Science and Consciousness

(This article was originally published in ‘Yoga International’ magazine Aug-2011. I don’t think the magazine exists any longer, which is why no link is provided.)

During the past few years, an increasing number of scientists have claimed insight into the nondual nature of reality. These claims, however, ignore a fundamental truth: Consciousness falls outside the scope of scientific investigation. Therefore, by their very nature, such claims cannot be valid.

There has always been a degree of animosity between science and spirituality. The Catholic Church’s persecution of Galileo over his insistence that the Earth was not the center of the universe comes to mind, as does the current debate between Creationists and those preferring the more down-to-earth tenets of Darwinian evolution. It is encouraging, therefore, to see the growing number of books and articles written by scientists on the subject of nonduality. There is even an annual conference with the title “Science and Nonduality,” thus making it possible to explore these two avenues of knowledge in the same forum.

Paradoxically, both the power and the ultimate shortcoming of science as a tool for investigating the nature of reality lie in its objectivity. The scientific method of empirical observation and subsequent reasoning is something it shares with Vedanta, along with the acceptance of findings from those who have gone before (providing these findings do not contradict more recent discoveries).

Science has made a significant contribution to persuading people to consider that the world may not be as it initially appears to our limited organs of perception. At one end of the scale, the scanning electron microscope looks into the supposed solidity of the matter beneath our fingertips. At the other extreme, the Hubble telescope peers toward infinity into the swirling clouds of galaxies invisible to the naked eye. ‘Reality’ is far more subtle than everyday experience would have us believe. The hardness of the table on which I write is due to irrevocable laws regarding the spin of electrons and their sharing of orbitals around atoms. Massive energy sources in the universe result from entire galaxies being sucked into black holes. Our own senses are quite inadequate for the job of explaining the behavior of the world around us, whereas science seemingly can. 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/.

 

Q.410 Teaching the blind

Q: How do you teach Advaita to a blind person ? I am talking about a person who has been blind since birth, who has no vision of external reality/unreality. The adhyAsa bhAShya talks about superimposing the subject and the objects. But both subject and object are not perceived by a person who has been blind since birth. All that he/she would be aware of is taste, smell, sound, sensations. How would you proceed with such a candidate ? The theory of negating the superimposed almost fails for such a person, for he/she cannot ‘see’ or ‘perceive’ what is superimposed !

 I am not saying the avasthA traya is not a good way to start here, the avasthA traya prakriyA holds good for even a blind person. That is, your dream is just like your waking state. But the problem is, there is no perception in either dreams, waking or deep sleep for such a person. Here’s a video that confirms that people who are blind since birth don’t see anything in their dreams : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpUW9pm9wxs.

If you’re a jIvanmukta, I request you to close your eyes and then tell me if you can still get established in the self, you’d understand how difficult this is !

Thanks for any and all inputs on this subject.

Note: I am aware that Atman is beyond perception, but to know one has gone beyond perception is easy when one still sees and not when he doesn’t see. It’s just the same for a blind man. Continue reading

adhyAsa (part 4)

Notes on Shankara’s examination of the nature of ‘Error’ in the introduction to the brahmasUtra.

Read Part 3 of the series

Objections to the theory
Other systems of philosophy claim that, although the rope-snake error is acceptable, the superimposition of anything onto the Atman is not possible. The argument is that any superimposition requires four conditions to be satisfied:

  1. Perception. The object being covered must be directly perceivable, as is the rope in the rope-snake example. The Atman is not an object and cannot be perceived.
  2. Incompletely known. The object must be incompletely known, as one is ignorant of the fact that the rope is a rope. In the case of the Atman , however, the advaitin accepts that the Atman is self-evident and always conscious – how can there be ignorance with regard to something that is self-evident?
  3. Similarity. There must be some similarity between the actual object and its superimposition, just as a rope and snake have a basic similarity (one could not mistake the rope for an elephant, for example). But there is total dissimilarity between the Atman and anything else. E.g. Atma is the subject, anAtma  is the object; Atma is conscious and all pervading, anAtma  is inert and limited etc.
  4. Prior experience. In order to make the mistake, we must have had prior experience of that which is superimposed. We could not see a snake where the rope is unless we knew what a real snake was. Whilst this is possible in the case of the rope-snake, it is not possible in the AtmaanAtma  case because we would have to have prior experience of a ‘real’ anAtma and it is part of the fundamental teaching of advaita that there is no such thing; there is only the Atman.

Accordingly, in the case of the AtmaanAtma , not one of these four conditions is satisfied. Therefore superimposition of anAtma  onto Atma, the fundamental cause of our error according to Shankara, is not possible – so says the objector. Continue reading

Overview of Western Philosophy – Part 8

(Read Part 7 of the series.)

Empiricism and Idealism         Locke and Berkeley)

Empiricism

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

Realizing Transparency

An essay by Michael Damian

Self-realization is a matter of clarifying the relationship between experience and truth, which in our habitual, conventional view is entirely clouded. In this existence we can speak of three modes of perception or experience. Each of them has a different relationship to the ultimate truth. Let’s begin with the mode where most of humanity lives:

  1. Somethingness. The first mode is of finite, materialistic perception and identity—remembering that how we perceive determines our identity, and our identity conditions perception. In this mode, “God” or truth is basically seen as Nature, or Life in all its earthly wonder, its pain and pleasure, failure and triumph. In this mode everything and everyone is a “something,” a limited and known entity. A good example of perception in this mode is how children, and even some adults, will personify inanimate objects and project feelings or a soul into them. We might see everything as precious and special, but most importantly, things are regarded in their multiplicity. We see God as a great Something under which we are each another unique something, as in “all God’s children.”Love is therefore perceived as a special connection between separate entities. In egoic, finite consciousness we believe we have to fight and struggle so that “Love can win,” or that good can overcome evil. Hence, the tendency in this mode is to identify and split up into factions and parties, where we imagine we are on the side of good. Here we find all the divisive negative qualities of our limited view of somethingness. Everyone and everything gets sorted into identities and categories. There is no understanding of the unity beyond that, even though one may talk about or seek a limited unity of some kind. One does not understand precisely where and how that unity already exists; it is imagined as something—you see, another “something”—that we have to create.

Continue reading

Tattvabodha – Part 12

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Part 12 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 12 examines the waking and dream states of experience.

There is a hyperlinked Contents List, which is updated as each new part is published.

Tattvabodha – Part 10

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Part 10 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 10 looks at the five organs of perception and the six means of acquiring knowledge.

There is a hyperlinked Contents List, which is updated as each new part is published.

Q. 371 – Deep-sleep state

Q: In advaita, we use the recall of a “good deep sleep” as a very important argument for proving continued presence of awareness… the question is, how does this recall happen? We have a process in advaita by which ‘the presence of a pot is known’. How is deep sleep known? Or – How is the fact that one slept well, recalled?

Responses from DhanyaRamesam, Martin, Ted and Dennis

A (Dhanya): When I was a child, there was a TV show I liked to watch.  It was called ‘You Are There.’  As I recall, the show depicted a famous scene from history, and then ‘you’ (meaning in this case the narrator), magically showed up in the scene and got to ask the historical figures all sorts of questions.  (I guess I should Google it to make sure I recall the details of the show correctly).  Anyway, I do remember that I enjoyed the show, and often these days recall the title, because one could ask oneself the question, ‘How is anything known?’ and the answer would be because ‘You are There!’  The whole point of deep sleep in the teachings of Vedanta is to is highlight ‘You are There’  Your nature is consciousness, i.e. that by which anything is known.  The absence of any thing is also known.  Thus one can recall the fact that one slept well.  Why?  Because You are There. Continue reading

Science and Vedanta (Part 2)

P1030150_tonemapped-2Part 2 of a 3-part essay by Dr. K. Sadananda, AchArya at Chinmaya Mission, Washington.

(read part 1)

Analysis of Objective Sciences

 An objective scientist provides a narrow definition for science as that which pertains only to the objectifiable entities using the objective tools. For example, he says that the existence of God cannot be scientifically established as His existence cannot be proved. Obviously the proof that a scientist is looking for is perceptibility, using objective tools of investigation which themselves are limited to only objectifiable entities. He presumes that God is also an object that can be precisely defined in order to differentiate Him from the rest of the objects in the universe, and is therefore quantifiable using perceptual data. If an object cannot be established by using his objective tools, then he asserts that any assumption of its existence becomes blind belief or at the most speculative.

No object can establish its own existence, since it is not a conscious entity. A chair does not say ‘I exist’; a conscious entity has to establish its existence. A scientist, who dismisses the existence of God, since it cannot be proved using his objective tools, takes his own existence for granted without questioning it. He cannot establish his own existence or that he is a conscious entity using the same objective tools that he is using to establish the existence of God. The reason is that he, as a subject knower, cannot be known since he cannot objectify the subject knower. He knows that he exists and that he is conscious entity, without even questioning the validity of his assertions. Continue reading