18 October 2010

I don't know where the recent influx of philosophers has come from, but I want to emphasize the "ultimate" truths  of Advaita do not flow out of a more accurate analysis of words, concepts and definitions. This only changes the area of argumentation and makes spirituality a subset of philosophy. But awakening has nothing to do with correct analysis of terms such as real or unreal, which is only using the intellect. We are talking about an entirely different way of perceiving reality and ourselves. As long as we think we are real, we are trapped in a real world and in concepts. I am saying you have to go beyond the mind altogether. 

Below is a comment from a philosopher who wants to challenge my use of unreal. I then follow with my explanation of the defects of his argument from a spiritual point of view as opposed to a philosophical point of view.


I think false problems arise when a teacher uses the world "real" without explaining clearly what they mean by this word. In the Indian philosophy of advaita, the word "real" means that which is permanent, which does not change. In this sense, the world is not real.

But the common Western meaning of the word "real" is entirely different. It simply refers to objective experience, something perceivable and verifiable by the senses. In this sense the world is "real" -- we have an actual "real" experience of it, even if we haven't yet fully investigated the true nature of that experience.

Similarly with the notion of the dream. Upon awakening from an ordinary dream, we are aware that the objects that appeared in the dream have no existence independent of our own awareness of them. In this sense, the dream objects are not "real". But our experience of these objects, the experience of the dream itself, was real in the sense of being a "real experience", or a "real dream". We really did have an experience which we identify as a dream. In this sense, the dream is "real", while the dream objects clearly have no independent existence.

It is more useful to use clearer, less ambiguous terms, such as "independently existing" (which is not true of any apparent "object"), or "not having independent existence" which, upon deep investigation, is the case for all apparent objects of experience.

Thus the main problem with the whole "real"/"not real" dichotomy when it is discussed is that people mean different things by the world "real". If clearer terminology is used, the whole so-called problem disappears.

When the world "real" is used in the context of a discussion of advaita, the most essential thing, from the very outset, is to define clearly exactly what is meant by the world "real".



That which is real and unchanging is what? The subject? The totality of consciousness? What is this unchanging you are talking about?  You have just changed the focus from the word real to defining that which does not change. What is it? Is there anything in the inner world that does not change? Is there anything in the outer world that does not change?

"Common western meaning" of real is different, meaning perceivable to the senses, perceivable and verifiable? What does that mean? Again, you have shifted real to a new set of concepts of perception and verification. A chair verified by a second perceiver? A tree falling in the forest with no witness at all? Was that a real experience? Is the tree real? Parental love I feel for a child, for whom no one else feels. Is that real because it is subjective and not verifiable to a second person except indirectly? Is an atom real? Are subatomic particles real? I can't verify them directly, but only indirectly through very complicated experiments and mathematics and analysis of vapor trails? What about string theory?

Neither of these two shifts help clarify anything.

Are you suggesting all percepts, experiences, concepts are real from a western viewpoint, and that is the framework a teacher should use when talking to Westerners? Shall we say the "common" western viewpoint that all objects are real if verifiable, but the advaitins don't take that as reality? How has that helped a deeper understanding except by explaining there are different ways to use the term real?

You say we wake up and say we had a dream, but the dream objects were not real? I think we are saying something different. We are saying the dream world is of a different quality of consciousness and existence than what we perceive in the waking world. We give a higher quality of reality of the appearance of the waking world. What about deep sleep? What is your experience during deep sleep? Are you saying the deep sleep state is unreal because we do not remember experiencing anything in that state?

Is it helpful to use a less ambiguous term such as "independent existence?" I think not, as that is certainly not unambiguous as a term; what does it mean for an object such as a chair? That is does not exist without a witness? This is naive idealism, and certainly most westerners would say the chair existed even if not perceived by anyone.

So constantly shifting explanations and clarifications to different sets of concepts you feel are less ambiguous, really hasn't helped anything. You are merely delving more deeply into philosophical explanation, which gets more and more subtle and further away from the root experiences of spiritual awakening which has no dependence on concepts whatsoever.

I do not see any "real" verses "not real" dichotomy disappearing, so much as shifting to different concepts using your "less ambiguous" terms.

To understand what Robert, Nisargadatta and I means by "the world is unreal," and "You don't exist" you have to have an awakening in the sense that your mind disappears, and YOU, then see that all of the objects in the world depended on the existence of concepts to make them so.

One "sees" that all forms are empty, and the emptiness or void is the primary percept within which objects no longer exist. The forms disappear. You shift identification form the world of appearances, to the Void nature of everything which is an "internal" or subjective state. The outer state is seen as false. The inner void is also seen as false because there is no longer a distinction between inner and out worlds. The is only one consciousness with no inner and outer, no me and no world.


Later, one sees that the entirety of consciousness, the world and I, form and emptiness, are like the dream state that comes and goes to you without touching you, without having anything to do with you. You are entirely beyond and apart from the world of appearance, or deep sleep. You "see" (or better "apperceive") directly, without conceptual analysis of the real or unreal

Until you have experiences like this you are merely arguing Eastern or Western concepts of ontology or epistemology, and there are thousands of philosophers for every awakened being who does not discuss philosophy, but talks about his or her own reality and experience. You must be willing to leave all concepts and understanding behind to enter this world. You can otherwise argue philosophies of "realities" forever, and not be one wit closer to understanding the true nature of you.


  1. Reading this I realized you are some kind of saint. Your chances of success are very slim I would venture, and yet you have bothered to respond so fully. I sincerely urge Peter not to read your response as merely more fodder for the mind, but as the genuine attempt it is to help loosen its grip.

  2. I'm sorry to see you got so worked up over a simple attempt to clarify confusing terminology. If there is no point in attempting to avoid unnecessary confusion, what's the point of using words at all?

    You have added a lot of words but clarified nothing, and your take on what I said is so bizarre and distorted as to raise serious questions about your intelligence, integrity, or both.

    Sorry to have bothered with you. You're way too defensive to have a useful conversation with.

    I know your sycophants will rush to your defense. But that's always the case with a false teacher and cultic followers.

    This is your domain -- bash away!

    Peter R

  3. Rush to my defense? Why do I need defending? What I said is quite straight forward. Do you truly not understand what I said even as a concept: that you have to transcend thought and the mind?

  4. Do you truly not understand what I said even as a concept: that you have to transcend thought and the mind?

    Do you truly not see that your angry, attacking disposition towards anyone who questions your authority in the slightest is a clear sign that you have not even come close to transcending thought and mind?

    Peter R

  5. You perceived my answer as an attack on you? How on earth did that happen?

    I was answering your question and that of a previous blogger in a very detailed and complete way so as to point out that "clarifications" of words and concepts will not result in spiritual truth. That the latter is very different from academic or philosophical truths.

    Instead of keeping the discourse in the arena of what is true, you now move the discourse to attacks on me and have done so for two posts. Why?

    I suspect any answer will be another attack, but I don't care. I let Guru Swami G's students go on and on, might as well hear you.

  6. Great realizers and teachers of all times and places have also been great masters of verbal communication regarding the truths they taught. They thought it was extremely important to do so for the sake of sincere aspirants. Nowhere do they claim this is the equivalent of spiritual realization. Yet they pay great attention to the words they use and how they use them.

    I think it’s regrettable that you don’t share this care and concern for your readers enough to bother with communicating clearly, and actually try to belittle such concerns when they are raised by others. In this you are in complete opposition to the great wisdom traditions of mankind. All these traditions acknowledge that the truth lies beyond words, speech, thought, and mind. And yet they feel that when communicating about this truth in words, it should be done as responsibly, clearly, and thus as helpfully as possible. I’m sorry you disagree.

    If you want to belittle this consideration as merely “mind stuff” and an expression of the belief that words are the equivalent of spiritual truth, then you’re off on a tangeant of your own making, in total opposition to the world’s wisdom traditions.

    Peter R

  7. Peter, if you read this whole thread again, but in a dispassionate/disinterested/disengaged way (perhaps by pretending this is a conversation between two other people on a subject you don't care about), does your perception of the conversation change at all? I ask in all sincerity.

  8. I doubt he will read in that way, anyway to me it feels that his intentions are quite different from what it appears to be, but anyway... just my mind... just my mind...

  9. Thank you, Ed. It is a very useful post - the comments as well.

  10. It's pretty clear from the discourse that Peter is hardly a candidate for awakening but that's fine if he simply chooses to remain ensconced in the conceptual scaffolding he's latched onto. Heck, we all do it in one fashion or another but when it reaches the point where the challenging of his position is perceived as so threatening(of course because he "identifies" with it so readily), then he's long overdue for some serious self inquiry:-).


  11. People often get offended or perceive hostility when their concepts are threatened. When I began spirituality I remember feeling similar negative emotions about 'being nothing' or an 'apparent' reality existing beyond the mind, which I knew nothing about.

    'What the hell are these guys talking about?? How can anything exist beyond the Mind?? I am not nothing, I am certainly something!!'

    If anything Peter, this exchange can give you an example of how drastically the ego distorts reality. Ed's response was not angry, it may have been emphatic, but it was not angry. Your ego felt threatened because it is so attached to its concepts, and projected anger as a result of that attachment.