Conversation with ‘H’ – 6


Dear H:  I realise that much of our disagreement has to do with the use of language – the meaning each one of us attaches to certain terms – and also to perspective. I base myself almost exclusively on Advaita Vedanta’s terminology and teaching.

You: ‘… it seems less confusing to others if we confine ourselves to the three primary distinctions of awareness, consciousness, and materiality. Conceptually, these are three categories; ontologically, then in actualised ND, they are not.’

A1. Excerpt from Quora: (Paul Bush) ‘Yes, I like the AV perspective. The distinction between awareness and consciousness is from Nisargadatta [who comes from a different school, not from AV] and is useful here I think… it distinguishes the phenomenal objects and events, the contents of consciousness, from the underlying reality which is awareness.’

Comment: Alright, accepted – this agrees with your position – but then, what is the difference between consciousness and mind? I realise you are hesitant to use mind as a category on its own. In Advaita Vedanta mind is subsumed under consciousness or awareness and is considered severally as either being a single entity or having four aspects or components: discursive mind, memory, ego, and Intellect. But this is an intermediate teaching, to be superseded later on.

You: ‘To repeat him [Max Plank]: “matter originates and exists”…. How do you see that differs from my saying that apprehending exists, the world exists, yet both are identical?’

A2. The first sentence or proposition in that paragraph brings a point of contention between us: matter (or the world). What is it? For me there would have been no problem if you had used apostrophes around the word ‘matter’, making it akin to ‘phenomenon’. I feel much more comfortable with this latter usage, as per Advaita, and equally so with ‘individual’, ‘person’, etc. We could go now into the notion of ‘physicality’, what it is, or means, but I will just append here a short excerpt:

(From a source): “There is a postulate: ‘non-duality implies the universality of consciousness. Concomitantly, it implies that consciousness is the ‘stuff’ everything is made of’, then adding: ‘this is the fundamental equation of Eastern philosophy: Atman=Brahman, Consciousness=Reality’…… [T]he notion of reality has been the subject of a complete inversion. It is not the forms which are real, but rather the void in between the forms. In the scale of Franklin Merrell-Wolff, the formless void has an infinite reality while the forms inside are really the contours of the reality.”

We can see that empirical science cannot fully explain what that mystery, ‘matter’, is, and, given the enormous amount, comparatively, of space that lies between the orbiting atomic and subatomic particles, starting with the positron and neutron, it may never will.

As to the second sentence (‘How do you see that differs from my saying that apprehending exists, the world exists, yet both are identical?’), I find it acceptable provided that, again, you place ‘the world’ between apostrophes, meaning that one does not consider it in principle as something solid and existing separately from consciousness or awareness; that is, objectively real.

It is exactly the same problem, as I see it, with what follows: “There being a world of physically discrete objects [Plank: matter exists] does not preclude the unicity of ND which itself is not subject to the mind’s overlay of a subject/object dichotomy as regards to apprehending the world.” That sentence is heavy with solidity and separateness; this is what one primarily gets on reading it.

How can you say: ‘Not Two-ism’, which itself does not reject multiplicity’? You must have said that inadvertently! – For it is a contradiction in terms.

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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4 Responses to Conversation with ‘H’ – 6

  1. Hariod Brawn says:

    Dear Dr. Garcia, it would seem appropriate as a right of reply to include here in the comments my response to the above, if you will permit it. Naturally, you must please feel free not to do so – perhaps if you had planned to post the same yourself at a later date anyway. On the assumption that it is indeed permissible to you then, I respond as follows:

    Thank you, Dr. Garcia, for your continued and most welcome engagement. I don’t feel as though either of us ought have any right to the last word on the matter, and you are always most welcome to come back with more at any time, but for now, let me attempt to wrap this particular discussion up, if you will.

    The disagreement is ultimately unimportant, as I think you’ll readily acknowledge. I do feel it rather more a question of perspective, as against language alone, though, and suspect you may well feel the same. As a matter of fact, I would find it a little odd if we were not to differ in our respective translating of ND into words, and am a little doubtful of others when all I hear from them is almost verbatim regurgitations of the usual suspects, so to speak, with no willingness to widen the matter out. You clearly have the strength of your convictions, and are prepared to have them openly examined, and which marks you apart from the aforesaid.

    A1. Thank you for the quote from Quora/Paul Bush, which obviously chimes with my own use of terminology. You go on to ask what is the difference between consciousness and mind, but I confess I don’t see why this distinction is important to you. As you may recall, I see consciousness (by my definition of it i.e. ‘being with knowledge’) as being brain dependent, and individualised – to the human, the parrot, the dog, and to much simpler organisms too. [See: Daniel Dennett: ‘Kinds of Minds’] I see mind in the same way, so for me, there is no distinction. Perhaps we could say the word ‘consciousness’ calls to mind the idea of knowingness moreso than does the term ‘mind’, which may itself suggest something non-reflexive – like the zombie in the numerous philosophers’ thought experiments. But really, I don’t see there being any useful distinction here, and frankly it simply muddies the waters, not least of all as it suggests a fixed or closed entity-system, rather in the way the ‘ego’ is sometimes regarded as a self-like entity, or homunculus within.

    A2. Planck did not put apostrophes around the word ‘matter’, so why would I? I do accept that in contemporary ND-speak, many feel the need to qualify every concept by wrapping apostrophes ‘round them, but there’s no end to it – all language is symbolic; why not just accept it and not tie ourselves in knots over-qualifying everything? We know what we each mean by ‘matter’, and the provisional nature of concepts more generally, though not being a physicist, I personally can’t define what matter is, any more than you can define what consciousness is. In fact, as you suggest, physicists themselves don’t seem able to define what matter is, but certainly know that it is something rather than nothing, albeit that knowing is mediated by inference and consciousness. [You may well reject such an argument.] But really, perhaps we ought both accept that Planck was right: matter exists. Or are you saying that matter does not exist; is that really your position, Dr. Garcia? Are you saying that not only is consciousness the substrate of matter and of the world, but that ultimately, matter and the world do not exist, and all that does exist (whatever that might mean within such a definition) is consciousness? Without wishing to appear facile, could such a conclusion be arrived at without a brain – not the idea of a brain, but grey matter itself?

    Okay, we can call matter ‘phenomena’, but there we fall into the trap of suggesting it is one not the other – mind not matter, or a pure phenomenology. I am saying it is both, yet neither exclusively, in that ‘apprehending and the world both exist and are identical’. It is a multiplicity within, or one which ubiquitously pervades within, a unicity. [You can turn that pervading around – it makes no difference.] Some poetically call this the play of subjectivity, playing as objectivity, but I don’t warm to that as again it remains inside the dualistic dichotomy. There is a grain of truth within though, in that subjectivity and objectivity are both mind-created subsets within the unicity of ND, which itself pervades (and is pervaded by) everything, be it deemed mind or matter. Purely logically, ND (as a unicity) cannot stand outside of anything, nor anything, outside of it. Therefore, if matter exists, as Planck claims, then matter does not stand outside of ND – it is apprehended, as the world, and it is not different or separate to its apprehending (my maxim rephrased).

    On the quote you make “from a source”: Are you seeing a distinction between my position and this, Dr. Garcia? The quote says that “non-duality implies the universality of consciousness. Concomitantly, it implies that consciousness is the ‘stuff’ everything is made of.” So, it is saying there is an ‘everything’, meaning there is something(s), and meaning also that there is an apparent world. It does not say that “consciousness is the stuff nothing is made of”. The ‘forms’ are not unreal in actualised ND (no things are, as they are all apprehended as and in ND awareness itself), but it is incorrect to think they exist outside of ND, or as ‘real’ on their own and (seemingly) outside of ND. I take this to be the meaning of the quote, though, as you know, I largely avoid using the words ‘real’ and ‘unreal’.

    On your closing two paragraphs: The quote which you say is “heavy with solidity and separateness” is only so due to being read if one discounts the unicity of ND awareness, which, as I said, pervades all things and does not stand localised outside of the localised tree, which is indeed spatially separated and existent as matter; nor does ND awareness stand localised to brain-dependent consciousness, which knows the tree as a concept. And finally, there was nothing inadvertent in my saying that ‘Not-two-ism’ does not reject multiplicity. The meaning is that ontologically distinct categories of mind and matter – mind/body Dualism or ‘Two-ism’ – is seen as a false mind-construct within ND awareness, yet multiplicity is accepted in that matter exists, spatially separated things exist, yet all are pervaded by the non-local nature of ND awareness itself. ND is not about space and time, and ought not be assumed to conform to that paradigm.

    I am enjoying our exchanges here, Dr. Garcia, and welcome your engagement most warmly. Do please forgive me if I at times appear a little sharp in my responses; it is simply in a bid to remain as concise as possible, and which I fear I may be failing at terribly! I respect greatly your position and also your willingness to interrogate whatever understandings I have.

    Very best regards,

    Hariod Brawn.

    • Dear Hariod: Are matter and consciousness the same?, ‘Matter and awareness not ontologically distinct categories’? How can two concepts, or categories as such, both being mental products to begin with, be the same or equivalent? But, obviously, you mean ontologically the same, and here is where I object, for the distance between these two notions, their referents, rather, is very great, amounting to what is called a category mistake. Advaita Vedanta (AV) teaches that matter, a phenomenon or appearance – ‘nama-rupa’ (coinciding here with the Buddhists) – at first go is other than consciousness, being an object to it. However, once further understanding has accrued, matter, and all phenomena, are seen as not other than consciousness, i.e., they are reducible to consciousness, the only reality there is – as form is to substance or accident is to essence. Remember what I said about the devise that is superimposition, which is to be followed (methodically) by rescission (taking it back). This is a very important doctrine in AV, and there would be much to say about it, for it was at first not a devise for teaching purposes but a discovery made by Shankara related to ordinary language (a double superimposition is at work: the unreal on the real, and the real on the unreal).

      You: ‘Okay, we can call matter ‘phenomena’, but there we fall into the trap of suggesting it is one not the other – mind not matter, or a pure phenomenology. I am saying it is both, yet neither exclusively, in that ‘apprehending and the world both exist and are identical’. It is a multiplicity within, or one which ubiquitously pervades within, a unicity.’

      A1. It is not one or the other, or both. It (matter) is a phenomenon, like all others, called mythia in AV. A phenomenon (‘what appears’) is something relatively real, and all objects=phenomena are such, so they are not just mind stuff, they are something, as you say, but since there is only one reality – Not Two – all phenomena are reducible to the noumenon that is awareness. More on this under A2.

      You: ‘The quote which you say is “heavy with solidity and separateness” is only so due to being read if one discounts the unicity of ND awareness, which, as I said, pervades all things and does not stand localised outside of the localised tree, which is indeed spatially separated and existent as matter; nor does ND awareness stand localised to brain-dependent consciousness, which knows the tree as a concept.’ (my underlining).

      A2. DUALITY ALL ALONG… Awarenes/things, /Awareness/ Consciousness. You then continue: ‘The meaning is that ontologically distinct categories of mind and matter – mind/body Dualism or ‘Two-ism’ – is seen as a false mind-construct within ND awareness’. Correct, but the dualism or duality I refer to and which you seem to espouse is not that one, both limbs of which are ontologically on the same line or level, but awareness/mind and/or awareness/externally-existing-things. Some time previously you had said that ‘external’, etc. are only conceptual… ‘yet multiplicity is accepted in that matter exists, spatially separated things exist, yet all are pervaded by the non-local nature of ND awareness itself’.
      How can ND awareness pervade spatially separated and physically existing things? Unless these are are understood as intangible phenomena, that is. Phenomena which are arisings in consciousnes (my take) or awareness (your take), this latter being noumenon. Noumenon is ontologically above phenomenon, you will agree, even though ultimately, essentially, phenomena are not other than, are reducible to, awareness, the root ‘cause’ or container of everything. I write ‘cause’ with apostrophes because Advaita Vedanta ultimately, that is, from the higher perspective, does not admit causes/causation as existing as such. They are mental constructs which annul themselves on right understanding.

      You. ‘…… perhaps we ought both accept that Planck was right: matter exists. Or are you saying that matter does not exist; is that really your position, Dr. Garcia? Are you saying that not only is consciousness the substrate of matter and of the world, but that ultimately, matter and the world do not exist, and all that does exist (whatever that might mean within such a definition) is consciousness?……’

      A3. Plank was an empirical scientist with a philosophical bent. Was he a thoroughgoing or pure non-dualist? His position seems like to yours, except when he adds (or is attributed to him): ‘non-duality implies the universality of consciousness. Concomitantly, it implies that consciousness is the ‘stuff’ everything is made of.” YES! ‘Everything=phenomena, which appear as physical but that are intangible and reducible to consciousness, from which they ultimately origínate… despite time, space, and causation not really existing, as from the higher perspective in AV. Again, this is metaphysics! Also spirituality. Also mysticism, but not of the passional kind, and not devoid of rationality. And this is Advaita Vedanta.

      You. ‘Awareness (the illuminative aspect of consciousness) of the tree can never be abstracted from the tree itself, and viceversa’.

      A4. The tree exists only in consciousness, and ultimately is not other tan consciousness.

      You write: ‘ND is not about space and time, and ought not be assumed to conform to that paradigm.’ Right, and I add causation to those two, but it – the notion of ND – has to account for all three, and for everything else, otherwise they would be hanging out in mid air, totally unexplained.

      You complain about the employment of apostrophes, but these, or the use of italics, are unavoidable, that is, necessary in philosophical or metaphysical discoure; same thing with metaphysics, not always equivalent to spirituality, depending on the context. The use of diacritical signs, together with metaphors and analogies, avoids possible confusion and, thus, facilitate communication. In this regard we all frequently take recourse to two levels: empirical and higher order or metaphysical, and I offered some examples, such as individual and ‘individual’, person and ‘person’, thus distinguishing the conventional from the non-dual understanding. A good example of this was ‘multiplicity’. If you say that ND admits multiplicity, all alarms go off, but if that word is written between apostrophes, one understands that it must not be taken literally but as pointing to another (doctrinal or metaphysical) sense. May be I have belaboured this point a bit too much.

      There may perhaps be something more to discuss or clarify, but for now, I must regretably say, Hariod, that I find your position – as we have discussed it in so much detail – to be untenable from the viewpoint of ND. And this is due to the fact that I find it to be inconsistent and, thus, inadequate. On occasion you have referred to physical objects as real, physical tout court, and at other times as apparent – ‘apparent objects’, ‘apparent world’. With respect, and kind regards, Alberto.

  2. Hariod Brawn says:

    Dear Alberto,

    Thank you for your further astute and considered observations, which I again feel a need to respond to so as to set the matter right. I have no objection to your rejecting my position as being equivalent to your own understanding of ND awareness, but feel I ought defend myself against the charge of inconsistency which you make.

    At the outset, I must immediately reject your assertion that I “have referred to physical objects as real, physical tout court” On the contrary, throughout our discussions I have always maintained that ND awareness effectively permeates or pervades all matter, and that nothing stands outside of it, nor it beyond anything. I have done so in my paradoxical maxim: “apprehending exists, the world exists, yet both are identical”, and I have also expanded upon this same meaning at great length, never once asserting, indicating, or suggesting that matter is ‘nothing other than’ (‘tout court’) physical substance.

    Related to this, you object to my inconsistency in using the term ‘apparent’. Please understand that when I use the term ‘apparent’, I do not mean ‘ultimately unreal’, or ‘illusory’; I mean ‘evident and discernible’. So, the world is both existent as matter/substance, and apprehended evidentially and discernably – it is not an illusion in either respect within actualised ND awareness.

    I am still trying to understand your position on whether matter exists. To say that ‘ultimately’ it reduces to consciousness is not an adequate or unequivocal answer, and as I have said earlier on in the discussion, to do so is to reduce the matter (sic) to an absurdity. One might well respond to such a charge by saying that my own position is absurdist [i.e. apprehending and the world both exist and are identical] but I have clearly stated (along with Planck, who you yourself introduced as an authority) that matter exists, not ever reducing it (tout court) to an immaterial consciousness.
    So far, I have addressed your closing objections to my position, and shall now come to earlier points in your above comment:

    You open by stating that matter is a ‘mental product’, and to me this indicates a position set firmly within the subject/object (either/or) dichotomy, and which ND awareness itself sees as being a mental product/construct. Reason dictates that such a statement self-negates in deeming materiality (or if you prefer, ‘materiality’) to be immaterial. ND awareness does not sit on either side of that dichotomy, as it transcends it, whilst at once allowing for it as a mental construct, and also for all mental constructs and materiality to be aspects of itself, as itself. [I am unsure whether my past use of the expression ‘awareness knowing itself, as itself’ has any meaning to you.] ND awareness does not reject materiality in dispensing with one half of the dichotomy and holding to the other. It is quite impossible to give any sense of this in words, meaning actualised ND rather evades description in the same way that conveying the scent of a rose does.

    You are correct to say that “matter, and all phenomena, are seen as not other than consciousness” – though I would say here ‘awareness’ not ‘consciousness’, as you know – however, the meaning here can be taken two ways. I would say it is correct insofar as matter does not stand outside of [i.e. ‘other than’] awareness, but incorrect to say it is solely (tout court) awareness and is hence immaterial. This appears to be the stumbling block in your rejection of my saying there is multiplicity within ND awareness. To repeat: ND awareness, being non-localised, does not stand outside of material substance, rejecting either its apparent or actual existence, for to do so would not be actualised ND awareness, but instead a position within the subject/object dichotomy. This is a very subtle point, Alberto, and I would ask you not pass over it too lightly as the sharp intellect is sometimes wont to do in a bid to find meaning in reason.

    A1. I do not understand what the expression ‘relatively real’ means. What is a ‘relatively real’ phenomenon?

    A2. You say, with some force, ‘duality all along’, but where is the duality in the passage you quote from? [i.e. “ND awareness, which, as I said, pervades all things and does not stand localised outside of the localised tree, which is indeed spatially separated and existent as matter; nor does ND awareness stand localised to brain-dependent consciousness, which knows the tree as a concept.”] Are you saying there is no such thing as spatial separation? Perhaps you are, given that you are seemingly rejecting the existence of matter/substance. The fact that brain-dependent consciousness represents the tree as a concept does not of itself negate the existence of the material substance we come to regard as a tree – unless one is a Transcendental Idealist, of course, rejecting in the course of that the entire body of science.

    Yes, within ND awareness, the frames of reference of ‘internal’ and ‘external’ only have meaning to the mind conceiving of itself as a localised point of centrality – typically as if the self-like homunculus within. But ND awareness does not reject either that the senses separate phenomena spatially, or that substance is indeed spatially separated. Again, this is the meaning of a multiplicity within, or one which itself pervades, ND awareness. Nothing is external to ND awareness itself though
    .
    You go on to ask: “How can ND awareness pervade spatially separated and physically existing things? Unless these are understood as intangible phenomena, that is.” Here, it once again seems that you are conceiving of ND awareness within a subject/object dichotomy, and within a paradigm of localisation. It ‘pervades’ not in the sense of ‘travelling through’, but in the sense of ‘not existing outside of’. Again, this is an extremely subtle point, and I do not mean to hide behind the subtlety, rather to offer the only explanation I can, which is indeed very hard for the mind to grasp with reason. It may possibly be intuitively understood, but only as ND awareness itself, knowing itself as non-local and as itself.

    A3. Let us remember that Advaita Vedanta is a doctrine; ND awareness is not. Perhaps if you were to read all my words substituting ‘ND awareness’ with ‘Non-self awareness’ you would accommodate my written thoughts more readily? I very much sense that you want to fit your understanding, and mine too, within the teachings as you currently understand them, which I don’t doubt you do very well. But if ND awareness could be grasped in teachings alone, then we would have our universities overflowing with graduates having actualised their subject rather than merely having placed it neatly within ornate mind-made schemata.

    Alberto, with respect, it was yourself who introduced Max Planck into our discussions, and as a putative expert on the matter. You now seem to be retracting that. For myself, I am, and always was, happy to leave him, and all other supposed experts, out of the discussion. It is directly intuited experience that I am concerned with here, and presumably that is what you are aiming for via your understandings of AV.

    Yes, I accept your desire to qualify concepts with quote marks. This is not such an important point, other than saying that their absence should not be taken to mean that the concept is the same as the thing in itself.

    Finally, I want to thank you for this most engaging discussion, which I have enjoyed and found stimulating, both here and at my own site.

    With fond best wishes, much gratitude, and all due respect,

    Hariod.

    • Dear Hariod: If something can go wrong, it will go wrong (Murphy’s law). For me it was the word ‘apparent’. You had written: ‘apparent objects, apparent observers, and apparent multiplicity’. It so happens that a connotation of that word is: ‘appearing (but not necessarily) real or true; seeming’. Evidently this was not the meaing you attached to that word and, in the context at hand, I interpreted it as per that secondary meaning, which is the usual one when writing about these things.

      Example: “Mahayana Buddhist teachings sometimes talk about ‘the nonduality of emptiness (shunyata) and appearance.’ The distinction between the conventional or relative ‘lower’ truth, and the ultimate or absolute ‘higher truth,’ is the difference between how things usually appear to us, and what they really are.” David Loy.

      Max Planck: “Consciousness is the ‘stuff’ everything is made of.”

      For me that clinches the issue of ND – and, thus, of Yogacara Buddhism, AV, and other types of ND. No divisions or dichotomies are permitted within what alone is real. No objects, distance between objects, cause and effect, time… no tree in the yard, and no observer in front of the tree… no ‘you’ and ‘me’; only It. Ultimately, though, everything – all appearances or phenomena – ‘go back’ to consciousness or awareness from which they never emerged. Kind regards, Alberto.

      P.S. True, you were not inconsistent in the account you give of Non-duality and the premises you put forward to defend it which, for me, are altogether unintelligible, self-contradictory and, thus, unacceptable.. My apologies.

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