Q (From Quora): As a doctor, what did you learn in medical school that is forever etched in your brain?
A (Martin): In my 1st year of medical school, I read a footnote in ‘Samson Wright’ (the best book on physiology at the time and for many years) something that – to this day – continues to be a nostrum from the side of science but that I never fully accepted: (Referring to the workings of organs) ‘in science, we don’t talk of purpose, only of function’ — as if ‘function’ does not imply ‘purpose/intelligence’, an intelligence that is built into nature, of which the operation of the kidneys, liver, brain, etc. is proof.
From the perspective of Advaita Vedanta, purpose, function, are at most superimpositions on the one reality (Brahman, to give it a name) pertaining to the empirical realm. Cannot one affirm, though, that intelligence is not just an anthropomorphic quality built into or added to existence, but something inherent in being/existence itself – sat, chit – despite admitting that the ultimate (Brahman) is attributeless? Then sat-chit-ananda is/are the least, or the most, that can be said about the ultimate reality.
The reification of ignorance or the One-percent Brigade
There has recently been a brief spate of posts relevant to this topic on the Advaitin List. I rarely post there these days for fear of getting involved in long arguments with members committed to opposing views. But, after someone claimed that 99% of Advaitins accepted that ‘ignorance’ was a really existent entity, I posted to assert my membership of the ‘1% Brigade’, explaining that “I mainly wanted to reassure those readers who were dismayed to think that they were in the 1% and apparently did not understand Advaita!”
What I said was: “(In volume 2 of ‘Confusions’), one of the aspects that I specifically address is the notion of avidyā as a really existent entity and I am afraid that I have to conclude, using reason and common sense, as well as the quotations, that what is meant by ‘ignorance’ is simply ‘lack of knowledge’. Essentially, it is a language problem. So, yes, there is certainly ignorance in the deep-sleep state, simply because the mind is resolved and incapable of having knowledge about anything. But there is no mūlāvidyā, I’m afraid. And I hope that many will be convinced if they read all of the arguments.”
Q: What does this mean: You can’t experience brahman, but everything you experience is brahman?
A (ChatGPT): This statement is an expression of the non-dual nature of reality as understood in Hindu philosophy, particularly in the Advaita Vedanta tradition.
According to this view, Brahman is the ultimate reality that underlies all existence. It is an unchanging, infinite and eternal principle that is beyond all concepts and categories. However, because of the limitations of our minds and senses, we cannot directly experience Brahman as an object or as a concept.
Despite this, everything we experience is seen as an expression or manifestation of Brahman. In other words, all the objects and phenomena we encounter in the world around us are ultimately a reflection of the underlying reality of Brahman. In this sense, everything we experience can be seen as a kind of pointer or signpost that can lead us towards a deeper understanding of the nature of reality.
Thus, the statement “You can’t experience Brahman, but everything you experience is Brahman” is a way of expressing the non-dual nature of reality, in which the ultimate reality is both beyond all experience and yet present in everything we experience. It suggests that while we may not be able to directly experience Brahman as an object, we can still recognize its presence in the world around us and use that recognition as a means of coming to a deeper understanding of the nature of reality.
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.
Q: Does the phrase satyam j~nAnam anantam brahma means truth-knowledge limitless or Existence-consciousness limitless? (The latter is the definition given by Swami Dayananda in one of the summer camp tapes.)
A: Strictly speaking, sat means real, existence or being; sattA means being or existence; satya means truth or being. If you look up ‘existence’, you will probably find asti or astitvam. If you look up ‘sat’ in Monier-Williams, one of the meanings is ‘that which really is, entity or existence, essence, the true being or really existent’. If you look up ‘sattva’, you get ‘being, existence, entity, reality, true essence’.
So the answer is that both are used in either context and there is no clear meaning associated with either (and I have come across both being used in both meanings. I am fairly sure that Swami D has used both to mean ‘existence’ and both to mean ‘truth’. Sanskrit is a very versatile language! (But, if you ever come across me using it clearly in one way and Swami D using it in another, take Swamiji’s meaning! He knew Sanskrit inside out; I don’t!) Continue reading →
You could equally have asked: Why do stones and trees… the earth, the universe exist? There is no answer to any of those questions – other than by the various theologies. Existence is, and is the way it is, how it is – it is a given. No reasons can be given, in the same way that we cannot find a meaning to it all.
But we can assert with confidence that there is intelligence in the world, in the universe and, by extension, in all it contains; intelligence is participated in by all beings. By persistent questioning, it is possible to find an answer as to what is the nature of the universe, of existence, and of ‘me’. That answer is both personal and impersonal. Find out what the rishis of old revealed, which goes way beyond religion. Continue reading →
S. Again, you keep jumping into unfounded conclusions about Brahman and consciousness. These are your beliefs. We all have them. Reduction is not the same as truth or fact. It is an assumption. Our assumptions are often wrong (not the end of the world). You introduce two elements that are distinctly Indian in origin, Brahman, which you say is the ultimate reality, and consciousness, which you say can be objectless.
I don’t see how you can separate these things from the totality of phenomenon. When you reduce this to a single truth, you automatically elevate it into a hierarchical model and that highest element is Monism. Why do you insist on separating things out? The universe does not work like that, it is only our minds that are attempting to do so. The struggle of mind to sort out what doesn’t need sorting is where duality resides. Continue reading →
‘How many of you agree with the theory that our consciousness ends when we die?’
A commentator: (There’s of course nothing called ‘Soul’ of a person that goes on to live forever in afterlife. I’m an atheist. I person believe that when we die, our brain and the entire body shuts down, and we meet an end. Those of us who experienced anesthesia knows how it feels when our brains are inactive.)
M. I for one do not agree. Bodies decay and die not so consciousness. The whole is greater than the part, and that whole can be called ‘life’, ‘existence’, or ‘consciousness’ – none of it reducible to the physical or material. All bipolar concepts, such as life-death, good-bad, one-many, mind-body, ‘you and I’ (‘me and the other’) are false in themselves– just concepts. There is only totality (‘what is’), namely, existence or being – not many existences (existents), but one existence; not many loves, but one Love . And all of us are in essence, that is, in reality, existence and love – they are not ‘two’ (love being Plato’s ‘higher Eros’ or desire) once plurality is ‘seen’ for what it is: a deception or narrow vision. Continue reading →
Q: Based on your own search and discoveries over all of these years, and the writing of all of the books and blogs, if you had to summarize all of this, the truth of life, what would you say?
A: Not sure what you are looking for here. My ‘personal’ view is surely not important and I could scarcely find any better summary than Shankara’s. Anyway, I spent an hour thinking about it (while washing up and vacuuming) and here is my one line summary:
The form does not matter – it is the substance that is important.
Q: How do we know that energy/matter is Consciousness and not just what it is as energy/matter? And why does it matter? Can’t Consciousness just be what it is by itself and simply aware?
A: Energy and matter are both objects of experience. They are transient and finite, changing one into the other and ultimately ending in Absolute zero. Consciousness is the non-dual, unchanging, eternal and infinite reality.
It does not matter from the standpoint of absolute reality. It does not even matter to most jIva-s, since they just get on with the usual pleasure-seeking aims. It matters to one who is seeking Self-knowledge.
Consciousness DOES just be what it is (there is nothing else) but is not ‘aware’ in the usual meaning of the word, since there is nothing else of which to be aware. Continue reading →
Reality is that which never changes; that which is the only existent, conscious ‘thing’, which lacks nothing and is limitless. Every, seeming ‘thing’ in creation is, on the other hand, transient and limited.
But this view of (pointer to) reality is not the only viable view, right? I mean viable in general, not within the Advaita worldview.
Couldn’t we say, instead, that reality is whatever happens to exist, in this moment, in the consciousness of the beholder? Reality as qualia, as subjective experience. In which case every seeming thing that exists in the moment is real (in the moment).
Or that reality is change, is transformation?
Or that reality is a concept that points to ___________ (the mystery)?