Some difficult questions answered about Brahman and Advaita

Question 1: Some say Brahman is all. Does it mean that even rocks are Brahman?
The claim that everything is Brahman cannot be debated. Either one has experienced it and knows or one doesn’t know. There is this Gita verse that says that all is Brahman.
To one of the above description, the ladle with which the offering is made and the oblations are Brahman; and the sacrificial rites (which is Brahman) is performed by the sacrifice who is Brahman, in the fire which too is Brahman. He who is thus absorbed in work as Brahman, attains to Brahman alone.
Gita 4.24
Then there is a record of Swami Vivekananda (Narendra) directly experiencing that state.
During his second visit, about a month later, suddenly, at the touch of the Master, Narendra felt overwhelmed and saw the walls of the room and everything around him whirling and vanishing. “What are you doing to me?” he cried in terror. “I have my father and mother at home.” He saw his own ego and the whole universe almost swallowed in a nameless void. With a laugh the Master easily restored him. Narendra thought he might have been hypnotized, but he could not understand how a monomaniac could cast a spell over the mind of a strong person like himself. He returned home more confused than ever, resolved to be henceforth on his guard before this strange man.
But during his third visit Narendra fared no better. This time, at the Master’s touch, he lost consciousness entirely. While he was still in that state, Sri Ramakrishna questioned him concerning his spiritual antecedents and whereabouts, his mission in this world, and the duration of his mortal life. The answers confirmed what the Master himself had known and inferred. Among other things, he came to know that Narendra was a sage who had already attained perfection, and that the day he learnt his real nature he would give up his body in yoga, by an act of will.
A few more meetings completely removed from Narendra’s mind the last traces of the notion that Sri Ramakrishna might be a monomaniac or wily hypnotist. His integrity, purity, renunciation, and unselfishness were beyond question. But Narendra could not accept a man, an imperfect mortal, as his guru. As a member of the Brahmo Samaj, he could not believe that a human intermediary was necessary between man and God. Moreover, he openly laughed at Sri Ramakrishna’s visions as hallucinations. Yet in the secret chamber of his heart he bore a great love for the Master.
Sri Ramakrishna was grateful to the Divine Mother for sending him one who doubted his own realizations. Often he asked Narendra to test him as the money-changers test their coins. He laughed at Narendra’s biting criticism of his spiritual experiences and samadhi. When at times Narendra’s sharp words distressed him, the Divine Mother Herself would console him, saying: “Why do you listen to him? In a few days he will believe your every word.” He could hardly bear Narendra’s absences. Often he would weep bitterly for the sight of him. Sometimes Narendra would find the Master’s love embarrassing; and one day he sharply scolded him, warning him that such infatuation would soon draw him down to the level of its object. The Master was distressed and prayed to the Divine Mother. Then he said to Narendra: “You rogue, I won’t listen to you any more. Mother says that I love you because I see God in you, and the day I no longer see God in you I shall not be able to bear even the sight of you.”
The Master wanted to train Narendra in the teachings of the non-dualistic Vedanta philosophy. But Narendra, because of his Brahmo upbringing, considered it wholly blasphemous to look on man as one with his Creator. One day at the temple garden he laughingly said to a friend: “How silly! This jug is God! This cup is God! Whatever we see is God! And we too are God! Nothing could be more absurd.” Sri Ramakrishna came out of his room and gently touched him. Spellbound, he immediately perceived that everything in the world was indeed God. A new universe opened around him. Returning home in a dazed state, he found there too that the food, the plate, the eater himself, the people around him, were all God. When he walked in the street, he saw that the cabs, the horses, the streams of people, the buildings, were all Brahman. He could hardly go about his day’s business. His parents became anxious about him and thought him ill. And when the intensity of the experience abated a little, he saw the world as a dream. Walking in the public square, he would strike his head against the iron railings to know whether they were real. It took him a number of days to recover his normal self. He had a foretaste of the great experiences yet to come and realized that the words of the Vedanta were true.
The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna translated by Swami Nikhilananda,, Introduction, Narendra
Question 2: Some say, Brahman is the atman inside us (living beings) and those who realize their own soul to be the eternal aspect, attain moksha. Does this mean, advaitists are atheists, since they don’t consider a higher creator entity and consider their own soul to be the only object of realization ? … If there’s no God as per advaita but only embodied atmas as Brahman, then does this mean, we atmas as a whole created galaxies, solar systems, planets etc. before entering into gross flesh bodies?
No, it does not mean advaitists are atheists. It means they are non-theists. What does this mean?
Do you know what I mean? Think of Brahman, Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute, as a shoreless ocean. Through the cooling influence as it were, of the bhakta’s love, the water has frozen at places into blocks of ice. In other words, God now and then assumes various forms for His lovers and reveals Himself to them as a Person. But with the rising of the sun of knowledge, the blocks of ice melt. Then one doesn’t feel any more that God is a Person, nor does one see God’s forms. What He is cannot be described. Who will describe Him? He who would do so disappears. He cannot find his ‘I’ anymore.
The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, The Master with Brahmo Devotees (I), October 28, 1882
The above passage is best understood if you think of the Earth and its frozen poles but minus its lands. Theism deals with the realm of icebergs floating in the Northern and Southern oceans. Only in the frozen areas can one talk of the universe and its living beings and different forms of God. Different theistic systems claim different icebergs to be the Supreme Being. Advaitists are those who want to be in the iceberg free open ocean. No concept of form exists in this realm. There is only formless water everywhere. There is no individual ego either. Thus there is no way one can have a creator God in this realm.
Question 3: And finally, there are advaitists, who say Brahman is pure consciousness. Now i’m going to ask who’s consciousness? Individual consciousness or universal consciousness? And what is meant by universal consciousness.
There is no other person when one reaches the state of Nirguna Brahman. In that state Brahman is all.
If one analyzes oneself, one doesn’t find any such thing as ‘I’. Take an onion, for instance. First of all peel off the red outer skin; then you find thick white skins. Peel these off one after the other, and you won’t find anything inside.
In that state a man no longer finds the existence of his ego. And who is there left to seek it? Who can describe how he feels in that state – in his own Pure Consciousness – about the real nature of Brahman?
There is a sign of Perfect Knowledge. Man becomes silent when It is attained. Then the ‘I’, which may be likened to the salt doll, melts in the ocean of Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute and becomes one with It. Not the slightest distinction is left.
The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, The Master with Brahmo Devotees (I), October 28, 1882
The statement that Brahman is pure consciousness is only an analogy. Since we see conscious beings and Brahman is the source of all consciousness it must be pure consciousness. Actually nothing can be said about Brahman.
“What Brahman is cannot be described. All things in the world – the Vedas, the Puranas, the Tantras, the six systems of philosophy – have been defiled, like food that has been touched by the tongue. Only one thing has not been defiled in this way, and that is Brahman. No one has ever been able to say what Brahman is.Brahman is beyond word and thought. It is said in the Vedas that Brahman is of the nature of Bliss. It is Satchidananda. In Samadhi one attains the knowledge of Brahman – one realizes Brahman. In that state reasoning stops altogether, and man becomes mute. He has no power to describe the nature of Brahman.”
The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, Visit to Vidyasagar, August 5, 1882
The Upanishad also declares Brahman to be Consciousness alone. The Upanishad also says that Brahman is pure consciousness, devoid of other aspects contrary to this, and without any distinguishing features, as in, “As a lump of salt is without interior or exterior, entire, and purely saline in taste, even so is the Self without interior or exterior, entire, and pure Intelligence alone” (Brhadaranyaka Upanishad IV.v.13), which means that the Self has no internal or external aspect apart from pure consciousness, Its nature being mere impartite consciousness without any interstices. Just as a lump of salt has the saline taste alone both inside and outside, and no other taste, so also is this Self.
Brahma Sutra Bhasya of Sri Sankaracharya III.ii.16
Moreover, the Vedas reveal this; likewise this is mentioned in the Smritis also.Moreover, the Vedas reveal through a negation of other aspects that Brahman has no distinguishing feature, as for instance in, “Now therefore the description (of Brahman): ‘Not this, not this’” (Brhadaranyaka Upanishad II.iii.6), “That (Brahman) is surely different from the known; and, again, It is above the unknown” (Kena Upanishad I.4), “That Bliss of Brahman, failing to reach which, words turn back along with the mind” (Taittiriya Upanishad II.ix.1), and so on. And it is also known from the Vedic texts that Badhva being asked by Baskali, replied merely by not uttering a word, as stated in, “He (Baskali) said, ‘Teach me Brahman, sir.’ He (Badhva) became silent. When the question was repeated a second and a third time he said, ‘I have already spoken, but you cannot comprehend. That Self is Quiescence’ “. Similarly in the Smritis, the instruction is given through a negation of other things, as in, “I shall tell you of that which is to be known and by knowing which one attains immortality. The supreme Brahman is without any beginning. It can neither be called gross (visible) nor fine (invisible)” (Gita XIII.12), and so on. Similarly the Smriti mentions how Narayana in His cosmic form said to Narada, “O Narada, that you see me as possessed of all the (five divine) qualities of all elements, is only because of My Maya, called up by Myself. For else you should not understand Me thus.”
Brahma Sutra Bhasya of Sri Sankaracharya III.ii.17
Brahman defeats all attempt to describe It and hence the silence.

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