Sunday, February 4, 2018

Four Questions by A Buddhist on Advaita

Four Questions by A Buddhist on Advaita

Advaita very clearly states that anything "known" or "perceived" or objectively "experienced" is NOT It. Rupert also makes this point in the Video  “Awareness's knowing of Itself.”

In fact, the mANDUkya mantra 7,  which is the bedrock foundation for trying to convey what brahman is, rules out any type of 'conceptualization' by the mind about brahman. ‘brahman’ is simply unthinkable. No words can express It.

We have from taittirIya – II-iv-1; "Failing to reach brahman, words, along with the mind, turn back."

kena Upanishad admits the helplessness of teaching It: I-3: "The eye does not reach there, nor speech, nor mind, nor do we know (Its nature). Therefore, we don’t know how to impart instruction (about It)."

  So it is impossible to even to take recourse to a metaphor to say what Awareness is.

With all that impossibility, still It is not totally unknown to us, though not knowable through the mediums of mind and sensory organs. It is a non-objective immediated intuitive knowing only.

B:  My background is Buddhist thought... mainly Tibetan, with a little bit of Zen. I’m inquiring despite the somewhat combative tone…

To me,  Rupert seemed to imply in the short video posted that Awareness does know itself directly.

But, he also mentions there are schools who say knowingness itself is unknowable directly, so it is known only by implication: “I am that.”

But this is a debate within Buddhism also. Is awareness self-reflexive or not? Does light “light itself up” or not?

If not, how do we know we’re aware... only by implication? If we do know self-reflexively, in what way do we know? 

R:  When Rupert says that “Awareness knowing itself,” the main point is that from the perspective of Awareness (caricaturing for the moment as though It has a perspective, just to drive home a point), there is no "other" for It to know. It is a rhetorical statement.

Suppose we ask "What does the 'saltiness' taste to itself?" what would be the possible answer of Saltiness? It never has to taste itself. It knows the taste by being itself. Likewise, Awareness knows Itself by being Itself. IOW,  Awareness and Beingness become synonyms.

That is why Rupert invariably adds that Awareness knows Itself “by being Itself.”  It does not have specifically anything “to do" to know Itself.

You mention that Rupert also says that "there are schools who say knowingness itself is unknowable directly."
Yes, Awareness is unknowable directly to a limited or finite mind (a ‘me’ or ‘you’).

Awareness is Infinite. Mind is limited.  The greater cannot be contained in the lesser.

When you say that Awareness is known only by implication: “I am that,”  are you  referring to the famous 'aham brahmasmi'? The statement that “I am brahman” is NOT made is not a conclusion by implication. That statement is made by a seeker after total doubtless realization that what s/he calls as “I” is really brahman.

Awareness can never be known by "implication."
The "knowing quality" is with Awareness alone. There is NO other entity which has that quality. In fact, that knowing quality Itself is Awareness. There are no two things - Awareness and a 'knowing quality' possessed by Awareness. Therefore, It is A-dvaita (no-two).

I would like add as follows:

The whole thrust of Advaita is to make us understand that It is Awareness only which knows. There is no we (or a 'me') which knows. That knowing element Itself is 'we' or 'I.'
If by "we" (or I ) you mean to refer to the body-mind in your question, Advaita emphatically declares that the 'knowing element" is NOT the body-mind. Therefore, Awareness (which is not 'located' or restricted to the body-mind) is aware of Itself.

It can best be understood by a little thought experiment.
Imagine a self-luminous open infinite space. Suppose there is a pot in that space. There is space within the pot as well as outside the pot. It is all the same self-luminous brilliantly shining one space all over. Can and does the pot really able to separate or break the open infinite space? The luminous space within the pot does not have to illuminate itself by self-reflectivity. It has inhered that quality of luminescence.

B:  "Does the current moment of awareness know the same moment of mind or the previous moment of mind? Does one aspect of mind know another aspect of mind?"

R:  I like to first clarify on the terminology.

Per Advaita, mind is not separate or distinct or different from Awareness.
There are several models that Advaita gives to understand 'mind.'

One general model is that those two are related like a mass of air and breeze. Breeze is nothing but air in movement. Likewise, Consciousness in movement is mind. Mind stable is Consciousness (or Awareness).
Another model is mind is like a ripple (a throb) in Awareness.
Still another helpful model is that Infinite Awareness when of Its own volition and freedom ignores Its own Infinity and 'imagines' a finiteness to Itself, we call It mind.
As mind is movement, first ‘time’ and then ‘space’ arise with the movement. Unless and until there is a movement, there is no time-space in Awareness. And hence, no world.

When Awareness looks at Itself through that little ripple(called mind), It sees Itself as the ‘world.’  So Advaita holds that 'Perception itself is Creation' (dRiShTi reva sRiShTiH). If there is no perception there is no creation, no world.

Once a challenge was posed by a theoretical Physicist to express Quantum Physics in 120 characters on the twitter. A clever guy said: "If you look, it's a particle; if you don't, it's a wave."
I paraphrased it for Advaita: "If you look, it's a world; if you don't, it's brahman."
The three periods of Time as past present and future arise only in the world. Awareness is prior to spacetime.
I often give the thermometer metaphor. A thermometer can and always will function in the present. It cannot give you the temp of a minute ago or tomorrow's temp. The thermometer has no past or history and memory. It is the mind that has a memory. Like the thermometer, the Real Perceiver, which is Awareness, is already and always in the Now. Like a room having several windows in it, several minds can be within One Awareness.

B:  For me, the "Screen analogy"   is not a good analogy. The light does affect the screen. It warms the screen as some of the light is absorbed and some of it is reflected. What is seen is not on the screen. It is the light reflected off the screen. What I mean to say is that awareness is creative and aware. It can't be creative-aware without that which is inseparable from awareness, being created, and being known.

R:  I also agree that it "is not a good analogy."
We have no attachment to it. After all, it's a metaphor.
We can always go for a better one.

A metaphor is only a "messenger" to convey an immediately incomprehensible 'idea' or a 'concept' or a 'theory' (siddhAnta) which is the real message. We will not and cannot kill the message by killing the messenger.

What would be a better analogy for the Advaitic understanding we are discussing here?

Shankara wrote a short work of 68 verses titled "Atma bodha."
Every verse contains a beautiful simile as the second line for what is taught in the first line of the verse. A lovely text. It is definitely worth the time to study it.

B:  Awareness never appears without giving rise to and knowing, so to talk about it as though it existed independently ..... strikes me as somehow subtly incorrect.
Awareness never appears without giving rise to and knowing, so to talk about it as though it existed independently - especially in a context where the dividing line between awareness and everything else has fully dissolved - strikes me as somehow .

R:  Let's take the simple case of the 'sensing ability' of a TV antenna.

We know that the antenna has the 'capability or power' to detect a program (irrespective of the type, quality, content, mood etc. of the program). We know so only from the fact that it "gives rise to and knows" a program.

Suppose we are not watching any program. Will it be then "subtly incorrect" to say that 'that quality of detecting sensitivity' of the antenna "exists independently" (independent of the program being played or not)?

[Acknowledgements: This post is carved out of a FaceBook Conversation.
The Picture of Buddha with a Swan is adopted from  here. ]


Anonymous said...

Why do you say that 'awareness' is infinite? This would also have the implication that it is always there, something eternal? Can we really say that awareness outlasts the body and doesn't disappear along with all the senses at death?

A Buddhist would never say that awareness is eternal, nor Brahman, as it would signify that it was permanent, a 'thing', an object of a sort. Buddhists contend that all is impermanent, that there is no permanent 'entity' anywhere to be found and that this kind of thinking is conditioned itself, impermanent, dissatisfying, and has no self-substance. The nature of all things has these 3 Marks Of Existence. It agrees with Advaita that the Unconditioned is not knowable, nameable, objectified in any way. But, it is not a self, Self, and that this terminology is misleading, including the focus on awareness.

Peter Francis Dziuban said...

Thank you ramesam for a very clear and informative post. It is nice to see such “sticky“ subjects broken down into clear explanations, which enable a “seeing” of That which cannot be seen.

Ramesam Vemuri said...

So very kind of you, Peter.
Very happy tocsee that you could spare your valuable time to take a peek at this Post.


Ramesam Vemuri said...

Hi Anonymous,

Thank you foryour observations.

What you have raised is a classical and well-debated issue between Advaitins and Buddhists, as you must be quite aware.

When Advaita talks of an eternal Awareness, unborn and immortal, and without limits of space time etc., we do not speak about It in terms of an 'object.' An object, howsoever huge it may be, will still be definable by 'some' edges / limits. On the other hand, Awareness is totally beyond mind and cannot be "thought about" or "imagined" by the mind.
Awareness is totally incomprehensible to the human mind which is "finite."
At the most one may say Awareness is space-like, Self-effulgent (means it does not require some other light to illuminate and show it).

Now, "Self" or "Awareness" is a word used just to indicate that something which has no name. So Self is a mere pointer, a road signal. Self is NOT It. We use those words only for communication/conversation purposes.

If we go by the Buddhist concept of "Emptiness" or "Nothingness," it would mean that all the creation, you and me can arise from emptiness. If that is so, anything can be born of anything, all being empty. But we do not find in our experience such a thing in nature. So for creation to emerge, some "beingness" (as a quality and not as a substance) has got to be there. Thus only when it comes to creation, we have to admit of the presence of "something" that gives rise to created objects.


Anonymous said...

If it is true that awareness is totally beyond our comprehension, why introduce it into a conversation and then try to 'establish' it? If it is a goal to be sought and attained, this is yet another desire by a conditioned mind, is it not?

I understand you are trying to assert something positive, tangible in your theory, rather than just leave it as 'unknowable' , but doing this seems to introduce all kinds of conceptual imagery that also cannot capture or understand that which is not mental.

The Buddhist theory of emptiness is not as you assert it is. I am not trying to defend it, but if you want to introduce it into a conversation, you need to be familiar with Nagarjuna's dialectic, and how it fits with dependent origination. The problem here is trying to identify some kind of substance that the mind can latch on to to solve a mental problem on a conceptual level. If there is something beyond mind, how can you possibly 'know' it using your mind?

Because both Buddhists and Advaitists both struggle to 'understand' their own teachings using mind, they are both caught in the net of conceptualization regarding both their doctrines. It is like an addiction that tries to continue itself in spite of its problem.

Trying to introduce some kind of authority here is useless, although that is the usual activity that goes on in both schools, the word of the Buddha, or the word of scriptures in Advaita terminology. In your own experience, has authority solved your own divisive activity that all of us are involved with every moment? Divisive being the interpretation of experience into subject and object, and not implying anything personal towards you. We are all doing this moment to moment. No authority touches this. No words solve this divisive activity. We are just standing apart from our own experience and philosophizing about it. Some people are content to do this as a hobby, a kind of entertainment. Can all this 'trying' stop? What would happen?

Ramesam Vemuri said...

Thank you Anonymous for the comment.

If you are familiar with the commentary of Shankara on Bhagavad-Gita chapter 2, verse 16, the very same question has been dealt with and explained in detail. There is nothing new in the point made by you.

Advaita does say that what is being pointed to by the word Awareness (or brahman) cannot be grasped by the "mind." That is because of the fact that mind is a limited entity and brahman is unlimited - the greater cannot be captured by the smaller. For example, if you are sitting in your bedroom, the limited room-space cannot show contain the entire house sapce.

Then is it a wild goose chase to try to find brahman?
Absolutely NOT.
How so?
Because, brahman is not "knowable" by the mind and senses, but at the same time It is not "unknown."
For example, as Rupert says, ask yourself the question "Am I aware now?"
Without the intervention of the mind or senses, you know you are aware.
Experiment it yourself. There is a knowingness of your own beingness even in utter silent darkness without having to even "think" about it. That "Being Aware" is itself brahman.
What you are looking for is already with you.

You may see this Video of Rupert for more elaborate explanation:

I hope you can see that in Advaita, it is not some woolly woolly academic concepts that are bieng talked about but "What-IS" as is. Just leave the 'me' part of your thought. Let all things be as they are. Do not try to objectify, identify, recognize. Just like digestion takes place without you intervening in any way, let all things be.


Anonymous said...

Yes, it is a wild goose chase in the sense of apprehending the unknowable. The problem lies in perception and cognition of experience and not in the attempt at meditative states of absorption to end this illusion. Without understanding how the process of perception creates the illusion of subject and object, and how we personalize this experience, there is no chance to live as the unconditioned.

What you and Rupert are calling awareness is the sense of existence that you have. This existence is impermanent. It is a dream created by your own perception when you allow yourself to conceptualize. This can stop and when it stops, there is only the experience of the senses being stimulated by what they come in contact with. There is no center, no subject/object. There is no awareness apart from this activity.

Teachers like the Buddha taught a chain of causation, dependent origination. If this, then that. This means if there is a condition present, what arises is dependent on that condition and so on. The personalization of this activity, the experiencer, me, is absent from this activity. The assumption that there is a center, a self, an 'I', is an assumption, not a reality. This is recognized when there is a switch from existence to experience. The former is subjective and problematic. This is the basic Buddhist teaching, but you don't have to be a Buddhist to understand it.

All this means is that there is no position to be taken when it comes to a view. Whether that view is Brahman, Nibbana, or what have you, the holding of a position must be let go of. You let go of it when you see that it has no permanence, that it is ultimately not satisfying, and you stop personalizing it.

Ramesam Vemuri said...

Hi Anonymous,

Thanks again for your note.
It is clear that you follow a different model and you do not appreciate the way Advaita presents goes about it.

May I request you to please make a complete and comprehensive write up of your preferred approach and I shall post it here at this Blog. This will give an opportunity for presenting a cogent and logical arguments of yours in a way that will be intelligible to all our readers.

There are no deadlines nor any restrictions of length etc. You may please prepare at your own convenience and send to me your essay. If it is too long to be posted at one time, we shall post part by part. As you may have noted, I publish only one article per month. We can schedule your post depending on when you are able to send to me.


Anonymous said...

My posts were just meant to be part of a discussion, not a teaching.