Conversation with ‘H’ (Knower, Witness) Prelude & Part 1

H. ‘… as regards the somewhat artificial distinction (ontologically speaking) that I make between awareness and consciousness, then this is something I do of my own choosing, accepting that there is an objectless state of mind that cannot correctly be termed ‘consciousness’ as it is not ‘with knowledge’ of any kind. In its stricter, more formal sense, then in the language of Pali this would be one of the Arūpajhāna, as you may well know – i.e. neither perception nor non-perception. I often find myself in dispute with phenomenologists over whether an objectless awareness is possible. Although the (8th) Arūpajhāna itself is of course a very rarified state, the very fact that it is a state gives me – I hope – the liberty to introduce the idea of a Tabula Rasa of mind, and which, again due to the ubiquity of the term, I call ‘awareness’ for the purposes of creating a template for learning only. I do not consider it to be its own ontological category.’ Continue reading

Science and Consciousness

(This article was originally published in ‘Yoga International’ magazine Aug-2011. I don’t think the magazine exists any longer, which is why no link is provided.)

During the past few years, an increasing number of scientists have claimed insight into the nondual nature of reality. These claims, however, ignore a fundamental truth: Consciousness falls outside the scope of scientific investigation. Therefore, by their very nature, such claims cannot be valid.

There has always been a degree of animosity between science and spirituality. The Catholic Church’s persecution of Galileo over his insistence that the Earth was not the center of the universe comes to mind, as does the current debate between Creationists and those preferring the more down-to-earth tenets of Darwinian evolution. It is encouraging, therefore, to see the growing number of books and articles written by scientists on the subject of nonduality. There is even an annual conference with the title “Science and Nonduality,” thus making it possible to explore these two avenues of knowledge in the same forum.

Paradoxically, both the power and the ultimate shortcoming of science as a tool for investigating the nature of reality lie in its objectivity. The scientific method of empirical observation and subsequent reasoning is something it shares with Vedanta, along with the acceptance of findings from those who have gone before (providing these findings do not contradict more recent discoveries).

Science has made a significant contribution to persuading people to consider that the world may not be as it initially appears to our limited organs of perception. At one end of the scale, the scanning electron microscope looks into the supposed solidity of the matter beneath our fingertips. At the other extreme, the Hubble telescope peers toward infinity into the swirling clouds of galaxies invisible to the naked eye. ‘Reality’ is far more subtle than everyday experience would have us believe. The hardness of the table on which I write is due to irrevocable laws regarding the spin of electrons and their sharing of orbitals around atoms. Massive energy sources in the universe result from entire galaxies being sucked into black holes. Our own senses are quite inadequate for the job of explaining the behavior of the world around us, whereas science seemingly can. Continue reading

Q. 433 Seeking ‘nondual experiences’

Q: For the better part of four decades, I was on the hunt for spiritual experiences that would ‘expand my consciousness.’ I now realize and understand that only Self-Knowledge can provide lasting peace, and any experience is something that comes and goes in time and therefore can never be a permanent condition. However, I still find it very difficult to drop the search for a Big Bang event, after which I can safely say: “Ok, now I am enlightened for sure.”

What is confusing about this is that there are so many teachers who seem to have a pretty clear grasp of nondual teaching and still speak in terms of what happened during their awakening or enlightenment event. Francis Lucille, for example, talks about his experience in Eternity Now. (“For a few moments, the pure I-thought seemed to vacillate, just as the flame of an oil lamp running out of fuel, then vanished. At that precise moment, the immortal background of Presence revealed itself in all its splendor.”) Franklin Merrell-Wolff provides an amazingly clear description of the ‘Recognition’ events that happened to him after studying Shankara. Ken Wilber talks of having been consciously aware for 11 straight days, even through deep sleep, etc. Clearly, Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj both went through Big Bang type spiritual awakenings, and of course, there are numerous other similar reports by various sages and gurus. Continue reading

Two questions answered in Quora

Is soul different from consciousness?

I agree with the responders here that equate both concepts – soul and consciousness – which in themselves are just pointers to what is real/reality. Reality can only be one, not multiple; thus, to make a distinction between soul and consciousness, or between spirit and matter, God and the world (or ‘I’), experience and knowledge  – or between Brahman and Atman – is either provisional (an intermediate doctrine or teaching) or confusing and limiting.

Another polarity which is ultimately unreal (only verbal or conceptual) from an unitary or metaphysical perspective is singularity/multiplicity. Language has its rights, but in this rarefied realm I would also equate spirituality with metaphysics, knowing full well the risks or misunderstandings that it can lead to. Continue reading

Q. 431 Emergence vs. Consciousness

Q: In Advaita one learns to ‘unravel’ objects: table as wood, wood as cells, cells as molecules, molecules as atoms, atoms as subatomic particles, etc. (neti neti!) all the way down. What Advaita says ‘lies at the bottom’ is Brahman, the oneness from which all apparent objects of form manifest.

What seems just as (if not more) intuitively plausible to me is that what lies at the bottom is: a few primal emergent ‘rules’. Perhaps even just one rule: attraction/repulsion. Electrons are attracted to protons and repelled by other electrons giving way to atoms, atoms are attracted to other atoms giving way to molecules, and so on, all the way up to the forms we know and love.

In this view of reality, there is no top-level overarching ‘organizational’ principle: Consciousness. There is instead a vast web of ‘stuff’ that arises from a few simple low-level emergent rules. As with all emergent systems, the application of these rules, once sufficiently complex, creates a system that seems to have an overarching top-level intelligence/intentionality/organizational principle, but in reality doesn’t.

So, friends: Who wins? Emergence or Consciousness? Or is it a non-zero-sum game: Are emergence and Consciousness not mutually exclusive?

A (Dennis): If you have read my articles about science and its views, you will know that I do not regard it very highly when it comes to consciousness and reality!

The ‘unraveling’ is an explanation of the concept of mithyA and provides an intuitively reasonable explanation as to why all ‘things’ are just name and form of brahman. If you try to turn this around you are then tacitly assuming that the empirical reality has some absolute reality, which it doesn’t (unless you are just accepting that ‘everything is brahman’). Or you are just attempting to use science to ‘explain’ Ishvara. Because Advaita would call your ‘fundamental laws’ or ‘primary emergent rules’ Ishvara. Ishvara is both intelligent and material cause for the (apparent) creation. In reality, of course, there has never been any creation. Both the ocean (universe) and the wave (individual) are always only water.

States of Consciousness – 2, 3, 4 and 1/2?

Okay, here is your starter for 10 – your time starts now! (If you’re not familiar with this phrase, it relates to the quiz show ‘University challenge’, which was on British television for many years.)

The question is: how many states of consciousness are there?

I can almost see your mind tripping up and reading that question again. Surely, you will say, there are three states of consciousness – waking, dreaming and deep sleep. What can I possibly mean by querying this? Well, actually, depending upon how you answer this question, the number of states of consciousness could be two, three or five (or 4 ½) or you could argue that the very question is misconceived!

It is true that most of the scriptures refer to 3 states. If you have read my book ‘A-U-M: Awakening to Reality’, you will know that it refers to jAgrat, svapna and suShupti. These three states are mithyA and the reality underlying them is called turIya. In the tattva bodha (attributed to Shankara), the question is asked: avasthAtrayaM kim? – What are the three states? Admittedly, this is a somewhat leading question but the answer is given: jAgratsvapnasuShuptyavasthAH – they are the waking, dream and deep sleep states. And it goes on to explain each in turn. Continue reading

Q. 424 Paradox of the Illusory Self

Q: I’ve read your wonderful book, Back to the Truth, and much from your website. I’ve learned so much from what you’ve offered, it’s impossible to thank you enough. I do have a question that continues to arise again and again. Though simple, it’s never quite answered head-on. It’s hard to phrase it in a single sentence, so here goes: 

Sometimes it seems that nondual teachers are simply saying “Did you notice you’re conscious? That’s what you are.” There are many such teachers, as I’m sure you are aware. Some, similarly, seem to say that realizing there is no person is all there is too it, everything else stays the same. Meanwhile there are many many accounts of realization that include an understanding of the nature of consciousness, of seeing he world of objects as empty or transparent, and many have said that the mark of realization is an awareness that does not go away (or seem to go away) during deep sleep. These understandings seem beyond no-self.

So when an instructor says something like “who wants to know” or “who wants enlightenment” I get very frustrated. I get it that there is no person that wants to know. Maybe I don’t get it enough (certainly not experientially), but just dropping the idea of a self and saying “yep I’m conscious, I’m aware” does not lead to these other powerful understandings, or deeper truths. 

Body minds that have realized no-self still go on through life with a few desires and interests that they try to satisfy (Ramana Maharshi reading the news, for instance). This body-mind is interested in big Truths. So why tell me that seeing through the self, knowing that I am aware (or awareness) is enough? There seem to be another, bigger, even more interesting truth to be discovered. 

So, I guess a simple way of asking my question is: Paradoxes rise from a illusory self seeking to see through itself. but they don’t arise from a body mind (or even an illusory self) seeking to understand oneness, consciousness, the universe, etc. I assume we have to see through the self to realize the rest, but why do so many seem to ignore the rest? Continue reading

Q. 423 Logical proof

Q: Is there a logical proof that all souls are multiple personalities of the same self, and of what therefore  to do?

A (Dennis): ‘No’ is the simple answer. If there were, scientists would not still be looking for the origin of consciousness in the brain! It is rather that there exists a body of knowledge from those who have realized that this is how it is. ‘Teachers’ draw on this, together with their own experience, to explain things to seekers until such time as they realize the truth for themselves. To one who has been through this process, there is no problem in understanding that this is perfectly acceptable. To one who has not, however, it seems quite unacceptable and not really any different from the ‘faith’ of religions.

Incidentally, the phrasing of your question indicates that you do not appreciate the ‘bottom line’ message of Advaita. There are no individual ‘souls’ or ‘personalities’ and nothing to ‘do’ in reality. There is only the Self – and you are That (already). You just do not realize this. I.e. all that needs to happen is to remove the ignorance that is preventing you from seeing what is already the case.

Truth or Reality

Truth Reality Bhavagam (God)

Bhrigu said, ‘Truth is Brahma; Truth is Penance; it is Truth that creates all creatures. It is by Truth that the whole universe is upheld; and it is with the aid of Truth that one goes to heaven. Untruth is only another form of Darkness. It is Darkness that leads downwards. Those who are afflicted by Darkness and covered by it fail to behold the lighted regions of heaven. It has been said that Heaven is light and that Hell is Darkness.

Mahabharata Santi Parva Section CXC


‘Reality’ is a metaphysical concept or notion (which thus combines reason and intuition. As a concept, it purports to refer to something which is actually existing and is not just verbal (that is, it exists outside its verbal expression). Continue reading

Q. 416 – More on evil

Q: If everything is the manifestation of consciousness, is there any explanation for so much pain, suffering, illness, disease, starvation, depression etc?

I have read and understood that Consciousness manifests itself in everything and  through human beings in order to experience the life (or dream) it created.

If this is so then one comes to the conclusion that sadism and masochism are experiences Consciousness also wants to feel, bearing in mind the atrocities that humans are committing nowadays.

A (Dennis): This is a question I am sure many will relate to. I can provide an answer in a number of ways.

Firstly, similar questions have been asked before. See, for example, Questions 100, 120 and 134. Secondly, I could throw this open to the other bloggers who may look at it from different angles. Let me know if you want me to do this. Thirdly, here are a couple of ideas that may help.

If, by ‘Consciousness’, you mean the non-dual reality (which I assume you do – so do I) then you have to concede that from that point of view there can be no ‘experiences’ and no value judgments. If you accept the conclusion of Advaita – ‘all there is is Consciousness’, then Consciousness is all there is! It is a bit like using steel to make scalpels and also to make daggers. From the standpoint of the steel, both are steel only. It is only the person who says one is good and the other bad. And the person, too, is only Consciousness.

Another way of looking at it is by comparing it to dream. Presumably you have dreams in which ‘bad’ things happen? Why do you do this? Why not always dream about good things? But, when you wake up, does it really matter? Was the bad thing really bad? When you realize the truth, you also know that the waking world is ultimately no more real than the dream world. Both are turIya, only.

Finally, you should note that Consciousness does not do anything, does not desire anything. Nor does it experience anything, either for itself or ‘through’ the supposedly created entities. The ‘bottom line’ of Advaita is that nothing has ever been created.