Logic And Spiritual Enlightenment – An Overview of Anekantavada, Saptabhangivada (Seven Valued Logic) and Syadvada of Jainism

In this post, I am going to address a very important topic. Because there is a certain misunderstanding that exists among the spiritual seekers when it comes to logic and reasoning. Many blind followers of certain cults accept whatever nonsense that is said by their leader as the truth; They do not want to use their reason for any reason at all. So, I am going to address the following question in detail: What is the place for logic and reasoning in spiritual path?

Is it completely absurd to use your nature-given reasoning when it comes anything uttered by your so-called Guru who has a long beard and claims to be enlightened?

Absolutely No!

Everything has a place and use in life and also has its limitations. You cannot use your eyes to pick up things and you cannot use your hands to watch a movie! Anybody who is even debating if the hands are better than eyes or vice versa is being completely childish and immature.

So, why do certain Gurus keep saying that you cannot use logic to figure things out on the spiritual path? Because it is true in certain situations but not applicable to every nonsense you hear. Here are some reasons why reasoning alone will not help:

  1. Lack of premise

For any logical conclusion, you need a premise. For example, consider the following statements:

  1. There is smoke coming out of that house.
  2. Therefore, there is possibly a fire burning inside the house.

Statement #1 is the observation. Statement #2 is the logical conclusion you came up with based on the observation. But what premise is this conclusion based on? The premise is, “If there is smoke, there must be fire”.

So, the following two things have to be kept in mind:

  1. Without necessary premises, you may be missing the knowledge of something important. Without that knowledge, your conclusions could be wrong. If you think that smoke doesn’t need fire to exist, then you will not be able to infer that there is a fire in the house (after seeing the smoke).
  2. If the premise is wrong, your conclusions will be wrong. This is bound to happen even if your explanation is completely logical.

If you are not spiritually enlightened or self-realized yourself, you will misunderstand the behavior of an enlightened person. Because you will be interpreting his behavior while assuming that he is still functioning in duality or with a separate sense of self. You cannot understand how it feels like to function without a sense of separation when you yourself are bound by separation and duality. Why so? Because an important premise is missing here; only spiritual enlightenment can give that premise because the premise is not something intellectual; it is experiential. Read this for more info: Is Spiritual Enlightenment Known or Experienced?.

Only when you live as a liberated person, you understand how an enlightened person perceives the reality. This understanding is the premise you need to logically talk about that unaltered, unclouded, impersonal, unified, authentic non-dual experience of reality that lacks a sense of separation, sense of psychological time, sense of psychological lack and a self concept . Here, the problem is not with logic itself; the problem is just the absence of premise. You need to first work on getting to know the necessary premise before you can meaningfully and accurately talk about it.

Let me give you an example to make it even clear. A stomach pain is experiential. But you can logically talk about stomach pain to another person because you have experienced stomach pain and the listener has also experienced it. If you have not experienced stomach pain before, you lack the necessary premise to talk about it.  Read this for more clarity: Why Is Spiritual Enlightenment Indescribable?.

2. You cannot think your way to enlightenment

When it comes to spirituality, the means to liberation involves meditation. Meditation is of two-fold: 1) Practices that are designed to develop concentration, discrimination between the witness and the witnessednon-attachment etc. They make you completely prepared. 2) Insight-oriented practices which are called by many names such as mindfulness, self-inquiry etc which is a non-doing, inquiry and observation based meditation.

So, just thinking about enlightenment or analyzing a verbal testimony that attempts to describe non-duality will not clear any of your doubts. If you come to conclusions about the nature of non-duality only based on thinking alone, it will be wrong. Because, as we saw already, you are missing out on an important premise.

3. The spiritual practice is not about anything objective.

Here, by the word objective, I am talking about anything that can be observed with your awareness: the shape and color of the dog, the smell of bullshit, a thought, a feeling, a physical sensation etc.

In spiritual practice, our main interest is not on anything that is objective. You are supposed to first realize that there is a self-evident, attribute-less, pure conscious experience of reality in which everything that is observed has an ontological existence. And this is the pure subject. As for as your experience is concerned, it is like a screen of pure conscious experience  where the world along with matter, time, space, movement, non-movement etc happens. In the Jain philosophy, the witness, along with matter, time, space, movement and non-movement are called as dravyas. These six substances are considered as eternal. But this is not contradictory to the two fold truth of Purusha and Prakriti. The five substances apart from the witness are nothing but the further enumeration of Prakriti. The movement and non-movement already represents rajas and tamas respectively. Jain philosophy eliminated sattva because it is just a balance of rajas or tamas. Instead it added time, space and matter. These differences are not a problem since they are just working models which are used in spiritual practice. In fact, instead of 6 dravyas, one can try coming up with more numbers. This is how 24 tattvas in Samkhya, 36 tattvas in Kashmiri Shaivism, 6 koshas in Vedanta and 5 aggregates in Buddhism are defined. They are just enumeration of basic units of one’s conscious experience. I have explained more about it here: The Truth About Yantras, Chakras, Temples, Tantra and Agamas.

In Sanskrit, this witness is called as Atman. There is another meaning for Atman which is spirit. But in many spiritual traditions, people did not use that word to mean ‘spirit’ at all. In fact, the actual meaning of the Sanskrit word ‘Atman’ is ‘Self’. The sentence ‘he saw himself in the mirror’ is translated as ‘sah darpane Atmanam pasyati’ in Sanskrit. Here, Atman is declined in objective class as ‘Atmanam’. But this word is translated as ‘soul’ in English, which actually gives a wrong meaning. Because, soul in English is always associated with a spirit or some invisible entity that lives in the body. But in Jain philosophy, Atman is just a witness.

“That which is the soul is that which knows, that which is the knower is the soul, that by which one knows is the soul”

     – Acharanga sutta – 171 (A Jain text of 5th-4th century BCE compiled based on the teachings of Mahavira.

Here in 6 dravyas of Jain philosophy, the witness is the subject and the five other substances are objects. When you are thinking about something,  your thought is certainly dealing with something that is objective. Even if you think about absolute reality, it is still objective because you are only dealing with a concept that is imagined or cognized in your mind. Above all, the thought process which is employed here is also objective because you can observe it.

Spiritual practices like self-inquiry require being a passive witness to everything that is objective; When you do that, you don’t identify yourself with the thinker but see the thought process as separate from the space of pure awareness in which everything is happening.

Here, your intellect actually plays an important role in helping you discriminate between the witness and the witnessed. But the practice of witnessing or self-inquiry itself doesn’t require a contemplative thought process or a series of logical steps. It just requires a choiceless awareness of your mental processes.  So, an obsession with thinking or analysis will make you miss the point and stop you from doing meditation at all.

Anekantavada and Seven Valued Logic In Jainism:

Have you heard contradictory statements in the context of spiritual enlightenment similar to the following?:

  1. a) There is free will;  b)There is no free will
  2. a) You cannot do anything to be enlightened; b)You have to do many things to be enlightened.
  3. a) You are already enlightened; b) You are not enlightened.
  4. a) There is self; b)There is no self.

How do you resolve these contradictory statements? What if I told you that both a) and b) are true in each case?  In a way or in some sense, both are true.

I will explain it completely. Before that, take a look at this infographic:

anekantavada

Blindmen and the Elephant:

“A group of blind men heard that a strange animal, called an elephant, had been brought to the town, but none of them were aware of its shape and form. Out of curiosity, they said: “We must inspect and know it by touch, of which we are capable”. So, they sought it out, and when they found it they groped about it. 

In the case of the first person, whose hand landed on the trunk, said: “This being is like a thick snake”. For another one whose hand reached its ear, it seemed like a kind of fan. As for another person, whose hand was upon its leg, said, the elephant is a pillar like a tree-trunk. The blind man who placed his hand upon its side said, “elephant is a wall”. Another who felt its tail described it as a rope. The last felt its tusk, stating the elephant is that which is hard, smooth and like a spear.”

This story is a very famous one and present in almost all the spiritual traditions. Now, the question is, is the elephant’s tail same as the elephant itself? In some sense, they are the same and in some sense, they are not.  Each part of an elephant is a distinct feature and points to one specific aspect of an elephant. Jain tradition calls it ‘Naya’. A naya is a partial presentation of the nature of the object and is relative. But ‘Pramana’ is a comprehensive presentation of an object and it is absolute. Here, the elephant is the pramana and its leg is a naya.

Let us say you are looking at a real elephant right now. Is the elephant that you see this moment the same as the elephant you see the next moment?  In some sense, yes but in some sense, no. In a practical sense, it is the same elephant that you have been staring at for the past few minutes. But in reality, the elephant which was present one second before and the elephant which is present now is not identical because some change has taken place there.

Does a self-exist? A solid, concrete self doesn’t exist when you look at it objectively. At any point in time, what you observe in your consciousness is an ever-changing phenomenon which includes thoughts, emotions, sensations etc. Each of them has an independent existence as they arise and pass away. The same occurs in the body. Your body 24 hours ago is not identical to your body right now, because, certain things have disappeared, certain things have appeared and certain things have changed locations in the body. So, whatever you call as self can only have momentary existence because the collection you refer to as ‘self’ doesn’t exist in the same form the next moment. But Self as the underlying pure awareness hasn’t changed even a bit. If you call this awareness as Self, it does have a continuous, unchanging existence.

So, Self as the substance or essence exists continuously as awareness. But self as a form only has a momentary existence. Because, the next moment, you have a slightly different form. Jain philosophy calls the substance as ‘dravya’ and the form as ‘paryaya’. So the correct answer to the question ‘Does a self-exist?’ would be this: In a way, self-exists; in a way, it doesn’t exist.

But the problem with such two-fold description is that it usually ends up getting misunderstood.  This is very true when it comes to spirituality. The language cannot faithfully convey the true ontological nature of anything. So, in a way, it is also indescribable and this has to be conveyed along with the two-fold description, making it a three fold one.

With what we have seen, we can come up with three different premises which are equally true:

  1. In some sense, self exists.
  2. In some sense, self does not exist.
  3. In some sense, it is indescribable.

Apply the same to free will. Does free will exist?

Certainly, you aren’t a robot. At every moment, there appears to be a choice. So in a practical sense, free will does exist as it appears to exist for everyone. But does free will really exist?

Think about any action that you decided to do today. Did you have complete control over the decision you made? It appears so. Ask yourself, ‘Why did I do that?’. Today  I went to a movie. Why did I do that? Because I felt bored. Why did I feel bored? Because the television was not working today in my home, due to some technical problem. Why was there such a technical problem?

When you inquire this way, in two or three steps, you will reach something that you had no control over. I did not have any control over my television set going bad.

If you think about it, you would see that you have no control over even what the next thought of yours is going to be. What you think the next moment is based on what your brain spots as a retrieval cue or something that needs to be reminded to you.  If your boss scolded you harshly yesterday, you would be getting those thoughts many times today. This way, each and every reaction is tied to a previous cause or a co-related factor which has a previous cause. There are countless such interlinked cause and effect relationships in the universe which cannot be traced back to its origins. Because past means infinity.

Every decision you make has its roots in multiple factors that you had no control over in the first place. In fact, everything happens according to the natural laws that govern the universe. You can’t decide anything against the natural law; because your decision itself is controlled by nature.

People keep asking me if one becomes like an autopilot after enlightenment. What makes you think that you are not in auto-pilot right now? But talking about this is kind of tricky because people usually misunderstand it. Saying that you don’t have a free will gives a nihilistic view or a pessimistic view. But that comes from a misunderstanding. Because in some sense, you do have a free will.

With what we have seen, we can come up with three different premises about free will which are equally true:

  1. In some sense, free will exists.
  2. In some sense, free will does not exist.
  3. In some sense, it is indescribable.

Each of the above statement is a ‘naya’. It expresses partial truth but incomplete by itself. But the complete and comprehensive truth or Pramana cannot be put into words; it has to be seen or understood by yourself.

The concept of free will is tied to an idea of a separate, personal self. So, you get a complete picture of the nature of the free will only after enlightenment. Because enlightenment removes the sense of separation or duality from the equation.

With these two examples, we get the following basic format. (Replace anything with the word ‘that’:

  1. In some sense, that exists.
  2. In some sense, that doesn’t exist.
  3. In some sense, that is indescribable.

As I said, the above three statements are equally true and each of  them convey the truth from one point of view only. So, each statement is incomplete by itself. But when we accept these three statements as true at the same time, then it is possible to come up with four more statements based on these three premises. Logically, all the seven statements should be true as they are based on these original three premises:

(1) In some sense, that exists. (syadasti). 

(2) In some sense, that doesn’t exist  (syatnasti ).

(3)In some sense, that exists and that doesn’t exist (syadasti nasti  ca ).

(4) In some sense, that is indescribable (syadavaktavyah).

(5)In some sense, that exists and is indescribable (syadasti ca avaktavya sca ).

(6) In some sense, that doesn’t exist and is indescribable ( syatnasti ca avaktavyasca) .

(7) In some sense, it exists, it doesn’t exist and also indescribable (syadasti nasti ca avaktavyasca).

This sevenfold logic is called as Saptabhangi vada. The statements you see in the brackets are the Sanskrit translations. Notice that each sentence starts with ‘syad’. The word ‘syad’ generally means ‘maybe’ but in this context, it means ‘In a way’ or ‘In some sense’. That is why this doctrine is also called as syadvada.

The bottom line is that, when you don’t have the complete picture that gives you the absolute truth about anything, any verbal description of that would be only partial. So, multiple statements stated from different points of view are needed to even get the slightest hint of what the complete picture might be. Because of the requirement of such multiple statements, the doctrine is also called as ‘Anekanta vada’, which literally means ‘many-sidedness’.

When you hear contradictory teachings, this doctrine will remind you that it appears to be contradictory only because of the verbal expression. It is just an inadequacy of the language.  So, rather than getting confused, this doctrine will remind you to work towards your liberation so that you can get the direct perception of the truth. Until you see the elephant, don’t insist that what you are holding is the complete truth about the elephant.

Experiencing the reality non-dualy and living a life without a sense of separation is something indescribable. If a person hasn’t gone through a spiritual transformation and has not gained knowledge of non-duality by experience, then he wouldn’t understand it by any amount of verbal communication.

 He is missing an important premise that would allow him to logically analyze the non-dual experience of reality. Only self-realization can give him that premise. If he tries to capture the nature of non-dual reality without experiencing the reality that way, then his conclusions would be similar to the conclusions drawn by the blind men about the elephant. 

A spiritual seeker is like a blind man, who is groping in the dark and trying to follow the rays of light that are sometimes visible, which may lead him to the ultimate liberation.

For such a blind spiritual seeker, spiritual teachings may seem contradictory to each other just like the conclusions of the blind men seemed contradictory to each other. But those contradictions seem to exist simply because of the lack of a complete picture. Once the person acquires the vision to see the elephant there won’t be any contradiction.

So, it must be understood that these seemingly contradictory descriptions of non-duality are given to compensate for the lack of the complete picture. Each one of them is true in some sense but each of those contradictory descriptions in isolation is incomplete by itself. It is similar to how saying that an elephant looks like a pillar is an incomplete description but true in some sense (as the leg of the elephant is like a pillar.) This doesn’t in any way mean that there are multiple truths. 

I wrote this post for two reasons:

  1. Recently, I have been getting many questions which are all about how life and the experience of reality are going to be after spiritual enlightenment. Well, that is something that you have to see for yourself. Don’t try to grasp it with the mind, it won’t happen.
  2. When I write anything critical about some modern-day gurus regarding their misleading statements, I get a response from the guru’s followers saying that I am using logic to analyze those statements (as if it were a sin). Here is what I want to say to them:

a) Just because it is related to the spiritual path, that doesn’t mean that there is no room for reasoning at all. Using your reasoning is especially necessary when you are depending on a guru in someway, who has the potential to exploit you economically and psychologically. If a guru tries to convince you that doing a free labor for his organization or donating a huge fortune to them will somehow favor your spiritual growth, you need to certainly use your brain. Whatever I have explained above is not an excuse to be dumb and intellectually lazy. In fact, intellect plays a very important part in helping you to understand spiritual teachings and also to discriminate between the witness and the witnessed.

b) I do have the necessary premise to talk about non-duality because I am not living in duality anymore. So, I can very easily detect odd, misleading and nonsensical things said in the name of spirituality.

c) People need to understand the difference between something which is illogical and something which is beyond logic (something for which you don’t have the necessary premise).

Here is an example of something illogical:

1)all crows are black.

2)all crows are birds.

3)Therefore, all birds are black..

Now, if you try to make an 8-year-old boy understand about sexual pleasure, that is beyond his current level of understanding, simply because he has not experienced sexual pleasure. So, he cannot use logic to understand it until he experiences sexual attraction. (this is what I called beyond logic or to be more precise, beyond his current level of understanding).. Once he is 15 or 16 years old, he will understand. After this understanding, he can use logic to discuss it with other people who also know about it. Because he has a new premise now, based on his experience.

 

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Spiritual Enlightenment Comics: You Are The Truth

A short comic on spiritual enlightenment and the spiritual path. A young guy visits an old self-realized man living in the forest to receive instructions on the spiritual path. The comic includes a portion of the poem that I wrote, which you can read here: https://nellaishanmugam.wordpress.com/2017/06/24/you-are-the-truth-a-poem-about-non-duality/.

 

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For a complete guide for spiritual seekers, visit this page: For the seekers of liberation.

 

Is Spiritual Enlightenment Known or Experienced?

This is a very important question! Because, there are a lot of misconceptions regarding spiritual enlightenment, and an answer to this question will clarify this…

Disclaimer: Everything written here is based on my own experience…

Is Spiritual Enlightenment Known or Experienced_.png

Is spiritual enlightenment known or experienced?

First, let me give you a short answer: It is both!

But I have to clarify what I mean by ‘knowledge’ and what I mean by ‘experience’ in this context…

Knowledge in general sense means anything that you know using your five senses. You know there is a tree by seeing it; you know there is a dog near you by hearing its barking and so on…

Knowledge also means conceptual and factual knowledge. You may know the capital of Japan, you may know what photosynthesis is; you may know the descriptions of 7 chakras; you may know the life history of Buddha and ideology of Buddhism.

But what you know after enlightenment cannot be really classified under the above categories. Spiritual enlightenment is a realization of something very significant.

Once you wake up from a nightmare, you know that it was just a dream… Can this knowledge really be called as a factual knowledge or some knowledge gathered through five senses? There is actually a profound realization that happens when you wake up from the dream. Now you know that after all, it is just a dream.

wake.jpg

A typical human being is identified with his body and his mind… He is deeply identified with his thoughts, emotions, concepts, ideas, beliefs etc. He is also identified with everything that he calls as ‘his’: His family, his clothes, his house, his nation, his community, his values etc…All this is centered around the idea or notion of a ‘personal self’… When someone asks you who you are, whatever your answer may be, your typical reply usually describes everything you are identified with.

After enlightenment, a person realizes once and for all, that none of this is ‘me’ or ‘mine’.. He realizes that the whole idea of a separate personal self is an illusion. He realizes that he is never ever separate from the existence…He realizes that there is no ‘me’ and there is no ‘other’… He realizes that the whole idea of ‘me’ is a dream! This realization also removes the idea that he is the doer of the actions.. If there is no personal self, who is there to do anything? Actions happen, and they still happen out of conscious choice, but not with a sense of doer-ship…

But this is not an intellectual understanding; this is not a verbal assertion; this is not a temporary glimpse; this is a permanent and irreversible knowledge.

There is a word called ‘self-knowledge’ or ‘atma-jnana’.. But this word can be easily misunderstood.. For knowing anything, there has to be a knower, knowing and the object of knowledge.. But this self-knowledge is not an object of knowledge; it is not something that you gain. It is actually a merger of the knower, known and knowledge…It is the dissolution of all the psychological distinctions including the idea that ‘I am the knower and I am separate from this object of knowledge’’…

In other words, you don’t know the real Self, You are that! You just realize this without a doubt.. This ‘real self’ is not something to be pointed out as this or that… It in itself doesn’t have such attributes..

Nisargadatta Maharaj
Nisargadatta Maharaj

An excerpt from” I am That” by Nisargadatta Maharaj:

“Q: What am I?

M: It is enough to know what you are not. You need not know what you are. For as long as knowledge means description in terms of what is already known, perceptual, or conceptual, there can be no such thing as self-knowledge, for what you are cannot be described, except as except as total negation. All you can say is: ‘I am not this, I am not that’. You cannot meaningfully say ‘this is what I am’. It just makes no sense. What you can point out as ‘this’ or ‘that’ cannot be yourself. Surely, you cannot be ‘something’ else.

You are nothing perceivable, or imaginable. Yet, without you, there can be neither perception nor imagination. You observe the heart feeling, the mind thinking, the body acting; the very act of perceiving shows that you are not what you perceive. Can there be perception, experience without you? An experience must ‘belong’. Somebody must come and declare it as his own. Without an experiencer, the experience is not real. It is the experiencer that imparts reality to experience. An experience which you cannot have, of what value is it to you?”

Please note:

But don’t over-complicate it, don’t over-intellectualize it.. That is the main pitfall.. You can’t really think about it or imagine how it feels like to not have a sense of a ‘separate personal self’… When people speculate about it, they start to speak or write about it without knowing what they are talking about and cause misunderstanding to themselves and others…

All you can do is to inquire your every thought, every emotion and every sensation and see if there is really a ‘me’ in it. This inquiry is done only by witnessing your moment to moment experience including thoughts, emotions, and sensations as a passive non-judgmental observer… As you step back from your mental process and witness it, there is a recognition that you are not what you witness or observe as every thought passes by..

What is the Relationship between Experience and Spiritual Enlightenment?

Spiritual Enlightenment vs Spiritual Experience

Now I am going to address the other aspect, which has also caused a lot of misconceptions…

When I talk about the experiential aspect of enlightenment, I am not talking about distinct experiences that come and go… I am not talking about a special experience or an altered state of consciousness..

Most importantly, spiritual enlightenment is not spiritual experience..Both are different.. You may go through tons of spiritual experiences and just return to the duality..

I am talking about experiencing the reality without the distinctions of a ‘me’ and the ‘other’…

Every person experiences life or ‘the feeling of being alive’ each and every moment. But this experience is not pure. It is clouded by duality. You see and experience everything through a filter called a ‘separate personal self’.. This is the reason why you feel a difference between being alone and being with a person.

Just imagine how it feels like to be in a room alone and how it feels like to be in a room where there is already another person. It may be someone you know or a stranger. That doesn’t matter. There is a difference. Apart from the fact that you are mentally aware that there is another person there, you also have a distinct feeling that someone is there with you… But you absolutely won’t have such a feeling when the experience of reality is pure and devoid of any duality.

Also, the absence of duality removes all the conflicts, suffering and craving associated with a limited personal self. The reality is felt in its purity without any distortions. Your life then becomes free-flowing, conflict-less, guilt-free, fearless, peaceful and fulfilled.

Enlightenment also changes the way you sense the psychological time. Your existence doesn’t feel like it is time-bound. It almost feels like there is no dimension called ‘time’..

For more, about Spiritual enlightenment, read: What is Spiritual Enlightenment?

You can also get this book for more clarity: The Truth About Spiritual Enlightenment: Bridging Science, Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta: Shanmugam P: 9781973364542: Amazon.com: Books

(originally posted as an answer to a question in Quora)

Which Philosophy Personally Appeals More to You, Buddhism or Advaita Vedanta?

(This is a repost of the answer that I wrote in Quora for the same question)

Both point to the same truth!

I have noticed that many people don’t agree when it is said both are the same, because they are only looking at both of them in philosophical level. When it comes to ultimate reality, no matter what words we use, they can be always misleading.

I am talking from my own experience. Oneness with the rest of the existence is a living reality for me. But I will back up my statements by quoting both Vedantic and Buddhist scriptures.

The main source of suffering in our lives is caused by identification. We get identified with our mind, our body, our thoughts, our emotions etc. This identification of mistaking something that is not Self as Self is termed as Avidya or ignorance. Ignorance causes us to think that there is a separate individual self which needs to be protected and enhanced.

In other words, we feel experientially that we are separate from the rest of the world. This separation causes us to crave for fulfillment. That is why Buddha said craving is the root cause of suffering. It is Avidya, the ignorance which causes craving. Buddha is talking about the immediate cause and Vedanta is talking about the original cause.

Some people will object to this by saying that Buddhism doesn’t say that there is something eternal. First of all, when you realize that time itself is an illusion, you will also realize that eternity is only an idea. Buddha was more specific and straight forward, while Vedanta is little compassionate and gives you something that your mind can grasp.

When anyone asked Buddha any metaphysical questions such as ‘Is there anything eternal’, Buddha was silent. It is called Noble Silence .He talked about the impermanence of aggregates, but what we call in Vedanta as absolute reality is not one of the aggregates. It is not anything that is objective. It cannot be put into words. But both Vedanta and Buddhism has actually hinted about this absolute reality with striking similarity.

See the below examples:

Vedanta:

“It is this Akshara (the Imperishable), O Gargi, so the knowers of Brahman say. It is neither gross nor subtle, neither short nor long, not red, not viscid, not shadowy, not dark, not the air, not the ether, not adhesive, tasteless, odourless, without the sense of sight, without the sense of hearing, without the vital principle, mouthless, without measure, neither interior nor exterior,. It eats nothing, nobody eats it.”

– Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3-8-8.

Buddhism:

“There is that dimension, monks, where there is neither earth, nor water, nor fire, nor wind; neither dimension of the infinitude of space, nor dimension of the infinitude of consciousness, nor dimension of nothingness, nor dimension of neither perception nor non-perception; neither this world, nor the next world, nor sun, nor moon. And there, I say, there is neither coming, nor going, nor staying; neither passing away nor arising: unestablished, unevolving, without support [mental object]. This, just this, is the end of stress.”

– Buddha (in Nibbāna Sutta: Unbinding (1))

Buddha directly talks about something that is eternal too, but he uses the word ‘unborn’:

There is, monks, an unborn— unbecome — unmade — unfabricated. If there were not that unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated, there would not be the case that escape from the born — become — made — fabricated would be discerned. But precisely because there is an unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated, escape from the born — become — made — fabricated is discerned

– Buddha (in Nibbāna Sutta: Unbinding (3))

So, why did Buddha reject Vedas when Vedanta says that Vedas are the only authority?

We need to take Buddha’s time into account. Buddha lived sometime around 800 BC- 600 BC. It was during those times when many rishis were able to realize that there is something beyond the benefits that was got from mere rituals..Vedic rituals only focused on materialistic benefits that people could enjoy in three worlds. They were never about ultimate reality. That is when two great upanishads, Brihadaranyaka upanishad and Chandgoya upanishads were compiled. It must have taken a century or two; Buddha started talking to people at the same time period. So, we can safely conclude that when Buddha was alive, upanishads were not a part of Vedas.

This will raise many objections. Because, many people believe that Vedas are eternal and infallible. Even Shankara believed so. But, consider the following verses from Brihadaranyaka upanishad and the commentary from Shankara:

From chapter 6, section 4:

Verse 6: If man sees his reflection in water, he
should recite the following Mantra : ‘ (May the
gods grant) me lustre, manhood, reputation,
wealth and merits.’ She (his wife) is indeed the
goddess of beauty among women. Therefore he
should approach this handsome woman and
speak to her.

Shankara’s commentary:

If perchance he sees his reflection in water, he
should recite the following Mantra : ‘(May the gods
grant) me lustre,’ etc. She is indeed the goddess of
beauty among women. Therefore he should approach
this handsome woman and speak to her, when she has
taken a bath after three ‘nights.

Verse 7 : If she is not willing, he should buy her
over; and if she is still unyielding, he should
strike her with a stick or with the hand and
proceed, uttering the following Mantra, ‘I take
away your reputation,’ etc. She is then actually
discredited.

Shankara’s commentary:

If she is not willing, he should buy her over,
press his wishes through ornaments etc.; and if she is
still unyielding, he should strike her with a stick or
with the hand
, and announcing that he was going to
curse her and make her unfortunate, he should ·proceed,
uttering the following Mantra : ‘I take away your
reputation: etc. As a result of that curse, she comes
to be known as barren and unfortunate, and is then
actually discredited.

The above verses show how totally male dominative the society was those days.. Even though this doesn’t have anything to do with enlightenment, this example shows how one should not take everything just because it comes from a scripture or a person who is regarded as an authority.

And I don’t think that such infallible and eternal upanishads can advice someone to beat his wife if she doesn’t agree for sex.

You may say that these were later interpolations. But if that is the case, how could we trust Vedas in the first place?

But I know that Vedic verses such as Nasadiya Suktha and almost all upanishads have immense wisdom. We have to see them as collection of various poems composed by different people, instead of seeing them as infallible and eternal scriptures. I know that it is very difficult for many Indians to accept, because we are deeply blinded by pride and confirmation bias.

So, Why did Vedanta say that Vedas are only pramana (means of knowledge)?

Let us talk about three different methods of acquiring knowledge in general. (Vedanta uses six, but let us talk about three important ones here)

  1. Direct experience
  2. Inference
  3. Testimony from an authority.

In our daily life, we can get to know about many things through direct experience and inference. But we would never know the path to end the suffering unless someone tells us, simple!

So our ancient Indians selected the Upanishads as the only reliable authority to teach us the path towards liberation. It is just a standardization made by humans to avoid any conflict. And according to the social structure that prevailed those days, instead of relying any random person’s words as authority, it was reasonable to accept Upanishads as authority.

But we live in 21st century now. We are aware of things like confirmation bias and we are more keen towards human rights. While we do appreciate and show immense reverence to our ancient scriptures, it is nothing wrong in changing certain things to suit our modern society.

Also, Vedanta uses a certain teaching method called Adyaropa Apavada while Buddhism teaches directly and precisely. Vedanta is poetic where as Buddhism is empirical. Buddhism gives you the raw truth but Vedanta offers to you with added sweets and flavors. The only problem in Vedanta is that people may get stuck with the words and concepts.

You can find more details in my post here where I have included some additional points: Buddhism and Vedanta are the Same – A Detailed Comparison

If you are looking for a great spiritual authority to confirm the validity of Buddha’s message, then I will quote some of the words from Bhagwan Ramana Maharishi:

Disciple: Research on God has been going on from time immemorial. Has the final word been said?

Maharshi: (Keeps silence for some time.)

Disciple: (Puzzled) Should I consider Sri Bhagavan’s silence as the reply to my question?

Maharshi: Yes. Mouna is Isvara-svarupa.Hence the text: “The Truth of Supreme Brahman proclaimed through Silent Eloquence.”

Disciple: Buddha is said to have ignored such inquiries about God.

Maharshi: And for this reason was called a sunyavadin (nihilist). In fact Buddha concerned himself more with directing the seeker to realize Bliss here and now that with academic discussion about God, etc.

Buddhism and Vedanta are the Same – A Detailed Comparison

Buddhism and Vedanta are two big schools which have dominated the spiritual world till date.  Among many schools which have existed in the past, only these two have made a great influence all over the world and still continue to exist. But they seem to be contradictory to each other in many ways.

But based on my own experience and based on what I have read, these two schools only seem to differ because they use different conceptual languages. They also have different teaching methods. But the essence is the same.

When it comes to Vedanta, Prasthanathrayi, consisting of main Upanishads, Brahmasutras and Bhagwad gita is  the authority. In Buddhism, Tripitaka, consisting of Vinaya Pitaka, Sutra Pitaka and Abidharama Pitaka, is the source of all conceptual details. When you go through the scriptures with an open mind and with the support of your own spiritual realization, you will see that both are essentially the same.

Both schools talk about the cessation of suffering. The process of the cessation of suffering is called Moksha in Vedanta and Nirvana in Buddhism. Now let us see how these two schools define the nature of this liberation and the ultimate truth:

Vedanta

“It is this Akshara (the Imperishable), O Gargi, so the knowers of Brahman say. It is neither gross nor subtle, neither short nor long, not red, not viscid, not shadowy, not dark, not the air, not the ether, not adhesive, tasteless, odourless, without the sense of sight, without the sense of hearing, without the vital principle, mouthless, without measure, neither interior nor exterior,. It eats nothing, nobody eats it.”

– Brihadaranyaka Upanishad  3-8-8.

Buddhism

“There is that dimension, monks, where there is neither earth, nor water, nor fire, nor wind; neither dimension of the infinitude of space, nor dimension of the infinitude of consciousness, nor dimension of nothingness, nor dimension of neither perception nor non-perception; neither this world, nor the next world, nor sun, nor moon. And there, I say, there is neither coming, nor going, nor staying; neither passing away nor arising: unestablished, unevolving, without support [mental object]. This, just this, is the end of stress.”

– Buddha (in Nibbāna Sutta: Unbinding (1))
Do they sound similar? Yes, Because they talk about the same thing.

Now consider the following quotes:

There is, monks, an unborn— unbecome — unmade — unfabricated. If there were not that unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated, there would not be the case that escape from the born — become — made — fabricated would be discerned. But precisely because there is an unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated, escape from the born — become — made — fabricated is discerned

– Buddha (in Nibbāna Sutta: Unbinding (3))

………………………………………………..

Verily, that great unborn soul, undecaying, undying, immortal, fearless is Brahman

–        Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.4.25

 

This Sunyata or the ultimate truth doesn’t have any attributes. It is the conscious space in which everything takes place. It is the substratum of everything that is in the reality, like a movie screen that acts as a substratum to show the moving pictures on it.

This substratum itself is empty of anything that we can call as a ‘thing’, including abstract things. A ‘thought’ is a thing; a feeling is a thing’ a sense perception is a thing; and an experience is a thing too. All these are witnessed as the existing things or stuff that occupy the space of consciousness itself. This underlying consciousness is called shakshin ( witness), satchitananda (truth -consciousness -bliss), nurguna brahman, sunyata and so on.

 

Buddhism and Vedanta
Buddhism and Vedanta are the same!

Adyaropa Apavada – The Teaching method of Vedanta

 

So, when Buddhism calls it as sunyata, why does Vedanta defines the reality in positive terminology?  Because, Vedantins  use a different teaching method called ‘Adhyaropa apavada’. The teaching method intentionally superimposes some attributes to the ultimate reality first to distinguish it from everything that it is not. So, even though no concept can define something that lacks any kind of thing that is conceived by a concept, these intentional attributes are made in order to help the mind to grasp it  as a concept at the initial stage.

Then Vedantins negate everything that it is not. They reject the body as not it because body can be witnessed as a thing. They reject the mind as not it because mind can be witnessed as a thing too. You first understand that you are Brahman and then you negate everything that is not ‘You’ by closely monitoring the mental processes every moment, with the detached witness attitude.

Finally, even the intentional attributes are also rejected. This helps to drop the initial concepts that were formed to understand Brahman. Once you let go of all the concepts of reality and narrow down to the bare reality of yourself, people say that you have realized the truth.

Let us see some excerpts from Vedantic scriptures which support this:

“Who so knows the Self, thus described, as the fearless Absolute (brahman), himself becomes the Absolute, beyond fear. This is a brief statement of the meaning of the entire Upanishad.  And in order to convey this meaning rightly, the fanciful alternatives of production, maintenance and withdrawal, and the false notion of action, its factors and results, are deliberately attributed to the Self as a first step. And then later the final metaphysical truth is inculcated by negating these characteristics through a comprehensive denial of all particular superimpositions on the Absolute, expressed in the phrase ‘neither this nor that’. Just as a man, wishing to explain numbers from one to a hundred thousand billion (points to figures that he has drawn and) says, ‘This figure is one, this figure is ten, this figure is a hundred, this figure is a thousand’ , and all the time his only purpose is to explain numbers, and not to affirm that the figures are numbers; or just as one wishing to explain the sounds of speech as repre sented by the written letters of the alphabet resorts to a device in the form of a palm-leaf on which he makes incisions which he later fills with ink to form letters, and all the while, (even though he point to a letter and say “This is the sound “so and so”‘) his only purpose is to explain the nature of the sounds referred to by each letter, and not to affirm that the leaf, incisions and ink are sounds; in just the same way, the one real metaphysical principle, the Absolute, is taught by resort to many devices, such as attributing to it production (of the world) and other powers. And then after wards the nature of the Absolute is restated, through the concluding formula ‘neither this nor that’, so as to purify it of all particular notions accruing to it from the various devices used to explain its nature in the first place’.

– Brhadaranyaka  Bhasya IV.iv.25  – by Shankara

……………………………………………………………………………………….

“Nor can the Absolute be properly referred to by any such terms as Being or non-being. For all words are used to convey a meaning, and when heard by their hearers convey the meaning the speaker had in mind. But communicable meaning is restricted without exception to universal, action, attribute and relation….

The Absolute, however, does not belong to any universal (genus), so it cannot be expressed by a noun such as ‘Being’ or ‘non-being’. Being without attributes, it cannot be described by any adjective denoting an attribute. And being actionless, it cannot be expressed by any verb denoting activity.

For the Upanishad speaks of it as ‘Without parts, without activity, at rest’ (Svet .VI.19) . Nor has it any relation with anything. For it is ‘One’, ‘without a second’, ‘not an object’ and ‘the Self. Hence it cannot be expressed by any word. And the upanishadic texts themselves confirm this when they say ‘That from which words fall back’ (Taitt .ll.9) , and in other passages.”

– (Bhagwad Gita Bhasya XIII.12) – Shankara

……………………………………………………………………………………

And because the Absolute has no particular characteristics, the Veda indicates its nature by denying of it the forms of all other things, as is shown, for instance, in the following pa sages: ‘And so, therefore, the teaching is “neither this nor that”‘ (Brhad.II.iii.6) , ‘It is other than what is known, and above the unknown’ (Kena I.U), ‘That from which words fall back without obtaining access, together with the mind’ (Taitt .II.9)

And the Vedic texts also relate how when Badhva was questioned by Baskalin he gave his answer merely by not speaking. ‘Sir, teach me in words’, Ba§kalin said. But the Teacher remained silent. Finally, at the second or third time of asking, Badhva replied, ‘I am telling you, but you do not understand. This Self is utter silence’

– (Bramasutra Bhasya III.ii.17) – Shankara

………………………………………………..

(a) In order to disclose the nature of the self as Brahman in itself Srutis like the following negate all specific features superimposed on it by the unenlightened common mind :-

“It is this Akshara (the Imperishable), 0 Gargi, so the knowers of    Brahman say. It is neither gross nor subtle, neither short nor long, not     red, not viscid, not shadowy, not dark, not the air, not the ether, not    adhesive, tasteless, odourless, without the sense of sight, without the    sense of hearing, without the vital principle, mouthless, without measure,   neither interior nor exterior,. It eats nothing, nobody eats it.”    – Br.3-8-8.

(b) Lest, by this strict denial of all properties it may be taken to be absolute nothing (s’unya), it is taught by means of illusory attributes seemingly pertaining to it owing to Upadhis (apparently conditioning factors).

(c) At the close of the teaching the rescission of even the imputed attributes used as a device for purposes of teaching, lest it should be regarded as actually belonging to it.
Hence that Brahman cannot be denoted by the epithet ‘jnanam’ (knowledge) either. Nevertheless, it is indicated though not expressed, by the word ”jnanam’  denoting the semblance of consciousness which is really a modification of the mind. It is not directly denoted by that term because Brahman is devoid of genus and other specific features which alone are the occasion for the application of words to a thing. So is it with regard to the term ‘Satyam’ (truth). For Brahman is by its very nature devoid of all specific features. The term Satyam really refers to the genus ‘being’ inhering in external objects, and when Brahman is described as ‘Sat yam’ (Real), it is only indicated by that term. But Brahman is not actually expressed by the term ‘Satyam’.

Tai. Bh. 2-1, p. 285 – Shankara

 

Atman and Anatman – The difference

 

Whatever you  observe in our conscious field is not You.. Therefore they are not the Self (or Bhrahman).. That is what the word ‘Anatta’ (Anatman) means..  Atman is Self. Anatman is that which is not Self.

This Atman or Brahman or Self cannot be put into words. Any name that is given to it is actually misleading to some extent. Thats why Buddha only talked about Anatta- that which is not the Atman.

Read this excerpt, it will make sense:

“Objection : “Is not even Atman denoted by the word ‘Atman’ ?

Reply: No. for there are Srutis like ‘From which words fall back’, ‘That in which one sees nothing else’.

Question: How then do texts like ‘Atman alone is below … .’ and ‘It is Atman’ reveal Atman ?

Reply:  This is no fault. For, the word (Atman), primarily used in the world of differences to denote individual soul as distinct from the body it possesses, is extended to indicate the entity which remains after the rejection of body and other not-selfs as not deserving that appellation, and is used to reveal what is really inexpressible by words”.

– Shankara – Ch. Bh. 7-1-3, p. 542.

Neti -Neti in Buddhism

 

Now, let us read Atmashatkam, a vedantic short poetry attributed to Shankara and Anattalakhana sutta, a Buddhist Sutta that discusses the Buddhist teachings on Anatta – no self.  Once you read it carefully, you will realize that both say exactly the same.

AtmaShatkam

1) I am not mind, nor intellect, nor ego, nor the reflections of inner self (citta). I am not the five senses. I am beyond that. I am not the ether, nor the earth, nor the fire, nor the wind (the five elements). I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, the auspicious (Śivam), love and pure consciousness.

2) Neither can I be termed as energy (prāṇa), nor five types of breath (vāyus), nor the seven material essences, nor the five sheaths(pañca-kośa). Neither am I the organ of Speech, nor the organs for Holding ( Hand ), Movement ( Feet ) or Excretion. I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, the auspicious (Śivam), love and pure consciousness.

3) I have no hatred or dislike, nor affiliation or liking, nor greed, nor delusion, nor pride or haughtiness, nor feelings of envy or jealousy. I have no duty (dharma), nor any money, nor any desire (kāma), nor even liberation (mokṣa). I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, the auspicious (Śivam), love and pure consciousness.

4) I have neither merit (virtue), nor demerit (vice). I do not commit sins or good deeds, nor have happiness or sorrow, pain or pleasure. I do not need mantras, holy places, scriptures (Vedas), rituals or sacrifices (yajñas). I am none of the triad of the observer or one who experiences, the process of observing or experiencing, or any object being observed or experienced. I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, the auspicious (Śivam), love and pure consciousness.

5)  I do not have fear of death, as I do not have death. I have no separation from my true self, no doubt about my existence, nor have I discrimination on the basis of birth. I have no father or mother, nor did I have a birth. I am not the relative, nor the friend, nor the guru, nor the disciple. I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, the auspicious (Śivam), love and pure consciousness.

6) I am all pervasive. I am without any attributes, and without any form. I have neither attachment to the world, nor to liberation (mukti). I have no wishes for anything because I am everything, everywhere, every time, always in equilibrium. I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, the auspicious (Śivam), love and pure consciousness.

Anatta-lakkhana Sutta

“So, bhikkhus any kind of form whatever, whether past, future or presently arisen, whether gross or subtle, whether in oneself or external, whether inferior or superior, whether far or near, must with right understanding how it is, be regarded thus: ‘This is not mine, this is not I, this is not myself.’

“Any kind of feeling whatever…

“Any kind of perception whatever…

“Any kind of determination whatever…

“Any kind of consciousness whatever, whether past, future or presently arisen, whether gross or subtle, whether in oneself or external, whether inferior or superior, whether far or near must, with right understanding how it is, be regarded thus: ‘This is not mine, this is not I, this is not my self.'”

……………………………………………………………………………..

It is obvious.. Both say the samething. This is called Neti Neti method in Vedanta – rejecting whatever that is observed as not-self. Here, it is important to see the thoughts, emotions and feelings etc are different from you, as they arise and pass away. As you witness these thoughts, you see yourself as a witness instead of identifying with thoughts and mental processes.

 

Nididhyasana  and Mindfulness  are the same

 

I understood that  Nididhyasana which is prescribed in Vedanta and Mindfulness that is prescribed in Buddhism are exactly the same, when I read Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswati’s interpretation of Nididhyasana.

 

You can read the book ‘Adyatma Yoga’ of Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswati to know how he explains it. He was a Sanskrit scholar and vedantic monk. He dedicated his whole life in bringing out the kind of teaching method that was actually adopted by Shankara. He lived up to the age 94 and has written over 200 books. He has worked hard enough to bring out the true teachings of Shankara.

 

Conclusion

 

We can compare Buddhism and Vedanta to two languages that evolved from a parent prolanguage. They split into two when Buddha refused to accept the authority of Vedas.

As centuries passed and different things evolved in each school, they became like two mutually unintelligible languages which belong to the same parent.

 

Apidhamma – An Overview of Buddhist Psychology

Buddha was one of the earliest psychologists of human history. Modern Psychologists are impressed by the vast psychological knowledge present in the Buddhist doctrine. When investigating the mind to find the cause and cessation of suffering, Buddha took an approach that is similar to the scientific method employed in modern scientific research.

The collection of canonical texts revered as exclusively authoritative in Theravada Buddhism is known as Tripitaka, which means ‘Three baskets’.

Here is a short description of those three baskets:

(1) The basket of expected discipline from monks (Vinaya Piṭaka)

It consists of rules and regulations of monastic life including dress code, dietary rules and prohibitions of certain personal conducts.

2) The basket of discourse (Sūtra Piṭaka, Nikayas)

This is the collection of discourses given by Buddha,

(3) The basket of special doctrine (Abhidharma Piṭaka)

This includes technical, analytical and systematic content with deep insights into the psychology human mind. It was taught by Buddha to his most eminent disciples.

buddhist psychology

Apidhamma talks about two truths: Ultimate truth (Sammuti Sacca)and Conventional truth (Paramattha Sacca):

Conventional truth: The world we perceive which appears to have individuals interacting with each other is the conventional truth. We use our conventional language to express different things in the conventional truth. The idea that there is an individual self which is the essence of a human being is an apparent reality but ultimately, there is no individual self or essence.

This concept of a relative truth also exists in Vedanta, which is called Vyāvahārika (vyavahara), or samvriti-saya.

Ultimate truth: When we look at the truth in ultimate level, there is no self or an entity in reality. All that exist are aggregates or skandhas. The five aggregates or heaps are: form (or matter or body) (rupa), sensations (or feelings, received from form) (vedana), perceptions (samjna), mental activity or formations (sankhara), and consciousness (vijnana). These five aggregates completely explain a sentient being’s physical and mental existence.

So, anything you think as individual is actually made up of these five aggregates each of which are “not I, and not myself”. According to Buddha, clinging to these aggregates as if they are real is what causes suffering.

When we negate all these aggregates as not self, that which remains is ‘sunyata’ translated as ‘emptiness’ in English. But Buddha chose to express everything in negative terminology and hence Sunyata just explains what it is not. According to that definition, the reality, the ultimate truth which exists is free of any essence, anything that can be conceived by mind or senses.

But this ‘Sunyata’ in Buddhism and the ‘Brahman’ described in Vedanta is actually the same. The problem with the word Brahman is that it lets one to imagine Brahman as something, an entity or an essence. But even the Vedantic texts say that Brahman cannot be described in words because it is not possible to objectify it in anyway. It is not possible to mentally conceive an image or description about Brahman but it can be realized and seen as the truth of everything we perceive, by direct experiential knowledge. There is a term called ‘Anubhava’ which has the aspects of both experience and knowledge of the absolute truth. In Vedanta, this absolute or ultimate reality is called as Vyāvahārika satya (vyavahara), or samvriti-saya.

Buddhism goes even deeper than Vedanta in explaining psychological aspects of human thought.

Dhammas

The reality can also be described in terms of Dhammas.Dhammas are the ultimate entities or momentary events which make up the fabric of our experience of reality. The conventional reality of substantial objects and persons is just a conceptual construct created by the mind on a constant flow of dhammas which appear and disappear.

There are four categories of dhammas:

Citta – It is one’s mindset, or state of mind but cannot be classified as an aggregate because it is neither an entity nor a process.

Cetasika (mental factors, mental events, associated mentality)- the mental factors are categorized as formations (samskaras) concurrent with Citta. There are 52 types of Cetasika.

Rūpa — (physical occurrences, material form), 28 types

Nibbāna — (Extinction, cessation). This dharma is unconditioned it neither arises nor ceases due to causal interaction.

Many other concepts such as svabhava and causality exist in Buddhist psychology. In Buddhism, a deep insight into a person’s mind stream to see the impermanence, suffering and anatta (non-self) in everything perceived in a person’s citta is stressed for the cessation of suffering.

The core practice of Buddhist path to liberation is mindfulness. Being mindful of one’s moment to moment experience including thoughts, sensations, volition, states of mind etc with non-judgemental attitude, openness and acceptance gives insights into workings of the mind and ultimately leads to cessation of suffering and Nirvana.

A simple outline of this spiritual path excluding all its complex theoretical structure is explained in my post ‘Awakening through Mindfulness’.

I have explained my own journey in the following articles:

1.The Journey of a Seeker

2.Spiritual enlightenment – Is it a Myth or Real