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Dilemma In Advaita Vedanta

Many a philosopher has 'identified' a problem of contradiction in Advaita System of Epistemology. "For instance, in the classic allegory cited by almost every advaitin, it is maintained that in mistaking a rope for a snake one is involved in misperception and the snake lasts only for the duration of its knowledge. However, the Advaita theory of perception requires 'the existence of the object previous to the appearance of knowledge.' Thus, as the illusory object of perception - snake - does not exist prior to its perception it should be considered a projection and not a perception. This is thus clearly a contradiction between Advaitic theory of perception and the Advaitic theory of knowledge. Are we to put this contradiction down to the fact that the theory of perception adopted by Advaita Vedanta is rather crude on the scientific side, or is there a way to resolving the contradiction?"

I am not a philosopher, but still I would venture to comment. Projection or perception does not make much difference for the seeker after the Truth. It is not puzzling to note that one sees contradictions (apparent or real) in the philosophic system of Advaita Vedanta; what really should puzzle a true advaitin is the fact that someone is worried about such contradictions. Only two categories of persons would not see any contradiction in Advaita system: (1) Those who have realized or experienced that non-dual principle, and (2) those who have nothing to do with Advaita.

But to the lot of a fortunate few - the third category (who are attracted by the wonders of Advaita principles but have not yet realized the truths thereof) - would always come this welcome state of confusion and contradiction. Blessed are those who see contradiction in Advaita system of philosophy and epistemology, for there is then a chance for these persons to attempt to go beyond the contradiction itself and become one with knowledge.

This is so because:

1. Transcendental Realization is the expected culmination of study of Advaita Philosophy, or is the expected goal of Advaitin.

2. Transcendental Realization is the only hope for Advaitin to come out of confusion, doubt, and contradiction.

3. Mind, with all its functions- including 'reason and rationality', remains inadequate medium to realize and describe Advaitic perception or experience.

Therefore, the restlessness of the soul, which theoretically wants to grasp all the nuances and subtleties of this system, will find solace only in its logical growth of turning the philosophical concept into self-knowledge, that knowledge which is called Realization. As seen through the prism of time, space, and causation the same Knowledge divides itself into three: knower, known and the act of knowing; or observer, observed and means of observation. And the fact is that the person who realizes the Advaita Truth becomes a scientist in the field of spirituality. He no more relishes the idea of discussing the philosophic intricacies. The experience makes him humble and wise. He becomes a yogi!

Moreover, just as it is customary and appropriate for a scientist in physical science to work in his laboratory, to read 'paper' in the conference and seminars; similarly, this scientist of Vedanta requires quietude and aloofness. Renunciation, discrimination, simplicity, non-covetousness, and frugality are his natural mental attributes, just as debate and discussion are of a scientist or a philosopher.

Discussion on Advaita philosophy presupposes the necessity of attempting to realize the highest Truth. Here philosophy and practice form one unit; attempt to discard any one would result in half hearted labour, futile. It is the growth of mind in a particular direction, brought about by particular way of sadhana, which makes a man capable of expressing spiritual Consciousness, to become a true Advaita Vedantin.

Utility Factor

Nondual realization of superconscious state or state of samadhi is both desirable and blissful, and can be achieved only by rigorous and conscious sadhana (spiritual disciplines). In this spiritual practice, the mind is concentrated to dwell on one aspect of divinity and hence that particular aspect of divinity is internalized as a dominant attitude for a variable period of time. We have to make deliberate effort to achieve this attitude, and we can achieve such a state with great difficulty, and for a short duration of time. For Sri Ramakrishna, to cite one example, such Advaitic experiences were naturalized reflexive state of mind and being. Such organization of brain is rare in the field of evolutionary biology.

The question whether such states can be achieved (and indeed, should they be achieved?) in one's life is a matter of debate and discussion. We feel an attempt should be made to achieve the state of mystic introversion because human evolution is progressing in that direction, and moreover, it is the only source of higher values like generosity, altruism, and compassion. Qualities of love, freedom, and bliss are inherent, in their limitless proportions, in Universal Consciousness. This is the only existence that one perceives in the state of samadhi. Evolution attempts to manifest these qualities in degrees. Every human being is expressing the same qualities; some can do better than the others. Limitations of mind and matter make these qualities appear distorted, but all the same, love is always there! With each stage, higher and larger aspect of love shines forth. There is no sinner, no murderer; jealousy and hatred are mere expressions of this love in a very selfish individual. A saint, on the other hand, loves others as well, as much as and even more than he loves himself, and therefore he is ready to give his life to protect even the life of a goat.

Advaitic perception or knowledge is an experience beyond description. However, for the individual, realization brings immense joy, knowledge, and values. We may not understand this, but the utility of this state is that the infinite knowledge of higher and eternal truths is brought on this earth for the benefit of millions of people. It may take long time for these truths, realized by the divine incarnations, saints and sages, to unfold and manifest in common masses. Therefore, we see the influence of their teachings remains valid for centuries. The untrained minds of masses are not capable of sustaining or receiving this knowledge, and hence, their 'teachings and sayings' get distorted in the flow of time. In his language of wonderful simplicity and wisdom, Sri Ramakrishna explains this predicament as, "How can a two liter container accommodate five liters of milk?"

In higher evolved human being there will be more expression of love, bliss, and freedom. He will strive to make others happy. Selfishness will by necessity be replaced by selflessness due to altered quality of, if we can say, the structure and function of his brain-mind complex. This can be taken as a hypothesis at present, but when we study such mystics as have lived their lives expressing all these qualities, this may become an acceptable theory. The necessary attempts to purify the mind through spiritual practices cannot be overemphasized. It is possible for us to develop such qualities in ourselves through renunciation and contemplation. Conscious, deliberate and willful sadhana alone can help us reach this state of universal bliss, peace, and love. The scientific study of altered state of Advaitic consciousness is, therefore, a scientific study of human evolutionary trends.
C S Shah

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