an ‘anusvAra’ and it is better regarded as a vowel than a consonant for this reason. All consonants sound with ‘a’ by default (unless something else is specified) and the anusvAra is represented by putting a dot over the ‘s’ in saMsAra when it is written in Deva nagari. Now the sound of the anusvAra is determined by the succeeding consonant and takes the sound of the nasalized consonant that is in the same group as that succeeding consonant. ‘s’, which is the succeeding consonant in saMsAra, is a semi-vowel and is in the ‘dantya’ or ‘dental’ group of letters and the nasal consonant at the end of that group is ‘n’. Therefore it is pronounced as ‘n’ instead of ‘m’.
The philosophy of sAMkhya yoga has an anusvAra which sounds using the ~N nasal (sounded at the back of the throat) because the consonant ‘kh’ is in the kaNThya or guttural group whose nasal is ~N. The only time that the anusvAra will actually take the ‘m’ sound is when the following consonant is in the oShThya or labial group of letters. An example would be saMbodhana, which refers to the vocative case ending of nouns.
Well, you did ask! (I haven’t come across the other word you mention incidentally.)
Q: Is study of the scriptures a waste of time? There is a quotation from Shankara in the Vivekachudamani that states: "Study of the scriptures is fruitless as long as Brahman has not been experienced. And when Brahman has been experienced, it is useless to read the scriptures."
A: This quotation is from the vivekachUDAmaNi (verse 59), which may have been written by Shankara (though this is disputed by many). However, it highlights the danger of taking a quotation out of context. Verse 61 clarifies this statement: “Except for the medicine of the knowledge of God, what use are Vedas, scriptures, mantras and such medicines when you have been bitten by the snake of ignorance?” And, later still in the same work (verse 281) the author says: “Recognising yourself as the self of everything by the authority of scripture, by reasoning and by personal experience, see to the removal of all ideas of additions to your true self whenever they manifest themselves.”
The way that this should be interpreted is that the scriptures alone are unlikely to be of any help when you are totally identified with ideas of separation and suffering (and especially if your teachers are telling you that reading them is a waste of time anyway!). What is needed is basic preparation of the mind (as specified by Shankara) followed by study, reflection and meditation (shravaNa, manana and nididhyAsana) on the scriptures and unfolding of their meaning by a realised teacher who is well-versed in the scriptures (a shrotriya).
Q: But these two verses appear to amplify what was said in verse 59. It is direct knowledge of the Self, of Brahman, (not 'knowledge' of the scriptures) that truly removes ignorance and is Liberation.
A: I have a problem with the concept of ‘knowing the Self’. When we talk about ‘knowing’ something, it is invariably (outside of Advaita circles!) referring to us, as separate body-minds, objectively knowing some thing or fact etc. In this common usage of the verb ‘to know’, it is not possible for us to know the Self or for the Self to be known. This is because it is only by virtue of the Self, working through the mind, that we can know anything. The sort of metaphor which is useful here is the one of the battery in the torch. It is only by virtue of the battery that the torch is able to illuminate anything but you cannot see the battery with it.
This usual sense of the word also cannot apply to the knowing of the Self by the Self, since it doesn’t have a mind with which to conduct any knowing. To stretch the metaphor, the battery on its own cannot illuminate anything.
It is in this sense of illuminating things, however, that the scriptures talk about the self ‘knowing’. In fact, the phrase that is often used is that the Self is ‘self-effulgent’. The Self is its own light and there is no other light that can illuminate it (i.e. nothing else can know it). In particular, there is no process of ‘knowledge’ involved in self-awareness. Prior to realisation, the (apparent) world is perceived, thoughts conceived etc. by virtue of the ‘light’ of Consciousness. Upon realisation, when the body and mind are transcended, there are no longer any ‘objects’ to be illuminated (since all is now ‘known’ to be Brahman) so that Consciousness now effectively illuminates itself. We ‘become’ Consciousness and there is now nothing to be known and no need for a mind through which to know.
Maha Yoga, one of the best books about the teaching of Ramana Maharshi, has this to say on the subject:
“The Sage is often loosely described as ‘one that knows the Self’. But this is not intended to be taken in a literal sense. It is a tentative description, intended for those that believe ignorance to be something that exists; they are told that this ignorance is to be got rid of by winning ‘Knowledge of the Self’. There are two misconceptions in this. One is that the Self is an object of knowledge. The other is that the Self is unknown, and needs to be known. The Self being the sole Reality, He cannot become an object of knowledge. Also being the Self, He is never unknown. The ancient lore tells us that He is neither known nor unknown, and the Sage confirms it.
“How can this be? The Self is the pure ‘I AM’, the only thing that is self-manifest; by Its light all the world is lighted up. But It seems to be unknown, and to need to be known, because It is obscured by the world and the ego. What is needed is to remove these. The Sage explains this by the analogy of a room that is encumbered with unwanted lumber. If space be wanted, all that is needful is to clear out the lumber; no space has to be brought in from outside. So too, the ego-mind and its creations have to be emptied out, and then the Self alone would remain, shining without hindrance. What is loosely called ‘knowing the Self’ is really being egoless, and the Self. Thus the Sage does not know the Self; he is the Self.”
So, to return to your point, I suggest that what actually happens is that reading the scriptures, listening to the teacher, reflecting and meditating on what has been heard eventually succeeds in eliminating all of the ignorant ideas etc. that prevented realisation of the truth. Then, the Self shines without impediment. This ‘condition’ is what is referred to as ‘knowing the Self’. So, I would maintain that the ‘knowledge of Self’ (so-called) comes after the ignorance has been removed, not before.
have discussed the twin topics of ‘knowing the Self’ and ‘the Self knowing’ as points of difference between traditional and neo-Advaitin teaching in the last chapter of my new book. I have just added these sections as an extract. Plese read this for more on the subject.
Q: If Meditation is to be One without a second is it therefore much broader than ‘dhyana’ (quaere: is this ‘formal’ meditation?) and therefore an integral part of Advaita (how does ‘one’ prepare’ for that which already is?) and synonymous with Life~Essence~Source~Religion~Background?
This may be connected to a Tony Parsons’ sentence from 21.12.2005 in a conversation posted on his web-site, “..the reality is that everybody in the world is meditating”.
Perhaps the only point of any practice is to see through it to the pregnant void of no one to practice, nothing to practice until the next seed sound vibrates up from the deep?
A: The fundamental point about seeking, practice etc. is that, as you say, we are ‘already That’ – we just don’t know it, i.e. the problem is one of ignorance. The only thing that can eliminate ignorance is knowledge. Accordingly, no practice or ‘doing’ of any kind is going to bring about enlightenment. Enlightenment is something that happens when the realisation is triggered in the mind that ‘I am Brahman’, I am not a separate, limited person but the undivided, changeless reality.
But this is not to say that things cannot happen to make this realisation more probable. If we continue resolutely along a path of selfish, desire-fulfilling, worldly pleasure, it is most unlikely. If, on the other, hand, practices such as Shankara’s chatuShTaya sampatti are carried out, scriptures are read and reflected on, qualified teachers are consulted etc, then the state of the mind is likely to be more conducive to this mental modification occurring. (This mental occurrence is called akhaNDAkAra vRRitti incidentally and I will be posting an essay on the subject in a couple of weeks.) Note that you cannot choose to do this (as there is no free will) but such things as reading this for example may bring about the relevant action through simple cause and effect.
Meditation is a practice which stills the mind and thereby helps quell disturbing thoughts and emotions, making it potentially more receptive to any thought, event etc. which might trigger akhaNDAkAra vRRitti. That is all it is. It is not ‘One without a second’ – we are always that anyway and meditation does not usually bring about realisation of this. After the meditation, we soon return to the usual mental turmoil. I can’t imagine what Tony meant by his statement!
Q: A few quick questions relating to the reality of the world.
A: Quick question?! Books have been written about this topic! Advaita has several theories, gauged for the level of understanding of the questioner. All these are addressed in my new book ‘Back to the Truth’ (Feb. 2007). (Note that the other book – 'How to Meet Yourself' - is for those who have never heard of Advaita so you will be familiar with all of that stuff already.)
Anyway, I’ll see if I can give you some quick answers that will satisfy you temporarily!
Q: Does the reality of the world depend on a perceiver?
A: The world is not ‘real’; it is mithyA. It has not been ‘created’; it has ‘dependent’ reality, being simply name and form of the non-dual reality. What it depends upon is brahman, not the perceiver which is itself part of that mithyA world.
Q: Does the world or universe exist independently?
A: I could say that, having answered the first question, all the rest are irrelevant and effectively meaningless. There is only brahman. Seeing something other than brahman is the mistake of adhyAsa – mixing up real and unreal. The mind sees forms and assigns names based on its particular nature, saMskAra etc. Accordingly, what it thinks it sees and what it calls what it thinks it sees will be dependent upon that nature. Thus, in a sense, the mind does create its own world (heaven or hell).
Q: Are there as many worlds as there are perceivers?
A: As above. Most questions of this sort depend upon the level at which you are speaking (paramArtha or vyavahAra) and confusion arises when the question is at one level and the answer is at the other. In reality, there is no world and no perceiver – obviously, if you are talking Advaita, since there are ‘not two things’. At the level of appearance, you can apply whatever theory you like. Ultimately, it will have to be discarded. The approach to use is called svataHprAmANyavAda, which means accepting a given explanation, if reasonable, until something better comes along.
The theory that you are referencing is dRRiShTisRRiShTivAda, where the perceiver combines what he (thinks he) sees with memory etc. and superimposes this upon reality, thus bringing a ‘world’ into existence. This theory supersedes the more common-sense sRRiShTidRRiShTivAda, which says that the world has been created and then we see it. The theory that sublates both of these is ajAtivAda – there has never been any creation.
Q: When I look at an object with another person for instance, say the Statue of Liberty, is there just one that we both perceive or are there as many Statues of Liberty as there are sentient beings perceiving it?
A: As above – use whichever theory you like, really! I hope you can see that this is not being flippant. Wherever you think you are, use that theory which satisfies the mind for the time being. But the mind likes to play – and this is not always very helpful! Ultimately, there is no statue of liberty and no perceiver. There is only brahman.
Q: Independent of a perceiver, what actually exists besides undifferentiated infinite eternal Consciousness?
A: Nothing – and what is this ‘perceiver’ that it is independent of? The differentiation only comes about in the manifestation as a result of a mind imposing name and form.
Read the book when it comes out. There are many other sources explaining all of this in addition to my own inadequate attempts!
Q: Do you know of any teacher who addresses the problem of so-called "Major Depression" and especially Antidepressants, from the non-duality viewpoint?
A: Most teachers do not specifically address the problem of depression. This is understandable since all suffering stems from mistaken identification with the body and mind and the belief that happiness can be found externally, in the future, in objects, people or events. If the general issues are attacked, the more specific ones are automatically covered too. Furthermore, if depression is regarded as a malfunction of the brain and is treated by chemicals that affect its operation, it is all at the level of the body and therefore not of much interest to Advaita.
Having said that, depression is of course a very real problem affecting many to a greater or lesser degree and it is not easy to practise sAdhana of any sort whilst the mind is flooded by depressing thoughts. Practically speaking, therefore, the best thing to do is to treat the symptoms using conventional methods and, as soon as it passes, return to the teaching. Once the ignorance that prevents realization of our true nature is removed, no form of physical or mental dysfunction can cause true suffering again.
Q: It's not about the 'cause' of the depression, but more about the effects of Antidepressants on the illusory self.
A: I'm happy to address any other specific question. I'm not sure where you are going with this one, though. What could the effects of antidepressants on the illusory self be other than illusory? (without wishing to sound flippant!) It's really similar to questions about LSD and other drugs. They affect the mind but who we really are is not the mind. Neither are we any state of consciousness but the background against which they arise. And so on.
Perhaps what you are really asking is whether antidepressants would affect the ability of the 'person' to become enlightened? The answer to this is almost certainly 'yes'. 'Enlightenment' is effectively of the mind, when the ignorance that obscures the truth is finally removed and the mind 'takes on the form of the undivided'. The ability of the mind to do this is likely to be severely hampered if depressed or under the influence of antidepressants. This is part of the reason why 'practice' and 'mind preparation' *are* necessary, contrary to the claims of the neo-Advaitins.
So perhaps the answer to your question is that you should treat the depression medically first and *then* attack the ignorance using the methods of Advaita.
Q: Would you please tell us about your own Awakening?
A: The short answer is 'no'. Why do you ask and what difference could it make to anything?
The longer answer is that I used, many years ago, to feel generally dissatisfied with life and believe that everyone else (at least those who appeared to be happy) was deluding themselves in believing that anything in this life had any real meaning. I began an investigation that was to last for several decades, during which time I learnt about Advaita and felt that I was following a path that would one day lead to enlightenment. I used to imagine that I might one day meet a guru who would pass on the crucial knowledge that would make the breakthrough. All this was self-delusion, still believing that there was a separate 'I' that could somehow become an eternal Self.
There was no obvious, final piece of knowledge, no event, no special guru. I carried on reading and discussing these matters, latterly with many contacts on the Internet. Then, though my interest continues (as evidenced by the fact that I am currently writing my fourth book on the subject), the personal element imperceptibly diminished until, two or three years ago, I realized that I was no longer 'seeking'. The understanding of the truth was just simply there, not simply as an intellectual conviction but as something unarguable, requiring no external validation. Life goes on; the nature of this body-mind has not changed and will continue to operate as though the world is dualistic but it matters not. There is not the shadow of a doubt that 'I' am not the body or mind, simply 'I am'. There is no free will, no creation etc. All of the key tenets of Advaita are simply self-evident.
Q: In Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj's discourses the five elements and the three gunas appear to be permanent and immutable but these are the characteristics of the Absolute, the only Reality. At the same time the elements and gunas are part of the manifested reality, i.e., the world which is not "real". So how can they be both real and unreal?
A: Can you quote the reference that states that the elements and/or guNa are real in any sense? This must be a misunderstanding. The really real is unmanifest and undifferentiated. The world, elements, guNa or whatever are mithyA only, name and form dependent upon the reality. Please rephrase or ask additional questions if this is not clear.
Q: This is actually my question. Are they? My reasoning (quite possibly faulty) goes as follows: 1. The Real is permanent and unchanging. 2. The gunas and elements are - apparently - permanent and unchanging, since it is they that always rule in the same fashion the manifest reality. 3. The gunas and elements are real.
I do have a nagging feeling that this conclusion is based on an error but I can't put my finger on it. We could also say that this question is unimportant, or "who wants to know", etc., etc. However, I wonder if receiving an answer on the same epistemological level is possible. Alternatively, I would like to know where do I take the false step in my argument. Perhaps the criteria of immutability and permanency are not sufficient to make "something" real?
A: Right, now I see where you are coming from! Good reasoning, faulty premise.
The point about all traditional Advaita teaching is that it is aimed at taking us from where we think we are now (separate, limited etc.) to the recognition of our identity with brahman. And where x might be now in all likelihood differs from where y might be. Accordingly, Advaita has carefully gauged prakriyA-s which the teacher will use as appropriate for a particular student.
Ultimately, *all* prakriyA-s are false. Once the related ignorance has been dispelled, the knowledge that brought it about is discarded, too. All knowledge is equally mithyA. So, the story about five elements and three guNa is a useful fiction, devised to help the sAdhaka along the way towards understanding. The only reality is brahman and this cannot be divided onto elements or anything else. If it could be divided, it would not be non-dual, as you have already appreciated.
Incidentally, you use the term 'manifest reality'. This is not strictly accurate and could be misleading. The world is not other than brahman so, in that sense, is real. But it is only a particular form of brahman, in the same way that the ring is a form of gold. The correct appellation is that the world is mithyA - dependent for its reality on brahman. Only brahman is ultimately real - satyam. The ring is always gold but the gold may or may not be ring.
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