Most people believe that spirituality is a question of personal faith and belief; that it does not have some universally accepted truth, which is only in the possession of empirical science. In this article, through a dialogue with my friend, I reveal how Advaita Vedanta is a spiritual science which follows the same procedure as empirical science in investigating reality: except that it goes one step higher. While empirical science demonstrates that reality is known more accurately through our mind/thought/reason rather than our senses, Advaita Vedanta shows that ultimate reality is known by an intuitive knowledge that even transcends thought. The procedure to get this intuitive knowledge is as scientific as the discoveries made in science through the exercise of thought/reason.
Dialogue with my friend on the faith vs reason in Advaita
Anurag: Suppose I go to a man who has not read science and tell him that it is not the sun that moves around the earth but the earth that moves around the sun. What would he say?
Friend: He will say how do you know?
Anurag: That would be a thinking person 🙂 A normal person would say that I am mad 🙂
Friend: Yes he would say that you are mad
Anurag: Ok. So I can’t do much with that person, right ?!
Anurag: So let’s take a thinking person now? One who is ready to ask how?
Anurag: What will you tell such a person?
Friend: I will show him some satellite pictures
Anurag: Galileo did not have satellite pictures!
Friend: I was telling with respect to modern times.
Anurag: No. Think about Galileo times. He was wanting to show the Church the same thing. The church showed him guillotine….a machine for torture 🙂
Friend: Yes he didn’t succeed
Anurag: Right. So put yourself in his place. Suppose someone is interested to listen to you. What would you do?
Friend: I will share with him the process/experiment by which I reached my conclusion that the earth goes around the sun
Anurag: Which means you will teach him science. Right?
Anurag: Right. More simply….a system of logic. Right?
Friend: Yes. Proven logic
Anurag: Because you can’t show him the earth moving around the sun in any way. Now let’s say, you share your logic. Let’s say he understands that logic absolutely. Will he see the earth moving around the sun?
Anurag: Huh ?!! Will he physically see this??!
Friend: I mean he won’t see it physically, but will understand the concept
Anurag: So even after understanding the logic, he will see the sun moving around the earth. Right? I mean don’t you see the sun rising in the East and setting in the West every day.
Friend: Yes, he will still see the sun rising and setting down
Anurag: 👍 So your senses are deluding you, right?
Friend: Yes, but that’s the fact for the senses because of their limited capabilities
Anurag: Right. So senses cannot perceive reality. Even after the reality is perceived through thought, the senses still register the same delusion. Right?
Anurag: Okay. Next step!
Anurag: Thought is higher than senses because they show a reality which senses can’t see. Right?
Friend: They understand the logic, but they cannot override thought because of lack of proof.
Anurag: But what thought showed was the fact. Isn’t it? A satellite video proves it even to the senses. Right?
Anurag: So thought has enormous scientific power. Albert Einstein’s theory predicted black holes. The theory came first, the phenomena was discovered and the theory proved much later. Right?
Friend: But it gets completely digested only when it’s certified by senses, there is a possibility of going wrong as well
Anurag: Not at all. Maths is absolutely thought. No sense there. That is why Plato wrote on the door of his academy of philosophy….let no one who does not know geometry enter these gates.
Anurag: Thought has the power of inference by which it can deduct the truth of phenomena.
Anurag: For example, if there is smoke seen at a distance, there has to be fire.
Anurag: Right, this is a very important discovery for you. This is all part of Advaita.
Anurag: Now science books tell you that earth goes round the sun. Do they ask you to just believe them?
Friend: They tell their research
Anurag: Did you believe their research?
Friend: No I tried to understand the research by asking doubts and seeking clarifications
Anurag: Good. That means you use the system of logic of thought. Right?
Anurag: So you can get a total conviction in thought even when senses are showing something opposite to logic. Right?
Friend: Yes. But still I will have a doubt as to why the senses are showing something different from what though/logic is showing
Anurag: I took a little complex case. The same can be seen in many common daily life situations: that our senses show something but thought corrects them.
Anurag: Take the situation of a pencil dipped in a glass jar of water and appearing bent. Is it actually bent?
Friend: No it’s not, but my point is that the senses are not wrong, they are limited and that thought is capable of going above them. Senses are actually seeing a bent pencil, because of their limitations of seeing
Anurag: Senses are showing a bent pencil. In this case, they are completely wrong. Right? Seeing and senses are same. I mean one sees through senses gross objects.
Friend: Yes, but thought is more capable because it can see through logic but senses can’t so they are limited.
Anurag: Good. In Advaita, the mind is the internal sense organ. Please bear this in mind. This will prove to be the most fundamental discovery for you. The whole of Advaita is based on this, which is nothing but pure science.
Friend: You mean “Thought is more capable” On this point.
Anurag: To know reality more deeply than the senses. Yes. Now just as we looked at the senses, we can examine thought to see whether it has got limitations in examining reality. Right?
Friend: Yes. But I have a question
Anurag: Good. Go ahead!
Friend: When an infant is born, all it learns is through senses, then at what level thought takes over and how? Because if the body is totally run by senses then thought should be limited to the senses.
Anurag: Infant also has thought. Even animals do. There is a difference between brain and mind. Thoughts are in the mind. The brain is matter. Thoughts and mind are subtler than matter. No instrument can see thought. Senses don’t see thought. Though senses can see the brain. Now we step into the second step of the ladder of Advaita 🙂
Friend: I am trying to understand what could be the reason for thoughts, but this is also thought and in this investigation, it becomes like I am the murderer and investigator as well 🤔
Anurag: Right. So don’t jump ahead of the discussion. Let me lead you. You have a qualified teacher in front of you
Friend: I didn’t know that my question was jumping ahead
Anurag: Oh ! I was just saying it lightly. On a serious note, I meant you are missing many steps in between. And without these steps, you will get caught up.
Anurag: So. Let’s get back to where I left. Okay? Just as we saw the limitations of senses, we shall see that thought too is limited. And just as we get absolute surety through thought about reality even though our senses are showing something different. In the same way, we possess a faculty in us, which is higher than thought and this faculty can show with absolute surety the nature of ultimate reality which is beyond thought and which thought cannot show. Did you get this?
Friend: Got this theoretically, but there you showed me through the example of a bent pencil in water
Anurag: Yes, thought knows that pencil is not actually bent even though senses are showing them. In the same way, there is a faculty higher than thought which shall show us with no shadow of doubt, that thought is not showing us the true reality.
Anurag: This faculty is called in Advaita – Buddhi (Sharpened Intellect/Intuition) which is higher than thought. Even in common life, don’t we get an intuition which goes opposite to thought? But is proved right!
Friend: Yes but most of the time thought wins
Anurag: Because we do not have a sharpened Buddhi due to our attachment to thought. It’s just like someone not able to solve a maths problem because of the lack of sharpening of mind. Students want to see TV rather than do maths 🙂
Friend: Got it
Anurag: Right, the Buddhi is the Vigyanmaya Kosha. This is where the intuition of Self takes place and results in liberation. Got it!
Friend: How will I get this now, I don’t have that intuition right now.
Anurag: Do you just get the logic part of it? The logic of liberation in Advaita.
Anurag: Good. Now after you come to know the logic of how the earth moves around the sun do you keep bothering and checking the science book which showed you the logic, or you just forget that book as you are sure and no longer need that science book. Or do you keep your elementary maths books which showed you how 2×2 = 4
Friend: No we no longer need the book
Anurag: Fine. In the same way, whatever the Upanishads say, you won’t bother about them…..after you have seen the truth because what you would have seen would be beyond all doubt in your own experience. Get it?
“To the knower of Brahman, the Vedas are of just as much use as to a tank of water flooded with water from all sides” – Bhagavad Gita.
Any doubts in the logic of all this?
Friend: But what if I am not able to understand the logic of the Upanishads
Anurag: That is the work of the teacher and the effort of the student – Shravana, Manana, Nidhidhyasana. These are the tools to sharpen the intellect to get the final intuition. But I hope this removes all your doubts about whether Upanishads have truth in them or not etc. You will understand them faster and better if you go with the faith and confidence that they are leading you to the truth. Which is what I was working for in this whole dialogue. In order to know that the earth moves around the sun, you have to first put faith in the teachings of science. But ultimately science, if you have studied it sincerely, will give you a surety beyond all faith. Get it?
Friend: Yes, but by faith, what I understand is that whatever you say I have to follow without questioning. But that’s, not the way I understand, I question and doubt
Anurag: Why did you decide to read anything on science or technology it in the first place?
Friend: Because I have trust in technology. Also because I don’t need to follow anyone blindly, I can question it.
Anurag: Right. Now, did I say that you must put faith in me? I am saying faith in science…..in the teachings…., not me!
Friend: Yes I got it
Anurag: Good. Regarding questioning. The whole methodology is about that only… Manan (Reflection/Dialogue), after Shravana (Reading). You have to first study the teachings and then ask questions to clarify all your doubts. As a teacher, I welcome questioning related to the science of Advaita.
Friend: That is why got ready to get into studying Advaita
Anurag: So read confidently with the faith that Upanishads shall lead you to the truth which will be made sure by your own experience, not just because Upanishads are saying something. The Bhagavad Gita quote shows that Upanishads/Vedas are useless once you see the truth through your intuitive experience. Got it.
Anurag: This was yes or what?!
Friend: How do you get faith without reading it? it’s like if I have to cross a river, I need to know if the boat is working for me. It may have worked for others, but I have to trust the logic that only this boat can make me cross the river and not some crocodile or anything… 🙂
Anurag: So do you have other choices available?
Anurag: 🙂 When you are choiceless, you are free of all confusion. So from where does the crocodile as a source for crossing the river come into the picture.
Friend: I hat tried all ways, like Buddhism and Jainism. I got ready to study Advaita with you because you said that you got to know the ultimate truth of Self and after reading your article on Turiya – Turiya : The Fourth State of Consciousness & End of Suffering
Anurag: Advaita takes you to a reality beyond all phenomena, space, time and thought. Do you see anything further than this? Advaita is the only non-dual path. Both the other reasons you have given are very good to get into Advaita. Now take this dialogue and seal the last doubt about the teachings. That this is the only boat and nothink like a crocodile to take you to non-duality. There are other boats to other shores of duality like Buddhism, Jainism etc.
Friend: How does faith help?
Anurag: Now forget it 🙂
Anurag: I did the work that I intended for you 🙂
Anurag: Browse through module 7 of the basic Vedanta course I sent you.
Friend: I asked this question because I wanted to see what is the difference between my mother’s faith in God and this faith in Advaita teachings.
Anurag: Your faith is not out of fear but out of a desire to know the truth. When you begin science, you can only begin in faith. There is no other way! The difference between your mother’s faith in God and your faith in Advaita is that your Mother’s faith will forever keep her tied to duality and fear, but your faith will be converted to your own surety and the teachings will destruct themselves.
Friend: thanks got it
Friend: From now onwards my full focus will be on this (Advaita). I will pack up other books
Anurag: 👏 Brilliant.
Anurag: I forgot to add. In your mother’s faith, she and God forever remain separate and therefore there is a permanent duality. But what does Advaita show you ultimately – it shows that Truth is who you actually are. Truth and You are not separate. Tat Tvam Asi. YOU ARE TRUTH. This is non-duality.