Q.345 – The Purpose of Life, part 5

Go to Dhanya’s answer to this question

Part 5 – Dennis’ answer to this question

Q345: What is the purpose of life?

 If, as stated in Advaita, we are actually in a state of sat-chit-Ananda and we are actually this ‘Self’ already, why have these ‘illusions’ and this ‘ignorance’?

 How can we believe in lila? What could be its purpose? There is no convincing answer – I am sure you will concur.

This then raises my more fundamental query. This ‘Self’ on which reams have been written – what is the proof that such a ’Self’ exists?

 The root problem is that in the end, even Advaitic teachings finally rely on ‘blind faith’ to put their point across. There’s nothing wrong in having faith. All religions ask for blind belief in the almighty to get you your promised ‘Kingdom of God’. It’s only in Advaita that folks try to push their case by saying: “No, it’s not pure faith, it’s by reason and discourse that we reach the truth etc”.

 To quote Gaudapada in his Mandukya Upanishad kArikA, “That which is stated in the scriptures ‘and is supported by reason’ is true  and nothing else”. The ‘reason/discourse’ argument for following Advaita is pure bunkum, in my opinion. It relies on blind faith not on a deity, but in an obscure ‘Self’.

 And even if reality is non-dual, why this seeming duality? Why does this mithyA of life exist?

A (Dennis): This the perennial difficulty of asking a question about the nature of absolute reality and expecting a totally satisfactory answer at the experiential level. It cannot be done! Reality is non-dual while all your concerns are at the level of dualistic appearance. The world and all its objects are name and form only; they do not have any reality of their own. Their reality is Brahman, the non-dual Consciousness.

So the simple answer is that the question of whether life has any purpose is ultimately meaningless, because what you are calling ‘life’ is mithyA and the concept of ‘purpose’ is mithyA.

We are not ‘in a state of sat-chit-Ananda’; we are brahman, whose nature is sometimes described (for the sake of trying to talk about it) as sat-chit-Ananda. But all this means is that there is only absolute, limitless Consciousness – and we are That.

The ‘explanations’ of the scriptures are ALWAYS interim only, until we realize the truth for ourselves and no longer require those ‘pointers’. The concept of lIlA is one that is unlikely to appeal to most intelligent people today but obviously satisfied some in the past.

‘What is the proof that the Self exists?’ Who is asking?? I know that this is the throwaway remark of Ramana and others but just think about it. You can never doubt the existence of yourself – who would be doing the doubting? It is possibly the only thing that you never need any proof for! The real question is ‘what is this Self?’ and that leads to Self-enquiry, which is the real ‘purpose’ of the scriptures and the only pursuit worth following. Also, there is no such thing as ‘blind faith’ in Advaita. You simply listen to someone who you have reason to think knows what they are talking about. And you continue to listen as long as what they say continues to sound reasonable and does not contradict your own perception or reason. And eventually, you have the ‘ah ha!’ moment of realizing that you are already that Self, which the scriptures have been trying to talk about. It’s not a ‘vision’, blinding or otherwise.

Why are there tables and chairs and bookshelves etc. Why isn’t there just wood? There are all these different forms and we have all these various names for them and yet all is in reality brahman. Isn’t is fantastic?! But I’m afraid you will never get an answer to the question ‘why?’ I think someone called it the devil’s question! The bottom line is that there has never been any creation; no one has ever been born. Yes, of course it appears otherwise, and that is because of our ignorance. You get the self-knowledge and the question will disappear.

If it is the second edition of Book of One that you have just read, then you will have read the description of bhAga tyAga lakShaNa on page 250. (If not, you can read it at http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/definitions/bhAga.htm.) The situation you are in is that you believe that you knew the spotty oik, X. But, not only do you not know the film star, A, you even suspect that he does not exist at all. The purpose of Advaita is first to convince you that A really does exist and then, once you really understand that, to show you that A and X are in fact the same person.

Perhaps you should use the word ‘Consciousness’ rather than ‘Self’ as being less emotive of unhelpful ideas. Consciousness is not a side-effect of an evolving mind as science claims. Rather everything, including mind and science, is an appearance in Consciousness. Consciousness is the ultimate reality; the only existing ‘thing’. And don’t think of the Self as something other. You should think of it as what you essentially are when you have ‘objectified’ body, mind and intellect. You can call it ‘small self’ if you like when you are talking about doubting. But doubt itself is the result of the essential ‘I’ identifying with a particular idea. The combination is small but it is still the Self that is the essential truth behind both doubts and convictions. I can assure you that there is no need for ‘blind faith’!

One last metaphor (which I know you have heard before). There is only a rope here but you claim that it is a snake. Why does it look like a snake? What is the point? You tell me!

The primal question is not answered because the question itself is a mistake. There is no duality. Why does there seem to be? Because you are not looking properly! Advaita shows you how to look properly. Take it or leave it. The only faith is the willingness to listen and not to reject because you think that you already have the answers (or ‘know’ that there is no answer). This is a vast difference from organized religions, where you genuinely do have to accept things which you can never discover to be true in this lifetime.

I think perhaps you have not yet appreciated the extent of mithyAtva (the condition of being mithyA). mithyAtva itself is mithyA. You could say that the teaching of advaita is successively to sublate anything and everything that you might think to be real until you are left with only Consciousness as the ultimate reality. The doing of this, using the scriptures together with a qualified teacher, is perfectly logical and reasonable, requiring no leaps of faith. The ‘faith’ is only in the commitment to follow it through. The end point being the recognition of the non-dual nature of every ‘thing’, there are consequently no questions remaining to be answered. There is no ‘why’, only ‘That’. Your ‘whys’ only have apparent relevance whilst you accept the appearance as real and therefore dualistic.

Wittgenstein might have been talking about this (though whether he had ever heard of Advaita I don’t know) at the end of his Tractatus Logico Philosophicus:

6.51 Scepticism is not irrefutable, but obviously nonsensical, when it tries to raise doubts where no questions can be asked. For doubt can exist only where a question exists, a question only where an answer exists, and an answer only where something can be said.

6.52 We feel that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched. Of course there are then no questions left, and this itself is the answer.

6.521 The solution of the problem of life is seen in the vanishing of the problem. (Is not this the reason why those who have found after a long period of doubt that the sense of life became clear to them have then been unable to say what constituted that sense?)

6.522 There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical.

6.53 The correct method in philosophy would really be the following: to say nothing except what can be said, i.e. propositions of natural science–i.e. something that has nothing to do with philosophy — and then, whenever someone else wanted to say something metaphysical, to demonstrate to him that he had failed to give a meaning to certain signs in his propositions. Although it would not be satisfying to the other person–he would not have the feeling that we were teaching him philosophy–this method would be the only strictly correct one.

6.54 My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.)

7 What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.

Go to Ted’s multi-part essay which addresses this question.