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Paul Douglas



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PostPosted: Tue Mar 11, 2014 10:32 am    Post subject: Consciousness Reply with quote

Consciousness is a fundamental concept of Advaita and it has become a subject of increasing interest to both philosophers and scientists in the West over the last few hundred years, particularly in the last century. However the views expressed have been many and various, as summarised in this tongue-in-the-cheek quotation from the cognitive psychologist George Miller in 1962: 'Consciousness is a state of being, a substance, a process, a place, an epiphenomenon, an emergent aspect of matter, or the only true reality.'

The first modern Western philosopher to write about it was an Englishman, John Locke, at the end of the 17th century in his major work An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689). For him 'consciousness is the perception of what passes in a man's own mind'. Being an empiricist, for him what was important was experience, what could be observed.

an example of a philosopher with a very different view is Schopenhauer who said this at the beginning of his major work The World as Will and Idea (1819): 'Only consciousness is immediately given, therefore the basis of philosophy is limited to the facts of consciousness i.e. it is essentially idealistic. Realism, which commends itself to the crude understanding by pretending to be factual, starts straight from an arbitrary assumption, and is therefore a figment, for it side-steps or falsifies the very first fact, namely that all we know lies within consciousness.'

Many Western philosophers and scientists appear to have beliefs which lead to different views of consciousness from that of Advaita. Some of these can be described as assuming:
1. Consciousness has a relationship with matter
2. it is a development of matter as expressed by the human brain
3. It is personal and emanates from the individual
4. It can only be considered in terms of 'consciousness of something'
5. It is objective and can therefore be studied as an object.

An Advaita view can be seen in the following quotation from Shri Shantananda Sarawati which appears in Good Company II published in 2009:
The body does not hold consciousness, but appears in it. It is one consciousness, and in this limitless sphere bodies seem to appear although they do not have independent existence in their own right. Light in a room does not exist by itself but comes in through the windows. The light is everywhere but limited objects exist in that light. Similarly the body is like a room and one presumes that the consciousness exists inside the body, but in fact it is everywhere and pervading every part in and out of the body.'

All this does raise many questions. What evidence is there for consciousness being everywhere? Is this something which can only be arrived at through reason? An existentialist such as Sartre believed that consciousness can only be consciousness of something and is unique to mankind. Does this throw new light on the subject or only confuse it? Is it reasonable to hold a view that consciousness is fundamental to this universe while believing that each person is a separate being?
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Leonie Humphreys



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PostPosted: Thu Apr 03, 2014 10:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I was very interested to see this new forum appear on this site.

I have read some of the postings and in particular the ones above on ‘consciousness’.

I have a question – is there room for observations and reports of experiences of ‘consciousness’ on this forum?

I can’t help being a little amused by the analysis and descriptions of consciousness (and it being called a ‘concept’), since it is the one thing (as I have come to understand and experience it) that it is not possible for the mind to grasp and is therefore impossible to describe or analyse. As the Sufi’s put it: ‘no one knows God but God’, for it is only in the deepest states of ‘meditation’ (although not limited to the practice of meditation of course) or present moment experience, that consciousness can be experienced fully and in those states there is no-one and no-thing to observe (no ‘subject and object’), there is only ‘one’ – ie the experience of unity. Consciousness can be alluded to of course (otherwise all spiritual and philosophical texts would be pointless and useless) and that is the value of the quotes and comments above, which I do appreciate, and thank you for.

My own interest however is in the reality of experience. I recently observed someone’s ‘divinity’ or ‘halo’ (much to my surprise!), and I won’t tell you whose because you wouldn't believe me! However, I will tell a little of this experience. The point was that (as others have explained to me so I know I did not imagine the experience) the person appeared slightly translucent for a moment and looked exquisitely beautiful and joyful and I was filled with so much love that I thought there must be something wrong with me. So one of my questions is – is consciousness love? As it is put in one of the quotes above consciousness is everywhere, but we don’t always observe it in everything and everyone do we? So how is it possible that some people are what I call ‘purveyors of the light’ for want of another way of describing it? And why is it that we only see it occasionally? The implication is that the ‘observer’ must also be in a conscious enough state to recognise it? Does this make sense?! Can any of you help me to understand this aspect of consciousness, why it is so elusive, and how it relates to love?

Many thanks, Leonie
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Paul Douglas



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PostPosted: Fri Apr 04, 2014 9:48 am    Post subject: Consciousness Reply with quote

Here are some thoughts on the various notes posted so far, and particularly to Leonie.

Yes, I hope there is room for experiences of consciousness. Yes, I agree with your comments on my initial post.

Is not the state of the observer intimately related to 'experiences of consciousness'? Yet the phrase may be misunderstood as it could be taken as someone experiencing something, which sounds like duality, not unity. One way of coming at this is to start from the premise that consciousness is everywhere and all-pervading. That can lead reasonably to the recognition that there will be countless ways of 'seeing' it, which may be affected by one's philosophical or religious beliefs, one's individual nature, the time and place in which one is living etc. etc. Maybe such an indescribable fundamental cannot directly be seen, even in mind, but everyone and everything may be reflecting it. That could explain a lot. Reflections vary in their capacity to reflect. Dirty mirrors and clean mirrors, still lakes and choppy lakes, a calm mood and an angry mood. We ourselves have a rapidly changing reflective quality. All these changes could explain why experiences themselves appear to have more or less consciousness.

As for the relationship between consciousness and love, many modern Western philosophers would say that is a meaningless question as both words can be understood in so many different ways. However that would be dodging the question! Here is a response from one understanding of these words. For this whole universe to have been produced, and continue to be produced, with such infinite care and intelligence must surely be an act or activity of supreme love. And one could then say that the essence of that love is consciousness.

As all of you are saying, we are trying to speak of that which is inexpressible, yet words can help (or hinder!).

This forum is intended to explore what relationships there may be between advaita and modern Western philosophy, so maybe there is someone out there who can tell us more about what such philosophers have to say on consciousness which chimes with Advaita.

Paul
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Leonie Humphreys



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PostPosted: Fri Apr 04, 2014 9:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well, its a mystery!

Thank you for the further comments and poetic explanations.

I do remember many years ago in an aesthetics class with Dr James Armstrong he told a joke about consciousness. A scientist stated that there is no such thing as consciousness, so the teacher replied 'well why don't you just drop dead then and see what the difference is'!

Nevertheless I appreciate your comment that after we die, what then? In fact in the Sufi tradition they state this over and over again, and spiritual teacher Gangaji mentions this a lot too: 'to die before death' - meaning to be willing to die - the 'ego' that is really (not to want to die which is completely different and tragic of course), and then to see what's left. Some so-called 'realised' people have experienced this we are told. Gangaji's teacher's, teacher, Ramana Maharshi, did just that in fact and became 'realised'.

Best wishes, Leonie
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Leonie Humphreys



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PostPosted: Fri Apr 04, 2014 10:12 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have just seen Paul's comments too.

Thank you, what you say certainly makes sense - and the conditions were conducive in the case of the experience that I described above.

The implications about consciousness and love are of particular interest to me. I think this is something that is worth exploring in the spiritual texts and/or modern philosophy (something of which I know nothing about though). I have begun to explore the Sufi tradition a bit through the books and events of a particular teacher, and it is known as the 'path of love'. The descriptions of this path are exquisitely beautiful and it is of course Rumi's path, and his poetry goes right to the core of the matter I find.

Thanks again, Leonie
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Peter Blumsom



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PostPosted: Thu Apr 17, 2014 6:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
<<Conscious and consciousness;
Being and Becoming;
Laws and finer laws;
Lover and beloved; is concerned with this link.
Is there more to discover to be made known? >>


There’s good sense in this post. Do you mind me asking what you think is the essence of something and what is the oneness of something? Recently I have thought a lot about these two because essence draws together yet at the same time causes the One to seem many. To link it with being (esse) seems a bit glib and unoriginal. In a way we live for essence. Artistically we seek it ever. Have you, or others, any questing thoughts as an artist and a poet or even a philosopher?

Pete
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Peter Blumsom



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PostPosted: Fri Apr 18, 2014 9:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

<<Essence draws together yet at the same time causes the One to seem many.>> By 'drawing together' I suppose I mean if you somehow see all roses in a single rose you are drawn to the essence of a rose, and yet, the essence of a rose is not the essence of, say, a horse whereas the oneness of a rose is the same as the oneness of a horse. I think that takes me a little nearer to what I originally meant.
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Peter Blumsom



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PostPosted: Sat Apr 19, 2014 6:08 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear Contributor,

Can you explain a little more clearly how karma informs the question? You say:

<<The wise would say Karma is highly complex even lest to know it all in it's many differentiations. Often we use the word different to mean part of the whole.>>

Imagine one who is deeply perplexed on this issue that I’m talking about, and he is told the answer to the question is karma. I surely would want to know what this karma is, as this person has heard the word enter his mind but is still puzzled on account of the one and the many.

Let me unpack the puzzle further. Consider the One. It has never been seen without its clothing of essence – its ‘coat of skins’ as it were. Of its own it could hardly maintain any kind of position in this multifarious creation. Yet by essence it is allowed to enter and multiply. Yet though we say ‘look, there is another one’ we always mean there is another ‘something-with-an-essence’ and do not allude to the One itself.

This becomes a frustration both to the person in whom the seed of doubt has germinated and to the person he accosts on the street with this isolated query, whose only concern is that she is on her way to the hairdressers or he is off to get a spark plug for his car.

So, to me at least, essence is the soul of differentiation, the hub on which division is founded and One is the soul of un-changefulness which suddenly finds itself – as Plotinus put it – a stranger in a strange land. Consider, if we could look beyond the beautiful fragmentation of essence we would see ‘ones’ everywhere. But we never have for every ‘one’ since this creation began has unfailingly been clothed in an essence.

I look at my words and see that they are not clear enough. You’ve probably guessed that I don’t seek an ‘answer’ as one would expect by inserting an equals sign but it is possible, is it not, to manipulate the terms so that the ‘equation’ is gradually simplified. I suppose that is what I am asking help on?

Essence could be said to allow the one to multiply (hence it makes possible the impossibility of the one seeming many) and allows it to enter the creation, but enter unseen, as it were, in the guise of something that is not one – hence a stranger in a strange land who merely sojourns here.

We might say ‘Look, there is another one’ but though we say it (perhaps in obedience to some deep philosophy once known and now forgotten) we are not thinking of One at all, but merely the garment of the one – ‘look, there is a Ferrari’, or whatever. The outer mind is interested in such differences, while the inner mind is content with the One itself, which has never been seen. To it it might be that there is no multifariousness and that the One never becomes 'fragmented in the cracked in the mirror'. To it the rose and the elephant are single.

Seems to me that there is plenty to say on this as a 'beginning of thought'. Can you or Mark or any other bring anything to further the quest?

Pete
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Peter Blumsom



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PostPosted: Sat Apr 19, 2014 3:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

<< These notions of faith may be a memory of universal laws.
In dogs there is a distinct role a bitch will take to its pups
it will look after and love it. In similar respect human
beings take on roles also. The mother may care for its
young, and much more.>>

Let’s not of talk dogs and bitches but go straight to your idea of human motherhood. The nativity and its aftermath is surely deeply tied into the question of essence. The mother gives birth to a child, by which the One is given 'a coat of skins' – an essence and a body. But it is not necessary for the mother bathing her child to see that child as One appareled in essential humanity. It is enough for her to simply know it is her child to give it all the care and succour it needs. This is the extent of essence. Knowing and experiencing this she would have a natural affinity to care for any child, though perhaps not to the same degree. She is, in fact, at that moment close to the essence of motherhood – the nurse and receptacle of all becoming. Yet, she needs no philosophy for this, even though, as a sovereign person, she is not barred from it.

The virgin of the rocks looks down at Jesus with essential love but see how Leonardo has depicted Jesus, and John who stands near. Are they cuddly? I don’t think so. If Leonardo had painted from the limit of essence would these two children be so full of advaita? It is almost as if he said to us, these two children are of the One, and know it. This isn’t to attempt to explain the mystery of the painting which is manifold, but simply to try and draw it into the puzzle, just as the artist here has managed to bring the One in its full austerity ‘into the picture’. The reason why the role of mother has no interest in the One is simply that the One is not born, even though Leonardo has placed it in the body of a young babe in the centre of creation. The haunting question for me is how this individual and aspect-less One (not a Unity, remember, which may have parts) may be portrayed as having austerity?

So, having not strayed have we now asked a real question?


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virgin_of_the_Rocks
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Peter Blumsom



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PostPosted: Sat Apr 19, 2014 5:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

You probably have a good sense of humour. The idea of accosting the poor lady on her way to a blue rinse with questions regarding the Essence and the One is I admit Pythonesque, but I was using as my model Socrates prowling the agora in search of someone who ‘knew something’. You are right, we have institutions these days to deal with such persons – so did they!

I don’t know if you realize it but my deficient mode of delivery has engineered you, also, into the position of treating me and my questions like a kind of illness, as if the ‘right prescription’ or aphorism will cure me of my malady and I’ll be up and ready to face the world. That is probably due to the way I have described my aporia, my perplexity, so I apologize. I have been reading Shankara, the Upanishads and the Gita, for many years, for these, it seems to me, provide the tools with which one sharpens one’s mind and enables it to tackle those puzzles that a benevolent providence has placed before us? I never considered that these works were to stop me from puzzling things out. I mean, if I wanted merely to become unperplexed there are always substances one can take, and ‘all is well’.

There are specific passages which ancient sages from Greece, India and beyond such as the No Mind of Hui-neng which hint at these perennial impasses of human thought.

This, for example, from the Gita:

“Of the unreal no being there is; there is no non-being of the real” from the second discourse exactly parallels what Plato says in Timaeus:
“We must, in my opinion, distinguish between that which always is and never becomes from that which is always becoming but never is.”

except that Krisna added the phrase “Of both of these there is the truth seen by the seers of the essence.” But the commentary of Sankara gets so embroiled in an argument with itself that it fails to pick up on what this last phrase means. So we are invited to continue examining – which is good.

So my perplexity is my guide to knowledge.

Thank you for your comments, some are really helpful. As you say, it is good to ask questions.
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Mark Stocks



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PostPosted: Sun Apr 20, 2014 3:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you Peter for your patience. I can relate to your intelligent insights, even though it is difficult for me to understand many of the details. The many skin pores we have seem to be those details, and the essence of that is bliss. It is knowledge in infancy, and it is beauty in the world. The many difficulties and pin prick pains we have are threaded by gold, and that gold is the one. It is Ron me dad, bless him, he passed away in his sleep Christmas before last. The photo of me mum who also passed seems to pass on the knowledge.
Happy Easter Smile
Mark
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Peter Blumsom



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PostPosted: Mon Apr 21, 2014 8:03 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you for your patience also, Mark. In the 21st century ruled as we are by random sound-bites, one always fears that one is losing the patience of any companions-in-debate when investigating things of extreme subtlety and perplexity.

So you are right, these are not easy things to talk of seeing that we all seem to approach them from our individual points of view. The hard work is to try and find what is incontravertible to all points of view, if there be such a thing. What is at stake here is an examination of being and becoming, but that debate has been debased by philosophers and become part of a glib lexicology that encourages us not to think.

The essence of something, say a rose, is from one point of view steeped in being; whereas the actual rose we see and whose fragrance we smell is of the world of becoming.

The beauty of a rose - what we love about it - comes not only from its essence but also in the way nature produces it as a living object to behold with our senses. As if nature looked at its essence and said 'I can do that!' The second beauty is followed by a third, a piquant beauty which arises in the human heart when nature's own attempt at beauty reaches its zenith and seems to fail - to fade away. Shakespeare constantly refers to this in his sonnets reminding us that we too as living human beings also possess this beauty, accompanied by the same frailty, as all natural things.

We hardly ever get to rest our minds on the One that is made to seem many; but when we come face to face with the fate of this 'many' we are forced to seek the ‘gold’ that is possessed by the One alone. This seems to have happened when you lost your dad, someone obviously loved. That gold is of the unborn and never-to-die - the one thing exempt “’gainst Time’s scythe”.

It seems that the One itself has no essence and therefore is untranslatable into time, yet it is the foundation of all essences and timely entities, for they all, according to the paradox I mentioned in the first post, draw themselves towards it in order to maintain their distinctions.

So I maintain that this is a valid topic of discussion on this, how shall I put it, Mary Celeste of a forum.

Pete
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Peter Blumsom



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PostPosted: Mon Apr 21, 2014 10:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

And to all who sail upon her,

This probably belongs at the end of my previous post.

When I say come face to face with the fate of this ‘many’ what I really am trying to say is when we realize that the fate of the many is also our fate, unless we solve the riddle of the One and the Essence. In other words we are thrown against our notion of ourselves as individual bodies with, perhaps, a fluffy centre of what-we-are-not-quite-sure-of. This is not an adequate defence against Times scythe according to Sonnet 12 of Shakespeare. He urges us ambiguously to ‘breed to brave him when he takes thee hence”. Does he mean procreate to preserve our gene strain or to understand who and what we are more deeply? If we were able to confront the crafty bard I’m sure he would simply smile as if to say ‘Make of it what you will – but remember your life depends upon it.’

If all the above were on one hand side of an equation the other side should equal One.

True some 'cancelling out' might be needed.

Midshipman Pete.
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Brian Joseph



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PostPosted: Mon Apr 21, 2014 11:12 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Pete, I don’t think the Marie Celeste had a crew! Wasn’t that the point? Apart from that the analogy is probably very apt.
I agree it is difficult to be precise when talking about consciousness and also that the relationship of ‘One’ to ‘many ‘ is a valid way to consider it.
Is it helpful to visualize the consciousness of the Absolute as playing through each individual and, thereby illuminating what appear to be many things? If those things are then discriminated by the individual conscious mind, they fall away but the consciousness remains. Clearly, in this analogy, it is not meaningful to ask, as philosophers often do, consciousness of what?
However is it not clearly a fact of experience that consciousness, in such a case seems to be single, notwithstanding that it is the same consciousness that has illuminated (brought about?) the many.
This, of course, is a quite familiar Advaitic approach but it does have the advantage of possible practical experience.
However, when it comes to the modern philosophy treatment of consciousness and essence, it seems to be a bit like Humpty Dumpty's approach to language. 'When I use a word, it means what I want it to mean.'
Kant called essence 'transcendental' i.e not objectively perceptible. He regarded what he termed 'the thing in itself' to be of this nature and this seems very akin to the idea of essence and also to Plato's ideas. It is open to question whether the 'thing in itself' is differentiated or whether it is only subject to differentiation through the perception of the observer, which Kant analysed and categorised very fully.
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Peter Blumsom



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PostPosted: Mon Apr 21, 2014 12:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ahoy there! Cap’n Brian,

Consciousness is difficult because of that very question – consciousness of what? There is Sankara’s statement that even in deep sleep we might say ‘I slept well”. Here consciousness could be also knowledge that sleep had been good. But the terms become wobbly and semi-interchangeable. However, whatever term you use it is as if something looks on another. It is all tied up in that bothersome little preposition ‘of’.

Yet I may be persuaded that light is invisible but specks of dust become illuminated by it. In such a case, we are the specks and I am the light. This is another way of considering, by analogy, the many and the One.

In that respect, at least, it might be said that consciousness is the light of the One.

Then we might speak of how that light may show itself in everyday life of the individual. That would be an interesting off shoot.

Pete

PS. So I’ll waive my salvage rights and jump back on to my own trireme!
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