Q: Recently, a relation suffered cardiac failure and was declared as ‘dead’ by one of the doctors in the local hospital. 30 minutes later, a doctor at a bigger hospital used a defibrillator to restart his heart. Unfortunately, for this span of 30 minutes, his brain was not receiving oxygen and conseqently 50 % of it was damaged leaving him in a ‘Persistent Vegetative State’. He has been in this condition for the past 2 years.
Currently I am studying various Upanishads along with Advaita Vedanta philosophy and I would seek your help on the following questions:
1) According to Advaita Vedanta and Upanishads, the soul departs on the death of a person. So in my relative’s case, does that mean that the ‘Soul’ had departed and came back again or did it never depart from his body ?
2) Does Vedanta recognize a person in a ‘persistent vegetative state’ as ‘alive’ ? How would Vedanata describe this state in terms of the usual 4 states (awake, dream, dreamless sleep and turIya)?
3) Does the soul leaves the body because the heart stops functioning or does the heart cease functioning because the soul has departed from the body ?
A (Dennis): Sorry to hear about your relative’s situation. It is understandably distressing.
Advaita is a progressive teaching. I.e. the scriptures or a teacher will provide one explanation for a new seeker and a different one for an advanced student. Ultimately, as you must realize, there are ‘not two things’. Therefore, the final understanding must be that there are no persons, no world, no mind etc; there is only brahman and ‘you’ are That.
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).
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. 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.
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).
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?
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?
So the elements or energy is not who we are since they are dependent on Consciousness. As Nisargadatta said, “without Consciousness nothing is”.
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?
Words cause confusion, so what is the difference between Consciousness and Awareness from your understanding?
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?
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?
You are not the body-mind; you are Consciousness. There is only Consciousness in reality; the ‘rest’ is just appearance and mistaken interpretation.
Advaita is a teaching methodology to bring you to this realization.
Elements, energy etc are only name and form of Consciousness.
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’.
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.
The ‘person’ requires a mind in order to function in the world. This applies whether the person has Self-knowledge or not.
It is likely (though not necessary) that the mind of someone with Self-knowledge will be less prone to disturbance by desire/fear etc.
Within the range of categories given, I find myself somewhat ambivalent:
I most closely align with natural I believe the physical universe is all that there is, and that there are eternal forces and energies at play. I do not believe in the supernatural.
Scientific pantheism is least applicable to me because I really don’t have a problem being labeled an atheist. In my opinion, atheism and pantheism are almost (but not quite) two sides of a coin.
But when I’m feeling in my best of moods, I think I fall under spiritual or divine When my mood is high, I sometimes experience an awe and a gratitude that gives me a deeper feeling of connection to existence.
More generally, self-labels that I do not find objectionable include pantheist, nondualist, agnostic, atheist, and skeptic. However, I have none of these words tattooed on my forehead, and I reserve the right to change my thinking at any time. Continue reading →
A sheer Joy of 50 minutes. I was sitting glued to the seat. It’s almost like a Meditation where a ‘you’ dissolves untraceably and seamlessly into each pixel appearing on the screen.
All the super Stars of Physics, both of the past and current times, and their theories are discussed in simple understandable terms. The scientific evidence thus far available points to the inevitable inference that the perceived world is no more than a dream-like virtual reality, with no solidity or physicality to it. Nor do the space and time have true existence. Every object and every event in the universe is equidistant from the One Consciousness that is crafting the projection. Continue reading →
Those who have read any of my books, or the brief biography that is available on this site and others, will know that I began my ‘philosophical investigations’ with the School of Economic Science, as it is known in the UK. And you will also know that I have commented frequently upon the misguided notions that were propagated by the school in the name of Advaita. One of the key misunderstandings that I had, which was not cleared for many years, despite reading widely and discussing Advaita with many people on the Internet, relates to ‘action’.
As usual, this was a Sankhyan idea effectively being passed off as belonging to Advaita. It was the notion that it is ‘the guNa that act’, or that action is a function of prakRRiti. In the first edition of ‘The Book Of One’, I actually had a chapter called ‘The Myth of Action’ and the first section of this was entitled ‘Only the guNa Act’. Here are several paragraphs from this:
“The three qualities of nature, the guna, of which all of nature is constituted, are in constant motion and this is the only ‘action’. Yes, the body acts – it is constituted of the three guna – but we do not. Here is a useful practical example of this: It may be that you cycle from time to time. I enjoy cycling in the New Forest, where I live – free exercise in beautiful surroundings and fresh air. However, there are a few hills along the routes, and sometimes you have to go up these rather than down. Many people just get off and walk their cycle up. Others take it as some sort of challenge and insist on trying to cycle to the top without having to dismount. When the going becomes hard, they make an extra mental effort, along the lines of ‘I am damn well going to get to the top, even if it kills me’! This is the hard way!Continue reading →
Q: Does the psychological concept of dissociation have any role in advaita? In other words, the subjective experience of being detached, depersonalized, or wholly uninvolved in any given situation–is this the same as what advaita might call “awareness” or “just happening?” If not, how are they actually different?
A (Dennis): Who-we-really-are is not the mind; we are the Consciousness in which the mind arises. However, it is the mind of the person that realizes this in what is termed ‘enlightenment’ or (better) Self-knowledge. A mind that is not balanced and controlled/disciplined is most unlikely ever to be able to attain this Self-knowledge; it will be more interested in avoiding fear, satisfying desires etc. A mind that is unbalanced/disturbed etc is even less likely to be capable of assimilating the teaching of Advaita. As far as I understand the term ‘dissociation’, it refers to just such a mind – one in which the functions of the mind are out of balance, with some parts functioning normally and some not at all. So, no, it is not the same.
Part 19 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 19 looks at the traditional description of the formation of the mental aspects from the sattvika qualities of the five elements and the formation of the organs of action from the rajasika aspects.
There is a hyperlinked Contents List, which is updated as each new part is published.