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!

Q. 427 pramANa and reason

Q: Regarding the relationship between scripture, logic, and experience in the context of Vedanta being a pramANa:   It seems like the ‘rule’ is that for scripture to be considered valid it must be both supportable by reason and non-negatable by reason. But what exactly does that mean?

A (Dennis): Basically, according to Advaita, THE pramANa is scripture (shruti). In practice, this should be unfolded by a qualified teacher, who you trust not to mislead you. You make the conscious decision to take what is said ‘on trust’ until such time as you realize its truth for yourself. Shankara said that you should not accept any scripture that is contrary to reason. But ‘unreasonable’ scriptural statements usually turn out to be gauNa, which effectively means ‘figurative’, and are explained (reasonably!) somewhere close by in the text in which they occur.

adhyAsa (part 2)

Notes on Shankara’s examination of the nature of ‘Error’ in the introduction to the brahmasUtra.

Read Part 1 of the series

Before inference can occur, there needs to be some valid data which is itself gathered directly or indirectly through direct perception. Otherwise, the inference could only be a speculation or imagination. For example one could not infer the age of the Moon just by looking at it and estimating it. Data must be collected first e.g. rocks could be brought back and carbon dated.

Four aspects are involved in the process of inference. These are the subject or ‘locus’ of the discussion, the objective or ‘conclusion’ (that which is to be inferred or concluded), a ‘basis’ for the argument and finally an ‘analogy’. An example given in the scriptures is the inference that there is a fire on a mountain because one is able to see smoke there, just as might happen in a kitchen. Here, the mountain is the ‘locus’; to infer that there is a fire on the mountain is the ‘conclusion’; the ‘basis’ is that smoke can be seen and the ‘analogy’ is that when one sees smoke in the kitchen, it is invariably associated with fire (this is in the days before electricity!). Continue reading

Q.397 – Why are scriptures needed?

Q: From the blogs and articles on Advaita, it seems like Scriptures are the basis from which everything is derived. If Scriptures were also written by humans, why is it considered sacred? Why can’t we independently come to same conclusions completely discarding scriptures?

e.g. Why couildn’t Vivekananda or Ramana Maharishi state something original about Self without reference to scriptures? All we see is a definition of Self without knowing the process by which it has been arrived at. I feel I am no different from the guy who slaughters innocent people because something is stated in a Book.

A (Dennis): Upanishadic material was passed down by word of mouth long before it was written down. From teacher to disciple; from those who knew to those who did not. The disciple trusts that the teacher will explain things until such time as the disciple realizes the truth. The seeker is specifically asked to use reason and own experience to validate what is said. If what is initially taken on trust is found to be invalid, it is rejected. If it is contrary to reason, it is rejected.

How does this process differ from science? Should you re-prove/re-derive all of the scientific laws from first principle and own experiments before you accept them? And if something is true, and fully understood by those who have gone before, how can one state something ‘original’? Moreover, why should one try? If teacher-seeker tradition over thousands of years have established an optimal way of passing on knowledge, isn’t it the height of arrogance to think one could do better?

Creation According to Reason

small_A-U-MAlthough not scheduled for publication until the 25th of this month, both Amazon UK and Amazon US claim to have only a few copies left! So, to remind you of the sort of content you can expect, here is another extract from the book on the topic of ‘Creation according to Reason’.

Having spent some time showing how key passages from the scriptures claim that there is no creation (and explaining how there can be apparently contradictory passages elesewhere), Gaudapada turns to reason – his principal tool in this work.

Read the extract here.

Q. 362 – Knowledge and Belief

Q: What does it take to become God-realized? Is it simply to accept that I am brahman,or to really believe I am brahman, or to really, really believe I am brahman, etc? I understand that to have knowledge of something does not automatically transform me. I believe that in order to really know something one has to assimilate and implement the teaching. I know I am already That, but then, how can I ensure the attainment of mokSha in order to stop the illusion of saMsAra

A (Dennis): Knowledge, according to Western philosophy (I think) occurs when you believe something and that belief is both justified (by experience and reason) and true. In order to become Self-realized (I don’t know what you mean by ‘God-realized), you have to subject the ideas of Advaita to doubt and questioning and repetition and consideration etc until such time as your beliefs become knowledge.

I had an experience about 25 years ago which provided me with a powerful illustration of how different knowledge is from belief.  You will have to bear with me as it takes a little while (and two diagrams!) to explain.

101_1 I used to attend philosophy lectures at a school called SES, which holds its talks in rented buildings scattered about the country. At this time, they were held in a house on a circular avenue as in the first image on the left. I always approached along the road at the top, turned left into the avenue and then clockwise to the school. On leaving, I always returned the same way – anti-clockwise, then right and right.

Then, one night, for some reason, I carried on in the same, clockwise direction and then turned left, and then right at the main road as usual. Except that I suddenly hit some traffic lights that had not been there before and I realized that I was somewhere completely different! I quickly recognized where I was and took corrective action but I was completely mystified as to how I had got there.

I puzzled over this for some time, wondering if I had had some sort of mental blackout or been so involved in thinking about what we had been talking about that I hadn’t been paying attention and went the wrong way for some reason.

101_2And then, at some point, the explanation came to me and I knew beyond any doubt what must have happened, even though I had not looked at a map or spoken with anyone about it. The actual layout of the avenue had to be as shown in the second diagram. And so it was of course. But the point is that, when the answer came to me, it came as certainty, not as some working hypothesis or plausible explanation. (Apologies for poor quality of diagrams – I did them on my tablet using software I haven’t used before.)

So this is the certainty for which you are looking. It comes of itself when your mind is ready. You simply know that there is no other answer, even though you cannot look at a map to check your conclusion. If you have the belief already, you have presumably had sufficient shravaNa. You now need to give yourself more manana and nididhyAsana.

Bhakti – Limitation of Accepted Paths

In our search for Truth, beginning with an examination of the world before us, we use
as our instrument the faculty of reason. This reason can well be divided into two. One
is lower reason, which is exercised by the mind in examining the mutual relationship
of objects, from intellect down to the gross world. The other is higher reason or
transcendental reason, which is exercised in examining the mind and its objects –
gross or subtle – with a view to discover their real content.

There are usually three accepted paths to the Truth. They are the paths of devotion,
yoga and jnyana. Of these three, devotion and yoga deal only with relative things
falling within the sphere of the mind and sense organs, taking into consideration only
experiences in the waking state. Their findings, therefore, can only be partial and

The jnyana path looks from a broader perspective and comprehends within its scope
both yoga and devotion. It takes into consideration the whole of life’s experiences – comprised in the three states – viewed impartially. It demands a high degree of real
devotion, in the sense that the aspirant has to have a high degree of earnestness and
sincerity to get to the Truth. This is real devotion, to Truth; and it is infinitely superior
to devotion to anything else, which can only be less than the Truth.

The yogin controls, sharpens and expands the mind to its maximum possibilities,
attaining samadhi and powers (or siddhis) on the way. But in the case of those who
follow the jnyana path, the mind is analysed impartially and minutely; and proved to
be nothing other than pure Consciousness itself, beyond which there is no further
power or possibility of development.

So it is through jnyana alone that Truth can be visualized, while yoga and devotion
only prepare the ground for it.

Note 63, Notes on Spiritual Discourses of Shri Atmananda: Volume 1, Shri Atmananda and Nitya Tripta, Non-Duality Press, ISBN: 978-0-9563091-2-9. Buy from Amazon US
Buy from Amazon UK.

brahman and AkAsha – Q. 326

Q: My mind has this tendency of creating doubts every once in a while and I was able to find answers for every doubt I’ve had through contemplation, logic and reasoning. But not this one.

Before I begin, please understand that my mind simply will not accept anything that cannot be proven to it through logic and reasoning, which is why ‘Sruti says so’ has not satisfied my mind.

So, my question is, how can we say that Brahman is the cause of Akasha (I’m referring to the Vedic element which is the substratum of everything that exists) and not Akasha itself? How do we know that consciousness itself is simply not the Akasha our bodies are made of which happens to be a conscious entity?

I understand that reality is non-dual, but Akasha being omnipresent (basis of all things), omnipotent (since it is Akasha that takes all forms, it can be said to be the cause of everything), omniscient (if we cannot deduce that Akasha is an unconscious entity, it would become omniscient), infinite, eternal and able to take forms without changing its own nature makes it no different from what is described as Brahman. Continue reading