Doubt About Advaita

S: Dear sir, greetings from India. I am a student of Advaita Vedanta and I’ve attended a few classes of Swami Paramarthananda in Chennai.

Vishnudeva:  Greetings from America.

S: I have a doubt regarding the Sankhya philosophy.  My basic question is this: What are drawbacks of moksha of Sankhya?  I feel the dualism / non-dualism difference is only nominal. What does it matter, if I get absolute peace following either “system”?

Vishnudeva:  If you get absolute peace it doesn’t matter what “system” you follow, whether it be dualism or non-dualism.  There’s no drawbacks to the moksha of Sankhya if you attain it and it truly makes you feel free.

S: My understanding is that the separation of purusha and prakriti in Sankhya is similar to the separation of the atma (self) from the anatma (not-self) in Vedanta.

Vishnudeva:  Yes, it’s similar.  But Vedanta never says that anatma (not-self) is an independent, material entity like the prakriti of Sankhya. 

S: It would be much easier to stop there (at the separation of purusha from prakriti). We would be free from the mortality and suffering of the body.  What is the need to prove the illusory nature of the world?

Vishnudeva:  The only way to find out is to try it for yourself.  If you feel drawn to Sankhya, apply yourself to it fully and use its teachings to separate purusha from prakriti.  See for yourself if it gives you the freedom from suffering that you’re seeking.  If it does, then you can stop there without proving the illusory nature of the world.

If it doesn’t, you can move on to Advaita Vedanta if you choose.

S: What are the benefits of accepting only one brahman as opposed to an infinite number of purushas?

Vishnudeva:  There’s only a benefit if there’s a benefit to you.  If realizing that you’re one of an infinite number of purushas gives you peace, then you won’t need to accept one brahman.  Although I would add that Vedanta isn’t about accepting brahman as one.  It’s about investigating the nature of brahman (which is just your true nature) and seeing what it is for yourself.  No acceptance is required when you see something firsthand, just like no acceptance is required when you walk outside and see the sun with your own two eyes.  In that case, it just is what it is and no acceptance or denial is possible.

If you wish, I can give you all of the technical, philosophical answers for why I think that Advaita is a more tenable position than the dualism of Sankhya.  But establishing that a particular position is logically tenable doesn’t always equate with peace of mind (which is the real point of the spiritual journey). 

Besides, Advaita isn’t looking for converts so there’s no reason to try to convince anyone of anything.  So you should follow the path that appeals to you most, the one that seems the most reasonable.  Otherwise, you won’t be able to properly commit to it.

If you happen to decide that the path for you is Advaita Vedanta, then I am here to help you in whatever way I can.

S: Thank you so much for your detailed reply. It helped clear many of my doubts. I really didn’t expect a thorough reply in a short time. Your mail was much appreciated.

Advaita Vedanta is the path I have chosen to follow. The doubts in Sankhya arose because of its seeming similarity to Vedanta. Now they are put to rest. (I am particularly reassured when you say we can “see” the truth for ourselves and don’t have to accept anyone else’s idea.)

Vishnudeva:  Yes.  This is a big advantage of Advaita Vedanta.  It makes claims about your true nature but then it gives you the tools to understand your true nature for yourself.

S: I am guessing the many questions I have will get sorted as I walk along the path. I shall surely approach you if I am stuck with any doubt. Meanwhile, what advice do you have for someone starting on the path?

Vishnudeva:  Yes, your questions will be sorted if you stay fully dedicated to the path.

In general, the most important thing is to make sure that your mind is calm and focused.  Otherwise, you won’t be able to properly listen to the teaching, contemplate its meaning or meditate.

There are many, many practices to promote a calm, focused mind.  So many in fact that it will be impossible to discuss them all here.  But two key practices are karma yoga and meditation.

Karma Yoga

Many people make karma yoga sound very complicated but it isn’t.  It’s simply a positive attitude you take towards action that prevents you from being overly concerned with the results of action.

Karma yoga is very much like performing a regular action.  You decide what you’re going to do, you plan out how you’re going to do it, and then you do it.  Afterwards, you wait and see what the result of the action will be.

The difference is that with karma yoga, you choose to not worry about whether or not you’ll get the result that you desired in the first place.  Why?  Because once you perform the action, you understand that you’ve done what you can and that the result is out of your hands.  At that point, there’s absolutely no logical reason to worry because there’s nothing else for you to do.  Worry disturbs the mind and directs it outward to the world so it’s useless, especially when trying to go “inward” to investigate your true nature. 

So say I want a new job.  I find the job I want, brush up my CV and turn it in to management.  Because I’m practicing karma yoga, I don’t worry whether I’ll get called for an interview or not.  I did my part in the process so I am at peace.  I wait patiently for the result.

Management calls me for an interview.  Because I’m practicing karma yoga, I do my best to prepare for the interview.  Once I’ve done that appropriately, I know that worrying won’t help anything.  I am at peace and I patiently await the interview. 

I do very well at the interview.  Management tells me that they’ll call to tell me their decision.  Because I’m practicing karma yoga, I know that I did what I could at the interview and that worry will not change the results in any way whatsoever.  I am at peace and I wait patiently.

Management calls and tells me I didn’t get the job.  Because I am practicing karma yoga, I don’t feel angry or sad.  I know that I did what I could and I am at peace about that.  I take the attitude that what was supposed to happen happened. I learn what I need to from the situation, view it as a chance for personal growth, and move on.

If I am religiously inclined, I view all of my actions as an offering to Isvara (the entire universe and all of its inhabitants) and the results of my actions as a gift from Isvara, a gift that is exactly what I need at the time, whether I know it or not.  And because of that I am thankful.

The result of taking this approach to action is peace of mind, which is essential to self-inquiry (Vedanta).

Meditation

This topic is too big to even summarize.

But in general, establish a regular meditation routine.  It’s best to do it at the same time and same place each day.  When the mind is stilled in meditation, it is the perfect platform for doing Vedantic self-inquiry. 

Also, meditation is where you take what you’re told from the teaching and experience it directly.  For instance, if Vedanta says, “You’re not the body” or “You’re not your thoughts” you can see that for yourself while meditating.  Then you take that understanding with you from the meditation seat to your regular everyday life.

Listening and contemplating

Listen to Vedanta teachings daily.  Of course I’ll recommend Swami Paramarthanada but you should choose the teacher that appeals to you the most.  Listen with an open mind and be willing to set your current beliefs and opinions about yourself aside.

After listening to a teaching, contemplate it’s meaning during your day.  This contemplation is to be done during regular activities as well as during meditation.

I hope this serves as an overview and helps get you started.  Let me know if you have further questions.

All my best – Vishnudeva

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.   

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