In Search of Brahman, Part 2

The scriptures tell us that everything is constantly changing … thus ultimately not-real.

EXCEPT for Brahman.

Why this EXCEPTion?

Why is it seen as impossible that everything, no exceptions, is constantly changing?

It would be great, for me, if we could discuss this drawing mainly upon common sense rather than doctrine. My issue with doctrine is that it is considered to be irrefutably correct and thus discourages, perhaps even prevents open investigation.

Thanks!

Rick

22 thoughts on “In Search of Brahman, Part 2

  1. Hi Rick,

    Unfortunately we can’t ask why so?

    For example, we can’t ask why water is liquid? Why something else is solid? But we can examine them whatever they are.

    Heraclitus proclaimed “The only thing that is constant is Change”. Plato concurred by saying “Everything changes and nothing stands still”.

    Our body is also continuously changing. I had a little less than 2 feet body as an infant. A little less than 3 feet body as a toddler. Similarly the bodies I had as a child, teenager, youngster were all different when compared to the body I have now.

    But ever since I am born the feeling of “I” has never changed. It is the same I who went to school and college and it is the same I now.

    With sharp intellect, single pointed concentration, dive deep within and enquire into this feeling of “I”. Such an enquiry will lead us to Self / Atman / Brahman. “Self” should be enquired by the “self” to discover the “Self” and that enquiry is called “Self-Enquiry”.

    This “Self” has remained unchanged and had powered all the bodies we possessed in the past and is currently powering the body we have now.

    A doctrine should clearly state these truths that appeal to our common sense, logic and reasoning. Otherwise the doctrine should be discarded instead of considering it as irrefutably correct 🙂

  2. Thanks for the reply, Arun. 🙂

    > But ever since I am born the feeling of “I” has never changed. It is the same I who went to school and college and it is the same I now.

    I used your above words as an opportunity to investigate, via memory and thought and intuition, what has and possibly hasn’t changed for me over time.

    Physically/externally it seems that everything has changed: my body, my location, my environment. I might say that the ‘template’ of me, the original pattern (DNA?) from which my body arose, has remained unchanged. But that’s a stretch, and I’m not sure it’s true.

    Mentally/internally it also seems all the ‘content’ has changed: thoughts, images, memories, emotions, etc. These things are in fact changing all the time, it’s easy to observe this by looking inwards.

    Even my view of who or what ‘I’ am has changed.

    BUT … the primal *feeling* of I-ness, the “I am” feeling … seems to have remained the same. If I allow content in, “I am this” or “I am that” there is change. But if I find and focus on the content/thought-free FEELING of “I am” there seems to be no change. (My investigation is, of course, limited to the time I can remember, so I can’t say that “I am” felt the same when I was a baby.)

    So would you say that when Advaita speaks of the-real-self as unchanging in all three periods of time (past, present, future) it is pointing to that primal feeling of “I am” that I have?

    • venkat, thanks!

      Funnily enough … I’m pretty sure it was me who asked that question way back when! If not, it’s a spiritual/intellectual doppelganger. 😉

      Assuming it was me, it’s interesting how, after several years, my primary questions about Advaita have not changed. That’s one of the consequences of being a devoted skeptic, change happens slowly … if it happens at all. There’s a lesson to be learned there, but I’m not sure what it is.

  3. Rick

    Actually, I think it was a question that ‘I’ asked, but perhaps that just proves there is only one consciousness . . . . And it is asking the same question!

    But w.r.t. your being an Advaita skeptic . . . there is only one real question you have to ask:

    Is there anything that ‘I’ am that is separate and wholly independent from the whole, the universe?

    If you conclude that the answer is a resounding “No” (and I’d be interested to hear any arguments for “yes”), then you are a non-dualist, an Advaitin. After that, it is ‘just’ a matter of examining and de-constructing all the inherent beliefs that one has about “me”, as a separate entity, acting in the “world” to gain some benefit for “myself”.

    • Perhaps we are each other’s doppelgangers? 😉

      I think-feel (flink?) that I am the nondual ground manifesting as an ever-changing apparent individual.

      Does that make me a demi-Advaitin?

      • “I think-feel (flink?) that I am the nondual ground manifesting as an ever-changing apparent individual.”

        Isn’t this another concept?

        If I may make a suggestion, first examine and convince yourself that there can be no separation, and that therefore the ego is entirely illusory, or as Sankara says, a superimposition. That is the critical conclusion of all non dual traditions – zen, dzochen, tao, Advaita. Even JK.

        First find out what you are not, and what you are then remains. You already know that – as you noted that you are a passionate neti neti guy. 🙂

        • > If I may make a suggestion, first examine and convince yourself that there can be no separation, and that therefore the ego is entirely illusory, or as Sankara says, a superimposition.

          I flink that everything, including me, is made of the same stuff. (What is that stuff? Is it material, mental, a force, energy, consciousness? Dunno … way above my pay grade!) This is not a source of confusion or uncertainty for me. And if I were to rename stuff Brahman, then I’d have no problem with the Brahman teaching.

          The confusion starts with the assertion that who-I-really-am is stuff. I wouldn’t say that’s un-true, I’d say it’s true from one point of view … the conclusion reached by one of the blind men touching the elephant.

          In other words, as I’ve said before to Arun, I don’t see any ultimately privileged frame of reality, any Absolute Truth or Reality. Each doll in the infinity of nested Russian dolls is real relative to the context of its nesting. Ditto for the entire set of dolls … and for the wood the dolls are made of.

          I don’t see One Real and an infinity of apparently real but ultimately non-reals. I see an infinity of relatively reals. And, because ‘real’ loses its meaning if everything is seen as real, I drop the real entirely … and I see what I see, perceive perceptions, and everything else is speculation.

  4. Hi Rick,

    I think you got everything right.

    Body has changed and continues to change.

    Mind has changed and continues to change. What the mind thinks now is different from the thoughts it had yesterday and thoughts it might have tomorrow.

    The feeling “I am” has never changed. It is not somebody who went to school, somebody else who went to college and today I am somebody else who is completely different from those two. No it is the same I on all the occasions. Even in case of the baby example you can NOW intuitively say with conviction that it was the same I who was a baby in the past.

    > So would you say that when Advaita speaks of the-real-self as unchanging in all three periods of time (past, present, future) it is pointing to that primal feeling of “I am” that I have?

    Absolutely. That’s exactly what Advaita is pointing to.

    We currently identify as “self” which is my name is so and so, my gender is this, my qualification is this, my profession is this, I am son of so and so, etc.

    Using this “self” we need to contemplate on “Self” in silence and exist as Silent Awareness and during that moment grasp it as the real “I” which is ever with us powering our body and mind.

    When we “see” a TV we get to know its color and shape.
    When we “see” a cup we get to know its color and shape.
    To know that we have the seeing ability what do we need to do?
    We need to just “see” without seeing anything in particular to grasp the presence of our eyes and become aware of our seeing ability.

    When we become “Aware” of a TV, we get to know what brand it is, whether is on or off, if it is on what channel is being displayed, etc.
    When we become “Aware” of a cup, we get to know its color, shape and size and how much it is filled and with what it is filled.
    To know that we have Awareness what do we need to do?
    We need to just be in “Awareness” without being aware of anything in particular and grasp that our underlying unchanging substratum is the “Silent Awareness” or “Pure Consciousness”. That is our real Self and we should start identifying “I” with that sentient “Self”.

    This is how simply the great Advaita master Vidyaranya conveys in his magnum opus “Pancha Dashi” meaning a book of 15 chapters.

    Regards
    Arun

    • > The feeling “I am” has never changed.

      Yes, this is my experience also. The thoughts that arise around the feeling of I vary widely, sometimes wildly! But that ground-level feeling of I / I am is the same.

      > Using this “self” we need to contemplate on “Self” in silence and exist as Silent Awareness and during that moment grasp it as the real “I” which is ever with us powering our body and mind.

      Contemplating comes very naturally to me. (I thank my Catholic upbringing for that!) Can I trust my natural instinct for how to contemplate Self in silence? Or should I follow a method?

      > This is how simply the great Advaita master Vidyaranya conveys in his magnum opus “Pancha Dashi” meaning a book of 15 chapters.

      Thanks for this, I wasn’t aware of it.

  5. Rick

    “I flink that everything, including me, is made of the same stuff”
    vs
    “The confusion starts with the assertion that who-I-really-am is stuff.”

    Now I am confused. How can the certainty that everything is made of the same stuff, be replaced by confusion in saying who you are is [that same] stuff?

    • Yeah, great question, venkat. Let’s see if I can explain why I wrote that:

      For me, being made of stuff doesn’t mean what-I-really-am is stuff. The hitch is in the ‘really’ … the assertion that X is real (I am stuff) and by extrapolation not-X is not real (I am an aggregation of cells, or I am my conditioning, or I am a body-mind, etc.). As I see it, all of these things are relatively real within their contexts. This view is sometimes called truth (or alethic) relativism.

      I am quite sure that everything is made of the same underlying stuff … and that this underlying stuff is not fathomable by thought.

      But I don’t flink this stuff is what everything ultimately is. That puts the lowest-level substrate in an ultimately privileged frame. Instead, I flink Self=stuff is one of an infinity of ways of looking at the nature of reality. Some ways hew more closely to the true nature of reality, others less. But none is The Absolute Truth.

  6. Rick

    Slow down, stop using cool-sounding words like ‘flink’, and actually think simply and rationally about what you are trying to convey. You seem to revel in generating random thoughts and arguments.

    If you are quite sure that everything is made of the same underlying “stuff” but “stuff” is not what everything ultimately is, then what everything ultimately is, is some other stuff that is not the first “stuff”. “Stuff”, in the sense you have used it, is an all-encompassing word, including emptiness in its fold. You are going nowhere with this. I suggest you stop writing streams of consciousness and try to reflect and reason through what you already know. And then ask a considered question.

    • > If you are quite sure that everything is made of the same underlying “stuff” but “stuff” is not what everything ultimately is, then what everything ultimately is, is some other stuff that is not the first “stuff”.

      No … because for me ‘what everything ultimately is’ doesn’t compute! Advaita says the underlying substrate is the ultimate reality. But as I see it, the substrate is just one aspect of what-is. There are an infinity of other aspects, all of which are relatively real, none absolutely.

      Again: I’m sharing my view, not attempting to assert it.

  7. That’s an intermediate step. Advaita goes on to say the underlying substrate (consciousness) is not different from the ‘infinity of other aspects’.

  8. Rick,

    Do you not accept the concept of mithyA? All of the ‘other stuff’ is just a form of the ‘one stuff’. You may give the other stuff different names but that does not alter the reality.

    Dennis

  9. venkat and Dennis,

    I am looking at a sculpture made of gold.

    Is the entire sculpture gold? Yes.
    Is every shape, sub-shape, ornament gold? Yes.
    Is my feeling about the sculpture gold? NO.

    Is the entire sculpture brahman? Yes.
    Is every shape, sub-shape, ornament brahman? Yes.
    Is my feeling about the sculpture brahman? YES!

    So, as you both pointed out, Advaita asserts that ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING is brahman, including the different points of view I wrote about: I am brahman, I am a body, I am a process, etc.

    I have no trouble with the notion that all material things are composed of the same underlying stuff (elementary particles, strings, energy, whatever it turns out to be). But I realize now that I do have trouble applying this to all mental things: thoughts, emotions, intuition, insight, imagination.

    ———————————————————

    I’m seeing more and more that brahman is a closed system, almost a tautology. If it is accepted as true that everything is brahman, then all critique of brahman is rendered moot, because it is seen as just another manifestation of brahman.

    Please correct me if I’m wrong about this.

    If I’m right, that’s a real impediment to my fully accepting brahman, and might explain my obsession and queasiness about it for all these years.

    Thanks guys for helping me inch towards clarity!

  10. An explanation based on physics . . .

    Every object that you think you see, can only be seen if it is translated into a mental representation of that object in your mind (how, no one knows). A thought or feeling is also a mental construct in your mind (how they arise, no one knows). So a thought / feeling or a mental perception of an object are of the same quality. If you damage your brain, then your perceptions, your physical abilities and your thoughts / moods are all likely to be affected, depending upon which part of the brain is damaged.

    Therefore all mental things, whether object-perceptions or thought-feelings have the same essence. That essences seems to be electrical impulses firing across neurones.

    What are objects? Elementary particles which reduce down to energy.

    How do we see an object? Light waves (energy) are partially absorbed and partially reflected off an object, and those light waves enter the eye, and stimulate cells therein to fire off electrical impulses to the brain.

    Thus everything reduces down to the same essence: though/feelings are no different from object perceptions which are no different from objects.

  11. I would stop using the word ‘Brahman’ and use the word ‘Consciousness’ instead.

    You know what it is to be conscious even if you don’t know what consciousness is. Without the Consciousness that enables you to be conscious, you would not be aware of anything, including ‘I’. Consciousness is the ‘ground’ of your thoughts and feelings, even if you tend to think of ‘I’ as a ‘subject’ and thoughts and feelings as subtle ‘objects’. Worldly ‘things’ tend to be regarded as gross ‘objects’ while you remain the ‘subject’ but could those things exist separate from Consciousness? Is it not the case that Consciousness is also the ‘ground’ of gross objects?

    • venkat and Dennis,

      I think you’re pointing to the same thing, the primacy of Consciousness (Dennis) or mental-neuron constructs (venkat).

      I understand the reasoning quite well. And it makes a good deal of sense to me, but more as metaphor than literal truth.

      I think I’m an example of what happens when you use a dualistic tool (thinking, analyzing, negating) to try to fathom that which ‘beyond’ dualism. You end up going around in circles, which is pretty much the definition of samsara.

      If I’m to make progress on the Advaitin and/or Vedantic path, I think I need to use a different tool. Or perhaps, if it’s possible, to extend thinking/analysis to enable it to work on the non-dualistic level.

      Thanks for all your help! 🙂

  12. Hi Rick,

    > BUT … the primal *feeling* of I-ness, the “I am” feeling … seems to have remained the same. If I allow content in, “I am this” or “I am that” there is change. But if I find and focus on the content/thought-free FEELING of “I am” there seems to be no change.

    You touched the highest point when you said this.

    > The thoughts that arise around the feeling of I vary widely, sometimes wildly!

    Yes. The mind is restless and continuously engaged in thoughts due to attachments and desires because our ego-self reigns supreme. This what is called bondage due to our wrong identification with our ego-self.

    Once we practice and strive to identify “I” with the *primal feeling of I* which is the nameless, formless, Conscious entity then the wrong identification of I with the ego-self automatically subsides. That’s why as part of preparation for the seeker Sadhana (Single Pointed Concentration) is advised. A person without this ability of highly focused concentration can never remain in tranquil Awareness. When one is able to exist as Silent Consciousness then ask yourself who am I? The answer will be “I am Consciousness”. It is that simple, well within our reach, yet seems difficult even when somebody like me is making a relentless effort to show that it is that simple and the supreme goal of Advaita is well within our grasp.

    Though mind appears to dealing with the barrage of thoughts fortunately at any given moment mind can have only one thought. So all we need to do is just have this I thought by existing as Self, by existing as Consciousness without being conscious of anything in particular, by existing as Awareness without being aware of anything in particular. Just to make it easy I have been suggesting to exist as Awareness being aware of your silence.

    > Can I trust my natural instinct for how to contemplate Self in silence?

    You can definitely trust your natural instinct on what gender you are. You do not need any external proof.

    You can trust your natural instinct that you are a Conscious entity. You do not need any external proof.

    Similarly you can trust your natural instinct on the feeling of the core I-ness which is a nameless, formless, Consciousness or Awareness. Start identifying I with this unchanging Consciousness, Awareness.

    I am more interested in identifying I with my Consciousness which is the teaching of Advaita. When I succeed, then I intuitively know that all other beings are also nothing but the same nameless, formless, Conscious entity. But I would care less what a Stone is made of and whether the stone and water are made of the same stuff. Once my ignorance goes and the knowledge of the true I dawns, my questions stop and my doubts cease.

    Regards
    Arun

    • Arun,

      Thanks for this, it’s a very clear, simple, and practical-sounding path to deepening the ability to reside as I-Consciousness.

      I will work with this and see what comes of it. If I have questions, I’ll post them here. To wit:

      What is a good method for acquiring the ability to attain single-pointed concentration?

      Rick

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