A new book announcement with extracts from our regular contributor – Martin.
This book consists of a selection from Quora of some of the most relevant questions concerning metaphysics or spirituality that encompass the Eastern and Western traditions. The approach is catholic or universal, as can be appreciated in the table of contents. I make no apology for giving comparatively more prominence or coverage to the Eastern tradition, particularly to what is called Non-duality and or Advaita Vedanta. Some examples of non-dualist Western philosophers or mystics are accounted for, in particular, the greatest (in my estimation), Plato, not forgetting Plotinus, Meister Eckhart, Ibn Arabi, etc. Plato can be compared to some extent to Shankara, the latter being perhaps the topmost philosopher and mystic the world has given birth to.
It must be advised that the reader will find some repetitions, mostly in some of the questions or themes – something that is inevitable given the nature of the book. The latter consists of a compilation and selection of Questions, together with my Answers, in Quora – from 2014 to 2019 – on crucial areas of thought and experience, again from East and West. Much thought or reflection has been dedicated to this endeavour, any considerations of recompense or expectations being quite out of place.
Of course, appreciation and thanks to all sources of joyful inspiration are implicit and must be acknowledged, together with the persons or authors behind them. Such are too numerous to mention here. I make an exception with Sowmya Shree, who was a great help during my (impish) travel to India in 2018 being the instigator of it. I would have been lame and lost without her. My other crutch could not have been any other than my dear wife, Angeles.
Two words about the title of the book (or part thereof) – ‘Duality and Non-duality’. These are two aspects of the one truth or reality, as it were in search of unity: the truths of empirical or everyday life, and the truth of what transcends and, at the same time, embraces them as a higher Truth. The latter cannot but be ineffable, not amenable to definition or description, and can only be actualized in Self-realization. As the seers of ancient India uttered, ‘Reality is one – the sages call it by many names’. These words, which corroborate what is known as the ‘wisdom of the ages’, come out in one of the Indian Upanishads, the Mundaka Upanishad.
‘Let a man devoted to the spiritual life examine carefully the ephemeral nature of such enjoyment, whether here or hereafter, as may be won by good works, and so realize that it is not by works that one gains the Eternal.’ – Mundaka Upanishad
Some Selected Q & A’s
Do we create our own reality?
In a sense, the answer is Yes! The mind is all it contains, derived from multiple experiences of one’s past—external and internal experiences. But it is not a passive thing or condition, for man is a thinker; he can reflect on his experiences and grow in understanding (self-understanding) with the aid of reliable, knowable persons and profound texts. Finally, s/he may find out that there is another dimension above or beyond the mind, that is, consciousness. Here, it is on a spiritual or non-dual philosophy (a philosophical or sapiential tradition) that rests the answer.
Do you think life gives us signs about our death?
Yes, about bodily death, which is natural and ought to be accepted with equanimity. Illness, old age, and decrepitude are signs. Bodies are born and die—the wheel of samsara. Check on the ‘dance of Shiva’ (Lila) and also Buddha’s illumination, ‘The three noble truths’—and also Western stoic philosophy.
Why doesn’t philosophy take into account non-western theories of justice?
Going straight to the second part of the question, which is the key, two notions are intimately involved and interconnected on this topic (justice) as seen from the Eastern perspective: 1) Dharma, and 2) Ishvara—the creating and controlling aspect of god or the absolute reality. I will not cover here Confucianism or the Far East—only India.
The notion of Dharma is paramount in the Eastern philosophical-religious traditions alluded to above and is used in many combinations of words. The primary meaning is ‘law’ or ‘order’ as it exists and is operative in the universe. Rather than man-made, it is a divine ordinance or, alternately, a cosmological law that maintains all things in equilibrium; as such, it cannot be far distant from the Western idea of justice (‘law and order’ and all its derivations and conditionings). Dharma is a universal law from which nothing can deviate (literally, ‘what holds together’), whether it is in the social, the individual, or the moral realms.
Four principal divisions or goals of life in the Indian tradition are artha (relative to material possessions), kama (pleasure and love), dharma (religious and moral duties), and moksa (spiritual release or delivery). Some of the Dharmasastras—Books of the Law—are attributed to mythological personages, such as Manu, ‘forefather of man’, and are filled with religious, social, and ritualistic prescriptions. An important treatise, encyclopaedic in its coverage, is the Kautilya Arthasastra, from the 4th Cent. BC.
As far as the individual is concerned, the particular application of the law (dharma) is called sva-dharma, for sh/e cannot escape it—in this or another life (reincarnation). There are different ways to look at it: merits and demerits intimately tied up with (the law of) karma; duties pertaining to one’s station in life: student, householder, retiree, and, finally, renunciant or liberated one (mukti), who is released from all duties and tasks and is dedicated exclusively to contemplation of the divine or ultimate reality (traditionally referred to as ‘forest-dweller’).
The Indian tradition is prodigious in its elaboration and codification of all the branches of the sciences and the arts: music, dance, philosophy, linguistics, mathematics, geography, rituals, types of meditation, moral laws, etc.
Are duality and non-duality two sides of the same coin?
Yes, but only conceptually, because from the viewpoint of non-duality, which in itself is an unsublatable and non-transmissible experience (anubhava), there is no duality—no relativity—be it as subject-object or oneness-multiplicity. However, from the relative position (called vyavahara in Advaita Vedanta), duality appears to be real, the primary examples being subject-object, and consciousness-mind (or consciousness-world). The teaching of Advaita Vedanta distinguishes between phenomena or appearances and the noumenon that is the Self or Atman-Brahman, alone real. Ultimately, phenomena are not other than the expressions or ‘projections’ of Brahman; or it is as saying that forms are reducible to their essence.
The foregoing means that the whole world—outer and inner phenomena (external objects and thoughts, sensations, etc. respectively) —is essentially no other than the Self or Brahman (there is no need to capitalize ‘brahman’, despite being the supreme principle, because it is a metaphysical term, not a personal one). —There is only one reality.
Does our universe need an explanation for it to exist?
Other commentators hereunder raise the issue (correctly) of explanation in terms of causation, meaning, and ‘reason why’, the last two especially involving the notion of teleology. From Advaita Vedanta, an explanation in this sense is not demanded or forthcoming, except as myth related to creation. Things are as they are (‘being is, not being is not’, reminiscent of the ancient Greek philosopher Parmenides). The following is from an entry in my blog Unanimous Tradition:
‘It is often stated that science does not admit the term ‘why’ in its vocabulary, the reason being that it implies purpose (that is, teleology, a metaphysical notion originated by Aristotle). For example, a kidney (liver, etc.) is an organ that has a function, does some work, but one cannot say that it—or anything else in nature—has a purpose. There is no divine plan!
‘Natural selection is a substitute for ‘purpose’: that which favours the survival of a species. However, as soon as you consider that intelligence does exist in the world or the universe, then there is but one more step to concluding that the universe is intelligent. Then teleology is back at the centre of things. Empirical scientists abhor the notion of ‘intelligent design’.
‘Teleological descriptions are unavoidable in biology, and even ‘function’ cannot escape such connotation. J.B.S. Haldane said, “Teleology is like a mistress to a biologist: he cannot live without her, but he’s unwilling to be seen with her in public.”’
At present, the book is only available from the publisher:
but there is a special 25% discount available until the end of the year. Use code AUTHOR1022 at checkout.
The book will also become widely available online in the coming weeks and you can check this by searching for Books ISBN in Google. ISBN No: 9781398486492