A God known is no more God!


The one question that is most difficult to grasp in understanding the Advaita philosophy, and the one question that will be asked again and again and that will always remain is: How has the Infinite, the Absolute, become the finite?

Supposing we knew the answer, would the Absolute remain the Absolute? It would have become relative.

What is meant by the knowledge in our common-sense idea? It is only something that has become limited by our mind, that we know, and when it is beyond our mind, it is not knowledge. Now if the Absolute becomes limited by the mind, it is no more Absolute; It has become finite. Everything limited by the mind becomes finite. Therefore, to know the Absolute is again a contradiction in terms. That is why this question has never been answered, because if it were answered, there would no more be an Absolute. A God known is no more God; He has become finite like one of us. He cannot be known; He is always the Unknowable One.

But what Advaita says is that God is more than knowable. This is a great fact to learn. You must not go home with the idea that God is unknowable in the sense in which agnostics put it. For instance, here is a chair, it is known to us. But what is beyond ether or whether people exist there or not is possibly unknowable. But God is neither known nor unknowable in this sense. He is something still higher than known; that is what is meant by God being unknown and unknowable. The expression is not used in the sense in which it may be said that some questions are unknown and unknowable. God is more than known. This chair is known, but God is intensely more than that, because in and through Him we have to know this chair itself.

He is the Witness, the eternal Witness of all knowledge. Whatever we know we have to know in and through Him. He is the Essence of our own Self. He is the Essence of this ego, this I and we cannot know anything excepting in and through that I. Therefore, you have to know everything in and through the Brahman. To know the chair, you have to know it in and through God. Thus God is infinitely nearer to us than the chair, but yet He is infinitely higher. Neither known, nor unknown, but something infinitely higher than either. He is your Self. “Who would live a second, who would breathe a second in this universe, if that Blessed One were not filling it?” Because in and through Him we breathe, in and through Him we exist. Not that He is standing somewhere and making my blood circulate. What is meant is that He is the Essence of all this, the Soul of my soul. You cannot by any possibility say you know Him; it would be degrading Him. You cannot get out of yourself, so you cannot know Him.

Knowledge is objectification. For instance, in memory you are objectifying many things, projecting them out of yourself. All memory, all the things which I have seen and which I know are in my mind. The pictures, the impressions of all these things, are in my mind, and when I would try to think of them, to know them, the first act of knowledge would be to project them outside. This cannot be done with God, because He is the Essence of our souls; we cannot project Him outside ourselves. Here is one of the profoundest passages in Vedanta: “He that is the Essence of your soul, He is the Truth, He is the Self, thou art That, O Shvetaketu.” This is what is meant by “Thou art God.” You cannot describe Him by any other language. All attempts of language, calling Him father, or brother, or our dearest friend, are attempts to objectify God, which cannot be done. He is the Eternal Subject of everything. I am the subject of this chair; I see the chair; so God is the Eternal Subject of my soul. How can you objectify Him, the Essence of your souls, the Reality of everything? Thus, I would repeat to you once more, God is neither knowable nor unknowable, but something infinitely higher than either. He is one with us; and that which is one with us is neither knowable nor unknowable, as our own self. You cannot know your own self; you cannot move it out and make it an object to look at, because you are that and cannot separate yourself from it. Neither is it unknowable, for what is better known than yourself? It is really the center of our knowledge. In exactly the same sense, God is neither unknowable nor known, but infinitely higher than both; for He is our real Self.

Swami Vivekananda

Excerpts from Jnana Yoga, The Absolute and Its Manifestation

“I am Limited” is your conclusion not an experience!

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Is it really true that your experiential reality shows you to be limited? Is it indeed your direct experience that you are limited? What is direct experience? It is something that takes place in the mind and through the sense organs. However, atma obtains as the witness. The sense organs and the mind cannot objectify it. The fact is that yourself or mind cannot be objectified by any available प्रमाण pramana or means of knowledge. You can truly never really ’see’ yourself. In reality, it is a mere notion that you are limited, something that you just take for granted. You believe quite strongly that you are an insignificant speck in this universe, limited in every possible way. Nevertheless, who is it that says you are insignificant? It is you yourself who says that you are insignificant. Yet on what grounds do you say that?

Have you ever experienced yourself to conclude that you are limited? Given that the self cannot be objectified, how do you say you are limited? Is it because you were born, because you have a body that is subject to various limitations, and because you are going to die some day? What was born? Only the body is born; you are not born. The conclusion that one is limited truly has no basis. You may feel that you are a limited being, but the self that is judged to be limited is indeed not available for direct experience, unlike this flower in front of me, which is there for you to see here and now.

Atma cannot be objectified by any available means of knowledge, and, therefore, not available to inference or to any other means of knowledge. The conclusion of the self being limited thus has no basis. You can never see the “I” directly and you cannot experience it in any way or even visualize it, like you can any other object. It is like looking at yourself in a mirror and concluding that there is a big stain on your face, when, in reality, the stain is a flaw or smudge in the mirror. In the same way, you look at your body, see that it is limited, and conclude that you are limited. The cause for it is the identification with the body, which is the non-self. There is a lack of discrimination between the self and the non-self.

The self can never become the object of perception or object of knowledge. It is of the nature of knowledge and cannot become the object of knowledge; it is the witness and cannot ever be witnessed or objectified. So you must understand that you cannot ever say that it is your experience that you are a limited being. It is a conclusion and not an experience.

Swami Viditatmananda Saraswati

Excerpts from Advaita Makaranda

Swamiji’s various discourses videos

What is the nature of brahman ब्रह्मन्? What is the nature of the self?”

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अस्ति भाति प्रियं रूपं नाम चेत्यम्शपञ्चकम् !
आद्यत्रयं ब्रह्मरूपं जगद्रूपं ततो द्वयम् !!

Every object has five aspects, namely it exists, it shines, it is pleasing, and it has a form and a name. The first three are of the nature of ब्रह्मन् brahman, and the last two are of the nature of the world. [Drk-Drśya Vivekah, 20]

The five aspects of every object

Everything has amsa-panchakam अंश-पञ्चकम्, five amsa. Amsa means a constituent or aspect. Of these five, आद्य-त्रयम् addyatrayam, the first three, namely अस्ति asti, भाति bhati, and प्रियं priyam, are ब्रह्म-रुपम् brahmarupam, of the nature of ब्रह्मन् brahman.

As an example, let us take a pot. First asti, it is. How do you say that? Because bhati, it shines, meaning it is an object of my awareness. We can say that something ’is’ only when it is the object of our knowledge. So being an object of awareness is the second aspect. It is because it shines, or it shines because it is. Thirdly, this object is priyam, pleasing, because it is useful (उपकारक, upakaraka), it serves a useful purpose to me.

Ultimately, we know that it is the self which is pleasing to me, but whatever is favorable to self, whatever serves a useful purpose to the self, also becomes pleasing or dear to me. It is clear to me not for its own sake, but because it serves a useful purpose for me. Therefore, asti bhati priyam, the object such as a pot is, it shines, and it is dear or pleasing. Then, the pot has a रूप rupa, form. It has a big round stomach and a narrow mouth, for example. And it has a नाम nama, name, in this case ‘pot’.

If you take any object, these five aspects are there. An object is, it shines in my awareness, it is dear to me, it has a form, and it has a name. It can be a pot or a piece of cloth, or anything. The cloth is, the cloth shines, the cloth is dear to me, the cloth has a name, and cloth has a form. A table is, it shines, it is clear to me, it has a name, and it has a form. I am, I shine, I am dear to me, I have a name, and I have a form. This applies everywhere.

Everything is potentially a source of happiness.

Even though the author says that everything in the universe has these five aspects, we may have some problem with the third one, namely priyam. We have no problem accepting that something is and that it shines in my awareness, but this ‘dear to me’ aspect, I am not always willing to accept that. How can everything be dear? Is garbage also clear? Is a terrorist also dear?

Let us say that it is dear to somebody. For example, when people cook in India, they peel the vegetables and fruits and so on, and then they throw the scraps outside. When they do this, a cow is waiting there to receive them. Those scraps may not be dear to the person doing the cooking, but the cow feels otherwise, and therefore it is waiting. These scraps are dear to the cow.

Nothing in the universe is redundant, everything has a Purpose to serve. It serves a useful purpose for somebody, at some time, under some conditions. Everything is dear to somebody at some time under some conditions.

But then, if one says that everything is dear, that means that everything should be dear to me. The answer is that everything has the potential of becoming dear to me. What is dear to me is that which is the object of happiness. That which creates happiness in me is dear to me. Everything in the universe has the potential of becoming a source of happiness for me.

It is not that the happiness, or the potential of happiness, is not there in the thing, but usually I am not available to enjoy that because of the obstructions obtaining in my own mind. This question is asked in Pancadasi [12.73], namely, you say that आत्मा atma is सत् चित आनन्द sat-cit-ananda; atma is, atma shines, atma is ananda. If that is the nature of myself, then I should constantly experience it that way. I do experience my existence, so asti or sat is experienced. I know that I am a conscious being, so cit is also experienced. When sat and cit are experienced, then I can accept that atmd is sat-cit; it is and it shines. But where is ananda? If atma is of the nature happiness, then I should be able to experience it.

 Impurities of the mind obstruct the experience of happiness

The answer is that the राग द्वेस raga-dvesas, attachments and aversions, the agitation and dullness in my mind deny me the experience of the happiness that I am. All these negative tendencies in my own mind make it agitated and disturbed, and make it run away from me.

To the extent that we have अन्तःकरण शुद्धि antahkarana-suddhi, a mind that is free from रजस rajas and तमस tamas or raga-dvesas, to that extent we experience the inner cheerfulness. No separate effort needs to be made to experience happiness. The only effort that is really needed is to clean our mind of these impurities.

We can think of the mind like a pool of water. When there is dirt in the water and the surface is also agitated, then we cannot see what is at the bottom. But as you remove the dirt from the water and the surface becomes calm, the bottom becomes clearer and clearer. When all the dirt is removed, and the water is also very calm, then it becomes transparent and you can very clearly see what is at the bottom. Similarly, to the extent that our mind becomes free from impurities and agitations, and therefore becomes calmer and more composed, to that extent the happiness which is our nature becomes evident. This process is called yoga.

We are unnecessarily running after things, and are not doing what we need to do. This process of running after things is called bhoga. An external object can give me happiness only when the object is able to create that calmness in my mind for some reason. Even though there is a chance that the thing I am running after might create that kind of condition of mind momentarily, the condition lasts only for a limited time, and there is no guarantee that the object will create it at all.

So, rather than trying to reach around behind my head with my right hand to catch my right ear, why not do it directly? In other words, rather than seeking to gain that calmness of the mind through the objects, I should instead live a way of life that is conducive to creating the calmness of mind. This is Where karma-yoga comes in. We need to perform actions in such a manner that our raga-dvesas become neutralized.

In short, the author explains that you do not experience the ananda that you are, not because atma is not ananda, but because the raga-dvesas in your mind become the obstruction to the experience of ananda. These raga-dvesas are not obstacles to experiencing sat and cit, that I am and I shine. Even raga-dvesas do not obstruct that experience. But they do become obstacles to the experience of the ananda that is my self.

Swami Vivekananda Saraswati

Excerpts from Drg, Drsya, Viveka

Link to Swamiji’s Discourses

Nobody can really say “I do not believe in God – Isvara”! What we are all searching, and constantly seeking is nothing but God – Isvara!

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“What do we want?” If you ask this question, and analyze what we are all seeking, it will become very Clear that each one of us is seeking Isvara, the Lord.

Suppose someone asks, “What do you want?” The answer would be, ”Happiness.” If he asks, “How long do you want to be happy? One hour a day? Two hours a day?,” then I would say, “If I had my way, I want to be happy 24 hours a day.” If he qualifies it, “As long as you are in this place you can be happy, but if you go out you’ll be miserable,” I would answer, “No! That is also not acceptable. I want to be happy in all places. Even in my workplace I want to be happy, and at home also I want to be happy -wherever I am.” If he further qualifies it, “You will be happy only in the company of certain people,” I would say,  “No! I want to be happy with everyone, even my boss.”

I want to be happy everywhere, under all conditions, at all times, and in all places. I do not want any kind of strings attached or conditions placed on my happiness. That I can be happy only at a given time, at a given place, or in a given condition is not acceptable. I do not want that. I have to settle for it; that is a different matter. I keep settling for it, helplessly. I cannot be happy with everybody, so I settle for a few people. I cannot be happy all the time, so I settle. That is a different thing, but that is helplessness. Everybody is a wounded person. So many desires arise in our minds, and many of these desires are unsatisfied, unfulfilled, so we have lots of frustrations. We are carrying a lot of these wounds. If we had our way, we would want happiness at all times, in all places, under all conditions.

Now suppose somebody asks me, “Swamiji, what kind of happiness would you like? Happiness with effort, that you work for, or happiness without effort?” Naturally, the choice is clear. I would like to have happiness without effort. If he says, “We’ll give you an injection that makes you unconscious and then you’ll be happy. Is that what you want?” I would have to answer, “No, no, I want conscious happiness.” I am told that I enjoy happiness in deep sleep, but that is not enough for me. Not only do I want to experience happiness; but I want to be aware that I am experiencing it.

We want happiness with knowledge, not in ignorance; and it must be अपरोक्ष aparoksa, immediate, not distant in any way. We also want happiness without effort. The only thing that can be experienced effortlessly is that which is already existent, meaning it is स्वयमेसिद्ध svayamésiddha, self-existent. We Want it all the time, which means it must be नित्यं nitya, eternal, not subject to time. We want it in all places, which means it must be पूर्ण purna, complete, all-pervasive. When we examine all these words that we use – nitya, siddha, aparoksa, purna – and add them all up, it becomes ईश्वर  Isvara – God.

This is what we want. We want happiness that is nitya, eternal, so it never goes away. We want happiness without any effort, siddha. We want happiness that comes with awareness, aparoksa. We want happiness everywhere, puma. That is the Isvara of Vedanta.

Therefore nobody can really say, “I do not believe in Isvara.” If somebody says, “I do not believe in God,” then you should ask that person, “What do you want in your life? Happiness or unhappiness?” He will say he wants happiness. Then you ask all these questions and establish that what he is seeking is sukha, happiness, ananda, fullness, that is nitya, eternal, aparoksa, immediate, nitya-siddha, always existing. Ask that person, “Is that What you want? Is it clear to you?” He will answer, “Yes.” Then you tell him,  “Well, that is Isvara; that is God.” Therefore, nobody can really say that they do not believe in God, because if you did not believe in that, how could you be searching for it all the time? What you are searching for, what you are constantly seeking to achieve, is nothing but that. That is God.

So if somebody says, “I do not believe in God,” the question is in which God do you not believe?” If you do not believe in God who is in heaven, that is okay, but you cannot say that you do not believe in God as Vedanta explains it. You may say that even this God is also very different from me, away from me. You could say, “I am searching for it, but I do not think it exists anywhere. I have not found it yet, therefore I do not believe it exists.” But the God that Vedanta teaches us is nitya, eternal, aparoksa, immediate, siddha, always existing, purna, fullness. That God is not elsewhere; it is my own self. Do you believe that you exist or not? Can you say, “I do not exist?” You cannot even ask the question or answer it if you do not exist. So nobody can deny the God that Vedanta teaches. Vedanta teaches about ‘what is’, it does not teach about some special God.

Thus the God that we are searching for is to be known rather than acquired. According to Vedanta, the very search for God is a denial of God. When we search for freedom and happiness, it is a denial of that.

As Ramana Maharshi says, the knowledge or realization of God is knowing God as one’s own self. That is the nature of the self, and if we knew the self as such, there would be no problem of sadness or sorrow in life at all. There would be total comfort with the self.

Swami Viditatmananda Sarawati

Excerpts from Drg, Drasya, Viveka

Link to Swamiji’s Discourses Videos

A pure mind can experience joy everywhere !

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If our mind becomes pure, we will be able to experience the joy that exists everywhere, whether it is in trees or plants, cats or dogs, animals, people, or anything. In fact, when the mind is compassionate, even a terrorist will not create a reaction. A highly compassionate person becomes so accommodating, so large-hearted, that everybody has a place. Nothing creates a reaction of rejection. When your mind is available, you can see the goodness that is buried somewhere in every person. Sympathy or compassion comes by recognizing that every person is good by nature, and it is because of ignorance and its effects that these distortions are there in his personality. Even through all that, sat-cit-ananda सत् चित आनन्द is very much there.

To the extent that we become sensitive to that, we can experience the joy of everything. Therefore, we have to do something with ourselves to be able to experience the priyam प्रियम, the pleasing-ness, the attractiveness, the joy, the happiness, that is in every name and form.

Right now, only a few names and forms make me happy. When they satisfy my likes and dislikes, then they make me happy. If the vegetables are cooked properly, if they are soft and tender, then it is okay. If they are too hard, then it is no good. If the rice is cooked well, it is fine; if not, then I reject it. It takes no time for me to reject things because if they do not satisfy my likes and dislikes, then they do not please me. That is the condition right now. But the more that the likes and dislikes go away, the less effort things have to make in order to please me, and a day comes when no effort is required on their part, to please me.

Only that which is a source of happiness is dear to us, nothing else. If what is now a source of happiness becomes a source of unhappiness, then it is no longer dear to us. As our Swamiji says, in the beginning someone says, “I love you, I love you, I love you.” Then it becomes, “1 allow you, I allow you, I allow you -so as long as …”. In other words, our relationship with everything is utilitarian, very selfish. We have conditional love for everything else. But as our mind becomes less demanding, less needy, then the conditions we impose upon others also become less. And ideally, a day should come when we impose no conditions upon anybody.
Swami Viditatmananda Saraswati

Excerpts from Drg, Drysya, Viveka

Link to Swamiji’s Discourses

Why do we apply holy ash (Bhasma)?



The ash of any burnt object is not regarded as holy ash. Bhasma (the holy ash) is the ash from the homa (sacrificial fire) where special wood along with ghee (clarified butter) and other herbs is offered as worship of the Lord. Or the deity is worshipped by pouring ash as abhiseka and is then distributed as Bhasma.

Bhasma is generally applied on the forehead. Some apply it on certain parts of the body like the upper arms, chest etc. Some ascetics rub it all over the body. Many consume a pinch of it each time they receive it.

Why do we use Bhsma?

The application of Bhsma signifies destruction of the evil and remembrance of the divine. Bha – bhartsanam -(to destroy) and sma – smaranam – (to remember). B/mmm is called vibhuti (which means glory) as it gives glory to one who applies it and raksha (which means protection) as it protects the wearer from ill health and evil, by purifying him or her.

Homa (offering of oblations into the fire with sacred chants) signifies the offering or surrender of the ego and egocentric desires into the flame of knowledge for a noble and selfless cause. The consequent ash signifies the purity of the mind, which results from such actions. Also the fire of knowledge burns the oblation and wood signifying ignorance and inertia respectively. The ash we apply indicates that we should burn false identification with the body and become free of the limitations of birth and death. The application of ash also reminds us that the body is perishable and shall one day be reduced to ashes. We should therefore not get too attached to it. Death can come at any moment and this awareness must increase our drive to make the best use of time.

Bhasma is specially associated with Lord Shiva who applies it all over His body. Shiva devotees apply Bhasma as a tripura (the form of three horizontal lines). When applied with a red spot in the center, the mark symbolizes Shiva-Shakti (the unity of energy and matter that creates the entire seen and unseen universe).

Ash is what remains when all the wood is burnt away and it does not decay. Similarly, the Lord is the imperishable. Truth that remains when the entire creation of innumerable names and forms is dissolved.

Bhasma has medicinal value and is used in many ayurvedic medicines. The Upanishad say that the famous Maha Mrutyunjaya mantra should be chanted whilst applying ash on the forehead.

ॐ त्र्यम्बकं यजामहे सुगन्धिंम् पुष्टिवर्धनम् ।
उर्वारुकमिव बन्धनान् मृत्योर्मुक्षीय मामृतात् ।।

Om, tryambakam yaiaamahc sugandhim pushtivardhanam,
urvaa rukamiva bandhanaan mrytyor muksheeyarnaa amrutaat

We worship the three-eyed Lord Shiva Who nourishes and spreads fragrance in our lives. May He free us from the shackles of sorrow, change and death – effortlessly, like the fall of a ripe cucumber from its stem and bestow immortality.

Swamini Vimalananda, Radhika Krishnakumar

Excerpts from: Why Do We, Chinamaya Mission Publication