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Sunday, May 22, 2022

Advaita and Zen Buddhism (2)

 Going deeply into a few more details, there is a concept called Apranahita in Buddhism. In English, it is translated as “aimlessness” by some authors. I do not understand what it means. However, the context in which this word is used suggests that this is a state of our consciousness at which all edges gave merged and therefore no separateness of form and therefore no separate identification marks (animitta).   All dualities have ceased, and one is in touch with reality as it is, at the very foundation of everything. This concept is based on the interconnectedness of things.

In the Advaitic philosophy, this state is called turya. However, this concept is described in relation to states of consciousness in some texts and in relation to the individual body with life, mind, and consciousness in other texts. In relation to consciousness, it is called the Turya state. This is the state on the basis of which one is aware of one’s wakeful, dream and deep sleep states.

In relations to the body, it is related to several “sheaths” or kosha. It is the “inner-most” absolute existence called anandamaya Kosha. Its outer coverings include the following sheaths from outside in – annamaya kosha as the body, pranamaya kosha as life, manomaya kosha as the mind and vignana maya kosha or consciousness.

Since this state is beyond any description, beyond form and a name, one has to refer to it only in a negative way (via negativa). Vedic texts used the words: “neti, neti”(meaning, this is not, this is not). Buddhism said this is animitta, without signs or apranahita, aimless.  This state indicates a stage at which edges of multiplicity of forms merge. One sees the universal in the individual.

Buddhist teaching has another concept called sunyata. In precise translation this word means “absence of anything”. “Thay” translates sunyatta to mean “empty of ”.  He asks: “empty of what?” and goes to explain that “everything we see is empty of itself”, because everything we see is made of other elements. For example, a flower we see is made of substance from the earth, water from the rain, the sunshine etc., If you trace backwards, you will see that everything is made of something else until you see its true nature, which is called “suchness” in English and thathata in Pali. In other words, everything in the phenomenal world is empty of intrinsic existence.

I have read that some schools of Buddhism have translated the word “sunyata” to mean “nothing”. Extending this further they say everything is a mental construct out of moment-to-moment awareness, nothing is permanent, and  that the entire world is an illusion etc., That is nihilism. That was what Adi Sankara disagreed with in his Advaitic philosophy.

He said that something could not have come out of nothing.  That One is Brahman. Brahman pervades everything in this universe. He/It/That is without qualities, nirguna. In individuals, it is seen as Atman. That One appears to be many because of maya (to be explained later). 

Sankara argues that atman (Self) is different from the mind because this Self (atman) understands several states of mind such as “I am sad, I am happy” etc., It is the basis of our awareness and continuity through the wakeful dream and sleep states. It is also common experience for all of us to feel “I know this” and “I do not know this”. Therefore, knowledge and absence of knowledge themselves are objects of knowledge of a “knower”. The Self of man (Atman) is that knower. Thinking cannot reveal Atman because the process of knowledge depends on a knower (Atman). Atman must be posited before knowledge. Atman is the “witness” and the light of the witness.

He went on to refute the Buddhist idea that there is no atman as follows: “ When one accepts the position that both Brahman and Atman are illusions, not real…….all that remains are a group of impermanent things; permanent happiness and someone who can realize that permanent happiness cease to exist”. He further said: “Emptiness (sunyata) and absence of self (anatman) of Buddhism are dark and bleak concepts. If you can see Brahman in everything it is blissful and full of light”.

In my own thinking, sunyata can be aligned with the nirguna concept of Brahman in Advaita. Brahman is Atman according to Advaita. The name Advaita or “no-two” things or non-duality itself means that concept of oneness of Brahman and Atman.

To explain how that one Brahman became many, Adi Sankara came up with the concept of maya. He said that the world we see is “not real but appears to be real” due to maya. It is not to say that the world is an illusion. But to say that there is a truth in the phenomenal world (vyavaharika satyam, also called Reflected Truth or pratibhasika satyam)  and there is the cosmic, eternal truth, Truth as is, which is called Paramartika satyam. This cosmic eternal truth is probably the “suchness” of things in Buddhism referred to earlier.

In the Buddhist literature, the corresponding words are samvritti satyam for relative truth and paramarta satyam for the cosmic truth. (to be continued)

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