The Relevance of Kant’s Transcendental Idealism to Advaita Vedanta, Part II

266px-Immanuel_Kant_(portrait)In Part I of this three-part series, I introduced Kant’s work and summarized his views on a priori and a posteriori knowledge. In this second part, we’ll review analytic versus synthetic judgments, clarify the meaning of transcendental idealism as it applies to Kant’s work in general, and also analyze tat tvam asi in terms of Kant’s philosophy.

Analytic and Synthetic Judgments

Kant’s investigation of the faculties of reason led him to explore the nature of judgments. He made clear the crucial difference between analytic and synthetic judgments. Kant’s jargon can become admittedly arcane, but analytic and synthetic are not hard to understand.

An analytic judgment is a form of identity relation, and while it explicates, it does not add anything new to our understanding of the object under investigation. A synthetic judgment does. It amplifies our knowledge and does not merely explicate. By the term, “synthetic,” Kant means a synthesis of disparate elements, and not “artificial or fabricated,” as per modern usage.

“In all judgments in which a relation between subject and predicate is thought (I speak of affirmative judgments only, the subsequent application to negative ones being easily made), this relation is possible in two ways. Either the predicate B belongs to the subject A as something which is (covertly) contained in the concept A; or B lies outside the concept A, through connected with it. In the former case I call the judgment analytic, in the latter synthetic.” CPR, p. 43, (B11)

An example Kant uses here is the judgment that all bodies are extended. The concept of spatial extension is already there inherent in the concept body, and there is no need to look beyond what is already known a priori. So this judgment is analytic. It explicates but does not amplify our knowledge. But if we say that all bodies are heavy, Kant’s point is that “the predicate is something quite different from what I think in the mere concept of a body in general.” This makes the judgment synthetic rather than analytic. Kant notes that all empirical judgments are synthetic.

Bringing in our discussion above on a priori versus a posteriori knowledge, we can say that the judgment “all bodies are heavy” is a synthetic a posteriori proposition. It requires empirical experience of different bodies to understand heaviness, so we are adding the new predicate to the existing concept of a spatially extended body (which we already knew a priori). The inclusion of a predicate not contained in the concept being evaluated makes the judgment synthetic rather than analytic. We can generally say that analytic judgments are made on the basis of a priori knowledge, while synthetic judgments are made on the basis of a posteriori combined with a priori knowledge.

Or can we? We are now in a position to ask the key question surfaced by Kant, the problem that turned philosophy on its head.

“Now the real problem of pure reason is contained in the question: How are synthetic judgments a priori possible?” (CPR, p. 49, B20)

Kant is referring here to judgments that are not based on a synthesis of a priori knowledge with empirical experience, but rather judgments that have no a posteriori component at all, yet still amplify our knowledge. An example used by Kant is, “Everything that happens has its cause.” The new predicate in this judgment – having a cause – is not already contained within the concept of an event or happening. So the judgment is therefore synthetic and not analytic, ampliative rather than explicative. Yet very importantly, this judgment is a priori, based as it is on “necessity and strict universality” — the key elements of a priori judgments. In other words, this is not a generalization from previous experience through inductive reasoning. According to Kant, we know beforehand that every event must have a cause. We apply this a priori knowledge to what we see experientially.

Another illustration of synthetic a priori judgments is mathematical: 7 + 5 = 12. At first glance, we might think this is an analytic proposition, an identity relation. Yet Kant’s view is more subtle than this. The concept “twelve” is not contained within the concept of union between 7 and 5. We require intuition in order to understand the truth of this proposition. We also have to agree that 7 + 5 = 12 is a necessary proposition to which there can be no empirical exceptions. So the judgment 7 + 5 = 12 is an arithmetical proposition that is both a priori and synthetic. In Kant’s view, mathematical propositions are all synthetic a priori. We arrive at these special judgments without relying on the senses or empirical experience.

Tat Tvam Asi

Now that we have a clearer understanding of the difference between analytic and synthetic judgments, and have also examined Kant’s idea of synthetic judgments that are a priori in nature, how can we apply this understanding to Advaita? I would assert that the mahAvAkya proposition given in the Chandogya Upanishadtat tvam asi (That thou art) – satisfies Kant’s conditions for a synthetic a priori judgment. This proposition is certainly synthetic in nature, for it does amplify rather than merely explicate. The new predicate – That – is compared to the original thou – to point toward the new understanding that there is no difference between thou and That, Atman and Brahman. Yet this is not an empirical judgment either, since it not based on anything we could possibly observe through the senses. The knowledge in question is necessary and universal, exclusively a priori rather than a posteriori or a mix of the two. So we have in one of the earliest of the Upanishads a straightforward statement of a synthetic a priori proposition.

Supplied with the above analysis, we can see how Kant’s critique may have relevance to the long-standing “experience versus knowledge” argument, which runs through Advaita discussions like the Great Rift Valley. I refer to the view that mokSha can only be validated if the jIva has achieved certain experiences, such as nirvikalpa samAdhi, or the complete cessation of mind, and that in the absence of such confirming experiences, their Self-Knowledge is merely intellectual or theoretical and therefore falls short of true Liberation. Yet if we apply Kant’s approach, we can immediately see a potential defect in this line of argument.

All experiences, whether mundane or spiritual, including samAdhi, are by definition empirical and therefore a posteriori. They are empirical because they begin and end in time. We can certainly form all kinds of synthetic judgments based on such experiences, but these are not synthetic a priori judgments because they do involve an empirical component. What we are looking for, according to Kant’s terminology, is a pure a priori judgment that is also synthetic. In Advaita, we find this in tat tvam asi, knowledge that is both a priori and synthetic, not merely analytic. We may find confirmation of this proposition through empirical experiences, but the Knowledge itself is prior to any input from our sensory apparatus.

Transcendent vs. Transcendental

As if it were not difficult enough at times to parse Kant’s meaning, we must pay clear attention when reading him in English translation that the words transcendent and transcendental carry completely different meanings, nearly opposite to one another. Kant defines the term transcendental to refer to knowledge not of objects per se, but rather to our mode of cognition of objects, to the extent this is possible a priori.

So it is important to note that Kant does not mean by this word transcendental something that passes beyond (i.e., transcends) experience, but rather something that precedes experience, and is intended to make it possible for us to actually cognize experience at all. By contrast, Kant is dismissive of the view that we can have any knowledge which transcends experience, that is, knowledge which is transcendent. We touched above on Kant’s position that it is impossible for us to know objects directly. According to him, we cannot ever know the thing-in-itself. If we could know objects in themselves, as many other philosophers before Kant have argued, then we would call this knowledge transcendent. Kant goes on to offer various proofs that transcendent knowledge is impossible.

Overall, we can refer to Kant’s work as transcendental idealism:

By transcendental idealism I mean the doctrine that all appearances are regarded as mere representations, not as things in themselves, and that space and time, therefore, are only sensible forms of our intuition, not determinations given independently by themselves, or conditions of objects taken as things in themselves. Opposed to this transcendental idealism is a transcendental realism, which considers space and time as something given in itself (independent of our sensibility). CPR, p. 342, A 369

In considering the relevance of Kant’s transcendental idealism to Advaita Vedanta, we can begin by noting that the opposing view of transcendental realism implies that empirical experiences are satya rather than mithyA. In contrast, Kant says that “appearances are regarded as mere representations,” which seems quite consistent with describing appearances as mithyA. And to say that space and time are “only sensible forms of our intuition” is also consistent with describing space and time as mithyA. Kant’s position, therefore, translated to Advaita terms, is that space and time are only valid in the context of transactional (vyAvahArika) reality, and therefore not truly Real (pAramArthika).

In Part III to follow, we’ll have a closer look at Kant’s views on space and time, and investigate whether there is any substantive difference between the Advaita concept of Atman (Self) and Kant’s transcendental synthetic unity of apperception.

44 thoughts on “The Relevance of Kant’s Transcendental Idealism to Advaita Vedanta, Part II

  1. Wow! I must say I am impressed. I struggle with Kant, every time I encounter his ideas; I must have read about synthetic/analytic and a priori/a posteriori etc quite a few times. Each time, I think I follow it and read on, but I doubt that I could explain it later. Not only have you clearly understood it but you then go on to apply to something as fundamental as a mahAvAKya. And I followed it! A real achievment to my mind.Thank you!

    I hope all visitors (and other bloggers) are reading this.

  2. Thanks, Dennis! Glad you enjoyed the piece and found it easy to follow. That was the intention, to present a few of Kant’s key ideas in terms that would be more easily absorbed by people who have studied Advaita.

    Best Regards,

  3. Charles: ‘… the long-standing “experience versus knowledge” argument, which runs through Advaita discussions … the view that mokSha can only be validated if the jIva has achieved certain experiences, such as nirvikalpa samAdhi, or the complete cessation of mind… ‘

    Charles, I commend you for an extremely clear exposition of Kant’s synthetic a priori and its parallel occurrence in advaita Vedanta (as well as for everything else you cover in this second part). I never thought of that coincidence or parallelism. Here-under I copy and paste part of a dialogue I am engaged with in Quora, and which is still going on (isn’t this a coincidence?):

    (Interlocutor – in Quora): ‘When triputi or three changing states get annihilated, there is nothing to witness. Still absolute consciousness remains as it is in its pristine state… So we have in one of the earliest of the Upanishads a straightforward statement of a synthetic a priori proposition. You read the life history of Sri Ramakrishna and Ramana. They have done deep medication months after month. They are not book learners. And there is another section of Hindu Gurus, they say – Samadhi is not required. – This means they are not capable of Samadhi. The person who has NOT got Samadhi, how can he say that Samadhi is wrong and not required or temporary?’

    It is like somebody has heard about milk, somebody has seen the milk from a distance, and somebody has drunk it and got benefited by it. Nirvikalpa samadhi is the last one.

    (Me): I cannot see how realization of one’s true nature depends on a transitory experience. Can that realization – which is the realization of ‘no-mind’ or beyond-mind – not ensue by understanding (direct intuition, anubhava) that we are primarily, or exclusively, consciousness? Pure consciousness, being our true nature, cannot depend on anything else; only thing is the removal of misidentification, that is, of native ignorance, by right teaching and final understanding. The mind needs to be transcended (as mind) by the realization that it (mind) is mithya. Also that there is ‘no other’, the only reality being brahman.

    For that realization nididhyasana , sustained contemplation (otherwise called dhyana yoga), can be (or should be) the final aid, rather than nirvikalpa samadhi. ‘When the realization of Atman is achieved [through nididhyasana] the mind is transformed into no-mind or Atman’ (GK* 3-31, 32) (*Gaudapada karika).

    (My interlocutor replied… but I end here)

    • Thanks for your comment, Martin. That was indeed a timely exchange on Quora, directly pertaining to one of the points I was trying to make in the Kant article. If space and time are only “sensible forms of intuition,” as Kant posits, then space and time are mithyA, not satya. And therefore no event that “takes place” in time, however wonderful or bliss-inducing, can bring us to That which can never be sublated. Again, we can obtain confirmation of the Knowledge via such empirical experiences (and I would assert that samAdhi is an empirical experience), but that does not mean such experiences are either necessary or sufficient for mokSha.

      Best Regards,

  4. Charles, just posted this in Quora – my last exchange (so far) with my interlocutor. Not wanting to tire yo, but thought it may be of interest to you, and anyone else.

    M B. Nididhyasana will take towards Samadhi through Neti Neti – not this not this. Negation is not just intellectual. It finally ends with deep meditation – look inside. Otherwise there is no other proof of consciousness exists ‘beyond’. Gaudapada Karika says world is dream. But how to know the consciousness beyond this dream? Should we just believe in Upanishads as Pramana or we will realize it through Neti Neti. You can also read – Muktipada Behera’s answer to Advaita Vedanta: Are there any approachable Gurus today, who have experienced the state of Samaadhi?

    A. M. http://www.advaita-vision.org/ka
    Neti neti wil take one to the realization of the truth, not necessarily through Samaadhi, according to my understanding of Shankara and Gaudapada. And, in as much as the Sastra removes all misconceptions about the object of knowledge, it does function as a Pramana. Brahman, however, cannot be objectified, being the (“self-effulgent”) inmost Self of all, but all distinctions conceived by ignorance (triputi), are removed by it (SBh. 1, 1—4). Further, knowledge of Atman is ’quite within one’s immediate intuition, in as much as the shruti says, Brahman is that which is immediate and not indirect’ (SBh. 3, 3-32).

    • Martin, thanks for posting the exchange. Fascinating to see the experience vs. knowledge debate playing out in your Quora discussion. Beats me how “deep meditation” is supposed to prove consciousness exists “beyond.” Beyond what?

  5. ” In Advaita, we find this in tat tvam asi, knowledge that is both a priori and synthetic, not merely analytic. We may find confirmation of this proposition through empirical experiences, but the Knowledge itself is prior to any input from our sensory apparatus.”

    Charles, I am not well read in Kant, but I see a couple of logical flaws in your argument:

    (1) As you have noted, the truth of an priori proposition must be verifiable independently of experience. But how tat tvam asi qualify as such? Your “knowledge” camp of Dayananda & Co have continually asserted that this knowledge can only be gained from sruti imparted by an adept teacher, and that it cannot be arrived at by yourself alone. Without that teaching there would be no such knowledge; and with it, the intellectual ‘knowledge’ of tat tvam asi can only be a strong belief / conviction in a statement of sruti (since in a priori terms you discount experience), in contrast to the truth of the arithmetic knowledge of 7+5=12

    (2) Kant’s arguments were focused on explaining how we perceive and relate to the external world. They did not seek to address God (which he said was unknowable) or the Self that perceives the external world.

    • Venkat,

      Thanks for reading the article and taking time to comment.

      My contention was that this mahAvAkya has a parallel in its construction with synthetic a priori judgments as per Kant. If tat tvam asi is not a synthetic a priori judgment, then how would you classify it? What type of judgment is it?

      When you say that Swami Dayananda’s position is that “this knowledge can only be gained from sruti imparted by an adept teacher,” I have to say that my impression of his teaching is different from yours. Yes, he is a traditionalist on the subject of a teacher being required. But from my reading of the Swami, he is saying that a teacher is needed to assist in the removal of ignorance that prevents realization of Knowledge that is already there. It is already our nature to be That, but that understanding is covered over by avidyA. It is not about imparting knowledge, in other words, that the Swami speaks, but rather about removing ignorance. So when you say that “without that teaching there would be no such knowledge,” I’ll have to respectfully disagree with you on that.

      On your second item: I agree with you that Kant’s focus was explaining how we perceive and relate to the external world. However, there is a good deal of argumentation on God in the Critique of Pure Reason, on a far more sophisticated level than I could do justice to in a short response like this. And while Kant certainly doesn’t speak in terms of “the Self,” in a precise mapping to Advaita teaching, he talks consistently in terms of the unity of consciousness, and his entire system is built on self-consciousness as its primary ground. Stay tuned for Part III. 🙂

      Best Regards,

  6. Hi Charles,

    A quick google:

    “Pujya Swamiji (Swami Dayananda Saraswati) emphasises again and again that for liberation one should have a clear recognition of the self being Brahman (purna, whole). This recognition constitutes self-knowledge and for self-knowledge you require a means of knowledge – a pramana. And Vedanta is the pramana for self-knowledge.

    This is very important to understand because in the spiritual world there is a lot of confusion about what is liberation and what is the means for liberation.

    The Catch 22 is that we don’t know that the self is tripta – totally fulfilled. Meaning there is ignorance of the self being whole, complete. The self is taken to be a samsaari – and this is not true.

    Pujya Swamiji points out that you can use reasoning to negate what is not true. The self is not the body-mind-sense complex – because the body-mind-sense complex is an object of knowledge for the self – whereas the self is the self-evident, ever-present consciousness. This much one might arrive at by logic.

    But that the self is jagat kaaranam brahman whose svarupaa – is limitless consciousness that is indestructible, changless and ever-present (satyam, jnanam, anantam) – this part only the means of knowledge – the pramana has to tell.

    The self is self-evident. ‘I am’. I know that I exist. I do not require a means of knowledge to prove my existence. My existence is self-established. That I am a conscious being is also self—established.

    But there is a confusion that this conscious being is subject to the limitations of time, space and object. That confusion is resolved by the words of Vedanta. These words have the capacity to reveal, by first negating the error of what one takes oneself to be and then revealing the truth.”

    Cheers
    Venkat

  7. The explanation of the derivation of the word ‘guru’ is ‘the one who removes darkness (i.e. ignorance)’. Here is how Swami Paramarthananda explains it in his Dakshinamurthy talks:

    “What is the meaning of the word guru? Several meanings are given. One meaning is the grammatical meaning; it is derived from the root griṇati; to teach; to communicate systematically. The one who imparts knowledge is called guru and then in Guru gita, they give a series of meanings, based on the two letters, gu and ru.

    Several meanings are given in Guru gita, and out of them one popular meaning is:

    ukārasya andakār vai, rukārasya tan nivartakaḥ;
    andakāra nivarthitvāt; gururityabhidhiyate

    So the letter Gu represents darkness or ignorance, internal darkness is ignorance and the letter Ru refers to the eliminator, the remover; tan nivarthakaḥa means anthakāra nivarthakaḥa and what is the eliminator of darkness? Light is the eliminator of darkness. The inner darkness is ignorance and the inner light is knowledge; and therefore one who gives or one who lights up the light of knowledge to dispel the darkness of ignorance; as Krishna said in the Bhagavad Gita,

    teṣām vānukampārtham ahamajñānajaṃ tamaḥ |
    nāśayāmyātmabhāvasthō jñānadīp na bhāsvatā || 10.11 ||

    Exactly that meaning, we have to bring. Guru lights the lamp of knowledge in the mind of the student; thus dispelling the darkness of ignorance; And therefore he is called the light, the eliminator of darkness.

  8. Yep, so the guru’s teaching itself is an a posteriori propostion – since the darkness of ignorance cannot be removed without this experience. After all, we all know that a guru can’t teach in silence? 😉

    • Venkat,

      Yes, of course the guru’s teaching is an empirical experience, therefore a posteriori in Kant’s terminology. The shruti themselves are all a posteriori, if we are talking about the words on paper which exist empirically and can be discussed with a guru or other fellow students. But this does not convert tat tvam asi to synthetic a posteriori, nor does it convert it to analytic. Again, I’m not saying that Kant is promoting Vedanta here, only that tat tvam asi can be classified as synthetic a priori per Kant’s nomenclature. Whether or not a teacher is required to realize one’s true nature is a separate issue, and not even relevant to the point I was trying to make. I was merely noting parallels between Kant’s philosophy and the teachings of Advaita. In this case, I was pointing out the synthetic a priori structure of tat tvam asi. I don’t see how we can say it is analytic, since it does amplify rather than merely explicate. Nor do I see how we can say it is a posteriori. If all empirical experiences are based on space and time, and (per Kant) it is “we” who bring space and time to our cognitions, then a posteriori propositions must by definition always fall short of providing knowledge of the Subject. By process of elimination, we are left with synthetic a priori.

      Cheers,

  9. As Charles points out, the Self-knowledge is already there, waiting to ‘shine forth’, as it were, once the ignorance is removed by the teaching of the scriptures/guru. Shankara uses the metaphor of a cup hidden inside a pot. (Brahma Sutra bhAShya 1.1.2). If the pot is broken in the dark, we need both our eyes and a torch to see the cup. But if there is already a lighted torch inside the pot, then when it is broken in the dark we immediately see the cup.

    • You are not addressing my definitional point about a priori knowledge and ‘tat tvam asi’ as an example thereof. First you need an external agent to remove the ignorance. Second, Dayananda says that you need pramana to both remove ignorance AND impart the truth of what you are.

      And without this scriptural enquiry and unfolding by a guru, (and actually even with it), how do you verifiably know that you are Brahman, the limitless, indestructible consciousness? What proof can you provide?

  10. Charles,

    tat tvam asi is, according to traditional teaching, knowledge that can only be gained through pramana: sruti and a qualified teacher. Therefore it is not knowledge that is verifiable independently of experience, which is the definition of a priori – you need sruti and a teacher. By contrast, Kant says that time and space are a priori concepts because they are implicit in how we see the world. tat tvam asi is not implicit or intuitive in how we see the world, hence we need a means to knowledge, “to first negate the error of what one takes oneself to be and then reveal the truth [of what one is]”.

    And I don’t see how the truth of what one is – “limitless consciousness that is indestructible, changless and ever-present” – is verifiable independently of experience. How do you know you consciousness is indestructible, limitless, ever-present? Without experience, it is a belief – however firm that may be – that cannot be verified. All that can be independently ‘verified’ is that you exist and that you are conscious.

    So either Kant’s conceptual framework is irrelevant for this jnana, or Dayananda is wrong?

    • LOL, I’ll ask you a third time: If tat tvam asi is not synthetic a priori, then (using Kant’s terminology) what type of proposition do you say it is?

      Also, a priori knowledge as explained by Kant does not “require verification independent of experience.” Rather, a priori knowledge is what we bring TO experience. Further, one of Kant’s major points is that the mere fact we are capable of synthetic a priori knowledge suggests that PURE reason is capable of DIRECT knowledge of important truths, that is, prior to experience. Perhaps I have misread your meaning in previous discussions on the knowledge debate, but I thought your position was that pure reason (i.e., cognition) cannot touch the truth, that some sort of empirical experience is required to “verify” knowledge claims. I’m pointing out that Kant is saying otherwise. You’re welcome to disagree, of course, as have many philosophers after Kant. But if you are ok with synthetic a priori knowledge in the context of mathematical truth, then you are already acknowledging that pure reason can directly touch truth in one form.

  11. R. Balasubramanian explains (quoted in ‘Wittgensteinian Philosophy and Advaita Vedanta’ by Ravindra K. S. Choudhary): “The Real is that from which words return without reaching it (yatovAcho nirvartante aprApya). It cannot be spoken of even as sat. The Real which is inexpressible shows itself, as Wittgenstein puts it when he explains the limit of language. In the language of Shankara, the Real that is self-luminous (svayam-praAshvAn) shows itself when the false ideas of distinction about it caused by avidyA are removed through the help of language, through the words of scripture’.

    I.e. Self-knowledge (‘the Real’) is there already – synthetic a priori – and is not in any sense ’caused’ or ‘brought about by’ the teaching. It is the wrong ideas that are the things affected.

  12. (1) Charles, you can ask a third time, and my response, as I have already implied, is that Kant’s conceptual structure may not be relevant to jnana. So I don’t need to fit it into some conceptual framework that you have put forward, if that framework itself is not relevant. The onus is on you to rebut the critique of your hypothesis. Given Dennis’ last quote, that “The Real is that from which words return without reaching it”, that in itself implies that the Real cannot be fitted into any conceptual structures.

    (2) The definition of a priori knowledge, is that which is knowable independent of experience, per Encyclopaedia Britannica. So somewhat pedantic to critique my use of the word verification as opposed to knowable. But it does not answer my question, how do you KNOW that the consciousness that exists is limitless, indestructible, Brahman? Isn’t that just a belief in sruti?

    (3) “PURE reason is capable of DIRECT knowledge of important truths”. But this is not Dayananda’s position: you cannot use PURE reason – you need sruti and a guru; reason alone cannot get you there. Also see (4) below.

    (4) Both you and Dennis keep asserting that self-knowledge is just the removal of ignorance. Neither of you have addressed the veracity of my googled quote which makes clear that Dayananda teaches that what is required is “first negating the error of what one takes oneself to be AND THEN revealing the truth”, which requires the pramana of words from Vedanta. The quote is from Swamini Tattvavidyananda, who is a graduate of the three year course, and presumably an authorised teacher. IF she has misunderstood or miscommunicated Dayananda’s teaching, please let us know.

    (5) Dayananda himself writes in his commentary on Vivekachudamani (p.146): “A means of knowledge is that which gives rise to knowledge THAT IS NOT ALREADY KNOWN and that cannot be negated” and “That the atman is Brahman is apurvata, a fact that is not known to us by any other means of knowledge, and there is no other way of knowing it . . . What is to be known is not available for other means of knowledge, and what is said by sastra is not subject to negation or contradiction by other means of knowledge”.
    Also: “A pure mind can gain the knowledge of paramatma. But it is important to know that the knowledge of paramatma does not take place automatically just because the mind is visuddha. Atma DOES NOT REVEAL ITSELF. The knowledge takes place BY THE OPERATION OF sastra-pramana.”
    So Dennis, it would be wholly inconsistent with Dayananda to say “Self-knowledge is not in any sense ’caused’ or ‘brought about by’ the teaching.”

    (6) Actually, as an aside, only Ramana gets towards pure reason being capable of direct knowledge, through his self-enquiry “who am I?”. In his sense alone, can you talk about synthetic a priori knowledge

    (7) Charles you have misunderstood my position re: experience vs knowledge debate. It is not a matter of experience. I would point you in the direction of my quote elsewhere of the Sankaracharya of Kanchi (and Ramana says the same):
    “The mind has to be vanquished totally. That is when Realisation takes place — Realisation of the Atman. In other words the being as a JIva goes and the being as Brahman sprouts. This process of stopping the mind at one single thought and then vanquishing even that thought in order to dispose off the mind along with its roots is a Himalayan achievement.”
    He was a renowned Sankaracharya, and given he is in the direct, traditional teaching lineage of Sankara, presumably can be taken to be authoritative?

    • Venkat,

      Just a heads up that I won’t have time this evening to respond in detail, sorry, but will try to reply to your points over the weekend. Meanwhile, I wonder how you find this much time for posting long comments, and when do you sleep? 🙂

      heers,

    • Venkat,

      I think we need to back up the bus about a mile or two here. In your zeal to criticize Swami Dayananda’s teachings, you seem to have reached far and wide to combine a number of arguments that had little or nothing to do with what I was saying about Kant in the original article. Here are some of the individual questions or arguments you have conflated together:

      * Is Kant’s philosophical framework relevant to Advaita?
      * Is Tat Tvam Asi a synthetic a priori proposition or some other kind?
      * Can the Real be fitted into any conceptual structure?
      * How can one prove or verify a priori propositions?
      * Does synthetic a priori knowledge confer liberation?
      * Can pure reason touch reality directly?
      * Is a guru required for mokshA?
      * Does the teaching of Swami Dayananda on liberation entail both removal of ignorance (negative) AND imparting of knowledge (positive)?
      * Does Ramana Maharshi’s “Who Am I” teaching provide a better example of the application of pure reason?
      * Is it necessary to “vanquish” or “dispose of” the mind in order to achieve Liberation?

      Most of these points range far and wide beyond my simple assertion that (A) tat tvam asi is a type of judgment, and within Kant’s system is best considered as a synthetic a priori proposition; and (B) Kant’s approach might have some utility for those pondering the knowledge-experience debate and Advaita in general. That is about all I was trying to accomplish in Part II of my Kant series, but it seems you’re trying to make my remarks do a lot more heavy lifting than that. I will elaborate further in reply to some of your specific points below.

      (1) Charles, you can ask a third time, and my response, as I have already implied, is that Kant’s conceptual structure may not be relevant to jnana. So I don’t need to fit it into some conceptual framework that you have put forward, if that framework itself is not relevant. …

      Of course you are free to reject the Kantian framework itself. You certainly won’t be the first! But that would be missing the point of my comparison. Let’s conduct a simple gedanken. After writing the CPR, Kant discovers the Upanishads and reads them enthusiastically. He comes across tat tvam asi nine times in the Chandogya Upanishad, and asks himself what type of judgment is this? Given that he would be thinking in terms of his own system, I wager he would come up with synthetic a priori. My hypothesis was that tat tvam asi constitutes a type of judgment or proposition, and that within the context of Kant’s system, it could only be synthetic a priori. Tat tvam asi represents knowledge, and in Kant’s system all knowledge can be stated in the form of judgments/propositions. So per Kant, it has to be in some form or other, and I’m saying that the form is synthetic a priori. You can reject the framework as irrelevant if you wish to, but I consider that ducking the question and no fun at all. 🙂

      … The onus is on you to rebut the critique of your hypothesis. Given Dennis’ last quote, that “The Real is that from which words return without reaching it”, that in itself implies that the Real cannot be fitted into any conceptual structures.

      Agreed. The Real cannot be fitted into any conceptual structures. But this has nothing to do with what type of judgment is tat tvam asi! I wasn’t implying that knowing or agreeing that it was a synthetic a priori judgment would suddenly confer mokshA, anymore than I was saying that reciting tat tvam asi over and over again would yield Liberation!

      (2) The definition of a priori knowledge, is that which is knowable independent of experience, per Encyclopaedia Britannica. So somewhat pedantic to critique my use of the word verification as opposed to knowable. But it does not answer my question, how do you KNOW that the consciousness that exists is limitless, indestructible, Brahman? Isn’t that just a belief in sruti?

      (As an aside, I had to laugh at your remark that I was being “pedantic.” My wife thinks my Kant series is totally pedantic from start to finish, dry as dust. I told her she should try reading Kant himself then! :-))

      When I claim that tat tvam asi is a synthetic a priori judgment per Kant’s system, you don’t seem to be objecting to the synthetic aspect but rather the a priori aspect. But I do not understand why you would think that “knowable” and “verifiable” are synonymous, or why it would be “pedantic” to point out the difference. You seem to be defining a priori knowledge as something that has to be PROVED in order to be valid, and this is a misreading of Kant. Something can be knowable a priori but not necessarily verifiable, and proof or verification cannot even take place outside the context of empiricality. We can use Kant’s first example of synthetic a priori to illustrate: “Everything that happens has its cause.” Kant’s claim is that this knowledge is synthetic because it amplifies our knowledge and also a priori because it is necessary and universal, and not based on inductive reasoning from experience. Kindly tell me please: How would one go about “verifying” this “knowable” piece of knowledge? How would one PROVE that every event has a cause without witnessing every single event in the history of the cosmos? Claiming that such proof is necessary before a priori knowledge can be held valid would be closer to Hume’s empiricism than Kant’s transcendental idealism, whereas Kant’s CPR is a direct refutation of Hume’s skepticism.

      (3) “PURE reason is capable of DIRECT knowledge of important truths”. But this is not Dayananda’s position: you cannot use PURE reason – you need sruti and a guru; reason alone cannot get you there. Also see (4) below.

      I was describing Kant’s position, not Swami Dayananda’s!

      (4) Both you and Dennis keep asserting that self-knowledge is just the removal of ignorance. Neither of you have addressed the veracity of my googled quote which makes clear that Dayananda teaches that what is required is “first negating the error of what one takes oneself to be AND THEN revealing the truth”, which requires the pramana of words from Vedanta. The quote is from Swamini Tattvavidyananda, who is a graduate of the three year course, and presumably an authorised teacher. IF she has misunderstood or miscommunicated Dayananda’s teaching, please let us know.

      I suppose it is useless to point out that nowhere in my article did I mention Swami Dayananda? I did refer to the knowledge vs. experience debate, but that is by no means exclusive to the teachings of Swami D., and so far as I know, predates him by centuries. Anyway, no, the Swamini has not misunderstood or miscommunicated Swami Dayananda’s teaching. This is the traditional position as he taught it, that a guru is required to properly unfold the teaching. Has there ever been anyone who donned the orange robe and then said otherwise, no teacher required? In Vedanta the Solution, Venugopal explains Swami’s position on the need for a guru. Confer Part 18 of the series published here on AV.

      The gist is that all words are dualistic, and the overwhelming tendency of the mind is to objectify (i.e., make into an Object) everything, when what is under discussion in Vedanta is the nondual Subject that can never be objectified. The traditional approach emphasizes the need for a qualified guru to unfold the teaching so that this objectification process does not take place as it would otherwise. The guru helps with the removal of ignorance and the proper understanding of the intended meaning of the words. This is all that is meant by “AND THEN revealing the truth” in your quote above.

      (5) Dayananda himself writes in his commentary on Vivekachudamani (p.146): “A means of knowledge is that which gives rise to knowledge THAT IS NOT ALREADY KNOWN and that cannot be negated” and “That the atman is Brahman is apurvata, a fact that is not known to us by any other means of knowledge, and there is no other way of knowing it . . . What is to be known is not available for other means of knowledge, and what is said by sastra is not subject to negation or contradiction by other means of knowledge”.

      In his commentary on the Mundaka Upanishad, Swami D. goes to great lengths to distinguish between apara vidya and para vidya. The intellectual understanding that atman is Brahman would be apara vidya. In my view, understanding tat tvam asi as a synthetic a priori judgment would also be apara vidya. No words can directly touch Reality. All Swami is saying in the above is that (per the traditional view) a teacher is required in order to clarify the intended nondual meaning of the dualistic words in which the Vedas are written.

      Also: “A pure mind can gain the knowledge of paramatma. But it is important to know that the knowledge of paramatma does not take place automatically just because the mind is visuddha. Atma DOES NOT REVEAL ITSELF. The knowledge takes place BY THE OPERATION OF sastra-pramana.”

      Right, and again, the traditional view is that the guru wields the sastra-pramana to assist the pupil in removing the ignorance that blocks atma from revealing itself. It is already there, covered over by ignorance.

      So Dennis, it would be wholly inconsistent with Dayananda to say “Self-knowledge is not in any sense ’caused’ or ‘brought about by’ the teaching.”

      I’m sure Dennis will provide his own response here, but for my part, I have to disagree. I’m still convinced that Swami D.’s position is that we already have Self-Knowledge (if Reality is nondual how could it be otherwise?) and that the assistance of the guru is needed to remove the ignorance blocking that realization, as well as to clarify the correct implied or hidden meanings in the sutras so that the student does not try to turn atman into an object again.

      (6) Actually, as an aside, only Ramana gets towards pure reason being capable of direct knowledge, through his self-enquiry “who am I?”. In his sense alone, can you talk about synthetic a priori knowledge.

      No, we can also discuss synthetic a priori in the general sense as I have done above by applying it to a mahAvAkya. Also, “Who am I?” is a question, not a proposition. The actual proposition is that the practice of self-inquiry as proposed by Ramana can yield mokshA, that one “I” thought will make another “I” thought go away. Synthetic, yes. A priori, no. It is an empirical proposition to say that sitting in a practice involving mentation will yield a result beyond mentation.

      (7) Charles you have misunderstood my position re: experience vs knowledge debate. It is not a matter of experience. I would point you in the direction of my quote elsewhere of the Sankaracharya of Kanchi (and Ramana says the same):
      “The mind has to be vanquished totally. That is when Realisation takes place — Realisation of the Atman. In other words the being as a JIva goes and the being as Brahman sprouts. This process of stopping the mind at one single thought and then vanquishing even that thought in order to dispose off the mind along with its roots is a Himalayan achievement.”
      He was a renowned Sankaracharya, and given he is in the direct, traditional teaching lineage of Sankara, presumably can be taken to be authoritative?

      Yes, certainly authoritative. That said, what does it actually mean to “vanquish” the mind, or to “dispose of the mind along with its roots”? Clearly, the Sankaracharya still possessed a mind when he wrote those words? Or do you think he was just a functioning ghost? I have pointed this out on multiple prior occasions, but do not recall that you have ever actually addressed it. You cannot TALK about disposing or vanquishing the mind WITHOUT USING THE MIND to have the discussion. So how can the Acharya claim to have disposed of his mind without having himself later used his no-longer-existent process of mentation to utter the words that define the claim? Clearly, he still possessed a mind, and so must have meant something different than the normal meaning of those words would entail. Just as with sruti, there is an implied meaning beneath the ordinary meaning/usage of the words employed.

      Anyway, I think I’m finally understanding a key aspect of our disagreement. All along, I’ve been assuming that you were taking the “experience” side of the “knowledge vs. experience” debate as it pertains to mokshA. You now clarify, “it is not a matter of experience.” So I acknowledge that I have misunderstood you, but I am now left more confused than ever as to your position. You are saying (I think) that mokshA cannot be mere knowledge (apparently because you think that all knowledge is “merely intellectual”), and also that it is not a matter of experience. So then it is neither in your view? My difficulty in understanding you may perhaps lie with a different understanding of what “empirical” means. To me, any description involving meditation, who am I self-inquiry, the experience of samadhi, the “disposal” of the mind, and so on – all these come across to me as being empirical events (i.e., a posteriori in Kant’s usage) and therefore all relative/mithyA. (Given that all empirical experiences begin and end in time, they can only be relative and never Absolute.) So I have never understood the claim that any sort of empirical experience could yield permanent Self-Knowledge. And I thought this is what we were arguing about! It now appears to me that you are arguing something different, that you have a different view and would disagree that experiences like samadhi are empirical in nature?

  13. Charles,

    Helps me to articulate and clarify my thinking, especially given challenge! This is not a subject that I generally discuss at work! And, in true Columbo style, just one other point . . .

    (8) In Kant’s a priori framework, space and time are as you say implicit knowledge that we bring to experience. Both Kant and Vedanta say space and time are relative. So how can that which is real (tat tvam asi) be known within Kant’s framework? I guess that is why Kant said that God was unknowable. But essentially his speculations on god, the existence of the world in itself, and of the soul, are speculative assertions, and fall short of the a priori and a posteriori logic of CPR.

  14. Venkat,

    You said:
    (2) The definition of a priori knowledge, is that which is knowable independent of experience, per Encyclopaedia Britannica. So somewhat pedantic to critique my use of the word verification as opposed to knowable. But it does not answer my question, how do you KNOW that the consciousness that exists is limitless, indestructible, Brahman? Isn’t that just a belief in sruti?

    This sparked a memory of UG relating some of the preliminary moments of his ‘calamity’ which I will paste here in brevity. See if this relates to what you were saying.

    THE DISAPPEARANCE OF THE QUESTIONER

    The dramatic period of his physiological transformation began on his forty-ninth birthday. He was asking himself about the nature of the references he was using to locate and experience himself.

    “I was sitting on a bench under a tree overlooking one of the most beautiful spots in the whole world; the whole of my being was that question: “How do I know that I am in that state? There is some kind of peculiar division inside of me: there is somebody who knows that he is in that state. The knowledge of that state — what I have read, what I have experienced, what they have talked about — it is this knowledge that is looking at that state, so it is only this knowledge that has projected that state.”

    I said to myself “Look here, old chap, after forty years you have not moved one step; you are there in square number one. It is the same knowledge that projected your mind there when you asked this question. You are in the same situation asking the same question, “How do I know?” because it is this knowledge, the description of the state by those people, that has created this state for you. You are kidding yourself. You are a damned fool. So, nothing. But still there was some kind of a peculiar feeling that this was the state.”

    UG was under the impression that an experience of God is something supernatural and he has come to the realization that whatever experience he finds himself in at the moment is an experience of God. (God is the mind with which I think.)

    The second question “How do I know that this is the state?” — I didn’t have any answer for that question — it was like a question in a whirlpool — it went on and on and on. Then suddenly the question disappeared. Nothing happened; the question just disappeared. I didn’t say to myself “Oh, my God! Now I have found the answer.” Even that state disappeared — the state I thought I was in, the state of Buddha, Jesus — even that has disappeared. The question has disappeared. The whole thing is finished for me, and that’s all, you see. From then on, never did I say to myself “Now I have the answer to all those questions.” That state of which I had said “This is the state” — that state disappeared. The question disappeared. Finished, you see. It is not emptiness, it is not blankness, it is not the void, it is not any of those things; the question disappeared suddenly, and that is all.”

    The disappearance of this fundamental question, on discovering that it had no answer, was a physiological phenomenon, UG says, “a sudden ‘explosion’ inside, blasting, as it were, every cell, every nerve and every gland in my body.” And with that ‘explosion’, the illusion that there is continuity of thought, that there is a center, an “I” linking up the thoughts, was not there anymore.

    Then thought cannot link up. The linking gets broken, and once it is broken it is finished. Then it is not once that thought explodes; every time a thought arises, it explodes. So, this continuity comes to an end, and thought falls into its natural rhythm. Since then I have no questions of any kind, because the questions cannot stay there any more. The only questions I have are very simple questions (“How do I go to Hyderabad?” for example) to function in this world — and people have answers for these questions. For those questions, (How do I know that I am in that state? etc) nobody has any answers — so there are no questions any more.

    Everything in the head has tightened there was no room for anything there inside of my brain. For the first time I became conscious of my head with everything ‘tight’ inside of it. So, these vasanas (past impressions) or whatever you call them — they do try to show their heads sometimes, but then the brain cells are so ‘tight’ that it has no opportunity to fool around there any more. The division cannot stay there — it’s a physical impossibility; you don’t have to do a thing about it, you see, That is why I say that when this ‘explosion’ takes place (I use the word ‘explosion’ because it’s like a nuclear explosion) it leaves behind chain- reactions. Every cell in your body, the cells in the very marrow of your bones, have to undergo this ‘change’ I don’t want to use that word it’s an irreversible change. There’s no question of your going back. there’s no question of a ‘fall’ for this man at all. Irreversible: an alchemy of some sort.

    It is like a nuclear explosion, you see — it shatters the whole body. It is not an easy thing; it is the end of the man – such a shattering thing that it blasts every cell, every nerve in your body. I went through terrible physical torture at that moment. Not that you experience the ‘explosion’; you can’t experience the ‘explosion’ — but it’s after-effects, the ‘fall-out’, is the thing that changes the whole chemistry of your body.

    You see, there is one very strange thing that happens as a result of this ‘explosion’ or whatever you want to call it: at no time does the thought that I am different from you come into this consciousness. Never. Never does that thought come into my consciousness and tell me that you are different from me or I am different from you, because there is no point here, there is no center here. Only with reference to this center do you create all the other points. ”

    So, for those who are chasing the words and concepts in their minds, here is a man who stopped, and a description of what happened to ‘him’. 🙂

  15. Anonymous,

    Directionally, I don’t think what UG is saying is different from Ramana and others. All the word are just meant as pointers, as they all continually stress, and yet we do like to build more and more elaborate conceptual structures, so that we can fool ourselves into believing we have somehow ‘mastered’ it.

    That is the problem with the Dayananda interpretation of Vedanta; because they interpret jnana as knowledge which can only be transmitted through scriptures and a guru. This then means that one can set up multiple schools and 3 year courses to broadcast this knowledge, and churn out jnanis.

    But this overlooks the total (non-volitional) ‘surrender’ that is described by the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, the Sankaracharyas, Ramana, Nisargadatta, Ch’an and even UG for that matter. But this non-volitional surrender of everything is terrifying, cannot be ‘done’ and does not really sell courses and seminars.

    They obfuscate around this total surrender (sannyasa) by confounding this surrender, this no-mind state, with an ‘experience’ of nirvikalpa samadhi, which is then (correctly) dismissed as a state that comes and goes, and therefore cannot be the real. However, what Ramana and UG (as in your quote above, though not in so many words) describe as surrender is the effective cessation of the ego / mind, so that the body-mind continues to function day-to-day, but without a centre that it is trying to self-aggrandise and protect, over and above everyone else. This is why Sankara clearly says in multiple places, that a jnani will drift like a dry leaf in the wind, living on what chance brings to him.

    Liberation is very easy to understand – it is just liberation from the ego – however complicated the words and concepts we use to describe it. It is just rather hard to ‘do’ – hence our grace conversation previously. Perhaps Ch’an was right, in just whacking you around the head as soon as you said a word.

  16. Venkat,

    “So Dennis, it would be wholly inconsistent with Dayananda to say “Self-knowledge is not in any sense ’caused’ or ‘brought about by’ the teaching.”

    What I meant here (I agree that the phrasing could have been better!) is that the teaching addresses the ignorance, not the Self-knowledge. The Self-knowledge is already there and is not something that the teaching needs to provide.

    You mentioned Swami D’s commentary on Vivekachudamani earlier. Here is how he explains the process (apologies for rather long extract but it makes things very clear:

    < << The word ‘bodha’ means knowledge or recognition, so it has to take place in the mind, not elsewhere. AtmA is always present and it is always the same, one and non-dual whether you know it or not — like even the sugar crystal is sweet whether it knows it or not. AtmA is everything and at the same time it is free from everything. Ignorance of this fact has to go. Ignorance is removed only by knowledge. The ignorance of pot is removed by the knowledge of pot alone. For the knowledge you have to employ the appropriate pramANa, means of knowledge. The pramANa here is in the form of words, and its operation is not in your hands. When you are operating the pramANa-s perception and inference, you are the knower. But the words come from the teacher. Even though you see the words, hear them, it is not perception. When the word ‘mango’ is said, you see the mango in your mind because it is an already seen object. When I say ‘eternal’, it is not a seen object and therefore it does not make any sense. ‘AtmA is eternal’ is a thing to be understood. It is not that you know the eternal AtmA and afterwards have to realise it. If what is eternal is not unfolded, then you do not understand the eternity. That is why when someone says, “Swamiji, I understand very clearly that AtmA is eternal, but how to realise it?” I have to say this: “First realise your mistake; that is the only realisation you require. You have heard the word ‘eternal’ but not understood it. You only think you have understood it, but that is not true.” Similarly, words like consciousness, infinite, divine, supreme, spiritual, when not properly unfolded do not make any sense. It is a problem, really! In the operation of shabda-pramANa, the words are handled by the teacher and those handled words are meant to make me see that I am free. The AtmA is self-evident, but that it is Brahman is not known. To know this, perception and inference are of no use. We have to bring in shabda, words, from outside. When you are listening to the words, then you are a knower for name's sake. The very knower is told, “You are Brahman.” That means the knower has to give up the status, “I am a knower.” That knower, who has identified with the body-mind-sense complex, himself is dissolved in the wake of knowledge. In all other pramANa operations the knower continues to be the subject related to the object known. This is the difference between the shabda-pramANa revealing the fact ‘I am Brahman’ and all other pramANa-s. In the operation of all the other means of knowledge like perception, inference, presumption, etc., the knower retains himself and enjoys the pramANa-phala, the result of operating the pramANa. Here the knower sits relaxed, exposed to the teaching which resolves the knower as Brahman. Therefore, this pramANa is a different thing altogether. It has to be handled. That is why shraddha becomes important here. You must have the buddhi ‘I am letting the pramANa operate upon me.’ Just as you allow a surgeon to operate upon you because you have shraddha in him, so too you require shraddha to allow this pramANa to operate upon you. AtmA is already self-evident and it is alupta-dRRik, a seer that never ceases. It never even winks. It is always a witness. But it is a witness only with reference to whatever is seen. By itself it is in the form of consciousness. This self-evident AtmA is Brahman. That is the teaching. Because of this teaching a vRRitti takes place in the mind which destroys the ignorance and itself goes away. That vRRitti, ‘All that is here is myself’, is called Atmaikya-bodha or aparoksha-jnana. Sometimes the word anubhuti or anubhava also is used for the knowledge, but these words also indicate the immediate recognition of the Self as the result of the teaching. That aparoksha-anubhuti or aparokSha-j~nAna is said here as Atmaikya-bodha. Without this knowledge you do not gain the freedom. But why do you insist that Atmaikya-bodha alone will give moksha? People are many and their tastes are different; therefore many paths must be available for gaining moksha. For someone worship is good enough; for others Asana, prANAyAma; for some people, something else. There are so many methods, why should we not just follow any one of them? True, you have choices. Among these methods, many choices are available. These various means are things to be done; so you have a choice there. But for moksha there is no choice because the problem is that of ignorance, and nothing else resolves ignorance except knowledge. ‘Vivekacudamani – Talks on 108 selected verses’ pp23-25, Swami Dayananda
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  17. Charles, Dennis

    Thanks for taking the time to respond. I should have known better that to argue against a Kant scholar!

    On a priori knowledge, like time and space, it is part of the illusion by which we inter-relate with the world, is I think Kant’s proposition. The gist of my argument is whether knowledge of the ultimate truth (or the removal of ignorance) can ever fit into such a framework.

    A priori knowledge is knowledge independent of experience. As you say, time, space and cause-effect we apply, a priori, to experience, to understand / perceive experience. So what does it mean for the knowledge tat tvam asi to be a priori? You say knowledge does not have to be verifiable, but then how do you know it is truly knowledge rather than a belief / assumption (like space and time )? Tvam being existence – consciousness is, I would agree, knowable independent of experience. Equating tvam to Tat, Brahman, the infinite however is not knowable independent of experience; it is surely just a belief, an assertion, which may be true or false. So surely it cannot be called knowledge unless it is true, or at least universally accepted as true (as in space and time).

    The reason that I suggested Ramana’s approach is ‘a priori’, and I appreciate I am mixing up the sense in which it is used by Kant, is that Ramana says, through self-enquiry, you turn away from the world that is perceived, and abide in the (a priori) consciousness that perceives. [When I say a priori here, it is in the sense that without the perceiver there cannot be a perceived, just as without space and time there cannot be a perceived]. In so doing Ramana suggests that the a priori centre (the ‘I’), which was the core assumption, dissolves as does the way the world is seen. At which point, it is no longer possible to talk about experience and the experiencer. Hence ‘words fall back’.

    By contrast in the Dayananda view you gain this knowledge which removes ignorance. But as I said above, at least part of this knowledge that you gain (infinite, indestructible Brahman) is an assertion, a belief, it can’t be known whether the belief is true of false.

    Finally, who is it whose ignorance is removed by knowledge? The one that is ignorant is the mind – i.e. it has ignorant thoughts that it is separate from the world that it perceives. The removal of ignorance by knowledge, could be interpreted to mean that these “separation” thoughts (which probably make up >90% of our thinking) cease. But the total cessation of these thoughts is what I think Bhagavan and the Sankaracharya are talking of re:vanquishing the mind through self-abidance; and indeed UG, per Anonymous’ quote. But this is a fundamental shift – more fundamental even than the removal of the a priori knowledge (illusion) of space and time. Hence why Ramana refers to his ‘death’ experience and UG to the ‘calamity’; and thereafter there life is fundamentally overhauled.

    Alternatively the removal of ignorance by knowledge could mean that there is a new thought which counters the intuitive in-built assumption that I am a separate ego. This, one can appreciate, can be done through reading sruti and being taught these concepts. And this is what I understand you both (and Dayananda) assert.

    Interesting.

    Cheers
    Venkat

    • Venkat,

      Many thanks for your response. I must say I’ve really enjoyed this discussion, and I appreciate you taking the time for it. As you probably guessed, there are a few points in your latest I want to comment on, but I’ll try to be concise.

      I think you have a good understanding of Kant’s basic proposition, but I wasn’t proposing that knowledge of the ultimate truth can ever fit into Kant’s framework. It can never be captured by ANY framework, including that of Vedanta. I was suggesting some parallels between Kant and Advaita, but terms like synthetic/analytic and a priori/a posteriori are all just conceptual pointers, just as terms like atman and Brahman are conceptual pointers.

      What it means to say that tat tvam asi is a priori is that it is knowledge we already are in possession of because it is our very self-nature. To call it synthetic a priori means that it is not merely a tautological proposition, and that we do learn something new when we come to understand it. But it remains a priori because no empirical knowledge is available to help decide the truth value of the judgment.

      Let’s briefly revisit this word “knowable,” since we have to be careful about its application. The That in tat tvam asi is not knowable because it cannot be known as an Object. It is what I call a “placeholder term,” a proxy stand-in for the nondual Subject in which all Objects arise to be known. We cannot discuss it directly, only point to it using words (Objects). So when you say the infinite is not knowable independent of experience, I have to reply that it is not knowable at all. It is what is doing the know-ing! The eye cannot see itself, etc.

      You wrote: “By contrast in the Dayananda view you gain this knowledge which removes ignorance.”

      It is not that knowledge is gained that removes ignorance. Rather, ignorance is removed through the deconstruction of the error, and the ever present Self-Knowledge shines forth. There are not necessarily attendant neural fireworks, death experiences, or calamities upon its realization however. To some, it may be simply a gentle thing, a quiet constant knowing that only Consciousness is Real and all else gossamer. It may or may not be accompanied by major spiritual epiphanies or anti-epiphanies. It may or may not yield a result that looks to “outside observers” like a fundamental shift. It may or may not result in an “explosion” that literally affects the cells of one’s body. (Call me a skeptic on that one!)

      I should think the particulars of the manifestation would depend on the extent to which the seeker had met the qualifications laid out by Shankara, and of course on karma, not to mention Maya. But at the root of any such experience is the witness thereof, the silent unchanging screen upon which this movie plays. Liberation is the unshakeable knowledge you are That. The movie goes on same as before, but with the full realization that it is all just a projection on the screen, that none of it is Real. Yet the great relief which comes with that understanding, and/or any of these markers like samadhi, a fundamental shift, a blowing out of the mind, and so on – these phenomena are all themselves only a part of the movie character’s life story, so not Real either. None of that touches the screen at all.

      Anyway, thanks again for the discussion. I’ll post Part III soon, and then you can have a go at me all over again. 🙂

      Best Regards,

  18. By engaging all these questions and trying to arrange all these thoughts in a sequence that ‘pleases’ you, you never get to the questioner. The questioner is the only disturbance there is and it is a very private matter where one comes face to face with what the questioner is. Even without the ‘explosion’ that UG talks about, which is a transcendental event, you can experience the evidence in the body of not engaging in conceptual thinking. When you fall out of this repetitive cycle of question/answer/seeking, the natural rhythm of the body gives a certain clarity and grace to your life. The brain is not wasting energy looking for answers to all these thoughts and begins to operate in an extremely intuitive way. This is a psycho-physical process, not an intellectual one. When the control of thought loosens, things happen. Thought is rigid and that rigidity is reflected in the way philosophy and religious belief systems work. As UG vividly points out, ‘all that has to go’.

    • Anonymous,

      Thanks for your comment. Of course we get to the questioner. Getting to the questioner is the core of the inquiry. Have we not covered this ground with you before? We know that saying “I am Atman” does not touch the Subject, or questioner as you put it. We already know that all these concepts must be pitched over. Why do you continue to overlook the process of sublation that is central to Advaita teaching, when it has been called to your attention previously?

      As to all this talk of what happens in the body after an “explosion” like UG supposedly experienced, I think you are here again not so familiar with Advaita. We see the body as a relative piece of inert matter, a sheath/kosa made literally of food consumed, mithyA through and through, and therefore of no particular concern. Who cares what happens to this unreal meat-tube? Concern along these lines shows residual attachment to the body, a clinging to the hope that it’s real. At best, it’s just a convincing hologram. Calamities, explosions, loss of Ego sense, weird feelings in the body – all these are just mithyA, relative, part of the apparent story of the apparent person. It’s just another of Maya’s tricks to get people to think there is a consciousness IN the body, the alteration of which can change the body, when behind the curtain it’s really the body that arises in Consciousness as an apparent projection.

      Cheers,

      • Being a wordsmith is not what it’s all about. Clear and simple, you are only arranging the words you have learned through your studies of a particular philosophy, which is in the world of ideas and not the way you actually function. You keep telling yourself things are this way or that way. You continually live in the world of ideas and want others to join you there. That world is a relic, not reality or the way things are. It is of the past and of the collective consciousness which is of no use in these matters. Until this activity is recognized for what it is and you are disarmed from all ideation, there is nothing to discuss except your ideas and your ideas are not even YOUR ideas!

        When someone leaves the world of ideas, they leave behind all sense of becoming and speculation. I don’t see this from what you write. I only see someone who has tried to formulate what is living into the world of ideas and structure. Of course I can’t agree with you. You haven’t understood any of this activity of your ‘mind’ and insist on your continuity of ‘self’ through the world of ideas. Reality has nothing to do with any of that.

        • Anon-ji,

          Thanks for treating us to your campaign speech all over again. 🙂 (Sorry, we’re a little sick of politics here in the U.S.!) The accusation “it’s all intellectual” has been leveled against Vedanta for centuries. It is a totally bogus criticism that has been refuted many times by people far more knowledgable than I. But I’m sure you would also dismiss their work as just more “ideas.”

          I don’t care whether anybody even reads my articles or comments. I write them for my own purpose. Call it a vasana, an itch that needs scratching. I do appreciate it when people read and comment on them, and enjoy it even more when they stimulate a lively discussion or debate. But I’m no authority on anything, this is just a fun “hobby” for me, and I’m not looking for anyone to “join me in my world of ideas.” So relax please, and lighten up! 🙂

          • But, Charles, you speak as if you are an authority on Vedanta because you engage in debate and ‘correction’ of misguided souls such as myself. You encourage me to repeat the same words as you believe in. It’s a tidy ball of nothing, Charles. It appeals to those who deem themselves lost and are searching for something to hold on to.

            I never said Vedanta was all intellectual, only what you are talking about. The validity of Vedanta could only be known through one who has transcended name and form. If you have not, what good does scholarship, hobby, or ‘proselytizing’ any of what you think about? It’s all in the world of ideas and it misleads people as to what the nature of reality really is.

            When someone like Dennis states he is Self Realized, I have to laugh. It’s like saying I think, therefore I am. Playing with all these words and ideas and putting them into a structure is just a game which many on here take very seriously. They are heavily invested as you must be to continue to do it. It’s part of the self image that one creates around oneself. If you think that what I say has no validity, so be it. I won’t belabor the point with you. Cheers.

            • Anon-ji,

              But don’t you realize that you yourself constantly engage in “correcting” other “misguided souls” here on AV? That you always make your pronouncements with great authority like you know better than the rest of us poor deluded Advaitins? Do you not see that this latest post of yours is just the pot calling the kettle black?

              Look, it’s not that I think everything you post here is wrong or invalid. I’ve actually enjoyed a lot of what you have written here on AV, and you are certainly welcome to continue commenting on my posts/comments if you wish to. I welcome alternate points of view. But if you do post a comment about something I have written, then expect to be challenged and asked questions, ok? This is a website for discussing Advaita, and much of what you say doesn’t seem to me to line up with the Advaita teachings. So I point out these differences, and then you get upset and accuse me of looking for converts.

              The main difficulty I have in engaging with you is that you don’t actually engage. You don’t actually respond to direct questions or challenges against your view. You don’t offer any actual arguments or logic to rebut what others say. You simply come back again, tell the person they are stuck in their head filled with concepts, and the obvious implication is that YOU know better — I suppose based on whatever memes you have absorbed from UG. Try actually responding to some of the questions and challenges put to you for a change, and then perhaps this could be an actual discussion.

              Anyway, why the bruised feelings? I thought you were living without ego? 🙂

              That was a joke!

              Cheers,
              Charles

              • It’s a dead horse, Charles. I don’t wish to keep the endless debate going. I don’t see the point. I am not addicted to it and sorry if I seem like I have a superior attitude. It can easily be taken for that, and I have no defense for it, but that is not what I’m trying to convey. Let’s just say it is my way of negation. Or, if you want to call it something different, you may. Cheers

        • What a fruitless and failed attempt at an escapade!* (*’fleeing from confinement or restraint’). Evidently, you Anon. are confined to a very narrow view of things – all of these being denizens of your own mind; seemingly, there is nothing that can restrain you from pontification and fixed ideas.

          Unlike this habit of yours, Charles is wielding good and sensible reasons (ever so gently and unassumingly!). He is not just staying with ‘mere concepts’ or lucubrations but saying something clear and substantial. Example: “Who cares what happens to this unreal meat-tube? Concern along these lines shows residual attachment to the body, a clinging to the hope that it’s real”. You don’t appear to take this up, for it does not play your tune, hence your silence about it… and more of the same stuff. Tiring!

          • What is tiring is your reaction to the things I mentioned. You sound ridiculous and hopelessly addicted to words that most of the English speaking population could never understand. I’m not invested in your brand of thinking and the conclusions you’ve come to. End of story, no?

  19. Venkat,

    What we are calling ‘knowledge’ here (that ‘I am brahman’) is not something that can be given. I can tell people who pass in the street that I know that I am brahman but it would convey nothing to them. Even if I explained the terms so that they ‘knew’ what I was talking about, they would still think I was deluded. The only way in which I can arrive at this knowledge is by systematically removing all of the mistaken concepts (I am the body; other people are separate entities etc). Once this has happened, that ‘I am brahman’ stands revealed as truth – ‘Self-realization’ – not as another thought. (And, yes, this is all in the mind.) Recall the metaphor of one’s reflection in a dirty mirror. You think that the blemishes on the image belong to you but, once the mirror surface is cleaned of all its impurities, your ‘real self’ (image) is revealed.

    I will do some investigation and see if I can find some useful explanatory text. Unfortunately I do not have such ready access to quotes as you do (how do you do it?)

    Best wishes,
    Dennis

  20. Incidentally, you seem to be trying to deny the validity of shabda pramANa, which is a cornerstone of Advaita teaching. It is not Swami D’s invention. Scriptures are the only indirect source of the knowledge that Atman is brahman. And, lest you should attempt to substantiate this denial, I would argue that much if not most of your so-called knowledge about the world derives from others. Do you really know that man landed on the moon, that neutrinos or black holes exist? Do you even know that most of the countries of the world that are displayed on maps or reported in the news really exist? If you have not actually been there yourself, you are only relying on reported word. (Even then, special effects these days are quite impressive!)

    Dennis

  21. Hi Dennis,

    I totally agree – most of our knowledge of the world is derived from others. I would go one step further: whilst we perceive those others we don’t actually know for certain whether those others (or even the world) exists.

    All I actually know for certain is that I exist and am conscious that I exist. Everything else is an appearance – images created ‘in the mind’, or more precisely thought-forms, which we assume are correlated to really existent things ‘outside’. Hence Kant’s insight that time and space are a priori assumptions through which we perceive the world is superb. And JK’s insight that the ‘words in our mind’ create a reality in us – hence his ‘the word is not the thing’.

    When Vedanta talks of the ignorance to be removed, these assumptions surely are the ignorance.

    Consequently Ramana’s atma vichara is Occam’s razor: investigate and discard everything until you discern the ‘I’, the existence-consciousness that you always are: because all else is an assumption, a concept. When Gaudapada said that first arises the jiva and then the world, it is almost a tautology: from the non-dual Brahman, arises the thought of a separate ego; but to be separate, there must be something to be separate from, and hence the world and duality. Once the I-source is investigated, it [mind] vanishes, as the Sankaracharya of Kanchi says, and the jiva merges with Brahman.

    Quoting Sankara’s comment on Brhadaranyaka Up 2.4.12:

    “That separate existence of yours, which has sprung from the delusion engendered by contact with the limiting adjuncts of the body, enters its cause the great Reality, the Supreme Self, which is undecaying, immortal, beyond fear, pure and homogenous . . and devoid of differences caused by the delusion brought on by ignorance. When that separate existence has entered and been merged with its cause, when the differences created by ignorance are gone, the universe becomes one without a second . . . After attaining this oneness, the Self freed from the body has no more particular consciousness”.

    But the speculation as to whether the mind vanishes or not, and how does one live without the mind, is just that: speculation. The pointer is clear: the thoughts / assumptions are illusory / creating the illusions; rather than being carried away by them, enquire into the one thing you know for certain – your-self.

  22. Dear Dennis & Charles,

    In addition to Sankara’s no particular consciousness comment above, I’d welcome your thoughts on Sankara’s Upadesha Sahasri:

    18.229: How can one who has awoken from his previous ignorance as to the meaning of the words (of the sentence ‘that thou art’), and is searching for the DIRECT EXPERIENCE (anubhava) of the meaning of the sentence as a whole, consider himself free to behave as he likes, particularly when he has accepted the INJUNCTIONS TO BECOME A RENUNCIATE, etc?

    19.2: O my mind! To think ‘This am I’ ‘This is mine’ is to engage in useless activity. It is others who hold that thy acts are for the sake of another (for the sake of me, the soul or purusha). Thou hast no knowledge of ends and I have no desire of ends. Therefore, O mind, thy right course IS CESSATION FROM ACTIVITY (SAMA).

    19.3: Since I am not other than the supreme eternal (Self) I am eternally contented and am not in quest of any end. Ever contented, I do not desire my own individual welfare. Make efforts to attain peace, O mind. Here lies thy welfare.

    19.5: When thou hast CEASED TO FUNCTION there is no notion of difference through which one suffers, through illusion, the delusion that there is a world. For perception (of difference) is the cause of the rise of illusion. When sense of difference is absent (as in dreamless sleep), no one experiences any illusion (maya).

    Charles, you ask how does the Sankaracharya function without a mind. One option is that without egoistic thoughts, 90% of our mind’s activity falls away, and only the bare essentials are thought through – which is perhaps why Sankara said only a sannyasin is ready to comprehend the truth, because there is minimal self-preservation instinct (‘he lives by what comes to him by chance’) and he cannot properly function in the world. Another option is eka jiva vada: and once we realise the truth, the dream of the waking world ceases, and the jiva merges into Brahman.

    But this is all speculation: a story goes if you’ve been shot by a poisoned arrow, rather enquiring into who shot you, why he shot you, what the make of the arrow is, what might happen in the next life etc, surely you just focus on removing the arrow and the poison, and then see what happens.

    Bringing the discussion full circle, it is the mind that is the cause of ignorance. The teaching tat tvam asi is just another form of ignorance until it is assimilated, at which point there is no mind. Talking about synthetic a priori knowledge is still a functioning in the mind, a concept like time and space, which Sankara decisively says is the cause of illusion. So, if the mind is the cause of the illusion, then really the most important mahavakya is Ramana’s “summa iru”, “be still”, cessation from activity.

    • Venkat,

      Those are some great Shankara quotes, thank you. I don’t mean to sound cynical, but this is a commentary on “cessation of activity” from a sage who famously traveled the length and breadth of India to debate and defeat Vedic scholars, found multiple monasteries, and write the various commentaries we hold in reverence to this day. Some cessation of activity there! 🙂

      Certainly, control of the mind (SAMA) is one of the qualifications for Self-Knowledge. But that does not translate to the complete destruction of manas. As to the jnani not being able to properly function in the world, would we then say that Nisargadatta Maharaj was not a jnani? I think we need to be careful about assuming what renunciation looks like from the outside, so to speak. Perhaps it is nothing more than a permanent shift in perspective on what is Real versus not, so that the world is seen through and no longer taken seriously. And while I can certainly agree that a jnani would likely have a much calmer mind than the ajnani, to me that just means their mind has a higher ratio of sattvoguna to rajoguna or tamoguna than the average ajnani’s mind. That assumes, of course, that making dualistic comparisons is of any help at all.

      Maya is the cause of ignorance, not the mind. I will be the first to admit here that Kant does not go far enough here in making this important distinction. Yes, tat tvam asi is just another piece of relative ignorance until the mahAvAkya does its work. (I will leave aside the discussion on whether a teacher is essential to the process.) And talking in terms of synthetic a priori is just apara vidya, relative and not Real. But that doesn’t mean that realization of the Self extinguishes the mind. Where/when could the realization take place if not in the mind?

  23. I have carefully expressed my thoughts on the ‘death of the mind’ topic – http://www.advaita-vision.org/manonasha-not-the-literal-death-of-the-mind/ – and do not really have more to say.

    After Shankara has said (Br. U. 2.4.12) that there is ‘no more particular consciousness’, he goes on to explain that he means, for example, that he no longer says such things as ‘I am the son of so and so’, ‘I am happy or miserable’. I.e. what he means is that the j~nAnI no longer identifies as being a body-mind, not that the body-mind does not continue in the world until death, functioning outwardly as before.

    Two other points I would pick up on from what you said in your last post:

    1) anubhava can indeed mean ‘experience’ but it also means ‘intuition’. The understanding of tat tvam asi is the latter rather than the former – a sudden realization in the mind which is radical in its impact on the way we view the world, but it is not an ‘experience’ in the usual sense of that word.

    2) Shankara was very keen on ‘renunciation’ because the Ashrama progression (brahmacharya to saMnyAsa) was THE way of life at the time that he lived and he devoted much effort in its defence when challenged by other philosophies. But it should really be understood as non-attachment rather than non-action.

  24. Dennis, I agree with you on non-attachment rather than non-action. The cessation of activity has always, in my view, meant the pointless chatter of the mind.

  25. (From a different conversation) – in Quora)

    (My Interlocutor) ‘So, we have in one of the earliest of the Upanishads a straightforward statement of a synthetic a priori proposition. You read the life history of Sri Ramakrishna and Ramana. They have done deep meditation, month after month. They are not book learners. And there is another section of Hindu Gurus that say – Samadhi is not required. This means they are not capable of Samadhi. The person who has not [achieved] Samadhi – how can he say that Samadhi is wrong, and not required, or temporary?
    It is like somebody has heard about milk, somebody has seen the milk from a distance, and somebody has drunk it and benefited by it. Nirvikalpa Samadhi is the latter one.…………………………………………………..

    Theodor Stcherbatsky (Professor Academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences and a great Buddhologist) put this rather well thusly: “And at last, ascending to the ultimate plane of every philosophy, we discover that the difference between Sensibility and Understanding is again dialectical. They are essentially the negation of each the other; they mutually sublate one another and become merged in a Final Monism.”’

    Me: Very interesting reference! (by ‘sensibility’ the Prof. must mean experiential – of the senses). UG, Anon., and to some extent Venkat, appear to be, or are, in the experiential camp.

  26. Not really Martin. Because there is no experiencer.

    My perspective is that many people here seem to have accepted the concept of ‘relative’ and ‘absolute’ truths – and for all intents and purposes treat the relative as real, and just shift the basis of argument between the two when it suits.. But the upanishads, the bhagavad gita, Sankara in his upadesa sahasri and vivekachudamani did not once dwell upon relative and absolute truths.

    When Gaudapada said uncompromisingly that there is no one born, no one bound, no one liberated, this is accepted as an absolute statement and then ignored for all other intents and purposes. If it is just a statement of logic and scientific fact, which you and I can readily see, that what added value does Vedanta bring over common sense and basic scientific knowledge?

    Martin, I’d suggest, with all due respect, that you re-consider Ramakrishna, Ramana, Nisargadatta, Atmananda, and the Sankaracharya of Kanchi. You will see that their interpretation of Vedanta is no less consistent than your much lauded ‘non-experiential’ view. And yet the flavour of what they say and write has a qualitatively different perfume than the dry, sterile ideology that is in favour here.

    You then have to decide:
    (a) is Venkat totally misinterpreting their words, and missing the point [quite possible];
    (b) are they all mistaken, and not really jnanis; or
    (c) are there more things in heaven and earth Horatio than are dreamt of in your philosophy?

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