4 Revelations from an Ancient School of Hinduism
4 years ago, my work was not going well. I was thousands of miles away from everyone I loved.
Everything seemed to be crumbling around me.
That’s when I discovered Advaita Vedanta, a branch of Hinduism that aims to teach humans to transcend suffering and attain eternal happiness.
Sounds great right? Well, it’s not that simple.
Advaita Vedanta (advaita means ‘non-dual’) tells you that your real nature is the same as God’s nature. Tat tvam asi, which translates to “That Thou Art” (‘That’, being the supreme divinity), is a fundamental fact according to Advaita Vedanta.
Then why don’t we know that we are divine, or feel like we are divine?
Advaita Vedanta argues that the root cause of all suffering is ignorance. We are simply ignorant of our divine nature, and that this entire Universe, including all of us and non-living things, are the same truth/divinity.
Once we realize that we are, in essence, not different from the ultimate reality or brahman (not to be confused with “brahmin” which is an entity in the barbaric caste system of India), we can attain eternal bliss (nirvana, moksha, jeevan mukti) and transcend suffering forever.
Suffering will still exist, since that is the very nature of our lives on Earth, but we will simply transcend physical and mental suffering and not identify with it.
Okay, all of this sounds great in theory. How do we realize that we are divine?
There are four fundamental paths prescribed in Advaita Vedanta:
- The path of knowledge
- The path of love
- Meditation and yoga
- The path of unselfish work
The path of knowledge is the supposed to be the most direct approach to understanding our own real nature. It involves shravana (listening to lectures or reading scriptures), manana (reflecting on the teachings), nidhidhyasana (profound and repeated meditation). I chose this path and started reading about Advaita Vedanta.
Discovering Youtube videos on Advaita Vedanta was exciting. It changed my worldview.
I started meditating regularly in the hopes of transcending mental suffering, and answering the question “what is the point of my life?”.
Here are some insights I had when I started meditating:
1. You are not your mind or your body
Stay with me for a minute.
Common reason tells us that the experience and the experiencer cannot be the same. In other words, the object of experience and the subject who experiences, have to be separate/different.
Meditating on this principle, I started logically separating what I consider to be “me”, into different objects.
I think I am my body. Okay. I cannot be my body, because I experience my body. I can feel it, see it, touch it. Since the experiencer and experience cannot be the same, I cannot be my body.
I have to be something else.
I think I am my mind, with the thoughts, emotions and ideas.
Okay, I cannot be my mind either, since I can experience my mind, with its thoughts and ideas. My mind may decay, I may forget memories and my mind changes often. I — at least my feeling of “me-ness” is constant. Even if my mind changes, I still feel like me. I have to be something other than my mind.
This realization immediately puts a distance between ME and my mind and body.
This itself is profound, and liberating.
Get this: Your mental and physical illnesses are your experiences- they are not you. Your mind and your body are experienced by YOU, similar to how New York, Bali, Indian, fish curry, Harry Potter, heat, saltiness, pain and music are experienced by you.
2. Everything is momentary and subject to decay
The Buddha is supposed to have said, about this world:
Everything is temporary (kshanikam kshanikam sarvam kshanikam)
Everything is of its own Nature (svalakshanam svalakshanam sarvam svalakshanam)
Everything is suffering (dukkham dukkham sarvam dukkham)
Everything is void (shunyam shunyam sarvam shunyam)
Wealth, fame, health, youth, family, your body, your mind — everything is subject to decay and death. Knowing this can either make you feel sad, or incredibly free.
None of these things will last anyway. Imagine: this million dollar house you have today is one day going to crumble. This body that you so adore, is one day doing to die. This youth that you hold onto, is one day going to disappear. Your boss who treated you like crap — he has to go too.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Everything must go one day. Enjoy it while it lasts, and don’t just focus on acquiring material wealth. Enjoy this moment in all its glory! This insight has helped me see the humor in moments of stress and anguish. It has also love those around me more fiercely.
3. You are, in essence, no different from your best friend and your worst enemy
When you remove all the things that are subject to decay and death, and look for the truth, the ultimate essence of YOU, you will realize that the pure consciousness or awareness that is left over is the same as the awareness inside your best friend. It is the same consciousness that exists in your worst enemy too.
Love them both. They are you.
The differences in class, character, wisdom, wealth, beauty etc. that we perceive amongst us, are illusions. They are what the Hindus and Buddhists call maya. There is only one reality in this universe, and that reality is you.
When you start realizing that, you will fall silent. Who are you complaining about? Who are you afraid of? Who is your enemy?
Kabir, the 15th century mystic poet says, and Prahlad Singh Tipaniya sings:
“As an elephant, you become huge
And in an ant, you are tiny
As a mahout, you sit on top
And the driver is you, only you”
“With givers you become a giver
You are among the paupers too!
As a beggar you go begging
The donor too is you, only you!
In man and woman only “the one” resides
Who in this world could call them two
As a child, you start to cry
The care-taker is also you, only you.”
We are all connected in a deep sense! Never forget that.
4. Everything in this world is play
Nothing in this world is as serious as we think it is. It is all an illusion. Just play.
As Alan Watts, the English philosopher who was heavily influenced by Eastern systems of philosophy, says:
“This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.”
In a similar vein:
“You have seen that the universe is at root a
magical illusion and a fabulous game, and that there is no separate “you” to get something out of it, as if life were a bank to be robbed.”
This Universe is essentially a giant plaything. A game.
Both tragedies and comedies play out on our TV screens. Drama, war, horror, what not, are all playing on that screen. The screen is unaffected by the stories that unfold on it. Similarly, your body, thoughts, failures, successes and tragedies are ultimately just movies playing out on the real you, which is simply the bare screen — consciousness.
All your sufferings and stress are in your mind. You are just experiencing them. You are not them. You are this entire Universe! Rejoice :)