Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Dialog on
Meditations on advaita

Dr. Vemuri Ramesam

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The following dialog is between Dr. Vemuri Ramesam and Dennis Waite, following on from the former's paper "Meditations on advaita":

1) Dennis: The first part does read as though you are suggesting that man ‘invented’ advaita in the same way that it has been said we invented God, in order to provide some sort of cushion against the harsh realities of the world.

Ramesam: In a way, yes. But I would like to replace the word ‘invented’ with “realized.” The realization could also be to those who wrote Upanishads. As you know the classical orthodox Vedanta says that Vedas were God given. Every Vedantin starts with the four Mahavakyas, upfront with Brahman, with a priori assumption of God, as the starting point and works downwards explaining evolution of world in steps of mahat, maya etc. In contrast, Buddha, JK, Nisargadatta start with man and what he observes and work towards Oneness.

You need to bear in mind here that there has never actually been any creation at all. Ideas about upwards or downwards, evolution etc. are just games played by the mind.

I agree.

2) The feeling of ‘I am, I exist’ that we have IS brahman; IS consciousness – it is not an ‘epiphenomenon’. It is the identification of this ‘I’ with a body and a mind which is a mistake and could be called ‘ego’. I.e. ‘I’ am not a ‘person’ and ‘personality’ or ‘individuality’ is associated with this mistaken body-mind, not with ‘who-I-really-am’.

What you said is perfectly true. I am making explicit an intermediate step. It was getting subsumed in the way the sentences are expressed by you. That step is: “It is the identification of the “I” with body and a mind which is a mistake.” Agreed that my consciousness, my “I” is Brahman. Who then is committing the mistake? Who is the doer of that “mis-identification? Our so-called mind (which includes ego) itself plays tricks on us by splitting itself into two as repeatedly pointed out by Mr. J. Krishnamurti, UG and also Sri Nisargadatta. When the mind plays that duplicating role, we can easily confuse between “I” Brahman and I, the duplicate.

The confusion is between paramArtha and vyavahAra. Any ‘schizophrenia’ on the part of the mind is all at the level of vyavahAra and only complicates the matter. The question of ‘who is it who has the ignorance’ is also one that the mind can play with for a long time. I think Ramana simply asked ‘who is asking this question?’

As it was famously put, “Who am I.” This particular “I” is the duplicate I was referring to in my above statement.

3) In association with this, it is not the neuronal activity that generates this ‘I’ feeling.

If by “I”, you meant the “Universal Self” (as per the terminology in my paper), I do have to admit that there are no neuronal studies on such a subject. If “I” represents the thinker in me, we do have corresponding neuronal activity in certain networks of neurons as fMRI studies have shown (some citations were provided in my paper.) EEG is the cumulative electrical activity of thinking. This electrical activity of ‘thought’ is now being exploited in robotic movement: “I-want-to-turn-right” thought moves the robotic arm to right side. Macaque monkeys could feed themselves moving a robotic arm by thought, without moving their own limbs.

The bottom line regarding all such scientific analysis has to be that scientists, science, brains etc. are all equally mithyA. What is the point in spending time on such pursuits? Certainly, if the dream self is feeling unwell then go to the dream doctor and take some dream medicine. But, when you awake, it is all seen to have been irrelevant and meaningless. Seeking explanations for paramArtha in vyavahAra is futile.

While the dream analogy is appropriate as a metaphor, a model, to bring in the ephemeral nature of the world, fortunately or otherwise, we are all (including the liberated individual) are governed by its space-time dynamics. Science is a tool in understanding that space-time dynamics which cannot be avoided even after being “awake” (= liberated).

The *body-mind* of the liberated individual is still subject to time and space but ‘who-I-really-am’ was never subject to time and space to begin with. The point I am making is that science can never investigate or comment upon or understand ‘who-I-really-am’.

The last sentence above is the real crux of the issue and catches the jugular of my essay. It is one thing to foreclose the issue with a firm conclusion. But it is another to be open and continue to investigate. As Feynman famously said, “I wonder why; I wonder why I wonder why.”

The Cartesian dichotomy of mind and matter, spirit and science makes us to bundle science and push it away with we-they approach. No doubt in the past, that attitude helped to keep at arms length the authority of the Church in scientific investigations. But it is no more so as bemoaned by philosophers like Prof. Searle. Science is not any more just a dead tool; it is an organismic, live, dynamic methodology, an approach. It does not deal with merely objects and objectivity. Even ‘subjective’ methods of investigation are objectively being pursued.

True at one time, scientists kept themselves aloof from subjects like consciousness, self. After “The Decade of Brain”, supported by the latest technological improvements, reputed neuroscientists are researching these topics. Famous theoretical Physicists like Penrose, Henry Stapp, Evan Walker are not averse to tackle nebulous issues of consciousness. Very good experimental investigations are being done at Wisconsin, Arizona and many well-known universities. The Dalai Lama too has been cooperating in the investigation of so called spiritual matters. Physicists are now going beyond the space-time restricting physical laws. They are not afraid of talking about extra dimensions, 96% of missing universe or calling even gravity to be an illusion (Maldacena, J., Sc Amer, 2005)!

It is time we come out of the impermeable boundary Descrates created and see mind-matter as continuity; we cannot afford to think in fragments closeted by walls. “Among things conducive to liberation, Bhakti alone holds the supreme position”, says Shankara. The real Bhakti, as defined by Shankara is “a continuous investigation, the seeking after one’s real nature or an inquiry into the truth of one’s own Self” (Vivekachudamani, Verses 31-32. With all the advises he gave and methods he prescribed, he had no clue how the real change to “Universal Self”, the death of ego in a man occurs. He said it had to happen just by “Grace”, tat prasadat (Vivekachudamani). Sage Vasishta too said something to that effect. Apte interpreted Gita saying that the Pandava – Kaurava war was symbolical of our own internal conflicts. He said that ‘Ego’ symbolically represented by Bhishma in the story, could not be killed; it had to die by itself, on an appointed day.

We cannot incessantly brand everything as mithya and shut light out. After all, the guy who called it ‘mithya’ was using his mithya mind! The dream world of a dreamer is mithya compared to our wakeful state. But we do see the repercussions of that dream world reflected and recorded on instruments in the wakeful world. So also the Jivanmukta state must obviously be able to leave some footprints, sing some signature tunes somewhere in the wakeful world. (Of course I am not talking of colourful auras, magnetic fields, energy beams etc -- the parapsychological stuff. Sue Blackmore made extensive study of these).

An open mind, in fact so open that nothing, no prejudice sticks to it, is the true key. Science, with all its fallibilities, is an open inquiry, not a closed box. It is okay if we cannot reach the goal tomorrow. Millennia and millennia of years of the so called Teachers have not led the humanity to it. (Remember the python worship started over 70,000 yrs ago). I am carried away. I already seem to sound like a preacher. I guess I should stop.

4) I'm not clear what you mean by ‘unconscious and conscious together constitute Consciousness’. Certainly, ‘I’ am present during the three states as the ‘background’ in which everything appears to arise.

True again. The confusion is arising because of terminology. The Consciousness which you are equating to “I” is ‘Awareness’ in my paper. ( I followed the usage adopted in “I am That” of Shri Nisargadatta Maharaj.)

Yes, I did realize that – sorry! I do wonder why Nisargadatta had to do that, in contradiction to the general usage of everyone else, causing much confusion!

One other thing I wish to mention: The Freudian sub-conscious has anyway gone out of use. ‘Consciousness’ is a word that carries much baggage in terms of different connotations of this word as used by Indian authors. Though popularly, ‘conscious’ and ‘unconscious’ are taken as two distinct parts, there is no such fragmentation as pointed out by Mr. J. Krishnamurti. Modern neuroscience also tends to define being ‘conscious’ is more like focusing a search light on small area within the totality of conscious + unconscious.

5) You say ‘the world is a seamless part of you’. The world is mithyA – it has no existence separate from you; it is only name and form. That is not quite the same thing.

Again, this is terminological. As long as I see my body, in the existential sense, I see distinct entities out there, a hill, a road, a house, a girl etc separate from one another. This separation is illusory; it is all a seamless Oneness.

6) You say that there is no knowledge to be acquired. This is to confuse self-knowledge and objective knowledge and indeed is the crux of the problem of thinking that science can throw light on advaita. Self-knowledge is most certainly NOT ignorance in advaita. Indeed, self-knowledge is the only remedy for self-ignorance and is essential if we are to become enlightened and so realize the truth of advaita.

Sorry, I have to beg to differ here. Bhagavad-Gita, Shankara’s Vivekachudamani and many other texts do point out that all knowledge, including scriptural knowledge does not help. Saying that ‘acquisition’ of Self-knowledge will result in dissolution of ‘mithya’ is also not correct as you are aware. It will sound as if ‘realization’ is a result of that acquisition. As Shankara pointed out in his commentary on Gita, perhaps there is an in-built awareness about Self, I do not know.

Yes, but the knowledge that ‘does not help, including scriptural knowledge’ is the objective knowledge to which I refer. (I don’t believe I ever suggested that anything resulted in the dissolution of mithyA. The world still appears as the world to the self-realized.)

‘Acquiring’ knowledge in this manner is not the same as immediate, self-knowledge of the bhAga tyAga lakShaNa type. This most certainly does help; indeed it is the only ‘way’ of obtaining enlightenment. In fact, ‘enlightenment’ and ‘self-knowledge’ are synonymous. Self-knowledge is not acquired – we already have it; it is just ‘covered over’ by self-ignorance. This is why it is ‘recognized’ (known again) when presented by the teacher.

7) The paragraph beginning ‘However, a lurking doubt persists...’ also betokens some misunderstanding. The dream is prAtibhAsika, the world is vyAvahArika. This is why the world does not evaporate when we awaken. But the world is mithyA as already pointed out. The jIvanmukta knows this and this is why he is no longer overwhelmed by the apparent suffering – he knows that, IN REALITY, no one suffers. There is no question of being ‘lost in a noumenon’! Certainly, the body-mind continues to pay taxes etc. but it is known that ‘I am not the body-mind’ and that is the crucial difference.

But the ‘being knowledgeable’ that “I am not body” does have the shades of ‘being lost in a noumenon’. It all depends on how a state is expressed and the unfalsifiable conviction.

From this standpoint, one would have to say that the waker is ‘lost in his waking state’, having recognized that he is not the dream-person in the dream from which he has just awoken.

8) Achieving states of bliss has nothing to do with enlightenment.

Perfectly true. I hope I have not called those two words as equivalent in my write up.

No, but you speak of “the ineffable bliss and inexplicable happiness” of a Jivanmukta”. The word ‘Ananda’ is potentially misleading and, to avoid such mistakes, it is better to use the word ‘ananta’ (unlimited). To produce a drug that brought about a state of ecstasy would mean absolutely nothing in respect of enlightenment or the jIvanmukta.

The phrase – ineffable bliss and inexplicable happiness – is used in a qualitative way to describe Jivanmukta. In practical terms, the phrase has to be taken to mean he not affected by the pairs of opposites. The ineffable bliss does not represent a state of arousal or altered consciousness as obtained by use of drugs like ecstasy.

9) It is not true that the jIvanmukta ‘lives in a world undefined by any bounds or dimensions’.

What I meant was he does not have limitations, confining boundaries, he is spread everywhere, he exists everywhere, beyond time, he is Brahman. (a point made by Yogavaasishta, Shri Nisargadatta, JK)

Yes, but the body-mind still lives in the world and is just as subject to the laws of nature as it was before. A jIvanmukta is a person whose mind has realized that who-he-really-is is brahman. At the level of vyavahAra, everything carries on as before.

10) It is not true that ‘actions and experiences do not get recorded as memories’ How would the jIvanmukta teach if he could not remember what he had told the students the previous day?

I have to answer this based on some references occurring in literature:

a. Shri Ramakrishna after he became a Paramhansa told one lady that he had to force himself to come out of the state of One with God in order to be able to communicate with visitors. For conversing etc. he said he had to use his ordinary mind (‘self’ node as per the terminology of my article); otherwise he was not useful for anybody, as he put it. Therefore, only ordinary mind stores info. and is used in conversations and communication.

turIya is not a ‘state’. Here, Ramakrishna is referring to samAdhi. He did, indeed spend much of his time in this state. Using the mind in the waking state does not affect turIya or the jIvanmukta’s realized status.

b. Mr. J. Krishnamurti repeatedly pointed out in his talks that mind is required for day to day living, remembering the way back home after attending his talks etc. He even said, “Look the beauty of it, Sir, to know when to remember and when to just observe without forming a record in brain” and variations of this statement.

c. It comes out clearly in the conversations of Shri Nisargadatta and also UG (and sometimes in JK) that when questions were asked, they do not use any thinking (a process of memory). They themselves observe that words get mouthed by them as if a tape-recorder was playing elsewhere. Thus they distinguish the “Universal Self” they were in and the memory apparatus within their brain.

This is acknowledging that they themselves are not ‘doing’ anything; the answers are simply ‘arising’. But it is not a denial of the existence of memory. The teaching is heard or read and recognized (or not) and passes into memory. It then ‘emerges’ again in response to the question. The ‘tape recorder’ *is* the memory within their brain. The ‘universal Self’ is answering the question via that mechanism, if you like.

d. After the attainment of Jivanmukta state, a seeker does not remember a thing. He becomes so silent, a muni (from mauna). Accounts say that it happened so with Buddha. Vivekachudamani also says that a seeker becomes absolutely silent after ‘realization’. UG had to relearn everything as graphically described by him after his ‘calamity’, (in 1969) a word he used.

The ‘silence’ refers to the fact that the absolute cannot be directly spoken of; it has nothing to do with forgetting everything on realization. I don’t know about UG – presumably his brain was damaged?

e. Last, but not the least: In the Bhagavad-Gita, Arjuna becomes completely dumb when he experienced the Jivanmukta state or equivalent in the eleventh chapter. Vyasa, the great story teller that he was, used Sanjay to describe Arjuna’s condition. In that state Arjuna did not have the ordinary mind where memory of language was available. Therefore, he was speechless.

Having ‘seen’ the ‘form’ of Krishna, being ‘struck dumb’ is understandable. Similarly having envisaged the terrible defeat of his enemies. Neither of these suggests loss of memory to me.

Thus it appears to me that our normal mind has to be used for memory. A Jivanmukta has the benefit of being in the “Universal Self” calling for ‘mind’ for day to day memory functions, including his teachings.

The jIvanmukta is not ‘in’ the Universal Self; he realizes that he is brahman. But the names and forms continue as before. The mind is just as much available as it always was. In fact the knowledge that he is brahman is itself in that mind.

I should clarify one point. The statement “actions and experiences do not get recorded as memories” refers to actions done as Jivanmukta. By definition, there is no “doership” to a Jivanmukta. When there is no doership, there is no ‘experiencer’. If there is no experiencer, there is no experience. If there is no experience, it means there is no record forming, i.e. no memory. This is more clearly explained by Mr. J. Krishnamurti.

I think you are being too literal here. The jIvanmukta knows that he is neither a doer nor an enjoyer. But the body-mind still effectively ‘does’ things and, if it preferred coffee to tea before, it will still prefer coffee to tea. If asked whether he want tea or coffee, he will answer ‘coffee’ – and there will be enjoyment of the coffee. This ‘drinking tea’ and ‘enjoyment’ are experiences in the same way that we normally use the term. Furthermore, if you ask him two hours later whether he drank tea or coffee, he will answer ‘coffee’ by resorting to memory in just the same manner has he has always done.

Nothing that you have said seems to address the basic, and to my mind irrefutable problem concerning a scientific investigation into Consciousness. This is that it would always be you (the subject) doing the investigation and, no matter what you find, the findings would always be about something objective. Any tool that you devised could only look at some object. E.g. you might have some ultra-sophisticated computer linked into your brain to monitor everything (you could conceive of) and correlate the findings. But this would all be about the brain and its functions. You are not the brain. Even supposing that you could find some way to investigate such things as memory and volition (i.e. the ‘subtle’ aspects of the ‘mind’), this would still only be telling you about subtle objects. It would tell you nothing about you, the ultimate subject who is the witness of all of this.

You actually acknowledge this yourself when you say: “Science is not any more just a dead tool; it is an organismic, live, dynamic methodology, an approach. It does not deal with merely objects and objectivity. Even ‘subjective’ methods of investigation are objectively being pursued.” You cannot pursue any investigation other than objectively by definition – you, the subject, are investigating something, the object. And it will necessarily always be so. Nor can you attempt to circumvent this problem by investigating ‘someone else’s subject’; this would still be you investigating an object. There is no way out.

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012