Conversation with ‘H’ – 4

That said, one has to realize that absolutely all concepts used in advaita are only symbols or indicators pertaining to what is considered ‘lower knowledge’, and that includes all that is written in the venerable Vedas. At the same time, they, and the expressions containing them, have, directly or indirectly, the supreme reality as their referent.There is a pithy statement in one of the Upanishads: ‘That from which all words fall back failing to reach it, along with the mind’. ‘Higher knowledge’ is beyond the mind (one could even say ‘by consensus’), while necessarily using the latter for verbal transmission. This knowledge or understanding can only be conveyed by what can be called ‘universal intuition’ (or ‘truth of the Heart’), an expression redolent of ‘the Peace that passes all understanding’. And this is the only ‘thing’ – ‘knowledge-experience’- that is unstultifiable; a knowledge that transcends the individual as individual. More on this (knower, witness) following right now.

I understand your scruples concerning ‘witness’, ‘knower’, etc.; even expressions such as ‘Witness behind the witness’, ‘Knower behind …’, when one is referring to nothing less than the absolute or ultimate reality – which is indescribable and thus undefinable -cannot but cause puzzlement in the reader’s mind, even though these expressions are common currency in Hindu (Vedantic) metaphysics. The peculiarity of this tradition is that it is considered by many authorities as being both rational and mystical, opinions varying concerning this assessment – something difficult to accept by Western trained minds.

Fundamental for the comprehension of all this is having in mind two things: 1) central to the tradition of Shankara is the notion of mutual superimposition of reality and unreality, which is un-assumed, undiscovered by the generality of philosophers, except for the mystics, or the contemplative philosophers and artists. Plato, Dionysius the Areopagite, Clement of Alexandria, Plotinus, Nicholas of Cusa, ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’, Ibn al-‘Arabi, Thoreau, and many others. 2) The employment of this insight (for it is that) as a tool or device for teaching non-duality (advaita). Firstly, postulating something (a doctrine or statement) as a provisional step on the way towards final truth, and then rescind it (which, for many, may take years to make the jump, if at all).  The formula neti,neti (not this, not that) is a famous illustration of this. Much of Indian philosophy is based on, and inspired by, stories, legends, mythology – folk-lore in general (Mahabharata, etc.). To be continued…