Spider FAQ
  • General Questions regarding Vedanta
  • 1. What is self-knowledge?

    Self-knowledge understanding of oneself as whole, complete, adequate, joyful and free of all limitations. This is something that one often senses in one's life, but this understanding seems to be --at best-- temporary or fleeting, and is often fraught with doubt, vagueness, or error. Vedanta offers a systematic pedagogy, exposed to which one can abide in this understanding of limitlessness that is free of all doubts about oneself.
  • 2. What is moksha? How does one gain moksha?

    Moksha is freedom from notions of limitations centered around oneself. One feels a sense of limitation with regard to any number of things - height, weight, looks, age, finances, or one's capacities. Furthermore, one is limited space-wise. For example, if I occupy one corner of the room, I cannot be in another corner. I cannot be physically in two places at the same time. Time-wise also I am limited. I have a horoscope and a date of birth. There was I time where this body-mind-sense complex that I consider to be "me" did not exist, and there will be a time where it will cease to be. Form-wise also I am limited. I have the form of a human being, and not of a dog. I find that these limitations are not acceptable to me. I want to be free of them; I want to be unfettered. I want to be. If I cannot exist forever, I want to at least leave something memorable behind. I want to make a mark in this world. I want to do my best in everything I do. I want to shine, I want to excel. I seek perfection in all my endeavors. How does one go about seeking infiniteness? One seeks it in jobs where one thinks one can shine. One seeks it in relationships that one perceives to be fulfilling.One seeks to engage in those activities in which one can thrive and thereby tap into some creativity and freedom that one seems to want. However, despite one's best efforts, one repeatedly finds oneself confronted with the finite. Every job has its limitations, every relationship has its problems, and everything that one is able to either produce or earn falls within the time-space matrix, and thereby is finite. One therefore seek to be limitless by using the limited means and resources that one has at one's disposal. This is called samsara, being caught in the endless cycle --the grind of "becoming." In other words, one's entire life is caught up with trying to produce the limitless by limited means. This is a logical impossibility: how can the limited produce the limitless? What is finite can never become infinite. The finite will always remain finite, and not matter what you add to it, it can never produce infinity. Therefore, if the self is finite, it can never "become" infinite. Yet, there is a universal quest to be, and to be forever. If the limitless is beyond the reach of the limited individual, why is the desire for it so strongly implanted in all minds? Is it because Ishwara, God, either has a bad sense of humor, or is a sadist who likes to watch people suffer? Or, perhaps, is it that one desires freedom because one already knows it to exist. When you laugh uninhibitedly, or when you are happy for no apparent reason, you are totally free of all limitations. Even though none of your problems have resolved, you know it is possible to feel free despite their existence for a certain period of time. It is this innate understanding of oneself that makes one seek the infinite infinitely, but in the wrong places. Pujya Swami Dayanandaji says, "Unless you choose to seek the limitless, your search becomes limitless." If freedom from limitation is beyond one's reach, if is a phantasma, one cannot desire it. One cannot desire for something that is non-existent. There is only one more possibility left --perhaps one is already what one seeks. Perhaps one is already free of limitations. Perhaps what one perceives to be limitations are actually notional, rather than actual. Moksha, therefore, cannot be product of action or karma for at least two reasons: firstly because action is by nature limited, and the results of actions are also limited. Secondly, moksha is not a product that can be made with raw materials and labor --like chapatis out of flour-- it is the very nature of the self. The self is free already, and therefore all verbs of gaining, acquiring, or journeying towards freedom are used only in the figurative sense. Moksha, therefore, is not gained by action, but by knowledge.
  • 3. What kinds of doubts get removed by knowledge of the self?

    The Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita, which also reveals the vision of the Upanishads, make frequent references to the removal of all doubts as a phalam, or desirable result of gaining the knowledge of oneself. Doubts can be of various kinds, about various topics, ranging from "Did I turn off the stove before I left the house or did I not?" to "Am I really loveable or not?" Additionally, students of Vedanta can have their own special doubts about the nature of the self, the nature of the knowledge, about whether the knowledge really works, about whether one is a doer or a non doer, about how to be a non doer in a world peopled with doers and doings, etc. In other words, all the doubts that were raised in class last week are typical examples of the doubts that Bhagavan Krishna says will go away in the wake of knowledge. In one way, the topic of the doubt does not matter here at all, in the vision of Vedanta, because all doubts pertain to the non understanding of the nature of the self. For example in the doubt of whether one turned the stove off or not, one is really doubting whether one's memory is reliable or not. Furthermore, even such a simple doubt of this nature often carries self-judgement. For instance: "how can I be so forgetful? What is wrong with me that I cannot remember to do such a simple thing.?" All doubts arise from and pertain to oneself as wanting in some way or the other. The human being finds him or herself wanting in terms of health, wealth, accomplishments, skills, etc. In terms of memory one is wanting, in terms of money, one is of course always wanting. In terms of security, one is wanting. No matter what the physical locus of the sense of lack may be, all wanting, all insecurity is centered around the self. The fact that one finds oneself lacking is due to the fact that one is yet to know that one is whole, glorious, beautiful, and blemish-free. This is the truth of the self. And it is the truth because this is what everyone wants to be, and continually strives to be and feel all the time: whole, accomplished, loved, and free. Therefore, we say that in the light of the knowledge of oneself as free and whole, all doubts of all shapes, sizes, and topics dissolve. Just as the rising of the sun removes darkness, and does not permit darkness to hover in any single corner, so too, the knowledge of the self knocks off all doubts in one stroke.
  • 4. Can Bhakti lead to moksha?

    Bhakti means the sentiment of devotion. it is no different from other emotions such as love. Bhakti is a spontaneous feeling of ecstatic love, connection, gratitude and respect towards Ishwara, God, guru, or an elder. Bhakti, as all other emotions, relies on karma or action for its expression. How does one "do" bhakti --perhaps through prayer? Prayer is a verbal or a mental action. Through devotional dancing, like that of the sufis? This is also an action centered on the body. There can be no expression of bhakti without action. Even if one were to say, "I shall not express my bhakti. I shall just sit with this feeling and retain it in my heart," one is performing an action --sittting with a feeling requires the use of will, and is therefore it is karma, a will-based action. Notions of the self as limited, as we are seeing in the reading, arise from wrong perception of the self. Self-ignorance is the root cause of incorrect perception, and lead to self-doubt and sorrow. Sorrow cannot be resolved by action or karma for the reasons we have seen above. For example, If you do not know that New Delhi is the capital of India, no matter how many times you go out to eat Indian food, wear Indian clothes, or pray devoutly at an Indian temple for the truth to be revealed, you will still ignorant of this fact. India-capital-ignorance can only be countered by India-capital-knowledge. Similarly, the panacea for self-ignorance is self-knowledge. There is no other way. You just have to know what you do not know; you have to correct the misperception to which you are prey. Knowledge is opposed to ignorance, as sunlight is to darkness. Once you know something, it cannot be altered. For example, a child who understands that there is no Santa Claus can never go back to thinking again that Santa Claus is a real individual who lives on the North Pole, and rides with Rudolph. Karma or action is not opposed to ignorance; in fact, it arises from ignorance. Bhakti being karma, cannot directly produce moksha, but it has irreplaceable value in preparing and purifying the mind for self-knowledge. Every knowledge presupposes some preparation. If I want to do a Ph.D, I must get a bachelor's degree first. In self-knowledge also, preparing the mind by inculcating the right values and attitudes is essential for the assimilation of the knowledge of the self as secure, whole, and limitless. The message of vedanta is that the self is the whole. Bhakti is crucial in promoting a sense of relaxed surrender, so that old patterns, habitual responses, feelings of limitations and insecurity can be temporarily quieted and kept at bay from interfering with or doubting the teachings or the teacher. Cultivating a spirit of devotion also facilitates the surrender of one's smallness at the altar of the Ishwara, at the altar of that which is infallible and perfect. In the process, one recognizes a sense of connectedness to the whole that we call Bhagavan or Iswara. Prayer to Ishwara, and an attitude of devotion to the Guru or the teacher also helps in assimilating the understanding of the atma (self) as limitless.
  • 5. Is Vedanta the only way of gaining moksha? Does it recognise other traditions?

    Vedanta is not a tradition. It is the understanding of oneself as free and whole. Any body of knowledge arising in any corner of this or other universes that speaks of the self as whole and limitless, and has a pedagogy to transmit that knowledge systematically is Vedanta. Vedanta, therefore, is not opposed to any tradition. It is a means of knowledge, a pramana, that dispels self-ignorance by the understanding of the self as free of limitations
  • 6. How does one go about seeking a teacher?

    The choice of the teacher is very crucial to understanding the nature of the self. But there is a dilemma: One wants to go to a teacher, because one does not know oneself. How, from this place of ignorance, can one judge if the teacher knows the self or not? The one who does not know the self is, naturally, not in a place to judge a knower of the self. The Mundakopanishad gives two qualifications of an ideal teacher of self-knowledge The first qualification is that the teacher be a " brahmanishtha" -- committed to Brahman, one that knows Brahman, and is committed to living the freedom as described by Vedanta, and one for whom desires for objects hold no sway, for s/he has accomplished everything there is to be accomplished. The second qualification is shrotriya: One who has heard the teachings from the mouth of her/his teacher, who in turn has heard the teachings from his/her teacher and so on. In other words, does the person in question belong to a lineage of teachers? If so, the person can teach without misleading, for the person has a commitment to the lineage, to the teacher, and to upholding the sanctity of the teaching. The first qualification is difficult to verify, because one cannot tell whether a person's commitment is to Brahman or to something else, but one can easily verify whether a teacher belongs to a particular lineage. Therefore, in going to the shrotriya for the teaching, one can never go wrong, as the shrotriya will teach what he or she was taught by employing the same methods as his or her teacher.
  • 7. What is shraddha?

    Shraddha is the ability to see the Upanishads and the words of the teacher as a valid means of knowledge about the self, and to allow this means of knowledge --that one cannot oneself wield-- to operate in one's mind to reveal the truth of the self as joyous, limitless and free of all notions of bondage. That is why one requires an open mind, a mind that can take in things, without immediately freaking out even when something that is revealed seems contrary to one's subjective perceptions and everyday experience. Shraddha, therefore, is the ability to understand that what one wishes to know (the truth about oneself) one can never really "arrive at" through the means of knowing that are already one's disposal, because: (1) these "means of knowing" are vitiated by one's own subjectivity and limited notions or understandings of one's self. For, example, often, the truth of the self as free and limitless and joyful will not resonate with one's experience; (2) All means of knowledge available to us are designed to understand objects outside the self. Since the subject, oneself, cannot be objectified, we need another means of knowledge that is external, and properly wielded to come and tell us --solidify-- the truth of what is already sensed, and yearned for. Shraddha is cultivating the ability to suspend/discard these aforementioned perceptions, judgements, notions about oneself, about the teaching, about the teacher. This way, the knowledge can take place freely without the inhibiting factor of one's own notions coming in the way like an autoimmune disease and attacking one's nascent understanding. Sometimes, one has to get out of one's own way. Rarely is one is born with perfect shraddha. It is a cultivated art, stimulated by the taste one has developed for freedom, limitlessness and happiness.
  • 8. Should one want to do away with desire? If not, when is it appropriate to have a desire?

    To have desire is a privilege. It is a manifestation of Ishvwara, of God.Lord Krishna says "I am in the form of desire." Desire is the motivating force that makes the world go round, so to speak. Without desire, therewould be no innovation, no creativity, no progress in scientific research, and above all no spiritual quest and spiritual teachings. If desire is a privilege, it cannot have the power to hurt anyone. It is important to remember that as long as one treats desire as a privilege, one does not come to grief. It is only when one is victimised by the privilege that one has sorrow, conflict or strife. How can one victimised by something that is a privilege? One can be victimised by a privilege only when the privilege is no longer a privilege. The capacity to desire is a privilege so long as it does not go against rightful conduct and rightful living --dharma. When desire is driven by inner pressures that "need" to be accomplished at all cost--such as the "need to be respected," "need for approval," "need to be somebody," and so on, then there is the risk of the ends justifying the means. When one goes against rightful living and conduct (dharma), it gives rise to strife and conflict. Whenever one's desire comes under the sway of inner pressures, it leads to grief and anger. It leads to grief, primarily because it alienates one from fellow beings, from Ishwara, and it leads to anger at not being able to manipulate the world to one's own agenda.
  • 9. In what way(s) is desire a privilege?

    A privilege, by definition, denotes an exclusive access to something desirable --example: pass to a club, a drivers license, etc. A privilege is a reward that one is entitled to hold until it is revoked --and a privilege is generally something that is subject to being revoked. As long as one obeys traffic laws, the driver's license is a privilege. You have it till it gets suspended due to too many speeding tickets or a dui. As long as you obey the traffic rules, you can enjoy the license. You can drive as many times a day, you can drive coast to coast. Besides, you can even use the drivers license for flying in the air by showing it at the airport security as a form of identification. The drivers license enhances your mobility and freedom as long as you respect its parameters. The moment you violate any traffic law, the driver's license becomes eminently suspendable. In other words, when a privilege is abused, it becomes a shackle. So too in the case of desire. It ceases to be a privilege when you are no longer in command. When you are in the driver's seat, and command the desire, it is still a privilege. You can decide to go after the desire, you can decide to defray the desire, you can desire to not go after the desire. You are in control. But when the desire is in the drivers seat, it starts to drive you around. It creates inner pressures that do not leave you alone till you fulfill the desire. Preferably yesterday. It keeps manifesting over and over and it sometimes takes over the person. That is when desire ceases to be a privilege. It is now in the drivers seat, and one then becomes hijacked by the desire --a hapless wayfarer in the grip of something very powerful that erodes ones own agency, and threatens to overpower one's own ethical infrastructure that one has worked hard to build in one's life. In this case, one might start to cut corners, and allow the ends to justify the means, to compromise with the means altogether. Therefore to enjoy desire, it is important to keep it as a privilege. A binding desire, like a binding relationship, that binds you to fulfill it immediately is not a privilege. It cannot set you free.
  • 10. What is the difference between a binding and non-binding pleasure?

    If you wield the pleasure, it is non-binding, if the pleasure wields you, and you are helpless in the grip of it to the extent that you will even violate your own ethical norms and values to get a hold of this object of pleasure, then it is binding.
  • 11. What is the difference between the desire we feel to learn Vedanta and other desires?

    The desire to learn Vedanta is desire for freedom or moksha. It is also a desire just like the desire for anything else. But while other desires do not free you from the endless pursuit of something or another, the desire for moksha contains within it the promise of freedom from becoming, from constant search for self-approval, from samsara.
  • 12. You said that people seek pleasure when they am displeased with themselves, but actually I usually seek the pleasure, e.g. of beauty, when I am

    Seeking, by definition, is to go in search of what you don't have or possess, or what you think you do not possess. When you are feeling good about yourself, you are in harmony with everything around you. You have an awareness of the world as begnin and pleasing. On the contrary, when you feel stressed, or hard pressed for time, you are not in the space to notice the beauty around you. Upon closer reflection, you can se that the mountain ranges around you do not change their shape; the stars in the sky are pretty much still the same; and the sunset is as spectacular as you can remember. Still, all this goes unnoticed, when you are preoccupied, or stressed, or displeased with yourself. Feeling good about oneself changes your relationship to the external world. At these times, you don't really "seek," as much as notice that you are in harmony with people and things around you. You resonate harmony and joy, and are more "in tune," so to speak with the joy and beauty around you. This being in tune with what is, being joyful and in harmony with what is, according to Vedanta, is yourself, your nature.
  • 13. What category would the pleasure of just doing something like woodworking, fall into?

    Woodworking or any such hobby is kama, or pleasure. If it is a hobby, then it is something you enjoy doing in your spare time, something that gives you joy. In that case, it is a non-binding pleasure. If you have it, then you are happy, if you don't engage in the activity, then also it is fine. Often, the kinds of desires that confront us have both binding and non-binding aspects. The idea is not to eschew desire altogether, but to understand that it is a privilege --you are in charge of the desire, not the other way round.
  • 14. What do you mean when you say that only the sad become sad, and the angry angry? In our view, we all have the capacity for these

    The issue of emotions is an interesting one. Sorrow, anger, etc are all there, and one often succumbs to them. Emotions have an empirical existence in the everyday. But are they absolute, in the sense of being unchanging, is something to look into and to think about. For example, if sorrow is absolute, then to be sad would be our nature. If sadness were one's nature, then sorrow are not acceptable to even people that are habitually angry. For instance, even people diagnosed with what is termed as chronic depression do not want to be depressed. Where is sorrow centered? Is it in the atma, the self? Sorrow cant exist in the self that is of the nature of ananda, of limitless joy. So sorrow must originate in the I that is part of the non-self (anatma). The nonself masquerading as the self is the cause of sorrow. We take our bodies to be the self, so we think that whatever is happening to the body is happening to me. That causes sorrow. This false identification is the problem and therefore we have what is called a sad person, an angry person etc. True, we are all able to access a variety of emotions, but there is one or two that we identify with a lot, and that is what is pointed to here. What Vedanta emphasises is not the emotions, but the observer of the emotions. Who is the one who says " I feel angry today" "I feel upset now" etc? That entity who is able to track the changes in the body, mind and senses, must necessarily be changeless. For, if it were also subject to change, it would not be able to track changes in time. That this entity is able to track changes in time means it is timeless. A statement such as "I am more impatient than I used to be" is an example for this. The person making this statement is observing him/herself at t1 (time 1) and then also at t2 and making a comparison. Therefore the person must not be subject to modification by t1 or t2. Likewise, the expression, "In Oregon, I have the SAD syndrome due to lack of sunlight. I do much better in california, where there is more sun." is a space-based observation. Here the person making the observation is observing him/herself with regard to his.her own emotions at s1 and s2. This means that the observer is not affected by either s1 or s2. The observer, the entity that is observing changes through time and space is atma is you. The second logical thing here is that the atma is not affected by the emotions it observes. Why? If it were affected, it would not be able to observe the emotions. Therefore when we closely observe emotions in our own psyche, wefind that generally speaking, we have more propensity towards one emotion or the other.
  • 15. Is the atma a cause prior to action or only the witness of action?

    Atma is awareness, consciousness, and is the only thing that exists that cannot be negated --because one cannot say one is not. I am. That I am is evident to me. I am self evident, and everything else (there really is nothing else on the same level of reality) is evident to me, is dependent upon my cognising it as existent. Everything there is (known and unknown) including one's body-mind-sense complex is the jagat. Therefore the atma is the cause of everything. For action to take place, it follows logically that there should be at least an actor -- a subject, and something that is acted upon --an object. The actor is atma, the acted upon is atma, the action is atma, and the witness of all these is atma. In other words, the actor/action/acted-upon distinctions are mithya --they form the empirical reality --the transactional reality that has no independent existence other than atma. When I say "this is a pot" what I am really saying is that a name and form called "pot" having a certain function exists. The existence of the pot is derived from clay. The pot is an incidental attribute to clay. Only clay is. Pot can come and go, but clay is. Similarly, jagat can come and go. Atma is.
  • 16. What does it mean to say that we seek only freedom from being a seeker, especially concerning kama?

    If you are a seeker, that means you are not free. Why? Because you are constantly seeking. What the Gita suggests is that despite the form that your quest takes, that is, whether you are seeking security or pleasure, what you are actually seeking is freedom from seeking itself. Each quest fulfills itself. For example, you can rise to the top in your job and become a CEO of a company. But even though your quest to rise to the top has fulfilled itself, you are not necessarily satisfied. You still remain a seeker. The object of your quest might shift, that is, you may now want to buy another corporation. But you have not stopped seeking. No matter what form the quest takes, it is based on non-acceptance of oneself as adequate, whole, and complete. That is why one tends to buttress the self with status, ambition, money, and so on. But as the self becomes more and more acceptable, the quest also lessens. That is why I say that what one is really seeing is freedom from being a seeker.
  • 17. How are Buddhism and Vedanta different--or are they?

    Buddhism arose out of Hinduism. In the Hindu tradition, the Buddha is seen as an incarnation of Ishwara, God, and worshipped in temples. There are at least two major differences between Buddhism and Vedanta: 1. The main tenet of Buddhism, the world is sorrowful, filled with sorrow and suffering. Vedanta does not say that world is sadness. We say that the world is ananda, limitless joy. The self is ananda, limitless joy. What sustains the world is also limitless joy. Vedanta says that if sorrow were the intrinsic nature of the jagat, the world, and all the beings in it, then one would not question sorrow. One would be happy being sad, because sadness would be one's essential nature. In other words, if sorrow is "real" it cannot be removed. On the contrary if sorrow enjoys an experiential --but not absolute-- reality, then it need not be removed. 2. The second difference between Buddhism and Vedanta has to do with the concept of "nothingness" or "emptiness."I find that the Zen Buddhist definition of "emptiness" is somewhat close to Vedanta in the sense that Many sects of Buddhism talk of the truth of the self as being "nothing." But this is a contradiction in terms according to Vedanta. If I say, that the truth of myself is nothing, then I am negating myself. I exist. existence cannot be sustained by non-existence, because nothing cannot create or sustain something. That is a contradiction in terms. Furthermore, who is the one saying that the truth is shunya or nothing? Who is the cogniser of this nothing? In response to this, someone has to say "It is I who says that the truth of the world is nothing." This means that what is not existent has to be recognised by something existent. Non-existence has validity as a means of knowledge only when we are clear about the object, whose absence we are cognising, and its location. For example, if I say there is no pot in the palm of my hand, the "what" and the "where" are clear. The pot is understood as an existent object from another cognition, or context, and here, in this instance, we are saying that it does exist at a specific location that is visible.
  • 18. Doesn't Buddhism also go beyond suffering to bliss?

    Yes, by trying to remove both suffering, and desire, the cause of suffering. Not so in Vedanta, where suffering and sorrow does not enjoy the same order of reality as ananda, or limitlessness. Suffering is relative, while ananda, absolute. Even the "suffering I" is sustained by the the very same ananda, limitlessness as that which sustains the "happy I." The "bliss" here is not another object to be acquired or a state of mind to be experienced, but the very svarupa, the nature of the oneself. Before contending with other schools of thought and philosophies, it is important to understand Vedanta for what it is in its own right, and allow it to speak for itself, and reveal what it has to say.
  • 19. Is joy inherent in the world?

    According to Vedanta, joy, ananda is the truth of everything including this world. The main teaching is that one is not separate from anything. In other words, if there is such a thing as the whole, it must include me. The truth of oneself is sat-chit-ananda, the truth of the jagat, the universe, is sat-chit-ananda. Sat means that which is unchanging, and that which cannot be negated. Chit is that which is in the form of awareness, of uninhibited consciousness, and ananda means that which is limitless.
  • 20. What is the difference between the ego and the self? Does the ego need to be eliminated in order to gain moksha?

    The word ego comes from the Greek word meaning "I." The word used in Sanskrit is "ahankara," the "I notion." The notion of oneself as the seer, thinker, doer etc is what is known as the ego. That the self is the doer, seer, thinker, mother or father is a fact. It does not pose a problem. The self is everything, but when one mistakenly identifies oneself with the various roles that one plays in life, one finds oneself affected by the problems of the roles. The problems of the role cannot affect the self, for the self is the very role it inhabits, but the role is not the self. Often in the beginning of one's spiritual journey, the ahankara comes in the way of this crucial distinction. As long as one is embodied, it is not possible to eliminate the ahankara; one need not eliminate the ahankara to get freedom from becoming, from samsara. It needs to be lightened by consistent exposure to Vedanta, and by the practice of meditation, both of which gives one the inner space to discover that the invariable person who inhabits all roles, is oneself, the witness of everything, the one who sustains everything, while remaining unaffected by any association or identification including the body-mind-sense complex.
  • 21. The word consciousness is very difficult for Westerners in that we associate it strongly with our awareness of events and self, which in turn we see as dependent on brain events. Are there any ways of approaching the idea that would help with this proble

    The Sanskrit word for consciousness is "chaitanya," which means sentience. One who is sentient is aware of one's surroundings, and aware of oneself. When one tries to understand something, one can do so only by objectifying what needs to be known through the means at one's disposal --mainly through direct perception and inference. If one tries to use these methods to understand consciousness or sentience, which is really oneself, one fails because consciousness has no location, and, being the very nature of the knower, cannot be objectified by the knower. It simply means that we need another means of knowledge than the ones we have at our disposal. It also means that one cannot know the knower by objectifying the knower. There is a contradiction. The knower is the self. The thing to be known is also the self. The self that one identifies with the most is the self that is deeply connected to the body-mind-sense complex. When I say I am "overweight" what I mean to say is that the body in which I dwell weighs more than what is healthy for it. Similarly, if I say, "I feel funky today" means that the mind that I am observing is identifying with some negative emotions. So the self that one is the most familiar with is the I notion that identifies with the body-mind-sense complex, and seems to be always wanting, small, fragmented, inadequate, and largely powerless. Yet one's experience is of a self that is whole, that is complete, even in moments of fleeting, happiness leads one to question the nature of the self. Which perception of the self is correct? Am I becoming, wanting and limited? Or am I free, whole and limitless? How to know this, especially when the knower who identifies with the limited self for the most part tries to dabble with the perception of herself or himself as totally free of limitations? It is rather like a person born and raised in captivity trying to describe the world outside the prison-walls. Therefore, in order to know the self, we need a means of knowing that is given to us. This means of knowing is what is called the words of the Veda. The words of the Veda become the means of knowledge to know what is otherwise unknowable. Likewise, in other indigenous spiritual traditions, like the Yoruba, for example, the Odu, the Ifa literary corpus, serves the function of being a revealed means of knowledge to understand and relate to subtle forces and processes that are imperceptible and beyond one's control. What the word consciousness indicates is awareness, sentience that is whole and complete. But this sentience cannot be grasped by perceptual means, i.e. with the help of the senses. You can't see awareness or hear it. You cant smell sentience, you cant taste it, or touch it ever so lightly. Then again, you cannot arrive at the existence of sentience through mathematical equations or inference. You cannot come to know of sentience by searching for something like it and comparing it to sentience. Why? Because awareness is like nothing else, and cannot be compared to anything else. Perhaps then, one can say, awareness is not knowable at all. Or perhaps, even if it is knowable, it might be something remote. This contention defies one's experience of oneself. Awareness is oneself; it is not separate from the self. You are aware of everything. You are aware of bodily sensations; you are capable of recognising your emotions, you are the witness of your thoughts, you are the seer, the hearer, the thinker, the feeler, the deliberator, the doer, and the experiencer. These roles are incidental to you, because they keep changing. But the one that observes the changes and inheres through all the changes is changeless, is invariable, is you. The knowledge that one exists, has little to do with brain function, except perhaps that the faculty of intelligence, the buddhi In modern medicine and psychology, we have cut up the brain into several parts and split it up according to its functions, i.e. certain parts of the brain are identified with memory, others with feeling, etc.This fallacy is not unlike trapping space --that is all-pervasive-- in a jar and concluding that the size and shape of space is the size and shape of the jar. That is what we do with consciousness. We conflate consciousness with the instrument (the faculty of knowing and thinking) where consciousness shines, where is it recognised, where it is identifiable as consciousness. This is a perpetual problem in communicating that which cannot be grasped through sensory perception or inference. Just because it cannot be grasped by the means of knowing available to us does not mean that it is not knowable, or that it does not exist. It just means that it cannot be known by the means of knowledge that is wielded by the knower.
  • 22. How do we know that consciousness is not dependent on anything else?

    This is a very good question. Let's say I enter your house at night and there is a power outage. You are sitting in the dark. I come in and call out your name and say, "Hi are you there?" How will you respond to me? Will you say, "let the electricity come back on, and I shall check up and tell you?" No. You will definitely and spontaneously say " I am here. Yes. I am here." What does this illustrate? that everything in this world needs light to be revealed, to be objectified, to be "brought to light," as it were. If there were no light, nothing would be available for recognition, or perception. But even without this light, one can say that one is, that one exists. Light reveals everything, everything is dependent on light, but even for light to come to light, we need the light of consciousness. Consciousness is the self. It is not revealed by any light or by anything other than itself. It need not be revealed or made evident, because it is self-revealing. It is self-evident. It is not only self-revealing, but in fact is the revealer of everything else. That consciousness is yourself. Everything is evident to the self. Everything, including light, depends on the self to be revealed. If you look at a flower, the flower becomes an object of your consciousness. If you hear a melody, that becomes an object of your consciousness. And so it is with everything in this world that is experienceable, knowable, objecitifieable, both known and to-be-known. It is this self revealing capacity that makes consciousness independent of anything else. In fact, the next step would be to say that there isn't anything other than consciousness. Everything that is, is a manifestation of consciousness. Why cant we say that consciousness is revealed or objectified by another consciousness, and therefore this consciousness is not independent? That would not be possible. If there were to be another consciousness objectifying or revealing this consciousness, then who or what would objecitfy that consciousness? If consciousness/ chaitanyam/atma were not independent and were needing to be revealed or objectified by another consciousness, then that consciousness, would in turn need another consciousness to reveal or make it known.As you can see, we are walking on the path of infinite regression. Therefore, consciousness is independent. In fact the only thing that enjoys absolute independence is consciousness, is the truth of you. Others raised a concern that the karma idea allows one to justify all events after the fact. The word karma in sanskrit is used primarily in two ways: it means action, and also the fruit of action. We know from day to day observation that action produces result. Not only human beings, but even animals seem to be cognizant of this fact, as is illustrated by the behavior of pets responding to rewards. What our rsis (sages) knew thousands of years ago, is now confirmed by Newton's law: every action has a result that is equal and opposite. This law confirms our rudimentary knowledge gained from observing the world. Even though people in the west often think that karma is a "theory" that espouses fatalism, it is not the case. when we understand karma (action) and karmaphala (result of action)properly, we know that both are intrinsically connected to the existence of free will. To the extent that the free will is developed is the extent to which one has a choice over action. This choice is threefold: 1. you can do something; 2. you can choose to not do something; and 3. you can do the same thing in different ways. In human beings, the free will is seen to be the most developed. Animals do not have as much control over their actions. A cow cannot but eat grass. Even if you were take the cow to a gourmet fast food joint and offer it a hamburger, it is still programmed to eat grass. A donkey is programmed to kick. It cannot choose to do otherwise. A tiger is programmed to kill and eat human beings, but we have the choice of what to eat. I, however, know that I cannot look upon my neighbors as dinner. To do so will jeopardise my own survival, for the neighbor is also free to look upon me as his/her next meal. Each action we undertake is fraught with the responsibility of being accountable for the consequences. The connection between action and consequence is stressed in the Veda and the Gita. You have freedom over your action, but that you control the result is a myth. What comes of your action is in the hands of Ishwara. Therefore, careful deliberation before acting is advised. If someone kills another human being, It is not the killer's karma to kill. Similarly it is not the robber's karma to rob, the cheater's karma to cheat. Nobody comes programmed to do such things. It is the misuse of the free will that leads to choosing such actions. There may also be some predilection in people who are predominantly given to the practice of adharma, or what is ethically incorrect. This predilection may have been from karmic residues in previous lives. Now, what about the victims of homicide, robbery etc? Let's take the case of the 9/11 incident. It was not karma, but gross misuse of the free will that allowed the people to fly planes into the world towers, killing thousands of people. Of the people that succumbed to the tragedy, we cannot say definitively that they were destined to die. We can also not definitively say that it was not their karma to die in this manner. That is because karma is mithya, belonging to the empirical or transactional reality, where there is separation between the individual, the world, and Ishwara, where the jiva, (the individual) thinks of him/her self as a discrete individual. When you enquire deeply into any aspect of empirical reality, it becomes clear that nothing except you, the atma, which is brahman, has an independent existence. All creation is mithya, a myriad variety of names and forms. All aspects of creation draw their existence from the atma, which is the nature of the self. Karma, also has a dependent existence. Karma is dependent on avidya, or ignorance of the self. I think of myself as a karta, a doer. So long as I am unaware that the atma is actionless, while sustaining all action, I shall keep on doing. The more I do, the more I have to suffer the consequences of the doing. We shall see in the Gita, that ignorance of the nature of the self as everything is the primary factor that propels one to do action, karma. Engaging in action means that we are also faced with handling the consequences. This, in turn, opens up possibilities of new cycles of action and consequence. Therefore, the jiva is caught in a vicious cycle, as long as the karma bluff is not called. Karma is not a convenient scapegoat for justifying events after the fact. Neither is it a fatalism. On the contrary, it is a very proactive and practical view of life that provides useful insights to lead an ethical life.
  • 23. Is suffering and/or prospering always because of karma?

    Ultimately, yes. But suffering or prospering has as much to do with one's mental state and preparedness to handle what life presents. For example, on a "good day" you are able to take in a lot more, be more accommodative of people and situations. On "not-so-good" days, however, one can find oneself having a short fuse, and reacting easily. What makes a day "good" or "bad?" True, to a certain extent this categorization is dependent upon external circumstances, but more often than not, it is dependent primarily on one's mental state, and one's ability to handle the unfolding of karmic residues (prarabdha) in one's life. Karma might produce uncomfortable situations, but it cannot give suffering. Suffering is a condition brought about by the mind's inability to tolerate something. Karma can only create difficult situations. You can be a victim of a fraud or robbery. Perhaps someone you trust -- a good friend-- can betray you. The karmic part of this is just that your pocket was picked,you lost some money. Or someone behaved in an untrustworthy manner with you. The agony that accompanies this loss is entirely dispensible by exercising the choice to not react in patterned ways, says the Gita. This is called karma yoga.
  • Questions regarding specific texts
  • 1. What is the Bhagavad Gita

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    The Bhagavad Gita (Sanskrit: भगवद्‌गीता - Bhagavad Gītā, "Song of God" or "Divine Song"[1]) is an ancient Sanskrit text comprised of 700 verses from the Mahabharata (Bhishma Parva chapters 25 – 42[2]). Krishna, as the speaker of the Bhagavad Gita is referred to within as Bhagavan[3] (the divine one), and the verses themselves, using the range and style of Sanskrit meter (chandas) with similes and metaphors, are written in a poetic form that is traditionally chanted; hence the title, which translates to "the Song of the Divine One". The Bhagavad Gita is revered as sacred by the majority of Hindu traditions,[4] and especially so by followers of Krishna. In general speech it is commonly referred to as The Gita.[5]

    The content of the text is a conversation between Krishna and Arjuna taking place on the battlefield of Kurukshetra just prior to the start of a climactic war. Responding to Arjuna's confusion and moral dilemma, Krishna explains to Arjuna his duties as a famous warrior and Prince and elaborates on a number of different Yogic[6] and Vedantic philosophies, with examples and analogies. This has led to the Gita often being described as a concise guide to Hindu philosophy and also as a practical, self-contained guide to life. During the discourse, Krishna reveals his identity as the Supreme Being Himself (Bhagavan), blessing Arjuna with an awe-inspiring glimpse of His divine absolute form.

    The Bhagavad Gita is also called Gītopaniṣad as well as Yogupaniṣad, implying its status as an 'Upanishad'.[7] While technically it is considered a Smṛti text, it has singularly achieved a status comparable to that of śruti, or revealed knowledge.