Q.456 The ‘hard’ problem

Q: Could you say something about the relationship between the ‘hard problem’ of consciousness in modern science and Advaita’s māyā?

A: Science’s problem is trying to explain how consciousness can ‘emerge’ from inert matter. Advaita’s problem is trying to explain how the world can emerge from Consciousness.

The concept of māyā is an interim explanation only. If it satisfies the listener and moves them forward towards accepting non-duality, then it has served its purpose. Ultimately, it is rejected by Advaita. There is only Consciousness. There cannot be Consciousness and a force called māyā.

Every(seeming)thing is non-dual Consciousness. There only seems to be separate things because our mind differentiates forms and gives them names. Just as in the clay-pot metaphor.

The concept of mithyā is better for ‘explaining’ the nature of the world. The world is not real ‘in itself’; it depends upon Consciousness for its existence just as the pot depends upon clay.

There is an essay – ‘Consciousness – not such a hard problem’ – on precisely this topic in my book ‘Western Philosophy Made Easy: A Personal Search for Meaning’.

‘Not Two’ – a Critical Review

On the face of it, this is a well-written and readable book, ideally suited for a new seeker. E.g. the sections on ‘The Illusory Nature of the Separate Self’ and ‘Knowledge Dispels Ignorance’ are excellent.

Unfortunately, should any reader accept everything that is written at its face value, they will come away with some serious confusions. In what follows, I apologize in advance for some of what may seem to be harsh criticisms, but my own perception of these points is heightened as a result of spending the last year writing my own work on ‘confusions’ of precisely this sort.

The author uses the traditional teaching method of adhyāropa-apavāda but it is not made clear when what is being said is only provisional. Also, there are very few references to the source of what is being presented. (And one of those that is provided doesn’t exist!) There are many places where the author writes ‘as Shankara said’ but scarcely a single pointer to where he said it. There are numerous places where I, as an informed reader, need those references before I will even consider what is being said to be credible!

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The world does NOT disappear

(Response to those who claim it does)

Some time ago (31st Oct 2020), during our prolonged discussions (beginning early Sept 2020) upon whether the world literally disappears when a jIva gains enlightenment (Ramesam and Venkat say that it does and I deny that), Ramesam asked me to provide references to support comments that I had made. Since this topic is very relevant to Volume 2 of my book on ‘Confusions in Advaita’, I have been researching and writing about it for the past 6 months. Since the various aspects now take up some 30,000 words plus, I will not be posting any more material – you will have to wait for publication of the book, unfortunately unlikely to be before 2023.

Apologies to readers who will find that this post is not particularly readable or directly helpful. The book presents all of the arguments in a logical and readable manner, only using the indicated quotations as supporting material. Here, the references only are presented solely to complete the earlier discussions and provide ‘answers’ to Ramesam and Venkat as the pUrvapakShin-s.

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Consciousness, brahman and mokSha

The taittirIya Upanishad explains brahman as:

सत्यं ज्ञानमनन्तं ब्रह्म ।  — 2.1.1, taittirIya upa.

[Beingness, Knowingness and Infiniteness is brahman.]

Unending Beingness and Knowingness is the nature of brahman.

There are two endpoints for anything in this world — one is the beginning and the other is the ending. But brahman, The Knowingness, as the Upanishad says is Infinite, without limitations or edges or endpoints. It has neither a beginning (origination) nor an end (culmination).

From a common sense point of view, it may be argued that “Knowingness” cannot exist on Its own in the absence of a knower and something to be known. Can Knowingness ‘be’ in a vacuum? Is Its presence not dependent on a knower who would have been the locus for It? In the usual parlance, knowingness is that which interlinks the ‘knower’ with the ‘known.’ With the two end-members being absent, can ‘Knowingness’ exist on its own independent of the other two? Continue reading

Me, “The Seer” and World, “The Seen”

Dhruva was an adorable little boy. He saw his half-brother, Uttama, sitting and playing on the lap of their father, King Uttanapada. He too desired to climb on to the lap of Uttanapada. But his step-mother could hardly tolerate that. She gave a tight slap to him declaring that he was unfit to sit on the lap of the King as he was not born to her but to another queen. Crest-fallen and deeply hurt, the little kid, with his eyes full of tears, ran to his mother. His mother, a highly noble lady, consoled him and advised that he should achieve something so that people look at him with awe. The little Dhruva left the royal palace and went away to a distant forest. He met with a group of Sages in the forest and narrated to them his soulful story. They advised him to meditate on Vishnu. So, he embarked on a very austere and rigorous course of meditation. Regretting heavily the developments, the King and all his retinue, his mother, the queen and all his family implored that he should give up his askesis and return home. The King was even ready to abdicate the throne and promised to coronate him. But Dhruva was unrelenting. He did not succumb to the temptations and was uncompromising in his resolve. He pursued his meditation with greater vigor. He meditated on Vishnu, the Ultimate. Continue reading

Dissolving The Apparent World

 On the insistent questioning of the highly determined Naciketas, Lord Yama had no alternative but to reveal the secret code to ending the transient mortal world and realizing the “immortality” that one actually and already is.  It is not some thing new that one acquires. It is prAptasya prAptiH (प्राप्तस्य प्राप्ति:). Or, as kaTha says at 2.5.1, विमुक्तश्च विमुच्यते (i.e. becoming freed, one becomes emancipated. In other words, he does not take up a body again).

Shankara explains it in his own inimitable way unpacking the involved intricacies in simple words. He writes in his commentary at 1.3.14, kaTha in the following way:

एवं पुरुषे आत्मनि सर्वं प्रविलाप्य नामरूपकर्मत्रयं यन्मिथ्याज्ञानविजृम्भितं क्रियाकारकफललक्षणं स्वात्मयाथात्म्यज्ञानेन मरीच्युदकरज्जुसर्पगगनमलानीव मरीचिरज्जुगगनस्वरूपदर्शनेनैव स्वस्थः प्रशान्तः कृतकृत्यो भवति यतः , अतस्तद्दर्शनार्थमनाद्यविद्याप्रसुप्ताः उत्तिष्ठत हे जन्तवः |    — Shankara at 1.3.14, kaTha Upanishad. Continue reading

chAndogya, 3.14.1:

We have had a long discussion on the mantra at 3.14.1 of the chAndogya Upanishad in Oct 2020. We examined its significance from both epistemological and ontological angles. We had also noted that the full thrust of the mantra can be appreciated only if the entire section, and the mantra at 3.14.4 and particularly Shankara’s commentary there on are also taken into account. Otherwise, there is a danger that one may try to read into the mantra a meaning which is not its purpose at all!

Somehow all of us missed a very highly relevant and meaningful point that Shankara makes about this mantra at 1.3.1, BSB . It has a clear bearing on our discussions and settles the issue, IMHO, without any scope for even an iota of doubt. I like to bring it to the attention of all the interested members. Continue reading

Post-Enlightenment Perception

Swami Krishnananda Saraswati of The Divine Life left his mortal coil on this day in 2001. He tells us in his explication of the chAndogya Upanishad that “With the present state of (our) mind it is not possible to understand what the perception of a Jivanmukta could be. We can only have comparisons, illustrations and analogies. But what actually it is, it is not possible for us to understand.”

Nevertheless, for a seeker on the Knowledge path, the topic whether the visible world (which does not exist in reality even now) will continue to appear after Self-realization or not, whether it would disappear like the proverbial snake on the rope or will continue to show up like the ghostly water in a mirage is ever evocative. That is, at least, until the final tipping point happens. The interest in this topic  cannot be said to be driven by mere idle academic curiosity. There is a genuine internal “urge” in every seeker to measure up oneself in assessing whether one’s own understanding of the Advaitic doctrine has remained at an intellectual level or has percolated down viscerally. Perception of a world can be a very easily testable “Marker” toward such an end. Continue reading

How To Be Disembodied?

The Post on “The ‘I-am-realized’ Delusion – 5” said, quoting Shankara, towards its end, that “Disembodiedness is the intrinsic nature of Atman” and that is liberation. The immediate question that arises then is “How to be disembodied?”

Before we answer this question, it is necessary to be absolutely clear in our mind about who is asking this question and why. If the question is being asked on behalf of the body and the reason for asking is to get rid of the miseries, sorrows and pains that the body undergoes in the world, well, Advaita in general and disembodiment in particular, is not the solution. Does it mean that the body’s problems of disease, decay, hunger, destitution cannot be solved at all? One cannot say “No.” However, one has to look for some other routes to achieve that. But those routes will not lead one to ‘Liberation’ – freedom from being born in the world. Continue reading

The “I-am-realized” Delusion – 5:

Part – 4

The Non-dual message of the Advaita doctrine is so deceptively simple that one feels tempted to say “I got It,” though in reality s/he has not. Fortunately for us, various scriptures and authorities like Shankara offer a number of means to test ourselves on our progress on the Knowledge Path so that we do not foreclose our sAdhana (practice) too soon. All through this Series of posts, we have been trying to provide many hints and markers that may help a committed seeker in protecting himself/herself from deluding prematurely that s/he is “Self-realized or Enlightened.” It has been our endeavor to present reliable self-appraisal mechanisms based on authentic sources and we shall continue below with a few more easily doable means of verifying the state of our “Realization.”

Shankara does not mince his words when he says at both 1.4.7 and again at 1.4.10, brihadAraNyaka:

अविद्याशोकमोहभयादिदोषनिवृत्तेः प्रत्यक्षत्वादिति चोक्तः |  — Shankara at 1.4.10, brihadAraNyaka. Continue reading