Q (from Quora): Why do I have this fear? How can I solve it? For as long as I can remember I’ve been afraid of going unconscious because I lose control. Even though I know that, when I fall asleep, I always wake up some hours later.
A (Martin): I have made a life-long search for the meaning and reality of ‘myself’ and the world.
Apart from the advice (and different diagnoses) given by others, I am thinking of something else, which has a psychological as well as a philosophical side to it, and it is not just fear of death, but fear of self-annihilation, emptiness, or void where there is no longer an experience of selfhood, of continuity (“what if I don’t wake up?”).
This can of course become an obsession – an existential angst – one of the worst kind. A sensitive child may (I experienced it) entertain the idea of nothingness, including that of *me/myself*, that is, my very personal, intimate consciousness not existing or vanishing into nothingness. It may or may not be associated with the thought “Why is there something (a world) rather than nothing?”
If that strikes a chord – and it is a question of temperament and inclination – there is an answer, which can be obtained at the end of a lengthy, arduous journey: ‘Know thyself’, as it was written on the frontispiece of the oracle of Delphos in ancient Greece. After a lifelong search, I found the most complete, satisfying answer in Advaita Vedanta. According to this philosophy or discipline deep sleep is the most blessed state short of full awakening – that is, awakening from the ‘darkness’ of the awake state and its narrow ego-centered vision shot through with doubt and suffering.
सुषुप्तस्थानः प्राज्ञो मकारस्तृतीया मात्र मितेरपीतेवर मिनोति ह वा इदं सर्वमपीतिश्च भव्ति य एवं वेद॥ ११॥
suShuptasthAnaH prAj~no makArastRRitIyA mAtra miterapItervA minoti ha vA idaM sarvamapItishcha bhavati ya evaM veda || 11 ||
tRRitIyA mAtra – The third mAtra (of OM) makAra – the letter ‘m‘ prAj~na – (is) prAj~na suShupta sthAnaH – the deep-sleep state miteH – because (it is like) a ‘measure’ va – or apIteH – on account of absorption.
ya evaM veda – Whosoever knows this ha vai – verily minoti sarvam – measures everything cha bhavati – and becomes apItiH – (one who) understands.
The letter m, the third mAtra of OM, is prAj~na, the deep-sleep state because both have the characteristic of a measure and are as though absorbed into the final part. Whoever knows this will be able to assimilate and comprehend everything.
Any Advaitin worth their salt knows that the dichotomy of subject-object is not transcended by the unsupported mind, which in itself is inert.
Empirical experience seems to be undeniable, and with it that polarity, but one knows from Shankara – and only from Shankara – that it is based on ignorance, that is, failing to distinguish between the Self and the intellect or mind, which leads to the superimposition of either one on the other. Thus, the non-dual and undifferentiated Self – alone real – appears to be an agent and a knower, whereas, in reality, It is a ‘witness’ (a witness that is none other than pure Consciousness); and It is so by Its mere presence, not actively. The dichotomy referred to above does not exist – in reality
Q: What is reality in the absence of consciousness? (Someone responded: ‘I’m beginning to be convinced that in the absence of consciousness, there is nothing. Can anyone shed some light on this?“
A (Martin): That is an impossible, or a self-defeating, question. If there were no consciousness in the world, you could not write that sentence. What is more, no communication would be possible (books, newspapers, radio, etc.). Still more, no life and no evolution of life, because life depends on the communication of information (DNA, neuronal synapses, etc.), which itself derives from what is no less than a conscious universe. There is no need to believe in a personal (anthropomorphic) god to have this understanding or realization.
It is the same if we say, ‘absence of intelligence’. It is consciousness/intelligence which originates the universe and inheres in it. In Dante’s words, “l’Amore che muove il sole e l’altre stelle” (the Love which moves the sun and the other stars) – and that is so because without love there is no life, Love being a synonym of Being and of Light. The supreme triad is Being-Consciousness-Will, or Being-Consciousness-Bliss (or Beauty). — And Beauty and Love are the same.
A not-too-serious look at the state of AI vis-à-vis Advaita prompted by Martin’s post
It is perfectly understandable that we humans should think that only we have the necessary evolutionary complexity to be able to exhibit self-awareness. But scientists (presumably not human…) seem to think otherwise.
Traditionally, the test for self-awareness has been the ability to realize that it is our own body that we see in a mirror – the MSR, Mirror Self-recognition test. The scientist puts the animal-under-test to sleep and then makes a very visible mark on its face. When it wakes up, it is given a mirror to see if it realizes it is seeing a reflection and tries to remove the mark from its own face, or whether it tries to kill the intruder. According to Wikipedia, other species that have passed this test include “the great apes, a single Asiatic elephant, rays, dolphins, orcas, the Eurasian magpie, and the cleaner wrasse”.
Modern science still argues that consciousness arises as a result of interoperation of various parts of the brain (under the banner of the ‘neural correlates of consciousness’ or NCC), when it reaches a certain level of complexity. Ramesam will know lots more about this.
We are in the midst of a technological civilization or culture the consequences of which at long range are unpredictable; a future where technological growth could become uncontrollable and irreversible, resulting in unforeseeable changes to human civilization. This conditioning would bring about an ‘explosion’ in intelligence resulting in a powerful superintelligence that qualitatively far surpasses all human intelligence. This change or event has been called a ‘technological singularity’, as a result of which, it is stipulated, the human race could not continue.
What follows is an exchage on the ‘Quora’ forum from Oct. 2015 – anticipating today’s current concerns by over 7 years. The question asked was: “Could the technological singularity occur without computers ever becoming conscious?” And the following are comments by David Eager (Zen seeker, metaphysical tweaker) and myself.
नान्तःप्रज्ञं न बहिष्प्रज्ञं नोभयतःप्रज्ञं न प्रज्ञानघनं न प्रज्ञं नाप्रज्ञम् ।अदृष्टमव्यवहार्यमग्राह्यमलक्षणमचिन्त्यमव्यपदेश्यमेकात्मप्रत्ययसारं प्रपञ्चोपशमं शान्तं शिवमाद्वैतं चतुर्थं मन्यन्ते स आत्मा स विज्ञेयः ॥ ७ ॥
nAntaHpraj~naM na bahiShpraj~naM nobhayataHpraj~naM na praj~nAnaghanaM na praj~naM nApraj~nam |adRRiShTamavyavahAryamagrAhyamalakShaNamachintyamavyapadeshyamekAtmapratyayasAraM prapa~nchopashamaM shAntaM shivamAdvaitaM chaturthaM manyante sa AtmA sa vij~neyaH || 7 ||
This (consciousness) is known as the ‘fourth’. (It is) neither (the knower of) the internal (world), nor the external. Neither (is it the knower of) both. (And it is) not (just) a ‘mass’ of consciousness. (It is) not consciousness (in the empirical sense of conscious ‘of’) nor (is it) unconsciousness. (It is) imperceptible, transaction-less, not ‘graspable’, un-inferable, unthinkable, and indescribable. (It is) the essential ‘I’-experience. (It is) the negation of the experience of all plurality of the universe. (It is) pure, tranquility, and non-dual. This is the Self. This is to be understood.
This 7th mantra is possibly the single most important mantra in the whole of the Vedic scriptures; it attempts to ‘describe’ the nature of absolute reality, knowing that such description is intrinsically impossible.
Perhaps it may not be far from truth to say that many people hold the idea that the world is an “appearance” and the real “substance” behind is the featureless and formless ‘brahman.’ Several teachers too pronounce that ‘The world is the manifest form of brahman.’ It is presented that ‘brahman‘ is “the ‘as-though’ kAraNa” (cause) and the world is the kArya (effect).
“Most religions stop with a [that] description of the creator as pertaining to the intelligent cause for the universe. vedAnta goes one step further to define Ishvara as not only the intelligent cause or nimittakAraNa, but also the material cause or upAdAna kAraNa as well. We thus have an improved definition for Ishvara as ‘jagat kAraNam IshvaraH’, where kAraNam or cause involves undifferentiable intelligent and material cause (abhinna nimitta upAdAna kAraNa).” [Please see here] Continue reading →
Q: Do the Upaniṣads talk about or mention mithyā? If not, why not, when Advaita seems to speak so much about it?
A: The absolute ‘bottom line’ of Advaita is as expressed by Māṇḍūkya Up. and Gauḍapāda’s kārikā-s, namely that there is no creation, no one has ever been born etc. Māṇḍūkya 7 is the final word on the matter:
“This (consciousness) is known as the ‘fourth’. (It is) neither (the knower of) the internal (world), nor the external. Neither (is it the knower of) both. (And it is) not (just) a ‘mass’ of consciousness. (It is) not consciousness (in the empirical sense of conscious ‘of’) nor (is it) unconsciousness. (It is) imperceptible, transaction-less, not ‘graspable’, un-inferable, unthinkable, and indescribable. (It is) the essential ‘I’-experience. (It is) the negation of the experience of all plurality of the universe. (It is) pure, tranquility, and non-dual. This is the Self. This is to be understood.”
Consequently, anything in experience (i.e. dualistic) cannot be real. Yet we DO experience the world. Therefore, it has to be mithyā. No need to specifically talk about it. Gaudapada does, in fact, in Chapter 2, which is called ‘Vaitathya Prakaraṇa’. Vaitathya is essentially a synonym for mithyā. (My book ‘A-U-M’ is all about this – https://www.advaita.org.uk/extracts/a_u_m_unreal.html).
Ṥaṅkara also talks about it in BSB 1.4.19; 2.1.14; bhāṣya on Mand. Up. 7; Gaud. kārikā 4.9 and Vivekacūḍāmaṇi 194 -5 (ish).
The distinction between paramārtha and vyavahāra is also effectively another way of talking about mithyā. Vyavahāra is ‘appearance’, whose substantive reality is actually Brahman. Every discussion about ‘name and form’ as opposed to reality is about mithyā, whether or not the word is used.
And so it goes on, in a sense, throughout the book. Is this confusing? At first it may seem so, but by really reading what the teacher says, really understanding what the meaning of the distinction is, and what is true in the ultimate sense (which means not being able to separate anymore because the ‘substance’ that makes up the objects being noticed as such), you will be able to see the value of this dance. If you never have noticed consciousness itself (often rightly capitalized as ‘Consciousness’) because it is never an object, it is very useful that you are being pointed out that consciousness itself can indeed be recognized and realized. Without being pointed out, it is possible that you keep looking over consciousness itself because of your habituation to objects. Atmananda himself says the following about the apparent two approaches:
During the period of preliminary investigations in the study of Vedanta, you are asked to try to separate body and mind from the ‘I’-Principle. It is only to make you understand the relative values of the terms. Such a separation is not really possible; because, separated from the ‘I’-Principle, the other two do not exist at all. Therefore they are really nothing but the ‘I’-Principle. Vedanta asks you only to recognize this Truth.
From the position of Consciousness one can say that everything else is not. But from no position can you say that Consciousness is not. Because one has to be conscious of the Truth of that very statement before making it. Therefore Consciousness stands as the background of even that statement.
Hence even the statement that ‘Consciousness is not’ only proves that Consciousness IS. Therefore Consciousness is self-luminous and permanent.8