Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Meditations on advaita
Dr. Vemuri Ramesam

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Humankind has been exposed to the forces of nature ever since we made an appearance on the face of this planet. We find ourselves very inadequate in our struggle for survival. Disease and death are unavoidable. Happiness and pleasure are at the most momentary and fleeting. Endowed with a rare capacity of modeling internally, in our minds—through abstract thinking—the problem of “uncertain futures”, we search for coping mechanisms to overcome our limitations. Incisive logical thinking leads us to the surprise finding that nothing was ever created and all our troubles are the result of mentation, which is responsible for generating an imaginary “self”. We discover that the visible world is an illusion and that one is not really an individual but an eternal indivisible seamless One-Whole-Self experiencing an ineffable peace and inexplicable joy.

A few questions, however, remain: Are there two distinct ‘gateways’ of neuronal networks, one giving raise to “self” and another to “Self”? Could a shift in the operational focus from the node of an “individual self” to a “Universal Self” augmented by opioids like anandamide and neurotransmitters like oxytocin bring about a change in the perceived worldview? Is “negation of the visible world” a mere clever coping mechanism in the face of indefatigable misery? Or is there something unbeknowest?

Humanoids (our anthropological ancestors) first appeared on earth about two million years ago. Human beings came around 200,000 years back having diverged from their first cousins, Neanderthals, about 400,000 years ago. Modern man descended from a small group that lived in Africa. Driven by droughts, he spread to the rest of the globe in waves of migrations about 50,000 years back.

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when the faculty of philosophical “thinking” about abstract issues dawned on humankind. Thinking, per se, predates Homo sapiens, as shown by the comparative studies between humans and chimps conducted at Emory University (Rilling, 2007). Marean (2007) reports evidence that goes back to 164,000 years “for the earliest cultural trappings of modern human species.” Cave paintings (evidence of memory and expression) date back to 82,000 years. Coulson (2006) found, in Africa, 70,000 year old relics of ritual worship indicative of “ability for abstract thinking.”

Neanderthals existed in Africa, Europe, and even went up to China. Krause (2007) found FOXP2 genes in Neanderthal remains from north Spain. This gene and the skull bone structure indicate that Neanderthals had language capability. In spite of that, Neanderthals totally disappeared about 30,000 years ago. Anthropologists ascribed many reasons for their extinction. Kuhn and Stiner (2006) recently suggested, after a detailed study of Neanderthal sites and artifacts, that they failed to develop division of labor between genders, a survival tactic successfully adopted by Homo sapiens.

From the beginning, humankind has struggled for existence. We were relentlessly exposed to the ravages of nature. We had to confront wild beasts and powerful predators. Inexorable natural processes were too daunting to our fragile and mortal bodies. Whatever might be the coping mechanism innovated, problems of “uncertain futures” (Plotkin, 1997) haunted us. Nature’s destructive fury seems inescapable, disease and death unpreventable and suffering and misery unavoidable. Everything around constantly changes; happiness and pleasure seem fleeting and at best only occasional. So, man in millennia past, explored for ways and means of surmounting such limitations.

The quest led to the discovery of a “self” within—a “self” that identified with the body, giving a distinct personality. The “self” is protective of itself and judgmental about whatever the senses observe. It seeks permanency. We surmised that misery emanated because of “self”. We want to rid ourselves of it. Someone said, “Our sensory system is the cause of a “self” within us. Therefore, burn the senses.” So they starved the body, mutilated the senses or practiced frightful rites. Others said, “Surrender “self” to a Supreme Being, who will take care of everything.”

Yet others said, “Thoughts emanate unstoppably. Thoughts give “name and form” to every sensory signal (sensation) received from outside; create a “self” and assess things in relation to “self”—friend or foe; mine or thine. “Self” thus distinguishes itself from the world “out there”. It tends to get attached to friendly objects for security. Why not find “something” unchanging and let “self” be attached to THAT instead of seeking refuge in ephemeral worldly objects? All problems would evaporate if we join the winner!”

Smart move indeed! So they searched for an eternal all-powerful ‘that’. Their astounding, unbelievable and counterintuitive finding at the end: “Nothing was ever born!” That outcome, in one-word, is the essence of Advaita.

Let us follow step by step their Search.

We begin with what is around.

A world out there is perceived.

Therefore, there has to be a ‘Perceiver’.

Who is the “Perceiver?”

Our sense organs (eyes etc.) are not the Perceiver. They just receive the signals and pass on the info to the corresponding cortex (“Indriya”). The constant activity of neurons in the brain produces thoughts (Manas). The new input from senses is compared with the stored information in memory (Chitta). Memory is accumulated knowledge that was learned or experienced in the “past.” It comprises both genetic and memetic (= cultural, religious, etc.) information. A final meaning to what we sense is assigned by intellect (Buddhi) interpreting the new information in relation to our Ego (ahamkara).

Manas, chitta, buddhi and ahamkara together give us the sense of I-ness (Antahkarana). Therefore, I-ness is merely an epiphenomenon arising out of the neuronal processes. It’s not an objective entity.

Research by Tsien (2007), Nicolelis and Ribeiro (2006) established that hierarchical networks of neurons store info in a dynamic neurochemical environment. Neuroscientists like Drs. Heatherton, Lieberman (referred to in Zimmer, 2005) showed that there is no single identifiable ‘spot’ as “self” or Ego in the brain. Networks of neurons particularly in Medial Prefrontal Cortex work as “gateways” for information processing giving us a feeling of “self”.

Thus, indriyas, I-ness and the non-existing “self” are all brain processes that help in our apperception of what is seen. They cannot be the “Perceiver”.

Whenever we cognize a thing, we are lost knowingly or unknowingly in a process of comparing and contrasting what is seen now with the past which is dead and gone. So we never observe what is. Because of this process (which takes about a quarter of a second according to Prof. Crick), we are perpetually behind the “true” now. We live in a pseudo-now which is nothing but the past projected as present.

If we are “missing what is” because of this mentation, what causes Mind? Whatever that is, it must precede Mind.

Our Sensory system does not work unless we are Conscious. (So-called “unconscious” and “conscious” together constitutes Consciousness). What color, sound, language, texture or flavor is sensed is immaterial to consciousness. Like it makes no difference to an antenna what program it receives. Therefore, Consciousness is the detector “element”, the sensor and should exist prior to mind.

But Consciousness cannot function in a stand-alone mode. Consciousness requires a physical body (organism) and also “life-force” within that organism to manifest itself (a dead organism is not conscious). So consciousness and life-force must have come from something else. That “something” must have existed prior to these two.

That “something” should obviously be independent of both consciousness and life-force. That is to say it should be immaterial to that “something” whether an organism is living or dead. Therefore, it must be ever present and should transcend life, birth and death. That “something” is “Awareness”. Or call it by any other name you like.

Is there something prior to Awareness?

We have just no way of knowing.


We left the mind two stations behind. We traveled ahead transcending mind to consciousness and reached Awareness now in our analysis. Remember Mind is the mechanism that sustains an “identity” for “me”, defining my “persona”. Mind being no more existent at this stage, there is no scope for “I” to exist, for “I” lost its support structure. “I” being not there, there’s none to know anything. Awareness is not amenable to expression using such surrogates like words, symbols, and concepts because all these are within and limited to mind.

Mind being just a name for the mental processes and consciousness being just a neutral sensor, neither of them can be the “Perceiver.”

So the real Perceiver is “Awareness.”

Hence, Awareness is the so called “me” perceiving.

Suppose everybody and everything around carries this analysis. They will also reach the same understanding: they, themselves are Awareness.

It means there is nothing but Awareness all-around.

It is Awareness perceiving Awareness by being Aware. It is all One. Not Two. Advaita.

Awareness, being beyond birth and death, cannot have a birth. So nothing could ever be born. That’s the Truth.

The “Search” we did thus far is meditation. To be steadfastly established in that Truth is Liberation.

We may ask, “Why does a world still appear to me?” Vedanta provides an answer through two basic models.

Model One : The world you see is as real as a dream. The wakeful world differs only in its space-time dynamics from dream world. (Brain records the same 40 Hz activity during dream or wakeful states!) Ego, mind, self, or whatever, is all part of dream and untrue. They are illusions. Like seeing a snake in a rope. You cannot cure an illusion like you cannot treat an illness experienced in a dream. You can only wake up or go into deep sleep. Just wake up and the dream automatically vanishes. Similarly, Truth prevails when Wakeful world vanishes (Swartz, 1996).

Model Two : The logic of triad (triputi) is used to explain the phantom world. If you see something, implicitly there are three things: observer (drasta), the observed (dristi) and the action of observing (darsana). That is to say that there is an observer distinct from the observed, the two being separated by a distance. The action of observing bridges the separation. A separating distance sprouts because the moment you look at a thing, the neuronal processing of identification of the object and positioning it vis-à-vis “me” takes place. In the absence of this mentation, there is only the action of observing. When only an action of observing exists, there are no “observer” and a separate “observed”.

Could a Perceiver exist alone without a world to perceive? “Yes”, says Vedanta. That “state of a seer without anything to see” is referred to as Drik (Potent-Looker) (Krishna Murthy, 2007).

[Many of the Buddhist Meditation methods and Cognitive Behavioral Therapies are based on this oneness of Observer-Observed-Observing.] To maintain that an observer is separate from the observed (including positing Human vs. God, Disciple vs. Guru) is duality and not Truth.

Some more Questions and interestingly counterintuitive Answers:

1. If Awareness and Awareness only is there everywhere, why don’t I see it?

If you are an inseparable drop of water within the ocean and if there is nothing other than the ocean, can you view the ocean away from yourself? Therefore, you yourself are awareness! The world is not apart from you. The world is a seamless part of you.

2. What knowledge should I acquire?

Nothing to be acquired. It’s actually giving up what you have! Knowledge always grows. That means at any given time, the amount of knowledge learnt is limited. Hence it is forever incomplete and therefore, imperfect. What is imperfect cannot lead you to perfection. In fact knowledge becomes a burden. You have to empty yourself of all knowledge which is Ignorance (= nescience) in Vedanta! Drop all the known (remember: all the known is stored as memory which we call mind). So end the mind; not mend, bend, blend or grind it. Self ends when mind comes to an end. “That is a form of death while living”, as Mr. J. Krishnamurti puts it (Skitt, 2003).

3. Who dies in the death of an organism?

Nothing dies. What ends at the death of an organism is the imaginary “you”–your so-called personality which is nothing but a virtual entity put together staking a claim to an assortment of characteristics and memories as “yours”. The organism also does not die, in a sense, because the materials (chemical elements) the organism is made up of get recycled and used again. Thus you could be having a few carbon atoms from the gut of Yudhistira! (The chemical elements that constitute our body are older than the earth and solar system.)

4. Do I renounce the World to be free from it?

Well, you don’t. Shri Nisargadatta Maharaj assures, “Do you give up the bed when you fall into deep sleep? You just forget it! Liberation is not being free from the world. It is being free of the world” (Dikshit, 1981; Powell, 2004). Free of “persona”, only unnamed, unclaimed, unchosen sensations remain. Body reverberates as One with every flutter of a leaf, ripple in water or cloud in the sky.


This question is the tantalizing title of the book edited by David Skitt (2003) reporting Mr. J. Krishnamurti’s dialogues with Buddhists led by Dr. Walpola Rahula and scientists like Prof. David Bohm. In his exposition, Mr. Krishnamurti did lead the group in a journey to the Truth through a deconstruction of many-taken-for-granted-pet-concepts. Still, an answer to the main question appeared nebulous. As if to highlight this, Part II of the book opens with an innocent but desperate question of a listener of Mr. J. Krishnamurti’s talks. The questioner asked Mr. J. Krishnamurti why, in spite of hearing Krishnamurti for several years, no change had taken place in him (the listener).

Many religious leaders, politicians, ideologues and philosophers have been attempting for millennia of years to transform man into a happy individual and establish a harmonious society. Their philosophies could at best help a few individuals to keep the wayward mind under reins and to stay calm and composed in presence of happiness or adversity. But squalor and misery, conflicts and violence within an individual and in the society at large continue to the present.

Significant progress has been made of late in understanding neural codes (e.g. Nicolelis and Ribeiro, 2006) and how brain stores and retrieves information (Tsien, 2007). No single spot as “self” could be identified to exist in the brain. It was found that certain networks of neurons operate either singly or in overlapping combinations as ‘gateways’ for autobiographical memories. Those ‘gateways’ help provide a distinct identity as ‘self’ to an individual (Zimmer, 2005). Such an identity in turn furthers survival of the organism and protection of the body.

In contrast to the “self” (of an individual, Jiva), the “Universal Self” of a liberated person (Jivanmukta) identifies him as one with the whole universe. It is suggested here that human beings are possibly endowed with two distinct information processing nodes or “gateways”: a private “self” and a “Universal Self.” A person’s apperception of the sensory information would depend on which gateway is used. Table 1 lists the differences in cognition from the viewpoints of “self” and “Self”. A liberated man functioning with “Universal Self” as the center experiences ineffable bliss and inexplicable love-for-all. Ancient Indian scriptures hold that such a state is the goal of evolution, the purpose of life and the objective to be reached by every human being.

However, a lurking doubt persists. After all, sorrow and suffering exist in the world. Disease and death are indefatigable. Misery cannot be wiped out or wished away. We know these as facts. In such a case, ability to regard the miasma of the visible world as unreal and viewing it as mere phantasm would be a clever coping mechanism. Is being lost in a noumenon only an escape from the phenomenal world? Even a Jivanmukta needs three morsels a day, has to pay taxes, requires an ID for travel, and will have to fix broken bones. With realization of Truth, he and the world do not evaporate into thin air like a dream dissolving on waking up!

However, there is a significant difference in living with a “self” or “Self”. This gets exemplified in “actions” as indicated at rows 11-13 in Table 1. Sage Vasishta said that the actions of a Jivanmukta would not form impressions nor would they have a carry-forward effect (Krishna Murthy (2007a). It may be mentioned here that Mr. J. Krishanmurti (1989) in his talk of Nov 22, 1985 in India spoke about the possibility of ‘experiencing’ without forming a memory record in the brain. He said that the brain cells would then be free to mutate! Mutation in the neurons brings about an effortless change in the chemistry and structure of the brain.

As attested by several studies, neurochemical and biomedical enhancement of thinking and cognition can be obtained through a modification of the brain chemistry. A decade and half ago Mechoulam discovered a fatty acid produced in the brain that mimics marijuana. He named it “anandamide” after the Sanskrit word ananda meaning “bliss.” Anandamide is “a part of the brain’s endocannabinoid system that plays analgesic, anti-anxiety and antidepressant role.” A drug URB597 created by researchers in the USA and Italy is expected to be available in the market in 2008. The drug helps in inhibiting the enzymes that breakdown anandamide (see original story).

Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter long known to influence social behavior and cognition. Recent “research with rodents and non-human primates has shown that oxytocin, as well as the structurally similar peptide vasopressin, plays an important role in attachment and affiliative behaviors including pair-bond formation, maternal behavior, sexual behavior and separation distress” (Bartz and Hollander, 2007). Experiments demonstrated that oxytocin increases trust and social memory. “Liquid Spray”, a product based on oxytocin, for enhancing trust is available commercially.

Future work on brain chemistry may be able throw up more such molecules that define the “ineffable bliss and inexplicable happiness” of a Jivanmukta.

Sage Vasishta discussed several methods of nulling the mind in the 78 th Canto, Chapter V, (The Calm Down) of Yogavasishta (Krishna Murthy, 2007a) leading to the state of a Jivanmukta. Of particular interest here is the following technique described for the arrest of mental processes:

“Open the mouth. Fold back the tongue and touch uvula with the tongue. Extend the tongue a bit more and press the uvula. Keep pressing uvula with the tongue and let oxygen-rich air enter the Brahma randhra. Hold the air there. Then movement of life-principle (and mentation) will stop.”

Such techniques and more vigorous tantric methods prescribed elsewhere like further stretching the tongue to touch the pituitary suggest that a state of null mind is achievable through manipulation of brain.

Let us hope that future scientific developments will be able to help in bringing about a shift from “self” to “Self” in the operational neuronal circuits of human brain. Every man will then function from a caring “Self” as center with a feeling that the whole universe is himself and not a private individual centered around a petty competing “self.” Or possibly a new discovery that may give a paradigm shift to our understanding, unimaginable in present day terms, is waiting round the corner!


The paper traces the mathematics-like precise logic of arriving at Oneness in sequential steps, principally based on the published conversations (teachings is a word not preferred by either of them) of Mr. J. Krishnamurti and Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, well-known thinkers and philosophers who lived until the eighties. Some of the steps narrated here may seem wanting in detailed explanation. They have been kept cryptic, as otherwise the paper would run to several scores of pages. But it is hoped that the ‘fragrance’ of what is being hinted at by those stalwart philosophers can be felt. In order to scale up for mass application of what is achieved at an individual level to all of humanity, it is necessary to rewrite the high-skill algorithm to a low-skill routine. Understanding neurochemistry and the hierarchical neuronal “gateways” responsible for operationalising a “Universal Self” as against an individual “self” may help in this direction.


I am indebted to Prof. M. Lee, Editor, for her thoughtful inputs and patience with my marathon email correspondence which helped in polishing this article.


Bartz, J. A. and E. Hollander (2007), “Is Oxytocin the Key to Understanding?” entry in Mind matters, Sc. Amer., Aug 28, issue.

Dikshit, S. S. (1981), “I Am That - Dialogues of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj”, Available on the internet, pp: 396.

Coulson, S. (2006), “Oldest Known Ritual: Python Worship”, World Science, Dec 6, 2006.

Krause, J. and others (2007), “The Derived FOXP2 Variant of Modern Humans Was Shared with Neandertals”, Current Biology, vol: 17, pp:1908-1912.

Krishna Murthy, K.V. (2007), “Yogataaraavali of Adisankaracharya - Commentary”, English Translation by V. Ramesam, I-SERVE, Hyderabad, India, pp: 96.

Krishna Murthy, K.V. (2007a), “Yogavaasishta”, Part IV, The Calm Down, English Translation: V. Ramesam, under publication.

Krishnamurti, J. (1989), “The Last Talks”, Krishnamurti Foundation, India, pp: 100.

Kuhn, S. L. and M. C. Stiner (2006), “What’s a Mother to do? The division of labor among Neandertals and modern humans in Eurasia”, Current Anthropology, vol: 47, pp: 953-980.

Marean, C. W. and others (2007), “Early human use of marine resources and pigment in South Africa during the Middle Pleistocene”, Nature, vol: 449, pp: 905 – 908.

Nicolelis, M. A. L. and S. Ribeiro (2006), “Seeking Neural Code”, Scientific American, Nov issue,

Plotkin, H. (1997), “Evolution in Mind, an introduction to evolutionary psychology”, Penguin, pp: 272.

Powell, R. (Ed) (2004), “The Ultimate Medicine - As Prescribed by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj”, MBP, Delhi, pp: 215.

Rilling, J. (2007), “Brain Imaging shows similarities & differences in thoughts between chimps and humans”, Proc. Nat. Acad Sc, Online edition Oct 16,

Skitt, D. (Ed) (2003), “Can Humanity Change? - J. Krishnamurti in dialogue with Buddhists”, Krishnamurti Foundation, pp: 224.

Swartz, J. (1996), “Mandukya Upanishad – An Ancient Sanskrit Text on the Nature of Reality, Available online, pp: 24

Tsien, J. Z. (2007), “The Memory Code”, Scientific American, July issue, pp: 52-59.

Zimmer, C. (2005), “The Neurobiology of Self”, Scientific American, Nov. issue, pp: 65-71.

Table 1: Comparitive Attributes of an Individual (Jiva) and a Liberated Person (Jivanmukta).





A sense of ‘self’ exists within.

Considers himself as All and All is himself - the ‘One Self.’

Perceives a world ‘out there’ with one’s own “self” at the center as the ‘viewer’.

Perceives the world as himself and himself as the world.

Interested in self-preservation and self-protection.

Considers himself as eternal. Therefore, feels no need for self-preservation.

Thinks that he/she is the body and mind.

Considers himself to be beyond body-mind.

Experiences Pleasure and Pain; happiness and misery.

Pairs of Opposites like Pleasure and Pain etc. are experienced with equanimity.

Judgmental of things as good and bad, friend or foe with reference to “self”.

Lives things as they come. No acceptance or rejection.

Lives in 3-D world and experiences an irreversible Arrow of Time.

Lives in a world undefined by any bounds or dimensions.

Governed by cause – effect relationship.

Causeless. “It is abidance in the Self.”

Considers the wakeful state as Reality.

Considers wakeful, dream and deep sleep states to be same and equally unreal.

Strives for ‘continuity’ and perpetuation.

Has no strife for perpetuation as he exists forever.




Actions are desire- and motive-driven.

Actions just happen on their own force.

Actions are done with a sense of “Doership” (‘I am the doer’).

No sense of “Doership” exists.

Actions done and experiences etch memories and are remembered.

Actions done and experiences do not get recorded as memories.




Knowledge gained as experience is preserved and passed on to next generation as cultural ‘Memes’.

Acquired knowledge is incomplete and hence considered as ignorance. Being perfect within himself, does not need to acquire any knowledge.

Likes to transfer survival skills as heritable characteristics in the form of “Genes” to off-springs.

Has no need for transfer of heritable characters.

Goes through the cycles of birth and death.

Neither born nor does give birth to anything.


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