It seems like meditation is about emptying the mind.  But the mind can never be emptied.  It is like trying to empty a lake with a teaspoon.  It is when we realize that all of our thoughts are meaningless and have nothing to do with enlightenment or liberation that limitlessness shows itself.


The limitlessness that we wake up to exists when our mind is full as much as when our mind is empty.  So meditation, or Zen, is really about the realization, and the constant reminder that oneness or limitlessness or just being always exists and exists within everything

Sattva things are sweet

In Samkhya there is a unique relationship of the self to its environment.  What we know as our ordinary self is a mixture of a pure form of self with an intuitive self that creates our ego who in turn is responsible for perception and who allows for the experience of the physical and psychical world.

The nature of the pure self is to be isolated from its environment and to only observe the unmanifest form of its environment.  This is what we strive for.  This pure self is release from suffering.  But because of an unexplainable attraction of the unmanifest environment to the pure self, there comes the union of the observer with its environment.

The relationship of this ordinary/mixed self to its environment has three qualities.  These are the gunas similar to the gunas of the Bhagavadgita, but are more specific subjective qualities.  Guna means thread or strand, and possibly the three gunas make up the fabric of the universe.  But more importantly to Samkhya, these strands represent a quality to be experienced.  They are pleasure, pain, and indifference; sattva, rajas, and tamas.

We get pleasure from understanding the nature of things, or from putting sugar in our tea.  We experience pain from hunger and disease.  We are indifferent to ignorance and to children’s games.

It would seem that indifference toward the physical and psychical world would lead to salvation from it.  But Samkhya teaches the nature of the true self is without gunas, and therefore beyond the experience of indifference.

So if we can, through meditation, transcend the gunas of Samkhya, we will find the isolated observer who experiences no pleasure, pain or indifference.

Understanding Samkhya

After my last post, becoming somewhat disillusioned by Advaita, I’ve been studying one of its rival schools of thought, Samkhya.  

In an attempt to understand this philosophy I’ve written a short summary of what I’ve learned so far.  I hope you enjoy.


Understanding Samkhya

One of the great systems of Indian philosophy that has been overlooked by so many of our western “perennial” thinkers is the system of reason or Samkhya.  Perhaps one reason for it’s demise is it’s archaic reduction of the universe into 25 essences or tattvas.  On first glance it would seem the Samkhya system is interested primarily in enumerating an objective system of what the universe consists of.  But when looked at closer, we find that at the heart of Samkhya there is a purely subjective philosophy that has only to do with the relationship of man to spirit and his release from suffering.


Although dualist in nature, the Samkhya philosophy assumes three ultimate principles:  the un-manfest root nature, the non-conscious manifest body/mind/world, and the conscious witnessing spirit.  All of this that we see, hear, touch, taste, smell, perceive, is the manifest world, and is evolved from its un-manifest root form.  It is not an illusion.  Consciousness, which is our sense of being alive, is separate and unrelated to this world and our perception of it.  Through lack of knowledge, consciousness seems to combine with the manifest to create the determination of our intellect and the unique sense of who we are.  This intermingling of consciousness and non-conscious being is the result of misapprehension.  Therefore through our own intellect we come to the realization that any and every action requires a conscious observer, and this isolated witness becomes our salvation from the suffering of this world.

a flaw in the theory of superimposition

The premise is this:  humans suffer.  No amount of food or technology will ever alleviate this condition.  Human suffering cannot be eliminated by physical means, so we look toward the spiritual idea of eternal happiness or infinite bliss.  The tradition of Advaita Vedanta says that the perception of the physical world is due to misapprehension (avidya), and once we gain knowledge of Brahman (infinite bliss) we no longer see the physical world; the physical world never existed and we have have always been free from suffering.

As I have argued in the past, if something is to be infinite it cannot be finite and therefore the physical world cannot exist.  Adi Shankara’s theory of superimposition deals with this apparent contradiction between the finite and the infinite.  Shankara compares our perception of the physical world to a snake that is seen in the darkness of night.  Once light illuminates the object, it is found the snake was only a rope or a stick on the ground.  Once we know the infinite Brahman we realize our misperception of the finite, physical world.

The problem is, knowledge of the illusion of the physical world requires the physical mind.  How can something that is used to point out its own non-existence not exist?  Is it possible to believe this chair does not exist without the mind?  Once the mind exists the chair exists.  The very concept of superimposition relies on discrimination, which is not possible without the mind.

The Mandukya Upanishad declares four parts of the Self (Atman):  the waking state, the dream state, deep sleep, and a fourth indescribable state, Turiya. Brahman is identical with these four states.  The great preceptor of Advaita, Gaudapada, postulates that the waking state is illusory in nature. He argues that objects in the dream state seem real to the dreamer but are not.  If what we perceive in dream is false, then what we perceive in the waking state is also false.  Nowhere in the Upanishad, however, is it explicitly stated that the first three states are illusory.

The seventh sloka (verse) of the Mandukya Upanishad describes the fourth part of Atman, Turiya, as not conscious of the internal or external world.  Shankara calls this fourth state a “non causal, supremely real state, comparable to a rope.” In contrast, he refers to the first three states as supreme Reality’s “unreal form.”

The Mandukya doesn’t appear, in fact, to support Shankara’s contention that the first three states are unreal, and that the fourth state is the only Reality.  It simply describes the four quarters of the Self, each as valid as the other.

The question then presents itself, what are the implications to the Advaitan if the waking state is real?  The idea that the manifest physical world is an illusion does not have to be true to believe in Atman as Brahman and knowledge of Atman as the method of liberation.  Nor does it change the ultimate belief that all is one.  In fact it reinforces it.  The waking, dream, and deep sleep states are all part of the Self, and as the Mandukya begins with “All this, verily, is Brahman.  The Self is Brahman…”


Absolute being cannot speak

It is a formless energy beyond time and space.  It is not the self we think of who has a mind, senses, or emotions.   This self that perceives the world and acts in it thinks it can have a relationship to absolute being, but it cannot.  Any idea, any word, any name or form requires a knower and a known; absolute being is neither.

Therefore the thought “this is absolute being” or “that is absolute being” is misleading.  It is everywhere and everything and at the same time separate from the perceived manifest world of objects including our self.  The only way to become it is to remove any idea it is anything else but what is right here.


It sometimes seems there is an individual who has a relationship with the absolute.  The individual self realizes there is something other than himself and the manifest world around him.  He calls it pure consciousness and meditates on it, and allows this self-luminous presence to flow through him.  It is he who chooses to be a part of pure consciousness, a person who has something to do.  However, if there is any such thing as eternal or infinite, as the nature of pure consciousness surely must be, then there cannot be a relationship between the finite individual and infinite pure consciousness.

 We think of space as limitless, and we assume there are limited things within this space.  Yet if space be truly limitless those finite things must be made up of that space.  Either there is no infinite eternal existence or there is only infinite eternal existence.  If the former is true then we are bound to the ever-changing cycle of birth and rebirth.  But the field of existence that I know has no limits and therefore there must only be it.  Everything I think I am, any relationship I think I have to the phenomenal world including the phenomenal word can only be eternal infinite existence.

something to think about

I just had to share this…

“The man of the rich, emotional cast of mind whose mainspring is his love to the Lord of the universe, whose greatest pleasure is service of the Lord of his heart follows the path that leads to monism; for to him everything is his Lord, all beings, conscious or unconscious, but the Lord’s body, and he thus reaches the concept of the one noumenon.  If he shuts himself out of touch with the spiritual side of the universe and thus cannot reach the conception of Isvara, he invents the idea of nature or clothes with flesh the abstract idea of humanity and erects them as objective of his emotional outflow.  On the other hand, the  man of the stern intellectual cast of mind prefers the path of meditation, trains himself in Viveka, distinction of Self and Not-Self and reaches the dualistic interpretation of the cosmos.  He may, like the Advaiti try to explain away the Not-self as really illusory and only empirically true and thus reconcile his theory with monism, but he is a dualist all the same, for his path is one of discrimination.  Nor must we forget that after all both theories are but concepts of the mind, and not experiences of the spirit.  Before the spirit can realise itself or the devotee can realise his Lord, Manas has to be transcended and the stage of theorizing has to be passed; and when there is realization, concept-making is neither necessary nor possible.”

from “Outlines of Indian Philosophy” by P T. Srinivasa Iyengar. 1909