Q.523 Science and Reality

Q: Can we still hold that modern science is far from realizing the unreality of the world, the basic teaching of Advaita? (Quora)

A (Martin): Clearly, philosophical statements such as “the world is unreal”, “life is a dream “or “reality is spiritual” express not empirical but a priori propositions or enunciates. As such, they are independent of sense experience in that their truth or falsity is not determined by the facts of sense experience. Such statements can neither be confirmed nor confuted by sense experience. Observation and experiment are simply irrelevant to their truth or falsity. Thus, they fall outside the realm of the empirical sciences, whatever be the speculations of individual scientists when assuming the role of members of the laity. Further, in the contexts in which they most often occur, such statements are not regarded as provisional truths subject to refutation or revision as in the sciences, but as absolute and irrefutable truths.

bAdha versus nAsha

The following was posted to the Advaitin List by Satyan Chidambaran, who has agreed for me to record it here.

There is a distinction between bAdha (sublation) and nAsha (destruction) that the tradition makes.

To know that a Pot is not real, and only clay alone is real, one shouldn’t need to destroy (engage in nAsha of) the Pot appearance. One just needs to know clearly that the Pot is just a name and form and Clay alone really exists. Therefore, even when seeing a Pot, a “Clay j~nAnI” knows clearly that the Pot is mithyA nAma rUpa and Clay alone is satyam. This is bAdha of the Pot.

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Language and Color

Those people who regularly read my articles will know that, although my educational background is that of a scientist, I frequently criticize science in respect of its inability to say anything useful about the nature of reality. Because science can only operate by virtue of a subject making observations on an object, it only has validity in the empirical realm (vyavahAra). Nevertheless, I do acknowledge that science can sometimes throw light upon the thorny topics that we frequently encounter in advaita.  An obvious example of this is the findings of Benjamin Libet and Daniel Wegner regarding free will, about which I have written several times. Accordingly, I was very interested to hear recently (on a BBC Horizon program about how we perceive color) that scientists have carried out experiments which demonstrate that language affects the way in which we see the world.

I did not expect to see anything relating to advaita in the program but, when they described an experiment concerning the Himba tribe of northern Namibia, it quickly became clear that this was relevant to the vAchArambhaNa sutras from the Chandogya Upanishad.  

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Ramanuja vs Shankara

Who would win in an argument between Ramanujacharya and Shankaracharya?

As non-duality can be said to go beyond, and at the same time enclose duality within itself, we can also say that Shankara, being a non-dualist philosopher, goes beyond and ‘incorporates’ Ramanuja, that is, the latter’s philosophy (it has been said: a jñani understands a bhakta, not vice versa).

Ramanuja took the ego (psychological self) as being the Self, an error for an Advaitin. For the former, destruction of the ego (“me”) will thus entail the destruction of the Self. For an Advaitin, the ego or subtle body (mind, senses, and vital breath) dissolves when the body dies – not so awareness or pure consciousness.

From the viewpoint of Advaita Vedanta, ‘consciousness’ is another name for reality/being/existence: all there is or that can be (all possibilities of existence). Neither ‘subject’ nor ‘object’, it annihilates this (mental) division, as well as sublating all concepts.

Or, as Francis Lucille, a well-known teacher wrote: ‘Simply put, non-dualism is the hypothesis that reality is non-dual, that there is only one single reality which is the substance of all things, of all phenomena, both mind and matter. If that is true, it follows that the reality of our ordinary consciousness, meaning whatever is really perceiving these words at this moment, must be this non-dual, single, and universal reality.’

Shankara said:

‘An enlightened person, after his death, does not undergo a change of condition – something different than when he was living. But he is said to be “merged in Brahman” just due to his not being connected to another body.’ Quoted from ‘The Method of Early Advaita Vedanta’, Michael Comans.

Swami Dayananda Interview (conclusion)

The following is the conclusion of an interview with Swami Dayananda Saraswati, conducted by John LeKay for Nonduality Magazine. That site is no longer available and the article was submitted by Dhanya. It is in three parts. Read Part 1

NDM: There are many modern advaita teachers out there today. Some of them communicate by silence or by looking into others’ eyes. Is it possible to communicate Vedanta by silence?           

            Swamiji: If Vedanta by silence, Kena Upanisad will be one page, empty. Brihadaranyaka Upanisad will be 50 pages total, empty – empty pages – by silence.           

            If you ask a question, and I am silent and look into your eyes, what will you do? You have to look into my eyes. If I don’t blink, you have to close your eyes. Because you get embarrassed, you close your eyes.           

            And then you have to think. Whatever question you asked disappears, or you try to find some answer, some something. That’s not an answer to the question. You get whatever answer you can get from your own interpretation. Each one gets his own answer.     

            Somebody asks me, “What is God?” I sit there. (Then Swamiji sits still staring straight ahead for a long time and everyone begins to laugh.)       

I have practiced this for a long time (laughter) without blinking. So what answer you will get? Each one will get his own answer, that’s all. If silence is the answer, we won’t have Upanisad.           

            With all the teaching, if people don’t understand, where is the question of silence? (Laughter)

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The Illusion of Reality

Did Einstein write: “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one”?

Albert Einstein actually wrote:

“People like us, who believe in physics, know the distinction between past, present, and future is only an illusion, albeit a stubborn one.”

That quote has itself been a recurrent one, but, as a very accomplished acquaintance of mine, Tom McFarlane, has written:

“There is no source for that, because Einstein didn’t say it. It is not consistent with his views. For Einstein, reality is what is true, not what is illusory.

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Mistakes and Misconceptions In Vedantic Investigation – 2/2

Part – I

Historically, Buddhism and Zen came to the West prior to the Advaita philosophy. Their teachings made a deep impact on the Western mind. Particularly, the Mountain and River Sutra and the Return of the Bull to the Market are well-remembered today even by those who moved on to the Advaita philosophy. The Mountain and River Sutra runs something as follows:

“When I first began to practice, mountains were mountains and rivers were rivers. As I trained, mountains were not mountains; rivers were not rivers. Now that I am established in the way, mountains are once more mountains and rivers are once more rivers.”

However, when viewed from an Advaita philosophy angle, the last line above gets modified roughly as: ‘Now that I am established in the Advaita way, I find that mountains are the Self, rivers are Self, and there is Self Alone and no second (thing).’ In the second story too, the fulfilled seeker would usually end up with no interest in the market or conducting transactions within it, because his/her sense of doership – experiencership (kartrutva – bhoktrutva) doesn’t continue after Self-realization is fully achieved.

But the Western Advaita teachers like to hold that “nothing needs to change” on the attainment of Self-realization and that the multifaceted world and their interactions within it will continue. In order to buttress their argument, they tell us that Ramana quotes Shankara to say that, “brahman is the universe” and being already brahman, the world cannot get affected. From their own personal code of conduct and behavior (see The Pre-requisites, we referred to in Part – 1), an observer gets the impression that they would, as though, like to keep their one leg entrenched in the dualistic world and its allurements.

[Note: True, nothing needs to change ‘out there.’ But a change does happen in one’s “vision” after Self-realization, as we will see towards the end of this article.] 

The Ramana quote claiming brahman is the world does sound a bit strange; It’s like saying all Gold is ring. But did not Shankara Continue reading

Mistakes and Misconceptions In Vedantic Investigation – 1/2

Shankara, the 7th-8th CE AcArya and unquestionably the biggest exponent of Advaita, maintains that:

नोत्पद्यते विना ज्ञानं विचारेणान्यसाधनैः 

यथा पदार्थभानं हि प्रकाशेन विना क्वचित्      —  11, aparokShAnubhUti.

Meaning: Knowledge of the Self is not brought about by any other means than inquiry, just as an object is nowhere perceived without the help of illumination.

Thus, “inquiry” or “investigation” is the unique and incomparable tool available for a committed seeker in search of Truth in the Advaita philosophy. The prominent trio of Advaita teachers of the 20th century popularized this method of approach called ‘Self-inquiry’ through what they often referred to as the Direct path. With its simplicity of expression and the promise of directness of access to the Self, the Direct path attracted many Westerners into its fold, resulting in a mushrooming of teachers, more condensed processes like Neo-Advaita, and even premature declarations of attainment of the Self.

Alas, people have totally forgotten what Shankara said in a verse just ahead of the one quoted at the beginning of this article. He said: Continue reading

From where did everything originate?

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.