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The Ultimate Nature of Reality January 3, 2024

The Ultimate Nature of Reality

Glossary
  1. Brahma vs Brahman - this is often confusing because people think they are the same and use the words interchangeably. They mean different things and Vedanta (an ancient school of Hindu philosophy) branches off in describing the differences through Advaita (Non-duality) and Dvaita (Duality).

    Brahman (Ishvara) is the ultimate reality beyond our human perception or human comprehension. It is formless, boundless, infinite and eternal. It transcends time and space. Brahman is not your personal God (not God the Father, not Allah, not Shiva). Everything in the universe (including you and me), including all the deities (God, Allah, Shiva, Vishnu, etc.), is a manifestation of Brahman. Brahman is the cosmic reality beyond any specific deity. There is no duality in Brahman because nothing else exists outside of Brahman.

    Brahma is your personal God, the creator. In Hinduism, he is one of the 3 deities with Shiva and Vishnu. Brahma has a form (Jesus Christ being God the Son), a specific purpose (to save man, to give rise to creation), and can even have a wife (Saraswati being a wife of Shiva). He created the universe, but he is also part of Brahman - Brahman is bigger than Brahma (God). Brahma exists within the universe while Brahman transcends the universe. Unlike the eternal Brahman, Brahma is finite and subject to birth, death and rebirth. Brahma's lifespan is a very long one. It is said that one cycle of Yuga (there are 4 cycles) produces one Brahma (so the next cycle produces another distinct Brahma).
  2. Maya - the illusion that the external world is the ultimate reality, as experienced by Jiva. Jiva's mind (citta), created Maya, created this illusion. Without Jiva's mind, Maya cannot exist. Maya was created so that Jiva can learn the lessons needed to be learned in human form, to evolve or to realize he is Atman.
  3. Jiva - individual self including his mind (citta), thoughts, feelings, body and memories. As Jiva, the illusion of Maya is present. But when this illusion is lifted, then Jiva realizes he is Atman the entire time. Atman's relationship to Brahman depends if the outlook is duality (Brahman and Atman are 2 separate and distinct entities) or non-duality (Atman has always been part of Brahman).
  4. Jivamukta - the soul enshrined in the individual self. The Paramukta is the cosmic soul of reality
  5. Atman - the soul, the true spiritual Self and the authentic essence of Jiva, when Jiva realizes that the external world is not the ultimate reality - not his body, personality, feelings or thoughts
  6. Avidya - ignorance by Jiva thinking he is his own body, he is rich, he is his thoughts and reality is the phenomenal world he preceives with his senses. He is ignorant that his true essence is Atman (if he believes in duality) or Brahman (if he believes in non-duality). When this veil of ignorance is lifted (through yoga practice), Jiva's true nature is revealed - becomes Atman or one with Brahman.
  7. Moksha - liberation when the veil of ignorance about the true nature of reality is lifted. When Jiva realizes Moksha, he realizes he is Atman
  8. Bodhi Citta (consciousness) vs Citta (thinking mind) - Bodhi Citta is not the same as citta. Citta is simply the workings of the thinking/rational mind. It produces thoughts. It is part of Maya - an illusion that makes Jiva identify with his thoughts. Bodhi Citta on the other hand is Atman or Pure Consciousness - one that has no birth and does not die. This is the Consciousness that moves from body to body in the cycle of reincarnation.


*** To better understand this article, please read the Glossary first

True Nature of Reality
While reading yogic books, the true nature of reality became increasingly confusing. There are many schools of spirituality, philosophy and thought, offering their versions, each as compelling as the other. For the longest time, I thought they were all saying the same thing, just worded differently. Apparently, not. To straighten things out, I had to ask the language A.I.s (ChatGPT, Bard, Bing and Aria) - because they provide straight and non-cryptic answers.

Yoga and the Ultimate Reality
The richness of Yoga allows both philosophies (duality and non-duality) into the practice. It accommodates diverse philosophical viewpoints and practices. Whether the yoga you practice believes in duality or non-duality depends on the lineage of the yoga, the guru and aligned traditions. Yoga is accommodating and not monolithic. But what exactly is Duality and Non-duality?

The Ultimate Nature of Reality
What is the true nature of reality?

Theories on the True Nature of Reality

1. Duality
Dvaita Vedanta, Samkhya, Ramanuja, Bhakti Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, Patanjali's Yoga Sutras
This school of thought claims that there are 2 distinct and separate entities with their own objective realities - Brahman (ultimate reality, creator) and Atman (True Self, created). Maya (everything else - the universe, you, thoughts, etc.) is the illusion created by Jiva's mind (citta), blinding Jiva into thinking the perceived world is the ultimate reality and that his body is his 'self'. Atman can be realized through devotion and surrender to Brahman (unlike Non-duality where liberation is achieved through self-realization or Bhakti yoga). When this realization happens, Jiva begins to understand that he is Atman the whole time. Then Atman can have a loving relationship with Brahman - but they remain separate. The created (Atman) cannot be the creator (Brahman). This is like the Christian philosophy - man and God are two separate entities but man can have a loving relationship with God.

2. Non-Duality
Advaita Vedanta, Adi Shankara, Jnana Yoga
Brahman and everything else are just one - there never was a separation. Jiva and the entire universe is a manifestation of Brahman. Atman is identical to Brahman. Maya is not an illusion but a manifestation of Brahman, thus the fundamental oneness is preserved. The cause of suffering is not Maya but Avidya (ignorance) - Jiva not realizing he is also Brahman. Once ignorance is lifted, Moksha is suddenly (unlike Dvaita which is gradual) realized. Liberation (Moksha) is achieved through self-realization and understanding that there is no separation from the individual self vs the ultimate reality (in contrast, in Duality, liberation is achieved through devotion and surrender to Brahman).

3. Emptiness
The concept of emptiness is deeply rooted in Buddhism - but the different branches of Buddhism have their own flavors of emptiness.

Emptiness doesn't mean nothingness. It means our human sensory experience has no objective existence. Reality as we perceive it is a world of appearance. In short, without us, reality does not exist. Analogy: the shadow cannot exist without the source. Emptiness allows us to be detached from our earthly perception of things (including our own bodies).

The material world is simply a fluctuation of a deeper underlying reality. This fluctuation (cause and effect of all interactions since we are all connected) renders everything impermanent - thus empty. Analogy: the angry wave and the calm water are part of the underlying ocean. If we are intrinsically connected in the deeper layers, then it's easier to be understanding and compassionate.

Emptiness is counter-instinctive and difficult to embrace. But if misunderstood, it can lead to nihilism and meaninglessness of life.

4. Consciousness is Everything
While Duality, Non-duality and Emptiness all make sense to me, they don't resonate as much as my own thinking and philosophy - a mash-up of the above and many things I've learned along the way including Quantum Mechanics. I've woven them together in a way that makes perfect sense to me...perhaps to me alone...that Consciousness is Everything.

Singularity
I subscribe to the oneness of everything - Consciousness. Everything is a manifestation of Consciousness. Nothing else exists outside of Consciousness. To me, Consciousness created the universe (Maya, the illusion), created our human attributes (our thoughts, our mind, emotions, memories and perceptions), and created God (since no one has given proof of God's objective existence...it remains a belief).

Brahman is Consciousness
All of Brahman's attributes describe Consciousness. Consciousness is the ultimate reality beyond our human perception or human comprehension. It is formless, boundless, infinite and eternal. It has no beginning and it has no end. The body dies, but Consciousness lives on. It transcends time and space. Consciousness is the cosmic reality into which everything is contained. In short, Brahman is Consciousness.

End Goal: Enlightenment
As Consciousness, our end goal is Enlightenment. What is enlightenment? It's the experiential realization (so it goes beyond conceptual appreciation) of the ultimate reality - that we are not just our bodies, but that we are eternal...that we are the all-pervading Consciousness. How do we achieve enlightenment? By paying all our karmic debts (from past and current lives) and ultimately realizing we are Consciousness. How do we pay karmic debts? By learning the karmic lessons that caused those debts. We can only learn these lessons by going through a human existence within our simulated physical body, inside a simulated reality (the default world as we know it including all its residents), as perceived by our senses (what we see, smell, hear, feel and taste). This simulation (or illusion) is created by our mind. Without the mind, this illusion cannot exist because it has no objective existence. As pure Consciousness withiout the human experience, we cannot learn these lessons, thus no enlightenment. That's the reason for our birth.

To summarize, our mind creates this simulated world to give us a human existence from which to learn these lessons that pay for our karmic debts, ultimately leading to enlightenment.

Lessons to Learn
What are these lessons? Every challenge we face as humans is a test unique to our karmic debt. If we pass the test, we learn the lesson, and we move on to learn the next lesson until all lessons are learned. Once all the lessons are learned, the karmic debts are paid for. Then there is no more reason to be reborn when we die - the objective has been met. We become Enlightened. End of story (because I don't know what happens after enlightenment).

Karmic Test
What exactly are these karmic tests? As I said, every challenge in life is a test, some more difficult than others - but these tests are tailor-fitted according to our karmic debt. We all lived different previous lives, incurring different karmic imprints, thus the karmic debt or 'lessons to be learned' are unique for every individual.

Example: someone maliciously dragged your name through the mud, ruining your reputation and causing you to be ostracized by your friends. The world you knew and loved suddenly imploded and you're now all alone. If you have the means to extract retribution, would you get even? This is the Blue Pill or Red Pill moment when you make that crucial decision. If you harm this person for revenge, then you failed the test. This means when you die, you are reborn and repeat the same challenge (meaning, in the next life, someone will again maliciously drag your name through the mud, ruining your reputation and causing you to be ostracized) - like the movie, Ground Hog Day. You can fail again and again, and the cycle perpetuates. But what if your reaction was that of compassion? You somehow transcended the hate and wished the person health and happiness notwithstanding. In that case, you passed the test. If this was your last test and you die, you won't have to be reborn. But if there are other tests, you will still be reborn to take on all the outstanding tests. This keeps going until all tests have been passed. No Enlightenment takes place until all tests are passed. Likewise, no Enlightenment takes place until all karmic debts are paid for.

Super Mario Analogy
This cycle of birth and rebirth towards enlightenment can be likened to the game Super Mario. Mario dies if he fails to hurdle the challenge. But he lives again to try that same challenge. He may die many times attempting to negotiate that challenge. But at some point, he gains enough knowledge, experience and skill to navigate that hurdle, and he finally makes it. He's not enlightened yet. Many more challenges await him. Ultimately, after having so many lives, he reaches the end of the game. So Game Over (enlightenment).

Quantum Mechanics
How does Quantum Mechanics figure into all of this? Quantum Mechanics helps me understand how all this is a simulation. The Double-Slit experiment shows how the presence of the observer (us) collapses the quantum wave into a particle. In short, for reality to manifest, an observer is required. Without an observer, reality cannot exist (without the mind, Maya and its illusion cannot exist). Thus, the mind creates this default reality we interact with - this is the take-away from Quantum Mechanics.

Dream Analogy
Another compelling reason why I think this reality is a simulation despite looking real and feeling real is through the dream analogy.

I was eating the best dish I ever had. The blending of flavors was like fireworks inside my mouth. I could feel the varying textures of different ingredients. I was experiencing the cuisine's richness and layered dimensions. And then it happened. I woke up! All of that, notwithstanding its realness, was only a dream. It never happened.

So what proof do I have that this default world experience I'm having now (all the people I've met, the places I've been to, the events that happened, etc.) is not another elegant dream I simply haven't awaken from? This leads me into thinking that reality is simply perception. It has no objective reality. Reality needs an observer or someone who dreams to make it happen.

Ending Thoughts
It's interesting to immerse in the many possible layers of the ultimate reality. Duality? Non-duality? Emptiness? Consciousness? But from a yogic perspective, does it really matter? Would the benefit of doing Maha Bandha Mudra be any different if you believed in Duality or Non-duality or Consciousness? None whatsoever.

At the end of the day, it's all about doing your practice - with proper breathing, with awareness and with no reaction. Where it takes us is where it takes us - doesn't matter where. We can be wrong about our choice of duality, non-duality or consciousness, but we can never be wrong about practicing. The journey is what matters - being on the mat and doing what needs to be done. The destination, whatever it may be, is just gravy. With yoga, we already have the 8 limbs and the Shat Kriya as guidance. So, enough with philosophical thinking and intellectual adventurism. Let's get back to practice.

--- Gigit (TheLoneRider)
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