Brahmn, the ultimate reality
This is a collection of newspaper articles selected for the excellence of their content.
The Fundamental Principle Of All Existence
Everything is simply a manifestation of the singular Brahmn, the funda mental principle that underlies all physical creation. There is nothing other than Brahmn. Brahmn splits into basically two objects the perceiver and the perceived. It indicates the fundamental oneness of all objects, their perceived separateness and distinctions notwithstanding. Brahmn is the sum total of everything. It exists before creation and it will exist after creation is destroyed.
What is eternal and what is transitory? The body and perceptible objects in this physical world are transitory an illusion like a dream. So they will appear and disappear like waves on the ocean. But there is something else that is truly eternal though not directly perceptible to our senses the soul.
Energy and matter at a fundamental level are indestructible they only change their form. Likewise, the fundamental concept of soul that underlies physical bodies is indestructible. This soul manifests as different bodies and keeps changing the visible form. But fundamentally , it remains unchanging.
For example, we experience many dreams one after another in one night, and night after night. But our waking-state existence remains unchanged and we don't think much about dreams when we wake up. Likewise, we should not vest any emotional attachment in the superficial form that is impermanent.Whatever happens to visible forms is immaterial because it is unreal. That is why Krishna tells Arjuna to go ahead and proceed with the war because it is only an unreal and transitory manifestation of the eternal and hence not worth worrying about. Creation is a transitory illusion.Brahmn, the underlying fundamental phenomenon that manifests as different objects in the physical world, has a perpetual existence. The perceived physical world with all the fascinating variety in it, including our body, is in fact not separate or different from the Creator (Brahmn). It is like seeing waves and surf on the ocean surface. The waves are merely a manifestation of water only and nothing else.
Likewise, even though in dividual objectspersons in physical creation seem to be born, live for some time and then disappear, it is merely like a kaleidoscope pattern chang ing when we rotate the tube.e discard duality as unreal, then If we discard duality as unreal, then we can say anything about beings like they are in the Divine, but the Divine is not in them, or that the Divine pervades them and yet it is not in them! All these are equally valid or invalid! In other words, the Divine and His creation cannot be regarded as separate and simultaneously existing.
At one place, the Bhagwad Gita says that creation has neither beginning nor end, but there is just this temporary illusion in between as if it exists. What it means is that creation itself does not exist. So something that does not exist cannot have any beginning or end! A similar situation is described in the scriptures by way of a story that starts as follows: A woman who was not biologically able to conceive, gave birth to two children! The story is based on something that is unreal, impossible in reality because a woman who cannot conceive cannot give birth to children! But then, a story can be built on something that can have anything in it because the whole thing is to be taken with a bucket full of salt!
The Unknowable Phenomenon
What is this physical creation? There are two broad ways of looking at it. First, creation with a creator behind it who may have designed and programmed it, possibly with some degree of freedom of choice to us. Second possibility is creation may be like a dream, totally “unreal” and illusory. The perceivable universe is perceived by us as a physical phenomenon with a materiality to everything.
Now, can this material universe have a materiality that is absolute, independent of our perception? If yes, then that materiality must come out of a bigger materiality, or at least equal materiality. And where does the materiality come from in the first place?
Materiality cannot come from “nothing”. It has to come from materiality or, if we go by Einstein’s theory of relativity (E=mc2), materiality will have to come from energy. Where does the energy come from? This will amount to chasing our own tail! Of course, theists argue that the “source” (god) of creation is beginning less and hence the question, “Who created the Creator?” is not in order. But that doesn’t convince rationalists.
So, it seems more likely that this universe is a dream, perhaps dream-like. In the dream, we do perceive materiality without really having material. It is all the play of dream consciousness. So, in some sense, a dream comes out of nothing. Likewise, even the so-called real material universe that we perceive in our waking state may still be non-material, just a play of our consciousness, an ephemeral illusion. Of course, this line of argument also leaves us with the question – “Whose dream? Who created that dreamer?” So, it may be better to say that this universe is “dream-like”, dream being just a metaphor to illustrate the phenomenon. It may not necessarily mean a Creator similar to a human being who sleeps and dreams! A better argument then could be that the source is simply something that is unlike anything known to us, a completely unknowable phenomenon whose nature it is to “dream up” a creation. That unknowable phenomenon is given a name – Brahmn.
Now one question still remains. If creation is dreamlike, it is not pre-designed and pre-programmed. But then, we do see all things happening in accordance with universal physical laws (laws of nature). How can that be? I have a crazy answer to that! We have an intellect that is basically designed to find patterns in repeatedly observed phenomena. So, in that sense, what we call as physical laws are retrofitted to the observed phenomena. For all we know, the phenomena themselves were not pre-designed!
As an example, think of a person who keeps throwing a ball. The ball follows a trajectory and lands in a particular spot that may be different every time. Scientists then try and identify certain parameters like the force applied to the ball at the time it is thrown through the hole, the angle at which the force is applied, wind resistance and work out a formula. Scientists keep checking their formula and refine it as necessary to take care of all the cases observed and measured thus far. Now, the person throwing the ball is acting randomly and yet scientists find some pattern in it! Likewise, creation is a random dream-like phenomenon and yet, we have found laws governing it!
Understanding Brahmn Through Devotion
Ramanuja’s position in Vedantic metaphysics is unique in its attempt to resolve the nature of reality, the ontological paradox of reality as ‘one and many’ by seeing the two not as opposites, but as being complementary to each other. His Vishishtadvaita philosophy presents a world in which the ‘one’ unity expresses itself in and through a multiplicity of forms, the ‘many’. Both are held together in an organic whole, the Absolute expressing itself through multiple finite beings, immanent in them, yet transcending them. Both the Absolute and the plural world are real, and both realise their value in and through the other.
Having addressed the core metaphysical issue, Ramanuja then applies this principle to map out and define Brahmn as Parama Purusha, not an abstract principle, but as “God qualified by individual selves and matter”. The philosophical concept of Brahmn, the Absolute, gets merged with the religious concept of Ishwara, God, and reality is now realisable through devotional experience. The earlier Vaishnava mystic devotional tradition of the Alwars gets merged in the metaphysics of Vishishtadvaita, where the empirical world is controlled and supported by a Saguna, personal god, and the relation between God and the plural world is described as the sarira-sariri-bhava, that is, the connect between body and soul.
Ramanuja’s ‘Sri Bhasya’, a commentary on the Brahma Sutras, presents a theological framework to metaphysics by establishing Supreme Brahmn as Vishnu, Narayana or Srinivasa. He states that liberation for human beings consists in surrendering to Him, in the spirit of saranagati, seeking refuge in Him. This philosophy was later elaborated upon by Vallabha and Chaitanya.
Shankara’s Advaita philosophy that the world is unreal, that the individual soul and Brahmn are one, that only Brahmn is knowledge-bliss and not the one who possesses these attributes, are all countered by Ramanuja in the Sri Bhasya. Vedanta Desika was to later define Ramanuja. His position as reflected in Vishishtadvaita, qualified monism, as opposed to Shankara’s Advaita, absolute monism, says he comes closer to the original intent of the Brahma Sutras than Shankara does.
This metaphysical position of holding the phenomenal world and the Absolute as both being real worlds, also acted as the trigger for major social reform which Ramanuja pioneered in his time. His philosophy of synthesis allowed him to view the world with a very large heart, and gave him the conviction that there can be no caste, community or gender restrictions in the eyes of God. All are equal in the opportunity to serve and realise God.
Ramanuja threw open temple entry to the so-called untouchables of his day. He personally supervised their entry into the temple of Lord Thirunarayana at Melkote, in Karnataka, giving them a new, ennobling name, Thiru-Kulattar, as belonging to the family of Lakshmi, the Divine Mother.
Ramanuja publicly shared the Ashtakshari Mantra – Aum Namo Narayana – with one and all, to the dismay of his guru. Later, seeing his compassion for people, his guru exclaimed that Ramanuja had truly imbibed the spirit of the mantra.
As one stands before the figure of Ramanuja inside the sanctum complex of the Srirangam temple, his real nature as a bhakta strikes on, a devotee who deconstructed the abstract notion of Brahmn and turned it into a vision of a personal God who can be reached and realised through devotion.
Sankara vs. Ramanujacharya
Contrarian Views On Reality
Ashok Vohra The Times of India 2013/05/16
There are two opposing core views about the nature of Brahmn, the ultimate reality. Sankara, the supporter of monism, argues that just as the plurality experienced by each one of us in the lived world is an illusion, all the apparent qualities of Brahmn are unreal. The apparent multiplicity is because of avidya or ignorance, nescience. Ultimately, Brahmn is an indescribable, attributeless reality. Anything transcendental is Brahmn.
The average individual might find Sankara’s absolute monism too subtle and abstract to understand, let alone practise. Even Sankara had to make a distinction between practical, phenomenal and transcendental worlds to explain his notion of Brahmn. Sankara’s Brahmn is nirguna, the impersonal Absolute.
Ramanujacharya rejects Sankara’s monism and argues in support of vishishtadvaita or qualified monism that, like Sankara did, upholds that God alone exists but unlike Sankara, argues that God has attributes.
These attributes are not unreal and temporary as Sankara argued but are real and permanent. Their reality and permanence do not affect the oneness of God because they are dependent on God; they have no existence apart from God. They are modes – prakaras, accessories and controlled aspects of the one Brahmn.
Ramanuja, therefore, propagates a saguna, personal God – Ishwara who has the qualities of omnipotence, omniscience and infinite love, manifested in a plurality of forms. The world, with its variety of material forms of existence and individual souls, is not a product of maya, but a real part of Brahmn’s nature. It is the body of the Lord; matter is real, it undergoes real parinama or evolution.
Souls and matter depend on God for their very existence. There is organic unity between God on the one hand and individual soul and matter on the other. However,the two retain their identities. They are interrelated and interconnected like pearls in a necklace or seeds in a pomegranate.
The necklace represents Brahmn and pearls represent the individual souls or matter. The pearls strung on a thread have unity; collectively they form an organic whole, yet each individual pearl has its own unique qualities. Likewise, spirit, matter and God may be seen as one organic whole, still each of them has its unique qualities.
There can be no identity without individuation. Any talk of unity makes no sense unless we recognise difference. Like Hegel, Ramanuja upholds that ‘identity is always qualified by difference. Unity is always in, through and because of diversity. Pure being is pure nothing’. Pure identity and pure difference are unreal. Our knowledge involves distinctions and there is no undifferentiated pure consciousness.
The universe is, therefore, not identical with Brahmn but is pervaded by Brahmn. “From Brahmn the universe comes, by Brahmn it is sustained and into Brahmn it ultimately enters, just as a fish is born in water, lives in water and is ultimately dissolved in water. Still a fish is not water, but a separate entity entirely. In the same way the universe, although existing within Brahmn, is different than Brahmn. Just as a fish can never be water, so the universe can never be Brahmn.’’
Liberation is the outcome of God’s grace obtained by prapatti – absolute self-surrender. The identity-in-difference is maintained even in the state of moksha. According to Ramanuja, moksha means permanent, undisturbed, personal bliss in God’s presence. The liberated soul attains the nature of God; it never becomes identical with Him but lives in fellowship, either serving Him or meditating on Him without losing its individuality.
(The writer is head, department of philosophy, Delhi University.)
Shankara’s Concept Of Formless Brahmn
Vedanta as propounded by Shankaracharya makes him the most important thinker in the exceptional philosophical lineage of Hinduism. In the centuries that followed his elucidation of an absolute monism based on insights of the Upanishads, there was, as can be expected, both an acceptance of his basic tenets, and an understandable reaction to the uncompromising ‘intellectualism’ of his vision. As a consequence, Hinduism has ever since, never denied the existence of Brahmn, as a supreme, attribute-less and omnipresent reality pervading the universe, or rejected the fact that our finite world, in relation to that supreme reality, is of subordinate value.
However, there has been a concerted effort to somehow unite the relenting non-dualism of Shankaracharya with a theism that is more appealing to ordinary people craving for the grace of a personal god in their search for solace and assurance.
This effort does not negate the logic or cerebral strength of Shankara’s philosophy. It merely seeks to ‘reduce’ it to a level that could accommodate religious practice and devotion at the altar of a more comprehensible and less remote divinity. It is to the lasting – but not uncharacteristic – credit of Hinduism, that this effort was made not arbitrarily, nor by fiat or simplistic denial, but through the use of logic and reasoning moored in a philosophical context.
On many occasions, the philosophical arguments put by later Hindu thinkers against his philosophical tenets, appear to be contrived, or wanting in varying degrees from the point of logical consistency. But, the human need to move away from the notion of a persistently transcendent and aloof Brahmn, to a theism more responsive to our daily lives, was so great that, gradually, on the hard rock of Shankara’s philosophical structure, there sprouted a lush undergrowth of what is, in emotional terms, possibly a more fulfilling theism, where, essentially the focus moves from Brahmn to Ishwara, and from logic to devotion… The aftermath of Shankara’s austere but rigorously logical explication of the universe was, at one level, a derogation of his thought structure, but at another, its validation. The progressive dilution of his attribute-less notion of Brahmn towards a more accessible personal theism, was, quite clearly, a rebellion from the remoteness of his unyielding, yet relentlessly consistent logic. But the fact that this happened was, i suspect, not something that would have surprised him. It was precisely for this reason that he segmented the jnana marga at two levels: para vidya, or higher knowledge, where the primary concern was the metaphysical comprehension of the absolute; and apara vidya, lower knowledge, where bhakti, worship, yoga, prayer, surrender, ritual and devotion were given legitimacy, as part of the preparatory steps to move from apara to para vidya.
What followed him was, therefore, something to which he had himself given sanction. Indeed, going beyond, he himself practised a deeply moving theism that led him to write some of the most evocative stotras to the principal deities of the Hindu pantheon. However, the significant point is that this theism that he himself practised, did not deflect him, even for a moment, from the basic tenets of the Advaitic vision, and the concept of Brahmn that was central to it… Shankara’s greatness lay in understanding the human need for religious practice, but not allowing this to impede his exploration of the mysteries of the universe. (Abridged from the Epilogue in ‘Adi Shankaracharya’, by Pavan K Varma, Westland Publications)
Brahmn vis-à-vis worldly duties
The Times of India, Dec 12 2015
Shri Shri Anandamurti You may ask, “We are ordinary people. If we always keep our selves absorbed in the thought of Brahmn or Universal Consciousness, can we properly attend to our worldly duties?“ Of course you can, and you will do them still more beautifully . For the ideation on Brahmn a person does not have to become a hermit in the forest. Only keep behaving rightly and properly with every manifestation of Brahmn in this universe, with every entity in this world. By “proper behaviour“ is meant that in which there is neither anger nor jealously; and neither attraction nor aversion. You exist in a vast, limitless ocean of rasa or essence. A never-ending, radiant wave of manifestation is surging within and without you and radiating through all ten directions the indescribable vibrational expressions of small and great, accented and unaccented, eternally flowing thought-waves.
Behave properly and reasonably with every expression, with every manifestation of the cosmic mind. But always remember the One, the essence of all these diverse vibrational manifestations. Train yourselves in the ideal of the lily, which blossoms in the mud and has to keep itself engaged in the struggle for existence day in and day out, parrying, bracing and fighting the shocks of muddy water and the force of storms and squalls and various other vicissitudes of fortune; and yet it does not forget the moon above. It keeps its love for the moon constantly alive.
The lily seems but a most ordinary flower: there is nothing extraordinary about it. Yet, this most ordinary little flower has a romantic tie with the great moon. It has focussed all its attention on the moon. Similarly , perhaps you are an ordinary creature perhaps you have to pass your days in the ups and downs of worldly existence yet do not forget that Supreme One. Keep all your attention inclined towards Him. Always keep yourself merged in His thought. Go deep into the mood of that Infinite Love.By this your worldly activities will not be hampered in any way .
No matter what circumstances you find yourself in, never lose sight of the Infinite One. Degradation is impossible for those who have accepted the Supreme Being as the ideal of their lives.
Indulging in mean thoughts only engenders crude vibrations in the citta or mind, as a result of which you will have to take rebirth to suffer the lowly samreated by those crude vibrations. skaras created by those crude vibrations.
Therefore arouse higher vibrations in your citta. Even a man of King Bharata's calibre had to take rebirth as a deer because at the time of his death he was deeply anxious about a fawn. Thus, regardless of what you are at present or what you may possibly become in the future, do not digress from the ideal under any circumstance: do not stray even a step away from the path of realisation of Absolute Bliss. Ananda Marga or the path to eternal bliss is the only path for you.
Whatever be the consequence of your past deeds, your uplift is guaranteed, if you have unflagging zeal to attain Brahmn. Do not look back, look forward. Never take any limited material object for your worship. Accept only the loftiest entity for your contemplation. If your love for Him is genuine, you will ever remain in an Elysian exuberance.Pain will then mean nothing to you, nor will happiness. When one's movement is towards the Great One, when one's ardour is only for the Great One, it is called Prema or Divine Love.
Self-realisation: Hurdles in the path
The Brihadaranyaka extols the Supreme Brahman as the Changeless Reality. The entire Prapancham, the earth, fire, air, space and ether are held within the Supreme Brahman; the entire concept of Time seen as the past, present and future is also within this Brahman; and this Brahman stands beyond all Space and Time eternally.
For an individual to internalise this truth and experience Brahman as the atma and the antaratma in the entire creation is a difficult spiritual exercise, pointed out Nochur Sri Venkataraman in a discourse. The story quoted by Sri Ramakrishna illustrates how it is difficult to imbibe subtle truths.
A sishya, taught by a guru to see Narayana swaroopa in all beings and objects, tries to sincerely understand the import of this teaching in daily life. Once, he sees an elephant on the road and goes towards it thinking of his guru’s instruction to see the Lord in it. He does not heed the mahout’s warnings to keep away from it as it is amuck and gets hurt. Is not the mahout also the Lord’s swaroopa?
Many a time, partial understanding of esoteric matters is a natural hurdle to all. The Upanishad goes on to say that the atma in the individual is the subtlest of all, enabling all the complex acts of thought, word and deed. But ignorance makes one think that he sees, or hears, or knows, overlooking that which makes his eyes, or ears or understanding perform their respective functions. To recognise one’s ego, gunas, etc as the manifestations of Prakriti and to see the same Prakriti in the world of creation is crucial if one has to avoid falling into the trap of worldly pulls.
When the dog inside the house barks at a street dog and the latter retorts, the master does not get involved. The wise align with the atma within which stands aloof as a mere witness.
Brahmn, the ultimate reality