Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Why can’t I read your thoughts?
Benjamin, Greg & Dennis

flower picture

An edited discussion from the Advaitin Egroup in March 2004.


Regarding the concept of multiple consciousness, I do not believe in them at the ‘metaphysical’ level. For example, I deduce from the unity of Brahman that there can be no multiple consciousnesses. The only problem for me is that phenomenologically these pesky multiple streams keep intruding on my vision, paradoxically by the apparent absence of your consciousness in mine.

Illusion arises when the mind superimposes a false interpretation upon the immediate experience, thus seeing something that is not really there. The prime example is when it sees objects as being external to consciousness. The shapes and colors are indeed present in consciousness, but the interpretation of these shapes and colors as external to consciousness is the mind-imposed delusion.

The problem is that I do not think that my ‘phenomenological’ view of other streams of consciousness being distinct from mine arises from such an illusory interpretation. It seems to be the way it really is.

In the case of objects appearing external to my consciousness, I can understand that illusion in terms of a dream or a holographic projection. These examples give me vivid instances of how something that is only in consciousness can seem to be distinct from consciousness in an overpowering and almost magical way.

However, my gut impression that other streams of consciousness are distinct from mine is not like this at all. (Notice that I say ‘gut impression’ and not ‘belief’, because I do believe that the multiple streams reduce to Brahman.) Now the problem is not that my mind is superimposing a false interpretation on the shapes and colors in my consciousness, as was the case with material objects. Rather, the problem now is that the shapes and colors which appear to you do not appear to me. I see no way around this. It is not a snake on the rope situation; it is two different snakes (or so it seems).


It’s not like some seeings are ‘accurate’ and others aren’t. No seeing of objects, gross or subtle, is accurate. That is, no seeing reflects something that is ‘really there’. For to really be there, something must be independent of consciousness.

And the same goes for subtle objects, such as states, ideas, seeings, perceptions, lokas, koshas, devas, etc. Advaita doesn’t embrace realism about subtle objects.


Neither do I. I realize that my thoughts and feelings are no more different or distinct from my consciousness than the apparent objects of perception. I was talking about how we commonly imagine material objects as entities entirely distinct from perception. These material objects are supposedly the cause of our perceptions.

In that case, there are two entirely different entities: the perceptions and the material objects which supposedly cause the perceptions. In the case of thoughts and feelings, which are clearly in consciousness, the issue of an ‘external’ origin for them does not arise. So the arguments used to disprove the existence of material objects are irrelevant when it comes to ‘internal’ mental objects.

However, even with mental manifestations such as thoughts and feelings, the objectifying tendency of the mind is so powerful that it may often think of them as objects distinct from consciousness, however paradoxical this may be. Indeed our own perceptions are generally treated this way. At least, this is my experience. My thoughts, feelings and perceptions often seem to be on some kind of screen in my mind that is somehow distinct from the witnessing consciousness. These are the ‘subtle objects’ to which you refer. This is of course absurd. How could consciousness bifurcate itself in this way? This is a clear example of illusion, but it is an entirely separate issue from the existence of material objects.

So, to repeat, arguments used to disprove matter are not applicable to this subtle objectification. In the case of subtle objectification, one needs only to realize that thoughts, feelings and perceptions by their very nature must be in consciousness, so that it is absurd to assume otherwise.

And even after clarifying one’s thinking in this way, the issue of multiple streams of consciousness has in no way been addressed. The gross (material) or subtle (mental) objects which we have been discussing are all from the standpoint of one seeker, of one witness, of one ‘stream of consciousness’. Just as the arguments used to disprove material objects are irrelevant to the apparent objectivity of mental objects for one particular witness, they are even more irrelevant to the question of whether other distinct witnesses exist. The arguments used to disprove matter start from the perceptions of one witness and compare those perceptions to dreams. That one witness might as well be dreaming the material objects. This has nothing to do with whether there are other completely different dreamers dreaming whatever they are dreaming. To reduce different dreamers to one single consciousness (Brahman) requires entirely novel arguments.


Your idea that there are other streams of consciousness distinct from yours is based on a misunderstanding if it’s a view you’re defending. If there is more than one stream of consciousness, then at least one of them must be an object.


This is more of the same. You are confusing two different meanings of the word ‘object’. In one case, from the standpoint of a single witness, the perceptions are compared to a dream, so that the witness realizes that it is invalid to postulate material objects in some kind of physical space surrounding his consciousness, in which his consciousness occupies a small location. However, in the case of other streams of consciousness, there is no question of them being located somewhere else in that very physical space which has just been denied.


Then by what criterion are you distinguishing one "witness" from another?


The distinctness of the other streams arises not from their supposed location in a fictitious physical space but from the fact that other witnesses clearly have different thoughts, feelings and perceptions. No assumptions about the location of the other streams is necessary. The apparent distinction of the different witnesses seems to remain regardless of whether we even consider their possible location in any kind of space.


For utility’s sake we can distinguish between gross and subtle objects, like when we’re discussing Berkeley. But that doesn’t make too much sense if we look further into it. Because with respect to consciousness, all objects are the same, i.e. "objects of consciousness."

There are a number of questions that you do not seem to have explored, even in a reductio ad absurdum manner, to investigate your phenomenological results. These questions serve to point up the implausibility of the stream-of-consciousness notion:

Firstly, what makes a stream of consciousness ‘your’ stream of consciousness? What makes another one ‘Greg’s’? ‘Ramana’s’? What is the nature of the relationship between the SOC and the person? Have you settled that for yourself?


One witness has one set of thoughts, feelings and perceptions, and the other witness has a completely different set. Even if they were having identical thoughts, feelings and perceptions, these would still be different. When two people view the same movie side by side, they may have nearly identical perceptions, but the witnesses remain distinct, each viewing its own ‘carbon copy’ of those similar perceptions. That is why your blind friend cannot enjoy the movie.


The witness starts to sound a lot like a "person." But the person is witnessed.


I believe that the images of people that I see in my waking state are associated with other streams of consciousness which are having similar images of me (and of the illusory world we both seem to see). The material objects such as body and world are denied but not the other streams of consciousness.

I have no doubt that you exist just as I do. You are not a figment of my imagination. Your thoughts, feelings and perceptions are just as real and valid as mine, and they are not mine.

I am non-dual within my own stream of consciousness. The material world is nothing but a projection of my imagination, just like a dream, and there is no difference between subject and object within my own stream.

The only problem is that your thoughts, feelings and perceptions do not manifest within my stream of consciousness, so I am forced to postulate different streams of consciousness.

The fact that I use language such as ‘my stream’ or ‘your stream’ does not mean that I assume any kind of subject-object distinction as far as a given stream is concerned. Rather there are simply the different non-dual streams, labelled by ‘Greg’, ‘Ben’ or ‘Dennis’.

Yet as I have also said, I believe that these different streams must reduce to Brahman. I just don’t see how. I think that the honest answer is that it is impossible for us to see how. The illusion of a material world can be explained in terms of the dream, but the ultimate identity of Ben-consciousness and Greg-consciousness is an inexplicable mystery.

To my understanding, vyavahAra is associated with the illusion of duality within ‘my own consciousness’, i.e. this consciousness that is present right now as I type these words. To see material or mental objects as distinct from this consciousness is duality. There are no distinctions within this immediate consciousness; all the thoughts, feelings and perceptions present in this consciousness labelled ‘Benjamin’ are all subsumed under a single seer, which we might also call ‘Benjamin’ for lack of a better name.

So far so good. Now I would dearly like to extend this non-duality to your thoughts, feelings and perceptions, but I cannot. Your thoughts, feelings and perceptions are utterly hidden from me. I cannot say they are not hidden without lying. I will not commit perjury! I do not even know what you had for breakfast!

Perhaps realization or enlightenment can be obtained by eliminating duality within our own stream of consciousness. Perhaps this is all it takes. Perhaps we do not and should not be concerned with other conscious beings or whether they can be ‘reduced’ to us. Perhaps our ‘job’ in life is simply to take care of duality within the immediately present stream we call ‘our own’ and everything else will take care of itself.

And another thought: Perhaps phenomena such as telepathy and the like are manifestations of the breakdown of the wall separating different streams of consciousness. Perhaps as we become enlightened, the thoughts and feelings of others become our own, and the issue of different streams of consciousness simply disappears. Perhaps by insisting on the different streams, I am only being honest about my present unrealized state. In other words, there is no single correct answer to this question. It depends on who is asking it.


You say that it seems like there is more than one SOC. What is it that a stream of consciousness appears to?


The SOC is simply a separate awareness, consisting of thoughts, feelings and perceptions. One cannot even say that it appears to itself, since this presupposes a subject and object within that particular SOC.


Your SOCs are what most people would call subtle objects. The only plausible way to make sense of other SOCs is to individuate them by spatio-temporal cues. Like "the guy in the corner," vs. "me, sitting in this chair." Yet you have outlawed this move by a Berkeleian deconstruction of physical objects (i.e., other people) into thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations. You must be fair too, and deconstruct Benjamin the same way. And voila, you are left with no separate people. Therefore, no basis upon with to posit alternative streams of consciousness. Because you wouldn’t say that an idea can have an idea, would you?

Does one SOC appear to another SOC? Or is there one Consciousness to which multiple SOC ‘s appear?


One SOC does not ‘appear to’ another SOC or even to itself, since this presupposes a distinction between witness and appearance. In any given SOC, the appearance and the witness of the appearance are identical.

From a ‘metaphysical’ point of view, I do think that there must be one single Source of Reality, which must be Infinite Consciousness, and which is the substratum of the SOCs. This line of thinking is based on ‘causation’ and is entirely different from the phenomenological analysis of experience, which I use to refute material objects or the subject-object distinction within my own consciousness. How the SOCs could seem so different is therefore a profound mystery, but nothing you have said has shed any light on this issue.


Ben is an object, not a subject. So Ben cannot ‘intuit/see’ even one SOC, so what evidence is there that Ben intuits/sees another SOC?


There is no subject-object distinction within the SOC labelled ‘Ben’. The subject and objects, or witness and PFTs (perceptions, thoughts and feelings), are identical within that one SOC. And I certainly never said that I ‘saw’ another SOC. That is the whole point. It is precisely because the PFTs of the other SOC are utterly hidden from me that I think of the other SOC as a completely different SOC.

However, I do ‘ascertain’ or ‘intuit’ the existence of these other SOCs, because I cannot believe I am the only one. The phantasms of my waking state are co-ordinated with those of other SOCs. You may argue that I am not justified is rejecting solipsism, but this would be a waste of time. I DO reject solipsism, and there is no reason to embrace solipsism, given any of my assumptions.


I think Sri Atmananda would explain it like this. We never actually see objects, only their ‘appearance’ or supposed attributes via our senses. The form of an object is effectively only our seeing. This ‘seeing’ is what we see, not any object. And this ‘seeing’ obviously cannot ever be separate from us. Therefore we do not really see any ‘thing’ at all - there are no objects. Nevertheless, since we obviously do see, and what we see cannot be anything separate, it must be our Self, the reality.


What makes a SOC different from a mind plus the ideas falsely purported to appear to a mind?

In advaita, the mind never sees, but rather is a subtle object, part of the inert apparatus. To say that the ‘mind sees’ would be another superimposition, (i) attributing things to the mind that happen at consciousness, and (ii) attributing to the supposed SOC that which happens to the mind (namely, the quality of appearing).

You say that your concern is that the shapes and colors which appear to me do not appear to you. This is where the superimposition comes in. The superimposition is this: the attribution to Greg that which happens only at consciousness. ‘Being appeared to’ does not happen at the person. Nothing appears to Ben or to Greg. Ben and Greg are themselves appearances. Advaita teaches that appearances appear to consciousness, not to people.


I cannot accept any philosophy that denies that the raw shapes and colors (which we call perceptions) are present in consciousness.


Then you can’t be a non-dualist. If it really, really seems like they can be present, then there just might be an unexamined sense in which it seems like they can be absent. If it is absent, then what is the state of that color? Are you saying it’s somewhere else, like waiting in the wings to pop onto stage again? This is a key that there’s nothing there to which "present" can be attributed. This is because the color is consciousness. And consciousness itself is "presence." So no need to attribute "present" to colors or shapes. Think of normal everyday things that seem to be present. Like a student in class. Smith, present. Jones, absent. If all students were present all the time, there would be no need to deploy the concept and it would never have arisen.


It is absurd to think of an unseen shape or color as ‘waiting in the wings’. This is a mere empty play on words. There is no entity called ‘color’ distinct and independent from my consciousness, which may or may not be present in my consciousness, and which goes somewhere else when not present in my consciousness. There is simply a manifestation which may be described in terms of shapes and colors. There is no difference between the conscious manifestation and the shapes and colors. They are identical. This is what you then go on to say. So what is the problem? You are the one who has concocted the strange idea that my words ‘shapes and colors are present to consciousness’ means that there are some entities distinct from consciousness which may or may not be present. I said no such thing.

And none of this has anything to do with different streams of consciousness. You are inventing some bizarre idea of a color existing when not present to my consciousness, but this is surely not what I mean by another stream of consciousness like mine.


I think the difference between our approaches amounts to this:

In my approach (which follows Krishna Menon’s), what can be said about physical objects also applies in an analogous way to what most people call subtle objects. This is the implosive move that Dennis outlined to you earlier. Subtle objects don’t have spatial location, but they do (seem to) have other attributes. For example, if X doesn’t take up any space and yet seems to arise and depart, then it can be called a subtle object. If there’s RED one moment and BLUE the next, then these are subtle objects, ideas, arisings, whatever. They seem to appear to consciousness, until it is seen that this is impossible. But while it seems possible, it is a handy provisional designation to treat them as subtle objects.


The subtle or mental objects (thoughts, feelings and perceptions) are identical to consciousness, within any given stream of consciousness. I said this clearly. As far as I am concerned, they do not appear to consciousness, as this would imply a distinction between the mental objects and the consciousness. Language forces me to say that they are in consciousness, but I don’t like this either, because of the spatial connotations (and hence connotations of separation) which I expressly deny. When I say that a shape or color is in consciousness, I simply mean that my consciousness is presently manifesting as certain shapes and colors, and these are identical with the consciousness at that particular moment.

As I have said many times, I am thoroughly non-dual within my own stream of consciousness. But the other streams still seem different, though the difference is not one of spatial separation. It is some kind of mysterious existential difference.


There’s a belief that you are "non-dual within your own stream of consciousness." But you also have a notion of a duality of streams of consciousness. This is an idea of another stream. You are allowing streams to be separate in a way that you deny to automobiles and baseballs. Plus, you maybe experience a feeling of tension between these notions. But ideas and notions and allowances are merely consciousness. Consciousness! No problem!!


But the streams are an entirely different issue from automobiles and baseballs. The automobiles and baseballs are dreamlike illusions within my consciousness, but the other streams are not. They are separate dreams in their own right, or so it seems to me. So the streams and automobiles cannot be naively equated.

As I explained, the issue is what interpretation our mind imposes upon this raw material. The shapes and colors themselves are indistinguishable from what I call ‘consciousness’, though consciousness is surely not exhausted by these shapes and colors.


If shapes and colors themselves are indistinguishable from what you call ‘consciousness’, then why not rest there? I would re-phrase this as "consciousness is indistinguishable from consciousness."

But you don’t rest, because of the second claim - that "surely consciousness is not exhausted by these shapes and colors". It’s that you’re taking them as objects. What do you mean by these shapes and colors? You might mean "the ones right now in your stream of consciousness." But where there’s a "these," there’s a "those," referring somewhere else. The specter of subtle objects is making itself felt again....


Insofar as they are consciousness, one cannot speak of them as ‘objects’, as that very word implies something other than (or ‘outside’ of) consciousness.


Then what is being referred to by the words RED and BLUE? If it’s just consciousness (like Krishna Menon says all nouns point to), then that’s it.


Our normal view of them as ‘objects’ is precisely the false interpretation of the mind I am talking about, which is just like the snake being superimposed on the rope.

So if by ‘seeing’ one means the raw shapes and colors, this cannot be denied or called inaccurate.


It can be denied. Watch! Because exactly what makes them seem "raw" is what makes them a subtle object. It can arise and fall. If that’s what it seems like, then you’re talking about a subtle object. Until it doesn’t seem like that anymore.


But if by ‘seeing’ one means ‘seeing them as objects’, then this is indeed false. The word ‘seeing’ can be used in different ways.

And the words ‘really there’ are also ambiguous. The raw shapes and colors are ‘really there’ in the sense of ‘present in consciousness’. However, they are not ‘really there’ the way this computer screen in front of me seems to be sitting on a table as a discrete object different from me. In the latter case, my mind has imposed that extra interpretation on my perceptions, whereby some are said to be ‘me’ and others are said to be ‘not me’, such that the illusion of space and discrete objects arises.


If you regard the feeling that each of us has as being an ‘individual consciousness’ to be caused by the particular set of identifications (i.e. with body, thoughts, feelings etc.), then the problem disappears. That which is ‘doing the identifying’ if you like is the background to all of that and it is this that we really are. And, of course, there is only one background. The arisings are simply the waves on the water. Why should one wave have ‘cognisance of’ the content of another wave?


First, please realize that I do not want to ‘win’ this argument. On the contrary, I would love a blinding revelation, like Paul on the road to Damascus, which shows me that the consciousness called ‘Dennis’ is identical to the consciousness called ‘Benjamin’. Furthermore, I would like this revelation to be as clear as ‘a fruit held in the palm of my hand’ as Shankara says somewhere in the Vivekachudamani.

If one wave does not have cognizance of the content of another wave, then how can we identify the waves as the same cognizer?


The cognizer is not the wave. The waves are seen, they aren’t the seer. Cognition, or "seeing," is done by the ocean.


If there is ONE ocean (or consciousness) seeing (or being or manifesting as) all the waves, then how can different little bottled jivas seem to arise, whereby the contents of the consciousness of one jiva are not accessible to other jivas?


That’s because these waves seem to arise. If they didn’t seem to you to arise, then this more subtle question would never come up. This "seeming" and this "arising" point to the lingering duality in what you’ve been calling Ben’s stream of consciousness.


OK, for clarity, let me reiterate what I think duality within my consciousness would be. Then non-duality can be understood in contrast to this.

There are two levels of duality: gross and subtle.

The gross level is to see (and believe in) material objects outside of my consciousness. We both agree that we can forget about that.

The more subtle duality would be to see the contents of my consciousness, namely perceptions, thoughts and feelings (PFT), as objects. This means that I ‘observe’ them and they seem to be different from the seer. Thus there seems to be a seer and a seen, even as far as the ‘internal’ mental contents are concerned. This may seem paradoxical, but it is a fact of experience. Look at your perceptions. Even those perceptions seem to be ‘other’, seem to be objects, seem to be ‘out there’. (The hypothetical matter from which they supposedly originate would be yet another other behind this other.)

Yet I know that the perceptions (and PFT in general) are simply consciousness. Their nature is sentience, awareness, consciousness, whatever you want to call it. I do not see how this can differ from the seer, which is also consciousness. I intuitively realize that there is just the consciousness. Hence, when the PFT appear as ‘objects’, this must be an illusion, some kind of holographic projection. As always, the dream analogy is very helpful.

In summary, there is no kind of duality related to my stream of consciousness, neither the gross one of external matter nor the subtle one of mental objects. There is just the consciousness, which I can intuitively realize to be a unity, without parts, without subject or object, a single seer projecting the illusion of a magical display. I think you would agree so far.

But you then use this realization to somehow ‘unite’ this non-dual awareness with the same thing that is happening to others. (Let us avoid solipsism and simply accept that other instances of consciousness also arise, just like yours and mine, which we call ‘people’.) This is the leap which seems totally illegitimate to me. It is all fine and well to collapse the dualities within my present awareness, but this gives me no right to merge my awareness like a siamese twin with another awareness called ‘Greg’ or ‘Dennis’.

In the first case, illusory boundaries imagined by the conceptual mind are being removed within a single conscious experience that only seems to be bifurcated. In the second case, something is being added to the experience which is not present or manifest, namely the experience of another. The first case is removal of something that only seems to be there (the distinction between seer and seen); the second case is addition of something that is most definitely not there, either as a reality or an illusion. It is one thing to remove the snake from the rope; it is another thing to see a either a rope or snake where there is only grass (or to see two snakes where there is only one).

So what do you mean by ‘the waves seem to arise’? If by arise, you mean that they seem to be present as mental objects distinct from the seer, then I have answered that. If removal of this property of ‘seeming to arise’ means removal of the illusory distinction between seer and the seen mental objects, I have just answered that. One thing I know for sure: the waves of your consciousness do not arise in mine in any way whatsoever, not as illusions, not as apparent objects, and much less as an intrinsic non-dual part of my consciousness, where seer and seen are realized to be one.

To make any progress, you are going to have to be much more precise and explicit about the waves ‘seeming to arise’.


Actually, it was you who asked earlier: "then how can different little bottled jivas seem to arise?"

Perhaps this was a report from your experience. So what did you mean by "seem to arise"? Usually, things that seem to arise also seem to subside. Regardless if it’s believed that they are essentially consciousness, there’s a felt experience of coming and going. How is that not duality?

Also, in the PFT - if you discern a P from an F from a T - that’s duality also.

And have you considered your criterion of success on this? Total omniscience by Ben’s SOC. That is, total access by Ben to all contents of all other sentient beings’ SOCs, past present and future. If you had 99.999999% access, that wouldn’t be good enough, and is not in principle different from what Ben’s SOC has access to now (I mean the occasional clairvoyant insight.). No, it must be total to succeed on this criterion. But has that ever happened? Did Shankara know what I had for breakfast this morning? This is a sort of reductio ad absurdum for the SOC model.


This seems irreconcilable with the unitary, non-dual nature of the ocean-consciousness. We are now just going around in circles in this discussion, but my point remains that the consciousness has somehow been fractured into jivas in an inexplicable way that utterly defies elementary logic. The dream analogy worked to eliminate matter, because it did not entail such a fracturing of consciousness. Alas that is not the case with this far more subtle question.

We agree that within a wave, the cognizer and content must be identified, or there would be an extra duality within each given wave, above and beyond the duality between waves. Now if the contents are different, and if cognizer is identical to contents, then this seems to make my point that the cognizers must also be distinct.


I would answer (acknowledging the limitations of the metaphor) that it is because you are not the individual wave, you are the entire ocean. The problem arises because you identify yourself with that limited set of water molecules that happen to be present in one little wave.


If I am truly the non-dual Brahman, then why am I not aware of all the perceptions, feelings and thoughts (PFT) of all conscious entities anywhere in any universe? (Leave aside the question of how confusing that might be.) The key property of any consciousness, it seems to me, is its unity. There is only ONE seer in any instance of consciousness. So if Brahman is the one seer that sees all, and if the seeing is not distinct from the seer (advaita), and if I am Brahman, then why do I not see whatever is seen by any conscious entity?


There are no ‘other’ conscious entities in the universe so how could you? In the context of the metaphor, it is the ocean that is the only consciousness. Any attempt to extend the metaphor to attempt an intellectually satisfying explanation is fraught with danger but here goes!

Imagine if you like that the ocean consciousness is focussed by the molecules in a wave to give the illusion of a localised and separate consciousness. That one ocean consciousness becomes locally identified with just those water molecules in each wave and seems to bring into existence something that is separate from all other waves. Clearly, this localised consciousness, whilst it believes itself to be only this wave and separate from all others, is not going to have ‘objective knowledge’ of the particular configuration of molecules in any other wave. In reality, however, this imagined state of affairs is false. The only consciousness is the ocean and there are no separate waves. There is only water. In this knowledge, it is simply not meaningful to speak of molecular configurations ‘belonging’ to a particular wave.

Similarly, it does not make sense to talk of brahman as a ‘seer’. There is nothing else to see. There is only brahman.


Yes, you are right that the ocean and waves analogy is quite misleading, unlike the dream analogy, which is extremely useful. The ocean and waves analogy presupposes ordinary dualistic discrimination, in which the different waves are perceived as distinct entities in space separated from each other. The word ‘ocean’ is nothing but a label to indicate the collection of waves. At best, this is a metaphor and not a serious example for intellectual discussion. The dream analogy, on the other hand, is a vivid example of how something that seems to be other (the dream-object) collapses into consciousness upon awakening. Here we have the actual experience upon awakening. Vivid indeed! So I could dissect the ocean and waves analogy in light of what you and I have said, but I think you are smart enough to surmise where I would go, and it would be only a tedious exercise.

The issue of whether or not I believe that I am or am not the contents of my consciousness has nothing to do with what contents actually manifest. That I cannot control, at least when I am awake. Any such belief is a superimposition added by the mind to the shapes and colors which manifest spontaneously. As I have explained, all dualistic error is of this nature. For example, to see the contents of my awareness as other than consciousness is an interpretation superimposed by the mind upon those contents. But nothing I believe or do not believe affects those actual contents. My contents are my contents and yours are yours, regardless of how we interpret them. And the utter isolation between our respective contents remains. My consciousness has absolutely no access to yours, nor yours to mine. We are back to the usual vyAvahArika versus pAramArthika discussion with some adhyAsa thrown in!

For me, vyAvahArika is the false interpretation of the contents of my consciousness as other than my consciousness ... the subtle duality mentioned above. pAramArthika is the elimination of that false interpretation. This has nothing to do with what actual contents are present in the streams labelled ‘Benjamin’ or ‘Dennis’, which we have been discussing. Specifically, it has nothing to do with whether I am aware of the contents of another stream. The distinction applies to each stream separately. It is not that we then can read other people’s minds etc. It is that we then know for a fact that there are no other minds to read, not even our own.

This is Greg’s thesis, and he later agrees with you. I repeat that it seems like a play on words to me. I can understand what it means to eliminate the distinction between seer and seen within my consciousness. But to try to talk in some nebulous way about the disappearance of even the contents, after eliminating the seer-seen distinction, is to talk like some kind of hyper-buddhist far more ‘dangerous’ than even what I accept. There is a limit to which we can make things disappear before we are just playing games.

I don’t consider this a question of identification. Whether I identify with my PFT or not, the fact remains that I am limited to my PFT, by which I mean the PFT that are immediately present as I type these words.

And guess what? I think what you said might be correct after all, in a way. I think that after we become realized and consciousness becomes purified and expands to infinity, we gradually become sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others in a telepathic way. Has this not been the purported experience of sages? I think it must be the ego sense which erects walls in our consciousness and prevents awareness of the experience of others. (This is probably a good thing, insofar as I would want privacy from others as ignorant as myself, at least while I remain imperfect and ignorant.)

I think that we both have a valid point. The truth, as I see it so far, is that in some unfathomably mysterious way, the same non-dual consciousness which is Brahman can somehow create (or manifest as) the illusion of multiple jivas within its own non-dual awareness. These jivas are not distinct from the Consciousness which is Brahman, yet these jivas are not aware of each other’s experiences. It seems like a total logical contradiction of the non-dual nature of Brahman, but it must be accepted. I say so, because I am otherwise convinced that (i) all reality is consciousness, (ii) that any instance of consciousness is indistinguishable from the divine Source which is its essence and existential support, and (iii) this Source must be an infinite, non-dual Consciousness in its own right. The paradox must be accepted as inexplicable from the point of view of the jiva.


The state you describe, or at least one with the more normal realist viewpoint, is the illusory state in which ‘people’ find themselves. They believe that the separation is real and all of their normal PFT activity supports this false belief. The truth of the matter cannot be appreciated until the false superimposition dissipates, when the problem dissolves. It is not that we then can read other people’s minds etc. It is that we then know for a fact that there are no other minds to read, not even our own.

Apologies if none of these arguments are helping. I’m sure that we all appreciate your problem, though. Probably most of us also actually still feel the same way and there may be an element of intellectual dishonesty in arguing otherwise. (Speaking for myself, here.) Nevertheless, perhaps that is what we must do if we are to make headway.


The reason I spent so much time on this is because of my previous success reducing the apparent external material world to consciousness, which we all know about. This seems impossible and utterly self-contradictory to the dualist, yet it CAN be understood in terms of the dream analogy. No such analogy or understanding arises, as far as I can see, regarding the fundamental unity if jivas. I have read enough spiritual literature that I would have discovered it my now. The ocean and waves analogy doesn’t really satisfy me.


Let’s turn your argument on its head.

If all contents are consciousness, and consciousness cannot differ from consciousness, then contents cannot differ.


All contents are consciousness, but not necessarily the SAME consciousness, at least from the level of experience. Now metaphysically, I repeat that I agree that Brahman or the Source of Reality must be the same everywhere, but this does not seem to agree with my experience. That is the problem.

You seem to imply that I observe the streams as objects, in some sense, however tenuous, when in fact I do not. Within my stream, I realize that seer and seen are the same. But I also realize that there are other non-dual streams with different contents. I do not ‘see’ them in any way. Rather, I infer their existence from certain patterns within my own stream (perceptions of talking faces and so on), combined with the certainty, derived from the merest grain of humility, that I am not the only conscious being in existence.

Actually, there are PFT even for the realized man. Ramana saw shapes and colors called people, trees, sky, etc. It is all a question of interpretation. These shapes and colors are realized to be not other than consciousness, just like the dream. Even in a dream, there are PFT. But whereas in the dream, we may believe that they are objects, and that there is a seer vs. a seen, upon awakening we realize that there was only the consciousness. But this does not obliterate the appearance of PFT. To think so is to apply non-duality in a misleading and formalistic way. Again, the shapes and colors manifest. The issue is how we interpret them. In other words, what does the mind add to the immediate shapes and colors (and feelings and even thoughts)?


This is an attribution, a way of speaking in terms of the PFT model. Let’s say you had lunch with Ramana and asked him, "Do you really see shapes and colors?" What would you say if he said, "Benjamin, all I see is the Self."?


The shapes and colors and Self are identical. That is the whole point of Advaita. Seer and seen are the same. There is no ultimate contradiction between the manifestation of shapes and colors and their identity with the seer. Once this identity is intuitively realized, the distinction between seer and seen disappears. All the problems arise with how we think about it... which is why I am trying to think as clearly as I can.

It is only at the level of words that the identity of one seer and many seen seems paradoxical. But it can be intuitively realized in a flash of insight, and the dream analogy helps to clarify it further. It’s not that hard. Surely there are not two seers when I contemplate my awareness. And in calm awareness, I can detect no difference between seer and seen.

But I still maintain that all this happens in what, for lack of better terminology, I must call the stream of consciousness labelled ‘Benjamin’. Otherwise, my flashes of insight would be simultaneous with yours, and vice versa. Indeed, let us forget about seekers such as me with superficial but hopefully promising flashes of insight. Let us consider the truly enlightened. The fact that some are enlightened and others are not is the clearest indication that one must discriminate between different streams of consciousness. Otherwise, all this talk about realization and enlightenment is ridiculous.

The manifestation of shapes and colors is undeniable. But this manifestation need not entail the belief that there is some kind of distinction between seer and seen in this manifestation. There is just the manifestation, also called ‘consciousness’. To speak of this non-dual manifestation as being yet a more subtle duality makes no sense to me. To call my eradication of belief in duality another belief also seems illegitimate. It prevents me from saying anything.


I still cannot see the logic of this. Surely if ‘you’ see a colour, this is duality? After all, if the colour you see is ‘red’, it is clearly not ‘blue’.

And suppose you see a computer. No, I don’t mean an external object computer, I accept that we both mean an internal ‘set of perceptions’ computer. If you start taking apart this perception, you will soon reach circuit boards and chips which, without the help of powerful microscopes etc., you will be unable further to perceive and understand. Now, I am not suggesting that a computer is as sophisticated and complex as a ‘person’ but the point I want to make is this. I do not see that your concept of ‘other SOCs’ is any different in dual/non-dual terms than that of the circuit board. There are ‘things going on’ in the circuit board of which you have no knowledge and there are ‘things going on’ in the ‘other SOCs’. Why should you treat them any differently?

Ultimately it seems to come down to saying that, as long as there is a ‘you’ seeing and ‘things’ (real, subtle, SOCs or whatever) being seen, then you are still in the realm of duality. Your theory that there is only consciousness, that the perceptions are themselves non-different from this consciousness, is a subtle but objective theory. You are still avoiding the bottom-line conclusion of Advaita.


Unlike Berkeley, who postulated God’s consciousness to make the tree exist when no one was looking, I bravely assert that the tree does NOT exist when nobody is looking. There is no ‘tree’ distinct from the various perceptions in various streams of consciousness (SOCs). Same for the microscopic contents of circuit boards.

However, our waking perceptions have a marvelous coherence such that, with some knowledge of the ‘laws of nature’, which are only ‘laws of the behavior of perceptions’, I can infer what perceptions might arise as I put the circuit board under the microscope, etc. (‘Putting the circuit board under the microscope’ is also nothing but a sequence of perceptions, etc.)

So within my own consciousness, nothing exists unless observed. And this observation is not different in any way from the consciousness, from the SOC. Only language forces a mere semantic difference. There is nothing existing but hidden in the minute contents of my perceptions; there are only the perceptions at any given moment. Your alleged unseen components of my perceptions simply do not exist in any sense; they are a contradiction in terms. So comparison to the existing but hidden content of other SOCs is invalid.

Please consider whether my ‘intuitive awareness’, as discussed above, might not be the same as your non-dual realization. Wouldn’t that simplify things? Perhaps you misunderstood me, and we all really agree. (Well, I don’t mean on the question of other SOCs but on whether I have some residual duality within my own when I claim that I don’t.)


I can’t see a basis for distinction between intuitive non-dual awareness and "discriminating conceptual consciousness.", if you’re speaking from the PFT model. If you explain all phenomena as PFT, then the phenomena themselves are inert arisings, and the elements of PFT cannot act upon each other. There can be no logical or causal relations among them, such as inferences. This is a point of view that I actually like a lot, in which the relations among the arisings are nothing more than arisings. If this is so, then a particular arising in consciousness loses its status as a premise, conclusion, insight, or intuition.

You know, nothing in consciousness is bona fide evidence that consciousness is "yours." Ownership of consciousness (i.e., Ben’s consciousness) is not proved by any PFT. So maybe you infer ownership. Yet, inferences are inert and are just arisings accompanied by an arising that seems to say "this came from that." But no arising comes from another arising. So inference is as real as a Ford Mustang.


Duality or ‘discriminating conceptual consciousness’ is when one has the illusory sense of a distinction between seer and seen, whether this ‘seen’ be the gross object of matter or the subtle one of a perception that appears as distinct from the seer.

On the other hand, ‘intuitive non-dual awareness’ is the flash of insight whereby one is aware of one’s consciousness as a whole, and one immediately realizes that ‘seer’ and ‘seen’ are mere words labelling the same consciousness. Hume had an experience something like this when he realized that the ‘self’ was not distinct from the contents of his consciousness, but he did not develop it into spiritual realization.

All of this takes place within ONE seeker’s consciousness and has nothing to do with the question of other consciousnesses, whether they be seekers or not. Also, you never answered my point that to deny the existence of different consciousnesses makes a mockery of sadhana, for then we would all be as enlightened as Ramana.

You said: "If you explain all phenomena as PFT, then the phenomena themselves are inert arisings, and the elements of PFT cannot act upon each other."

I reject this view of the PFT model. In no way are the PFT ‘inert’. What do you mean by ‘inert’? If you say that the PFT are inert in the sense of ‘immobile’ like a lump of clay, then that is clearly invalid. It is absurd to compare PFT to clay in any way whatsoever. And if you mean that they are inert in the sense of ‘insentient’, then that is equally invalid. The PFT are in consciousness; they are aspects of consciousness; they are items of sentience; in no way are they inert or insentient. How could a perception not be sentient? Since when is a red patch or a burning flame not sentient? They exist nowhere but in my awareness, therefore they have all the sentience of my awareness, and are in no way different from my awareness. Sentience and awareness mean the same thing. I know no other meaning of ‘inert’.


By inert I mean that the PFT phenomena cannot truly act on each other. That they are seen and not seers. Do you ever see a thought see another thought? Do you see a thought cause another thought?


The only meaningful issue regarding their ‘objectivity’ is when they seem to be the ‘seen’ as opposed to the ‘seer’. As I explained before, this is an apparent bifurcation within consciousness, which therefore has nothing to do with insentience. Needless to say, consciousness cannot really be so bifurcated; it is only an illusion. Also, there is no question of the PFT ‘acting on each other’. They are not discrete entities which could do this. They are merely aspect of consciousness, which is without parts, since seer and seen are identical. It is all an illusion, like the dream.

You also said that ‘nothing in consciousness is bona fide evidence that consciousness is "yours"’.

I have already explained what is misleading about such a statement. I am not claiming that there is a ‘Ben’ over and above the stream of consciousness which could ‘own’ it. ‘Ben’ is simply a label to designate this stream and not another. A mere label does not ‘own’ anything. Nothing is ‘owning’ anything.

Regarding ‘realism’, you cannot use Berkeleian arguments to deny other consciousnesses. Those arguments apply only to the appearance of matter within a given consciousness. This has nothing to do with the existence of other consciousnesses.

So to deny other consciousnesses, you must come up with totally novel arguments, which you have not. You first tried to argue that another consciousness is an ‘object’ in a sense similar to matter, which is absurd. Then you tried to claim that my intuitive non-dual awareness, in which the apparent distinction between seer and seen (within my own consciousness) evaporates, still retains some kind of super-subtle objectivity, without making yourself at all clear.


I respect this call for novel arguments. Sorry I can’t give you an argument that deflates the appeal of the notion of other consciousnesses! I’ve tried many things, some more than once :-) and by now, they certainly aren’t novel! I very much respect that multiple SOC’s seem to be the case to you, and I respect your honesty in keeping with your experience and in not running ahead.

I didn’t claim that consciousness is ‘similar’ to matter, but ‘entails’ matter. I suspect but am not sure, that whatever it is that you use to distinguish one SOC from another might rely on some spatio-temporal criterion. How else would you distinguish more than one SOC?

Here’s an interesting point, interesting to me: let’s say Ben does become aware of the contents another SOC. How would you know it? How do you know it’s not already happening now? If Ben becomes aware of another set of contents, then by definition it is in Ben’s SOC, or else Ben could not see it.

Let me ask you: does this intuitive non-dual awareness (in which ‘the apparent distinction between seer and seen evaporates) happen more than once? What about between times?

Also, I’m not talking about how you speak of the intuitive non-dual awareness episodes. I like that. What I’m talking about is how you speak of the SOCs as though SOCs were some kind of state of affairs. If there’s more than one of them, then it’s duality. And sometimes you speak of PFTs as though there’s a container and contained relationship.


Let me clarify what ‘object’ means. It means that from the point of view of a given seer, something in awareness is taken to be (believed to be) other than that seer. It is when there appears to be a distinction between seer and seen, from the point of view of some particular seer, and regarding only what is seen by that seer. This has nothing to do with other streams of consciousness, which are in no way present to that particular seer, either as illusions or in any other way. The concept of ‘object’ is illegitimate when applied to something that is utterly not within one’s field of view. There is then no issue of something in awareness being taken as other than awareness, of the seen being taken as other than the seer. Such is the case with other streams of consciousness.

You first tried to argue that another consciousness is an ‘object’ in a sense similar to matter, which is absurd.

I have said many times that I agree that space and time are within consciousness. They are inherent in the perceptions themselves. They describe a ‘global’ aspect of how the perceptions manifest. Space and time are within consciousness; consciousness is not within space and time. By the way, this means that each of us carries our own copy of space and time. There is no one space and time, only the many copies in consciousness.

Therefore, the different SOCs cannot be distinguished by spatial separation, since they are not themselves in any kind of ‘enveloping superspace’. What distinguishes the SOCs is that the SEER is different in each one. This explains why I do not see the contents of your consciousness nor you mine.

The idea of ‘seer’ and ‘seen’ is a false distinction within any given SOC. In other words, given the illusion of seer and seen within any set of SOCs, the SOCs can be distinguished by the fact that one seer is associated with one set of seen contents and another seer with another set. However, within any of these SOCs, the distinction between seer and see is an illusion, as within a dream. In other words, there are simply different dreamers.

To say that the seer-seen distinction is false does not mean that the seer and seen do not exist, but that they are not distinct within any SOC. Seer and seen are simply different words for the same consciousness.

But different seer-seen unities, otherwise called SOCs, do exist and are distinct, though not in any sense of spatial separation. That would entail a ‘super-seer’ looking at the SOCs as objects. That is evidently how you are thinking, or how you think that I think, but it does not correspond to how I actually think.


You say there is ‘no distinction between seer and seen’ and they are ‘simply different words for the same consciousness’. Once you believe that, I still do not understand how a supposed separate ‘SOC’ can be treated in any way differently. It is something that is perceived/conceived initially as something separate. Whether or not it has its own stuff going on inside it must be irrelevant - from the point of view of you, the perceiver of ‘it’, any such ideas are pure conjecture on your part, i.e. concepts, subtle objects in your mind. You have already further conceded that "there is the subtle objectivity where even the perceptions in consciousness seem distinct from the seer. Both are dualistic illusions".

Given that you are already saying these things yourself, why should the idea of separate SOCs still pose a problem?


The issue is very simple to me. I agree that there is no difference between seer and seen, as far as my own PFT are concerned. Those are the PFT of which I am aware, the ones present right now as I type these words. Language forces me to say ‘I am aware of them’, as though there were a distinction between the I who is aware and the PFT of which I am aware. I agree that that distinction is false.

However, I also believe that simultaneously there are other PFT manifesting to other seers, such as you and Greg. These others seers are not located in the illusory space which is within my own PFT. Therefore, they are in no way objects to me, not even illusory objects. I don’t know ‘where’ you are located or if it even makes sense to speak of anybody’s awareness as having a ‘location’. I suspect not.

But what I am sure of is that those other PFT are not within my awareness. Therefore they manifest to a different seer in some sense. And the apparent distinction between seer and seen is as illusory for him as mine is for me. This leads me to use the expression ‘stream of consciousness’ for this isolated but non-dual awareness, for lack of a better expression.

Furthermore, I don’t accept that either your consciousness or PFT (or Greg’s) are objects to me in this sense. This seems to be the argument that you and Greg are trying to use. You are both hoping that by treating other SOCs as apparent objects similar to my own PFT, you can use a similar argument to negate any distinction between your consciousness and mine. This would help explain how we can all be the same Consciousness or Brahman.

Unfortunately, I do not accept any such argument. Your PFT are illusory objects TO YOU, and Greg’s TO HIM. They are ‘illusory objects’ because there seems to be a distinction between seer and seen, as far as you and your PFT are concerned. I agree that that is an illusion, so in THAT sense ONLY objects do not exist. To be quite precise, YOUR apparent objects are not truly distinct from the seer called Dennis.

But this has NOTHING to do with either your consciousness or your objects being objects to me in a similar illusory sense. This is a misuse of the word ‘object’, as I see it. So the arguments used to reduce your objects to your consciousness CANNOT also be used to reduce the SOC called Dennis to MY consciousness in any way whatsoever.

The reason that you and Greg are confused, as I see it, is that you don’t recognize a crucial difference between my PFT and other SOCs. My PFT are within (or rather identical to) my awareness but other SOCs are not. I have the option of seeing my PFT as objects (i.e. as other than my consciousness) or as identical to my consciousness. The common dualistic illusion may make me think that they are distinct from my consciousness, even though I see them. Intuitive reflection shows me that they cannot be distinct, precisely because I see them. The apparent distinction is only an illusion. However, for this illusion to arise, I must FIRST be AWARE of them. I am in no way aware of your SOC nor Greg’s, so the issue is utterly different as far as SOCs are concerned.

Sorry for my usual wordiness, but I am struggling to be clear.

All this is something that seems self-evident to me at some elementary level. Yet it seems irreconcilable with the unity of Brahman or Consciousness. Hence my perplexity.


You do not know that I exist. (In fact I do not!) All that happens is that, periodically, you perceive images of letters on the screen of your VDU. These appear to make sense (perhaps) in your mind as concepts. The idea that these concepts originate from another SOC fit in with your view of the world. But everything that you know about ‘me’ is nothing more than impressions in your mind, which you have already decided are in fact non-separate from your own consciousness. You attribute a separate SOC to your imagined other person (Dennis) since you did not write these words yourself and probably do not agree with them. But your only contact with Dennis is through these arisings in your own consciousness. These arisings are essentially no different from the arisings due to a chair or a sensation of pain. How could they be, since any knowledge of anything ‘outside’ can only come through your senses or through your thoughts or feelings?

You have already denied the existence of separate objects, admitting that they are only perceptions in your mind and that these are actually only ‘your’ consciousness. If you met ‘me’ in person, I would only be such an object, except that, unlike a chair, I might make (hopefully intelligible) sounds as well. The sight of me and the hearing of my words would only also be perceptions in your mind, no different in essence from the chair perception.

I don’t believe that either Greg or myself ever suggested that ‘our PFTs could be objects to you’. What is being suggested is that we as SOCs can only ever be objects to you. It is only your inference that there is something going on inside ‘us’ that is similar to what you perceive as PFTs going on inside yourself.

It is not something that can be argued through simply to an inescapable logical conclusion (obviously, otherwise you would be convinced by now!). It is more of an intuitive understanding that, in the final analysis, all of this ‘appearance of PFTs’ is happening within consciousness but that this consciousness is non-dual and, ultimately, the PFTs themselves are not other than the consciousness itself. In the end, there is only consciousness. At least that’s as far as the mind can take it!


All I wish to say is that the only thing I want from these discussions is mutual understanding. I don’t want to win any arguments or convert anybody. Advaitins are above such nonsense. When I reread my messages, they sometimes seem a bit argumentative (in addition to being tedious). This is not my intention. All I wish is to clearly understand what others are saying. So when it seemed I was pressing you or Greg, it was only a bit of frustration over what seemed to me like a lack of clarity. Of course, that was only my opinion. Well, one last word. Notwithstanding what you just said, I am quite convinced that you do exist in SOME sense. The real question, as I see it, is in WHAT sense. Again, just my opinion... And I do agree that the only ‘Dennis’ in my actual awareness is a mere image. Still, I’m glad the real Dennis-consciousness exists in some sense. Warm regards to the real Dennis-consciousness.

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