Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Justus Kramer Schippers

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Book cover - Living from Neutrality

Justus Kramer Schippers

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The following was published in Amigo 6 in July 2003 .

Language can create many misunderstandings because words always refer to an experience or an object that can be experienced. A word is therefore a label with which an object or phenomenon is indicated, never the phenomenon itself. The menu (word) is never the dish (the object that can be experienced) . How can you explain in words how rosemary tastes? That can not be explained with words. Taste a bit and we (think ) we know what rosemary is. Naturally we know absolutely nothing, we have only had an experience that we call tasting. No matter how much info rmation you may have gathered about rosemary, making a single seed of it is impossible. This intelligence comes out of another realm. There no language exists. That intelligence creates countless complex things, as we can see in nature, but without operating manuals. What creates is the source, the absolute where all differences and manifestations are transcended. In the relative world there are differences, contrasts and opposites by means of which the manifestation is made possible and able to be experienced. Of course, the distinction between the absolute and the relative is artificial because the source contains everything and the creation of the relative world cannot exist separate form the source, just as a shadow cannot exist without the sun.

 Language belongs to the relative and is a means for exchanging information: useful, but nevertheless limited to making communication possible. Language is certainly useful for practical existence, where we want to, or have to, give each other concrete messages such as 'can you hand me that book', or 'watch out there's a car coming'. But to let each other know with the use of language what Unity or Truth is, or the Source of all Being out of which all phenomena arise is impossible. But we have no other tool, we have to make do with it. Whoever is silent speaks no untruth, but a blank page is of no use if we want to discuss the theme of 'responsibility'.

Source, Truth, Unity Consciousness or whatever label you want to give it is the capacity to perceive the self-created, relative or apparent reality, a capacity that is itself beyond every perception. If it were perceivable, then it would be a phenomenon and as a consequence not the Source. The eye can see everything except itself.

This essay is devoted to 'Responsibility'. The intention is to approach the concept of 'responsibility', which is a relative concept, a label, from the absolute standpoint (from the Source). To avoid as much as possible any misunderstandings I will begin with a dictionary definition of 'responsibility'. This is what the dictionary says:
Responsibility = Being responsible: obligation to account for one's behavior. Having responsibility for something, take it on one's self, demand, deny. Synonym: able to respond.

Other related connotations:


  1. responding, accounting for, justifying
  2. responsibility, accountability, justification
  3. liability

The most important meanings are thus to account for, accountability, obligation to clarifying and especially justifying behavior and being able to respond to questions such as 'why' and 'how'.

This means giving a justification. None of these concepts can be separated from 'guilt' or 'merit', which a person can be made accountable for. If someone does something that is approved within a large circle of people, then one can speak of merit and generally that does not bring so many problems, at the most perhaps some jealousy, but with a bit of effort that can be masked.

It is different if certain behavior results in damage or if this behavior is considered to be harmful in some other way. Then we immediately bring up the question of guilt. With every 'mishap' of some proportion there are two questions which are always asked first: How could this have happened, and who is responsible? In law these questions are of course very important because for liability it is necessary that someone is held liable in order to recover the damages. That is how the human mind is put together: somehow or other, someone has to be the guilty, if only to be indemnified. The Dutch have a saying: 'Big bump, own fault' (you should have acted more responsibly). In law, the concepts of guilt and liability are strictly speaking different, but their relation cannot be denied. Liability can be the result of culpable behavior.

Even in the case of natural catastrophes there is always the inclination to hold the government liable: they should have avoided the disaster, or they didn't begin the rescue work quickly enough. There shall be and there has to be someone responsible, or made responsible. We seem to find it very difficult to accept setbacks, and have to assign guilt to someone who behaved irresponsibly. That could be an individual or the government, but naturally you can accuse yourself and go further bowed under guilt feeling. 'Thy will be done' has a limited life time: until Sunday after church. I noticed that this concept is seldom applied to the practice of living.

Thus, we see that a relation exists between: good/bad, a person and irresponsible behavior (guilt). We find people who display irresponsible behavior guilty because we are of the opinion that they had the choice to not behave badly (thus responsibly). Person, guilt and 'free' will come together here. Personal guilt can only exist if:

  • a person exists;
  • if there is freedom of choice for that person;
  • if a distinction can be made between good (responsible) behavior and bad (irresponsible) behavior.

It already begins to become a bit slippery. Whether or not behavior can be labeled good or bad is for a great deal dependent on culture, time, circumstances and especially result. And, to make it even more radical: without Hitler no Churchill, without the English ruling in India no Gandhi, without apartheid no Mandela, without animal experimentation no medical progress. Also, without the completely understandable and valuable ideals of equality, there would be no left wing Marxist dictators, who as in Cuba still enslave the people. Whether you like it or not, the relative needs opposites. Good and bad are only opposites (such as light and dark, space and perceivable object) that that the Source uses to make possible it's conjuring up the appearance of a sensorial perceptible world. Take the opposites away and the world no longer exists. Good and bad are only relative concepts belonging to a relative world. Similarly, responsible behavior can only exist by grace of its opposite: irresponsible behavior. Good and bad are thus extremely relative concepts and to quote Shakespeare: 'Nothing is either good nor bad, but thinking makes it so.' At this moment of writing an acquaintance of mine is taking completely irresponsible action: mountain climbing. Undoubtedly from his point of view he will insist that only extremely disciplined and responsible behavior the mountain can be conquered. My acquaintance and I think differently about the same.

Then the freedom of choice: earlier (in other little articles) I have argued that for any action to take place we are dependent on an impulse that sets us into motion. We have absolutely no control over this impulse and our freedom of choice is hard to find. Whether this impulse is a mechanical reflex (the hand you pull back if the water out the faucet is too hot) or a thought that indicates that one action is more attractive than another: these are forces that come from 'outside' the person. Even the most rationally made decision, was finally dependent on a number of criteria that determined the choice. And, it would be too far fetched to claim that you are your criteria. So who actually decides, you or your criteria?

Finally there is the question of what a person actually is? Whatever it is, it is in any case a phenomenon, because we can look at it, it is an object with observable behavior. But what kind of an object is an object that can't make any distinction between good and bad: after all, that distinction is arbitrary and highly subjective as we have seen. And what is a person if it is completely dependent on reflexes and criteria for its choices? These criteria all stem from upbringing and background. I don't want to get involved in the nature/nurture controversy here, but it seems reasonable to claim that you have not much control over the one or the other, over your genetic programming or your upbringing and background.

To summarize: a person is an object, a phenomenon without freedom of choice, who thinks that it can know what is good and what is bad and above all imagines that it has freedom of choice. What the person or the ego does not want to see is that it is only an apparent object, that is called into life by the Source as a dream projection and just like a shadow lacking any independent existence. If you dare to recognize that you cannot be what you perceive (you can perceive a floor lamp, but you are not the floor lamp, not even if you are 'enlightened' ), then simply you cannot insist that you are a person. After all, you can look at your own person and even be surprised about your 'own' (responsible or irresponsible) behavior.

Thus, if there is no freedom of choice, if a person is a perceptible projection, who then is responsible for what? The Source, Consciousness, God, the Energy, the mysterious Witnessing conjures up the world as it is, for whatever reason, if there is indeed a reason and if so we cannot know it, because we are the Source itself. The eye can not look at itself. If there someone or something responsible then it certainly has to be the source, in which the relative, apparent world appears.

Do we then have to accept all behavior? Do we have to observe any behavior meekly in a sort of fatalistic state? The mistake one makes in this kind of thinking is that these questions are asked by a 'person'. We are then forgetting that a person cannot avoid asking these questions if they emerge in him. Furthermore these questions arise implicitly from the idea that there is a choice between acting and not acting, reacting or not reacting. And that is just the point: the choice is not there. If someone is hitchhiking then apparently there are two choices, but there is only one (relative) reality, one outcome: you either offer him transport of you don't. What it will be is what it has become, because it could not be any other way. Whether you confront the bully misbehaving in the subway or not: the decision has been made, even before it penetrates your consciousness. Suddenly you see that you flee or look the other way (shameful!). It could also happen that to your own surprise you fulfill a hero's role (fantastic!), about which you later will say; 'I never knew I was capable of doing this'.

If you behave 'responsibly' then you need to be a bit humble, it is not your merit. If you behave 'irresponsibly', then I have compassion. because it will unavoidably cause suffering; for you or for someone else. But responsible behavior can only exist by the grace of its opposite: irresponsible behavior. You are not your behavior, we (you and me) are the source and in that realm all the opposites disappear. From the absolute (where no opposites exist) we perceive the relative world as it unfolds, over which the relative has no control. Whether you jump into the swirling river to save the drowning person putting your own life at risk, or you let him die a certain death, you will only come to really know when you are confronted with this situation and no second sooner. Responsible or irresponsible is not the question; accepting What-Is, in whatever way manifested, your 'personal' reaction included, that is what it is about. And for that there are no words.

© Justus Kramer Schippers - February 2003 Costa Rica

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