[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 →
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
From the viewpoint of Advaita Vedanta (and I believe also zen and Dzogchen), time is not just something elusive, but ultimately unreal – only an idea or concept. The same can be said about the concept of ‘now’, which cannot be elucidated or measured in any way. ‘Now’ can only be a symbol of eternity, immeasurable but always present. ‘Eternity’ itself is a symbol or slanted conception of reality or existence/being, which is timeless. For the absolute time does not exist. Consciousness alone is real and, thus, timeless. Stated differently, ‘what is never ceases to be; what is not never comes into being’ (Shankara). Parmenides, Gaudapada, and Shankara were strong in that position.
Here is how I described this teaching some years ago:
First of all, however, I will say a little about sRRiShTi dRRiShTi etc, since I have mentioned these above. I once thought that these were the principal creation theories of advaita. sRRiShTi is the Sanskrit word for creation. The mythical stories of God creating a world, for example over six days as in the Bible, are called krama sRRiShTi, meaning ‘gradual creation’ (krama means ‘ progressing step-by-step’). dRRiShTi is the Sanskrit word for ‘seeing’ or the faculty of sight. Thus, sRRiShTi dRRiShTi vAda means that a world is created and then we perceive it. dRRiShTi sRRiShTi vAda, on the other hand, supposes that perception precedes creation. This effectively boils down to a form of subjective idealism; i.e. the world only exists in our mind. This, in turn, implies that there are no other individuals than ourselves; i.e. solipsism. (The theory that there is only one person is called eka jIva vAda in Sanskrit.) Continue reading →
Eka jIva vAda – the devil’s teaching (part 1 of 2)
The ‘bottom line’ of Advaita is that there is only Brahman. The world with all its objects, bodies and minds, is mithyA – it is not real in itself but ‘borrows’ its existence from Brahman. Who-I-really-am is Brahman.
But all of this is already saying too much. We cannot actually say anything at all about Brahman. We ‘know’ it by ‘being’ it; that is all.
This, then, is the ‘final’ message of Advaita. Advaita is a teaching methodology that functions by removing all of the misunderstandings about the world and our ‘real Self’. It progressively removes Self-ignorance (neti, neti) until the time comes when the intellect can make the intuitive leap to a realization of that final truth which is beyond words and concepts.
The teaching utilizes various devices to enable us to remove misconceptions. These might be stories (e.g. ‘tenth man’), metaphors (e.g. gold and ring, wave and water) or more elaborate ‘prakriyA-s’ such as pa~ncha kosha or avasthA traya. The purpose of all of them is to draw attention to a particular aspect of the way in which we presently think about the world, and then to show by examination (comparison etc.) that we might be mistaken. In each case, by making us look at the situation in a different way, we advance our ‘non-dualistic outlook’.
But these new ways of thinking about the world are themselves only temporary, to help us to readjust our mental boundaries. They, too have to be discarded eventually because, as pointed out above, we can never truly ‘understand’ any of it. Once they have served their purpose, we drop them – adhyAropa-apavAda. Continue reading →
Q: I have a friend who became a born-again Christian as a young man. I knew him before his ‘conversion’ experience, and he became very different afterwards. For decades, he has maintained his rock-solid belief in Jesus and evangelical Christianity. He has that ‘glow’ of certainty and confidence that seems to come with believing in such a system with 110% conviction. His faith is literally unshakeable, and he is dead certain that he is right. I have a back-of-the-mind concern that when someone ‘gets it’ in terms of Advaita after a long period of seeking, that something similar is happening. We cannot think directly about the nondual Brahman, cannot experience non-duality, cannot even really talk about it. How can we be sure that we are not simply hypnotizing ourselves into this conviction after long years of painful seeking?
A (Dennis): How can we be sure? I, too, encountered someone who was a ‘certain’ Christian. We had quite a few discussions and, as you say, the belief was unshakeable. The difference is though, in my experience, that such people are unable to back up their beliefs with reason. They will blithely quote from the bible as though that ends the matter. As you know, in the kArikA-s, Gaudapada uses more reason than he does scriptural citations, although scriptures are traditionally the final authority. Although I included some scriptural quotations in my book ‘A-U-M’, this was principally for completeness and so that the related commentaries might be referenced. The intention was that all that I said was reasoned and hopefully unarguable. I cannot imagine there is any Christian text that can claim that.
The key tool and argument is probably one of the earliest – the ‘neti, neti’ of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Rather than trying to ‘find’ the answer, you keep discarding all attempted explanations when you find that they do not stand up to reason. When everything has been rejected, you are still left with you, the ‘rejecter’. You can use reason to reject those religions/philosophies that rely on scriptural authority alone, because you can always ask: ‘Why should I accept what is written here when it can never be supported by reason or experience?’ Advaita cannot be rejected in this way. It is the difference between ‘belief’ and ‘knowledge’.
Deep in the remote thick jungles of Dandaka, there was a tribal village called Bhrashtakshi. It is said that two moons appear in the sky of that village. Ask any villager, child or adult and they can easily show the two moons when the sky is clear – one a little right to the other, same size but a little less bright. All their songs and school books have been singing of the two moons for generations. The moon-pair is worshiped as the Goddesses of the Twins. People pray to these Goddesses to beget children.
Dr. Sulochan, M.D., happened to go as a Health worker to that village. She was surprised to detect everyone had a double vision. Further investigations showed congenital issues and also deficiencies in their nutrition. But the villagers were not convinced. They were sure it was all a play by the powers of the City to take over their ancient properties. Their ancestors always said that there had been two moons in their sky. How can the knowledge coming from their forefathers be wrong? They have their texts to prove the two moons in their sky. They have seen and lived with two moons for centuries. It’s a huge huge conspiracy, resolved the Village elders – the City dwellers want to steal their moons. Continue reading →
Q: Regarding Gaudapada Karika 4.28, what is the best argument you are aware of against the materialist position that consciousness is an emergent phenomenon? In particular do you think it is inherently illogical to say that consciousness can arise from the inert?
More generally, is it the position of Vedanta that the materialist position is inherently illogical/impossible or simply that it is incorrect because it is contrary to scripture?
A (Dennis): Schopenhauer said that Materialism is “the philosophy of the subject who forgets to take account of himself.” And this really sums up my own view of the situation with respect to Science and its so-called ‘hard problem’. Science is forever trying to discover how consciousness can ‘arise’ from matter and never even considers the possibility that matter might actually be name and form of Consciousness. I.e. Consciousness does not arise from matter, matter (as it were) arises from Consciousness. They view the topic ‘back to front’ because they ignore the significance of the observer. And this is despite their past realisation that the observer cannot be ignored in quantum mechanics, for example.
The term used in the scriptures for the materialist is lokAyata (worldly wise) or Charvaka, after the philosopher of that name who is associated with these beliefs. (They have also been called mAmsa-mImAMsaka-s or ‘flesh philosophers’ because of their belief that we should aim to maximise pleasure in life.) The beliefs are also associated with the god bRRihaspatI and Shankara has sarcastically used this term in a derogatory sense to refer to ‘intellectuals’ who play the role of disputant in his commentaries. Continue reading →
Q: Although understanding that there is only one true Self, can we not imagine multiple parallel consciousness-es of multiple Self’s? Are there any categorical arguments against such a thing existing? If Brahman came ‘of itself’ (anAdi, beginningless) , could there not equally be many anAdi Brahmans? I know that this doesn’t help in calming our brains at all, but it does challenge the non dual core concept, doesn’t it?
A (Dennis): There is only Consciousness, which is non-dual. There are not subject(s) and object(s). You can imagine whatever you like but imagination is not reality. Multiverse(s) is/are the realm of cosmologists trying to make sense of perceived things. But perceived things are mithyA. Even the perceiver is mithyA. It would not matter if there were multiple universes, they would all still be mithyA.
In kArikA-s 2.20 – 28, Gaudapada derides some 36 different, then current, theories of the nature of reality and concludes: “All these ideas are nothing but imaginations in Atman. In Consciousness, there is neither creation, nor sustenance, nor destruction – all are mAyA.”
M. None, unless attention… Greg Goode (a Non-dualist teacher) recommends ‘Standing as Awareness’. That is the title of a booklet by him.
In Advaita Vedanta Gaudapada and Shankara did not recommend any exercises except, perhaps, Asparsha yoga (which means, ‘no-relationship – with anything), and only as a preparation for less-gifted students. All experiences derived from exercises, including Samadhi, are only temporary. Advaita is not Yoga, and there are no injunctions or exercises in it – only Intuition and reasoning based on it. There is the triple way or method: ‘hearing’ (the scriptures= Upanishads), reflecting on what has been read or listened to (if one has a guide or teacher), and contemplation (nididhyasana). That is all. (There are other answers to this question and the following one).
M. I don’t understand what you mean by ‘electrical conscious’. Do you mean the electro-chemical signals between synapses in the brain which transmit and share information between neurons? That is only the physical basis or vehicle for consciousness. Consciousness is not a phenomenon, it is an (ontological) reality – ‘what is’ – beyond even conceptualization, and not physical. Consciousness is indescribable and unknowable by the mind (brain-based mind, again, being a vehicle or ‘transducer’), and, thus, a metaphysical or spiritual reality.