Thursday, 28 December 2006

What is advaita?

As a conclusion to my previous post, Is there really any difference between the advaita taught by Sri Ramana and that taught by Sri Adi Sankara?, I would like to add the following simple definition of advaita.

In brief, we can define advaita simply as self-attention — the state in which we are attentive to or conscious of only our own self, our true and essential being, 'I am', and not any other thing. Atention to anything other than ourself is duality or dvaita, and cannot be the real state of absolute non-duality or advaita.

In other words, as I wrote in the comment that I added to the previous post, true advaita or non-duality can in fact be experienced only in the state of perfect self-attention or self-consciousness.

20 comments:

Ganesan said...

You say that 'we can define advaita simply as self-attention — the state in which we are attentive to or conscious of only our own self, our true and essential being, 'I am', and not any other thing. Atention to anything other than ourself is duality or dvaita, and cannot be the real state of absolute non-duality or advaita'. In our present scenario, where we are used very much to the objective knowledge, is it not a painful fact that in our attempts at self-enquiry we land up in thoughts, concepts, whereas self is one of thought-free attention? It demands that we be free from thought process. But this is another act of thought. How are we to transcend this vicious circle? How is one to do the self-enquiry when the reality of thought and the thought-world is so much ingrained in our psyche? Thought is absent in our lives only when we enter into dreamless sleep. Who knows that there might be forgotten dreams?

Anonymous said...

(PART 1)

I addressed this letter to Michael James some time ago. Since I didn't receive any answer (in his page he apologizes in advance for his lack of time to reply to mails) I thought to post it in this blog, in the hope that somebody could give me some useful comments about it. Thanks in advance.

-------------------------------------------------

Dear Michael James:
I am presently reading your book “Happiness and the Art of Being”. I am finding it very clear as well as profound, and I congratulate you for it.

I have had a long-time interest in spiritual matters, and lately I am focusing in advaita vedanta, which appeals to me very much.

I am writing to you because there is some aspect of advaita that is not clear to me, even after reading many books on advaita. And now, when I am reading your book, the same question arises to me again.

Briefly, it can be expressed thus: “are there ‘others’, or are there not?”.

I mean: I know that I exist. I have not doubt about that, because I am self-conscious. It is true that now, because of my ignorance, I identify myself with a certain body and mind living in a certain world, and, having understood (at least intellectually) that this is false, I expect, as the great teachers have told me, that after following a certain path suited to my inherent tendencies, the day will come when I will identify myself with the pure conciousness which is my real being.

All right. But even now, in this state of ignorance, I AM and I know that I AM (even if I don’t know and mistake WHAT I am).

But, apart from me, there seems to be in this world millions of millions of other beings, human and not human. Some questions come to my mind: do these others beings really exist like me? Are they at the same level of existence that I am? Are they my peers? Is every one of them as self-conscious as I am? Do they feel pleasure and pain like me? Do they, like me, in any way think, or feel that think, according to the different measures of their intellectual development?

The first, intuitive answer that one would give to all these questions is “yes, of course”. But advaita uses to make us doubt even of the most well-established beliefs born from the common sense. For example, in many passages of your book it is said something like this (I am trying to convey the general idea, not a literal transcription):

“The world of our waking state is a product of your mind, which in time is a false, contaminated, relative form of consciousness. Your mind creates the “real” world of the waking state in the same form that it creates the dream world of the dreaming state. There is no essential difference between these two worlds. The only reason because the world of the waking state seems more real than the other is because we are more attached to it”.

In this same line I remember that Sri Ramana, when asked by visitors about how they could help others, he used to answer “There are no others to help”. And also Sri Nisargadatta (perhaps a bit enraged as it was his style) once told to a visitor something like: “what will I say to you? You created me! I am a product of your mind!”.

(Continues...)

Anonymous said...

(PART 2)

I have tried several times to encompass in my mind all the implications of this concept, almost up to the point of bafflement. As I can understand, this implies that the world and all beings in it are a product of my mind, that these “beings” have not intrinsic reality, that they are not self-conscious as I am, that all that “happens” in the world is like a movie (a 3-D movie) created and projected by my mind over the “screen” of the pure consciousness. Then, the logical conclusion is that I am the one and only conscious being that really exists (“I am that I am”), and that at some time I decided playfully to create an imaginary world full of beings, identifying myself with one of them (or with a lot of them in succession), and pretending, as part of the game, to forget who really I am, till the relative “I am” which I identify with in the game, spiritually evolving by progressive steps, at last can re-discover the absolute truth.

Well, this concept is not so easy to assimilate for me. That “there are no others to help” is clearly evident of the dream world. For example, let’s suppose that I dream with a starving child, and in my dream I am very worried about him, and try to help him, feed him, etc. Once I wake up, I immediately realize the uselessness of my worrying about this child in my dream, and cease to do it, because I know that the child was all the time a product of my mind, that he never had any real, intrinsic existence, and consequently there never was anybody really starving and suffering. When advaita says that the waking world has the same level of reality than the dreaming world, does it mean that it is equally useless to worry about the starving children that I meet or take notice of in my waking state? Are they not self-conscious beings who are suffering real hunger, the same that could suffer myself if deprived of food? Or instead, are they only shadows created by my mind, in the same way that the starving child of my dream?


However, I can see that, at other times, the same advaita teachers (at least from my limited ability of comprehension) deliver another vision of the matter, which is more fitting to our “intuitive” or “natural” perception of the world.

Now I am going to do a literal transcription of a passage of the 3rd chapter of your book, which is a perfect example of this other vision which I am speaking of:


“The mind or separate individual ‘I’ that we see in each person is just a different reflection of the one original ‘I’ that exists in the innermost depth of each one of us, just as the bright light that we see in each fragment of a broken mirror lying on the ground is just a different reflection of the one sun shining brightly in the sky. Therefore though it is formed only by imagining itself to be a particular body, the mind of each one of us nevertheless contains within itself the light of our original non-dual consciousness ‘I am’.”

Anonymous said...

(PART 3 AND LAST)

As I said, this is a more intuitive, natural, and, let me say, comforting vision of the world. In this vision, as I understand, there are really another “beings” (or perhaps could be more fitting to call them “instances of relative consciousness”) existing at the same level of existence in which presently I am, although the deep source of life be the same for all of us. In it, there are another beings which, like me, are conscious of themselves and, like me, believe at present to have a separate existence, and, like me, at some point of their spiritual development, will make themselves conscious of our common real being.

In this vision, I would be quite right in worrying about the starving child of the waking state, because he would be really a self-conscious being who is suffering, and whom I can alleviate, at least temporarily, if I give him something to eat. And then, this would make a great difference between the child of the waking state and the child of the dreaming state, and would make a great difference between both states, and consequently these two states cannot be put at the same level of reality.


Now, as far as I can understand, both visions are contradictory (although perhaps from a higher point of view they are not) and my mind cannot solve the puzzle without help.

So I thought to put the question to you as an expert in advaita vedanta, and humbly awaits for your answer.

I apologize for the length of my letter and for my poor english (my mother tongue is spanish).

Thank you very much and best regards.


Daniel Reschützegger

(Montevideo - Uruguay)

Wittgenstein said...

Daniel Reschützegger,

Let us take the “more intuitive, natural and comforting vision of the world”. We arrive at this vision in the present state. Will we not arrive at the same vision of the world in a dream? When we dream, we feel we are awake and there are other conscious beings, just as in the present state. Therefore, as long as we are in the dream, we will feel there are ‘others’. Hence we will arrive at the same vision as in the waking state.

In this way, the present state and the dream state do not have any substantial difference. If we are convinced about this, it would be perfectly logical to anticipate the same mechanism of world creation in both cases. However, we cannot be sure of this at the moment, because our knowledge of the mechanism of dream is known after the dream ends. In order to know it for sure, we have to catch it as it happens.

How would we do that? If we suspect everything that we experience now is a projection of one person (as it was in a dream, where the projection was from one dreamer), there would be no use to investigate each and every projected item. Instead, will we not go straight to the dreamer (or the source of projection itself), to catch it as it happens? In a similar way, if we suspect the present state to be a dream, we would, in order to bring this suspicion to end, turn to the very source of projection, namely ourselves. Therefore, we have two possibilities.

(1) There are others: If we say this, we think there is substantial difference between the present state and dream. Here, ‘others’ would be as real as us and our actions (towards a hungry child, for example) would be based on this ‘sense of reality’.

(2) There are ‘others’, probably as in a dream: If we say this, we think there is no substantial difference between the present state and dream. Therefore, we will be probably motivated to investigate the source of the present state. As long as we are investigating, ‘others’ would be as real as us and our actions (towards a hungry child, for example) would be based on this ‘sense of reality’ (which is similar to the previous case, as the investigation is still going on).

You have also pointed out a third statement: There are no ‘others’. This statement cannot be made when we feel we are a person. If we feel so, there will certainly be ‘others’. There are no ‘others’ in sleep. But the question about ‘others’ also did not arise then. Therefore, as the question arises in the present state, the answer should also be found in the present state. Personally I feel we should investigate if there are others now (by investigating ourselves, as we could be the one projecting them, as in a dream), rather than paying attention to a conclusion like ‘there are no ‘others’’. What is the point in saying ‘there are no ‘others’’, while we feel there are others?

Achaimenes said...

Michael and Wittgenstein,
the idea of projecting others by the very source of projection is amazing and simulteously staggering, stunning and exceedingly breathtaking !
Can you tell us more about that astounding assumption of that 'sense of reality' ?

Rio Uruguay said...

Daniel Reschützegger,

As you refer to "the mind or separate individual 'I' that we see in each person is just a different reflection of the one original 'I' that exists in the innermost depth of each one of us, just as the bright light that we see in each fragment of a broken mirror…".
In this regard I think the following discovery/experience made by me is similar:
I was sitting once in the summertime on the shore of a lake .
The time was around 3.00 p.m. in the afternoon.
My eyes saw the ray of sunshine which was reflected by the waterlevel.
Therefore the impression was that this very sunshine is directed just only towards me. To be on the safe side I took hundred steps first on the left side and then some hundred steps on the right side from that place of the shore.
How surprised I was about the discovery that I had the same impression of staying/being immediately in the reflected ray of sunshine on both points (to the left and right side) as in the middle point before.

Daniel R said...

Dear Mr Wittgenstein:
I apologize, but I can't catch your point.
You say: "What is the point in saying ‘there are no ‘others’’, while we feel there are others?".
Well, I use to say that the earth is round, twisting around itself and moving around the sun, but at the same time I “feel” that it is plain and completely still. Truth and human common-sense don’t go necessarily hand-to-hand, and I want truth.
I feel that the main question that I stated in my letter is still awaiting for an answer: if the world of the waking state is 100% a product of my mind (the same as, clearly, is the world of my dreaming state), then those who seem to be “others” are only illusions of my making. Then, what is the use of feeding a starving child, of lending money to a brother in need, of helping a blind woman to cross a street, of throwing to the sea for trying to save the life of a drowning man? They would be only illusions, a creation of my mind, lacking any intrinsic reality and therefore having no self-consciousness, the same as the “others” of my dreaming state.
It would be quite useless to try to help them, except, perhaps, for the sake of MY OWN spiritual development, of my nearing to the Absolute State. It is not easy for me assimilate such a selfish view of the world and of my existence.
Best regards,
Daniel

who? said...

Daniel Reschützegger

Sri Michael James has posted this article which pertains to the central query which you have elaborated upon in your most recent comment. You may find that article helpful. I post below some extracts from that article for a quick reference to your questions:

That is, we extend our sense of reality from ourself (who alone are actually real) to whichever body we experience as ourself, and via that body we extend it to the world, of which that body is a small part.

So long as we are experiencing a dream, merely telling ourself that it is a dream is not a solution to all the suffering we see in it. The only solution is to wake up, and the only way to wake up in such a manner that we do not ever dream again is to investigate ourself, the ‘I’ who is experiencing this dream.

Trying to act in this world as if it were unreal is futile and meaningless, because our actions and the person who feels ‘I am doing these actions’ are all part of this world. As this person, we and our actions are as real or as unreal as this world of which we now seem to be a part, so this person should outwardly act in this world as if it is as real as himself or herself (which it is), but should inwardly doubt the reality of all these things and should therefore try to investigate the ‘I’ who seems to experience them.

If we were so unmoved by compassion that we not only never try to rectify any injustice nor to alleviate any suffering, but do not even care about trying to avoid causing any harm, that would indicate a very strong ego — one that firmly believes in the false distinction between ‘myself’ and ‘others’, and that is unwilling to investigate itself, the basis of that distinction. Only a strong and unrefined ego will care only about its own well-being and remain indifferent to the well-being of others.

To the extent to which we care about others, to that extent at least our ego is diminished. However, just caring about others is obviously not a sufficient means to destroy our ego entirely, because caring about others presupposes their existence, and so long as others seem to exist our ego must also exist to experience their seeming existence. In order to destroy the illusion that there are others separate from ourself, we need to investigate ourself to find out whether we are actually this little person we now seem to be.

But until we thereby destroy our ego, the illusion that others exist will remain, and those others will seem to be as real as the person we now experience as ‘I’. Therefore their joys and sufferings will seem to be as real as our own, and hence we should care for them at least as much as we care for our personal self, and we can be justifiably indifferent to their joys and sufferings only to the extent to which we are genuinely indifferent to our own.

If the only person we care only about is ourself, that is certainly egotistical, but even if we care about others, our ego can take that as a pretext to boost its own pride or to feel self-righteous. Indeed, so long as we attend to anything other than our essential self, our ego will find one way or another to nourish and sustain itself. Hence the only solution to this problem of ego is to practise persistent self-investigation: that is, to be constantly and vigilantly self-attentive.

Sivanarul said...

Daniel R,

“if the world of the waking state is 100% a product of my mind (the same as, clearly, is the world of my dreaming state), then those who seem to be “others” are only illusions of my making”

Please note that these positions are declared by Bhagavan from a mountain top view. Having reached the summit of the mountain, this is the truth he found (it is technically Ajata, that he said as the final truth, but let’s go with this for now).

As sadhakas, when we are climbing the mountain, such views are extremely hard for us to accept. You can follow through Michael’s/Wittgenstein’s/who’s analysis and get convinced intellectually, if you can or want. As an alternative, for motivation towards Sadhana, contemplate deeply on Buddha’s first noble truth and your own life experiences. Put on hold Bhagavan’s declaration for now with the understanding that its truth may be more evident as you climb up or when you reach the summit.

I personally prescribe to the Buddha’s view on this and do not consider that others are only illusions of my mind. I will stand corrected when I reach the summit.

Beyond Reproach said...

Sivanarul,
the truth must be the same without respect of the personal view of any mountainclimber. The degree of understanding the truth is an other question.
In any case the view from Mount Everest may be an other one than from the Koromandel-Coast or the Hudson River. To understand the truth with the tool of the mind is just plain not possible. I do not worry that my mind of course cannot show any acceptance of the statement that the world and the others are only a mind-product.
I see it similar to the fact that the sun does only seemingly rise and set whereas the fact that the sun does not anyway move around the world is not recognised by the mind.
If Buddha was really a wise man he cannot at all teach any "noble truth" which represent the opposite point of view of other sages particularly of Sri Ramana. Even if all the sages would report conflicting views it should not cause us quite a headache but anyhow we have to find our own view of truth.

Sivanarul said...

Beyond Reproach,

“the truth must be the same without respect of the personal view of any mountainclimber”

That is certainly true when the view is from the summit. While climbing the mountain though, the climber’s location, the angle of the view all obscure the truth and different climbers see the truth differently.

For the reporters from the summit (Bhagavan, Buddha and thousands of others), while the experiential truth is the same, when they report it to climbers, it differs as they stress different ways of climbing to the summit.

“If Buddha was really a wise man he cannot at all teach any "noble truth" which represent the opposite point of view of other sages particularly of Sri Ramana.”

Buddha was certainly a wise man and his teaching of noble truths only “seems” to represent opposite point of view, only because it was meant for climbers via a different route. Sanatana Dharma along with Buddha prescribes various routes to climb the mountain, which all outwardly seem to conflict with each other but are all indeed harmonious and will all ultimately lead to the same single truth.


Beyond Reproach said...

Sivanarul,
as I said in my previous comment:
Viewing the truth is an other case as the truth as such.
Why do you postulate a condition saying "...when the view is from summit" ?
If truth is true then it has its unconditional and absolute validity in the whole universe. The truth as such is independent of any climbers position.
Why do you not want to grasp it ?

Daniel R said...

Dear Beyond Reproach:
The truth is one, but our grade of approaching to it determines our level of comprehension of it.
It was quite natural for the people up to the XV century to think that the earth was flat and still. From their point of view and the level of their understanding, they hardly could have conceived another possibility, except for a few advanced individuals. With the succesive discoveries and investigations, the fact that it is round and moving was slowly dawning in their minds.
The truth was always one and the same, but not so the human understanding of it.
Best regards,
Daniel

Rio Uruguay said...

Dear Daniel R,
the grade of approaching to truth or the human understanding of it are what Beyond Reproach tried to describe with other words "viewing the truth".
By the way the earth is only a nearly round terrestrial globe because it is on the strength of its rotation flattened on the poles. Therefore the form of the earth is called a rotation-ellipsoid.
Best regards

Daniel R said...

Dear Rio Uruguay:
you are right, the earth is not exactly round, I said it for the sake of simplicity. The non-sphericity of the earth is a relatively recent discovery, and I welcome your comment because it comes to better the example, because it shows the slow approaching by degrees that man does towards truth. Mankind believed for long time that the earth was flat, still, and the center of the universe. Explorations and scientific discoveries leaded first to believe that it was round, then that it was moving, and finally it was clear that, far to be the center of anything, it was only an insignificant bit of dust in a remote corner of the universe. In the middle it was temporarily believed that the sun was the center of the universe, which was also proved wrong. More and more scientific developments have allowed to refine our comprehension of the real shape of the earth and of the various complex physical movements which it experiments. So now, about half a millenium after the times of Columbus, we could say that we have a fairly good understanding of the shape and situation of our home within this universe. Nevertheless, still now, new discoveries are continually being made, which come to refine the details.
Needless to say, in all this process the absolute truth was always one and the same, completely indifferent to the various human beliefs about it.
And such is our approaching to the supreme truth of our being.
Best regards,
Daniel

Rio Uruguay said...

Dear Daniel R,
The example of discovering the real form of the earth is not well to compare with experiencing what we really are what is called truth about our real being-consciousness.
What is referred in the above comments of "Beyond Reproach" is obviously the later.
As you say the absolute truth about our supreme essential being was always one and the same.
Best regards to Rio de La Plata.
Arunachala

Sivanarul said...

Beyond Reproach,

“If truth is true then it has its unconditional and absolute validity in the whole universe. The truth as such is independent of any climbers position. Why do you not want to grasp it ?”

It is not about me intellectually “grasping” it. It is about me “realizing” it. As you should be well aware, advaita itself has 3 truths paramArtha - vyavahAra – pratibhAsa. All 3 are said to be true based on the level of seeker/reality that is being discussed.

The view from the summit is the view of reality experienced as it really is. The view for the mountain climber is the reality projected by the senses and mind. Clearly these must be different. Otherwise, what are we posting messages here for and what are we doing sadhana for?

Beyond Reproach said...

Sivanarul,
let us now content ourself with the assertion of our views.
We should use our life-span not with further production of any other thoughts than the thought of oneself. Instead of this let us direct our attention back towards ourself. To free ourself from the illusion that we are this ego is the vital main clue which Bhagavan gives us .

Daniel R said...

Dear who?:

I have attentively read your post which reproduces an article by Michael James. I still can't figure out how it could be to live in the world pretending that it is real, while at the same time knowing that it is an illusion and trying to realize that it is so.

For example, the article says:

Trying to act in this world as if it were unreal is futile and meaningless, because our actions and the person who feels ‘I am doing these actions’ are all part of this world. As this person, we and our actions are as real or as unreal as this world of which we now seem to be a part, so this person should outwardly act in this world as if it is as real as himself or herself (which it is), but should inwardly doubt the reality of all these things and should therefore try to investigate the ‘I’ who seems to experience them.

Why don't consider all as illusion, including the person who feels 'I am doing these actions', i.e. our own body/mind? That would be to take a firm stand in the Absolute Truth and a state of mind consistent with our beliefs.

The article goes on:
If we were so unmoved by compassion that we not only never try to rectify any injustice nor to alleviate any suffering, but do not even care about trying to avoid causing any harm, that would indicate a very strong ego — one that firmly believes in the false distinction between ‘myself’ and ‘others’, and that is unwilling to investigate itself, the basis of that distinction. Only a strong and unrefined ego will care only about its own well-being and remain indifferent to the well-being of others.

Again, what motivation can I gather to care for the well-being of "others" if I know that "they" (as well as the relative "I") are all illusion and part of a dream from which my Real I is trying to wake up?

And also:
To the extent to which we care about others, to that extent at least our ego is diminished.

Then I reaffirm in what I said in a post before: the only use of caring about those illusory "others", is MY OWN spiritual progress, my own advancement toward Truth. This is an extremely selfish view, which makes me revolt. But, if I want to be consistent with advaita beliefs, is the only possible conclusion I can arrive at in the present state of my mind.

Best regards,
Daniel