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Those Pesky Materialists
Dominique: Hi, James. Anyway, I’ve become a real Vedanta junkie. That is why I sent you my last email concerning the dream state. I wonder if you could address it or maybe it would take too much time (and we could tackle it if I see you in Toronto).
The only problems I now see with Vedanta concerns how to explain certain aspects to materialists. Maybe these can’t be addressed, as they invariably take their interpretation from the “I am the body” perspective. I entertain these considerations since Vedanta cannot always explain away certain aspects to their satisfaction, even with the Mandukya Upanishad.
James: Remember, we are not trying to “explain” reality. We are teaching the self. Once the self is revealed reality needs no explanation.
Dominique: Prajna, for example, can be seen for what it is – as an experience in duality – from the perspective of jnanam.
James: Prajna is actually a term for a subtle vritti that allows consciousness to experience itself. There is no duality in the causal state because the intellect is in its seed state. It is one with maya, ignorance, and therefore is not an experiencer. Duality is a belief in the intellect when the subtle body is projected.
Dominique: But a materialist would say that the deep sleep state is simply the body’s response to a physiological change. One could argue that since the three states constantly change, there is the underlying substratum – awareness – that doesn’t. The electricity metaphor could impart some understanding, but the materialist could retort with altered states of consciousness (REMs, for example) that are the result of the body’s ongoing changes and need for rest.
James: Well, they have it backwards, but okay, I follow the argument.
Dominique: The electricity that is in the body just flips a switch to go from one state to another. In their view, the body is therefore the substratum, not consciousness. The body supplies the electricity; the electricity is not the sign of the fourth factor (turiya).
James: “Flipping” implies consciousness. Since the body is matter and matter is inert, how is it going to “flip” anything on its own?
Dominique: My question is whether there is a way around this in responding to a samsari. Though we may know what we know because of how we know, the question of self-knowledge can be negated by a dualist rooted in body identification.
I suspect there is no way around this. It all comes back to qualifications. In other words, is it just a waste of time to entertain such considerations with a samsari? Wouldn’t Shankara – in the tradition of astute debate – know how to deal with this?
This is the sort of reflection that fills my apparent time. I obviously get it if you have more pressing matters. No big deal. This is why I wondered if you preferred I refrain from sending you such trivial emails (when considering all the apparent drama you undoubtedly have to face with so many seekers).
James: I should be answering your questions first, Dominique, because they are more interesting than the run-of-the-mill questions I answer first. But the samsaris are suffering (and you aren’t), Ramji is an Ocean of Compassion and feels compelled to relieve their suffering before he gets to the trivial contemplations of jnanis.
Anyway, you are right about arguing with materialists. It is pointless. There has to be mumukshutva and shraddha, faith in the scripture, in which case they will give the teaching the benefit of the doubt and contemplate until they get it. If you want to defeat them accept their idea that the body is the self and tell them that it is not real, because it is an object of knowledge and it begins and ends. They can’t argue that it does not begin and end. You can’t get something out of nothing, so where does the body come from? If it begins, it begins from something. If it disappears, it disappears into something. If they want to call the body the self then get them to define the body. They will say it is matter. Then argue that matter is inert. Compare the body to a chair. It is clear that a chair is not conscious. If they are both matter and one is conscious and one not, the body can’t be conscious. Point out that it is food and that food is not conscious. If they argue that meat is from a conscious being and the consciousness comes from the meat, remind them that there are people who never ate meat who are conscious. It is clear that a vegetable is not conscious. Then introduce the subtle body and negate it too. This is more difficult because it is a subtler form of matter (reflected awareness) and seems to be conscious. But apply the same logic. It too is an object. The subject cannot be the object, because it is different from the object. Admit that it is consciousness – matter is consciousness – but that it is not sentient. Then use an illustration to explain pervasiveness – like space or the iron-ball metaphor in Shankara’s Atma Bodh – to show how consciousness pervades matter but matter does not pervade consciousness. If they still don’t get it, forget it. They are not ready to get it.
Everyone has a materialist inside, so it all depends on how much of a materialist they are. If they have had an epiphany or two, it helps. If not, it is virtually impossible to show them. But there is still an argument that might get them to think. Ask them what love is and how it differs from the body. If they say that love is chemicals, you know you are dealing with an idiot and find someone more intelligent to argue with.
You might also bring in The Tao of Physics argument, breaking down matter by scientific analysis of the particles that make it up until you reveal the two basic ontological categories, the subject and the object, the knower and the known. What makes arguing this spirit/matter business so difficult is that matter is consciousness but consciousness is not matter. It takes a very subtle intellect to understand this. And while certain materialists have good intellects within the limited field of the empirical reality, it takes more than just a good intellect to understand. You have to have the desire to understand. If that is there, it is an invocation and the self will understand the need and cause the ego to relax and at least provisionally accept the argument.
Dominique: If you ever get the time, I would ask you to explain in more detail from where this notion that the dream state is the natural state of the subtle body originates. I definitely get it, in the sense that the waking state of mithya is a full-fledged dream (no different in this sense from the dream state), but I get the impression that I don’t have the complete picture. In addition to your answer – if you find the time – maybe you could suggest a text where this is expounded.
James: It is expounded in the Mandukya Upanishad. There is a copy at my website.
The waking state is consciousness shining on the subtle body, which produces experiences of gross and subtle objects which are shaped by the vasanas – the causal body. You experience gross objects because the sense organs, the means of knowledge for matter, are in the subtle body.
The dream state is consciousness shining through the subtle body, illumining only subtle matter – which is experience shaped by the vasanas.
The deep sleep state is consciousness shining through a very subtle vritti (thought) that produces the experience of limitlessness and bliss. It is not a complex instrument like the subtle body, which is made up of many parts. It is just a thought, an “entity,” that makes it possible for consciousness to experience its limitlessness minus the knowledge of itself. There is no knowledge, because the intellect is in the subtle body and it is folded into the causal body and not active.
The problem is the words “the natural state of the subtle body.” The dream state is the product of consciousness reflecting on the subtle body. There is no “state” until consciousness illumines the subtle body. Think of a movie projector. Light (consciousness) shines through the causal body, the vasanas, which reflected in the subtle body produces experience of gross and subtle objects which seem to be a “state” “out there.” The subtle body is not conscious, so it has no “natural state.” It is just an instrument, a mirror, that bounces light. Since the vasanas are embedded in it, you get varieties of gross and subtle experience. In certain texts the causal body is not mentioned, because its content is revealed in the subtle body and that is all we need to know for the purposes of discrimination.
Dominique: I think maybe some of the inexactitude of my interpretation comes from the origins of the subconscious (Isvara’s vasanas). I thought said origins emanated from the causal body. What is it that I am missing?
James: Isvara is the causal body, the unconscious. The “unconscious” is the word for the macrocosm, and the “subconscious” is the word for the microcosm, the individual’s particular vasanas, although all individual vasanas originate in the causal body.
One term, Isvara, implies consciousness, the other doesn’t, although the causal body (maya, Isvara, ignorance) are all roughly synonyms because all are consciousness.
~ Love, James