This essay will not be focused on rigorous argumentation and logic-chopping. I will rather focus on stating conclusions about fundamental reality that I have learned from studying Advaita Vedanta from Swami Sarvapriyananda’s lectures (freely available on YouTube). I am not expecting you, the reader, to accept these statements intellectually. Rather this is a poetic exercise of “pointing” to the Absolute using the limited means of language.
It is meant as an act of devotion to the Absolute, a way of expressing the Truth in my best attempt at plain English. In a small way, it is an act of devotion to Swami Sarvapriyananda, from whom I have learned so much. He does not know I exist, but he has changed the entire trajectory of my spiritual life, and for that, I am utterly grateful. This essay is my own attempt to restate what I have learned from him in my own words. Any fault or misunderstanding of Advaita Vedanta is my own fault.
The Fundamental Question of Advaita Vedanta
Who am I?
Advaita Vedanta has a straightforward answer to this: I am Pure Consciousness. Pure Subjectivity. I am the Subject that experiences the multifaceted entities of the world.
Pure Consciousness is not another entity. If you do a catalog of all the objects in the universe, counting them all up, you will not get the end of the list and add a final object: Pure Consciousness.
Pure Consciousness cannot be counted as an object. There are not one, two, three, etc Pure Consciousness. There is just Pure Consciousness itself.
Similarly, I am Pure Being. Pure Existence. Existence itself. Existence itself is not another entity that can be counted in a catalog of existing items in the universe.
There are not one, two, three, etc., Pure Beings. There is just Pure Being itself.
There is the world of finite things which we experience in all its multiplicity. But beyond that world of multiplicity there is the Absolute.
This Absolute Reality is Pure Existence and Pure Consciousness. Indeed, Pure Existence and Pure Consciousness are two sides of the same coin.
Pure Being is an ocean of being in which manifest the multitudinous waves of finite objects. Pure Consciousness is an ocean consciousness in which and through which it is possible for us to be aware of the multiplicity of finite objects.
This Absolute Reality. This Pure Existence-Consciousness. It is Unlimited, Eternal, Vast, Infinite, Unbounded, Omnipresent, Unitary, Perfect, Whole, Complete, Undifferenitated, Universal, Pure Oneness.
Who am I? I am this Absolute Reality, which is called Brahman, God, the ground of Being.
I am absolutely identical to this Absolute Reality, for Absolute Reality is not set apart from any existing entity, for it is One with everything.
And it is not just “I” that is One with this Absolute Reality. You are One with It as well. So is the pebble in the river. The speck of dust. The galactic nebula. The black hole. The cat in the barn. The suffering homeless person. The richest monarch. The child. The mother. The blade of grass. The tree. The mountain. The ocean. The planet. The solar system. The entire universe. Thoughts. Feelings.
All of these “things” are One with this Absolute Reality, which is Pure Existence-Consciousness.
And insofar as this Absolute Reality is absolutely unlimited, perfect, whole, and complete it is also Pure Bliss, lacking nothing to be complete in itself.
The Surprising Conclusion of Advaita Vedanta
Who am I then? I am Existence-Consciousness-Bliss. Brahman. God. Oneness. The Absolute.
It seems hardly believable. How can I be so perfect? Am I not this tiny little finite human creature having finite experiences in a finite world?
It certainly appears so. I cannot deny it. But appearances can be deceiving. The ocean appears to be composed of all these finite waves, bubbles, foam, water droplets, etc., etc. But in reality, the wave is nothing apart from the ocean. If there were no ocean, there would be no wave.
It is like that. We are but foam in the great ocean of Existence-Consciousness.
But how can reality be constituted by Pure Consciousness? If I kick the rock, is not the rock made of physical “stuff”? How can the stuff be made of Pure Consciousness?
If there is a rope in a dark corner and I perceive it as a snake, is that perception of “snakeness” not real? Surely it is, otherwise, I would not be frightened.
Kicking the rock is like that, except more complicated. It only appears as if the rock is physical “stuff.” But eventually, the rock will fade away into dust. It is not permanent. Same with any finite physical thing. It comes and goes into existence. It is contingent. It is finite. All physical entities have a finite beginning and end. They are born and they die.
But Existence itself? That can never not exist. For if Existence itself did not exist, it would be Non-existent. But Existence exists. Otherwise it would not be Existence!
But Existence does not exist like a physical thing that is born and dies. Existence itself is Pure insofar as it is not contingent on anything else for its own being, for it is Being itself.
And as such, Existence itself, Pure Existence, is eternal. It is unlimited. It is infinite. And it cannot exist apart from any existing thing, for existing finite things are but waves in the ocean of Pure Existence. Finite things derive their existence from Existence itself. How could it be otherwise?
I am Pure Consciousness
Similarly, my awareness of all these finite things depends on Awareness Itself, Pure Consciousness. The contents of my awareness come and go, are born and die. Sensations come and go. Perceptions come and go. Thoughts arise and fall away. But at the heart of all these mental contents is a Pure Witness that Lights up the contents with the Pure Subjectivity of Awareness.
It is as if all my particular experiences of this or that particular thing exist in an ocean of Consciousness, which manifests itself as particular waves of finite experience.
Moreover, this Pure Consciousness, itself does not fade away. It is always there. Even if so-called “unconscious” states like coma or deep sleep, I have an awareness that there was an absence of mental contents. And that awareness is the same as any other awareness. But the Awareness Itself is a constant factor that lights up all my mental contents with the Subjectivity of Consciousness.
It is through this Pure Consciousness that I come to know anything. Think of any knowledge you have had of any object, whether mental or physical. At the root of it all, it was you as a subject that was aware of the object.
Who is that subject?
The surprising conclusion of Advaita Vedanta is that the subject of your experience is Pure Consciousness itself, which is the flip side of Pure Existence.
And what is Pure Existence-Consciousness? The Absolute.
So Who are You? Who am I? Thou art that. “That” = The Absolute. You Are Nothing Apart from Absolute Reality, which is One with everything.
Which means you are One with your neighbor. One with the forest. One with the solar system. One with the cosmos. One with everything. All these experiences of multiplicity? They are but waves in the ocean of Pure Existence-Consciousness.
That does not mean you stop having experiences of multiplicity. It does not mean you stop having thoughts confined to the limitations of your skull. It does not mean you stop having hands, feet, friends, or neighbors.
What it means is that these multiplicities of life, all this great frenzy of bustling activity, all of it, at the deepest level of reality, all of it is but a manifestation of the same underlying reality.
Wiggles in the Ocean of Being
Waves are a wiggling of the ocean. All the multiplicity we experience is a wiggling in the great ocean of Pure Existence-Consciousness, which is Eternal, One, and Perfect.
And when we learn this about ourselves, we realize we are One, complete, perfect, Whole. And in this realization, we find freedom and bliss.