Q.411 Action and Knowledge

Q: Brief scenario: While walking I notice the  floor is wet. I decide to walk carefully because I fear I might slip and fall otherwise.

I could think that the entire situation takes place within Consciousness (Jnana) , all of it is in fact Consciousness (Jnana) alone. That would mean that  the  fear of slipping and falling, and the  decision made to walk carefully (or even the decision not to walk carefully) are  also Consciounsess  (Jnana). Am I correct here or do I depart from Consciousness each time I make a decision and execute it etc as in that scenario ?

If “yes”, why? If “no”, why ?

A (Dennis): Floors, walking, slipping, deciding etc. are all mithyA – they are not real IN THEMSELVES. Their substratum – Consciousness – is the only reality. But neither are they unreal. From the standpoint of Stephen, in the world, they are real. so walk with care!

Swami Dayananda often referred to the story of the sage running from a rogue elephant. Here is how Krishnan Sugavanam told it:
“I remember a story which once Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati narrated. There was a King in whose court there were a number of preceptors from various philosophies, including one from Advaita. The King was very close to the Advaitin and the other philosophers were looking for the first opportunity to prove the Advaitin wrong. One day, when the King and his retinue were walking in a forest, suddenly there appeared a wild
elephant. The Advaitin was the first one to take off and run for cover.

Later, when all of them assembled in the King’s court, preceptors of other philosophies wasted no time in grasping the opportunity to point out to the King, that though the Advaitin taught everything was “Mithya”, he was the first one to run on seeing the wild elephant – and they asked “Why would the Advaitin run on seeing the wild Mithya elephant?” The Advaitin queried them back calmly “yes I did run – but who said my running was Satyam – it was also Mithya”. :-)” Continue reading

Q.410 Teaching the blind

Q: How do you teach Advaita to a blind person ? I am talking about a person who has been blind since birth, who has no vision of external reality/unreality. The adhyAsa bhAShya talks about superimposing the subject and the objects. But both subject and object are not perceived by a person who has been blind since birth. All that he/she would be aware of is taste, smell, sound, sensations. How would you proceed with such a candidate ? The theory of negating the superimposed almost fails for such a person, for he/she cannot ‘see’ or ‘perceive’ what is superimposed !

 I am not saying the avasthA traya is not a good way to start here, the avasthA traya prakriyA holds good for even a blind person. That is, your dream is just like your waking state. But the problem is, there is no perception in either dreams, waking or deep sleep for such a person. Here’s a video that confirms that people who are blind since birth don’t see anything in their dreams : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpUW9pm9wxs.

If you’re a jIvanmukta, I request you to close your eyes and then tell me if you can still get established in the self, you’d understand how difficult this is !

Thanks for any and all inputs on this subject.

Note: I am aware that Atman is beyond perception, but to know one has gone beyond perception is easy when one still sees and not when he doesn’t see. It’s just the same for a blind man. Continue reading

Q.409 Materialism and Consciousness

Q: Regarding Gaudapada Karika 4.28, what is the best argument you are aware of against the materialist position that consciousness is an emergent phenomenon?   In particular do you think it is inherently illogical to say that consciousness can arise from the inert?

More generally, is it the position of Vedanta that the materialist position is inherently illogical/impossible or simply that it is incorrect because it is contrary to scripture?

A (Dennis): Schopenhauer said that Materialism is “the philosophy of the subject who forgets to take account of himself.” And this really sums up my own view of the situation with respect to Science and its so-called ‘hard problem’. Science is forever trying to discover how consciousness can ‘arise’ from matter and never even considers the possibility that matter might actually be name and form of Consciousness. I.e. Consciousness does not arise from matter, matter (as it were) arises from Consciousness. They view the topic ‘back to front’ because they ignore the significance of the observer. And this is despite their past realisation that the observer cannot be ignored in quantum mechanics, for example.

The term used in the scriptures for the materialist is lokAyata (worldly wise) or Charvaka, after the philosopher of that name who is associated with these beliefs. (They have also been called mAmsa-mImAMsaka-s or ‘flesh philosophers’ because of their belief that we should aim to maximise pleasure in life.) The beliefs are also associated with the god bRRihaspatI and Shankara has sarcastically used this term in a derogatory sense to refer to ‘intellectuals’ who play the role of disputant in his commentaries. Continue reading

Q.408 Ramana’s ‘Who am I?’

Q: I would like to ask a question about the practice of Sri Ramana’s teachings and in particular the way of carrying out the self-enquiry ‘who am I?’

According to what I’ve seen so far regarding instructions, when a thought arises one enquires ‘to whom this thought has arisen’. If the answer to that is ‘to me’, the enquiry continues with ‘who am I?’

At this stage, the mind becomes silent. Are we supposed to remain in this silence until another thought arises or should we continue enquiring ‘who am I?’ every few seconds or so?

Would you be kind enough to clarify this for me.

A (Dennis): If you are committed to following those ideas that are frequently claimed as representing the essential teaching/method of Ramana, then I am not the best person of whom to ask these questions.

Ramana was not a traditional teacher; he was not trained in the methodology of any sampradAya. There is no doubt of his status as a j~nAnI and transcriptions of his talks show brilliant insights into many aspects. But I have to say that the ‘enquiry’ as you describe it is most unlikely to lead to Self-knowledge. I prefer to think that such practice can only lead eventually to the realization that one needs a teacher to provide the guidance via the proven succession of shravaNa, manana and nididhyAsana. It is primarily an intellectual process – the mind is both the problem and the solution. You have to hear the truth, expounded in a convincing manner; ask questions to clear doubts; then repeat in whatever manner is available. Silence will not tell you anything.

I also suggest you read my article on manonAsha.

Q.407 Why not commit suicide?

Q: Since the world as perceived by our senses is mithyA, and we are Brahman, any suffering or pleasures that we derive during the ‘vishva’ or ‘taijasa’ state are mere illusions. As this realization dawns, I am forced to conclude  that living or dying (both concepts being associated with the vishva state) are meaningless.

Rather than meditating etc, and deciding to live life as it is with the knowledge that it is mithya, why shouldn’t someone just end his existence in this state? He is Brahman anyway and it doesn’t matter if he lives or dies in an illusory world borne out of his senses.
Rest assured, this is more of a rhetorical question, to understand if any of the proponents of vedanta have addressed this.

The very act of my writing to you is in itself irrelevant in the broader context.

A: This is the sort of question that Ramana or Nisargadatta would answer with the question ‘Who is asking?’

The point is that the world and its vicissitudes are real for the jIva. Hence the teachings about karma and rebirth. If the jIva ends his/her life before gaining Self-knowledge, there will be rebirth according to the accumulated karma. Also the pleasures and sufferings during waking and dreaming are not illusions; they are mithyA – a world of difference! It is only from the vantage point of absolute reality that you can say that living and dying are meaningless. The unenlightened do not commit suicide as a result of believing that their lives and the world are real. The enlightened do not kill themselves even though they know that their life as a jIva is not real. Indeed, they KNOW that their true self cannot be killed!

Q.406 Multiverse

Q: Although understanding that there is only one  true Self, can we not imagine multiple parallel consciousness-es of multiple Self’s? Are there any categorical arguments against such a thing existing? If Brahman came ‘of itself’ (anAdi, beginningless) ,  could there not equally be many anAdi Brahmans? I know that this doesn’t help in calming our brains at all, but it does challenge the non dual core concept, doesn’t it?

A (Dennis): There is only Consciousness, which is non-dual. There are not subject(s) and object(s). You can imagine whatever you like but imagination is not reality. Multiverse(s) is/are the realm of cosmologists trying to make sense of perceived things. But perceived things are mithyA. Even the perceiver is mithyA. It would not matter if there were multiple universes, they would all still be mithyA.

In kArikA-s 2.20 – 28, Gaudapada derides some 36 different, then current, theories of the nature of reality and concludes: “All these ideas are nothing but imaginations in Atman. In Consciousness, there is neither creation, nor sustenance, nor destruction – all are mAyA.”

Q.405 Persistent Vegetative State

Q: Recently, a relation suffered cardiac failure and was declared as  ‘dead’ by one of the doctors in the local hospital. 30 minutes later, a doctor at a bigger hospital used a defibrillator to restart his heart. Unfortunately, for this span of 30 minutes, his brain was not receiving oxygen and conseqently 50 % of it was damaged leaving him in a ‘Persistent Vegetative State’. He has been in this condition for the past 2 years.

Currently I am studying various Upanishads along with Advaita Vedanta philosophy and I would seek your help on the following questions:

1) According to Advaita Vedanta and Upanishads, the soul departs on the death of a person. So in my relative’s case, does that mean that the ‘Soul’ had departed and came back again or did it never depart from his body ?

2) Does Vedanta recognize a person in a ‘persistent vegetative state’ as ‘alive’ ? How would Vedanata describe this state in terms of the usual 4 states (awake, dream, dreamless sleep and turIya)?

3) Does the soul leaves the body because the heart stops functioning or does the heart cease functioning because the soul has departed from the body ?

A (Dennis): Sorry to hear about your relative’s situation. It is understandably distressing.

Advaita is a progressive teaching. I.e. the scriptures or a teacher will provide one explanation for a new seeker and a different one for an advanced student. Ultimately, as you must realize, there are ‘not two things’. Therefore, the final understanding must be that there are no persons, no world, no mind etc; there is only brahman and ‘you’ are That.

The most useful way of answering your question depends upon an understanding of the concept of chidAbhAsa, the ‘reflection’ of Consciousness in the mind. I wrote an article about this which you can read at http://www.advaita-vision.org/chidabhasa/. There is also a follow-up blog, which does not seem to be available any longer. I will post both of these at AV in March (when the copyright expires). There is also an extended discussion on the subject between myself and Peter Bonnici at http://www.advaita-vision.org/discussion-on-chidabhasa/. Continue reading

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!).

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.

Q.402 – Witness vs jIva

Q: Please correct my logic below:

  • The ‘negating’ (neti, neti) is actually done by the not-Self (intellect, jIva).
  • The things negated are not-Self (body, senses, mind/intellect, jIva itself?)
  • The witness cannot be negated because it precedes the objects of negation and the act of negation.
  • The witness itself cannot negate but it is because of it that misidentification and negation are possible.
  • The knowledge that ‘I am That which cannot be negated’ is in the intellect, which is not-Self, and therefore unreal.
  • Once that knowledge takes place, then there is no further thoughts such as ‘I am an individual, so and so, this/that’. And I know that I never was.
  • Although the knowledge is in the intellect, it is as if the Self regains knowledge of itself. This individual ‘being’ just became sentient due to my reflection in it?
  • It is ‘me’ that is reflected in all apparent individuals?

A (Dennis): That is mostly correct. Just a couple of points. The ‘witness’ also has to be negated intellectually, since the act of witnessing has to take place through the body-mind-intellect, which is not who you really are. And the Self-knowledge also takes place in the intellect – it is the jIva who gains Self-knowledge. ‘Self-knowledge’ doesn’t apply to the Self, which is never anything other than the Self. And it does not ‘know’ this in the sense that this word implies – to ‘know’ something requires seeming duality and an intellect.