Editor's Choice

The Gnostic Gospels: "Self-knowledge is knowledge of God; the self and the divine are identical"

The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Paigels
"Yet to know oneself, at the deepest level, is simultaneously to know God; this is the secret of gnosis. Another gnostic teacher, Monoimus, says:

Abandon the search for God and the creation and other matters of a similar sort. Look for him by taking yourself as the starting point. Learn who it is within you who makes everything his own and says," My God, my mind, my thought, my soul, my body."Learn the sources of sorrow:, joy, love, hate ... If you carefully investigate these matters you will find him in yourself."

The Nag Hammadi Library
An Introduction to Gnosticism and The Nag Hammadi Library
What is Gnosticism?

Gnosis and gnosticism are still rather arcane terms, though in the last two decades the words have been increasingly encountered in the vocabulary of contemporary society. Gnosis derives from Greek, and connotes"knowledge"or the"Act of knowing." (On first hearing, it is sometimes confused with another more common term of the same root but opposite sense: agnostic, literally "not knowing", a knower of nothing.) The Greek language differentiates between rational, propositional knowledge, and the distinct form of knowing obtained not by reason, but by personal experience or perception. It is this latter knowledge, gained from experience, from an interior spark of comprehension, that constitutes gnosis.1

In the first century of the Christian era this term, Gnostic, began to be used to denote a prominent, even if somewhat heterodox, segment of the diverse new Christian community. Among these early followers of Christ, it appears that an elite group delineated themselves from the greater household of the Church by claiming not simply a belief in Christ and his message, but a"special witness"or revelatory experience of the divine. It was this experience, this gnosis, which—so these Gnostics claimed—set the true follower of Christ apart from his fellows. Stephan Hoeller explains that these Gnostic Christians held a"conviction that direct, personal and absolute knowledge of the authentic truths of existence is accessible to human beings, and, moreover, that the attainment of such knowledge must always constitute the supreme achievement of human life."2

What the"Authentic truths of existence"Affirmed by the Gnostics were will be briefly reviewed below. But a historical overview of the early Church might first be useful. In the initial decades of the Christian church—the period when we find first mention of"Gnostic"Christians—no orthodoxy, or single acceptable format of Christian thought, had yet been defined. During this first century of Christianity modern scholarship suggests Gnosticism was one of many currents sweeping the deep waters of the new religion. The ultimate course Christianity, and Western culture with it, would take was undecided at that early moment; Gnosticism was one of forces forming that destiny.

That Gnosticism was, at least briefly, in the mainstream of Christianity is witnessed by the fact that one of the most prominent and influential early Gnostic teachers, Valentinus, may have been in consideration during the mid-second century for election as the Bishop of Rome. 3 Valentinus serves well as a model of the Gnostic teacher. Born in Alexandria around A.D. 100, in his early years Valentinus had distinguished himself as an extraordinary teacher and leader in the highly educated and diverse Alexandrian Christian community. In the middle of his life, around A.D. 140, he migrated from Alexandria to the Church's evolving capital, Rome, where he played an active role in the public life of the Church. A prime characteristic of the Gnostics was their propensity for claiming to be keepers of secret teachings, gospels, traditions, rituals, and successions within the Church—sacred matters for which many Christians were (in Gnostic opinion) simply either not prepared or not properly inclined. Valentinus, true to this Gnostic penchant, professed a special apostolic sanction. He maintained he had been personally initiated by one Theudas, a disciple and initiate of the Apostle Paul, and that he possessed knowledge of teachings and perhaps rituals which were being forgotten by the developing opposition that became Christian orthodoxy.4 Though an influential member of the Roman church in the mid- second century, by the end of his life some twenty years later he had been forced from the public eye and branded a heretic.

While the historical and theological details are far too complex for proper explication here, the tide of history can be said to have turned against Gnosticism in the middle of the second century. No Gnostic after Valentinus would ever come so near prominence in the greater Church. Gnosticism's secret knowledge, its continuing revelations and production of new scripture, its ascetheticism and paradoxically contrasting libertine postures, were met with increasing suspicion. By A.D. 180, Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon, was publishing his attacks on Gnosticism as heresy, a work to be continued with increasing vehemence by the orthodox church Fathers throughout the next century.

The orthodox catholic church was deeply and profoundly influenced by the struggle against Gnosticism in the second and third centuries. Formulations of many central traditions in orthodox theology came as reflections and shadows of this confrontation with the Gnosis. 5 But by the end of the fourth century the struggle with the classical Gnosticism represented in the Nag Hammadi texts was essentially over; the evolving orthodox ecclesia had added the force of political correctness to dogmatic denunciation, and with this sword so-called"heresy"Was painfully cut from the Christian body. Gnosticism, which had perhaps already passed its prime, was eradicated, its remaining teachers murdered or driven into exile, and its sacred books destroyed. All that remained for scholars seeking to understand Gnosticism in later centuries were the denunciations and fragments preserved in the patristic heresiologies—or so it seem, until until a day in 1945....

Discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library

It was on a December day in the year of 1945, near the town of Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt, that the course of Gnostic studies was radically renewed and forever changed. An Arab peasant, digging around a boulder in search of fertilizer for his fields, happened upon an old, rather large red earthenware jar. Hoping to have found buried treasure, and with due hesitation and apprehension about the jinn, the genie or spirit who might attend such an hoard, he smashed the jar open with his pick. Inside he discovered no treasure and no genie, but books: more than a dozen old papyrus books, bound in golden brown leather. 6 Little did he realize that he had found an extraordinary collection of ancient texts, manuscripts hidden up a millennium and a half before (probably deposited in the jar around the year 390 by monks from the nearby monastery of St. Pachomius) to escape destruction under order of the emerging orthodox Church in its violent expunging of all heterodoxy and heresy.

How the Nag Hammadi manuscripts eventually passed into scholarly hands is a fascinating even if too lengthy story to here relate. But today, now over fifty years since being unearthed and more than two decades after final translation and publication in English as The Nag Hammadi Library,7 their importance has become astoundingly clear: These thirteen beautiful papyrus codices containing fifty-two sacred texts are the long lost"Gnostic Gospels", a last extant testament of what orthodox Christianity perceived to be its most dangerous and insidious challenge, the feared opponent that the Patristic heresiologists had reviled under many different names, but most commonly as Gnosticism. The discovery of these documents has radically revised our understanding of Gnosticism and the early Christian church.

Overview of Gnostic Teachings

With that abbreviated historical interlude completed, we might again ask," What was it that these "knowers"knew?"What made them such dangerous heretics? The complexities of Gnosticism are legion, making any generalizations wisely suspect. While several systems for defining and categorizing Gnosticism have been proposed over the years, none has yet gained any general publicized discovery of ancient Jewish texts. Discovered beginning in 1947, two years after the Nag Hammadi texts were found, these records now known as the Dead Sea Scrolls were apparently the possessions of Essene communities residing near Qumran in Palestine at a time around the beginning of the Christian era. acceptance. 8 So with advance warning that this is most certainly not a definitive summary of Gnosticism and its many permutations, we will outline just four elements generally agreed to be characteristic of Gnostic thought.

The first essential characteristic of Gnosticism was introduced above: Gnosticism asserts that "direct, personal and absolute knowledge of the authentic truths of existence is accessible to human beings," and that the attainment of such knowledge is the supreme achievement of human life. Gnosis, remember, is not a rational, propositional, logical understanding, but a knowing acquired by experience. The Gnostics were not much interested in dogma or coherent, rational theology—a fact which makes the study of Gnosticism particularly difficult for individuals with "bookkeeper mentalities." (Perhaps for this very same reason, consideration of the Gnostic vision is often a most gratifying undertaking for persons gifted with a poetic ear.) One simply cannot cipher up Gnosticism into syllogistic dogmatic affirmations. The Gnostics cherished the ongoing force of divine revelation—Gnosis was the creative experience of revelation, a rushing progression of understanding, and not a static creed. Carl Gustav Jung, the great Swiss psychologist and a lifelong student of Gnosticism in its various historical permutations, affirms,

we find in Gnosticism what was lacking in the centuries that followed: a belief in the efficacy of individual revelation and individual knowledge. This belief was rooted in the proud feeling of man's affinity with the gods...

In his recent popular study, The American Religion, Harold Bloom suggests a second characteristic of Gnosticism that might help us conceptually circumscribe its mysterious heart. Gnosticism, says Bloom," is a knowing, by and of an uncreated self, or self-within-the self, and [this] knowledge leads to freedom...."9 Primary among all the revelatory perceptions a Gnostic might reach was the profound awakening that came with knowledge that something within him was uncreated. The Gnostics called this"uncreated self"The divine seed, the pearl, the spark of knowing: consciousness, intelligence, light. And this seed of intellect was the self-same substance of God, it was man's authentic reality; it was the glory of humankind and the divine alike. If woman or man truly came to gnosis of this spark, she understood that she was truly free: Not contingent, not a conception of sin, not a flawed crust of flesh, but the stuff of God, and the conduit of God's immanent realization. There was always a paradoxical cognizance of duality in experiencing this "self-within-a-self." How could it not be paradoxical: By all rational perception, man clearly was not God, and yet in essential truth, was Godly. This conundrum was a Gnostic mystery, and its knowing was their greatest treasure.

The creator god, the one who claimed in evolving orthodox dogma to have made man, and to own him, the god who would have man contingent upon him, born ex nihilo by his will, was a lying demon and not God at all. Gnostics called him by many names—many of them deprecatory — names like"Saklas", the blind one;"Samael", god of the blind; or"The Demiurge", the lesser power. Theodotus, a Gnostic teacher writing in Asia Minor between A.D. 140 and 160, explained that the sacred strength of gnosis reveals"Who we were, what we have become, where we have been cast out of, where we are bound for, what we have been purified of, what generation and regeneration are."10"Yet", the eminent scholar of Gnosticism, Elaine Pagels, comments in exegesis," to know oneself, at the deepest level, is simultaneously to know God: this is the secret of gnosis.... Self-knowledge is knowledge of God; the self and the divine are identical."11

The Gospel of Thomas, one of the Gnostic texts found preserved in the Nag Hammadi Library, gives these words of the living Jesus:

Jesus said, 'I am not your master. Because you have drunk, you have become drunk from the bubbling stream which I have measured out... 12
He who will drink from my mouth will become as I am: I myself shall become he, and the things that are hidden will be revealed to him.'

He who will drink from my mouth will become as I am: What a remarkably heretical image! The Gospel of Thomas, from which we take that text, is an extraordinary scripture. Professor Helmut Koester of Harvard University notes that though ultimately this Gospel was condemned and destroyed by the evolving orthodox church, it may be as old or older than the four canonical gospels preserved, and even have served as a source document to them. 14 This brings us to the third prominent element in our brief summary of Gnosticism: its reverence for texts and scriptures unaccepted by the orthodox fold. The Gnostic experience was mythopoetic—in story and allegory, and perhaps also in ritual enactments, Gnosticism sought expression of subtle, visionary insights inexpressible by rational proposition or dogmatic affirmation.

For the Gnostics, revelation was the nature of Gnosis: and for all the visions vouchsafed them, they affirmed a certainty that God would yet reveal many great and wonderful things. Irritated by their profusion of"Inspired texts"And myths—most particularly their penchant for amplifying the story of Adam and Eve, and of the spiritual creation which they viewed as preceding the material realization of creation 15 - Ireneaus complains in his classic second century refutation of Gnosticism, that

every one of them generates something new, day by day, according to his ability; for no one is deemed perfect [or, mature], who does not develop...some mighty fiction.16

The fourth characteristic that we might delineate to understand classical Gnosticism is the most difficult of the four to succinctly untangle, and also one of the most disturbing to subsequent orthodox theology. This is the image of God as a diad or duality. While affirming the ultimate unity and integrity of the Divine, Gnosticism noted in its experiential encounter with the numinous, dualistic, contrasting manifestations and qualities. Consider the Gnostic affirmation that man, in some essential reality, is also God."

James M. Robinson, The Nag Hammadi Library
HarperOne (October 12, 1990) pp. 8-11

1 1 Bentley Layton, The Gnostic Scriptures (New York, 1987), p.9. Hereafter cited as GS.
2 Stephan A. Hoeller, The Gnostic Jung (Wheaton, Ill., 1982), p.11.
3 Layton, p. 220.
4 Layton, pp. 217-221.
5 Giovanni Filoramo, A History of Gnosticism (Oxford, 1990), p. 5.
6 We should here note, given recent extensive discussions about the Dead Sea Scrolls, that the Nag Hammadi find is entirely separate and different from that much publicized discovery of ancient Jewish texts. Discovered beginning in 1947, two years after the Nag Hammadi texts were found, these records now known as the Dead Sea Scrolls were apparently the possessions of Essene communities residing near Qumran in Palestine at a time around the beginning of the Christian era.
7 J. M. Robinson, ed., The Nag Hammadi Library in English (New York, 1st ed., 1977; 3rd ed., 1988). Hereafter cited as NHL.
8 An excellent summary of these appears in: Stephan Hoeller," What is a Gnostic?"Gnosis: A Journal of Western Inner Traditions 23 (Spring, 1992), pp. 24-27.
9 Bloom, p. 49.
10 Clemens Alexandrinus, Exerpta ex theodoto 78.2.
11 Pagels, pp. xix-xx.
12 Gospel of Thomas, 35.4-7, NHL.
13 Gospel of Thomas, 50.28-30, NHL.
14 Helmut Koester," Introduction to The Gospel of Thomas", in NHL, p. 124 f..
15 Irenaeus, Adversus haereses, 1.17.1
16 ibid., 1.18.1

Gnosis essentially is the act of distinguishing the psyche, or soul, from the deepest self

Harold Bloom, Omens of the Millennium: The Gnosis of Angels, Dreams, and Resurrection
"Mysticism, though it comes in many kinds, by no means opposes itself to faith; perhaps indeed it is the most intense form of faith. Wisdom, in the biblical sense, is allied with the prophetic reception of a God who dominates our world, which is seen having fallen away his original Creation. Gnosis grants you acquaintance with a God unknown to, and remote from, this world, a God in exile from a false creation that, in itself, constituted a fall. You yourself, in knowing and being known by this alienated God, come to see that originally your deepest self was no part of the Creation-Fall, but goes back to an archaic time before time, when that deepest self was part of a fullness that was God, a more human God than any worshipped since."- Harold Bloom

"The experience of Gnosis is a varied phenomenon: your knowing may be prompted by a moment of utter solitude, or by the presence of another person. You may be reading or writing, watching an image or a tree, or gazing only inward. Gnosis, though related both to mysticism and to wisdom, is quite distinct from either. Mysticism, though it comes in many kinds, by no means opposes itself to faith; perhaps indeed it is the most intense form of faith. Wisdom, in the biblical sense, is allied with the prophetic reception of a God who dominates our world, which is seen having fallen away his original Creation. Gnosis grants you acquaintance with a God unknown to, and remote from, this world, a God in exile from a false creation that, in itself, constituted a fall. You yourself, in knowing and being known by this alienated God, come to see that originally your deepest self was no part of the Creation-Fall, but goes back to an archaic time before time, when that deepest self was part of a fullness that was God, a more human God than any worshipped since.

I am very aware that my last sentence requires much unpacking, but it was designed for that purpose, because Gnosis is entirely the doctrine of the deep or deepest self. Gnosis essentially is the act of distinguishing the psyche, or soul, from the deepest self, as an act of distinction that is also a recognition. You cannot strengthen your psyche without reacquainting yourself with your original self, compared to which your psyche is only a remnant, a wounded survivor. Peter Brown, in The Body and Society (1988), his study of 'Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity,' expresses this succinctly, in an analysis of the Gnostic doctrine of Valentinus:

Even the soul, the psyche, the conscious self, had occurred as an afterthought. It swathed the lucid spirit in a thick fog of doubt, anxiety, and passion. The unredeemed lived as in a waking nightmare. All human thought, even the most profound religious quest, was riven with uncertainty and misplaced ambition. Only the spirit had a right to exist. It stirred in the depths of the initiate with a blind, insistent 'ferment,' which betrayed its distant origin in the Place of Fullness. This spirit, the pneuma, was the true person (p. 109).

The issue of all Gnosis (and of every Gnosticism) is indeed 'the true person.' We have an addiction, in the United States, that involves the quest of an authentic self, in oneself and in the other person."

Harold Bloom, Omens of the Millennium: The Gnosis of Angels, Dreams,
and Resurrection,
pages 183-4
Publisher: Riverhead Books (October 1, 1997)

"Man is a trap ... and goodness avails him nothing in the new dispensation. There is nobody now to care one way or the other. Good and evil, pessimism and optimism—are a question of blood group, not angelic disposition. Whoever it was that used to heed us and care for us, who had concern for our fate and the world's, has been replaced by another who glories in our servitude to matter, and to the basest part of our own natures."

Lawrence Durell, Monsieur, or The Prince of Darkness

"The dominant element in Western religious traditions—particularly in Europe and the Middle East, less so in America—tends to be institutional, historic, and dogmatic in its orientations. This is true for normative Judaism, for Islam in its Sunni and Shi'ite branch, and for Christianity, whether Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or mainline Protestant. In all of these, God essentially is regarded as external to the self. There are mystics and spiritual visionaries within these traditions who have been able to reconcile themselves with institutional authority, but there always has been an alternative convention, the way of Gnosis, and acquaintance with, or knowledge of, the God within, that has been condemned as heretical by the institutional faiths. In one form or another, Gnosis has maintained itself for at least two millennia of what we have learned to call the Common Era, shared first by the Jews and Christians, and then by the |Muslims also...

Gnosis depends upon distinguishing the psyche, or soul, from the deep self, which pragmatically means any strengthening of the psyche depends upon acquaintance with the original self, already one with God. Originality is as much the mark of historical Gnosticism as it is of canonical Western literature, that Lewis simultaneously deprecates both the self and originality confirms the Gnostic negative analysis of those who assert that they live by faith rather than by knowledge. Christian 'faith' is pistis, a believing that something was, is, and will be so. Judaic 'faith' is emunah, a trusting in the Covenant. Islam means 'submission' to the will of Allah, as expressed through the messenger Muhammad, 'the seal of the prophets.' But Gnosis is not believing that, a trusting in, or a submission. Rather, it is a mutual knowing, and simultaneous being known, of and by God.

I cannot pretend that this is a simple process; it is far more elitist that C. S. Lewis's 'mere Christianity,' and I suspect that this elitism is why Gnosticism always has been defeated by orthodox Christian faith, in history. But I am writing spiritual autobiography, and not Gnostic theology, and so I return to personal history to explain how I understand Gnosis and Gnosticism. You don't have to be Jewish to be oppressed by the enormity of the German slaughter of European Jewry, but if you have lost your four grandparents and most of your uncles, aunts, and cousins in the Holocaust, then you will be a touch more sensitive to the normative Judaic, Christian, and Muslim teachings that God is both all-powerful and benign. That gives one a God who tolerated the Holocaust, and such a God is simply intolerable, since he must be either crazy or irresponsible if his benign omnipotence was compatible with the death camps. A cosmos this obscene, a nature that contains schizophrenia, is acceptable to the monotheistic orthodox as part of 'the mystery of faith.' Historical Gnosticism, so far as I can surmise, was invented by the Jews of the first century of the Common Era as a protest against just such a mystery of faith which, as Emily Dickinson wrote, 'bleats to understand.' Yet 'Gnosticism' is an ambiguous term; even 'the Gnostic religion,' Hans Jonas's suggestion, creates difficulties, as he acknowledged. There were, so far as we can ascertain, few, perhaps no Gnostic churches or temples in the ancient world. And yet Gnosticism was more than a tendency, more even than a party or a movement: I think it is best to call it a spirituality, one that was and is a deliberate, strong revision of Judaism and Christianity, and of Islam later. There is a quality of unprecedentedness about Gnosticism, an atmosphere of originality that disconcerts the orthodox of any faith. Creativity and imagination, irrelevant and even dangerous to dogmatic religion, are essential to Gnosticism. When I encounter this quality, I recognize it instantly, and an answering, cognitive music responds in me."

Harold Bloom, Omens of the Millennium: The Gnosis of Angels, Dreams, and Resurrection, pages 1-24
Publisher: Riverhead Books (October 1, 1997)

Editorial Reviews

Angels, prophetic dreams, and resurrection—as we approach the millennium, American culture is increasingly fascinated with what many consider to be 'new age' phenomena. Yet our current millennial preoccupations are derived from the ancient Hebraic, Christian, and Sufi traditions; they are neither ephemeral nor trivial. They have inspired and captivated the greatest of Western thinkers, from antiquity to Milton, Blake and Shakespeare.

What are the angels? And where does our notion of them originate? What role have dreams played in the history of human consciousness? What is the link between angels, prophetic dreams, and near-death experiences? How are these phenomena relevant to us today, as we approach the 21st century?

In this commanding and impassioned inquiry, Harold Bloom draws on a life-long study of religion and, in particular, of Gnosticism, the knowledge that God is not an external force but resides within each one of us. Through the ancient literature of Jewish Kabbalah, Christian Gnosticism, and Muslim Shi'ite Sufism, he reveals to us the angels not as the kitschy cherubs we know today, but as magnificent, terrifying, sublime beings who have always played a central role in Western culture. He allows us to feel their splendor, and to experience the powerful role that dreams and near-death experiences have held throughout the centuries. And in the dazzling final chapter, he delivers a Gnostic sermon in which he urges us toward transcendence.

In Omens of Millennium, Harold Bloom has written a book whose triumph is not only its synthesis of centuries of religious thought, but its deep spirituality, through which we come to know - and to mourn - a religious experience no longer available to us. A brilliant and provocative book, sure to engender as much discussion as his books The Western Canon and The Book of J. —This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

A fascination with near-death experiences, alien abductions, angels and prophetic dreams has reached a 'particular intensity' in the U.S. as the millennium approaches. Or so says Bloom (The Western Canon) in this dazzling, maverick study in literature and comparative religion. Pausing often to unpack his own religious convictions, which are rooted in Gnosticism, a mystical belief system whose elusive history he traces to early Christianity, Kabbalistic Judaism and Islamic Sufism, Bloom contends that such 'omens of the Millennium' are in fact debased forms of Gnosticism. Gnosis, he writes, is a spiritual orientation at odds with orthodox religion. It eschews faith in an outward God for knowledge of the divinity of the deepest self and retells the story of creation as a fall away from a Godhead and a Fullness that, Bloom says, is more humane than the God of institutional religion. Contrasting the 'inspired vacuity' of New Age writers like Arianna Huffington and Raymond A. Moody to authentic Gnostic authors (who, according to Bloom, include ancient sages like Valentinus, medieval Kabbalists like Isaac Luria and more modern writers like Blake, Emerson and Shakespeare), Bloom explores how images of angels, prophecies and resurrection have always mirrored anxieties about the end of time, and how these images have been domesticated by popular culture. Bloom frequently injects himself into his study, discussing with rueful irony his own experiments with the outer limits of consciousness, including his own 'near-death experience' (in a hospital while convalescing from a bleeding ulcer). The final chapter is a Gnostic sermon on self-transcendence. This book's brevity and eccentricities (Huffington and Moody are easy targets who don't exemplify the range and complexity of New Age thought) diminish its force as polemic. As a critical performance, however, it's a tour de force, highlighting a secret history of mystical thought whose visionaries and poets call out to each other over the centuries.


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?


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

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.


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.


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.


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 personal service to him, looks after the daily chores in the ashram 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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