Q.456 The ‘hard’ problem

Q: Could you say something about the relationship between the ‘hard problem’ of consciousness in modern science and Advaita’s māyā?

A: Science’s problem is trying to explain how consciousness can ‘emerge’ from inert matter. Advaita’s problem is trying to explain how the world can emerge from Consciousness.

The concept of māyā is an interim explanation only. If it satisfies the listener and moves them forward towards accepting non-duality, then it has served its purpose. Ultimately, it is rejected by Advaita. There is only Consciousness. There cannot be Consciousness and a force called māyā.

Every(seeming)thing is non-dual Consciousness. There only seems to be separate things because our mind differentiates forms and gives them names. Just as in the clay-pot metaphor.

The concept of mithyā is better for ‘explaining’ the nature of the world. The world is not real ‘in itself’; it depends upon Consciousness for its existence just as the pot depends upon clay.

There is an essay – ‘Consciousness – not such a hard problem’ – on precisely this topic in my book ‘Western Philosophy Made Easy: A Personal Search for Meaning’.

Tidbits on Advaita

It appears that more and more people are taking to Non-duality as can be seen from the discussions on the social network platforms. One unfortunate fallout of this development is the absence of the rigor and purity of the Advaita message. Keeping in mind new beginners, I made three posts at a popular networking site. I thought of sharing them so that they may be useful for casual readers here and also to benefit myself from the comments/observations of the more senior followers of Advaita.

Post # 1. The Big “Me” and the small ‘me’:

It appears to me that there is some confusion in the concepts and usage of the two terms — the Big “Me” and the small ‘me’ in the Non-dual discussions.

I do not know about other Non-dual systems; but as far as Advaita goes, its doctrine explains these terms UNAMBIGUOUSLY.

It is quite popular in the West to suppose that all there is, is the Big Me alone. Hence, the theory seems to get extended to say that the apparent ‘me’ (the separate self) and the apparent world are also the “Me.” Therefore it’s all Oneness. That is NOT what Advaita says. Continue reading

‘Not Two’ – a Critical Review

On the face of it, this is a well-written and readable book, ideally suited for a new seeker. E.g. the sections on ‘The Illusory Nature of the Separate Self’ and ‘Knowledge Dispels Ignorance’ are excellent.

Unfortunately, should any reader accept everything that is written at its face value, they will come away with some serious confusions. In what follows, I apologize in advance for some of what may seem to be harsh criticisms, but my own perception of these points is heightened as a result of spending the last year writing my own work on ‘confusions’ of precisely this sort.

The author uses the traditional teaching method of adhyāropa-apavāda but it is not made clear when what is being said is only provisional. Also, there are very few references to the source of what is being presented. (And one of those that is provided doesn’t exist!) There are many places where the author writes ‘as Shankara said’ but scarcely a single pointer to where he said it. There are numerous places where I, as an informed reader, need those references before I will even consider what is being said to be credible!

Continue reading

Q.453 Consciousness is happiness?

Q: I have just read your book ‘How to meet yourself’. I am not sure if I understand what you mean when you say that “Consciousness is happiness” and that “I am happiness”. Since everything is an appearance within consciousness, wouldn’t happiness be just that? Why would we equate consciousness to happiness?

A: Before answering the question, it would be useful to note the difference between Consciousness and consciousness. Consciousness with as capital ‘C’ is used throughout in all of these answers to refer to Brahman, the non-dual reality. The mind is conscious because Consciousness is reflected by the mind. The body and mind are both inert in themselves. It is important not to confuse these terms.

The actual paragraph is:

“Fourthly, it would not be meaningful to talk about Consciousness being happy or unhappy. Being complete and without limitations of any sort, it is more appropriate to say that Consciousness is happiness. This, then, is an aspect of my true nature. Since I am Consciousness, there is nothing that I need, nothing to be achieved, nowhere to which I have to get. I am already perfect and complete – I am happiness”.

Continue reading

The Colossus

 Historically (perhaps (?) since the days of Prof. Max Muller and Dr. George Thibet), the Sanskrit word ‘brahman‘ is rendered into English as Consciousness which is ‘caitanya.’ ‘brahman‘ is derived from the root “bRh” which means very huge. The derivation can take many forms like:

bRihatvAt – unimaginably Infinite in expansiveness;

brahmaNatvAt – encloses everything within Itself (all-inclusive);

barhaNatvAt – deliquesces [assimilates (absorbs/dissolves) all into Itself.]

Possibly “Colossus” may have been better or a more appropriate translation for brahman, IMHO, because Consciousness captures only one aspect of brahman, the other two being Beingness and Bliss (going by the popular “sat-cit-Ananda“).

Vedanta offers us three unique prakriyA-s (processes) to ‘understand each of the three aspects of brahman, as follows: Continue reading

Q.449 Definition of Consciousness

Q: Do you have the perfect definition of Consciousness as per Advaita Vedanta?

A: Traditional Advaita prefers to use ‘Brahman’ as referring to the absolute reality, although the aitareya upaniShad says ‘praj~nAnaM brahma’, which is translated as ‘Consciousness is Brahman’. Probably the most famous ‘definition’ (as far as that is possible) is the one in the Taittiriya Upanishad (2.1.1): satyam j~nAnam anantam brahma – Brahman is real/truth/existence – knowledge/consciousness – limitless.

And in 3.1.2, the same Upanishad says that one should strive to know that from which all these beings are born, that in which they live and exist, and that to which they return – that is Brahman.

Brahman is the sRRiShTi sthiti laya kAraNa – the cause of the creation, maintenance and destruction of everything.

And so on! There are lots of ‘pointers’ but no definition as such, as explained in the answers above.

Q: Maybe I’m asking about consciousness with a lower case ‘c’ – I just want to know how you would define that word.

A: Nothing special here. The Sanskrit word is ‘chit’. Swami Dayananda’s definition is ‘limitless self-effulgent awareness; the self-revealing’. The book ‘A-U-M’ tells you all about the ‘states of consciousness’ and that their ‘substratum’ is turIya. See the article I wrote about ‘states’ of consciousness (https://www.advaita-vision.org/states-of-consciousness-2-3-4-and-1-2/).

Consciousness, brahman and mokSha

The taittirIya Upanishad explains brahman as:

सत्यं ज्ञानमनन्तं ब्रह्म ।  — 2.1.1, taittirIya upa.

[Beingness, Knowingness and Infiniteness is brahman.]

Unending Beingness and Knowingness is the nature of brahman.

There are two endpoints for anything in this world — one is the beginning and the other is the ending. But brahman, The Knowingness, as the Upanishad says is Infinite, without limitations or edges or endpoints. It has neither a beginning (origination) nor an end (culmination).

From a common sense point of view, it may be argued that “Knowingness” cannot exist on Its own in the absence of a knower and something to be known. Can Knowingness ‘be’ in a vacuum? Is Its presence not dependent on a knower who would have been the locus for It? In the usual parlance, knowingness is that which interlinks the ‘knower’ with the ‘known.’ With the two end-members being absent, can ‘Knowingness’ exist on its own independent of the other two? Continue reading

Q.495 ahiMsA

Q: Lord krishna advises Arjuna that Anatma alone is killed. Can meat eaters extend the argument to their killing for food?

A: Matter is anAtma and is inert. It depends for its existence on Brahman.

All life forms manifest Consciousness to some degree. Man is unique in having an intellect that ‘reflects’ Consciousness, enabling self-awareness.

Everything is brahman, being just name and form. Nothing is ever born in reality. Nothing can be ‘killed’ in the sense of destroying Consciousness, which is eternal and unchanging. It is only anAtma that can change its form but it cannot be destroyed either (c.f. conservation of mass-energy).

Within the context of that understanding, therefore, it is a question of ethics, custom, upbringing and so on that dictates one’s attitude to the ‘right to life’ of the various species. Man has to eat to maintain the body and everything that is eaten for that purpose either is or has been alive.

The topic of ahiMsA is key to Jain and Buddhist philosophies. It is not a particular issue in Advaita. Its mention in the Gita is probably rather due to its significance for Yoga philosophy.

Kubera’s Search for The Self:

 [The world and everything in it are imaginary (mithya) ‘names and forms’! Therefore, tradition depicts Ishwara as a pauper because he does not possess any worldly wealth. However, he transcends the worldly objects and is said to be an embodiment of the Self. In contrast, Kubera possessed a lot of worldly treasures, a collection of mere names and forms, but lacked the real wealth of Self-knowledge. So, he sought guidance from Ishwara.]

Lord Ishwara was holding court in Kailasha. His consort and both his sons were also seated with him. There were several nobles and other gods in attendance. The gurgling flow of the Ganges from the matted hair of the Lord and the chirping of the birds and other creatures around were sounding like a background drone reciting the name of Shiva-Shiva-Shiva. The God of Riches, Kubera, famous for his wealth, came to meet Ishwara. He bowed to the Lord and worshiped him as per the tradition. Kubera had a deep philosophical question and posed the same to Ishawara requesting the Lord to relieve him from the doubt. Continue reading

Q.492 Consciousness and consciousness

Q: Shankara often wrote the descriptor “pure Consciousness” to point to Brahman.
1. What does “pure Consciousness” have to do with conventional consciousness, as in “I’m conscious of this or that?” Does chidabhasa explain it?

A: chidAbhAsa is the best metaphor, I think, (it is pratibimba vAda and associated with vivaraNa). The other main one is avachCheda vAda, associated with bhAmatI, which uses the idea of upAdhi-s. Consciousness (big ‘C’) is typically used to refer to non-dual reality; ‘c’onsciousness is the manifestation of ‘C’onsciousness in the mind of man.

2. Is there a difference between Consciousness (as-if paramartha level) and existence?

A: As you know (!) you cannot define or say anything objective about Consciousness. Ideally  you should read the long Shankara commentary on satyam j~nAnam anantam brahma in Taittiriya Upanishad 2.1. That explains how such ‘descriptions’ work. The adjectives qualify-support-limit each other so that you do not take any single one as in any way a descriptive attribute. If you want, you could say that Brahman is limitless-existence-consciousness. But at the pAramArthika level, you cannot say anything at all about Brahman!

3. If there is a difference, which is more fundamental: Consciousness or existence? I.e. which gives rise to which? Why (not the other way)?

A: I cannot really add anything to the previous answer.