Okay, here is your starter for 10 – your time starts now! (If you’re not familiar with this phrase, it relates to the quiz show ‘University challenge’, which was on British television for many years.)
The question is: how many states of consciousness are there?
I can almost see your mind tripping up and reading that question again. Surely, you will say, there are three states of consciousness – waking, dreaming and deep sleep. What can I possibly mean by querying this? Well, actually, depending upon how you answer this question, the number of states of consciousness could be two, three or five (or 4 ½) or you could argue that the very question is misconceived!
It is true that most of the scriptures refer to 3 states. If you have read my book ‘A-U-M: Awakening to Reality’, you will know that it refers to jAgrat, svapna and suShupti. These three states are mithyA and the reality underlying them is called turIya. In the tattva bodha (attributed to Shankara), the question is asked: avasthAtrayaM kim? – What are the three states? Admittedly, this is a somewhat leading question but the answer is given: jAgratsvapnasuShuptyavasthAH – they are the waking, dream and deep sleep states. And it goes on to explain each in turn. Continue reading →
Q: Since the world as perceived by our senses is mithyA, and we are Brahman, any suffering or pleasures that we derive during the ‘vishva’ or ‘taijasa’ state are mere illusions. As this realization dawns, I am forced to conclude that living or dying (both concepts being associated with the vishva state) are meaningless.
Rather than meditating etc, and deciding to live life as it is with the knowledge that it is mithya, why shouldn’t someone just end his existence in this state? He is Brahman anyway and it doesn’t matter if he lives or dies in an illusory world borne out of his senses. Rest assured, this is more of a rhetorical question, to understand if any of the proponents of vedanta have addressed this.
The very act of my writing to you is in itself irrelevant in the broader context.
A: This is the sort of question that Ramana or Nisargadatta would answer with the question ‘Who is asking?’
The point is that the world and its vicissitudes are real for the jIva. Hence the teachings about karma and rebirth. If the jIva ends his/her life before gaining Self-knowledge, there will be rebirth according to the accumulated karma. Also the pleasures and sufferings during waking and dreaming are not illusions; they are mithyA – a world of difference! It is only from the vantage point of absolute reality that you can say that living and dying are meaningless. The unenlightened do not commit suicide as a result of believing that their lives and the world are real. The enlightened do not kill themselves even though they know that their life as a jIva is not real. Indeed, they KNOW that their true self cannot be killed!
The ‘Real I’ verses the ‘Presumed I’ – An Examination of chidAbhAsa
Ramana Maharshi’s instruction to seekers to ask themselves ‘Who am I?’ is lauded by many modern Western teachers as sufficient, on its own, to lead to enlightenment. I suggest that this is not strictly true; that what it can do is rather to give us insight into what we are not and thereby point us in the direction of traditional teachings to learn about our real nature. It is inciting us to conduct Self-inquiry in the proven manner, i.e. by listening to a qualified teacher interpret the scriptures, rather than merely providing a mantra or formula to provide an answer directly.
An explanation of how traditional teaching can lead us to an understanding of who I am might begin with an analysis of our three states of consciousness – this is the so-called avasthA traya prakriyA of traditional advaita.
We almost certainly begin with the belief that who-I-really-am is only fully present in the waking state. In the dream state, I am not in command of my mental faculties so that the mind free-wheels outside of my control even though I am not actually unconscious. And we no doubt accept the deep sleep state as one in which mind and body rest and recuperate in order to be ready for the trials that the next day may bring. According to this interpretation, consciousness in deep sleep is in a resting state, as indicated by the lowered activity shown by EEG displays. (This view, also supported by many Western philosophers, claims that consciousness is a by-product or ‘epiphenomenon’ of the brain; an evolutionary advantageous development to enable an animal to find food and mate more efficiently than before. This is also the view of the chArvAka-s or materialists of thousands of years ago – it is certainly not new!) Continue reading →
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.
VEDĀNTA the solution to our fundamental problem by D. Venugopal
Part 25 continues to look at who we are, in relation to experience and consciousness. There is an especially useful analysis of the logical device of anvAya-vyatireka and an examination of the concept of witness-consciousness.
There is a complete Contents List, to which links are added as each new part appears.
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?
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 →
Dreams are a powerful metaphor in Advaita. The Yoga Vasishtha is perhaps the best known book to utilize them extensively but probably the earliest teacher to do so was Gaudapada in his kArikA-s on the mANDUkya upaniShad.
He effectively says that the waking state is unreal, like dreams, ‘because we experience it’. This is anvAya-vyatireka logic: we experience objects in dreams, and they turn out to be unreal; therefore the objects we experience in waking are also unreal.
This does not sound very convincing and there are various arguments that we can raise to object to the analogy. Gaudapada raises them for us, in case we can’t think of them all! Here is the third argument he puts forward. It is an extract from my forthcoming book, which will be published 25th September 2015.
Third objection to world being unreal
And this leads on to the third objection namely that, whereas the dream world is subjective, the waking world has objective reality. It is experienced as external to ourselves, whereas the dream takes place in our mind (K2.9 – 10). But this notion suffers from the same confusion as before. We only recognize that the dream world is ‘in our mind’ when we are awake; at the time of the dream, it is just as much ‘external’ as is the waking world when we are awake. We might as well say that the waking world is really non-existent since it disappears when we are in the dream or deep sleep states. At the time of the dream, I experience external objects and events in just the same manner. Their illogicality or even impossibility only becomes apparent on awakening. Continue reading →
The topic for the month of February is Dreams and Dreaming
Here also is an opportunity to ask questions on this topic and receive answers from the bloggers.
We always assume the present to be the waking state and, by contrast with it, the previous state sublated by the present to be dream. It is impossible to distinguish them otherwise by any subtle definition. (Loose translation of Gaudapada kArikA 2.5) (Please, no reference to EEG to refute this!)
Vedanta defines the absolute reality as that which can never be negated at any time, trikAla abhAditam satyam. As an example, let us analyze a chair made of wood. Is that chair really real (satyasya satyam) or only transactionally real? When I dismantle the chair or break it into pieces, it is no more a chair. What was there before and what is there now is only wood. Hence wood is more real than chair. Chair is only a name for a form of wood arranged in some fashion to serve some purpose, and gets negated when the form is destroyed. I can do this without breaking the chair into pieces. I can cognitively say that there is really no chair there but what is there is only wood currently in the form of a chair. Chair is only transactionally real but not really real; and what is more real than chair is wood, the material cause for the chair. Continue reading →