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' .

I am not the reflection

This Q&A refers to the May edition, issue number 12, of the bimonthly newsletter.
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Q. As I sit here, the whole of the waking 'state' appears in this illumination that I am, reflected in mind. This isn't some awesome moment described by Jeff Forster featured in one of the recent bimonthly newsletters, although that has happened many times. In fact, some annoyance came and went because I cannot write what I want to say. This is more like a slow, subtle dawning. I can also see clearly that dreaming is a state that comes and goes in this illumination. Deep sleep is another state that comes and goes but there isn't any reflection in mind; however, without doubt, the Self is there.

A. Not sure what you are asking here. But what you are is �in and through� the three states of waking, dreaming and deep sleep, but �free� of them all.

Gaudapada describes turIya as prapa~nchopashamaM, which means �negation (ama) of the experience (pash) of all plurality of the universe�, i.e. the three �universes� (prapa~ncha) of the three states of Consciousness. turIya is free from these prapa~ncha-s. pashamaM means rahita, free from (upashama means cessation, stopping, becoming quiet).

Q. Is this feeling that I exist, that I know that I am, what Ramana calls the I-thought?

A. Maybe this quotation from the second edition of Book of One will help:

According to Ramesh Balsekar, Consciousness could be described in a hierarchical way as follows. The starting point is Consciousness �at rest�, without any attributes or qualities � nirguNa brahman or �Unconditioned Consciousness�. Then there is Consciousness �in movement�, functioning as the Witness or �Conditioned Consciousness�. As soon as there is the thought �I am�, this becomes �embodied� Consciousness. Finally, this becomes identified with the body-mind and is the �attached� Consciousness � the jIva. The process of enlightenment is to remove the identification and return to the witness and ultimately the unattached �I am�.

Q. So it is this pure witness that is reflected in the mind, then it becomes 'conscious in movement', which is manifested as mithyA? The way I see it is that this pure witness is always there in the mithyA. Seeing this makes all the difference - seeing the rope that was once seen as a snake.

A. Still sounds a bit confused. Pure Consciousness reflected in the mind is the sense of the individual �I� � it is called chidAbhAsa [false appearance or reflection (AbhAsa) of Consciousness (chit)]. brahman is �sat� � existence-reality. Anything other than brahman is mithyA. (Of course, in reality, there isn�t anything other than brahman � that is the point.) The idea of a �witness� is still an idea, albeit a rarefied one. Since there is only brahman, there isn�t anything (else) to be witnessed. So even the witness is mithyA, ultimately.

Ignorance and the Self

Q. The following sentence is copied from a discourse entitled, Adhyaasa - the Nature of Error found on the advaita.org.uk website. It is a very common statement; one to be found in just about any writing concerning Advaita, and is as follows:

The solution is to remove the ignorance of the Self.

I have a very simple question concerning this statement. Would you consider the sentence to remain correct if it read: The solution is to remove the Self's ignorance? The difference seems subtle, but perhaps it is not.

A. No � your alteration is definitely not correct. The Self has no ignorance to be removed; the ignorance is in the mind of the jIva only. However, you should bear in mind that the precise ontological status of ignorance is debatable.

Shankara says, in his commentary on bRRihadAraNyaka upaniShad (I.iv.10): 'We agree that the Absolute is not the author of Ignorance and that it is not deluded by it either. Even so, there is nothing other than the Absolute, which is the author of Ignorance, and no other conscious being apart from the Absolute that is deluded by it.'

And M.K. Venkatarama Iyer has some interesting discussion on the topic in his Contribution of Bharati Tirtha and Vidyaranya to Development of Advaitic Thought:

'From this account we should not conclude that Maya or Avidya is mere absence of knowledge. They are not mere negative entities. Rather they are positive for every individual has the positive experience of his own ignorance [Aham aj~naH]. Since this is an experience it must have a positive character. Only what is positive and existent can become an object of experience and not what is negative and non-existent. There can be no contact whether through sense organs or through the mind, with what is non existent. It follows that if Maya or Avidya were merely absence of knowledge, we could have no experience of either. But we do have the experience of our ignorance. Hence it must be treated as a positive entity.

'Now arises the question regarding the locus of Maya. Wherefrom does it operate? Two answers are given and they represent the views of the Bhamati and the Vivarana schools of thought. Vacaspati following the lead of Mandana Misra, asserts that the Jiva is the locus of Avidya. His reason is that it is dispelled by the knowledge which the individual self acquires. If it were located elsewhere, say in Brahman, then it could not be demolished by the knowledge which the finite self acquires. The ignorance of one cannot be destroyed by the knowledge which some other person requires. Unless ignorance belongs to the man who acquires the knowledge, it can not be removed by such knowledge. We find that a particular Jiva acquires the saving knowledge and that Jiva is liberated. Vacaspati recognises a plurality of Avidyas and necessarily a plurality of Jivas as their resting places. It is open to each individual to get rid of his Avidya by the acquisition of the knowledge of his own real nature and get released. Ordinary ignorance may be removed by acquiring the knowledge of the object to which it relates, but this primeval ignorance can be dispelled only by the knowledge of Brahman or Atman. Realising one�s own true nature also comes to the same thing.

'To this view it is possible to raise the objection of reciprocal dependence. It may be asked how the Jiva which is the product of Avidya can itself be the seat of Avidya. There was no Jiva before the operation of Avidya. It came into existence only after Avidya had screened the real and projected the unreal. How can that which owes its origin to Avidya be itself the locus of Avidya?

'This is no doubt a powerful objection and Ramanuja has given it the first place in his list of objections. But it will not stand examination. It presupposes the existence of time. The question which is earlier and which is later is meaningful only in relation to time. But Avidya did not come into existence at any particular point of time. It is beginningless -Anadi. The Jiva is also equally Anadi. Vacaspati does not say that at any particular point of time there was only Avidya and the Jiva did not exist, nor does he say that at any time there was only the Jiva and Avidya did not exist. His view is that both are coeval. Both are beginningless and it is as meaningless to ask which came first and which came later as it is to ask whether the seed came first or the tree.

'The Vivarana view is that Brahman is the locus of Maya. Since the only reality admitted in the system is Brahman, it logically follows that it must be the seat of Maya. This is the view of Suresvara and, as we have already stated, the Vivarana follows his lead in this as in many other respects. The Vivarana maintains that there is contradiction involved here. There is nothing wrong in recognising that Maya, which is ignorance, has its locus in Brahman which is pure sentience. Maya can co-exist with Suddha Chaitanya; what cannot do so is Vritti-Chaitanya. We are to understand that Brahman is bound as it were by its own ignorance and liberated as it were by its own knowledge. This view however places too great a strain on our sense of probability. It is rather difficult to believe that both bondage and liberation belong to Brahman. The �as it were� does not remove the difficulty. Even in the case of the finite self the bondage and the release are only, as it were, from the correct point of view. The liberated individual in the fullness of his knowledge, will only say that he was never bound and never set free. Both become unreal in the wake of the plenary experience. There is, however, some meaning in saying that the finite self feels bound at one time and liberated at another time but none in saying that Brahman feels bound at one time and liberated at another time.

'Vidyaranya strikes a middle course in regard to this question. He appreciates the reasoning in both positions. But his sympathies are with the views of Vachaspati. It enjoys the support of Shankara also. In his commentary on Vedanta Sutra (IV.1.15), he asserts that no one has the right to question the experience of an individual who feels that he is liberated, merely because he is still continuing in the embodied condition. Since he speaks of the individual's experience we have to infer that the finite self was the locus of ignorance. Vidyaranya's leanings are towards the Bhamati view though he recognises the force in the reasoning of the Vivarana view.

'Maya can be studied from three stand points. To the man in the street the world is perfectly real. He never suspects that it is unreal or that it is the projection of Maya. Hence he is not worried by this problem at all. To those who are well versed in the sastras, Maya is a non-entity, a mere figment of the imagination. In sastraic parlance it is spoken of a �tucca�. They dismiss it as wholly unreal and never worry about it. To the philosopher who brings an intellectual approach to this question, it becomes a problem. He finds it difficult to admit it as real; he finds it equally difficult to dismiss it as unreal. Hence he treats its nature as something indeterminable. He speaks of it as �sadasad Vilakshana�.

'Whichever is its seat, Maya cannot wholly conceal the reality. If it did so, it would itself become invisible. Maya has no power to reveal itself, being insentient. If it is known at all, it is because of its light of Brahman. The cloud seeks to hide the sun, about does it succeed? No. If it did, it would itself become invisible. If the sun were completely hidden there would be nothing but darkness and in that darkness nothing could be seen. We will not then be in a position to say that the cloud is hiding the sun. The cloud is such a small thing - how can it hide the sun whose size is so great? Even so, Maya can never wholly conceal Brahman. It can do so only partially. Like the cloud hiding the sun from our view, Maya also can conceal Brahman only to our limited visit.'

As you see, an interesting subject! Thanks for the question.

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012