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 →
Let’s use this method of inquiry to investigate another ubiquitous entity: What is the reality of money? Ask someone on the street if money is real, you would hardly find anyone doubting it. But what actually ‘is’ money? We assume it is real, but what is the substratum of its reality? Is it independently real or does it depend on something for its existence? Is money just the amount of coins in your wallet? Certainly not, since money also appears as bills, cheques, and as digital data. Today the majority of the world’s money is stored as binary code on hard drives. Is the reality of money the binary code on the hard drive, which is storing the balance of the bank account?
Let’s imagine, an alien species visits our planet for the first time. In their foreign culture the concept of money is unknown. Would it be obvious for them to learn what money is, by simply investigating the data of the hard drive? All they could do is extract the data, but they would lack the contextual information about what to do with it. Therefore, money, which seems very ‘real’ to us practically, has no physical substratum. It is only by convention that coins, bills, or digital data act as a symbolic carrier for money. The reality of 10 USD does not originate from a 10-dollar bill. If the money were ‘in’ the bill, it would be impossible to replace an old bill for a new one. Physical carriers, like coins or bills, act as a medium for money, but they ‘are’ not money. Continue reading →
Understanding Reality in the Vision of Advaita Vedānta
by Wolfgang P., firstname.lastname@example.org
We, as human beings, are interested in reality. Unlike animals, we are able to ask questions about the nature of our experience. We understand that experiences are numerous and fleeting, so the question arises: What is the reality behind those experiences? From this question subsequent ones emerge: What does it mean to say something is ‘real’ or ‘unreal’? What is the nature of reality? Vedānta is a body of knowledge to analyze the nature of reality and its relationship to the individual (jīva). It applies a teaching methodology that has been handed down from teacher to student since time immemorial. The aim of Vedānta is to make one understand its fundamental tenet:1
ब्रह्म सत्यं जगत् मिथ्या जीवो ब्रह्मैव नापरः
brahma satyaṃ jagat mithyā jīvo brahmaiva nāparaḥ
Brahman is the only truth (satyam), the world, jagat, is unreal (mithyā), and there is ultimately no difference between brahman and the individual self (jīva).
In this article I will explain the three categories Vedānta provides to understand reality: sat or satyam, asat, and mithyā.2 When we talk about reality, we need to distinguish that-which-is-real from that-which-is-not-real. This discriminative inquiry is called tattva-viveka. In Sanskrit, that-which-is-real is called satyam, whereas that-which-is-not-real is called asat. Continue reading →
A (Ted): 1) Atman (i.e. pure limitless awareness) is never really deluded by mAyA (i.e. ignorance), but rather only apparently so. Given the non-dual nature of reality and, thus, the fact that Brahman-Atma is the only thing — though, of course, pure awareness cannot be said to be a “thing” at all due to its attributeless and unobjectifiable nature — that exists, mAyA is nothing other than Brahman-Atma itself. That is, it is a power inherent in the very nature of Brahman-Atma. Ironically, if Brahman-Atma, whose nature is limitless, were limited by the inability to apparently delude itself, it would not be limitless and, therefore, would not be Brahman-Atma :-). Continue reading →