Q.490 Consciousness and the Brain

Q: My question is one I can’t seem to clarify through any book, teacher or teaching:

How do we know that the brain isn’t responsible for consciousness? While we can observe mind with all of it’s contents as objects and then say we cannot be that which we observe, how can we be sure that there is not just some part of the brain which does the observing that is giving us this ability to watch thought? How does Vedanta address this? How can we know that the brain isn’t simply the one observing all phenomena?

Side note: I lost consciousness once due to a fall and blacked out, and all I can say is that there was complete absence of being and no one there to be aware of the non-beingness. No observer nor observed. Beyond no-thing. Absolutely no experience beyond the concept of the word. Continue reading

AtmA anubhava / anubhUti:

Telugu is a very ancient Indian language that has its roots in Sanskrit. The total number of the letters as well as the letters in the Alphabets of  both the languages are the same. Almost 90 % of the nouns and adjectives in Telugu come from Sanskrit. Moreover, any of the Sanskrit words can be translated into Telugu easily by adopting the Telugu equivalents of the “case” suffixes (vibhakti pratyaya-s).

With all the above given, however, when I was rendering into English some of the Vedantic texts, I found to my dismay, that over time, the meanings of the some of the words in Telugu got transformed into a different sense than the exact phonetically sounding original Sanskrit word! It was a task for me as a Telugu speaker to get instilled into my brain that a particular Sanskrit word, though the same as in Telugu, connotes a different meaning than what I am accustomed to. Continue reading

Q.489 Creation and reincarnation

Q: Is Ishvara/mAyA the one responsible for the form of the universe or is the jiva responsible for it?

If Ishvara/mAyA:

  • then who/what is Ishvara and how does it create the universe?
  • then how does adhyAsa come into the picture because if Ishvara is the creator then even if adhyAsa is removed then the appearance of the world will still be there.

If the jiva

  • then why does the world not disappear upon enlightenment (a jiva is responsible for the dream at night whilst asleep, therefore the dream disappears upon waking)

I have heard many examples of gold/ornament with regards to the universe and Brahman (Gold being brahman, the names/forms being the ornaments). I’m not sure I have fully grasped this comparison, in what sense does matter depend on Brahman?

I see that all things are experienced IN consciousness and therefore in that sense the world of objects/atoms/quantum fields etc depends on consciousness/Brahman because the world can not be experienced without consciousness. It doesn’t seem right to me, because it’s not something you could ever refute. Obviously we can’t experience the world without consciousness. Continue reading

Q.488 Reading Minds

[Note: This is a long Q&A. Any help that other bloggers and readers can give to resolve the questioner’s concerns will be welcomed!]

Q: If waking life is a kind of dream or modulation of awareness then why is it so continuous? Many Advaitins see waking life as some form of dream, correct me if I’m wrong.

Dreams when asleep are always very new, different and unpredictable. And then they disappear and you wake up and forget the dream. And most likely you will not continue where it ended next sleep. On the other hand, waking life reappears after sleep and it is the ‘same’ as yesterday and it only seems to disappear if you die.

A: There is a lot more to it than that. And it cannot all be explained in a couple of sentences. Pretty much all of my book ‘A-U-M: Awakening to Reality’ was about this. (It is a commentary on Mandukya Upanishad and the explanation by Gaudapada.)

There are 3 states of consciousness – waking, dream and deep sleep and none of them are ‘really real’. Waking seems to be real for the waker. The dream is equally real for the dreamer (who thinks he is a waker)! The true reality is the Consciousness that is the basis of all 3 states. Waking life is said to be like a dream so that you can use this as a metaphor for gaining enlightenment. Continue reading

Consciousness – Not such a Hard Problem (1 of 2)

This is an article I wrote for a Philosophy magazine 5 years ago but it was not published. It was included in my book ‘Western Philosophy Made Easy’, which was based upon the 18-part ‘Overview of Western Philosophy‘.

ABSTRACT

The studies by neuroscience into the functioning of the brain will tell us nothing about Consciousness. We must differentiate between Consciousness and awareness. Consciousness enables the brain to perceive just as electricity enables the computer to process data. The computer does not generate electricity; the brain does not produce Consciousness.

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Ever since the ‘study’ of consciousness began to be an academically acceptable area of research amongst scientists, both they and Western philosophers have been heading deeper and deeper into a conceptual cul-de-sac. At the root of the problem is the tacit assumption that science will (one day) be able to provide an explanation for everything. But, more specifically as regards this particular issue, the big ‘C’ of Consciousness must be differentiated from the little ‘a’ of awareness. The conflation of the two means that the true nature of Consciousness will forever elude them.

Below, I address some of the various misconceptions that are misleading many of the neuroscientists and philosophers in the field of Consciousness Studies. It is accepted that not all of these investigators will hold such ‘extreme’ positions (and a few are much more liberal in their approach). Continue reading

Q.484 Sense of Self

Q: About six years ago I was looking for the separate self through directly paying attention to the sense of self in my immediate experience. I did this over about a week or ten days during regular life. I followed this sense of self when it shifted say from the body to the thinking mind, to the sense of will etc. Suddenly everything dropped away and what was seen was just openness/absence of self /no me /nothing +everything.

I’m not sure how long this lasted. Then the mind came back. I felt liberated from all worry and desire for a couple of months. Then slowly old habits reestablished themselves. Since then I am at a loss what to do. 

So I have no problem accepting Advaita teachings but I could do with some further guidance. 

A: Presumably you are prepared to accept the basic premise of Advaita – that reality is non-dual. If it is true, then it must be the case that you already are the ‘Self’. So it is not really a case of ‘looking for it’ but rather realizing that you are already ‘It’. So you can ask yourself the question ‘who would be looking for what?’. The ‘sense of self’ is not the Self; it is a feeling or an idea in the mind.

If you practice meditation seriously (twice a day, 30mins at a time, for several years), you will eventually experience periods of samAdhi, which correspond to the experience you describe. But this is just an experience – as you can tell because it has a beginning and an end. Realizing the truth of Advaita, becoming ‘enlightened’, is Self-knowledge, not an experience.

Having said that, it is possible to gain Self-knowledge and yet still not have the ‘sense of bliss’, fulfillment or whatever, that you believe ought to result. This is because of ‘obstacles’ in the mind (pratibandha-s) remaining from having insufficiently ‘prepared’ the mind beforehand (sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti).

The book I am currently writing is all about the confusions that are brought about in seekers as a result of wrong understanding by many modern teachers. pratibandha-s will be one of the topics covered and, because there has been much discussion on related issues at the website recently, I will be begin posting the material for this topic within the next week. It is quite long so will be in 3 or 4 parts. I suggest you look out for it and join in any subsequent discussion if you like. [Since this Q&A, I have posted the pratibandha series, now in around 11 parts, and it begins here.]

Q. 445 Experience and brahman

Q: What exactly (in Reality – i.e. Brahman is the only reality) is experience?

I know that there is a relative level where there are jIva-s and objects and minds and Ishvara, but if we talk about the absolute reality – Brahman – then I believe that there is no experience possible.

Brahman is the only reality and Brahman does not have experiences of any kind – yes?

So if I realize myself as Brahman, then I have to see all my experience as mithyA, yes?

SO: if you are agreeing to the above, and if I am following correct logic: why do so many teachers of non-duality and even of Advaita Vedanta say that experience is the only means through which we can explore reality?

As jIva-s in the relative realm, the only thing we have to navigate reality, is our experience. So again: what is an experience? Is there no reality to an experience?

Many teachers who are famous and well-respected point to the Presence of God as a palpable experience of peace, fullness, truth, love which comprises the reality of all our experiences. They say Presence is Brahman in manifest form and is eternal.

Is experience comprised of Brahman-as-Presence?

Continue reading

Is a single neuron conscious? (From Quora)

 A short discussion.

M. Advaita Vedanta’s perspective is better seen from the top-down rather than from the bottom up. Consciousness or awareness can be considered (there is a consensus on this) as a ‘fundamental ‘property’ of (or a pointer to) reality’, not reality itself, which is unfathomable and indescribable. Consciousness permeates every apparently external – and also every internal – phenomenon, which is thus an expression or manifestation of Consciousness. Accordingly, a neuron, an electron, is a manifestation of Consciousness – ‘the One without a second’. Alternately, neurons, atoms, etc. are embedded in Consciousness or reality.

PB. I think the best words you can use to characterize reality are awareness/consciousness, existence/beingness, and bliss/love. However, I wouldn’t identify reality with consciousness, the other two concepts, or all three together. They are just the purest manifestations of reality that we can identify. True reality is not a thing or concept, it is beyond definition.

But yes, I would agree that neurons, electrons, etc. are phenomena of consciousness, as are these words and the bodies and minds that write them.

M. Metaphysical truth is sometimes called apperception, or direct supramental perception, and it is non-transferable. Nicholas of Cusa put it this way: “The highest wisdom is this, to know… how that which is unattainable may be reached or attained unattainably”. Metaphysics (philosophia prima, or first philosophy of medieval times) is not science, and its truths are often dressed as paradoxes, analogies, and metaphors; they are not meant to convince anyone who is not open to them.

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A metaphysical truth appeals to intuition; it is an experience or knowledge-experience… It is not speculation and is not amenable to subject-object relationship or distinction.

Continue reading

AbhAsa vAda

This is effectively Part 6 1/2 of 10 in the pratibandha series. It follows on from the heading of “The ‘mixture of Atman and mind’”. Apologies for the misleading and changing part numbers. This is the result of writing ‘as I go’ rather than completing the entire topic first.

Read Part 6

xi) AbhAsa vAda

This theory was mentioned briefly above in 2b, when bhAmatI and vivaraNa were discussed in the context of sources for mistaken views of Advaita. AbhAsa translates as ‘fallacious appearance’ and it is effectively the term that is used to describe this ‘mixture’ of Consciousness and intellect. Shankara addresses this in his upadesha sAhasrI, principally in chapter 18 ‘tat tvam asi’. The following analysis is with the help of Ref. 211.

As the chapter heading indicates, the topic is the mahAvAkya and how the knowledge of its truth is all that we need in order to gain enlightenment. We are already free and always have been, so once we realize this, there is nothing more that needs to be done. The idea that, after gaining ‘merely intellectual knowledge’ from shravaNa, we have somehow to gain ‘direct experience’ of Brahman before we are liberated, is called prasa~NkhyAna vAda. This is discussed and rejected in detail below, under the topic of ‘meditation’ but in this chapter Shankara introduces an objector who has these notions and the subsequent arguments are relevant to this topic of pratibandha-s. Continue reading

Advaita, Yoga Advaita and Manonigraha of Gaudapada – Part 1

Introduction – You are That/ Tat Tvam Asi

One of the five great sayings (mahavakyas) of Vedanta which proclaims the highest truth of Non-Duality or Advaita is “Thou art That” – Tat Tvam Asi, occurring in the Chandogya Upanishad in 6.8.7. Here “Tat” refers to Brahman/Self. So in the most common sense rendering of the statement, it means – “You are Brahman”. This saying is not saying, “You must ‘become’ Brahman”. What it says is that one is already Brahman. Such is the case and one just has to know it to be so.  

I had to bold and italicize the last lines of this paragraph because even when it is clearly stated, people are not able to overcome this notion of “becoming”. This is seen in the most advanced ‘practitioners’ of Advaita. In fact this notion of “becoming” is actually Maya, which keeps one tied to doership. This Maya is extremely hard to overcome, a fact which was anticipated and stated, both by Gaudapada and Shankaracharya, whom I shall be quoting in articles coming subsequently in this series.

In fact, this sense of Maya or “becoming” or “doership” is so powerful and so blinding that even after the Mahavakya says this to be the case; even after I shall show that all forms of doing are Maya; after giving all forms of quotes, logic and arguments: the notion of Maya/becoming/doership is very hard to root out. The Bhagavad Gita gives words to this predicament in the verse,

Among thousands of men, one perchance strives for perfection; even among those successful strivers, only one perchance knows Me in essence

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 7.3 Continue reading