Terms of Enlightenment

final12A team of attorneys I once worked for in Manhattan specialized in the purchase and sale of aircraft between countries. Transactions often involved a slew of lawyers from different corners of the world and required that the legal team as a whole put together a set of documents so an aircraft could be properly transferred from Seller to Buyer: Escrow, Contract, Sale, Purchase, blah blah blah.

Since definitions of important terms differed slightly from country to country, and because even minor misunderstandings could lead to serious problems as the deal meandered on, the first order of business was for these lawyers to pool their definitions of relevant terms. When agreement on the meaning of terms was reached, a document would be created that would stay in place for the entire deal.

The document listing these agreed-upon definitions was known as the Definition of Termsand only when it was finalized did the deal take off into the stratosphere. During the transaction (which could go on for months or even years), members on the transaction team could easily clarify confusions regarding specific terms by referring to this key document.

Man Is A Biopsychospiritual Being

This legal necessity to be absolutely clear on definitions led me to ruminate on the misunderstandings that often erupted in my own life. You see, although I took pains to get my message across, confusion often arose due to the different backgrounds, the gender divide, mother-tongues, education levels, orientations and natures of those involved. These glitches in communication could sometimes trigger within me emotional explosions that prevented me from moving smoothly toward my personal goals. Soon I realized that in order to achieve harmony with another, there had to be at least basic agreement on the meanings of words we used to communicate with each other. (Here I refer strictly to the verbal aspect of communication; as we all know, there are other forms of communication even more powerful than words, but these lie beyond the scope of this post).

Today, years later, Advaita has become my preferred philosophy of enlightenment; while I am light years from being a scholar, I have found it necessary to understand its most basic terms in order to appreciate this ancient teaching of Oneness. For instance, the great Indian sage Shankara’s simple three-line verse on the nature of reality is bound to mystify a seeker who does not possess a fundamental comprehension of the language of Advaita:

20140509-DSC_7462The world is unreal

Brahman alone is real.

Brahman is the world.

Shankara’s message made brilliant sense to me only after I understood the meaning of the words Real and Unreal (as they pertain to Advaita). Simply put, Real is that which is permanent and lasting, while the Unreal is the ephemeral, or that which comes and goes. (As for Brahman, it is a Sanskrit word translatable as God/Divine/Absolute Consciousness).

DSC02390Real and Unreal are (in my view) synonymous with what the Buddhists call the Two Truths of Absolute and Relative Reality. Absolute Reality is our true and unchanging nature and its nature is pure existence-consciousness and bliss. Relative Reality is what emerges from the Absolute; since it is fashioned by the unique karma (thought, speech and action) of each individual, it is experienced variously, and dissolves back into the Absolute, when a particular karma is over and done with.

In Shankara’s verse is embedded the essence of Advaita: 1) that Brahman (Absolute Reality) alone is immortal and unchanging; 2) that the World (Relative Reality) emerges from the Absolute as an ephemeral thing that each one of us is forced to perceive differently; 3) that since the Absolute includes the Relative, Brahman/Absolute is also the World (Relative Reality). Cutting to the chase, Absolute/Real and Relative/Unreal are two sides of the same coin and dance together to form one single reality.

Does this mean that the Unreal (that which comes and goes) does not possess a valid reality? Not so! Personally I interpret Shankara’s verse to mean that those of us who seek permanent peace and joy should increasingly focus our attention on that which is Real (our true nature, existence-consciousness-bliss or sat-chit-ananda in Sanskrit)because the shifting and relative world on which most of us pin our hopes and dreams can never bring us lasting happiness.

Photo Credit: Bernd Kalidas Flory

Photo Credit: Bernd Kalidas Flory

Greetings from Arunachala, the sacred hill that vows to destroy the ego of the committed seeker so that we can experience the luminous and blissful Self (Absolute/Real) that we are beyond our earthly identity (Relative/Unreal)!

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10 thoughts on “Terms of Enlightenment

  1. A very erudite analysis, Mira, and one which I am not qualified to address. I do not have any knowledge of Reality other than what others, like Shankara, have shared. I positively love the zen-like quality of Sri Shankara’s statements. There is a paradoxical nature to them to get us to wonder what life is all about. Only through acknowledging the temporary nature of our world can we begin to understand we live in a dream of our choosing; or our projection. Until then, we live in denial of our innate ultimate Reality. I have personally experienced some of the things I have visualized; or projected into my life, coming true. Not everything I have visualized, but enough to understand we are all co-creators of our earthly ‘reality’. Desires, needs, and primal instincts, have driven us to build a life of safety and security in which we can be ‘happy’ and ‘fulfilled’. With this comes the false notion that it will last, and, of course, nothing in this world lasts forever. Then the pain of loss sets us back. Just perhaps it is the pain that helps us see through this so-called ‘reality’ of life, and begin our journey back to understanding our true nature. Until then, we stay enthralled by the drama of living because we find it entertaining.

  2. Dearest mira, thank you. I love your blogs. And you too of course, and i love the photo!

    I like the phrase “Anything perishable is not Reality”. Not that the perishable is not real, but that it is impermanent. Om and love, vimala

    Sent from Samsung tablet

    • Darling Vimala, I love you too….and so enjoy our connection. Been thinking of you and wanting to write — but as you know, when I write my posts, you and others I love are always in my mindstream. Let me know how you are doing. Mira

  3. Dear Mira, It is an interesting coincidence this morning I was reading some fundamental needs by Patgarcia about deep self-knowledge, “to thine own self be true,” led me to wonder how I might formulate a description of REALITY. It was obvious to me that many different perspectives were required, including the science of neurology how the brain coordinates everything from the conscious cortex and also the unconscious actions of the sub-cortex that control powerful feelings and partially lift upwards to the conscious levels. I was thinking of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, as translated by Sri Swami Satchadananda, and the quieting of the mind, analogous to reduction of ripples seen reflected from water during more optimal mediation and approaching a sublime understanding. Also, all these things referenced above have a different complexion when you think of a young child who has not had many experiences ( excuse the impossibility of accurately defining number of experiences), as compared to a mature adult combined with a dynamic culture.

    I greatly respect your scholarship and I love the beauty of your details that you have provided.

    • Dear Joseph, thank you! I am no scholar — just a woman who desperately needed to find a way to peace and joy. As for the phrase you used, to thine own self be true, I have loved it since I was a teenager. So much you say resonates deeply with me. Thank you for following my posts and sharing your wisdom. Namasthe.

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