Wednesday, December 5, 2018

On the Role of 'bhakti' in Advaita:

On the Role of 'bhakti' in Advaita:

  [bhakti has a role even in the Knowledge Path (jnAna mArga) of Advaita. It is useful at three levels in the Knowledge path. I am giving a brief note below where bhakti is useful for a seeker.]

"Devotion" to a deity, object, mantra, ritual etc. serves the seeker: 

(i) In the initial phase in disciplining the mind and sharpening its focusing ability so that it can be made mature and fit to carry out an incisive and unbiased Self-inquiry; 
(ii) At a post-enlightenment stage to stabilize oneself to abide "as brahman" without break. bhakti helps in restricting the habituated mind to returning to its ways of reacting like a separate entity.

If the mind feels too agitated or disturbed also, bhakti can be used to calm it down and bring it back to the brahman-thought.

There will be situations where the mind has no work. Then the seeker can think of a favorite god and keep praying to him and thus keep the mind occupied.

(iii) After liberation bhakti may also be useful for a jIvanmukta.

The situation described here is, strictly speaking, not about the seeker. It is about the body that previously housed the "now liberated seeker."  The body of the seeker who successfully went through the preparatory drill (called sAdhana catuShTaya sampatti - the Fourfold Aids of Seeking), is already re-orientated in its behavior, responses and interactions (no greed, avarice, no  immoral thoughts/actions etc. etc.). It is now well-disciplined with no desires and acquired a pious code of conduct. It is filled with dispassion and detachment. But there is no more any finite individuated person who claims it as "me or mine" to perform motivated actions. Still that body has to live until it perishes in its own time. It has no goal or target to achieve in this world. 

What will it do? It will continue to carry on the same way of living that it got used to before the enlightened "owner" left it. (speaking figuratively). 'bhakti' towards a Godhead is quite handy for such a body which formerly housed the seeker who was seeking. The body spends its time in symbolical surrender to that nirguNa brahman, praising and singing hymns in Its glory in diverse saguNa forms. This is what we see in the lives of people like Shankara, Nisargadatta, Ranjit Maharaj and many other realized people, IMO. 

For "understanding" the actual reality, devotion (any sort of master-slave relationship) can be a detriment. Because there is a danger of the disciple becoming too dependent on and attached to his object of devotion (deity, guru, scripture, mantra etc). Moreover, 'liberation' will not come as a result of any action "done." Shankara defines devotion as " The seeking after one’s own real nature is designated as devotion. Or The inquiry into the truth of one’s own self is devotion"  in Vivekachudamani (verse 31-32).


In spite of the above limitations, one can use "bhakti" to train one's mind in feeling "Oneness" with all.

Some people are more emotional in nature. They like devotion and they have a tender nature, more kindness etc. They do not like to be too analytical. 
These type of people can like and love others easily. They also like to have a Godhead to believe in as a protector, guide and so on. A loving devotional approach is good for them.

Some other people are too analytical, questioning everything and they like to argue and debate on each point. They cannot like and love everyone unless they are like-minded. So this type of people feel more at home with   a logical approach.
Actually it DOES NOT matter which approach one takes. 
In both cases the MAIN POINT OF ADVAITA TO BE UNDERSTOOD is that :

"I am not just this body and mind;
I am not a distinct and separate individual who lives in a world with others also living in it.
That means to say that I am everything and everyone I perceive.
There is no world or any "other" which is not me.
In other words What-IS is all ONE." 

Some Questions & Answers:

1.  Is bhakti just as valid as the path of knowledge?
Bhakti will take you a long way, no doubt. 
In the very last stages of bhakti, one comes back to the Knowledge. But at that stage, it makes little difference whether you call it bhakti or knowledge.

2.  How do chanting, singing and other bhakti practices, including karma yoga to the deity connect to taking one's stand as Awareness?
All such activities train the mind to be calm, kind, compassionate and less and less oriented to taking the interests of one's own little 'self.'  
A person becomes more considerate, and helpful to others.
Such attitudes helps in reducing the difference of "me" from "other."
It thus helps to more quickly fell the absence of differences and feel Oneness with all.
Otherwise, it is more difficult to break the walls of separation between me, my property, my image, my family and "others."

3.  Could you please shed light on the same? 
Bhagavad-Gita and Upanishads also say that you can worship and pray to a god form.
Our mind is comfortable to deal with clear shapes and well defined objects.
It cannot imagine, for example, a thing without any dimensions. Your mind can think of very very minute size - like a subatomic particle. Or it can think of a huge galaxy of stars.
But try and think of dimensionlessness, or a thing which has no qualities.
Or another example.

Think of "Gold." Just gold but not in the form of an ornament, or nugget or lump or even with the colors of yellow etc. Can you think?

Therefore, it is much more  difficult, no, it is impossible for the mind to think of brahman.
Hence, it is good practice to think of a great God, all his good qualities, think of him as your protector and helper. Do all things in his name, as an offering to him.
The Upanishads say that that God form will help you. How?
After all, every god form is a force. Like a boson. Your mind will know by worshiping that god form (force) ways to use that force even without your conscious knowing. So the mind will get to take help of that force and act with its help. That power will then take you to its place (abode). There you will get further instructions in an easy way about reaching brahman.
All this is said in the Upanishads.

4.  The purana-s say chanting is the best form of practice in kali Yuga. Could you please comment on that?
Chanting is the easiest way to keep continuous touch with the force of your choice (God form).
It can be done at all times, places and just in your mind. No elaborate procedures, instruments, coconuts, mantras etc. etc, are necessary. You will always be in touch with the chosen force.
The force itself will take over the control about how you behave and act. It will help you in breaking the walls of separation between you and the world and feel Oneness.

You may like to see the 2-part Blog Post here:  “The Two Courses to Advaitic Truth – Part 1 and Part 2.

And Also "On Narada Bhakti Sutras – 2" (Discusses how a Devotee approaches the deity in devotion)

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Four Questions by A Buddhist on Advaita

Four Questions by A Buddhist on Advaita

Advaita very clearly states that anything "known" or "perceived" or objectively "experienced" is NOT It. Rupert also makes this point in the Video  “Awareness's knowing of Itself.”

In fact, the mANDUkya mantra 7,  which is the bedrock foundation for trying to convey what brahman is, rules out any type of 'conceptualization' by the mind about brahman. ‘brahman’ is simply unthinkable. No words can express It.

We have from taittirIya – II-iv-1; "Failing to reach brahman, words, along with the mind, turn back."

kena Upanishad admits the helplessness of teaching It: I-3: "The eye does not reach there, nor speech, nor mind, nor do we know (Its nature). Therefore, we don’t know how to impart instruction (about It)."

  So it is impossible to even to take recourse to a metaphor to say what Awareness is.

With all that impossibility, still It is not totally unknown to us, though not knowable through the mediums of mind and sensory organs. It is a non-objective immediated intuitive knowing only.

B:  My background is Buddhist thought... mainly Tibetan, with a little bit of Zen. I’m inquiring despite the somewhat combative tone…

To me,  Rupert seemed to imply in the short video posted that Awareness does know itself directly.

But, he also mentions there are schools who say knowingness itself is unknowable directly, so it is known only by implication: “I am that.”

But this is a debate within Buddhism also. Is awareness self-reflexive or not? Does light “light itself up” or not?

If not, how do we know we’re aware... only by implication? If we do know self-reflexively, in what way do we know? 

R:  When Rupert says that “Awareness knowing itself,” the main point is that from the perspective of Awareness (caricaturing for the moment as though It has a perspective, just to drive home a point), there is no "other" for It to know. It is a rhetorical statement.

Suppose we ask "What does the 'saltiness' taste to itself?" what would be the possible answer of Saltiness? It never has to taste itself. It knows the taste by being itself. Likewise, Awareness knows Itself by being Itself. IOW,  Awareness and Beingness become synonyms.

That is why Rupert invariably adds that Awareness knows Itself “by being Itself.”  It does not have specifically anything “to do" to know Itself.

You mention that Rupert also says that "there are schools who say knowingness itself is unknowable directly."
Yes, Awareness is unknowable directly to a limited or finite mind (a ‘me’ or ‘you’).

Awareness is Infinite. Mind is limited.  The greater cannot be contained in the lesser.

When you say that Awareness is known only by implication: “I am that,”  are you  referring to the famous 'aham brahmasmi'? The statement that “I am brahman” is NOT made is not a conclusion by implication. That statement is made by a seeker after total doubtless realization that what s/he calls as “I” is really brahman.

Awareness can never be known by "implication."
The "knowing quality" is with Awareness alone. There is NO other entity which has that quality. In fact, that knowing quality Itself is Awareness. There are no two things - Awareness and a 'knowing quality' possessed by Awareness. Therefore, It is A-dvaita (no-two).

I would like add as follows:

The whole thrust of Advaita is to make us understand that It is Awareness only which knows. There is no we (or a 'me') which knows. That knowing element Itself is 'we' or 'I.'
If by "we" (or I ) you mean to refer to the body-mind in your question, Advaita emphatically declares that the 'knowing element" is NOT the body-mind. Therefore, Awareness (which is not 'located' or restricted to the body-mind) is aware of Itself.

It can best be understood by a little thought experiment.
Imagine a self-luminous open infinite space. Suppose there is a pot in that space. There is space within the pot as well as outside the pot. It is all the same self-luminous brilliantly shining one space all over. Can and does the pot really able to separate or break the open infinite space? The luminous space within the pot does not have to illuminate itself by self-reflectivity. It has inhered that quality of luminescence.

B:  "Does the current moment of awareness know the same moment of mind or the previous moment of mind? Does one aspect of mind know another aspect of mind?"

R:  I like to first clarify on the terminology.

Per Advaita, mind is not separate or distinct or different from Awareness.
There are several models that Advaita gives to understand 'mind.'

One general model is that those two are related like a mass of air and breeze. Breeze is nothing but air in movement. Likewise, Consciousness in movement is mind. Mind stable is Consciousness (or Awareness).
Another model is mind is like a ripple (a throb) in Awareness.
Still another helpful model is that Infinite Awareness when of Its own volition and freedom ignores Its own Infinity and 'imagines' a finiteness to Itself, we call It mind.
As mind is movement, first ‘time’ and then ‘space’ arise with the movement. Unless and until there is a movement, there is no time-space in Awareness. And hence, no world.

When Awareness looks at Itself through that little ripple(called mind), It sees Itself as the ‘world.’  So Advaita holds that 'Perception itself is Creation' (dRiShTi reva sRiShTiH). If there is no perception there is no creation, no world.

Once a challenge was posed by a theoretical Physicist to express Quantum Physics in 120 characters on the twitter. A clever guy said: "If you look, it's a particle; if you don't, it's a wave."
I paraphrased it for Advaita: "If you look, it's a world; if you don't, it's brahman."
The three periods of Time as past present and future arise only in the world. Awareness is prior to spacetime.
I often give the thermometer metaphor. A thermometer can and always will function in the present. It cannot give you the temp of a minute ago or tomorrow's temp. The thermometer has no past or history and memory. It is the mind that has a memory. Like the thermometer, the Real Perceiver, which is Awareness, is already and always in the Now. Like a room having several windows in it, several minds can be within One Awareness.

B:  For me, the "Screen analogy"   is not a good analogy. The light does affect the screen. It warms the screen as some of the light is absorbed and some of it is reflected. What is seen is not on the screen. It is the light reflected off the screen. What I mean to say is that awareness is creative and aware. It can't be creative-aware without that which is inseparable from awareness, being created, and being known.

R:  I also agree that it "is not a good analogy."
We have no attachment to it. After all, it's a metaphor.
We can always go for a better one.

A metaphor is only a "messenger" to convey an immediately incomprehensible 'idea' or a 'concept' or a 'theory' (siddhAnta) which is the real message. We will not and cannot kill the message by killing the messenger.

What would be a better analogy for the Advaitic understanding we are discussing here?

Shankara wrote a short work of 68 verses titled "Atma bodha."
Every verse contains a beautiful simile as the second line for what is taught in the first line of the verse. A lovely text. It is definitely worth the time to study it.

B:  Awareness never appears without giving rise to and knowing, so to talk about it as though it existed independently ..... strikes me as somehow subtly incorrect.
Awareness never appears without giving rise to and knowing, so to talk about it as though it existed independently - especially in a context where the dividing line between awareness and everything else has fully dissolved - strikes me as somehow .

R:  Let's take the simple case of the 'sensing ability' of a TV antenna.

We know that the antenna has the 'capability or power' to detect a program (irrespective of the type, quality, content, mood etc. of the program). We know so only from the fact that it "gives rise to and knows" a program.

Suppose we are not watching any program. Will it be then "subtly incorrect" to say that 'that quality of detecting sensitivity' of the antenna "exists independently" (independent of the program being played or not)?

[Acknowledgements: This post is carved out of a FaceBook Conversation.
The Picture of Buddha with a Swan is adopted from  here. ]