Q: Is Advaita a mental process? Does Advaita mean tricking the mind into believing that we are not the mind? - Advaita Vedanta Q&A
A: An interesting question may arise when studying Vedanta: I am reading the words, I am trying to understand these words, I finally got the meaning.
Where does all of this happen? It’s very simple, it all happens in the mind.
So, is it correct to say that Advaita is merely a mental process?
Straight forward answer would be: YES and NO.
The mind is an instrument, no doubt in that, and as an instrument it acts according to its own purpose which in this case it’s very subtle and complex.
Antahkarana (the mind) has 4 main aspects:
- Ahaṃkāra (ego)
- Buddhi (intellect)
- Manas (mind)
- Citta (memory)
The Ego is the controller and the coordinator; everything happens in relation to that.
Thanks to the Ego it’s possible to say “I am happy, I am sad”, notice that the “I” there is the sense of ownership of the feelings “happy” and “sad”.
The feelings however are not inherent of the Ego, they arise in the aspect called “manas”.
How then are those feelings expressed? We all know, it’s very simple.
The mind translates that feeling to a signal input for the brain to coordinate the tongue and breath to pronounce the words “I am happy, I am sad”.
However, the tongue, the breath, the muscles and all the parties involved are not “happy” or “sad” or anything, they are just tissues acting.
However, let’s have a deeper look inside! Is the feeling of “happiness” inherent of the mind?
No. It’s the Jiva and Consciousness that through the mind is experiencing and witnessing in first person the concept of “happiness”.
In the same way, once realization happen and we claim Aham Brahman Asmi (अहम् ब्रह्मास्मि) “I am Brahman” we finally understand that the enlightenment itself is not the mind but happens with the help of the mind.
The problem of ignorance
Where does the ignorance arise? It arises in the mind, with the wrong identification of the self; As Ramana Maharshi used to say:
“The wrong knowledge is the false identification of the Self with the body and the mind. This false identification must go, and then the Self alone remains.”
How do you remove ignorance? With knowledge.
Ignorance is birthless and can only be removed with knowledge; a very simple example can be found in ourselves already, take something you don’t know such as the Spanish language.
Since when you didn’t know about Spanish?
Since birth? Does that mean you knew Spanish before being born? No. Ignorance is birthless.
When does it stop? When you start taking Spanish lessons.
In the same way, since we are ignorant of our own true nature, the only way to remove it is to acquire the knowledge of it.
Enquire & Realize
The standard Advaita approach to realization is with:
Nididhyasana is a rational and cognitive process. It is necessary for gaining Brahmajnana:
आत्मा ब्रह्मेति वाक्यार्थे निःशेषेण विचारिते By a thorough analysis of "Atman is Brahman" the direct knowledge "I am Brahman" is achieved (Panchadasi VII.58)
Through these means we train the mind to turn inwards and therefore realize the Self, the mind by its own nature is turned outwards towards the external world.
- Effort is made for concentration when there is distraction of mind owing to superimposition etc. Seeing this to be the rule, thus verily do I abide.
Ashtavakra Gita (CH: XII, Verse: 3)
The three steps Sravana, Manana, Nididhyāsana are also called Jñāna yoga: With the knoweldge you cancel ignorance, with the conviction of these truths you realize the Self.
Again Ashtavakra Gita comes in our help:
- Burn down the forest of ignorance with the fire of the conviction, “I am the One and Pure Intelligence”, and be free from grief and be happy.”
Ashtavakra Gita (CH: I, Verse: 9)
Ramana Maharshi views
Q: How can any enquiry initiated by the ego reveal its own unreality?
A: The ego’s phenomenal existence is transcended when you dive into the source from where the `I’-thought rises.
Q: What is the nature of the mind?
A: The mind is nothing other than the `I’-thought. The mind and the ego are one and the same. The other mental faculties such as the intellect and the memory are only this. Mind [manas], intellect [buddhi], the storehouse of mental tendencies [chittam], and ego [ahamkara]; all these are only the one mind itself. This is like different names being given to a man according to his different functions. The individual soul [jiva] is nothing but this soul or ego.
Q: What is the difference between the mind and the Self?
A: There is no difference. The mind turned inwards is the Self; turned outwards, it becomes the ego and all the world. Cotton made into various clothes we call by various names. Gold made into various ornaments, we call by various names. But all the clothes are cotton and all the ornaments gold. The one is real, the many are mere names and forms. But the mind does not exist apart from the Self, that is, it has no independent existence. The Self exists without the mind, never the mind without the Self.
It is clear therefore that the mind plays and important and fundamental role in the Self Realization, Ramana Maharshi explains in details with his own Q&A what is the nature of the mind and why enlightenment arises in the mind to finally affirm Aham Brahman Asmi (अहम् ब्रह्मास्मि) “I am Brahman”.
The concentration and conviction of the mind leads us to realize that our own true nature is not of the mind-body complex but rather of the Consciousness, the eternal witness of all.