Q.436 Ishvara and the existence of fossils

Q: Dinosaur fossils point to a world history that greatly exceeds the history of human beings. I realize that from the Absolute perspective, there is no creation, no world, and therefore no fossils. However, I also realize that Advaita is not equivalent to solipsism. When ‘I’ die, the relative world will still continue in ‘my’ absence. What is puzzling is why there should be any such consistency. When I go to sleep tonight, I do not expect to pick up the dream from where I left off last night. Yet on waking, I definitely expect to be in the same room I went to bed in, with the same clothes hanging in the closet, etc. In short, there is a direct continuity that occurs in jAgrat that does not apply to svapna. Doesn’t this very continuity (e.g. fossils having existed for millions of years before ‘I’ was born) point to a definite need for a Creator, aka Ishvara or saguNa Brahman? Otherwise, I don’t see how the continuity would make any sense. ‘I’ as the jIva cannot have had anything to do with it!

A: Ishvara is just as real as the world. Ishvara is the order that we see, the laws that govern it and so on. All this is empirically real, not absolutely real; it is mithyA. You and I and Ishvara and the world and jAgrat and svapna and suShupti are all mithyA. So yes, if you are talking about fossils and dinosaurs, Ishvara is needed as the creator of the world and of the laws of evolution etc. that enable such things to be a part of our history. Ishvara maintains the waking dream so that I have some clothes to put on when I wake up.

7 thoughts on “Q.436 Ishvara and the existence of fossils

  1. Hello Questioner,

    This extract from Peter Dziuban’s article may help clarify how ‘history or past’ is all actually in the present:

    “Go ahead, try as hard as you can to come up with a little bit of a “past,” or a whole lot of it, in some place other than the current thought of it. It’s impossible.

    No matter how far one tries to mentally shove a “past” back there—it actually has had no prior existence. The only place all of it would appear to be found is in the very thinking-dreaming of it starting now. That’s all there would be to all of the so-called “past”—just that one big mental “panorama” or “thought-collage”—all of which begins now.

    This is clear only from the vantage point of the Absolute Present, wherein no time has been. Otherwise one mistakenly assumes time has some other, prior beginning. It doesn’t.

    Imagine watching a scene of a movie. In this movie scene it is the year 2000. The movie characters themselves are in a theater. They are watching another movie, taking place in 1980. Now suppose within that inner 1980 movie scene being watched, that second set of characters is watching a third movie, taking place in 1960—a movie within a movie within a movie—and so on, as far “back” as one cares to go. One really is not going back in time at all. All scenes, all years, appear to be projected right there in the one overall current picture.

    In the exact same way, the entirety of what is mistakenly called “history”—both “recent past” and “ancient past”—are encapsulated in the one momentary mental snapshot or thought in terms of it. From the vantage point of Absolute Present Awareness, it is clear that the entirety of so-called “history” isn’t history or old at all—for it’s all one mental panorama being instantaneously thought or dreamed now. Always, it would be current thinking only imagining there is oldness.”

    You can read the article here at this site itself:
    http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/teachers/time_dziuban.htm

    regards,

  2. I suggest that all of this is a confusion of words and concepts, paramArtha and vyavahAra.

    Of course, anything we think or say now, we must do so in the present. Accordingly, our views on the past are present views and may or may not be correct. But to say that there is no history, no past events that led to this being-here-now-present, is nonsense and cannot be helpful for any seeker. What of karma? What point in action? Did one’s (now deceased) parents have no prior existence? Has one’s body-mind come into existence this instant, complete with all of its memories of an imagined past childhood etc?

    Since this ‘coming into existence’ must happen every moment, this means that the present consciousness can have only momentary existence. This is the belief of the Yogachara or kShaNika vij~nAna vAda Buddhists. And Shankara explicitly refutes this view in his commentaries on the Mandukya Upanishad and Brahmasutras.

  3. “But to say that there is no history, no past events that led to this being-here-now-present, is nonsense and cannot be helpful for any seeker. ”

    Dennis is absolutely correct when he says that it cannot be helpful for a seeker if s/he is told “that there is no history, no past events.” But, unfortunately, that is the ultimate understanding that a seeker has to come to in order to fully appreciate the Advaitic message.

    Hence, while I am totally reluctant to join Dennis in a debate on the issue, I just would like to humbly submit that it is too harsh an epithet to describe the way that Peter expiates as “nonsense.”

    We assume that there is already a time-space-causational world into which “I” am born when questions like “What of karma? What point in action? Did one’s (now deceased) parents have no prior existence? Has one’s body-mind come into existence this instant, complete with all of its memories of an imagined past childhood etc” are raised or answered.

    shruti also principally adopts the method of agreeing with the seeker who thinks that s/he is born into a world that is pre-existing and then negates all those beliefs as its intended message is ingested gradually.

    For any action to occur or for any cause-effect relation to operate, the arrow of time is primal. So we hang on to that perch and answer the above questions of parent-offspring relation, action-result connection etc. etc.

    But what if that assumption of a “pre-existent time-space-causational world” itself is wrong?

    The very word “a + dvaita” clearly rules out the possibility of the co-existence of a second one. “No two,” it says. So, if at all, any “confusion of words and concepts” could arise only if we have one leg on paramArtha and another on vyAvahArika, and talk in terms of one taking the stance of the other.

    Advaita is unequivocal that the time-space itself is an imagination and Gaudapada goes into great lengths to point out the non-existence of cause-effect relationships in his kArikA-s, as Dennis knows.

    So if we disembark from that perch of time-space, does Advaita then become something like what the Yogachara or kShaNika vij~nAna vAda Buddhists say?

    Absolutely not.

    Advaita agrees and goes with the Yogachara or kShaNika vij~nAna vAda Buddhists to say that all appearances are momentary and have neither permanency nor history. (Actually one should say the other way because, the Buddhist concepts came later historically (!) than Advaita).

    The Buddhists hold on to the concept of essencelessness, whereas Advaita speaks of an eternal, impartite, immutable and immanent substratum on which the appearances arise.

    “GK [Chpater] IV (alAtaSAnti prakaraNa) refers to the mahAyAna school of buddhism as agrAyana. Moreover, the very metaphor of the alAtacakra is a peculiarly buddhist one. The alAtacakra is a burning firebrand that is waved in a circle, creating an impression of a continuous circle of fire. It is interesting to note here that gauDapAda characteristically inverts the use of the buddhist metaphor. The buddhist uses the metaphor to insist that the impression of a continuous circle is an illusion, there being nothing more than the momentary spatial positions of the burning brand. Hence, from the buddhist prespective, it is plainly an error to see the burning circle as having any svabhAva – “own-nature”. gauDapAda on the other hand points out that the burning brand is itself the substratum of its momentary spatial positions and the illusion of a burning circle caused by waving the brand. Hence, according to him, even if the burning circle is an illusion, its svabhAva is nothing other than that of the burning brand.”

    (Adopted from: http://www.advaita-vedanta.org/avhp/gaudapada.html ).

    Also see here:

    “Yogcara is called Kshanika vijanavadi and Madhyamika is known by the name sunyavadi. Both agree in one thing. That there is no external world of objects. The difference is with respect to subject. Whether there is subject or not. Yogacara accepts the subject as the consciousness. He says there is consciousness which is the subject. There is no world other than this subject consciousness. Madhyamika says there is no external object and there is no subject also. Sunya is the truth. Between these two who is close to advaitin. Yogacarah is close to advatin. Both say there is not external world. What is the difference between the two? We also say vijnaana vyatirikta padarthah nasti. They also say. But there is a difference. In defining the nature of consciousness we differ. Is it nityam or anityam? Yogacara says consciousness is kshanikam. So it is anityam. Not even anityam like our body but it is kshana bhanguram. Kshanika vijnanam is satyam for them.

    ……….

    What do we say for this? Vijnanam is nityam. Consciousness is nityam. Why? Because if consciousness is khsanikam quickly coming and going, to know that it is coming and going you require a permanent consciousness. How do you know it is kshanikam? So to experience that kshanikam caitanyam you require a nitya vijnanam. So truth is nityacaitanyam. It never comes and goes.”

    (From: “https://www.scribd.com/document/2345570/Mandukya-Upanishad-Alatasanti-prakaranam ).

    regards,

  4. Ramesam,

    In Buddhist view of consciousness, there is no one consciousness as an entity. Consciousness is attached to each of the senses, such as eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, etc. Each moment, the impressions of the senses are changing. They are not static and neither is the consciousness that is associated with it. Sometimes they are referred to as frames as in a movie.

    The construction of a center, a ‘me’, a ‘person’ that controls and witnesses all of this is a mental formation and not something concrete. It is a mechanism for relational purposes and has no ultimate existence. But, this is all philosophy, conceptual thinking. It is like taking the part for the whole. Trying to figure out if Yogacara or Advaita is correct is the wrong approach. The correct approach in anyone’s case is to see the illusory nature of the person and how this is propagated, constructed, etc., through our perception/memory/cognition. Trying to state what is ultimate is useless. Trying to assert the supremacy of Awareness or Emptiness or Brahman is a trick of the mind and not in accord with Life. The only problem is the sense of person and personalizing one’s experience which is a separative movement and leads to anguish. You know this already. Direct experience is the only possibility of knowing what the wisdom teachers are talking about and for that to happen, the words must be let go of, be they Buddhist or Advaitin.

  5. Gaudapada endeavors to speak from an ‘as if’ pAramArthika standpoint. As long as this is clearly known as the intention, it is fine. One can acknowledge the ultimate impossibility of using words (thought) to describe reality but use those words as indicators to lead to an intiutive understanding.

    Shankara comes down a step from there. He is more considerate of his students, allowing them to work their way up from the worldly level. The technique of adhyAropa-apavAda allows this gradual development from action and consequence in a dualistic world up to the final realization of the non-dual reality despite the appearance.

    Dziuban is making the classical (neo-Advaitin) mistake of ‘mixing the levels’. He speaks of ‘thinking’ and concepts of time, making it clear that this is a ‘vyAvahArika’ discussion. But then mixes this with concepts of ‘absolute present’ and momentary consciousness which, whilst they do not quite equate with an Advaitin pAramArthika standpoint, are certainly not vyAvahArika either.

    For a teaching methodology to be useful, it has to have validity in what the seeker initially believes to be the ‘real world’. I recognize the validity of the past every time I go to retrieve something that I remember I left in another location. I recognize the validity of the future every time I plan a journey, buy tickets etc. By all means, teach that time is a fiction within the context of absolute reality but don’t attempt to imply that it is so even from a practical point of view. It confuses the seeker and insults his/her intelligence.

    From a practical point of view, we ARE born into ‘a time-space-causational world’. And it is simply not helpful for a teacher to try to claim otherwise. Had it been so, the majority of the entire corpus of Vedantic literature would have been dispensed with and traditional Advaita would simply have been teaching Gaudapada and a few others for the past 2000 years.

  6. Very good points Dennis. Reminds one of the fellow who, as an elephant comes charging in his direction, remarks that the elephant (as all phenomena) is unreal… the rider of the elephant then urges him to, nevertheless, get out of the way for his own good!

  7. While not disagreeing with anything said so far, I will like to say the following in way of making things clearer.

    To Anon’s point:
    The effort in my previous post was not directed to assess or adjudge any system.
    Let me emphasize that Kena Upanishad mantra 1-4 says: “That (Whatever that Self is) is different from the Known, and is also higher than the Unknown.”
    The Upanishad explains that the “known” is what we perceive through the mind and senses. Its coverage extends over the whole of the “gross universe”, as well as the “subtle world”. All of it is the ‘known.’ The unknown in this context is “ignorance” — that which is not known by the mind or senses.
    Thus The Self cannot be known through the senses or mind.

    The part from about 12 min to 16 or 17 min could be interesting to watch in the Video, “Be Aware of Yourself by Rupert: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uaa1O8mErus

    To Dennis’s Point:
    I do not know what one would define the neo-Advaita approach to be. If I understand it to be to take the stance that “there-is-no-doer-hence-nothing-to-be-done,” well, I am sure we cannot put Peter Dziuban in that basket. He definitely does not advocate that a seeker has nothing to do. He does advise inquiry, but from the stance much like that of Gaudapada – ‘as if’ you are the Self. Maybe his teaching did not fully come across in the short excerpt quoted by me regarding the concept of ‘time.’

    To Martin’s point:
    The very fact that we invoke such a metaphor betrays our own dual stance rather than that of the “fellow” about whom we seem to make our comment.
    While it is a fact that we cannot read what was the stance of that “fellow” (whether emprical or Absolute), we are making such a comment based on the subliminal backdrop of the vyAvahArik worldview in our mind from where the “fellow’s” action looks inappropriate.

    regards,

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