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Advaita Vedanta and Nisargadatta
Thursday, 30 December 2010
Existence and Non-existence - Bhava and Abhava


Abhava is the negative of 'bhava' which means being, becoming, existing, appearance. The word bhava is derived from the Sanskrit root 'bhû' which means to be, to come into being, to become. Therefore abhava  means non-existence, the state of non-being.

Existence is the positive state of something and non-existence is the negative state of the same thing, which indicates that something, probably everything, has both positive and negative states of being. Wherever the positive and the negative are discovered to be present in opposition it can be reasonably concluded that the three gunas have separated and manifested, no longer being in a state of equilibrium. Because bhava and abhava are opposites this very duality is indicative that the gunas are involved, rajas being the positive guna and tamas being the negative guna.

The god Brahma, who a personification of the positive guna, at the end of the kalpa is absorbed into Siva Loka, where Siva, the personification of the negative guna, intensely compresses the head of Brahma, constraining it down into transcendental nothingness. Brahma effectively is unable to remember himself and stays in that state of non-existence for aeons of time, compressed into apparent nothingness, his head completely covered by Siva's swaddling body, and disappearing in a state of total self forgetfulness. After an inexorable passage of time, when Brahma eventually stirs, he struggles magnificently to remember himself, but it is not possible to remember yourself unless you love. Brahma remembers himself  by discovering the principle of love-existence, which is the principle that existence is possible if all-support-all, and he rises upwards as a bubble, ascending and expanding.  Ascending to a region beyond the control of Siva, Brahma escapes from Siva Loka and creation begins again, creation being the positive form of existence. Creation, the golden world of Brahma Loka, is held up by nothing except love, reciprocal love, and hovers above Dissolution, the nihilistic world of Siva Loka, . If that love ever ceases, if someone breaks the bond of reciprocal support, everything, the whole of existence, would fall into the non-existence of Siva Loka again, which always lies below, menacing and threatening. That is the essential nature of the relationship between the two gunas who are eternally in opposition to each other: what one creates the other seeks to destroy. Purusha, the highest witness, sees all this as Prakriti, merely the action and interaction of the gunas, with which Purusha remains unentangled. The Self, oneself as the Absolute, is said to be aloof. Nisargadatta states we are in the universe as the witness (Purusha) and outside of the universe as the Absolute (Parabrahman). Therefore the Absolute is neither existent nor non-existent. Existence and non-existence are states produced by the gunas, and since the three gunas are merely aspects of the mathematical law by which the energy of Shakti manifests as the universe, it can be concluded that both existence and non-existence are part of the illusion produced by Shakti-Maya.

Advaita, particularly Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, states that that which exists can never cease to exist, and that which is non-existent can never come into existence. Therefore everything that has being must always exist, although it may temporarily be located in a state of non-existence. Everything may oscillate between a state of existence and non-existence, and although completely disappearing it, everything, still exists, although undetectable, in the state of non-existence, which is its negative phase.

Nisargadatta has some interesting things to say about existence and non-existence: 

"Existence and non-existence relate to something in space and time, here and now, there and then, which are in the mind. To exist means to be something, a thing, a thought, a feeling, an idea. All existence is particular. Only being is universal. Existences clash, being never clashes. Existence means becoming, change, birth and death, and birth again, while in being there is silent peace. All existence is in space and time and is limited and temporary. He who experiences existence is also limited and temporary. I am not concerned either with what exists or with who exists. I take my stand beyond, where I am both and neither. Do not identify mere existence with reality. Existence is momentary, while reality is changeless and all pervading. Existence is in consciousness, whereas your essence is independent of consciousness. Deny existence to everything except yourself."

Posted by john ward at 6:27 PM GMT
Updated: Thursday, 30 December 2010 7:01 PM GMT
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Saturday, 18 December 2010
Theories that the universe had a beginning and has an end

In Indian philosophy there are several opposing theories about the origin of the universe, its creation, maintenance and dissolution, and particularly whether or not it has a beginning and an end.


There are three major darsanas (literally ‘showings’) (metaphysical systems of Indian Philosophy): arambha-vada of the Nyaya-Vaisheshika school, parinama-vada of the Ramanuja and Samkhya-Yoga schools, vivarta-vada of the Advaita Vedanta school.


Arambha-vada is the theory that the Universe had a beginning and is the creation of an external agency, believed to have been created by Isvara from minute ultimate round particles or atoms, called anus. The anus are composed of even smaller particles called paramanu, sometime known as the ‘ultimate atoms’ which are equivalent to sub-atomic particles. The paramanus always exist, whether in the unmanifest or the manifest state. Since they were never created, they can not be destroyed, because destruction is merely the separation of constituent parts, and the paramanus have no smaller constituent parts. Being indestructible, the paramanus therefore are eternal, and occupy no space, having no inside and no outside. Having no magnitude the paramanus are only conceivable by the mind. The aranbha-vada theory, by placing the paramanus as the ultimate constituent of material existence, hints at the emptyness and insubstantiality of gross matter. The combination of two paramanus form one atom, or anu. Anus in turn combine to form a dvyanuka or molecule. Molecules can combine into ‘illusionary’ visible objects. There are four kinds of atoms: earth, water, fire, air. The ultimate atoms are incapable of being divided further, and the formation of the various objects in the universe is due to the conjunctions and aggregation of the atoms, and correspondingly the destruction of objects is due to their disjunction and disaggregation. This process is perpetual. Arambha-vada theory corresponds remarkably closer to contemporary chemistry and physics theory than any other ancient Indian philosophical system.


Arambha-vada is also known as Asat-karya-vada and includes the thesis that the effect is not pre-existent in the cause (as some other Indian systems believe, eg Samkhya and Advaita). The cause (Isvara, God) is one thing and the effect (the universe) is an entirely different thing. The effect (the universe) is an entirely new production by the cause (Isvara, God), and therefore the universe has a beginning. The universe does not exist before its creation by the cause (Isvara, God). There are variations in arambha-vada theory and in the sutras of Kanada a supreme creator, Isvara, is not admitted and instead an agnostic view is proposed, admitting an adrishta or ‘unknowable unseen cause’. However, another proponent of the theory, Prastapada, adheres to the traditional Hindu doctrine of Brahma as the creator and Siva as the destroyer of the universe.


Parinama-vada is the theory that the universe is neither created nor destroyed, but is a transformation of the Absolute. The Absolute has created the universe by a transformation of a small part of his substance or being. Samkhya-Yoga states that the universe is a manifestation of the Absolute stepping into unmanifest Prakriti. A difficult concept to comprehend is the thesis that the effect pre-exists in its material cause, ie the universe pre-exists in unmanifest Prakriti. The Absolute, despite the transformation of its being, is not changed by the universe emanating out of itself and dissolving back into itself.


Vivarta-vada is the theory that the universe appears as it is only because of the limitations of the observer, who is subject to Maya, the magical power of Shakti, which is coeval with the Absolute. The universe is actually Brahman, and upon the self-realization of the Atman with Brahman the illusion of the universe ends.


Advaita only accepts the vivarta-vada thesis, and rejects arambha-vada and parinama-vada as being untrue. The clearest view of vivarta-vada is presented by Nisargadatta who states that: “God is not running the world. Nobody is running the world. All happens by itself. All is a play in consciousness. Yours is the desire that creates the universe. Know the world as your own creation and be free. All the time you look for origins and causes. Causality is in the mind only. It is the illusion of time that makes you talk of causality. When the past and the future are seen in the timeless now the idea of cause and effect losses its validity”.

Posted by john ward at 6:18 PM GMT
Updated: Thursday, 30 December 2010 7:03 PM GMT
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Saturday, 8 August 2009
Isvara and Maya - the two magicians

Advaita Vedanta states that the world is a projection of Isvara (God). The world is not even a real projection of Isvara because Maya is involved. Maya is the magical power of Brahman (The Absolute). Once Maya is involved everything becomes illusory. Therefore the world is something that is not genuine, something that exists in appearance only. Being a projection of Isvara enhanced by the power of Maya, the world that occupies space and manifests in time is a mere superimposition upon what is genuinely there. Advaita says that what is genuinely there is Brahman. Only Brahman is genuinely there, everything else is a superimposition. Gods, spirits, natures, physical bodies, your ordinary sense of yourself, all the people you know, all the natural world, all the materiality of the world.... is all illusory.

To understand the Advaita philosophy it is necessary to distinguish between Isvara and Brahman. Isvara is God whereas Brahman is the Absolute. They are not quite the same. Isvara is part of the superimposition, known as the Vyavaharika, whereas Brahman is the Paramarthika. The Paramarthika is that which underlies the superimposition, that which is genuine as contrasted to that which is illusory, the Vyavaharika. The whole aim of Advaita can therefore be understood as the attempt to free the self from the illusory and to merge with, and stay permanently in, the genuine. To put the same idea into different words, the aim of Advaita could be analysed to be an attempt to free the self from a false identification with what it is not, and to return it to what it genuinely is, and has always been.... Brahman.

Isvara and Maya can be regarded as two magicians, one white, one black. White is light, the whole octave of light seen as an unity. Isvara projects light, the light is absorbed by the senses, conveyed along the nervous system to the brain where it reticulates and is converted into an image of the apparent world, which is then viewed by the consciousness of the individual. The consciousness of the individual is the atman. It could be said that the world is nothing more than light dancing in the head.

Another way of describing the process is to suggest that the apparent world is merely the reflection of light upon the screen of the mind.

Although light is received by the senses and undergoes relative transformation as it passes into the retina, and then undergoes more transformation in the nerve cells, passing through a series of chemical changes at the synapses of the nerves, in the peripheries of the nervous system, and perhaps yet more transformations in the cells of the brain.... nevertheless it is still the same energy that reaches the mind. The mind reflects the light, and presents an image of the world. The same energy can take several forms, even apparently disparate forms, perhaps unlimited forms, perhaps all possible forms... but it is nothing more than the same energy. Look carefully at the atomic and sub-atomic structure of matter.... there is virtually nothing there, just waves of energy. Passed on by the senses, it is the reflective nature of mind which transforms energy into an apparently real and solid world. It is a complete illusion. A very convincing illusion. Light consists of two waves of energy at right angles to each other.... understanding that is to understand how one falls into the illusion and how one may escape from it.

Isvara is the magician of light. All the forms are conjured out of light. More precisely, the forms are floating in the light. The light comes from a transcendental source behind one, passing over one’s right shoulder, and angled downwards reaches the mind where it is reflected back towards the consciousness. It is precisely the reflection of light upon the screen of mind that produces the appearance of the world. The sanyasins of northern India carry with them only a few items, including a ceramic pot and a dandhi (a long thin pole or stick).The dandhi is characteristically angled over their right shoulder. The angled dandhi appears to symbolize the light from behind creating the illusion of the phenomenal world. If one turns completely around and attempts to see from where the light originates

Floating in the light is the form of a Buddhi (intellect), which resembles a sculpture, a static form. Maya, the black magician, hides in the shadows of the causal world. Maya sends out an emissary, a small self, a mechanism, called Ahamkara. Ahamkara is the I-maker. Ahamkara creates your sense of I. Ahamkara merely touches the sculptural Buddhi and it instantly comes to life. The Buddhi moves and gesticulates and speaks. By the touch of Ahamkara it has become a spiritual living being... your own spiritual self. It is an astonishing illusion. The Buddhi, your own spiritual self, is located in the higher intellect. To reach it you have to ascend into your intellect, go as high as you possibly can, then turn completely around and look behind you. You will see your spiritual self smiling sweetly at you. You two will love each other, because you are each other. Your spiritual self has been projecting you, your nature, the jiva, in a similar manner to an actor who projects his part in a drama. You, the jiva, your nature, are nothing more than an illusory projection. You do not exist. You are a part in a drama and strangely you quite probably do not fully realize that. Many, perhaps most persons, believe they are the actor, acting out their part in life, consciously or unconsciously, little realizing that they are the part, not the actor. The Atman, the awesome consciousness within you, has identified with what it is not. The Atman has become completely identified with the jiva, your natural self, which is nothing more than a projection of your Buddhi, your spiritual self, which in turn is nothing more than a sculptural form floating in the light of Isvara, and which has been animated into apparent life by Ahamkara, an emissary of Maya.

That is the astonishing trick that the two magicians are playing upon you, upon you, the Atman. The Atman, your awesome consciousness, looking outwards, has become a jiva, an illusion.

Posted by john ward at 8:30 PM BST
Updated: Thursday, 30 December 2010 7:04 PM GMT
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Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Apartheid and Karma – essay No 1

Someone on the Crossroads discussion group web site made this statement....

'Leon MacLaren once said something about recurrence which struck me as true. Referring to South Africa (during the time of apartheid), he said that “those who now practised apartheid would find themselves in the next life being practised upon”. I took this to mean that, if you practise something, you get good at it and the more you practise the better you get. An extension of this would be that, if you practise duality (apartheid), you get good at it, that is your world, but there's a twist in the tail. From being the bully you next become the victim. 

I'm not sure how this could be an objective truth but it certainly speaks to me emotionally'.

[Note: Leon MacLaren 1910-94 was the founder in 1937 of The School of Economic Science in London, now a world-wide organization, which first taught Economics based on the ideas of Henry George and later in the 1950's gave lectures on a non-academic, mystical form of Philosophy which at first was based on a large collection of philosophical quotations collected by Peter Goffin, and then in 1953, after a meeting with Dr Francis Roles, switched to teaching the ideas of PD Ouspensky, which in the early 1960's became modified by the Vedic version of Advaita Vedanta taught by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and finally modified again from 1965 onwards by direct contact with the purer Advaita Vedanta teaching of Shantanand Sarasvati, Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math, India.]

This was my reply....

I think that any attempt to understand the words and methods of Leon MacLaren is aided by a little knowledge of his particular biography, especially the esoteric philosophies he encountered in the first part of his life, which left impressions deep in his mind. Here is a short meander through some of them.

The concept that 'if you practice something unethical upon others, then in your next life the same will be done to you' contains several philosophical principles as well as several assumptions. It seems to be based upon a particular view and variation of the Hindu philosophy of karma, which essentially states that merits and demerits are accumulated in life and these condition the next life, via the subtle instrument of the chitta which transmits karma from one life to the next, by means of the impressions left upon it.

A common assumption is that the next life will be different from the present one, but this is denied by some esoteric philosophers, eg P D Ouspensky, who state that we are in for a surprise... because the next life is this same one again. We find ourselves placed in recurrence. If we are unable to remember our past lives we will not realize that we live the same life over again. An appropriate attitude towards such a recurring life is to become tired of it, bored with it, seek to escape, work for liberation or release from it... moksha. Another esoteric quasi-philosopher was Ouspensky's teacher, G I Gurdjieff, who hinted that the next life is indeed a recurrence of this present life, but with the 'twist' that the roles are reversed. He gave an example from Christianity: Jesus and Judas are the two principle characters in the Christ drama, but whoever played Jesus in one life may well play Judas in the next. The roles would be reversed. Strangely, this seems slightly similar to what Leon McLaren was saying? Such an idea is not merely a Gurdjievian invention since it is found in older Greek philosophy to which Gurdjieff, as a Greek-Armenian, would have had cultural access. It is interesting to note that SES lecture material in the mid 1950's to 1970's period, written by Leon McLaren himself, was largely derived from P D Ouspensky's writings and lectures, especially 'In Search of the Miraculous', although publicly such a source was not acknowledged at the time. The Study Society was more open, and both acknowledged and revered Ouspensky as a source, whereas SES seemed embarrassed and generally tried to hide the fact.

Ouspensky came to realize that something was missing from the teaching he had received from Gurdjieff, most probably some type of practice which would facilitate higher states of consciousness? After Ouspensky's death, some members of the Study Society and SES were given the task of trying to discover the source of the Gurdjieff-Ouspensky teaching. Gurdjieff was a member of a small group of 'Seekers of the Truth' who studied and absorbed the philosophy and practices of many Central Asian religions, and claimed to have found the source of them all, the enigmatic Sarmoun Monastery, which was said to have had three branches, one vaguely in the Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan Hindu Kush, one in Tibet, and a third in Himalayan India. Gurdjieff had hinted that he had gained most of his knowledge while staying at the remote Hindu Kush Sarmoun monastery Many, including Gurdjieff's direct followers, went looking for the Hindu Kush monastery but no one is ever reported to have found it. (Desmond Martin reports finding it in northern Afghanistan in 1965 but his account is suspect?). It would have been difficult for the Tibetan branch to exist after the aggressive Chinese invasion and then, just as today, the Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan branch was believed to be located amidst very hostile tribes. Not finding anything, some began to speculate that Gurdjieff, rather characteristically, had invented the whole idea, as a teaching alegory, and there was no inner circle of mankind on Earth, periodically putting beneficial influences into humanity in the form of philosophical knowledge, religion and culture. Ouspensky actually hints that the inner circle is located in heaven.

No one found anything significant for years until Maharishi Mahesh appeared in London in 1960. It was not at first realized that Mahesh was a link to the deeper knowledge and special practices that were being sought. Contact was made with Mahesh, meditation taught, and discovered to be beneficial, and so Mahesh's version of the advaita teaching began to be incorporated into the philosophy material read out in groups. Even tape recordings of the Maharishi were played in an atmosphere of induced reverence. The Maharishi had initially created an extremely strong and favourable impression. Soon Mahesh proposed that the Study Society, SES, and his own organisation be combined together under his personal direction. Leon MacLaren and Francis Rolls discussed the proposal together but MacLaren found it difficult to reach a decision, saying that whatever Dr Rolls decided he would agree to. Francis Rolls decided to keep the organisations separate. That was quite a decision, without it the two schools would probably have gone down the same line of development as the TM movement, and become engulfed in endless vedic ritual and the idealized science of being and art of living that Mahesh developed. Later Maharishi Mahesh angrily denounced SES in a public lecture given at the Hilton Hotel, London, attended by the Beatles, accusing them of stealing mantras as well as combining meditation with philosophies that caused harmful stresses. It is probably true that SES did steal many mantras that the Mahesh system of meditation employed, particularly by getting one of his female initiators drunk and encouraging her to reveal everything she knew. Ironically, having tried the mantras and found them to be less effective than the traditional mantras employed in the Jyotic tradition as revived by Brahmananda Sarasvati, they never used them. Mahesh's teachings and tapes were quietly dropped from SES and School of Meditation group lecture material.

Previously, further encounters with Mahesh took place in India circa 1961, where Francis Rolls coincidentally met Shantanand the successor to Brahmananda (who was Mahesh's own 'teacher'), and heard him use the same language as Ouspensky... emphasising the importance of 'self-remembering' etc. An astonished Francis Rolls then sought audience with Shantanand at his Shankar Math ashram in Allahabad, believing that he had at last found a living source of Gurdjieff's philosophy. (Shantanand spent the winter in Allahabad, summer at Jyotir Math). When McLaren was informed, he naturally imitated and, starting in 1965, arranged his own audiences with Shantanand. As a consequence the Gurdjieff-Ouspensky lecture material, a mix of Sufi, Christian, Indian, Asiatic and Western philosophies was replaced by a purer form of Advaita. Nevertheless those who had been studying the Ouspensky ideas for years would not be able to easily discard the old valued philosophical material, nor erase the methods completely from their minds.

It is easy to detect that much of Ouspensky's subtle influences and philosophy still remains embedded in SES, especially in the attitudes of the old hierarchy. Examples are: the secrecy, the habitual slyness, the emphasis on payment, the school's negative methods of teaching, rarely answering student's questions and frequently turning the question back on the questioner with a 'what do you think?' the rigid catechetical style of teaching, the cryptic double language employed, the emphasis on discipline and absolute obedience, also the tricks played on students, particularly the unpleasant artificial teaching scenarios the hierarchy act out and create for the purpose of testing their unsuspecting victims, and in particularly the attempt to take over of the personal lives of almost everyone who comes within their influence, often with disastrous consequences. All the negativity in SES can be traced back to an imitation of Gurdjieff's methods. Gurdjieff and Ouspensky believed that doing something negative to someone, through the invention of an unpleasant scene woven around and exposing the student's chief feature, could produce good teaching results, enlightenment, first-hand knowledge, a hard lesson never to be forgotten etc. Consequently, as a result of the Gurdjieff-Ouspensky residual legacy, I think you will find that Leon McLaren's publicly expressed beliefs about karma were a somewhat confused mixture of Fourth Way Philosophy and Advaita.

Recurrence is in eternity, reincarnation is in time.

Leon McLaren appeared to believe unquestioningly in the cast iron law of karma. I heard him say: 'you can not remain where you are, for ever in the same place, either you work and evolve or you go down'. 'If you don't take advantage of the opportunity you go down into the lower forms'. 'There is great competition for human life, and everything must have its chance'. 'Criminals are those who will soon be out of the universe'. 'God is that which puts things up and puts things down'. In old age, the now frailer shrunken MacLaren, walking with the aid of a stick, would explain that it was 'his karma'. Being relatively authoritarian, McLaren, a barrister by profession, would probably have enjoyed the concepts of retributive justice and corrective punishment that forms the basis of the law of karma, but relatively lacking objective reasoning powers he may have failed to see the fundamental contradictions and paradoxes within such a doctrine.

The chief paradox is that the self is pure consciousness and is not an agent of action. The self does nothing. If the genuine self never performs action who is it that accumulates merit and demerit for actions? Who is performing the actions? How can the self reap the karmic consequences, be put up and down by God, for actions it never performed, but simply observed? The self is never born, nor ever dies, universes come and go and it remains unchanged.... so who is there to be reborn, reincarnated, and beneficially or detrimentally affected, or ethically responsible for, and even improved by, the effects of karma? No one.

The idea of role reversal in reincarnation, even of you becoming your enemy and he becoming you, is also found in the Russian Leo Tolstoy's writings, but to date I have not detected the same idea in Advaita Vedanta. In Advaita you and your enemy are the same, there is only Brahman, and all separation and differentiation is illusory. It is the same Brahman in both South African whites and blacks, and to reverse incarnations in any subsequent life as an administration of justice because of the unethical practice of apartheid is ultimately meaningless.

The concept of role reversal appears to contradict the principle of karma, since in the Gurdjievian Christian example a meritorious Jesus with good karma will next play the role of a despised treacherous Judas. And the reverse, Judas having allegedly accumulated bad karma is apparently rewarded by the role of the paraclete Jesus. Someone who plays their part extremely well, even if it is the part of a villain, must be rewarded according to such an interpretation of karma. To many minds this may appear extremely puzzling. One resolution of this contradiction is to view the whole world, life itself, as nothing more than a subtle drama. Shantanand and many advaitins say that 'the world is a show which God, (Saguna Brahman), is staging all around you in the shape of the universe'. That, I feel, is an essential clue by which one can escape the paradoxes within the law of karma

If life is merely a drama, then it is not completely real. Karma and reincarnation are therefore both part of Maya, illusion. The Self does nothing therefore it cannot be subject to karma. It is the false self, the me, which is subject to karma, and the illusion persists for as long as the individual self is identified with the part in the drama, identified with the suggestion 'me'.

Francis Rolls reports Shantanand saying: 'The way to rid oneself from evil is to cultivate the attitude that it is nature (prakriti) that is acting through the body, and not the self.'

Recurrence and reincarnation continue as long as, the me, the person, the soul, the jiva, believes it is the cause and originator of action. Consciousness and knowledge enable the jiva to realize that the self does nothing and it is prakriti, nature, that performs all action, as part of the drama, as the characters in the play being performed in the theatre of the universe. As long as an individual self believes it acts, it is subject to karma, and it appears to experience of the effects of past actions.

Knowledge removes the effects of karma by the realization that the self does nothing, accumulates no samskara, and is invulnerable, quite beyond the law or effects of karma. Karma is realized to be merely a subtle aspect of Maya. To the genuine self, the Parabrahman, which is beyond the limitations of, and entanglement with, Prakriti, beyond both time and space, karma is illusory.

Therefore it is Prakriti which is practising apartheid. But.... who is it practising on?

Posted by john ward at 8:31 PM BST
Updated: Wednesday, 27 May 2009 8:39 PM BST
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Monday, 18 May 2009

Atman has separated from Brahman

Heaven, Brahma-Loka, can be known. It is a golden world. We are expelled from Heaven when we sound an "I" for the first time. "I" indicates separation. I and the world have become separated, in truth they are not. A separate "I" cannot stay in Heaven, and we pass out through the gates, which close firmly behind us. This can be remembered. Some advaitins say that Brahma-Loka, Siva-Loka, and Visnu-Loka are all part of the illusion, and merely aspects of the Vyavaharika. Heaven is not the Paramarthika.

Atman has separated from Brahman. This is due to ignorance. Atman looks out, and is that awesome consciousness within us which is looking out. Because Atman is everything, he identifies with whatever he sees. Atman is pure consciousness, and everything else is consciousness, therefore Atman identifies everything he is conscious of... as himself. What Atman does not know is that the Shakti has unfolded herself as space-air-fire-water-earth and entered into them. When the Atman identifies with anything present in, or constructed from, these five subtle elements he becomes lost in the illusion, in the dream, magically created by the Shakti. The magical power of the Shakti is Maya.  

Space, akasha, is universal mind, inner space is individual mind. Air, vayu, prana, is the serving medium of the causal world, and has the power of animating the unmanifest, bringing being into manifestation, turning mere forms and mechanisms into apparently living things, including spirits. Fire, light, tejas, is the projection from Isvara which reflects upon the screen of space in the mind to create the appearance and forms of the world. In Water, ap, are the characters in the drama, the illusory people and selves in the world, their natures, hopes, desires, loves and hates. Earth, prithivi, is associated with the physical bodies of everything.

Space is mind, air is power, fire is form, water is nature, earth is body.

When Shakti-Maya, via various subtle intermediaries, presents a person, a character, a part in the drama, before Atman, he identifies with it, and becomes the jiva. If Shakti-Maya presents a spirit before Atman he becomes a spirit, buddhi, if she presents a god before Atman he becomes a god, chitta, and so on. The Shakti is playing with the Atman, and some jnanis say it is a very serious game. Atman is being tricked into believing that he is born, living, dwelling in a house with a pretty garden, falling in love, marrying, having children, and dying. Sometimes, and eventually, the game becomes intense, extreme, and apparently very painful to the jiva. When the pain or folly becomes too great, Atman will disengage, turn completely around, and looking back into himself.... remember himself. The end of ignorance.

Does the Shastra tell the Atman to disengage from the Prakriti of Shakti-Maya? I suspect not. The Shastra tells the jiva to do so, and that is not quite the same thing? The Shastra therefore has to be understood as a theoretical aid to the education of the jiva only. Who can teach the jiva that he does not even exist? Who can demonstrate the illusory nature of space-air-fire-water-earth? Who can demonstrate that Shakti-Maya, your own shaddow self, is playing mercilessly with you, the Atman? Who can show you the sakshin and purusha witnesses within you who alone can see that everything is merely a succession of octaves according to law, and that Prakriti is unreal, and consists entirely of the action and interaction of the three gunas? .... only the power of the guru. Darshan. The shastra cannot do anything. Those who put their faith totally in the enlightening power of Vedas are possibly further deluding themselves? And finally who can separate the jiva from the Atman? Only the Atman himself by divesting himself of ignorance. The jiva is Atman identified with what he is not. Being identified with anything in the play of Shakti-Maya is ignorance. Atman is not physical or material, Atman is not a person or nature, Atman is not a spirit, Atman is not divine. Atman is not light or darkness or shaddow. Atman is powerless and disinterested in action. Atman is not in time, Atman is not in space. Atman is not in mind. Atman is beyond mind.

When Brahman sleeps his Shakti awakes, when Brahman awakes, the Shakti sleeps. Nothing can change while Brahman is dreaming. We are all part of the dream of Brahman. We all have to wait for him to awake. Who can awaken Brahman?

Posted by john ward at 9:51 PM BST
Updated: Monday, 18 May 2009 10:03 PM BST
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Sunday, 17 May 2009


A warm welcome.
This blog-web site is intended to offer help to those in search of the self.


The Beginning

There are cycles of Creation, Maintenance, and Destruction.
Advaita Vedanta suggests that there is no beginning and no end. It is endless.

At the beginning of one cycle, the god Brahma remembers himself, awakens, and discovers the principle of existence.

What Brahma discovers is that existence is possible if all support all.
It is not possible to remember yourself unless you love.


No one has ever understood anyone else by means of words and language.


Consider how language operates.... you have an experience, but being human you cannot share your experience directly with someone else. You conceptualize the experience, attempt to capture it in thought, then you attempt to transpose the thought into words, but realize that the right words are difficult to find, you realize that no words exactly represent what you are trying to express, you keep trying and compromise with words, eventually accepting some that approximately correspond to the thought, then you sound the words via some flaps of membrane in your throat and observe them come out through your mouth, noting that the particular sound, timbre, rhythm, pitch, colour, phrazing etc that your inherited body makes doesn't quite correspond to the quality and dynamism of the original thought, and now has, by a series of transformations, become even more distant from the living original experience. You realize that your words sound slightly contrived and empty, almost random, a very poor approximation to what you had hoped to express. Nevertheless the sentence has now been spoken, and you watch your beloved listen to, and react to, your words. You see her struggling momentarily in her mind to match the sounds that you made with words, as she personally and uniquely understands them, and next to match them with what she believes are the conventional meanings that she has absorbed from the society within which she has grown up. She also struggles momentarily to match your words with her own experience, and then match those experiences with concepts already present in her own mind..... and amazingly, suddenly she seems to connect the sounds with something. She smiles, and says; Yes, that is very interesting.

You have no idea whether or not she understands you, whether what is now in her mind is exactly the same as what is in your mind. Her words may reassure you, but ultimately you are confined to your own mind and she to hers.... unless you have direct access, which is possible. But direct access doesn't use language.

Let us take an example.... I give you a peach. You hold it in your hand, touch it and smell its subtle paradisal fragrance You bite into it and taste it. Oh... magnificence. Pick up the telephone and tell your beloved what you have experienced..... without using the word 'peach'. All you have to do is to convey the essence of peachness in language.

Difficult? Even impossible? I agree.

No one has ever understood anyone else through the medium of language.

You haven't understood one word I have used so far. Nor have I understood anyone who has ever spoken to me. Nor have I ever understood anything I have read, neither what the author was expressing, nor why he wanted to write what he did. Poignant? Melancholic? Separate? That is the human condition. The human nature is one of unbearable limitations.

The gods do not use language. They have mouths but they do not open them. They are silent. If it is necessary to communicate... they have a much better method. Unlike human language which is almost random and uncertain in result, their method is exact and certain. They use darshan, showing. If they wish to demonstrate something to you, they put the experience directly into you. Their experience becomes your experience. Of course you may misinterpret the experience, fail to understand it, but any misunderstanding can no longer be due to misconceptions of language. Time is strange, in the divine world the past has not disappeared into oblivion, it is still present. Therefore the divine being can put any experience directly into to you, for you to observe and understand, even as far back to the beginning of creation, and so reveal the forces at work. The divine being can, through the process of darshan, show you Great Brahma discovering the principle of creation. Then you know as gods know.

Advaita Vedanta teaches that there are many Brahmas. Probably that is true. The Brahma associated with our world, did open his mouth and a sound came out, continues to come out. Advaita says it is the sound OM. It is a sort of rhythm, a vibration, a rhythm of huge overpowering force. It creates everything. The traffic noise in the city, the cooing of the pigeons in the trees, the sound of the pedestrians walking along the pavement, even your own heart beat..... all are part of the great rhythm. It seems impossible to escape from it, since it both encompasses everything and holds everything transfixed. Our Brahma seems to suffer from a compulsive creation disorder. No one seems to be able to stop him. Maybe he has a reason, an instruction, we know not of. For myself, looking at the world and the things that are in it, evaluating its nature and quality, I can't help thinking it is all somewhat immature, bizarre, cruel, appalling. Maybe that young immature Brahma should have kept his mouth shut? Great Brahma is of a different quality to the young Brahma who creates our world, and of him no criticism is made. Reluctantly, I tentatively have to propose the thesis that all our problems, all the imperfections of our world, result from the immaturity of the gods. Silence is a finer state than sound.

Conception Reincarnation Recurrence

The self is not located upon any eternal wheel, nor is it subjected to fate, reincarnation, or recurrence. It is the jiva which is subject to reincarnation, etc. The jiva associated with yourself and myself is the atman identified with an individual nature, identified with someone who exhibits all the various characteristics of you and I. The atman has identified with someone or something it is not.

It happens like this... being pure consciousness, together with the fact that consciousness is one and is everywhere, the atman identifies with whatever it sees. To explain... the consciousness that is atman and the consciousness that is present as the object appearing before atman are the same one consciousness, therefore atman moves, identifies with, and relocates in the object because it believes it is itself. The atman believes 'I am you, you are I'. Identified and relocated, the atman now looks out from the object. The atman has become one with the consciousness of the object and can now look out using the object's consciousness. They are the same are they not? Subtly, that is ignorance. I would guess we have all made the same mistake. We are not what we appear to be.  Advaita offers the well known aphorism: If you can see it, you cannot be it. It is the jiva, which is the combination of the atman identified with a nature, or the atman identified with a non-existent being, who we mistake to be ourselves and who, surviving death, is subjected to reincarnation etc. Philosophically it is necessary to separate atman and nature when discussing someone. One, they unknown are, whereas the other, they appear to be. Fortunately or unfortunately, it is the natures of both you and I that are eternally located in 'the wheel', 'The wheel', is part of the turning cosmic cogs of prakriti. Prakriti is an inexorable cosmic mechanism, when it moves and engulfs you, you hear the wrath of God. The individual nature of both you and I is prakriti (Nature).

The fact that atman moves, identifies, becomes what it is not, is the essential problem.

Our consciousness moves. Brahman does not move. Brahman is eternal stillness. Nor does Brahman identify with anything. It is the atman that has moved, separated from Brahman. This universe is about the poignancy of separation.

An interesting question is to enquire: where has the person, the nature, come from? Advaita suggests that it is a combined creation of Isvara and Maya. My ordinary sense of self, as the person covering the nature, is an illusory creation of Maya and is part of prakriti. I, as the jiva, am nothing other than a projection (vikshepa) upon the screen of mind. Someone is playing with me, and is probably playing with each of us. My nature is merely a part in the play of creation, a drama which is said to have no beginning and no end. Sankara says that transmigratory existence is like a wheel that rolls on forever. Just like a reel of film in a cinema projector, 'a wheel' slowly unwinds and presents the life of myself upon the screen of my particular inner space, my mind, and when fully unwound, it stops. When it stops it is probably rewound. Time is not something that is outside one, it is coiled up inside one, inside the body, in the solar plexus, in the subtle body. The life unwinds and then it is rewound. Recurrence is merely watching, viewing, the 'same' life again. If you want to rescue yourself from this subtle cinema, or theatre, you have to tell your consciousness, tell your atman, to stop identifying with one particular favourite character upon the screen and, if he can.... get out.

Theoretical mathematicians and astro-physicists are certain that time and space are curved, and some philosophers have said that the individual life is also curved, resulting in a circle, so that its end and its beginning are the same. Others say that the circle doesn't meet exactly its starting point, and there is a small gap, so that a spiral or helix is a better description.  Recurrence is therefore passage from one circle of time to a parallel circle of time which is subtly spatially located alongside it. Everything, every detail, in the two parallel lines of time appears to be the same, but significantly they are not precisely the same circle, and thus there are rare small differences. However, there are some  incomprehensible consequences as a result of the structure of recurrence.... there are at least two of everything you have experienced.... you have two mothers and in fact two of everything else. But you only have one self.  Here is a  story told by Shantanand, the former Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math....

'Now we will consider a divine creation.

The child Krishna once wanted to go out grazing cows along with the other boys. Everyone dissuaded him as he was too young to remain out the whole day, but he insisted on going. Yashoda, his mother, then gave some sucking sweets to the boys and asked them to give them to him when he felt hungry, to save him from the hot sun, fatigue, etc. Then the boys and Krishna went to the bank of the river Yamuna to graze the cows. There Krishna appeared to be eating the sand of the Yamuna instead of the sweets, and he did not stop when told not to indulge in that dirty habit.

In the evening, when they returned to the village they complained to Mother Yashoda about Krishna's mischievous behaviour. She questioned Krishna, and he denied it point-blank. Then she caught Krishna with one hand, took up a stick with the other, and threatened to beat him. Krishna said: “ Mother, just peep into my mouth. If I ate sand, you will surely see it there.”

Yashoda looked into Krishna's mouth. First she saw only his lovely pinkish lips and pearly teeth. But soon she began seeing in it the whole village – their own house – another Yashoda holding another Krishna – another earth and another sky – mountains and rivers – and everything. She was completely non-nonplussed. Seeing her frightened out of her wits, Krishna withdrew the vision and assumed his former appearance.'
Life is very different from Hell. In life there is the possibility of moving, the possibility of evolution and compensation, there is the possibility of understanding, there is the possibility of self remembering, although it is extremely difficult. In Hell there seems to be no possibility. It is pure pathos. The jivas smash each other into bewildered fragments and the spirits are buried in delusion (avarana), covered over for aeons of time in self forgetfulness.

Perhaps you may say: 'I hope my next life will be a life in which I can understand the things I didn't before. If I want it, of course',  the interesting idea here is that one doesn't have to accept the life. It is inevitable that eventually, at conception, the divine arranger of lives will offer you a life. The secret is to somehow realize that the being who is offered the life is not your genuine self. The first part is quite easy. The person in the life offered, the being who you will have to get into, and who will live out the life, is clearly seen to be not yourself. From a distance you may be deceived, but close-up it is nothing like yourself. The much more difficult realization to make is that the person who is being offered the life is not your genuine self either. It is very subtle. You are merely the observer of conception, not the conceived, not the incarnated, not the transmigrant. The genuine you is not offered a life, it is only someone who you think you are, the someone who you have mistaken to be yourself for a long time, and who is being offered the life. But, considering where one has come from, considering that one cannot stand being a jiva, considering one cannot bear one's limited nature, considering that one is searching for oneself, considering one's natural inclination to help another, considering the poor quality of the intellect available to one at conception.... does one have any choice? Worse... the divine arranger of lives may well trick you into accepting. He has his own secret aim. You and I are here, therefore we must have accepted the life, either willingly or perhaps reluctantly.

It is possible to realize that you are not a physical body, not a person, not a nature, not a spirit, not even a god.... only when you see that they are all mere mechanisms. We all want to be spiritual, but when we discover our spirit we find that it is a mechanism. A subtle mechanism. A definition of the self could be... that which is not a mechanism. If you are in search of the self then.... the search goes on. Someone is playing with us. I am certain that someone is playing with myself, but I can only assume someone is also playing with you. Assumptions are often wrong.






Someone once said: 'All actions are ruled by three aspects, attraction, repulsion or neutral'....

Agreed, different words for the same idea could be: positive, negative, neutral. These are in fact the three gunas acting and interacting with each other, rajas the positive, tamas the negative, sattva the harmonizing neutral. Rajas and tamas are at war with each other, their eternal conflict is the basis of all the creative and destructive tendencies we experience in the world. The incarnations of Brahma are the benevolent creative rajasic types, the incarnations of Siva the malevolent destructive tamasic types, and whatever guna predominates in yourself, so you become attracted to other people of the same guna type, and conversely repelled by the opposite type. The incarnations of Visnu are the types who are the maintainers in society, those who naturally gravitate to the work of keeping it all going. Brahmas are attracted to cultured Sarasvati's, Sivas to voluptous Kalis and Visnus to maternal Lakshmis.

Sarasvatis are noble, beautiful, lovers of culture and wisdom, they have light and love in their eyes, their ears are large and plainly shaped, their legs are strong practical and relatively unattractive. Kalis are ignoble, they are lovers of the dark arts, they have blackness and malevolence in their eyes, their high cheek bones, flared nostrils and subtle primitive facial features are not genuinely beautiful, their ears are pointed or kinked, but their legs are perfect and very beautiful. Lakshmis are neither noble nor ignoble, often they are quite ordinary and plain looking although sometimes they have a sweet homely appearance, they are lovers of children, family happiness, wealth and good fortune, look deeply into their eyes and you will see utter slyness there, their ears are of medium size and simply formed, their legs are heavy with the calf muscles distinctively pulled down towards mother earth. These are the main characteristics by which each of the three main types of women may be recognized. Mate with a Sarasvati and you will live a creative cultured life, mate with a Lakshmi and you will spend your life rearing children and amassing a family fortune, mate with wild sexually dissolute Kali and you will end as one of the skulls in her necklace, as is the usual fate of all her lovers.  

In Karma Yoga Schools it is taught that the aim is to come under the will of Brahman. Critics of Karma Yoga say that there is an error in such a principle because when you say you are doing Brahman's will it is merely the 'I' or ego making the choice to be neutral'..... To that objection one could reply like this... Yes, it looks like the I or ego is making the choice to commit 'suicide'. The ego has to fade away. It depends what you want, whether you are completely happy with your nature, and want to stay as an individual, or whether you can't stand your nature and are in search of a lost finer self. Because the genuine self is everything you may realize that the I or ego is not yourself, it is actually an imposter that has taken possession of one. Brahman is everything, therefore the true oneself is everything and not an individual. Brahman is unity, and it depends if that wholeness, oneness, is what you want. Because we identify with the I, with the ego, we are apprehensive about dissolving ourselves into the whole, fearing loss of identity. The I doesn't want to lose its grip on one, it doesn't want to be anhilated.

It is always the I or ego which believes it has choice, and can do, and that it does the deciding and performs all the actions. But careful observation shows that everything just happens, and the self never does anything, including making choices. It is your nature, prakriti, that is acting through the body and mind, not you. Advaita says the only thing that is possible is for you to change your attitude. Attitude is free, and is not determined. You can change your attitude to what is happening, either you can enjoy it, or resent it, or you can regard it with equanimity. If you have a nature which decides to do and say whatever is necessary in the moment, then you happen to come under the will of the all, Brahman, if you have a nature which ignores or neglects what is necessary then you happen to come under the will of the unseen force which suggests, induces and controls your separate egoism. It is your attitude to what is happening that makes some difference. We are not our natures, we have become identified and entangled with parkriti (Nature). Because we are identified with our I, our me, it is very difficult to see this. Only the witness, the sakshin, can see this clearly.

Become the witness.


Christianity proposes the trinity of Father-Son-Holy Spirit and it is interesting to attempt to see what this may be related to in Advaita Vedanta? If one takes the Son to be the child in us, the Father to be ageless wisdom in us, and Spirit to be the finest and holiest level of being in us.... then the mystery begins to unravel?

Study any young child and it can be observed that they are essentially pure consciousness, therefore the Son perhaps represents consciousness, which in Advaita is the Atman. Wisdom depends upon knowledge and understanding. Knowledge is very cold. When one meets a pure intellectual in ordinary life you can observe how they look at oneself, study one, as an object of knowledge. They love knowledge more than they love people, and they never see the 'you', only you as an object of knowledge. Observing intellectuals more closely it can be detected that they are operating in a two-way direction, they look out at the object of knowledge, and look within, relating what they are seeing to what they already know. Knowledge is already within themselves, and to them the whole enjoyment lies in connecting the knowledge outside with the knowledge inside. Therefore perhaps the Father represents Knowledge in Advaita? There is a third type of person one meets in life who are almost wholely inturned. Their attention is turned within upon themselves. They are the enjoyers of their own being. This is the season of the Christmas Party, and people are encouraged to 'enjoy themselves'. If you go to a party in the next few weeks observe the moment when someone is laughing, or expressing pure enjoyment, or happiness.... you may well observe that they are completely turned in, turned momentarily in upon themselves. They are in love with their own being. They are enjoying their own being. Therefore the Holy Spirit perhaps represents the happiness-joy-bliss of pure Being?

Playing with the words, one arrives at: Consciousness is the Son, Knowledge is the Father, Bliss-Happiness is the Holy Spirit. Consciousness is Sat, Knowledge is Chit, Bliss is Ananda. Advaita is always reminding us that our true nature is Sat-Chit-Ananda. Therefore it can be concluded that Atman, which is pure consciousness only and is looking out, lacks knowledge, which looks simultaneously in two directions, in and out, in order to regain contact with our true being which is inturned within. Perhaps this partially explains why Advaita states that only knowledge, aided by the study of Jnana Yoga, leads to self-realization?

Usually Sat-Chit-Ananda is translated as Being-Consciousness-Bliss, but I suggest that this is a slightly incorrect translation of the sanskrit, due to a slightly incorrect understanding of our true self? It is better to understand the self, as far as it can be put into words, which is doubtful, as Consciousness-Knowledge-Bliss?

Just to throw everything into confusion again, just as one is begining to think one understands Advaita... the young god of consciousnes, the ancient-ever-new god of knowledge, the holy inturned god of being.... are all masks of Visnu. Visnu is playing with us. He is hiding behind these three images. He projects himself as these three forms. Then he peeps out from behind and lets you catch a glimpse of himself, just to make you realize that it is all an illusion. Visnu is utterly, utterly sly. Because you react, and conclude you can never trust the sly man, Visnu intentionally induces mistrust in you, intentionally confuses you, so that.... you have to discover everything for yourself. That is his unseen sly aim... to create a self-evolving being.... You. You may desire to evolve. You may, as a limited nature, long for perfection. But it is prudent to remember that all evolution is in Prakriti. The self is already perfect and doesn't evolve. The self is not Prakriti. The self is not a nature. The self has no nature, no characteristics. It is all a trick.

This explains why Vaisnavism, the worshippers of Visnu as the supreme godhead, come closest to Christianity... both are dualistic systems proposing self and god as separate beings, with the individual wholly dependent upon the god. Both Visnu and the Christian God appear in the form of Father-Son-and Holy Spirit. But Advaita goes one step further when it unequivocally states, self and Brahman are the same, not two, without duality. It is Purusha, the real spirit which, being the highest witness, is located above the three gunas, above Brahma-Visnu-Siva (which are personifications of the three gunas), and it is this highest witness, the Purusha which sees everything as mere Prakriti (Nature).

Beyond Purusha is Brahman, the self.

When the Shankaracharyas are addressed as 'your holiness'... it may simply be an indication that they have, at least, reached the level of Purusha, Holy Spirit, and realize that everything in Nature is merely the action and inter-action of the three gunas?

Frozen Words

All the words, all the voices, all the ideas and concepts in our head, come originally from an inner silence. As an impulse, originating in the silence, something stirs and rises up in us, which is first perceived as silence, then seen as an intense soundless vibration, then as a dynamic sound, then passing through various transformations the rising bubble finally breaks at the surface of the mind as....  words. Such frozen, almost random, words, so stale and disappointingly transformed, changed beyond recognition from the initial magnificence! The silence, the dynamic sound, the pure comprehensible idea, the tamed concept, the transfiguration and translation into words... is exactly the same impulse which merely passes through different levels of the mind. Mind is inner space, subtle inner space, and connects internally and transcendentally with outer space, subtle outer space. Subtle outer space is universal mind.

Therefore there are no individual minds. Mind is one continuum. The individual mind is simply a terminal of the universal mind. The two are connected in a straight line. Therefore if you go very, very far within, plunge very, very deep within, beyond the usual limits, you find yourself outside yourself in vast space. It is from that transcendental unknowable inward, but outer space, that our thoughts originate. Inner and outer lose their distinction. The source of language, the source of an idea, the source of all words, appearing in our mind is silence. Silence is the only word that can attempt to describe the source. The source is simply something intensely compressed beyond the range of our ordinary cognition. Inner cognition has a limited range and the source of concepts, ideas, and language is beyond the extreme limit of that range. If we could think and speak at a level even a little closer to the source.... our lives would be quite different.

Individual mind and universal mind

One can never be sure that one knows what is in the mind of another person, unless one has 'spiritual consciousness'.... in which case you can know the mind of another.... because it is all in universal mind. We tend to think we have an individual mind, which is quite private and into which no one can trespass.... but that is because we are generally unaware that individual mind connects directly, in a straight-within direction, with universal mind. Some one who has managed to dive deeply enough in their individual mind and reached universal mind.... has the same mind as you, shares the same mind.

In reality mind is one, not multiple. Individual minds are simply branches or terminals of the one universal mind. Call it the mind of God, if you wish?

Just as God knows all, so can you know all, know all minds, if you dive sufficiently deep into your own mind. Very young children, say a few months old, have something of that quality of mind.... they see what is going on in your mind, although you may not realize that. The problem is that they do not yet have any language with which to communicate with you. And by the time they have developed language... they have lost the power to see inside your mind.

So you can never know how an infant child sees you, unless you remember what you were like yourself at that age.

Most people can not remember that far back. But those who have managed to remember what they were like at a few months of age... all say the same thing.... they saw directly into adults minds, they saw what people were thinking.



Posted by john ward at 1:30 AM BST
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