Francis, Chris pointed me in your direction, and suggested I ask some of my questions to you. I honestly don’t know what, or how, to ask because I have heard, and learned so much about Advaita that I already know what the answers will be. It’s unfortunate, I know, and I’m extremely frustrated with it. I’ve looked within, and asked reapeatedly, “Who, or what am I?”, and it stops within my mind, meaning that, as far back as I can trace myself, I seem to be in the mind… looking outward. I cannot grasp the concept that the mind is contained within me, not the other way around. I understand what is said, but cannot move past this obstacle of self-limitation. Honestly, I feel trapped, and I want there to be something I can do to get out, but everywhere I look, I’m told there is nowhere to go and nothing to do. Any advice you have would be immensely appreciated. Thank you, Mike
Forget whatever you have been told. Let’s take a fresh start.
The core of your question is: “I cannot grasp the concept that the mind is contained within me,”. We need to clarify the meaning of two words you are using : “me” and “mind”.
“me”: let’s define “I”, or “me”, or “consciousness”, or “awareness” as that, whatever that is, which is seeing these words right now and understands them.
“mind”: let’s define “mind” as the set of all of your perceptions: thoughts, memories, dreams, sensations in the body, feelings, external sense perceptions your “human experience” is made of.
It follows from these definitions that the reality of mind is the experience of perceptions of all kinds, “mentations” appearing in awareness. These mentations have no other place to exist in than the consciousness in which they appear. We are absolutely certain that there is an element of reality attached to them, since we experience them. However each of these mentations could in and by itself be an illusion, as evidenced in the case of our dreams which reveal their illusory quality as we wake up. Since each of them taken separately could be an illusion, their reality must be the awareness in which they appear. The mind is contained within me as awareness, and I am the ultimate reality of the mind.
A few additional remarks for the philosophically enclined:
A clear distinction has to be made between mind and brain. Brain is an organ belonging to the physical universe, made of particles dancing together the refined choreography of this human body. Mind is an experience. It doesn’t belong to the physical universe, therefore it doesn’t belong to the body or to the brain, although there is a correlation between mind and brain. This correlation which is established by numerous experiments in neuroscience is incompatible with the dualistic, Cartesian view which sees mind and matter as two separate realities. The materialist view according to which mind and consciousness would “emerge” from the brain, and therefore from matter on the one hand denies reality to the experience of consciousness -an experience the reality of which we are certain of beyond the shadow of a doubt, and on the other hand leaves open the question of the reality of matter. The idealist view according to which world, body and brain would be mere thoughts appearing in a human mind is childishly anthropocentric and solipsistic if it denies the reality of other minds and, if it doesn’t, leaves open the question of the ultimate reality that encompasses all the minds and connects them. The nondualist view is flawless: if there is only one reality, the reality of our experience, consciousness, must be this reality, and therefore be universal, infinite and beyond space and time. If we investigate whether it is possible for consciousnes to be universal rather than personal, we will be surprised to discover that there is in fact not a single piece of evidence that precludes this possibility.
At that stage we are left with a view of the world, mind and consciousness which is simple and free from paradoxes, doesn’t conflict with modern science, and which is in accordance with the totality of our experience. Does this make it true? Certainly not. This view is also at odds with the dualist belief systems currently prevalent in most cultures, religions and philosophies. Does this make it false? Certainly not, for Truthland is not a democracy where truth gets decided in the voting booths. What then? How do we decide the truth of non-duality? What can we do? It may seem at that stage that we have run out of resources and that our investigation cannot go any further. And that is true of the intellectual, theoretical aspect of it: we have reached the end of that street. However there is a new, infinitely rich and promising direction our investigation can take, the experimental path. If it is true that consciousness is the reality of the universe, which restores love, intelligence and beauty at the core of it, there must be numerous implications, many of which can be experimentally tested. The outcome of these tests may not be phenomenal in nature, or, if it is, it may be subject to several divergent interpretations or it may not meet the scientific thresholds of repeatability or of verification by independent observers. However, it may have an absolute convincing power similar in that sense to the inner experience of being conscious, an experience which cannot be in anyway scientifically validated and has nevertheless absolute convincing strength. Let’s take as an example our social interactions. It may make a difference whether, in our relations with a fellow human being:
we believe to be a separate consciousness interacting with another equally separate consciousness, or
we are truly open to the possibility that we are universal presence interacting with itself, talking to itself, listening to itself, understanding itself.
We may as a result observe different outcomes, both at the phenomenal and at the non-phenomenal levels, depending on the stand we take (1 or 2). We may notice that in order to conduct this type of experiment there is a prerequisite: we must be genuinely convinced of the possibility of the non dual hypothesis. Many other similar experiments can be designed regarding our connexion with the world and its events, with the body and its sensations, the decisions we take, the way we think, feel perceive, etc…In fact every moment of our life can be envisioned as such an experiment. Just as the physicist, by conducting experiments, establishes a dialogue with nature, asking questions and awaiting outcomes (nature’s answers), we may open a similar dialogue with absolute Reality itself, provided we are open to that possibility. Reality is waiting.