“Sage Vasishta: Please listen to me carefully as I shall now teach you the most supreme of all topics — ways to calm down the mind. Just like pillars bear the weight of a building, raajasic and taamasic people carry on their shoulders the unlimited illusion of a world. But saatvic natured persons like you can leave this burden as easily as a snake sheds its skin. The only way to do it is through an understanding of the essence of Truth (tatva vichaaraNa).
Whatever is not existent at the beginning and also at the end, but appears only in-between cannot be Real. Whatever stays permanently at all times (past, present and future) only can be True. How does a thing that has no existence at the beginning and at the end appear to be born and to exist in-between? The fact of the matter is neither anything is born nor anything has grown. All of this is entirely a play of the mind!
जायते मन एवेह मन एव विवर्धते ।
सम्यग्दर्शन दृष्ट्या तु मन एवहि मुच्यते ॥ — shloka 11, sarga 5
What is born here is mind, what develops is also mind. If you consider properly, what is liberated also is mind.”
Extracted from p:7 of the book: Yogavaasishta Part IV: The Calm Down by K.V. Krishna Murthy, (English rendering by Dr. Vemuri Ramesam), Avadhoota Datta Peetham, Mysore 570025, India, 2008, pp: 194.
This interesting post reminds me that I still struggle with understanding the definition of Reality as that which exists in all three time periods (past, present, and future). If we take this as a simple axiomatic assumption or a definitional statement that underpins logical argumentation to follow, this seems quite reasonable to me. We must start somewhere in our inquiry, after all, and it is virtually impossible to avoid having at least some axiomatic basis on which to build a metaphysical position. However, a statement like this one about Reality is usually not conditioned as an axiom or definition, but is presented as a logical conclusion of and by itself. Yet there seems a certain circularity of logic here. If the Real is only that which exists past, present, and future, how is this logically consistent with also saying that space and time are merely relative constructs and do not touch Reality? It seems that what is being said simultaneously is that only that which is eternal or permanent is Real, and yet Reality has nothing to do with time or duration per se. I would appreciate any scriptural references that may help me to better understand this key point, with thanks in advance for any responses.
Thank you for the Comment.
What you have asked here is a very crucial question, for there is no straight forward definition available for “Reality” in the entire Advaita teaching to say “This is it”!
Because you wanted “any scriptural references that may help me to better understand this key point,” I took the liberty to refer your Question to Shri Y. R. Bhaskar, a traditionally trained Vedantin in Bangalore, India. I am reproducing his response below:
I don’t know whether I am qualified to answer this very difficult question. It is indeed a difficult question since even our scriptures do not want to specify ‘reality’ idamittham’. As you know, our scriptures at one place say : satyaM jnAnam anantham brahma and with the same breath it also expresses its inability to express the nature of reality in clear terms. Taitereeya says : yatO vAchO nivartante aprApya manasa saha…AnandaM brahmaNO vidvAn, na bibheti kutashchaneti. (2-9), kO addhA veda ka iha pravOchat kuta AjAtA kuta iyaM visrushtiH?? Wonders Rigveda.
Kena Upanishad further clarifies, na tatra chakshurgacchati, na vAggachati nO manaH, na vidyO na vijAnimO yathaidanushishyAt. So, IMHO, there is no textual definition for the Reality.
But it needs to be realized through guru, shAstrOpadesha after sAdhana chatushtaya sampatti (like shama, dama ityAdi). tadvijnAnArthaM sa gurumevAbhigacchet says mundaka. Tadviddhi praNipAtEna pariprashnena sevayA says Lord in geeta. And through which this has to be realized?? Kata Upanishad clarifies : manasaivedaM AptavyaM neha nAnAsti kiMchana and shankara in geeta bhAshya asserts : shAstrAchAryOpadesha shama damAdi samskrutaM manaH Atmadarshane karaNam.
And when we realize this reality which is avAngmAnasa gOchara, one would attain highest state, brahmavidApnOti paraM. Bhidyate hrudaya granthiM chidyante sarva samshayAH, ksheeyante chAsya karmANi tasmin drushte parAvare assures mundaka shruti. Shankara’s bhAshya on tattusamanvayAt sUtra would be appropriate here to contemplate. Here he says, even shAstra-s too don’t teach brahman / reality as idamitthaM ( like this is brahman, that is brahman) it (scriptures) only eradicate our ajnAna about reality and when this ajnAna goes, Atman / reality shines on its own. bruhadAraNyaka hence ultimately concludes ‘neti neti’ is the highest teaching of Atman.”
I have no doubt that you know that what is important is to be able to grok the main issue being pointed out by the scriptures. If you or any other readers would like me to expand on the conceptual part of what is Reality (beyond the usual definition of ‘trikAla abhAdhitam), I will happily do so.
P.S.: Sitara asked me to give a translated version of the Sanskrit quotes in the above Note of Shri. Y. R. Bhaskar. I am giving below the message with approximate translation of the quotes.
I don’t know whether I am qualified to answer this very difficult question. It is indeed a difficult question since even our scriptures do not want to specify ‘reality’ as ‘This is the way brahman is.’ As you know, our scriptures at one place say : Beingness, Consciousness and Infiniteness is brahman and with the same breath it also expresses its inability to express the nature of reality in clear terms. Taitereeya [upanishad] says : from where speech (i.e. all words) turns back along with the mind unable to grasp the Reality … The enlightened man is not afraid of anything after realizing that Bliss of brahman (2-9), ‘who knows, who can speak here, where is the unborn, where from is the creation?’ Wonders Rigveda.
Kena Upanishad further clarifies, ‘the eyes cannot go there, nor words, nor the mind, nor do we know. Therefore we don’t know how to impart instruction (about It). So, IMHO, there is no textual definition for the Reality.
But it needs to be realized through guru, the scriptural teaching after sAdhana chatushtaya sampatti (like control of sensory and action organs, etc). ‘Approach a Teacher to know about It’ says mundaka [upansishad]. Know It by surrendering to and inquiring from and rendering service to [a Teacher], says Lord in [Bhagavad] geeta. And through which this has to be realized?? Kata Upanishad clarifies : By mind alone is this attainable; there is no difference here whatsoever [there is no multiplicity whatsoever] and shankara in his commentary on Bhagavad-Gita asserts : after having been instructed by a teacher and scriptures, a disciplined mind is the instrument for knowing brahman.
And when we realize this reality which is inaccessible to words and the mind, one would attain highest state, the knower of brahman attains the Supreme. ‘The knots in the heart are broken, all doubts are finished, the effects of (past) actions are emancipated, on the realization of That,’ assures mundaka upanishad. Shankara’s commentary on brahma sUtra, aphorism 1.1.4 (tattusamanvayAt sUtra) would be appropriate here to contemplate. Here he says, even shAstra-s too don’t teach brahman / reality as like this is brahman, that is brahman.) scriptures only eradicate our ignorance about reality and when this ignorance goes, Atman / reality shines on its own. bruhadAraNyaka [upanishad] hence ultimately concludes ‘not in this way, not in this way’ is the highest teaching of Atman.”
Thank you for your response, and for submitting my query to Shri Y. R. Bhaskar, much appreciated. I am certainly grateful for his reply. Your P.S. was welcome as well, since it would have taken me considerable effort to attempt translation of those references! (I am new to Sanskrit and still learning the basics.)
As a follow-up comment, I do feel that I “grok” the main issue being pointed out by the scriptures. (BTW, I love the fact that a scholar of Advaita is invoking Robert Heinlein!) No words can “capture” or express Reality, so “words fall back from it.” My difficulty was not with the notion of Reality as being indescribable in definite terms, however, but rather the routine use of a descriptive explanation (trikAla abhAdhitam satyam) that seems logically self-contradictory. But I also understand that ultimately the trikAla teaching too must be negated, since time can only exist from the viewpoint of Ignorance anyway. That said, there seems a great deal of emphasis placed on immutability, nothing that is impermanent may be considered Real, and so on. All this brings time back into the equation, where it does not seem to belong in the analysis. Anyway, I will gladly take you up on your offer to expand on the conceptual aspects of Reality beyond the trikAla analysis.
On a side note to the above, I’ve been perusing A Critique of Vedanta, by L.V. Rajagopal, a philosopher in the tradition of Whitehead’s process philosophy. There is an entire section in this work devoted to criticism along the lines that Being and Becoming (i.e., dynamic change) are inseparable. So I was curious to learn whether any knock-down logical arguments for the trikAla position exist within the scriptures or the commentaries thereon. Based on the above response, I assume that it is essentially stated as axiomatic or definitional, as part of the teaching method of “false” attribution followed by later negation.
Thank you for the continued dialogue.
Yea, ‘grok’ is a wonderful word introduced by Heinlein and I can’t think of any other appropriate equivalent word in English. I am glad you liked it. Thanks for your observation.
I am fully with you when you point out the infirmity in the “descriptive explanation (trikAla abhAdhitam satyam) that seems logically self-contradictory.” The phrase ‘trikAla abhAdhitam,’ as you know, is used to answer the questions from a mind which itself operates within and understands ideas only in terms of space and time dimensions.
The words “Infinite and Eternal” that describe Consciousness to be beyond space and time dimensions, as you are aware, are not really what the space-time habituated mind thinks them to be. Mind conceives infinity to be a humongous and infinitely extending X-Y-Z spatial coordinate system. Similarly mind imagines that eternity means to last forever from an indefinable past to an unending future. These two words actually point to the un-dimensional nature of Consciousness. Infinity means ‘not-finite’ and eternity means being ever in the ‘now.’
You maybe familiar with the usage ‘aNoraNIyAn mahatOmahIyan’ (smaller than an atom and bigger than enormous colossus). That is the way the indescribability of Reality in space-time dimensions is indicated invoking extremes of magnitudes.
The ‘now’ that eternity connotes is not a sliver of nano-dimensional time duration at the current time. Eternity is Present-ness or Presence, i.e. ever being in the present – it is not a future slithering to become a past through the present.
In order to indicate the absence of a past and a future, I often give the example of a room thermometer. A room thermometer can give the temperature always of the ‘now’ only. It cannot tell us the temp of even a nano-second away in the past or future. It has no memory of a past nor does it anticipate a future. It is historyless, expectationless. So also is Consciousness.
I find the ‘time’ concept much better explained by the Non-dual teachers like Peter Dziuban (there are over 25 videos of his on this subject on YouTube with the title “Time Out”) and Rupert Spira (a number of video clips at his web site). As Rupert elucidates, because of the inherent limitation in the ability of the mind to grasp things (mind can understand only finite objects), mind conceives (interprets) the Infinite nature of Consciousness as space and Eternity as time. Thus do the space-time get generated.
Prompted by your thoughtful comments, I posted a couple of short quotes from Yogavaasishta separately. It is a dialog between Lord Vishnu and a sage. The falsity of the concept of time is discussed therein. It is also pointed out that Time (with capital ‘T’) is synonymous with Consciousness. You may recall in this context what Sage Vyasa says in the eleventh chapter of Bhagavad-Gita. When Arjuna asks Krishna who he was after witnessing the Universal Form (viswarUpa samdarshana) , Krishna responds to him saying, “kAlOsmi” (I am the eternal Time) – BG XI-32, equating Himself (Consciousness) with Time.
There is a commonly cited definition for time in Advaita (I do not know the actual source). It says: avidyA – chit samyogaH kAlaH. ‘Time is the conjunction/admixture of avidyA and Consciousness.’ So clearly, time comes about with avidya (ignorance) arising.
In sum, I am in full agreement with you when you say that the definition for Reality as trikAla abAdhitam is given, “…. as part of the teaching method of “false” attribution followed by later negation.” Shri Y. R. Bhaskar also agrees on this.
Re: The book by Rajagopal: I have not read this work. However, I am a bit intrigued by the idea of a “process,” a ‘dynamic change’ when one refers to Consciousness in Advaita.’ When Advaita talks about “Being,” it is not used in the sense of present continuous tense of the verb to be. It is a noun, a gerund. It is just “to Be as Is.” In fact, the concept of ‘becoming’ is anathema to Advaita, because it obviously implies a movement, a change from what IS to become something else. Unfortunately, some of the more commonly spread notions of ‘prArabdha’ (the concept of a released arrow) acting even in the case of a Self-realized jnAni muddy the pristine teaching of timelessness.
Thanks again for taking time to respond at length. This has been very helpful and stimulating so far!
“You maybe familiar with the usage ‘aNoraNIyAn mahatOmahIyan’ (smaller than an atom and bigger than enormous colossus). That is the way the indescribability of Reality in space-time dimensions is indicated invoking extremes of magnitudes.”
I’m familiar with the conception of opposing infinities, great and small, Macrocosm and Microcosm, but wasn’t aware of the expression for this in Sanskrit, thanks. I appreciate your term, “un-dimensional,” as it neatly removes spatiality from the conception of Consciousness. Another way of expressing this would perhaps be to say that Consciousness is not extended in the category of space or time. Or, as Franklin Merrell-Wolff put it, “Consciousness Without an Object Is.”
Thank you for the video references as well. This is an interesting perspective on the subject of space-time, and it seems consistent with Kant’s position as argued in the Critique of Pure Reason. As I’m sure you know, Kant’s conclusion is that we construct space-time as an a priori condition to our perceptions, and the judgments formed thereby. (Given the notorious difficulty of Kant’s text, I may or may not have stated his position correctly, and I am certainly oversimplifying!)
“Prompted by your thoughtful comments, I posted a couple of short quotes from Yogavaasishta separately. It is a dialog between Lord Vishnu and a sage. The falsity of the concept of time is discussed therein. It is also pointed out that Time (with capital ‘T’) is synonymous with Consciousness. You may recall in this context what Sage Vyasa says in the eleventh chapter of Bhagavad-Gita. When Arjuna asks Krishna who he was after witnessing the Universal Form (viswarUpa samdarshana) , Krishna responds to him saying, “kAlOsmi” (I am the eternal Time) – BG XI-32, equating Himself (Consciousness) with Time.”
I read your follow-up post with interest, thanks. Very apposite to the discussion. I’ve not yet read Yogavaasishta, but will add it to the list. ☺
“There is a commonly cited definition for time in Advaita (I do not know the actual source). It says: avidyA – chit samyogaH kAlaH. ‘Time is the conjunction/admixture of avidyA and Consciousness.’ So clearly, time comes about with avidya (ignorance) arising.”
“In sum, I am in full agreement with you when you say that the definition for
Reality as trikAla abAdhitam is given, ‘…. as part of the teaching method of “false” attribution followed by later negation.’ Shri Y. R. Bhaskar also agrees on this.”
Excellent, thank you for clarifying these points.
Regarding the book by Rajagopal, I would not rush out to acquire a copy! It is a very negative critique in philosophical terms of the premises of Vedanta, in three parts. Part I pertains to advaita, Part II covers vishiShTAdvaita, and Part III is on dvaita. I’ve reviewed sections of Part I as a way of gauging my own understanding. To properly evaluate Mr. Rajagopal’s position, it would be necessary to have read Whitehead in some depth, as his point of view is that of process philosophy. The critique is quite sharp, and borders on being a polemic against Vedanta, with a near-contemptuous disregard for reliance on shruti. I’m not qualified to fully dissect and rebut the various arguments raised by the author, but have enough understanding to detect a number of straw targets and simple misunderstandings. There are also some clear metaphysical assumptions stated as outright fact. For example, on page 22: “Coming to the use of ‘Infinitude’ as applied to the essence of Brahman, we must say that the notion of infinity can only be conceptual and cannot stand for an actual reality. Though we can imagine that infinity is a positive notion, it cannot serve as the defining essence of Brahman the actuality.”
So many problems with even these two sentences, which open into a longer argument concluding that Brahman is a mere non-entity. For example, the author seems completely unfamiliar with modern mathematical theory on infinities, Cantor, set theory, etc. Some professional mathematicians believe that infinities are actual and real, while others insist they are only hypothetical constructs. Both sides use set theory to prove their position. Both sides claim to have disproved the other’s position, and so on. Therefore a bald assertion such as, “infinity can only be conceptual,” is a clear case of an unproven metaphysical assumption smuggled into the argument as a given fact. There is a lot more of the same, if you have the time and inclination to wade through it.
Thank you for the very scholarly and, at least for me, quite an educative post.
I agree with much of what you said. I thank you also for the assessment on Rajagopal’s work. (Books concerned with too much of academic argumentation do not anyway interest me much, maybe because of my own limitation). There are a few points on other issues, however, I would like to bring to your kind attention.
You are obviously in the genre of Leibniz, Whitehead, Russell, Merrel-Wolff and other notable mathematician-philosophers. I am neither a mathematician nor an expert on Western philosophical thought. So what I say may sound pale and shallow. Kindly bear with me.
Merrel-Wolff is said to be a follower of jnAna mArga in the method of Shankara. The short quote “Consciousness Without an Object Is” seems to convey a mistaken notion that Consciousness is not when there is an object. Actually Consciousness never ever goes anywhere even when Objects are present! (I discussed some of these points in a Series of ongoing posts with the title, “The Enigma of Deep Sleep” at Advaita Academy web site). But to be fair to Wolff, on a search on the internet, I find the author, Ron Leonard in his 1999 book on Wolff says that “Wolff’s primary claim was that Consciousness, transcending the subject-object structure, is primary.” This view conforms to the Advaita teaching.
In the case of “infinity,” there is a fundamental conceptual dissimilitude and divergence between math and Advaita. There can be many infinities in the view of a mathematician. But for an Advaitin, there is only One Infinity; there is simply no scope for a second. If there were to be more than one infinity, evidently then one of the infinities should end at some boundary condition from where the other infinity begins. In other words, these infinities are within certain bounds, delimited by borders. Then such an infinite entity which is limited in extension is, by definition, clearly NOT infinite. Further, any mathematical infinite set would have certain describable and measurable properties which are reflected in every member of the set. But the Advaitic Infinity is impartite and has no definable attributes; Infinity in Advaita is unthinkable and inexpressible (Ref. mantra 7 of mANDUkya Upanishad).
‘aNoraNIyAn mahatOmahIyan’: These words ‘aNoraNIyAn mahatOmahIyan’ incidentally are from kaThopanishad mantra I.ii.20 which tells about Self.
The usual meaning attached to the words macrocosm and microcosm may fit with the mathematician’s concept of infinities. (Macrocosm: a complex structure, such as the universe or society, regarded as an entirety, as opposed to microcosms, which have a similar structure and are contained within it. (Collins Dictionary)). The Advaitic meaning of ‘aNoraNIyAn mahatOmahIyan’ does not match with that concept. What these Sanskrit words try to indicate can be roughly said to be the absence of any characteristics governed by finite dimensions. (I happened to touch on some of these aspects in my articles with the title, “Process Models and Practice Methods in Advaita” at Advaita Academy.)
Thanks for the continued discussion. You are far too kind, as I am very far from being an expert in mathematics or Western philosophy! I’m just a fairly well-read lay person with a deep intellectual curiosity, and with the great good fortune of having discovered Advaita a few years ago. From my early education, I had a strong attraction to science, math, philosophy, etc., so I do still tend to think in those terms.
FYI, I have not yet had the opportunity to read your papers, but will do so and then respond again with any new questions or comments prompted by what you have written. Meanwhile, a few comments in reply to your latest post.
Regarding Franklin Merrell-Wolff, I confess to having a soft spot for this author, as it was his “Experience and Philosophy” that led me to Shankara. I found his work to be a useful bridge leading to the pure teaching of traditional Advaita. I wanted to go to the traditional sources, and I haven’t looked back since. But I still hold Merrell-Wolff in very high regard, and would urge anyone with a philosophical bent to read him carefully. I do agree that his phrase, “Consciousness Without An Object Is,” is open to misinterpretation, but in my view this is merely a defect of working in English, which lacks the precision of Sanskrit, as well as its wealth of specialized terminology for discussing Consciousness. His position is indeed that Consciousness is primary, and I’m quite sure he would have fully agreed with you that “Consciousness never goes anywhere even when Objects are present.”
Moving to your point on the divergence between the conception of infinity in mathematics vs. Advaita, thank you for your thoughtful comments. I should clarify that my purpose in mentioning mathematical infinities was in the context of Mr. Rajagopal’s outright rejection of the concept of an *actually existing infinity*, and not with the intention of identifying mathematical notions of infinity with those of Advaita. Rajagopal was claiming that infinity is only an abstract conception, not an actuality, but failed to refer to ongoing arguments over this point. The existence or non-existence of actual infinities is not a settled matter among professional mathematicians or philosophers, and should not have been presented as such. But I fully agree with you that infinity described in terms of numbers or sets cannot be the same conception as the inexpressible Absolute pointed to in the shruti and commentaries thereon.
The above notwithstanding, let me please call your attention to the fact that in Cantor’s work, there lies “beyond” the transfinite numbers what he called the Absolute Infinite. In his own words:
“The actual infinite arises in three contexts: first when it is realized in the most complete form, in a fully independent otherworldly being, in Deo, where I call it the Absolute Infinite or simply Absolute; second when it occurs in the contingent, created world; third when the mind grasps it in abstracto as a mathematical magnitude, number or order type. I wish to make a sharp contrast between the Absolute and what I call the Transfinite, that is, the actual infinities of the last two sorts, which are clearly limited, subject to further increase, and thus related to the finite.” (Georg Cantor, as quoted by Rudy Rucker, “Infinity and the Mind,” page 10.)
Cantor was not a Vedantin, to be sure, yet his Absolute Infinite (Omega in mathematical symbolism) is also inexpressible and inconceivable and (to this reader) very much consistent with the notion of the Absolute as presented in Vedanta. Anyway, I am not an expert on set theory, so I am in no position to sketch out the formal arguments. I will only remark that for this seeker, it was helpful to learn that mathematics *requires* something like the Advaitic conception of the Absolute when a proper analysis of infinity is worked out via set theory.
” ‘aNoraNIyAn mahatOmahIyan’: These words ‘aNoraNIyAn mahatOmahIyan’ incidentally are from kaThopanishad mantra I.ii.20 which tells about Self.”
Thank you for the citation. Please excuse my hasty inclusion of the phrase “macrocosm and microcosm.” I still tend to bring in terms like this, an old habit from long years of reading texts in the Western esoteric spiritual tradition! I do take your point that the usual meaning of that phrase carries a connotation of dimensionality, whereas aNoraNIyAn mahatOmahIyan points toward That which has no dimensional aspects.
Many thanks for the response.
Much inspired by your postings, I looked for the works of Merrel-Wolff and Cantor at the local library (in Seattle, WA, USA). Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any!
I have to admit that some Non-dual teachers do say that “Consciousness Without An Object Is,” merely as a preliminary step to gradually guide a student, before they lead him/her to the final understanding that what there is, is none other than brahman. This intermittent step is to help him to take the focus away from the object (dRRishya = the seen) and pay attention to the ‘seer.’
A search on the internet re: Cantor gave me a link to the 6th Chapter in a book by JW Dauben on the mathematics and philosophy of Cantor on the infinite. (The Link: http://www.math.dartmouth.edu/~matc/Readers/HowManyAngels/Cantor/Cantor.html)
You may perhaps be aware of it. It shows that Cantor, at least towards his last days, turned out to be a strong believer in the existence of God. Advaita, on the contrary, does not require a God, and even if a God is talked about as a part of the teaching (e.g. to explain creation), it is declared in the very next breath, that “You are that God.”
And finally, before closing, let me say that my referencing to my write ups at the Advaita Academy was only to save repetition of some of the explanations/arguments and not so much with a suggestion that you have to read them.
Thanks for the follow-up. I’m about halfway through your series on Deep Sleep, and enjoying it a lot. Will perhaps comment further after I’ve had a chance to finish reading it.
I’m not too surprised you were unable to locate anything by Merrell-Wolff at the library, as he is not very well known. FYI, “Experience and Philosophy” is a book which combines two of his three main works. If you actually want to go to the trouble of reading him though, you’d probably have to order it from Amazon or perhaps via inter-library loan request.
As to Cantor, I believe he only published in German, so only translations would be available. And yes, toward the end of his life he did become a strong believer in the existence of God. As I noted, he was certainly not an Advaitin! He was, however, a brilliant mathematician, and his diagonal method for demonstrating the existence of infinite sets remains one of the most beautiful and elegant proofs in all of mathematics.
Thanks again Charles.
Happy to know that you find the “Deep sleep” series enjoyable. I will be looking forward to your comments. If you do decide to comment, I request you to please send an e-mail also to me because the Academy software is so poor, it does not alert me automatically if a Comment is made by any one.
Charles (while quoting Rajagopal): “There are also some clear metaphysical assumptions stated as outright fact. For example, on page 22: “Coming to the use of ‘Infinitude’ as applied to the essence of Brahman, we must say that the notion of infinity can only be conceptual and cannot stand for an actual reality. Though we can imagine that infinity is a positive notion, it cannot serve as the defining essence of Brahman the actuality.”
Begging to differ from Charles, with due respect (the discussion between you two is quite elucidating) I believe the above statement by Rajagopal is correct. I think that Ramesam has also indicated that the essence of Brahman is indefinable. Thus, I don’t see how that statement can be said to put forth a fact, rather than a metaphysical assumption, which in fact it is.
Concepts are pointers, or symbols’, having what is intended to be real as their referent. Brahman transcends all concepts and dualities, even those of mutability (change) and immutability (stillness, etc.), timelessness and time or duration (process). Also the symbol ‘OM’, which is said to be closest to reality itself (Mundaka Up.), is to be transcended through contemplation/understanding/anubhava, which ends in identification – not union).
That is why it is said that the supreme reality is inconceivable, unperceivable, and inexpressible. It has also been said that, unlike conceptual knowledge, which is descriptive and informative, that of the Upanishads is non-conceptual, motivational and evocative, like the language of poetry and metaphor. I cannot say, however, that I fully agree with that statement, namely, that the language of the Upanishads is not conceptual; for we cannot avoid using concepts (are they non-conceptual concepts?)
Following on this thread of thought, there are some distinctions to be made when talking of duality. Some dualities are complementarities (pairs of opposites), and others are not. Duality, ‘two’, is unstable, and it finds its resolution in a triad, as the case may be. Metaphysical triads are much more interesting than dualities or not different from them – once the missing element or link is found. But, more on this tomorrow, or the day after…
Thanks for adding to the discussion.
You wrote: “Begging to differ from Charles, with due respect (the discussion between you two is quite elucidating) I believe the above statement by Rajagopal is correct. I think that Ramesam has also indicated that the essence of Brahman is indefinable. Thus, I don’t see how that statement can be said to put forth a fact, rather than a metaphysical assumption, which in fact it is.”
It seems that you are focusing on the second of those two sentences by Rajagopal, when the point I was making actually had more to do with the first. My main difficulty is with his statement, “…the notion of infinity can only be conceptual and cannot stand for an actual reality.” This is a metaphysical assumption smuggled into the argument as a given. It is not a given. Cantor has proven the existence of transfinite numbers, but the academic debate continues to this day as to whether these are merely theoretical constructions “invented” by him, or actualities “discovered” by him. It is a very old argument! But clearly, a statement that infinity can ONLY be conceptual goes too far. I will leave it to professional mathematicians to argue one way or the other. My point was merely that there IS an ongoing debate, and the author’s position does not reflect this debate, but rather presents his position on the non-actuality of infinity as a given fact.
I understand and agree with you (and Ramesam) that Reality is inconceivable and inexpressible. In fact, my original comment had to do with my puzzlement over the frequent use of the trikAla argument (which involves temporality) to define Reality, when time itself is only a valid notion from the perspective of Ignorance. But this is not what Mr. Rajagopal is arguing about. He is saying that Shankara was wrong and Advaita is incorrect. To provide additional context, here are the two sentences following those I had first posted above:
“Reality in the only acceptable sense of the word, as given in our experience, can only be limited and temporal and it can never be an infinite actuality. In fact the error of Advaita consists in negating the limitations of the real given in our experience and hypostatize it into a non-entity called Brahman.”
With that added material, do you still think the author’s statement is correct as it stands? 🙂
My answer to your question is: Definitely not!! – that is, taking it all in context. I took that sentence at face value, as it stands, and it seemed to me to be correct. The significant point here (if I would defend myself, which is besides the point) is that I took ‘infinity’ as a purely metaphysical concept directly related to Brahman or tha Absolute, not as relating to numbers and number theory.
The theory of numbers – the little I understand about it – is indeed metaphysical too, since it applies, one way or another, to reality, or to what one understands by that term. I am reminded of Einstein and his friend Gödel, both of whom were realist in the Platonic sense, that is, that there is a world out there, as against the predominant and triumphant (at the time) logical positivism of the Circle of Viena. My apologies for not taking into consideration the context in which that quotation appeared, other than which I am in full agreement with you. With kind regards,
Thanks for your follow-up comment. Sorry, I should have quoted those additional sentences for context to begin with. Taken as a stand-alone statement, I can see why you were interpreting that sentence differently than I was. I’m glad you touched on this though, for it gives me a chance to raise a related point. Part of my problem with Rajagopal’s argument is that he is also stating that Shankara’s analysis is incorrect, on the basis that he “defines the essence of Brahman” as infinitude. To my ears, the author’s syllogism goes something like this: (A) Infinity is only a concept, and can never be an actuality. (B) Shankara’s position is that the essence of Brahman is infinitude. (C) Therefore Brahman is a non-existent entity, not an actual reality. I’ve already discussed why I think the initial premise (A) is flawed, but isn’t the second premise (B) equally problematic? Did Shankara produce his analysis of Reality exclusively on the basis of his conception of infinity (ananta)?
First of all, I agree with you in your analysis and conclusion. A and B are the premises, and C the conclusion of the syllogism as presented by Rajagopal.
A) ‘Infinity is only a concept, and can never be an actuality’.
This premise, while loaded with poison, is clearly false, or flawed as it is. What is the meaning of saying that a concept “can never be an actuality”? Concepts are concepts, actual concepts, referring, usually, to something existing (whether in the gross or in the subtle realm – thoughts, imaginations, etc.). Language is a system of symbols or concepts: no concepts, no possible communication, for even hand signs encapsulate concepts (dog, man, danger, etc.).
B) ‘Shankara’s position is that the essence of Brahman is infinitude’.
Not true, not false. We have already discussed that the essence of Brahman is indefinable, indescribable, etc. The word ‘infinity’ can only be a pointer (a finger pointing) to it; all words fall short, “slip back” with respect of the higher reality. Brahman – as a real entity – can only be ‘Kown’, experienced, through totally transcending language and thought (anubhava, prajna = non-dual intuition), whereby the triad known-knowledge-knower no longer holds.
What is unborn (Brahman/Atman) can very well be said to be unlimited, infinite. A mahavakya in Tai. Up. (ii,1) says: “satyam jñanam anantam”. Anantam means endless, infinite; also indefinable. In other words, the essential is unlimited.
C) ‘Therefore Brahman is a non-existent entity, not an actual reality’.
False. Two false premises cannot give a valid conclusion. Further, to strictly prove a negative is impossible. I could expand on this last.
Thanks for your response. Very helpful to have your assessment on this. “Not true, not false,” is a perfect way to describe premise “B.” And I do agree that proving a negative is impossible.
Obviously an expert Surgeon’s scalpel at work!
Each sentence shines with surgical precision.
Thank you for the clear expression.
We have from kaThopanishad (mantra I.ii.8) where Yama says:
na nareNAvareNa proktA eSha suvijñeyo bahudhA cintyamAnaḥ | ananya-prokte gatir atra nAstyaNIyAn hi atarkyam aNupramANAt
Meaning: That Self, when taught by a man of inferior intellect is not easy to be known, as it is to be thought of in various ways. But when it is taught by a preceptor who is one with Brahman (who beholds no difference), there is no doubt concerning it, the Self being subtler than the subtle, and that which logic cannot reach ( translation of Swami Krishnananda and last line by Aurobindo).
Thus, trying to derive brahman through logic (which after all also falls within the mental domain) is bound to fail right from start!
But all that said and done, brahman is NOT difficult to ‘intuitively understand’, for it is one’s Self – that indescribable attributeless “sensing” / “understanding” live capability within (not really within, though – but let it go) everyone.