Original questioner, a Doctor, training in psychiatry: What does the brain do after we die, how long does it stay conscious?
A (Marcus Geduld, Shakespearean director, computer programmer, teacher, writer, likes dinosaurs.) Answered Nov 24, 2014 : Nothing happens to it. It’s dead. ‘Switched off.’ That’s basically the definition of death—when your brain totally stops functioning. This question is kind of like asking how long a radio keeps on playing when it’s switched off.
Q. How can we inquire into our true self, if the one inquiring (mind) is not actually the self?
A: You are not the mind – it is an instrument if you like. You are the Consciousness that ‘reflects’ in the mind.
Q: By saying that the mind is an instrument, are you suggesting that the mind can refer to our true self (pure consciousness) during contemplation?
A: I am not clear what you are asking here. By ‘mind is an instrument’, I mean that who-you-really-are is not the mind; you are using the mind to interact with the world. (Indeed the ‘mind enlivened by Consciousness’ effectively ‘creates’ the world by separating out forms and giving them names.) The mind is itself inert and cannot do anything without Consciousness (your ‘true self’).
Q: If thought has some form of awareness, as demonstrated by introspection, and its ability to refer to contents of the mind, would it be out of the realm of possibility to assume that it is the one responsible for direct experience of mental objects? How can we be certain that awareness is an independent entity when it is something that seems to also be possessed by thought in some instances?
Q1. Many advaita teachings suggest that on the absolute level of reality, there are no objects, no people, no selves, and many times, people will say that, ‘from awareness’ point of view, there is just awareness’… However, in my experience it seems that awareness has the ability to know finite objects because ‘I’ (awareness) am the observer of thoughts, feelings, and sensations (all finite objects). So how can we say that from awareness’ point of view there are no objects, when awareness is aware of finite things? To piggyback off of this, is there some way to differentiate between the witnessing position and the absolute viewpoint? because I think this is where I am really getting mixed up.
Q2. Why does it seem that awareness can know something finite when it is infinite? I’ve heard from certain advaita teachers that consciousness takes the form of the mind in order to know finite objects, but this confuses me because that would imply that awareness becomes the mind, but is also simultaneously aware of the mind. It seems a little far fetched in my opinion, but maybe I’m just not understanding it completely.
A: I never use the term ‘awareness’ for precisely this sort of reason. It is a term used by Nisargadatta and his disciples and causes much confusion. I only use it in the context of X being ‘aware of’ Y, in duality.
The non-dual reality in Advaita is called Brahman, strictly speaking. Being non-dual, it has no ‘attributes’ If it had the attribute X, this would mean that it could not be ‘not-X’, which would then negate the fact that Brahman is said to be unlimited or infinite (anantam). You might find the 3-part post beginning https://www.advaita-vision.org/satyam-gyanam-anantam-brahma/ useful.
Q: How can I be sure that the true nature of Brahman is happiness? Also, can Brahman’s nature be happiness if happiness has objective qualities, and Brahman doesn’t?
A: Brahman cannot be described. If it had a property, it would have to ‘not have’ the opposite property. And Brahman is non-dual – there is nothing other than Brahman. All ‘adjectives’ apparently used to describe Brahman are not in fact adjectives in the usual sense. They are ‘pointers’ to help you to understand Brahman intuitively.
Q: Oftentimes in my inquiry, phrases will pop up that say, ‘I am not thought,’ ‘I am not that which I am aware of,’ ‘I am the awareful witness,’; however, aren’t these phrases simply just contained, and being said by thoughts themself, thus invalidating their truthfulness? – thought is not awareness, thought is thought.
Q: If thoughts arise from Consciousness, and Consciousness is the Absolute, AND we are all connected to the Absolute, why do we not all have the same thought simultaneously?
A: This is one of those many questions which confuse reality and appearance. The absolute reality is that there is ONLY Consciousness and, from that perspective you cannot say any more. At the level of empirical reality, there is clear duality – world, object, separate people etc. At this level, separate people have distinct thoughts, which are private. You cannot mix these two levels except to acknowledge that the empirical level is only an appearance (even though we believe it is real most of the time). As a crude metaphor, you might suppose that you take a lump of gold and make a ring and a bangle from it. If you drop the ring in some chemical and it is tarnished, you might ask why, since the ring and bangle are the same gold, does the bangle not become tarnished also. But this metaphor has its limitations!
Every sensation, emotion and thought is the direct result of past karma (action). In each incarnation we bring forth parabdha karma – that portion of sanchita karma, our total karmic bank account, meant to be experienced, learned from and neutralized in this life.
Think of parabdha karma as images on a film strip, vasanas (impressions) in consciousness left from past action. The light of true self, awareness, then shines through these impressions, creating a three dimensional, five sensory experience called me and my life.
Like any good movie, it’s easy to become hypnotized by the drama and lose touch with what is real. In realizing we are not the projected story but the awareness which animates it, we release the life or death grip we have on moment to moment experience. This is the process of dis-identification or non-attachment the Buddha spoke of.
Imagine the sky with clouds moving through it. The sky is a metaphor for awareness and clouds, the objects of sensation, emotion and thought. In meditation we practice welcoming the clouds, blessing them and then bringing our attention back to the breath. In time, we even let go of the breath and dwell in the space between the clouds – awareness, a reflection of our true nature appearing in the mind. Continue reading →
Q: Should a person have compulsorily experienced nirvikalpa-samādhi in order to know that he has a mind which is prepared for jñāna? In other words, is experience of nirvikalpa-samādhi a must as a sādhana?
A (Venkat): Nirvikalpa-samAdhi is an experience of the absence of objects, for a finite period of time, which the experiencer eventually exits to re-perceive the world. As it is not permanent, it is not real. Any temporary experience that is witnessed cannot be a pre-requisite for j~nAna – since j~nAna is the permanent dissolution of the illusory I-thought.
“Abiding permanently in any of these samadhis, either savikalpa or nirvikalpa, is sahaja. What is body consciousness? It is the insentient body plus consciousness. Both of these must lie in another consciousness which is absolute and unaffected and which remains as it always is, with or without the body consciousness. What does it matter whether the body consciousness is lost or retained, provided one is holding on to that pure consciousness? Total absence of body consciousness has the advantage of making the samadhi more intense, although it makes no difference to the knowledge of the supreme.” – Sri Ramana MaharshiContinue reading →
This is the mental ‘occurrence’ which supposedly causes enlightenment. It is the vRRitti (thought modification) in the form of (AkAra) the formless or undivided (akhaNDa). (Personally, I no longer favor this view and will endeavor to find some quotations which show that it is not quite like this for most people!)
Please submit your quotes, short extracts or personal blogs on this topic!
Attention surely is timeless. If I am listening, I am all there. Being totally in the present, I am not thinking ‘about’. That may come afterwards. But in the moment of giving attention, listening, I am there, in the present; I am Presence itself. I am not in time; the past plays no part whatsoever in giving attention, in being aware, nor does speculation on the future. If I have even the least expectation (as desire or fear), I am not fully attentive but indulge myself within the realm of thought. I am indeed totally fulfilled in the moment. What prevails is a state of total freedom, and death has lost its sting.
It looks to me that we are besieged by two genres of thought.
When I say two genres, I do not mean the yes- no- thoughts or being double minded and undecided in our view about things. Nor do I refer to split personalities. Actually it has NOTHING to do about the “content” of the thought. What I have in mind is about the suite or family of thoughts – based on their possible source of origin (real or apparent).
As advaitin-s, we all know that everything is a manifestation of brahman. We shall use the term ‘Universal Self’ for It. The Universal Self is kUTastha – does not do or intend to do anything. It is changeless, actionless, eternal and It is Beingness-Consciousness-Infinity. We also know that we act, talk, walk, eat, breathe and live as an individual. We shall use the term ‘self’ for this separate entity. Continue reading →