Understanding Philosophies – Part 12 and Advaita philosophy - Part 3.
“Understanding the Soul”, as a statement is extremely simple, but, in practice, it faces a lot of impediments. Though the process of realizing the Self is the easiest process that one can think of, we make the process complicated due to inadequate or imperfect spiritual knowledge. If one begins to pursue the spiritual path, a song, a hymn, recitation of His names, etc could trigger emotional outbursts in the forms of tears, bliss and even unannounced trance. Spiritual path is totally different from religious pursuits. In the case of spiritual path, there are only two entities involved; the pursuer and the Pursued. There is nothing more than these two, including time, space, place, flowers, lamps, incense, offerings, etc. Spiritual pursuit happens only through the mind and nothing else is involved. While pursuing spiritual path, all the sensory organs have to be shut, so that the inputs from them do not reach the mind, as only in the mind, process of realization begins. Though it may appear to be difficult, yet it is entirely possible and perfection can be achieved only through regular practice. In the initial stages one should try to focus within. The first stage of practice is to cut off sensory inputs to the mind. Only if one attains perfection here, he can advance effectively. Otherwise, meditation will not serve any purpose. Only through proper meditation, one can understand the essence of Advaita philosophy “Brahman is universe and universe is Brahman”. But meditation is made as complicated word today. It is nothing but one’s ability to focus his awareness. Later in this series, awareness, which is also known as consciousness will be discussed. But it is useful to know, that Brahman is Pure Consciousness.
Advaita says that Brahman prevails everywhere and all that exists in the world is Brahman. This statement is to be pondered over repeatedly and in the process there are two hurdles that will come up as impediments. The first hurdle that we come across is bunch of fundamental doubts. Without clearing these fundaments doubts, one cannot proceed further. Mere meditation will not serve any useful purpose in realization. The most important teaching of Advaita is omnipresence of Brahman. This means that we see Him daily all over, in various shapes and forms. Are we following this basic concept of Advaita? No, surely not. We only look at the shapes and forms, and not at the seed of these bodies. The seed of all these bodies is Brahman. Different bodies such as causal, subtle and gross bodies are built around this seed known as the Self. The seed and Self are always the same. The Self does not vary according to shapes and forms. The Self does not have any attributes. But what makes us to view His manifestation in different forms, as different from our own selves? This is ignorance or illusion known as māyā. Māyā is also Brahman; it is one of His creative powers and part of His omnipresence. Like Him, māyā also prevails everywhere. This cannot be separated from our life and will continue to play a vital role, like His power. It is part of His power. His power cannot be separated from Him, hence māyā is also omnipresent. Māyā is His play and is an integral part of His creation and sustenance. It is the tool used by Him to assess the worth of individuals. It is His test on us for evaluating us. We have to pass this test and this is the first phase in spirituality. This is obviously the first hurdle in realizing Him. Not everyone gets doctorates and masters. Such qualifications depend upon one’s capability and perseverance. The same concept applies to realization. One may ask that when He is only a witness to all our actions, how He can evaluate us? The answer is that, He only evaluates us and does not make us to do this act or that act. He does not have likes and dislikes.
Māyā has to be transcended in two stages. First stage is to understand our own selves and the second stage is to understand the world in which we live. Universe is too big a term to mention here. When we understand us perfectly, reaching the second stage is not difficult, because it is only multiplication of our self with infinity. Brahman is the cause for our existence and He is within and without Him inside, we know that we will die. Therefore, we know that there is a force within us that makes our living possible. Our body is like a balloon. If the body is a balloon, then the air inside the balloon is Brahman. The cause for the existence of the balloon in an expanded form is the air within. In the same way, Brahman is the cause for our existence. If He moves out of our body, we cease to exist; we die. Our basic misapprehension is, considering our gross body as supreme or primary. In other words, we attach more importance to the effect (body) rather than the cause (Brahman). This does not mean that one should not attach importance to his body. Body is like a temple where He is seated. Body is to be kept clean, as it is holding Him within. When we visit a temple, what do we do? We go to the sanctum sanctorum to see the idol and in the process we do not attach importance to the surroundings of the temple. At the same time, when the surroundings of the temple are not tidy, we notice the untidiness and frown. The difference between the Soul within and the gross body is the difference between the presiding deity of the temple and its surroundings. Only to this extent, body is to be given importance.
Once we understand the supremacy of the Soul within, we have passed our first of several tests in spirituality. But how do we know that we have passed out in this first test? We need to have some proof or evidence. This proof happens in our mind set. The first sign of evidence is not invoking Him outside our body. When He is omnipresent, where is the question of invoking Him in a particular place? He is already present there, like everywhere. It is only our ignorance that makes us to invoke Him in a ritual. A god’s photo is hanging on a wall. Many would not like to sleep by keeping their feet opposite to the photo. When God is within as well as everywhere, what is the logic in not keeping feet opposite to the photo? When He is omnipresent, why should we go to temples, wait in queue for hours? When we believe in Him, why should we go after astrology and waste time and money in performing remedies? Two things are deterrent factors here. One is the lack of faith in His omnipresence and another is our spiritual ignorance. Faith is the single most essential feature in spirituality, as spirituality is a subject that deals only with imperceptible. Temples, rituals, remedies are only the stepping stones in spirituality and they cannot offer liberation. If the aim of life is only liberation, then we have to realize Him. He is smaller than the smallest and hence He is to be only realized and cannot be seen. He is also bigger than the biggest in the forms of mountains, oceans, forests, etc. What is the proof of His omnipresence? The very existence of the world with mountains, etc is the proof of His omnipresence. Is it possible to humanly dig an ocean or build a mountain? These are the reflections of His indefinable Glory, beyond human intervention. The intricacy and complexity with which a human body is formed – cells, nerves, muscles, beating of heart, expansion and contraction of lungs, brain, etc; can we ever think of operating these organs at our own will? This is what is known as Divine, which is totally inexplicable and hence faith is one of the important aspects of spiritual path.
In order to have His Grace, we have to only realize Him. He cannot be seen in the form of photos or idols. He does not have a form. One can understand this reality, only if one advances in spiritual path. Understanding and knowing Him is the first step. Realizing Him within is the next step. Realizing His omnipresence and Glory is the third step. Without three steps, logical conclusion to the spiritual path is not achievable. This is the message conveyed through Upaniṣad-s. No amount of meditation will give this kind of true knowledge. Meditation is not meant for beginners of spiritual pursuit. Here comes the difference between a Guru and a guru. Guru is the one, who only teaches spiritual path. On the contrary, a guru is the one who initiates one into ritualistic path. Without the help of a guru, Guru cannot be attained. Guru is a Self-realized person and a guru is the one who has attained perfection in rituals and is not a realized person. There is difference between a university professor and a school teacher. By bypassing a high school teacher, one cannot directly go to a university professor. The professor will not accept him as his student, as he is not fit enough to be trained by him, since he lacks basic knowledge. Rituals are necessary only till the first step into the spiritual path. They are only stepping stones. Without stepping stones, one cannot move forward. If one begins to pursue the spiritual path, one has to have immense faith in the path he pursues. An unconvincing mind will be a huge deterrent factor in spiritual progression. Brahman can be realized only in the mind, which is His gift to mankind. With the help of the mind alone, one can transcend māyā. If māyā is transcended, mind gets convinced about His omnipresence. A pure mind does not ask for evidence and proof and without much difficulty, experience with proximity turns into experience with Ultimate or Absolute.
Therefore, to enter into the spiritual path, one has to think about what is discussed above. This is called inner exploration. This is the first step. During the period of inner exploration, one is bound to have innumerable doubts. For example, one may think that he will be punished by God, if he does not perform a prescribed ritual. God will never punish anyone, provided one reposes absolute faith in Him. Brahman is the embodiment of compassion and love. In a wavering and oscillating mind, He cannot be realized, though He is present in all sorts of minds, as He is omnipresent. The initial doubts are to be clarified before proceeding further in the spiritual path. Unless one is sure of His presence within his own self, he cannot realize His omnipresence and unless His omnipresence is fully realized, He cannot be realized and as long as He is not realized, there is no cessation from transmigration. Births and deaths and even living are always painful. When an alternate is available, why not use this alternative to alleviate the pains of transmigration?
In the subsequent parts of this series, realizing His omnipresence will be discussed along with the impediments to this realization like karmas, ego, etc.
Theoretical aspect of Advailta philosophy can be read here à VEDANTA