Most of us live in a dualistic world. We see everything, including ourselves, as different from everything else, “I am here and the rest of the world is out there somewhere”. However, the Advaita Vedanta tradition, propounded by the seventh century sage Adi Shankara, tells us that all of the Universe is One Essential Reality, and that all facets and aspects of the Universe are ultimately an expression or appearance of that One Reality. According to Advaita Vedanta, Brahman is the highest Reality. The Universe, according to Advaita philosophy, does not simply come from Brahman, it is Brahman. Brahman is the single binding unity behind the diversity in all that exists in the Universe. Adi Shankara, stated that Brahman is Pure Being, Consciousness and Bliss (Sat-cit-ananda).
Most of the traditions and religions of the world refer to a creator and his/her creation, which immediately implies duality. For most people this also offers a certain level of comfort, someone else to blame if things don’t seem be be going as we would have hoped and someone to ask for help in times of distress. Duality does however, lead to a sense of separation, which is a leading cause of the problems we face in the world today. When we see ourselves as separate from others, we create the possibility that we might not like another person and end up in a fight.
However, at the level of non-duality, two people fighting with each other becomes as ridiculous as if you woke up tomorrow and your hands decided they didn’t like each other and started fighting. Each of your hands has its own individuality but they are both part of the same whole. We may appear different from each other on the surface but there is a deeper aspect, where we are all connected.
The goal of Vedanta is to know the “truly real” and thus become one with it, ending all separation. There is One Soul that connects and exists in all living beings, regardless of their shapes or forms, there is no distinction, no superior, no inferior, no separate devotee soul, no separate God soul. The Oneness unifies all beings, there is the Divine in every being, and all existence is a single Reality. The non-dualism concept of Advaita Vedanta asserts that each individual soul is no different than the Infinite Brahman. With this understanding comes pure love. We gain the understanding that everyone and everything is just myself in different disguises. Everything is part of the same wholeness. The concept of separation and duality ceases to exist. The possibility of world peace becomes a reality.
So is this world that we live in real or just an illusion? Well it can be either, depending on our perspective. For most people it is real. We can see it, touch, taste, smell and hear it through our senses. Our consciousness has become conditioned and limited to believe in this reality. However, through our spiritual practices and particularly through meditation, our consciousness expands and we begin to sense that there is something greater, something beyond, something non-changing within this ever changing world.
Right now as you’re reading this ask yourself, “Who is looking at these words?”, “Who is touching the controls of your computer or listening to the sounds in your room?” There’s a presence there. And this presence has always been there. It was there when you were a baby, a child, a teenager and now as an adult. Has this presence changed? No! The body changes, the emotions change, the likes and dislikes change but there’s a part of you that has always been and always will be. This is your soul, your Atman, your connection with the Absolute.
The relative world in which we live is constantly changing. It is a reflection of our ever changing thoughts, generated by our memories and desires. Situations and experiences come and go like clouds across the sky on a summer’s day. This is why meditation is such an important part of our spiritual journey. Meditation takes us beyond the thoughts, beyond the ever changing world and into stillness. Meditation takes us into the field of Infinite Possibilities, which itself is eternal and non-changing but holds the potential for all change. By making the journey back and forth from the relative to the Absolute we begin to integrate its timeless qualities into our lives and a state of witnessing develops, where, as the yogis say, we are in the world but not of it. We recognize that aspect of ourself that is non-changing in a field of change. We appreciate our connectedness with everything in the Universe. In fact, we realize that the Universe is within us rather than we being in the Universe.
Nowadays Quantum Physics recognizes the existence of a Unified Field, a force of energy that underlies and unites everything. As we continue our regular meditation practice, this non-dual, unifying aspect of life gradually begins to dawn in our awareness. We can also have glimpses of it at any time. Perhaps you were watching a beautiful sunset and for a moment you felt as though you merged with everything; or perhaps when you fell in love with your partner, you seemed to merge into each other. We even have expressions for it, such as, “It was so beautiful, time stood still” or “Two hearts beating as one”.
In ancient Vedic times, teaching was an oral tradition. Long before online programs and powerpoint presentation, students would gather around a teacher to receive his/her wisdom. In Vedanta, the highest teaching are contained in the Upanishads, which literally means “to sit near”. These teachings were reserved for advanced students. When the teacher felt that a student was ready, he/she would utter a Mahavakya, the purpose of which was to reveal the ultimate truth of the Oneness of all existence. Mahavakya means, great pronouncement or great statement of truth and just by hearing this at the right time, the student would experience a leap in consciousness.
Even though we might not be ready to fully benefit from these great sayings, just hearing them helps to re-enliven our memory of Wholeness. Let’s look at a couple of them and see how we can still apply them.
Brahm Satyam Jagan Mithya – The absolute is real; the world is only relatively real. Begin to see that when we let go of this external world, we can experience the eternal that is within.
Ekam Evadvitiyam Brahm – There is one absolute reality, without any secondary parts. Start to experience each new object or thought as part of the wholeness
Tat Tvam Asi – That absolute reality is the essence of what you really are. Begin to let go of the false identities, created by the ego and recognize that they are only temporary and relatively you.
And finally, perhaps the greatest of them all, Aham Brahmasmi – I am Brahman, I am the totality. Who I really am, is that absolute reality. Ask yourself, “Who am I? Am I this body. Am I this breath. Am I this mind, or are they all a manifestation of some deeper truth?”
When we realize that we are the totality, what is there to fear, what could we possibly lack? At the level of Brahman, we are like the movie screen. Consciousness projects many images onto the screen. They all come and go but the screen remains unchanged. Life is a movie being played out for our enjoyment. It’s up to us whether we see it as a horror movie, a drama, a love story or a comedy!