Q. 425 Truth and reality

Q: As I see/feel it, Truth (with a capital T) is a human concept, and like all concepts, is not real (except in our minds). “What is” is simply “what is” … period, end of story (literally).

Advaita Vedanta seems to say that Truth (Brahman) is real, that it is in fact the only reality.

  1. Are the two assertions above incompatible? (I have the feeling that, ultimately, they’re not, because the Truth I’m talking about is a concept and Brahman is not.)
  2. If they are, is my take that ‘Truth is a human concept and therefore not real’ a deep obstacle (perhaps even a show-stopper) to my studying Advaita?

A: It is not possible to talk about brahman/reality because it is non-dual and without attributes (see Q. 328). You need to accept/appreciate this. But of course, as part of the process of removing self-ignorance from the mind, we do need to ‘as if’ talk about it. And we do this via pointers, negation and so on. All of these are concepts and have to be dropped IN THE END. But, in the interim, we make use of them without worrying about the fact that they are mithyA.

The other point is that words are very slippery things and different people can understand different things. The word ‘sat’ can certainly mean both ‘reality’ and ‘truth’ (as well as ‘existence’). Whether or not you regard these as synonyms may cause you a problem of the sort you describe. But the word ‘reality’ is as much a concept as the word ‘truth’! These are the sort of things that twentieth century Western philosophers argued about. Don’t worry about it! Gain Self-knowledge and you can then happily drop all the concepts, or simply use them as appropriate when you want to talk to someone who doesn’t have Self-knowledge!

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

Reality of the world

The discussion that follows stems from a comment I made on a recent article in the July NOW Newsletter. This is produced by a group in Australia led by Alan Mann and is a resource for the works of Thomas Traherne, as well as Douglas Harding, John Wren-Lewis and George Schloss.

I publish our email exchanges verbatim, as they occurred, below. Please feel free to add any useful comments!

  1. ***************************************

Hi Alan,

Regarding your preferred definition of ‘real’ (“The definition of real which I prefer is: actually existing as a thing or occurring in fact; not imagined or supposed.”):

Does a chair exist? As a chair? What if I remove the legs and back; is it still a chair? Was it a chair a year ago, 10, 100, 1000 years ago? What about similar periods in the future? I suggest that it is not the chair that exists at all, it is the wood out of which it is made. (And the same argument applies to the wood over longer timescales.) A ‘chair’ is not real; it is only name and form of wood. Etc. ‘Things’ are not real; no ‘thing’ exists in its own right; it is dependent upon something more fundamental for its existence. And this goes on, all the way back to Consciousness.

Have you read the story I wrote about this? – the ‘first definition’ at http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/definitions/advaita.htm. You can publish this in your next edition if you like.

Best wishes,
Dennis Continue reading

Overview of Western Philosophy – Part 2


(Read Part 1 of the series.)

Part 2 – Metaphysics

Metaphysics, as the study of the questions of ‘life, the universe and everything’ is known, fell out of vogue in the twentieth century, when the attitude arose that most of what had previously been thought to be intransigent problems were not really problems at all but arose through our inability to formulate the problem correctly. Once we used language properly, it was argued, the difficulties would disappear. Many recent philosophers have not even addressed the sort of fundamental questions that are being asked on this site. In this respect there is a similarity with science. There was a time when an enquiring mind could range over the entire domain of what is now thought of as ‘science’, becoming expert in many areas and making new discoveries. The amount of material that was written down and accepted as proven was minimal. Over the past few centuries, the rate of investigation and discovery has accelerated and it is now possible to conduct novel research in only a tiny area of specialisation. In the 3rd Century BC, Aristotle’s multi-disciplined enquiries have already been noted. By the 20th Century, most of the philosophy in England was devoted to analysing the meanings of sentences! Continue reading

Language and Teaching

I think we have probably had enough discussion on the ‘Experience versus Knowledge’ question. I cannot imagine many visitors wanting to read through 50+ comments on the topic! So here is an article that I have just had published in the Newsletter of Ramana Maharshi Foundation UK. It is on a subject closely related to the above question and indeed was touched upon in some of the comments…

Language and Teaching

Language is something we tend to take very much for granted. When someone says something to us, and providing we recognize the words, we think that we understand what it is that the speaker intends to communicate. And we respond appropriately. This is often not verbal – when it is, there is a subsequent opportunity to resolve any misunderstanding. Our response is usually to form an immediate mental opinion or judgement upon what has been said. And this is probably not merely a spoken or unspoken comment upon the particular topic expressed but also upon the person who made the statement. This all happens instantaneously and automatically. Thus it is that it can actually be worse for our comprehension if we already know something about the topic to begin with than if we are completely ignorant. What we take in will be significantly coloured by what we believe to be our prior knowledge (which may actually be ignorance). Continue reading

How could we merge absurdist and Buddhist philosophies?


M. Provisionally we could put side by side ‘absurd’ (or illogical) and ‘unprovable’, even if they are not synonymous; and the main tenets of all religions are such. They are not ‘rational’. On the other hand, neither science, ‘common sense’, or rationality are the ‘end all’. There are many things that escape explanation with the current state of our knowledge and understanding.

Paradox is a term related, one way or another, to the above. Just consider the following:

i) “How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress”. Niels Bohr (famous physicist)

ii) Is there anything more absurd to ordinary understanding of the world and us than the following (taken from my blog): “That truth, put into words, is paradoxical: you are all (as Consciousness) and ‘you’ (as perceived individual) are nothing, or a phantom; you are the final witness, but ‘you’ are not a witness; the world is illusory (as appearance), but in essence is reality itself. That revelatory, transcendental experience is non-transferable, not provable to another.”

GL. If by absurdism you mean acknowledging that there is no absolute truth, then zen buddhism when asked what is enlightenment, answers “6 pounds of flax”, which is, I believe, trying to point out that absolute truth is impossible.

M. You probably mean ‘impossible to demonstrate, or to know, with the ordinary mind’, but ask a zen buddhist if it (absolute reality or truth) is impossible to grasp, to grok.

GL. I think the point of the flax koan is that you can’t know satori with certainty.

M. Is it not rather that the experience cannot be explained – or transmitted – with words, being ineffable? Such is a transcendental experience, where there is no individual per se present.

GL. Isn’t “ineffable” the same as saying we can’t know with certainty?

M. No, it means ‘inexpressible’, the experience being overwhelming (rather than being too sacred – another meaning).

GL. If you can’t describe it, then it isn’t knowable.

If it is purely a matter of experience, then there is no way for me to know you are experiencing something the same way I am. Color is ineffable. You experience red and green the way you do, and I experience it the way I do. And unless we have an objective test for color blindness, there is no way to know if you see what I see. Some people see color when they hear sound. And as long as that experience is ineffable, there is no way to know if we see color the same way. Only when we establish some objective explanation and some objective testing can we know with certainty if we are experiencing similar things.

M. You refer to what are called qualia, but I am not sure how far you want to go (can nothing be known? In what sense?) Most empiricists/scientists tend to disregard this question or deny that it presents any problem for their physicalist stance. In non-duality, which is what interests me, there are not, cannot be, any objective tests referable to either external or internal experiences of what generally is understood as reality (the world and oneself) except, perhaps, in one’s facial expression and/or demeanor. That agrees with what you say about qualia but, aside from non-duality (or as a preliminary to it), it doesn’t mean that there cannot be agreement, concurrence, in the realm of thought, sensations, and feelings. Two people reading the same book or page – if they are on the same wave length (let’s say interest in non-duality, or in a particular modality of art, like Baroque or modern) – will have similar thoughts and feelings. Language is for communication – even about the understanding of non-duality (like zen) – but certain experiences cannot be communicated, such as particular intuitions or epiphanies, regardless of what we understand as qualia, though related to it.

Revision of ‘Review of article on Shankara’ – Part 5

A tarka (reasoning, argumentation) is required for the analysis of anubhava, as both SSS and RB (the author) agree – consistent with Shankara’s position. That is, language and thought, needless to say, have a role to play, chiefly for exposition and analysis.

However, after two long, dense paragraphs RB contends: “If the tarka required to examine anubhava is itself completely dependent on ´sruti, then by no means is anubhava the ‘kingpin’ of pram¯an.as.”

Prior to this, SSS was quoted as maintaining that “for this unique tarka all universal anubhavas or experiences (intuitive experiences) themselves are the support.” The author states that this affirmation involves circular argumentation, and that to say that Shankara interprets the Vedas as being consistent with anubhava is wrong, the truth being the other way around, anubhava is consistent with the Vedas: “it should be clear that according to Sure´svar¯ac¯arya, the direct realization is directly from just ´sruti itself, thus satisfying the criteria for it to be a pram¯an.a…. The direct realization of the self is from ´sruti alone.” Continue reading

What is Death – part 6 and final (metaphysics or spirituality – non- duality)




‘There is doubt concerning a man who has departed. Some say, “He is”, and others say, “He is not”. Taught by you [Yama, god of death], I would know this. This is the third of my boons’.

‘Do not, do not insist: release me from this’…. Choose a hundred years, sons and grand sons… elephants, gold, horses… Naciketas, enter a great realm of desires: I will make you the enjoyer of your desires… but do not ask me about dying’.

Naciketas, the young seeker, will have none of that.

‘Since you, Death, tell me it is not easily understood, and no one else can be found who can teach this as you can, there is no boon to equal this’.


‘Yama continues: ‘The wise one [inner self] is not born, nor does it die. [Hidden in all beings] it is not from anywhere, nor was it anyone. Unborn, everlasting, eternal, primeval, it is not slain when the body is slain.’  Continue reading

Objectification (Q. 310)

Q. I’ve been thinking about two things.

 To determine that awareness is my true self and that my true self is not my ‘I’ concept, I’ve been looking into the ‘I’ concept. It is not my mind, because I can say ‘my mind’. It is not my body, because I can say ‘my body’, but could it be the mind body complex? Most would say no, because the mind and body are plural and the self cannot be plural. However, I’m confused because I don’t see it this way. I see the mind and body as acting as one, which means that the ‘I’ could possibly be it. It is difficult to determine where the mind begins and the body ends, and vice versa, so I see them as one, like the Yin Yang symbol. How do I know that the true self is not the ‘I’ concept that arises within me? Is it because I can make the ‘I’ concept the object of awareness, thus it cannot be the subject? Continue reading

Science and the nature of absolute reality (Part 1)

(Note that this was published to the restricted distribution for my ‘akhaNDAkAra’ journal in Jan 2010)

As an adolescent…I craved factual certainty and I thirsted for a meaningful vision of human life – so I became a scientist. This is like becoming an archbishop so you can meet girls. M. Cartmill

There seems to have been a growing trend (since the publication of Fritzjof Capra’s book ‘The Tao of Physics’ in 1975) to claim that science is both willing and able to investigate and understand the non-dual status of reality. More and more, science-based books and essays are appearing, but none seem to be actually founded in the proven methodology of Advaita. This is understandably symptomatic of the present time, in which science is seemingly able to supply all of our needs – if not already, then at least as a promise for the near future. Philosophies such as Advaita on the other hand are based on ancient scriptures, written in Sanskrit which no one can understand. ‘Where is the contest?’ the uninformed seeker is clearly going to ask. Continue reading