Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Not knowing

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It seems to me, as I read what is commonly accepted as true on nondual lists, and what I myself once paid lip service to, but only had some very vague notions about, that it is generally accepted in modern circles of nonduality that one cannot 'know' the truth. That the truth is something unknown and unknowable, and that the less one knows, some how the better that is.

To my mind this frankly does not make any sense and never did.

But I also once blindly subscribed to the notion that truth 'doesn't make sense, and can't be known,' so I should just not try and make sense of it (good luck!), and that somehow, someday, if I was very lucky, this illusive thing called 'enlightenment,' which those higher ups on the stage at satsang gatherings claimed to have, might magically descend upon me from the sky.

There is so much which is untrue in the, now popular, doctrine of not being able to know the truth, that I think examination of the doctrine (as I was first exposed to it) might be useful.

First of all, in the ancient teachings of Advaita/Vedanta, which precede any other writings or teachings that I know of on the subject of nonduality, (including the teachings of Buddhism), we have the words, atma jnanam, brahman jnanam, atmavit, brahmavit, atma vidya, brahma vidya, tatvavit, jnani, and many others as well. All of these words mean 'self-knowledge,' or 'one who knows the self,' the knower of tat, the ‘tat’ of tat tvam asi , (tat, aka brahman, atma, self).

If these ancient teachings of nonduality contain such words, all of which mean self-knowledge, moksha, or enlightenment, then perhaps we should examine the now commonly accepted notion in nondual circles that the truth cannot be known.

So what do the words 'the truth (or the self) cannot be known' actually mean, because there is some meaning to those words, but that meaning has to be clearly understood.

The words simply mean the following. The self, the nondual truth of the creation, cannot be known as an object. It cannot be known using my usual means of knowledge.

No person can hold up an object and say categorically 'this object is the truth,' or 'here is the self.'

(For those who like to skip to the last page of the book, in the final analysis, we can hold up any and all objects and say 'this is the self.' But prior to getting the truth of that, a lot of understanding needs to first take place).

So back to basics. Although my self is not available to be known using my usual means of knowledge, that is, I can't see it, hear it, touch it, taste it, or smell it, I *can* know it. I cannot know it as an object, but I can know it as myself.

Why? Why can I know it? Because, first of all, you are here to be known, and secondly because you already know it.

"Well," you might say, "that sounds confusing." And without further explanation it is.

You are here. You exist. You are a conscious being. If you say 'yes' to those statements, then we can move on. If you say 'no,' then perhaps what is described below would not work for you.

If you say, "Yes, I know I exist. I know I am a conscious existent being," then we need to examine who (or what) this existent conscious being is, that you know yourself to be.

Is this consciousness a product of the body, (many people assume that it is), or is this existence/consciousness something else, something which is ever present?

Through a process of analysis, part of which is known as 'neti, neti,' we come to see that although everything having to do with the body/mind changes, 'I,' consciousness, never change or go out of existence at any time.

Arriving at the direct recognition that 'I,’ consciousness, never change, while everything else does, can take some time and the skilled application of various methods of pointing out.

In the end, what is recognized is that this self, this conscious/existent being which I am, is not a product of the body or mind, exists at all times, is ever present, never changes, cannot be touched or damaged in any way, and is the ground of all being. The direct recognition of my self, the ever present existent consciousness, as distinct from the changing body mind, is called 'self-knowledge.'

So to say that the truth cannot be known, directly contradicts the words of Advaita/Vedanta, which is most ancient teaching of nonduality that exists as far as I know.

What is true is that the self cannot be known using the usual means of knowledge which we use to cognize objects in duality. We cannot pick up one rock, and say this alone is the truth,' and then point to another object and say, 'and this isn't.'

In the end it is true, that we can point to any and all objects and say, 'the truth of any object is the self.'

But first we have to recognize that self as existing independently of any object, which can be done, because the self does exist independently and is already self-evident, but taken to be a product of the body, which it is not.

So once we have recognized my self as the conscious existence which is ever present, then we can go out and examine this seeming world of duality. Then through more analysis and means of pointing out, we come to the direct recognition that everything in the final analysis is my self alone. Everything 'shares' this existence, this knowness which I am, and therefore we say it is limitless. There is no second thing which in and of itself exists independently.

Thus we arrive at advaita, nonduality. This truth, the nondual truth of all which is seen and perceived, can be 'known,' not as an object, not as a concept, but is directly and completely known as my self.

This can happen because the self is entirely self-evident, and in fact already known, but previously overlooked or taken to be a product of those things which change.

It is because the truth can be known, the self can be known, can be directly recognized as the reality of all that exists, that the teachings of Advaita/Vedanta give us the words 'self-knowledge,' and also 'tatvavit,' the one who knows tat, (that self) to be my self. Tat tvam asi. That thou art. Having had this recognition, knowing this, is also called moksha.

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012