Debate with a crypto-buddhist – 7

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.


17 thoughts on “Debate with a crypto-buddhist – 7

  1. Martin, hi. 🙂

    I changed the order of these quotes as they appeared in your OP.

    S: An intellectual understanding will not suffice in these matters. It has to be in your bones.

    Advaitins would agree with this. That’s what shravaNa, manana, and especially nididhyAsana are for.

    S: After all, it is only through our own direct experience of the way things are that will have any meaning for us.

    Traditional Shankar’ian Advaitins would not agree with this! They assert that there can be no direct experience of “the way things are.” Brahman is forever beyond experience … though everything experienced is Brahman.

  2. On the contrary! Shankara and Advaita Vedanta postulate the direct accessibility of Brahman or Pure Consciousness – but not through the unaided mind, which works from a subject-object or dualistic position. Only intuition – anubhava or Brahma vidya – acting or revealing itself in a prepared mind steeped in the Shruti and after prolonged nididhyasana can attain that realisation. And that is so because Brahman or Pure consciousness is an existing entity.

    In the final part of my write-up, there will be more comments from this last position under M.

    • That’s not my understanding from having read Dennis’s extensive writing on the role of experience in the enlightenment process (i.e. basically it has none) and spoken with him quite a bit about it.

      But the topic seems to be quite hotly contested among Advaitins, as evidenced by all the debate in the past month or two in the blog.

  3. A small quote from the section on ‘Experience’ in the ‘Confusions’ book:

    “We ‘experience’ the Self all the time because we are the Self. A synonym for Self in this context is Consciousness and that is present all the time, even in deep sleep. Absence of Consciousness is not a possibility. The Self is not an object. It cannot not be experienced. In other words, we have anubhava of the Self all the time! The problem is that we do not realize this. It is only the knowledge that is required, not the experience.”

  4. In a recent answer to a question in Quora, I wrote: ‘… the absolute (which is above all names and descriptions) can only be called ‘observer’, ‘witness’, ‘consciousness’, or ‘Knower’ metaphorically. Better to call it ‘pure Consciousness’, ‘pure knowledge’ to avoid confusion.’ I understand the problem with using the terms ‘experience’, experiencer’, but why banning this expression altogether when we use the word ‘witness’ knowing that it does not refer to an individual (jiva)?

    ‘Anubhava’ can have different senses depending on the context (intuition, experience), while Brahmanubhava can be translated as ‘pure experience’ (avagati matra) or ‘pure knowledge’ (kevala jñana).

    I have no qualms in using the expression ‘knowledge-experience’, both terms being quasi-synonymous but adding up.

  5. Agreed!

    As soon as one starts giving one-word English translations of Sanskrit terms there is a danger of misleading someone. It is a real problem. I have tried to get around it in the past by always including a comprehensive glossary at the back of my books. But as time goes on, I have realized that there is really a need to make this longer and longer. But even that would not solve the problem because lots of readers would simply not bother looking at a glossary, believing that they already understood what a word meant.

    An additional problem, of course, is that some writers ONLY give an English word and do not include the original Sanskrit. Then a reader can really be lost!

    Then you get those readers who complain that there is too much Sanskrit. You can’t win…

  6. A further consideration is that Shankara himself is not always consistent even in his use of important terms, as scholars such as Paul Hacker and Tillmann Vetter have showed. In his study of Shankara’s usage of the words ‘avidya’, ‘namarupa’, ‘maya’, and ‘Iswara’, Hacker concludes, somewhat ironically, that Shankara lacked interest in unambiguous vocabulary and systematic exposition: “Following this reflection, we have to note, as a special feature of Shankara’s thinking, an aversion for definitions and a supreme carelessness as far as the systematic use of terms is concerned.”

  7. I hadn’t heard that. Certainly a bit worrying when we (I) carefully try to determine exactly what Shankara said on any given topic…

    Do those scholars always take into account the context in which Shankara is using the word? To which particular book/article are you referring?

    I did a quick search on Google and came up with the following interesting comment on Hacker (made on the Advaita-L list):

    “I find this kind of argument to be merely self-fulfilling, in that it
    allows Hacker to never question his initial assumption(s). He comes to his
    final conclusions by making more assumptions as he goes along. It is
    amazing to read the number of times he uses phrases like “must have been”,
    “may have led to”, “tentatively” etc. when initially exploring an idea. By
    the end of the same essay, these have given way to “clearly” and
    “definitely” and “obviously” in restating the same idea as a conclusion,
    with very slight modifications in a handful of cases. When a second scholar
    quotes Hacker and a third scholar refers to the second, the same idea now
    gets reiterated and cited as if it has been proved beyond all doubt and as
    if that is the only possible academic conclusion about these texts and the

  8. Paul Hacker was one of the most brilliant and influential modern scholars of Indian philosophy which, however, does not make him infallible, just eminently worth reading. The essay to which I refer appeared originally in “The Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft” (“Journal of the German Oriental Society”). Fortunately it has been translated into English and can be found in the collection of Hacker’s papers edited by another great Indologist, Wilhelm Halbfass, called ‘Philology and Confrontation’. The title of the paper is ‘Distinctive Features of the Doctrine and Terminology of Shankara’ with specific reference to the four terms I mentioned. To my knowledge, Tillmann Vetter’s work has not been translated into English, but the work in which he gives his opinions on this matter is titled ‘Studien zur Lehre und Entwicklung Shankaras’ (Studies on the Teaching and Development of Shankara). In Vedantic circles, Vetter is perhaps best known for his exhaustive research regarding Shankara’s dates. He concluded that given the evidence we have, we cannot infer more precise dates

  9. Venkat,

    Finger or moon is, of course, an important point. No one would deny that it is the reality of aham brahmAsmi that we want to realize. And whichever teaching leads us there does not matter – they are all mithyA in the end.

    But, to go back to the metaphor, following the direction of a straight and healthy finger is more likely to lead the eye to the intended target than a bent, arthritic one!

  10. Dennis, reading Sankara’s commentaries on the upanishads, it is not that difficult to understand the direction of travel. Getting bogged down in the exact and consistency of meaning imparted to words like avidya, namarupa, etc is missing the point. If one reads the whole of Sankara, it is abundantly clear what he was pointing out. And a study of semantics was not it.

    • Then why are we having all these discussions about whether or not Shankara advocated this or that, searching out quotations, querying meaning or translation of particular words? Why do many seekers believe some sort of ‘experience’ is necessay in order to gain mokSha? Etc.?

      The ‘bottom line’ of what he said (brahma satyam…) may be clear but the means of reaching that understanding is what is in doubt for many. If it was obvious, there would be no need for sites such as this.

      • Dennis

        Sankara’s words and direction are straightforward – but one needs a roadmap of the entire terrain, before one can fully appreciate the message. Reading just one upanishad bhasya may not be sufficient. So we read and digest his entire work, and the underlying scriptures, to gain this understanding.

        As he said: neti, neti and renunciation is the epitome of all the teaching. But if this is the first thing one reads, one is unlikely to understand its significance and rationale.

        My point is that whatever inconsistencies Hacker found in Sankara’s use of words like avidya, namarupa, Maya and ishwara are likely to be inconsequential. Perhaps Rick can provide some examples.

  11. (I have the whole interview… illuminating!)

    The Pseudoscience Of Indology: An Interview With Joydeep Bagchee.

    by Indic Today –
    Feb 14, 2019,

    With The Nay Science: A History of German Indology, Professor Vishwa Adluri
    emerged as one of the most powerful critics of Indology, the nineteenth century
    field established to study India. Professor Adluri has called Indology “scientized racism”, a “club” and a “court”.

    Many Indologists participated directly in missionary activity (eg, with the
    Halle and Basel missions). Nearly all saw their work as contributing to
    Christianity’s triumph. Albrecht Weber, Max Muller, and **Paul Hacker**
    explicitly affirm this. “Orientalistik (Oriental languages)” and “Hebraisitik
    (Hebrew studies)” developed as subdisciplines of Christian apologetics
    and its OT concerns. Likewise, the purpose of uncovering and translating
    Hindu scriptures was to provide foundations for evangelism. The third
    feature, especially in German Protestantism, was anti-Judaic and anticlerical
    tropes, which were projected on Brahmans.

    There has been a sustained attack on Hinduism as a Brahmanic system of thought. Indologists benefited personally as traditional teaching was eliminated.

    What we have seen for 200 years is a Western monologue.

    Western scholars assured themselves of their cultural superiority: they
    had ‘discovered’ science and rationality. They felt divinely vindicated: the
    ‘elect’, who were called upon to understand the dark half of humanity.
    Indologists claim their work is critical and scientific, it is philology, and it
    provides a history of India. We already examined the first two claims in
    The Nay Science and Philology and Criticism. We showed how their work was
    neither scientific nor objective. Their philology hardly deserved the name…

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