It was seen (by no one)

“One early morning in October upon awaking from slumber, there arose a sensation of the sense of self being gone. It was seen that there was literally no one there and that all movement was happening spontaneously without central control.”  Nancy Dolen, interviewed by Jerry Katz.


Why the Neo-Advaitin is not an Advaitin at all

Recently, I asked the question: “Who or what is it that acts?” And it led me to think that this is a question that many modern teachers need to ask themselves. The above quotation immediately triggered my antipathy (my apologies, Nancy, nothing personal!) In fact, one could pick up virtually any book by modern neo-advaita teachers and find a similar statement. Here are a few:

What sees through it? There is simply seeing – there is no-thing, no one that sees.” (Nathan Gill – already awake)

For this body-mind, when liberation was seen, any sense of localization ended for a while. Awareness was seen to be everywhere. The room in which standing was happening, the street in which there was walking, the bodies and lamp posts and benches and space that were appearing, were not differentiated in the belonging from this arm, this thinking process, this seeing, these feet walking the pavement.” (Richard Sylvester – I Hope You Die Soon)

The word Advaita means not two and expresses as nearly as possible in words the perception that all and everything is already only oneness, and that there is nothing else but that. When this is clearly seen by no-one, it completely exposes the idea of subject and object merely as an illusory concept held within the hypnotic dream of separation. Consequently, the idea that an apparent separate individual (subject) can choose to attain enlightenment (object) becomes completely irrelevant. It also becomes clear that all practices or effort to follow a path leading to a future goal continuously reinforces the sense of personal seeking and is a direct denial of abiding unicity.” (Tony Parsons – The Hypnotic Dream of Separation)

So, there is no one; AND as long as it seems there is someone, there is suffering, and the investigation needs to happen. THEN, once the gateless gate has been passed, then it is seen, by no one, that there never was a dream or a separate character or any investigation.” (Charlie Hayes – Perfect Peace: An Introduction to Your Natural State)

The mind is accustomed to have reasons to do something. It wants to ‘grasp’ meaning and to assign value, but when ‘you’ get the hang of it, when ‘you’ get in the swing of things, it is seen by no one, that THIS as it is, is its own fulfillment. It is seen that the reason for being is being itself and that, when manifest as sadness, it can be loved as such.” (Leo Hartong: Self to Self)

The verb ‘to see’ is not a particularly obscure or difficult one, although it has various meanings. The most common meaning is to watch or observe, and for this we clearly need a sense of vision – the physical eye and a living brain to translate the visual information. It can also mean such things as visiting or meeting someone regularly, consulting an expert or giving an interview. Meanings such as these necessitate a person who does these things. The third type of meaning relates to such things as making deductions or enquiries and reaching a conclusion, or the way in which we regard a particular topic. Thus, the least that this mode of use requires is a mind (and therefore a physical brain again)! One can therefore see clearly that it makes no sense whatsoever to say that “it was seen” unless we are speaking about a person with eyes and a brain who does the seeing.

So what can these teachers be trying to say when they make such statements? Presumably it is acknowledged that, if an object is in a closed room, it will be seen when ‘no one’ is inside the room, but not when ‘no one’ is outside the room. Although what can possibly be meant by “Awareness was seen to be everywhere”, I can’t imagine. At any rate, since it seems that they are denying that the actual cognition and interpretation takes place in the ‘mind’ of an ‘individual’, one has to conclude that they are claiming that it is the impersonal Atman itself which is doing the perceiving.

So this brings us back to my recently posted article on the real ‘I’ versus the presumed ‘I’. This pointed out that, from the standpoint of absolute reality, the Atman is neither a doer nor an enjoyer, and that the body mind, being inert, also cannot act or enjoy. Sankhya philosophy says that Atman is not a doer. Nyaya philosophy says that the Atman is a doer but also says that mokSha is an event in time, something with which the neo-Advaitin would definitely not agree. Advaita allows that the jIvAtman is effectively both a doer and an enjoyer at the empirical level (vyavahAra) but this is no good for the neo-Advaitin, who does not recognize the person and does not acknowledge the paramArthavyavahAra distinction either. So, whatever philosophy the neo-Advaitin is following, it is none of the above.

The individual soul or jIva is the reflection of Consciousness (chidAbhAsa) in a particular body-mind. Each person is therefore different, being dependent on that particular body-mind (which derives from the karma-s of past lives), just as the sun’s reflection in a mirror is dependent upon the nature of the mirror. A red mirror will result in a red reflection; a distorting mirror will give a distorted image and so on. The ‘original Consciousness’ is totally unaffected, just as the sun is unaffected by the character of its reflection. The ‘original Consciousness’ (brahman) is not a doer or enjoyer. It is subtler than space, which is everywhere, unaffected by the movement of the objects within it. It is the body that moves, albeit enlivened by Consciousness; the eyes that see, albeit enlivened by Consciousness and so on. Consciousness itself does nothing.

Accordingly, to say that ‘no one sees’, meaning that Consciousness itself ‘sees’, is totally to misunderstand the teaching of Advaita.

7 thoughts on “It was seen (by no one)

  1. Hi Dennis

    I must admit, I share your aversion to the affectation of slow talking and soft spoken neos, who, as my wife just put it, talk gibberish.

    However, I would question your point about jivas being individual reflections of consciousness. This of course is a somewhat convoluted explanation of our experience (esp compared to EJV!), and goes against the spirit of ‘there are no parts to Brahman’. I appreciate we will disagree on this, so I won’t pursue this point.

    However I would question your last sentence – “to say that consciousness itself sees is to misunderstand the teaching of advaita”.

    If you take Mandukyakarika:
    2.11: If the objects cognised in both the conditions of dream and of waking be illusory, who cognises all these (illusory objects) and who again imagines them?
    2.12: Atman, the self-luminous, through the power of his own Maya, imagines himself by himself. He alone is the cogniser of the objects so created. This is the decision of Vedanta.

    Also, from Bhagavad Gita, chp 13 (“The field and the knower of the field”):
    13.22 He who is the Witness, the Permitter, the Sustainer, the Experiencer, the great Lord, and who is also spoken of as the transcendental Self, is the supreme in this body.

    From Sankara’s commentary:
    He who is the upadrasta, Witness, who while staying nearby does not Himself become involved. . .
    Proceeding inwards from that body, the Self is the inmost as also the proximate observer compared with which there is no other higher and inner observer . . .
    He is the anu-manta (Permitter) because when the body and organs are engaged in their own functions, He remains as a witness and never dissuades them. . .
    He is paramatma, the transcendental Self, because he is the Self which has the characteristics of being the supreme Witness of all those – beginning from the body and ending with the intellect – which are imagined through ignorance to be the indwelling Self.

    Best wishes,


  2. There is no problem with the reflection theory for ‘explaining’ the nature of the jIva. Similarly, there is no problem with stating that Consciousness does not ‘see’. The problems arise when one attempts to speak of both of these from the same vantage point. This, in fact, is the neo problem in its essence – they attempt to talk about the absolute reality from an empirical standpoint.

    As long as one keeps all of the (as if) pAramArthika explanations together and clearly announces that this is being done from the outset, there is no problem about saying that Consciousness does not experience. Consciousness being the non-dual reality, there is nothing else that it COULD experience.

    As long as one openly acknowledges a vyAvahArika standpoint, it is fine to talk about chidAbhAsa or upAdhi-s or any other theory. If it helps us to move towards the ‘final understanding’, it is totally OK to accept it for the time being and drop it later. Even EJV is ok. I reject it on the grounds that I don’t see how it can help appreciate the empirical before making the leap of understanding to the absolute.

    Speaking of the Self as a witness may be the final stage of understanding but it is still within vyavahAra. Indeed, the entire teaching of advaita is still within vyavahAra, even Gaudapada and Shankara (as they would be the first to admit).

  3. Dennis

    The switch between paramarthika and vyavaharika, always feels a bit like a magician’s sleight of hand – a sort of justification that we can have our cake and eat it too – live a ‘normal’ life, whilst (intellectually) knowing that we are just Brahman.

    It is interesting that the upanishads and BG rarely adopt this device. In my simple mind, they just point out that there is only Brahman – satchitananda – and for whatever reason an illusion of a jiva, separate from the world arises, on the screen of consciousness. So in that sense, the Neos are right – though paradoxically they also seem to be happy to stop at this knowledge, whilst happily charging fees for retreats, DVDs, etc

    But that understanding inevitably (non-volitionally) translates into how life is lived – naiskama karma. This is apparent in Shankara’s commentaries and in Gaudapada. And before understanding dawns, the preparatory steps – detachment, renunciation, etc, effectively ‘mimic’ for want of a better word, this post-realisation life.

    The beauty of EJV is that it develops this attitude – you are alone; you alone are – so live in that knowledge, without concern for how others / society view you, or their man-made goals, interpretations, etc.

    I came across this passage from Moksha Dharma:
    “Develop this attitude based on wisdom. I am alone. There is no one who is mine; nor do I belong to anyone. Even this body does not belong to me. These objects of the world are not mine; nor do they belong to others. Or, all things belong equally to all beings. Therefore there is no need for my mind to grieve over these”.

    As K pithily put is: “Aloneness is a life lived without influence”. There is a superb talk by Krishnamurti to students at Rishi Valley in which he spells out the links between: freedom – responsibility – discipline / learning – right action.

    As an aside, compare the freshness, spontaneity, lack of cliches that characterise this talk with modern teachers’ tired, softly-spoken ramblings.

    Of course, this may not be the final truth, but as JK put it in his conversation with Swami Venkatesananda:

    Is there the need for experience at all? Can the mind experience the highest? Being in a state where there is no peace, we want to experience a state where there is absolute, permanent, eternal peace. I am unhappy, miserable, laden with sorrow. And I want to experience something where there is no sorrow; and to hold onto that experience. That is my craving; that is what human beings want. If I, if the mind, can free itself from this agony, then what is the need of asking for an experience of the Supreme? It is no longer caught in its own conditioning; it is living in a different dimension. Therefore the desire to experience the highest is essentially wrong. How do I know the highest? Because the sages have talked of it? I don’t accept the sages. They might be caught in illusion. I don’t know, I am not interested. Would it not be better to say, Look here my friends, get rid of your fear, get rid of your beastly antagonism, get rid of your childishness, and when you have done that . . . nothing more remains. Then you’ll find out the beauty of it, you don’t have to ask.

  4. Hi Venkat,

    I do see where you are coming from, and I also much admire K although I have only read a little. But I don’t see that we really have any choice here. It is a fact that we experience duality but we also have the potential to understand that this experience is not the reality. As soon as we try to talk about this, we are forced to introduce this separation between the appearance and the reality. You can try, as the neos do, to make them one. But then you end up with ultimately meaningless statements, such as ‘there is no person to become enlightened’ or ‘This is it’. Whilst we are living in the empirical world, the world is real.

    Gaudapada, too, acknowledges this – ‘Even though AtmA is not separate from these entities (reference back to previous verse), it is imagined as if it were separate.’ (2.30). Duality is only an appearance, like the appearance of sunrise and sunset. We know that the earth actually rotates about its axis, thereby giving an illusion that the sun is orbiting the earth. But, even knowing this, we still see the sun appearing to rise and set and we refer to the times recorded in the newspapers. Everyone is happy to refer to those events as if they were real. But the continuing experience need not negate our knowledge.

    Hence the need for vyavhAra (experience) and paramArtha (reality). The entire karmakANda relates to the former. The j~nAnakANda (upanishads) introduces us to the latter.

    Best wishes,

  5. Hi Dennis,

    I get that.

    The simplest set of reasoning based on experience that articulates the Vedantic position (tying together experience and reality) is, I think, aritculated by Sw Iswarananda. Ramesam kindly referred it to me sometime back (for which I am incredibly grateful). I wonder why it is not more widely known.

    Best wishes for 2017.


  6. Hi Venkat,

    I assume you are referring to the book “God-Realization Through Reason” by Swami Iswarananda, Sri Ramakrishna Ashrama, Trichur, 1959. No ISBN.

    I reference this in the Bibliography of ‘A-U-M: Awakening to Reality’, where I say:

    “Not specifically related to the Mandukya Upanishad, this book aims to use reason to expound the principles of Advaita and demonstrate the truth of non-duality. The first part contains his main arguments and the second substantiates these through reference to five of the Upanishads (of which one is the Mandukya) and the Brahmasutra bhAsya. It is included here because the author is particularly interested in the deep-sleep state and he argues that this is identical with turIya. (Of course the deep-sleep state IS turIya, but then so are waking and dream, just as bangle, chain and ring are all gold.) But turIya is not the deep-sleep state. If it were, one would only need to go to sleep to attain mokSha. turIya is characterized by neither ignorance nor error, whereas the deep-sleep state is total ignorance.”

    Best wishes to you, too, for the new year, and thanks for your continued input to the site.


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