Consciousness – Not such a Hard Problem (2 of 2)

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Without Consciousness, nothing can be known. But Consciousness itself cannot be an object of knowledge, just as in a totally dark room, a torch may illuminate everything but itself. Knowing requires both knower and known. For Consciousness to be known, it would have to be a knowable object but it is the knowing subject. We ‘know’ Consciousness because we are Consciousness. Consciousness is our true nature. The ultimate observer (which is who you essentially are) is simply not amenable to any type of objective investigation: who could there be beyond the ultimate observer to do the investigating?

Numerous attempts have been made to define Consciousness. Most seem to revolve around the assumption that a person’s behaviour indicates its presence or absence. It is argued that consciousness is present during the waking and dream states but not in deep-sleep or under anaesthesia, for example. But this is again to confuse Consciousness and awareness. When we awake from a deep-sleep, we are able to state with confidence that we were ‘aware of nothing’. This is a positive statement – there were no gross objects, emotions or thoughts present for us to perceive. Continue reading

Consciousness – Not such a Hard Problem (1 of 2)

This is an article I wrote for a Philosophy magazine 5 years ago but it was not published. It was included in my book ‘Western Philosophy Made Easy’, which was based upon the 18-part ‘Overview of Western Philosophy‘.

ABSTRACT

The studies by neuroscience into the functioning of the brain will tell us nothing about Consciousness. We must differentiate between Consciousness and awareness. Consciousness enables the brain to perceive just as electricity enables the computer to process data. The computer does not generate electricity; the brain does not produce Consciousness.

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Ever since the ‘study’ of consciousness began to be an academically acceptable area of research amongst scientists, both they and Western philosophers have been heading deeper and deeper into a conceptual cul-de-sac. At the root of the problem is the tacit assumption that science will (one day) be able to provide an explanation for everything. But, more specifically as regards this particular issue, the big ‘C’ of Consciousness must be differentiated from the little ‘a’ of awareness. The conflation of the two means that the true nature of Consciousness will forever elude them.

Below, I address some of the various misconceptions that are misleading many of the neuroscientists and philosophers in the field of Consciousness Studies. It is accepted that not all of these investigators will hold such ‘extreme’ positions (and a few are much more liberal in their approach). Continue reading

Q.484 Sense of Self

Q: About six years ago I was looking for the separate self through directly paying attention to the sense of self in my immediate experience. I did this over about a week or ten days during regular life. I followed this sense of self when it shifted say from the body to the thinking mind, to the sense of will etc. Suddenly everything dropped away and what was seen was just openness/absence of self /no me /nothing +everything.

I’m not sure how long this lasted. Then the mind came back. I felt liberated from all worry and desire for a couple of months. Then slowly old habits reestablished themselves. Since then I am at a loss what to do. 

So I have no problem accepting Advaita teachings but I could do with some further guidance. 

A: Presumably you are prepared to accept the basic premise of Advaita – that reality is non-dual. If it is true, then it must be the case that you already are the ‘Self’. So it is not really a case of ‘looking for it’ but rather realizing that you are already ‘It’. So you can ask yourself the question ‘who would be looking for what?’. The ‘sense of self’ is not the Self; it is a feeling or an idea in the mind.

If you practice meditation seriously (twice a day, 30mins at a time, for several years), you will eventually experience periods of samAdhi, which correspond to the experience you describe. But this is just an experience – as you can tell because it has a beginning and an end. Realizing the truth of Advaita, becoming ‘enlightened’, is Self-knowledge, not an experience.

Having said that, it is possible to gain Self-knowledge and yet still not have the ‘sense of bliss’, fulfillment or whatever, that you believe ought to result. This is because of ‘obstacles’ in the mind (pratibandha-s) remaining from having insufficiently ‘prepared’ the mind beforehand (sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti).

The book I am currently writing is all about the confusions that are brought about in seekers as a result of wrong understanding by many modern teachers. pratibandha-s will be one of the topics covered and, because there has been much discussion on related issues at the website recently, I will be begin posting the material for this topic within the next week. It is quite long so will be in 3 or 4 parts. I suggest you look out for it and join in any subsequent discussion if you like. [Since this Q&A, I have posted the pratibandha series, now in around 11 parts, and it begins here.]

Q. 445 Experience and brahman

Q: What exactly (in Reality – i.e. Brahman is the only reality) is experience?

I know that there is a relative level where there are jIva-s and objects and minds and Ishvara, but if we talk about the absolute reality – Brahman – then I believe that there is no experience possible.

Brahman is the only reality and Brahman does not have experiences of any kind – yes?

So if I realize myself as Brahman, then I have to see all my experience as mithyA, yes?

SO: if you are agreeing to the above, and if I am following correct logic: why do so many teachers of non-duality and even of Advaita Vedanta say that experience is the only means through which we can explore reality?

As jIva-s in the relative realm, the only thing we have to navigate reality, is our experience. So again: what is an experience? Is there no reality to an experience?

Many teachers who are famous and well-respected point to the Presence of God as a palpable experience of peace, fullness, truth, love which comprises the reality of all our experiences. They say Presence is Brahman in manifest form and is eternal.

Is experience comprised of Brahman-as-Presence?

Continue reading

Q.483 Inert elements?

Q: The five elements of this universe (space, air, fire, water, earth) are considered inert by nature and in Vedantic teachings. However, Brahman is the substratum for everything and is Consciousness. So, how can the 5 elements be fundamentally be considered inert?

A: In reality, there is no matter. What appears to be matter, from the standpoint of phenomenal existence, is actually Brahman (Consciousness) but we see ‘forms’ and give them ‘names’ as if there were separate entities.

The elements are certainly inert. But so also are the bodies and minds of humans. (We differentiate these of course as being ‘gross’ bodies and ‘subtle’ minds but they are all still inert.) The difference between a mind and a rock, is that the mind ‘reflects’ Consciousness, whereas the rock does not. Thus the mind expresses consciousness (small ‘c’) but the rock doesn’t.

You always have to remember that explanations such as these are ‘interim’ only, in order to point the mind towards an intuitive understanding of the nature of reality. You can never have ‘true’ explanations because reality is non-dual.

Q. 482 What happens after videha mukti?

Q: When the jIva removes the ignorance of his real nature, and realizes Atman is his Real unchanging Self, if the body dissolves, what happens afterwards?

If there is no further birth, do we then remain as Absolute, without name and form, without knowing anything other than pure Self? Is it like space all being uniform without any form? Is there nothing that is known? Surely it doesn’t remain In an absolute ‘stateless state’ of no Knowing?

A: There have been a couple of questions around this before – see http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/q_and_a/q_and_a44.htm#q263 for example.

Your question is based on a misunderstanding. At the empirical level, there is indeed a ‘person’ who may or may not become enlightened. If he/she does gain Self-knowledge, then clearly the outlook of the person for the remainder of his/her ‘life’ is going to be different.

Continue reading

Q.481 Robert Adams and Reincarnation

Q: I discovered Advaita Vedanta by beginning to read the satsangs of Robert Adams, an American disciple of Sri Ramana Maharshi. I also read books about the latter. These readings have had a considerable impact on “my”  existence, which started to take another turn.

However, there is one point that bothers me, if may say so. Let me explain :

In his satsang “It’s All A Dream” of October 18, 1990, Robert Adams says:

So today we think we are going to make this a better world in which to live, and we are going to save the world, and so on. The world has its own collective karma. It’s going through a phase. Your job is to save yourself. If you find yourself in a burning building, you do not stop to admire the pictures on the wall, you get out of the building as fast as you can. So, when you know you have a short time in this existence you do not stop to play the games of life, you try to find yourself and become free as fast as you can. Continue reading

pratibandha-s – part 10 of 10

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Other Related Teachers

bhAskara was mentioned briefly earlier in respect of the related philosophy of bhedAbheda vAda. He was probably approximately contemporaneous with Shankara and addressed similar issues. Regarding the continuation of ‘obstacles’ post-enlightenment, he had this to say (in his commentary on the Brahmasutras 1.3.20):

“There is no escape from experiencing the whole of the portion of merit and demerit which initiated the body through which liberation is attained. And one who supports a body inevitably undergoes pleasure and pain. Therefore those who say that there can be no liberation for one who is yet alive go beyond the teaching of the Veda. They also contradict perceived experience.” (Quoted in Ref. 100)

Dayananda

Swami Dayananda’s influence today is considerable, so it seems perfectly admissible to include his views on the subject here. After Self-knowledge has been gained from shravaNa and any doubts have been removed by manana, it is necessary to eliminate any habitual modes of behavior that prevent enjoyment of the fruit of that knowledge (j~nAna phalam). Swami Paramarthananda, one of his direct disciples, says:

“And then comes fifth and final stage of sAdhana called nididhyAsana, which is meant to remove my habitual reaction; the removal of vAsanA, because of my regular unhealthy responses in life, I have developed a habit. And habit is developed in-time and habit can go only in-time. This deliberate invocation of the Vedanta, so that I can get rid of un-Vedantic reactions in life. Every disturbing reaction is un-Vedantic reaction. So anxiety, frustration, self-pity, sense of insecurity, fear, attachment; all of them are unhealthy vAsanA-s. This vAsanA nivRRitti or viparIta bhavana nivRRitti is the fifth and final stage called nididhyAsana.” (Ref. 208) [The first 4 stages are karma yoga, upAsanA, shravaNa and manana.] Continue reading

pratibandha-s – part 9 of 10

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Ramana Maharshi

As I have pointed out earlier, most of what is referred to as Ramana’s teaching comes from recorded talks or answers that he gave to visiting seekers. Not only were those answers aimed at the level of understanding of the questioner but the transcriptions were made by others, who may not entirely have understood the answers, and they have been translated from those transcriptions by others who may also not have been especially knowledgeable. The text known as ‘Guru Vachaka Kovai (The Garland of Guru’s Sayings)’ is a collection of his teachings recorded by Muruganar, who lived with Ramana for several years. Ramana is stated to have edited and added to the work so that we can assume it does not suffer to the same degree from those shortcomings (although it has been translated from Tamil).

In this work, Ramana specifically addressed the concept of ‘obstacles’ (pratibandha-s) in Chapter 22. It does read as though it applies mainly to the seeker rather than the j~nAnI but verse 620 refers to ‘reaching the destination’, which may then be construed as the entire ‘path’ through to final liberation (videha mukti):

“619. Just as a gem taken from a mine will not have full luster if it is not polished on the grindstone, so the real tapas, the sadhana which one is doing, will not shine well if it is not provided with trials and tribulations on its way.

 620. For a big temple-chariot to go along the streets and safely reach its destination, not only the strong linchpins but also the obstructing blocks, which prevent it from dashing into anything by running to the sides of the streets, are indispensable.” (Ref. 204) Continue reading

AbhAsa vAda

This is effectively Part 6 1/2 of 10 in the pratibandha series. It follows on from the heading of “The ‘mixture of Atman and mind’”. Apologies for the misleading and changing part numbers. This is the result of writing ‘as I go’ rather than completing the entire topic first.

Read Part 6

xi) AbhAsa vAda

This theory was mentioned briefly above in 2b, when bhAmatI and vivaraNa were discussed in the context of sources for mistaken views of Advaita. AbhAsa translates as ‘fallacious appearance’ and it is effectively the term that is used to describe this ‘mixture’ of Consciousness and intellect. Shankara addresses this in his upadesha sAhasrI, principally in chapter 18 ‘tat tvam asi’. The following analysis is with the help of Ref. 211.

As the chapter heading indicates, the topic is the mahAvAkya and how the knowledge of its truth is all that we need in order to gain enlightenment. We are already free and always have been, so once we realize this, there is nothing more that needs to be done. The idea that, after gaining ‘merely intellectual knowledge’ from shravaNa, we have somehow to gain ‘direct experience’ of Brahman before we are liberated, is called prasa~NkhyAna vAda. This is discussed and rejected in detail below, under the topic of ‘meditation’ but in this chapter Shankara introduces an objector who has these notions and the subsequent arguments are relevant to this topic of pratibandha-s. Continue reading