Tag Archives: Advaita Vedanta

Aids to Discovering Spiritual Truth

It is often said that the ultimate truth cannot be spoken or put into words, so “indicators” are used to get the seeker to look (and experience) that truth directly. Most of us have heard the analogy that a finger pointing at the moon is not the moon itself. Things that point to the truth usually embody profound teachings that are commonly overlooked. Plus, the bare-naked truth is all too often sugar coated for easy digestibility, or in an effort to carry the truth home. Advaita Vedanta (non-duality) holds that there is an undivided, unified oneness which is the essence of all that is created, both animate and inanimate. Ironically, this non-dual oneness is also transcendental, being beyond the body/mind complex. So, since the truth cannot be related directly using words, how can words help one to see for oneself? Ancient sages and enlightened masters have found if they must speak, the truth is best represented through analogy, allegory and metaphor, which are meant to reveal the truth (in part) through comparison, giving the seeker a glimpse.

Examples of a few of these analogies commonly used to expound the Hindu spiritual teaching of the Advaita Vedanta follow. These analogies have become popular because they have helped many seekers to grasp the truth with a bit more ease…

The Vessel and the Space Within: Take a clay vase as an example, it represents the body, an aspect of creation. It has space within and without. Even when it is filled with stuff, it is done only in because of the empty space within. Therefore the space exists irrespective of the presence of the stuff (or its absence). Furthermore, the space within the vase is identical to the space outside of it. Through this we can realize that one’s essence is same as the essence of the world (or universe) at large. When one recognizes oneself through conscious awareness, shapes and forms no longer matter as everything is now seen as consciousness itself. There is no longer any plurality, but instead only oneness.

The Ocean and the Wave: This analogy again points to the truth of universal oneness beyond all apparent forms. Although there are an endless variety of waves in the ocean (big and small, rough and gentle, etc.), they are all made up of the same substance – water. Additionally, the waves cannot exist apart from water. We are no different, we cannot exist without sense of being. Even in deep sleep we exist, even though we are forgetful of our name and form. Once we understand our true nature is to be this “beingness,” (or spirit), we realize ourselves to be immortal.

Gold and Ornaments Made from Gold: Here’s another analogy that again emphasizes the same essence existing in different shapes and forms. While gold can be melted and formed into different ornaments (chains, earrings, bracelets, rings etc.), they are all still essentially gold. Vedanta points out that this is so with humans as well. Though we all exhibit differences in size, shape and color, we are all still made of the same essence as the Atman (Universal, Divine Self), the pure spirit without which, we cannot even exist. There are no ornaments made of gold that can exist apart from the gold itself.

The Snake and the Rope: You may be familiar with this one as it is one of the most common of the traditional analogies used to expound Hindu spiritual teachings. In the dark we mistake a rope for a snake and become afraid. Once we realize that our fear is unfounded due to the mistaken identity of a rope for a snake, all fear vanishes. So is it with human beings. Once the mistaken identification of ourselves to be a separate body is exposed to the light of conscious awareness, the ego-self complex is deconstructed and all fears evaporate. This realization provides us with the opportunity to awaken to the bliss of Self-realization and abide in that.

*Of related interest, click on: Is It Important To Be “Spiritual?”

*Rae Indigo is ERYT500.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and Advaita Vedanta

Basic differences and similarities of the two

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (Raja Yoga) posit the Purusha and Prakriti which basically categorize the sutras as a dualistic philosophy, representing both the manifest (Purusha) and the un-manifest (Prakriti). Whereas the philosophy of Advaita (literally non-dualism), is the premier and oldest of the Vedanta schools of Indian philosophy and was expounded by Adi Shankara (aka, Shankaracharya) historically, the most important teacher of the Advaita school of Vedanta.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra’s, the nature of the problem (of Union) is that the individual is identified with his body, senses and mind which are seemingly mixed because of five klesas (aka obstacles, colorings or impurities) among which the primary one is Avidya (ignorance). The sense of ego-I established in a body/mind complex, accompanied by longing and attachment to life, are products of the klesha “Avidya.” In order to remove Avidya, one must know reality (as it is), which according to Patanjali is to separate Purusha (the individual) from Prakriti (the entirety of the cosmos, including mind, senses and elements). In other words, to reach liberation, the aspirant needs to realize (by discrimination and practice) that he is a pure and isolated spiritual entity (purusha) completely distinct from the changing (and as yet un-manifest) processes of nature (prakriti) presenting themselves in his physical body, senses and mind. According to Patanjali, Purusha and Prakriti are both real and independent, although he does say that Prakriti exists for the sake of Purusa.

So, if Purusha and Prakriti are both real and independent of each other, how can they be reconciled through the practice of yoga (union)? Normally Purusha and Prakriti are seen as one and the same, united from time immemorial. But, if through yoga the two are separated, the Purusha will recognize its original, divine glory, and on becoming liberated, reunites with the Atman, Brahman (or Self). So, the practice of yoga, especially the “Eight Limbs of Yoga,” found in chapter II of the Yoga Sutras, is a step-by-step scientific method of separating Purusha and Prakriti attaining this liberation. The Eight Limbs are commonly known as Ashtanga Yoga practice, literally defined – (ashta)-limb, (anga) practice.

Advaita Vedanta

Advaita is a Sanskrit word that means ‘not two.’ Advaitists insist on ‘not two’ rather than ‘only one.’ Osho explains: “The danger in saying ‘one’ is that it gives rise to the idea of two.”

Sri Shankaracharya defines the fundamental tenet of Advaita Vedanta as follows:

“Brahman is the Reality, the universe is an illusion,

The living being is Brahman alone, none else.”

His statement, although it presents the core teaching found in all the Upanishads, has evoked much criticism. Most people are naturally unable to accept the world in which they live and the things they directly perceive and experience throughout their lives as illusion.

But a spiritual aspirant may ask, “Is there a higher state to which I can wake up, so that this illusory, waking world will disappear, just like a dream world?”

The answer is a resounding “yes.” But ironically, what that higher state is no one can describe precisely. This is because non-dualism does not allow for the dichotomy of an experience and one who experiences. The experiencer is lost in the process.

The modern day teachings of Advaita Vedanta, especially as revealed by Sri Ramana Maharshi focused on the practice of Self-inquiry, called Atma-vichara in Sanskrit, which is the most important meditation practice in the Vedantic tradition. It is the main practice of the yoga of knowledge (Jnana Yoga), which itself is traditionally regarded as the highest of the yogas because it can take one most directly to liberation.

Sri Ramana seemed to teach and practice transcendence devoid of any Ashtanga Yoga overtones, except pranayama. When asked about pranayama Sri Ramana said: “This vichara brings about the desired result. For one not so advanced as to engage in it, regulation of breath is prescribed for making the mind quiescent. Quiescence lasts only so long as the breath is controlled.” And when asked; What is the need then for pranayama?

He replied: “Pranayama is meant for one who cannot directly control the thoughts. It serves as a brake to a car. But one should not stop with it but must proceed to pratyahara, dharana and dhyan. After the fruition of dhyana, the mind will come under control even in the absence of pranayama. The asanas (postures) help pranayama, which helps dhyana in its turn, and peace of mind results. Here is the purpose of Hatha Yoga.”


It is significant that there is really nothing much within the Eight Limbs of Yoga practice which is anti-thetical to Advaita Vedanta; in fact, the Yogic path actually seems to fit quite nicely with Advaitic metaphysics. In samadhi, the eighth and highest limb, the mind loses ego-awareness and becomes one with the object of meditation, but this non-dualistic experience is only “temporary” in Yoga (savikalpa Samadhi), since the ultimate goal of Patanjali’s yoga system is the discrimination of pure consciousness from all those objects it identifies with. But this experience accords very well with the Advaitic aim of “realizing the whole universe as the Self.” (nirvikalpa Samadhi).

Of related interest, click on: The Wisdom of Patanjali

*Rae Indigo is ERYT500