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.

Q. 430 Brahman=changeless, eternal?

Q: I’m aware that I’m on (very) shaky ground when I talk/think about brahman. But there’s something that’s been bugging me for a long time now about the ‘definitions’ of brahman I’ve read.

Brahman is always described as changeless and eternal.

Let’s start with ‘changeless’. When I think (conceptualize, make images) about a changeless ‘force’ (for want of a better non-object word), I envision something static and dead, without animus, without vitality. Absolute zero, utter lack of motion/vibration, fixed-ness. But I can’t put this static-ness together with brahman, the ‘mother of all existence and vitality’. How could utter stillness give rise to such a vibrant universe?

Onto ‘eternal’. Why does brahman have to be eternal? Why couldn’t it have arisen with the Source Event (Big Bang, etc.) and evolved into its ‘current’ fullness? Likewise, why couldn’t it end with the collapse of the universe back to a zero-dimensional point?

So changeless and eternal elude/confuse me. But I suspect that’s because I’m trying to image-ine them, which is an oxymoron: conceptualizing the non-conceptual. Continue reading

Q. 429 Discussion on ‘I am That’

Q: I have a couple of questions about ‘I Am That’.

As I understand it, this essentially says: Atman = brahman. So the ‘I’ is not the ahaMkAra ‘I’, rather the Atman ‘I’.

1. Did I get that right?

2. When one begins to reflect upon ‘I Am That’, is one expected to feel the I as the ahaMkAra I? And then move, gradually, towards realizing the I is in fact Atman?

3. The reason I ask (2) is because I have a great deal of difficulty ‘feeling’ my ahaMkAra I. It just doesn’t ‘compute’ with me. Does this brain/body sense things, have feelings, emotions, thoughts; am I aware of external and internal things? Yes! All the time. But are these sensations, feelings, thoughts, etc. = ahaMkAra ‘I-me’? No. They’re just… stuff that happens, electrochemical dances in a brain in a skull in a body that is identified as ‘Jack’ Is this a problem – that I can’t consciously/directly feel my ahaMkAra I? That when I look for it, I see mithyA, nothing of essential substance? Could my not being able to directly experience my ahaMkAra I be a stumbling block? Continue reading

Q. 428 A dialog on getting to know brahman

Q: I’m struggling (a lot) with ‘believing in’ Brahman.

I realize the problems inherent in this struggle: (1) It’s probably futile in my early stage of Advaita studies; (2) Brahman is beyond mind, so any attempt to truly apprehend it is doomed to failure. And yet I persist. 😉

I can walk with Advaita Vedanta through all the Neti-ing – I/Truth am not this, not this – but when Advaita makes the leap to IS THIS … I shake my head and turn away. Brahman seems like an abstraction born of fear/uncertainty, like other similar abstractions such as Heaven, The Ground, The Truth, etc. (I am not saying I know that Brahman IS an abstraction born of fear, rather that it seems to me that it could be.)

So I keep looking for analogies, things I can/do or ‘believe in’ that might be similar enough to Brahman that I could relax into it a bit.

Today I thought: Perhaps Brahman is (quasi-)synonymous with Nature? Nature – ‘everything that is’ – is all-encompassing in a way that suggests Brahman to me. Science’s take on Nature is conceptual, but the essence of Nature is, I think, not conceptual.

So: ‘Everything that is’ + non-conceptual – this sounds Brahman-esque to me. Yes? No? Continue reading

Q. 422 loka-s – ‘planes’ of existence

Q: I’ve just started reading about advaita and Hinduism and wondered about the concept of loka-s. Are these physical or mental places or do they not really exist at all? What do Advaitins believe now, after 2000+ years of advancement of scientific knowledge?

A (Dennis): Advaita is a ‘gauged’ teaching – the teacher aims to address the present level of understanding of the student. This is why the seeker should always try to find a traditional teacher and should not merely attend random satsangs given by non-traditional teachers travelling around the world and probably staying in one location for no more than a week or two. A ‘course’ of traditional teaching may take a lifetime and would certainly be expected to continue for a number of years.

The way that it works is that the teacher provides an explanation that is suitable for the seeker at that time, and advances the latter’s understanding. Later, that explanation will be taken back and a more sophisticated one provided in its place. The methodology is called adhyAropa-apavAda. The teaching of loka-s etc is an ‘early’ one, and was aimed at Hindus who were used to worshipping gods, believing firmly in reincarnation and so on. Continue reading

Q. 418 – When enlightenment occurs

Q: “You cannot experience brahman. But everything you experience is brahman (since brahman is all there is).”

1. Are both assertions true?

2. My understanding (based on both being true) is that you cannot experience brahman directly, but you are always experiencing it indirectly via vyavahara/mithya objects. Very much like Plato’s cave and Kant’s phenomena/numina, you experience shadows/phenomena … not the dinge-an-sich/numina which casts the shadows. 

My Advaita is rusty (shoving vyavahara and mithya together into vyavahara/mithya is probably not kosher) … but is the gist of my understanding right? Continue reading

Q.411 Action and Knowledge

Q: Brief scenario: While walking I notice the  floor is wet. I decide to walk carefully because I fear I might slip and fall otherwise.

I could think that the entire situation takes place within Consciousness (Jnana) , all of it is in fact Consciousness (Jnana) alone. That would mean that  the  fear of slipping and falling, and the  decision made to walk carefully (or even the decision not to walk carefully) are  also Consciounsess  (Jnana). Am I correct here or do I depart from Consciousness each time I make a decision and execute it etc as in that scenario ?

If “yes”, why? If “no”, why ?

A (Dennis): Floors, walking, slipping, deciding etc. are all mithyA – they are not real IN THEMSELVES. Their substratum – Consciousness – is the only reality. But neither are they unreal. From the standpoint of Stephen, in the world, they are real. so walk with care!

Swami Dayananda often referred to the story of the sage running from a rogue elephant. Here is how Krishnan Sugavanam told it:
“I remember a story which once Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati narrated. There was a King in whose court there were a number of preceptors from various philosophies, including one from Advaita. The King was very close to the Advaitin and the other philosophers were looking for the first opportunity to prove the Advaitin wrong. One day, when the King and his retinue were walking in a forest, suddenly there appeared a wild
elephant. The Advaitin was the first one to take off and run for cover.

Later, when all of them assembled in the King’s court, preceptors of other philosophies wasted no time in grasping the opportunity to point out to the King, that though the Advaitin taught everything was “Mithya”, he was the first one to run on seeing the wild elephant – and they asked “Why would the Advaitin run on seeing the wild Mithya elephant?” The Advaitin queried them back calmly “yes I did run – but who said my running was Satyam – it was also Mithya”. :-)” Continue reading

Vedanta the Solution – Part 42

VEDĀNTA the solution to our fundamental problem by D. Venugopal

Part 42 provides a detailed explanation of the of the pa~ncha kosha prakriyA – the ‘sheath’ metaphor from the Taittiriya Upanishad.

There is a complete Contents List, to which links are added as each new part appears.