Total Bliss


1. My understanding is that, after my body dies, I will remain pure consciousness. As my brain stops functioning, I lose my identity as a person immediately. No brain, no nerve activity, no mind, no intellect, no memories no thoughts, no life. In this state of being, am I (as pure consciousness) experiencing something at all? If so, what?

2. As I understand it, ‘Total bliss’ is a human definition for some kind of long term ‘elevated’ feeling. Therefore, the feeling of Total Bliss at the level of the mind/ego. If this is the case, how can I (pure consciousness) feel Total Bliss without a body?


Yes, when the body dies, you remain pure consciousness. 

The scriptures say that, in the case of those who haven’t gained self-knowledge, the mind continues after death.  Really though, there’s no way to prove that one way or another so I honestly don’t know what happens to the mind after death.  What I do know is that whether the mind is there or not, you’re there as pure consciousness. 

You, pure consciousness, never experience anything.  You only reveal the experience of the mind. So after death, if there’s still a mind present that’s having an experience, you’ll be there revealing it.  But you yourself, pure consciousness, won’t be experiencing anything. 

You’re totally right, bliss is a feeling that occurs purely at the level of the mind.  As pure consciousness you don’t feel bliss, with or without a body/mind/ego.  You only reveal the experience of bliss in the body/mind/ego.  But you’re never affected or touched by it. 

All my best, Vishnudeva 

Questions?  Contact me HERE.   


Erroneous Goals

J:  I was thinking about the goal of Vedanta and how the desire for moksha appears erroneous since the fervent desire for freedom can become binding. The goal of knowledge appears to be the way since once we have assimilated knowledge we know we are free, because we have never been not free. This desire for knowledge seem better than some desire to be free.

V:  Hi J.  Here’s the short answer: 

I understand what you’re saying and in essence you’re correct insofar as there’s no need to desire freedom when you already are, and always have been, free.  So if it’s helpful for you to think of the goal of Vedanta as knowledge rather than freedom, go for it.  I don’t see any harm in that.  If that’s a sufficient answer for you, then read no further. 

But just in case…here’s my picky, possibly pedantic answer:         

Really, you can’t separate moksha and knowledge—specifically, self-knowledge—because in Vedanta the two words are synonymous.  While moksha does technically mean “freedom,” that freedom isn’t something different from self-knowledge because self-knowledge is the clear understanding, “I am free.”  Like you said, it’s true that it doesn’t make sense to have freedom be your goal when you’re already free, but that only applies after you get the knowledge that you’re already free.  Before that, freedom is a perfectly sensible goal, assuming it’s sensible to you.  If not, call the goal knowledge.  It doesn’t really matter. 

To be a real stickler—as crotchety Vedantins are prone to do—following your logic regarding freedom as a goal, I could argue that the goal of knowledge is also erroneous because at the dawn of self-knowledge you see that you weren’t ignorant in the first place.  Nor have you attained knowledge because knowing and knowledge are seen to be properties of the mind alone.  And as the non-dual, ever-free brahman you are not the knowing mind.  To illustrate, here is a verse from the Astavakra Samhita, one that I’ve been looking for an excuse to quote.  So thank you for that.    

2-15:  Knowledge, knower and the knowable—these three do not actually exist.  They merely appear in me, the stainless self, through ignorance.  

Also, I could say that the desire for freedom can be just as binding as the desire for knowledge.  But to repeat, whether you want to make moksha your goal or knowledge your goal, either way is fine.  You’ll end up at the same destination regardless.  I only added the second answer in case my first answer happened to cause another doubt.  And if I didn’t this would’ve been a really short satsang 🙂  Thanks for bearing with me.      

J: Loved the explanation you gave directly above (the crotchety Vedantic one).  

This whole process reminds me of an expedition into the wilderness.  First there is the journey by air to your first destination, then the over land journey in a convoy of 4×4’s.  Then transfer to river boats, before the final leg on foot.  On reaching the destination there is just the Self.

V:  I think that’s a good metaphor.  The different modes of transportation (plane, automobile, boat) are a necessary means to get to where you’re going, but once you’re there, they become irrelevant.  Similarly, the teaching method of Vedanta is a means to understand what you really are.  Once that’s known, the teaching itself, and whatever terminology or concepts it uses (like freedom, knowledge, etc.) become irrelevant.  They’re just tools–or more specifically, pointers–and once the job is ‘done’ there is no need for them anymore.  But as I said, we can only argue that they are unnecessary after they actually become unnecessary. Before that, they do have relative value, same as a car has relative value before you get to where you’re going. 

All my best – Vishnudeva



The Process of Inquiry

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Can you please explain the process of self-inquiry?  I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do. 


The process of self-inquiry was first enumerated by Yajnavalkya to his wife Maitreyi in the Brihadaranyaka Upanisad:

The self, my dear Maitreyi should be realized—should be heard of, reflected on and meditated upon.  By the realization of the self, my dear, through hearing, reflection and meditation, all this is known.     BU II.iv.5 

 Later in the text, he repeats himself in a nearly identical verse:

The self, my dear Maitreyi should be realized—should be heard of, reflected on and meditated upon.  When the self, my dear, is realized by being heard of, reflected on and meditated upon, all this is known.     BU IV.v.6

 While Yajnavalkya makes it clear that steps of self-inquiry are hearing, reflecting and meditating, he doesn’t explain them.  For further details, let’s look at Shankara’s commentary on the previous verse, BU IV.v.6:

How is the self realized?  By being first heard of from the teacher and the scriptures, then reflected on, discussed through argument or reasoning—the hearing is from the scriptures (and the teachers) alone, the reflection through reasoning—and lastly meditated upon (lit. known), ascertained to be such and such and not otherwise.  What happens then?  All this (the mind, body and universe) is known to be nothing other than the self. 

Step One:  Listen to the scriptures being taught by a capable teacher.  The teacher is a must because there’s an underlying methodology to the scriptures that’s not obvious unless it’s pointed out to you.  Without understanding the methodology, the scriptures appear to be contradictory or even nonsensical.  If you don’t believe me, just pick up a copy of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad and start reading. 

However, once you’ve been taught by a good teacher how to interpret the scriptures, you can then study them yourself.  The cool thing is that if your mind is properly prepared to understand what’s being taught, having the scriptures explained to you by a teacher is completely sufficient for removing ignorance regarding the true nature of your self.  If that happens, no independent study of the scriptures is required.  Granted, that’s the best case scenario, which is why the second step, reflecting on the teaching through reasoning, is often necessary.  But before moving on to the topic of reflection, let’s talk about the different ways to listen to the teaching.  It is, after all, the primary step.

The most obvious way to listen is to attend a class.  This option can be inspiring owing to the example of the teacher—assuming they live according to the teaching—and the company of other dedicated inquirers.  But to be clear, actually seeing the teacher or having fellowship with other students is by no means a mandatory prerequisite for self-knowledge, which is good because the live teaching of Vedanta isn’t widely available (at least outside of India).  Luckily, many teachers record their lectures and make them available to the public.  These lectures are easy to find online and the recordings are just as effective as being taught in person (having studied Vedanta both ways, I can attest to that).  Most of the time I actually prefer listening to a recording because I can rewind the parts I want to hear again and take notes.  Also, I’m able to more effectively control my surrounding environment, thereby reducing potential distractions.  However, if you’d still like to hear Vedanta live but you either can’t, or don’t want to physically attend the class, teachers such as Swamini Svatmavidyananda broadcast their teachings live on the internet.  As an added bonus, video recordings of the lectures are then made available afterwards for you to review.  It’s the best of both worlds (a link to Swamini Svatmavidyananda’s site is on the Links page).  

Despite the fact that the traditional way of listening to Vedanta is to literally hear a teacher giving a discourse, you can also expose yourself to the teaching through reading.  As I said, don’t simply go out and start reading the scriptures.  This won’t work.  Instead, find a book that is either an overview of Vedanta based on scripture, or find a translation of a scripture that includes a teacher’s commentary.  Good examples of Vedanta overviews based on scripture are Swami Dayananda’s Introduction to Vedanta or Ted Schmidt’s Self-Knowledge.  If you want a text that is both a scripture and a summary of Vedanta, Swami Dayananda’s Tattva Bodha is an excellent choice.  Here would be a great place to recommend my own Tattva Bodha commentary, but I’m currently in the process of revising it. 

Step Two:  Reflect on what you learned from the teacher and resolve your doubts through reasoning.  As I said above, the ideal situation is that you hear the teaching, understand it, and no further work is needed.  But usually doubts remain and reflection and reasoning are required to resolve them.  This can be done independently or if you need help, by asking the teacher or even one of your fellow inquirers.  Or doubts may simply be removed through further listening.    

Step Three:  The first two steps, listening and reflection, together form the means to gain self-knowledge—or more accurately, remove self-ignorance—and nothing else is required.  This begs the question that, if listening and reflection accomplish the primary goal of self-knowledge, what’s the purpose of the third step, meditation?

Here, it’s important to know that the word commonly translated as meditation in this text is nididhyasana in the original Sanskrit and nididhyasana is not necessarily a synonym to the meditation described in the Yoga Sutras (dhyana) or the meditation on the deities from other portions of the Vedic scriptures (upasana).  Similar to dhyana and upasana, nididhyasana is a form of concentration and contemplation.  However, unlike dhyana and upasana, whose respective aims are to stop the mind and contemplate deities, the goal of nididhyasana is to counteract emotionally disturbing thought patterns by assimilating the self-knowledge previously gained from listening to, and reflecting on, the scriptures.  This process of assimilation continues until it fully transforms the way you think about yourself, meaning until your thinking becomes completely harmonized with the implications of self-knowledge.    

Why is assimilation required to change your thinking if you already have self-knowledge?  Shouldn’t your thinking change automatically? No, because the mind is a creature of habit.  After a lifetime of thinking erroneous self-limiting thoughts, it takes a while for the mind to change its ways, even when it clearly understands that it is none other than the limitless self.  Here’s an illustration.  There is a homely adolescent girl, overweight, who wears awkward, thick glasses.  She is constantly teased and develops a negative, emotionally disturbing self-image, thinking herself to be inferior and unworthy.  However, as she grows up, she loses the weight and glasses and develops into a beautiful woman.  Despite the obvious fact that she is physically attractive and in the face of advances from potential suitors, owing to mental habits developed from childhood, she continues to view herself as undesirable and suffers needlessly. In other words, the knowledge of who she is—even though it is clear to see—and how she thinks about herself are not yet in alignment.  Only over time, through combatting negative untrue thoughts with positive true thoughts about who she really is, does she develop a healthy self-image.  (I’m not trying to say that being physically attractive is necessary for good self-esteem or that it determines someone’s worth.  This is just a metaphor). Similarly, once it is totally clear that you are the self and that by extension, you are full, complete and always okay, it takes time and continued application of self-knowledge for the mind to accept that this is true and to develop new and healthy thought patterns in alignment with this truth.  

The scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita say that a healthy and balanced mental state is the mark of a truly enlightened person.  However, is mental stability the actual goal of Vedanta?  No, self-knowledge is the goal, and self-knowledge clearly shows that you are not your mind and that the mind never affects you.  This is true liberation because the mind can never be perfectly and perpetually balanced.  Regardless of that fact, self-knowledge only applies in the realm of our everyday transactional world.  So even if you know you aren’t the mind, the mind continues to exist.  Therefore, if self-knowledge merely shows you that you are not your mind, but your mind continues to be plagued by fear, anger, sadness and attachment, self-knowledge has little value.  What good is self-knowledge if you—at least the apparent you—continue being miserable? If could be argued that it doesn’t matter because you aren’t the apparent you, but as I said, self-knowledge only applies to the apparent you so it might as well help the apparent you be happier.  Otherwise, what is the point?     

SUMMARY:  The two steps required for self-knowledge are listening (in whatever form you choose) to a teacher explain the scriptures and then reflecting on what you’ve heard until it’s absolutely clear and doubt-free.  Then, to change the way you think about yourself and to get rid of negative emotions caused by your previous self-ignorance, you meditate on the self-knowledge you’ve gained from listening and reflection until it is fully assimilated into your everyday thought-process.  Technically, since the first two steps give you self-knowledge, and self-knowledge shows you that you aren’t your mind, the third step of assimilation is optional, assuming you like how it feels when your mind is angry, fearful etc. 

That’s the process of self-inquiry.  Now hop to it!  And let me know if you need any further assistance.       

All my best – Vishnudeva

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The Teacher Question


Dear Vishnudeva,

Here’s a three-parter:  1) Do I need a teacher?  2) If so, why?  3) And if so, will you teach me? 


1) Yes. 2) Because if you didn’t, you wouldn’t be asking this question.  3) See below. 


Since this is such a common question I’m going to answer it using more detail than you are probably asking for, in order to benefit other people.  Sorry if some of this answer doesn’t apply to you directly. 

In general, I feel like the “Teacher Question” comes from two kinds of people.  The first kind is someone who’s heard that having a teacher is important and they’re concerned because they don’t have a teacher themselves.  The second kind is someone who’s heard it’s not important to have a teacher, they don’t want a teacher anyway, and they’re looking for someone to justify their position (ironically, a teacher).  Sorry for the sarcasm, it’s just one of those days 🙂

If you’re the second type of person that doesn’t want a teacher, then I doubt anything I say will change your mind.  So the solution is simple:  don’t have a teacher.  I mean that wholeheartedly with no hint of my previous sarcasm and this is why:  because everyone is free to choose their own path and whatever path you choose, I’m confident it will take you exactly where you need to go.  I’ve expressed my opinion that you need a teacher but I fully believe that you should do what feels right to you. Go with god, young Jedi, and may the Force be with you.      

If you’re the first type of person I’ll say don’t worry if you don’t have a teacher.  I’ve been in that situation and trust me, you’ll be fine.  Everything will work out.  “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” While this saying is hackneyed, it is nonetheless completely true.  But in order for it to come to fruition, it’s important to know what constitutes being ready.  To prepare for finding a teacher, you need to sincerely dedicate yourself to spiritual practice so you can get your mind focused and uncluttered.  If it isn’t, having a teacher won’t help a bit.  Additionally, you need to be absolutely clear about your goal, meaning you should want moksha–peace of mind and inner freedom—more than anything.  If your mind and goal are clear, everything will fall in to place.  Does that mean you should passively wait around for a teacher to appear?  Not at all.  Get out there and read books, go to classes and scour the internet.  Leave no stone unturned.  Just don’t be discouraged if you don’t immediately find a teacher.  If you are properly prepared, you won’t be.

You might say, “Well, I am prepared and I have been looking for a teacher.  I scoured the dark corners of the internet, turned over a rock and found YOU.  Now I’m asking you to teach me.  Are you avoiding my question?”  The answer is yes, but only until I discuss the next topic, which is what a teacher actually is and what they are supposed to do (or not do). 

First, a teacher is supposed to help guide your inquiry.  This is why a teacher is needed, because if you were able to guide your own inquiry then you’d be free and you wouldn’t be looking for a teacher in the first place.  But does that mean you have to become dependent on the teacher?  NO!  Because the teacher is supposed to help you become independent.  If you had to remain dependent on the teacher forever, you wouldn’t be free.  So the teacher may guide you through the methodology of the teaching and how it works but only with the aim of empowering you to do it yourself.  At that point, the teacher stands on the sidelines while you do your own inquiry, only stepping in when you get stuck or have a question you can’t resolve yourself.  They are not there to hold your hand because a teaching situation is not a support group.

And while a teacher may be friendly, they are not there to be your friend. This doesn’t mean a teacher never becomes your friend.  Several of my former students are now my good friends but only because they took the teaching, put in the work to understand its meaning for themselves, and didn’t need to be taught anymore.  At that point, they were no longer students and I was no longer a teacher.  We were on equal footing.  They were free to go their own way and never speak to me again if they wanted.  But a few stuck around and we became buddies.  And that illustrates my last point on this topic.  If a teacher is doing their job properly, they should always negate their own role.  At first there is a student and a teacher.  In the end there should just be two people, equals, both knowing they are one and the same reality. 

But I’m getting ahead of myself here.  The question was, “Will you teach me?”  Assuming you are ready (meaning mentally prepared, dedicated and serious), yes.  I’ll do what I can to help you understand the teaching methodology so you can use it for yourself.  And then I’ll answer your questions as needed.  If at any time you want to end this arrangement, feel free to do so.  There is no obligation.  Full disclosure:  If I see that you aren’t serious, then I am also free to end this arrangement.  I’m not a hard taskmaster, I simply do not have time to teach people if they are not willing to put in the work. 

All my best,




Conscious vs. Consciousness

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A: Just looking for clarity on how something not conscious can still be considered consciousness (for example, a barbecue is not conscious but still in its essence is consciousness). I guess I’m looking for a distinction between ‘something that’s conscious’ and ‘consciousness’. Is anything really “conscious”? Are dogs, humans and birds conscious, but plants and barbecues not conscious? If we say humans are conscious, when we break it down, (humans less the seeing, hearing, tasting, touching and smelling, and less a brain that perceives things, which is all considered to be un-conscious) are we left with something that’s conscious, or rather just consciousness?


Everything is consciousness (pure, self-luminous existence).  But only things that have a mind are conscious, meaning they have the ability to think, feel and perceive.  If for instance you are a barbecue, you aren’t conscious because you don’t have a mind (don’t fret though, you won’t know it).  However, you are still consciousness.  So your line of reasoning above is correct.  If you take a person and remove their perceptive faculties i.e. their mind, they’re no longer conscious.  But they are still consciousness.


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