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? (See the figure at the top).

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 left). 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 certain 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 lies within the totality of the planar sheet, the Oneness which only exists. And then to abide in that understanding unwaveringly.


Peter Francis Dziuban said...

Thank you ramesam. Nice examples, and the ABCs are always good...

ABC said...

thank you so much, very beautiful explanation

Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Ramesam,

I hope you won't mind if I congratulate you on your seamless and almost imperceptible way of begging the question....

Look closely at (my) bolded transition in your write up below:

The concept of a 'me' and a 'mind' as an 'independent self' 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 its span of life.

Such actions that go for that 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 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 of all the actions done.


But this is exactly what we want to know !!! Are there really two types of action and do we approach them differently?

Or is it:

Miraculous power and marvelous activity
Drawing water and chopping wood.

Must plead guilty to a weird sense of humour.

Guru, from the Advaita Vision board

Ramesam Vemuri said...

Dear Peter: Thank you for your time and thoughts. It is an honor to receive your kind Comments.

Hi ABC: I am obliged for your kind words. Thank you.

Hi Shri Guru: Nice to see you here. Unfortunately, I seem unable to capture your hints.

The moment you invoke a reference to a 'power,' you are postulating 'something' away from you and epithets like 'miraculous' posit that 'power' to be not only remote but also inaccessible. Such a stance will be that of dvaita and not a-dvaita.

Or perhaps, I have totally missed what you are suggesting.


Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Ramesam:

Thanks for your response, I misunderstoodwhat your wrote.

I’ve read many of your wide ranging essays and just assumed you were familiar with that verse; in different forms, it is often quoted in Zen Buddhism.


Ramesam Vemuri said...

Thanks again, Shri Guru.

Yes, I am familiar withe the Zen quote.
But the mistake I did in my previous response was that I linked together the four sentences you put in bold face and assumed that you suggested the Zen quote as an answer to the question posed by you with regard to different types of actions.

I am sure you are aware that the Zen Masters' intention in that poem was more to stun the 'analytical' mind and stop it in its track in wonderment. By this process, they are arresting the mind in getting busy with its 'thought processes' and directing it to a non-ego-centered, intuitive experience of the 'Totality' of What-Is. Essentially, their emphasis is on the absence of an "Agency" of action, the 'me' as the doer.

Looked it this way, what is pointed out by Advaita is also the same -- actions 'happening' without the claim of 'me' as an Agent for 'doing.'
When the body feels the sensation of thirst, it is the 'signal' for 'fluid imbalance' and a command for its own 'action organs' to do the needful for setting it right. It is a false claim of ownership to say "I feel thirsty."

Similarly, when the body-organism feels a need for energy inputs, it sends the sensation of 'hunger.'
These are all part of the automatically happening homeostasis mechanisms.

After all, no one says, on hearing the lub-dub-lub-dub of the heart that "I beat my heart"; nor any one says "I produce the gastric or bile juice in the GI tract."

So if we leave all such bodily actions to the body, we do find that there are some other type of actions where in a "Me" as the Agent for certain actions crops up innocuously. Those are the situations that need to be watched.

I know that you are knowledgeable of all that I said above. But I have taken this opportunity to explain myself more clearly to any reader who may also wonder if there are two types of actions and how to differentiate them.


Ho Go said...

I think your imagination knows no bounds, Mr. Ramesam.

Ho Go said...

When doesn't the "Me" as the Agent for certain actions crop up? It seems to me the 'me' happens automatically. There is no experience without a 'me', even the intuitive ones. "Those are the situations that need to be watched". The watcher is the same 'me' in disguise, no? This seems to be a trick of the thought structure to divide itself up into 'types' of watchers. It is all the thought structure built into the body and mind. How will you subtract this 'me' from all experience?

Ramesam Vemuri said...

Hi Ho Go,

Thank you for your observations.

In Vedanta, what we term as 'experience' is considered to be of two types.

The normal day to day experience which we are habituated to and perform without much conscious thinking consists of three components -- (i) the experiencer or knower or me as the subject; (ii) the experienced or what is known or the object 'out there'; and (iii) the medium through which the experience (or knowledge) takes place. This may be called as the "Objective Experience."
For example: I see a tree. I is the subject; eyes through which seeing happens is the medium and the tree is the object.

The other type of experience happens directly without the medium. This is referred to as anubhuti in Sanskrit. There is no equivalent word in English for this. We may roughly translate it as "Intuitive Experience." There is a 'Knower' and the 'Known" but the two collapse on closer examination to only one - not two things. That is what a-dvaita signifies (in Sanskrit 'a' means not and dvaita means two).
For example observe your own thought. Do not worry what the thought is about. Just notice the thought. Carefully examine if at that very moment of thought, is there also a 'me' sitting anywhere there? Are there two entities - a 'you' and a 'thought'?
If you examine carefully like this you will find that all sensations like hearing a sound, touching the table etc. will all be just one - the concerned sensation only.

Please let me know if you followed so far and would like to question me further. We can take up in more detail on e-mail, if you like.


Ho Go said...

Dr. Ramesam,

I follow very well what you have written. However, the very activity of examination concerns a 'me'. It is built into the overall experience, involuntarily. Otherwise, why would you bother to examine your thoughts? There is no reason to examine thoughts as they are not one's actual experience, but a reflection, a naming process. I don't think you can look at anything without a 'me'. Why do you think that you can do this? I understand your desire to do this, but your own mind is playing games with you. You are these thoughts, you are the analysis, you are the experience. There is no way to separate the concerned sensation from your perception. In a sense, this is much more complex than the picture you are drawing. This is the 'hanging point' of all systems and models of understanding. The very model and system are part of the perception/ naming process, making it impossible to have a pure sensory experience without an experiencer. I believe that what you are describing is your mind thinking it understands conceptually what pure experience would be without an experiencer. I think when you come to this point, you begin to see the fallacy of this and the awareness is freed up, so to speak, changing your view of yourself.

Ramesam Vemuri said...

Hello Ho Go,

"I follow very well what you have written."

It doesn't look you followed at all, Sorry.

"I don't think you can look at anything without a 'me'. Why do you think that you can do this?"

You have already made your conclusions. So the inquiry has stopped. Matter ended there.

"I understand your desire to do this, but your own mind is playing games with you."

Another of your conclusions?

"There is no way to separate the concerned sensation from your perception."

Exactly. That is all that is being pointed out.
If you have really seen what you stated, you would not have found anything to say about this Post.
The Blog Post is not for you anymore.


P.S: If you desire to contribute your own article for publishing at my Blog, you are welcome.
Please e-mail me your essay at your convenience along with a brief bio of yours.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dr Ramesam,

I read that you reject idea of karma, even on that relative level:

"Some teachers may take the stand that rebirth does not exist from an absolute perspective but has a validity in the transactional reality of our world. But if we examine critically taking into consideration the space-time dynamics of our universe, those very principles of physics do not support the karma theory based on which the concept of rebirth is developed".

I totally adore that way of thinking, but I wonder if so, what happens in the moment of death - that relative individual stream of experience just cease to exist irreversilby? maybe there is merger in the absolute - point of view supported by P.J.Mazumdar.

Best regards, Jerzy

Ramesam Vemuri said...

Dear Jerzy,

Thank you for your kind observations and comments.

Coming to the Question regarding the possible post-death scenario:

Before we begin an enquiry into it, we should be clear about what we exactly understand by the term "death."
'Death' maybe understood to be the end of an 'imagined' "form." A couple of examples will clarify.
Say a golden bangle is changed to a chain , can we say that "there is a merger of the 'form' of bangle into the absolute" which is gold as per the POV stated by you? Or say, there is a shadow of an entity. It is not there anymore after additional light. Has the shadow merged in the absolute?

Alternately, think that "the pink elephant below your bed" has now gone and does not scare you anymore after you have realized that it was only an imagined entity only and it was never there actually. The pink elephant is "dead" then for all practical purposes. What happened to the pink elephant after its death?

Sage Vasishta explains 'death' very lucidly in Yogavasishta with many stories and analogies.

An analogy that comes to mind here is a heap of grain which is measured and made into another heap after measuring with a "jar" (say a 10 liter jar). Consider the different traits that defined an individual to be the grains in the heap. Now do we say that the second heap formed after the measuring process with a changed configuration of the grain positions is a rebirth of the first heap? Remember, the grains which were very much on the top and prominent in the first heap may have gone to the bottom or totally invisible or rolled inside?

I shall continue after your response.


Anonymous said...

Dear Dr Rasmesam

I think pink elephant illuson was not born so it will not die and I think second heap from your example is not rebirth.

Best regards

Ramesam Vemuri said...

Thanks Jerzy for the observations.
Sorry for the delay in my response. I had an internet outage for a few days.

The way Sage Vasishta explains is about the same as you observed. An illusory appearance cannot have death because the appearance was never born. Similarly rearrangement and giving raise to a new form cannot be called rebirth. So from the ultimate point of understanding Advaita, there is no "death" and there is no rebirth.


Anonymous said...

Dear Dr Ramesam

Thank you for your response, I understand that illusory appearance cannot have death from ultimate point, but from exepriental first person perspective after deep sleep there is illusory continuation of the same stream of experience and if I notice correctly you deny even illusory type of continuation in case of cessation of bodily functions, so that particular first person perspective will never manifest itself again?

Best regards.

Ramesam Vemuri said...

Dear Jerzy,

Thank you for your continued conversation here.

It is another unverified "fancy" of the individual that the same world and the same 'me' is continuing after so-called waking up after deep sleep. "brahman" or Consciousness is historyless and without memory, as Peter Dziuban explains the best in his book "Consciousness is All."
His 25 or so short Videos on Time Out express it very well. Each moment is a fresh and new.

The way I would like to say is as follows: You know, whether you are aware or not, every night you go through 4-5 cycles of dream-deep sleep-wake up. In each dream occurs a 'dream-you.' Is each dream-you a rebirth of the previous dream-you? Or you may consider in another way, if you do not remember more than one dream a night. Consider the dreams of 3-4 nights. You have the first person experience as the dreamer-you in each night's dream. Is there any evidence available to say that the dreamer-you of the day-2 is a rebirth of the dreamer-you of day-1? Can the first person experience of the dreamer-you at any time be considered as a continuation of that of the previous one?

P.S. : If you like, please feel free to send an e-mail for a more detailed and more elaborate explanation. The space in these columns is limited.