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. ]