Q: Can one ever KNOW that reality is non-dual?
(i) YES, The moment you can grasp tight your reflection in the mirror!!!
(ii) No, you cannot know it like you know the salary you get.
(iii) Yes, you cannot ever NOT know it; what all IS, is your perception alone.
(iv) No, if you place yourself aloof trying to know it as a distant object.
(v) Yes, you know It in your deep sleep.
(vi) No, if you want to measure and compare to duality.
(vii) Yes, when you are in “zone”, (the Flow of Mihaly Csikszentsmihalyi).
(viii) No, if you keep your ID as a separate individual.
(ix) Yes in the fulfillment of your love.
(x) No, if you want to possess it as a property (asset).
(xi) Yes, in your ‘Awe’ on noticing something “beautiful.”
(xii) No, the moment you recognize and identify it with a name/form.
(xiii) Yes, when you dissolve your identity.
(xiv) No, if your egoistic personality persists.
&c &c &c
A (Sitara): Upanishads say that it is impossible to know – referring to our usual way of knowing anything as object. As non-dual reality cannot be an object of knowledge (because it includes the knower and the knowledge), it obviously cannot be known (in that way).
Upanishads in a different context say that it is possible to know. The whole teaching of Advaita Vedanta is based on the fact that it can be known. How do we resolve this apparent contradiction?
Knowing is the reality (consciousness) together with vritti (thought). Buddhi can know and the thought that recognizes the fact that reality is non-dual is the thought that ends duality for good for the one to who it occurs. As this is the last vritti of the individual, on its resolution, only consciousness remains.
Consciousness without vritti is not knowledge. That’s why Upanishads also say that it is impossible to know (see above).
A (Meenakshi): Meenakshi has written a two-part blog on this subject at Advaita Academy – see http://advaita-academy.org/blogs/Meenakshi/Can-One-know-the-Non-Dual—Part-1.ashx/
A (Dhanya): Busy at present but she has a related essay at http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/durga/knowing_durga.htm.
A (Dennis): Since we are brahman and there is only brahman, it follows that we must already be ‘experiencing’ non-duality. As is sometimes said, we already are enlightened; we just don’t know it! (Although, strictly speaking, enlightenment is the final ‘knowing’ that this is so.) We have the experience but miss the meaning, as T. S. Eliot said. Furthermore, because we are brahman, we do not really need to ‘gain’ this knowledge; rather we have to remove the ignorance that prevents us from seeing that it is already the case. When enlightenment happens, it is direct and immediate; there is no longer any question of doubt.
According to the Mandukya, we have the direct experience of non-duality in the deep-sleep state. But we mistakenly place all of the value on the other two states of waking and dreaming, in both of which we experience duality. But both of these are mithyA; waking is empirically objective and dream is subjective only. We mistakenly believe that the waking state is the real one and that the non-dual ‘experience’ of deep sleep is irrelevant.
We cannot ‘know’ brahman in the way that we know a fact, as something objectively defined. We ‘know’ it by virtue of ‘being’ it. But, to begin with, we are ignorant of our true nature so that words are needed to ‘show us the way’. Straight descriptions are not available. Even obvious concepts such as ‘sweetness’ cannot be described – they are known by direct experience. But if I give you some sugar and ask you to taste it, there is no longer any need to describe it; I can simply say that the quality of that taste *is* sweetness. brahman is not an experience in this sense but we can still use words, whose meanings we understand, to point to that which is not itself an experience. Thus, for example, we know the difference between ‘real’ and ‘unreal’ from everyday experience – the chair on which I am sitting is real and the face that I see in the pattern on the carpet is unreal. ‘sat’ also means ‘real, existing, true’. brahman, being the only reality, clearly must be real and existent, even though we do not know it in any objective sense.
The ‘right’ words can trigger direct understanding because we are already brahman. The classic example that I often tell people about is called bhAga tyAga lakShaNa and it is so expressive that it is worth reading again, even if you are already familiar with it: http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/definitions/bhAga.htm.
The enlightenment ‘event’ (akhaNDAkAra vRRitti) is effectively a catastrophic reorientation of the mind (in the mathematical sense of course, rather than the emotive!) As the teaching is heard, knowledge ‘vRRitti-s’ are acquired (mental modifications) and there may be ‘mini’ realizations in response to particular revelations. In the final revelation, the akhaNDAkAra vRRitti, the mind ‘takes on the form’ of the ‘undivided’ reality. The light bulb metaphor is a good one for the knowledge vRRitti-s. The removal of ignorance may be gradual but enlightenment is binary.
So the answer to the question is: Yes you can know. Gaining this knowledge is what is called ‘enlightenment’. And you go about getting it by listening to the unfoldment of the scriptures by a qualified teacher, who will use the methods described above. This is called shravaNa. Then you ask questions to clarify and answer your doubts. This is called manana. Then you go over all of this again in your mind, read more about it, go to talks, discuss and write about it. Eventually, however long it may take, you will ‘get it’.
(You can read my essay on enlightenment at http://advaita-academy.org/blogs/DennisWaite/Enlightenment-%28Part-1%29.ashx.)