Mind & Happiness 46
The Philosophical terminology that Sages in different cultures & different ages have used to express the Truth differs greatly, & if understood only superficially may often appear to be conflicting. For example, many Sages have used terms such as “God” to refer to the Absolute Reality, while others like Buddha & Mahavira [Jain] have avoided using such a term. This has led some people to claim that such Sages have denied the existence of God. But such a claim is mis-leading, & arises from an overly simplistic understanding both of the Reality & of the term “God”.
The sole aim of the teachings of Buddha & Mahavira [Jain], like that of all other Sages, was to lead us to the One Absolute Reality. The terminology they each used when talking about that Reality may vary, but the Reality about which they all talked is the same. That Reality can be known only by direct Non-Dual experience, & can never be conceived by the Mind, nor expressed by words.
Being Infinite, direct Non-Dual experience transcends all the conceptual qualities that our finite Minds attribute to it, so it cannot be correctly described as Existence either this or that. It is everything, & at the same time it is nothing. Therefore it is equally correct, & also equally incorrect, either to refer to it as “God” or not to refer to it as “God”.
The term “God” has no fixed meaning. In certain contexts it means one thing, & in other contexts it means another thing, because it is a name given to a wide range of notions that people hold about the Supreme or Ultimate Reality. Some of our notions about God are decidedly anthropomorphic, whereas others are more abstract, but none of them are either entirely correct or entirely incorrect.
In vēdānta, therefore, a distinction is made between 2 basic forms of God. One form is called saguṇa brahman, which means “brahman with guṇas“, & the other form is called nirguṇa brahman, which means “brahman without guṇas“. The word brahman means the Absolute Reality, the Supreme Existence or God, & the word guṇa means quality or attribute.
Thus saguṇa brahman is the relative form of God, God with qualities (guṇas) & attributes as conceived by the human Mind, while nirguṇa brahman is the Absolute & Real form of God, God without any conceivable quality (guṇa) or attribute. The God of human conception, whatever that conception may be, is saguṇa brahman, whereas the Reality of God, which transcends all human conception, is nirguṇa brahman. Thus nirguṇa brahman is the substance or absolute Reality that underlies saguṇa brahman, the God of our limited conception.
Though God as saguṇa brahman is not the Ultimate or Absolute Reality, He & all the Divine qualities we attribute to Him are as real as our own Individuality. Therefore so long as we take our self to be a separate Individual, God & all his divine qualities are for all practical purposes real.
But when we attain the experience of true Self-Knowledge & thereby destroy the false notion that we are an individual Consciousness that is separate from God, God will remain as our own Real Self or essential Existence, the Absolute Reality or nirguṇa brahman, which transcends all human conception.
Because the aim of the Buddha & Mahavira [Jain] was to teach us the means by which we can attain the Absolute Reality, which is beyond all guṇas, qualities or attributes, they did not consider it necessary to talk about “God”, a term that is generally understood to mean saguṇa brahman, the Supreme Existence endowed with Divine qualities. Other Sages, however, have used the term “God” either as a word referring to nirguṇa brahman, the Absolute Reality that transcends all qualities, or because they understood that the people to whom they were speaking had need of a concept of a personal God who would aid them in their efforts to attain the transpersonal Reality.
There is thus no fundamental difference between the Teachings of Sages who have used the term “God” & those who have not used this term. Both are speaking about the same Absolute Reality, but have simply chosen to express it in different terms.
The fact that the Buddha clearly acknowledged the existence of the Absolute Reality or nirguṇa brahman is evident from one of his important and well-known teachings, which is recorded in the Tipiṭaka 188.8.131.52.3 (Udāna 8.3):
“There is, mendicants, that which is Not–Born, that which has not come into Existence, that which is not made, that which is not fabricated. If there were not, mendicants, that which is Not–Born, that which has not come into Existence, that which is not made, that which is not fabricated, here [in this World or in this Life-time] escape from that which is born, from that which has come into Existence, from that which is made, from that which is fabricated, would therefore not have been [a state that could be] clearly known [or experienced]. But because, mendicants, there is indeed that which is Not–Born, that which has not come into Existence, that which is not made, that which is not fabricated, therefore escape from that which is born, from that which has come into Existence, from that which is made, from that which is fabricated, is [a state that can be] clearly known [or experienced].” Though there is a wealth of profound meaning in these words of the Buddha, this is not a suitable place to examine them in depth.
Another superficial difference between the teachings of the Buddha & those of advaita vēdānta is that the Buddha taught the truth of anattā, a Pali term that is a modified form of the Sanskri word anātmā, which means “no self”, whereas sages of the advaita vēdānta tradition teach that ātmā or “Self” is the sole existing Reality. Some people claim that this is a fundamental contradiction between their respective teachings, whereas in fact this is merely a superficial difference in terminology.
When Buddha taught that there is no “self” or ātmā, he was referring only to our finite individual self or jīvātmā, which all sages of the advaita vēdānta tradition also say is unreal. And when those sages teach that “self” or ātmā is the sole existing Reality, they are referring not to our false
individual self but only to our Real Self – our true Existence or essential “is”-ness, our pure, Unlimited, Undivided, Unqualified & Absolutely Non-Dual Consciousness of our own Existence, which alone remains in the state of nirvāṇa, in which the false appearance of our individual object-knowing Consciousness is completely extinguished.
Thus there is no contradiction at all between the truth of “no self” or anattā taught by the Buddha & the truth that “self” or ātmā is the sole existing Reality taught by advaita vēdānta. The teachings of different sages appear to differ from one another, or even to contradict one another, for 3 main reasons:
1stly, it is because of the different terminology that they have used to teach the Truth, which words can never express perfectly, but can only indicate.
2ndly, it is because they had to adapt their teachings to suit the receptivity of the people they were teaching. And –
3rdly, it is because their original teachings have often become mixed with the ideas of their followers, many of whom had no direct experience of the Truth they taught, nor even a clear & correct understanding of it.
The records that have survived of the Teachings of many Sages were not written by those Sages themselves, but were recorded by their followers, often long after their Life-time. Therefore such records often do not reflect the Teachings of those Sages perfectly, but only reflect the understanding that some of their literate followers had of their Teachings.
In almost all religions & spiritual traditions, the original Teachings of Sages have become mixed up with elaborate systems of Theology, Cosmology, Philosophy, & Psychology, which bear very little relation to the actual experience of those Sages. Such Theologies & Cosmologies originate
from the Minds of people who were unable to understand the simplicity & immediacy of the Truth taught by the Sages, & who therefore created such elaborate & complex systems of belief in an attempt to explain what they themselves could not understand. Because they originated in this manner, all the complex Theologies & Cosmologies that exist in every religion only serve to confuse people & obscure from their Minds the simple Truth of Non-Duality taught by Sages.
The above themes & 2500 pages more are freely available as perused or downloaded PDF’s, the sole occupants of a Public Microsoft Skydrive “Public Folder” accessible through www.jpstiga.com
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“There is no Creation, no Destruction, no Bondage, no longing to be freed from Bondage, no striving for Liberation, nor anyone who has attained Liberation. Know that this to be Ultimate Truth.”
– the “no creation” school of Gaudapada, Shankara, Ramana, Nome – Ajata Vada
for very succinct summary of the teaching & practice, see: www.ajatavada.com/