Overview of Western Philosophy – Part 14

(Read Part 13 of the series.)

Pragmatism and William James to Linguistic Analysis and Wittgenstein

Developed originally in America, and to some extent in rebellion against the metaphysical theories current in Europe at the time (especially Idealism), Pragmatism is effectively a method for determining the worth of philosophical problems and their proposed solutions. What was thought to matter was not all of the intellectual speculation and theorising usually associated with philosophising but the practical worth at the end of the day. Is a theory actually of any use to us in our day to day life? Will it make any difference to me if I follow it or am even aware of its existence? The word ‘pragmatic’ has now passed into everyday usage as referring to an approach that actually works.

The original ideas were developed by C. S. Peirce, who saw himself as following up the system devised by Kant. He thought the only purpose in philosophising to begin with was in order to solve problems that we actually encounter. We should then use the scientific method to enquire into the problem, drawing up hypotheses, experiments to test them and so on. Once we have an answer that gets us over the original problem we should simply stop there. A proposition is ‘true’ if everyone who investigates sufficiently thoroughly comes to the same conclusion. Continue reading

What We Cannot Know

What We Cannot Know: Explorations at the Edge of Knowledge
by Marcus du Sautoy

Review by Dr Pingali Gopal
(Blog site at pingaligopi.wordpess.com)


Science has achieved a lot; and it promises to do so in the future. The spirit of scientific enquiry based on theory and experiment is the bedrock on which humanity has progressed. The humans have this unique thirst to know which set them apart from other conscious beings. The spirit of knowledge and enquiry has made our lives comfortable over so many centuries. It has its own detractors. Science has given us the atom bomb too and the methods of mass destruction. Maybe, science has also equipped us with destroying ourselves. But, the fact remains that scientific enquiry will never stop so long as humans are alive, because the spirit of knowing more about the world is one of the prime movers in the individual and the collective scheme of things. However, there comes a point when the scientists must give up, put their hands up in despair, and shout,’ We cannot go any further’. There are certain edges beyond which everything is in a state of permanent fog and a mist. The author calls them the ‘known unknowns’. The book is a brilliant exposition of these edges of science which are beyond the grasp of the human mind presently. Continue reading

adhyAsa (part 3)

Notes on Shankara’s examination of the nature of ‘Error’ in the introduction to the brahmasUtra.

Read Part 2 of the series

Analogy of the Rope and the Snake
This example originates from the commentaries of gaudapAda on the mANDUkya upaniShad. Seeing a rope in the dark, it is mistaken for a snake – an error or adhyAsa. We mistakenly superimpose the image of an illusory snake onto the real rope. In just such a way we superimpose the illusion of objects etc. upon the one Atman .

If there is total dark, we would not see the rope so could not imagine it to be a snake. Hence ‘ignorance is bliss’, as in deep sleep – there can be no error. Similarly, if there is total light we see the rope clearly – in complete knowledge, we know everything to be brahman. Knowledge is also bliss! The error occurs only in partial light or when the eyes are defective. Then there is partial knowledge; we know that some ‘thing’ exists. This part, that is not covered by darkness or hidden by ignorance is called the ‘general part’ and is ‘uncovered’ or ‘real’. That the ‘thing’ is actually a rope is hidden because of the inadequate light or knowledge. This specific feature of the thing, that it is a rope, is called the ‘particular part’ and is covered. In place of the covered part, the mind substitutes or ‘projects’ something of its own, namely the snake. Continue reading

New interview

For those interested, here is a link to a recent interview with myself conducted by Creative India magazine. It provides a general introduction to the nature of Advaita and background to my own involvement. The only aspect that readers of this site might find novel is a disagreement I had with respect to the Sringeri Acharya’s definition of Astika!

Q.404 Practising Advaita

Q: I need some practical guidance on practising advaita in daily life. Please advise me of the best course of action.

A (Dennis): You cannot ‘practise’ Advaita. Advaita is a teaching/philosophy. Its aim is to bring you to the total understanding that reality is non-dual; that all-there-is is brahman or Consciousness, and that who-you-really-are is that brahman. Only the body-mind can ‘practise’ or ‘live a life’ and you are not that. The body-mind and the world are mithyA, which means that they are not real in themselves; their real substratum is brahman.

Q: Many thanks for the response. I have a question though. I understand that Advaita is a philosophy.  But what does one do with a philosophy? Try to understand? Try to live it? What is my next course of action? I know that action should be ruled out. But what is the next step for me? What do I do or where do I go from here. I hope I am able to explain my point. I look forward to hear from you.

A: Advaita is a teaching methodology. It provides a step by step ‘education’ for the seeker to bring him or her Self-knowledge. Ideally, this teaching is given by a qualified teacher. This is someone who already has Self-knowledge and also has the skills to teach it to someone else. Since the original teaching derives from the scriptures, a deep understanding of these and a knowledge of Sanskrit is also deemed by many to be a necessary qualification for a teacher.

Accordingly, the next step would ideally be to find such a teacher and study with them for as long as necessary – usually at least a few years. Failing that, you have to read widely (but only those books that do not confuse!) and ask lots of questions (of someone who can answer them!).

Tattvabodha – Part 24

Part 24 of the commentary by Dr. VIshnu Bapat on Shankara’s Tattvabodha.This is a key work which introduces all of the key concepts of Advaita in a systematic manner.

The commentary is based upon those by several other authors, together with the audio lectures of Swami Paramarthananda. It includes word-by-word breakdown of the Sanskrit shloka-s so should be of interest to everyone, from complete beginners to advanced students.

Part 24 asks how we become ‘liberated’ and begins the description of a jIvanmukta.

There is a hyperlinked Contents List, which is updated as each new part is published.

Bhagavad Gita Classes

I have just been notified of a new, on-line course of classes on the Bhagavad Gita, presented by Swami Sarvananda (disciple of Swami Dayananda). Expected to last several years, at the rate of 1 lecture per week, the course began about 1 1/2 months ago. There is also a Sanskrit course available for students ‘attending’ the Gita classes.

Anyone interested can contact me (via the Contact Form, or the link at the bottom of the home page) and I will forward the details that I received, with links to join the classes.

Q.403 – The enlightenment perspective

Q. If you have the time (and inclination) I would really love to get some clarification on exactly what you mean when you write “There is still a personal self after enlightenment; it is just that it is now known not to be who I really am; it is simply a ‘reflection’ in the mind.”

As stated I would tend to label what you seem to be calling “enlightenment” as a transpersonal perspective, not a transcendent one. But as I said earlier, words are terribly slippery and do not necessarily covey the same meaning to the recipient as they do to the sender.

For example I absolutely know (and it is far more than simply an intellectual “knowing”) that I am not “Cate” – my personal identity, name, desires, dreams, experiences, thoughts and opinions. And yet I would hardly call myself enlightened.

My experience (and what a joke it is to phrase it like that since it is not “my” experience at all. But that’s the most convenient grammatical way to put it) is that the bliss of union arrives with the absence of “me” altogether. Oneness arrives with “my” departure. There have been hours and days and even weeks when the perspective of any sense of the personal self has disappeared altogether. The personal memories of Cate were there and available for use, as was the personality, but there was no shred of what I would call a “personal self” remaining.

A (Dennis): I wouldn’t have thought to put it like that but yes, enlightenment IS a ‘transpersonal perspective’ as opposed to transcendent. There is already only Consciousness, and you are that ALREADY. How could you be anything else? (There is nothing else.) So the problem of the unenlightened person is that they do not know this. To ‘become enlightened’ is to realize the truth of this. This is to realize that who-you-really-are is not the person or the mind. But this does not negate the appearance of body and mind.

So, if you ‘absolutely know this’, then you are enlightened. Denying that is simply giving in to mental habits of humility or whatever. (Of course, I don’t suggest that you go around claiming to be enlightened; this is not the sort of statement that is appreciated by most people!)

Experiences of bliss etc have nothing to do with enlightenment.