Shankara and advaita
Q. When I go to sleep, the world disappears for me but when I wake up, an earthquake has taken place during the night in Japan and the TV is showing images of the destruction - what is going on? The world kept on going by itself while I was asleep. Is this world real and alive?
A. The answer to your question is effectively covered by the sentence attributed to Shankara, which sums up the philosophy of advaita: brahman is the (non-dual) reality; the world is mithyA; the person is not different from brahman. At the level of the world-appearance, there are multiple objects and people and the world carries on whenever one of them sleeps. It is said that the world is created by Ishvara, who also sets up each person according to the saMskAra they accumulated in previous lives. But everything is, in reality, name and form of brahman only. If you find the metaphor useful, you can think of Ishvara being the ocean, the people being individual waves, but everything is really only ever water.
This Q&A refers to the April edition, number 11, of the bimonthly newsletter.
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Q. 'Seeing our Nothingness. It's that simple.' This is a quote from Douglas Harding's article from April's bi-monthly newsletter.
Could you explain what he might mean by 'Seeing our Nothingness'? So many 'teachers' on the satsang circuit seem to come to this 'Nothingness'. Later in the article, he uses 'No-thing', which doesn't work for me either.
Here, as I read this, I exist and I am aware that I exist. I am undoubtedly present and aware of being present. It is intangible, bright and luminous and neither empty nor full, without name or form. But it's not Nothingness. Not only is it not Nothingness, it is solid and effortless. The only way one could come to Nothingness would be to say, Well, I'm not the ringing in my ears, I am not the chair I am sitting on, I am not anything I can perceive, so I must be the Nothingness from which it all comes and goes.
Q. I once heard a story of how Swamiji Dayananda listened intently while a Buddhist scholar explained in detail how there was only Emptiness devoid of Self. After he had finished, Swamiji asked, 'How would you like you tea?'
A. I entirely agree with you. Shankara refutes the shunya vAdins in his commentaries on Gaudapada�s kArikA-s and the brahma sutra-s (at least). Brahman is not nothing! And you are That.
'Not only is it not "Nothingness" it is solid and effortless.' How do you see the use of 'solid' here. I could not find a better word to describe That. Like sweet is solid in the taste of sugar. Real, tangibly intangible.
A. I think you have to accept that no adjective can be used because brahman is attributeless and adjectives relate to attributes only.
Q. When you say that we do not have a choice in what we do, do you mean that the ego does not have the choice and that it is Consciousness that makes the choice, at that particular moment in our spirit's evolution?
A. Choice (or not) only relates to the person � Consciousness does not do anything. Who-we-really-are is Consciousness � now and always. There is no �evolution�, only varying degrees of ignorance in the mind.
Q. Thank you for that. Tell me, once you realize the Truth, how do you go on in the world and pretend in order not to make anyone uncomfortable and yet still live by your Truth?
Is leaving the world a solution to not exposing your mind to the distractions and the pretentions of life?
Or shoulf you just be where you are and be aware of Consiousness and still continue to pretend?
I would be grateful for some advice.
A. You don�t have to do anything. The world-appearance continues and your body-mind and its apparent involvement in the world continues also. You still see the sun rise and set and enjoy the colorful display, even though you know that the sun is not rising or setting. The difference is that you know it is only an appearance and who-you-really-are is totally unaffected by any of it. There is neither any need to pretend nor any need to disturb the ignorance of others (blissful or otherwise) unless they should ask questions, believing that you have some answers. You simply know that everything is brahman and you are That.
Q. I would like to refer to the notion that enlightenment requires a path that leads to it, which you have discussed before. I do not want to argue for or against this, and I do not know if I'm about to present anything new on this. I just have this feeling that it is simply 'horses for courses'. There are going to be some who do see themselves on a path heading towards an endpoint or goal. Then there are going to be others who may have been on a path for a while until they realize that they are already what they are searching for, and that they always were. Furthermore, there might be some who never knew of any path or anything called enlightenment, who one day find that they are 'no longer in Kansas anymore'.
So, there are many ways to 'skin a cat', and yes I do feel sorry for all these cats. The point is that I do not know what good it makes claiming that one way is better than another. I would rather people make up their own minds, instead of being influenced by experts in a particular field.
A. All that you say may be true to some degree. The bottom line, however, is that enlightenment = Self-knowledge and Self-knowledge is prevented by ignorance. So the ONLY way to attain enlightenment is to remove the ignorance. This is a mental activity and a still, perceptive mind, able to exercise discrimination etc. is the one most likely to succeed. An approach is needed which cultivates this condition of mind and simultaneously provides knowledge appropriate to removing the ignorance. Traditional Advaita is such an approach. Some other �paths� do not provide either.
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