Friday, July 22, 2016

ABC of Advaita

ABC of Advaita:

The concept of  a 'me' as an 'independent self' (
supported by a 'mind') is required in the service of the upkeep and maintenance as well as feeding of the body-organism. That sense of 'self' as the center of actions helps in the performance of all actions that are required for the minimum maintenance of the body for the span of its life. If a sense of a 'self' is absent, one does not know whether one's hand is feeding into one's own mouth or into that of a dog nearby!

 All such actions that go for the above specific purpose do not have 'carry-forward' effects as Krishna explains in the Bhagavad-Gita.

Therefore, one need not consider those actions for philosophical discussions.

A seeker needs to watch all other actions that go with a motivation, a purpose, a desire for self-aggrandizement or self-protection (from insults etc.) of the self-image. These actions go with a deep sense of ownership for things, doership for decisions taken and agency for all the actions done.

With the arising of 'agency' of actions, you become the 'karta' (doer) and hence you will necessarily experience the consequences of the actions done by you (i.e. you will be the 'bhokta' (experiencer)). There is no escape from this.

When you are the bhokta, you will find that some results will be pleasant and some unpleasant. You desire to welcome the pleasant ones and avoid the unpleasant ones. You then struggle with what is 'happening' - judging the happenings in terms of what is 'good' for you or 'bad' for you. You create a world of your own where you keep running away from (i.e. avoiding with fire walls) what is not good and building 'welcome gates' for what is good. All this struggle will result in suffering for the 'bhokta.'

You want freedom from that 'suffering.' You seek powerful 'gods' who can protect you and you create elaborate belief systems and processes (e.g. rituals) not only to perpetuate but also to reinforce the belief in your gods as well as your faith.

Gita suggests that you should "give up" all such actions. If you cannot, at least practice performance of action without looking for the 'fruits.' If even this is not possible, begin actions by offering whatever you do to brahman (brahmArpaNa mastu). If you follow a personified god, perform all actions offering them to Him (e.g. KrishnArpaNa mastu).

Hopefully, this process will retrain your mind and gradually lead to dropping all motivations and desires (achieving vairAgya (dispassion)) and thus naishkarmya siddhi (being unaffected by the results of actions done). naishkarmya siddhi is "action in inaction." It refers to performing actions without the sense of "I am the doer" like a river flow. The river does not say that 'I am flowing.' The 'flow' itself is the river.

By this way, you may or may not successfully achieve reorientation of your mind and obtain naishkarmya siddhi right in this life of yours.

What do you do then?
You will hope to achieve naishkarmya siddhi sometime in the future, maybe in the next life and that 'hope' requires you to necessarily believe in rebirth, a continuity of the same 'me' and all the story that goes with it.

Therefore, while we may continue to adopt the above method, we should also find out who that ahaM ("I") is when Gita says ahamkAra vimUDhAtmA karta ahamiti manyate (III-7) -- who or what exactly is that foolish fellow (the 'me') who thinks that "I am the doer"?

What to do to find out who am "I"?

One is the traditional way to find out who is it that thinks "I am the doer." 

In this method, you first listen to the final answer from a reliable source (Apta vAkya) -- a Guru / scripture).  This is called shravaNa

Next you mull over in your mind what you heard and deeply reflect over it until you get fully convinced (to the extent that not even an iota of doubt is left in you about the 'teaching'). This is called manana

After that you adopt all sorts of techniques to constantly remember every moment of your waking, dreaming, deep sleep life about what you got convinced -- the One-ness of the individual and brahman (jIvabrahmaikyatva). This is called nididhyAsana.

[The three steps (shravaNa-manana- nididhyAsana) need not go one after another in a progressive or gradational fashion. One may skip some step or other, all the three may happen simultaneously and so on - many variations can occur.]

I will like to give an analogy to help in our remembrance of Oneness.

Think of a large uniform clean, neat shining white bedsheet nicely stretched and spread flat without wrinkles. Is any one particular spot on the sheet distinguishable from the other? No, all spots (locations) are uniform, identical and homogeneous -- in fact, there is no possible way to demarcate or distinguish a specific spot to be unique with a set of contours giving a shape to it. Every spot you may select is indistinguishably within that One continuous whole sheet which is undivided into parts.

Now give a shake holding a corner or a side of the sheet.
What will happen?

 Some waves will form and as you lay the sheet down, the flatness is gone. The sheet gets folded. It raises up as hills in some places. At some other places, it shows depressions. Some depressions may be big; others narrow and small. Some hills may be conical and so on and on. Many shapes and sizes can be distinguished. The One huge uniform sheet lost its absolute symmetry. Several shapes and boundaries for those shapes can be identified. You can give distinct names to those shapes like a hill, a cone, a depression, a long valley etc. It looks like a composite of several shapes conglomerated together (See the figure at the right). The sheet does not look as an undivided whole anymore. 

Imagine one more thing. Think that the sheet is fluorescent.  When it was in the undisturbed flat disposition, it would have been appearing like a single sheet of self-luminescent brilliantly shining light plane. This luminescence has also the power to sense and know things like a sensor (detector probe).  But there is no-thing outside itself to sense or detect. It is all One Infinite wholeness.

After the perturbation (because of the shake), the hills and valleys cause apparent variations (shades) in the luminescent light. Some spots may appear slightly less bright (in a relative sense only - remember that the entire sheet is self-luminescent, there are originally no inherent differences in its luminosity). 

Now add another layer of imagination.
Think that one little depression, not exactly circular but having an odd shape imagines itself to be different and thinks that it exists as a separate entity from the rest of the sheet. 

Its ability to imagine, sense and know another (e.g. the hill nearby) still exists because of the self-luminescence at every spot of the big sheet.  

The small depressed spot begins to feel bad that its shape is odd, it is lying lower compared to the tall fellow, the hill, next to it. The hill appears to it as if shining with more light and spreading its brilliance to a greater distance. The little depression feels sad because it is not like that hill. It wants to become like that hill. When it learns finally that it cannot succeed in its aim, it may even want to destroy the hill.

You can concoct all sorts of stories further. Say a sudden gust of wind and water eroded or altered the size or shape of that hill. The depression may misappropriate to itself some power for having reduced the size of the hill. Or it may think that its worship of a powerful 'Storm God' helped achieve its desire ---------- and so on. 

Stop here for a minute. Hold your horses of weaving imaginative stories.

Question yourself now.

Was that 'depression' at any point of time separate from the totality of the sheet? Is it really different and independent of the hills and other shapes which it imagined to be outside itself?

Is there any action it has to take to become the whole one sheet again? Has it at any point of time stopped being the whole sheet?

What action should it have to take to feel itself to be within the Totality of Oneness?

It has to just remember that it never left the whole Oneness. It is only its fanciful thinking that it is separate that brings in the "feel" of separation.  Actually no rigid brick-wall like boundaries exist around itself but for its own mistaking of the 'shades' (caused by the changes in relief) as walls of separation.

Yes, when the depression feels hungry needing some energy input, it may look for food. It eats what it gets. But it knows one day that the boundary wall around itself will collapse and it will die. When the (imagined) wall is gone, it is automatically within the whole Oneness. [Some even imagine five layered walls - panca kosha.]

Even after it realized that it was never a separate entity, the past memory of being a 'separate ' may come back to it out of sheer habit.  It then has to make an effort not to forget that it was never separated from the Totality.

The shravaNa-manana-nididhyAsana method is called the Cosmological or progressive Path which is taken up after an intensive pre-requisites are fulfilled. In the Direct Path -- essentially taught by Sages like Atmananda Krishna Menon, Nisargadatta Maharaj and to some extent Ramana Maharshi -- the most important key element is to first totally UNDERSTAND and be convinced that the small luminescent depression (the separate self, a Me) is non-different and within the totality of the planar sheet, the Oneness which only exists. And then to abide in that understanding.