Editor's Choice

Muhammad (Prophet For Our Time)
Conclusion: Salam (Peace)


Karen Armstrong, Muhammad (Prophet For Our Time)
"From the very start, Muslims used their Prophet as a yardstick by which to challenge their politicians and to measure the spiritual health of the ummah.

This critical spirit is needed today. Some Muslim thinkers regard the jihad against Mecca as the climax of Muhammad's career and fail to note that he eventually abjured warfare and adopted a nonviolent policy. Western critics also persist in viewing the Prophet of Islam as a man of war, and fail to see that from the very first he was opposed to the jahili arrogance and egotism that not only fuelled the aggression of his time but is much in evidence in some leaders, Western and Muslim alike, today. The Prophet, whose aim was peace and practical compassion, is becoming a symbol of division and strife—a development that is not only tragic but also dangerous to the stability on which the future of our species depends."


"Muhammad had been as controversial in his dying as in his living. Very few of his followers had comprehended the full significance of his prophetic career. These fissures within the community had surfaced at Hudaybiyyah, when most of the pilgrims seem to have expected something miraculous to occur. People came to Islam for very different reasons. Many were devoted to the ideal of social justice, but not to Muhammad's ideal of nonviolence and reconciliation. The rebellious young highwaymen, who followed Abu Basir, had an entirely different agenda from the Prophet. The Bedouin tribesmen, who had not volunteered for the pilgrimage in 628, had a political rather than a religious commitment to Islam. From the very beginning, Islam was never a monolithic entity.

There is nothing surprising about this lack of unity. In the gospels, Jesus's disciples are often presented as obtuse and blind to the deeper aspect of his mission. Paradigmatic figures are usually so far ahead of their time that their contemporaries fail to understand them, and, after their deaths, the movement splinters—as Buddhism divided into Hinayana and Mahayana schools not long after the death of Siddhatta Gotama. In Islam, too, the divisions that had split the ummah during the Prophet's lifetime became even clearer after his death. Many of the Bedouin, who had never fully comprehended the religious message of the Qur'n, believed that Islam had died with Muhammad and felt free to secede from the ummah in the same way as they would renege on any treaty with a deceased chieftain. After the Prophet's death, the community was lead by his 'kalifa', his "successor." The first four caliphs were elected by the people: Abu Bakr, 'Umar, 'Uthman and 'li, known as the"rightly guided" ('rashidun') caliphs. They led wars of conquest outside Arabia, but at the time these had no religious significance. Like any statesmen or generals, the rashidun were responding to a political opportunity—the disintegration of the Persian and Byzantine empires—rather than a Qur'nic imperative. The terrible civil wars that resulted in the assassinations of 'Umar, 'Uthman, 'li and Husayn, the Prophet's grandson, were later given a religious significance but were simply a by-product of an extraordinarily accelerated transition from a peripheral, primitive polity to the status of a major world power.

Far more surprising than this political turbulence was the Muslims' response. Their understanding of the Qur'n matured when they considered these disastrous events. Nearly every single major religious and literary development in Islam has had its origin in a desire to return to the original vision of the Prophet. Many were appalled by the lavish lifestyle of later caliphs, and tried to return to the austere vision of the early ummah. Mystics, theologians, historians, and jurists asked important questions. How could a society that killed its devout leaders claim to be guided by God? What kind of man should lead the ummah? Could rulers who lived in such luxury and condoned the poverty of the vast majority of the people be true Muslims?

These intense debates about the political leadership of the ummah played a role in Islam that was similar to the great Christological debates of the fourth and fifth centuries in Christianity. The ascetic spirituality of Sufism had its roots in this discontent. Sufis turned their back on the luxury of the court, and tried to live as austerely as the Prophet; they developed a mysticism modelled on his night journey and ascension to heaven. The Shi'h, the self-styled"party of 'li", Muhammad's closest male relative, believed that the ummah must be led by one of 'li's direct descendants, since they alone had inherited the Prophet's charisma. Shiis developed a piety of protest against the injustice of mainstream Muslim society and tried to return to the egalitarian spirit of the Qur'n. Yet while these and many other movements looked back to the towering figure of Muhammad, they all took the Qur'nic visions into entirely new directions, and showed that the original revelations had the flexibility to respond to unprecedented circumstances that is essential to any great world movement. From the very start, Muslims used their Prophet as a yardstick by which to challenge their politicians and to measure the spiritual health of the ummah.

This critical spirit is needed today. Some Muslim thinkers regard the jihad against Mecca as the climax of Muhammad's career and fail to note that he eventually abjured warfare and adopted a nonviolent policy. Western critics also persist in viewing the Prophet of Islam as a man of war, and fail to see that from the very first he was opposed to the jahili arrogance and egotism that not only fuelled the aggression of his time but is much in evidence in some leaders, Western and Muslim alike, today. The Prophet, whose aim was peace and practical compassion, is becoming a symbol of division and strife—a development that is not only tragic but also dangerous to the stability on which the future of our species depends.

At the end of my first attempt to write a biography of Muhammad, I quoted the prescient words of the Canadian scholar Wilfred Cantwell Smith. Writing in the mid-twentieth century shortly before the Suez Crisis, he observed that a healthy, functioning Islam had for centuries helped Muslims cultivate decent values which we in the West share, because they spring from a common tradition. Some Muslims have problems with Western modernity. They have turned against the cultures of the People of the Book, and have even begun to Islamize their new hatred of these sister faiths, which were so powerfully endorsed by the Qur'n. Cantwell Smith argued that if they are to meet the challenge of the day, Muslims must learn to understand our Western traditions and institutions, because they are not going to disappear. If Islamic societies did not do this, he maintained, they would fail the test of the twentieth century. But he pointed out that Western people also have a problem: "An inability to recognize that they share the planet not with inferiors but with equals."

Unless Western civilization intellectually and socially, politically and economically, and the Christian church theologically, can learn to treat other men with fundamental respect, these two in their turn will have failed to come to terms with the actualities of the twentieth century. The problems raised in this are, of course, as profound as anything that we have touched on for Islam. [52]

The brief history of the twenty-first century shows that neither side has mastered these lessons. If we are to avoid catastrophe, the Muslim and Western worlds must learn not merely to tolerate but to appreciate one another. A good place to start is with the figure of Muhammad: a complex man, who resists facile, ideologically-driven categorization, who sometimes did things that were difficult or impossible for us to accept, but who had profound genius and founded a religion and cultural tradition that was not based on the sword but whose name—"Islam"—signified peace and reconciliation."

Muhammad (Prophet For Our Time)
Chapter 5, 'Salam', p. 210-214
Karen Armstrong
Harper Perennial - London, New York, Toronto and Sydney

Notes:
[52] Wilfred Cantwell Smith, 'Islam in Modern History' (Princeton and London, 1957), 305.





The Great Adi Shakti Shri Mataji
The Spirit-Paraclete
"The Self is the Spirit. This Spirit resides in the heart of every human being and is in a witness-like state. The Spirit is the projection of God Almighty, while the Kundalini is the projection of the power of God, of His desire which is the Primordial Mother, or you can call it Adi Shakti, Holy Ghost or Athena. So the Kundalini is the projection of the Holy Ghost, while the Spirit is the projection of God Almighty. The All-pervading Power of love is the power of the Primordial Mother, which creates and evolves, and does all the living work."- Shri Mataji Nirmal Devi


"Chopra: Deep stuff or New Age fluff?

ST. PETERSBURG

Motivational guru Deepak Chopra believes he provides answers for a new age, teaching his international body of followers that the key to solving problems is to seek God within. Chopra's philosophy, zealously marketed through books, seminars and tapes, has won him legions of fans...

"There is no guilt in his system. There is no need for remorse or anything like that. It is not like you have to stop sinning (or) you have to clean up your act. There are no commandments," John Morreall, professor of religious studies at USF, said of Chopra's teachings. "People want easy, digestible stuff that doesn't require them to change their life, and any way you can package that will be successful," Morreall added.

In fact, a sell-out crowd is expected Monday when Chopra makes an appearance at the Mahaffey Theater, said the Rev. Joan Pinkston, minister at the Center for Positive Living, which is sponsoring his visit.

She said this is the third time her church, at 5200 29th Ave. N, has brought Chopra to Tampa Bay.

"He is so popular and he does bring a universal message of truth for those who are ready to hear it," Pinkston said. "He brings it to the masses who are unchurched and who may never capture that message other than through the secular community."

In a telephone interview, Chopra, who was born in India, said he prefers to be thought of as spiritual rather than religious. "The founders of religion were universal beings," he said. "But at some point it developed dogma and ideology and unfortunately we have had more anguish and more war and more hatred and more bigotry and more suffering in the name of religion than in every other name... . I like to think of myself as seeking spirituality, which is the basis of religion. God gave humans the truth, and the devil came and he said, 'Let's give it a name and call it religion.'"

Chopra, whose teachings are based in part on the Vedantas, the sacred writings that are the root of Hinduism, added that it often is said that God created man in his own image. "I think it is the other way. Man created God in his own image," he said. "The image of God is usually a dead white man in the sky. That is just an image. It is not satisfactory. Why can't God be black or a woman? ... All the conflict in the world is because we have different images of God. God is beyond image. As soon as you create an image about God, you limit God." But, he said, that is what defines most religion.

Spirituality is different, giving one the ability to love and have compassion, added Chopra, author of 22 books, including best-sellers Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success and The Pathway to Love. "It is the capacity to experience joy and spread it to others," he said. " It is the security of knowing that your life has meaning and purpose. It is a sense of connection to the creative power of the universe. This creative power of the universe is by various religions called God. "In my experience, it is infinite. It is unbounded. It's immanent and transcendent. It is timeless. It expresses itself in the infinite organization of the universe and in the infinite intelligence of the universe."

And to find God, those caught up in the search must get in touch with what Chopra refers to as "The essence" of their own being. That essence, he explained, is God. And it is within every person, said Chopra, quoting Jesus in the book of John...

And it seems to sell particularly well among intellectuals, Morreall said. For those trying to cope with stressful conditions, Chopra's message finds a ready welcome.

"What Chopra offers is the promise that you will be able to quiet down the noise and you will be able to control your world. And that is immensely appealing," Morreall said.

To members of the Center for Positive Living, part of the Spokane, Wash.-based Religious Science organization, Chopra reaffirms a familiar philosophy.

"With what we teach, we believe in one power and it doesn't matter what you call it, whether it is God, spirit, nature, life," Pinkston said. " It is the ultimate one power. What we believe is true about God is also true about us. The one thing that may separate us from other mainline, traditional religions is that we truly believe that this power that created us is within us and is not something that is outside and separate from us and that it is, yes, greater than we are and that we can use it and we are using it every moment." Chopra's popularity, she said, is based on his universal message.

"Here is a medical doctor who has taught at Tufts University, and he is very well-read. I believe that people are really hungry for the message ... that the soul responds to — that we are divine beings," added Pinkston, a former Baptist who began searching for a new path about 30 years ago.

"We teach the metaphysical, the inner message of Jesus the Christ," Pinkston said. " (Chopra) is teaching the same message. The way he is teaching is that love can renew, heal. Love can make us safe. Love can inspire us and bring us closer to God and that is what we are all searching for, the union of the self and the spirit."...

What morsels of wisdom will he leave with his audience Monday?

"I only want to achieve one thing in that when they leave they will say to themselves there is a lot to think about," he said. "And in some of them it will start a new journey which will radically affect the way they live their life."

Kitty Bennett, Times researcher, UMI Company 1998


Vensus A. George, Authentic human destiny: the paths of Shankara and Heidegger
PARAA VIDHYAA
THE NOUMENAL STATE OF MAN


In the last chapter, we looked into the phenomenal state of man, as considered by Shankara. This chapter attempts to study the noumenal state of man. According to Shankara, man's ultimate destiny does not consist in being caught up in the phenomenal existence; rather, man is called to live at a depth at which he must experience the source of the universe within himself. The task of man is not to search for his ultimate destiny outside, but to move into himself and discovering the ultimate in the cave of his heart. It is not a new knowledge, but a realization of what one really is. Paraa vidhyaa, therefore, is nothing else but a self-realization in which one experiences Brahman (Brahmaanubhava) as one's own indwelling spirit (Aatman). This chapter deals with the goal, nature and characteristics of para vidhya.

2.1.1. THE GOAL OF PARAA VIDHYAA

The goal of para vidhya is Brahman, the ultimate universal spirit behind the universe and Aatman, the ultimate principle in the individual. Only when one has true knowledge about both Brahman and Aatman, can one begin to experience the oneness between these two. In this section, we will clarify these two notions, in preparation for the analysis of the nature of para vidhya.

2.1.1. BRAHMAN

The word 'Brahman'[1] is derived from the Sanskrit root 'brih' which literally means 'to gush forth', 'to grow', 'to be great', and 'to increase'. The suffix 'man' added to the root 'brih' signifies the absence of limitation. Thus, the term 'Brahman' etymologically means that which is absolutely the greatest.[2] So 'Brahman' denotes"that first ... reality from which the entire universe of our experience has sprung up."[3] In the words of the Vedaanta-Suutras," Brahman is that omniscient, omnipotent cause from which proceeds the origin of the world."[4] Thus, the term 'Brahman' signifies the absolute and ultimate reality which is the substratum and the foundation of the world we know, and on which everything depends for its existence. Brahman is self-sufficient and does not depend on anything else for its existence. Hence it must be spiritual entity, since matter is not self-sufficient, limited and subject to change. George Thibault, in his introduction to the Vedaanta-Suutraas, says that whatever exists is in reality one, and this one universal being is called Brahman. This being is absolutely homogeneous in nature; it is pure Being, Intelligence and Thought. Intelligence or thought is not predicated of Brahman as its attribute, but constitutes its substance. Brahman is not a thinking being, but thought itself. It is absolutely destitute of qualities and whatever qualities or attributes are conceivable can only be denied of it.[5] Thus, Brahman is without qualities (nirguna), beyond the order of our empirical and worldly experience. We cannot grasp Brahman with our empirical experiences, since the being of Brahman is necessary for anything to exist, and even for the possibility of empirical experience. In other words, Brahman is a priori and cannot be grasped by a posteriori or limited experience.

Because of our inability to grasp the true nature of Brahman, whatever positive description is developed about Brahman will remain in the level of phenomenal experience, and Brahman is beyond all phenomena. That is why we find contrary characteristics attributed to Brahman. In Brhadaaranyaka Upanishad, we read that Brahman is "light and not light, desire and absence of desire, anger and absence of anger, righteousness and absence of righteousness."[6] Kaatha Upanishad speaks of Brahman as "smaller than the small, greater than the great, sitting yet moving, lying and yet going everywhere."[7] Brahman is light and not light, in the sense that it is only because there is Brahman that there is light and darkness. Again there exist small and the greater only because Brahman exists.

At the same time the word 'existence' cannot be attributed to Brahman and to the empirical world in the same way, for Brahman's existence is different in nature. The existence of Brahman is opposed to all empirical existence, so that in comparison with this it can just as well be considered as non-existence. Brahman is the being of all beings.[8] The nature of Brahman is so transcendent, that it cannot be compared with anything in the world we know. At the same time, Brahman is present in all its manifestations, for without the Being of Brahman nothing can exist. Yet the empirical experience of Brahman is not possible. Thus, Brahman is that unalterable and absolute Being which remains identical with itself in all its manifestations. It is the basis and ground of all experience, and is different from the space-time-cause world. Brahman has nothing similar to it, nothing different from it, and no internal differentiation, for all these are empirical distinctions. It is non-empirical, non-objective, wholly other, but it is not non-being.[9]

Shankara repeatedly speaks of, and strongly defends, the absolute, unchangeable, attributeless nature of Brahman, alluding to many texts in the scripture which points to the nirgunaa Brahman.[10] Commenting on the Upanishadic text," as a lump of salt is without interior or exterior, entire and purely saline taste, even so is the self (Brahman) without exterior or interior, entire and pure intelligence only,[11] Shankara points to the oneness of Brahman. In the lump of salt there is nothing other than salt, so too Brahman is nothing other than itself. It is the absolute being without a second.[12] Shankara also uses the example of the sun reflecting in water and appearing as many, in order to bring home the same truth. He says that just as the reflection of the sun in water increases with the increase of water, and decreases with its reduction, it moves when the water moves, and it differs as the water differs, so is the self. The sun seem to conform to the characteristics of water, but in reality the sun never has these increasing or decreasing qualities. So also Brahman, which from the highest point of view always retains its sameness, seems to conform to such characteristics as increase and decrease of the limiting adjunct owing to its entry into such an adjunct as a body.[13]

For Shankara, therefore, Brahman is a principle of utter simplicity. There is no duality in Brahman, for no qualities are found in his concept of Brahman. It is also simple in the sense that it is not subject to inner contradictions, which would make it changeable and transitory. Though Shankara uses logic and arguments to understand the nature of Brahman and to speak of Brahman, still for him in its reality Brahman is not a metaphysical postulate that can be proved logically, but must be experienced in silence.[14] Thus, Brahman is one: It is not a 'He', a personal being; nor is it an 'It', an impersonal concept. It is that state which comes about when all subject-object distinctions are obliterated. Ultimately, Brahman is a name for the experience of the timeless plenitude of Being.[15]

2.1.2. AATMAN

The term 'Aatman' comes from the Sanskrit root 'an' which etymologically means 'to breathe'. It is often rendered as 'soul' or 'self', and signifies the most fundamental being of the individual. There is no one who can deny the existence of the self for it is the basis of all individual actions. Everyone is conscious of the existence of his self and never thinks that he is not.[16] To doubt the existence of the self would be a contradiction in terms because then one would doubt the existence of the very doubter who engages in the doubt. The doubter of the self is often compared by Advaitins to a person who searches for the necklace while wearing it; or to a person who wears the spectacles on his face and at the same time looks for them elsewhere. Without the existence of the self, it is impossible for us to entertain the idea even of its being capable of refutation. For the knowledge of the self is not established through the so-called means of right knowledge, but it is self-established.[17] Thus, the very existence of understanding and its functions presuppose an intelligence known as the self which is different from them, which is self-established and which they subserve. [18] The very possibility of knowledge and the means of knowledge (pramaanas) have relevance if there exists the self which is the source of all knowledge. Therefore, Aatman is beyond all doubt," for it is the essential nature of him who denies it."[19] Therefore, Shankara believed that it was the nature of the self and not its reality, which is to be proved."The self must seek itself in order to find what it is, not that it is."[20]

Having established the existence of the self, we can turn now to the discussion of the nature of the Aatman. Aatman is the deathless, birthless, eternal and real substance in every individual soul. It is the unchanging reality behind the changing body, sense organs, mind and ego. It is the spirit, which is pure consciousness and in unaffected by time, space and causality. It is limitless and without a second. [21] Vedantins speak of three states of consciousness, namely the waking state (vishwa), the dream state (taijasa), and the state of dreamless sleep (pragna). The basic underlying principle which witnesses all these three states of one's existence is the pure consciousness (chaitanyam), the self. It is because of the presence of this ultimate substratum, that the body, the senses, the mind and the intellect function properly. At the same time it is not identified with these, nor affected by the changes that take place in the body, in the other sense or intellectual functions. Thus, Aatman.is the "unrelated witness of the experiences of the three stages, which include a man's diverse activities."[22]

Shankara gives a number of illustrations to clarify the nature of the self, especially in its role of being a witness (saakshin) to all activities of body, mind, senses, and intellect. Firstly, Shankara gives the analogy of a king's court. In the court, the king sits in his high throne as the observer of the activities of his ministers, councilors and all the others present. But because of his majesty as the king, he is unique and different from all. So too the self which is pure consciousness dwells in the body as a witness to the functions of the body, mind and other faculties, while at the same time it is different from them by its natural light. Thus, the witness is the absolute consciousness, the unchanging intelligence that underlies the finer and grosser bodies. It is neither Iishvara nor jiva, but it is Aatman which is untouched by the distinction of Iishvara and jiva. [23]

To those who come with the objection that the self is not only a mere observer or witness, but also participates in the activities of the body, Shankara replies using the analogy of the moon and the clouds. The movement of the clouds on a moonlight night suggests that the moon is moving, whereas in fact it is the clouds that move. Likewise, the activities of the mind and senses create the illusion that the self is active. [24] To the one who would say that activity belongs to the senses or other faculties and considers them the self, Shankara gives the following illustrations. Just as the iron filings become active at the presence of the magnet, so also it is the presence of the self that makes the body, the senses and all the other faculties active. It is fire which makes the iron ball red-hot. So also neither can the mind, the intellect or the body combined make the self. It is the self which is the source of all their activities. Just as a man who works with the help of the light that in inherent in the sun does so without ever affecting the sun, so too the mind, the body, the intellect, and the senses, engage in their respective activities with the help of the self, but without exerting any influence on the self. [25] All these illustrations point to the basic and absolute nature of the Aatman. The following Upanishadic statement bear witness to this reality. "That the imperishable is the unseen seer, the unheard hearer, the unthought thinker, the ununderstood understander. Other than It, there is naught that hears, other than It, there is naught that thinks; other than It, there is naught that understands."[26]

The terms 'Brahman' and 'Aatman', both basically denote one and the same underlying principle: the former stands for the underlying and unchanging principle of the universe; while the latter refers to the unchanging reality in the individuals. Both of these terms are used in the Upanishads and by the interpreters as synonyms they do interchange these two terms in the same sentence. Commenting on the Upanishadic statement: "Who is an Aatman? What is Brahman?", [27] Shankara remarks: "By Brahman, the limitations implied in the Aatman are removed, and by the Aatman the conception of Brahman as a divinity to be worshipped is condemned."[28] These two terms fundamentally refer to one and the same reality, which is the ground of everything. In other words, these two terms stand for two different descriptions of the same ultimate reality, from the point of view of the universe and the individual. The ultimate reality represented by these two terms is the goal of paraa vidhya or Brahmaanubhava.

2.2. NATURE OF PARAA VIDHYAA

We have analyzed the goal of paraa vidhya, in the preceding section. Here, we must attempt to clarify the nature of paraa vidhya, in which the Brahman-realization is attained by the seeker. We elaborate the nature of paraa vidhya, by looking into its meaning and clarifying the identity between Brahman and Aatman.

2.2.1. MEANING

Paraa Vidhya or Brahmaanubhava is the ultimate and monumental state of man. The term 'Bramaanubhava' is a compound word, which consists of two Sanskrit words, viz. 'Brahman' (absolute reality) and 'anubhava' (intuitive experience or knowledge). The term 'anubhava' means not a mere theoretical or intellectual knowledge, but the knowledge obtained through an integral experience. Anubhava is not the immediacy of an uninterrupted sensation, where the existence and the content of what is apprehended are separated. It is related to artistic insight rather than to animal instinct; it is an immediate knowledge.[29] Thus, literally the term 'Brahmaanubhava' means the integral and intuitive experience of the absolute reality. When we speak of the intuitive experience of Brahman, from the Advaitic point of view there arise many basic questions as to the nature of Brahmaanubhava. How is it possible to have an experience if there is no subject to experience and no object to be experienced? Besides, if there is no duality in an experience, can it be described? If Brahmaanubhava is an experience, and if it has no duality in itself as an experience, then what is the nature of the experience involved in Brahmaanubhava? These questions stem from the fact that the Advaita philosophy of Shankara does not permit the possibility of duality in this fundamental experience.

Possession of intellectual knowledge about the nature of Brahman and that of Brahmaanubhava is the first step towards the attainment of Brahmaanubhava. Obtaining intellectual knowledge by the study of the Scriptures, especially by understanding the meaning and the import of the Vedantic statements like 'That art Thou', is necessary for Brahmaanubhava. In knowing the nature of Brahman intellectually, one can work towards the attainment of Brahmaanubhava. When we speak of the attainment of Brahmaanubhava, we use the term attainment' (labdha) in a figurative sense (upacara). [30] In an empirical experience we attain some new knowledge, i.e., knowledge which had not been previously existed as far as we were concerned. In Brahmaanubhava, however, we do not attain anything new, but only realize what we are, i.e., our true nature, the identity with Brahman. According to Shankara, we are Brahman, and Brahmaanubhava is that experience by which we recognize our own real nature.

Many texts in Shankara's works point to the fact that the attainment of Brahmaanubhava consists in the recognition and the realization that one's real and true nature is Brahman. "The state of being Brahman is the same as the realization of the self."[31] "Perfect knowledge ... is the realization of the Aatman as one with Brahman."[32] "When a man knows the Aatman, and sees it inwardly and outwardly as the ground of all things animate and inanimate he has indeed reached liberation."[33] "No man who knows Brahman to be different from himself is a knower of truth."[34] "My self is pure consciousness, free from all distinctions and sufferings."[35] Thus, Brahmaanubhava which is the experience of identity with Brahman, is an attainment only from the point of view of the aspirant or the seeker of truth. From the absolute of paramaartha point of view there is no attainment of Brahman.

2.2.2. IDENTITY OF BRAHMAN AND AATMAN

From what has been said about the nature of Brahmaanubhava, so far, there arises the question, how, at all, can we know or have any kind of knowledge about this experience called Brahmaanubhava? No empirical means of knowledge (pramaana) can help us in this regard, except scriptural knowledge. Though scriptural knowledge is limited to the level of duality, still it provides knowledge about the reality of Brahman and enables us to have an intellectual understanding of Brahman.

Shankara holds the authority of the scriptural testimony in our intellectual understanding of Brahman. Nothing else on earth, except the scriptures, can reveal to us the nature of Brahman and of Brahmaanubhava. In this regard Shankara is very clear; he does not substitute any pramaana than the scriptural testimony, for the attainment of the intellectual knowledge about Brahman. He does make use of other pramaanas, but only to elucidate, clarify and demonstrate what he accepts on the basis of scriptural authority about Brahman and Brahmaanubhava. He says," The fact of everything having its self in Brahman cannot be grasped [intellectually], without the aid of scriptural passage"That art Thou'.[36]

The word 'upanishad' (scripture) derives its meaning from its capacity to lead to the truth those who, having been thoroughly dissatisfied with the things seen and unseen, seek liberation from ignorance, which is the source of bondage and suffering. The Upanishads are capable of accomplishing all these, for in them the highest end of life is embodied.[37]

Authentic human destiny: the paths of Shankara and Heidegger
Vensus A. George, Council for Research in Values & (August 1998), pp. 47-54

NOTES [1] The word 'Brahman' appears for the first time in the Rig Veda as related various sacred utterances, which were believed to have magical powers. So, initially it meant 'spell' or 'prayer', which can be used for the attainment of one's wishes and desires. In the Brahmanas, it began to signify that which stands behind God as their ground and basis. Finally, in the Upanishads, this terms came to stand for the unitary principle of all beings, the knowledge of which frees one from finitude. Cf. Eliot Deutsch, p. 9.
[2] Cf. BSB, I, i, 1, pp. 11-12.
[3] Ramkant A Sinari, p. 67.
[4] Swami Virswarananda (trans.), Brahma-Suutra (Mayavata, Almor, Himalayas: Advaita Ashrama, (1948), I, i, 2, p. 26 (hereafter: BSB, Virsawarananda).
[5] George Thibaut (trans.), Brahma-Sutras, vol. XXIV, Introduction, pp. xxiv-xxv (hereafter: BSB, Thibaut).
[6] S. Radhakrishnan (ed.), The Principal Upanishads (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1953), p. 272.
[7] Ibid., p. 617.
[8] Cf. Paul Deussen, The System of Vedanta, trans. Charles Johnson (Chicago: Open Court Publishing Co., 1912), pp. 211-212. Cf. also BUB, II, i, 20.
[9] S. Radhakrishnan and C. A. Moore (eds.), A Source Book in Indian Philosophy, 5th printing (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1973), p. 507. [10] In interpreting the Upanishadic text, Shankara is of the opinion that one must accept only those texts which speak of Brahman without qualities and forms. "But other texts speaking of Brahman with form", he says," have the injunctions about meditation as their main objectives. So long as they do not lead to some contradictions, their apparent meaning should be accepted. But, when they involve contradictions, the principle to be followed for deciding one or the other is that those that have the formless Brahman as their main purport are more authoritative than the others which have not that as their main purpose. It is according to this that one is driven to the conclusion that Brahman is formless and not its opposite." Cf. BSB, III, ii, 14, p. 612.
[11]"Brihadaaranayaka Upanishad", IV, v, 13, R. E. Hume, The Thirteen Principal Upanishads, 2nd revised ed. (New York: Princeton University Press, 1973), p. 147 (hereafter: BU., Hume).
[12] Cf. BSB, III, ii, 16, pp. 615-617.
[13] CF. ibid., III, ii, 18-20, pp. 615-617.
[14] Baskali asked Bhava three times about the nature of Brahman. The latter remained silent all three times, but finally he replied," I have already spoken, but you cannot comprehend that the self is silence." ibid., III, ii, 17, p. 614.
[15] Cf. Eliot Detsch, p. 9.
[16] Cf. BSB, I, i, 1, p. 12.
[17] Cf. ibid., II, iii, 7, p. 455.
[18] Cf. ibid., p. 456.
[19] Ibid., p. 457.
[20] Organ Troy Wilson, The Self in Indian Philosophy (London: Mounton & Co., 1964), p. 104.
[21] Cf. AB, p. 118.
[22] Ibid., p. 133.
[23] Cf. ibid., p. 136, Cf. Mahendranath Sircar, The System of Vedaantic Thought and Culture, pp. 156-157.
[24] Cf. ibid., pp. 136-137.
[25] Cf. ibid., pp. 137-138.
[26] BU., III, viii, 1, Hume, p. 118.
[27]"Chaanduukhya Upanishad", V, ix, 1, Hume, p. 234 (hereafter: Ch. U., Hume).
[28] Paul Deussen, The Philosophy of the Upanishads (New York: Dover Publications Inc., 1996), pp. 86-87.
[29] Radhakrishnan S., Indian Philosophy, vol. II, p. 513.
[30] BUB, VI, v, 6, pp. 500-501.
[31] Shankara, Gaudapaadakaarika Bhaasya and Maanduukya Upanishad Bhaasya, trans. Swami Nihilananda (Mysore: Sri Ramakrishna Ashrama, 1955), IV, 85 (hereafter: GKB).
[32] VC, p. 65.
[33] Ibid., p. 89.
[34] Shankara, Upadeshasaahasrii, trans. Swami Jagadaananda, 6th ed. (Madras: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1979), II, xvi, 70, p. 189 (hereafter: UI).
[35] BSB, IV, i, 2, p. 815.
[36] Ibid., I, i, 2, p. 815.
[37] Cf. A. Ramamuarthi, p. 116.


"Self-realization involves an identity-experience, wherein one realizes his oneness with the ultimate Brahman"

Vensus A. George, Self-realization
"4.1.2. Incommunicability of Self-realization

The self-realization involves an identity-experience, wherein one realizes his oneness with the ultimate Brahman. Therefore, self- realization is of the nature of Brahman, i.e., without subject-object duality, eternal and uncaused, immediate and direct, besides being incomprehensible, indescribable and trans-empirical. Brahmaanubhava is not available to the empirical experience, as the scope of the former goes far beyond that of the latter. The words and languages we use refer to the phenomenal world and relative realities. As Brahman is beyond the phenomenal, Brhamaamubhava cannot be described in ordinary language. Therefore, one can speak of self-realization only by way of negation, by denying the qualities of the empirical experience superimposed on it. For instance, the qualities that are attributed to Brahman, such as reality (satyam), knowledge (jnaanam) and infinitude (aanandam) are not positive descriptions of Brahman, but are mere negations of qualities superimposed on Brahman, such as unreality, ignorance and finitude. Thus, all statements we make about Brahman, Brahmaamubhava and Brahmajnaani are mere approximations in the light of the phenomenal knowledge. Such a philosophical position makes self-realization, for all practical purposes, incommunicable. Since, Brahmaanbhava is unknowable and indescribable, it cannot be communicated by the Brahmajnaani to any one in the realm of phenomenal existence. Since Brahman-experience cannot be passed on to the other in any form of communication, it would always remain the subjective experience of the Brahmajnaani. Any attempt to communicate it, using phenomenal language, would be nothing else but a mere phenomenal approximation of the transcendental experience. Such approximations would never take one to the core of self-realization, as it is incommunicable.

4.1.3. Insignificance of the Other's Role in Brahmaajijnaasa

Shankarite path to self-realization, viz., the movement from ignorance to knowledge, is a way that is basically walked by the aspirant alone. The only involvement of the other, on the aspirant's effort to attain the goal of Brahmaanubhava, is the Guru. He is a detached guide, who helps the student to understand the true import of the Vedaantic statements, especially at the hearing (sravana) state of Brahmaajijnaasa. The relationship that exists between the aspirant and the Guru is that of a teacher and a student. In this relationship, the aspirant is totally obedient to the Guru, does and listens to the teachings of the Guru by sitting at his feet. It is not a one to one, I- Thou relationship, in which one enters into the life of the other as an equal partner. Other than the teacher, the aspirant does not have any significant relationship with any other person. This is clear from what the aspirant does in the three stages of Brahmaajijnaasa, viz., sravana, manaana and nididhyaasana. In these three stages of Brahmaajijnaasa the aspirant firstly, hears the instructions of the teacher personally. Secondly he reflects on the content of the Guru's teachings in solitude, so as to remove the apparent contradictions and to be intellectually convinced of the true import of the scriptural aphorisms. Thirdly, he meditates in silence on the truths he achieved through hearing and reflection. The various stages of Brahmaajijnaasa in the jnaana path are so centered on the individual seeker and his personal effort the presence of the other in the process is seen as an interference that would distract him from the goal of self-realization. So the seeker is basically all alone through out the process of Brahmaajijnaasa. Even after the seeker has attained self-realization, he does not need to have any relationship with the other or to a community of others, because all such relationships would be irrelevant and unreal to the Brahmajnaani. Thus, Shankara's path to self-realization does not give any significance to the I-Thou relationship that is genuine and inter- subjective communion of hearts between human persons...

From what has been said, it is clear that Shankara by his doctrine of Brahmaanubhava and the self's absolute oneness with Brahman, does not speak of a dissolution of the world. At the attainment of Brahmaanubhava, the external world is not destroyed or annihilated. But, the Brahmajnaani views the world no longer from the phenomenal point of view. He sees everything in terms of oneness, which is characteristic of Brahmaanubhava. Thus, from the point of view of the liberated man the phenomenal world is real in the relative sense, because the state he is in, i.e., his absolute identity with Brahman is that which is really real. As long as one tries to understand Shankara's Advaita philosophy purely from the phenomenal point of view, he will always meet with contradictions, for what is absolutely true is the transcendental and trans-empirical.

4.2.2. Advaita Vedaanta as Pantheism

Many consider Advaita Vedaanta to be pantheistic, because self- realization consists in the identity of the self and Brahman. Those who hold this view cite the mahaavaakya 'That art Thou' in their support.9 In interpreting the above mentioned Vedaantic aphorism, we say that it cannot be interpreted in the direct meaning of 'That' and 'Thou', viz., Iishvara and jiiva, since such a union between the supreme Lord and the limited soul is not possible. It its implied meaning 'That' refers to Brahman and 'Thou' refers to Aatman. Brahman is the absolute and eternal reality in the universe and Aatman is the pure consciousness, the eternal reality behind the individual self. Brahman and Aatman are eternally identical. In Brahmaanubhava, as we know, there is not experiencer and the experienced. What really happens in Brahmaanubhava is that the self, removed of all ignorance and its effects, realizes its eternal identity with Brahman. Thus, Brahmaanubhava cannot be considered as involving an identity between supreme Lord and the soul. Besides, the terms, 'union' and 'identity', are used figuratively because there is not new identity reached in Brahmaanubhava, but only the existing eternal identity between Brahman and Aatman is realized. Again there is no notion of God (as a theist would understand) in Shankara's thought. He does not consider Brahman as a deity to be worshipped or to be devoted to, but as the absolute ontological reality behind all the phenomena, which is identical with the self, the pure consciousness. So, for Shankara Brahman is not to be worshipped, but to be realized. If Brahman is viewed as a deity to be worshipped, and such a deity is seen as being identical with everything in the universe, then we have a pantheistic world-view. Since Shankara does not consider Brahman as deity who is identical with the universe, it seems clear that in Shankara's Advaita there is no trace of pantheism. Advaita goes beyond the distinction of theism, atheism and pantheism, as the question of God is not at all an issue in Advaita Vedaanta. Therefore, Shankarite thought does not involve any form of 'isms' that views the absolute reality in terms of Godhead. But rather it is a mystical philosophy that aims at making everyone aware of his true ontological nature, i.e., Brahman and move towards attaining it."

Vensus A. George, Self-realization (Brahmaanubhava)
Council for Research in Values & (January 2001), pp. 23-31




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