Wolfgang Smith [b 1930] is a nuclear physicist and mathematician who has also written on philosophy, religion, and metaphysics from the perspective of traditionalism or perennialism. As a young man, he spent two years in India and studied under Sw. Nikhilananda and also met Sri Anandamayi Ma. He took from the French philosopher René Guénon the idea of whole-s and how a (physical) whole is not just the sum of its infinitesimal parts – there is an Aristotelian substantial form inherent (in-forming) and causally related to the whole. A recent film about him (Wolfgang Smith) has recently been made: ‘The End of Quantum Mechanics’ (obviously all lay and not scientifically savvy people will not have a clue about what goes on in the discussions by several physicists in the film). Continue reading
A short discussion.
M. Advaita Vedanta’s perspective is better seen from the top-down rather than from the bottom up. Consciousness or awareness can be considered (there is a consensus on this) as a ‘fundamental ‘property’ of (or a pointer to) reality’, not reality itself, which is unfathomable and indescribable. Consciousness permeates every apparently external – and also every internal – phenomenon, which is thus an expression or manifestation of Consciousness. Accordingly, a neuron, an electron, is a manifestation of Consciousness – ‘the One without a second’. Alternately, neurons, atoms, etc. are embedded in Consciousness or reality.
PB. I think the best words you can use to characterize reality are awareness/consciousness, existence/beingness, and bliss/love. However, I wouldn’t identify reality with consciousness, the other two concepts, or all three together. They are just the purest manifestations of reality that we can identify. True reality is not a thing or concept, it is beyond definition.
But yes, I would agree that neurons, electrons, etc. are phenomena of consciousness, as are these words and the bodies and minds that write them.
M. Metaphysical truth is sometimes called apperception, or direct supramental perception, and it is non-transferable. Nicholas of Cusa put it this way: “The highest wisdom is this, to know… how that which is unattainable may be reached or attained unattainably”. Metaphysics (philosophia prima, or first philosophy of medieval times) is not science, and its truths are often dressed as paradoxes, analogies, and metaphors; they are not meant to convince anyone who is not open to them.
A metaphysical truth appeals to intuition; it is an experience or knowledge-experience… It is not speculation and is not amenable to subject-object relationship or distinction.
S. Letting go of ideas includes letting go of ’emptiness’. If you discover this emptiness, its reification is almost certain except in the cases of very deep realization. Why? Because of the latent tendencies of consciousness (not separable from mentation and all other sensory perceptions and modes) to re-create from habit energy. The letting go of all ideation continues. There is no thing called consciousness to hold on to or live inside of. It is all dependent origination. There is nothing that is uncaused that you can separate out from anything. It is impossible. There is just the stopping of all effort to change or transform what arises because the very nature of what arises is the same as this emptiness, which is not empty. It is free of all extremes including non-duality and oneness. It is a realization, no position, no attachment, no grasping. It is beyond imagination. There is no easy way to discuss it. Maybe it’s better to say nothing at all.
I wanted to interject another thought into our conversation. I find that you keep reducing our chat to a debate of Advaita vs Buddhism. This is not my intention. I am trying to speak from my actual experience and not throw in all the quotes of various scriptures, etc. After all, it is only through our own direct experience of the way things are that will have any meaning for us. Quoting the Buddha will not make me more right or more certain about some things if I don’t actualize them. I can even quote other sources that point to the same thing, but I don’t see the point. l don’t need to convince you of any of this. It’s not possible. An intellectual understanding will not suffice in these matters. It has to be in your bones.
S. Almost every Buddhist school recognizes Madhyamika as important teaching, but it is almost always subordinate to the direct teaching of the Buddha or the teacher you study with. Every Buddhist school is also in debate with other Buddhist schools. Theravada/Mahayana, Vajrayana/Dzogchen, Dzogchen/Mahamudra, Nichiren/Zen, etc. It is mostly academics that engage in these debates which never solve a thing. A real teacher will never involve you in comparative mind. They always show you the recognition of your nature which is never seen as a ‘thing’ and never separate from any ‘thing’. They leave philosophy behind. This is not to say that philosophy cannot inspire.
The tendency in all of us to want to believe in something lasting, all-knowing, and final, must be regarded in the same light as our learned beliefs that we acquire from our conditioning and cultures. The idea of racism, that one color, nationality, or faith is superior to another, for example, is embedded in all cultures. Through our ordinary minds, we can work this out to the point of disbelief, or even disappearance from our thoughts and feelings that will allow us to treat each other with respect and dignity.
In the same fashion, we can look at ideas and concepts of philosophical and religious meaning and believe that these hold truths and even ‘take refuge’ in them. These conditioned ideas get reinforced through group belief, authoritative declarations, and our grasping desire to find some lasting truth in something that we can experience or know. We never really grasp what these teachings are talking about except in our conditioned mind, our ability to retain and repeat, and believe. Continue reading
S. Whatever we call ‘Knowing our true nature’ it is something that is doubt free and possible in any given moment. It is always present no matter what the circumstances are, positive or negative, with thoughts and without them. This knowing is of a radiant nature that encompasses all appearances. It is all appearances, nothing is separated from it. If this is your experience, then indeed, your path has borne fruit. If not, finding a real teacher is of paramount importance. Nothing can replace what we call Transmission. A real teacher introduces you to your own nature directly.
M. You speak the words of Advaita Vedanta, including “a real teacher is of paramount importance”. It is indeed very helpful, almost indispensable — but, essential? Please allow me to make a few points for your consideration:
1). The teacher of teachers, guru of gurus, Dattatreya (as per the Avadhut Gita), when asked from whom he obtained his wisdom he replied that he had had 24 gurus: water, earth, space, moon, sun, maker of arrows… Yes, of course, not anyone can be a Dattatreya, the supreme guru – he had what we can call ‘spontaneous – or congenital – Atmanubhava’ (final intuition). But intuition is universal. ‘The wind bloweth where it listeth’ (Spiritus ubi vult spirat).
2). In the Gaudapada karika 1-18 (Gaudapada being grand-guru of Shankaracharya) one reads that ‘all concepts like Prapañcha (world of duality) – guru, shishya (disciple), etc., – are mere misconceptions. In his bhashya to this karika Shankara states that ‘these ideas are for the purpose of teaching which are (appear as) true until one realises the Highest Truth’. Then, as I wrote before, ‘mind becomes no-mind’ since there are no longer any objects, no multiplicity at all remaining.
3). As to Transmission of spiritual power from teacher to disciple (shaktipat), this is prominent in forms of Tantra, and one reads that Abhinavagupta elaborated on it extensively, but it is not a tenet of AV, as implied by what was said under #2.
S. Regarding #3: Transmission. This is something that is quite commonly misunderstood as something given or received. There is no giving of anything, nor receiving of anything. When circumstances converge and there is a conjunction between teacher/friend and seeker, there can be an unusual meeting of minds. This is just a figure of speech, but there is something behind this which cannot be shown. It is not Shaktipat which is really transference of energy that many people have experienced in the presence of certain people. This is not what I’m referring to at all.
Having a living friend with whom you can talk and observe someone who has ‘realized’ the ‘Highest Truth’ can be the greatest gift one can get. You see the living embodiment of this. That’s all I can really say about it. I would think the Hindu term ‘Darshan’ would be appropriate. Since your choice of traditions is Advaita, I would seek out someone whom you think is a living embodiment of it.
S. Again, you keep jumping into unfounded conclusions about Brahman and consciousness. These are your beliefs. We all have them. Reduction is not the same as truth or fact. It is an assumption. Our assumptions are often wrong (not the end of the world). You introduce two elements that are distinctly Indian in origin, Brahman, which you say is the ultimate reality, and consciousness, which you say can be objectless.
I don’t see how you can separate these things from the totality of phenomenon. When you reduce this to a single truth, you automatically elevate it into a hierarchical model and that highest element is Monism. Why do you insist on separating things out? The universe does not work like that, it is only our minds that are attempting to do so. The struggle of mind to sort out what doesn’t need sorting is where duality resides. Continue reading
M. Thank you for your well-argumented comment. Empirical science is one thing; philosophy another. Other than Monism there is Non-duality (‘not-two’). Ultimately there is no essential distinction between matter and consciousness which latter, logically and epistemologically, is prius; equally, no distinction between subject and object, observer and observed. The existence and reality of consciousness, which is independent of all phenomena, doesn’t need a proof. Continue reading
‘How many of you agree with the theory that our consciousness ends when we die?’
A commentator: (There’s of course nothing called ‘Soul’ of a person that goes on to live forever in afterlife. I’m an atheist. I person believe that when we die, our brain and the entire body shuts down, and we meet an end. Those of us who experienced anesthesia knows how it feels when our brains are inactive.)
M. I for one do not agree. Bodies decay and die not so consciousness. The whole is greater than the part, and that whole can be called ‘life’, ‘existence’, or ‘consciousness’ – none of it reducible to the physical or material. All bipolar concepts, such as life-death, good-bad, one-many, mind-body, ‘you and I’ (‘me and the other’) are false in themselves– just concepts. There is only totality (‘what is’), namely, existence or being – not many existences (existents), but one existence; not many loves, but one Love . And all of us are in essence, that is, in reality, existence and love – they are not ‘two’ (love being Plato’s ‘higher Eros’ or desire) once plurality is ‘seen’ for what it is: a deception or narrow vision. Continue reading
My answer: A given individual can live without technology – telephone, radio, TV, automobile – but society in general can no longer go back (how far back?) to the time of 3 or 4 generations ago. Everything has been ‘piling up’ and become more and more complex and, at the same time, integrated or intertwined more or less haphazardly. We need modern technology even if only to take us out of this mess – a mess which I don’t need to describe in any detail and which affects the whole world.
Are we at the point of no-return? Nobody knows. While there are dangers, there are also opportunities, advances and turn-backs. Each individual is like a cog of a great machine (or a thread in a tangle?), and only individuals can bring about some change for the better – others do it for the worse. It is like the ancient lore of good and evil in endless battle. The myth of Prometheus (and also that of Pandora) loom over all of us. The Greeks understood all this very well.
‘Advaita Vision’ is an antidote.