This can be seen from two perspectives: 1) lower or empirical, and 2) higher or spiritual (I try to avoid the word ‘metaphysical’). I am not going to consider what Christianity or Islam hold about any of these two perspectives, only the non-duality of Advaita Vedanta (Buddhism does not contemplate individual existence per se). According to the Advaitic tradition the individual self (jiva) can be considered as a reflection of the higher Self and then his/her faculties (basically memory, mind, and sense of self) as well as all bodies are separate and individual – this pertains to ordinary, transactional life. This is the realm of ignorance (avidya). Continue reading
Q: Is advaita provable, in the Western, scientific, empirical sense of the word? I guess part of the attraction for me is that it seems to be (along with some other Eastern thought systems) a methodical and thorough exploration of consciousness; consciousness being something (along with death) that Western culture can’t even define let alone explain and explore. Or is my thinking mistaken?
A: Who would prove what? Science is intrinsically empirical and could never say anything about the nature of reality. There are a couple of articles that you should read to clarify this. One by myself is in four parts, beginning https://www.advaita-vision.org/science-and-the-nature-of-absolute-reality-part-1/ and one by AchArya Sadananda in three parts, beginning https://www.advaita-vision.org/science-and-vedanta-part-1/. Nevertheless, Advaita’s explanation of the nature of Consciousness is not contrary to reason or to Western science and philosophy. See my book ‘A-U-M’ for this.
If you are comfortable with the language and ‘explanations’ of modern physics, try Amanda Gefter’s book ’Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn’. (I must confess I found this a bit hard-going at times!) This shows that the ‘frontiers’ of science are now beginning to think along lines not altogether too distant from the Vedantic scriptures!
Q: Is the following summary correct? The universe is pure consciousness (nondual) – one big mass of it – that manifests (at least, in the illusory sense) as separate forms, objects or organisms. The reason(s) it does this are ultimately unknowable, but speculations include out of playfulness, to know itself, or due to boredom.
A: There is only Consciousness so, yes, you can regard the universe as Consciousness also. But don’t think of it as a ‘mass’, since that would imply a ‘lump’ of it existing in something else, and there is nothing else.
An interim teaching is that brahman ‘manifests’, and the ‘reasons’ for this are sometimes given as lIlA etc. But brahman does not do anything, need anything, know anything etc. That would be duality, wouldn’t it? Strictly speaking, if you are considering this, those qualities have to be applied to Ishvara – saguNa brahman; not brahman – nirguNa. At the level of the empirical world, you have to allow the existence of Ishvara. How you think of this is up to you. If you are happy with the concept of a God, that is fine. If not, think of it as the nexus of laws that govern how the universe operates. In reality (absolute), Ishvara as well as universe and jIva is only Consciousness/brahman. In reality, there has never been any creation. Continue reading
Q: Will an ‘upload’ be capable of giving mokSha to a computer? By ‘upload’ I am referring to the Science Fiction concept of scanning the contents of a human brain down to the quantum level, and then simulating that complex entity in a virtual environment. Ray Kurzweil is a key proponent who claims this will be possible sometime within the next few decades.
A: The mind is rather more than just data, and more than processing-software running on brain hardware. Although all these things are ultimately Consciousness alone, there has to be something there to reflect the light of Consciousness in order for a thing actually to become conscious. And it has to do this very well indeed before it can become self-conscious. And it has to do it brilliantly in order to gain mokSha! I don’t think uploads satisfy these criteria!
Q: I agree with your answer, but I suppose the answer will depend largely on the assumptions one makes in thinking through the problem. Can reflected consciousness arise in a silicon-based entity? Or only carbon-based creatures like ourselves? It’s actually a pretty stimulating question, and it touches on the ‘hard problem’ as defined by David Chalmers, etc. If you ever do get around to reading his book, he has an interesting thought experiment on the principle of organizational invariance, where neurons are one-by-one replaced with silicon equivalents. At what point does consciousness (which here would only be reflected) disappear in this process? Not asking for an answer from you – just wanted to mention this aspect of the question.
A: You are still assuming that consciousness relates to the gross body – replacing carbon with silicon. The mind is the subtle body in Advaita. Having said that, I see no reason why there should not be silicon-based life forms associated with subtle bodies elsewhere in the universe…
Q: Good point, thanks. It makes me wonder though, if the mind is the subtle body and doesn’t relate to the gross body/brain, then why is the subtle body affected at all when the brain becomes physically damaged? I was thinking in terms of reflected consciousness arising in the ‘mirror’ that consisted of gross + subtle body.
A: Good point, too. I guess the metaphor of computers does come into play here, the mind needing the hardware of the brain in order to manifest (better word than function, since it retains the autonomy of the subtle body, which is supposed to migrate to a new body after the death of the existing one).
Q: If I am daydreaming while otherwise consciously awake, meaning that I am caught up in a dreamlike narrative that is playing itself out while external sights or sounds are relegated to the background, is the daydream taking place in jAgrat or svapna? Is there, in other words, any overlap between the three avasthA-s?
A: Regarding intermediate states of consciousness, I have written a blog about this. Have a read and see if you still have any question – https://www.advaita-vision.org/states-of-consciousness-2-3-4-and-1-2/.
Q: Many Eastern traditions refer to what we think of as the waking state as a (subtle) dream. A dream in that things are not real in the sense that we think they are real. An elephant in a dream is dream-real, not waking-state-real. Similarly, an elephant in the waking state is not real in the sense we think it is either. It is a story, an interpretation, a creation of the mind.
Lucid wakefulness enables us to see this: that the waking-state elephant is just as un-real as the dream elephant. I see this as a third state of consciousness: not the default wakeful state, not the dream state, but the lucid wakeful state.
A: This highlights one of the principal problems of teaching advaita – use of language. Unless each key word is carefully defined and understood by the listener as was intended by the speaker, the ‘teaching’ will not work. Confusion and/or misunderstanding will result.
You know that there are three states – waking, dreaming and deep-sleep – and a non-dual reality, turIya. Any attempt to introduce further states can only confuse and will certainly not tally with traditional Advaita. Also, although waking and dream are both mithyA, waking is vyavahAra while dream is pratibhAsa – not the same! Try walking in front of a (waking) stampeding elephant if you don’t believe me!
Q: But… In order to see that dream objects are mithyA, you need to be looking from one level higher: the waking state. Similarly, in order to see that waking objects are mithyA, you need likewise to be looking from one level higher. This is what I’m calling lucid wakefulness.
How would it be described in traditional Advaita, this ‘ability’ to see that waking objects are mithyA? And totally, not just intellectually.
A: It’s called ‘Self-knowledge’ or (in modern terms) ‘enlightenment’. But it is still the waking state.
You (H). ‘…… perhaps we both ought accept that Planck was right: matter exists. Or are you saying that matter does not exist; is that really your position, Dr. M? Are you saying that not only is consciousness the substrate of matter and of the world, but that ultimately, matter and the world do not exist, and all that does exist (whatever that might mean within such a definition) is consciousness?……’
Me (M): A3. Plank was an empirical scientist with a philosophical bent. Was he a thoroughgoing or pure non-dualist? His position seems to be like yours, except when he adds (or is attributed to him): ‘non-duality implies the universality of consciousness. Concomitantly, it implies that consciousness is the ‘stuff’ everything is made of.” YES! Continue reading
M. … Of course, we know ‘we’ are primarily awareness where no distinctions whatsoever are valid, such as male/female. But something occurs to me just now, and is that prior even to the apparent multiplicity I mentioned above, and perhaps even more significant if not more real, is the presentation or exhibition in nature – amounting to a cosmological law – of the dichotomy or binary positive-negative, active-passive, static-dynamic, yang-yin, potentiality-actuality (this one an Aristotelian distinction). And, of course, male-female.
And, by extension or implication we have: angularity-roundness, left brain-right brain, etc. Someone I knew (a traditionalist or perennialist) wrote in one of his books that poetry is masculine and musicality and dance feminine… man is protector and woman nurturer; doctrine male, method female (in Buddhism it is the reverse, i.e. doctrine as prajna). Further, Sophia (wisdom) is female, represented by the goddesses Athena and Saraswati, also Minerva. And so on.
A final point: Is your metaphysical position, rather than pure non-duality, closer to the mitigated non-duality of Ramanuja (a great sage in the Indian philosophical tradition)? If so, who can find fault in that? Continue reading
H. ‘… as regards the somewhat artificial distinction (ontologically speaking) that I make between awareness and consciousness, then this is something I do of my own choosing, accepting that there is an objectless state of mind that cannot correctly be termed ‘consciousness’ as it is not ‘with knowledge’ of any kind. In its stricter, more formal sense, then in the language of Pali this would be one of the Arūpajhāna, as you may well know – i.e. neither perception nor non-perception. I often find myself in dispute with phenomenologists over whether an objectless awareness is possible. Although the (8th) Arūpajhāna itself is of course a very rarified state, the very fact that it is a state gives me – I hope – the liberty to introduce the idea of a Tabula Rasa of mind, and which, again due to the ubiquity of the term, I call ‘awareness’ for the purposes of creating a template for learning only. I do not consider it to be its own ontological category.’ Continue reading
(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: For the better part of four decades, I was on the hunt for spiritual experiences that would ‘expand my consciousness.’ I now realize and understand that only Self-Knowledge can provide lasting peace, and any experience is something that comes and goes in time and therefore can never be a permanent condition. However, I still find it very difficult to drop the search for a Big Bang event, after which I can safely say: “Ok, now I am enlightened for sure.”
What is confusing about this is that there are so many teachers who seem to have a pretty clear grasp of nondual teaching and still speak in terms of what happened during their awakening or enlightenment event. Francis Lucille, for example, talks about his experience in Eternity Now. (“For a few moments, the pure I-thought seemed to vacillate, just as the flame of an oil lamp running out of fuel, then vanished. At that precise moment, the immortal background of Presence revealed itself in all its splendor.”) Franklin Merrell-Wolff provides an amazingly clear description of the ‘Recognition’ events that happened to him after studying Shankara. Ken Wilber talks of having been consciously aware for 11 straight days, even through deep sleep, etc. Clearly, Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj both went through Big Bang type spiritual awakenings, and of course, there are numerous other similar reports by various sages and gurus. Continue reading