- Krishna’s Journal
- My Response
- The Four Mahavakyas of Advaita
- The Inconceivability of Brahman/Consciousness
- Prajnanam Brahma – Knowing Brahman
- Tat Tvam Asi – You Are Brahman
- Aham Brahmasmi – I am Brahman
- Ayam Atma Brahma – This Self is Brahman
In this article, I am presenting a journal of a student of the NEEV Advaita Study Facebook Group. He happens to be a 15 yr old boy studying in the 11th grade, who discusses Advaita with me in the midst of doing his homework. Recently he sent me a journal, feverishly written, describing the understanding he gained about how everything, including himself is in reality Consciousness, and he is actually not a person. The journal was quite long and given his age, quite understandably a jumble of thoughts with gems of understanding buried in them. I am presenting his journal in this article removing extraneous material but leaving his language and expression untouched to give readers the genuine flavour of his understanding and expression. This sacrifices clarity of concepts of Advaita. But I wanted to give a snapshot of the process of getting clarity in Advaita through my student’s journal. At any rate I have provided a clear account of Advaita concepts in my response.
In Part 1 of my response to his journal I show how uncannily he has managed to pack all the four Mahavakyas of Advaita. Mahavakyas of Advaita are “great statements” that serve as signposts for the journey of a seeker in the path of Advaita from ignorance to enlightenment. Thus, I use my student’s journal as a base to explicate the four Mahavakyas and how they serve as signposts in the journey of a seeker.
In Part 2 of my article I shall delve into the other aspect of my student’s Journal which is about the nature of relationship between Consciousness, Mind and God.
When consciousness is projecting a suffering body-mind, the body mind is coming, suffering, enjoying and going. Whether the mind is ignorant, or enlightened, or whatever, it does not affect the consciousness. The same consciousness is illumining the basic insects and the tigers and the animals and humans. There is no good or bad. All are working according to their own samskaras and karma and working as nature wills them to, as the Lord wills them to.
Not just a peaceful mind is consciousness but the CONSCIOUSNESS IS GROUND OR WHOLE OF REALITY. SUFFERING, HAPPINESS, EVERYTHING IS CONSCIOUSNESS. That’s why Anurag sir says there is no “bliss of Brahman” as people understand it. For unenlightened people or enlightened people, CONSCIOUSNESS is the same. So there is something funny in saying “I know that I am consciousness, but they do not know they are consciousness so it is my duty to help them know they are consciousness” NO they are already CONSCIOUSNESS. They ARE CONSCIOUSNESS.
The jiva may be unenlightened but there is no way to make the jiva enlightened unless the machine permutation in that unit, that is, that particular jiva dissolves enough or that the mind shuts down enough and says it is enlightened. But CONSCIOUSNESS IS EVER SAME and this knowledge is coming to the unit jiva, the permutation in the machine.
The body mind turning inward and losing its identification by itself lets the consciousness shine. The person never becomes consciousness. It is not that the person is the consciousness. No I am the consciousness watching the “person i” occur in the universe that is occurring in the consciousness. That I am. And all that happened, happened because it had to happen by His Will. Everything is just happening; responses are coming; people feel that he/she has free will, and he is thinking guiltily, maybe doubting his thoughts; but the mind that is doubting, the mind that is thinking, is itself a helpless part of the world. It is a coordinating system like the CPU of a computer illumining and giving coherence to the functions. It is just a part of an organic whole (Universe) and this organic whole is illumined by consciousness. So the whole is known by consciousness; the mind is known by consciousness, and the knowing function of the mind that knows, the known objects, and even the function of the mind that wonders why consciousness is somehow illumining the mind and knowing the world through the mind … is in reality/consciousness’s “knower” aspect.
Consciousness is the mind and it is knowing everything at once as, “I am consciousness”. But it is actually not knowing anything; at the same time it is knowing everything; it just … is. It is inexpressible yes! But there is no mind that it will use to look through to the world like a telescope. No it is just experiencing itself and the infinite objects so-called that are all just itself through and through not little appearances or big appearances it is not like a vast space. It is reality: the ground of reality. No, no not even that, just the reality.
So anyway the mind is a coordinating system; and even right now, the guilt and the fear of being wrong that it is feeling for pursuing self inquiry and not being “of use to the world” somehow, and presenting fear based solutions and fear based rejections of those solutions is a strange mystery. It is at once both superficial and lacking any deeper layers, but with the power to invent deeper layers the more it investigates because it works with the law of cause and effect. Even the investigation of the web of cause and effect is a part of cause and effect. So the guilty feeling, the urge to watch the insight moment, the suppression and the fear, the initial action and the sudden burst of action after a long build up, is all his infinite grace. Because his grace is ever flowing. So even the guilt of thinking that thinking about this “long build up” is undermining his grace, is also a part of the web of cause and effect. Because if his grace is ever flowing then his grace is cause and effect!!! His grace is the vidya maya.
So mind does not exist but as a mere constant flow of objects in consciousness … yes so this tallies with the intuitions coming from contemplating the fact that there is no proof for the last moment’s existence or this moment’s existence by the time this is written and the next moment has begun. You can’t define what “length of time” is a moment. It is a flow, so infinite flow is also infinite stillness! So observe the mind and surrender to Him. To the Lord.
As I read your journal, I could literally experience the excitement of discovery coursing through your veins. So now you are initiated into the gates of non-duality. It is a conceptual understanding of non-duality but nonetheless a powerful one, one which is surely going to fundamentally affect your life. And considering that you are all of just 15 yrs old, I would say that what you have written and tried to explain is simply phenomenal. At 15 years, I was like a kitten whose eyes had not even opened to the world of spirituality, let alone the world of non-duality. Even when they did, I did not come across the word “non-duality” in my spiritual journey till I was about 36 years old. Even amongst spiritual aspirants, to get a glimpse of even a conceptual understanding of non-duality is considerably rare. So before I proceed further with my response I should let you know that whatever you have discovered and written in this journal is a rare gem that is bestowed to rare people at such an early age. Now it is up to you how to prize it, cultivate it further, and make it reach full fruition. But please do not allow this praise to lodge in your mind and become vanity. Conceptual understanding is one thing, a complete transformation so that understanding becomes part of experience is a very long road with many dark nights.
Your understanding has already touched a very high level in this journal. I am only going to illustrate it further with concepts from Advaita. I am also going to take the understanding in the journal further. What you have written is almost touching the heights but there is a conception of Lord, Isvara or Creator that is still lurking, which is also transcended in the peak of Shankara’s Advaita. I am not doing this to show a limitation in your understanding as you are already far, far ahead considering your age, but I am doing this just for the sake of readers who can learn Advaita by going through this article. Your journal provides a wonderful launching pad to speak about the highest truth of Advaita as it is revealed through the stages outlined by the four Mahavakyas of Advaita. I shall show how in your journal you have uncannily written about every single stage 🙂
The Four Mahavakyas of Advaita
These four Mahavakayas – Statements of Ultimate Truth – chart the progress of a student as he/she assimilates the non-dual wisdom of Advaita. Your journal shows that you have finally broken through a dualistic framework of understanding reality and come to a non-dual understanding as indicated by the first two Mahavakyas. You wrote:
“Whether the mind is ignorant, or enlightened, or whatever, it does not affect the consciousness.The same consciousness is illumining the basic insects and the tigers and the animals and humans.”…………
“But was the consciousness not there before too? Not just a peaceful mind is consciousness but the CONSCIOUSNESS IS GROUND OF WHOLE OF REALITY. SUFFERING, HAPPINESS, EVERYTHING IS CONSCIOUSNESS.“
Your journal clearly indicates that you now see Consciousness is the primary reality and that you are actually that Consciousness in this very moment. In fact, you have always been Consciousness, since that is the ultimate reality. Thus, whether you are enlightened or unenlightened you are always consciousness. This is something very difficult for people to understand because they take themselves to be a person and believe that they have to become a “better person” through enlightenment. But Advaita is saying something very amazing. It is saying that you have never been a person at any time. Though this understanding does make you a “person” free of all afflictive emotions and suffering eventually. The first Mahavakya makes you familiar with the ultimate truth – what it is? It says that you are not a person in essence but Consciousness/Brahman/Non-Dual Knowledge I wrote in detail about this misunderstanding of people in my article “Tat Tvam Asi – You are Brahman”. In Advaita Brahman is a synonym of Consciousness.
The Inconceivability of Brahman/Consciousness
Please note that Brahman/Consciousness here does not mean some substance or entity or form. Brahman is frequently referred to as a Subject in Advaita. People get confused with this word. Since the word subject (without a capital ‘S’) usually refers to a person in common English, Brahman is often taken to be some form of person. Brahman is inconceivable. It is not anything that the mind can conceive. This is very important to understand. Any conception of ultimate truth is not the ultimate truth. Brahman is just a word we used to communicate the Ultimate Truth. The same can be called – Awareness, Consciousness, Self, Purusha, Atman, Turiya, Absolute or Ultimate – as long as we are sure that these words mean that they are “nirguna” or “attributeless“. Brahman is referred as Subject in Advaita, only to indicate that Ultimate Truth can never be objectified and made any object of experience though we can speak about Truth conceptually or objectively to teach as I am doing now. However, the experience of Truth itself is inconceivable and ineffable. The inconceivability of Brahman is best brought out by this verse from Mandukya Upanishad. Ultimate Reality, in this verse is denoted as Turiya:
Nantah-prajnam na bahis-prajnam nobhayatah
prajnam na prajnana-ghanam na prajnam naprajnam,
prapanco-pasamam santam Sivam-advaitam
caturtham manyante sa atma sa vijneyah.
Verse 7: Turīya is not that which is conscious of the internal (subjective) world, nor that which is conscious of the external (objective) world, nor that which is conscious of both, nor that which is a mass all sentiency, nor that which is simple consciousness, nor that which is insentient. (It is) unseen (by any sense organ), not related to anything, incomprehensible (by the mind), uninferable, unthinkable, indescribable, essentially of the nature of Consciousness constituting the Self alone, negation of all phenomena, the Peaceful, all Bliss and the Non-dual. This is what is known as the fourth (Turīya). This is the Ātman and it has to be realised.
~ Mandukya Upanishad
 – By this are denied such attributes as omniscience, etc., associated with Īśvara. Which means Turīya cannot simultaneously cognize the entire world of consciousness (by a single act of consciousness) as Isvara does.
You referred to this inconceivability in your journal here:
“Consciousness is the mind and it is knowing everything at once as, “I am consciousness”. But it is actually not knowing anything; at the same time it is knowing everything; it just … is. It is inexpressible yes! But there is no mind that it will use to look through to the world like a telescope. No it is just experiencing itself and the infinite objects so-called that are all just itself through and through not little appearances or big appearances it is not like a vast space. It is reality: the ground of reality. No, no not even that, just the reality.”
Through your words one can clearly witness the struggle your mind is undergoing to grasp the inconceivable, to express the inexpressible. You start out with many words of description but towards the end of the para you realize that more the number of words you use, or conditioning attributes you use, the further away you move away from reality. Thus, towards the end you wisely resign with the words, “It is reality: the ground of reality. No, no not even that, just the reality.”
If you compare what you have written with the verse from Mandukya Upanishad [Ma. Up.], you shall notice that Ma. Up. has made one refutation which you have included in your description of reality. It is in these lines of yours, “No it is just experiencing itself and the infinite objects so-called that are all just itself through and through“. Though you have also negated “knowing of objects” in these lines, “But it is actually not knowing anything; at the same time it is knowing everything;” There seems to be an uneasy tension in you to accommodate “not knowing anything” with “knowing everything”. It’s counter-intuitive, isn’t it? Generally, we would grant “all knowingness” or omniscience a higher pedestal than “not knowing”. This is where the non-dual instinct has to kick in. As jivas with limited knowledge we are clamouring for power that comes from infinite knowledge. Thus, we set up a relation of duality between the Jiva (an entity with limited knowledge) and Isvara/Lord/Creator (an entity with infinite knowledge). We cannot conceive of ultimate reality as total inaction. An Advaitin can see the tension of this duality running right through your journal. In fact, you end your journal with the words, “So observe the mind and surrender to Him. To the Lord.” Despite your commendable and valiant attempt to decode duality, which you almost did, this duality between Brahman/Ultimate Reality and Isvara persists. And this difference makes all the difference between duality and non-duality. Because till there is an Isvara, there is a Jiva. Both go together.
Therefore, Ma. Up. in verse 7 quoted above, negates even “all knowing” Isvara pithily by the words, “nor that which is simple consciousness“. The note to this, provided by me at the end of the verse, expands it’s full meaning, denying ultimate reality to be an all-knowing Isvara too. Why? Because Isvara is still knowing objects. There is still a subject-object duality there. Ultimate Reality is knowledge without any object.
Prajnanam Brahman – Knowing Brahman
The first Mahavakya is called Lakshana Vakya because it is indicating the nature of Ultimate Reality as Non-Dual Consciousness. The Mandukya Upanishad, too, despite its resounding negations, helps to indicate the reality with the words “ekatma-pratyaya-saram” or “essentially of the nature of Consciousness.” But we have to understand the word Consciousness, again, as what is called a “non-affirming negation”. It means that the ultimate reality is not a void: it exists, and also it is not inert like matter but of the nature of illuminating knowledge. Anandagiri, an ancient Advaitin and commentator writes in his commentary to Mandukya Up. verse 7:
“The elimination of all the attributes may make Turīya appear as a void to the unwary student. Therefore, it is described as a positive existence which can be realized by spotting it as the changeless and the constant factor in the three states. The states, no doubt, do change but there is a unity of the subject implied in the conscious experience of “I am that perceiver” common to all the three states.”
So basically Reality is Consciousness or Knowledge as such, wherein it has no objects to qualify. It is that Knowledge which does not even have any duality as the Jiva and Isvara. The best way to put it therefore is that it is a “knowingness” or “Awareness”. Metaphorically it can be said to be light. Chandogya Upanishad refers to knowing Brahman as “The Path of Light”. In fact some paths like Tibetan Dzogchen Buddhism also use the word light to describe ultimate reality. Unlike all knowledge that is split by the subject-object duality, this knowledge has no suffering because of lack of division. Thus, the Ma. Up. Verse 7 provides some other non affirming attributes to this knowledge. They are
- Prapanca-opasanman – Absence of all plurality of the phenomenal world.
- Santam – Since there is absence of phenomena, there is absence of all conflict
- Sivam – Since there is absence of plurality, there is absence of conflict and since there is absence of conflict, there is bliss
- Advaitam – It is the reality which has no other. If we said “one” it would imply that there is “two”. To seal this possibility, we say that this is the only reality.
Thus, we see that the only attributes we have given to the ultimate reality is not in terms of positive attributes but indicating it by denying positive attributes as Neti, Neti…..not this, not this. This is the way Brahman/Ultimate Reality is taught, not only in Advaita, but in all non-dual systems. By employing such a via negativa approach, the non-dual paths are trying to achieve the stillness of mind. When the mind ceases to conceptualize, duality ends and non-dual reality is revealed.
So, if you see carefully, the four Mahavakyas are a beautiful map of a seeker’s journey – the first Mahavakya or Lakshana Mahavakya is indicating ultimate reality as Prajnanam – non-dual knowledge/Consciousness. This is the part that you have assimilated conceptually to a great extent. (Of course, you still have to get clear about your confusion between Isvara and Brahman)
Tat Tvam Asi – You Are Brahman
I have talked about this in detail in my article Tat Tvam Asi – You are Brahman. The knowledge in the first vakya is purely conceptual. It is indicating the nature of the ultimate reality so that one can define the path or the direction that we are supposed to take. In one sweep it has negated the entire phenomenal world, as Vivekachudamani, verse 387 says, “Right from Brahma (God/Creator) to the most insignificant unicellular organisms, all as conditionings are quite unreal. Therefore, One should realize one’s Self/Awareness as the only existent principle.” This prepares the mind of the seeker to go within. It has been explained to the seeker that Brahman is not some objective reality that can be seen, known or experienced. So now, naturally the question arises, how can one get to truth, if it cannot be known, seen or experienced?
With this we come to the second Mahavakya of Advaita which is called the Upadesha Vakya. Upadesha means the spiritual guidance or instruction given by the teacher. This is a very significant turn in the journey of a seeker. While a really sincere seeker could have somewhat assimilated the “Lakshan Vakya” which defines reality as Consciousness or Awareness through mere independent reading of scriptures, he shall still be at a loss to locate it. The inveterate tendency of the mind is to locate it as some object of experience or knowledge. This is because avidya or ignorance is the cause of the mind so it is prior to the emergence of mind. The mind is an offspring of ignorance. Through mind, by the time one has come to know oneself as a Jiva or an “individual knowing subject” in a Jagat – plural world of objects, after getting up from sleep, one is already in the realm created by ignorance. Thus, the conceptual mind, no matter how hard it tries, is going to be like a snake eating its tail. It is only the teacher – “the knower of Brahman” who has ended “avidya” in himself and who is well versed with the traditional teaching methodology of Advaita called Agama (Superimposition followed by Rescission/Cancellation), who can help the seeker understand the non-dual reality. I have written about this methodology here “Method of Upanishads to Convey Ultimate Reality: Brahman”.
After this detour, we can come back to our question, “How can one get to truth, if it cannot be known, seen or experienced?”. The Lakshana Vakya has already conceptually eliminated all objects of knowledge and experience as truth, so there is only one candidate left, “YOU”. “YOU ARE THE TRUTH”. This is startling. I remember when I had the akhandakara vritti, which helped me reach Self-Realization (see article “Self inquiry and insight into one’s true nature/Self in Advaita“), I felt really stupid and foolish. The truth was evident all along….in plain sight. Such is the nature of avidya. Later Advaita scholars used the word Maya for avidya more than perhaps Shankara did to bring out the “magical” nature of illusion. Maya fools you, tricks you like a magician. Of course, all this should not give the reader an illusion that one can simply hear the statement, “You are the Truth” and one shall reach Self Realization. One needs to have a qualified mind/adhikaritva to get Self Realization through mere listening of the statement the first time. If one has the qualifications, one reaches Self Realization instantly by listening to the second Mahavakya. Thus, Advaita is called Shabda Pramana. I have covered this in detail in my article (Shabda Pramana: Enlightenment through Words in Advaita Vedanta: Presenting a Dialogue).
For the majority of us, mere listening to the second Upadesha Mahavakya, does not do the trick. So there are three steps outlined in Jnana Yoga of Advaita – sravana/listening, manana/reflection and dialogue, nidhidhyasana – deep contemplation. If the first step fails you go to the second, if even the second fails you go to the third step, till you reach the final insight Aham Brahmasmi/”I am Awareness”. During the Upadesha phase, where the student is receiving spiritual instructions from the teacher, various scriptures are studied, which continuously hammer home the point, “You are Awareness” through various methods or prakriyas. The primary method is of course – superimposition and rescission – which I have stated. But since our minds are thick with subject-object duality it needs an attack from multiple angles to understand that Truth is not an object, but you are the Truth and have always been the Truth. One such method/prakriya is called the Avastha traya viveka or knowing reality by examination of the three states (waking, dreaming and deep sleep). This technique is actually the kingpin of all prakriyas in Advaita. This is what we find in the Mandukya Upanishad. Hence, in the commentary to Ma. Up. Verse 7. Shankara writes:
“Hence it (Turīya) is “unseen”; and because it is unseen therefore it is “incomprehensible”. Turīya cannot be apprehended by the organs of action. It is “uninferable”, because there is no common characteristic for its inference. Therefore Turīya is “unthinkable” and hence “indescribable” (by words). It is “essentially of the nature of consciousness consisting of Self”. Turīya should be known by spotting that consciousness that never changes in the three states, viz., waking, etc., and whose nature is that of a Unitary Self. “
~ Mandukya Karika Bhashya by Shankaracharya
Or as Anandagiri in his commentary on the same verse mentions:
The states, no doubt, do change but there is a unity of the subject implied in the conscious experience of “I am that perceiver” common to all the three states.”
Basically it is conveying what the second Upadesha Mahavakya is saying. Let us see how. The dreamer, sleeper and waker, are phenomenally so different, that none of them can be you. Yet, you do not have a broken perception about yourself. In your waking state, you still consider that “YOU” were the same who slept and dreamt and who is awake now. This unchanging Witness of all three states is “YOU” and this “YOU” is nothing but Turiya/Brahman/Consciousness/Awareness/Non-Dual Knowledge. You are not the waker, dreamer or sleeper. You are not the body/mind/intellect that appears and dissolves in these states. I have covered all this in detail in my article “Turiya : The Fourth State of Consciousness & End of Suffering”
Now, the interesting thing is that you have issued the “Upadesha Vakya – You are Brahman” in your journal in these words of yours 🙂
“So there is something funny in saying “I know that I am consciousness, but they do not know they are consciousness so it is my duty to help them know they are consciousness” NO they are already CONSCIOUSNESS. They ARE CONSCIOUSNESS.”
Aham Brahmasmi – I am Brahman
But the question is how far did you get to understanding the second Mahavakya. You have written in your journal:
“The person never becomes consciousness. It is not that the person is the consciousness. No I am the consciousness watching the “person i” occur in the universe that is occurring in the consciousness. That I am.”
This is basically the final Anubhava Vakya. You have written this without going through the third vakya or the Abhyasa Vakya.
So in a flash of inspiration, you have touched the final Mahavakya which speaks about the final insight. But your statement is not an insight; and quite far from being steady wisdom. Nonetheless, as I said in the beginning of this article, at your age, it is very commendable that you are even thinking about these matters, let alone understand them.
Ayam Atma Brahma – This Self is Brahman
You have to go through the second Mahavakya, which means that the teacher has to unravel the teachings to you from many angles through different prakriyas/methods. Then, or along with it, comes the third or Abhyasa Mahavakya – the practice part. This part has to do mainly with mañana/reflection/dialogue and nidhidhyasana/deep contemplation. This is a long journey of purification of mind through jnana yoga. The mind of a seeker has got a lot of rajas/dissipative-ness. Mere conceptual understanding reached in flashes is not enough. The mind has to become sattvic/pure and harmonious. When it comes to a sufficiently sattvic state then one sees the reflection of Self in the sattvic intellect during meditation, this is the point when the mind says, “This Self is Brahman” and further becomes ripe for the final insight of the fourth Mahavakya – I am Brahman, which you have written in your journal. This part of the journey is what I cover in the three inquiries in this website and the Facebook Groups – Psycho-Philosophical Inquiry, Meditative Inquiry and Advaitic Inquiry. One can read more about it in “Stages of Self Inquiry” page. This is, in most cases, a very long phase in the journey of a seeker. To your credit, you have captured this journey too in your journal in these words of yours:
“The jiva may be unenlightened but there is no way to make the jiva enlightened unless the machine permutation in that unit, that is, that particular jiva dissolves enough or that the mind shuts down enough and says it is enlightened.”
What one must understand about this phase of the journey which involves meditation is, meditation is an activity involving the meditator and the object of meditation. Thus, it is an action involving a subject-object duality. It being an action, cannot be the means to liberation. The means to liberation is Self Knowledge that comes through like a flash of akhandakara vritti, “I am Brahman”, which I have mentioned earlier in the article. (see article “Self inquiry and insight into one’s true nature/Self in Advaita“) Action always leads to a production of something. But the Self is not a thing. It is not produced. It is ever-existent. So the means to Self is not any action like meditation but Knowledge. You are already Self, you just have to know it. Meditation is only a means to make the mind subtle enough to discriminate between Self and not-Self. In his introduction to Chandogya Upanishad Bhashya, Shankara writes:
“These forms of Meditation and Worship bring about the purity of mind and character and thereby become illuminative of the real nature of things; to this extent, they are helpful in bringing about the Cognition of the One without a second. In as much as they are based upon a substratum, they are also easier of accomplishment. It is for these reasons that the Upanishads first of all sets forth these forms of Meditation and Worship.”
~ Chandogya Upanishad Bhashya, Shankaracharya
 – When it comes to the ultimate means of liberation, God (Īśvara) has but little importance. Śaṅkara’s interest lies more in a cognitive shift. As he puts it, the ‘non-dual realization is a mere mental modification’ (advaita jñānaṃ manovṛtti mātram)
In Part 1 of this article I deal with one part of the journal written by the student of NEEV Advaita Group. I used his journal as a means to show how the journey of a seeker in Advaita moves through stages delineated by the Four Mahavakyas. In the next article I am going to deal with another part of my student’s journal which has to do with the relationship between the Ultimate Reality (Brahman/Consciousness/Awareness) with Mind and God. As one can make out by reading his journal, he has spent a lot of time thinking about the relationship between Consciousness, Mind and God. This by no means is an easy thing to understand.