brahman and AkAsha – Q. 326

Q: My mind has this tendency of creating doubts every once in a while and I was able to find answers for every doubt I’ve had through contemplation, logic and reasoning. But not this one.

Before I begin, please understand that my mind simply will not accept anything that cannot be proven to it through logic and reasoning, which is why ‘Sruti says so’ has not satisfied my mind.

So, my question is, how can we say that Brahman is the cause of Akasha (I’m referring to the Vedic element which is the substratum of everything that exists) and not Akasha itself? How do we know that consciousness itself is simply not the Akasha our bodies are made of which happens to be a conscious entity?

I understand that reality is non-dual, but Akasha being omnipresent (basis of all things), omnipotent (since it is Akasha that takes all forms, it can be said to be the cause of everything), omniscient (if we cannot deduce that Akasha is an unconscious entity, it would become omniscient), infinite, eternal and able to take forms without changing its own nature makes it no different from what is described as Brahman.

I’ve tried reasoning that the subject cannot be the object, because if the subject is an object, it leads to shunyavada – existence from non-existence, since there would be no cause and everything would be an effect, which is not logical BUT then it occured to me that it wouldn’t matter when it came to akasha since even if all forms ‘die’, it would still exist as it has an existence independent of all forms. Again, it sounds like the nature of Brahman.

Also, if the subject cannot be the object, then how can Brahman be both the subject and object? I understand that Brahman doesn’t really become anything and it’s all due to maya, but there is still a subject and an object.

I’ve tried reasoning that if Brahman is Akasha it would mean that Akasha is carrying out actions, perceiving the actions and interpreting the actions and knowing the actions, which would be illogical, BUT then I realised Brahman does the exact same thing.

I’ve tried reasoning that akasha does not exist in deep sleep, but then it occured to me that unless Brahman can be concluded to not be Akasha, the perceiver in deep sleep itself may well be Akasha.

Another doubt I have is, they say that Brahman cannot be known. If this is the case how do we know Brahman?

So I am completely and utterly confused right now. I just cannot seem to logically conclude that Brahman is the cause of Akasha. I’ve been contemplating this for over a day now pretty much constantly, but I still couldn’t crack it.

I really appreciate the help. Thanks a LOT. 🙂

A (Ramesam): You say: My mind has this tendency of creating doubts every once in a while and I was able to find answers for every doubt I’ve had through contemplation, logic and reasoning.”

Well, not surprising there! That’s what the mind does best and how it entertains itself playing the game of doubt and solution.

A question is a thought of interrogation. A solution is a thought of affirmative sentence. So they are all thoughts coming one after another. Just try to pause and see what exactly lies in the space between the question-thought and the answer thought. Take your time and do not come with another answer-thought. In other words just drop all thoughts as they occur – including the desire-thought to know Brahman.  Notice what exists when all thought forms cease to exist. Try a few minutes in this exercise.

[Hint: It will be total silence. You cannot even know what it is.]

“Before I begin, please understand that my mind simply will not accept anything that cannot be proven to it through logic and reasoning, which is why ‘Sruti says so’ has not satisfied my mind.”

Gaudapada’s karika on Mandukya Upanishad devotes two chapters establishing the illusory nature of the world and Non-duality based purely on logic and through an analysis of the three states of consciousness – wakeful, dream and deep sleep without falling back on Vedas.

But the more important question is whether you can really live with what absolute logic finally leads you to – for example with the result of the experiment of a few minutes suggested above?

“So, my question is, how can we say that Brahman is the cause of Akasha (I’m referring to the Vedic element which is the substratum of everything that exists) and not Akasha itself? How do we know that consciousness itself is simply not the Akasha our bodies are made of which happens to be a conscious entity?

I understand that reality is non-dual, but Akasha being omnipresent (basis of all things), omnipotent (since it is Akasha that takes all forms, it can be said to be the cause of everything), omniscient (if we cannot deduce that Akasha is an unconscious entity, it would become omniscient), infinite, eternal and able to take forms without changing its own nature makes it no different from what is described as Brahman.”

First off, perhaps as an Intro, it may be useful to you to read my response to Q. 325. Maybe you are already aware of most of the stuff there, but it will establish the general drift of what we are going to discuss regarding Advaita philosophy.

You know, as per the understanding in Advaita, there is one and only one ‘thing’ and there is no second thing (ekameva advitIyam). It is immaterial what word you use as a pointer to that One thing. Brahman is one universally accepted word for It, whatever that One thing is.

When you agree that there is no scope for a second thing to exist other than Brahman, you have to also agree that anything and everything has to be Brahman and no-thing else. So even what you refer to as the so called AkAsha is also Brahman and non-different from It. AkAsha is the form in which Brahman appeared at that moment.

The name you give as AkAsha, therefore, ipso facto, is whatever Brahman is plus a couple of other qualities ascribed by you. The two other attributes assumed by you are a name (given by you as AkAsha, it has not come and told you its name) and finiteness (in dimensions from your perception, your perception itself functioning within the limits of your senses and mind). If you remove these two descriptors added from your side (name and form), AkAsha is none other than pure Brahman!

Not only Akasha, every object in the world is Brahman plus a name and form added by you. Neglect the name and form part, everything is Brahman.

“I’ve tried reasoning that the subject cannot be the object, because if the subject is an object, it leads to shunyavada – existence from non-existence, since there would be no cause and everything would be an effect, which is not logical BUT then it occured to me that it wouldn’t matter when it came to akasha since even if all forms ‘die’, it would still exist as it has an existence independent of all forms. Again, it sounds like the nature of Brahman.

Also, if the subject cannot be the object, then how can Brahman be both the subject and object? I understand that Brahman doesn’t really become anything and it’s all due to maya, but there is still a subject and an object.”

You are going in a bit of circles with the subject – object classification.  Brahman is always One, the subject only. It is Knowingness-Beingness-Infiniteness (as one word). It does not ‘see’ anything else simply because there is no separate object located at a distance from It to be seen by It. It sees Itself. That means It is aware of Itself.

To give us a ‘feel’ of understanding Brahman, the Advaita teachers cite space (AkAsha) as an analogy because space in the world familiar to us is perhaps the nearest entity comparable to Brahman. No wonder therefore, as you say, space has many similarities to Brahman. Space allows all things to happen within it, nothing clings to space, and space has no particular form/shape or spatial dimension known to us.

Nevertheless space has finiteness on the dimension of time. It exists when we are in the wakeful state but does not exist when we are in the deep sleep state. Space has also an end (death in your terminology) with each Dissolution phase (= Pralaya like our deep sleep) and originates again with each Creation phase (= srishTi comparable to our awake state). Hence it is an ‘object’ for us. But space is not an object to itself.

[I will not go into the refutal of sunyavada from Advaita perspective here because that will put us into a different spin from the present discussion. As far as maya is concerned, I have dealt with it to some extent in my response to Q: 325.]

“I’ve tried reasoning that if Brahman is Akasha it would mean that Akasha is carrying out actions, perceiving the actions and interpreting the actions and knowing the actions, which would be illogical, BUT then I realised Brahman does the exact same thing.

I’ve tried reasoning that akasha does not exist in deep sleep, but then it occured to me that unless Brahman can be concluded to not be Akasha, the perceiver in deep sleep itself may well be Akasha.”

 Some of your understanding is quite true but please see for more clarity the analysis of deep sleep state at:  http://beyond-advaita.blogspot.com/2011/08/deep-sleep-knowingly-key-to-brahman.html

 “Another doubt I have is, they say that Brahman cannot be known. If this is the case how do we know Brahman?”

You cannot ever ‘know’ Brahman in the way you normally know things through your sensory perceptions.  Brahman is not a thing to be ‘grasped.’ Please recall the experiment at the beginning of this discussion.

On the other hand, you do not have to know Brahman specially. Does your own beingness not known to you? Do you ever doubt your own existence?  Do you need an external proof to say that you are conscious? Are not your own beingness and consciousness self-evident to you? This quality of “Knowingness”, that quality of raw “Awareness-Beingness”, is Brahman! You do not have to go any further. You are that Awareness-Beingness. You are Brahman.

 “So I am completely and utterly confused right now. I just cannot seem to logically conclude that Brahman is the cause of Akasha.”

Brahman is said to be the cause of AkAsha as per one of the fictitious explanatory models adopted to reason out with someone who believes in creation. There are other models where it is argued that Brahman caused water and from water all other fundamental elements have come out. Yogavaasishta even says that it does not make any difference whether one or the other is said to have come first when everything is anyway a dream like fantasy. Sage Bushunda gives strange examples of different originations of the world in different mahAyugAs – things happening with no reason or rhyme. So what originated from what and in which order has no significance.

“I’ve been contemplating this for over a day now pretty much constantly, but I still couldn’t crack it.”

I can see your confusion. Perhaps you may have found the response given here in bits and pieces goes to confound the confusion.

I am not sure of the sources and background material from which you have obtained your present information on Advaita. So I can speak of a plan of approach to redeem the confusion in a general way and please take it with a large pinch of salt. Let us iron out the issues slowly one by one.

IMHO, it is essential first and foremost that you get a very clear picture of Advaita philosophy so that you do not have even an iota of doubt left in your mind.  Please study thoroughly one of the texts given below and understand Advaita fully before you move on to another scripture or take up cross questioning.

If you are oriented towards the traditional texts, one of the following would be good:

Mandukya Karika of Gaudapada with Sankara’s commentary

Taittiriya Upanishad

Atmabodha

Yogavaasishta – 3rd Chapter on Origination or 5th Chapter on The Calm Down or the 6th The Chapter on Nirvana

If you are familiar with the Western authors,

One of the books by Dennis Waite

Transparency of Things or Presence by Rupert Spira

As a footnote I may add that there is no harm if you would like to check the following links re: a discussion on  Jivanmukta:

Part 1:  http://www.nondualitymagazine.org/nonduality_magazine.2,ramesamvemuri.htm

Part 2:  http://www.nondualitymagazine.org/nonduality_magazine.3.ramsamvemuri.part2.htm

A (Sitara): Your approach is quite in line with Advaita Vedanta because here too what śruti says is not thought to be sufficient on its own for the seeker to arrive at the right conclusions. Otherwise it would be enough to just read śāstra without studying with a teacher. Moreover we would have to call Advaita Vedanta a belief system. Quite the contrary, Advaita Vedanta is an epistemology. True, śāstra is turned to frequently by traditionalists, but whatever śāstra says is a kind of a working hypothesis which is only accepted when you yourself understand – and it has to be consistent with logic too. In order to apply logic you first need the working hypotheses that you draw from śāstra.

 The qualified Advaita Vedanta teacher is one who is a perfect knower of śāstra as well as a perfect operator of the teaching methodology of Advaita Vedanta that is based on logic (as well as on śāstra). Most of us lack either the knowledge of one or of the other or both. That’s why misunderstandings are bound to happen which becomes obvious when reading your question. I am sure that others will point out those misunderstandings to you.

 I myself, for lack of time, just want to recommend you start studying with a teacher who is able to clarify your doubts. If he/she is a proper Vedanta teacher you will not be fobbed off with ‘because śāstra says so’ – unless, just for the time being, you need to accept what śāstra says in order for you becoming ready to go beyond acceptance and acquire your very own understanding. You are requested to place your trust in the teacher to that degree but you are not requested to blindly believe and drop your inquisitive mind. On the contrary you will urgently need it to eventually acquire true understanding.

A (Peter): Let’s take this complex question in bits:

 Q: My mind has this tendency of creating doubts every once in a while and I was able to find answers for every doubt I’ve had through contemplation, logic and reasoning. But not this one.

Before I begin, please understand that my mind simply will not accept anything that cannot be proven to it through logic and reasoning, which is why ‘Sruti says so’ has not satisfied my mind.

 You say you do not want to accept śruti as an authority and yet your very next statement cannot be made without the authority of śruti! It isn’t from reason or logic that you can talk of Brahman or ākāśa.
 
So, my question is, how can we say that Brahman is the cause of Akasha (I’m referring to the Vedic element which is the substratum of everything that exists) and not Akasha itself? How do we know that consciousness itself is simply not the Akasha our bodies are made of which happens to be a conscious entity?

The term ākāśa is translated as subtle space. If you are referring to the ‘Vedic elements’ then you need to be clear what Vedanta means by the term: no ‘Vedic element’, for example, is described as ‘the substratum of all’ because all differentiate from māyā! Even though ākāśa is the first ‘element’ to manifest, there is something before ākāśa. ‘Vedic elements’ are the subtlest matter and, being matter, they are inert, borrowing their consciousness and existence from Brahman, the Reality. And being matter, their nature is to constantly undergo change according to law. But as you have ruled out śruti as a source of knowledge, then what remains is science. And even science says that space is created along with time and was not there before the big bang. If you do not accept what science calls ‘space’ as a gross manifestation of the primordial element ākāśa, then you will need to explain much more clearly, logically and reasonably what is this ākāśa to which you refer.

I understand that reality is non-dual, but Akasha being omnipresent (basis of all things), omnipotent (since it is Akasha that takes all forms, it can be said to be the cause of everything), omniscient (if we cannot deduce that Akasha is an unconscious entity, it would become omniscient), infinite, eternal and able to take forms without changing its own nature makes it no different from what is described as Brahman.

 There are some misunderstandings in your bracketed assumptions but we need not address these now. Here I want to draw your attention to the fact that there is one thing that ākāśa is not: it is not Time, kāla. It does not pervade time and, thus being limited by time, is not omnipresent.
 
I’ve tried reasoning that the subject cannot be the object, because if the subject is an object, it leads to shunyavada – existence from non-existence, since there would be no cause and everything would be an effect, which is not logical BUT then it occured to me that it wouldn’t matter when it came to akasha since even if all forms ‘die’, it would still exist as it has an existence independent of all forms. Again, it sounds like the nature of Brahman.

 Your problem here is you use the terms ‘subject-object’ as if they are synonymous with ‘cause-effect’, which is a misunderstanding. You are right that there cannot be any effect without a cause. So you are proposing that the inert element ākāśa is a causeless cause! How do you logically justify this assumption?
 
Also, if the subject cannot be the object, then how can Brahman be both the subject and object? I understand that Brahman doesn’t really become anything and it’s all due to maya, but there is still a subject and an object.

 Does gold change to become a chain? No. Does water change to become a wave? No, it is only the stillness of water – in which every wave exists in an unmanifest condition – that changes to become ripples, waves etc. Similarly, Brahman does not change into the manifest universe: think of Brahman as water in the water-wave analogy, and māyā as the stillness of water in which every wave lies unmanifest and undifferentiated. Water doesn’t change, only stillness does.
 
I’ve tried reasoning that if Brahman is Akasha it would mean that Akasha is carrying out actions, perceiving the actions and interpreting the actions and knowing the actions, which would be illogical, BUT then I realised Brahman does the exact same thing.

Brahman doesn’t do anything. Just as sun, by its mere presence, illumines the world without any action on its part, so too Brahman is actionless and is nevertheless the cause of the universe. 

I’ve tried reasoning that akasha does not exist in deep sleep, but then it occured to me that unless Brahman can be concluded to not be Akasha, the perceiver in deep sleep itself may well be Akasha.

Why do you try to reason that ākāśa does not exist in sleep? The position you adopt forces you to make the illogical claim that the inert material element ākāśa is endowed with the power of consciousness – that space is the perceiver! Logic can tell us that there is awareness in sleep even though the ‘I’ sense is absent. What logic can never tell you is what this ‘I’ is. The impossible burden of proof you place on logic is a burden that logic can never carry.

Another doubt I have is, they say that Brahman cannot be known. If this is the case how do we know Brahman?

 If by ‘they say that Brahman cannot be known’ you mean logic says that Brahman cannot be known, then I need to remind you that logic does not recognise the existence of any reality other than that which is perceptible by sense or thought. If, on the other hand, you mean that śruti says that Brahman cannot be known, then you need to find out what is meant. The best way to do this is to study with a qualified teacher and not fall into the traps to which self-study can lead!
 
So I am completely and utterly confused right now. I just cannot seem to logically conclude that Brahman is the cause of Akasha. I’ve been contemplating this for over a day now pretty much constantly, but I still couldn’t crack it.

It is great that you really enquire into truth. Yet the way you go about it, however, is bound to lead to confusion. Although your mind tries its best, it is still the mind of a seeker who is bound to misunderstand and mix things up. Why don’t you open up to the possibility that śāstram has something valuable to say and go along with it, pending understanding? And then work on getting this understanding. How? I think the best choice is to find a qualified Vedanta teacher who has gone beyond the inevitable misunderstandings of a seeker and is most likely someone who has found true understanding. Self-study of Vedanta will only result in the twist you’ve got yourself into. If, however, you do not accept the authority of śāstram, then re-start the enquiry into the origin of the universe based on science alone. Compared to the convolutions that science goes through to explain the phenomenal universe, you might find that the ancient seers of India understood a thing or two much more logically.

I really appreciate the help. Thanks a LOT. 🙂

 Hope the above has been of some help. OM.

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