About amartingarcia

Surgeon, retired. Student of non-duality and advaita vedanta

Consciousness

I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.
– Max Planck

(X): Non-dualism is not something that can be understood in any formulation of words, and at best one can approach it conceptually only perhaps by means of negation, meaning by specifying what it is not.

A1. All doctrines and teachings are necessarily couched in language, which is a system of symbols. All concepts are just pointers (e.g. ‘pointing at the moon’), including those of Nonduality (ND). So it is not only negation — I think you will agree. I also referred myself to superimposition followed by rescission as a method of gradual understanding taught in Advaita Vedanta. The final end is doing away with language once final understanding has been reached, that is, once there are no further doubts or questions.

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Consciousness and the world

What is the scriptural basis for Advaita consciousness being an awareness preceding the universe?

That’s an ‘easy’ one. 1)  Consciousness and awareness are the same for Advaita Vedanta. 2) Atman-brahman, or Consciousness, is the sole reality – the universe is, in essence, not other than Atman (Consciousness or ‘Spirit’). 3) Consequently, there is no creation – no causation, including space and time, which, like everything else, are phenomena, appearances.

Mundaka Upanishad 2.1.10: ‘the world is brahman alone’. 

K 3.18. In this karika Gaudapada demonstrates that creation is only apparent because reality is unchangeable (and it is taught that the effect is not other than the cause).

Katha Up. 2.1.10: ‘Whoever sees difference between what is here (individual Atman/’soul’) and what is there (brahman) goes from death to death’.

Brihadaranyaka Up. 2.5.19: ‘The supreme being is perceived as manifold on account of Maya’ (magic).

Taittiriya Up. 2.6: ‘Brahman, which is the absolute reality, became reality (satya) and unreality/appearance (asatya)’. That is, the cause itself appears as various effects due to superimposition, which is itself the core, or definition, of ignorance (avidya). Cf. Tai. 2.6, Chandogya Up. 2.8.4, and Bhavagad Gita 4.13 and 13.2.

Ramanuja vs Shankara

Who would win in an argument between Ramanujacharya and Shankaracharya?

As non-duality can be said to go beyond, and at the same time enclose duality within itself, we can also say that Shankara, being a non-dualist philosopher, goes beyond and ‘incorporates’ Ramanuja, that is, the latter’s philosophy (it has been said: a jñani understands a bhakta, not vice versa).

Ramanuja took the ego (psychological self) as being the Self, an error for an Advaitin. For the former, destruction of the ego (“me”) will thus entail the destruction of the Self. For an Advaitin, the ego or subtle body (mind, senses, and vital breath) dissolves when the body dies – not so awareness or pure consciousness.

From the viewpoint of Advaita Vedanta, ‘consciousness’ is another name for reality/being/existence: all there is or that can be (all possibilities of existence). Neither ‘subject’ nor ‘object’, it annihilates this (mental) division, as well as sublating all concepts.

Or, as Francis Lucille, a well-known teacher wrote: ‘Simply put, non-dualism is the hypothesis that reality is non-dual, that there is only one single reality which is the substance of all things, of all phenomena, both mind and matter. If that is true, it follows that the reality of our ordinary consciousness, meaning whatever is really perceiving these words at this moment, must be this non-dual, single, and universal reality.’

Shankara said:

‘An enlightened person, after his death, does not undergo a change of condition – something different than when he was living. But he is said to be “merged in Brahman” just due to his not being connected to another body.’ Quoted from ‘The Method of Early Advaita Vedanta’, Michael Comans.

Is Advaita a trap?

Yes, it is a trap for individual mind – that is, the mind that considers itself a separate and independent individual, a doer and enjoyer. After usually many years of seriously studying Advaita (emphasis on ‘seriously’) with full force and dedication, it may dawn on that mind that the belief described above was actually a trap and a lie. Realizing this, by a stroke of magic as it were (so one might think without straying much from the truth), BINGO! you are free… free from the mind’s doubts, fears, hopes, projections, and tribulations. You then realize that only universal consciousness (a.k.a awareness) is true, and that that is what You are —the quotidian mind has disappeared, become no-mind, that is, pure unalloyed consciousness.

Determinism or Free-will

Is every action predetermined or is there free will?

The notion of ‘free will’ is of Jewish-Christian origin, and is the other side of the coin which refers to that other nostrum – ‘(the problem of) evil’, which complicates things even more. God, being the summum bonum, is not responsible for evil; therefore that responsibility falls entirely on (fallen) man.

There is no notion in Plato (and generally among the ancient Greeks) of the concept of ‘free will’, in the sense of a faculty of the soul which determines a particular course of action – choice, in other words. Rather, it is an inclination or appetite (desire) which motivates action and is either for the highest and noblest aspiration in man, or for his lower preferences (they correspond to Being and Becoming respectively). When the inclination is towards the Good, Plato calls it Eros. This account of ‘good will’ was preserved in St. Augustine (dilectio or caritas).

A similar view can be found in Br.Upanishad 4.4.5: “Man is fashioned by desire; according to his desire is his discernment; according to his discernment he does his work.” Also: “For just as men here below pursue the aim after which each aspires, as it were done at command, whether it be a kingdom, or an estate, and live only for that, (so in their aspiration for heavenly rewards they are the slaves of their desires” – Chand.Upanishad 8.1.5). Paul Deussen, in ‘The Philosophy of the Upanishads’, from which I just quoted, concludes: “The standpoint of the Upanishads, therefore, is a rigid determinism”.

That judgment, however, should be applied only to the empirical viewpoint of the everyday world, not to the higher one, where Atma (-Brahman), the only reality, reigns with absolute freedom, if one can say that. ‘That Thou art’.

http://www.scienceandnonduality.com/the-paradox-of-free-will/

The brain and consciousness

Original questioner, a Doctor, training in psychiatry: What does the brain do after we die, how long does it stay conscious?

A (Marcus Geduld, Shakespearean director, computer programmer, teacher, writer, likes dinosaurs.) Answered Nov 24, 2014 : Nothing happens to it. It’s dead. ‘Switched off.’ That’s basically the definition of death—when your brain totally stops functioning. This question is kind of like asking how long a radio keeps on playing when it’s switched off.

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Dharma and other principles of life

Why doesn’t philosophy take into account non-western theories of justice?

There are two notions that are intimately involved and interconnected on this topic (justice) as seen from the Eastern perspective: 1) Dharma (Law), and 2) Ishvara or the creating and controlling aspect of God or the absolute reality. I will not cover here Confucianism or the far East – only India.

The notion of DHARMA is paramount in the Eastern philosophical-religious traditions alluded to above and is used in many combinations of words. The main meaning is ‘law’ or ‘order’ as it exists in the universe. Rather than man-made, it is a divine ordinance or, alternately, a cosmological law that maintains all things in equilibrium; as such, it cannot be far distant from the Western idea of justice (‘law and order’ and all its derivations and conditionings). It is a universal law from which nothing can deviate (literally, ‘what holds together’), whether it is in the social, the individual, or the moral realms. 

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The Illusion of Reality

Did Einstein write: “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one”?

Albert Einstein actually wrote:

“People like us, who believe in physics, know the distinction between past, present, and future is only an illusion, albeit a stubborn one.”

That quote has itself been a recurrent one, but, as a very accomplished acquaintance of mine, Tom McFarlane, has written:

“There is no source for that, because Einstein didn’t say it. It is not consistent with his views. For Einstein, reality is what is true, not what is illusory.

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Neo – Advaita & Traditional Advaita

Martin. In this seeming world of so-called saṃsāra (or vyavahāra) language and understanding, is there an entity or entities that understand, judge, etc.?

Neo-Advaitin. This is simply ‘life’. ‘Being’ appears to talk to ‘Being’ about things that ‘Being’ already knows (and need no reminding). It is just ‘playing’.

Since there is never an actual central ‘self,’ there could be no separate entity that asks a question or makes a reply. There is no separate entity that asks or answers. It is simply Life answering Itself.

But it seems that you don’t get this, or are not able to discuss it without going back into concepts and the need to find the correct label to assign, whether that is ‘nihilism’, ‘Advaita Vedanta’, ‘spontaneously self-realized’, ‘abhāsa’, etc. I suggest you drop all that, all those presumed ‘things you know.’ Freedom lies in the unknowing, the moment-by-moment un-nameable, not in the knowledge, information, and labels that the ‘mind’ thinks it has gathered. Who is the ‘you’ called ‘Martin’ writing this question?

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Rationalism and metaphysics

How do Vedantins argue against Sam Harris’ comment on spirituality?

If Sam Harris defends rationality the way he does, he appears not to be quite reasonable or wise. He defines himself as an atheist (though he seems now to want to distance himself from that epithet), and such posturing is dogmatic in the way ‘agnostic’ is not.

His defense of rationality is flawed in other respects, and he should realize that; first, apart from science, there is feeling and emotion, fundamental and definitory of man the way he is constituted. Second, modern science does not have all the answers even within its own field of expertise – in any area.

The strictures SH has with respect of religion and the religions (their in-fights, rivalries, etc.) are widely shared by many people, and particularly in Advaita Vedanta, though, it must be said, religion has to 1) be accepted as being an attraction and consolation for the multitudes – a given fact, 2) it can be an intermediary step towards real knowledge of the reality of the world and us (as Iswara is with respect to nirguna Brahman), and, finally, 3) its aspects of surrender, love, participation, and esthetic beauty cannot be dismissed out of hand.

Neuroscience is still a science in its cradle. Not only does it lack many answers related to the brain and its functions, but some of its unknowns are insurmountable, such as what is the nature of consciousness (the ‘hard problem’) as taken from its own perspective. Consciousness or awareness cannot be explained by empirical science; it will always be a purely subjective experience (including objectless consciousness), an ultimate, irrefutable, and irreducible fact.

From the viewpoint of traditional Advaita (Shankara and Gaudapada primarily), there is no reality other than Consciousness (Atman-Brahman – which is/are just names or symbols). Phenomena are the way Consciousness or Atman manifests itself (a sort of play- maya). Multiplicity, space, time, and causality are illusory – that is, from the higher perspective, while they seem to be real from the lower, empirical one.

Empirical scientists have no truck, no real interest, in any of the above. They cannot touch it. Paul King, a prominent neuroscientist, wrote this not long ago in Quora:

“Ultimately, the question of whether or not subjective experience is an irreducible fact may come down to metaphysical stance and not anything that can be “decided” with a rational process.”