Consciousness

I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.
– Max Planck

(X): Non-dualism is not something that can be understood in any formulation of words, and at best one can approach it conceptually only perhaps by means of negation, meaning by specifying what it is not.

A1. All doctrines and teachings are necessarily couched in language, which is a system of symbols. All concepts are just pointers (e.g. ‘pointing at the moon’), including those of Nonduality (ND). So it is not only negation — I think you will agree. I also referred myself to superimposition followed by rescission as a method of gradual understanding taught in Advaita Vedanta. The final end is doing away with language once final understanding has been reached, that is, once there are no further doubts or questions.

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Q.520 Perception and the witness

Q: How can the mind perceive something which is outside of time, when the mind itself is caught in time like a prisoner? Perception in itself is a movement in time so how can mind even claim to perceive the concept of Brahman and say that Brahman is eternal?

A: The mind cannot perceive anything ‘outside of time’. As you say, perception occurs within time (and space). And, more to the point, that which you perceive is also within time and space. Thus, you can never perceive Brahman. But conceptions are not quite the same. The concept itself is in the mind, which is also limited. But what is conceived is not limited. You can conceive of a unicorn with no problem at all, even though you also know that they do not really exist. Scientists also conceived of black holes, long before any proof was found for their existence – and still no one has ‘really’ perceived such a thing.

But perhaps the simplest way of thinking about it is to consider deeply who you actually are. It is possible to eliminate body, sense organs, mind, and anything else that you can think of as ‘not I’. But it is not possible to eliminate the one who is doing this. There has to be an ‘ultimate subject’ after everything else has been eliminated. That is who you really are and that is Brahman.

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Consciousness and the world

What is the scriptural basis for Advaita consciousness being an awareness preceding the universe?

That’s an ‘easy’ one. 1)  Consciousness and awareness are the same for Advaita Vedanta. 2) Atman-brahman, or Consciousness, is the sole reality – the universe is, in essence, not other than Atman (Consciousness or ‘Spirit’). 3) Consequently, there is no creation – no causation, including space and time, which, like everything else, are phenomena, appearances.

Mundaka Upanishad 2.1.10: ‘the world is brahman alone’. 

K 3.18. In this karika Gaudapada demonstrates that creation is only apparent because reality is unchangeable (and it is taught that the effect is not other than the cause).

Katha Up. 2.1.10: ‘Whoever sees difference between what is here (individual Atman/’soul’) and what is there (brahman) goes from death to death’.

Brihadaranyaka Up. 2.5.19: ‘The supreme being is perceived as manifold on account of Maya’ (magic).

Taittiriya Up. 2.6: ‘Brahman, which is the absolute reality, became reality (satya) and unreality/appearance (asatya)’. That is, the cause itself appears as various effects due to superimposition, which is itself the core, or definition, of ignorance (avidya). Cf. Tai. 2.6, Chandogya Up. 2.8.4, and Bhavagad Gita 4.13 and 13.2.

Q.516 World outside of perception

Q: According to science, there was a world prior to humans where there were no living, conscious things. If nothing can exist independently of consciousness like Advaita suggests, then how could there have been a world prior to a perceiver? If there was no sentient being to experience the Big Bang, how could it have possibly existed?

A: Your questions relate to the apparent creation. The final teaching of Advaita is that there is no creation – there is only the non-dual Brahman. This means that the entire teaching of Advaita is interim only since it takes place in what is only empirical reality.

Having said this, the traditional teaching says that the creation, maintenance and dissolution of the universe is ‘managed’ by Ishvara, using the ‘power’ of mAyA. This means that He governs all of the laws that relate to creation and the jIva-s who inhabit it. Now you have to realize that science has ‘advanced’ significantly since the time of the Vedas. While they speak of the raw elements being space, earth, water, fire and air, we have a somewhat more complex cosmology! And I don’t think it is particularly fruitful to try to map one onto the other. Science can never explain Consciousness so is of no value in trying to understand the nature of reality.

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Ramanuja vs Shankara

Who would win in an argument between Ramanujacharya and Shankaracharya?

As non-duality can be said to go beyond, and at the same time enclose duality within itself, we can also say that Shankara, being a non-dualist philosopher, goes beyond and ‘incorporates’ Ramanuja, that is, the latter’s philosophy (it has been said: a jñani understands a bhakta, not vice versa).

Ramanuja took the ego (psychological self) as being the Self, an error for an Advaitin. For the former, destruction of the ego (“me”) will thus entail the destruction of the Self. For an Advaitin, the ego or subtle body (mind, senses, and vital breath) dissolves when the body dies – not so awareness or pure consciousness.

From the viewpoint of Advaita Vedanta, ‘consciousness’ is another name for reality/being/existence: all there is or that can be (all possibilities of existence). Neither ‘subject’ nor ‘object’, it annihilates this (mental) division, as well as sublating all concepts.

Or, as Francis Lucille, a well-known teacher wrote: ‘Simply put, non-dualism is the hypothesis that reality is non-dual, that there is only one single reality which is the substance of all things, of all phenomena, both mind and matter. If that is true, it follows that the reality of our ordinary consciousness, meaning whatever is really perceiving these words at this moment, must be this non-dual, single, and universal reality.’

Shankara said:

‘An enlightened person, after his death, does not undergo a change of condition – something different than when he was living. But he is said to be “merged in Brahman” just due to his not being connected to another body.’ Quoted from ‘The Method of Early Advaita Vedanta’, Michael Comans.

Is Advaita a trap?

Yes, it is a trap for individual mind – that is, the mind that considers itself a separate and independent individual, a doer and enjoyer. After usually many years of seriously studying Advaita (emphasis on ‘seriously’) with full force and dedication, it may dawn on that mind that the belief described above was actually a trap and a lie. Realizing this, by a stroke of magic as it were (so one might think without straying much from the truth), BINGO! you are free… free from the mind’s doubts, fears, hopes, projections, and tribulations. You then realize that only universal consciousness (a.k.a awareness) is true, and that that is what You are —the quotidian mind has disappeared, become no-mind, that is, pure unalloyed consciousness.

Q.515 Mechanism of chidAbhAsa

Q: There seems to be two ways to understand the mechanism of chidābhāsa:

1. Light (brahman) is reflected off the mind and illuminates objects so they can be seen and experienced.

2. Light reflects off objects and is refracted through the prism of the mind.

I’m guessing that 1 is preferred, because 2 assumes that there are objects for the light (brahman) to reflect off, whereas 1 implies that the objects are only ‘there’ because of the mind?

A: Each of the ‘explanations’ in Advaita is really just to move you a bit closer to the realization that there is only Brahman (and, consequently, you are That). You shouldn’t attempt to ‘join’ them together and try to make one ‘explanation’ ‘explain’ another.

As far as the ‘mechanism’ of perception is concerned, you certainly should not attempt to join an Advaita understanding with a scientific one! According to Advaita, Consciousness itself forms a vRRitti at the location of the object instantaneously (since Consciousness is everywhere). The speed of light, normally considered an inviolable restriction regarding visual perception, just isn’t relevant. Read Chittaranjan Naik’s book ‘Natural Realism and Contact Theory of Perception: Indian Philosophy’s Challenge to Contemporary Paradigms of Knowledge’ if you are interested. (I wrote a review of it at Amazon also.) Buy from Amazon US ; Buy from Amazon UK

Shankara does reference vācārambhaṇa shruti from Chandogya regarding our imposing name and form on Brahman but he also talks about Ishvara creating the universe. You really need to be aware of both and use whichever is appropriate! It is certainly true to say that, without the mind, you would not be aware of anything!

Swami Dayananda Interview (conclusion)

The following is the conclusion of an interview with Swami Dayananda Saraswati, conducted by John LeKay for Nonduality Magazine. That site is no longer available and the article was submitted by Dhanya. It is in three parts. Read Part 1

NDM: There are many modern advaita teachers out there today. Some of them communicate by silence or by looking into others’ eyes. Is it possible to communicate Vedanta by silence?           

            Swamiji: If Vedanta by silence, Kena Upanisad will be one page, empty. Brihadaranyaka Upanisad will be 50 pages total, empty – empty pages – by silence.           

            If you ask a question, and I am silent and look into your eyes, what will you do? You have to look into my eyes. If I don’t blink, you have to close your eyes. Because you get embarrassed, you close your eyes.           

            And then you have to think. Whatever question you asked disappears, or you try to find some answer, some something. That’s not an answer to the question. You get whatever answer you can get from your own interpretation. Each one gets his own answer.     

            Somebody asks me, “What is God?” I sit there. (Then Swamiji sits still staring straight ahead for a long time and everyone begins to laugh.)       

I have practiced this for a long time (laughter) without blinking. So what answer you will get? Each one will get his own answer, that’s all. If silence is the answer, we won’t have Upanisad.           

            With all the teaching, if people don’t understand, where is the question of silence? (Laughter)

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The brain and consciousness

Original questioner, a Doctor, training in psychiatry: What does the brain do after we die, how long does it stay conscious?

A (Marcus Geduld, Shakespearean director, computer programmer, teacher, writer, likes dinosaurs.) Answered Nov 24, 2014 : Nothing happens to it. It’s dead. ‘Switched off.’ That’s basically the definition of death—when your brain totally stops functioning. This question is kind of like asking how long a radio keeps on playing when it’s switched off.

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Substance, Substratum and Show

Yes, the entire superstructure of the edifice of Advita Vedanta is built on three words –‘Substance, Substratum and Show (or Appearance).’ These three words are very basic to its logic. All further development of its concepts, definitions and finer and more complex definitions of the doctrine depend on what the trio of words – Substance, Substratum and Show (or Appearance) – conveys.

Therefore, it is of utmost necessity that a student of Advaita should first have a clear and unambiguous grasp of what these words (or rather their equivalents in the original Sanskrit language) mean. Even a hair width of lack of clarity in understanding these three innocently looking words can lead to disproportionately disastrous misconceptions and misinterpretations of what Advaita is all about!

Let us first look at what any simple English dictionary gives the meaning of these three words to be. Starting there will help us appreciate better what the Sanskrit equivalents connote and how an aura of technicality surrounds those words when we use them in Advaita Vedanta. Continue reading