X. Descartes said succinctly “I think, therefore I am” and I believe he was on the correct path to understanding God but ultimately failed in his effort to prove God’s existence using reason.
Y. In the tradition of Western philosophy, ‘mind’, ‘self’, ‘consciousness’ and ‘I’ are used synonymously, and here is the key. Descartes did not distinguish between mind and consciousness, whereas the Upanishadic sage experientially distinguished between them, though the mind is none other than consciousness with objects – this is a subtle point.
Descartes: “What then is it that I am?… a thinking thing… and if I entirely cease to think thereupon I shall altogether cease to exist” (Meditation ll).
One of my favourite authors, Ramakrishna Puligandla observes: “I can easily imagine an Upanishadic risi asking Descartes, ‘your teaching is interesting; however, I wish to ask you as to how you know you cease to exist if you cease to think’… offering then deep sleep as an example of a state in which one certainly exists, although there is no thinking. This is the basis on which the Mandukya Upanishad experientially distinguishes mind and consciousness… [failing that distinction] has led the Western tradition into denying objectless consciousness .” (‘That Thou Art, The Wisdom of the Upanishads’, Ramakrishna Puligandla). I realize that the doctrine of ‘objectless consciousness’ is rather tricky, but it can be defended… experientially (by those who have that experience). (Will cont.)