Sunday, 1 May 2011

Advaita : Newsletter from Srivatsa Ramaswami- May 2011

Warm May Day Greetings!


My annual  200-Hour Vinyasa Krama Yoga Teacher Training
organized by Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California
(LMU Campus) is scheduled to start on June 6th 2011 and run for 6
weeks. You may look at the course description in the following link
Registration is open and here is the link to be used to register for
200-Hour Vinyasa Krama Yoga  Teacher Training

For more details please write to  Johanna.Fontanilla  Yoga Coordinator


This program is registered with Yoga Alliance as a 200 Hr Teacher
Training Program.



Sometime in 2006, I met Lakshmi Ranganathan (one of the first students
of T. K. V. Desikachar) and her daughter Nandini Ranganathan who
showed me a copy of their English translation of my Guru Sri
Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda ( I have  the Tamil translation of
the book for over 45 years and refer to it even today whenever I  want
to just shut up and listen to my Guru, Sri Krishnamacharya).. I
thought the translation was excellent. They gave me a hard copy to
read and said I could share it with anyone who may be interested in
Sri Krishnamacharya's works. In my TT course I have a subject “Sri
Krishnamacharya's works” in which I have included Yoga Makaranda and
this translation was used by the participants of the program who all
loved the book. It was a ten hour program and we went through the
entire text with discussions and demonstrations by the participants. I
understand that this is available as free downloadable file in a few
sites. If you are interested you can find it in the following link.



My teacher Sri Krishnamacharya took considerable pains to teach
the Yoga Sutras to his students. He also wanted his students to study
and be familiar with other orthodox philosophies like Samkhya, and
Vedanta. The several Upanishads, the Gita and Brahma sutra he taught
to explain the rather tricky, involved vedanta philosophy, usually
following the visishta-advaita approach, though he also was adept in
advaita philosophy. He once said in the Brahma Sutra class to the
effect  that while Advaita could be intellectually stimulating it is
visishta advaita that will be emotionally satisfying.

Perhaps the most widely read orthodox Indian Philosophy is Vedanta and
especially the Advaita school. There are tons of material available on
this philosophy and many people interested in vedic thought study this
and gradually become lifelong students of Vedanta. Many long time Hata
Yoga practitioners have  taken up the study of Yoga as a philosophical
system and considerable material is available from both old and
contemporary writers in different languages especially English. And
some among the the yoga practitioners have taken an interest in
studying the vedanta philosophy also especially the advaitic
interpretation. In this however, the published material on Advaita
Vedanta available is so technical and involved that the difficult
subject is made more inaccessible by several portions which are very
technical. Profound and daring, albeit very ancient, this philosophy
stands out among all the vedic philosophies. I thought I could write
very briefly on the basic tenets of this thought process.

There are at least two things we need to have an experience, a subject
and  an object. When you and I sit at a table over a cup of coffee or
a can of beer or a more yogic glass of goat's or cow’s milk, I am the
subject and you are the object and it is the other way from your point
of view. We are two different entities and what does advaita say about
our relationship? Advaita says that there is only one principle , the
observer which is pure consciousness. It implies that there is only
one principle or entity that is pure consciousness that can be termed
as one having “Existance” (satya). Nothing else qualifies to be termed
“It exists“. So the term advaita refers to that one principle that
alone exists. Of course it appears to contradict our experience as we
converse as you and I.

Many Indian philosophies both vedic and non Vedic, endeavor to explain
the absolute beginning (aarambha) of the creation of the universe. The
several puranas have the narration of creation as an essential aspect
of purana. They explain how God created the Universe. There are other
views like those of the Samkhyas and Yogis who say the evolution of
the Universe began with the disequilibrium of the gunas in the
dimensionless  mulaprakriti. They do not see the need for a God to
create the Universe. The vaiseshika philosophy says that the universe
came about by the combination of various atoms of earth,  of water,
etc. and the atoms or paramanus are the basic building blocks of the
Universe. Further all these vedic darsanas are careful to point out
that there is also the individual self that is distinct and different
from the material universe created. Because they suggest two different
principles-- the consciousness and matter-- these philosophies came to
be called dwaita or dualistic. They also differ from the modern
scientific view which says that the universe started by the evolution
from a tiny but hugely dense entity called  singularity, but seems to
imply that individual consciousness is a product of matter and not an
independent entity—contrary to  the vedic philosophies.

Advaita as the name implies indicates that there is only one principle
and none else . That principle is pure non changing(sat)
consciousness(chit) which they call Brahman. How do they explain the
existence of the evolved Universe? Since there is only one principle
which itself does not undergo any change with time (avakasa) or place
(akasa) the evolved universe is not real but only an illusion and not
independent. When we attempt to find out the beginning of the
evolution we go back from the present. The classic examples of the
chicken and the egg or the seed and the tree are mentioned to indicate
the impossibility of finding out the beginning of the evolution. One
school of advaitins says that since the chicken-egg phenomenon
involves an unending chain of changes the beginning of which can not
be determined , so the very exercise of finding out how the universe
started (Aaramba vaada) is futile and all views about  how the
universe began are  wrong. In fact, accordingly, the several theories
about the beginning of the Universe cancel one another. The
impossibility of finding the absolute beginning also could open the
possibility that there is no real beginning and that the evolution of
the universe itself is not real- the world is not rock solid as we
see- and at best it is virtual. They assert that there was no real
creation. Gaudapada in his commentary of Mandukya Upanishad states
“nobody is ever born”

In this context I remember a movie I saw when I was young (I was
hardly sixty at that time). In the mystery movie, the young detective
was trying to find out who murdered “Victim X”. After two years of
painstaking investigations (and two hours of my painful viewing) the
detective is unable to find the killer, only because “Victim X” did
not die in the first place. Our detective started with a wrong
premise. I have been trying like crazy for 72 years to understand how
the world was created, poring over orthodox and contemporary
dissertations on the origin of te Universe and now some Advaitin says
that I can not find it because the world was never really created.

Advaita also asserts that a non-changing pure consciousness can not
produce a 'real' material world nor can a non-conscious prakriti,
paramanus or singularity  produce non-changing consciousness which is
the nature of our true self. So in our dualistic world the advaitin's
view is that only the consciousness is real while the persistent world
is unreal. In this context one may consider the statement of Einstein,
“Reality is merely an illusion albeit is a persistent one”. Reality
here  refers to the universe which we experience as real.
And advaita rubbishes the general perception that the Universe was
really created (sat karya), a universal, taken- for-granted view

The advaitins give several examples to explain the 'virtuality' of the
observed universe. They compare it to the space that we see in a
mirror; though the space that we see in the mirror may be considered
to be within the two dimensional mirror surface, it appears to be
outside (beyond and behind) of it. The other example is that of the
dream experience. In the dream, the space, the objects and the other
beings and even our own dream self can be considered to be taking
place within the dreamer's head but they all appear to be real and
outside, during the dream state . The third example they give is that
of the work of a magician who is able to create an illusion of space
and objects. At a higher level is the world created by Siddha yogis.
There is a story of sage Viswamitra creating an illusory heaven to
accommodate one of his disciples, King Trisanku. And the Lord who
created this virtual ‘universe of illusion’ is the most consummate
magician of all.

The Brahman, the only one existing-- the advaita--, is pictured as
even smaller than an atom (anoraneeyan) but is immensely dense
consciousness (prajnana ghana). Within it, due to the inexplicable
Maya the beginning less universe appears, only appears, to evolve and
exist and persist. Further even though the universe is within the
Brahman, it appears to be outside it. And that is the grand illusion.

There is an interesting episode about Lord Krishna as a toddler.
Krishan was a purna ‘avatar’ or complete incarnation of Para Brahman
or the supreme being. He was raised by his foster parents Yasodha and
Nandan in Gokulam. One day he was playing and his mother saw him
taking some dirt from the floor and putting it in his mouth. Concerned
the mother lifted him and asked him if he put dirt into his mouth.
Without opening his mouth the child  shook his head. The mother now
more concerned asked him to open his mouth. The child opened the mouth
wide and lo and behold! Yasodha saw the entire Universe in his mouth.
She had a bird’s eye view, rather an  eagle’s eye view (or a google
view) of the Universe including her holding the open mouthed divine
child in her arms. She realized that the child was para brahman (the
supreme being). The entire universe was within Him even as He appeared
as a child,  within the vast universe, like all of us. The Lord says
in the Bhagavadgita  “Everything is in Me but I am not in everything”

I, as I know myself, wrapped in this maya (maya=that which really is
not: the trickster), even though I am within the supreme
consciousness, the individual I, as part of the Universe  appear to be
outside of it, engulfing It, the Brahman. And consequently the supreme
consciousness, Brahman, appears to be within this physical me as the
Atman or the individual Self  ,in my heart cave (dahara). Now, though
I am in It , It (Brahman) appears to be within me as my Self or Atman.
The Upanishads tell us the means of finding It, within each one of us.
The pancha maya model is one such vidya or practice by which each one
can find the self within oneself, within the five kosas. It is an
exercise by which one knows the only real principle that exists, the
Brahman, the pure consciousness as one‘s self or Atman. The Self that
resides in my heart lotus (dahara) and the Self that you, sitting
across the coffee table , find in your heart lotus are one and the
same, the same  Brahman. That is advaita. Advaita does not mean all
the varied objects like you and I are one and the same, but the Self
within us are one and the same, even as they appear to be distinct and
different, shrouded by illusion.

There is a considerable amount of source material available on this
advaita pilosophy. The ten major Upanishads are the main source
followed by the Brahma Sutra and the Bhagavat Gita. In the Upanishads
the Vedanta philosophy is presented succinctly through anecdotes,
dissertations and dialogues between parent and offspring, teacher and
pupil, spouse and spouse, God and devotee, saint and sinner and friend
and friend. The advaitic interpretation is chiefly presented by Sri
Sankara through detailed commentaries on these major Upanishads,
Bhagavat Gita and also the Brahma Sutras. Sankara and some of his
pupils have also written several easily accessible texts on advaita
called prakrana granthas, like Atma bodha, Vivekachudamani and others.
Many of his works with some translations are available online. The
Upanishads themselves explain the philosophy in detail from several
viewpoints answering multitude of questions that may arise in the
followers’ mind. Several vidyas or dissertations help to have a clear
understanding of this old, unusual philosophy. They also contain some
very pithy statements which are used as mantras or memory aids and are
tellingly direct. Aham Brahmasmi (I am Brahman), Pragnyanam Brahma
( Absolute consciousness in Brahman), tat tvam asi (You are That, the
Brahman) ayam atma brahma (this individual Self is Brahman) are the
most famous. Further there are other equally powerful statements like
Brahma satyam, Jagan mitya (Brahman is real/ existence, the Universe
is myth --mythya--illusion). Jiva brahmaiva na aparah (The individual
Self is definitely Brahman and none other).

What is the benefit of this kind of inquiry, especially to the
majority of us who muddle  through life rising with the tide and
rolling with the punches? The advaitins say that knowing the truth
about ourselves and the Universe is essential and they aver that this
is the truth. Truth should be known whether it is sweet, bitter or
insipid. Once we know the truth about ourselves and the universe
around us our interaction with the outside world  could drastically
change. The Yogis say that the external world ,predominantly, is a
constant source of threefold sorrow (duhkha). So say the Samkhyas. But
the advaitin goes a step further and says that to a discerning mind
the external world is not only a source of duhkha (barring individual
variations, look at the enormity of the threefold collective duhkha in
the world–self created, caused by other beings and by nature's fury)
but is itself an illusion. How much importance do I give to the dream
experience during dream time and then when I wake up? One tends to
shrug off the dream experience as 'just a dream' on waking up.
Likewise when my mind after study, contemplation and determination
finds that the world after all is virtual like a dream, I may not take
my transient worldly life with so much anxiety, expectation and
remorse as I seem to be doing all my life. An enormous amount of
psychological burden that I unnecessarily carry may be taken off my
mind then, and make me peaceful, hopefully. Furthermore, the thought
or realization that I am the non-changing majestic reality, the one
and only eternal Brahman, is just cool!!


Advaita Pranayama

While slowly inhaling meditate that the  virtual external world is
being withdrawn into the source, the Brahman in one’s heart. Next
during the breath holding (antah Kambhatka) meditate on the fact that
the Universe is within the Brahman and has no independent real
existence. Then while doing the exhalation meditate that the
illusionary universe is being renounced. And in Bahya  Kambhaka the
meditation is on the pure Brahman that alone exists as advaita.--
based  on Sankara’s work and Tejobindu Upanishad

A Sanskrit prayer

Death without distress
Life without dependence
Grant me, Oh! compassionate Lord Sambhu (Siva)
In Thee are established  all.


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earlier letters by visiting my website and
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Thank you very much and with best wishes

Srivatsa Ramaswami

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