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.

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

Q.435 How can we be sure?

Q: I have a friend who became a born-again Christian as a young man. I knew him before his ‘conversion’ experience, and he became very different afterwards. For decades, he has maintained his rock-solid belief in Jesus and evangelical Christianity. He has that ‘glow’ of certainty and confidence that seems to come with believing in such a system with 110% conviction. His faith is literally unshakeable, and he is dead certain that he is right. I have a back-of-the-mind concern that when someone ‘gets it’ in terms of Advaita after a long period of seeking, that something similar is happening. We cannot think directly about the nondual Brahman, cannot experience non-duality, cannot even really talk about it. How can we be sure that we are not simply hypnotizing ourselves into this conviction after long years of painful seeking?

A (Dennis): How can we be sure? I, too, encountered someone who was a ‘certain’ Christian. We had quite a few discussions and, as you say, the belief was unshakeable. The difference is though, in my experience, that such people are unable to back up their beliefs with reason. They will blithely quote from the bible as though that ends the matter. As you know, in the kArikA-s, Gaudapada uses more reason than he does scriptural citations, although scriptures are traditionally the final authority. Although I included some scriptural quotations in my book ‘A-U-M’, this was principally for completeness and so that the related commentaries might be referenced. The intention was that all that I said was reasoned and hopefully unarguable. I cannot imagine there is any Christian text that can claim that.

The key tool and argument is probably one of the earliest – the ‘neti, neti’ of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Rather than trying to ‘find’ the answer, you keep discarding all attempted explanations when you find that they do not stand up to reason. When everything has been rejected, you are still left with you, the ‘rejecter’. You can use reason to reject those religions/philosophies that rely on scriptural authority alone, because you can always ask: ‘Why should I accept what is written here when it can never be supported by reason or experience?’ Advaita cannot be rejected in this way. It is the difference between ‘belief’ and ‘knowledge’.

Q. 434 Modern debates about Advaita principles

Q: As I work through the Brahma Sutras, and having read Alston’s ‘Shankara on Rival Views’, I have a nagging concern that all of the refutation of alternate theories is too self-contained. What I mean is that much of it seems like a straw-man setup, where Shankara defines his opponent’s views for them and then shreds those views. The objections are being written by the same author that is refuting those objections. I would like to find texts that carry the debate outside of the closed circle, so to speak. Say, for example, a Buddhist took exception to those refutations and wrote a compelling argument against them, and then a traditional Swami responded in kind. Are you aware of any more modern works along these lines? In particular, I would like to see Shankara’s logic analyzed by a scholar and compared to our modern updated view of logical argumentation, etc.

A: Are you sufficiently certain of the Advaita stance on all issues that you would want to look at critical appraisals? I haven’t come across any easy work that deals with these. If you are studying Brahmasutras now, there is a version which is fairly readable and actually occasionally funny (in a superior, knowing sort of way), which looks at the other commentaries and interpretations. It’s called ‘The Brahmasutras and their Principal Commentaries: A Critical Exposition’ by B. N. K. Sharma. It’s in 3 volumes and almost certainly very expensive in the west. You can probably get it cheaper from India, though. Another book which I haven’t looked at is ‘A Critique of Vedanta’ by L. V. Rajagopal. It looks at the three Vedantic schools and applies Whitehead’s approach to philosophy to critically analyze them (so says the book cover!) It looks like a very serious read to me! The other book which might interest you is SSS’s (Satchidanandendra) book ‘The Method of the Vedanta: A Critical Account of the Advaita Tradition’. It looks at pre and post Shankara authors and endeavors to establish Shankara’s views as the correct ones. But it is a huge book of nearly 1000 pages and really not terribly readable. It is, however, translated by A. J. Alston so is at least understandable with some effort. But I can’t honestly actually recommend any of these. It’s up to you if you want to give any a try. From what you say, maybe the Rajagopal would serve your needs.

P.S. I have just checked, and the Sharma 3-volume work is available from Amazon.com for US$79.40. (Ridiculously, it is £89.99 in the UK but it is out of stock anyway.) ‘Method of the Vedanta’ is even more expensive (it is a big book!) – US$170.36 from Amazon.com but you can buy for only £20, new, in the UK from Shanti Sadan.
‘A Critique of Vedanta’ is only US$10.33 from Amazon.com.

Q. 459 The Unbridgeable Gap

(Question answered by Martin, Ramesam, Charles and Dennis)

Q: I have a few doubts regarding Advaita. I was fascinated by this philosophy when I started perusing different philosophies but, on reflection, I found it to be untenable or a logical travesty at best.

I suspect that ajAtivAda is the ultimate tenet of advaita – creation never happened, ontologically speaking. And yet, inexplicably, this vyAvahArika world with its jIva-s exists. And, to end his purported suffering, the jIva has to realize this ontological oneness or sole existence of unqualified Brahman.

Now, to be a little antagonistic, according to the frame of reference of the jIva, his realization will not have any effect on the pAramArthika Brahman because jIva, world and liberation are all only vyAvahArika truth. As ajAtivAda explicitly states, jIva, world, liberation and bondage do not exist.

I suspect that advaita is also not a realization (mental state) of the jIva as Brahman cannot be an object of knowledge or experience so, at the apparent instant of realization (apparent because of ajAtivAda) nothing really happens from the point of the jIva also. Even for the jIvanmukta, his mind and body exist, yet neither his body nor mind can get liberation because it will turn Brahman into a subject. Continue reading

Vedanta the Solution – Part 49

VEDĀNTA the solution to our fundamental problem by D. Venugopal

Part 49 explains how the mahAvAkyatat tvam asi‘ produces knowledge of brahman via the akhaNDAkAra vRRitti in the mind.

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

Science and Consciousness

(This article was originally published in ‘Yoga International’ magazine Aug-2011. I don’t think the magazine exists any longer, which is why no link is provided.)

During the past few years, an increasing number of scientists have claimed insight into the nondual nature of reality. These claims, however, ignore a fundamental truth: Consciousness falls outside the scope of scientific investigation. Therefore, by their very nature, such claims cannot be valid.

There has always been a degree of animosity between science and spirituality. The Catholic Church’s persecution of Galileo over his insistence that the Earth was not the center of the universe comes to mind, as does the current debate between Creationists and those preferring the more down-to-earth tenets of Darwinian evolution. It is encouraging, therefore, to see the growing number of books and articles written by scientists on the subject of nonduality. There is even an annual conference with the title “Science and Nonduality,” thus making it possible to explore these two avenues of knowledge in the same forum.

Paradoxically, both the power and the ultimate shortcoming of science as a tool for investigating the nature of reality lie in its objectivity. The scientific method of empirical observation and subsequent reasoning is something it shares with Vedanta, along with the acceptance of findings from those who have gone before (providing these findings do not contradict more recent discoveries).

Science has made a significant contribution to persuading people to consider that the world may not be as it initially appears to our limited organs of perception. At one end of the scale, the scanning electron microscope looks into the supposed solidity of the matter beneath our fingertips. At the other extreme, the Hubble telescope peers toward infinity into the swirling clouds of galaxies invisible to the naked eye. ‘Reality’ is far more subtle than everyday experience would have us believe. The hardness of the table on which I write is due to irrevocable laws regarding the spin of electrons and their sharing of orbitals around atoms. Massive energy sources in the universe result from entire galaxies being sucked into black holes. Our own senses are quite inadequate for the job of explaining the behavior of the world around us, whereas science seemingly can. Continue reading

Q. 433 Seeking ‘nondual experiences’

Q: For the better part of four decades, I was on the hunt for spiritual experiences that would ‘expand my consciousness.’ I now realize and understand that only Self-Knowledge can provide lasting peace, and any experience is something that comes and goes in time and therefore can never be a permanent condition. However, I still find it very difficult to drop the search for a Big Bang event, after which I can safely say: “Ok, now I am enlightened for sure.”

What is confusing about this is that there are so many teachers who seem to have a pretty clear grasp of nondual teaching and still speak in terms of what happened during their awakening or enlightenment event. Francis Lucille, for example, talks about his experience in Eternity Now. (“For a few moments, the pure I-thought seemed to vacillate, just as the flame of an oil lamp running out of fuel, then vanished. At that precise moment, the immortal background of Presence revealed itself in all its splendor.”) Franklin Merrell-Wolff provides an amazingly clear description of the ‘Recognition’ events that happened to him after studying Shankara. Ken Wilber talks of having been consciously aware for 11 straight days, even through deep sleep, etc. Clearly, Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj both went through Big Bang type spiritual awakenings, and of course, there are numerous other similar reports by various sages and gurus. Continue reading

Vedanta the Solution – Part 48

VEDĀNTA the solution to our fundamental problem by D. Venugopal

Part 48 concludes the explanation of the mahAvAkyatat tvam asi‘ by a detailed analysis of the mechanism by which the contradictory mithyA aspects of Ishvara and jIva are given up, leaving the satyam oneness of brahman.

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