Q.464 Laws of nature

Q: Are the laws of nature eternal? From a scientific viewpoint, consciousness is epiphenomenal and so is fundamentally governed by laws known to science.  If the laws of nature (not the parameters e.g strength of gravity, speed of light etc) are eternal and unchanging then aren’t they nityam and therefore fundamentally ‘real’?

There is a section of the responses to Q.436 (Ishvara and the existence of fossils) where you suggest (I think) that from a vyAvahArika level, time and causation are real. Just wanted to be clear that from a pAramArthika level, space/time and causation are all unreal?

Note: there are some interesting views on time by quantum physicist Carlo Rovelli (https://qz.com/1279371/this-physicists-ideas-of-time-will-blow-your-mind/) – it seems even from vyAvahArika level one could potentially argue that time is illusory.

A: Everything relating to the empirical universe is mithyA. The nature of the teaching of Advaita is adhyAropa-apavAda, meaning that an explanation is given appropriate to the current level of understanding of the seeker but superseded as their understanding grows. The ‘laws’ of nature are said to be governed by Ishvara but, ultimately, the laws and Ishvara Himself are mithyA. In reality there is only brahman. So, no, the laws are not eternal and not ‘real’. And, yes, you are correct: time and causation also fall into this category (real from the vyAvahArika standpoint but mithyA from the pAramArthika). You must note, though, that mithyA does not mean ‘unreal’ or ‘illusory’; it means that it depends upon brahman for its existence – and brahman is of course real!

Your link sounds interesting; I will have to try to find time to read it.

Q.463 Individual consciousness

Q: Dennis, I have deep question that in fact no one can answer to me. I can accept that I am consciousness in which appearances take place that are in fact manifestations of my own consciousness. I can accept that unbounded universe of my consciousness is in fact my consciousness. This phenomenal universe exists in my waking state and disappears in deep sleep.

I am consciousness all the time. It is OK and understood. BUT I also understand that all these experiences and states belong to ONLY MY INDIVIDUAL CONSCIOUSNESS.
I mean that others have other experiences. They have their own phenomenal universes, their own states in their own consciousnesses! And I have no access to them.

There is existence of many various individual consciousnesses perceiving various things. So can we say that there is no SINGLE Absolute I and no SINGLE consciousness?

A: All problems of understanding in this sort of question arise because of a confusion between ‘absolute reality’ and the ‘apparent world’.

You begin by saying that “I have a deep question“. This ‘I’ refers to the mind of the person (Fred) in the world. All these things – mind, person, Fred, world – are mithyA. They have no absolute reality. They depend upon the absolute reality for their existence. They are name and form of the non-dual Consciousness. Continue reading

Q.443 A ‘simple summary of advaita’

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

1) Knowledge and the Vedas; 2) Is everything metaphysical?

Do the Vedas really contain any advanced knowledge as so many people claim they do? (Quora)

I would say the Vedas contain the most fundamental and ‘advanced’ knowledge there is, though usually portrayed  in the form of paradox (analogy, metaphor, story, etc.), so that one has to crack the code in order to find the wealth hidden in them. That knowledge is not like empirical science, which is cumulative and provisional, and can be said to be somehow contained in the latter, even if in embryonic or potential form. That knowledge or perspective is metaphysical rather than mystical. According to the Vedas there is one and only reality: consciousness (brahman, the Absolute, etc.), which pervades the whole universe; it is immanent in it as well as transcendent… “the smallest of the small, the largest of the large”. It cannot be measured or understood by the mind, for which it is ineffable, but it is that by which the mind comprehends… it cannot be expressed in words but by which the tongue speaks… it is eye of the eye, ear of the ear, mind of the mind, as expressed in the Upanishads.

Modern physics is having a hard time trying to explain away what consciousness is in terms of physical phenomena (neuronal activity in the brain), but consciousness is not an irreducible phenomenon or datum; it is reality itself, everything being comprehended in it (theories, doubts, projections, emotions, things, thoughts, intelligence, observer and observed, you and I). For the Vedas reality is one, and present physics is trying to find out in which way it is so (‘theory of everything’, ‘unificatory theory…’). Not all physicists are reductionist, some of them having seemingly mutated into philosophers with an understanding of the core of Vedic teachings.


Is everything metaphysical? (Quora)

‘Is everything metaphysical?’ My answer is a resounding Yes! despite the widely accepted, prevailing, physicalist theory: everything is reducible to matter/energy. This last position is being insistently questioned ever since the rise of the new physics (the role of the observer, uncertainty principle, etc.). Nobody knows what matter is intrinsically, and why an atom is an atom – its nature is a mystery; scientifically we can only talk about mechanism, ‘behavior’ or function, in relation to physical processes. Thus, everything is metaphysical – including tables and chairs or, rather, the material they are made of, wood (hilos) – which means non-reducible to the physical. Psychology, mind, selfhood are equally non reducible to the physical – nor are they purely mental or purely conceptual – , thus they are metaphysical, however psychologists may protest. ‘Man’, ‘personhood’, are metaphysical or philosophical notions.

Metaphysical doctrines are couched in LANGUAGE (concepts, plus logic and reasoning -tarka), which de facto is dualistic, but that is a springboard and a conditio sine qua non for realization or uniting with the TRUTH or REALITY which is indivisible, non-relational, and inexpressible by the mind (anubhava).


Advaita Vedanta & Neuroscience


Contrary to consciousness being an emerging property of the mind, as someone has answered, thus reifying the latter, I would hold the inverse: mind is a property or, better, a projection of consciousness. Consciousness is universal, mind particular, individual – standing in the relationship essence-accident (or substance-form). The first is without a beginning, the second temporal, The first, necessary as principle, the second contingent. First unmoving, second changeable.

All this is clearly spelled out in the philosophy and metaphysics of Advaita Vedanta and also, even if with different analysis and import, in Aristotelian metaphysics. Continue reading

Q.460 Is reality really real?

Q: In your answer to Q. 228 you wrote:

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)?

I could go on sharing other views of reality. Continue reading

Two questions (relationships & eternity)

1) How is one’s self related to other selves.

This can be seen from two perspectives: 1) lower or empirical, and 2) higher or spiritual (I try to avoid the word ‘metaphysical’). I am not going to consider what Christianity or Islam hold about any of these two perspectives, only the non-duality of Advaita Vedanta (Buddhism does not contemplate individual existence per se). According to the Advaitic tradition the individual self (jiva) can be considered as a reflection of the higher Self and then his/her faculties (basically memory, mind, and sense of self) as well as all bodies are separate and individual – this pertains to ordinary, transactional life. This is the realm of ignorance (avidya). Continue reading

Q.440 Is advaita provable?

Q: Is advaita provable, in the Western, scientific, empirical sense of the word? I guess part of the attraction for me is that it seems to be (along with some other Eastern thought systems) a methodical and thorough exploration of consciousness; consciousness being something (along with death) that Western culture can’t even define let alone explain and explore. Or is my thinking mistaken?

A: Who would prove what? Science is intrinsically empirical and could never say anything about the nature of reality. There are a couple of articles that you should read to clarify this. One by myself is in four parts, beginning https://www.advaita-vision.org/science-and-the-nature-of-absolute-reality-part-1/ and one by AchArya Sadananda in three parts, beginning https://www.advaita-vision.org/science-and-vedanta-part-1/. Nevertheless, Advaita’s explanation of the nature of Consciousness is not contrary to reason or to Western science and philosophy. See my book ‘A-U-M’ for this.

If you are comfortable with the language and ‘explanations’ of modern physics, try Amanda Gefter’s book ’Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn’. (I must confess I found this a bit hard-going at times!) This shows that the ‘frontiers’ of science are now beginning to think along  lines not altogether too distant from the Vedantic scriptures!

Does Permanence imply Reality? Let’s ask Shankara

We shall be here walking on epistemological ground. The last post made use of two verses from the Atmabodha to discuss the distinction between action and knowledge, and to decide which of the two is directly conducive to liberation. In any discussion of the various themes of Advaita Vedanta two primal realities constantly come to surface – the reality of Consciousness and the reality of Being. The sum total of an Advaitin’s spiritual and intellectual endeavours involves an understanding and recognition of these realities. What is meant by these is not, of course, this or that instance of conscious awareness or existence, but instead the whole of Consciousness and Being.

Why is that so? Or – why these? Why are they situated at the very foundation of whatever there is? Or – why are they met with in an analytical attempt at plumbing the very depths of experience? A simple answer (one that is not so simple) is that they are permanent, everlasting, undying, immortal. These two (they aren’t really two, and that is the whole point of Advaita) do not have the quality of bubbles Shankara ascribes to the phenomenal world in the Atmabodha. Let’s quote him –

Like bubbles in the water, the worlds rise, exist and dissolve in the supreme Self (verse 8)

Brahman, who is of the very nature of Consciousness and Being, is not of the nature of bubbles. Brahman instead is like the water on which the bubbles take birth and death constantly. Or – of which bubbles are but ephemeral manifestations. Brahman itself does not take birth or death and is timeless and permanent. And it is this that makes Brahman the only reality, while the rest of manifest creation is but contingent upon this reality. Yet, a question that used to plague me often in my wrestling with the basic truths of Vedanta was of the relation between reality and permanence. Why is permanence considered the mark of the real? What ground do we have to suppose that? Why is it not that truth and reality are ephemeral and short-lasting? Heraclitus, as opposed to Parmenides, held the view that permanence was a delusion and that everything in reality is a never-ending flux (a never-ending flux! Paradoxical!). But if Heraclitus is right then there should be no reason whatsoever to consider, say, a dream experience as false. Except for its ephemerality (it’s bubble-ness) there is nothing to suggest that a dream is untrue. In fact, a dream is not untrue at all except if one defines truth as permanence. What is untrue in a dream? What we experience in a dream contradicts, say, the laws of nature we usually experience in the waking state. But that too is an appeal to permanence, is it not? What is law but a repeated (and therefore permanent) behaviour. When we call a dream untrue, we mean to say that it doesn’t behave the same way every time. We say that its behaviour is not permanent, it lasts only eight hours! When faced with the option of choosing what lasts consistently for eight hours and what lasts and has lasted in the rest of one’s life experience, one is sure, like Nachiketa rejecting the wealth offered him by Yama in the Katha Upanishad, to choose the latter. The snake that exists for a moment doesn’t have the same epistemic value as the rope that is permanently available to one’s inspection. Mere flux without an underlying permanence makes the acquisition of knowledge and concern for truth meaningless. However, even if one were to assign equal value, in a phenomenological sense, to dreams and waking states and hallucinations and so on – even that, in a broader sense, is welcome to the Advaitin. All being Brahman, the misperceived world too is Brahman, just as the misperceived snake is nothing different from or other than the rope!

In Science too (and we just referred to natural law) what is thought of as real is what has been constant and permanent in the natural order. If we have inherited, say, a working biological mechanism since the time we parted company with our amphibian ancestors, then this mechanism is considered a truer factor in the description and understanding of the reality of man than, say, some newly acquired social trait which hasn’t proved its mettle through biological time. Thus is it that permanence is accorded not only a greater epistemic value but is itself just another name for truth. Something that is eternal is by definition truer than that which is merely passing. Indeed, not only that but that which is passing and ephemeral is most likely embedded in the eternal just as the bubbles are in the substratum that is water.

The Advaitin’s intellectual task then is more the philosophical study of permanence than even the investigation of Consciousness and Being. For, through analysis, the Advaitin finds that permanence is but another name for Consciousness and Being. And to this analysis I hope to turn in my coming posts.

Conversation with ‘H’ – 5

M. … Of course, we know ‘we’ are primarily awareness where no distinctions whatsoever are valid, such as male/female. But something occurs to me just now, and is that prior even to the apparent multiplicity I mentioned above, and perhaps even more significant if not more real, is the presentation or exhibition in nature – amounting to a cosmological law – of the dichotomy or binary positive-negative, active-passive, static-dynamic, yang-yin, potentiality-actuality (this one an Aristotelian distinction). And, of course, male-female.

And, by extension or implication we have: angularity-roundness, left brain-right brain, etc. Someone I knew (a traditionalist or perennialist) wrote in one of his books that poetry is masculine and musicality and dance feminine… man is protector and woman nurturer; doctrine male, method female (in Buddhism it is the reverse, i.e. doctrine as prajna). Further, Sophia (wisdom) is female, represented by the goddesses Athena and Saraswati, also Minerva. And so on.

A final point: Is your metaphysical position, rather than pure non-duality, closer to the mitigated non-duality of Ramanuja (a great sage in the Indian philosophical tradition)? If so, who can find fault in that? Continue reading