Consciousness and matter according to Indian thought

8 Replies, 560 Views

Starting at 22:45, this is a simplified but elegant presentation and elaboration by Swami Sarvapriyananda (the head of the Vedanta Society of New York), who's such a clear and enjoyable speaker, of the five Indian approaches to the relationship between consciousness and the object or matter, and how they precede/predict the different contemporary Western views.

1. Matter produces consciousness. (Ancient Indian Materialists, e.g. the Carvaka school. See Western materialism.)

2. Consciousness produces matter. (Indian theistic traditions/religions, & Western religions.)

3. Consciousness & matter are both fundamental and interact. (Sankhya thought. See Western panpsychism.)

4. Nothing has been produced - what we call consciousness is not there/"emptiness"/subject and object only exist in relation to each other/no pronouncements can be made about Reality. (Nagarjuna's Mayahana Buddhism).

5. There is only consciousness (Advaita Vedanta).

(This post was last modified: 2022-07-31, 01:07 AM by Ninshub. Edited 1 time in total.)
[-] The following 4 users Like Ninshub's post:
  • stephenw, laborde, tim, Sciborg_S_Patel
Some interesting bits in the Monika Mandoki paper you posted in another thread:

Quote:Another philosophical interpreter of the Vedanta, Ramanuja, points out one of the major weaknesses of the theory [that the individual is illusory] (Ramanuja, 1957). He examines the role of consciousness in this subjective epistemology and distinguishes between the persistent subject of consciousness and the content of consciousness:

Quote:The judgment "I am conscious" reveals an "I" distinguished by consciousness; and to declare that it [the "I"] refers only to a state of consciousness—which is a mere attribute—is no better than to say that the judgment "Devadatta carries a stick" is about the stick only (I. i. 1, 547).

Ramanuja's observation is that consciousness has to have a persistent subject, otherwise it
remains a state of consciousness that is not rooted in anything...

...Something has to be liberated through enlightenment and this something needs to be a persistent subject; otherwise, there is nothing to be liberated.

However, with the presence of a persistent subject of consciousness, the metaphysical picture of reality changes. Ramanuja distinguished three classes of things existing in reality: conscious beings, non-conscious beings and Brahman (Ramanuja, 1957). The conscious selves and the non-conscious beings in the world make up the body of Brahman. The presence of the persistent conscious subject breaks the original idea of a phenomenal world as a mistaken perception of the otherwise oneness of reality. In the hands of Ramanuja, the transformation of
Brahman is now an acceptable idea (Hiriyanna, 1969). The unity of Brahman exists but, outside of this self-sustained and unchanging Brahman, duality and multiplicity prevail. The result is that Brahman is now different from Atman, the Self, and cannot be assimilated into Brahman.

The goal is still liberation that takes multiple lives to achieve, but this liberation is partially dependent on Brahman who grants it to the hard-working worshipper. Upon liberation, the person remains separate from Brahman for eternity.

I think this is somewhat consistent with Buddha's imploring of his audience to consider the exhaustion of multiple lifetimes that leads one to seek Liberation. Who is he talking to if there is ultimately no self?
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


(This post was last modified: 2022-08-02, 09:03 PM by Sciborg_S_Patel. Edited 1 time in total.)
[-] The following 2 users Like Sciborg_S_Patel's post:
  • laborde, Ninshub
Yes, Ramanuja is the founder of Qualified Non-Dual Advanta (Vishistadvaita) (Wiki says it's also called qualified monism). The tradition probably existed before he came along but he's its main exponent.

This guy does a great job summarizing different movements/school within all religions.



Related to your question, do you mean who is the Buddha talking to? I don't know in what tradition of Buddhism the Buddha is supposed to have said that. I guess it depends on how self (no-self) is understood, depending on the different schools.

As I wrote here:

(2022-07-25, 12:40 AM)Ninshub Wrote: in relation to the second point, in original buddhism the Buddha simply teaches that it's not useful to take an ontological position towards the self or the world, so he simply didn't answer such questions. One should attend to addressing the cognitive faculties, not aim towards a metaphysical understanding. The doctrine of anatta, "not-self", was interpreted by some later Buddhists as well as scholars as meaning that no self exists, but more recent scholarship reveals that the Buddha was not denying that people have selves, but denying that anything attributed to "the self" exists independently. There's nothing permanent or independent about selfhood, but it does not follow that it doesn't exist. This is closely related to the theory of dependent origination, which doesn't say that nothing exists but that nothing exists independently. (I'm relying here on the short book by Sue Hamilton, Indian Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction, pages 50-51 especially, that I've reread in the past weeks, and that's also what comes across in Peter Harvey's textbook on Buddhism.)

Mahayana Buddhism is supposed to differ from earlier traditions because of the notion of "grace" (because there are buddhist deities, as opposed to Theravada where he's seen as human and won't "help" us down here).
(This post was last modified: 2022-08-03, 02:30 AM by Ninshub. Edited 1 time in total.)
[-] The following 2 users Like Ninshub's post:
  • Sciborg_S_Patel, laborde
(2022-08-03, 02:29 AM)Ninshub Wrote: Related to your question, do you mean who is the Buddha talking to? I don't know in what tradition of Buddhism the Buddha is supposed to have said that. I guess it depends on how self (no-self) is understood, depending on the different schools.

I was specifically thinking of this Sutta specifically, where from what I understand Buddha speaks of the nature of the soul's journey from an unknown origin through lifetimes of suffering:

Quote:Long have you thus experienced stress, experienced pain, experienced loss, swelling the cemeteries—enough to become disenchanted with all fabricated things, enough to become dispassionate, enough to be released.”

My guess is there has to be something to the Individual Self, but it may have some relation to the One such that the dichotomy is incorrect. It has to [possibly] be comprehended in a Non-Dualist way where the One and Many are not completely distinct but also not completely unified to the point the Many are illusory.

Also, thanks for that link!
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


(This post was last modified: 2022-08-03, 10:23 PM by Sciborg_S_Patel. Edited 3 times in total.)
[-] The following 2 users Like Sciborg_S_Patel's post:
  • Ninshub, Valmar
Going back to the Mandoki quotes:

Quote:Ramanuja's observation is that consciousness has to have a persistent subject, otherwise it
remains a state of consciousness that is not rooted in anything...

...Something has to be liberated through enlightenment and this something needs to be a persistent subject; otherwise, there is nothing to be liberated.

I don't know how an Advaita Vedantist (for example) answers this, although I'm sure he/she does!

Regarding the first sentence, couldn't we say consciousness is rooted in the underlying consciousness? I'm not entirely convinced there's a problem there.

Regarding "liberation", that feels like possibly more word play to me. Maybe it's more a question of awakening to what is at a more fundamental level rather than "liberation". The wave may think it's a wave, and it is, but it's also part of the ocean. If the wave "awakens" to the fact that it's part of the ocean, it's still a wave and part of the ocean - both realities existing simultaneously.

I think with Advaita there are possibly different levels of comprehension/reality (?). On the unawakened level (or from that perspective), reincarnation happens, and on the level of the ultimate reality (or from that perspective), it doesn't.

I see the reincarnation question addressed in relation Advaita Vedanta on this blog.
[-] The following 1 user Likes Ninshub's post:
  • Sciborg_S_Patel
(2022-08-04, 01:22 AM)Ninshub Wrote: I think with Advaita there are possibly different levels of comprehension/reality (?).

Sankara is the chief philosopher associated with Advaita Vedanta. Here's what Sue Hamilton writes about his "two levels or reality" and the relation to his understanding of maya. (Indian Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2001, p. 130).

Quote:The term maya is sometimes used in the context of Advaita Vedanta in the sense that conventional reality is "unreal" or "illusory". While some other Advaita Vedantins did use this term, Sankara did not. Rather, he postulated two "levels of reality", one absolute and one conventional. Conventional reality is the product of ignorance, avidya. This means that the world we inhabit while ignorant is "real" at that level; but when ignorance is replaced by knowledge, reality is seen to be different from the conventional world.

In Upanisadic terms - for it should be remembered that Sankara was primarily an exegete - conventional reality is "Brahman with qualities" (saguna Brahman) and absolute reality is "quality-less Brahman" (nirguna Brahman).
[-] The following 1 user Likes Ninshub's post:
  • Sciborg_S_Patel
Who gets liberated? The Advaita Vedantist Swami Sarvapriyananda answers (in a 5-minute video)! Smile



answer: "it's the mind superimposed on the real self" (the one self is already liberated).

So what about reincarnation according to AV?

Another 5-minute video answer.

[-] The following 1 user Likes Ninshub's post:
  • Sciborg_S_Patel
(2022-08-04, 02:18 AM)Ninshub Wrote: So what about reincarnation according to AV?

Another 5-minute video answer.


At 20:55, in this exchange in response to someone's question, Sarvapriyananda also addresses the notion of karma (and morality, reward, etc.) according to AV. Again, it's real on the transactional/empirical level, it's not real on the ultimate Brahman level. So, contrary to all other Hindu/Indian schools, which are founded on the law of karma, AV does away with it at the ultimate level.

(This post was last modified: 2022-08-05, 02:41 AM by Ninshub. Edited 1 time in total.)
[-] The following 2 users Like Ninshub's post:
  • Typoz, Sciborg_S_Patel
(2022-08-02, 09:01 PM)Sciborg_S_Patel Wrote: ...


I think this is somewhat consistent with Buddha's imploring of his audience to consider the exhaustion of multiple lifetimes that leads one to seek Liberation. Who is he talking to if there is ultimately no self?

He is talking to the unconscious processes from which thoughts, emotions, impulses, sensory experiences, and sense of self and no-self arise.

Do you choose your emotions? Do you choose your impulses? Do you consciously construct each individual thought? Can you concentrate without distracting thoughts interrupting you? Even if you feel like you are using your mind to try to solve a problem, where did the impulse to solve the problem come from? It can seem like one might be just an observer of mental activity, but that idea, that feeling, of being an observer comes from the the same unconscious processes that generate other thoughts an feelings. Each bit of mental activity acts like a pixel and when they are all taken together they create an image of a self. But when you look closely at the pixels you don't see self substance you see disconnected unrelated processes sometimes working at cross purposes and contradicting themselves, changing from moment to moment by cause and effect. The self is not a thing that is separate from those processes (aggregates)


And it is not a question of materialism or spirituality, those unconscious processes could continue after the death of the body just as subjective experience continues. (Do Buddhists Believe in a Soul). 


The language and translations and definitions are what confuse the issue. The issue is not "is there self", the issue is "does what we think the self is actually exist?" It might be better if the term was "self as we believe it to be". Because that is the point of Buddhist practice: to help you see that what we think of as "self" is actually a misperception. When you see that it is a misperception, your egoistic attachments become much weaker and you don't make yourself suffer as much because of them. Many people over many centuries, in many different cultures have experienced this. But it is not an objective fact, it is not something that is true or false, it is an opinion, it is a feeling (emotion). If you have it, you have it and experience the consequences. People who want the consequences (less suffering) are guided to do the practices to change their opinion.


One way to explain this is to use what I call the magic-8-ball analogy. When you observe the activity of your mind you realize it is just a bunch of unconscious processes that determine your thoughts, emotions, impulses, opinions, etc - like a magic 8 ball. If you discovered there was a magic 8 ball determining these things you would not take them seriously.  You would not be attached to them. You wouldn't think they are you or yours. In my opinion, it's like that.

And you don't become an unconscious zombie once you see through the misperception. Subjective experience continues, you see a blue sky, you feel love for your family. Most people already understand what I wrote about not choosing your emotions so it's not something you didn't already know. The same processes that keep us functioning in daily life continue before and after someone experiences the perceptual shift. What changes is that you repeatedly observe the truth of it in meditation and daily life and it weakens your egoistic attachments. You don't ignore problems, but you can better respond with compassion and reason instead of out of control emotions. And the first stages of change are far from perfection, and perfection is not attainable while in a biological body
The first gulp from the glass of science will make you an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you - Werner Heisenberg. (More at my Blog & Website)
(This post was last modified: 2024-03-31, 11:08 AM by Jim_Smith. Edited 6 times in total.)
[-] The following 1 user Likes Jim_Smith's post:
  • Sciborg_S_Patel

  • View a Printable Version
Forum Jump:


Users browsing this thread: 1 Guest(s)