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' .

Does a j~nAnI still see the world?

Q. When someone who is enlightened perceives an object (e.g. a cup), what do they think? Do they think that the cup is mithyA and, therefore, not real in an ultimate sense (i.e. neti neti)? Or do they think that what they are perceiving is brahman in the form of a cup?

From my understanding both of these perspectives are correct, however, I was wondering what ends up being the initial or dominant viewpoint that someone who is enlightened has when perceiving the world day to day. What got me thinking about this was that I noticed that Swami Rama Tirtha used to open each of his lectures, when touring the US, with a statement like, 'My own Self in the form of ladies and gentlemen,' or 'The Infinite One in the form of ladies and gentlemen.' Assuming that he was indeed enlightened it seems that when he perceived the world he 'saw' brahman. Contrast this with someone who instead focuses on the fact that objects are mithyA and thinks 'neti neti' when perceiving something.

A. I cannot speak for everyone (!) but the key point is that everything still looks the same. Knowing that the earth rotates about its axis while the sun remains relatively stationary, we still see the sun rise and set. Similarly, someone who is enlightened still sees cups and enjoys coffee, despite knowing that in reality there is only brahman. Or, if you like, what they see is a cup; what they know is brahman. A teacher may make statements such as you mention in order to alert the listener to the topic of the discussion but obviously he still sees the audience � otherwise it would not really be possible to give the talk!

Emotions and enlightenment

Q. I assume that you have thought very carefully about vedAnta before taking it up wholeheartedly. Can you say that on your journey on the razor's edge, did you 'benefit' in any way (although there's nothing to gain at all but Self knowledge)? And even when the journey seemed long and arduous before being enlightened, did you have experiences of sattva and less and less rajas and tamas as you got closer and further?

Can you say for certain that you honestly know or believe that vedAnta is the path to happiness and the end of suffering, at least for yourself, and have you benefitted so far in your experience?

A. First of all, let me emphasize (as I have pointed out in previous, similar questions) that I am not a jIvanmukta. I am still prone to the usual human failings. One does not gain the mental/emotional benefits (j~nAna phalam) unless one is fully accomplished with respect to sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti prior to enlightenment. And I would not even claim to be enlightened unless I first established with the questioner that we understood exactly the same thing by this term.

Secondly, you should disassociate �experiences� from both the study of advaita and from enlightenment. Any �feelings of peace� etc. or �absence of fear� etc. should be considered to be independent and irrelevant. It is certainly true that, with the eradication of self-ignorance, you know that the essential �you� is totally unaffected by anything; is unlimited and immortal. But the body-mind continues. Perception is via reflected Consciousness in the mind and that mind is still affected by prArabdha saMskAra. So if there were certain tendencies present before, it is quite likely that, to some degree at least, they will still be there afterwards.

So the bottom line is that, if mental/emotional benefits are your principal concerns, advaita may not be the best route. Yoga may be a better option.

Cause of creation

Q. I am interested in advaita and recently found your homepage, which is very intriguing and useful. I would like to ask one question regarding the relation between karaNa-sariram (causal body) and brahman. You mentioned the analogy of pot and clay. The pot corresponds to the world, and the clay to the causal body. The causal body in this case is also a material cause, which can be called mAyA. But the clay as the material cause cannot generate the pot by itself. To create the pot from the clay, what is required is a pot-maker as an intelligent cause, which is called brahman. So this world is created by brahman, using the karaNa-sariram as the material cause.

Now, my question arises: how is the clay created? Is this created by brahman? If this is correct, then, logical difficulty arises, since in the karaNa-sarriram, time and space as materials do not exist, as the form of the pot does not exist in the clay before the pot is created. Since no time exists in the causal body, we cannot say brahman creates the causal body, because this statement presupposes brahman exists before the causal body. But since no time exists in this stage, this is obviously wrong. Maybe, the causal body and brahman exist all the time, and we cannot say when both are created. Is this the correct interpretation? If yes, then, it seems the advaita story fails since the causal body as the material cause exists just like brahman.

One way to get around this, I think, is that although we must admit the causal body is not created by brahman, the former depends on the latter as mithyA. But then, I cannot get a clearer picture of how the causal body depends on brahman. Without brahman, the causal body cannot exist. Why? The clay cannot exist without the pot-maker? It seems the clay can live without the pot-maker. Then, we must abandon advaita, and instead, adopt dvaita vedAnta.

A. You will always get into trouble if you attempt to speak of the world and brahman at the same time. Strictly speaking, if you want to talk about brahman, you cannot talk about anything else, because there is only brahman in reality. (Of course, being really pedantic, you cannot talk about brahman at all, because words relate to such things as attributes, relationships, actions, etc., none of which apply to brahman.)

And you almost always run into problems if you attempt to push metaphors too far, which is what you are doing here with the clay-pot metaphor. Metaphors serve the purpose of giving insight. Once the intended insight has been gained, best to drop the metaphor.

In answer to your question, then: first of all, when speaking about creation, world, etc., you have to talk about Ishvara, not brahman. Ishvara is brahman + the power of mAyA. The causal body is not the material but rather the instructions. In relation to a jIva, this is where the saMskAra are stored from past actions, which will dictate the future body and lifestyle on reincarnation. The �material� could be regarded as prakRRiti or mAyA but is perhaps best thought of as Ishvara Himself � like the web spun by a spider. The spider is both efficient and material cause for the web � it creates the silk out of its own substance. Ishvara is the efficient and material cause for the universe. So Ishvara (brahman) does not create the material for creation; He is the material.

There are logical problems associated with any �explanation� for creation. But advaita does not have any of these because the ultimate teaching of advaita is that there is no creation at all. There is only brahman in apparent manifestation of name and form. The �causal body�, too, is also only brahman; there is no question of there being �two things� ever. �Causal body� does not exist as a separate thing.

You might also find the distinction between macrocosm and microcosm helpful; or samaShTi and vyaShTi � the �whole� and the �individual�. In pralaya, when the universe goes into its �Big Crunch� prior to a new �Big Bang�, the entire set of individual �causal bodies� is held in causal form (vaishvAnara) so as to maintain the continuity of individual karma-s.

But it is best not to get too hung up about all of this, since these are interim explanations only. If you do not find them helpful, then it is best just to ignore them. They all have to be dropped eventually anyway.

Q. Thanks very much for your insightful answers. I agree with most of your replies, but it at the same time causes one final question. Let me ask the following question.

You are quite correct to say, 'Ishvara is the material,' and brahman is both the efficient and material cause. But according to my understanding, brahman is pure Consciousness, which is defined as the cause of all knowledge, and it never acts and changes. How does Consciousness transform itself into the material and the universe? In one metaphor, brahman is the light of a movie projector and mAyA is the movie film. Light itself does not change at all, but with the changing movie film, the light projects the movie vision onto the screen. The movie film corresponds to prakRRiti, which is nothing but 'guNa', and I believe (maybe wrongly) the guNa must be different from pure Consciousness. In order to 'project' the universe out of brahman, the guNa or some reflector is required. According to your reply, it seems this reflector is also brahman, pure Consciousness. This statement is hard to understand and very confusing to me.

Or is it correct to say that the material is nothing but vibrating energy, and pure Consciousness is also in the form of energy or vibration, and no distinction exists between the two. Or another possibility is that karma law plays the role of the moving film, which realizes the whole universe out of brahman or Ishwara. Probably, I am asking the same question in a slightly different manner.

A. I didn�t say that 'brahman is both the efficient and material cause'; I said that Ishvara was. You are quite right when you say that brahman never acts or changes � Gaudapada says that it is kArya kAraNa vilakShaNa � and has nothing to do with either cause or effect. As I said: 'If you want to talk about brahman, you cannot talk about anything else.'

Again you are trying to press metaphors into service beyond their field of applicability. It also seems that you might be confusing advaita and sAMkhya teaching. It is sAMkhya that differentiates puruSha and prakRRiti and says that prakRRiti �is made up of� the three guNa, with differing proportions for each person, thing, etc. In advaita, the guNa are attributive descriptions only; all matter is only name and form of brahman. In reality, the universe is not �projected out of brahman� � there is no creation at all. Creation �stories� are interim teaching so that your understanding may grow gradually, rather than giving you a �final� explanation that is totally unpalatable.

Q. Thanks very much for your thoughtful comments. In particular, I am deeply impressed by your remark: 'If you want to talk about brahman, you cannot talk about anything else.' I will take this remark seriously and wait until my understanding becomes more mature. In future, when I obtain some intuitive idea, I might ask for your comments. Anyhow, I greatly appreciate your time and patience for reading and responding to my inquiries.

You are welcome. Glad I could help.

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012