Q.498 Brahman and Appearance

Q: How can we be sure that Brahman is transcendent of the level of appearance? How can we rule out the possibility that it is imperceptible due to the limitations of our mind? Could Brahman be similar to that of a higher dimensional being that is non accessible to human minds, but able to be perceived on higher levels of reality? And wouldn’t this then invalidate claims of it being infinite and eternal, given that these are constructs built on the idea that Brahman is non-phenomenal?

Also, how can we make the connection between ishvara (creator), and sakshi (awareful witness)? Are they both referring to the same being? I am confused.

Your first question suggests a fundamental misunderstanding. Advaita (by the very word) states that reality is non-dual. So ‘appearance’ is just that. The world and every (apparent) thing in it is mithyA, which means that it is only name and form of Brahman (which is ‘defined’ as infinite-existence-consciousness). The separation into a ‘transcendent’ reality and an empirical appearance is for the convenience of being able to talk about it. There is ONLY Brahman, so it is meaningless to speak of being able to ‘perceive’ it. There are no ‘higher dimensions’ or ‘higher levels of reality’ There is only ‘reality’, which is Brahman. Time and space are empirical ‘aspects’ of Brahman.

The truth of all of this is not something that is ‘provable’ in a scientific sense. It is ‘realized’ after hearing all of the related material and clearing doubts about it.

Ishvara is the name given to that principle that ‘maintains’ the empirical appearance and manages the cause-effect nature of action (karma). It is also mithyA. Witness (sAkShin) is quite a difficult subject. I have just written nearly 5000 words to explain it in the first volume of my book on ‘Confusions in Advaita’. It is easiest to think of it as that ‘aspect’ which is who you really are. Your first awareness after waking from deep sleep, if you like, is as the witness. It is ‘beyond’ the mind but needs a mind in order to be aware of something else. (Hence the witness is present during deep sleep but not aware of anything since the mind is not active.) You could say that ‘you’ are ‘Ishvara’ but it is better to say that both of these are empirical aspects and are both really Brahman.

As you can see, it is all quite tricky to talk about. Understandable once you realize that you cannot really talk about it at all!

11 thoughts on “Q.498 Brahman and Appearance

  1. Dennis, great post!!! It would be wonderful to know where to find…”Witness (sAkShin) is quite a difficult subject. I have just written nearly 5000 words to explain it in the first volume of my book on ‘Confusions in Advaita’.”
    Amazon does not have it for Kindle.
    Best wishes,
    — rik

  2. Hi Rik,

    It’s currently being copy-edited with the publisher (Indica). Hopefully it will be available before this time next year. I will announce when it appears! (I don’t think they make electronic copies though. It will be paperback or hardback.)

    The (even longer) section on pratibandha-s is already available here, though, beginning at https://www.advaita-vision.org/pratibandha-s-part-1-of-6/.

    Best wishes,

    Best wishes,

  3. Rik, on the subject of sakshin there are two authoritative papers available free online in PDF format. One is by Andrew Fort, “The Concept of Sakshin in Advaita Vedanta”, the other by Bina Gupta, “Shankara’s Notion of Sakshin”. Professor Gupta has also written a book on the subject, “The Disinterested Witness”, which is clear and not overwhelmed by detail. .

  4. Hola, Rick with a C,
    Thank you for this! Between you
    and Dennis, I have homework to do!
    Thank you to you both!!!
    Best wishes,
    — rik, No C

  5. Dennis says:

    ” Witness (sAkShin) is quite a difficult subject. I have just written nearly 5000 words to explain it in the first volume of my book on ‘Confusions in Advaita’. It is easiest to think of it as that ‘aspect’ which is who you really are.”…
    IMHO, the following is relevant to this topic.


    “One of the vexing questions in Krishnamurti’s teachings is how to become aware of the contents of our consciousness. Is there anything we can do to aid this journey of discovery, or is any question that starts with how automatically doomed to failure since it presupposes a system, a technique, or some form of authority? Krishnamurti has always skillfully dodged the how question; but, in two public talks in 1944 and on a few other occasions, he suggested an experiment in self-observation, one that can be conducted by oneself but also in an educational setting.


  6. Hi Shishya,

    I won’t delete your comment, although we have discussed the irrelevance of the Krishnamurtis on an Advaita site before. Advaita is quite happy to use preparatory sAdhana-s from other traditions.

    But I can’t help wondering what ‘becoming aware of the contents of our consciousness’ can possibly mean. Couldn’t this be reworded as ‘becoming aware of what we are aware of’?


  7. Thanks for your consideration, Dennis.

    I don’t wish to appear rude but I don’t think either you or your guru Swami Dayananda really appreciate what “understanding” and “awareness” mean in this context.

    In one of our earlier exchanges, you had adduced the example of the sun rising –

    “I had always thought the Sun moved above the horizon but now, with “knowledge”, I “know” that the Sun stands still but I rotate along with the earth to make it appear as if the Sun is rising at dawn.”

    And what difference did it make to you? Or the venerable Swami making sarcastic comments about others?

    “Knowing” is not “seeing” and IMHO it cannot be directly described.


  8. Hi Shishya,

    Words mean whatever you define them as meaning. Since you didn’t give any definitions, one has to take them to mean what they commonly mean.

    I certainly use the metaphor of sunrise quite often but the words you have quoted are not my words. You must be thinking of someone else.

    I don’t know what you are asking, I’m afraid. What did what difference make?

    I agree that ‘knowing’ and ‘seeing (perceiving)’ are not the same but I don’t know what point you are making here either.



    • Thanks for your reply, Dennis. And your patience, might I add !

      You are one of the few people I know who have been at this for such a long time with such intensity and not made a single extravagant claim apropos the notion of personal “enlightenment”. My only concern is whether this comes at the cost of cheapening the whole phenomenon which is the impression I have of the illustrious Swami Dayananda.

      It is ridiculous to keep emphasizing that enlightenment is not an “experience” without understanding what that word means.

      “And the beautiful thing about it is they extract meaningful patterns without knowing what the meaning is, and that takes us back, interestingly enough, to Shannon and bits and differences that make a difference. Even when you can’t say what difference they make, you can say they make a difference.”


  9. Interesting comment, Shishya. Could I ask, please, that you explain what you understand by the word ‘experience’ within the context of Advaita. If you make it a new post, we can take any discussion from there. I’m afraid I am not all that familiar with the various Western writers on ‘Consciousness’. I did read a Dennett book many years ago but don’t recall being all that impressed. I have a few more recent books on the subject but, when it comes to the crunch, I tend to pick up an Advaita book in preference! The bottom line really is that it is not possible to say anything ‘objective’ about it, so all of the scientists are onto a loser by definition.


  10. Dennis, I am composing my response to your queries.
    Meanwhile, here is a very interesting video.
    How do persons maintain their identity?
    The mystery of “experience” presents itself to me as a question w.r.t the video above, exactly as it presented itself to Robert Lawrence Kuhn.
    Why is Sue smiling?

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