Q.440 Is advaita provable?

Q: Is advaita provable, in the Western, scientific, empirical sense of the word? I guess part of the attraction for me is that it seems to be (along with some other Eastern thought systems) a methodical and thorough exploration of consciousness; consciousness being something (along with death) that Western culture can’t even define let alone explain and explore. Or is my thinking mistaken?

A: Who would prove what? Science is intrinsically empirical and could never say anything about the nature of reality. There are a couple of articles that you should read to clarify this. One by myself is in four parts, beginning https://www.advaita-vision.org/science-and-the-nature-of-absolute-reality-part-1/ and one by AchArya Sadananda in three parts, beginning https://www.advaita-vision.org/science-and-vedanta-part-1/. Nevertheless, Advaita’s explanation of the nature of Consciousness is not contrary to reason or to Western science and philosophy. See my book ‘A-U-M’ for this.

If you are comfortable with the language and ‘explanations’ of modern physics, try Amanda Gefter’s book ’Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn’. (I must confess I found this a bit hard-going at times!) This shows that the ‘frontiers’ of science are now beginning to think along  lines not altogether too distant from the Vedantic scriptures!

Q.439 Universe is Consciousness

Q: Is the following summary correct? The universe is pure consciousness (nondual) – one big mass of it – that manifests (at least, in the illusory sense) as separate forms, objects or organisms. The reason(s) it does this are ultimately unknowable, but speculations include out of playfulness, to know itself, or due to boredom.

A: There is only Consciousness so, yes, you can regard the universe as Consciousness also. But don’t think of it as a ‘mass’, since that would imply a ‘lump’ of it existing in something else, and there is nothing else.

An interim teaching is that brahman ‘manifests’, and the ‘reasons’ for this are sometimes given as lIlA etc. But brahman does not do anything, need anything, know anything etc. That would be duality, wouldn’t it? Strictly speaking, if you are considering this, those qualities have to be applied to Ishvara – saguNa brahman; not brahman – nirguNa. At the level of the empirical world, you have to allow the existence of Ishvara. How you think of this is up to you. If you are happy with the concept of a God, that is fine. If not, think of it as the nexus of laws that govern how the universe operates. In reality (absolute), Ishvara as well as universe and jIva is only Consciousness/brahman. In reality, there has never been any creation. Continue reading

Q.438 Could a computer become enlightened?

Q: Will an ‘upload’ be capable of giving mokSha to a computer? By ‘upload’ I am referring to the Science Fiction concept of scanning the contents of a human brain down to the quantum level, and then simulating that complex entity in a virtual environment. Ray Kurzweil is a key proponent who claims this will be possible sometime within the next few decades.

A: The mind is rather more than just data, and more than processing-software running on brain hardware. Although all these things are ultimately Consciousness alone, there has to be something there to reflect the light of Consciousness in order for a thing actually to become conscious. And it has to do this very well indeed before it can become self-conscious. And it has to do it brilliantly in order to gain mokSha! I don’t think uploads satisfy these criteria!

Q: I agree with your answer, but I suppose the answer will depend largely on the assumptions one makes in thinking through the problem. Can reflected consciousness arise in a silicon-based entity? Or only carbon-based creatures like ourselves? It’s actually a pretty stimulating question, and it touches on the ‘hard problem’ as defined by David Chalmers, etc. If you ever do get around to reading his book, he has an interesting thought experiment on the principle of organizational invariance, where neurons are one-by-one replaced with silicon equivalents. At what point does consciousness (which here would only be reflected) disappear in this process? Not asking for an answer from you – just wanted to mention this aspect of the question.

A: You are still assuming that consciousness relates to the gross body – replacing carbon with silicon. The mind is the subtle body in Advaita. Having said that, I see no reason why there should not be silicon-based life forms associated with subtle bodies elsewhere in the universe…

Q: Good point, thanks. It makes me wonder though, if the mind is the subtle body and doesn’t relate to the gross body/brain, then why is the subtle body affected at all when the brain becomes physically damaged? I was thinking in terms of reflected consciousness arising in the ‘mirror’ that consisted of gross + subtle body.

A: Good point, too. I guess the metaphor of computers does come into play here, the mind needing the hardware of the brain in order to manifest (better word than function, since it retains the autonomy of the subtle body, which is supposed to migrate to a new body after the death of the existing one).

Q.437 Daydreaming and jAgrat vs svapna

Q: If I am daydreaming while otherwise consciously awake, meaning that I am caught up in a dreamlike narrative that is playing itself out while external sights or sounds are relegated to the background, is the daydream taking place in jAgrat or svapna? Is there, in other words, any overlap between the three avasthA-s?

A: Regarding intermediate states of consciousness, I have written a blog about this. Have a read and see if you still have any question – https://www.advaita-vision.org/states-of-consciousness-2-3-4-and-1-2/.

Q: Many Eastern traditions refer to what we think of as the waking state as a (subtle) dream. A dream in that things are not real in the sense that we think they are real. An elephant in a dream is dream-real, not waking-state-real. Similarly, an elephant in the waking state is not real in the sense we think it is either. It is a story, an interpretation, a creation of the mind.

Lucid wakefulness enables us to see this: that the waking-state elephant is just as un-real as the dream elephant. I see this as a third state of consciousness: not the default wakeful state, not the dream state, but the lucid wakeful state.

A: This highlights one of the principal problems of teaching advaita – use of language. Unless each key word is carefully defined and understood by the listener as was intended by the speaker, the ‘teaching’ will not work. Confusion and/or misunderstanding will result.

You know that there are three states – waking, dreaming and deep-sleep – and a non-dual reality, turIya. Any attempt to introduce further states can only confuse and will certainly not tally with traditional Advaita. Also, although waking and dream are both mithyA, waking is vyavahAra while dream is pratibhAsa – not the same! Try walking in front of a (waking) stampeding elephant if you don’t believe me!

Q: But… In order to see that dream objects are mithyA, you need to be looking from one level higher: the waking state. Similarly, in order to see that waking objects are mithyA, you need likewise to be looking from one level higher. This is what I’m calling lucid wakefulness.

How would it be described in traditional Advaita, this ‘ability’ to see that waking objects are mithyA? And totally, not just intellectually.

A: It’s called ‘Self-knowledge’ or (in modern terms) ‘enlightenment’. But it is still the waking state.

Vedanta the Solution – Part 51

VEDĀNTA the solution to our fundamental problem by D. Venugopal

Part 51 explains the roles of action and knowledge in attaining mokSha. Shankara provides the reasoning why the function of karma is to purify the mind while j~nAna removes the ignorance that prevents the realization that we are already free.

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

Q.436 Ishvara and the existence of fossils

Q: Dinosaur fossils point to a world history that greatly exceeds the history of human beings. I realize that from the Absolute perspective, there is no creation, no world, and therefore no fossils. However, I also realize that Advaita is not equivalent to solipsism. When ‘I’ die, the relative world will still continue in ‘my’ absence. What is puzzling is why there should be any such consistency. When I go to sleep tonight, I do not expect to pick up the dream from where I left off last night. Yet on waking, I definitely expect to be in the same room I went to bed in, with the same clothes hanging in the closet, etc. In short, there is a direct continuity that occurs in jAgrat that does not apply to svapna. Doesn’t this very continuity (e.g. fossils having existed for millions of years before ‘I’ was born) point to a definite need for a Creator, aka Ishvara or saguNa Brahman? Otherwise, I don’t see how the continuity would make any sense. ‘I’ as the jIva cannot have had anything to do with it!

A: Ishvara is just as real as the world. Ishvara is the order that we see, the laws that govern it and so on. All this is empirically real, not absolutely real; it is mithyA. You and I and Ishvara and the world and jAgrat and svapna and suShupti are all mithyA. So yes, if you are talking about fossils and dinosaurs, Ishvara is needed as the creator of the world and of the laws of evolution etc. that enable such things to be a part of our history. Ishvara maintains the waking dream so that I have some clothes to put on when I wake up.

Vedanta the Solution – Part 50

VEDĀNTA the solution to our fundamental problem by D. Venugopal

Part 50 explains the concept of sarvAtmabhAva – how upAdhi-s account for the apparent existence of many, even though there is only AtmA. And it explains how we can know ‘I’ as AtmA whilest still acting as an individual jIva.

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

Q.435 How can we be sure?

Q: I have a friend who became a born-again Christian as a young man. I knew him before his ‘conversion’ experience, and he became very different afterwards. For decades, he has maintained his rock-solid belief in Jesus and evangelical Christianity. He has that ‘glow’ of certainty and confidence that seems to come with believing in such a system with 110% conviction. His faith is literally unshakeable, and he is dead certain that he is right. I have a back-of-the-mind concern that when someone ‘gets it’ in terms of Advaita after a long period of seeking, that something similar is happening. We cannot think directly about the nondual Brahman, cannot experience non-duality, cannot even really talk about it. How can we be sure that we are not simply hypnotizing ourselves into this conviction after long years of painful seeking?

A (Dennis): How can we be sure? I, too, encountered someone who was a ‘certain’ Christian. We had quite a few discussions and, as you say, the belief was unshakeable. The difference is though, in my experience, that such people are unable to back up their beliefs with reason. They will blithely quote from the bible as though that ends the matter. As you know, in the kArikA-s, Gaudapada uses more reason than he does scriptural citations, although scriptures are traditionally the final authority. Although I included some scriptural quotations in my book ‘A-U-M’, this was principally for completeness and so that the related commentaries might be referenced. The intention was that all that I said was reasoned and hopefully unarguable. I cannot imagine there is any Christian text that can claim that.

The key tool and argument is probably one of the earliest – the ‘neti, neti’ of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Rather than trying to ‘find’ the answer, you keep discarding all attempted explanations when you find that they do not stand up to reason. When everything has been rejected, you are still left with you, the ‘rejecter’. You can use reason to reject those religions/philosophies that rely on scriptural authority alone, because you can always ask: ‘Why should I accept what is written here when it can never be supported by reason or experience?’ Advaita cannot be rejected in this way. It is the difference between ‘belief’ and ‘knowledge’.

Q. 434 Modern debates about Advaita principles

Q: As I work through the Brahma Sutras, and having read Alston’s ‘Shankara on Rival Views’, I have a nagging concern that all of the refutation of alternate theories is too self-contained. What I mean is that much of it seems like a straw-man setup, where Shankara defines his opponent’s views for them and then shreds those views. The objections are being written by the same author that is refuting those objections. I would like to find texts that carry the debate outside of the closed circle, so to speak. Say, for example, a Buddhist took exception to those refutations and wrote a compelling argument against them, and then a traditional Swami responded in kind. Are you aware of any more modern works along these lines? In particular, I would like to see Shankara’s logic analyzed by a scholar and compared to our modern updated view of logical argumentation, etc.

A: Are you sufficiently certain of the Advaita stance on all issues that you would want to look at critical appraisals? I haven’t come across any easy work that deals with these. If you are studying Brahmasutras now, there is a version which is fairly readable and actually occasionally funny (in a superior, knowing sort of way), which looks at the other commentaries and interpretations. It’s called ‘The Brahmasutras and their Principal Commentaries: A Critical Exposition’ by B. N. K. Sharma. It’s in 3 volumes and almost certainly very expensive in the west. You can probably get it cheaper from India, though. Another book which I haven’t looked at is ‘A Critique of Vedanta’ by L. V. Rajagopal. It looks at the three Vedantic schools and applies Whitehead’s approach to philosophy to critically analyze them (so says the book cover!) It looks like a very serious read to me! The other book which might interest you is SSS’s (Satchidanandendra) book ‘The Method of the Vedanta: A Critical Account of the Advaita Tradition’. It looks at pre and post Shankara authors and endeavors to establish Shankara’s views as the correct ones. But it is a huge book of nearly 1000 pages and really not terribly readable. It is, however, translated by A. J. Alston so is at least understandable with some effort. But I can’t honestly actually recommend any of these. It’s up to you if you want to give any a try. From what you say, maybe the Rajagopal would serve your needs.

P.S. I have just checked, and the Sharma 3-volume work is available from Amazon.com for US$79.40. (Ridiculously, it is £89.99 in the UK but it is out of stock anyway.) ‘Method of the Vedanta’ is even more expensive (it is a big book!) – US$170.36 from Amazon.com but you can buy for only £20, new, in the UK from Shanti Sadan.
‘A Critique of Vedanta’ is only US$10.33 from Amazon.com.