Pravrajika Vivekaprana, is a senior sannyasini of the Sri Sarada Math and the Ramakrishna Sarada Mission Order She is presently in-charge of the Retreat Centre of the Ramakrishna Sarada Mission at Pangot, district Nainital, India.
Pravrajika Vivekaprana got acquainted with Swami Vivekananda philosophy at the age of 19 in the Delhi University Library. Since then, for 56 years now, she has studied Hindu philosophy in the context of Swami Vivekananda’s insight to human freedom as the goal. She speaks candidly and reaches out to her audience. She always leaves a lasting impression.
She travelled extensively between 1989 and 2005, to various cities of Europe, South America, and North America, sharing her thoughts and understanding with a very wide range of listeners, both in terms of age and culture. In 1993, Pravrajika Vivekaprana was invited to speak at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago; exactly 100 years after Swami Vivekananda spoke at the same forum in 1893, and made his first electrifying impact on the West.
This is the seventh book in the Understanding Vedanta Lecture Series. Drg Drishya Viveka, acknowledged by most scholars as Sri Shankaracharya’s treatise, gives us in-depth insight into the discrimination between the Seer and Seen. Pravrajika Vivekaprana discusses the text and translation as given by Swami Nikhilananda, against a background of basic concepts that help us to unravel the mystery of human experience!
All the Upanishads pose a question, indicating to us very clearly that without enquiry there can be no understanding of Vedanta Philosophy The title of the book, Drg’ Drishya Viveka, points to an enquiry into the distinction between the seer (drg) and the seen (drishya). It indicates the discrimination between subject and object. This distinction is shown through various ways. If, after the study we are convinced of this truth, it encourages us to try and experience it.
Most commentators and scholars attribute this work to Sri Shankaracharya, although there has been some uncertainty about its authorship. According to Swami Nikhilananda, whose translation and notes we are studying here, “The other name by which this treatise is known is Vákya-Sudha ascribed to Sri Shankaracharya, which is also the name of the commentary on it.” But he also further states, “We are led to think that the book was written by Bharati Tirtha.” However; here we are taking Sri Shankaracharya to be the writer of the treatise.
In this introduction I want to emphasize some basic concepts, which will help us grasp the depth of the ideas given in Drg Drishye Viveka. Some of these might be repetitions of what we have often discussed earliest; hut unless these concepts are understood and ingrained deeply in our awareness it is difficult to grasp the ideas given in these books.
The Subject and Object
One vital problem that was addressed in ancient India was about the subject and the object — ‘I’ as the experience of, that is the subject, and my experience of the world of objects. We all know that we experience this universe; we also know that each one of us experiences it in our own unique way. Therefore my ‘reality’ is your ‘fiction’. If I am the subject in my sphere of experience then you and everything and everyone else are objects.
In India, the enquiry into the ‘subject’ and ‘object’ started very early. The ancient thinkers also understood that the object was a mediated reality, not a direct reality, This reality is mediated through the sense organs, ‘enamelled’ by our past impressions and preconceived notions. If and when we can stop this ‘enamelling’ only then the experiences show us the underlying truth. Only then can we realize that somehow the individual consciousness within is participating with the consciousness that is also represented by the object.
‘I’ am the thinking subject, and ‘I’ alone can enquire. I am the ‘seer’ and therefore have to be more real than the ‘seen’. The ordinary mind is inclined to believe that the object is more real than the ‘I’, the subject. Thus there seems no need to enquire about the self The depth that is supposed to be within oneself never really fascinates us. In India, from very ancient times, enquiry has been directed inwards and our seers have found great depth within the human system or beyond the human system, which is available to our concentrated and purified consciousness. The ordinary level of consciousness is mixed with false notions about ourselves as well as the objective reality. That is why the idea of tapasya (which includes concentration and purification) came to be.
Sri Shankaracharya starts here with the human system, stating that this is also an object of our experience as it is the sensations., which we receive through the nervous system, that make us aware of the physical and mental complex that we identify with. When we are convinced about this truth then we ask ourselves, “How real is this world?’ and “How real am I?”
In Drg Drishya Viveka. Sri Shankaracharya also shows that ‘I’ as the experiencer am already free; hut the eternal question is, do ‘I’ want to assert that freedom? It is up to me. This is the basis of Advaita Vedanta.
The Inward and Outward Movement
The human mind has two directions in which it can function. The ‘outward’ spiralling
is pravititi and the ‘inward’ movement is called nivritti. The more we are in
the nivritti mode the more united we are; the more we move in pravritti the
more divided we become. As we discussed earlier externalization (pravritti)
is the very nature of how the body and mind function. And the multiplicity of
thoughts and emotions keeps us divided. If we take this apparent pravritti seriously
l completely divided. This causes the shifting of the mind, which leads to restlessness and anxieties.
However we need both these movements to live our daily life. Normally we move in a yen tight circle, focused only on ‘me’ and ‘my’ relationships This outward spiralling makes us self-centred and gives absolute reality to objects and relationships because we pay lull attention to them. The inward movement then becomes unreal and so we ignore it.
The power of reflecting on our experiences gives us a method of moving inwards. That is the beginning of nivritti.
The Centre of Light and Its Bifurcation
The ancient thinkers give us the basic idea that each one of us is a ‘centre’, a point of immovable, steady, light. Because of identification with the body-mind complex and its experiences we seem to leave our centre as we project, imagine, and make erroneous assumptions Past impressions in our subconscious and the present sensation give us our experiences To begin with or in our intrinsic nature, each one of us is a centre, completely uninvolved and completely steady.
Then there is a ‘spiralling out’ and imagination takes over. All experiences are projections of the bifurcated central light.
The Objective Experience
The distinction between the seer and seen is a fascinating study but we need to realize that this problem of subject and object does not belong to philosophers and thinkers alone; it is our problem as well. We are trying to make sense of the objective experience that we get and that is how we question — What does experience show? Why aren’t we satisfied with our experience? Why do we want change all the time? Once our mind raises these questions then we need clarity and that is what books such as Drg Drishya Viveka give us, clarity.
Ordinarily we experience a mixture of the subject and object. We say, “I see with the eyes”, assuming that this eye can see, disregarding the nervous system, the centre of vision in it, and the attention that is flowing from the innermost level, the ‘I’. Despite this confusion our daily life carries on, till we start enquiring or receive shocks through experience. Our ancient thinkers, especially in Advaita Vedanta and Sankhya psychology, are trying to tell us not to get ‘bogged down’ or fooled by this combination; we must understand the separation and not ‘rush’ out towards experience. The rushing out is involuntary, and is triggered by tendencies memories, desires, fears, or any kind of stimulus from within or without. This involuntary ‘rushing out’ of Consciousness through its various projectors, the sense organs and the mind, gives us problems. If we wish the problems to stop we need to control Consciousness from ‘rushing out’. This is the crux of Hindu psychology and the basis of sadhana (practice). Do not rush out. These sense instruments are the outer apertures. We can stop the outer ‘rushing’ at this level; then there are centres in the brain, where we can stop the outward rushing by training ‘attention’. ‘Sitting still’ is the beginning of this method of control.
One and the Many
The unit principle of Pure Consciousness is Purusha; the unit principle of energy, Prakriti is the dynamic aspect of the same Consciousness Advaita Vedanta does not accept two elements and says the dynamic aspect is a seeming movement and it is not ultimately separate. If the mind is convinced that this is the truth then it can start practicing being in the centre. The moment we posit two, it is a problem.
For example if we say we have become had’, then if it is really so, there is very little we can do about it because ‘reality’ implies changelessness and reality can only be one. Therefore having ‘become had’, one cannot then ‘become good’!
We may not deny the appearance of dynamism but we need to assert that it is not the ultimate reality. It is tins feeling of the ultimate and absolute that makes us ask the questions of how, why, when, where, and what, about it. These questions are part of our own momentum, which is trying to exhaust itself and we think it is connected with the outside world. We need to slowdown the momentum of the whirlwind of the mind, and realize our oneness with Consciousness.
The Ocean of Consciousness
The universal water in the ocean seems to have got trapped in a ‘bubble’ and thinks of itself as a separate entity Not realizing that it is the ocean. Each one of us is commonly aware that we are within this system, the body-mind complex, the ‘bubble’, and we are not aware of the Universal Ocean of Consciousness. Thus the subject becomes apparently mixed with the object in such a way that it seems almost impossible to separate it unless we use all energy at our command, to grasp the basic idea and get hold of a method of separation. Instinctively, we have learnt many methods of separating ourselves from the external world and we emphasize the separation through statements such as, “I like it’, “I do not like it”. This is based on the habits acquired in this life and the tendencies of countless stages of evolution. Even if we take it as travelling from species to species we are linked with a long line of likes and dislikes that are present in the system and we use this as the standard to judge everything. We all have different likes and dislikes, and these tendencies are coming from very involuntary backgrounds. Till we acknowledge the level of our ignorance we cannot hope to move on.
A simple concept that was given in every civilization and in every traditional religion was the basic idea that in the beginning there was just one unit and that was called God. And the method for the mind to flow back to this unit was through faith or bhakti (devotion). Thinking of the Unit Principle or Person is very important. It helps the mind to flow in one particular direction. Human life is caught in a complicated network of multiplicity which causes suffering and problems, therefore focusing attention in one steady direction becomes essential to be able to deal with the multiplicity.
We are creatures of habit and at one time the habit of sincere prayer with ritualistic action was in itself a way of connecting with God. Ritualistic action could hold a person together and give a sense of being a unit. However, since this age has emphasized rational thinking and faith does not function easily, rituals are considered mere superstitions, we need some understanding as to why we must get out of multiplicity and focus on Oneness.
Where Does Experience Take Place?
Today therefore, rational understanding is necessary That is why Swami Vivekananda wants Advaita Vedanta and Sankhya psychology to he understood in this age. He emphasizes that we need to understand, as is given in Advaita Vedanta, “How do we experience?”“Why do we experience?”“Where is experience leading us?” and “What could be its purpose or meaning?” Sankhya, which is the basis of all Hindu psychology; gives us the intermediate level; tile analyses of this ‘gadget’, the body-mind complex; how it came into being; how it evolves out of Prakriti with Purusha shining through; its meaning and how it functions; and Advaita ‘Vedanta gives the ultimate purpose.
We have discussed again and again, what experience is, how we experience, why we experience, and where experience takes place.2 Let us look at the chart on page 12 and see how we experience, from a different point of View.
Excepting Purusha and the pancha mahabhuta (the five basic elements3) everything else as given in this chart can be called the mind or the antahkarna.
To start oil this process of enquiry we need to analyse the word ‘mind’ as it is understood commonly. The ancient Sanskrit word for mind is antahkarna (the inner organ, the subtle body), which is the medium for experiencing the objective world. The subtle body continues even after the death of the gross body; in a subtle form, and remains as the seed for the next physical body. This word, antahkarna, can be analysed according to the functioning of its various elements, which include buddhi (intelligence or intellect), ahamkara (ego), manas (mind—stuff), tanmatras (the subtle levels of perception), and the sense organs. Each of them is needed to give us the experience of an object. Depending on our past tendencies, desires, and so on, experience may give us understanding or misunderstanding and therefore we need to realize how much enamelling we give to any experience.
As also often discussed before, we function at the sattvic, rajasic, and tamasic levels. We have discussed the three gunas earlier’ According to Sankhya psychology there is a deep correspondence between the desire (to see colours, shapes, and firms, for example) and the tanmatra teja and the external organ, the eyes. This leads to the experience of the object. The desires are prompted by past experiences and their impressions, which we carry from one life to the next life though evolution.
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