‘Problems of new religions’

“The problem of these new religions is that they do give results. But not necessarily in a religious sense. People are going to these new religions for emotions, for experiences, not for reality. An experience always seems real, even if what you experience is illusory in nature.” Father Sylvan, in ‘Lost Christianity’ – J. Needleman

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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12 Responses to ‘Problems of new religions’

  1. “People are going to these new religions for emotions, for experiences, not for reality.”

    I think that that is true. But then that applies to old religions also perhaps to a lesser degree though.

  2. Hi amartingarcia,

    Does your Idealism differ from Berkeley’s and if yes, in what way?

    • This is a much shortened version of a debate in my blog which I may send you if desired (i.e. the link)

      saengnapha says:
      3 March, 2017 at 17:55 (Edit)
      Consciousness seems to be a word that gets tossed about a lot both in scientific circles and philosophical ones. Many serious neuro scientists have begun to doubt the existence of something called consciousness as there is not a shred of evidence that it exists. But we use the word to signify something, and that something seems to be our subjective way of referring to ourselves. Many neuroscientists now believe that there is no real self but activities that create the appearance of there being one. The creation of the narrative of our person who is having experiences, both inwardly and outwardly. All of this exists due to the information passed to the brain from the sensory doorways of our bodies, such as eyes, ears, touch, etc.
      Since we cannot have any control over what passes into the brain, it is purely autonomous, consciousness seems to arise with the brain’s interpretation of these sensory inputs through images and language. Apart from this activity, we would not know that we are conscious or even alive. Only the brain keeps telling us we exist as our narrative.
      Surely this narrative does not survive the death of the body. The elements, matter, which are not something personal go on to transform into other forms, none being amartingarcia. Why are you so convinced that there is something called consciousness aside from our subjectivity when the overwhelming evidence says it doesn’t exist? Or, perhaps you come to all of this as a Monist who wants to believe that there is something eternal to look towards or believe in? Science also wants to understand this but will not prematurely identify something that may not be there. All this talk about the ‘hard problem’ could be mental deception, imagination. We are such good creatures at projection. Truly creative and extraordinary and we believe our stories!
      amartingarcia says:
      3 March, 2017 at 21:13 (Edit)
      Thank you for your well-argued comment. Empirical science is one thing; philosophy another. Other than Monism there is Non-duality, ‘not-two’ (ultimately there is no essential distinction between matter and consciousness which latter, logically and epistemologically, is prius; equally, no distinction between subject and object, observer-observed. The existence and reality of consciousness, which is independent of all phenomena, doesn’t need a proof. ‘I’ (a subject) am conscious (Descartes was right here). Referring oneself to subjectivity actually is enough (shall we call it a qualia, though you, no doubt, will reject it?). It is indisputable that all bodies (organic matter) will disintegrate in due time. Rather than an individual ‘soul’, forms of nonduality, such as advaita Vedanta, Yogacara Buddhism, etc., postulate, precisely, consciousness (Advaita) or mind (Budd.) as the ultimate reality – awareness is an equivalent term for the former. Philosophy works with/by intuition and also reason (phenomenology is something similar, and is of Western pedigree).

      S. It is so easy to slip through an enquiry of a subject to a conclusive belief. You jumped to this statement: ‘ultimately, there is no essential distinction between matter and consciousness which latter, logically and epistemologically, is prius’.
      You are not putting forth any real or clear concept when you say that reality or consciousness doesn’t need a proof. The ‘I’ of Descartes has been clearly shown through both science and philosophical/religious schools to be a creation in the brain with no concrete reality. The idea of an ‘ultimate’ reality is just a theory that is adhered to by Monists, which you counter with non duality. Non duality, advaita, = not two, is usually reduced to ‘oneness’, which is another form of Monism. Buddhists do not postulate Monism or any ultimate reality. They postulate advaya, = not two.
      Quoting the definition by an Indian scholar Jaldhar Vyas:
      “Although both Jnana are called non-dual, here too they mean two different
      things. Non-dual (advaita) in the Hindu context means (divitiyam nasti).
      There is no second substance except the Brahman is the only thing that
      exists. This should be called Monism rather than Non-dualism. The word eka
      vastu vada would be closer than advaita.
      However Buddhism usually uses advaya (only sometimes is advaita used) and
      here it means ‘not two’ i.e. free from the two extremes (skt. dvaya anta
      mukta) of samaropa (the tendency to see things as really existing) and
      apavada (the tendency to see things as non-existing).” Think it over, a bit.
      I’m not arguing which is right, but, we are getting away from the postulating of consciousness. There is simply no way to separate consciousness from phenomena. Science cannot do it, and the philosophical or religious mind can’t do it. They only postulate a thought structure which. But you seem to insist on this being a fact of life instead of something to really contemplate deeply. The urge to believe is phenomenally strong in us, so much so, that we allow what others have put forth to inform/influence us how to live and what to think that we are not facing what we actually are. Science has clearly shown that we are just looking through filters of what we know/believe and interpreting the sensory data that is hitting the brain. We interpret through imagery and language which is all learned/stored in the brain. It is just information that the brain sifts through and comes up with probabilities. Where is ultimate reality in this? Certainly not through another belief system. It’s a difficult subject, all of this. I don’t expect any perfect explanation from you or anyone else, so please don’t feel that you have to argue to a conclusion. This is not personal.

      Sorry, one correction please: advaita = not two is incorrect. advaita=nonduality is what I meant. Not two and nondual actually mean different things in the two schools mentioned, which I gave a quote from Vyas.

      M. You raise a lot of questions, and I will go about them one by one, hoping you won’t mind.
      1). Everything is a belief until the belief is replaced by a conviction based on an experience, the experience (intuition + reasoning) needing no proof.
      2). Consciousness and intelligence are prerequisites for understanding what any concept (e.g. matter) means. Without consciousness, nil. That is why it is logically, ontologically, and epistemologically prior to any enquiry or investigation. Can this be contested?
      3). When writing or reading, are you and I conscious? Is there need of a proof for this (which I call reality or fact)? The fact of being conscious as a living being is irrefutable. Another question is whether it is the brain, or consciousness, that which is causal in this ‘binomius’.
      4). Descartes posited an ‘I’ (cogito) invalidly, instead of saying: ‘a thought/thinking is happening’, as his first premise, but he was not amiss when he went on to distinguish between res extensa and res cogitans (refuted by non-dualists as well as by Berkeley). The problem here, extensive to most of Western philosophy, is the conflating mind and consciousness. For Advaita Vedanta (from now AV) mind is an object of/for consciousness which, together with all that it thinks of, appear and disappear (e.g., swoop, deep sleep, etc.). Not so consciousness, which is invariant and ever present. Thus, objectless consciousness is a fact, not a theory.
      5). So, the idea that the “‘I’ of Descartes has been clearly shown through both science and philosophical/religious schools to be a creation in the brain with no concrete reality” is true if one takes mind as including, or replacing, consciousness. If, on the other hand, ‘consciousness’ is substituted for ‘mind’, then religion, philosophy, and many scientists (those who do not buy into physicalism, a particular doctrine or belief) will not raise that objection, as suggested by point #4.
      6). Non-duality, including Advaita (a-dvaita, not two) is not the same as Monism. Who says that “advaita, = not two, is usually reduced to ‘oneness’, which is another form of Monism”? I am aware of that confusion. The non-dualism of AV signifies that Atman (true Self) and Brahman (non-dual reality) are not two numerically different entities, but rather two different labels for one and the same reality – thus removing any ambiguity (the same thing can be said about the bipolar concept ‘subject-object’). Clearly, then, I beg to differ from the Indian scholar you mention (“[Advaita] should be called Monism rather than Non-dualism”
      7). Contrary to what you say Buddhists postulate either emptiness/void or dharmakaya as the ultimate reality or truth – or what can be called such. That tradition is different from AV, but the experience (if there is such an experience) comes to the same thing: ineffable oneness. (BTW Oneness is not monism; it is other than what you stated above: #6).
      8). “There is simply no way to separate consciousness from phenomena. Science cannot do it, and the philosophical or religious mind can’t do it”. Reply: (Understanding) AV does it: Objectless consciousness is a fact and a possibility of experience (#4). Since Brahman is the only reality, there is no possibility for ‘any thing’ to be objectified as seen (contemplated) from paramarthika (again, ‘not-two’). Hence mind becomes no-mind.
      http://www.quora.com/What-is-the-hard-problem-of-consciousness (added 15.4.17)

  3. I just want to know that, “Does your Idealism differ from Berkeley’s and if yes, in what way?” My question is only to you.

    • Advaita Vedanta can be called a mystical path or spirituality, a science of reality, or a combination of both (which I prefer). It can be called nonduality or ‘Monism’ (preferably the first): monism because it takes reality as being One (“without a second”). Nonduality because – though reality is one in essence or ultimately – it presents itself as apparently two: purusha-prakriti, Self- not self, sat-asat, subject-object, Atman-brahman. That apparent dichotomy, as stated, is reducible to the one reality which can be called ‘pure consciousness’, ‘the absolute’, ‘sat-chit-ananda’ (being-consciousness-bliss)… the unnamable. Words – language – is secondary, needed to express what is inexpressible. What is inexpressible can be/is a (self)realization of ‘what is’ – anubhava – arrived at by intuition and (Vedantic) reasoning.
      From he above it can be seen that Berkeleyan idealism is quite different. One similarity is that both systems deny the existence of an external world, but the idealism of Berkeley retains the validity or reality of minds and ideas. No problem with having God as the final ‘arbiter’ or Witness, since this notion or reality is equivalent to ‘the Self’ or pure Consciousness. Towards the end of his life Berkeley came to a position akin to pantheism*, not quite different from Advaita which, as stated, is a mystical, experiential Way (knowing-being), but properly not pantheism – though you might convince me of it being so. In Advaita the apparent multiplicity of forms/objects is denied (just names and forms – nama-rupa), but at the end (with full comprehension) they are not other than the way Consciousness or the Self manifests Itself, thus ultimately not different from It.
      * His last work, ‘Siris’ c.f. Colin M. Turbayne’s “Berkeley’s Two Concepts of Mind”

  4. Thank you for your kind answer.
    Some questions:-

    You wrote, “Words – language – is secondary, needed to express what is inexpressible.”
    “Words – language – is secondary,” I understand that and agree. But then if something is inexpressible how can words be needed for expressing it? Inexpressible to me means that what can not be expressed.

  5. I should have written: ‘inexpressible in itself’. Another suitable and un-objectionable expression is ‘ineffable’. Can one give an explanation (or definition) of what God-in-Him/Hself is, or Consciousness-in-itself, or beauty-in-itself?

  6. Thanks.

    Earlier you wrote, ” What is inexpressible can be/is a (self)realization of ‘what is’ – anubhava – arrived at by intuition and (Vedantic) reasoning.”

    What is (Vedantic) reasoning? Can you give some examples of (Vedantic) reasoning and explain how it differs from Aristotle’s reasoning?

    • In Advaita Vedanta Vedantic (or higher) reasoning is distinguised from independent reasoning or speculation, which invariably is in conflict with that of other individuals and schools of thought – ‘Speculation is unbridled… It is imposible to expect finality from it, for men’s minds are diversely inclined’ (SBh 2-1-11). The former, higher reasoning, is, or must be, in agreement with scripture (Upanishads, etc. called shruti) and is never in conflict with universal experience. There is some syllogistic deduction (‘there is fire on that mountain for we see smoke there’), but it is not prominent in AV.

      ‘For the truth relating to this Reality which is conducive to final release is too deep even for a conjuncture without revelation (SBh 2-1-11). Here ‘revelation’ means the ‘deep intuitions arrived at by the sages of old (rishis)’ and compiled in three main bodies of works (chiefly the Upanishads), so you can disregard that word and substitute ‘self-realization’ for it.

      But even scriptures are not sufficient to get at the truth: a prepared, mature mind is a requisite, which usually takes years if not life-times. After that long preparation, preferably with the help of a qualified teacher, a final intuition (anubhava or brahmavidya) may occur. I won’t talk about the method or methods used or about qualifications of the student, not a small matter.

      ‘Right knowledge ought to be uniform throughout, since it must conform to an existing fact. That is to be considered real which consistently maintains its identity… right knowledge, as for instance the knowledge that fire is hot’ (SBh 2-1-11). There is of course much more to say about all this [what is ignorance (avidya) as per AV, means of knowledge, levels of understanding – rather than of existence or being – , etc.].

  7. Sir, my questions are to you personally. My question is not about what is written or not written in Upnishads etc. but what is your own view.

    Can you give some examples and the answers to these examples according to Aristotelian reasoning and and also answers to the same examples according Vedantic reasoning if you can ( so that I can understand the difference between the two).

    • The replies I made are my own views, views that I have assimilated throughout the years. I don’t have anything to add to them, but I think that from your comments and persistent questions you don’t seem to be really interested in Advaita or nonduality. No doubt it would be interesting to make a parallel between the two great philosophers – Aristotle and Shankara – but I am too old for that, and at this time I am not interested in Aristotle – whom I studied long time ago at University, along with most of Western philosophy. If I had more time in my hands and were of younger years (plus have sufficient interest) I might have had a go at it. Sorry.

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