What is Truth or Reality?

Neti, neti.

Reality is ‘everything there is, all in a bundle’ (a tentative definition) – inner, outer, manifest and unmanifested, known and unknown, thought of and imagined. Reality is not a bundle of separate truths, though, since ‘everything’ is interconnected in mutual dependency. Reality is indefinable; ungraspable by the mind (it requires a silent mind and a ‘leap of faith’ – a constancy of purpose). ‘Those who think they know know not’ (Upanishads and common knowledge). Reality is subjective and objective at the same time (nay, there is no such dichotomy in it). Reality is Knowing and Being, beyond the seeming individual, the latter as partaking of it. Reality, truth, cannot be transmitted or expounded – it is at the same time ‘personal’ and impersonal, or neither of them. Only metaphysics (non-duality) and contemplation, love of truth, not mere philosophizing, can take one to it.

Q. 532 Brahman, name and form

Q: To speak of levels or to even say ‘name and form’, isn’t technically correct, is it? There’s only Brahman – period. I ask or say this because it does make a big difference between understanding and ‘living it’.

A: You are right. Pedantically there is only Brahman and even that is saying too much. But all transactions take place in vyavahAra (often referred to as ‘transactional reality’) and that obviously includes the teaching itself. That is why we have words like ‘mithyA’, so we can acknowledge the appearance of duality. We undeniably perceive form and refer to it by name, but acknowledge that it is mithyA – owing its substantial existence to Brahman.

Q: Having this final understanding, does the Mithya go on as:
1. As Ashtavakra Gita says… “a dry leaf being blown in the wind”? 
2. An actor knowing he’s an actor and playing roles like a movie?

A: The reasoning behind metaphors is to nudge the mind into appreciating the teaching of something that is counter-intuitive. Once you have ‘got it’, the metaphor should be dropped. The nature of the remainder of the life of a j~nAnI will be dictated by their individual prArabdha karma so will be different for everyone.

Purpose vs. function

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 Paradox of Free Will (Feb 2011)

We haven’t discussed this favorite topic in Advaita for some time! This is an article I wrote for Yoga International over 12 years ago but it only appeared on-line for a short time at Advaita Academy.

Why do you act the way that you do? If it is because you feel you ought to do something, you probably recognize there is little free will involved. You are being coerced by society or family, or influenced by concerns over what might happen if you don’t act in that way. On the other hand, if you do something because you want to, then perhaps you believe you are exercising free will. But is this true even when you trace the source of your desire? For example, you see a cream cake in the window of a shop, and the thought arises, I would like some cake. Did you freely choose to have that thought? Indeed, can you choose to have any thought? Do they not simply arise?

Anyone who has thought deeply about spiritual matters knows that one of the fundamental problems is how to reconcile our day-to-day experience with claims about God or a nondual reality. The first level seems concrete and demonstrable while the second is speculative, to say the least. Among the Indian philosophies, advaita Vedānta is the only one that speaks of orders of reality. There is the absolute nondual reality (paramārtha); the empirical level (vyavahāra); and the illusory level of dreams (pratibhāsa). Correctly differentiating among these levels is essential if we are to understand the subtleties involved in the question of free will.

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Subject-object dichotomy

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

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Q.531 Consciousness and reality

(Question posed in Quora  forum.)

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.

Shri Atmananda (Part 2)

The second of a two-part article by Philip Renard, about the Direct Path master, Atmananda Krishna Menon.

*** Read Part 1 ***

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

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‘In truth, Anubhava [Intuition, Intuitive experience] alone is the fountainhead or substrate for all Pramana Vyavahara – transactions involving valid means of knowledge… pursuit of the Absolute Reality, Self-knowledge… culminates in Anubhava, Intuitive experience… the substratum for everything’. (It is the same as saying that Pure Consciousness is behind the apparent individual mind). – From ‘The Basic Tenets of Shankara Vedanta’, transl. from Kannada’s SSSS by D.B. Gangolli, pp. 51,55.

Reasoning in Advaita

In Advaita Vedanta Vedantic (or higher) reasoning is distinguished from independent reasoning or speculation, which invariably is in conflict with that of other individuals and schools of thought – ‘Speculation is unbridled… It is impossible to expect finality from it, for men’s minds are diversely inclined’ (SBh 2-1-11). The former, higher reasoning, is, or must be, in agreement with scripture (Upanishads, etc. called shruti) and is never in conflict with universal experience. There is some syllogistic deduction (‘there is fire on that mountain for we see smoke there’), but it is not prominent in AV.

‘For the truth relating to this Reality conducive to final release is too deep even for a conjuncture without revelation (SBh 2-1-11). Here ‘revelation’ means the ‘deep intuitions arrived at by the sages of old (rishis)’ and compiled in three main bodies of works (chiefly the Upanishads), so you can disregard that word and substitute ‘self-realization’ for it.

But even scriptures are not sufficient to get at the truth: a prepared, mature mind is a requisite, which usually takes years if not lifetimes. After that long preparation, preferably with the help of a qualified teacher, a final intuition (anubhava or brahmavidya) may occur. I won’t talk about the method or methods used or about the qualifications of the student, not a small matter.

Imaginary ‘mokSha’ for Imagined ‘bandha’ – Shri P. Neti – 3/3

[Continued from Part – 2]

Question 3: The body that (notionally) housed previously a seeker….

Please Sir, body does not really house Consciousness. Not even the so-called limited consciousness. But it is Consciousness in which body appears just like any other object – and this is easily graspable even to the so-called limited consciousness, with a bit of subtle and impartial observation.

Question 3 (Contd.): … who is now liberated, (the body) is just a part of the ‘world’ which only exists as an “appearance” in the perception of the ‘ignoramuses.’ That body is now ‘without’ anyone as a claimant of ‘ownership’ to it. …

Let it be so. What is the problem if there is no claimant of ownership to a body?, I ask the ignoramuses. Continue reading