Q.438 Could a computer become enlightened?

Q: Will an ‘upload’ be capable of giving mokSha to a computer? By ‘upload’ I am referring to the Science Fiction concept of scanning the contents of a human brain down to the quantum level, and then simulating that complex entity in a virtual environment. Ray Kurzweil is a key proponent who claims this will be possible sometime within the next few decades.

A: The mind is rather more than just data, and more than processing-software running on brain hardware. Although all these things are ultimately Consciousness alone, there has to be something there to reflect the light of Consciousness in order for a thing actually to become conscious. And it has to do this very well indeed before it can become self-conscious. And it has to do it brilliantly in order to gain mokSha! I don’t think uploads satisfy these criteria!

Q: I agree with your answer, but I suppose the answer will depend largely on the assumptions one makes in thinking through the problem. Can reflected consciousness arise in a silicon-based entity? Or only carbon-based creatures like ourselves? It’s actually a pretty stimulating question, and it touches on the ‘hard problem’ as defined by David Chalmers, etc. If you ever do get around to reading his book, he has an interesting thought experiment on the principle of organizational invariance, where neurons are one-by-one replaced with silicon equivalents. At what point does consciousness (which here would only be reflected) disappear in this process? Not asking for an answer from you – just wanted to mention this aspect of the question.

A: You are still assuming that consciousness relates to the gross body – replacing carbon with silicon. The mind is the subtle body in Advaita. Having said that, I see no reason why there should not be silicon-based life forms associated with subtle bodies elsewhere in the universe…

Q: Good point, thanks. It makes me wonder though, if the mind is the subtle body and doesn’t relate to the gross body/brain, then why is the subtle body affected at all when the brain becomes physically damaged? I was thinking in terms of reflected consciousness arising in the ‘mirror’ that consisted of gross + subtle body.

A: Good point, too. I guess the metaphor of computers does come into play here, the mind needing the hardware of the brain in order to manifest (better word than function, since it retains the autonomy of the subtle body, which is supposed to migrate to a new body after the death of the existing one).

Q.437 Daydreaming and jAgrat vs svapna

Q: If I am daydreaming while otherwise consciously awake, meaning that I am caught up in a dreamlike narrative that is playing itself out while external sights or sounds are relegated to the background, is the daydream taking place in jAgrat or svapna? Is there, in other words, any overlap between the three avasthA-s?

A: Regarding intermediate states of consciousness, I have written a blog about this. Have a read and see if you still have any question – http://www.advaita-vision.org/states-of-consciousness-2-3-4-and-1-2/.

Q: Many Eastern traditions refer to what we think of as the waking state as a (subtle) dream. A dream in that things are not real in the sense that we think they are real. An elephant in a dream is dream-real, not waking-state-real. Similarly, an elephant in the waking state is not real in the sense we think it is either. It is a story, an interpretation, a creation of the mind.

Lucid wakefulness enables us to see this: that the waking-state elephant is just as un-real as the dream elephant. I see this as a third state of consciousness: not the default wakeful state, not the dream state, but the lucid wakeful state.

A: This highlights one of the principal problems of teaching advaita – use of language. Unless each key word is carefully defined and understood by the listener as was intended by the speaker, the ‘teaching’ will not work. Confusion and/or misunderstanding will result.

You know that there are three states – waking, dreaming and deep-sleep – and a non-dual reality, turIya. Any attempt to introduce further states can only confuse and will certainly not tally with traditional Advaita. Also, although waking and dream are both mithyA, waking is vyavahAra while dream is pratibhAsa – not the same! Try walking in front of a (waking) stampeding elephant if you don’t believe me!

Q: But… In order to see that dream objects are mithyA, you need to be looking from one level higher: the waking state. Similarly, in order to see that waking objects are mithyA, you need likewise to be looking from one level higher. This is what I’m calling lucid wakefulness.

How would it be described in traditional Advaita, this ‘ability’ to see that waking objects are mithyA? And totally, not just intellectually.

A: It’s called ‘Self-knowledge’ or (in modern terms) ‘enlightenment’. But it is still the waking state.

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

Q. 432 ‘Definition’ of brahman

Q: So brahman is, ‘by definition’, that which is beyond mind, conceptualization, understanding etc. If one takes this seriously, not just metaphorically/allegorically, how can one validly say anything at all about brahman? E.g. Brahman is: unchanging, timeless, attribute-less.

If it’s unknowable, how can we know these attribute-less attributes about it? We are told that Brahman is real; we are Brahman. But if we can’t know Brahman, how can we know it is real or that we are it? Does it ultimately all come down to believing the conclusions and insights of the scriptures?

A: Brahman is not anything ‘by definition’, because we cannot define it.

It is true that you cannot, strictly speaking, say anything at all about it. All of these statements from the scriptures are simply pointers. You know what those words mean so that your mind can gain some insight. Ultimately, the accumulation of insights enables the mind to make that catastrophic (in mathematical terms) ‘rearrangement’ that we call enlightenment. The problem is simply that all concepts and objects are ‘known’ so cannot be Atman-brahman. Atman is the ‘knower’ and there would have to be another knower to know it. Since there is only brahman in reality, there cannot be anything else to know it.

But Atman is not something that is not known. Indeed it is known more intimately than any concept-object because we are the Atman. And the Atman is neither an object nor a concept. Here is what Sureshvara says (naiShkarmya siddhi III.47 – 48):

“Because the Self is of the form of constant awareness, it requires no second means of knowledge to reveal it; because it is without sound or other attributes it is beyond the sphere of doubt. The Self cannot be known through the empirical means of knowledge such as perception, etc, which are but phlegm coughed up by the thirst for life. Indeed, it is not a possible object of empirical cognition, since it is the innermost Self and since it exists for its own sake.”

Another reason is that all forms of perception are directed outwards, so that we could never ‘perceive’ the Self. And, since inference is itself based upon perception, we cannot infer the Self either.

So, yes, you are effectively right that, when it comes down to topics such as this, the scriptures are the final, indeed the only, authority. But it is not exactly ‘faith’ as this word is normally understood. The scriptures do not ask us to believe in anything that is unbelievable. That we are the Atman is effectively self-evident. What the scriptures tell us is that this Atman is Brahman.

* Note that I have posted a series of four articles, entitled ‘What is brahman?’ that discusses this whole subject and explains the two ways in which we can talk about brahman – svarUpa and taTastha lakShaNa-s, intrinsic and incidental definitions. The articles begins here: http://www.advaita-vision.org/what-is-brahman-part-1/.

 

Enlightenment (Part 3)

(Read Part 2)…

Simply wanting to become enlightened is of no use unless one understands that this means the acquisition of Self-knowledge. Swami Dayananda explains this:

“With so many concepts of mokSha available, a mere desire for mokSha is not good enough. It must be converted into jij~nAsA, a desire to know. This is very important. This conversion means recognizing the fact that mokSha is in the form of knowledge, which is to be gained here in this life. So mokSha is not later or elsewhere.

“Conversion of one’s desire for mokSha into jij~nAsA implies a certain cognitive change. To begin with, one has some idea about mokSha, which may not be more than a belief. When one thoroughly exposes oneself to the teaching, there is the possibility of discerning that the mokSha is in the form of knowledge alone and not in any other form.” [vivekachUDAmaNi – Talks on 108 Selected Verses, Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Sri Gangadharesvar Trust, 1997. No ISBN. Purchase from http://books.arshavidya.org/]

As I have put it elsewhere:
“The Self is already ‘enlightened.’ There is nothing that can or need be done to alter this fact. The problem is simply the mind and, in its ignorance, the identification with something limited, be it mind, body, role or whatever. Accordingly, to remove that ignorance, knowledge is needed and this process is all at the level of mind in the phenomenal world. When sufficient knowledge has been acquired, the ignorance is dissolved and the mind realizes that already existent truth. But nothing has actually changed. Continue reading

Enlightenment (Part 2)

(Read Part 1)…

Here is how Jean Klein puts it:

“…it lies beyond duality and cannot be grasped by language. One can however, endeavor to describe it by saying that the realized man is one who has reached a pure and full consciousness of ‘I am’. For the ordinary man, such a consciousness is always confused because it is impure, that is to say, accompanied by qualifications. ‘I am this or that’, ‘I have to deal with this or that’. In reality this ‘I am’ is ever there, it can’t be otherwise. It accompanies each and every state. To return to the ‘I am’ in its complete purity, there is no other way than the total elimination of everything that accompanies it: objects, states. Then that consciousness which hitherto used to turn to the innumerable companions of the ‘I am’, sees them all to be lifeless, finds itself, and realizes its own everlasting splendor.”
[Be Who You Are, Jean Klein translated Mary Mann, Non-Duality Press, 2006, ISBN-10: 0955176255, ISBN-13: 978-0955176258] Buy from Amazon US, Buy from Amazon UK

Unfortunately, between hearing this and knowing it to be true, there seems to be a very large, if not insurmountable, gap. How do we bridge it? Here is what Dhanya says: Continue reading

Enlightenment – akhaNDAkAra

The word akhaNDAkAra means ‘form of the whole’. AkAra means ‘form, shape, appearance’; akhaNDa means ‘entire, whole’ (a means ‘not’, khaNDa means ‘broken, deficient, fragmented’). So, what happens on enlightenment is that the previous mental disposition of believing ourselves to be separate and limited is replaced by the realization that we are the unlimited whole – brahman.

This realization takes place in the mind of a person at a moment in time but the irony is that, once it has occurred, it is then known that who-we-really-are is timeless and mindless.

Swami Paramarthananda tells a story about a game he used to play as a child. He and his friends would take a child into a room that was entirely empty and they would place pillows about the room and stand the child up against one wall. He was told to memorize the positions of the pillows and then they blindfolded him. He was then told that he had to cross the room to the other wall without touching any of the pillows. The other children then watched as he very carefully edged his way forward. Whenever they laughed, he would retreat and move sideways before trying again. Eventually he reached the other wall and was allowed to remove the blindfold. He then discovered that all of the pillows had been removed before he began and that he had been moving across an empty floor trying to avoid non-existent objects. 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. 413 – Yet more on free will

Q: The link http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/past_messages/freewill_waite.htm   is about your convincing argument that there is no free will.  The Q ( for which I have no free will!!) is whether the lack of free will  is an obstacle in pursuit of Self- realization? It would seem that one has no ‘choice’ in the pursuit for it will follow the law of cause and effect. What are your views? Incidentally you have a supporter in Stephen Hawking [‘Grand Design’].

“Though we feel that we can choose what we do, our understanding of the molecular basis of biology shows that biological processes are governed by the laws of physics and chemistry and therefore are as determined as the orbits of the planets. Recent experiments in neuroscience support the view that it is our physical brain, following the known laws of science, that determines our actions, and not some agency that exists outside those laws. For example, a study of patients undergoing awake brain surgery found that by electrically stimulating the appropriate regions of the brain, one could create in the patient the desire to move the hand, arm, or foot, or to move the lips and talk. It is hard to imagine how free will can operate if our behavior is determined by physical law, so it seems that we are no more than biological machines and that free will is just an illusion.” Continue reading

Q.412 Definition of ‘Enlightenment’

Q: In your writings you use quite often the word ‘Enlightenment’. In ‘Back to the truth: 5000 years of Advaita’ you give the following definition of “Enlightenment”:

“Enlightenment is a sudden recognition that non-duality is, has always been, and will always be the reality of our experience”

and further you explain:

“[…] it refers to the transition from the position of believing oneself to be a person – body, mind etc. as described earlier – to the position of knowing, that there is only the non-dual Self […]”

This is probably a pretty good definition, however the words ‘recognition’ and ‘knowledge’ here can be easily misunderstood.

‘Knowledge’, in the view of most people, including most of the spiritual aspirants, is a kind of intellectual knowledge or insight. As a result these people hearing the Advaitic non-dual doctrine usually just add to their ideas a new one: ‘I am non-dual Self, I am Brahman’, thinking that this is the required knowledge (or recognition) they have missed so far and that this is the Enlightenment.

Moreover, the term ‘Enlightenment’ is used by many religious/spiritual traditions/movements and is differently defined/interpreted by them; in fact there is a wide range of interpretations/definitions of the word ‘Enlightenment’. Further, many claim that there are stages of ‘Enlightenment’, saying that that there can be a deep or shallow enlightenment, full or partial.

Advaita defines ‘knowledge’ or ‘true knowledge’ differently and according to Advaita such an intellectual knowledge or mental recognition of non-dual truth is not the true knowledge at all. So such an ‘Enlightenment’ has relatively little value in Advaita spiritual system, being seen just as an intellectual understanding of the non-dual truth. From this point there is still a long way to the authentic realization of the truth, called ‘true knowledge’.

Taking all that into account I am rather against using the term ‘Enlightenment’ in the context of authentic Advaita teaching. In my view it doesn’t bring much clarity, confusing many. Why not use original Advaitin terms, which are meaningful, concrete, almost free of misconceptions and leave little room for interpretations?

Would you please explain if the term ‘Enlightenment’ has any origin in traditional Advaitic texts? Which ones, please give the exact examples. What is the original Sanskrit word which is translated into English as ‘Enlightenment’? Continue reading