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Ever See a Brahman or a Universe?
Biju: Dear Sundari (and also dear Mr. Swartz), thank you very much for your reply. I really appreciate your taking time to compose a reply to my question. Thanks to Mr. Swartz for taking time to review as well.
I still feel the answer to my question, “What is the evidence for the non-locality of self?,” is not clear. All the ideas you mentioned are correct and perfectly valid only if we accept the basic premise that self is non-local. But what is the proof for that belief?
James: It is not a belief. Scripture is clear on the pervasiveness of awareness. Let me reiterate. Wherever you go there is awareness. This is a matter of observation. If it is localized it will not be everywhere. Why is this explanation not suitable?
If you can’t see it, let me put it this way: Why does it matter to you if it is localized or all-pervasive?
Biju: Let me summarize what I gleamed from your answer here (the word “we” refers to our non-real, limited self in advaita lingo):
1. When we look around and see the world in our waking state, who is the observer?
2. When we watch a dream, the dream is the object. So who is the observer of the dream?
3. When we experience deep sleep, who is experiencing the bliss?
James: The only reality is the one which never changes. Since the only thing that does not change in 1, 2 and 3 above is the SELF, SELF is the only really real thing.
Biju: But then we make the leap in conclusion that SELF is the TOTALITY OF UNIVERSE (Brahman, or That). I do not understand the reason behind this assertion.
James: The proof of this is that brahman and the UNIVERSE is not a matter of your direct experience. They are only thoughts in your mind. And your mind is in awareness, meaning that it has no independent existence apart from you, awareness. You think that brahman or the universe is not you, but they are to you like the waves are to the ocean – they arise and subside in you. Did you ever see a brahman or a UNIVERSE apart from your thoughts about them? You cannot establish their existence apart from the thought of them. The thought of them is reflected awareness (see below), and reflected awareness is awareness without sentiency.
Biju: How about the following point of view?
When we watch a dream, our mind is not entirely absent. Parts of the mind are very active and other parts of the mind are at rest. So a dream is projected. The observer is still parts of the mind.
James: Okay, but who knows the observer? More on this topic below.
Biju: When we are in deep sleep, mind is not entirely absent either. That is why we are able to wake up in a flash. Parts of mind are resting, but other parts of mind are ready to receive messages. Bliss is simply experience of the resting of our body-mind system. The messaging system might be resting, but the messengers are by no means absent.
James: I think you would benefit from reading my commentaries on the Mandukya Upanishad. It is at the website. If you want the material explanation for consciousness, you are welcome to it.
I teach scripture, which explains reality differently. We are not trying to defeat materialists about the nature of reality. Their view is appropriate for them. This is a very deep and profound topic and I cannot argue it with you without unfolding carefully the whole Upanishad. Everything that you say in the paragraph above could be more or less fitted into the Mandukya’s analysis, but the point of the analysis is to prove to you that you are not who you think you are – that you are awareness.
Biju: When we watch the world in our waking state, our body-mind system is still the observer of the world.
James: Not so. The body-mind is matter. It is not conscious, so it cannot observe. It seems to observe, however, owing to the power of maya to obscure the hidden logic of your instruments of knowledge. Awareness is the only conscious “part.” The body-mind is awareness, but it is not aware. It is insentient. Only pure awareness – you – are sentient. The mind seems to be an observer because it reflects awareness, “pratibimba” is the correct term, like the moon reflects sunlight. It has no light of its own, meaning it can’t “observe.”
Biju: I have trouble realising the concept behind “Tat Tvam Asi,” or “Aham Brahmasmi.” I have no doubt about the tremendous wisdom of the Vedic sages. They must have been far ahead of the rest of the humanity of their time. But they could not have known cell biology or neural networks, simply because of the age they lived in.
James: The “concept” behind these words is not a concept. It is just you, awareness. They mean that you are awareness, not Biju. This whole Vedanta thing is just about one topic – identity. Who or what is Biju? Are you that collection of interpreted experiences with the name Biju or are you the one who knows Biju?
Actually, they did know about cell biology and neural networks, but this discussion will only lead to an argument because your belief in this kind of knowledge is based on the existence of certain material instruments that were not available at that time. The “nadis” of yoga are detailed and precise descriptions of neural networks. There are other ways of knowing that do not rely on complex material instruments and inferences derived from them.
Biji: I am sure there is some argument which might completely convince me. I would like to hear that one.
James: You need to want to be convinced, Biju. ☺ You are not “right” and I am not “right.” This is not a matter of belief. I am trying to find out what you really want. If I can convince you of something that seems to be basically an intellectual interest, then what?
In other words, if consciousness is only local, so what? What does it have to do with the price of tea in China or whether or not you are happy? I am not concerned with the price of tea in China and I am not sure if you are unhappy, and even if you are I am not sure whether Vedanta can show you that you are happiness itself. Our tools for removing suffering are definitely limited by our core objective: liberation.
Our core mission is happiness, Biju, not defending our means of knowledge. It does not need defending, because its scope is beyond all other means of knowledge, i.e. perception and inference. No matter how sophisticated your scientific instruments are they can never establish the existence of awareness and what it means to be awareness in terms of your everyday life. That is not the purpose of science. It is the purpose of Brahma Vidya, the “science” of awareness.
~ Om and prem, James