Q.471 More on Consciousness versus consciousness

Q: Many Vedanta teachers, nonduality, and especially Direct Path teachers answer the question “Who am I?” with these kinds of constructs:

I am that which is aware of objects. I am the awareness of objects. I am awareness.

I understand the intention of this way of formulating things; it moves the seeker away from the notion that s/he is this or that object (body, mind, etc.). But my problem with the formulation is that it seems to be presented as satyam, but it is in fact mithyam. (When taught properly it’s a good adhyAropa apavAda device, but many of the nonduality teachers I’ve read teach it as an ultimate truth, the foundation of their teachings.

The true (satyam) answer to “Who am I?” is “I am Atman/brahman.” And this is NOT synonymous with saying “I am awareness (or anything else that can be conceived, envisioned, described)” because Atman/brahman is beyond all attributes. So, if one were to avoid using the Sanskrit terms, my answer to “Who am I?” is something like:

I am the mystery.

My question for you as a traditional Advaita teacher is: What is the validity/usefulness of the “I am … ” constructs I listed at the beginning of this email? Continue reading

Q.469 Consciousness versus consciousness

Q: Consciousness (capital C) is brahman is ineffable. consciousness (lowercase c) is the state of being aware (of something). These are fundamentally different ‘things’ … they really have nothing to do with each other. They might as well be called x and Y instead of x and X.

What am I missing here? What justifies consciousness and Consciousness being portrayed (linguistically, in any case) as the same thing except for the capitalization? How is consciousness similar to Consciousness? 

Or is it as simple as: What we call consciousness is <whatever happens to arise mentally when> Consciousness reflects off the mind? In other words: There is no consciousness per se, there is only reflected Consciousness in ALL its forms? The feel of consciousness … qualia, presence, what it is like to be a particular mind-body at a particular moment.

How is this *feel* similar to Consciousness? If they are utterly dissimilar, why use the same root word with different spellings?

A: Interesting questions, although I think maybe you are making more of this than is really there.

Firstly, Consciousness and consciousness have to be the same in reality, since there is only Consciousness. How can you say they have nothing to do with each other? In the light analogy I used [If you look at the analogy of light, the light reflected off a mirror is still light, still photons of electromagnetic radiation, even though the mirror itself is not the originator of those photons.], the reflected photons are the same photons, not newly originated imitations. We call the reflected Consciousness ‘consciousness’ but it is still only ever Consciousness. The reason that we want to differentiate is to explain aspects such as why Consciousness manifests differently in different minds. You could say that a clear, disciplined mind ‘reflects’ Consciousness much more ‘brightly’ than a dull, identified mind, in a similar way to a clean mirror reflecting light much more brightly than a dirty one.

You say to begin with that “consciousness (lowercase c) is the state of being aware (of something)”. But it is Consciousness that enables us to be aware of anything. When Consciousness enlivens the mind, we just happen to call it ‘being conscious’. Your statement “There is no consciousness per se, there is only reflected Consciousness in ALL its forms?” is one way of putting it.

The ‘feel’ of being conscious is one aspect of the mind’s response to the reflection of Consciousness. There is no ‘feel’ under anesthesia, for example, because there is no reflection taking place since the mind is inactive.

Q.468 Roles versus Witness

Q: I have been reading Vedanta for a few years and have a question. We are always playing some form of role such as Employee, Worker, Husband, Son etc. My understanding is that Advaita tells us to let the role do its own work but you remain who you are which is the ‘Absolute witness’.

How do we practice this in our daily life?   It seems difficult to have the same kind of energy when you are in that state.

A: What you are speaking of is karma yoga as preparation for j~nAna yoga. The aim in daily life is to respond appropriately to whatever is in front of you, perform the task with attention and do not be attached to the results. This is all a part of the process of acquiring discrimination, mental discipline and detachment. You need these in order to study Advaita (by listening to a qualified teacher explain the scriptures). It is not the purpose of any of this to acquire ‘good energy’ (whatever that means). Continue reading

Q.467 Clarifying pratibimba

Q: I’ve recently been reading about the reflection theory (pratibimba vAda). I’ve gone through a few articles that explain the theory, but still find the ‘bimba’ aspect confusing. I know it’s the pure original consciousness Brahman but what is its actual location? Is bimba (the original consciousness) located in the body or outside the body?

A: The bimba is Consciousness, with a capital ‘C’ – the non-dual reality. In reality there is only Consciousness; all seeming ‘things’ are just name and form of it. But, for the purposes of ‘explaining’ the empirical reality (vyavahAra), we say that each jIva has a ‘reflection’ of Consciousness in their mind. This is called chidAbhAsa or pratibimba. The ‘bimba’ is not located anywhere. If you like, everything is located in the bimba. Think of ‘space’ and ‘jar space’.

Read the essay and discussions at the site:
https://www.advaita-vision.org/chidabhasa/ and
https://www.advaita-vision.org/continuing-reflections-on-reflections/ and discussion at https://www.advaita-vision.org/discussion-on-chidabhasa/

Q: In your article ChidAbhAsa, you’ve added a passage from Shankara’s Brahma Sutra commentary, where he has said the following: Continue reading

Q.466 Creation Theories

Q: Is Isvara/maya the one responsible for the form of the universe or is the jiva responsible for it?

If Isvara/maya:

  • then who/what is Isvara and how does it create the universe?
  • then how does Adhyasa come into the picture because if Isvara is the creator then even if adhyasa is removed then the appearance of the world will still be there.

If the jiva

  • then why does the world not disappear upon enlightenment (a jiva is responsible for the dream at night whilst asleep, therefore the dream disappears upon waking)

I have heard many examples of gold/ornament with regards to the universe and Brahman (Gold being brahman, the names/forms being the ornaments). I’m not sure I have fully grasped this comparison. In what sense does matter depend on Brahman?

I see that all things are experienced IN consciousness and therefore in that sense the world of objects/atoms/quantum fields etc. depends on consciousness/Brahman because the world can not be experienced without consciousness. It doesn’t seem right to me, because it’s not something you could ever refute. Obviously we can’t experience the world without consciousness.

A: The answer to your questions is really ‘it depends’. It depends upon which theory you are ‘using’/accepting.

The ‘simple’, traditional response is that Ishvara creates the world and there are detailed ‘explanations’ as to how this is done in several Upanishads (which do not always agree in the finer detail). To any modern, scientific mind, these explanations are not convincing (to put it politely). And you are right – when adhyAsa is removed for the jIva, the world is still there. Ishvara is both the material and efficient cause – matter IS Ishvara’s own substance, in the analogous way to the web being the spider’s own substance. This is the sRRiShTi-dRRiShTi-vAda theory – the world is created and we then see it.

There is what is believed by its adherents to be a more sophisticated theory, which is that the jIva sees the ‘form’ of brahman and effectively creates the universe out of it. You can appreciate this in the vAchArambhaNa sutras in Chandogya Upanishad. We impose forms on the non-dual substrate and give them names, thereby bringing about an apparent duality. This is the dRRiShTi-sRRiShTi-vAda theory – you see and then create your universe.

Of course, if you think about this second theory, you realize that these forms that you create have to include ‘other jIva-s’ and your own body-mind. This is equivalent to solipsism and is called the eka-jIva-vAda theory – ‘one-jIva’. It is effectively the same as DSV. And, again you are right – upon enlightenment (when ‘I’ am enlightened), the world will disappear.

Personally, I prefer to go straight to ajAti-vAda – there has never been any creation at all. There is only ever the non-dual brahman.

There is much written on all of this. As you appreciate, it is a complex topic. Have you read my last book, ‘A-U-M’? Gaudapada went straight to the heart of the matter and my book tries to cover all that he and Shankara said in their commentaries on the Mandukya Upanishad.

Have a look at Q.103 and http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/teachers/theories_vidyasankar.htm.

Q.465 Enlightenment, cause and effect

Q: Brahman is beyond cause and effect. But a seeker’s effort is bound by the principle of cause and effect. Therefore, it would seem that a seeker cannot  reach a state of Self-realization, howsoever much his efforts are sincere.

Obviously, this cannot be quite right. After some though, I arrived at the following possible explanation:

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, for example, has the mahAvakya: aham brahamAsmi: I am Brahaman.
Brahman+ avidyA = jIva.
If the jIva makes an effort ( which is subject to the cause and effect principle) to remove avidyA, then it can be removed. Once avidyA has been removed, then the ever present, self-luminous Brahman is re-gained. So the method is to remove avidyA. 

Is my reasoning correct?

A: It is not quite correct.

Your main problem is in confusing absolute and empirical reality.  Brahman is the absolute reality; time, space, causality have no meaning, since absolute reality is non-dual. The seeker IS Brahman in absolute reality. At the empirical level, of course, the seeker lives in a world of apparent duality and is subject to cause and effect.

Secondly, what you say implies that you are unclear about ‘Self-realization’. Rather than use that term, or ‘enlightenment’, it is better to refer to ‘Self-knowledge’. Then it is clear that ‘Self-knowledge’ removes ‘Self-ignorance’. If you make the effort, you can remove Self-ignorance. When this happens, you realize that you are Brahman, and always have been, since there is only Brahman. The effort relates to the jIva in the world. The Self-knowledge relates to the mind of the jIva in the world. All these are mithyA, since there is really only Brahman.

So yes, if you make efforts (subject to causality), you can remove avidyA. Then you do not ‘gain’ or ‘regain’ Brahman; you simply realize that you ‘are’ Brahman.

Q.464 Laws of nature

Q: Are the laws of nature eternal? From a scientific viewpoint, consciousness is epiphenomenal and so is fundamentally governed by laws known to science.  If the laws of nature (not the parameters e.g strength of gravity, speed of light etc) are eternal and unchanging then aren’t they nityam and therefore fundamentally ‘real’?

There is a section of the responses to Q.436 (Ishvara and the existence of fossils) where you suggest (I think) that from a vyAvahArika level, time and causation are real. Just wanted to be clear that from a pAramArthika level, space/time and causation are all unreal?

Note: there are some interesting views on time by quantum physicist Carlo Rovelli (https://qz.com/1279371/this-physicists-ideas-of-time-will-blow-your-mind/) – it seems even from vyAvahArika level one could potentially argue that time is illusory.

A: Everything relating to the empirical universe is mithyA. The nature of the teaching of Advaita is adhyAropa-apavAda, meaning that an explanation is given appropriate to the current level of understanding of the seeker but superseded as their understanding grows. The ‘laws’ of nature are said to be governed by Ishvara but, ultimately, the laws and Ishvara Himself are mithyA. In reality there is only brahman. So, no, the laws are not eternal and not ‘real’. And, yes, you are correct: time and causation also fall into this category (real from the vyAvahArika standpoint but mithyA from the pAramArthika). You must note, though, that mithyA does not mean ‘unreal’ or ‘illusory’; it means that it depends upon brahman for its existence – and brahman is of course real!

Your link sounds interesting; I will have to try to find time to read it.

Q.463 Individual consciousness

Q: Dennis, I have deep question that in fact no one can answer to me. I can accept that I am consciousness in which appearances take place that are in fact manifestations of my own consciousness. I can accept that unbounded universe of my consciousness is in fact my consciousness. This phenomenal universe exists in my waking state and disappears in deep sleep.

I am consciousness all the time. It is OK and understood. BUT I also understand that all these experiences and states belong to ONLY MY INDIVIDUAL CONSCIOUSNESS.
I mean that others have other experiences. They have their own phenomenal universes, their own states in their own consciousnesses! And I have no access to them.

There is existence of many various individual consciousnesses perceiving various things. So can we say that there is no SINGLE Absolute I and no SINGLE consciousness?

A: All problems of understanding in this sort of question arise because of a confusion between ‘absolute reality’ and the ‘apparent world’.

You begin by saying that “I have a deep question“. This ‘I’ refers to the mind of the person (Fred) in the world. All these things – mind, person, Fred, world – are mithyA. They have no absolute reality. They depend upon the absolute reality for their existence. They are name and form of the non-dual Consciousness. Continue reading

Q.462 Consciousness and rocks

Q: Let us suppose there are two people, one is Conscious and sleeping and the other has been knocked out UnConscious. Since everything is Consciousness both people (though Mithya), are Consciousness.

The Conscious one wakes up (let us hypothetically say we have placed an alarm and he was in deep sleep) by the underlying Turiya, as it is the substrate of all the three states i.e waking/dreaming and deep sleep. The UnConscious one does not wake up even if there is an alarm. He is not dead, like a Table or a log because he probably is still breathing and his body functions are probably going on as usual even though his mind is dormant.

I know Conscious has nothing to do with Awareness/Consciousness I am aware that at the level of Paramarthika Satyam I am the Awareness/Consciousness essence in everything including myself, the rock, the table and those two people. The UnConscious person is still breathing and is not dead like a Rock, so obviously Turiya is substrate for the breathing too. Turiya must then be the essence of a Dead body,a Rock, and the Space between everything too, even though they are not breathing. Where is the Reflected Consciousness and the locus of Turiya and the role of Prana in all this, because Turiya is equated to Atman in many circles. Continue reading

Q.443 A ‘simple summary of advaita’

Q: Based on your own search and discoveries over all of these years, and the writing of all of the books and blogs, if you had to summarize all of this, the truth of life, what would you say? 

A: Not sure what you are looking for here. My ‘personal’ view is surely not important and I could scarcely find any better summary than Shankara’s. Anyway, I spent an hour thinking about it (while washing up and vacuuming) and here is my one line summary:

The form does not matter – it is the substance that is important.

Q: How do we know that energy/matter is Consciousness and not just what it is as energy/matter? And why does it matter? Can’t Consciousness just be what it is by itself and simply aware?

A: Energy and matter are both objects of experience. They are transient and finite, changing one into the other and ultimately ending in Absolute zero. Consciousness is the non-dual, unchanging, eternal and infinite reality.

It does not matter from the standpoint of absolute reality. It does not even matter to most jIva-s, since they just get on with the usual pleasure-seeking aims. It matters to one who is seeking Self-knowledge.

Consciousness DOES just be what it is (there is nothing else) but is not ‘aware’ in the usual meaning of the word, since there is nothing else of which to be aware. Continue reading