Does Permanence imply Reality? Let’s ask Shankara

We shall be here walking on epistemological ground. The last post made use of two verses from the Atmabodha to discuss the distinction between action and knowledge, and to decide which of the two is directly conducive to liberation. In any discussion of the various themes of Advaita Vedanta two primal realities constantly come to surface – the reality of Consciousness and the reality of Being. The sum total of an Advaitin’s spiritual and intellectual endeavours involves an understanding and recognition of these realities. What is meant by these is not, of course, this or that instance of conscious awareness or existence, but instead the whole of Consciousness and Being.

Why is that so? Or – why these? Why are they situated at the very foundation of whatever there is? Or – why are they met with in an analytical attempt at plumbing the very depths of experience? A simple answer (one that is not so simple) is that they are permanent, everlasting, undying, immortal. These two (they aren’t really two, and that is the whole point of Advaita) do not have the quality of bubbles Shankara ascribes to the phenomenal world in the Atmabodha. Let’s quote him –
Like bubbles in the water, the worlds rise, exist and dissolve in the supreme Self (verse 8)
Brahman, who is of the very nature of Consciousness and Being, is not of the nature of bubbles. Brahman instead is like the water on which the bubbles take birth and death constantly. Or – of which bubbles are but ephemeral manifestations. Brahman itself does not take birth or death and is timeless and permanent. And it is this that makes Brahman the only reality, while the rest of manifest creation is but contingent upon this reality. Yet, a question that used to plague me often in my wrestling with the basic truths of Vedanta was of the relation between reality and permanence. Why is permanence considered the mark of the real? What ground do we have to suppose that? Why is it not that truth and reality are ephemeral and short-lasting? Heraclitus, as opposed to Parmenides, held the view that permanence was a delusion and that everything in reality is a never-ending flux (a never-ending flux! Paradoxical!). But if Heraclitus is right then there should be no reason whatsoever to consider, say, a dream experience as false. Except for its ephemerality (it’s bubble-ness) there is nothing to suggest that a dream is untrue. In fact, a dream is not untrue at all except if one defines truth as permanence. What is untrue in a dream? What we experience in a dream contradicts, say, the laws of nature we usually experience in the waking state. But that too is an appeal to permanence, is it not? What is law but a repeated (and therefore permanent) behaviour. When we call a dream untrue, we mean to say that it doesn’t behave the same way every time. We say that its behaviour is not permanent, it lasts only eight hours! When faced with the option of choosing what lasts consistently for eight hours and what lasts and has lasted in the rest of one’s life experience, one is sure, like Nachiketa rejecting the wealth offered him by Yama in the Katha Upanishad, to choose the latter. The snake that exists for a moment doesn’t have the same epistemic value as the rope that is permanently available to one’s inspection. Mere flux without an underlying permanence makes the acquisition of knowledge and concern for truth meaningless. However, even if one were to assign equal value, in a phenomenological sense, to dreams and waking states and hallucinations and so on – even that, in a broader sense, is welcome to the Advaitin. All being Brahman, the misperceived world too is Brahman, just as the misperceived snake is nothing different from or other than the rope!

In Science too (and we just referred to natural law) what is thought of as real is what has been constant and permanent in the natural order. If we have inherited, say, a working biological mechanism since the time we parted company with our amphibian ancestors, then this mechanism is considered a truer factor in the description and understanding of the reality of man than, say, some newly acquired social trait which hasn’t proved its mettle through biological time. Thus is it that permanence is accorded not only a greater epistemic value but is itself just another name for truth. Something that is eternal is by definition truer than that which is merely passing. Indeed, not only that but that which is passing and ephemeral is most likely embedded in the eternal just as the bubbles are in the substratum that is water.

The Advaitin’s intellectual task then is more the philosophical study of permanence than even the investigation of Consciousness and Being. For, through analysis, the Advaitin finds that permanence is but another name for Consciousness and Being. And to this analysis I hope to turn in my coming posts.

Q.437 Daydreaming and jAgrat vs svapna

Q: If I am daydreaming while otherwise consciously awake, meaning that I am caught up in a dreamlike narrative that is playing itself out while external sights or sounds are relegated to the background, is the daydream taking place in jAgrat or svapna? Is there, in other words, any overlap between the three avasthA-s?

A: Regarding intermediate states of consciousness, I have written a blog about this. Have a read and see if you still have any question – http://www.advaita-vision.org/states-of-consciousness-2-3-4-and-1-2/.

Q: Many Eastern traditions refer to what we think of as the waking state as a (subtle) dream. A dream in that things are not real in the sense that we think they are real. An elephant in a dream is dream-real, not waking-state-real. Similarly, an elephant in the waking state is not real in the sense we think it is either. It is a story, an interpretation, a creation of the mind.

Lucid wakefulness enables us to see this: that the waking-state elephant is just as un-real as the dream elephant. I see this as a third state of consciousness: not the default wakeful state, not the dream state, but the lucid wakeful state.

A: This highlights one of the principal problems of teaching advaita – use of language. Unless each key word is carefully defined and understood by the listener as was intended by the speaker, the ‘teaching’ will not work. Confusion and/or misunderstanding will result.

You know that there are three states – waking, dreaming and deep-sleep – and a non-dual reality, turIya. Any attempt to introduce further states can only confuse and will certainly not tally with traditional Advaita. Also, although waking and dream are both mithyA, waking is vyavahAra while dream is pratibhAsa – not the same! Try walking in front of a (waking) stampeding elephant if you don’t believe me!

Q: But… In order to see that dream objects are mithyA, you need to be looking from one level higher: the waking state. Similarly, in order to see that waking objects are mithyA, you need likewise to be looking from one level higher. This is what I’m calling lucid wakefulness.

How would it be described in traditional Advaita, this ‘ability’ to see that waking objects are mithyA? And totally, not just intellectually.

A: It’s called ‘Self-knowledge’ or (in modern terms) ‘enlightenment’. But it is still the waking state.

What exactly is it that liberates? Let’s ask Shankara!

Not only is knowledge that which liberates the self, but it is also, of all the other means, the only direct and immediate cause of moksha or liberation. This implies that all the other methods (self-discipline, austerity, devotion etc.) are but instrumental in bringing knowledge about. And bringing knowledge about is the bringing about of liberation.

We shall be studying two verses from Shankara’s Atmabodha where he answers this question and presents the logic that leads to this conclusion.

Just as fire is the direct cause for cooking, knowledge is the direct means of Liberation.
Compared to all other forms of discipline, knowledge of the Self is the only direct means of Liberation
(verse ii)

Action cannot destroy ignorance, as it is not opposed to ignorance.
Knowledge does verily destroy ignorance just as light destroys deep darkness
(verse iii)[1]

The (verse ii) here is the conclusive statement and (verse iii) is the logic that leads to it. Knowledge is here presented as a solution to a problem. What is the problem to which knowledge is a direct answer and solution? The (verse iii) identifies the problem as ignorance or avidya. It is interesting to note that (verse iii) does not use the term moksha. It instead equates the destruction of ignorance with the moksha that was promised as the direct effect of knowledge in (verse ii). What this means is that the destruction of ignorance or the generation of a state of knowledge is itself liberation. So, the word direct or sakshaat is used to mean a direct cause of an effect and also to mean the cause’s identity with the produced effect. It is in this that the direct cause is different from the other instrumental causes. Continue reading

Vedanta the Solution – Part 51

VEDĀNTA the solution to our fundamental problem by D. Venugopal

Part 51 explains the roles of action and knowledge in attaining mokSha. Shankara provides the reasoning why the function of karma is to purify the mind while j~nAna removes the ignorance that prevents the realization that we are already free.

There is a complete Contents List, to which links are added as each new part appears.

Two dwatic poems

(Trans. From Spanish)

Are our lives like the life of a flower – a promise, a hope, a passing beauty?

And what is that promise,
That hope?
How do they find fulfilment –
Their time being ever so short?

And as to beauty, does ours fade away
Like the beauty of the flower?

Fear not, for time is not involved:
The Beauty and Essence of the flower
And of our Soul
Are timeless, infinite.

……………………………………..

(Out of my window)

 

Gently, softly, the snow is falling

And quiet, still, is my soul.

I feel that inside me the snow also falls,

And that in it, too, the sun

Shines along with all its warmth.

 

 

Two advaitic poems

I know of being and non-being,                         (Trans. from Spanish)

know of eternity and time –

that my place is at the center,

though there is no time and no center.

 

Neither between heaven and earth,

for earth and heaven are not –

nor East or West,

neither South or North.

 

Not needing a refuge for rest,

for my home is everywhere.

Not wanting a place to go,

for the world is all my own.

 

There is no mixed darkness and light,

for there is nothing but light.

 

I Know that nothingness is not,

for other than Being all’s naught.

 

……………………………………………………

 

ENERGÍA…………………………ENERGY – Prana

Yo soy montaña y soy mar.         I’m tall mountain, wide sea;
Soy del río la corriente,…………     Of the river I’m the current,
soy el correr de la fuente,……… The flowing of all the springs
del raudo viento el bramar………  And of a gale I’m the howling.

Soy el mar embravecido………… The turbulent ocean too
y soy tormenta rugiente,…………   And also the raging storm.
soy caudaloso torrente…………   I am a torrent unwieldy
y fuerza del vendaval…………..      And of wind the blowing force.

Torbellino, rayo, trueno,                Whirlwind, thunder and bolt,
relámpago y terremoto,                  Of fire the conflagration.

La conflagración del fuego,
el ojo del huracán.                        Lightning, earthquake – that am I;The eye of                                                                         the hurricane.

Yo soy del águila el vuelo,……   Of eagle I am the flight,
y del león el rugido,……………       And of a lion the roar;
de las estrellas el giro…………   Of the starry sky the gyre
y brillo del disco solar…………    And brightness of the solar orb.

Soy yo Mercurio y soy Marte;    I am Mercury and Mars;
Dionisio, Apolo y Teseo;              Dionysius, Apollo, Theseus;
soy de Cupido el deseo.                Of Cupid the lusty love…
Yo soy eso y aún soy más.           I’m that and e’en more than that.

 

 

YogavAsiShTa vs. Bhagavad-Gita

A question that is often asked of me is why YogavAsiShTa is not as popular as Bhagavad-Gita.

[Frankly, I am not sure if that is true and if so why it is so. I spell out a few of my thoughts to start a healthy discussion.]

 In my own case, it was Bhagavad-Gita that I was first exposed to, even as a teenager, and it was much later in my life after my pate turned bald and the few hairs that remained acquired a silver gray hue, that I happened to study YogavAsiShTa. I can say with certitude that both books must have been equally present in my house when I was growing up with my parents. Could it be that my parents somehow conspired to see that I did not get access to read the YogavAsiShTa in my youth because of my mother’s apprehension or belief in an adage that was popular in those times that one who reads YogavAsiShTa would surely fling the family life and retire to a forest as a Sannyasi (renunciate)? Continue reading

Q.436 Ishvara and the existence of fossils

Q: Dinosaur fossils point to a world history that greatly exceeds the history of human beings. I realize that from the Absolute perspective, there is no creation, no world, and therefore no fossils. However, I also realize that Advaita is not equivalent to solipsism. When ‘I’ die, the relative world will still continue in ‘my’ absence. What is puzzling is why there should be any such consistency. When I go to sleep tonight, I do not expect to pick up the dream from where I left off last night. Yet on waking, I definitely expect to be in the same room I went to bed in, with the same clothes hanging in the closet, etc. In short, there is a direct continuity that occurs in jAgrat that does not apply to svapna. Doesn’t this very continuity (e.g. fossils having existed for millions of years before ‘I’ was born) point to a definite need for a Creator, aka Ishvara or saguNa Brahman? Otherwise, I don’t see how the continuity would make any sense. ‘I’ as the jIva cannot have had anything to do with it!

A: Ishvara is just as real as the world. Ishvara is the order that we see, the laws that govern it and so on. All this is empirically real, not absolutely real; it is mithyA. You and I and Ishvara and the world and jAgrat and svapna and suShupti are all mithyA. So yes, if you are talking about fossils and dinosaurs, Ishvara is needed as the creator of the world and of the laws of evolution etc. that enable such things to be a part of our history. Ishvara maintains the waking dream so that I have some clothes to put on when I wake up.

Conversation with ‘H’ – & 6th part

You (H). ‘…… perhaps we both ought accept that Planck was right: matter exists. Or are you saying that matter does not exist; is that really your position, Dr. M? Are you saying that not only is consciousness the substrate of matter and of the world, but that ultimately, matter and the world do not exist, and all that does exist (whatever that might mean within such a definition) is consciousness?……’

Me (M): A3. Plank was an empirical scientist with a philosophical bent. Was he a thoroughgoing or pure non-dualist? His position seems to be like yours, except when he adds (or is attributed to him): ‘non-duality implies the universality of consciousness. Concomitantly, it implies that consciousness is the ‘stuff’ everything is made of.”  YES! Continue reading

Vedanta the Solution – Part 50

VEDĀNTA the solution to our fundamental problem by D. Venugopal

Part 50 explains the concept of sarvAtmabhAva – how upAdhi-s account for the apparent existence of many, even though there is only AtmA. And it explains how we can know ‘I’ as AtmA whilest still acting as an individual jIva.

There is a complete Contents List, to which links are added as each new part appe