You write: “Of course, if everything is like a dream (mithyA), then the sages and their scriptures are a part of that dream. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the teachings and the scriptures are not useful for awakening from the dream.”
That is true, in my understanding. ‘Life is a Dream’ (Calderón de la Barca’s play). ‘All the world’s a stage’ (Shakespeare). As to Vedanta, here is what a sage (among so many others) has said: “Vedanta plays the role of the dream lion in his world. Vedantic knowledge is part of the illusory world. But then it dissolves the entire illusion of this world, revealing reality as it is.” Sw. Parthsarathy.
You: “If ‘no one dies’, then no one is enlightened either [higher knowledge or viewpoint], and yet we still talk as if people really do die and really do become enlightened.” [empirical, conventional viewpoint]
True also. That modifier, ‘as if’, is crucial.
In the next para. you write: “…an individual who appears to exist while not really existing AS AN INDIVIDUAL has appeared to become enlightened while not really being enlightened AS THE PURPORTED INDIVIDUAL.” I took the liberty of adding the words in capital letters, for advaitic sense.
Further, while ‘everybody is enlightened’, as Neo advaitins claim, ‘no one is enlightened’, as the sage Gaudapada claimed. Are these two seemingly contradictory statements true – and in what sense?
You: “I think the problem with brain damage is the possibility that a j~nAnI would lose most or all of the knowledge (including Self-knowledge) that he gained through his studies… “
Agree. This is as seen from the conventional, worldly perspective, which cannot be denied – only understood. Jñani/s [sages] also experience thoughts and emotions. With them, these either quickly disappear, or are transmuted or resolved into consciousness.
Something more, for pondering: “People forget the reality of the illusory world”. Huang Po.
Mithya (relative truth)? (DIALOGUE IN ADVAITA VISION – 17.7.14)