Conversation with ‘H’ – 4


First, I agree with you concerning technical vocabulary (including Sanskrit!); it really is not required, normal English being sufficient for understanding, I should say, any subject matter, though there are terms from another language which don’t have a direct correspondence with the former, particularly Sanskrit terms and also some from Buddhism, etc.

That said, one has to realize that absolutely all concepts used in advaita are only symbols or indicators pertaining to what is considered ‘lower knowledge’, and that includes all that is written in the venerable Vedas. At the same time, they, and the expressions containing them, have, directly or indirectly, the supreme reality as their referent.There is a pithy statement in one of the Upanishads: ‘That from which all words fall back failing to reach it, along with the mind’. ‘Higher knowledge’, on the other hand, is beyond the mind (one could even say ‘by consensus’), while necessarily using the latter for verbal transmission. This knowledge or understanding can only be conveyed by what can be called ‘universal intuition’ (or ‘truth of the Heart’?), an expression redolent of ‘the Peace that passes all understanding’. And this is the only ‘thing’ – ‘knowledge-experience’- that is unstultifiable; a knowledge that transcends the individual as individual. More on this (knower, witness) following right now.

I understand your scruples concerning ‘witness’, ‘knower’, etc.; even expressions such as ‘Witness behind the witness’, ‘Knower behind …’, when one is referring to nothing less than the absolute or ultimate reality -which is indescribable and thus undefinable -cannot but cause puzzlement in the reader’s mind, even though these expressions are common currency in Hindu (Vedantic) metaphysics. The peculiarity of this tradition is that it is considered by many authorities as being both rational and mystical, opinions varying concerning this assessment –something difficult to accept by Western trained minds.

Fundamental for the comprehension of all this is having in mind two things: 1) central to the tradition of Shankara is the notion of mutual superimposition of reality and unreality, which is un-assumed, undiscovered by the generality of thinkers/experiencers/philosophers, except for the mystics, or the contemplative philosophers and artists. Plato, Dionysius the Areopagite, Clement of Alexandria, Plotinus, Nicolas of Cusa, ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’, Ibn al-‘Arabi, Thoreau, and many others. 2) The employment of this insight (for it is that) as a tool or devise for teaching non-duality (advaita). Firstly, postulating something (a doctrine or statement) as a provisional step on the way towards final truth, and then rescind it (which, for many, may take years to make the jump, if at all).  The formula neti,neti (not this, not that) is a famous illustration of that. Much of Indian philosophy is based on, and inspired by, stories, legends, mythology – folk-lore in general (Mahabharata, etc.).

Examples of the foregoing are such as saying that, though devoid of eyes and ears, Atman (the supreme Self – Consciousness or absolute reality) cognizes everything, while no one can ever cognize him; or attributing fearlessness to Him/It! Or saying that that same Self (originator of everything as brahman, which is not different from Atman or the Self) is the supreme magician, creator of all the worlds (how many? Innumerable, plus three or more heavenly realms). Not to talk about karma, the posthumous states, and the various possibilities of reincarnation…

Now, about the Witness. Here I prefer to copy a selection from ‘A-U-M, Awakening to Reality’, by Dennis Waite, owner of the blog ‘Advaita Vision’, to which I contribute:

‘When speaking about the [sage’s] perception of the world, the scriptures and teachers often use the word ‘witness’. This carries connotations of being ‘detached’, just observing everything and everyone but not becoming involved. But this is still a dualistic concept – ’I’ and ‘other’ – . What has to be realized is that we are trying to convey a [higher order] concept of ‘I’ and a [lower order, empirical] concept of ‘other’.

‘This is a mistake on two fronts. Firstly, you cannot have ‘concepts’ from the standpoint of absolute reality – that would be duality! Secondly, you cannot mix levels of reality. To speak of an absolute-reality witness perceiving the world is the same as claiming that a waker can see and involve him or herself in a dream. Accordingly, what is meant by ‘witnessing’ is perceiving the world just as before, but with the major difference that I now know that my real nature is on a higher level of reality; that who-I-really-am is non-dual Consciousness, while the world is mithyA appearance only, albeit with that the same non-dual Consciousness as its substratum. There is still a relationship between me, the observer, and the perceived object at the empirical level. But, in reality,there is no relationship between ‘I’ the absolute reality and any apparent thing at the empirical level. There is no relationship because there is not separation and no second thing to which to relate.’

About amartingarcia

General surgeon (retired). Studied Western philosophy at U of Toronto. Afterwards interest turned to advaita vedanta and non-duality for past 20 yrs, plus a long interlude in Sufism coinciding with that period. Now contributing in ’Advaita Vision’ with regular posts and discussions.
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