Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Empirical Experience and j~nAna

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You ask what is the nature of that 'perception of the world' which follows when ignorance of our true nature has been removed along with its effect, namely, the misperception of the world as non-brahman. Devotees regularly asked Sri Ramana Maharshi that question in the form of "Does the j~nAnI still see the world?" and he replied that the aj~nAnI cannot understand the j~nAnI; first remove the ignorance of your real nature then see if the question is still relevant. So what chance do I have, as a mere student, to give a sensible answer to this?

I feel I appreciate your underlying question though, namely - if the nature of the j~nAnI (or j~nAna) is none other than Brahman and if Brahman is one without a second then how can there be an 'other' to be perceived or a 'who' separate from the 'other' to do the perceiving? Pure consciousness, or Awareness, (which is none other than Knowledge/j~nAna) is never an object of perception.

I don't know if you would agree with this - perhaps another way of asking the question is as follows, 'can empirical experience and Knowledge of Brahman co-exist?' In Upadesha Sahasri, Sri Shankaracharya appears to suggest it does, as a result of prArabdha karma having the power to continue even after Knowledge has destroyed the ego sense. Sri Ramana also suggests the same when he states the following in "Forty Verses on Reality":

v.18: The body is the Self, both to him that does not know the Self and to him that knows. The one that knows not believes himself to be limited to the body and distinct from God the All. To the knower of the Real Self within, He shines as the Infinite Being, not other than God. Great indeed is the difference between the knower of the Self and the non-knower!

v.19: The world is real both to the non-knower and to the knower of the Real. He that lacks knowledge of the Real believes the Real to be coextensive with the world. The knower of the Real shines as the formless One, the basic substance of the world. Great indeed is the difference between the knower of That and the non-knower.

Might we say that we refer to someone as a j~nAnI only by virtue of the presence of an upAdhi? Without a upAdhi of any kind is there a j~nAnI or only j~nAna?

Might we also say that empirical experience is the characteristic of the upAdhi(s) lit up by consciousness, while Knowledge or j~nAna is the nature of the Self?

If this is the case then so long as the upAdhi remains, there is the presence of both empirical experience (mithyA) and Knowledge (j~nAna). What is absent is the ego sense.

Right Knowledge has destroyed the ego sense, therefore there is no state of false identification with the body and mind for the j~nAnI. Properly speaking, then, there would be no 'one' (no individual independent of the upAdhi) to make this false identification as the 'I thought' has already been destroyed.

However, the aj~nAnI (the unenlightened) can only make sense of the j~nAnI's existence and actions through the appearance of the upAdhi. Ignorant of his own true nature and falsely identified with his own body the aj~nAnI takes the j~nAnI to be an individual body/mind separate from himself.

To come back to the question – can empirical experience co-exist with Knowledge (J~nAna)? – we have the following in Chapter IV (Verse form) of Upadesha Sahasri. I have Swami Jagadananda's version and translation of some of the verses by A.J.Alston which are similar. I am using A.J.Alston's translation of verses 4 & 5:

Verse 4: The seeds of action, which initiate the body of the one who realizes the Absolute, bring forth these two fruits - namely, empirical experience (during the whole term of that body's existence) and knowledge of the Self. Empirical experience and knowledge of the Self must therefore by mutually compatible. But all other merit and demerit (except that which is responsible for the present body) is contrary (to and therefore negated by knowledge).

Verse 5: Whoever possesses knowledge of the Self, which contradicts the notion that the Self is the body as clearly as 'knowledge' of the ignorant man affirms it, is liberated whether he wishes it or not. Hence all this (the logical compatibility of spiritual knowledge with empirical experience and its incompatibility with all seeds of future activity except those which initiated the present life) stands proved, and we have declared the manner of the proof.

We might ask how can Knowledge be the result of 'action' as suggested in the verses. In an earlier verse Sri Shankaracharya has already stated:

Ch II: 3. A following Knowledge does not arise without negating the previous one (e.g. the knowledge of the rope does not come without destroying that of the snake in a rope-snake).
(trans. Swami Jagadananda)

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012