[Advaita-l] terminology clarity and some, imho.

Sethu Sethuraman facestudio at hotmail.com
Thu Aug 19 14:01:03 CDT 2004

Recently I forwarded a couple of emails (the first from Sri Balaji
Krishnapuram and a response from Sri Srikrishna Ghadyaram) from our group to
my father in Chennai and he has mailed me (he does not do the computer
email) an interesting response that I append below.

Pleasanton, CA.

Like the objective of Advaita Vedanta itself, the queries raised in your
note have a number of ways of being answered. My first impression, if the
group pardon me for saying this, is that there is a lack of terminological
clarity. Bear with me for beginning with some definitions first.

The literal meaning of the word Brahman is " a very large entity"- how large
it is cannot even be conceived. The idea is that it is all-pervasive. Being
so there cannot be any second to it. By the same reason it is ever present.

Why a human being infinitesimally small in all his attributes cannot see or
realize it is the next question to be addressed. In every living being there
is a jeevatma, which is a replica of the paramatma (let the seers permit me
for using such a language). It is the jeevatma ((being one small spark of
the Brahman - again a gross violation - that makes our being function in all
our faculties. The five senses referred to as jnanendriyas and the mind help
us cognizing every thing both in the external world and in the mind.
Philosophy textbooks give a number of examples of the faculties functioning
without resulting in cognition. This is because the Antaryami (i.e.
jeevatma) does not act. It is well known that cognition results only when
one or more sense organs cooperate with the mind guided by the jeevatma. The
subject - i.e. the human being has cognition of all objects by this
interaction of the faculties. Now when you make an attempt to make one or
the other of the six faculties which can only cognize one object or its
attribute to help you see the jeevatma, they will be definitely be
inadequate for the task. Philosophically it is impossible to make the
"subject" become the "object".

Further, all cognitions - meaning, seeing, hearing, smelling etc cannot
occur at the same time or simultaneously. The Brahman experience is one such
it is totally pleasing all the sense organs and the mind at once. That is
why such an experience cannot be described. This is referred as "Bliss"- the
third attribute of the attributeless. You cannot describe this in words like
the sweetness in sugar - analogy cited.

The ultimate object of life is to attain unalloyed happiness. For a human to
be motivated to work or move towards this end, he must have some idea of
what it will be like. In an average human being's experience the only thing
that gives pleasure to all the six faculties at once is an orgasm. However
it has two short comings- (1) it is extremely short lived (2) what follows
is an extreme feeling of "incompleteness". If these two are neutralized then
there will be bliss. This is the aim of some cults. Tamil philosophers
therefore refer sex as "Chittrinbam" as compared to absolute bliss, which is
referred to, as "Perinbum." There could be no easier example for this.

Now the Brahman is referred to as attributeless - still it is referred to as
Satchidanandam - with the attributes Sat, Chit and Anandam. Sat means that
which exists. Asat means Abhava or non-existence. Obviously we refer to the
Brahman, which is non-existent. Chit is Consciousness or the Jnanam. This
attribute is rather difficult to understand. What do you mean by Gnanam? It
is knowing that - the act or knowledge - the content? Knowing requires the
object to be known and the knowledge refers to the collection all cognitive
experiences. So Brahman has both these that are referred to as Gnanam.
Kashmir school holds the view that this Gnanam or Knowledge is Pratyabimba
or re- cognition (recognition!!). The idea is that all beings before
creation were the Brahman itself and so have the experience of the bliss.
Once born into this world the limitless becomes limited and hence forgets
the bliss. The efforts to attain Gnanam are only to regain what was lost.
That is why even an ordinary man when he enjoys or tastes something very
pleasant even unconsciously and spontaneously calls it Brahmananda.

Coming to question on Meditation, this is a process for knowing who I am. In
other words it is a vedantic process or bhakti process leading to Gnanam.
The word Bhakthi coming from the verbal root "bhaj" calls for an object.
This destroys the Advaita concept that there is only one Brahman. The major
limitation of human mind is that it cannot conceive anything in the absolute
sense. It is this that forces every person to look for some form. Some rare
persons are those that can meditate on Nirguna form of Brahman but it is an
extremely difficult process. Shankara, a rigorous advaitin, says in his
Vivekachudamani that among the things needed to attain realization, Bhakti
is the most important. Having said this he goes on to define Bhakti in the
following terms "contemplating on the form your inner self is Bhakti". In
the next sloka he adds " contemplating in the principle of your inner self
is Bhakti according to certain others ". The first refers to the form of the
formless and the second to the attribute of the attributeless. The words
used are: swarupa Form and Thatra Principle. - Both of the inner self. Apart
from appearing to be impractical, there is also a doubt - are these two
thoughts very different - i.e. Swarupa and Thatra. The original clearly
mentions two views - however no explanation available clarifying the
difference and identifying the two different schools.

The scholars I consulted say that both the views are one and the same. This
meditation on the nirguna form is as mentioned earlier, easier said than
done. Hence we accept the saguna upasana or meditating on the Brahman with a
form. The result of this thinking is often referred to as the Shanmathas -
strangely the authorship for this also is Shankara. Even in this method the
earlier practices of shanmatha recommended vague forms for worship: like a
red stone for Ganapathi, a crystal star for Surya, a Saligramam for Vishnu,
a lingam for Shiva, a sri chakra or meru for Shakthi. Then devotees keep on
adding a lot of external things like vastra, jewels, sandal paste, kunkum
etc. The last is vesying with forms of worship - the female form, male form
a super-human elephant face form etc. It is obvious that all these are
surrogates. However these forms certainly give something tangible for the
human mind to hold on to. The final object is towards the formless from the
forms meditated upon. It is believed that moving to the formless helps you
identify YOURSELF as the object meditated upon.

Interestingly, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa mentions and in-between stage. That
while meditating or contemplating upon one's favorite, continue in your
empirical activities in the world. He gives an analogy of a child holding
the supporting pillar of a building and revolving round and round the
pillar: at the same time the child keeps on singing and playing with others
all the time with an eye on its hand holding the pillar for support.

The Bhagawatpada in his Shivanadalahari gives another definition of Bhakti.
While concentrating on the form of Brahman worship, the mind should be so
strongly attached to the form, that tearing the mind away from it should
cause pain to the mind. For this he gives a few examples, principal among
which is that of a Pativrata whose mind shall not brook a minute's
separation from the thoughts about her husband! An anecdote is about
Parvathi and Shiva - on one occasion Shiva disappeared from Her presence and
Devi at once melted away like water. That water became Saravana Poigai,
which became the birthplace of Subramania.

One more simple way of understanding Bhakti is stating that it reduces the
adult mind to that of a child. Like a child playing with a Barbie doll with
its entire wardrobe and other paraphernalia.

On rereading what I have written, I myself feel that this appears to be a
bundle of random thoughts and statements. I am sorry that this has become

Hope the group will find the views expressed intelligible and rational.

Let me end with a quibbling on "Concentration":

God/Brahman can be conceived as a very large circle with a number of centers
one for every individual being in it. Man too can be conceived of as a very
small circle with a center. The effort to attain liberation is to make two
large groups of circle concentric. This can, therefore, be achieved by

Best wishes to all of you.

Ganapathi Subramanian

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