Metaphors & The Meaning of Life

S: I guess I have a problem relating to a non-material pure consciousness the same way I can’t relate to the idea of an abstract god/creator. It’s my mission to overcome my old beliefs of materialistic existence only.
V: If you’re having trouble relating to a non-material entity, then I’ll ask this: do you have trouble relating to empty space, even though it’s totally immaterial and not something you can perceive? No. This proves that things don’t necessarily have to be material to be relatable.
One of the definitions of the word “relate” is to “identify with.” The reason you can’t yet identify with pure consciousness is because you don’t understand that it’s you. If you keep studying Vedanta, over time your identity with pure consciousness becomes perfectly clear and the issue of relating or not relating becomes moot.
Imagine an eyeball looking outward trying to see itself. When it can’t, it thinks, “I must not exist!” instead of realizing, “Because I see, I know I exist.” Right now you’re kind of like the eyeball. You’re looking outward, trying to see yourself, pure consciousness, as an object. When you can’t, you think that pure consciousness is something that’s as good as non-existent instead of realizing, “I know pure consciousness exists for the very fact that I am conscious. It’s self-evident.” And if you can see this, then you have no trouble relating to pure consciousness because it’s clear that you are it.
S: In the examples of water-wave or clay-pot (from your previous e-mail) there is a cause and effect. Some kind of force created a new form (wave or pot) out of the same substance (water, clay). So something did happen (a cause/force) to create a new form (shape). In the sun-objects example, the sun only reveals the pre-existing objects that were in the dark before. Both sun and objects has a separate materialistic existence.
V: The examples of clay/pot, water/wave, sunlight/objects are metaphors, and all metaphors have limitations. Hence, they’re not mean to be taken literally. They merely imply certain truths from different perspectives.
The sunlight metaphor is meant to deny that you, pure consciousness, are any of the things you illumine. The sun reveals the world but it isn’t the world, nor is it affected by the world. Similarly, you reveal the body/mind but you aren’t the body/mind or affected by it. That’s all the metaphor is trying to say: you aren’t an object nor are you affected by objects. Anything besides that is beyond the scope of the metaphor and shouldn’t be taken literally.
If you do take the sunlight metaphor at face value then you’re left with the problem you’ve pointed out: that the sunlight and the objects it reveals are two different things. But if you study Vedanta as a whole you’ll see that it flatly and utterly denies duality. It unambiguously states that there’s absolutely nothing other than brahman (pure consciousness/pure existence). So you have to take the sunlight metaphor in that context. While it may seem like it’s establishing two different things (you and objects) it isn’t. It’s only denying that you’re an object or that you’re ever affected by objects. All objects are you, brahman, but you are not an object, nor are you affected by objects. Explaining that last statement is one of the purposes of the wave/water and clay/pot metaphors. Similar to you and objects, all waves are water but water is never a wave. All clay pots are clay, but clay is never a clay pot.
I’ll focus on the water/wave metaphor because it has the same meaning as the clay/pot metaphor. Water does not transform into some substance called ‘wave’ when a wave appears. It remains entirely unchanged as H20. Furthermore, no additional substance called ‘wave’ is created. Let’s say we have 1,000 liters of water that take the form of a wave. Is there now 1,000 liters of water plus a couple extra liters of wave? No. There’s still only 1,000 liters of water because a wave has no substance apart from the water. It’s merely an appearance. The wave is the water but the water is never the wave. It’s always water no matter what. This is how you, brahman, are not an object but all objects are nothing but you.
Taking the metaphor literally, you could say that it implies cause and effect, that water is the cause and wave is the effect. But if wave is found to have no substance of its own, that it’s nothing other than water, is there really a cause and effect? No. There is only water. You could argue that the appearance of the wave is an effect but the appearance is still absolutely nothing other than water. If you investigate the wave, you don’t find water plus some substance called ‘appearance.’ All you find is water. So in reality, the metaphor denies cause and effect, which is in harmony with Vedanta as a whole which asserts that in a non-dual (advaita) reality, there is only one thing and one thing alone: you, brahman. There is not two separate things such as cause and effect.
Again, taking the metaphor literally, you could say that gravity is the cause, water is the affected substance and wave is the effect. Or in the case of the clay and pot that the potter is the cause, clay is the affected substance and the pot is the effect. But Vedanta refutes this objection by stating that if there is a cause, a substance affected and a resulting effect, then all three are none other than brahman, while brahman is not them. To be clear though, this is a lower level of understanding because as I said, ultimately Vedanta denies cause and effect.
S: How can the false appearance of materialistic existence (my body/mind and the universe) be manifested in my mind with no cause, force, event or a reason? Why does this false world exist (even if it’s just in my mind which also doesn’t exist) if it has no meaning or purpose?
V: I have no idea. No one does. Again, if you’re looking for explanations for why the world appears you have to consult religion. There’re no other option because even if science determines the ‘how’ of creation, it can’t determine the ‘why.’ It’s a total mystery. That’s why explaining the appearance of the world is not the point of Vedanta. Its purpose is to show you that the appearance of the world is not real so you don’t have to worry about it. Because if you know that the world isn’t real, how concerned will you be with where it came from? For instance, if you have a dream that you’re flying through outer space on a giant pink bunny, do you wake up genuinely disturbed asking, “Why?! Where did it come from? What does it MEAN?!” No, you don’t. You dismiss it as a silly dream and move on with your day. It’s the same situation when you fully understand that the world has no reality, that it’s just a strange appearance.
However, Vedanta doesn’t leave things totally open-ended. After it denies the reality of the appearance of the world, is shows you what it actually is: you, brahman, pure existence. You could ask why pure existence exists but I would reply with the question, “How can it not exist?” Its nature is to exist so it does. Really speaking, the question of why it exists doesn’t factor in because existence wasn’t created. It’s eternal. Only things created, transient things, can have a reason for their creation. But you, brahman, were never created. You have always been.
Those are the highest teachings of Vedanta. I’m not holding anything back. I genuinely hope they make sense but it’s normal if they don’t. It took years of intense, dedicated inquiry–listening to the teaching and contemplating its meaning every single day–to understand what I was being taught.
Finally, on a personal note: It’s true that the world has no meaning, at least not an objective one everyone agrees on. You could take this in the negative sense and become a grouchy old nihilist if you wish. Or you could take it in the positive sense that if the world has no definite, objective meaning that you are free to superimpose whatever subjective meaning onto it that you wish. Find what makes life meaningful for YOU and pursue it. That’s what I do and it works great. I’m not beholden to a pre-determined meaning of life I didn’t choose, handed to me by society, my forefathers or some deity I can’t prove exists. Take that for what it’s worth.
All my best – Vishnudeva
This is a continuation of a previous satsang. You can read it here. If anyone has questions about this satsang or Vedanta in general, please contact me.


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