(This article was originally published in ‘Yoga International’ magazine Aug-2011. I don’t think the magazine exists any longer, which is why no link is provided.)
During the past few years, an increasing number of scientists have claimed insight into the nondual nature of reality. These claims, however, ignore a fundamental truth: Consciousness falls outside the scope of scientific investigation. Therefore, by their very nature, such claims cannot be valid.
There has always been a degree of animosity between science and spirituality. The Catholic Church’s persecution of Galileo over his insistence that the Earth was not the center of the universe comes to mind, as does the current debate between Creationists and those preferring the more down-to-earth tenets of Darwinian evolution. It is encouraging, therefore, to see the growing number of books and articles written by scientists on the subject of nonduality. There is even an annual conference with the title “Science and Nonduality,” thus making it possible to explore these two avenues of knowledge in the same forum.
Paradoxically, both the power and the ultimate shortcoming of science as a tool for investigating the nature of reality lie in its objectivity. The scientific method of empirical observation and subsequent reasoning is something it shares with Vedanta, along with the acceptance of findings from those who have gone before (providing these findings do not contradict more recent discoveries).
Science has made a significant contribution to persuading people to consider that the world may not be as it initially appears to our limited organs of perception. At one end of the scale, the scanning electron microscope looks into the supposed solidity of the matter beneath our fingertips. At the other extreme, the Hubble telescope peers toward infinity into the swirling clouds of galaxies invisible to the naked eye. ‘Reality’ is far more subtle than everyday experience would have us believe. The hardness of the table on which I write is due to irrevocable laws regarding the spin of electrons and their sharing of orbitals around atoms. Massive energy sources in the universe result from entire galaxies being sucked into black holes. Our own senses are quite inadequate for the job of explaining the behavior of the world around us, whereas science seemingly can. Continue reading →
Q: The link http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/past_messages/freewill_waite.htm is about your convincing argument that there is no free will. The Q ( for which I have no free will!!) is whether the lack of free will is an obstacle in pursuit of Self- realization? It would seem that one has no ‘choice’ in the pursuit for it will follow the law of cause and effect. What are your views? Incidentally you have a supporter in Stephen Hawking [‘Grand Design’].
“Though we feel that we can choose what we do, our understanding of the molecular basis of biology shows that biological processes are governed by the laws of physics and chemistry and therefore are as determined as the orbits of the planets. Recent experiments in neuroscience support the view that it is our physical brain, following the known laws of science, that determines our actions, and not some agency that exists outside those laws. For example, a study of patients undergoing awake brain surgery found that by electrically stimulating the appropriate regions of the brain, one could create in the patient the desire to move the hand, arm, or foot, or to move the lips and talk. It is hard to imagine how free will can operate if our behavior is determined by physical law, so it seems that we are no more than biological machines and that free will is just an illusion.”Continue reading →
The Scottish philosopher David Hume accepted Locke’s empiricism and also agreed with Berkeley that we cannot ever know that there is a world outside of and separate from ourselves. Indeed he claimed not to understand what people meant by the idea of ‘substance’. We only know about perceptions, colour, sound, taste and so on. If this thing called ‘substance’ is something else, we have no knowledge of it – why invent it? If we took away the sensible qualities of things there would be nothing left, would there? Why should we need anything to explain or support our perceptions and impressions? Questions about why they arise are unnecessary and the answers suggested to explain them are unintelligible. The idea of ‘mind’ is just as illogical. If we simply dropped both of them, we would have no need to try to imagine ways in which such supposedly different ‘things’ might interact, as Descartes had wasted so much of his time doing.
He was also sceptical of Descartes’ conviction of his own existence as a thinking individual and made his own attempts to find some irreducible ‘self’ of which he could be certain. He decided that, whenever he attempted to look for ‘himself’ he could only find thoughts, feelings and perceptions; never a ‘self’ that is the perceiver, feeler and thinker. And so he concluded that there was no such thing. One feels one wants to get hold of him and shake him and say: “Yes, when you look, all that you find are thoughts, feelings and perceptions but who is it who finds this? What is the ‘who’ that is doing the looking?” He also felt similarly about God. We may well feel convinced that there is a God – this is effectively the definition of faith, a firm conviction without any empirical evidence – but this is not the same as knowledge. Continue reading →
Q: In your answer to Q. 12 (http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/q_and_a/q_and_a2.htm#q12), you said: “At the level of appearance, yes, there is only causality to account for actions. But this does not lead to passivity. Darwinian selection naturally inculcates competition, ‘development’ and ‘progress’. And there is no escaping the fact that we feel as though we have free will. We feel good when we get what we want and bad when we don’t. All of this stuff will carry on regardless but there is no need to feel negative about it. It really is all quite amazing, isn’t it? It is all arising within you, for your enjoyment, as it were!”
And in your answer to Q.22 (http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/q_and_a/q_and_a3.htm#q22) you said: “At the level of the phenomenal, all proceeds according to cause and effect (or the laws of Ishvara if you prefer!). Also, there appears to be free will (although I have argued – and believe it to be the case – that the evidence is that there is no free will even at the level of appearance). Again, at the level of appearance, there are clearly individuals (jIva-s) and they are affected by all of the influences (including their own apparent volition) according to the cause-effect laws.”
(My italics to highlight what triggered my question.)
If there’s only causality to account for actions, there should be no space for free will, as all of my actions are causal. And if there is just a feeling that we have of a free will, then there is no free will. To put it in other words, if there is no free will, how can I actually do mumukShutvam (if desire also is a kind of a free will)? For intense Longing for Liberation to happen, I should be blessed with Free Will.Continue reading →
The point is, if you want to know what you can do, what I will say is that you can do a virtually endless number of things, none of which will necessarily provide that which you are seeking, but it may. If it happens, you causally link the two; you ignore the 10,000 other cases in which it didn’t. You say: ‘But I did that and then I got this – therefore I am living testimony! I did this and then got that, therefore there’s a connection!’ The connection’s notional of course.
We are honored to have input from Swamini Atmaprakashananda, a direct disciple of Pujya Swami Dayananda for this week’s question!
Q: My question is, as a mother is it ever possible to not be very attached to my child, and be a mother only by Dharma and karma, and ease from the clutches of Moha for my child. How do I do that? I would greatly appreciate if anything here can help me because I truly am looking for it, and struggling with the issue for a long time.
A (Sitara): Advaita does not really make a distinction between different kinds of attachment. While it is true that the bond between a mother and her child is especially strong, it still needs to be dealt with like all other kinds of attachment.
So how to deal with it?
First of all: Trying to overcome attachment by dealing with it directly will only work to a limited degree. So I recommend to deal with it both ways, as described below. Continue reading →
Q: 1. If the triple gunas are the matrix of the “reality”, aren’t they immutable and therefore truly real? (I have asked this question a while ago in our personal correspondence but I can’t access my old email and it still bothers me…).
2. What is the ontological status of the course of human history? Is it objective, or just a sort of shared mass illusion that somewhat gets transferred from generation to generation? I am aware of the imprecision of my language but hopefully you will understand my meaning.
A to Q1 (Peter): Guṇas are the subtlest form of manifest matter and, being matter, are thus subject to change. So they are not immutable.
Guṇas in their unmanifest and undifferentiated form are the triple śakti of māyā: jñạna, krīyā and dravya shakti, the undifferentiated and unmanifest powers of knowledge, action and materialisation. When these move into manifestation they get the names sattva, rajas and tamas. Continue reading →
[As students of Non-duality, we often come aross situations that apparently seem to be at variance with the Non-dual teachings. Here is such a Question raised by a friend of mine and felt that it would be interesting to share our exchange with a wider audience for possibe further discussion — ramesam.]
Questioner: How could there be no cause and effect? How can things happen randomly with no purpose? I just can’t accept that meeting you was random, or that I found nonduality, and fell in love with it. It seems to appear everywhere. Jesus said seek and ye shall find. There is no randomness in that. We set goals, work hard, then accomplish them. Some people live for fun, engage in risky behavior, then get in trouble, how could it be completely random that some people are in the wrong place at the wrong time, then others are in the right place at the right time. Then there are the people who seem to do everything “right”, then some horrible fate befalls them. Have you ever read anything by Malcolm Gladwell? He wrote The Tipping Point, Outliers, and some other books. His research into why some people are successful and others are not is fascinating.