Q.516 World outside of perception

Q: According to science, there was a world prior to humans where there were no living, conscious things. If nothing can exist independently of consciousness like Advaita suggests, then how could there have been a world prior to a perceiver? If there was no sentient being to experience the Big Bang, how could it have possibly existed?

A: Your questions relate to the apparent creation. The final teaching of Advaita is that there is no creation – there is only the non-dual Brahman. This means that the entire teaching of Advaita is interim only since it takes place in what is only empirical reality.

Having said this, the traditional teaching says that the creation, maintenance and dissolution of the universe is ‘managed’ by Ishvara, using the ‘power’ of mAyA. This means that He governs all of the laws that relate to creation and the jIva-s who inhabit it. Now you have to realize that science has ‘advanced’ significantly since the time of the Vedas. While they speak of the raw elements being space, earth, water, fire and air, we have a somewhat more complex cosmology! And I don’t think it is particularly fruitful to try to map one onto the other. Science can never explain Consciousness so is of no value in trying to understand the nature of reality.

Someone asked virtually the same question last year and I posted a fairly extensive response at https://www.advaita-vision.org/q-505-creation-and-enlightenment/.

But, to respond to your specific questions:

  1. All matter, dark, anti- or other, is just name and form of Brahman and is mithyA.
  2. As noted above, this is part of the ‘interim explanation’. Really, there has never been any creation. The creation is Brahman (c.f. the ring and bangle are gold).
  3. The Big Bang theory dates from the late 1920’s. Vedanta is at least several thousand years old. I dare say that, if one wanted, it would be possible to derive some parallels. And it is quite possible that some academic somewhere has already done just that. But what would be the point? This sort of thing is for intellectual games, really, and not for anyone who wants to understand Advaita. See https://www.quora.com/Is-Advaita-Philosophy-in-some-way-related-to-the-Big-Bang-Theory for example. If you Google “big bang theory and Vedanta”, there are lots of links to amuse (but probably not inform)!

Q: I think you misinterpreted the essence of my question. The big bang was just an example for a time when sentience was not present in the universe; but I can refer to any time in history prior to a perceiver to ask my question. Science can prove that there was a time prior to sentience, and we can both agree upon that. But my essential question is, how could a world exist if there was no sentience to perceive it? After all, non dual, undifferentiated consciousness must take the form of a limited mind in order for a world to come into existence. Without perception from limited minds, how can a world appear? And if science can prove a world prior to a perceiver, doesn’t this refute the notion that consciousness is ever present, and eternal?

A: In reality, there is only Consciousness. The world and its ‘sentient perceivers’ is mithyA – simply name and form of that Consciousness. What you call ‘sentience’ is that same Consciousness ‘reflected’ in an inert body-mind. (Mind is just ‘subtle’ matter.) Consciousness is eternal. It is prior to ‘creation’ and therefore also prior to time. And certainly prior to sentience! Science may be able to make statements about the nature of the universe all the way back to its ‘creation’ (equals ‘big bang’ if you like), but it can say nothing at all about Consciousness. (See my article beginning https://www.advaita-vision.org/consciousness-not-such-a-hard-problem-1-of-2/ if you want more details.)

As for creating without sentience, the stance of Advaita is that the world was created by (and is sustained and dissolved by) Ishvara – the empirical aspect of Brahman, who is certainly conscious, and all-knowing, all-powerful). Note that Ishvara is just as much mithyA as the rest and is ultimately negated along with creation itself, lest you should have an antipathy to gods (as, indeed, do I).

2 thoughts on “Q.516 World outside of perception

  1. Indirectly related to the above: God is always in the quad.

    “There was a young man who said “God
    Must find it exceedingly odd
    To think that the tree
    Should continue to be
    When there’s no one about in the quad.”

    Reply:
    “Dear Sir: Your astonishment’s odd;
    I am always about in the quad.
    And that’s why the tree
    Will continue to be
    Since observed by, Yours faithfully, God.”

    ― Ronald Knox
    Read more quotes from Ro

    • If objects depend on our seeing
      So that trees, unobserved, would cease tree-ing,
      Then my question is: Who
      Is the one who sees you
      And assures your persistence in being?

      Dear Sir,
      You reason most oddly.
      To be’s to be seen for the bod’ly.
      But for spirits like me,
      To be is to see.
      Sincerely,
      The one who is godly.

      ~Roderick T. Long

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