Q.488 Reading Minds

[Note: This is a long Q&A. Any help that other bloggers and readers can give to resolve the questioner’s concerns will be welcomed!]

Q: If waking life is a kind of dream or modulation of awareness then why is it so continuous? Many Advaitins see waking life as some form of dream, correct me if I’m wrong.

Dreams when asleep are always very new, different and unpredictable. And then they disappear and you wake up and forget the dream. And most likely you will not continue where it ended next sleep. On the other hand, waking life reappears after sleep and it is the ‘same’ as yesterday and it only seems to disappear if you die.

A: There is a lot more to it than that. And it cannot all be explained in a couple of sentences. Pretty much all of my book ‘A-U-M: Awakening to Reality’ was about this. (It is a commentary on Mandukya Upanishad and the explanation by Gaudapada.)

There are 3 states of consciousness – waking, dream and deep sleep and none of them are ‘really real’. Waking seems to be real for the waker. The dream is equally real for the dreamer (who thinks he is a waker)! The true reality is the Consciousness that is the basis of all 3 states. Waking life is said to be like a dream so that you can use this as a metaphor for gaining enlightenment.
But if you want the full story, with all of its paradoxes and insights, you will really have to read the book! You can read an extract and see the contents at http://www.advaita.org.uk/extracts/a_u_m_unreal.html. You might also enjoy the article at https://www.advaita-vision.org/states-of-consciousness-2-3-4-and-1-2/.

Q: [Over 3 months later] Just finished the book you recommended, ‘A-U-M: Awakening to Reality’. Really good work I must say, many thanks, loved it! What book would you recommend me reading next?

I have some questions about the book too; The biggest reason I bought the book was because of chidAbhAsa. Over many years of going into non duality this still brings confusion.

You bring up what I’ve felt but never really seen anyone go deeper into. The confusion lies in the fact that, If there is a reflection, there is duality. All the explanations I’ve heard so far in my studies don’t satisfy me. The moon’s light, the reflection in the water bucket, mirrors etc. Why is there a need to reflect a consciousness?

As the sun knows it is the sun, the rays of the sun are also known by the sun. The rays and sun are known simultaneously. Or is it more like; If Brahman is known it can’t be Brahman? Because the one who knows Brahman must be ‘bigger’ than Brahman?

Or as you write about the pot and the space inside the pot. The space is Being-Consciousness. Here I would say I am the space inside the pot but I’m also the space outside the pot. So I should know other minds outside of ‘my’ pot.

I know space is just a metaphor for Consciousness and not how it really is. But this metaphor complicates things for me.

The ‘splitting’ of consciousness into ‘separate beings’ confuses me. I know everything appears in awareness. But the metaphor I like so far is that Consciousness is like a TV-screen.

The screen modulates, coloring itself with experience without changing itself (taken from Rupert Spira). But still there are other screens I don’t know and it feels like duality.

The only logical explanation I have so far for all of this is if our dream at night was populated with other people who ‘have’ awareness. But it seems to be impossible to tell if other people in my dream are conscious. And it’s impossible for my limited mind to have more than one conscious experience.

Then this would conclude that Brahman’s ‘mind’ obviously can dream up multiple conscious experiences? But how to know multiple experiences simultaneously? Impossible for the limited mind but possible for Brahman?

A: Have you read the discussions on chidAbhAsa at Advaita Vision? The first is in four parts so there is quite a lot of material.

https://www.advaita-vision.org/chidabhasa/ and https://www.advaita-vision.org/continuing-reflections-on-reflections/ and discussion at https://www.advaita-vision.org/discussion-on-chidabhasa/

You always have to remember with these examples that Advaita is using metaphors to enable the mind to make the intuitive leap to understanding. Of course, there isn’t really any reflection, because there isn’t really any duality; there isn’t really any creation. There is only Brahman. Another metaphor that you may not have come across is that of rAhu, the mythical monster that devours the sun and moon during an eclipse. I only came across it today coincidentally and it does throw fresh light on what you are talking about. I have just begun to put together a piece on this, which I will use in Volume 2 of my ‘Confusions’ book, but I will post to AV as soon as I finish. [Note: now posted at https://www.advaita-vision.org/the-myth-of-rahu/] May take me anything up to a week. Keep an eye out for it and maybe post a response if it does not clear up your concerns.

But you do have to separate out the reality and the teaching. You cannot ‘know’ Brahman and ‘Brahman’ does not ‘know’ anything because there is nothing other than Brahman. The space ‘in’ the pot is not in the pot. You can talk about ‘air’ being in the pot but not space. Move the pot and the space stays where it is – everywhere!

Not sure how the cinema screen relates to this example. Does each person have their own screen? Or is each person’s ‘story’ displayed on the same screen simultaneously??

All the ‘people’ in your dream are nothing other than your own mind. The entire dream world is a ‘creation’ of your mind.

Q: I’ve just finished reading all the material in the links you provided, thanks. Still a lot to talk about the mirror and reflection.

I think my biggest confusion lies in: If I am the original Consciousness, then I should know of everyone’s experience in the whole universe and not only this appearance I experience now.

This man made more sense to me (from one of the links you sent me):

Swami Dayananda prefers the term ‘manifest consciousness’ instead of ‘reflected consciousness’. There is only one consciousness: either manifest or unmanifest.

Another one that makes sense to me (don’t know if it’s true though): Consciousness shines through the prism (the mind) and experience is the refracted consciousness. Like white light and the prism, creating all colors. Or light having the ‘potential’ or rather having all possible colors  in an unmanifest state. Then it would seem that the original Consciousness has glasses or goggles on (goggles being the mind). Through those goggles, a world appears. This metaphor is of course not pure non duality, but for me it is much closer to it than a mirror and reflections.

As for the TV screen mentioned, I guess one screen. People and landscapes can appear on the screen but all owe their existence to the screen.

As mentioned in the beginning, my mind is having trouble understanding how that one Consciousness can appear as many minds. If it can appear as many minds, I should know all minds because they are ‘made out of’ me. Even if I’m speaking as a reflection now, I am still that original Consciousness and by this reasoning I should be aware of all minds.

The pot space confuses me as well. The space being everywhere you say, and this is a metaphor for Consciousness? Then if i am that Consciousness, I should know everywhere and everything at once.

A: There’s a long discussion on this topic, triggered by someone else who wanted to read peoples’ minds – 😉 It is from quite a long time ago and mostly involves observations by Greg Goode, who you may have heard of. But you might find it interesting. I don’t recall whether it reached any obvious conclusion.


You keep talking about other people and the universe as though they really exist (as separate entities). They don’t – there is only Brahman (unlimited existence-consciousness). You are still confusing paramArtha and vyavahAra – a common problem. You cannot set the scene by referring to space being everywhere (as a metaphor for Consciousness) and then ask why you do not know ‘everything’! If you accept reality as non-dual Consciousness, there are no others! The ‘others’ are in the apparent (mithyA) world.

You are right that ‘manifest Consciousness’ may be a better way of looking at it than ‘reflected’. Shankara uses all the metaphors at one time or another. Rather than pariNAma vAda (reflected), he probably prefers vivarta vAda, which brings us back to mAyA. But of course the ‘bottom line’ is ajAti vAda. The rAhu story is of the ‘manifest’ variety so it may grab you more than the others. The reference is Taittiriya 2.6 but the explanation is deep in Shankara’s bhASya.

Q: I read through the discussion you sent me and I realized I’ve read it before, but read through it again to see if there was something I missed.

I can see Ben’s frustration though he’s doing a great job trying to make his point clear. I know well what he is looking for and, as with me, he isn’t very close to being satisfied with the answers that are given in the discussion.

Even the Ocean and the waves comes up in this discussion. For me, and I assume for many others including Ben, this was the first metaphor encountered when searching for satisfying answers. It didn’t make any sense to me then and make much less sense now. And I assume, if one asks these kinds of questions, the ocean and the wave metaphor (and similar metaphors) were at best a little helpful in the search for logical answers. Reading into the depths of Advaita and contemplating it for many years, the ocean and the wave metaphor seems like a story we tell children.

I’m assuming that you have no problem at all with this. You have the understanding I don’t have. Or ignorance is covering this knowledge in me. How do I burn away this ignorance, as nothing so far is working with this one thing? So much would fit and come together for me if this knot were untied  and understood.

You say: “You keep talking about other people and the universe as though they really exist (as separate entities). They don’t – there is only Brahman (unlimited existence-consciousness).

I don´t think so, but maybe you’re right. I would say there is but one Existence/Consciousness modulating itself and only appearing as many objects or many experiences. But those apparent experiences and objects are not known all at once to the separate mind that also owes its existence to the one existence/consciousness. By all minds owing their apparent existence to consciousness, I, the one existence consciousness, should therefore know all of those experiences/ minds/ apparent objects here and now.

Reading at other Advaita sites, I always find the same classic illustrations:

  • Electricity: One electricity but many light bulbs lighting up. But if consciousness is the electricity then each light bulb is known by that consciousness. That consciousness is in each light bulb knowing that (experience). And if I’m that consciousness I should know all light bulbs at the same time.
  • Many pots but one space: “The space inside the pot is the very same as outside”. Yes, then i should know all the other pots as well, because those pots are inside me. And I’m ‘inside and outside’ one pot simultaneously.
  • One house many rooms: If I’m the house, I am also inside every room. Therefore, I should know every room.
  • Ocean and waves: If consciousness represents the ocean in this metaphor, consciousness is obviously in each wave knowing the apparent perceptions that each wave has, just as the ocean (or water) is in all waves.
  • Stream in ocean (stream in consciousness) or even whirlpools: The stream is essentially made of the water (ocean). The whirlpool is made out of consciousness. So all whirlpools should be experienced at once.

I don’t see how a better explanation to all of this is present if it is the truth. The experience that is present right now for ‘me’ is totally different from the experience that is present for ‘you’. Why are all experiences not accessible at once? If there is only infinite awareness that I am, why would I not know all experiences?

I will end with how Ben ended his discussion 😄 – I’m sorry if I sound tedious or argumentative. I may even sound very frustrated (this is because I am though). I have this feeling that it should be  easy to resolve, but still, nothing so far has untied this knot.

A: You are taking these metaphors beyond the point for which they are intended. Beyond that point they become unhelpful (indeed – unusable). That there is ‘only Brahman’ is a pAramArthika truth. At the level of empirical reality, there is undeniable duality. Although everything is Consciousness in reality, there are separate objects in the apparent world. Inert objects do not manifest Consciousness – a stone is inert. Living objects do manifest Consciousness to some degree but they are still separate. My mind is not your mind. Although Consciousness manifests in both, it does not mean that the contents of those minds are known to both of us. It would be like saying that the water in the pond in my garden is the same water as that in the pond in your garden. It obviously isn’t. Both are H2O in reality but that is the extent of their similarity.

This is why I said that the essence of your confusion is a ‘mixing of levels’. Brahman is part-less, formless, infinite and so on but these are words pointing to a pAramArthika truth. As soon as you come back down to the vyAvahArika, mithyA world, you are once again caught up in the appearance and its empirical laws, one of which is that you cannot read my mind!

I’ve just finished the rAhu article incidentally and will post it shortly. But having written it, I don’t think it will necessarily help if the above does not work for you. If you are still having problems, I will put our discussion into a Q&A and post that, giving the other bloggers the opportunity to try to help, and for you to discuss further.

Q: Though it puts us closer to each other in this discussion it doesn’t untie the knot completely. My confusion remains:

Two minds are made out of the same Consciousness. I am that consciousness, but I’m only conscious of one of those minds right now. If I am Brahman/Consciousness/All knowing, i should simply Know All. Right now.  My search will go on. Thanks for trying, truly.

A: I’ve just posted the rAhu article. I will prepare and post the Q&A summary next week and hope to see some discussion then!


One last comment on what you said. Brahman only ‘knows’ anything (in the sense that you are using it) when it is ‘manifest’ in a mind. It is the mind that ‘knows’. And minds are separate. So, although it is Brahman ‘in’ my mind and Brahman ‘in’ your mind, the ‘knowing’ is different, determined by the nature of the respective minds and senses. A thought is Brahman, too, but Brahman is not a thought. A mind is Brahman, but Brahman is not a mind. The universe is Brahman, but Brahman is not the universe. (A ring is gold, but gold is not a ring.)

Q: Good job with rAhu, I enjoyed it 🙂

And thanks for the more ‘down to earth’ explanation you provided, it for sure resonated more with me. Will ponder it some more.







One thought on “Q.488 Reading Minds

  1. Hello Questioner # 488,

    Interesting exchanges between you and Dennis.
    If I may intervene …

    Q: “If I am the original Consciousness, then I should know of everyone’s experience in the whole universe and not only this appearance I experience now.” OR “If there is only infinite awareness that I am, why would I not know all experiences?”

    A similar but not exactly the same question is: “If all that -IS is only ‘brahman’ and nothing else, and I am also brahman, why can’t I walk through walls?

    Yes, Sir. Most of the students of Advaita face this intriguing paradox. At least I did! 🙁 🙂

    No convincing answer is normally come across partly because of the inadequacy of the dualistic nature of the language and partly because of the absence of clarity in the mind of the so-called teachers!

    Let me suggest a Gedankenexperimente to you based on Yogavasishta. Maybe it will help clarify the matters.

    “It’s almost the wee hours of the new day. The pace of the music has slowed down very much. The big fire at the middle of the circular hall is still burning as vigorously as when it started. But the smartly dressed people are exhausted, drowsy and their legs are crying for rest. Hand in hand, they are pairing up and strutting towards the windows that are around the dancing floor. Each person, lost in his/her thoughts, is looking outside through the window they could claim to be theirs. The brilliant fire from the center is illuminating a patch of land as an elongated trapezium at each window showing the beautiful manicured gardens, interspersed by dark nothingness until the next beam of light coming from the neighboring window. The people are immersed in savoring the tantalizing mix of various hues as they looked outside – the yellowish orange of the fire, the light greens of the grass, the variegated flowers and so on.

    Now, My Friend, what you have at each window is one particular VIEW.
    The central shimmering Fire has no view. It just ILLUMINATES.
    It does not bother what the light beam blazing through each window shows or who sees or does what with what s/he sees.

    The Non-dual Consciousness is the ILLUMINATING central Fire, cozy and warm!
    Consciousness is NOT a “view.”
    Consciousness does not care what one sees through each window and what one does with what s/he sees. It just shines and shows whatever one sees!

    Each of us is like that limited ‘window.’
    Yes, Sir. “All of us come with two “I”-s.”
    They are the Two Birds that the muNDaka Upanishad refers to.

    One is the Original Consciousness or sAkShI caitanya (Witness Consciousness) and the other is the cidAbhAsa (fallacious I-consciousness).

    One “I” is Infinite, never born, immortal, all-pervasive, unchanging, undivided and formless. It is unconditioned and Advaita. It is our true intrinsic nature. It shines by Itself and after the death of the body does not go anywhere.

    The other is our familiar ‘I,’ limited to the body, having a name and ID, appears to be born and to die with the body. It is conditioned, is identified with the body. It maintains relationships with people and objects in the world. It shines under the reflected glory of the eternal “I” and moves to another body after the death of the current body.

    Here is a beautiful explanation by Swami Sarvapriyananda from about 16 min to 22 min into the Video.

    Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89OsBaixqnM

    Another easy way is to understand that the Eternal Consciousness is a “Sensor” like an Antenna. The mind is a record of what is “sensed.” Think of a room thermometer. The thermometer has that ‘sentience’ to “know” the temperature. It has no affinity or attachment or attraction with any particular temp. it measures. It does not even remember the temperature measured a few seconds ago! It is the mind that knows, remembers and stores the measured value.

    Hope it helps.


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