Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Comment on Meditations on advaita
Professor Narayana Moorty

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The following is a letter from Professor Narayana Moorty to Dr. Ramesam on the latter's paper "Meditations on advaita":

Dear Dr. Ramesam Garu:

Thank you for giving me an opportunity to read your article on “Meditations on Advaita.” Although I find it interesting reading, I can’t fail to notice the logical gaps as well as scientific leaps in the reasoning in the paper, as I shall presently point out. Your fascination for science is evident in the paper. However, the paper represents, to my mind, another misguided attempt to bridge science and spirituality and to look toward science to help us achieve spiritual goals.

You pursue several aims in your paper: 1) to give an ‘evolutionary and scientific account’ of some key ideas and concepts in the field of spirituality (such as ‘mentation’, ‘thought’, ‘self’ and ‘consciousness’); 2) give an account of what you think goes in the Advaitic (or some other) meditational process by supplying their scientific equivalents; 3) give your scientific explanation/justification for some of the goals of meditation; 4) and finally, supply some kind of scientific or technological agenda for achieving spiritual goals such as liberation. In your paper you draw freely from brain chemistry, neurophysiology, sociology, evolutionary biology and other scientific sources.

To begin with, you say:

“Incisive logical thinking leads us to the surprise finding that nothing was ever created and all our troubles are the result of mentation, which is responsible for generating an imaginary ‘self’.”

You may consider this is as ‘incisive logical thinking’, but no psychologist or sociologist will confirm such a conclusion, for the normal thinking of the scientist is to say that ‘mentation’ may cause our ‘troubles’ and the ‘self’; but they are also our virtues as a human being and make us what we are. (It would be interesting for you to show how ‘mentation’ causes the ‘imaginary self’.)

You talk about ‘search’ for the Perceiver and you come up with various stages in the search such as sense organs. You give scientific equivalents of these items at various stages: but you fail to note that the items that are a result of search are entirely different entities from your scientific (physiological or brain) equivalents or your explanations. No one in their ‘search’, for instance, confronts the ‘I’-ness as an ‘epiphenomenon’, nor consciousness as the ‘detector element’! You talk as if what one finds in one’s search and the scientific phenomena you present as their equivalents are one and the same: for instance, you say: “Thus, indriyas , I-ness and the non-existing “self” are all brain processes that help in our apperception of what is seen.”

I am not sure what the point of this scientific analysis is.

In the following, again, you talk about ‘consciousness’ and ‘life-force’ as entities in their own right and look for their ‘source.’

You say:

So consciousness and life-force must have come from something else. That “something” must have existed prior to these two.

That “something” should obviously be independent of both consciousness and life-force. That is to say it should be immaterial to that “something” whether an organism is living or dead. Therefore, it must be ever present and should transcend life, birth and death. That “something” is “Awareness”. Or call it by any other name you like.

Is there something prior to Awareness?

We have just no way of knowing.

Your scientific analysis stops short of giving any explanation for ‘Awareness’. Is it because there is no objective scientific account that could be given for it? In that case, how could you include it in your scientific picture of what happens in meditation?

You seem to present the whole process of meditational ‘search’ as a logical process of thinking. Is it? If it is not, what does one do in meditation? How does the ‘search’ actually work?

I think your hope in writing a paper like this is to provide not just some sort of scientific account of what goes on meditation, but also to provide what you think are tools justified by science and congruent with tradition. For instance, one could use methods such as pressing the uvula with one’s tongue one could “suspend mentation and life-process will stop.” Wouldn’t one just die, then?

But you are not sure in your hope. So you say:

Such techniques and more vigorous tantric methods prescribed elsewhere like further stretching the tongue to touch the pituitary suggest that a state of null mind is achievable through manipulation of brain.

Let us hope that future scientific developments will be able to help in bringing about a shift from “self” to “Self” in the operational neuronal circuits of human brain.

This is just a hope (for instance, one really has to stretch the tongue quite far ‘to touch the pituitary!’). Your scientific bias and faith in science are well revealed in your hopes” that “a state of null mind is achievable through manipulation of brain,” and “future scientific developments will be able to help in bringing about a shift from “self” to “Self” in the operational neuronal circuits of human brain.

You also believe that “Future work on brain chemistry may be able throw up more such molecules that define the “ineffable bliss and inexplicable happiness” of a Jivanmukta.” People are nowadays doing with less than that, with ecstasy and such other drugs, and they are content!

My final comment is, if you hope to do this, then why bother with meditation or any other spiritual pursuit? Why even say, “You don’t have to acquire any knowledge...It is actually giving up what you have?” (Tell that to a scientist!) Why not just wait for science to come up with the trick? The problem with that approach, however, is that, once it is commercialized, it would only be accessible to the rich and powerful few! What happens to the rest of humanity? In fact, you said in this regard:

In order to scale up for mass application of what is achieved at an individual level to all of humanity, it is necessary to rewrite the high-skill algorithm to a low-skill routine. Understanding neurochemistry and the hierarchical neuronal “gateways” responsible for operationalising a “Universal Self” as against an individual “self” may help in this direction.

Good luck!

P.S: By the way, I have been putting up some notes and recent articles of mine such as “Thought, the Natural State and the Body -- Deconstruction of Spirituality in UG Krishnamurti,” Phenomenological Deconstruction (or Dissolution) of the Mind-Body Problem,” “Other Minds, Privacy and Private Language,” “My Last Visit with UG,” “Being with UG – His Teaching Process,” and “How I Met UG,” on my Blog Page: You may be interested in checking them out.

With best regards,
Narayana Moorty

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012