- What Do We Mean by Fear of the Unknown?
- Experience and Duality as the Basis of Fear
- The Illusory Nature of the World of Duality
- Advaita as a Science to Discover the True Nature of Reality through Jnana Yoga, Not Action
- You and the World Was Never Born
- Sat-Chit-Ananda: Non-Affirming Qualifiers of Reality
This is a dialogue based on the question of a student in my NEEV Advaita Study Group. The quandary he is raising is somewhat similar to the dilemma faced by Arjuna in Bhagavad Gita and by almost all of us: What is right action given that each action leads to consequences? Albeit, the quandary being posed by the student in this dialogue is not based on any moral crisis. Rather it is a more general and psycho-philosophical question born out of fear of consequences of actions in the future while also seeing the fact that all actions are based on thought and thought is nothing but a conditioned response of memory.
While the Bhagavad Gita starts off answering Arjuna’s questions by making assertive statements on the nature of reality, my response in this dialogue starts off by looking at the question itself and deconstructing it to show that the real problem is not in the domain where the question is being asked. Which reminds me of the oft-quoted but never redundant words of Albert Einstein, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
Thus, through this dialogue, I lead the student through a series of dialectics to show that the fact that one is an actor and a chooser is itself based on an illusion. So no amount of action can free an individual from illusion because action proceeds from illusion itself. What can and does free a person from the action and its results is not right action but the knowledge that in reality there is no actor and no world of objects to be acted upon.
The human race is evolving. Every person has a contribution in it. Everybody is like a small cog in a big machine. Everybody is important. The biggest fear in my opinion is the fear of the unknown. Because of my upbringing I have a belief that everything is written, whatever is happening is destined to happen. I think this belief is throughout the world, and we believe in it because we want to believe in it. We have fear of unknown, and we are so scared of unknown that we want to believe that everything what is happening is destined to happen. How do we know that? We say this only after an event has occurred. The result could be different if the actions were different. So, then how to know what is correct action? Can the right action be a product of thought? If it is a product of thought it depends upon our past impressions and therefore it cannot be the right action. Then how to choose the right action.
There is a reality and then there is the interpretation of reality in our mind. The interpretation of that reality is dependent on our past impressions. Is it possible to act without being affected by our past impressions. How do we know that we chose an action which was not biased? The mind always brings out an action from its storehouse of memory.
What Do We Mean by Fear of the Unknown?
Let us look at the fundamental question you are asking. What you are asking is, “What is right Action?” Now let us examine what is driving you to ask this question? Is it not fear, the fear of unknown? So let us now look at what is “fear” and what is “unknown”? Isn’t the “unknown” related to change and time? If we can see this then we can also establish that fear is related to change and time.
Isn’t the unknown about what the future hold for you? In your present there is nothing to fear. Fear is nothing but a thought in the present, talking about a future state. Now is not the future state that one is projecting based upon the past itself, based upon experiences and memory? So paradoxically, what we are fearing is not actually the unknown but the known. The unknown simply means, “not known at all”. How can we fear something we do not know at all? We can only fear something that we know. What is the fear about? The fear is always related to losing something and the experience of it recorded in our memory, isn’t it? So fear is a product of time, experience and memory. Fear is a past experience, stored as memory, projected into the future. If there was no experience, there would be no memory and no projection of it into the future.
Experience and Duality as the Basis of Fear
So now let us look at experience. Is not experience based upon the duality? There needs to be a subject – an experiencer – and an object – the experienced. Would there be any experience if there was no duality existing as the subject and the object? For example, let’s take the sleep state. In it, there is no subject-object duality, thus there is no experience of any kind happening there. And because there is no experience and its modifications happening in the sleep state, there is complete absence of fear and suffering as long as that state exists. But as soon as one comes out of the sleep state, either into the dream state or the waking state, there is a duality between the subject and object which is established and which gives rise to experience and the attendant suffering.
The Illusory Nature of the World of Duality
If we reflect on the above, there is a startling discovery hiding in plain sight. Isn’t the experience of the world of duality which splits into a thinking, doing, experiencing subject and a manifold world of objects something that is only available in the dream and waking states but entirely absent in the sleep state? Does this not imply that the world of duality we are experiencing not something real. For if this dual world of experience were something real it would exist in all three states.If this dual world of experience is not something real, it leads to another startling discovery that whom we are thinking ourselves and this world to be is nothing but an illusion or a delusion. If we take duality to be real then we are a subject (a thinker/doer/experiencer) interacting with a ‘world’ of objects. Another way to put it would be that there is a “self”, identified as ‘me’ acting on a world of “not self”, identified as the ‘other’. For all action to happen, whether good or bad, right or wrong etc. there must first arise the world of duality which splits into the actor and the objects to be acted upon. In sleep state, where there is no such duality, there is no experience, no actor and no suffering.
So ultimately, our investigation into the root of fear leads us to the discovery that fear is the result of experiencing a world of duality and that this experience of duality is itself not real because it is absent in one of the three states of our existence. And herein lies the solution for all our suffering. The solution is not in finding out any form of action, or asking about what is right action. What we have found out is that action itself proceeds from the experience of duality. If there was no duality there is no question of any action happening. If there is no duality, there is no question of an actor with a world of objects to be acted upon, like it is in the deep sleep state.
If we examine the three states, we see that none of the three states are real either, because all these states cancel each other out. When I wake up from the dream state, I consider all the experiences I had in the dream state as unreal from the waking state perspective. From the standpoint of the sleep state, the experiences of both the waking state and dream state are cancelled.
Advaita as a Science to Discover the True Nature of Reality through Jnana Yoga, Not Action
Thus, Advaita is the science of Self Inquiry which examines the nature of reality and helps a seeker understand that the reality is not what we are thinking it to be. Reality is not duality – the phenomenal world of objects experienced by subjects. The reality is actually non-dual. Advaita, through a deep analysis of reality through the process of Jnana Yoga/Knowledge Yoga helps a seeker understand that our experience of duality is nothing but a superimposition caused by an error on a non-dual reality just as a snake is seen superimposed on a rope when we see something coiled lying on a road in dim light.
The conclusions of such an inquiry are absolutely incredible and counter-intuitive. If duality is not something real but a mere superimposition on a non-dual reality, then we are not what we are thinking ourselves to be. We are not a subject acting in the world of objects. Which means we are not the body/mind/intellect which we are identified with. The body/mind/intellect are nothing but a superimposed duality on the non-dual reality that we are, just like the snake is superimposed on the rope. Also, if we do away with the subject, we also do away with the world of objects as both arise together. So in actuality, this world with subjects and objects actually does not exist except as a superimposition on the reality. If the world of subjects and objects does not really exist then there is no reality to experience and suffering too: they are unreal. In the technical language of Advaita we would not use the word unreal but a more cumbersome word called “apparently real” or mithya. It is called apparently real because it is not that it does not exist, neither is it that it exists permanently. But like all superimpositions, it exists till the knowledge of reality does not dawn. When we shine the light on the coiled piece of object lying on the road, we come to know that it was not a snake but a rope. It needs to be borne in mind that nothing else, no amount of action, like beating that apparently real/misperceived snake with a stick would rid us from fear. What rids us from fear and suffering ultimately is to get knowledge of reality which is the non-dual, partless rope. Through action one of the following results may be obtained: origination, attainment, purification, and modification. Release is different from all these attainments. The reality which is of the nature of release is not these four results what is originated, attained, purified, or modified. When ignorance is removed through knowledge, there is release. This is not a new acquisition; it is the realization of what eternally is. Anything that is caused by action is bound to perish.
You and the World Was Never Born
If reality is non-dual and duality is just a dream or a projection then it means that there has never been any real birth of the phenomenal world of subjects and objects. While dreaming we create an entire universe of subjects and objects which we falsify from the waking state perspective. The waking state which we consider as real is no different from the dream state. If the world is not a “real” creation, it means that YOU WERE NEVER BORN AND SHALL NEVER DIE. You are not subject to any of the six modifications that affect phenomena: ‘is’, ‘is born’, ‘grows’, ‘undergoes modification’, ‘decays’, ‘dies’,
The foregoing analysis shows that the root of all our suffering is an error or what Advaita calls, an ignorance, about the true nature of reality. In ignorance, we create and are identified with a dual world and it’s six modifications and suffer. With knowledge, we understand that the entire world of duality which we were identified with and considered to be real was nothing but an illusion, a dream or mithya. It is this knowledge which liberates us from all suffering. There is only Non-Dual Reality/Awareness/Brahman. Please read – Understanding “Consciousness is Everything”: Journal of a 15 yr Old – Part2/2: The World Was Never Created (Ajativada)
Sat-Chit-Ananda: Non-Affirming Qualifiers of Reality
In this answer, in order to reduce its length and complexity, I have purposely avoided going into the nature of reality which is called Brahman in Advaita. The name does not matter. Moreover, contrary to what many people assume, Advaita does not posit any non-dual reality called Brahman to begin with. Advaita actually is about neti-neti (not-this, not-this), a systematic and thorough going inquiry into the nature of reality which systematically investigates and unearths all falsities. When all falsities are negates, reality which is nothing but non-dual knowledge or a non-dual vision shines on its own accord. All the naming and labelling we do for this reality is nothing but the product of mithya: the dual world in which we hold our discourse and communicate to people. As such non-dual reality can never be communicated in terms of what it is. In Advaita, it is communicated in terms of negating what it is not. Advaitins call non-dual reality as Brahman and in order to teach, they also qualify it in a non-affirming way as Sat-Chit-Ananda. These terms sound quite affirming or as positions. But actually the three terms are used as non-affirming qualifications or attributes. Thus, we can say that Sat = absence of voidness (reality is not a void), Chit = absence of ignorance and Ananda = Absence of suffering. And if we inspect these three terms closely, they are not three different attributes. In one sentence we can string all these three words/attributes/qualifiers to say that reality is knowledge of absence of suffering.
For a detailed analysis on how Advaita examines duality and uncovers non-dual reality, one may read my article: Turiya : The Fourth State of Consciousness & End of Suffering