Monday, June 22, 2009


Objection Yet Again:

The Paramarthika (The Absolute) exists all the time and everywhere. The transactional or phenomenal world is limited in space and time having finite existence between appearance and disappearance. The Absolute forms the permanent background against which the transitional can be seen. Say, like a passing train on the unmoving rail track. Or a turbulence in a river, an example Vince (Just Rest) gives.

The turbulence may appear in the river. But a ‘marker’ of the river cannot be seen in the turbulence. How can we notice ‘markers’ of the Absolute Brahman within the impermanent phenomenal brain of a Jivanmukta?

The reply is as follows:

In our day to day world we see shifting things against the background of a fixed thing – like a movie projected on a screen. So we are conditioned to see only contrast. We readily notice the spike or anomaly but miss the background – like reading the letters of this write up but not be aware of the constant presence of the paper on which they appear. We are accustomed to grouping things, fragmenting them into distinct entities. We continually assess the environment in terms of threats and opportunities for our individual survival. We acquired this characteristic as a result of biological evolution. The survival tactic and tools developed during millions of years of evolution are stored and transmitted to offspring through ‘information replicators’.

Genes are the replicators for an organism. As each organism learns newer and newer survival tactics, the robust and sturdy tactics get passed on to the offspring. Thus the survival information (genes) is inhered from a succession of ancestral creatures which were born and later dead in the past. These perhaps constitute what are called as vasanas (impressions from past births). If we consider the ‘birth and death’ of each of our ancestors (human and prehuman animal ancestors going right up to the beginnings of life (prokaryotes - single living cells)) from whom the accumulated genetic information gets transmitted, we can think of all those creatures to be our ‘past lives’!

One of the significant survival tools is the sense of ‘I am an individual’, giving a distinct identity to each organism. This sense of “an individual entity” separate from the rest is more developed in man compared to other animals. It got solidly concretized as the concept of ‘self’ in us. Culture helped in reinforcing the concept of ‘self’. The replicators for cultural information are ‘memes’, a term coined by Prof. R. Dawkins in 1976. Dr. Sue Blackmore recently introduced the word ‘temes’ to refer to a replicator of technological information. Memes and temes facilitated faster communication and spread of the acquired characteristics in self-protection and self-perpetuation.

In other words, it is our sheer habit conditioned by survival information transmitted by genes, memes and temes in viewing the world in fragments, separated into parts, with distinct names and forms. The fragmentation and consequent individuation results in ‘conflicts of interest’ and ‘competition for resources’ ending up mostly in misery and sorrow.

In order to redeem this sorrow, Advaita points us to the basic ‘Oneness’ of everything, the unfragmented wholeness. We identify separate parts giving a ‘name and form’ to everything in the world. The names and forms are merely our imagination giving raise to imaginary sorrow. (We shall discuss in greater detail this issue of redemption of sorrow later on).

Now that we understand the biological reason for our conditioned view of fragmentation, it is only a short step to say that the distinction of a ‘permanent screen’ over which a ‘movie’ exists is also artificial. Or taking the example of turbulence and the river, the turbulence and river are not two separate things. The oft quoted metaphor in Advaita is the non-difference between the ocean water, the wave, the foam, the spume and the water droplet. A boy at the beach sees them all to be distinct each with its own name and form, but an adult looks at them all as water. Hence there is no separate object sitting there as Absolute distinct from the world. This differentiation is imaginary, merely conceptual, by the force of habit. This is supported by Shruti statements: neha nAnAsti kicana (4-iv-19, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad); sarvam khalu idam Brahma (III-xiv, Chandodyoga Upanishad). Aparokshanubhuti (verse 116) says: if you see with the eye of Knowledge, you will see the world is full of Brahman.

Therefore, we must be able to discern that Oneness in the brain of a Jivanmukta uncluttered by the popping up of the sense of individuation.

The above discussion brings us to the topic of identifying possible neuronal correlates.

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