DROP THE BOAT: When the teaching has served its purpose, you can leave it behind

F: So I want to go back to our discussion on Existence/Consciousness for a minute in reference to our previous exchange Who Knows? There are a couple of points I’d like to probe.

When you see Ishwara as a matter of speculation what do you mean?   I find Ishwara to simply be a matter of understanding not speculative belief.  Speaking to a fellow Vedantin, “we” know that there is only Brahman.  And it has a power called Maya (which is nothing but Brahman) to manifest as the world we experience.  When Brahman is apparently functioning in this capacity as creator we use the word Ishwara.   Where is the speculation?  

V:  Here’s three answers from different perspectives. 

A) This is my primary answer, one that expresses both my personal opinion and what I contend is the view of Vedanta in general. This answer actually applies to all of your questions: While I find the details of Vedanta as a teaching methodology interesting, its theories and explanations are only conditionally true from the empirical standpoint or perhaps not true at all (take the theory of the evolution of the elements for example). Whether they are true or not is inconsequential because Vedanta only uses them as temporary devices to point to the only truth there is:  brahman (you).  This means that once Vedanta’s theories and explanations have revealed who you are, they completely lose their value, similar to a boat having no purpose once you have reached the other side of the river.  You could carry the boat with you if that was your prerogative, discussing its features and design, but considering your goal was to cross the river, wouldn’t it make more sense to leave the boat behind and simply enjoy the other side of the river rather than quibbling about the vessel that got you there?    

In the same way, once Vedanta has shown you that you are brahman—and I am assuming that it has—its various teaching devices no longer have a purpose.  You could continue analyzing them if you wanted to but if your reason for seeking self-knowledge was peace of mind, then once knowledge is gained, why not leave the teaching behind and simply enjoy the implications of who you really are?    

So I think the most important question to ask is, “Will continued analysis of the teaching bring me greater peace of mind?”  If the answer is yes then I say go for it.  But when I asked myself that same question, after three or four years of incessantly re-hashing the ins and outs of the teaching with my guru brother and fellow jnani, Paul, the answer was no.  So I stopped.  Then I shifted my focus to simply re-affirming and appreciating my true nature, which did in fact bring me greater peace of mind.     

B) If you think Isvara is a matter of understanding while I find it to be a matter of speculation, then no problem. You should think/believe whatever makes the most sense to you.  Because of that I don’t have much interest in defending my position.

But…. 🙂        

Seeing as we are both well-versed in Vedanta, doesn’t the very fact that we see this issue differently prove that Isvara is a matter of speculation?  If Isvara were simply a matter of understanding, like understanding the earth is really round even though it looks flat, wouldn’t we both simply agree?  (Considering all of the Flat-Earthers out there, maybe that’s not a good example but hopefully you can see past the shortcomings of the metaphor). 

C) Here’s my technical, picky answer. The first two answers are heartfelt but I want to give this one too so it doesn’t seem like I’m blowing you off. I did after all tell you to send your questions.     

When you see Ishwara is a matter of speculation what do you mean?

Isvara is posited as the omniscient, all-powerful creator of the universe.  But how do you know this is true?  Have you ever personally experienced an omniscient, all-powerful being?  I know I haven’t.  Granted, not experiencing something doesn’t mean it isn’t there or that it isn’t true, just like the example I gave above about not experiencing the Earth as round even though it is.  However, in the case of the earth, it is possible to experience it as round by viewing it from space, or by looking at a photo taken from space.  Is there a similar means of empirical proof for Isvara?  At this point someone may be tempted to give the argument of intelligent design.  But observing a reasonable amount of order in the universe is certainly no rock solid proof of an omniscient, all-powerful creator (philosopher have poked holes in this argument for a long time).  So where do we get our information about Isvara?  From scripture.  Swami Dayananda talks about this in his Tattva Bodha commentary on pg. 277-288 (not that I’m trying to say his view of Isvara is the same as mine).  While discussing how we can know anything about the details of Isvara he says, “We have no means of knowledge (about Isvara) except the sruti to tell us.”

This means that if we want information about how Isvara works or what it is, you have to believe what the scripture says.  And belief is speculation.  This is what I mean by Isvara being speculation.  If Isvara were a matter of understanding it would be provable as an indisputable empirical fact. 

“Speaking to a fellow Vedantin, “we” know that there is only Brahman.”

Correct.  No disagreement there. 

“And it has a power called Maya (which is nothing but Brahman) to manifest as the world we experience.”

We’ve established that we both know that there is only brahman.  If there is only brahman then there is no maya.  Brahman plus an entity called maya would be duality.  Even if, as you say, maya is nothing but brahman, there is still no maya.  Why?  Because if maya is none other than brahman, then there is still only brahman.  There is still no reality above and beyond brahman called maya.  That’s simply the logic of non-duality. 

As I pointed out above, Vedanta uses various temporary teaching devices to point to the non-dual reality of brahman only to have those devices negated when that reality becomes known.  The maya/Isvara theory is one such teaching device.  It is only necessary when someone believes that there is such a thing as objects and they need an explanation of where they come from and how they are “created” from brahman.  But when it is seen that what you mistakenly thought were objects are really nothing but brahman, there is no longer a need for a theory of a creative power (maya) because there is no creation.  And if there is no creation, there is no creator (Isvara).  Hence there is no longer a need for the theory of Isvara as creator either. 

On an everyday level, even though it is a matter of speculation and belief, there is no harm in thinking of the apparent creation as the work of an apparent Isvara.  It can be a positive construct through which to view the world.  But it always needs to be remembered that brahman is the only “thing” that is real while the creation and the creator are dualistic concepts that are always unreal.  Hence there is about as much value in debating the details of Isvara/maya as in debating the details of a mirage or a dream.  And on a related point, no one needs to force themselves to believe in Isvara if the concept either doesn’t make sense to them or more importantly, if it doesn’t help them to be happier in their day to day lives.  The world is an illusion so nothing definite can be determined about it, which means people are free to choose to believe in what they find most reasonable and helpful.    

F:  Coming back to the claim “to exist is to be known” for a minute.   I understand you are saying it isn’t to be taken literally, however, after giving it more thought I am finding it hard not to.   The thinking being that since all objects appear within consciousness, aren’t they inherently known?   Or said in reverse, if Consciousness manifests as an object how could it not be known to that same Consciousness?  Another point is to leverage the fact/teaching that Brahman is self-evident and objects are evident.   If an object is evident it must by definition be known.  Wouldn’t this imply that all objects are known (i.e., illumined by consciousness)?

V:  If there is such a thing as objects then it must be consciousness that knows them.  But again, this is debating something based in duality, specifically the duality of knower vs. known, existent vs. non-existent or consciousness vs. unconscious objects.  Being dualistic, all of these ideas are based in ignorance and are unreal so what can actually be said about them?  How can you discuss the existence of objects if they don’t really exist?  How can you talk about something being known where there is nothing other than yourself to be known?  How can you find the relationship between consciousness and unconscious objects when there is only consciousness and therefore nothing for it to have a relationship with? 

If you were someone I thought was still trying to understand that reality is non-dual then I would cater to the lower, temporary viewpoints of the teaching that allow for theories of knowledge and existence and debate them.  But I don’t think you are so what’s the point?  The non-dual viewpoint is the only one that is true and it negates all others.  Why not leave them behind? 

I am not trying to be dismissive.  I’m just trying to draw attention to the fact that at some point you have to transcend the teaching methods of Vedanta and simply appreciate what they have taught you, that you are brahman.  Understanding and appreciating your non-dual nature at some point necessitates leaving behind dualistic concepts.  Drop the boat!     

F:  Finally… new topic!  I’ve been researching the topic of Vedanta as a pramana.   My question is do you think Vedanta as a pramana is falsifiable in any way?  Meaning is there anything one could experience which would negate the core absolute truth of Brahman/Atma?    I don’t think so but I’d love to know your view.  This came up since I was in a conversation recently with a scientifically minded friend who found this position highly objectionable.  I indicated that since what Vedanta expounds is uncontradicted by other knowledge and unique then it can be accepted.   He agreed that it certainly “could” be true but was pushing to know what proof could be given vs. relying on a lack of contradictory evidence.  I then pointed out that one can only test the veracity of Vedanta by exploring it for themselves and going through a process of self inquiry.  Until you do that you won’t know.  For me having done quite a bit of meditation work before coming to Vedanta was key.  It allowed teachings like drg drishya viveka to be assimilated very quickly.  But for those who haven’t gone into the teachings carefully, and have a scientific bent the whole thing seems like crazy conjecture akin to saying “we are all in the matrix”:)!    Any thoughts on this one?

V:  No, I don’t think there is any way to disprove the truth of brahman.  If there were I certainly wouldn’t be into Vedanta. 

But as a thought experiment I think it might be possible to disprove that brahman is consciousness, assuming it could be shown that what we think of as consciousness is really just one part of the brain watching the functions of another part of the brain.  Of course, this seems unlikely.  But time and again, science has proven things that seemed impossible.  As much as Vedanta is called a science, we have to remember that yogis from thousands of years ago were not even remotely aware of what we now call the scientific method.  As I mentioned above they believed that earth evolved from water, water from fire, fire from air, air from space.  But despite their shortcomings regarding the natural sciences, they were in fact experts in investigating their own subjective experience.  From that vantage point it seems like a reasonable conclusion that consciousness is the base level of reality.  Meditation very much seems to prove that.  But being limited by our subjective viewpoint and our incomplete knowledge of the brain, can we say that for certain?  If I’m being honest, I’d have to admit the possibility—no matter how slight—that I could be wrong.    

What?  How could you say that brahman might not be consciousness and still claim that the truth of brahman can’t be disproved?  Aside from the fact that consciousness is just a word based on dualistic concepts–and brahman transcends all words–even if brahman weren’t consciousness, it wouldn’t fundamentally change the fact that I am non-dual, ever-present and unchangeable because I don’t see any conceivable way to disprove my own existence.  The very fact that I can question my existence proves I exist.  If you destroy “me” meaning my body/mind then everything else besides my body/mind still exists.  If you destroy everything else, then existence itself still exists because to say that there could be such a thing as nothingness would be to admit that nothingness exists. Existence and brahman being the same, there would be no way to negate brahman.  So to me, the conclusion of myself being a changless, non-dual reality not subject to negation would still hold completely true.    

And I agree with your view that the claims of Vedanta must be investigated for yourself.  To simply sit on the sidelines and intellectualize about it won’t do any good.  There’s usually no point in trying to convince people to take up Vedanta.  They have to want it themselves.  That’s why the teaching is only given to people who are receptive to it.  And personally, I don’t think Vedanta is science so I don’t try to legitimize it on a scientific basis.  I think teachers like Swami Vivekananda started calling Vedanta science and comparing it to science in order to make it seem more legitimate to Western or Western-influenced audiences. But since Vedanta investigates subjectivity and is not based in materialism, it’s its own unique thing.   

All my best – Vishnudeva

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You are not a Person, You are the Self

M:  Hi Vishnu, I have enjoyed your video series on the Tatva Bodha but I’ve got a few questions.  

Am I a person or not? Or both?

V:  You are not a person.  It just seems like you are when the distinction between you, the self, and the body/mind is not clear. 

M: If objects are not real, then the person cannot be real?

V:  Correct.  An object is anything and everything that is known by you.  The body-mind (the person) is known to you so it is an object.  Therefore it is unreal.    

M:  I don’t understand “objects exist, but are not real.”  I would rather say: if something doesn’t exist, then it is not real?

V:  No, because a mirage of water in the desert is not real but you can’t say it is non-existent.  If it were non-existent, you wouldn’t be able to experience it.

So a better way of putting it is:  “Objects can be experienced but they are not real.  They are an illusion.” 

By the way, the definition of “real” in Vedanta is “that which has no beginning, no end and never undergoes change of any kind.”  By this definition, objects exist (can be experienced) but they are not real.     

M:  Am I both the Jiva and the awareness of the Jiva, and all Jivas?

V:  You are only awareness.  You are aware of the jiva.  There is only one you, one awareness, so by extension you are the awareness of all jivas.  The next question is of course, “Why don’t I know what all jivas are experiencing?”  The answer is, because you are taking M’s mind, with its limited perspective, to be your perspective. 

Here is an example.  One day, the sun—which shines on everything equally, never being affected by what it shines on—was happily doing its job illumining the world.  But suddenly it noticed its reflection in a bucket of water and began to panic.  He called out “Oh no!  Someone help!”  The moon, being a longtime friend, came along and asked what the trouble was.  The sun said “I’m trapped in this bucket! Help me out!  I’ve got to shine on the whole world and I can’t do it if I’m stuck in here.”  The moon assessed the situation and pointed out to the sun that he was merely looking at his reflection, mistaking it to be himself.  He was never limited by the bucket at any time.  He was, and always had been, shining on the whole world.  It just seemed like he wasn’t when he mistook himself to be his reflection. 

You, awareness, are like the sun.  You shine on M’s mind, which is like the bucket of water.  It “reflects” you, meaning it appears to be aware, the same way a reflection resembles what is reflected.  When you mistake yourself to be the reflection, you assume the limitations and the perspective of the reflecting medium, the mind.  The mind, along with the senses, creates a three dimensional point of view so when you identify yourself with the mind, it makes it seem like you exist in a particular place.  But in reality, you are awareness simply shining on a mind that appears to be in a particular place when, like the sun to the bucket, you are not limited to that place at all.  The mind’s perspective is not yours, you simply illumine it.  By necessity, you must be outside of time and space since both are objects known to you.    

This does not mean that when you understand that you are awareness that you will suddenly know everyone’s mind.  Why?  Because knowing information, such as someone else’s thoughts, belongs to the mind itself, not you, awareness.  You simply shine on the mind and what it knows.  So understanding that you are awareness and not the mind does not somehow turn you into someone else’s mind.            

M:  Everything seems to suggest that I am a person that is aware of my surroundings.

V:  Yes, it does.  But everything in experience also suggests the world is flat, that the sun rises and sets, and that straws bend when you put them in a glass of water.  But that does not make it so. 

M:  Sight seems to happen through my eyes.  Smell seems to happen through my nose etc.  All experiences seem to happen in and through this body.

V:  Yes, eyes see.  Noses smell.  Experience happens through the body (and mind).  But that does not mean you actually have eyes, a nose or a body (or that they belong to you).  For instance, when the eyes see, you do not see.  You are merely aware of what they eyes are seeing.     

M:  And awareness seems to be connected to the body too, following it around.

V:  Yes, it seems to.  But appearances are not truth.  Based on appearances, people used to think that the sun followed the earth around but upon investigation the earth actually moved around the sun. 

Similarly, it seems like you, awareness, are connected to the body, following it around.  But like the sun, it is you who are not moving while the body moves around in your light.  Also like the sun to the earth, you are never connected to the body, you only illuminate it.    

M:  I am never conscious of anything without the body, it seems?

V:  It’s true that in the absence of the body (and mind) you’re not going to see, hear, taste, touch, smell or think anything.  Using consciousness in the normally accepted sense we could say that in this case you would not be conscious of anything.  But in the absence of sensory data and thought you are still conscious-ness itself.  Being conscious of something is merely a turn of phrase that we use to describe the action of the mind knowing something.  But conscious-ness is not a thought, it is not something that you do, like knowingIt is what you are and the presence or absence of external objects can never change what you truly are. 

Let’s go back to the example of the sun and do a thought experiment.  On a normal day, the sun sits in its place, illumining the Milky Way galaxy.  Being luminous is not an action it performs because it luminous by nature.  It gives off light effortlessly because it is light.  With that in mind, let’s say that absolutely everything (except the sun itself) suddenly disappears from the galaxy, leaving a completely blank void.  Now, in the absence of anything to reflect its light, does the sun stop being luminous?  No, it continues to shine whether or not there is anything present for it to shine on.   

Like the sun to the galaxy, you, as awareness, “illumine” all objects with consciousness.  Being conscious of something is only the mind collecting and collating data.  But in the absence of the mind, such as in dreamless sleep, do you stop being conscious-ness itself?  Do you stop being consciousness when the mind is not there to be conscious of anything?  No, just like the sun wouldn’t stop being luminous if there was nothing there to reflect its light. 

So no, without the body and mind, you can’t be conscious of anything.  But you can never not be conscious-ness.            

M:  I don’t know what is happening in the USA, right now so… 

V:  Don’t worry, I barely know what’s happening in the US right now either.  There’s a lot going on outside of my personal experience. 

M:  …does the USA even exist, right now?

V:  Well, I can’t say for certain because, owing to the time difference, I was probably asleep when you wrote this 🙂  But I can say for certain that it exists right now. 

M:  I honestly must say no, not in my experience.  It is just a thought, right now, isn’t it?

V:  For you, yes. For me, no. Please understand that I know why you’re asking these kinds of questions.  Everyone always does at some point, myself included.  But I assure you, it’s an unproductive line of inquiry.  Why?  Because there is absolutely no way to determine if the world exists when you don’t know it’s there.  In order to do so you’d have to develop a second awareness so you could step outside of your first awareness to try to observe the world when your first awareness was not present.  Aside from the fact that awareness is never not present and the idea of observing your own awareness is absurd, there is a third problem.  Let’s say hypothetically that you somehow manage to get a second awareness, make the first awareness disappear and then determine that lo and behold the world is still there. Hurray, problem solved!  But wait…now the question is, “Does the world exist when your second awareness is not aware of it?”  Then you have to develop a third awareness to observe your second awareness and a fourth awareness to observe your third awareness and on and on ad infinitum.  Hence the problem is insoluble and you’re left to speculation alone which doesn’t help anything.          

But for the sake of argument let’s say you were able to determine that the world was there when you were not aware of it.  How would this affect your day to day life?  It wouldn’t, and the world would carry on as usual.  You’d still have to go to work, eat, sleep and be polite to the people around you.  You would still have all the same problems you had before you knew the world existed when you weren’t aware of it.  So there’s no practical purpose to knowing one way or the other. 

One thing you do know for sure is that the world is there when you do observe it.  And that’s precisely when it’s a problem.  You don’t care about the world when it’s not there, like when you sleep, right?  But when you wake up you need a solution to the suffering the world causes.  That’s why Vedanta is not concerned with determining whether the world exists when you don’t see it.  Instead it is trying to show you that even when the world appears 1) It is not real, so there is nothing real to worry about and 2) You are never affected by it.  Honestly, this is what matters. 

M:  You say that I am the consciousness in which the body and the world appears in.  But this consciousness doesn’t seem to be impersonal, like I would imagine it would be.  It feels very personal.  Like what I experience, no one else experiences.

V:  The body-mind is what experiences.  And yes, that is personal insofar as no other body-mind is experiencing what another body-mind is experiencing.  Even two body-minds experiencing the same external object will experience it slightly differently.  But you, consciousness, are not the experiencer.  You are what illuminates the particular experiences of all body-minds.  So you are impersonal, just like the sun is not personally involved in anything it illuminates.     

M:  And is there an external, objective world at all?  Does the universe exist in someone else consciousness when I, the person, is not there anymore to experience it?

V:  I think I covered this above but I’ll reiterate that the status of the objective world only matters to us when it appears in our subjective world, which we know for a fact is there because we experience it.  So the subjective world is the only one that matters.  This means we only need to concern ourselves with the problem of our subjective world, the problem of suffering.       

M:  But different persons do not have different consciousnesses, do they? 

V:  No.  Consciousness is one.

M:  There is only one consciousness, but is it divided between different people?  I don’t get it.

V:  Yes, there is only one consciousness.  No, it is not divided between different people, the same way the sun is not divided when it reflects in many different mediums.  The sun can simultaneously be reflected in a bucket, a puddle and a lake and while this appears to divide the sun, it remains one alone.  Similarly, consciousness can be reflected in many different minds and while this appears to divide consciousness, it remains one alone.   

All my best – Vishnudeva



The Difference Between the ‘Enlightened’ & ‘Unenlightend’


Shelly:  I’ve been studying Vedanta for over a year.  My mind is more peaceful but I feel like there is more to be done.  I can intellectually understand that I am the self but am not living the truth that I am awareness.  What’s next? 


Vishnudeva:  “She who considers herself free is free indeed and she who considers herself bound remains bound. ‘As one thinks so one becomes,’ is a popular saying in this world and it is quite true.” -Astavakra Samhita 1:11

The only difference between a so-called ‘unenlightened’ person and an ‘enlightened’ person is that the ‘enlightened’ person not only knows they are the self but completely accepts it.  They take the self to be their primary identity and let the implications of that identity start changing the way they think, meaning they let the knowledge, “I am always just fine no matter what” start reducing the frequency and severity of their emotional disturbances. 

So the next step for you is to keep dwelling on the teaching with the aim of recognizing that there is no gap between what you know and who you are.  If you know the self is free, then you should know that you are free.  Fully own that knowledge and start living accordingly.  That is “living the truth” because you are living in harmony with how things really are.  If at first it feels strange to live your life from the vantage point of self-knowledge, don’t be concerned.  After all, it is a perspective that is radically different from the one you’ve had your whole life.  But keep practicing.  Over time your confidence will grow and your peace of mind will increase.* “As one thinks, so one becomes.”  People try to make self-knowledge too complicated when it really is as simple as that.      

That being said, I’d like to make one more point.  Having a peaceful mind is an excellent thing but peace of mind is only the secondary objective of Vedanta.  How so?  Because the primary point of Vedanta is to show very clearly that you are not the mind.  Why is not being the mind better than having a peaceful mind?  Because the mind can never be fully controlled, which means that even if it’s primarily peaceful, there will be times when it is angry, agitated, sad etc.  So when the mind is less than peaceful, having the knowledge, “I am not the mind” let’s you know that regardless of the condition of the mind, you are still okay.  And that is real peace of mind.     

All my best – Vishnudeva

*A note to others: I highly recommend that people practice living from the perspective of the self—meaning taking the self to be their primary identity—even when they don’t yet fully understand how they can be the self.  This may seem disingenuous but it isn’t.  Why?  Because regardless of whether you understand that you are the self or not, it’s still true.  Owing to that fact, “faking it until you make it” is a productive practice on the path to knowledge because self-knowledge is a matter of identity.  Therefore practicing taking the standpoint of your true identity is very helpful as you do your inquiry.  And when inquiry yields doubt-free self-knowledge, you’ve already laid the groundwork for improved peace of mind because you’ve already practiced viewing yourself as the limitless, eternal reality that you are. 

How do you do this?  Every time you come across a statement about the self, put it in first person.  For instance, if you read, “The self is existence-consciousness-bliss” say to yourself, “I am existence-consciousness-bliss.”  This breaks down the idea that the self is something somewhere ‘out there’ that you need to attain and makes it clear that it is none other than who you are.