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Saturday, December 31, 2022

More of the same

 Atman is the “knower”, functioning in all individualized lives. Brahman is the collective aspect of Atman. Atman and Brahman are the same according to Advaita.

The “knower” cannot be the object of knowledge, because knowledge depends on the “knower”.

Atman, the “knower” is a witness to

                Several states of mind such as “I am sad”, “I am happy”.

                Several states of awareness such as “I am awake or sleeping or dreaming”.

                Aware that “I know this” and “I do not know that”.

That is about the essence of what Adi Sankara said. Learning to experience that state of being a witness is the essence of meditation. But Buddha is wrongly quoted as saying that there is no such thing as "atman". What does one meditate on then - a void?

In opposing the Buddhist view of anatman, he went on to say that if Atman and Brahman are illusions, not real, “all that remains are a group of impermanent things; permanent happiness and someone who can realize that permanent happiness cease to exist”. He further said: “Emptiness (sunyata) and absence of self (anatman) of Buddhism are dark and bleak concepts. If you can see Brahman in everything it is blissful and full of light”.

In his critique of the Buddhist ideas that we have only moments of consciousness and there is nothing called a “perceiver”, Gaudapada says: “In the absence of a common unchanging substratum it is not possible to be aware of change of consciousness from moment to moment. If there is no substratum, how can one be aware of momentariness of thoughts and the experience of pain and misery?  If all that exists is void, there must still be a perceiver of the void. Otherwise, who or what is there to assert that void?”

Learning about these intellectual discussions does not contribute one bit in one's spiritual journey, except to keep the flame of self-discovery going.  

Saturday, December 24, 2022

All Pervading, All Penetrating

 In Buddhist meditation, deep reflection on true nature of things should include meditation on the “I” as a body with form, name, life, and consciousness. Consciousness makes it possible for the “I” to be conscious of the “I”.

A component of “I” (the big and universal) is its own consciousness because without it “I” (the small, particular) does not arise. Conversely, a content of the consciousness is the “I” it is illuminating.

I do not know the purpose of life in general. But the purpose of consciousness is to help the individual life in which it operates to live. That means consciousness helps the “I” relate to the external world to survive through the mind and sense organs and organs of action. That means desire is a crucial inherent property or character of the mind. To survive is to eat and breath and not be eaten by someone else.  Survival instinct requires the individual to be curious and explore.

Exploration and curiosity are part of seeking a mate also. But that is a different story.

Exploration may yield something useful to survive which means hope is part of it. But exploration may not yield anything useful to survive but may land the “I”, the individual, in danger. Therefore, curiosity is always tinged with caution and anxiety. That is how the “I” learns to survive by trial, error and memory of past events.

In the process of taking care of individual needs to survive, the individual forgets that other individuals are also struggling with the same realities of life and living. The individual also forgets that the construction of the external world is the creation of the “I”, not the external world as it is, in its “suchness”.

Since “I” am partly made of my own consciousness and since consciousness arises in “me” and since the particles and energy I am made of pervade the entire cosmos (sarvavyapi) and also pervade every part of my inside (antaryami), why not consider my body as similar to a mud pot immersed in water, as had been suggested in the Vedic thoughts. The water inside the pot is the same as the water outside. When the pot breaks, the water remains as before.

Or consider myself as the wave, as the Buddhist teachings say. The wave is the water. The wave is a transient thing with a form. When the wave disappears it becomes one with water which was its base. 

At the core, everything is made of particles of matter and the associated energy which they carry. Reason does not lead us to a primordial cause, because if there was one, where did that come from? How can something come from nothing? Can there be a causeless cause? Since scientific studies suggest that the cosmos we live in and experience are made of particles and energy which have been there eternally making up the unseen aspects of the universe, why not call that particle-energy combination as the Brahman or whatever name any culture wants to call and merge with that? And why not concentrate on the present moment which is part of that eternity?

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Consciousness (chitta) and Mind (manas) (corrected version)

 In Sanskrit literature, the words Chittha and Manas are used interchangeably. Even the word pragna is used in the same sense as these two words. In addition, the definition of these words varies between different systems of philosophy. For example, the word Chittha may stands to mean (translated into English) consciousness, mind, thought, intellect, ego, and awareness.

Mind is considered to be one of the sense organs (in addition to the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin) in the Indian and Buddhist systems of philosophy. This sensory mind is different from the parts of the mind involved with thinking, intellect, ego, and action.

Given that our current knowledge of brain, mind and their functions have advanced immensely, it is better to peg the word chittha to consciousness and the word manas to the mind.

When we do that, we can talk about Chitta (consciousness) with its level, content, usual states, altered states and functions.  Similarly, manas defined as mind, has its component functions. Both the mind and consciousness require a life for their emergence.  If there is no life, there is no mind, there is no consciousness. Therefore, it appears that the primary function of the mind and the consciousness is to take care of the needs of the body with which they are connected.

To take care of the “individualized” life with which consciousness and mind are connected, both must relate to the world outside and to the inner person. They must relate to the outside world and interpret them through sensory inputs and proper interpretation in a way conducive to the welfare of the body and the mind of the individual. They should also be aware of the internal responses of the individual to external events and make sure they align with the perceptions generated from outside and from within the body.

The basic construction of the brain and therefore of the mind is primarily oriented towards selfishness – self-preservation. Given the higher faculties we humans are endowed with, including the ability to use language to express concrete and abstract ideas, it is our duty to train the mind not to be purely selfish and learn to look inward, relate to the rest of the world with love and compassion and reflect on the commonality of life and consciousness. In other words, develop spirituality.

Spirituality is using consciousness (chitta) to train the mind (manas) so it can

1.       Relate to other lives and the cosmos

2.       Recognize that our perception is not compete since we cannot know what it is like to be the other (true nature of things as they truly are) and therefore

3.       Develop compassion

4.       Recognize that my perception includes me as the subject of that perception and cannot be separated and therefore selfish by nature

5.       Try to see the outside world for what it is, as is, and not as I think it to be

6.       Recognize that everything I see and feel are separate with a form and a name, are impermanent and inter-dependent

7.       But, at the core, are part of the same whole

8.       Realize that happiness and suffering are part of life

9.       Therefore, not to create an imaginary world of permanent happiness, a land of honey and milk, a land somewhere else to escape to

10.   To acknowledge and accept that life and consciousness are mysteries to surrender to, admire and become humble

11.   To look for conditions for happiness here and now

12.   To acknowledge the fact that lives come and go and even Buddha, Shankara, Ramana, Jesus and Ramakrishna had to leave this earth

13.   To develop our own purpose and direction for a meaningful life

14.   Of humility, loving-kindness, compassion, sharing and caring AND

Live a life of Peace within oneself and Harmony with the rest of the world and the cosmos.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Virtue, Dharma and Moral Relativism

 I came across several items under the term Virtue in Western philosophy. In the Classical teachings, there are seven cardinal virtues. Four of them are general and include Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude and Justice. Three are theological: Faith, Hope and Charity and I have read somewhere that Charity is the only essential virtue in this category. In Christian theological literature, charity stands for Divine mercy or grace.

Modern-day psychologists have a modified version of virtue (s), which they say is practical. That list includes Wisdom, Temperance, Courage, Justice, Transcendence and Humanity.

It is too bad that Western philosophy has become too academic and not grounded adequately on living this life in this complex world. In addition, in this era of scientific approach to problem-solving, the emphasis is on how to modify these qualities into measurable items, as if they become scientific and acceptable once a number is given. Look at the multitudes of scale to measure psychological traits just as empathy and compassion.

In addition, western ideas suffer also with the need for “yes” or “no” answers. Shades and nuances make people uncomfortable.

Why not the western world incorporate the Indian idea of Dharma in its vocabulary with a full understanding of what that word means? It has already accepted words such as karma, avatar and guru! Thinking about the word Dharma, it is clear that in the English language there is no one all-encompassing word to capture all the components of that concept as expressed in that Sanskrit word. Some close approximation may be found in words such as virtue, meta-ethics, and moral relativism. 

Dharma allows for a range of options depending on the circumstances. It even says that when there are competing “good” answers, choose the one which will cause the least harm. That becomes moral relativism in the western school of philosophy and therefore suspect. Is it not possible to develop rules of conduct but with exceptions built in based on strict definitions arrived at by consensus and developed with input from the members of the society?

Saturday, December 3, 2022

What is Spiritual Freedom

 The word Freedom stands for an important concept and can have several meanings, depending on the context. Freedom from what? Freedom to do what? In his famous illustrations of Four Freedoms for all Americans, Norman Rockwell included Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear.

This triggered my thoughts on what Freedom means from the Spiritual point of view. Desire and Fear have been listed as the most important triggers for human follies from the early days of civilization. This is particularly emphasized in the Vedic Hindu philosophy and Buddhist teachings. Now we know that these two basic emotions are triggered easily and are related to the survival of all species.

Based on my understanding of Buddha and of J. Krishnamoorthy, spiritual freedom is

            Freedom from fear and anxiety

            Freedom from concepts and dogmas, which means

            Freedom from the past and the future

            Freedom from orders and commands

Which will give me

 Freedom to experience my inner self and the Universe, and

Freedom to live a life of peace within and

a life of harmony with nature and the cosmos.