Reality of the world

The discussion that follows stems from a comment I made on a recent article in the July NOW Newsletter. This is produced by a group in Australia led by Alan Mann and is a resource for the works of Thomas Traherne, as well as Douglas Harding, John Wren-Lewis and George Schloss.

I publish our email exchanges verbatim, as they occurred, below. Please feel free to add any useful comments!

  1. ***************************************

Hi Alan,

Regarding your preferred definition of ‘real’ (“The definition of real which I prefer is: actually existing as a thing or occurring in fact; not imagined or supposed.”):

Does a chair exist? As a chair? What if I remove the legs and back; is it still a chair? Was it a chair a year ago, 10, 100, 1000 years ago? What about similar periods in the future? I suggest that it is not the chair that exists at all, it is the wood out of which it is made. (And the same argument applies to the wood over longer timescales.) A ‘chair’ is not real; it is only name and form of wood. Etc. ‘Things’ are not real; no ‘thing’ exists in its own right; it is dependent upon something more fundamental for its existence. And this goes on, all the way back to Consciousness.

Have you read the story I wrote about this? – the ‘first definition’ at http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/definitions/advaita.htm. You can publish this in your next edition if you like.

Best wishes,
Dennis

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Hello Dennis, I remain mystified and perhaps my answers to your questions will help you understand why.

Does a chair exist? As a chair?  Yes, I believe so.

What if I remove the legs and back; is it still a chair? No. It is a number of items designed as chair components.

Was it a chair a year ago, 10, 100, 1000 years ago? I don’t know but the answer could be either yes or no in all cases if evidence was available or becomes available, e.g., the Pharoah’s breakfast stool.

What about similar periods in the future? I suggest that it is not the chair that exists at all, it is the wood out of which it is made. You cannot say that. On the basis of your own argument the wood can no more exist than the chair, as it is also subject to the endless reduction to consciousness as your comment below affirms.

(And the same argument applies to the wood over longer timescales.)  Yes, and the answers remain for anything I describe as existent notwithstanding it can be reduced to its component lignin, cellulose, molecules, atoms, etc.

A ‘chair’ is not real; it is only name and form of wood. Etc. That is your choice of definition. If I can actually sit upon it as opposed to think about it  has function and what I regard as objective reality, thus I call it chair.

‘Things’ are not real; no ‘thing’ exists in its own right; it is dependent upon something more fundamental for its existence. Yes, I agree with that but that doesn’t deny the actuality of the levels which make the object sit-able upon.

My questions to Dennis:

What exactly is this apparent ‘thing’ I’m sitting on? How do you describe it? What is its nature?

If as I suspect you are going to answer that it is some sort of frozen consciousness or illusory. What difference does it make? Haven’t we just chosen different languages to describe our situation.

I’ll put your response in the NOWletter (unless you say no) and I will certainly read your story and respond if that throws light upon the mystery.

Thanks for your reply and all the best,

Alan

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Good Morning Dennis,

Lying in bed and wondering how I could ever grasp the Advaita perspective on reality I thought I wonder if Dennis would be happy if I switched from nouns to verbs?

Taking our chair again as the experimental theme’ Acorn, seedling, mighty oak, sawmill planks, cut to smaller components, assembled into chair, sat upon for three generations, firewood, ash.

Suppose I described what I insist on calling a chair as ‘the universe chairing’. that describes the current aspect of the life story of the whatever it is I call a chair and we could extend my version at both ends by adding the molecular, atomic, etc., starts and finishes.

Then we have not paper planes but ‘paper planing’

Chairs become chairing.

Alan becomes not entity Alan but universe ‘alaning’. etc.

I recently came across someone saying that Nishida claimed that it was not a matter of him having experiences but experience having him. John Wren-Lewis talked about himself as the universe ‘John Wren-Lewising’.

Is that any closer?

Regards,

Alan

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Hi Alan,

I hope that you will now have read the story that I used to explain the term ‘mithyA’ and that this will have answered your questions. You can also understand what is happening via the ‘vAchArambhaNa shruti’ in the Chandogya Upanishad. I explained this around page 112 in ‘A-U-M’. You might use an old crate or a tree trunk for sitting on but calling it a ‘chair’ does not make it into a new object with a reality of its own. No one denies the empirical or functional ‘reality’ of, say, a gold ring. But, if you think that the ring is a real existent in its own right, I say ‘fine; give me the gold and you can keep the ring’.

Your idea of the universe ‘chairing’ is not such a bad one. I think I mention in the story that Swami Dayananda spoke of ‘tabley wood’ rather than ‘wooden table’, to point out that the table was dependent upon the wood for its existence, and not the other way round. But here, the universe also has only dependent existence. So you would have to talk about Consciousness ‘universing’!

Best wishes,
Dennis

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Hello Dennis,

I read the story about the paper aeroplane, etc. Wasn’t that the one? If so, it didn’t work for me all three, sheet of paper, aeroplane and crumpled ball all actual evidence of objects which I affirm as real.

What I also affirm is the undivided wholeness at the end as the ‘heart’ of things but I don’t feel that the manifestations of this wholeness, in whatever form they take, can be apprehended as unreal.

But, if you think that the ring is a real existent in its own right, I say ‘fine; give me the gold and you can keep the ring’.

In reply to that I say you have not described that thing on you finger correctly, it is a goldring.In separating the two aspects you are doing exactly what you accuse me of doing in separating myself and the bits and pieces of my world from Brahman.

The best of the options is the salt parable.

In the Chandogya Upanishad, Uddalaka Aruni Teaches all the basics of Advaita to his son Svetaketu through simple illustrative stories.

My favorite one is the following :

Uddalaka Aruni instructs his son Svetaketu:

  1. “Place this salt in water, and in the morning come to me.” He did exactly so, and he said to him, “the salt that you put in the water last night, bring it hither. But while he grasped for it he could not find it, since it had completely dissolved.
  2. “Take a sip from the edge of it. What is there?” “Salt.” “Take a sip from the middle. What is there?” “Salt.” “Take a sip from the far edge. What is there?” “Salt.” “Set it aside and come to me.” And [the boy] did exactly that, [saying] “It is always the same.” He said to him, “Being is indeed truly here, dear boy, but you do not perceive it here.
  3. That which is the finest essence, the whole universe has That as its soul. That is Reality, That is the Self, and That is you, Svetaketu!” (6.13.1)

tat tvam asi!

And the bowl in which the water was carried is also THAT, as the water is THAT, the taste is THAT not to mention the taster his wise father, etc., etc. Being in being being,  is real in all its manifestations.

The only option for the unreality case is if it is confined to the quantum level. That may well be the field in which we live and move and have our being but that is not to say that our living and moving is unreal. At the gross level at which I sit and write to you a rose is a rose, a petal a petal, a thorn a thorn. I stand at the level of functionality which affirms things as real but does not deny their differing appearances as they are analysed at different levels of their existence.

All the best and thank you for responding.
Alan

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Maybe the problem is the usual one of failing to differentiate clearly between empirical reality and absolute reality. Do you recognize this distinction? No one is denying the empirical reality of rings and cups and paper airplanes. Nor is anyone denying that there is “undivided wholeness at the and as the ‘heart’ of things”. What Advaita says is that those things do not have any reality of their own; they are dependent upon Consciousness (brahman) for their existence. If you claim separate existence for things, then of course you are accepting duality as real and denying Advaita. I had thought that the teachers that you follow admit non-duality. It sounds as though you are saying that things are real parts of a whole. This is not Advaita. Science and quantum physics relate only to empirical reality. As do perception and conception. This is why we cannot see or conceive the nature of reality.

Best wishes,
Dennis

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Good Morning Dennis,

We are getting there. No, I do not deny empirical reality and that is what I am strenuously defending. I have a Dr. Johnsonish attitude in response to Tony Parsons and Company with their nothing exists, nothing ever happened etc. Hence my vote for Radhakrishnan and the latter day Jeff Foster in their resistance to such claims. The three people I have followed most closely are Krishnamurti, Bohm and Harding all of whom acknowledged an underlying wholeness but none of whom felt it required them to deny its manifestation as objective reality. I find the Buddhist ‘not one not two’ a useful model and even better David Loy’s “we need a Nonduality of Nonduality and duality’.

It seems we have reached a sort of agreement. And I am taking the liberty of interpreting your latest message to imply that absolute reality does not negate the reality of empirical reality. If that is the case then we are at one!

You could ask me at this point whether I believe that the objective reality I champion is consciousness-free – the answer is that I really don’t know. Experientially, at the personal level,  things come and go in awareness and appear, at that level, to be consciousness dependent. However, I am more inclined to think of consciousness as an integral aspect of being in whatever form it takes. Coincidentally, after finishing this message to you I parked it in ‘drafts’ for final consideration. Then, as a result of discussions at our meeting here on Sunday, I searched the internet for evidence of  the effect of conscious attention to results in the double slit experiment. I stumbled on the lecture I have shown below’. Much of the technical content is beyond me but the conclusion is that consciousness is more likely to be foundational rather than an late add-on. Bottom-up rather than top-down.

New Experiments Show Consciousness Affects Matter ~ Dean Radin Ph.D  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nRSBaq3vAeY

All the best,
Alan

8. *******************************************

Hi Alan,

Seems like you are trying to ‘have your cake and eat it’! Surely, if you believe that the stones that Johnson kicks have independent reality then you are accepting duality and denying a non-dual reality.

The dream is a good metaphor. In the dream , you (the dreamer) clearly believe that the dream world exists, along with all its objects and people; it is real for the dreamer. But, when you wake up, you have to acknowledge that it was all mind-generated. The difference is that we don’t ‘wake up’ perceptually from the waking world, only intellectually.

Thanks for the link to the Radin talk – I enjoyed it! I have recently conceded to Dr. Ramesam Vemuri that it does look as though science is actually beginning to think seriously about ideas which might lead to Advaita. But of course this experiment is not about Consciousness, it is about attention or awareness, which is a phenomenon in the empirical world. As such it is all still mithyA and tells us nothing about absolute reality. We cannot explain the phenomenon – yet. It seems perfectly possible that explanations will come in time which may or may not vindicate the claims that remote meditation can collapse the wave function in the experiment. But it will only add to our knowledge about ‘lawful’ behavior in the world of duality. It may point us in the direction of an ‘everything is Consciousness’ conclusion but it won’t in itself change anything.

Regarding your ‘liberty’, I would rephrase it carefully: “Absolute reality does not negate the SEEMING reality of the empirical world.” It is our knowledge that changes. When you know that the snake that you see in the partial light is really a rope, your fear disappears but the form is still seen.

Best wishes,
Dennis

P.S. An interesting discussion, this, which would also interest others. I guess you are thinking about publishing it in NOW. Presumably you would be happy for me to post it to Advaita Vision also? (We might get some new input to the subject.)

9. *******************************************************

Good Morning Dennis,

A few notes interspersed with your latest.

Seems like you are trying to ‘have your cake and eat it’!

I assume that is due to my cheerful acceptance of both absolute and relative reality? But a bit rich in view of this example of your own having and eating:

Thus the world (which we still see, and which is therefore not unreal) is known not to be real.

It is this strangulation of language which energises my resistance. I don’t exist, you don’t exist, no creation nothing ever happened. And this confident assurance notwithstanding our endless exchanges on the subject from the opposite ends of this non-existent planet.

Surely, if you believe that the stones that Johnson kicks have independent reality then you are accepting duality and denying a non-dual reality.

I don’t think co-dependence negates independence, another case of ,levels,.  Yes, I sometimes think it would be wiser of me to set myself up as a dualist and have done with it. However, at the same time, I don’t think anyone can deny the wholeness of being. This I resolve for myself by readily accepting that there are levels of being which allow for both relative and absolute reality.

The dream is a good metaphor. In the dream, you (the dreamer) clearly believe that the dream world exists, along with all its objects and people; it is real for the dreamer. But, when you wake up, you have to acknowledge that it was all mind-generated. The difference is that we don’t ‘wake up’ perceptually from the waking world, only intellectually.

The waking up from the perceptual world is just another concept in my opinion. We can see through our deep identification with our third person identity to a first person apprehension of ‘what is’ but that perspective has nothing to say about reality–it just is it. So waking up in my opinion embraces the revealed world rather than negates it and, in doing so, does not posit some otherworldly  super-reality, nirvana, and so forth.

 Regarding your ‘liberty’, I would rephrase it carefully: “Absolute reality does not negate the SEEMING reality of the empirical world.” It is our knowledge that changes. When you know that the snake that you see in the partial light is really a rope, your fear disappears but the form is still seen.

This is a good example of what I’m on about. First the unsupported assumption that what I call reality is ‘seeming’ which I interpret as meaning not actual. Then you go on to illustrate by quoting the snake rope story. The seeming is confined to the mistake that the rope is a snake, it seemed to be a snake,  not that the rope doesn’t actually exist.

I do appreciate you taking the trouble to shine the light on my doubts but we are clearly holding to somewhat different perspectives. If I looked back at our correspondence I’m pretty sure we’d find ourselves going around in circles and staying pretty much in our original orbits.

Anyway, many thanks,
Alan

P.S. An interesting discussion, this, which would also interest others. I guess you are thinking about publishing it in NOW. Presumably you would be happy for me to post it to Advaita Vision also? (We might get some new input to the subject.)

I think we’ve already covered the ground as far as the NOWletter is concerned but perhaps I could update based on our more recent exchanges and feel free to use on Advaita Vision.

10. ************************************************

Hi Alan,

I agree that we have probably gone around this enough now. I don’t think I am going to convince you! I will post on AV, though, and others may approach from a different angle that you will find persuasive.

Just one point, though, because you are misrepresenting (and therefore presumably misunderstanding) what I have said. You say “I don’t exist, you don’t exist, no creation nothing ever happened. And this confident assurance notwithstanding our endless exchanges on the subject from the opposite ends of this non-existent planet.” But I have NEVER said ‘I don’t exist, you don’t exist’. Of course we exist. It is just that we are not these separate body-mind forms; we are the non-dual Consciousness. Consciousness is the real substratum; it is this that is the only existent. We and the world are simply names and forms of this same Consciousness.

Best wishes,
Dennis

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Back again Dennis,

I stand corrected and withdraw my accusation that you are the source of the you don’t exist I don’t exist claims. I have carelessly packaged what you have to say with statements by the likes of Tony Parsons, David Carse et al. But it is my opinion that you are not free of critical attention yourself when you say:

Your waking experiences are no more real than your dreaming ones! There has never been any creation – you cannot die because you were never born! The fact that you experience separate objects proves that they are not really there!

The later qualifications come too late they should precede not follow. My position is that you cannot make such counter- intutitive claims without demonstrating their truth, showing them to be the case, rather than relying on me accepting you at your word or taking on board the assurances of ancient scripture. I’ll  look at the new article later today and see if that sorts me out.

Best wishes,

Alan

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Hi Alan,

Those statements of mine are not from this discussion! They are from the blurb on the back of ‘A-U-M: Awakening to Reality’, and we had that discussion some months ago. I explained then that those statements were intended to be provocative, to make one want to read the book. The explanations and justifications are contained in that.

I don’t know which ‘new article’ you are referring to.

Best wishes,
Dennis

1 thought on “Reality of the world

  1. Dennis and Alan,

    The discussion about a chair reminded me of a conversation that UG had with someone concerning the naming of things, the word, and the process of memory.

    It started with UG pointing out how we normally look at things, first inwardly, then outwardly.

    Questioner: Do you make no difference between the feeling of anger and happiness?

    UG: That is what I am saying. If you do that, (differentiate), then the whole mischief is there. But if there is no difference, then is there anger or happiness? That is my question. In exactly the same way, what is that out there without this word ‘tree’? It is still there alright.

    Questioner: This chair, for instance………

    UG: Can you look at it without the word interfering?That would be the end of you as the thought structure. If the word is not there, how is the chair different from other things? That would the end of the thought structure and another kind of instinct and intelligence takes over.

    Questioner: When I recognize that as a chair, that as a couch, this touch as soft and that as hard, it sia thought and it is necessary because I have to use them. And that seems to be the normal function of the mind. But the same mental machinery when it works in other fields like my beliefs and I try to defend them, it causes mischief and so it should not work that way. There is something wrong here.

    UG: When I touch this, there is a feeling and that is a response, but when I react, it is a mental activity. There is a movement and that produces a movement inside of you also, but naming that movement is the mischief. You are all the time reading inside and not looking at things as they are.

    So, Dennis and Alan, to judge whether something is real or not misses the point altogether. We are not even looking at the chair, but our own images, yet the chair is still there. Without the naming process, there is only pure sensory impressions and no interference or interpretation of thought. If it is necessary to name the chair, a chair, then thought/memory is activated through circumstance/demand. That moment should end the thought process of naming and differentiation. But, we have linked up all our naming and thinking into a seer, an experiencer. Without that linkup, the experiencer is not there and the senses can operate without a structure, an entity.

    Questioner: But when there is an interval between tow thoughts, there is no ‘I’.

    UG: There is no ‘I’; when there is a need, you call it a chair and it is finished, it is not linking up further.

    Questioner: Then what is the body?

    UG: Is there a body without this ‘I’? The body is like the chair there without the word. But you have an idea, an image of the body and have introduced a psychological element, when actually it is different, the way it functions of and by itself.

    Not intellectually, but actually, you have to discover it and let the sensations be there without naming them–then you’ll understand. All these thoughts and feelings you talk about are not part of you. It is the society functioning in you. If that comes to an end, there’ll be an explosion and there’ll be a radical mutation in the body. This change is not within the thought structure. If it is, then it is another way of thinking, another way within the structure of thought.

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