Understanding Philosophies – Part 14 and Advaita philosophy - Part 4, concluding part.

Māyā is not different from Brahman. The Power of Brahman is māyā. If Śiva is Brahman, then His power Śakti is Māyā. It is not Her only Power, but one among Her many Powers.  Brahman and His Power are inseparable (Śiva and Śakti). When Brahman is omnipresent, māyā will also be omnipresent. If one transcends māyā, then it means that he has passed out the first test of Brahman. Once māyā is transcended, Brahman is revealed. Māyā is a sheath around Brahman, concealing His true identity. Understanding māyā is essential to transcend it. Unless one is thorough in his subject, he cannot get a university degree. Same principle applies to māyā. It conceals Brahman by exploiting one’s sensory organs and mind (It is Her test). Mind can be afflicted only through sensory organs. Mind can be seasoned through intellect. Mind is associated with worldly knowledge and intellect (contextually, intelligence is different from intellect; the latter has significant role in spirituality). When the mind is in lower realms, it gets engrossed in various thought processes. If the mind has to reach the higher realms, it has to be guided by intellect (buddhi). Intellect has the capacity to discriminate between the reality and unreality. But mind will look at everything as reality. This is due to the effect of māyā. Mind has the capacity to get addicted and intellect does not get addicted. Intellect always evaluates. Mind and intellect are known as lower mind and higher mind. Lower mind or the normal mind is influenced not only by sensory organs, but also by non-essential ego.

In order to realize the Self, one has to transcend māyā. The effect māyā is only to the extent of concealing Brahman. Māyā does not cause any harm. As long as one is associated with māyā, he will continue to live in the material world, which is full of deception and wrongful projection. Māyā has twin power; one is to conceal the reality and the other is to project the concealed reality as something different. The often cited example is the mistaken identity of a rope for a snake. It conceals the true nature of the rope and wrongfully projects it as snake. True nature of Brahman is concealed and projected as the material world. Since the material world is so attractive to our sense organs, we are happy to be associated with the material world. The resultant factor of our association with the material world is bondage, desire, attachment, etc, which are too powerful to resist. When we think about spirituality, the first thing that comes to our mind is our concern for material life. Only through material life, we have to make our living. Unless we work, we cannot live a descent life. No one would like to compromise on the standards of living. Material life is not an impediment to spiritual life, but on the contrary,  supports spiritual life.  One need not be a yogi to pursue the spiritual path. But by pursuing spiritual path one will become a yogi. In the first place, let us rule out that material life is against spiritual life and both can coexist comfortably, complementing each other. Without shelter and food, it is impossible to exist. Scriptures only say that one should not get involved with the material world, beyond a point (let us call this as point X). If one opts for promotion in his job, it is only a reward for his or her hard work. It is not a desire. Realisation or liberation does not mean that one should not live a comfortable life with ambitions. At the same time, he or she should ensure that point X is neither crossed nor aspired. Crossing point X alone is an impediment to spiritual life and not otherwise. This means that one can continue to live a normal life to make his living to sustain his family.

During normal or worldly life, we use our intuitive mind and intelligence to perform, as the basic principle of living is based on Darwin’s theory “survival of the fittest.” Unless we are competitive, survival will be in jeopardy. Kṛṣṇa calls material life as karma yoga and spiritual life as jñāna yoga. In fact Kṛṣṇa talks more about karma yoga; but at the same time He says that results of all actions are to be surrendered to Him. Here he subtly says, ‘get rid of non-essential ego’. He says that consequent credit or discredit should not be that of the performer, but should be surrendered to Him. This means that one should perform an action only with essential ego and not with non-essential ego. Essential ego is for survival and non-essential ego (pride) is for self-destruction, which will happen over a period of time.  A perfect life should be the right combination of material life and spiritual life. Evolution applies to both the types of lives. In material life, one cannot become CEO at the time of joining a company. He gets elevated over a period of time to the top post, provided, he is sincere in is work with all-round knowledge. The same principle applies to spiritual life as well. Depending upon the sincerity of an aspirant, he or she is also rewarded in spiritual life though spiritual promotions.

As discussed earlier, spiritual life has to co-exist with material life. Spiritual life cannot be commenced with meditation.  This will not produce any result and if one feels the result, it will be only deceptive in nature. There is also evolution in spiritual life and at the end of fully evolved spiritual life, Brahman is realized. The basic question is how do we begin our spiritual life? Spiritual life will have to be steady and firm. Spiritual life can be divided into two categories – ritualistic spiritual life and non-ritualistic spiritual life. Ritualistic spiritual life can be called as religious life. Wherever possible, one can perform daily rituals like pūja-s, etc. Any type of pūja is dualistic in nature. But unless one understands what dualistic worship is, he cannot move on to non-dualism. When Brahman is omnipresent, how can anyone confine His glory in an idol? It is like going to university without schooling. One, without schooling, cannot go to a university. Assuming that one goes to university without schooling, he will not understand anything that is taught in the university. Same is the principle with spiritual life. Spiritual progression has to be steady and firm, with a strong foundation. In case pūja is not possible, he can begin his spiritual journey by singing His or Her prize through verses and hymns. Either of these two steps or both these steps are very important in laying a strong foundation for spiritual life.  By doing so, one basically understands the concept of Brahman. During this stage, one comes to a conclusion, that there is a superior power beyond normal human perception. Hymns dwell mainly on the Glory of Brahman, such as His omnipresence and omnipotence. For example, let us take Lalitā Sahasranāma, Saundaryalaharī, etc. They depict Her as the highest reality. Epics like Bhagavad Gītā explain the path to Self-realization.  In the initial stages, one merely reads or sings these hymns, without understanding the meaning. In a perfect spiritual path, one will have desire to understand their meanings. Here begins his quest for spiritual knowledge. When hymns are sung or read with great sincerity, the quest for knowledge will be automatic. At this point, the aspirant first makes significant moves to find out a guru and get a mantra initiated. He thinks at this point, that by getting initiated into mantras, he can attain liberation.  One has to be extremely cautious in choosing a guru (not Guru at this point of time).  A guru is a person, who has complete knowledge about rituals, without making mistakes either in the procedure or in recitation of mantras. He should be able to explain why such and such rituals are performed. We have to remember, that the aspirant at this point continues to remain in duality. For him, Brahman and he are two different entities. These ritualistic worships make him attached to the deity and generally, such deity is one of the gross forms of Parāśakti. He begins to call Her as Mā, Mother, etc. Now he or she becomes eligible to get initiated into a mantra like Bālā and later on to Pañcadaśī and finally Ṣoḍaśī. But how many of us are blessed to have a right guru, who can initiate a mantra in a right way? Proper way of mantra initiation is to place the mantra that is to be initiated into the body of the disciple. A guru makes his consciousness enter into the navel chakra of the aspirant and he plants the mantra as a seed in the maṇipūraka chakra. It is up to the aspirant to make this mantra sprout and gain potency over a period of time. However, this is followed by verbal initiation of the mantra.

First, the aspirant starts counting the number of repetitions. The he stops counting and mentally recites the mantra. The aspirant undergoes various transformations at different stages. When the mantras begin to work on his body subtly, his mind begins to transform. He begins to explore Brahman. During his introspection, he gets too many doubts. He seeks to get answers for his doubts and begins to study certain Scriptures and while studying Scriptures, many of his doubts are cleared. Generally Upaniṣad-s and Bhagavad Gītā are the best sacred Scriptures to study. In the process of studying, though many of his doubts are cleared, there will be certain issues that he is not able to understand by merely studying Scriptures. These doubts, however trivial they may be, will become the stumbling blocks for his further spiritual advancement. Now he is in need of a Guru. This Guru is a Self-realized person and only imparts knowledge about Brahman and the ways and means to attain liberation. This Guru does not speak about mantras and rituals. Mantras are needed only till the state of attaining bliss. Mantra siddhi means reaching the state of bliss. No mantra is going to give superhuman powers. But realizing Brahman will give superhuman powers. But at that time, the aspirant does not want these powers. He knows that such siddhis will drag him down. Role of a Guru is very significant in attaining liberation. This Guru knows Brahman and it will not be difficult for him to elucidate Brahman. He will ask the aspirant to search for Brahman within. He will talk about Śiva and His Power Śakti and nothing less than that. He teaches only the highest reality. He will give importance to mind and ego and how they work on the aspirant to get associated with māyā. If one listens to his teachings with rapt attention, he is sure to realize Brahman. His realization will first manifest in the form of Bliss (there is difference between Bliss and bliss, though both mean the same). It is Śakti, who expresses Her happiness and approval and manifests in the form of Bliss (this is the superior form of Bliss). The aspirant becomes emotional. Not only his Guru knows the state of this disciple, but also the aspirant himself begins to know his actual spiritual state. When someone stops inquiring his own spiritual condition, it means that realization is not far away. If one is eager to know his spiritual condition, it means that he does not have faith in the Self or in the path he pursues. When the path pursued is perfect, realization is surely on the cards. Faith plays a significant role in spiritual path.

Leaving rituals is much easier job. When one leaves rituals, he concentrates on mantra japa. It is important that one should recite only one mantra, surely not two or more. Why should one needs more than one mantra to attain liberation. Is there two Brahmans? It is our inherent ignorance that makes us to seek more and more mantras. An ordinary guru will be too happy to initiate too many mantras, as he is adequately rewarded. Mantra is not a commodity for trading. Mantra is the power of various syllables that works subtly within in the aspirant, provided it is initiated and practiced properly, as discussed above. When one is seeking appointment with the chief of a company (Brahman), there is no need for him to meet lower levels in hierarchy (other gods). One can attain liberation even with Bālā mantra. Upaniṣad-s say that recitation of OM is the best mantra for realization. Liberation is not in mantras but in one’s willpower to attain liberation. It is the human mind that is primarily responsible for realization. Quitting mantra is a difficult job. There is no need to quit the recitation of mantras. When the aspirant is on the right path, mantra japas will stop on its own. Mantra is like a ladder. It aids an aspirant to reach the highest possible spiritual level.  If an aspirant stops recitation of mantra, it a right sign.  This is the stage where he can contemplate Brahman effectively. Contemplation has to be in stages. First, one has to contemplate a form. The best practice is to follow dhyāna verse associated with the mantra. Too many mantras mean contemplation on too many forms, which result only in ineffectuality. Contemplation without a form is difficult in the initial stages of meditation. If contemplation is perfect in all respects, the image of the deity will appear during contemplation. In other words, the image of the deity no more remains as an image, but it becomes a reality. This does not mean that the deity will appear in flesh and blood. This is too difficult a stage for the aspirant at this point of time. When eyes are closed lightly and breathing becomes very slow, one can be sure of life image of the deity concerned during his meditation. The aspirant continues to rejoice the vision of the deity. The deity while manifesting in his vision, also brings bliss. When the bliss is too intent, the aspirant slips into samādhi (trance). His association with the deity becomes more powerful. During this stage, siddhis are conferred on the aspirant. If the aspirant uses these siddhis, liberation will be postponed. However, these siddhis are very rare to get.

Contemplation is a process by which sensory organs are closed and the mind is purified. The mind automatically gets disconnected from sensory organs during a perfect contemplation. In order to attain this stage, slow breathing alone helps. Breathing always reflects one’s mental state. In order to refrain the mind from getting attached to sensory inputs, which is its inherent nature, a form is contemplated. But over a period of time, mind becomes seasoned and purged of all impurities such as thoughts, desires, attachment, etc. Mind now becomes pure. The vision of the deity now begins to fade away leading to the vision of the Light. This is the Self within, in its true form. The Light begins to glow in its power constantly till a point of time. The aspirant now becomes a realized person. He continues to exist till his karmas are exhausted. This is the stage of jīvanmukta. Once all his karmas are exhausted, he becomes one with that Light, known as Brahman. When Brahman is realized thus, he looks at the entire world as Brahman. He truly realizes the omnipresence of Brahman. When he is dead, he is not reborn.

With this, Advaita philosophy is concluded. Only practical aspects have been discussed. Theoretical part can be read under the title VEDANTA (in 37 parts).