He who has learned to see the one Existence everywhere
He is my master—be he Brahmin or Chandala [a]
This article will not in fact be about Hinduism the religion or the history or evolution of India’s dominant religion but an opportunity to reveal the essence of Simple Reality in the context of the Advaita Vedanta Upanishads, that is, the Vedanta or Hindu mysticism. It is only the religious mystics who understand transcendence and the Absolute or Oneness.
“Advaita, or nonduality, is the core unitive experience of the Hindu tradition. Advaita means coming to realize that you are God, the Brahman, with whom you are so intimately united. Satchitananda is the boundless bliss (ananda) of realizing total and unlimited awareness (chit) of being infinite existence itself (sat). Through a rigorous meditation practice, one’s consciousness is made more subtle as well, and undergoes a radical change that allows it to become sensitive to the divine vibration [feeling]. When that happens, human and divine consciousness merge—or rather, we become intensely engaged in the Brahman’s awareness of itself—so intimately that our human identity [false self] is overtaken by the divine reality [True self].”[i]
“The foundation of the Hindu religion is found in the Upanishads which Schopenhauer praised for their ‘deep, original, and sublime thoughts.’”[ii]
“Emerson and Thoreau, for example, were explicit in their admiration for the Hindu classics, namely the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. The ‘oversoul’ of the Transcendalists is a rephrasing of the Upanishadic doctrine of the impersonal absolute, Brahman.”[iii]
“From the early great Upanishads, the recognition ATMAN=BRAHMAN (the personal self equals the omnipotent, all-comprehending eternal self) [the I AM THAT that Nisargadatta speaks of] was in Indian thought considered, far from being blasphemous, to represent the quintessence of the deepest insight into the happenings of the world.”[iv] This is the Great Insight that leads to the shift from P-B to P-A.
“Vedanta refers to the philosophical school of nondualism. But in a larger view, Vedanta means the religion based on the Vedas, the revealed scriptures of India. In another sense, Vedanta is a philosophy founded on a set of mystical truths that are in complete agreement with the fundamental teachings of all the great religions.”[v]
In terms of our identity “Vedanta says, the most important goal of the spiritual aspirant is to cease identifying himself with the body, mind and senses and recognize his true nature which is divine.”[vi]
“Vedanta has the figurative meaning of goal or purpose; for literally it means ‘the end of the Vedas’ or the highest goal of wisdom, which is the realization of one’s identity with Brahman or God.”[vii]
In man himself lies the supreme unity, and it is there he must
begin—and end—his search. This is the message of Vedanta.[viii]
Vedanta has long championed the transcendence involved in a worldview shift from P-B to P-A and an identity shift from the false self to the True self. After that happens, what is left of what the world would consider the personal self is a shadow of the former persona, but it has no desires, wishes, or needs. It has no desire to control events, circumstances or people. It lacks nothing within itself; therefore, it does not seek plenty, pleasure or power because all is complete at every moment. There is not even a desire to avoid death. There is nothing one needs or wants to experience.
Hans Torwesten sees Vedanta as the heart of Hinduism and “however individually different the paths may be in emphasis and detail—whether they focus more on knowledge of the truth [Jnana yoga] or on loving surrender to a personal God [Bhakti yoga], on meditative mastery over discursive thought [Raja yoga], or on selfless action [Karma yoga]—they all have the same aim: the dissolution of the ego and intimate communion, or even union, with the divine.”[ix]
“The word Vedanta itself points to its essential nature. Outwardly, Veda-anta only means ‘end of the Vedas,’ a purely factual reference to the final scriptures in the Vedic literature, namely the Upanishads. But just as in the eyes of the Christian the New Testament does not merely outwardly conclude the literature of the Bible but also inwardly ‘fulfills’ and transcends all that preceded it, so here too anta means not only ‘end’ but also ‘culmination’ and ‘going beyond’—not only with respect to the Vedic scriptures but with respect to all that we are capable of knowing. For veda means knowledge and Vedanta is thus what transcends all (relative) knowledge.”[x]
In this sense Vedanta is above all a spiritual outlook, an attitude of mind, and not so much a closed religion with well-defined doctrines. There is no ceremony by which one ‘joins’ Vedanta. It is true that adherents of Vedanta tend to share certain convictions. Most, for example, believe in reincarnation and the Law of Karma [cause and effect]; devote themselves to meditation; believe in the innately divine nature of man, the Atman, and in a transcendental, supra-personal ‘ground’ behind Creation—the latter considered by most as mere maya (illusion). Yet nearly all these components also serve as early pointers on the way, inviting us to keep on going; reminding us that ‘a bridge is for crossing, not for building a house on,’ as the Persian saying (sometimes attributed to Jesus) goes.”[xi]
“It is because of human instability that Vedanta, in practice, became bound up with the yoga system—more specifically with the classical raja-yoga of Patanjali—which teaches a gradual release from the fetters, or strands, of prakriti through increasing degrees of detachment. Mental exercises, such as the withdrawal of the senses (pratyahara), concentration (dharana), meditation (dyana), and their culmination in the final state of absorption (samadhi) are already mentioned in many of the Upanishads, in the Gita, and, of course, in the later Advaita Vedanta texts.”
“A typical raja-yogi, for instance, relies primarily on systematic exercises—he literally ‘works’ for his own benefit—for him everything is an experiment the final ‘result’ of which is samadhi. The Vedantic jnani, on the other hand—no matter how many yoga exercises he may adopt—never loses sight of the truth that the real heart of liberation consists in the knowledge that he already is, and has always been, Brahman, that is, that there is in effect nothing really to do. Vedantic ‘exercise’ centers on remembering our everlasting Atman nature. The Vedanta teacher merely whispers the truth into the disciple’s ear: ‘Tat tvam asi’ (That thou art). Looked at from this perspective, Vedanta has actually more in common with Zen than with classical yoga, where the emphasis is on step-by-step advancement.”[xii]
Advaita (non-dualism) Vedanta is closely associated with Shankara, the eighth century philosopher. Not surprisingly, we will see that Simple Reality and the teachings of the Hindu mystics are based on the same principles. “Separated by intervals of a thousand years, like three tremendous mountain peaks, Buddha (563-483 B.C.), Shankara (686-718?), and Ramakrishna (1834-1886) dominate the range of India’s religious history.”[xiii]
“Shankara is said by some to be the greatest of Indian philosophers because of his commentaries on the Vedanta, that system of philosophy which gives logical structure and support to the essential doctrine of the Upanishads. (The Upanishads are part of a mystical wisdom literature, not a scriptural prophesy.) Among his most profound insights has to do with the limits of the intellect. ‘Reason is a lawyer, and will prove anything we wish; for every argument it can find an equal and opposite argument, and its upshot is a skepticism that weakens all force of character and undermines all values of life. It is not logic that we need, it is insight, the faculty akin to the art of grasping at once the essential [Simple Reality] out of the irrelevant, the eternal [the NOW] out of the temporal, the whole [Oneness] out of the part. Behind the Veil of change and things [P-B], to be reached not by sensation or intellect but only by the insight and intuition of the trained spirit, is the one universal reality.’”[xiv]
Shankara describes the True self (Atman) familiar to students of Simple Reality: “The underlying life which we feel in ourselves when we forget space and time, cause and change, is the very essence and reality of us, that Atman which we share with all selves and things, and which undivided and omnipresent, is identical with Brahman, God.”[xv] This description of Oneness sets up the goal of the doctrine of Vedanta, i.e., “to lose the seeker in the secret found.”[xvi]
As he expresses in his poetry the core worldview of Simple Reality, namely Oneness, Shankara indicates as did Buddha with his Great Insight relating to Right View, that a profound context is necessary to experience the NOW. This is Shankara’s answer to the First Great Question “Where am I?”
Next comes discrimination, that is to say, the distinction between illusion and reality. “Brahman—the absolute existence, knowledge and bliss—is real. The universe is not real. Brahman and Atman (man’s inner self) are one.”[xvii] This is Shankara’s answer to The Second Great Question “Who am I?”
Elaborating on the nature of Reality, “Shankara only accepts as ‘real’ that which neither changes nor ceases to exist. No object, no kind of knowledge, can be absolutely real if its existence is only temporary. Absolute reality implies permanent existence.”[xviii] This definition of reality has implications for everything including God: “If we regard the Infinite as a transcendental first cause of the phenomenal world (a position held by most Christian theologians), then we must admit that the Infinite is infinite no longer. A God who transforms Himself into the visible universe is Himself subject to transformation and change—He cannot be regarded as the absolute reality. A God who creates a world limits Himself by the very act of creation, and thus ceases to be infinite.”[xix]
The limitations of the human intellect are also understood by Shankara. “[The] world of thought and matter has a phenomenal or relative existence, and is superimposed [projected] upon Brahman, the unique, absolute reality. As long as we remain in ignorance (i.e., as long as we have not achieved transcendental consciousness [Simple Reality]) we shall continue to experience this apparent world which is the effect of superimposition. When transcendental consciousness is achieved, superimposition ceases.”[xx]
Shankara goes on to define superimposition. “‘Superimposition is the apparent presentation to consciousness, by the memory of something previously observed elsewhere.’ We see a snake. We remember it. Next day, we see a coil of rope. We superimpose the remembered snake upon it, and thereby misunderstand its nature.”[xxi]
Both the East and the West have grappled with the fundamentals of the human story. “Vedanta philosophy occupies a central position between realism and idealism. Western realism and idealism are both based on a distinction between mind and matter; Indian philosophy puts mind and matter in the same category—both are objects of knowledge.”[xxii]
Shankara built upon the insights of Buddha in grasping the illusion of suffering. “The absolute Reality is beyond good and evil, pleasure and pain, success and disaster. Both good and evil are aspects of Maya [the illusion of P-B]. As long as Maya exists they exist. Within Maya they are real enough.”[xxiii] But what about transcendent behavior in P-A, what does that look like. “If we say ‘I am good’ or ‘I am bad,’ we are only talking the language of Maya. ‘I am Brahman’ is the only true statement any of us can make.”[xxiv] I and the Father are one has been heard in the West but not understood. “The illumined seer does not merely know Brahman; he is Brahman, he is existence, he is knowledge.”[xxv]
The principles of Simple Reality are universal in the human heart; the way they are expressed varies. The following is Shankara’s language[xxvi] followed by that found in the P-A narrative.
Discrimination in Vedanta says: “Brahman is real; the universe in unreal.”
(SR) (Simple Reality) P-A is real; P-B is an illusion.
Tranquility is achieved by “detaching the mind from all objective things by continually seeing their imperfection.”
(SR) Peace of mind, equanimity, is achieved by ceasing to identify with mind, body and emotions.
Renunciation “is the giving-up of all pleasures of the eyes, the ears, and the other senses, the giving-up of all objects of transitory enjoyment.”
(SR) Cessation of the pursuit of sensation, pleasure and power begins the process of eliminating craving and aversion, the source of all human suffering.
Self-control is “to detach both kinds of sense-organs—those of perception and those of action—from objective things…True mental poise, consists in not letting the mind react to internal stimuli.”
(SR) Self-reliance and the power of NOW results in choosing response over reaction.
Forbearance is “to endure all kinds of afflictions without rebellion, complaint or lament.”
(SR) Avoiding reaction or resistance to life was stated so succinctly by J. Krishnamurti: “I don’t mind what is happening.”
Self-surrender means “to concentrate the intellect repeatedly upon the pure Brahman.”
(SR) When we live always in the present moment our life becomes a meditation on the perfection of Simple Reality.
Shankara’s view of reality parallels the simplicity of P-A, especially with regard to worldview and identity. As to the benefits of the Great Insight of Oneness, “Maya [P-B] is destroyed by direct experience of Brahman.”[xxvii] The false self or ego “[is] the self-consciousness which arises when the mental organ identifies with the body.”[xxviii]
“But in the Upanishads the immutable [God] is not yet a rigid absolute contrasted with change and transformation; it is itself the origin of all change and transformation, all life: it is not only everlasting sheer being, but the eternal creative process itself.”[xxix]
“They [the Upanishads] keep reminding us again and again of the oneness of all existence: that we are children of immortality, that we come from the Brahman and return to the Brahman—indeed, that in our innermost being we are always one with the Brahman.”[xxx]
In summation, Vedanta philosophy expressed by Shankara and the corresponding language of Simple Reality would read like this: “The fruit of dispassion [choosing not to react] is illumination; the fruit of illumination is the stilling of desire [no longer pursuing the survival strategy needs of security, sensation and power]; the fruit of stilled desire is experience of the bliss of the Atman, [an experience of ‘feeling’ in the NOW], whence follows peace.”[xxxi]
The doctrine of reincarnation is detonated by Oneness as well when we find that “it is seen that the separate self and personality, to which reincarnation comes, is an illusion.”[xxxii] Shankara concludes that “the soul’s existence as wanderer, and Brahman’s existence as creator have vanished away in the esoteric or secret doctrine soul and Brahman are one, never wandering, never dying, never changed.”[xxxiii] Our identity in the finality of profound Truth is understood to be eternal, never changing, indestructible energy. Only that which never changes is “real” existing beyond the illusion of P-B.
The practitioners of Vedanta, not surprisingly use The Point of Power Practice to achieve realization of the Atman. “After the first few lessons, every student of Vedanta philosophy quickly learns not to identify with his body, nor with his breath, nor with his feelings, nor with his perceptions, nor with the highest reaches of his intellect, but with the pure Atman alone, with the true Self developed within these ‘sheaths.’ But does he really know it deep down? What the Upanishads are about and emphasize over and over is the attainment of truth, the actual realization of what all too often was later to become an academic commodity.”[xxxiv]
The otherworldly perspective of Seth reinforces Shankara’s teaching. “Man became aware of his state of grace when he lived within the dimensions of his consciousness as it was turned toward his new world of freedom. When he did not violate [responded], he was aware of his own grace. When he violated [reacted], it fell back into cellular awareness, as with the animals, but he felt consciously cut off from it and denied.”[xxxv] It is to this natural state of grace that we can choose to return.
Few words in the Christian Gospels more aptly characterize the spirit of the Upanishads than those from the Gospel of St. John: “And you shall know Truth and Truth will set you free.” It is a question of realization, realization of the kind which no longer binds us to the world of superficial appearances where “the dead bury their dead,” but which releases us, includes us in Life Everlasting. To quote a well-known prayer from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, and one still much recited by Hindus today:
From the unreal lead me to the Real, from the darkness to
Light, from death to Deathlessness. (I.iii.28) [xxxvi]
[a] Chandala is an outcast or untouchable.
[i] Teasdale, Wayne. The Mystic Heart. Novato, California: New World Library, 1999, pp. 217-218.
[ii] Yogananda, Paramahansa. Autobiography of a Yogi. Los Angeles. Self-Realization Fellowship, 1946, p. 151.
[iii] Malhotra, Rajiv and David Gray. “Global Renaissance and the Roots of Western Wisdom.” Institute of Noetic Sciences Review. Petaluma, California, June/August 2001, p. 12.
[v] Johnson, Clive [ed.]. Vedanta. An Anthology of Hindu Scripture, Commentary, and Poetry. New York: Bantam, 1971, p. ix.
[vi] Ibid., p. 3.
[vii] Ibid., p. 4.
[viii] Ibid., p. 6.
[ix] Torwesten, Hans. Vedanta: Heart of Hinduism. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1985, p. 89.
[x] Ibid., p. 11.
[xi] Ibid., p. 12.
[xii] Ibid., pp. 139-140.
[xiii] Shankara, Adi Sankaracharya (788-820 CE), translated by John Richards. The Crest-Jewel of Discrimination. New York: New American Library, 1947, p. 11.
[xiv] Durant, Will. Our Oriental Heritage. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1954, pp. 547-548.
[xv] Ibid., p. 548.
[xvi] Ibid., p. 549.
[xvii] Shankara, op. cit., p. 13.
[xix] Ibid., p. 16.
[xx] Ibid., p. 18.
[xxii] Ibid., p. 14.
[xxiii] Ibid., p. 26.
[xxiv] Ibid., p. 29.
[xxv] Ibid., p. 31.
[xxvi] Ibid., p. 38.
[xxvii] Ibid., p. 50.
[xxviii] Ibid., p. 47.
[xxix] Torwestern, op. cit., p. 40.
[xxx] Ibid., p. 49.
[xxxi] Shankara, op. cit., p. 95.
[xxxii] Durant, op. cit., p. 550.
[xxxiv] Torwestern, op. cit., p. 34.
[xxxv] Roberts, Jane. The Nature of Personal Reality. New York: Bantam, 1974, p. 158.
[xxxvi] Torwestern, op. cit., p. 20.
Find more in-depth discussion of Simple Reality in published books by Roy Charles Henry.