Monday 6 April 2015

How we can confidently dismiss the conclusions of materialist metaphysics

In one of my recent articles, All phenomena are just a dream, and the only way to wake up is to investigate who is dreaming, I wrote:
Moreover, since we experience ourself existing in sleep, when we do not experience anything else, the fact that we exist independent of whatever else we may experience in waking or dream is self-evident. Therefore we need not doubt this fact, or suppose that our existence could depend upon the existence of our body or any other thing, as is wrongly supposed by most present-day philosophers and scientists.
Quoting this passage, a friend called Sivanarul wrote a comment in which he said:
With regards to Michael’s writing above, it is quite a challenge to remove this doubt even as a working hypothesis. There are two powerful opposing forces. First is the very strongly rooted “I am the body” idea. Second is scientific materialism that powerfully reinforces “I am the body” idea. Our lives are pretty much run by technology these days and technology is the huge success story of science. The web, mobile phones and GPS are part of everyday life and their successes in turn add tremendous credibility to anything science concludes.

So the question that the questioner asked Michael, “This awareness/consciousness can be a by-product of the body? Some neurons + chemical reactions happening in the brain which is projected as this consciousness?” is the conclusion of science which says the waking state is the base reality of life. The mind projects dream state as a way to fulfil desires that cannot be fulfilled in waking state, and deep sleep is a state where the mind takes rest. Consciousness is simply an epiphenomenon of the brain which arises when matter gets complex enough.

In fact, science can say all spiritual experiences reported by spiritual saints and Jnanis may just be the trigger of a sub-atomic particle. Just like, the recently verified Higg’s Boson, gives mass to matter, science can conclude that there is an undiscovered particle that the saints tap into in the body (by Vichara, Meditation Japa etc) that gives rise to their experiential reality. Once the body dies, that tapped into particle also dies and the experiential reality of the Jnani also dies with it. This does not mean I support the scientific conclusion on this matter. But it is also not easy to dismiss its conclusion.
And in a second comment he added:
As a continuation of my previous comment, even experiencing “I” completely in isolation to anything else will not disprove the theory because the experience of isolation itself can be simply a trigger of an undiscovered subatomic particle like Higg’s Boson. In other words, a Jnani’s experiential reality of “Ajata” could be brain based that gets triggered based on certain conditions (internal and/or external). Once triggered, the state is irreversible as long as the body exists. Once the body dies, that state dies as well. The only way this theory can be disproved is that after physical death, if we realize ‘I’ still exists. As long as the Physical brain is involved (waking, dream, deep sleep), nothing definite can be said.

We have two compelling arbiters’ of reality. One is the rich spiritual tradition with its long list of saints, mystics and jnani’s (or Jnana alone). Other is the modern scientific enterprise with its illustrious scientists. Both provide very compelling arguments. It is unfortunate that it cannot be verified which one is right when we are still brain based.
The uncertainty that Sivanarul expressed in these two comments is one that may affect many people who aspire to follow the teachings of Sri Ramana but have not yet reflected sufficiently deeply upon them, so the following is my reply to this uncertainty:
  1. Self-investigation is the only means by which we can eradicate all doubt
  2. Science cannot resolve any metaphysical doubts
  3. We cannot be the body that we now seem to be
  4. Belief in the reality of the waking state is not adequately justified
  5. Does our present body exist when we are dreaming or asleep?
  6. What actually exists is only ourself
  7. Materialist theories of consciousness cannot explain it satisfactorily
  8. Materialism cannot account for the experiencer
1. Self-investigation is the only means by which we can eradicate all doubt

So long as we experience ourself as an ego (which is a confused mixture of ourself and certain adjuncts that we mistake to be ourself, such as a body and mind), there is scope for us to doubt just about anything, particularly with regard to metaphysical beliefs, because the ego is by definition metaphysically ignorant, since metaphysical ignorance (ignorance about what we actually are) is what gives rise to the illusion that we are this ego. Therefore, as I wrote in the final sentence of the article on which Sivanarul was commenting:
[…] the only way in which we can completely eradicate any scope for any doubt we may have about whether our current state is just another dream or a state of real waking, or about whether our current body exists when we do not experience it, is by experiencing ourself as we really are, and the only way we can experience ourself as we really are is by investigating ourself, who experience not only the seeming existence of other things in waking and dream, but also their absence in sleep.
Though I referred there to two particular doubts that we may have, what I wrote applies to any metaphysical doubt that we may have. Investigating ourself and thereby experiencing ourself as we really are is the only means by which we can completely eradicate all scope for any doubt regarding metaphysical issues — or regarding anything else for that matter, because doubt can arise only for our ego (since it is our ego alone that experiences anything other than ourself), and our ego will cease to exist when we experience ourself as we really are.

2. Science cannot resolve any metaphysical doubts

However, though self-investigation is the only means by which we can completely eradicate our ego and hence all scope for any doubt whatsoever, Sri Ramana’s teachings give us powerful arguments that can help us to resolve many of our metaphysical doubts with a reasonable degree of certainty and confidence even while we are still experiencing ourself as this ego. For example, regarding the two opposing metaphysical views that Sivanarul referred to — namely the view taught by Sri Ramana that we exist independent of the transitory appearance and disappearance of any body, our mind or any other phenomena, and the opposing view espoused by many present-day philosophers and scientists that our existence is dependent on the functioning of our body and brain — Sri Ramana has given us strong reasons to accept his view based upon a simple and clear analysis of our own experience of ourself in our three alternating states of waking, dream and sleep.

Sivanarul cites ‘the huge success story of science’, particularly with reference to all the wonderful technology it has given us, but though science has been successful in understanding and manipulating how phenomena work, we cannot justifiably infer from this success that it has been equally successful in understanding what phenomena actually are —that is, what it is that appears as all these phenomena. Knowing how phenomena work (or at least how they seem to work) does not enable us to know whether any of them exist independent of our experience of them, or whether they are all just a mental creation, like any phenomena that we experience in a dream.

As I have explained elsewhere (such as in Does the world exist independent of our experience of it? and Science and self-investigation), the entire edifice of modern scientific theories is based upon a huge metaphysical assumption, the correctness of which no scientist or philosopher is able to verify or ever could verify, namely the assumption that certain phenomena that we experience (specifically all those phenomena that we collectively call ‘the world’ and that such people claim to be ‘objective reality’) exist independent of ourself, the subject or first person who experiences them.

Modern scientific observations and theories seem to be useful to us in numerous ways in our material life, but that does not mean that they can help us in any way to remove our metaphysical ignorance or to resolve any metaphysical doubts. One of the most fundamental metaphysical issues is the question whether anything that we experience exists independent of our experience of it — or is in any way caused by anything that exists independent of our experiencing ego or mind — but no scientific observation or theory can provide any evidence or adequate reason to suppose that our inborn belief in the independent existence of the physical world is correct. Therefore, when considering metaphysical issues, we cannot rely upon whatever science may seem to tell us.

3. We cannot be the body that we now seem to be

On the other hand, Sri Ramana has not only taught us a reliable means by which we can remove our metaphysical ignorance forever, but has also given us strong grounds for concluding that we are mistaken in believing that we are the physical body that we now experience as if it were ourself, and also in believing that the physical world exists independent of our experience of it. These grounds are in brief as follows:

If we were actually the physical body that we now seem to be, we could not experience ourself without experiencing this body, but we experience it only in our present state (the state that we now believe to be our waking state) and not in dream or sleep. In dream we experience some other body as if it were ourself, and in sleep we experience ourself without experiencing any body whatsoever. Our experience therefore provides us with irrefutable evidence that neither our present body nor any other body can be what we actually are, and that our experience that this body is ourself is therefore an illusion.

Since we experience the seeming existence of this physical world only when we experience ourself as our present body, and since we likewise experience the seeming existence of another such world in dream when we experience ourself as some other body, it is clear that our experience of this or any other world is dependent upon our experience that we are a body in whichever world we are then experiencing. Therefore, since we have concluded that our experience that we are a body is an illusion, all the worlds (indeed all the phenomena, both physical and mental) that we experience solely on the basis of this illusion must likewise be illusory.

Therefore, contrary to what Sivanarul says, it is actually quite easy for us to dismiss the conclusion (or rather the fundamental assumption) of science and of many varieties of philosophy that claim that we are just a physical body and that the world in which this body seems to exist exists independent of our experience of it.

4. Belief in the reality of the waking state is not adequately justified

However, in order for us to strengthen our conviction that the view taught by Sri Ramana is correct, and that the claims made by metaphysical materialism (also known as physicalism) are therefore unjustified, let us consider some of the claims made by some scientists and philosophers that Sivanarul mentions in his comments. Firstly, he mentions ‘the conclusion of science which says the waking state is the base reality of life’, but rather than describing this as a conclusion of science, it would be more accurate to describe it as one of the fundamental assumptions of science, because it is an assumption on which all scientific research and theories are based. Therefore to argue that it is a conclusion that we can reach on the basis of any scientific research or theory is obviously begging the question — that is, it is assuming that the proposition in question (namely that ‘the waking state is the base reality of life’) is true, and using it as a premise in an argument in support of itself.

Science is not actually the reason why we tend to believe that ‘the waking state is the base reality of life’, because we would tend to believe this even if we knew nothing about modern science. The reason we tend to believe this is that whatever we happen to be currently experiencing (whether we are actually awake or just dreaming) seems to us to be real, so even while we are dreaming what we are then experiencing seems to be real, and hence we assume that we are then awake (as I explained in While dreaming we seem to be awake). Whatever we are currently experiencing seems to us to be real for the simple reason that I explained in The power of the illusion that whatever we are currently experiencing is real, namely:
[...] whenever we experience any world, whether we are dreaming or seemingly awake, we always experience ourself as if we were a body in that world. Therefore, since we are real, we experience our current body as if it were real, and since that body is a part of a world, we experience that world as if it too were real. That is, we superimpose the reality of ourself upon whatever body we experience as ourself, and via that body we also superimpose it upon the world.
We tend to believe that we are not now dreaming only because our present body and whatever else we are currently experiencing seems to us to be real, whereas whatever we experienced in any state in which we experienced ourself as some other body now seems to us to be unreal and hence just a dream. Therefore it is natural for us to assume that our current state is our real state and that any other similar state is just a dream, and hence to distinguish our current state from all such other states we call it our waking state. This is why we naturally believe that ‘the waking state is the base reality of life’ and is therefore fundamentally different to any dream. However, as I explained in Any argument that waking and dream are fundamentally different is begging the question, whatever arguments we may try to give to show that there are any real or fundamental differences between waking and dream are based on our assumption that we are now not dreaming but awake, which is in turn based on our assumption that waking is actually a state distinct from dream, so such arguments are simply begging the question.

It seems to us to be evident that we are now not dreaming, but whatever evidence we may suppose shows this to be so will be certain features in our current state that we believe distinguishes it from dream, so these features seems to be evidence that we are now not dreaming only because we assume that our current state is not a dream. Our reasoning that we are now not dreaming is therefore circular and hence fundamentally flawed, so our inborn belief that we are now awake and that this waking state ‘is the base reality of life’ cannot be justified in any way without appealing unashamedly to a logical fallacy — the fallacy of begging the question or reasoning in a circle.

Though every scientific theory does seem to lend support to our instinctive belief that the world we experience in our present state (which we now assume to be our waking state) is real, and that it is the basis of everything else that we experience, the support that it thus seems to lend is a fallacy, because every scientific theory is itself based upon this belief. Unless we assume that our present state is not just a dream created by our own mind, we cannot justify our assumption that the world we experience in this state exists independent of our experience of it, and unless we thus assume that this world does exist independent of our experience of it, we cannot justify our assumption that any scientific observation is anything but an illusion (like whatever we may experience in a dream) or that any scientific theory is true or reliable. Therefore, since belief in any scientific observation or theory is necessarily based upon the belief that our present state is real and not just a dream, how can any scientific observation or theory give us sufficient reason to believe that our present state is not just a dream but ‘the base reality of life’?

In other words, since we must assume that our present state is not a dream in order to believe that it is ‘the base reality of life’, and since we must believe that it is real in order to believe that any scientific observation or theory is either true or reliable, no scientific observation or theory can be an adequate reason for us to conclude that ‘the waking state is the base reality of life’. Therefore to argue that science provides us with sufficient evidence or reason to reach this conclusion would be to argue in a circle.

5. Does our present body exist when we are dreaming or asleep?

When Sivanarul writes, ‘The mind projects dream state as a way to fulfil desires that cannot be fulfilled in waking state, and deep sleep is a state where the mind takes rest’, immediately after writing that science says that ‘the waking state is the base reality of life’, he seems to imply that science assumes that when our mind projects a dream or rests in sleep, it does so in the brain of our waking-state body. However, like all other assumptions made in the name of ‘science’, this assumption is based entirely upon the unfounded assumption that our present state, which we now take to be waking, is not actually just another dream.

When we are experiencing either a dream or the state of deep sleep, we do not experience our waking-state body, just as we now do not experience any body that we experienced as ourself in a dream. Since we now believe that all such dream bodies were just a creation or fabrication of our own dreaming mind, we do not have sufficient grounds for assuming that our present body (the one we now assume to be our waking-state body) is not likewise just a creation of our own dreaming mind. Unless we assume that our present state is not a dream, and that therefore the world we perceive in this state exists even when we do not experience it, we cannot assume that dreams occur in the brain of our present body. However, since we do not assume that the world we experience in a dream exists even when we are not experiencing it, we do not actually have any adequate justification for assuming that the world of our present state exists even when we are not experiencing it.

6. What actually exists is only ourself

When we consider whether or not ‘the waking state is the base reality of life’, the only experience we can rely upon is our own, because if our present state is not really a state of waking but just another dream, whatever experience any other person may tell us about would be no more reliable than any experience that a person in our dream may tell us about. On the basis of our current experience, we judge that whatever body we experienced as ourself in a dream does not now exist, and that though it seemed to exist while we were dreaming, it did not actually exist even then. Therefore, if we are to be impartial in our judgement, we should likewise judge that — unless our current state is not actually just another dream — our body in this state does not exist while we are experiencing any other dream or while we are asleep, and that though it seems to exist so long as we are experiencing this state, it does not actually exist even now.

Other than our own experience, we do not have sufficient grounds for believing that anything exists. However, not everything that we experience actually exists, because our experience tells us that though some things seem to exist they do not actually exist. For example, whatever we experience while dreaming seems to exist then, but it no longer seems to exist once we wake up, so we conclude that it did not actually exist even when it seemed to exist, because we now recognise that it seemed to exist only in our own imagination. Therefore we should not assume that something actually exists just because it seems to exist.

Though we must depend upon our experience in order to know what exists, we know that our experience is not a reliable guide when it comes to showing us what exists. Therefore we need to use our judgement in order to decide what we should believe actually exists. Many things seem to exist, but how can we be sure that any of them actually exist? According to Sri Ramana, anything that seems to exist at one time but not at another time does not actually exist even when it seems to exist. Whatever actually exists must always exist, and must always seem to exist — that is, it must always be experienced by us. Whatever we experience only temporarily does not actually exist but only seems to exist. This is why he used to say that what is real must always be real, and must not appear to be real only at certain times but not at other times — or in other words, that what is real must be eternal and unchanging.

On the basis of this simple but perfectly reasonable principle, we can conclude that the only thing that actually exists is ourself, because whatever else we may experience is something that we experience sometimes but not always. We experience time only in the states that we call waking or dream, but not in sleep, so though time seems to exist, it does not actually exist. Time is therefore just an illusion, and hence whatever appears or disappears in time is likewise just an illusion. What is real is only what we experience whether we are experiencing time (as in waking or dream) or whether we are not experiencing time (as in sleep), and that is only ourself.

Moreover, we ourself are the only thing that we can be sure does actually exist, because if we did not exist we could not experience anything, whether real or illusory. Therefore the simple fact that we experience anything is conclusive proof that we ourself do actually exist. Anything else that we experience could be an illusion, because though it seems to exist it may not actually exist, but our own existence cannot be an illusion, because we could not experience our existence (or anything else) if we did not actually exist. Therefore if we accept Sri Ramana’s teaching that we alone actually exist, and if we recognise the fact that the existence of anything else is at best just doubtful, we are logically on very safe ground, whereas if we choose to believe the metaphysics of materialism or physicalism (the view that the physical world does not just seem to exist but actually exists and is ‘the base reality of life’), we are on very uncertain ground, to say the least.

7. Materialist theories of consciousness cannot explain it satisfactorily

When Sivanarul writes, ‘Consciousness is simply an epiphenomenon of the brain which arises when matter gets complex enough’, he is referring to one of the theories espoused by some philosophers and scientists, namely the theory of epiphenomenalism, according to which all conscious experience is an epiphenomenon or secondary phenomenon caused by the physical phenomenon of electro-chemical activity in the brain (which they assume to be the primary phenomenon), and that though conscious experience is caused by such physical phenomena, it cannot be the cause of any physical phenomena. This is just one of various competing theories proposed by present-day philosophers and scientists in their attempt to explain conscious experience in more or less exclusively physical terms, but like all such theories it fails to explain this satisfactorily.

As some other philosophers point out, there is an ‘explanatory gap’ in the idea that what we experience is caused solely by whatever seems to be happening in our brain, because the features or ‘qualia’ of any conscious experience are quite unlike the physical features of what is happening in the brain, so to be able to equate one with the other would require a clear and satisfactory explanation, which no one has yet given. Of course physicalists hope that one day they will find such an explanation, but it is hard to imagine how they could ever do so.

Moreover, the idea that physical phenomena are primary whereas what we actually experience is secondary is putting the cart before the horse. We do not actually experience any physical phenomena, but only mental impressions of physical phenomena, so the primary phenomena of our experience are only what we actually experience, and any other phenomena, such as physical phenomena, are secondary, because they are not directly experienced by us but are merely inferred by us on the basis of what we experience. Therefore giving primacy to anything physical while giving only secondary place to what we actually experience is illogical and can only lead us to dubious conclusions.

8. Materialism cannot account for the experiencer

Moreover, even if what we experience could somehow be adequately explained by any physical phenomena such as electro-chemical activity in our brain, such phenomena cannot account for the experiencer — that is, for the fact that something experiences whatever is experienced. Who or what is it that experiences all of this? This is a question that is not adequately addressed or even considered either by modern philosophy or science.

All experience depends upon the existence of an experiencer, because without an experiencer there could be no experience, but the existence of an experiencer cannot be adequately explained by anything physical. The experiencer of all our experience is what we experience as ourself, but whatever we experience other than ourself cannot be ourself, because we experience nothing other than ourself permanently. Whatever else we may experience, and even if we do not experience anything else, we always experience ourself, so we cannot be anything that we do not always experience. We do not always experience our physical body or any other physical phenomena, because in dream we experience some other seemingly physical body and world, and in sleep we do not experience any physical phenomena, so we cannot be anything physical.

What then are we, the experiencer? Just as we cannot be any physical phenomena, we likewise cannot be any mental phenomena, because we experience ourself in sleep without experiencing anything else. Therefore what we are cannot be explained in either physical or mental terms, so to experience what we actually are we must investigate ourself alone.

Neither science nor philosophy can tell us what we actually are, so in order to discover what we actually are we must rely solely upon our own experience of ourself. At present our experience of ourself seems confused, because we experience ourself mixed with physical and mental adjuncts, so we mistake ourself to be this body and mind. Therefore in order to experience ourself as we actually are we need to isolate ourself experientially from all other things, and thereby to experience ourself perfectly clearly without experiencing anything else whatsoever.


who said...

I agree that science or philosophy can answer and explain only objective phenomenon , but cannot answer or explain the truth of 'me' , the experiencer.

If someone tells me what i am , whatever they explain or describe is something which they explain or describe to 'me'.

Only i can know what i actually am. To know what i actually am , i must simply be as i actually am , since being myself implies knowing myself. So simple , and so obvious and irrefutable.

If only i could stop thinking and reading about this.

Bob - P said...

Thank you for posting this article Michael I will be need to re read it a few times to fully appreciate it.

Thank you

Anonymous said...

It is surprising how people call this egoistic/materialistic/atheistic existance as Life. I see only death.

Anonymous said...

How can one explain the miracles that happened around the Maharshi? The brain did it?
I suggest you read stories about Maharshi and see if doubts remain.

Sivanarul said...

Thanks much for the very detailed analysis. Your explanation below was very helpful.

“Science is not actually the reason why we tend to believe that ‘the waking state is the base reality of life’, because we would tend to believe this even if we knew nothing about modern science. The reason we tend to believe this is that whatever we happen to be currently experiencing (whether we are actually awake or just dreaming) seems to us to be real, so even while we are dreaming what we are then experiencing seems to be real, and hence we assume that we are then awake (as I explained in While dreaming we seem to be awake). Whatever we are currently experiencing seems to us to be real for the simple reason that I explained in The power of the illusion that whatever we are currently experiencing is real, namely”

Sivanarul said...

Miracles that happened around Bhagavan and other saints can prove that consciousness is non local, but we were not there to witness it. Taking it by faith is not an argument that can withstand scientific scrutiny. Many of us think that we do not have doubts about this. Do you have fear of death? If you do have and if you are sure that consciousness is not brain based, why do you think you have fear of death? In other words, if you are 100% sure that consciousness is not brain based, it implies that consciousness survives death. Since ‘I’ survives death, there is no reason to fear death. Why do you fear death then?

Anonymous said...


Who fears? Pure consciousness? Being itself everything, how could fear arise? To whom?

According to Bhagavan:

The insentient body has no sense of ‘I,’ and that pure sentient consciousness is not born and therefore cannot say ‘I’. The ‘I’ springs up between the sentient and the insentient, as the knot that is the creation of the ego. This knot is known as the knot of ignorance of the Heart, tying together the insentient with the sentient.


Thirst for life is inherent in the very nature of life, which is Absolute Existence – Sat. Although indestructible by nature, by false identification with its destructible instrument, the body, consciousness imbibes a false apprehension of its destructibility, hence it tries to perpetuate that instrument, which results in a succession of births. But however long these bodies may last, they eventually come to an end and yield to the Self, which alone eternally exists.

But really, does any of our petty beliefs and theories actually change what IS?

Ramana: Reality must be always real. It is not with forms and names. That which underlies these is the Reality. It underlies limitations, being itself limitless. It is not bound. It underlies unrealities, itself being real. Reality is that which is. It is as it is. It transcends speech. It is beyond the expressions 'existence, non-existence', etc.

Why not do the practice described by Ramana? What do we have to lose? The useless ego? This evil spirit that knows nothing of love, or compassion?

A poem from Bhagavad-Gita that describes us:

Demonic people don’t understand
what should be done and what shouldn’t.
They are neither pure nor honest;
even their behavior is not good.

They proclaim:
“The universe has no basis and no abiding truth.
There is no greater force governing it.
Life is merely a product of mutual union, driven by lust!”

Rigidly holding on to such views,
these lost souls of limited understanding
commit many cruel deeds.
They are indeed enemies of the world,
bent upon its destruction.
These people neither perceive a grander cosmic order of the universe nor recognize a greater social order of the world and disturb the overall harmony for satisfying momentary pleasures.

Clinging on to unquenchable passions,
drunk with pride and hypocrisy,
they live in delusion with false notions,
and act with impure motives.

Till their last breath
they are lost in
boundless wishes and anxieties.
Gratification of desire is their highest aim,
as if that is all there is to one’s life!

Bound by a hundred chains of vain hope and
driven by lust and anger,
they amass wealth by unjust means
for sensual enjoyment.


Clinging on to egoism and vanity,
exhibiting force, lust, and rage,
these malicious people
undermine the divine presence
in their own bodies and
in the bodies of others.

I constantly throw these
cruel, hateful, and worst of men,
into demonic wombs
in the vast cycles of birth and death.

Again and again
these deluded people are born
with demonic traits
and fail to attain the supreme;
they sink to the lowest of depths.


IF you want you can continue reading:

venkat said...

If it is posited that consciousness of 'I'. the body and the world is an outcome of the brain's neuronal wiring and chemistry, it is quite fascinating to understand what it is, as Michael points out, that sees this 'I'-consciousness. Are we saying that somehow the neuronal chemistry creates a consciousness, which then 'sees' the neuronal chemistry firing that reflects sight of the world?

If we take this a step further, this neuronal chemistry, and this body is, per science, built of some fundamental building blocks, of electrons, neutrons, protons, and ever fine subatomic particles. And these same building blocks also make up the world that we see.

So in the final analysis, even materialistic science would have to conclude that the objects in the world that are seen, the reflected light that carries this message to the retina, the optical nerve impulses that transmit the message to the brain and the neuronal chemistry that then 'sees' this image of the world, are all made of the same energy / underlying subatomic particles. Just as in the vedantic analogy that bullion bars, coins and jewellery are all made of gold, irrespective of their form.

Therefore, surely materialistic science would have to conclude that all is just energy, there is never any separation and the idea that I am a distinct ego that needs to achieve desires and avoid fears is a fundamental illusion - the snake in the rope. And if all is just 'energy'. is that so different from saying that all is just consciousness?

I would really appreciate any challenge to the above - have I missed something?


Sivanarul said...

Obviously fear arises only to the ego and not pure consciousness. The question “Do you have fear of death” was directed to you, the jiva. Thanks for the quotes from Bhagavan. Even if one practices Bhagavan’s teachings or other spiritual teachings, it does not mean one loses fear of death. One might have intellectually hypnotized oneself into believing that one has lost fear of death. But it is rare to really lose fear of death before firm abidance in the Self.

You say, “The useless ego? This evil spirit that knows nothing of love, or compassion?”. I don’t think it helps to demonize the ego as evil or lacking love or compassion. Ego can also be a source of great good, love and compassion. It all depends on which guna is predominant (Sattva, Rajas, Tamas) in the ego. One can be an atheist, fully materialistic but be full of goodness, love and compassion.

Regarding the quote from Bhagavad-Gita, I am not sure the context Lord Krishna used for what is quoted. It is my take that demonic people in that quote refers to egos that have Tamas as their predominant quality and does not apply to what we are discussing here. Denying that “universe has no basis and no abiding truth” as quoted in the verse due to Tamas is very different than saying from Sattva that there is no scientific proof that universe has an abiding truth.

Anonymous said...

In my viewpoint, when there is ego, no matter how sattva, there is no love. The so-called goodness, love and compassion of jiva are conditional and limited feelings. When i see people acting lovingly to each other, i know all this could be destroyed instantly, by saying a wrong word or doing a wrong action.
What i mean by love is nothing but the love of a sage, which is unconditional and limitless. It knows no bounds. You can beat him to a pulp or do the most horrible things to him, but his love to you remains unshaken. This alone is worth pursuing, brain based inviduals or not :) But the love must not be of the invidual's, for when there is inviduality and separation, there is conditioning.
The one who writes the comments and the one who reads the comments, must GO!
That is the only way.

Sivanarul said...

Science has not solved the hard problem of consciousness. Previously science never thought that consciousness is something that needs solving. Now it acknowledges that it is something that needs to be looked at and explained and currently it is classified as a “hard problem”. There are currently hundreds of “consciousness studies” being worked on, although the caveat from spiritual circles is that consciousness cannot be studied “objectively” as other phenomena can be.

Correlation between neuronal activity and emergence of consciousness is a puzzle to scientists. So far fMRI scans only show corresponding neuronal activity in the brain to conscious actions. But they do not show where in the brain that consciousness is located. They are studying objectively and it will take them wherever it takes them.

With regards to your analysis that “the scientific conclusion that all ultimately is just energy is similar to saying that all is just consciousness”, one problem with that is that the energy that science is using is not the same as consciousness used by spirituality. Other problem is that whatever science says is backed by experiments and data (with the caveat of course it will be replaced by better experiments and data). Snake in the rope is simply an analogy and in of itself it does not constitute any proof. What Michael has written certainly helps but is not in the same league as scientific proof.

Note that I do not subscribe to the scientific conclusion (or hypothesis as Michael puts it). But I also don’t dismiss it lightly. Science is a good friend and provides incredible value in our daily life and has a seat on the table. Also since scientific hypothesis of being brain based aligns perfectly with “I am the body” idea, it is indeed a difficult constraint to overcome.

Many of us think we have overcome the scientific hypothesis of being brain based. But “Fear of Death” will prove it otherwise. If you are fully convinced that ‘I’ is not brain based, there is no reason to have fear of death because ‘I’ is guaranteed to survive death. Think of a patient going under anesthesia for a simple surgical procedure that has 99.999% success rate. While the patient may feel little apprehension about the surgical environment, he never really fears it, because in his mind he feels a surety that he will wake up in an hour or so. With death, there is the fear, because he is not 100% convinced that he will wake up again.

Sivanarul said...

There is no disagreement that the love of the sage transcends and is unparalleled when compared to egoic love. You are preaching to the choir on that one :) There is also no disagreement that ultimately the ego must merge (or die as you put it) with its source. Even in non-advaitic traditions like Saiva Siddhanta, the conclusion is advaitic (Siva Sayuja Nilai).

The discussion was merely whether the ego is useless and whether the ego in its limited form can be a source of love, compassion and goodness. If it helps your sadhana, then please by all means, continue to treat the ego as useless. I believe that the ego is useful. I also believe in the love a mother has for her child, the compassion a good doctor has for his/her patient, the goodness done by so many egos around the world.

venkat said...


The point I was trying to make is that even if you follow science, you still have to conclude that there is no separation in the world, 'subject' and 'object' are an interactive dance of sub-atomic particles (which per David Bohm are themselves interconnected), without any substantive difference, and the ego is an illusory thought construct.

If you follow Bhagavan and Vedanta, you conclude that all is like a dream in consciousness, there is no separation and the ego is an illusory thought construct.

So what is substantially different between these conclusions?

And by the way the scientific data and experiments that you allude to are only occurring in your consciousness. We have no evidence that the experimental outcomes we see, is seen by anyone else, apart from hearsay.

Steve said...

'I' as an ego, investigating myself as an ego, am a scientist, putting the ego to its best use!

Sivanarul said...

At the quantum level, quantum physics does seem to align more closely to advaitic conclusions. Particularly quantum entanglement suggests that consciousness is non local. Einstein called this “spooky actions” at a distance. The dance of the sub-atomic particles correlates to the divine dance of Nataraja. CERN acknowledges this and has placed a bronze statue of Lord Nataraja (Siva) before one of its buildings.

But the behavior at the quantum level breaks down when particles acquire mass. So for now we have two physics to describe reality. At the particle level, it is quantum mechanics and for objects with mass it is Newtonian physics. There are unified theories that are being worked on (String theory with its membranes and multiverse idea), but nothing conclusive yet.

So the disconnect is in trying to apply quantum physics in a level where it not applicable (as of yet).

Regarding the experimental outcomes being hearsay, would someone say it is hearsay if their son gets very sick and complains of severe pain? Would they say there is no evidence that anyone is experiencing the pain experienced by their son?

Bob - P said...

According to Bhagavan's teaching all science, scientists are nothing but a projection of my mind (false consciousness), If I become a scientist I will be exploring nothing but myself (false consciousness) so to speak the more I look the more I will find with details only appearing when they are looked for, does an electron exist until you look for it?? Does a far away star exist until it is looked for?

When we look within and investigate our false consciousness (egoic "I") with enough focus and turn 180 degrees all science, scientists, electrons, stars and the perceiver of them will dissolve and the true "I" will remain.

Or I know I should say the self contained non dual self / sat- chit alone is there is no science, scientists, electrons, stars and perceiver of them.


Mouna said...


I do share many of your views on the subject, specially when it come to unsubstantiated claims about reality not based on facts supported by experience. As we know, almost every (if not all) religion in the world suffers from that.
But let’s take a scientific approach (I am not a scientist though) to the problem of death, see if we can unravel a little bit it’s cause, specially in humans.
I said specially in the human realm because what we call “fear of death” might be similar in some sense to what animals experience as fear of death (let’s not enter into the semantic discussion if humans are animals or not, at least for the moment!) but dissimilar in some other aspects.

Every sentient being having, from a very primitive neurological system to a very sophisticated one, experiences in different degrees “survival instinct”, I assume we all agree on that, and it is the way nature ensures its “immortality”. In terms of brain activity (through neurological, glandular and blood channels) it comes down to all reactions based on external and internal stimuli, preservation and evolution of the species, fight and/or flight, etc… This side of the equation is very... “mechanical” if we can put it in those terms. and we, as humans, we have that also.

Moving forward, at this point is when things start to be a little different for humans in relation to animal “fear of death”.
To put it simply, we humans (let’s for the moment also leave aside other mammals like dolphins or chimpanzees) have two dimensions in relation to pain, one being the, as we said before, mechanical and purely physical response, but also we have the “psychological relation” to pain. I would define these two distinct phenomena as pain on one side and suffering on the other. Pain (either psychological or physical) is generally short (again, let’s leave aside the problem of chronic pain), intermittent.
On the other side, suffering, as our psychological relationship with pain, is not only continuous, but also may “precede” the actual experience of pain. I hit my toe with the small table and right away I start suffering a chain of thoughts of “who put it there?” “She did it! I told her not to!”. I am diagnosed with diabetes and this time the flow of sufferer thoughts come in the form of: “Miserable me, I should have taken care before, why I didn’t?” My spouse cheats on me, we separate, and for years I still ruminate ways of blame on him/her or on me! A close friend or relative dies and I’ll feel sad for years to come and in some cases I’ll die of grief without even thinking that I REALLY don’t know his or her condition after death… Examples are infinite that prove that our psychological relationship to pain, aka Suffering, is not exactly the same thing as the physical experience of pain or loss. The interesting thing is that sometimes, as said before, suffering precedes pain and even causes physical malfunction, disease and eventually in some cases, death.
(Continues in next posting)…

Mouna said...

(Continues from the last posting)
To my understanding, human fear of death is a dimension of the kind of suffering we have been talking about, a complete egoic phenomena (and so far I haven’t been talking about Bhagavad’s teachings) that can be eradicated. Science even stepped into this realm proving how the effects of long time meditation reduces certain physical reactive phenomena.

In this view of things, “our” fear of death is based purely on the illusory imagination of ego. There are many stories about Bhagavan in his last days and how calm and compassionate he was even up to his lasts minutes or last breath. I know, the objection would be that we don’t really know what was going on “inside there”… But my litmus test is and was: what about if “I” try to put into practice his “method”?
I took a very scientific approach and started practicing Self-Investigation (Self-Abidance) and in my experience, different psychological processes went into a complete transformation, I am not going to enumerate all that but simply say that if we have a scientific and skeptic mind is good, because then we can apply Bhagavan’s teaching as an experiment, focusing only on that and not giving in into unsubstantiated claims.

Only perseverance in this experimentation will bring results and we will start to see that even if the physical “reactions” are there, more and more there is no one there to take credit for them, and the fear of death (or any kind of fear) slowly, slowly starts to dissolve.

Apologies for such a long posting. “if I had more time I would have do it shorter…”
Yours in Bhagavan,

venkat said...


(1) Whether quantum physics or normal science, the conclusion that we are built of the same building blocks - even at molecular or chemical level - is inescapable. And these molecules / chemicals at death decompose and get reconstituted into some other form.

The ego that arises linked to a particular body-mind, sets out to defend and acquire for itself. But science again says that that ego is a complex result of genetics and environmental influences it has gone through. So it has no independent characteristics of its own - it has originated as a result of complex factors entirely out of its control. In that sense, the ego's thought that it is independently existent and separate is illusory.

Einstein put it well when he said:
"A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. The true value of a human being is determined primarily by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self."

"The fact that man produces a concept "I" besides the totality of his mental and emotional experiences or perceptions does not prove that there must be any specific existence behind such a concept. We are succumbing to illusions produced by our self-created language, without reaching a better understanding of anything. Most of so-called philosophy is due to this kind of fallacy."

Will continue.

venkat said...

(2) No one can definitively prove that the world that is seen by one's consciousness, exists independently of that consciousness - i.e. that there is a world with multiple jivas perceiving it. Philosophers have struggled with this issue for years - see Bertrand Russell.

Consequently any scientific experiments and reasoning conducted in the world (even if it be to try to ascertain the nature of consciousness), is happening only in one's consciousness. The listening to scientists' conclusions is happening in your consciousness - you have no proof that they actually exist outside of your consciousness.

So the very starting premise of science is the assumption that there is an independently existing world separate from my consciousness that can be tested. But if that assumption is unprovable, then science cannot go further into reality.

(3) Bhagavan comes along and points out that the separate ego is illusory, and the mind-body-world is of the nature of a dream. Much of which is consistent with science, as discussed above. But he says you need to find this out for yourself. And he gives you a scientific method by which to do so - self-enquiry. And he says if you do this experiment properly, you too will have the same results that he has had.

So he is asking us to investigate the primary assumption - that we are a separate ego - and he says that in this investigation the ego will be seen to be false and will disappear.

What better science than to investigate the primary datum of our experience?


Sivanarul said...

Thanks a lot for your excellent post. You said “I took a very scientific approach and started practicing Self-Investigation (Self-Abidance) and in my experience, different psychological processes went into a complete transformation”. This is the kind of information that is very helpful to hear and in my opinion the purpose and value of Satsang.

Bhagavan’s realization episode happened within minutes and hence it’s hard to relate to. It is like a billionaire’s son telling a poor man, if you work hard, you can make it. I can respect that, but can’t believe that fully. On the other hand, a man born poor, working his way up slowly and steadily and even if not making it fully, turning around and telling that you can make it, is very powerful, relatable and believable. Thanks again.

Sivanarul said...

Thanks for your detailed reply. For the most part, we are on the same page, and my point was that many of us have strong identity to ‘I’ and have fear of death in spite of belonging to religious or spiritual traditions and in spite of whatever beliefs we may have.

The impact science has on us is greater than what sages have on us, because of the simple fact that science is easily demonstrable. The law of gravity can be demonstrated within seconds. Bhagavan’s realization cannot be replicated within a few seconds. There are lot of efforts to reconcile science and spirituality (Bernardo Kastrup, SAND conferences, consciousness studies, mindfulness studies, Dalai Lama yearly summit with scientists etc). So the gap is definitely closing fast. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

A fascinating article of a devotee regarding his/her experience with the enquiry:

who said...


your opinion is that "The impact science has on us is greater than what sages have on us, because of the simple fact that science is easily demonstrable" , which is true so long we are dealing with objective phenomena.

However , what sages like Bhagavan talk about points in one direction - towards ourself. Though 'i' is not 'easily demonstrable' , as you put it , we nevertheless know it always. Before we know anything about science (or anything else) , we must always know that we are. So , our consciousness of our own being is ever present , and sages simply encourage us to us to attend exclusively to it.

Regarding your statement "There are lot of efforts to reconcile science and spirituality" , if by 'spirituality' you mean true self-knowledge (atma jnana) , then as Michael James has clarified patiently countless number of times in this blog , that science (which studies objective phenomena) , and spirituality (which is atma-jnana) , are mutually incompatible.

who said...


Bhagavan gave an analogy as follows : before opening our coffers , we should not speculate as to what is in it , and neither should we resign ourself into believing that the coffer is empty.

This means that before having certain experiential knowledge of who we are , its meaningless and futile to resigning ourself to be either a 'poor person' , or a 'billionaire's son'.

Bob - P said...

Easier said than done I know but the best experiment is to investigate our self not the exterior complexity of the waking state, or the dream state if we are proficient at lucid dreaming.

I am guilty of getting distracted too as my recent question about multiple pitchers proves!!

Intellectual acrobatics as impressive as they may seem are taking us 180 degrees in the wrong direction according Bhagavan's teaching if I am understanding it correctly.

I come to this blog and read Bhagavan's teaching to help me along with Michael's understanding of it to keep my attention on the most important experiment of all investigating my own being until it is seen to be the nonexistent illusion that it is and abide as the one true consciousness "I" / Sat-chit-Ananda.


R Viswanathan said...

With much discussion on fear of death going on and also on ease of demonstration of scientific conclusions, I recall a TV presentation in an American TV channel of the bombing of Japanese city Hiroshima during the world war II. Dr. Oppenheimer was quoting from Bhagawat Gita when he was describing his thoughts after the nuclear test which he and his team successfully conducted a few days prior to the bombing of Hiroshima. This is also given in:

"We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, 'Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.' I suppose we all thought that, one way or another."

I feel that one does not need to condemn or praise scientific conclusions since it is inevitable that continued research will pour more and more fresh results which certainly will help in a better understanding of what is anyway going on in nature. Sri Nochur Venkataraman in one of his discourses very aptly put it: "use but don't depend on".

I also feel that the questions how and why have to ultimately yield to the question who, if one is genuinely interested in self-realization.

Anonymous said...

This comment is off topic and I apologize profusely for it...but had a simple question probably anyone who follows this blog can answer.
I a new to following Michael James and have tried several times to subscribe to the article feed and all I ever get is a programming coded page, I think HTML code but just a wild guess.
I have tried on 2 different computers and get the same.
Its probably me and my lack of computer skills, and I apologize for that as well.
I will check back on occasion for any suggestions.
Again, forgive me for posting this off topic question.
I gratefully thank one and all for any suggestions.
Kind Regards


Steve said...

Bob, I had the same problem. I added the RSS Subscription Extension to my Chrome browser, and that solved it.

Michael Ridgway said...

I suggest that modern science is stripping spirituality of the reassurance that it once gave us and is ultimately doing spirituality a good service in doing so because the greatest spirituality and in fact the only real spiritual reality wich is Self Realisation does not contain one speck of reassurance.

Reassurance comes from the need of the outwardly projected mind for self preservation and when it hears of the Self, it thinks Oh good this is something that will give me continuity after death. However this "me" that wants the security is what has to go!

Continuity after death is a fabrication of the mind that is based on the false premise that the Self is subject to time. I.e. It is a thing that lasts. However we are told that the Self is "always new" which eliminates the possibility that it is something that could last a whole second because by the end of the second it would be something that was there at the beginning of the second and therefore "old"!

Contemporary science is about looking at reality "objectively". As the Self has no objective component it is completely unreal in that sense and will never be found looking for it in that way.

The only way descover the reality of the Self is by approaching it on its own terms which is that of pure unadulterated subjectivity. The only subjectivity that you could possibly work with is the subjectivity of yourself.

I feel this is a logical approach as why would you want to understand pure subjectivity objectively?!

So pursue this logical approach and see what happens! What is discovered is infinitely beyond anything that objective science could ever discover and is the end of all security for the ego.

Unknown said...

The discussion on the "fear of death" reminded me of a funny (but somewhat philosophical) quote I read somewhere.

Fear of death is irrational, why should you worry about something which is not going to happen in your lifetime.