Overview of Western Philosophy – Part 8

(Read Part 7 of the series.)

Empiricism and Idealism         Locke and Berkeley)


Born some eighteen years before the death of Descartes, the Englishman John Locke claimed that reason was not the principal means for finding out about the world, as the earlier philosopher had contended. Instead, he advocated an empirical approach to knowledge, i.e. using one’s senses actually to see what is the case. This is the only means for obtaining raw data and we use reason subsequently to make sense of it. Only then can it become knowledge. He believed his own purpose in life was to enquire into human knowledge to discover its limits and the extent to which we could be certain of it.

Unlike modern, evolutionary psychologists, he believed that we are effectively born with no innate knowledge, a metaphorical ‘blank slate’. All of our knowledge and understanding is therefore built upon information derived from our senses. Everything we know or think about ultimately comes from experience. The limits of what we can know about reality are fixed by the abilities of the senses and the associated mental equipment. Continue reading

Waking World is also Unreal

small_A-U-MDreams are a powerful metaphor in Advaita. The Yoga Vasishtha is perhaps the best known book to utilize them extensively but probably the earliest teacher to do so was Gaudapada in his kArikA-s on the mANDUkya upaniShad.

He effectively says that the waking state is unreal, like dreams, ‘because we experience it’. This is anvAya-vyatireka logic: we experience objects in dreams, and they turn out to be unreal; therefore the objects we experience in waking are also unreal.

This does not sound very convincing and there are various arguments that we can raise to object to the analogy. Gaudapada raises them for us, in case we can’t think of them all! Here is the third argument he puts forward. It is an extract from my forthcoming book, which will be published 25th September 2015.

Third objection to world being unreal

And this leads on to the third objection namely that, whereas the dream world is subjective, the waking world has objective reality. It is experienced as external to ourselves, whereas the dream takes place in our mind (K2.9 – 10). But this notion suffers from the same confusion as before. We only recognize that the dream world is ‘in our mind’ when we are awake; at the time of the dream, it is just as much ‘external’ as is the waking world when we are awake. We might as well say that the waking world is really non-existent since it disappears when we are in the dream or deep sleep states. At the time of the dream, I experience external objects and events in just the same manner. Their illogicality or even impossibility only becomes apparent on awakening. Continue reading

Dream Space, Awake Space and Mind-Space

[This short extract, in addition to providing the answers, also serves as an example of the incisive logic and inductive and deductive approach taken by Sage Vasishta in explicating the nature of the world to Rama in the well-known Advaitic scripture, Yogavasishta. The present material is from Chapter 2: mumukshu vyavahAra prakaraNa (The Conduct and Behavior of a committed Seeker), Original text: Shri K. V. Krishna Murthy; English translation: Ramesam Vemuri]

Where do the brahmANDa-s (multiverses) of the present time exist? They are in space.  What is space exactly?

One definition for space is that because of which it is possible for two objects to exist separated from one another.  We can also define it in another way. Space is that in which all the known objects are located.  But your dream world is also known to you! Can you say where do the rivers, mountains and all the other things of your dream world are located in the present awake world space?  Continue reading

Topic of the Month – Dreams

frescoThe topic for the month of February is Dreams and Dreaming

Here also is an opportunity to ask questions on this topic and receive answers from the bloggers.

We always assume the present to be the waking state and, by contrast with it, the previous state sublated by the present to be dream. It is impossible to distinguish them otherwise by any subtle definition. (Loose translation of Gaudapada kArikA 2.5) (Please, no reference to EEG to refute this!)

Eka jIva VAda – I Am Alone: Part VI

Understanding Perception:

We don’t ever see or experience a ‘world.’

Our capacity to detect anything  is confined to a limited bandwidth of certain characteristics (in a so-called world) using our sensory organs:

                       Eyes      →   light, colors, shapes, distances, sizes

                       Ears         sounds, distance

                       Skin       →  heat, pressure, itch, softness, roughness

                       Nose      →  smells

                       Tongue   →  taste

                       Mind (?)   time, imagining (thinking)

[Note: 1. The normally held view about our senses as given above is valid only in a broad way.  Modern scientific research shows that quite a bit of collaborative overlap exists in their actual functioning.  For example, eyes and skin also have a role in hearing;  nose and ears (and even lungs) assist the tongue in tasting etc. Embodiment takes place from multi-sensory input.

2.  Notice that we are not endowed with any sensory organ to detect ‘time.’]

Continue reading

Logical enquiry into ‘Who I am’ (4/4)

who am I 4We started this enquiry into identity by employing a simple piece of logic: you cannot be what you observe. From this point of view, the things we normally take ourselves to be, starting with the body, were systematically discounted because they turn out to be objects of perception, as covered in the first three parts of this series. Despite this reasoning, the tendency to believe our identity with the amalgam of body, senses and mind tends to remains very powerful: we continue to believe that we are these individuals bound by skin, with an experiential history and an instinctive, habitual mindset through which ‘I’ filter the world.

Identity with the body is evidenced by the vast cosmetic surgery industry today. People feel better with fewer wrinkles, larger breasts, drug-induced libido, less fat, etc. That’s the extreme end, but coming closer to the average person, we think of ourselves as too tall, too short, too hot or cold. If the body is in pain, we say: I am in pain. We really do mean ‘I’ when we say: I am hot, cold, ugly, beautiful, too short, too fat, too old. By employing the incontrovertible logic of ‘I cannot be what I can observe’, it does not take long for us to realise that the body is an object of perception: ‘I’ can experience my body using my five senses. We then ask: Who is observing the body? Continue reading

Logical enquiry into ‘Who I am’ (3/4)

Who I am 3When we analysed the world of objects in the waking state we came to the understanding that our experience of the variety of objects is due to the variety of corresponding mental impressions (covered in Part 2 of this series). If there isn’t a mental impression ‘this is a pot’ then, despite fully-functioning senses, the pot will be as good as non-existent. The perception of ‘is-ness’ is the single, unchanging common thread in all our worldly experiences. This perception is given the name, ‘consciousness’.

When we analysed our dream state experience we realised that the same observation holds true for the dream universe as for the universe we encounter when awake. This experience gives an added dimension to our understanding of consciousness: not only is it the one, unchanging basis of the varied, changing objects (gross and subtle), but now we see that it is also continuous through the changing states of experience. The ‘I’ that is awake is the same ‘I’ that dreamt: ‘I am awake, I had a dream’. Continue reading

Logical enquiry into ‘Who I am’ (2/4)

who am I 2In the first part of this enquiry we saw how, by discriminating between the seer and what’s seen, we arrive at the understanding that ‘I’, the seer, am not the body, not the sense powers, not the thinking faculty, not even a combination of all of them. They are all objects of my perception and I am the perceiving subject. And I, the subject, cannot be what I can perceive as an object. In this logical way we arrived, step-by-step, at a final ‘knower’, which is given the name ‘pure consciousness’. This pure consciousness is what remains after thoughts, (which are the subtlest objects of perception), have been dismissed as the ultimate ‘I’. We know there’s something there but it is still a bit hazy. We now need to test the robustness of our new working conclusion that this ‘pure consciousness’ is the ‘I’ we are searching for and sharpen the understanding.

For this we need to understand the nature of consciousness and its relationship, if any, with ‘I’. A question might arise at this point: If ‘I’ is the pure consciousness that remains in the absence of vtti-s (thoughts), and no cognition is possible without vtti-s, then how can I ever know what I am? How do we go further with this enquiry if there are no thoughts? Continue reading

Eka jIva VAda – I Am Alone: Part V

This Post responds to the Comments of 18th April made by Suka.

(Suka’s Comment in blue and my response in black).

S:  Mithya is defined as sadasadbhyām vilakṣaṇam – meaning it cannot be categorically classified as truth or false. Mithya is vyāvahārika, experientially efficient, substantially unreal. 

R:   vyAvahArika and prAtibhAsika fall under mithya.  Both vyAvahArika and prAtibhAsika are experienced in their respective spheres, and both derive their reality based on the Reality of the immutable substratum. Dr. Mani Dravid Shastri also suggests in his lectures on adhyAsabhAshya that, “mithya can be divided into two categories, namely vyAvahArika or empirical and prAtibhAsika or illusory.”

S:  The argument tat pot is an illusion does not hold water, because pot does hold water.

R:  “Holding water” too is as much an illusion as pot or water!!

Continue reading

Traditional Teaching and Deep Sleep – III. mAyA & Creation

[The latter part of the article requires a bit of mathematical (or at least arithmetic) orientation in the reader. If you know the addition, 1 + 1, that is enough. Otherwise, it could prove slightly boring!]

We shall tackle now the question of how we wake up to be what (we think) we were before we went to bed.

I said in my previous argument that our waking up to a new morning and into an awake state is comparable to another cycle of creation.  So I suggest we examine how creation itself takes place.

From a scientific perspective, creation seems to be happening from ‘nothingness’ and dissolving back into nothing.  Vedantins prefer to call nothingness as ‘Beingness’ simply because even ‘nothingness’ has to ‘Be.’

If we go by what Quantum Physics tells us, what we may refer to as ‘nothingness’ is not just emptiness.  There is an enormous amount of energy in ‘Emptiness.’ Physicists have been able to measure this energy of empty space.

The energy within the empty space of the nucleus of an atom is the main reason for the weight of the nucleus (and hence of the matter we are all).  The energy of the emptiness within the intergalactic space is the reason for the expanding universe causing the colossal and mighty galaxies to recede from one another at speeds exceeding the speed of light. This vast energy is the result of constant creation and annihilation of virtual particles smaller than sub-atomic particles. Thus creation-dissolution is an ongoing unstoppable roiling and boiling process from emptiness to emptiness within emptiness!

Continue reading