About amartingarcia

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

I am the Light

A (Matin): Realization of witness consciousness is not brought about by anything or ‘anybody’. Consciousness does not perform any function, and there is nothing beyond or other than it. Finally, however, only intuition can nudge one towards it.

I am the Witness-Self; I am the basis of all experience; I am the light that that makes experience possible. – Yoga Vasishta.

Reality/Existence

A (Martin): By the evidence of the ages – of innumerable sages and mystics, their outpourings, and the teachings they left us that are like the fruits of wonderful trees – the answer has to be yes! They tell us, especially to those capable of fathoming their words (‘those who have ears’), that the depth of understanding what is real and inescapable, reality itself, is practically limitless, to the point of becoming one with it in a seamless unit – no more subject-object distinction, the root of suffering.

And that is so because, as Matthew Arnold put it referring to some people: … ‘He who makes the determined effort to see life steadily and see it whole…’. There is a caveat, though: ‘Without love, the mind cannot understand’ – Sine desiderio mens non intelligit (Nicholas of Cusa). Is love anything more, or other, than that determination Matthew Arnold was speaking of? That is a high price, or is it not?

Q.539 Māyā and Brahman

A (Martin): 1) Māyā is not an attribute of Brahman which, as you say, is attributeless. Māyā is a diffuse, or polyvalent, concept which gives rise to much confusion, particularly by translating it as ‘illusion’ (see below). This concept can be viewed from the psychological, epistemological, and ontological perspectives.

Purely from the standpoint of Ṥaṅkara’s Advaita Vedanta, māyā is tied in with the concept of ‘ignorance’ (avidyā), which is prior to it; that is, avidyā is the necessary condition for māyā. Once ignorance has been annihilated by knowledge, māyā disappears. That means that from the higher (of two) point of view māyā does not exist. This is contrary to most post-Ṥaṅkara authors, with the exception of Sureśvara, who taught that māyā is a positive entity or force. If that were the case, how could a positive entity be removed by knowledge? Swami Satchidanandendra, practically alone in the 20th Cent. has defended the former Ṥaṅkarian position.

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Consciousness Works!

A: Some of the responders here give a mechanistic or scientific answer based on biology, neurophysiology, or even the possibility of creating artificial consciousness! – no doubt led by the word ‘how’ in the question.

How consciousness works is a superfluous, out-of-the-blue question. It works and works perfectly well. As to what consciousness is, this is at once a common-sense matter and a metaphysical one being on a par with existence itself – what is existence? We don’t ask how existence works, do we?

Existence IS. Consciousness IS. Whether they are a mystery or not, you will have to investigate…. but not scientifically.

Thoughts on Consciousness

It doesn’t come from anywhere, but is everywhere, pervading the whole universe as its essence. Consciousness is you, and you are consciousness. All phenomena appear to be just that – appearances; but in reality, being the expression of consciousness, they are only consciousness. There is no other reality.

Realization of witness consciousness is not brought about by anything or ‘anybody’. Consciousness does not perform any function, and there is nothing beyond or other than it. Finally, only intuition can nudge one towards it.

“I am the Witness-Self; I am the basis of all experience; I am the light that  makes experience possible.” Yoga Vasishta.

What is Truth or Reality?

Neti, neti.

Reality is ‘everything there is, all in a bundle’ (a tentative definition) – inner, outer, manifest and unmanifested, known and unknown, thought of and imagined. Reality is not a bundle of separate truths, though, since ‘everything’ is interconnected in mutual dependency. Reality is indefinable; ungraspable by the mind (it requires a silent mind and a ‘leap of faith’ – a constancy of purpose). ‘Those who think they know know not’ (Upanishads and common knowledge). Reality is subjective and objective at the same time (nay, there is no such dichotomy in it). Reality is Knowing and Being, beyond the seeming individual, the latter as partaking of it. Reality, truth, cannot be transmitted or expounded – it is at the same time ‘personal’ and impersonal, or neither of them. Only metaphysics (non-duality) and contemplation, love of truth, not mere philosophizing, can take one to it.

Purpose vs. function

Q (From Quora): As a doctor, what did you learn in medical school that is forever etched in your brain?

A (Martin): In my 1st year of medical school, I read a footnote in ‘Samson Wright’ (the best book on physiology at the time and for many years) something that – to this day – continues to be a nostrum from the side of science but that I never fully accepted: (Referring to the workings of organs) ‘in science, we don’t talk of purpose, only of function’ — as if ‘function’ does not imply ‘purpose/intelligence’, an intelligence that is built into nature, of which the operation of the kidneys, liver, brain, etc. is proof.

From the perspective of Advaita Vedanta, purpose, function, are at most superimpositions on the one reality (Brahman, to give it a name) pertaining to the empirical realm. Cannot one affirm, though,  that intelligence is not just an anthropomorphic quality built into or added to existence, but something inherent in being/existence itself – sat, chit – despite admitting that the ultimate (Brahman) is attributeless? Then sat-chit-ananda is/are the least, or the most, that can be said about the ultimate reality.

Loss of consciousness

Q (from Quora): Why do I have this fear? How can I solve it? For as long as I can remember I’ve been afraid of going unconscious because I lose control. Even though I know that, when I fall asleep, I always wake up some hours later.

A (Martin): I have made a life-long search for the meaning and reality of ‘myself’ and the world.

Apart from the advice (and different diagnoses) given by others, I am thinking of something else, which has a psychological as well as a philosophical side to it, and it is not just fear of death, but fear of self-annihilation, emptiness, or void where there is no longer an experience of selfhood, of continuity (“what if I don’t wake up?”).

This can of course become an obsession – an existential angst – one of the worst kind. A sensitive child may (I experienced it) entertain the idea of nothingness, including that of *me/myself*, that is, my very personal, intimate consciousness not existing or vanishing into nothingness. It may or may not be associated with the thought “Why is there something (a world) rather than nothing?”

If that strikes a chord – and it is a question of temperament and inclination – there is an answer, which can be obtained at the end of a lengthy, arduous journey: ‘Know thyself’, as it was written on the frontispiece of the oracle of Delphos in ancient Greece. After a lifelong search, I found the most complete, satisfying answer in Advaita Vedanta. According to this philosophy or discipline deep sleep is the most blessed state short of full awakening – that is, awakening from the ‘darkness’ of the awake state and its narrow ego-centered vision shot through with doubt and suffering.

mAyA an attribute of Brahman

Q: Can Advaitins explain how Maya can be an attribute of the supposedly attributeless Brahman? Why was the creation needed if Brahman alone existed? What is Ishwara?

A (Martin):

 1) Maya is not an attribute of Brahman which, as you say, is attributeless. Maya is a diffuse, or polyvalent, concept that gives rise to much confusion, particularly by translating it as ‘illusion’ (see below). This concept can be viewed from psychological, epistemological, and ontological perspectives. Purely from the standpoint of Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta, Maya is tied in with the concept of ‘ignorance’ (avidya), which is prior to it; that is, avidya is the necessary condition for Maya. Once ignorance has been annihilated by knowledge, Maya disappears. That means that from the higher (of two) point of view, Maya does not exist. This is contrary to most post-Shankara authors, with the exception of Suresvara, who taught that Maya is a positive entity or force. If that were the case, how could a positive entity be removed by knowledge? Swami Satchidanandendra, practically alone in the 20th Cent. has defended the former, Shankarian position.

Maya can also be viewed as the power or energy of Brahman to create the world, and etymologically the word comes from ‘magic/magician’.

But note that the (phenomenal) world is not pure illusion, as stated above, but mithya (relatively real)

2) ‘Brahman alone is real. The world is appearance. The world is not other than Brahman’ (one of the ‘great sayings’ – mahavakya).

3) Ishvara is Brahman considered as creator and ‘personal’ by those who need or are proclive to a devotional relationship (creator/creature). It is also known as ‘saguna brahman’ (Brahman with attributes), as (apparently) different from ‘nirguna Brahman’.

On the Teaching of SSSS

SSSS, of course, refers to the famous, if contentious, Advaitin Sri Satchidanandendra Saraswati Swamiji (1880 – 1975).

In 2014, I wrote a review of the article “A New Approach to Understanding Advaita as Taught by Sankara Bhagavadpada” by Ramakrishnan Balasubramanian – https://www.advaita-vision.org/review-of-article-by-ramakrisnan-subramanian/. The article was very critical of SSSS and my review provided a defense. 

SSSS’s book “Salient Features of Ṥaṅkara’s Vedānta’ has an introduction by Prof. S.K. Ramachandra Rao and the latter makes the following points:

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