Advaita Philosophy, Yoga Philosophy

Advaita Vedanta, Consciousness and the mystical experience

P.J.Mazumdar


Advaita Vedanta is the most naturalistic of all religious beliefs, along with Buddhism.

Advaita Vedanta is based entirely on logic and reason. There is no call to believe something because it was said by someone or because it is written in a book. The beliefs of Advaita Vedanta are stated clearly and logically, and the aspirant is advised to first think, then try out for himself the steps given here to achieve the spiritual goal.

The basic teaching of Advaita Vedanta is that at the ultimate reduction point, the universe is based on a single homogenous substance, the Absolute Substance, called Brahman in Advaita Vedanta. This Substance is beyond space and time, and it is continuous, that is, it is a single substance and not discrete particles, analogue and not digital. See Advaita Vedanta and Quantum Physics for a discussion on this.

Advaita Vedanta would not say that the present Standard Model of quantum physics is wrong, or even String theory if it is proved, but only that there is a deeper layer to this, and we would go on finding deeper and deeper layers till we come to this single Absolute Substance, Brahman. It is only then that we would have achieved the final reduction point which can explain everything.

Now, the question is, even physicists could accept this, but a physicist may not see this as a spiritual endpoint. A single Absolute Substance would be more satisfying aesthetically than the jumble that is the Standard Model and the even greater jumble of the String theory. But that itself does not mean that it is a spiritual thing.

The answer lies in that Advaita Vedanta relates this Brahman to consciousness also.

Consciousness is a part of the universe. It is not something that has come from outside, Advaita Vedanta believes in a natural origin of consciousness also. Since consciousness originates from and in the universe, whatever is the ultimate constituent of the material universe must be the ultimate constituent of the universe also.

In Advaita Vedanta, the universe is said to be Satchitananda, ie, Sat, Chit and Anand.

Sat means existence, this means the material existence, matter and force. Chit means consciousness. Anand is a particular state of consciousness, the state of bliss, which in Yoga theory means the state of mystical experience.

So the universe has these three modes of existence, these three dimensions of existence. These are like three strands in a rope which make up the rope, these three strands intertwined make up the universe.

Since Brahman lies as the root of our material world, the same Brahman must be the root of our consciousness also. This is the naturalistic claim of Advaita Vedanta from which its spiritual goals follow.

Advaita Vedanta recognizes consciousness as a dimension of existence of the world. In modern language, we can call this the information dimension. Just as there is a material dimension of the universe, consisting of mass and energy, so also there is an information dimension.

Consciousness exists on the information dimension. Each individual consciousness is a whirlpool in this information dimension as it were.

We can see, when we examine the brain, that it is nothing but a flux of information. The neurons in the brain exchange electrical pulses, but it is not the pulses itself but the information coded in the pulse rates that is of importance. The brain would have worked just as well if instead of each neuron there was an optical node, the nerves were optical cables and the signals exchanged were light pulses. It is the information in the signals that plays the vital role, and it is this whirlpool of information exchanged between all the nodes of the brain that causes our consciousness.

Thus our individual consciousness exists in this conscious dimension of the universe.

Just as the material universe is composed at the lowest levels by particles of mass and energy, our consciousness is composed of the bits and bytes of our thoughts. Just as beyond the mass and energy particles lies ultimately the Brahman (in Advaita Vedanta theory), so also beyond the bits and bytes of our thoughts lies the same Brahman.

Now the claim of Advaita Vedanta is that by using Yoga, we can ‘see’ or ‘experience’ this Brahman.

This claim depends on the most important faculty of the human brain, self introspection. We can look inward into our thoughts and see deeper into them, and understand them better.

In the field of sensations, the brain can learn to become progressively better at experiencing each sensation. A good conductor will appreciate the different sounds of each musical instrument in an orchestra better than us who would hear the harmony of the ensemble as a whole. A good cook will appreciate the nuances of each spice of a dish where we would catch only the general taste. Our understanding can also be improved; a good film critic will catch the nuances of a film better, a good art critic will likewise see the nuances of a painting better.

Similarly, the claim of Yoga is that with training we can improve our faculty of introspection. Even normally, a wiser introspective person is better able to understand his or her own thoughts and impulses than say, a more action oriented person. Yoga says that with the proper exercise of yoga, our faculty of introspection can also be trained to achieve extremely high levels of self examination.

We can then learn to look deeper and deeper into our own thoughts and impulses. We will then be able to see, not just the surface of our thoughts, but their constituents, the bits and bytes of our thought processing.

And then, by going deeper, we will finally ‘see’ that which lies at the root of these deepest parts of our thoughts, the ultimate Brahman itself.

This is the final goal of Yoga, and of Advaita Vedanta. This endpoint, when we are seeing Brahman itself, is Samadhi, the state of being one with Brahman.

Since Brahman is the cause of our consciousness, when we ‘see’ Brahman, the seer and the seen is one. All differences of subject and object disappear at this stage and we achieve a deep inner sense of wisdom, because then we have experienced the ultimate Truth of the universe.

This endpoint of Samadhi is the spiritual goal of Advaita Vedanta.

Hence Brahman in Advaita Vedanta is not just a technical explanation for the universe but a spiritual goal.

In a process somewhat similar to science, Advaita Vedanta has its theory side and experimental side. The theory side is the arguments based on logic which lead up to the definition of Brahman as the root of both the material existence of the world and also of our consciousness.

The experimental side is the path of Yoga.

While experiments in science are outwards, in Yoga by necessity, since the aim is to experience the root of our consciousness, the experiment is inward. But in many ways the path of Yoga is just as scientific. The results of Yoga are also reproducible; the steps in yoga are clearly laid out and any person who follows these steps can achieve the final result for himself or herself. There is no claim in Yoga that its results are true because some great man or woman has verified them, Yoga says that each person can verify its truths for himself or herself. In fact, the aim of Yoga is to encourage each person to try it out and verify its results for himself or herself.

The steps of Yoga have been laid down by several generations of sages, at the dawn of Indian civilization. These steps have been verified and modified during each successive generation. In the eight century, the great sage Sankaracharya added a new dimension to the theoretical aspect by laying down the principles of Advaita Vedanta with greater strength and vigor. The bhakti saints starting from the 12th century gave fresh impetus to Bhakti Yoga. The latter Bhakti saints like Sankardeva in Assam and Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Swami Vivekananda successfully added Advaitic thinking to Bhakti.

In this way, both the theory and practice of Advaita Vedanta has continued to develop through the ages, just as science has continued to develop.

It is hoped that in the same way, science and Advaita Vedanta will one day finally arrive at the same ultimate reduction of the universe, the truth of Brahman.




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* To read more on Advaita Vedanta and Yoga and its harmony with modern science and reason, you can go through my book on Amazon:

Advaita Philosophy, Yoga Philosophy

The Circle of Fire: The Metaphysics of Yoga


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