Q: In psychology, there is a popular idea called ‘value judgements;’ it says that all assessments of whether things are good or evil are relative to the condition of one’s mind. The standard for good and bad is constantly changing and relative; good and evil is just a construct. Can this concept be reconciled with the idea of karma, that (to my understanding) can be boiled down to, moral action = positive outcome/happiness, immoral action = negative outcome/suffering. Does an action that constitutes as moral in my eyes, but immoral from another perspective still result in good karma? Isn’t it a bit selfish to assume that the causality of the world revolves around our human construct of morality?
I’d like to hear your perspective on this.
A: Not sure what you mean by ‘causality of the world revolves around our human construct of morality’. Karma operates on a personal basis. Each jIva is reborn according to their past karma. This means both in the ‘appropriate body’ and in the ‘appropriate circumstances’ to enable them to ‘redeem’ their past karma, if you like. So the particular moral outlook of the society into which they are born is relevant, irrespective of how that perspective might change over time or in different societies.
But note that this is more of the initial-interim teaching of Advaita. Since, ultimately, there is no creation and no jIva-s, there is no such thing as karma either.
I don’t disagree with what you say about value judgements but it doesn’t really enter into karma yoga. The way we should act is in response to what is in front of us, without any personal motivation, without thinking about what society might say about how we should act, and without ‘taking anything’ from the result. I.e. whether the outcome is as we might have liked or not is not part of the equation. We ‘dedicate’ action and outcome to God and drop everything after the action is complete.
You might argue that how we respond to what is in front of us is going to be determined by our past environment and genetic factors and that must be true. Can we not ‘choose’ to go against these? That would involve free-will; and that is something else that I don’t believe in!
You should stop worrying about all of these empirical aspects! They are the chains that bind you to saMsAra and will not take you anywhere useful.
Existence is its own ‘origin’, as awareness is aware of itself, (though not in a self-reflective subject-object relationship) as well as of everything else; or as the first cause is the uncaused cause, the unmoved mover of Aristotle, Plato, etc. Existence IS. It is the super ‘Big Bang’ or prior to ever being a Big Bang, for it is a metaphysical principle, indescribable, unexplainable, and having no parts – the ’given’ and originator of all things, without which nothing is. It is, in fact, the arché, first or highest principle or noumenon – consciousness or reality itself. Before anything existed, existence was/is – that is its mystery.
The most “radical version of Non-dual teaching” goes back to Revered Gaudapada (of 5th or 6th CE) who forms a watershed mark in the Advaita tradition. With him started the human form lineage of teacher-disciple. (Before him it was a lineage of Sages preceded by the lineage of Gods – see here).
Gaudapada says that we are prisoners of an unwavering belief in cause-effect relationships. He avers that cause-effect relationships do not exist. For example, he writes:
नास्त्यसद्धेतुकमसत्सदसद्धेतुकं तथा । सच्च सद्धेतुकं नास्ति सद्धेतुकमसत्कुतः ॥ — 4.40, Gaudapada kArikA on mANDUkya Upanishad.
Meaning: The unreal cannot have the unreal as its cause. Nor can the real be produced from the unreal. The real cannot be the cause of the real. And it is much more impossible for the real to be the cause of the unreal. (Translation: Swami Nikhilananda). Continue reading →
After the two long discussions on this fascinating topic, I would like to offer the following as my final word on the subject (hopefully!):
The world is brahman – sarvam khalvidam brahma. So we can say that the cause of the world is brahman (and shruti does say this!). The cause is not ignorance. It is because of ignorance that we see the world as separate objects and people but that is not the same thing. Yes, we superimpose ‘things’ upon the non-dual reality. That is adhyAsa. But that is not the ‘cause’ of the world. Ignorance is absence of knowledge and the world could not arise from an ‘absence’ or nothing. Brahman is the cause and, for the sake of ‘explanation’ we posit that it does so via the power of mAyA. Even so, the world is nothing other than Brahman, since Brahman is both material and efficient cause.
Ignorance is not the cause of the world; it is the reason that we fail to realize that the world is Brahman. When that ignorance is removed, the realization dawns; but since it had nothing to do with the appearance, the world does not disappear when the ignorance goes. If the (appearance of the) world had not been there to begin with there would have been nothing for us to superimpose upon. It was and remains mithyA – dependent upon Brahman for its reality. When we gain Self-knowledge, what goes away is the ignorance, not the world.
(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 →