Advaita Vedanta

When we are immersed in ignorance and believe the world to be real, relying on our senses and mental faculties to pursue our lives as individuals in the world, we see ourselves as the doers, the enjoyers, the sufferers, the experiencers of the events that take place around us and that impact on us. By 'us' we mean these bodies and personalities through which we experience ourselves and with which we mistakenly identify ourselves in the waking state. In this situation, we consider the waking state as our normal state of existence, and we pay attention mostly to it, thinking of our waking self, comprising our bodily and mental experiences and the physical universe associated with it, as the be-all and end-all of life. We tend to lump dream and deep sleep together as essentially one phenomenon which we call 'sleep', and we view this as basically an interruption of our normal state of consciousness for the purpose of resting the body and regaining energy for carrying-on our bodily activities in the waking state. We consider death as the termination of our existence, in that it ends our body experiences.

Veiled as we are by ignorance, we believe that all our joy originates from the things and happenings in the world outside of us, and we pursue our lives, both individually and collectively, in such a way as to maximize our pleasures and minimize our pain. Nevertheless, joy seems to constantly alternate with suffering in our life experience. Focusing only on the diversity and changing phenomena of the world, our lives remain completely immersed in duality, with ourselves (our physical-mental organization) experienced as the subject, and everything else outside of us seen as the object of our dualistic world-view. And that is also the way in which we approach God when we develop religious feelings. We see Him as the Almighty Father-Creator to whom we pray and pay our homage.

However, once we seriously take up the spiritual path and engage ourselves in spiritual practices to prepare for the divine life, then our view changes quite radically. When we begin to live the teachings, we discover that we cannot maintain a separate identity independent of God. Duality no longer holds up for us. From the non-dualistic teachings we learn that in essence, we and every other being and thing, and, in fact, the whole manifested universe must be identical with God, that the one Divine Spirit is the only unchanging Truth and, therefore, the only true Reality.

As we gain some spiritual insight, our values change dramatically. We no longer take the world as real and we begin to relinquish our desires for its shadow fruits; the outer life governed by the sense impressions and lower mind becomes relatively unimportant to us; the inner life governed by the intuitive and subtle faculties becomes very important to us. We realize that the waking state is just one of three states, comprising the waking, the dream and the deep-sleep states, through which we cycle daily We now come to believe that all three are equally unreal, and yet, each plays a vital role in our spiritual development and journey to self-realization.

In time, we become freed from the projecting power of Maya (vikshepa), which is the deluding factor that previously had made the world so believably real to us. As this power of illusion begins to weaken, life becomes more like a long series of dreams, alternating between dreams of the day and dreams of the night, each equally transitory and unreal. Just as the illusion of the reality of the dream world is broken when we wake up from dream, and that world is then seen as having been just a shadow play made up of mind-stuff, so also the waking state appears more and more like another type of dream, similar to the dream of the night, with the shadow events occurring there appearing to have been projected out of a subtler source in another dimension.

Even though we become successively more free of the projecting power, for some time we may still remain subject to the concealing power of Maya (avarana), and continue to experience ourselves as limited individual souls, going through a variety of experiences in the dual dream life of both our days and nights. We have yet to awaken into the direct realization of the truth, the direct and continuous experience that there is no individual soul, that there never was and never will be an individual or a world separate from the Divinity, that the Divinity is all there ever is and can be, and that we are forever one with that boundless limitless Self, which is the one unchanging Reality, and which is forever without a second.

That ever-free supreme Self which is our true nature, remains eternally unlimited by time, space, names and forms. Its nature is pure unchanging consciousness and bliss. But, through the magic show of its own Maya, the eternal Self appears to limit itself by taking on the dark veil of ignorance, wherein it appears to hide its truth from itself. In place of its infinite glorious reality and its existence as the pure beingness….the Sat... now, through the power of Maya, it seems to project for itself a limited self-consciousness, which initially appears as the ‘I thought’, denoting a separate individualized being.

Why does it do so? It depends on which creation story you belief from your limited viewpoint of an individual being in a relative world containing countless others. One such story is that beingness chooses to express a desire, "I am one, let Me be many", or as Sai Baba said, "Let me separate Myself from Myself so that I can love Myself."  Immediately, out of pure unalloyed Being a new becoming arises. This then swamps out Being entirely. Being gets lost in becoming. Once the illusory dream of world and individual selves emerges, the truth of immortal life becomes lost in dreaming. Eternal Being goes into hiding. A grand cosmic play has begun. Starting out with the individual 'I thought’, a myriad of new thoughts appear which manifest into the familiar objective world, reflecting the new reality that has taken over. The One has been replaced by a multiplicity of separate names and forms in an infinite variety of differences. The One has become the many. Or so it seems (as the story goes). In Truth nothing at all happened.

But continuing with the story, the bundle of thoughts representing the apparent desire of the One to be many, becomes the individual mind. And out of this mind all the projected worlds appear, as thoughts crystallize into sound vibrations, then into ether, into touch, into air, into form, into fire, and so on, as all the subtle and gross elements of the world of our waking and dream experiences emerge. This is the work of Maya, the obfuscating, illusory nature of the mind. Of the two powers (the two shaktis) of Maya, avarana is the veil of ignorance, associated primarily with the tamoguna, the dull inertial tendency, and vikshepa is the projecting power through which the worlds emerge, associated primarily with the rajoguna, the active passionate tendency. Avarana, the veiling power of ignorance is the prevailing condition of the deep-sleep state (sushupti); this is associated with the causal world of the chidaakasha; it is here that all other worlds, both physical and mental, are contained in their seed form.

The projecting power of vikshepa, which gives rise to the dream and waking worlds, emerges from the undifferentiated potential of the deep sleep state, sushupti, when out of the causal world of the chidaakasha, containing every unformed seed of manifestation, there arises the chittakasha, the vast mental world of thoughts, dreams and imagination comprising our subtle state of perception. And contained within that is the bhutakasha, the physical universe of the waking state, encompassing the gross perceptions of our waking experiences.

Therefore, out of the deep-sleep state arises, in turn, the world of the dream state, made up of all the various things and happenings and individuals of that state, including the individual dream ego, all being ruled over by the dreamer, and there arises the gross world of the waking state, made up of all the various things and happenings and individuals of that state, including the individual ego-self, all being ruled over by God. In our ignorance, when we are in either of these two states, the dream state or the waking state, we believe that everything happening there is real; but in truth, it is all just an illusory superimposition on the one unchanging Reality, the pure Consciousness, in which all this plays, but is in no way affected by it.

We favor the waking state and tend to confuse our waking consciousness, which is related to the personal self of the waking state, with our real Self, the Atma, the immortal, unchanging Supreme Reality, which is the one Self of all. It appears to us that the dream emerges out of the waking self when we fall asleep, but on careful examination we discover it is otherwise. The change of state from waking to sleep occurs because of a change in the gunas the tendencies modifying the mind. As rajoguna wanes and gives way to tamoguna, the vikshepa becomes deactivated, and the projection of the phenomenal world ceases. Then the limited individual consciousness recedes into the sushupti state, mindless, bodiless, and worldless, and experiences the reflected bliss of the infinite pure Consciousness, which is the Self

When the one all-pervading Consciousness becomes veiled with deep sleep, it is called Prajnana. This is the name of Jiva, the apparent individual soul, when it is in deep sleep. There is another modification of the mind which is pure Sattva, when the one all-pervading consciousness is associated with the collective ignorance that we call Maya; then that supreme consciousness which appears to be associated with Maya, is called Ishvara. Prajnana and Ishvara are exactly identical; but they appear to have different spheres of functioning and to be vastly different in influence, because of the apparent difference in the Upadhis, the limiting adjuncts with which, through the powerof illusion, they appear to be associated.

Ishvara, whom we call the all-knowing Lord, and who is associated with pure Sattva, is characterized by omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence; He is in control of Maya, and therefore He is the controller of all the projected worlds and the individual beings in them; He is the director of all mental activities. He is the dreamer of the cosmic dream, the hidden God of the waking state. Jiva, on the other hand, who is the impure-Sattvic modification of the same mind, is veiled and deluded by the ignorance that covers it, and is, therefore, controlled by Maya and its Gunas, which are an integral part of the power of illusion that plays in the mind.

By mind is meant the Anthakarana, the inner instrument, composed of Manas, the deliberating factor, the Ahamkara, the ego or self-consciousness and possessive factor associated with Manas, the Buddhi, the intuitive intellect or determinating factor, and Chitta, the recollecting factor and seat of feelings associated with the Buddhi. These comprise both the lower mind which is associated with the Manomaya sheath, and the higher mind which is associated with the Vignanamaya sheath. The embodied soul, the apparent individual consciousness called the Jiva, can be thought of as the pure consciousness limited by or reflected in the Vignanamaya Kosha.

It has been said that two birds live together in the same tree; they are forever inseparable. One is spiritually impotent and unknowing, full of desire and attachment, ever-active, experiencing alternating joys and sufferings and bemoaning its fate, while the other is all-knowing and directs the play, remaining ever-watchful and ever-blissful. These are Jiva and Ishvara playing together in the tree of the body-mind. Their essence is the same pure consciousness, and they are in reality one, but the Upadhis, the apparent limitations associated with each of them, appear to make them different.

As has already been mentioned, when the pure consciousness appears to be associated with the collective ignorance called Maya, then it is called Ishvara, the Lord, the Saguna Brahman, the highest manifestation of the supreme reality, Brahman, in the phenomenal plane. Maya, the cosmic or collective ignorance associated with Ishvara, which is the cause of all phenomena and contains within it all the worlds in their seed form, is called the cosmic causal sheath and the Chidaakasha, for from it all phenomena and worlds arise and into it they again dissolve. The individual ignorance associated with Jiva is also called the causal body or the individual causal sheath, for it appears to give rise to the individual mental activities of the dream and the waking states.

Denser than the lower mind comprising the mental sheath, the Manomaya Kosha, is the vital sheath or life-energy sheath, the Pranamaya Kosha. The three sheaths, the Pranamaya, the Manomaya and the Vignanamaya, make up the subtle body which is associated with the dream state. This is still a material body affected by the play of the Gunas and made up of the five elements, but in their subtle aspect. When the pure consciousness appears to be modified and, therefore, limited by the individual subtle body, the Sukshma Sarira, it is called Taijasa, the shining one, because it reflects the self-luminous effulgence of the Atma.

Corresponding to the individual subtle body there is a cosmic subtle body made up of the three cosmic sheaths, the Pranamaya, the Manomaya and the Vignanamaya Koshas of all the worlds. That collective subtle body is associated with the Chittakasha, the vast mental universe. When the pure consciousness appears to be modified by this cosmic subtle body it is called Hiranyagarbha, the golden cosmic egg, and also Brahma for it is the agency by which all activities and phenomena come into manifestation... become alive, as it were. Taijasa and Hiranyagarbha are exactly identical; they appear to have different areas of functioning only because of the apparent difference in their Upadhis with which they have become associated.

From the point of view of the waking self, we view the dream, but without being in any way affected by the time frame, the peculiar spaces and the sequence of happenings of that dream world. We appear to remain outside of these. But this is something cognized only after we return to the waking state. In sleep, through the machinations of the mind, the waking self appears to limit itself, and then becomes the dream world of things and happenings and individuals, including the dream ego, ruled over by the dreamer. In our ignorance during sleep we believe all this to be real, but when we wake up, we find that the dream world, the dream self and the dreamer have all merged back into the waking-self and the world of dream has vanished. It was all just a magic show, unreal, a creation of the mind, concocted out of the latent impressions to be found there.

The dream, the dream self and the dreamer emerged out of the waking self at the moment of falling asleep, when the waking self transmuted itself into them; later, all three merge back into the same waking self upon waking up. Therefore, all three, the dream world, the dream self and the dreamer, are seen to actually be identical with the waking self and its inexplicable plaything, the mind. But this waking-self is itself just the dream ego of a much larger dream, the cosmic dream. And when the waking up occurs from that cosmic dream, then all three, namely, the waking-self, this world in which it is embedded, and the witness and dreamer of this waking dream whom we call God, all vanish together, in the same way as the dream world, dream ego and dreamer did, when we woke up from sleep. They all disappear by merging into the supreme Self which had appeared to limit itself to the individual self and the various objects and furnishings of the waking state, and to God who rules this state. Just as in dream, these three, God, man and nature, are seen to be Maya or mind; they exist only because of ignorance of the true Self. On waking up from the cosmic dream they vanish and only the pure light of the nondual Self remains. When the waking dream is transcended, the Atmic state is realized for only the one truth remains, that of the undifferentiated bliss which is the Paramatma.

Transcendance of the dream state can only happen upon the disappearance of the dream world, the dream ego and the dreamer, and the reemergence of the waking self. Transcendance of the waking state can only happen upon the disappearance of the world, the individual self, and God, and the reemergence of the Atmic state upon realization of the unity. The dream has the primal ignorance, which is the prevailing condition of the deep-sleep state, as its cause and the waking state as its basis. The waking dream also has the primal ignorance as its cause and the supreme Self as its basis. But now, we must return to the correct point of view, which is not to see everything from the waking state, which is only one of the three states of limited consciousness which we experience daily; none of these has any preferred position with respect to truth.

As for waking and dream, they are exactly the same; there is no essential difference between them. They are both equally illusory, both arising out of ignorance, but both have the truth of Atma as their basis; so, in reality, both are the one unchanging divinity that appears as worlds... as self... as God. So, from the correct point of view of the ultimate reality which appears to limit itself through its inexplicable Maya, it veils itself in ignorance of its truth, that becomes the causal world of the Chidaakasha, and then the subtle world of dream, the Chittakasha, and the gross world of the waking state, the Bhutakasha, emerge as projections from that, superimposing their illusory, false reality onto the one true reality, the unchanging divine principle which is their basis.

In the waking state, dream remains as a latency and comes into existence periodically. Similarly, the apparent  transmigrating Jiva remains latent between births and sprouts forth into existence periodically in a new body and new circumstances, in other words, in a new illusory play. Just as the objects that come into existence in the dream state seem to have existed for a long time, so also the objects which come into existence in the waking state on account of ignorance, seem to have existed for a long time.

There are a number of disciplines, such as discrimination, dispassion and inner inquiry, which must be engaged in before one can realize one's true reality; but they do not have to continue afterwards. Then, no bondage or delusion remains, although the magic show continues. Prarabdha will govern and the body-mind will appear to be happy or sad, full of desires or not, but its occupant is only aware of the unchanging, unaffected Self. The body continues to have all the illusory dreams as before (Vikshepa), but the sage is awake throughout in that he knows he is dreaming. For him, the veil has been rent and ignorance is permanently dispelled.

The constant state of awareness of the sage is the opposite of the state of Sushupti, or deep-sleep. In Sushupti there is the absence of mind activity and projections, but the delusion of limitation, the veil of Avarana, remains, and the Atma is not consciously realized. But in the illumined sage, the veil of ignorance has completely disappeared and no delusion of limitation or bondage or separateness or individuality remains, although the world-show may continue like a phantom play or dream that cannot be taken very seriously. He remains as the unaffected witness of all that appears to be taking place.

The one universal consciousness is the witness for the man of discrimination, the sage, and also for the limited Jiva, the one who lacks discrimination and is immersed in ignorance. That ignorance is Maya, the obfuscating nature of the mind, which projects the world, identifies itself with the individual soul, the Jiva, and is ruled over by the Lord, Ishvara, although all three of these seemingly separate entities are illusory and equally unreal, for no separable, disparate qualities can ever exist in truth.

 We can say that fire is latent or potential in wood. The fact that we know of this latency does not in any way mitigate the darkness of a wood we may be in at night. But once the fire is activated by setting fire to the wood, then the darkness and the now-manifested fire cannot continue to coexist. The darkness vanishes before the blaze. Similarly, we may believe that Brahman exists in every object and thing of the world. Yet, this knowledge of its existence does not remove the ignorance of seeing the world and believing it to be real. But, once Brahman is directly experienced as pure consciousness and bliss, then the ignorance of believing in the illusory world as real cannot remain in the blaze of divine light attending that realization.

An expenditure of energy is required which is itself of the nature of fire, to ignite the wood and activate the fire. Similarly, an expenditure of energy which is itself of the nature of Brahman, is required to activate the experience of Brahman. When the matchstick comes together with the special coating on the matchbox, fire is activated, the stick is lit, and any amount of fire can be produced from that. When Grace and individual effort come together, divine energy is activated, the ineffable joy of divinity is experienced, and in that blaze of light all trace of ignorance disappears.

Without that divine energy, knowledge remains intellectual and indirect, and the darkness of ignorance prevails. Therefore, realization must await the propitious moment when in a flash, the combination of Grace and self-effort activate the fire of truth, and in that fiery luminosity the darkness of ignorance is totally dispelled.

                                                                                    (A.D. - Prashanti Nilayam - 12/87)


A question arises, what is to be done to realize our true nature. Nothing is to be done that we are not already doing. Who will realize?  The body?  The mind?  The personality?  These insentient things cannot realize. The pure consciousness already is what it has always been. We believe we have to do something but every moment we are already doing what is to be done, and we can never stop doing it because it is our very nature, we will always continue doing it... but we don't recognize it. Whether we are awake or asleep, whether we are conscious or unconscious, whether we are happy or miserable, whether we are alive or dead, at all times uninterruptedly we are always watching, observing, witnessing everything; we are ever fully aware. But it is so natural and so automatic and seemingly so simple that we don't accept that that is the all of it. There must be something more that should be done, and so we observe ourselves struggling trying to find the key of the something more that we should do to realize and become the beloved of God. Spiritual path is never doing anything, it is always just letting go... ultimately it is removing the ignorance whereby we define ourselves as small, it is giving up delusion and the mistake of wrong identity. This will happen when it happens. Effort does not hasten it; effort is merely part of the grand make-believe play of unfoldment and illusion.