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Friday, October 28, 2022

Addendum to "Can we build further on Advaita Concept?"

 Before I post my thoughts for the next week, I wish to add my meditations on the post last week on “Can we build further on Advaita concept?”.

I started the post by stating that “Advaita philosophy seems incomplete to me. The reason is that it deals ONLY with consciousness (pragnana)”. And towards the end I asked:  Why not consider Brahman as composite?”.

Reflecting on these thoughts further, it seems to me that there is one level of awareness which relates to one’s life (jivan) and its relationship to oneself and to the outside world. This is called variously as “Self’, “Soul” or atman. This refers only to consciousness and awareness of available information. That is what I said last week, namely “Advaita philosophy seems incomplete to me. The reason is that it deals ONLY with consciousness (pragnana)”.

In meditation, particularly Buddhist meditation, we are asked to meditate on “Body in the Body”, “Feeling in the feelings”, “Mind in the mind” and “Objects of the mind in objects of the mind” to understand “things as they truly are” or “suchness of things”.  This obviously means reflecting on Body, Mind and Consciousness. All of them, including consciousness itself,  become objects of consciousness. If so, who is the Subject- the Primordial Subject?

In other words, the content of Consciousness at this level is a composite of Matter, Energy and Awareness. That is what I said last week when I asked: Why not consider Brahman as composite?”. This is probably what is called Brahman.

We then are asked to reflect on the impermanence and inter-being of everything in the cosmos and, the “one-ness of things”.  This is the state beyond dualities and is called nirvana in Buddhism.

In Sanskrit, the knowable Universe or Cosmos us called “Mayaprapanca (मायाप्रपञ्च), often translated to mean “Illusion made of Five elements”. One meaning of the word "maya" is illusion as in magic. One can interpret it to mean an illusory power behind the universe. But in Vedic Sanskrit, there are other meanings such as: "extraordinary power", "mystery" and "power of creation". Why not call the cosmos "mystery made of five elements?" 

 Why not call the unknowable Brahman as Mayaprathrayam (मायाप्रत्रयं)” (“Mystery made of Three elements”)?

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Can we build further on Advaita concept?

 On deep reflection, Advaita philosophy seems incomplete to me. The reason is that it deals ONLY with consciousness (pragnana). What about life? What about that awareness which makes us aware that “we know” and that “we do not know”? Is consciousness the same as self-awareness, or awareness of awareness (meta awareness) or both?

With our present knowledge, we do not know what consciousness is and what makes it possible. It is not equivalent to or synonymous with brain or mind. We do not know how a physical structure comes with a capacity to be aware of itself. That is why it is called the “hard problem” by neuroscientists.

Is there only one common universal thing called “consciousness” which occupies several minds or are there several individual consciousnesses in individual bodies? How does that state of being conscious leads to self-awareness and the idea of “self”?

Advaita says that there is only one called Atman (self-awareness, a sense of Self) and that it manifests in several bodies as consciousness. It goes on to say that we think Atman is many by misidentifying with the consciousness of individual physical bodies. Advaita also says that there is a universal awareness on which the individualized atman rests and that is Brahman.

But Samkhya says that there are as many atmans or “self”s as there are bodies.

Once you accept that “consciousness” is of one living organism (jivan) and is composed of subject, object, and the process of “knowing”, and that self-awareness or meta-awareness is what is referred to as Atman, or self or soul, it is appropriate to use an analogy to explain “the one” showing up as many. That analogy is that of naming diseases.

When physicians diagnose typhoid or Lyme disease, these entities are not just floating in the air in concrete forms. They are expressions we created to describe a set of observations in a human body. Diseases need a physical body to manifest and get named.

When someone has fever, rash, delirium, low blood counts and a positive blood culture for the typhoid bacteria, we diagnose the person as having typhoid. When someone – some living “body” – suffers from a swollen joint, a specific kind of rash following a tick bite, we designate it as Lyme disease. Typhoid and Lyme disease will have the same general characteristics irrespective of the individual body in which they manifest.

I like to look at this awareness called Atman or “self” or “soul” or meta-awareness using the example of naming diseases. For consciousness to appear, there must be a body with LIFE. Life is the first mystery. If there is no life, we will not even discuss Consciousness. Consciousness is potential and needs a body to manifest. To a living body it becomes inherent.

We recognize a disease only when it manifests in a physical body. Diseases affect only a few.

Consciousness is universal in all living entities with a functioning neural system and is recognized in association with a physical living body. Individual consciousness is multiple.

What we call Atman is awareness of this awareness. This also “appears” to be multiple since it is associated with individual consciousness. “It is not so” says Advaita Vedanta. Advaita also says that the special awareness called Brahman on which atman rests and atman are the same, but we do not recognize that "oneness" due to our ignorance. 

Advaita means “non-dual" or “no two”. It says that the individualized consciousness and its associated Atman are relative truths.  Brahman is the only ultimate truth. What appears to be Atman is indeed Brahman. We misidentify our individual consciousness (pragnana) with Atman, Self. We do not recognize that Atman is the same as Brahman, the Ultimate Truth. In summary, there is only one atman which appears to be many, and Brahman and Atman are the same in different planes.

To explain these contradictions, Adi Sankara coined the concept of mithya for relative truth and maya for the appearance of many when there is only one.

Adi Sankara, who postulated these ideas also says that what Vedas (sruti) say must agree with reality we experience. “Just because Vedas say that “fire does not burn”, it does not make it true”.

What I see in this world of relative truth and experience are physical objects. Consciousness is “ethereal”, non-concrete and is about something, including itself. Even if I can remove my spiritual ignorance and see everything as ONE and even if they are only manifestations in my Consciousness, where did they come from?  

Here is where I come to my “gut-feelings”. Consciousness is only one level of explaining the Universe. We still have to look at the mystery of life itself. We have also to look at the root of roots (I used plural in full awareness), which is called ஆதிமூலம் in Tamizh language.

Ha, the mystery of life! How do inanimate particles and aggregate matter become animate? The same metaphor I used earlier to understand consciousness can be applied to “life” too. Life is a potential. Life is based on exchange of energy between two bodies. For potential life to get actualized, it needs a body, a form. Without a body where is life? Without life, the body is “dead meat” as rudely pointed out by Nisargadatta Maharaj. After a living body comes consciousness.

Consciousness can be interpreted to mean information or data in modern language. This requires a support, which is material in nature. And as Seth Lloyd pointed out “to do anything requires energy. To specify what is done requires information”. Information rests on or carried on particles and data in the micro-world (quantum world?) and on physical objects in the macro-world. For consciousness to manifest, a “living body” is needed just as diseases do. Body, life, and consciousness go together.

Consciousness is non-concrete and needs a support (ashraya, in Sanskrit) or a vehicle, a living body - for manifestation. That applies to the meta-consciousness too which leads to the concept of Brahman, the Root of roots?  Either Brahman is a combination of Matter, Energy and Consciousness or the trio came out of that One Root.

Brahman, as Brahman is understood currently, is Universal, Self-generated and Illuminator of all things. Why not consider Brahman as composite. Using Samkhya terminology, why not consider Brahman as a composite of Prakriti (matter), Purusha (energy) and Mahat (knowledge)? The First Principle of this Universe must have had all these three components. This still begs the question. What was there before? Why?

Nasadiya Suktam (Rg Veda 10: 129) said it best: “Who is there who can explain how the Sat (the manifest) developed and from whom? Who knows for sure? Even the gods came only after the sat came into being. Then, who is to know from where it came?”     

 These are mysteries to appreciate, admire and surrender to in humility. I do. However, I hope it is not considered too arrogant to realign old thoughts with newer understanding of the universe and of the human mind. If we do not, what is the use of having been endowed with new knowledge and this glorious gift called mind?

Saturday, October 15, 2022

One Mind

 Thinking beyond duality, looking at the Essence of the Universe as is, 

The One Mind is the Open mind, that includes everything. 

The One Mind is the Universal Mind

"My" isolated mind relates to things, which means "me and the other", duality. 

My little mind which thinks, imagines and emotes 


the Universal, Big Mind 

Which makes “my” mind aware of its thinking, imagining and emoting

Are they the same?

Life is breath, rhythmic

Life is heart beating, rhythmic

"My" consciousness is complex and chaotic

But the Universal Consciousness is calm and continuous.

Like the wave and the water.

One moves and its base is still.

Wave and water are the same.

Without water there is no wave.

Why am I saying all this

At this time?

Because the "big mind" is taking "the little" mind there!

"My" little mind seeing itself as is, here and now.

Am I making any sense?

Do I have to?

Friday, October 7, 2022

Instinct, Intelligence and Intuition


We, humans, are driven primarily and instinctively by emotions to action. Most of the time they are reflexive and therefore, not always beneficial. Emotions can lead us astray and into danger.

We, humans, are also endowed with intelligence and a rational mind. We have to use this ability to reflect and act wisely for our welfare and for the welfare of others. We often misuse it to justify our actions rather than base our actions on proper use of intelligence. 

We, humans, are also capable of intuition, imagination, and insight. But we do not even know we have them and do not use them adequately and appropriately. 


Saturday, October 1, 2022

The "Wisdom of Five Fingers"

Natives of the island of Vanuatu Islands in the Pacific Ocean base their concepts of teaching their traditions to the children on the idea of "Wisdom of Five Fingers". In this concept, the little finger represents infants who are innocent and do not know anything. The ring finger represents children who are asking questions and are learning to do things. The middle finger represents independent adults who are doing things on their own. The index finger represents adults teaching their children. The thumb represents the elders of the society. They are just there, solid as a stone. Younger ones come to learn their traditions. The younger ones use the elders like a stone - to sharpen their knives!

This reminded me of an essay I had read several decades back in one of the issues of the Bhavan's Journal. In this essay the author explains the meaning behind the Indian way of putting the palms together in prayer or in greeting elders and guests. The little finger, which is farthest from our chest represents human ego. The ring finger represents human desires. The middle finger represents spiritual ignorance (which blinds us to the fact that Atman and Brahman are one). The index finger represents the Universal Force, the Brahman, which is in everyone (as Atman). The thumb closest to our chest is that Universal Force, the Brahman which is within oneself.

This also explains the chinmudra of Dakshinamurthy with the index finger and thumb touching each other which symbolizes the oneness of Atman and Brahman.

Ref: Neil McGregor. Living with the Gods.