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.


Unmani Samadhi

Samadhi is a word from Hindu Yoga, meaning Samyak-Adhikara, complete control or, entitlement. If a yogi attains any samadhi, a state of mental focus, he/she is qualified by right to all the power that state holds. Our minds are weighed down by too many thoughts and loss of focus. By meditation, we can focus it on one single thing. When the rays of the mind become totally concentrated on one subject and very still, we attain samadhi. We forget ourselves and become one with the subject of the samadhi. In doing so, we gain total power over and full knowledge of the subject of meditation. There are many levels of samadhi, the mind thus getting stabler and stabler, gradually focusing on one single thought. Our subject of meditation may be something external, some abstract thing, or, something internal… like mind-stuff, intelligence, chitta, ego (called Antahkarana collectively), or, even subtler like bliss, truth or, consciousness.
When we look for solutions to the problems in our lives, generally we seek help from something outside ourselves, something more powerful than us. We pray to God Almighty, who is omnipotent, who controls everything. Is there a force that is conscious and can listen to our prayers? Fortunately, yes. There are powerful entities in the universe, who may be summoned and benefits reaped, but the results are limited by time and conditions. Sacrilege! Blasphemous utterance! Is that a daring statement in denial of God Almighty? No. For there is one God, but not in agreement to most doctrines. Doctrines are aimed at Loka-sangraha, organization, governance and leading a large number of adherents. Truth, on the other hand is above such things. Truth has nothing to do with recruitment. Truth is absolute freedom. Different religions point at God from separate stand-points and none can describe the infinity and magnitude of God in it’s entirety.
Where there is God, there is his devotee, there is bound to be Duality. Where there is duality, how can there be One absolute reality? What is the state, that fuses God and Devotee into one?
There is such an Ultimate state of existence, without which there is nothing. We accept and dismiss so many things in this world of multitude and variety. When we dismiss everything visible and invisible, … when we get rid of all different possibilities of existence, …all forms of matter or, energy contained in this universe, or, other universes … all thoughts passing through all minds, past present and future, … there remains an Conscious Invisible Power, which cannot be divided or, destroyed supporting everything known and unknown. This is the underlying, Fundamental Reality and it pervades all forms of matter and energy, however subtle. This Absolute Truth always remains. That is the only thing that matters… in this universe, or, beyond it. It is not some separate ‘Thing’, yet it is. Let us call it by the name of Unmani, for reference’s sake. It cannot be named, or, pointed at, as it permeates everything.
There are innumerable things beyond the grasp of our sense organs. Many things can’t even be detected by┬áprecision instruments, which are like extensions of our senses. All Objects are like clusters of matter and energy, marked with a beginning and an end. They need space to exist. What is beyond space?
Things are contained within the boundaries of time. Everything began at one point and continued to exist up-to some point of reference, this is Time. Time marks the continuity of things. But where there is no change, no beginning or, end, time is meaningless. That Absolute stillness, that Eternity which is the essence of consciousness, mother of Time and Space, is the Truth. The meaning we try to tag upon the word ‘Truth’, is void under the premise of Unmani. It is, had always been, and will be… like before us and afterwards, when our petty purposes will vanish like grains of camphor.
Unmani is the root of existence itself. But how did that stillness give birth to the variety of this known universe? The state of Unmani is not inert, but conscious of itself. It is the only source of Truth, Love and Bliss. When obstructions between our mind and Unmani are removed, we perceive it as flashes of bliss. When we fall asleep, and dreams stop distracting our inner mind, we can feel the Unmani as peace and solace. The energy thus gained, allows us to function in the waking state, which is an array of multiplicity and divided attention. Unmani, mentioned mostly in yoga-tantras is a higher state than Nirvikalpa samadhi of Vedanta. Nirvikalpa is attained by analysis and vigorous vichara leading to laya of the mind in Turiya Brahman. That would be like vritti-nirodha due to vichara, hence rising from Sa-vichara samadhi to Nir-vichara samadhi and Jivatman fusing into Paramatman at the top of the brain called Sahasrara, the thousand petaled lotus. Unmani is beyond Sahasrara lotus and above the scope of the bodily nine chakras, it is outside the body.
The existence of Mind or, ‘Mana’ ceases to be, before it can fully comprehend the ultimate state. Hence the highest state up to which we retain our mind is called Samana (with mind), and beyond it is Unmana (Above-mind, or, supra mind state), also called as Unmani, which is the very Nature of free consciousness. What causes the first vibration of existence from the stillness of the absolute? The Nirguna Brahman willed, and the world came to be. Why would the stillness vibrate with this will? Why would it spring from inaction to action? Vedanta and the Upanishads are silent about this. Gorakhnath answers this riddle.
What causes the primal vibration in the Mahashunya (Void) to give birth to the Mind? What causes the waves in the Mind to begin creation? The first wave that set things in motion, reverberates through all time as Om. Gorakhnath, the first know-er of Unmani reveals the secret that Unmani is not static, but Dynamic, in a state of flux. It’s like a mitral valve in the heart of everything, vibrating (spandanam), giving rise to the eternal waves of Truth and Bliss.
Born from Unmana is Samana, the purest state of mind. It is here that one may perceive God and interact with Him. He is the cluster of the purest emotions of the clear mind. But he who gets to know Unmani, cannot retain a separate existence. He is nothing but an embodiment of Unmani itself. Gorakhnath is said to reside in Mahashunya, in his eternal samadhi, all persona immersed in Unmani. But the dynamic nature of Unmani awakens him from time to time to appear in this variegated world below, as the emissary of Unmana.
He appears only to them who are thirsty for the highest truth. Those who ask for lower truths and crave minute flakes of power and worldly benefits, get what they desire. But such poor devotees cannot see the embodiment of truth and pure bliss, who is Gorakhnath. Truth, knowledge, bliss and love… emanate from Unmani.
Only a few have ever been able to say anything about such a state. Gorakhnath, Dattatreya and Gyaneshwar (Sant Dnyaneshwar, the author of Dnyaneshwari Gita)… the list is that much. The rest is recapitulation and permutation of their words in Tantra, Yoga and Spanda Shastras.
By Amitabha Chatterjee,
Disciple of Sri Dayal Baba and Sri Lalbaba.
This article can also be read here.