The Heart of Advaita Vedanta

By Amitabha Chatterjee

Vedanta is the essence of all Veda-s. Upanishad literally means, “to sit nearer to the Truth”. Along with the Upanishads, Rishi Vyasa’s Brahma-Sutra and Bhagavad-Gita are included as the 3 Prasthanas of Vedanta philosophy. Now, without going to any more of this headache causing Metaphysical Blah blah, let us take a dive directly into the heart of Vedanta, and see what it is. The following is a gist of what the whole Vedanta Philosophy says in thousands of verses.

God lives in me as the silent Witness and the source of all power.
Me as my personality, my looks, my name and status,
My life’s work, my love & hate, all my thought ripples:
Are just bubbles of ILLUSION, false thoughts floating over the TRUTH.
The only Truth is, the Atman (soul), One underlying consciousness without beginning or, end.

Knowledge of Paramatman in Yoga Vashistha Ramayana

Knowledge of Paramatman in Yoga-Vasistha Ramayana

Analogy of the Fruit Pulp:

We only eat the Juicy Pulp from a fruit and discard the seeds, hard outer shell, etc as they are inedible. But in reality, the pulp, seed and skin constitute the whole fruit. Similarly, we meditate on the pure unblemished consciousness Paramatman, which is like the juiciest essence and try to overcome this muddy turbidity of mundane existence, which is like the inedible part. During meditation or, contemplation, we reject this miserable external world and focus the rays of the mind upon the inner Spirit. Yet, in a broader sense, Absolute God of Vedanta is Omnipresent, it’s within us as the soul and everywhere around us. There is nothing to discard.

It is true that the Spirit pervades everything: mundane and absolute. That only is, and this multiplicity is an illusion. But the mind cannot grasp that pure effulgence in this dusty world of ordinary reality. So, for all practical purposes, the Spirit is hiding behind this variety of existence. We try to dive deep within the mind, in search of this soul, as we cannot see it outside.

The Atman is one and all pervading.
Every form of existence, or, even the void is the one Atman… but under a mask of limited expression. The mask of Maya has rendered it unrecognizable. Maya is nature’s illusive power. It covers the truth from our awareness like a blanket.

One may ask, God with Name & Form—— OR,——- One Formless Absolute, which one is the reality?

There are numerous examples from the Vedas, Upanishads, Gita, Puranas and Tantras establishing the Oneness of all phenomena. Bitter argument is futile, as, in so doing, we might lose sight of the peaceful reality in our hearts.

To each his own. Whatever philosophy liberates the mind from the bondage of mundane cravings, is valid for you. Unity, duality, what does it matter? In essence, we are looking at the same thing. One wants to become Sugar itself, another is satisfied with remaining separate and tasting it. One wants to merge into the Infinite, another wants to retain his individuality and appreciate it. This remaining separate from the Absolute is called Duality, or, Dvaita. And becoming one with Truth is called Advaita, Nonduality. Those who walk the path of devotion to a personified God (like Krishna, Shiva, Jesus), prefer Duality. Those who walk the path of Vedanta analysis, and practice Soham (I am That), or, Tat-twam-Asi (Thou art that), Aham Brahmasmi (I am Brahma. or, Absolute), they prefer becoming one… Non-duality or, Advaita. Those who walk the path of Yoga and Tantra, attain Kaivalya, Unmani states, which is more than the above said oneness. The subject of Liberation, Mukti, highest state, Brahma-Jnana has been discussed in Tantra at great length.

Vihaya Naam-rupani nitye Brahmani nischale.
Parinischita tattvo yah, sa Mukta-h karma-bandhanath.

(from MahaNirvana Tantra)
meaning: He who can recognize the Brahman Absolute and Eternal, which is beyond all names and visible appearances, such a sage is liberated from the bondage of Karma. (To clarify the concept of Karma, read this.)

Na Muktir-Japad-homad-upavasa shatairapi,
Brahmaivaham-iti Jnatva Mukto bhavati dehabhrith.

(from MahaNirvana Tantra)
meaning: One cannot attain liberation through the recitation of a mantra a million times (Japa), or, through fire sacrifice (called Homa / Yajna), through holding fasts (Abstain from eating, Upavasa) hundreds of times. “Aham-Brahmasmi“, that, I Am Brahman, the Absolute Truth, only this realization is the cause of Liberation ( Mukti).

One may find peace in analyzing his own mind and its may become his highest sadhana (spiritual practice). Yet I believe in a conscious all pervading Force. It cannot be seen with these physical eyes, but yogi adepts can see it in their hearts, through the eye of intuition. “Adesh” as the Nath yogi-s say… Adesh means, command. It hints us in subtle ways and shows us the way. For the yogi-s, the invisible Guru and all phenomena that propel us towards spiritual awareness, are emanations of this Power. I don’t wish to give a name to this force, or, paint my selfish colours over it and imagine it as a physical deity.

IT EXISTS, that’s all. It’s like, I AM that I AM, from the Bible. If I impart a name and form to That, it would be an abomination, an insult, I will be pulling it down to my pygmy status… for it is beyond all limits.
In Katha Upanishad, verse 2/2/15, it says,

Na tatra suryo bhati, na candra-tarakam,
Nema Vidyuto bhanti kutohayam Agnih?
Tameva bhantam anubhati sarvam,
Tasya bhasa sarvamidam vibhati.

meaning: In the Supreme Abode of Paramatman, there shines no sun, no moon or, stars, not flashes of lightning, how then can you expect fire to illuminate such an exalted place? The Supreme Spirit Itself is effulgent and He gives light to everything else. The sun doesn’t light up His abode, rather He lights up the sun and the universe. He is the only source of existence and power in the whole world.
In Gita, Krishna has uttered a very similar sentence to give expression to the supreme state. The Highest state of spiritual attainment has been described in most scriptures, as the Supreme Abode from which one doesn’t have to return. This “no return” means, Liberation from the cycle of death and consecutive rebirth. Gita, verse 15/6 says:

Na tad bhasayate suryo, na shashanko, na pavakah.
Yad gatwa na nibartante, Tad Dham Paramam Mama.

meaning: The sun, moon or, fire are not necessary to provide light in there. Where from there is no return (to this world of pain and rebirth), such is My Supreme Abode (Param Dham).


Question: What is “the “mask of Maya”?

To go to the heart of the matter, we must question the nature of Maya. What is Maya? It is the Illusion of this world of many-fold existence, when in reality, there is only the One All Pervading consciousness. There are not even 2 things, but one undivided infinite effulgence. That Oneness is called as Atman, Param-Atman, Param-Brahman (in the Vedas), Brahma Niranjan, Alakh Niranjan by the mystic Yogis, Shunyata by the Buddhists. One thing, many names.

Why then did we exist as different entities, why do we perceive these stupendous countless varieties in the Universe (or, Multiverse)? This is Maya. It is not the result of interpretations by mystics, men perceived this many-ness before the mystics. This difference is part and parcel of this mundane world. What then is in the root of this?

Its the Mind. The perception and faulty interpretation of the outside world by the mind. This illusion is not observed by only one culture, but all cultures. Its a mass hypnotism by the minds of organisms. This illusion is continuous and unending. That is because, we become aware of the outside through the senses and we take everything analyzed and thought by the mind as valid. So the Diverseness of the world appear to us as a valid and verified fact. ====> If we can go deeper inside the mind and observe the thoughts as they arise, we will identify the root of this world.

Yogis arrive at the Reality, which is Oneness, by stopping all thought-waves. Then the illusion stops and the world as we see it, vanishes. Only Atman remains, which is constant.

The sages of Vedanta stopped it by the reverse hypnosis of “I am not this, not that, but the One Infinite Truth.” They uprooted the small ego that pins us to our body, personality and identification with name and form. When the ego vanishes, all thoughts associated to our little-self existence, vanish. Thus they arrived at the naked Truth, where there is nothing else.

Question: What is reverse hypnosis?

Amitabha Chatterjee: Its the negating of the firm ideas in the mind that we carry around. These thought cycles identify us to names and forms and this physical body, pranic body, mental body, intellectual body and causal body. We constantly think like “I am this body”, “Amitabha is my name”, “This is my personality, my identity”, or, “I am this child’s father, I am this person’s son, I am this woman’s husband” and so on. These thoughts pin us to this worldly existence and all the little pleasures and agonies that arise from this samsara (world of many-ness).

The reverse hypnosis of Vedantins is the opposite cycle of thoughts that free our consciousness from this samsaric cycle. It is called as Neti-Neti Vichara, or, “Not-this_Not-this Logical analysis”. Like, “I am not this body, or, this mind, but I am Pure Unblemished consciousness.” Its unplugging the identification to this body and linking it to the Omnipresent consciousness. This line of thought gives rise to a mental wave or, Vritti, called Brahmakara Vritti. (Vibration resembling Brahman) This Vritti destroys all other waves of the mind and in the end, it vanishes. Thus the mental waves totally stop by this Neti-neti meditation, causing Chitta-Vritti-Nirodha state of Patanjali. Cessation of ripples inside the cognizant mind (Chitta-Vritti-Nirodha) shows us our real nature like a mirror. When there is no remaining reflection of this world in the mind, only what had been always there Remains. That is the Truth, or, Param-Atman. What remains is unnamed, unspeakable, it cannot be conceptualized, as it has no similarity with anything of this world. So, how can it ever be described? So, the Vedas have become silent.

Question: So, can we arrive there by just analyzing the mind?

  • No, that which is beyond the mind, cannot be arrived at by it’s analysis. One must stop the mind itself from thinking, and still retain the awareness. This is important. Deep sleep is a natural state without any thoughts. So, we should have attained the knowledge of the Supreme Soul, by just going to sleep! We didn’t, as we lost awareness on the way. This trick can only be performed by Yoga.

A state of equipoise, where there are only a few thoughts can be reached by analysis, or, savitarka samadhi of Yoga. But as the name suggests, sa-vitarka means “with-logical-analysis”, that is not yet devoid of ripples. Even when one sees the Light of the soul, that is savikalpa samadhi. Sa-vikalpa means, with mental cognition and thoughts arriving at concepts. Even that has to go. The Yogi, in the most advanced condition, has to give up everything, even the hope of retaining his individual consciousness. Then he may arrive at a state beyond the mind or, intellect, called, Nirvikalpa Samadhi. Only then can he become one with the Truth. Those who rarely manage to come back from this Nirvikalpa state are called SadGuru, Brahmavid-varistha, Yogeshwara.

Namaste Nath Bhagwan Shivaya Guru-Rupiney.
Vidyavatar Samsiddhou Svikritaneka Vigrahah.

 meaning: Thou, my master, my Guru, are the embodiment of knowledge. You are Shiva, you are the highest truth. You have accepted many forms to come down to this world to spread the light of knowledge. I bow down to you. (Guru Stavam, Tantra)

Narayana svarupaya Paramatmaika Murtaye.
Sarva-Gyana-Tamo-Bhedbhavena Chidghanaya te.

meaning: O Guru, you are Narayana, you are the embodiment of Paramatman. You are the all-knowing pillar of light that pierces through the curtain of this dark Tamasic world. You are concentrated awareness Itself. (Guru Stavam, Tantra)

Gyana Shakti Samarudham Tattvamala Vibhushitam,
Bhukti Mukti Pradataram Tasmai Shree Gurave Namah.

meaning– O Guru, you are adorned with the garland of Tattva-s (all that is to be known). Gyana (wisdom of Paramatman) and Power (Shakti) have become your seat. I bow to you, my Guru, who is capable of granting Bhukti (worldly desires) and Mukti (Highest liberation). (A quote from Vishwasara Tantra).

Such a wise Guru may utter the lofty words of Shvetashvetara Upanishad, as if pouring out of his own heart: Shvetashvetara Upanishad, verse 3/21:

Vedahametam Ajaram Puranam,
Sarvatmanam Sarvagatam Vibhutwat.
Janma-Nirodham Prabadanti Yasya,
Brahmavadino hi vadanti nityam.

meaning: I know the One Reality that is most ancient, beyond decay, the soul of all things, omnipresent and it encloses everything within Itself. They say that rebirth can end by knowing Him. Those who know (Brahma-vid), call Him Eternal.

Most human beings who try to achieve this highest of samadhi-s (Nirvikalpa samadhi), become dazzled by the splendor and power of Paramatman and merge into THAT, like a fly burns itself, plunging into a flame. Their lifeless bodies remain intact up to 21 days and then disintegrate like an ordinary corpse. Their souls merge into the Supreme Being and remain there forever. In a way this is a good thing, better than heaven or, other exalted states. The Vedanta adherents who desire Oneness, reach this end. But it is not the highest state.

This loss of individuality during Nirvikalpa samadhi, may be prevented only by the gradual accumulation of Power, before attempting the Nirvikalpa Trance. This accumulation of power can only be achieved by Tantra, or, Shakti-Sadhana. That’s why Tantra declares, Thy abode, O Highest Goddess, is beyond everything. The Yogi reaches your realm, after emerging from Paramatman. See the verse below: Kankalmalini Tantra 3/34.

Tava Chakram Maheshani, Atitah Paramatmanah.

The highest state is becoming One and non-dual and then returning back to duality. Once that happens, one can see that everything is God. The whole universe, the air, water, rocks, ants, bacteria, human beings, angels and gods alike, are all the same. That one Absolute Being has become everything. That One Supreme Being is pretending to be the ant. The pulp, seeds and skin are all that one whole fruit.

Gita and Karma

Krishna suggests his disciple Arjuna (as well as all mankind), how Karma works, how it binds us.
Your mind is your friend and your own enemy. He who has mastered his own mind, accepts feelings of  pain & pleasure, both physical and mental with the same measure of calmness. (As if his life and actions are optimally balanced)
Gita Chapter 6, Dyana-Yoga, verses 6 & 7.
gita, stevens, karma

gita, stevens, karma

This verse contains great wisdom. Let us understand the psychology and philosophy of Karma.

Hence it is said, that mind is the root cause of Bondage and Liberation. All the works we perform, all Karmas are actually mental. The physical work is just the external projection of the mind. The sense organs like eyes, ears, nose, skin, tongue, bring signals from the external environment into the brain, the mind interprets it, and then we respond to those impulses as we decide. We react through the organs of action like speech, hands, legs, sexual organ, etc. Now, all these organs are harmless tools that obey whatever order the mind issues. So, we actually create Karma (actions) through the mind, not this physical body. The mind is encased in the brain and spinal cord.

If we bring the reactions of the mind under control, we can take wise decisions and perform meritorious actions. Then the mind is our friend. If we let basic instinct and animal impulses overtake us, then we are bound to commit grave mistakes in life. This is like my own Mind acting as my Enemy. We must judge and consider, what is the right thing to do in the current situation and then act. Also, my personal opinion is, that one is much better off when he (or,  she) has made up one’s mind on the goal of life. Then half of the battle is won! In order to do so, you must have a clear idea about who you really are, what are your talents, virtues and problems. Then our actions will be more focused, and we will not be wandering aimlessly, dragging our lives along.

The picture is taken from  Sacred Calligraphy of the East-  by John Stevens. I am fond of Calligraphy. It soothes the mind, provides moral and emotional strength at some subtle level. And its very aesthetic.