Advaita Vision

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Advaita for the 21st Century

An Introduction to Vedanta
Part XLIX
Dr. K. Sadananda

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Part XLIX - Fundamental Human Problem Part 3

Looking at our struggles to solve the three fundamental problems stated above, Vedanta declares that we are trying to solve a problem where there is no problem; and that has become the fundamental human problem. All attempts to solve this problem fail. The only way to solve this problem is to recognize that I am not the limited entity that I think I am. The limitations are the result of my superimposing qualities that do not belong to me - the qualities of the body, or the mind or the intellect or all of the three.

Hence Vedanta says: YOU ARE THAT (tat tvam asi). I am referring to the unqualified existence-consciousness that I am and Brahman is absolutely infinite existence-conscious which cannot be away from me – in fact it is me. This teaching is direct and immediate like seeing an apple in my own hand, which is by direct and immediate perception. I do not have to think; I do not have to run to the Himalayas to sit and meditate or contemplate in order for me to see the apple in my hand. As soon as I open my eyes, I cannot but see. Similarly I do not have think or contemplate or meditate or analyze to find out whether or not I exist. I do not have to prove to myself that ‘I am’. I am a self-conscious and self-existent entity. I might even say that I am the only one that is self-conscious and self-existent. As far as I am concerned, I have to be there in order to establish any other's existence.

That I am a conscious-existent entity is direct and immediate and so is Brahman, since it is absolutely infinite. Whether I can accept this equation or teaching immediately or not depends on my faith in the teaching as well how seriously I am interested in discovering my true nature. It is logical, yet the truth is beyond logic. That I am an existent-conscious entity is not logic - it is a fact. That Brahman is infinite existent-consciousness is what Vedanta declares. The identity of the two is pointed out by Vedanta and that is logical too, since it is illogical to divide existence; it will be like dividing space. Just as space cannot be cut, made wet or dry or be burnt by fire, Krishna teaches in the Bhagavat Gita that the existence-consciousness that you are cannot be cut, made wet or dry, or be burnt by fire. That you are indestructible and immortality is your very nature. It is amazing that we readily accept that we are the inert body, mind or intellect but are not ready to accept we are limitless existence-consciousness, says Shankara, the one who formulated this advaita philosophy on firm grounds using Vedanta as the means of knowledge.

The question that remains then is: why is that I do not know who I am, since I am taking myself to be what I am not? Essentially, when did this ignorance of myself begin? The related questions are: what is this world, if Brahman is everything? Why did Brahman become this world since, unlike Brahman, the world appears to be an unconscious entity?

In addressing these issues, we are going beyond the boundaries of logic. Hence , Vedanta alone becomes a means of knowledge for these things, even though the answers that Vedanta provides are not illogical. The reasons why logic fails is that the answer is not in the domain of the intellect, with its cause-effect relationships. Causes and effects are in the realm of time. We are asking questions that transcend the concepts of time and hence the intellect cannot find the answer by itself. This is the same reason why science also will fail to address these issues, since science is logical and objective while the truth is beyond logic and deals with subject ‘I’.

When did I become ignorant of myself? Vedanta says that ignorance has no beginning. Suppose that, not knowing anything about Anthropology, I ask myself: when did my ignorance of Anthropology start? I must say that from the beginning I did not know Anthropology. However, even though my ignorance of Anthropology is beginningless, that ignorance can end once I learn that science. Similarly, self-ignorance has no beginning but can end once I learn that my true nature is limitless existence-consciousness. This beginningless self-ignorance, which is the root cause of all human suffering, is called primordial sin by some religions.

Ignorance or lack of knowledge is only one aspect. The related aspect is projecting myself as something other than myself. The classical metaphor is that of the rope and snake. I do not know that the long thin soft object that is lying on the semi dark road is a rope and I project it to be a snake. Because of that projection, I sweat; my blood pressure goes up and I may even faint. The innocent rope does not have anything to do with all these secondary reactions that arise from my misunderstanding. Vedanta says the problem is exactly the same when I do not know myself. I project myself to be something other than myself and suffer the consequences of that false projection. The ego that we discussed earlier is the starting point of that misrepresentation of myself.

Next we ask: when did the ego start? When did I start seeing the snake in place of the rope? The moment I saw that there is something on the road and did not realize that it was a rope, I saw it instead as a snake. It was not the case that I first saw the rope and then the snake. Similarly, the moment I know I am here but do not know my true nature, that very moment I take myself to be 'this', which is different from ‘I’. Taking myself to be ‘this’ will start a set of chain reactions involving the three fundamental pursuits in life - to be immortal, to be full and to be knowledgeable, as discussed above.

It is common knowledge that what I do now will affect what I will have or what I want to be in future. That is, what I am now must be the result of my past actions. Within the transactional reality, the laws of cause and effect are perfectly valid. If I am an engineer today, it is only because in the past I went and studied engineering. Similarly, all the effects that I am experiencing now are the product of my past actions, whether I remember them or not. Likewise, the future that I experience will be the result of my past actions modified by my present action. Having become an engineer, if I now study medicine, I may one day become a physician but with an engineering background. Thus I am the prisoner of my past, and also master of my future. If this is perfectly logical, then Vedanta says that where I am born, to whom I am born and the type of body with which I am born - all these results - cannot be due to random choice but must be effects caused by my previous actions. I do not accept that I become a engineer or a doctor randomly; I believe that I am what I am today as a result of my deliberate or willful action in the present or in the past. (As a scientific aside, randomness does not operate at an individual level. All the statistics that we use relate to group behavior and do not predict the behavior of an individual entity. We cannot use statistics to predict the behavior of an individual. At an individual level statistics can only tell us about the probability of my becoming this or that. In technical language, the deterministic behavior of an individual cannot be predicted by the statistical randomness of a group.)

This means that my birth in this life is dictated by the actions that I must have done in the past and the birth in the previous life must have been dictated by the actions that were done in the life before that, etc. Then how is my first birth determined? Since ignorance is beginningless, my misunderstanding that ‘I am this’ is also beginningless, in the sense that it is also beyond the concept of time. As stated above, intellect itself is the product of the birth, which is due to ignorance. One cannot provide an intellectual answer to the question of the very first birth. Vedanta says birth-sustenance-death is a cycle with no beginning. It can have an end once we have knowledge of who I am, since there are then no more struggles related to taking myself to be who I am not. Knowledge of who I am can end the ignorance of myself.

Then who is that takes rebirth life after life? We discussed before that we have a gross physical body consisting of gross matter - called the food-sheath; that which is born of food, sustained by food and returns to food. We have a subtle body consisting of a total mind that has four components: 1) an emotional center, mind; 2) ra ational intellect; 3) a memory and 4) an ego, together with five physiological functions, five senses and five faculties of organs of action – altogether making 19 entities. In addition to these two bodies that we discussed before, there is a still subtler one called the causal body (kAraNa sharIra). It is called ‘causal body’ since it is the cause for the other two bodies. Since we just mentioned that it is the primordial ignorance that is the cause for our birth, that ignorance constitutes the essence of the causal body. We need to discuss now the contents of this causal body since it is the cause of the divergence into different types of birth and accounts for why I am born with such and such body, in a particular place, to particular parents and the environment into which I am born.

Proceed to the next essay.

Other Essays in this Section:
01. The common questions. 27. The Mind of God.
02. Search for happiness. 28. The Paradox of Space and Time.
03. Questions about Religions and God. 29. Living in the Present.
04. Belief that we are Mortal, Unhappy and Ignorant. 30. Relationless Relation.
05. You are not what you take yourself to be. 31. Concept of Ishvara or God-Hood.
06. Problem Definition. 32. Self-realization or God-realization.
07. Vedanta as pramANa. 33. Self realization - attitude of mind.
08. shravaNa, manana and nididhyAsana. 34. Consciousness and reflected consciousness.
09. Experience versus Knowledge. 35. Conscious and Unconscious Entities.
10. Who am I or what am I not? 36. Real Self and false self.
11. Ego or ahaMkAra. 37. Transmigration of Soul.
12. All about the universe. 38. Witnessing consciousness and reflected consciousness.
13. Creation according to Vedanta. 39. Analysis of Mind: Intro part 1
14. Description of brahman. 40. Analysis of Mind: Intro part 2
15. Progressive teaching method: svarUpa lakShaNa. 41. Mind and Matter: Part 1
16. Carpets and Schrödinger's Cat. 42. Mind and Matter: Part 2
17. Attribute and Substantive. 43. Classification of the Mind: Part 1
18. Does the world exist independent of an observer? 44. Classification of the Mind: Part 2
19. Brahman and the world. 45. Classification of the Mind: Part 3
20. The Cognitive Process. 46. Classification of the Mind: Part 4
21. Perception of the world. 47. Fundamental Human Problem: Part 1
22. What does negation involve? 48. Fundamental Human Problem: Part 2
23. Errors in Perception. 49. Fundamental Human Problem: Part 3
24. adhyAsa or error superimposition. 50. vAsanA-s part 1
25. What is Real? 51. vAsanA-s part 2
26. Transformation-less transformation. 52. Viewpoints of reality.

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