Overview of Western Philosophy – Part 14

(Read Part 13 of the series.)

Pragmatism and William James to Linguistic Analysis and Wittgenstein

Developed originally in America, and to some extent in rebellion against the metaphysical theories current in Europe at the time (especially Idealism), Pragmatism is effectively a method for determining the worth of philosophical problems and their proposed solutions. What was thought to matter was not all of the intellectual speculation and theorising usually associated with philosophising but the practical worth at the end of the day. Is a theory actually of any use to us in our day to day life? Will it make any difference to me if I follow it or am even aware of its existence? The word ‘pragmatic’ has now passed into everyday usage as referring to an approach that actually works.

The original ideas were developed by C. S. Peirce, who saw himself as following up the system devised by Kant. He thought the only purpose in philosophising to begin with was in order to solve problems that we actually encounter. We should then use the scientific method to enquire into the problem, drawing up hypotheses, experiments to test them and so on. Once we have an answer that gets us over the original problem we should simply stop there. A proposition is ‘true’ if everyone who investigates sufficiently thoroughly comes to the same conclusion. Continue reading

What We Cannot Know

What We Cannot Know: Explorations at the Edge of Knowledge
by Marcus du Sautoy

Review by Dr Pingali Gopal
(Blog site at pingaligopi.wordpess.com)


Science has achieved a lot; and it promises to do so in the future. The spirit of scientific enquiry based on theory and experiment is the bedrock on which humanity has progressed. The humans have this unique thirst to know which set them apart from other conscious beings. The spirit of knowledge and enquiry has made our lives comfortable over so many centuries. It has its own detractors. Science has given us the atom bomb too and the methods of mass destruction. Maybe, science has also equipped us with destroying ourselves. But, the fact remains that scientific enquiry will never stop so long as humans are alive, because the spirit of knowing more about the world is one of the prime movers in the individual and the collective scheme of things. However, there comes a point when the scientists must give up, put their hands up in despair, and shout,’ We cannot go any further’. There are certain edges beyond which everything is in a state of permanent fog and a mist. The author calls them the ‘known unknowns’. The book is a brilliant exposition of these edges of science which are beyond the grasp of the human mind presently. Continue reading

Tattvabodha – Part 24

Part 24 of the commentary by Dr. VIshnu Bapat on Shankara’s Tattvabodha.This is a key work which introduces all of the key concepts of Advaita in a systematic manner.

The commentary is based upon those by several other authors, together with the audio lectures of Swami Paramarthananda. It includes word-by-word breakdown of the Sanskrit shloka-s so should be of interest to everyone, from complete beginners to advanced students.

Part 24 asks how we become ‘liberated’ and begins the description of a jIvanmukta.

There is a hyperlinked Contents List, which is updated as each new part is published.

Two questions in QUORA

Q&As in Quora)

What are some essential self awareness exercises?

M. None, unless attention… Greg Goode (a Non-dualist teacher) recommends ‘Standing as Awareness’. That is the title of a booklet by him.

In Advaita Vedanta Gaudapada and Shankara did not recommend any exercises except, perhaps, Asparsha yoga (which means, ‘no-relationship – with anything), and only as a preparation for less-gifted students. All experiences derived from exercises, including Samadhi, are only temporary. Advaita is not Yoga, and there are no injunctions or exercises in it – only Intuition and reasoning based on it. There is the triple way or method: ‘hearing’ (the scriptures= Upanishads), reflecting on what has been read or listened to (if one has a guide or teacher), and contemplation (nididhyasana). That is all. (There are other answers to this question and the following one).

Will we as humans be able to distinguish between our conscious and electrical conscious?

M. I don’t understand what you mean by ‘electrical conscious’. Do you mean the electro-chemical signals between synapses in the brain which transmit and share information between neurons? That is only the physical basis or vehicle for consciousness. Consciousness is not a phenomenon, it is an (ontological) reality – ‘what is’ – beyond even conceptualization, and not physical. Consciousness is indescribable and unknowable by the mind (brain-based mind, again, being a vehicle or ‘transducer’), and, thus, a metaphysical or spiritual reality.


Q.403 – The enlightenment perspective

Q. If you have the time (and inclination) I would really love to get some clarification on exactly what you mean when you write “There is still a personal self after enlightenment; it is just that it is now known not to be who I really am; it is simply a ‘reflection’ in the mind.”

As stated I would tend to label what you seem to be calling “enlightenment” as a transpersonal perspective, not a transcendent one. But as I said earlier, words are terribly slippery and do not necessarily covey the same meaning to the recipient as they do to the sender.

For example I absolutely know (and it is far more than simply an intellectual “knowing”) that I am not “Cate” – my personal identity, name, desires, dreams, experiences, thoughts and opinions. And yet I would hardly call myself enlightened.

My experience (and what a joke it is to phrase it like that since it is not “my” experience at all. But that’s the most convenient grammatical way to put it) is that the bliss of union arrives with the absence of “me” altogether. Oneness arrives with “my” departure. There have been hours and days and even weeks when the perspective of any sense of the personal self has disappeared altogether. The personal memories of Cate were there and available for use, as was the personality, but there was no shred of what I would call a “personal self” remaining.

A (Dennis): I wouldn’t have thought to put it like that but yes, enlightenment IS a ‘transpersonal perspective’ as opposed to transcendent. There is already only Consciousness, and you are that ALREADY. How could you be anything else? (There is nothing else.) So the problem of the unenlightened person is that they do not know this. To ‘become enlightened’ is to realize the truth of this. This is to realize that who-you-really-are is not the person or the mind. But this does not negate the appearance of body and mind.

So, if you ‘absolutely know this’, then you are enlightened. Denying that is simply giving in to mental habits of humility or whatever. (Of course, I don’t suggest that you go around claiming to be enlightened; this is not the sort of statement that is appreciated by most people!)

Experiences of bliss etc have nothing to do with enlightenment.

Ramana on the deep-sleep state

SInce some of the participants in discussions at this site respect the words of Ramana Maharshi above those of most other sources, I thought the following might be instructive for the present topic of the deep-sleep state.

from “Maha Yoga Or The Upanishadic Lore In The Light Of The Teachings Of Bhagavan Sri Ramana” by “Who”, SRI RAMANASRAMAM, Tiruvannamalai, 2002

The State of Deliverance is egoless. So is deep sleep. So it would seem as if one can become free by merely going to sleep. But it is not so. No one becomes free by going to sleep. When he awakes he finds himself as much in bondage as ever before. We have seen that even the Yogi, when he comes out of his trance, called Samadhi, is in the same predicament. The question is: “Why does not the sleeper, who becomes egoless in sleep, stay egoless? Why does the ego revive again on waking?”

Before we consider the answer, we may notice another feature of sleep, which we find from Revelation. Not only is sleep not the gateway to Deliverance; it is also an obstacle to It. We shall see later on that if the seeker of the Self falls asleep while engaged in the Quest, he has to begin over again on waking. Only if he keeps wide awake all the time, and persists actively in the Quest till the Revelation of the Self takes place, does he become free from bondage. We find this indicated in the third part of the Taittiriya Upanishad, where we are told that Bhrigu, who received his teaching from his father, Varuna, obtained Experience of the real Self – therein named Bliss, Ananda – straightaway from the sheath of the intellect; he did not shed that sheath and become lost in the sheath of bliss – the Anandamaya – which would have meant falling asleep. This last sheath – the causal body – is not separately transcended, but only along with the sheath of intelligence. Continue reading

Q.401 – Who is the doer/enjoyer?

Q: Who is the doer and enjoyer of action if not brahman and ego?

A (Dennis): In reality (pAramArthika viewpoint), there is no doer, enjoyer, ego or action. From the point of view of the person in the world (vyAvahArika viewpoint), you can use whatever ‘explanation’ you feel happy with! The usually accepted way of explaining it is that brahman enables the action to take place through the jIva (Consciousness is ‘reflected’ in the mind).

Q.400 – Consciousness and the person

A few questions or clarifications please…

  1. As you’ve said to me before, to focus on this world and everything within it, is really the wrong focus, because it’s mithyA. And what we really are, is that in which all of it occurs?
  2. Am I correct in saying that Vedanta is truly a specific system or process to know who you really are as well as understanding the functioning of everything?
  3. So the elements or energy is not who we are since they are dependent on Consciousness. As Nisargadatta said, “without Consciousness nothing is”.
  4. To gain self-knowledge however, there must be a body with a nervous system. So the body does matter in relation to self-knowledge? But, consciousness doesn’t care whether it’s manifested or not?
  5. Words cause confusion, so what is the difference between Consciousness and Awareness from your understanding?
  6. The mind is discussed a lot, and many say that to have ‘no mind’ is the key to peace and freedom. Is the mind a part of the brain or something entirely different?
  7. Upon gaining self-knowledge, does the mind continue or fade away if you will, leaving the brain to function in its normal and natural way without the mind blocking it?

A (Dennis):

  1. You are not the body-mind; you are Consciousness. There is only Consciousness in reality; the ‘rest’ is just appearance and mistaken interpretation.
  2. Advaita is a teaching methodology to bring you to this realization.
  3. Elements, energy etc are only name and form of Consciousness.
  4. In reality, there is only Consciousness. From the perspective of the person, there is a body-mind. The realization that there is only Consciousness has to take place in the mind of the person in order for the person to realize that ‘All there is is Consciousness’.
  5. You can define words how you like. As long as you do this, there need not be any confusion. The way I use these terms is that Consciousness (capital ‘C’) is the reality (better called ‘Brahman’ to avoid confusion); and ‘awareness’ (capital or not) and ‘consciousness’ (small ‘c’) refer to the person’s perceiving/conceiving ability.
  6. The ‘person’ requires a mind in order to function in the world. This applies whether the person has Self-knowledge or not.
  7. It is likely (though not necessary) that the mind of someone with Self-knowledge will be less prone to disturbance by desire/fear etc.

Tattvabodha – Part 23

Part 23 of the commentary by Dr. VIshnu Bapat on Shankara’s Tattvabodha.This is a key work which introduces all of the key concepts of Advaita in a systematic manner.

The commentary is based upon those by several other authors, together with the audio lectures of Swami Paramarthananda. It includes word-by-word breakdown of the Sanskrit shloka-s so should be of interest to everyone, from complete beginners to advanced students.

Part 23 continues the enquiry into the statement ‘you are That’ (tat tvam asi) and looks at the meaning of ‘you’ and ‘That’.

There is a hyperlinked Contents List, which is updated as each new part is published.

Q.399 – Self-evident Atma

Q: I want to ask about the following quotation from your series on upadesha sAhasrI – part 19 (upadesha sAhasrI compiled by R. B. Athreya from the lectures of Swami Paramarthananda):

Atma, though a knower of everything, is not a known object, because, if Atma were to be a known object it will need another Atma to know, leading to what is known as infinite regress (anavasta dosham)Atma cannot be known by itself, because, to be known by itself, it has to become both the subject and the object, which is not possible as one and the same entity cannot function as subject and object simultaneously.

We cannot also say that one part of Atma can be known by another part, as Atma is by definition partless.  Thus, Atma is ever the knower but not known by others or by itself. 

As Atma is self-evident, its existence needs no proof.  That I am conscious is evident to me.  The very search for proof is possible because of my being conscious.  Thus, Atma is revealed as self-evident Witness Consciousness which illumines everything and which cannot be objectified by anything.  This Atma is my real nature.  All the known attributes belong to the known objects and cannot belong to the knower, Atma (consciousness).” Continue reading