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Questioning: An Upanisadic Perspective

Dr. Haramohan Mishra

A philosophical inquiry begins with a question. An intense question finds a profound answer. That is why the preceptors of the Upanisads seek for the disciples who can put right questions in the right context.1 The perennial questions raised by Naciketas, Janaka, Maitreyi, Gargi, Svetaketu and others in the Upanisads are marked with proficiency and intensity. In evaluating the method of inquiry in the Upanisads, we have to understand the way questions are raised and answered. Not only in the Upanisads, in the entire philosophical arena, questioning is the most important factor through which a philosophical concept is taken up and is subjected to serious scrutiny.

In the ordinary level, a question is raised to understand an object or a situation with a utilitarian or pragmatic end in view. We may ask, “What is an apple?” The answer may be, “An apple is a sweet, red, round, juicy fruit.” Both the question and its answer have some pragmatic end. Even the scientific question regarding the botanical or chemical composition of the apple is rooted in its utility. In the worldly level, we are concerned with our immediate needs; hence the things or the facts that have some bearing on them come to the purview of our inquiry. But the questions regarding God, soul, other world etc, have no practical utility. These are primarily metaphysical questions even though having some normative consequence. Metaphysical questions can never be value-neutral. However, these are more fundamental than the value-specific questions. Ordinary knowledge and scientific knowledge which is an elongation of the former are concerned with the immediate existence of the objective world, vyavaharika satta; metaphysical questions aim at the understanding of the ultimate nature, paramarthika tattva, of the things. Even questions regarding the ultimate status of an ordinary thing, i.e. a piece of stone, is metaphysical. When we push further and further an ordinary question, it becomes scientific; but when it encounters a different level of reality, it becomes metaphysical.

In the Upanisads, we encounter great questions regarding life and its experiences put up from different angles. The seers stared at the expansive universe and sought to know the great cause of the world, Brahman, from which all are born and are held as they are.2 They looked inward and inquired about the self which impels the mind, prana, speech and other sense organs to act in their specific ways.3 Through Naciketas the perennial question whether the self outlives its bodily death is raised.4 Saunaka asks Angirasa about that by knowing which everything else is known.5 Janaka directly puts the question to Yajnavalkya, “Which one is the self?”6 Sometimes, in a series, subtler and subtler questions are asked in order to bring home the ultimate answer as we find in the aksara brahmana or in the sakalya brahmana of Br.Upanisad.7 However, the Upanisadic questions are not mere expression of intellectual curiosity. Existential problems of life prompted the sages to ponder over these questions. The allurements of the world became meaningless for them. Maitreyi asked Yajnavalkya, “If I cannot become immortal by these, then, what I shall do therewith?”

We acquire knowledge through experience and reason. But the limitations of both these methods are conspicuous. This tends us to speculate, since human mind cannot accept an agnostic end as the final attainment in man’s quest for knowledge. However, speculations are misleading. Unguarded by experience and reason, they may land us in the wonderland of fantasy and imagination. It seems as if the entire human framework of knowledge is exhausted with the empirical, rational and the speculative activities. Had it been so there would be no possibility of any knowledge beyond the phenomenal level. But in rare moments, we are prompted by some inner urge to transcend our apparent limitations and we come face to face with a higher reality; that we call intuition. The dynamics of intuition is not properly understood since the science of consciousness has not yet crossed its infancy. For it, the entire spectra of consciousness are to be understood. However, all intuitions are not self-knowledge. Questions in the Upanisads cover the entire ranges of knowledge but they culminate in intuitive knowledge of the self.

The Upanisads raise two types of questions related to their two broad-based subjects. The first type consists of questions regarding various vidyas or forms of upasana. These questions take up either some macrocosmic objects or some microcosmic objects as their subject-matter, so they fall under two groups, adhidaivika or adhyatmika. Their intention, according to Sankara and Suresvara, is to lead the aspirant gradually to the ultimate goal, even though these forms of meditation may give rise to other worldly fulfillments.8 In both these forms, such questions are thematically related to the earlier Vedic world-view and the belief-system. In some sense or other, these are the legacy of the older Vedic mind. But the second type of questions deal with pure brahma-vidya or atma-jnana which is universal and perennial. In contrast to adhidaivika, macrocosmic, and adhyatmika, microcosmic, these are purely atmika, pertaining only to self-knowledge. In this form, most profound questions are raised and answered in a distinct and convincing manner which is unparallel in the entire world of philosophy.

Upanisads are written in a free and unrestricted manner. The sages had different preferences, so the questions are put forth in multiple forms with scanty logical consideration. However, underlying these questions there is one single vision, realization of one’s own self as one with the Absolute, the source of all life and existence. Sankaracarya wrote his marvelous commentaries on the principal Upanisads and his greatest contribution to the world of knowledge is systematizing the apparently disconnected and contradictory lines of these illuminating works and showing that the message of the Upanisads is not confined to the contingencies of time, place and person.

The manner of questioning as found in these works is the real starting point of any genuine search for meaning of life and its experiences.

1. Katha Up. 1.2.9
2. Svetasvatara Up. 1.1
3. Kena Up. 1.1
4. Katha Up. 1.20
5. Mundaka Up. 1.1.3
6. Brhadaranyaka Up. 4.3.7
7. Br. Up.3.8, 3.9
8. Br.Up.Bhasya Vartika, 5.4-5

How to find happiness


Since the very beginning, the pursuit of happiness has been the most important goal of mankind. The progress that man has made so far, in science, industry and civilization, comes from man's desire for happiness. But despite thousands of years of modernity and consumerism, why has happiness remained so elusive? Perhaps, man has been delusional about happiness, despite having always wanted to acquire happiness. Business people, for example, dedicate themselves to their business for money. An author writes for both money and popularity. A student studies for a degree and to earn. A religious man prays to a deity for the supposed benefits. All these people dedicate themselves to their respective jobs thinking that they will gain happiness at the end, but the jobs never end. If they end, they get replaced by another. The more a man has, the more he wants to have. If his desires are not fulfilled, he suffers. If his desires are fulfilled, he gains momentary happiness but desires more thereafter. The very fact that man seeks happiness proves that man is devoid of happiness. Does man ever find happiness?

Happiness seems to be a state where there are no desires but just a satisfaction of what is there. This satiety comes from inside and must be independent of external factors. By being satisfied with simple things, that are easy to have, one remains happy longer, but when one follows conventional methods of gaining happiness, by desiring more wealth, more fame or more power, or sees others doing so, one ceases to be happy.

In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the sage Yajnavalkya said to his wife, Maitreyi - "It is neither for the husband's sake nor for the wife's sake, nor for the sake of the children, nor for the sake of wealth that the husband, the wife, the children and wealth are dear, but it is because of one's own self that everything is dear". One's own self is the true source of happiness. But not knowing this, the unwise try to acquire and associate with a number of external things, thinking that they can gain happiness from them. Years after the Upanishads, the Buddha found out how to gain true happiness, by leaving aside all conditioned things - "All conditioning is impermanent. All conditioning is suffering. All conditioning is non-self. One who sees this with wisdom gets rid of suffering".

We are raised from childhood to compare ourselves with others, to examine how happy we are compared to others, and to gain happiness by following and competing with others. Wouldn't we be happier without such externally imposed conditioning? Most people remain unaware of social and cultural conditioning. The exact problem with these is they create a perpetual conflict between what one is, and what one should ideally be, in order to be happy. Being unaware of this, people struggle and suffer to fulfill their ideals, and to live according to those ideals, thinking that they are made to become someone other than what they are. They start believing that happiness is something that can be sought and acquired, if what they are supposed to do is done accordingly. Many actually forget what they are, and some do not admit what they are, because of the inferiority complex that is created. The way that people suffer and struggle to live according to their ideals, by building new homes, buying new cars, finding new ways of making money and getting dating partners, building new industries, destroying nature, being cruel to animals and being dishonest most of the times, may make people seem inherently inhuman, ignorant, miserable and even insane, but these are the effects of conditioning. By making children compete with each other from the beginning, the people make them crazed for money. By separating boys from girls from the beginning, they make them crazed for sex. When individuals are crazed for material things, for example, they build, buy and sell more cars. The automobile industry, the entertainment industry and many such industries flourish, which may be good for the economy, but this is done at the cost of increasing suffering (desires) of everyone.

A bird who is born inside a cage and is raised inside a cage may start liking the cage. But can a bird really be happy inside a cage? The escape is not in seeking a better type of conditioning, and replacing one type of conditioning with another; not replacing one cage with another, but by getting rid of all kinds of conditioning.
A bird is certainly happy when she flies in freedom because she has all her bird-characteristics when she is in freedom. Only by having her intrinsic bird-characteristics, she is a happy bird. But so long as a bird likes the cage, there is no escape - "Blind is the world. Only a few see clearly. Only a few, like birds escaping the net, go to the realms of bliss."
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.4.5
Dhammapada 20.277-279,13.174
Heidi, Girl of the Alps ep 21

Upasana: A path to Enlightenment

Dr. Minati Mishra

To know the Self and to discover the ultimate truths behind the world of phenomena, and thereby getting rid of the sufferings of life caused by ignorance is what forms the core of the teachings of the Upanishads. Desires, attachments and cravings for worldly enjoyments are due to wrong identification of the body, mind and the senses. A person, who discovers him to be different from all these associations, can no longer be fettered by samsara. The Upanishads show us the way of self-inquiry intuited and perfected by the ancient seers as the chief method of self-knowledge, which is frequently supplemented by different forms of upasana. Knowledge arising out of inquiry is direct and immediate. Like any other direct knowledge, its truth is objectively determined. Such knowledge, by its emergence, destroys avidya and the reality of the world posited by it. On the other hand, a person having faith in the scriptures meditates and worships constantly on an object without distractions till he comes to realize that object, or his identity with that object. As samvadi bhrama becomes knowledge after the attainment of the desired goal, upasana when ripened, leads to emancipation and therein it is transformed into knowledge. Thus, upasana culminates in self-realization and can be practiced with brahma-vicara or independent of it.

Right from the Vedic times to the present day, the method of upasana has undergone considerable changes. In the period of Rig Veda, upasana primarily consisted of prayers and hymns sung in praise of the gods (forces of nature). In the period of the Brahmanas the liturgical part became prominent as it is seen from the details of different sacrifices. At the time of the Upanishads, the symbolic and the mystic element predominated. However there was no hard and fast division, as every element was present in all these phases with only the shifting of the emphasis on something or the other. After the Vedic period, in the Puranas and the Tantras, upasana assumed a new shape with idols, avataras, diagrams and mantras of a different order, but it was not totally divorced from the mainstream and the undercurrent was the same that continued to flow from the Vedic times whose rationale is found only in the Upanishadic philosophy. Upanishads make it clear that whatever form upasana might have assumed, the basic aim is always to realize one’s hidden divine nature.

The major Upanishads such as the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad and the Chandogya Upanishad are replete with symbolism which not only serve as techniques for meditation but also provide clue to the understanding of the Upanishadic philosophy. Badarayana, the writer of the Brahma Sutras, says that the words, such as akasa (space), prana (vital energy) and aditya (the sun) when used as symbols, abandon their primary meaning and signify Brahman only. Sankara, commenting on these aphorisms, says that the use of akasa as a symbol is due to its similarity of infiniteness with Brahman, since infiniteness is the sign of Brahman. Brahman, in the true sense is the only absolutely infinite and akasa, is not absolutely infinite, but akasa is taken as a symbol taking into account its empirical infiniteness. In the Chandogya Upanishad, Brahman is described as the resplendent light that shines beyond the heaven and the other worlds, and as the inner light (the Self) in all beings. Clarifying the doubt, as how the all pervasive and part-less Brahman be described as being limited to places as “beyond the heaven” and as “inside all beings”, Sankara says that though Brahman is all pervasive, there is no contradiction if its association with certain places is accepted for upasana. Likewise, when the sun is meditated as Brahman, the view of Brahman is imposed on it, as a form of adhyasa. Brahman, which is in fact free from all attributes, or nirguna is seen as saguna or endowed with infinite attributes when it becomes an object of upasana through symbols. Thus the “Impersonal” becomes “Personal”, “it” becomes “He”, the Absolute becomes the “God” or an infinite number of gods accordingly as one perceives. The early Vedic gods such as Agni, Vayu, Indra, etc. are not merely the personifications of natural phenomena. They are, on the other hand, the symbolic representation of the forces working immanently in various aspects of nature. They also signify the inner principles such as the senses, mind, life-force, speech, etc, that make living possible. From the context of upasana, Prajapati is said to be the unity of all gods, or Brahman (saguna) endowed with infinite attributes, and the goal of all kinds of upasana is the achievement of identity with him.

Without symbols, bereft of names and forms, Brahman cannot be made the object of upasana because the upanishads repudiate the very possibility of Brahman becoming an object of knowledge. However, from a different point of view, upasana of the attribute-less Brahman is also possible. The upanishad describes the upasana of atman (the Self) as free from other associations by belittling other forms of upasana. – “He who meditates upon one and the other does not know; it is incomplete, (incomplete) as such by worshipping one and the other. Therefore, one should meditate upon it as atman only”. The various forms of upasana, though different, end in atma-vijnana and have one common goal, atma-labha. When pursued with Self-knowledge, upasana is conducive to the other, but independently, it can lead to enlightenment through the cleansing of the mind and the senses, culminating in atma-bodha and moksha via krama-mukti.

Philosophical Foundation of Patanjali’s Yoga

Dr. Haramohan Mishra

The science of yoga is very ancient. However, the first systematic exposition of yoga was made by Patanjali in his famous Yogasutra. He expounds, in very clear and systematic manners, the techniques of yoga, which, for him, are primarily psychological though mixed with some physical practices like asana and pranayam in the beginning. In the primary sense, yoga means samadhi as it is signified by the definition yogas-citta-vrtti-nirodhah and so, the other practices are only the limbs of it. This state of yoga is not adventitious but natural to the mind sarva-bhaumas-cittasya dharmah since it is evolved from the sattva aspect as it is rightly pointed out by his commentator.1 The culmination of yoga is the state of asamprajnata or nirbija samadhi where the seer, drasta, remains in his own natural state of being or svarupa, whereas in other states, it gets identified with the modifications of the mind.2

Patanjali bases his yoga on the philosophical framework of Sankhya. Since his primary aim is to expound yoga he does not explain the philosophical concepts which are taken for granted as established facts. It is conspicuous that yoga is an ancient spiritual practice. Though it is mainly sadhana-intensive, it has a well defined conceptual basis without which it cannot happen. We find different types of yoga as hatha yoga, kundalini yoga, raja yoga etc, which are based on different concepts. The Advaita Vedanta School adopts yoga in its non-dualistic framework where it has a secondary place since the primary aim is to dispel ignorance which blurs the knowledge of the Self through vicara.3 The Agama schools have their own concepts of mantra, kundalini, six cakras like muladhara etc, with practices which are peculiar to their world view. The Hatha yoga School which adopts the same concepts as kundalini, sat cakra etc, is more prominent for its giving emphasis on the physical body where as its world view is akin to that of the Agamic schools. In Advaita Vedanta, the world is said to be a false appearance or vivarta and the Self is the same as Brahman, the Reality which is the substratum of the cosmic appearance. So there is neither attainment of a new state nor a negation of an old one. In the Agamic view, there is a real attainment, the merger of the individual with the Universal Self, God. Even though the main stream Agamic view is non-dualistic, the world is not taken as false, since, unlike Advaita Vedanta, the Agamic schools do not accept vivarta vada. For Patanjali, like Sankhya, yoga is the state of the Self where it remains completely isolated from Prakrti. It is described as the establishment of citsakti in its own svarupa.4

Different schools adopt yoga and mould it to their philosophic framework. Even though concepts and practices are different the underlying spirit and mechanism remain the same. The main standpoint is to discipline the body and the mind so that one can explore deeper levels of his own being which remain hidden in ordinary states of existence. It is the common experience that our knowledge extends over to the objects in the ordinary states inclusive of both valid and invalid knowledge. Otherwise, the mind lapses into sleep. These are the states which Patanjali classifies into five vrttis, valid knowledge, erroneous knowledge, sleep and the rest.5 Never, in the ordinary level, do we encounter any state of mind beyond these five vrttis. But the state beyond them is the starting point where yoga begins. The possibility of a state of consciousness beyond the five states of mind is plausible in view of the fact that the Self is accepted as different from mind by the Indian systems of philosophy. The Upanisads describe a fourth state of consciousness beyond waking, dream and deep sleep. The impurities which are accumulated around the mind and the senses can be got rid of only when one discovers him to be different from them. This conception of the Self which gives a sense of transcendence provides the metaphysical background of the science of yoga in whichever framework it might have developed. It is obvious that Sankhya-Yoga, Vedanta and the Agamic Schools which develop their philosophical ideas around such a conception provide the most favourable background for the most remarkable spiritual traditions in India.

The foundational ideas of Patanjali’s yoga can be summed up in a few lines. The seer, the subject is essentially pure consciousness who only sees through the modifications of the mind.6 Patanjali remains silent on the question whether this pure consciousness is also the same or a part of the universal consciousness if at all such a reality is accepted. Even though Isvara, God is accepted as omniscient, untouched by miseries, actions and their results etc, his causal relation with the individual is not explained. Patanjali accepts a sort of realism where the objective world, drsya is real.7 He upholds citta, mind-stuff as a separate principle which being tinged by both the object and the Self gives rise to empirical knowledge.8 The mind is coloured by innumerable impressions with which the purusa identifies him and is entangled in the enjoyments of the world. Through discrimination the purusa becomes free from such entanglements. Then the gunas being bereft any purpose for the purusa get dissolved inversely in their primordial cause which is known as kaivalya, the state of freedom of the purusa, where he gets established in his own svarupa.9 The mind which is the cause of the samsara is also the means of freedom when it is oriented towards the Self through discrimination. The process of the world is intended to facilitate the evolution of the purusa towards his self-attainment, which is isolation from prakrti otherwise known as kaivalya.

The theory of plurality of purusas is not compatible with the conception of purusa as nitya and bibhu. The state of kaivalya in the scheme of Sankhya cannot consistently explain many metaphysical questions. It cannot explain the state of the purusa with reference to the real space, time and the cosmos after the attainment of kaivalya. It is not worthwhile to yearn for kaivalya which is simply a state of inactivity as that of the pralayakala or the vijnanakala of the Agamas or that of the mukta of the Vaisesikas. Patanjali has adopted Sankhya as a philosophical model for his more practical science of yoga, but he has something more to say which becomes conspicuous from his description of the final samadhi as dharmamegha and his contention that knowledge, free from all concealment surpasses infinitely all knowable at the final stage of enlightenment. 10

The state of enlightenment or freedom as the consummation of the process of life is not easy to conceive. It is even more difficult to explain. Patanjali’s yoga leads the sadhaka along the path of enlightenment till its accomplishment. But as a final world view the non-dualistic standpoint of Vedanta is philosophically more satisfying. Patanjali’s yoga can very well be incorporated within the Vedantic philosophy of non-dualism. Indeed, Vidyaranya Swami, the illustrious writer of Pancadasi opines in this line – “From the worshippers of God in form of a small grass to the followers of Yoga, all have a wrong idea about Isvara. From the Lokayatas, the materialists to the followers of Sankhya, all have confusion regarding the jiva.”Then he adds –“If the conceptions of plurality of jivas, the reality of the world and the difference of God and jiva are given up, then there will be a grand synthesis of Sankhya, Yoga and Vedanta”11

1. Yogasutra, Vyasa bhasya, 1.1
2. Ys, 1.3-4
3. Pancadasi, 9.132
4. Ys, 4.33
5. Ys, 1.5-6
6. Ys, 2.20
7. Ys, 4.15
8. Ys, 4.22
9. Ys, 4.33
10. Ys, 4.28,30
11. Pancadasi,6.216,228

Reality-Shift: A Dialogue between Modern Science And Advaita Philosophy

Dr. Haramohan Mishra

Our perception of some thing as real necessarily refers to our conception of what a real is and the way our perception corroborates it within a certain frame of reference. The difficulties are quite obvious. In different systems of thought reality is conceived differently. Functional reality, arthakriyakari sattva, is not the same as reality in the sense of unsublatability in all the times, trikalavadhyatva. Our conception of reality and our epistemic framework may fall short of reality as it is. There may be inherent limitations in human mechanism of knowledge. We may be living within a closed system so that we are permanently debarred from grasping what lies beyond it. Philosophical speculations are endless. We need something more than mere arm-chair speculation so that we can attain the summum bonum of life.

Both science and philosophy search for the eternal verities. Both science and philosophy try to find out the consistent meaning of life and its experiences. While philosophy primarily employs speculation and reasoning as its method of inquiry, science relies more on observation and experiment. It is imperative to combine both these approaches to arrive at the truth. In view of the recent developments in modern theoretical physics, the ancient philosophy of Advaita seems to be more relevant. A scientific understanding of Advaita philosophy seems to be the beginning of a new-age thinking which can bring about a revolution in human thought and can shape its destiny for eternity.

In common sense, something which is capable of fruitful usage is said to be real. The things of the world being useful are accepted as real. But in the scientific and philosophic usage, in the sense of search for the absolute truths and eternal verities or the first principles, we use “real” in a different sense. Physics search for the first principles, the simplest things, out of which the universe has evolved and also for the laws working behind them. In other branches of science, such as chemistry and biology, the objects are quite complicated. But the search for the simplest first principles is prominent in both physics and philosophy. The parallelism between them may not lead us to the same conclusion immediately, but certainly they point to the same direction.

There has been a great leap in understanding the physical phenomena in modern physics within a couple of centuries. In the ancient times the five elements were thought to be the basic material principles from which the material things came into existence. But the physicists really discovered nearly hundred elements to be the building blocks of the universe. It is further discovered that the difference among the solid, liquid and gas is not a qualitative one, it is due to the difference in their atomic arrangement. Thus, with the atoms sparsely scattered they represent a gas, little more densely ordered they make a liquid, heavily dense they form a solid, arranged in lattices they form a crystal and in chains they represent a polymer. They can exist as singles or molecules. Even diamond is not essentially different from graphite in so far as both of them are allotropes of the same material.

The elemental particles could no longer hold the fancy of the scientists as the building blocks. They broke and were replaced by the sub-atomic particles. It was discovered that the qualitative difference is really quantitative in nature. All the elements consist of electrons around the protons glued to the nucleus in certain configurations. The lightest element, hydrogen, differs from one of the heaviest elements, plutonium in so far as it contains only one proton whereas the latter contains in its atom 94 protons with a different electronic configuration in the orbitals. Like the particles, the waves also form an interesting content of study in Physics. In classical Physics, the waves are said to be traveling vibratory disturbances different from the particles in so far as they interfere whereas the later collide when come together.

After the working out of the atomic model, the discovery of electromagnetism is one of the greatest achievements of modern science. It was discovered that electromagnetism unlike other waves do not need a medium to propagate. Visible light is just a form of electromagnetic wave like radio waves, infrared, ultraviolet, x-rays, etc. We only perceive the visible light beyond which the other spectra remain unperceived for ever. Electricity is the flow of electrons whereas light is nothing but photons, vibrating in different frequencies and wavelengths. The interesting point about these sub-atomic particles is that they behave both as particles and waves. So the classical difference between waves and particles is obliterated. Another property is that we cannot measure their position and momentum at the same time. They are more energy packets than solid things. There is some sort of uncertainty inherent in their nature. The quantum particles removed the difference between things and energies. The final equation is Einstein's E=mc2. In these phases of development, we clearly mark a paradigm shift.

With reference to motion, time and space, there has been a lot of change from the classical view. Space and time are no longer accepted as absolute. Relativistic changes being infused into such concepts, the importance of the observing consciousness becomes conspicuous. The new world view arising out of a shift in paradigm replaced the certainties of classical Physics with probabilities. The search for the absolute eternal first principles of the world is a scientific metaquestion, it arises out of the compulsion of the scientific search for the absolute truth but it transcends the scope of science since science is limited to the empirical framework only. With the recognition of the role of the observer, modern science has become more epistemic than mere objective. The integral and unified conception of reality has been the most spectacular achievement of the new age scientific thinking. Science, in a short, has stumbled upon a reality-shift, which necessitates a re-evaluation of the scientific understanding in the light of the ancient wisdom of Advaita.

The philosophy of Advaita begins with a reality-shift which is natural to its world-view. The method it employs does not consist of mere observation and experiment, unlike that in science. Instead, it puts the mechanism of experience itself to scrutiny and examines the ontological status of the objects of experience. It evaluates the world of phenomena vis-à-vis the field of consciousness and tries to comprehend the place of the individual in it. The logical scrutiny is again substantiated by the experience of a higher ontological order. In this, Advaita resembles the pure sciences in so far as it accepts direct experience as the final source of knowledge, anubhavavasanatvat brahmavijnanasya. The search begins with the things of experience and culminates in self-realization. Vedanta declares that the entire epistemic mechanism with its framework of pramana, prama and prameya, is only a functional reality or vyavaharika satta. What is taken to be knowledge in the empirical level is based on a deep-rooted cosmic ignorance which is ineradicable in relative state of existence (tam etam avidyakhyam atma-natmanor itaretaradhyasam adhikrtya sarve pramana-prameya- vyavahara, etc).

New paradigms necessarily give rise to a reality-shift. In a certain level of consciousness what seems to be real appears false in a different level. With new discoveries in science, new realities come to forefront. Science has not yet reached its final goal. It is still in the making, undergoing rapid changes. But Advaita is not an uncertain quest for some unknown reality. It is the absolute knowledge of the ultimate reality manifesting in different levels of existence. Thus, in different strata of existence, the same ultimate reality assumes different shapes. The three strata of reality advocated by Advaita are the vyavaharika, pratibhasika and paramarthika. Though from the ultimate standpoint reality is one without second, ekam ava advitiyam, for logical convenience the satta-traya-vada is devised. Apparent reality is sublated by empirical reality and the latter is negated by the realization of the ultimate reality. Till a dream continues, it appears to be real. Only when one wakes up, he realizes the non-reality of his dreaming experience. Disillusionment comes with a reality-shift in understanding. In fact, any system of knowledge, scientific or philosophic, which tries to go beyond the immediate functional reality, has to encounter a reality-shift.

Parallelism in modern science and Advaita makes it imperative to reorient our search for the ultimate reality for a new-age understanding which may give new meaning to life and its experiences. The scientific quest may, in the future, reveal the real purpose of life in agreement with what the great Advaita-teacher, Gaudapada says,

“When the jiva sleeping under the spell of beginning-less illusion wakes up, only then he realizes the birth-less, dream-less and the sleep-less non-dual reality.”

The Way We Understand the World

Dr. Haramohan Mishra

In the infinite varieties of the world, nature presents itself as the greatest mystery before man. It is a challenge and a wonder, an allurement and a fulfillment, which man can never escape but has to encounter. Every moment in his life, he has to confront, perceive, conceive, enjoy and even discard the things of the world. Through the scientific methods of observation and experiment, through the philosophical speculations and reasoning, through the empathy and emotions of literature, he tries to understand the things of the world. The more he knows, the more remains incomprehensible. The mystery of the universe is hidden in every object of it. Even if we understand the tiniest particle in its entirety, we can very well comprehend the great universe. But what is meant by understanding the thing in its entirety? It means to comprehend the particular thing with all its possibilities, with its basis, beginning and end. Since the basis of all the things of the world is the same reality, the comprehension of any of them in its entirety, is tantamount to the understanding of the universe. .The microcosmic and the macrocosmic are the same. The beginning is itself the end. The entire possibilities of the things of the world, as a whole or as fragments, are due to this underlying ultimate basis, which is the beginning as well as the end of them. That is why the sages of the Upanisads declare -“By the knowledge of a lump of earth, everything that is made of earth is known, the effects are nothing but the cause in different names and forms. The real is the earth.” (Chandogya Upanisad, 6.14) Likewise, the multitudinous things of the world are, in essence nothing other than the self-same Reality, Brahman. According to the sages of the Upanisads, this is the final point of enquiry, the consummation of life, the fulfillment of the world-process, beyond which nothing is there to know. Of course, this is too great a truth to be comprehended in our ordinary states of consciousness. However, we may introspect a little and question the way we look at the things, so that we may be free from the deep-rooted ignorance which springs from our too much familiarity with the way we perceive the things.

There are so many different manners of looking at the world. We perceive the things differently in their multifarious dimensions. Ordinarily, we perceive the things in their face-value. But if we go deeper and analyze the objects either scientifically or philosophically, we have altogether a different perception. For example, we ordinarily perceive an apple as a sweet, round, red and juicy fruit. For our day to day transactions, this much of perception of an apple is sufficient. But to ascertain its physical, chemical and botanical properties, we have to examine it scientifically, which gives us a different understanding of the apple. Likewise, we may conceptually analyze an apple into a substantive having inherent in it attributes such as sweetness, redness, roundness, etc., and we may further doubt the reality of any such substantive at all, holding that the apple is merely a conglomeration of its attributes. We may go further and say that the so-called attributes (sense-data) are really ideal in character. We may hold that the so-called objects are partly real and partly ideal. Speculations as such may be partly meaningful or totally useless depending on the truth they give us. All these metaphysical speculations, notwithstanding their truth or falsity, show how much man is eager to understand the ultimate nature of the things of the world. Even though we scientifically analyze the thing or philosophically analyze its concept, we cannot explain why such and such physical or chemical properties, or such and such attributes or sense-data are combined together to give rise to such an object that presents itself as a thing. The ultimate “why”, “how” and “what” of the things remain unanswered.

Thanks to modern science; the horizon of human knowledge is expanding day by day. Since the beginning of scientific inquiry, we have been able to understand many mysteries of the universe. From the Copernican understanding of the cosmos till present time, we have been fairly acquainted with the external universe beginning with the “big-bang” to the “black- hole”. From the Newtonian mechanics through Maxwell’s electromagnetism to the Quantum physics, we have been fairly acquainted with the nature of the things and the principles working behind them. With the deciphering of human genetic code, man hopes to play the role of the maker of his destiny. The scientific method of the analysis of the concrete thing itself has a definite precedence over the philosophical method of analyzing the concept of the thing, as the former is more definite and less confusing than the latter. However, the ultimate answer to the most fundamental questions eludes both science and philosophy. All these methods have their inherent limitations. They are tenable within a certain frame-work and to a certain extent. Human eyes can never perceive the spectra of light beyond red and violet. Observation, experiment, speculation and reasoning are applicable within a certain level beyond which they become futile. This is why we find a new paradigm-shift in modern scientific approach. According to Heisenberg, we cannot speak about nature without speaking about the observer who perceives it. It is not only important what we know; it is equally important how we know. Any branch of knowledge, how much objective it may be, must have to refer to epistemology, and thus can never dispense with the observer.

The Vedantic understanding of the world is not really contradictory to the scientific or the philosophical. Scientific observations, experiments and discoveries, as well as sound philosophical speculations regarding the world can be well-maintained and assimilated under the Vedantic way of understanding. The methodological difference is that while other methods fix their attention on the surface, Vedanta directs its attention to the bottom. Nature is to be approached with reverence, says Vedanta, since it is the manifestation of the divine consciousness. Both the Advaita Vedanta and the Advaya Agama schools hold that there is no essential difference between the world and the individual. According to the sages, key to the mystery of the world does not rest on the objects; it lies hidden in man himself. Here, man does not mean a biological or a social being. Essence of man lies in his spiritual dimension. However, it does not amount to solipsism. The object is as much real as the subject. But for its deeper understanding, understanding of the self is indispensable.

According to Advaita Vedanta, the world is nothing more than a false appearance.

Though it is compared frequently with such false objects as rope- serpent or shell-silver, it does not mean that the world of phenomena is as much false as rope-serpent or shell-silver. This is why the world is said to be vyavaharika or empirically real in contrast to them which are said to be pratibhasika or apparently real. The point is that the world, divorced from its basis, the ultimate reality, cannot be real. So, it is said to be false as such. Unless the basis is understood, its real nature remains unperceived. But how can we perceive the basis? The Advaitins say that by disciplining the mind and entering the immaculate solitude of the self, one can have access to a higher field of understanding. Till then our so-called scientific and philosophical methods are to be tentatively maintained. But, after that, there is no need of any such method. There enquiry comes to an end. Reality lies beyond the duality of causes and effects. It cannot be perceived through the relational modes of understanding. So far as operates the principle of causality, says Gaudapada, there extends samsara, the world of experience, but when the causal link is lost, one cannot find samsara there. How can we grasp the unmanifest, immutable, Reality, either scientifically or philosophically, with the lost link of causality which is so much fundamental to the scientific or philosophical methods? How can, on the other hand, we understand the world without understanding its underlying basis? That which matters is a paradigm-shift in understanding, a non- relational way of understanding which Vedanta advocates. For some, it is possible, though the majority may thing to the contrary.

Yoga: Concept and Dimensions

Dr. Haramohan Mishra

Yoga is deeply conceptual and highly sadhana-intensive. Sadhana means an effort in the direction of achieving the spiritual goal. It is context-specific and as such needs to be understood with reference to its world-view. Since the Vedic times it has been adopted by different systems moulded to their ontic and epistemic framework. So, we find different yogic concepts, viz., hatha yoga, raja yoga, kundalini yoga, mantra yoga, even karma yoga, jnana yoga and bhakti yoga etc, which are content-specific and peculiar to the mind-sets that conceive “yoga” and reconstruct it according to their needs. In some systems like hatha yoga the physical aspect is given prominence, whereas in raja yoga the psychological aspect is the chief concern. The Tantric systems have their own esoteric yogic concepts, where as in some systems like Advaita Vedanta, yoga as such is not the foremost concern. In some systems yoga (literally meaning “union”) is really a viyoga (separation) and in some others it is a sort of union. Some basic concepts are quite dissimilar and antagonistic in different systems. For example, the Sankhya, the Yoga school of Patanjali and Advaita Vedanta take citta (mind) to be material, where as Kashmir Saivism takes it to be a consciousness-content. So, citta vrtti-nirodha which is so much fundamental to Patanjali’s yoga becomes quite irrelevant for them. With all such differences yoga has one unified undercurrent; it is an effort or a combination of efforts, physical, mental and even sometimes supramental, in the direction of an expansion hitherto unknown in our ordinary states of living. The entire process culminates in spiritual enlightenment even though a disease-free body, a stress-free mind and an obsession-free intellect are the necessary by-products of yoga.

The moment we become conscious as human beings we discover ourselves as a complex of body, mind and spirit although the existence of the last principle is not clearly accessible to us in our ordinary state of awareness. To a little reflection, it becomes conspicuous that the body and the mind which we take to be our most faithful instruments become our greatest obstacles because of their inherent limitations. Beyond a certain limit they even become a burden and create various physical and psychological embarrassments for us. So, yoga in the preliminary stage, gives emphasis on the cure of the maladies of the body and mind by harnessing their inherent capacities in the right direction. Some simple hatha yogic practices like a few physical postures and pranayama are capable of producing tangible results. Combined with a little bit of meditation they can cure all the maladies of life and ensure our evolution towards our cosmic goal. Patanjali’s raja yoga is one of the best psycho-therapeutic methods of healing the psychological ills apart from being a very well defined and consistently devised method of self-realization. Though the scientific background of kundalini yoga is not properly studied or understood, a little bit of practice in this line makes its efficacy quite conspicuous.

The other types of yoga such as karma yoga, jnana yoga and bhakti yoga do not presuppose any scientific method or practice; they are broad-based attitudes and practices in various pragmatic, rational and emotional strata of life. Karma yoga is the method of right action with a right attitude which is aptly described as “skill in actions” in the Bhagavadgita. “Skill” does not signify aptitude in the consumerist sense. It means an attitude of non-involvement and equanimity. Jnana yoga is the path of knowledge which is so much emphasized in Vedanta; however, “knowledge” here does not mean bookish knowledge or only rational knowledge. It really means self-realization which starts with rational inquiry and ends in intuition. Bhakti yoga is the method of love and devotion when the main thrust is directed not towards the things of the world but towards God, the source of all love and happiness. It begins with the theistic attitude and culminates in the pantheistic realization.

We are not sure whether we live within a close universe or an open universe. We do not know whether our knowledge is eternally limited to the epistemic framework and the categories we are born with. All the methods of yoga promise for man a sort of enlightenment and an attainment which are ordinarily inconceivable in his normal state of existence. It only requires right understanding and proper practice.

“Each soul is potentially divine. The goal is to manifest this Divinity within by controlling nature, external and internal. Do this either by work, or worship, or psychic control, or philosophy -- by one, or more, or all of these -- and be free. This is the whole of religion. Doctrines, or dogmas, or rituals, or books, or temples, or forms, are but secondary details.” - Swami Vivekananda

(Rajayoga, Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda vol-1)