Limitations of the Afterlife & the Significance of Existence

S:  In reference to what you said in your last e-mail, you’re right, I’m actually looking for an afterlife experience.  Maybe my next step should be to study some dualistic Vedanta lectures.  What do you think?

V:  Like I said before, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting an afterlife experience.  That’s an acceptable goal.  However, if your goal is permanent freedom, you’ll eventually give up wanting an afterlife experience when you see that no experience, either in this life or in the afterlife, will last.  Here’s the logic.  If there is an afterlife experience—and I mean if—the idea is that earn that experience by the actions you do in life.  Your actions in life are the cause and the afterlife you get is the effect.  The catch is that all the actions you do in life have limited, impermanent results.  So how can you get a permanent afterlife experience?  It’s not possible.  And wouldn’t a temporary afterlife experience be an awful lot like a regular life experience that makes you happy for a while until it inevitably ends, leaving you unfulfilled?  Yep.  So even in death, nothing has really changed. 

If you can follow the logic that nothing you do can give you a permanent result, it means you’re ready to go for freedom directly, meaning you’re ready to understand that you are already free.  You’re ready to see that you are ‘beyond’ both life and the afterlife and always fulfilled.  If you’re not ready, then you’re not, and that’s completely okay.  I’ll still be happy to teach you Vedanta or point you in the direction of other good teachers but maybe, as you’ve pointed out, it’s not right for you, at least not for the time being. 

If that’s the case then I seriously encourage you to practice a religion of your choosing.  Religion is the only place you’ll find information about how to go to the afterlife.  In that case a dualistic form of Vedanta—as you mentioned above—such as the Dvaita Vedanta of Madhva or Vishishtadvaita of Ramanuja may very well be appropriate for you.  I’m not extremely familiar with them but I do know they are concerned with the afterlife.  I think I’d suggest Vishishtadvaita over Dvaita because Vishishtadvaita is a bit closer to Advaita and of course, I am an Advaitin. 

If you’re not interested in the route of religion, I highly recommend starting a serious and dedicated meditation practice.  It’s excellent for peace of mind and personal growth and it will help you in any area of study you decide to pursue.  Along with your practice you might want to study the Yoga Sutras, the premier text on meditation.  If you’re not interested in any of those things, then I’m out of ideas.  The bottom line is that you should do whatever appeals to you most.  Go in the direction your heart tells you to and you’ll find the right path.  For me it was Vedanta.  For you it might be something else. 

S:  Since I don’t believe in god (as presented in Christianity), I was looking for something else, like pure consciousness to hold on.

V:  You came to the right place because Vedanta doesn’t require you to believe in pure consciousness.  It shows you directly that it exists and that you are it. 

S:  My understanding is that, according to Advaita Vedanta, pure consciousness, the “I / Me,” is not the perceiver, feeler or thinker of my reality. 

V:  Right.  You aren’t the perceiver, feeler or thinker.  Instead, you’re the pure consciousness that reveals them.  You, pure consciousness, are like sunlight.  And the perceiver, feeler and thinker are like the various objects illuminated by the sun.     

S:  If I ‘exist’ in deep sleep, I also exist in a coma or a stone.

V: Yes, although technically, they all exist in you

S: That may be the ultimate truth but that kind of existence is not ‘attractive’ to me. There is no comfort, significance or value for me (as I see it) in this kind of ‘existence.’

V:  A common metaphor used to illustrate the significance of that truth is that the mind, body and world are merely waves in the ocean of you, pure existence.  Just like water (the ocean) always exists despite the appearance of waves, you always exist despite the appearance of the mind, body or world.  And similar to the way water is never affected by the condition of the waves, you are never affected by the condition of the mind, body or world.  Since all anyone fears is change (in various forms) or non-existence, understanding for certain that you always exist and can’t be changed is very valuable and comforting.    

S:  How can ‘existence’ be something for me if it’s not an object?

V:  To say that existence is not an object is to say that existence is not any particular object.  Instead, it is the essence of every object.  It’s not a something but the essence of everything.   It’s that by which everything is, rather than isn’t.  Since it’s the intrinsic nature of everything, it’s not any particular thing.  You can’t point to an object and say, “That’s existence!” because existence doesn’t have a shape, color or any other qualities.  Instead, existence is that which makes all shapes, colors and qualities possible.  So while everything you experience is a ‘confirmation’ of existence, existence is not defined by anything you experience.           

S:  How can ‘existence’ be beyond time and space and still be applicable in my life or effecting my growth?

V:  It’s applicable for the reasons I mentioned above.   

S:  Existence, according to Wikipedia, comprises the state of being real and the ability to physically interact with the universe or multiverse. 

V:  Vedanta only uses the first definition of existence.  It says existence is that which is real.  And that which is real is that which never changes.  According to Vedanta, existence has absolutely nothing to do with physically interacting with the universe.  It is the essence of the universe, but never touched by it.    

S:  Discussing an existence with no dimensions or qualities is nice as poetry.   But my problem is that I can’t even relate or develop a real philosophical discussion about existence if it’s not present in my world.

V:  How can existence not be present in the world if the world exists?  How can existence not be present in the world if you yourself exist?  As I said, existence isn’t any particular thing in the world but it’s the essence of everything in the world.  Existence is like water and the world is the waves.  But the water is never a wave.  It’s always water.  You’re the existence, the water.  The body, mind and world are the waves.  So you’re always present as the essence of them all, but you’re never any of those things. 

S:  Talking about ‘existence’ with no dimensions or qualities is like discussing an existence outside of our universe/multiverse.

V:  That’s because you don’t yet understand what I mean by existence.  Existence is the very fabric of the universe.  The universe is the clay pot, existence is the clay.  Just like clay is never a clay pot (or affected by the clay pot) but the clay pot is always clay, you, existence are never the universe but the universe is always you.  Right now, you’re focusing on the clay pot (body/mind), and missing the clay (existence/consciousness).  Because of that, you think the clay (existence/consciousness) is something remote from the clay pot (body/mind/experience).     

An additional thought:  Our universe exists.  If you say there’s anything outside of the universe, by default you’re acknowledging that it also exists (If it didn’t, it would be non-existent and there would be nothing to talk about).  If our universe exists and anything outside of our universe exists, then they are both of the nature of existence.  Since there aren’t two ‘existences,’ nothing that is something can ever be outside of existence.  Anything that is, is always ‘inside’ existence.  Or to put it another way, nothing can exist apart from existence itself, similar to how a clay pot can never exist apart from clay.        

S:  It seems to me that Advaita Vedanta say:  Pure consciousness is the only existence there is and it’s  You/Me/I.

V:  Yes! 

S:  But this ‘existence’ is not an existence I can grasp/understand/imagine because it’s beyond time and space. It’s beyond my intellectual abilities.  So it seems like Vedanta is saying that pure consciousness is an ‘existence’ that doesn’t exist for my intellect 😦

V:  Ignorance of who you are resides in the intellect.  Therefore removal of that ignorance happens in the intellect.  Saying that existence is ‘beyond’ the intellect simply means that existence is not an object.  It’s not something you know as a thought, or a feeling etc.  You know it directly as yourself.  It is self-evident like the sun, not needing to be revealed by something else because it’s the revealer itself.       

All my best, Vishnudeva

This is a continuation of a previous discussion, An Empty Shell.  If you have any questions, please Contact Me.

A REQUEST

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An Empty Shell

S:  My wish as a ‘mind & intellect’ is to live in peace and bliss all the time and forever.

V:  Mine too.  But unfortunately it’s not possible.  The mind is always subject to change so there’s no way to make it permanently happy and blissful.  That’s why Vedanta shows you that you aren’t the mind or affected by it.  Bliss does not touch you but neither does sorrow.  You are always free.  Granted, knowing this makes your mind much happier and improves the quality of your life.     

S:  Therefore the fear of death is so strongly managing my life, being, behaviors and ego.

V:  That’s completely understandable.  But if you keep studying Vedanta you’ll see that that you don’t ever die.

S:  If pure consciousness is not some kind of thing, feeling or an experience that I can grasp as a human, it remains an empty shell for me. 

V:  It may seem that way at first.  But Vedanta says that pure consciousness isn’t something outside of yourself that you experience because you and pure consciousness are identical.  You can’t look outward and say, “That’s me!” or “That’s the experience of me!” because you are yourself.  Think of it this way.  In any and all experience there are three factors:  the experiencer, the experience itself and pure consciousness, that which reveals the experience.  Since you are the pure consciousness that reveals the experiencer/experienced you can’t point to a particular experience and say, “That’s me!” But that doesn’t mean you’re some kind of empty shell because it’s totally obvious that you’re present along with each every experience because each and every experience is being revealed by something.  And that something is you, pure consciousness.   Are you an empty shell, unknown to yourself?  Are you ever not present in an experience? No.   

S:  If we define pure consciousness as “no experience/feeling/mind/thoughts,” then it’s actually the equivalent of death for me.

V: I can see why you’d think that but is the absence of experience/feeling/mind/thoughts really the equivalent of death?  No, because by that definition we’d die every time we went to sleep.  But no one believes that they’re dead when they sleep.  Nor do we fear sleep.  In fact, we want it!  So even if pure consciousness is free of experience/feeling/mind/thoughts, it isn’t the equivalent of death, nor is it undesirable.   

To me, true death would be total annihilation, absolute non-existence.  But as pure consciousness, it’s impossible for you not to exist because you’re existence itself.  It’s a fact that your body will die.  And although there’s no way to be sure, it’s possible that your mind will die too.  But one thing is certain:  even if your body and mind die, you don’t.  Similar to the experience of sleep, when your body and mind are absent, you still exist and you’re completely okay.    

If what you want is an afterlife of blissful thoughts, feelings and experiences then no problem.  But unfortunately I can’t help you with that.  I have no idea if there is an afterlife or not, let alone how to get a good one.  The existence of the afterlife and how to go there is purely the department of religion, for instance the ritualistic portion of the Vedas that describe how to accumulate good karma and avoid bad karma.  Be warned though, there is a catch:  the Vedas themselves say that if you build up enough good karma to go to heaven, once that karma runs out, you’ll be reborn to suffer and enjoy all over again.  That’s why Vedanta doesn’t bother with the afterlife.  Vedanta wants permanent freedom and says that permanent freedom comes from the knowledge, “I am pure consciousness, unborn, eternal, unchanging.” 

S:  So the idea/fact/knowledge of pure consciousness is not really of help for me to change my life perspective and life quality.

V:  When you understand what I said above, that you are eternal etc., it greatly changes your perspective and if applied properly, can improve the emotional quality of your life quite a bit.    

S:  Therefore, how can I use the knowledge of pure consciousness to grow, overcome my fears and become enlightened?

V:  Knowledge of pure consciousness, meaning the clear, doubt-free knowledge, “I am pure consciousness” is synonymous with enlightenment.  They’re the same thing so you can’t use the knowledge to get enlightened.  It is enlightenment.  Sorry, that’s a technical answer but that point needs to be understood. 

As I said above, when you have the knowledge, “I am pure consciousness” it helps your mind to overcome fears such as “I am going to die” because it shows you clearly that you are immortal. 

If you are concerned about personal growth, then Vedanta recommends doing spiritual practices like meditation, worship and karma yoga.  Or, if you are not particularly spiritual, just living a good and righteous life.  No joke.  Those are the keys to emotional growth and maturity, not necessarily self-knowledge.    

All my best, Vishnudeva

This is a continuation of a previous Q & A, Total Bliss.  If you have further questions Contact me.   

A REQUEST

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Marriage & Moksha

K:  I have a partner, and want to marry. Does it mean I have to give up moksha?

V:  No.  There is absolutely no rule that says one must remain unmarried or even avoid relationships to get moksha (freedom from suffering).

To elaborate, in Vedanta, any idea of moksha comes from the scriptures, namely the Upanisads.  Is there any injunction against marriage in the Upanisads?  No. Take for instance the Mundaka Upanisad, where Shaunaka approaches the teacher Angiras seeking self-knowledge.  Shaunaka is described as “a great householder” which means he was a married man, presumably with a family.  Does Angiras turn Shaunaka away for being a married man, deeming him unfit to seek self-knowledge (moksha)?  No.  Angiras is looking for other qualifications besides marital status, specifically mental qualifications.  Because Shaunaka is “a great householder” is implies that he has lived a good and pious life, thereby preparing his mind for self-knowledge.  Therefore it could be said that something like marriage can even be helpful towards the pursuit of moksha.  Married and family life is rewarding but challenging and therefore it is an ideal place for spiritual growth, a key ingredient in the pursuit of moksha. 

Another scriptural example is the Bhagavad Gita, probably the most popular text in the Vedanta canon.  Both the teacher, Krishna, and the student, Arjuna are married men.  In fact, Arjuna had four wives.  And get this…Krishna had over 16,000!  While that is most certainly hyperbole the point remains that Krishna was not single.  If marriage were an impediment to moksha then certainly as a teacher, he would not have been married.  And he would have undoubtedly told his student that marriage is an impediment on the path to moksha. But Krishna doesn’t do that.  He simply tells Arjuna to go about his daily life with the proper attitude, the karma yoga attitude, in order grow spiritually.

However, Krishna does not present marriage or spiritual growth as an end unto itself. It is a means to prepare one for self-knowledge.  And an essential part of that preparation is clearly understanding that things like marriage will never give lasting happiness.  For that matter, neither will money, fame, achievement, family or religion.  That fact doesn’t make those things wrong and doesn’t mean they need to be avoided.  But they MUST be understood for what they are:  limited means of gaining temporary happiness.  Only then will one be able to look past them to the source of a lasting satisfaction:  knowledge of one’s own true nature.

So be married if you wish and enjoy it.  It is only an impediment to moksha if you don’t understand that things like marriage won’t give you moksha.    

-Vishnudeva

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