Continuing the discussion on nonduality and the experience of pain, is an
article by Ramesman Vemuri.
For other Highlights issues covering this topic, visit
AMELIORATION OF AFFLICTION AND
by Ramesam Vemuri.
(Adopted from my talk on 2 March 2009 at Osmania University, Hyderabad,
Eradication of Sorrow and Advaita:
At some stage or other, every sensible man faces the fundamental questions
Who am I? What is this world around? How did it come
Many ancient Indian Advaitic texts start off the process of Self-inquiry
with these fundamental questions (e.g. Aparokshanubhuti, verse 12). It is
also usually presented in those texts that suffering and pain are the primary
causes for such an enquiry (e.g. Bhagavad-Gita takes off with the scene of the
psychological pain and despondency of Arjun to whom Lord Krishna teaches
Self-knowledge. Gautam Buddhas Four-fold Path too emphasizes the need to
understand the existence and nuances of sorrow).
A direct answer to the fundamental questions raised at the beginning gets
thus deflected towards finding ways and means of redemption of sorrow, pain,
suffering or misery in the worldly life (e.g. Vivekachudamani (Verses
The most common import of all Upanishads is to point out the highest human
goal to be the realization of Oneness (Advaita) of self and
Brahman. Sankara (vide his Commentary on the 4th Sutra, first pada
of first adhyaya of Brahma Sutras (tattu samanvayAt)) says that this realization
becomes an accomplished fact when there is a total Eradication of
A sense of self is just an artifact. We acquired self as a useful
tool in evolution in order to help us in the protection and preservation of the
body organism. If me vs. other separation is absent, this body will not
know whether it is feeding this mouth or the dog there when this body is feeling
hungry, needs energy input.
So the sense of self gives us a separate identity.
The identity provides:
continuity in time,
a coherence to my experiences,
ownership for my possessions including my limbs and body and
doership for my actions.
Our sense of self emanates from our perceptions.
We all experience our body to be part of ourselves. It is a
fundamental aspect of self awareness. How strong is your internal image
of your own self? This can be found out by a small experiment (known as
Rubber hand illusion). Seat yourself in a chair. Place a rubber
hand in your front near to the real hand. Conceal the real hand behind a
cardboard screen. Ask your friend to brush the real hand and the rubber
hand at the same time. In about 10 12 secs you feel the rubber hand is
yours. On the top of it your brain begins to disown your own real
hand. The temperature in the real hand drops down!
Such a perceptual phenomenon does not happen just for a limb. It can
happen to your entire body. Swedish scientists proved two months ago that
healthy volunteers could indeed experience other people's bodies as their own
through manipulation of their perceptions. A sort of parakaya pravesha you
Suppose you dont get any sensory input at all. Then you cannot even
think you have a body. It happens to you all the time in your deep
Dr. Goldberg of Israel showed that we might lose our sense of self
completely under some conditions of threat for survival.
Lesions in brain may make a patient deny part of his own body like a lady
who described a paralyzed hand lying beside her as not hers. This is known
as anasognosia. Some persons under certain pathological conditions do not
perceive their own bodies. So they claim that they are dead because they
do not have a body. This is known as Cotards
It is obvious from these examples that your sense of self or I is not a
firm entity and gets altered easily.
There is no identifiable entity we can call self or a spot for self in
the brain. There is no You in your head. self is a post facto
construct after the event, language dependent and is the result of confabulation
by the left temporal lobe. Our concept of self is a fiction.
Perception Reality Disconnect:
What the brain creates in our head is a map of what it perceives. It
is not a replica of what exactly is out there around. What we can infer
today from Neuroscience is that our detector apparatus (comprising our senses
and mind) is defective or inadequate to know exactly what is there around.
Our perceptory and cognitive capabilities evolved mainly for the limited purpose
of protecting and preserving the body organism.
There is an obvious disconnect between reality out there and the map in our
Advaita tells us that our perception of the world around is an illusion and
our sense of self or I-consciousness is a fallacious non-entity
(aabhaasa). That is what exactly what Neuroscience too tells us.
Our thoughts constitute our mind. It is not made up of any
unintelligible diaphanous, mindstuff. We could detect and record
thoughts as the electrical waves generated by our brain. We are able to
harness those energy waves to do work for us. Paraplegics can move their
wheel chairs just by their thoughts. Mattel is bringing out even Toys this
year exploiting this principle.
Majority of Neuroscientists do not think mind is a separate entity from
brain. Of course, there are a few of them talking about substance dualism,
but that is certainly a dwindling minority.
Mind has been identified as the principal reason for happiness or
unhappiness in man.
Vedanta laid considerable attention to one of our minds trait which may be
called Objectification. Mind cannot grasp or understand any
observation, any percept, made by the senses unless it positions itself aloof as
a distinct observer, as a separate entity, from what is observed. This
basic lacuna of the mind gives an impression that mind has a separate and
individual existence of its own having I-consciousness as its center.
Vedanta tenaciously makes an effort to point out this limitation and strives to
Religion, however, welcomed and took advantage of a related weakness of the
mind which is complementary to the quality of individuation i.e.
separation. While the tendency to objectify can be called as
Reification, the second quality can be termed as Deification.
Reification and Deification can be viewed as the fallouts of the universal
survival mechanism of fight or flight that all living creatures have acquired
from the very beginning of evolution of life on earth.
Let me explain this a bit.
In the face of a threat or danger, my mind has to assess whether I can
fight it out or should run away from the threatening situation. This
assessment does require the perceived thing to be assessed as a distinct object
separate from me in order to measure my own ability in controlling the
threat. If I am unable to stand up to the threat, the obvious
thing to do for me is to take flight to save my skin. Suppose I have
become so weak-kneed or have developed cold-feet even to run, what is to be
done? The best thing then to do for my own safety is to play possum.
A more modern and cleverer way of doing it is to surrender.
Man being so frail and weak in facing the natural hazards or wild
creatures, he began to surrender to the natural forces by worshipping them, by
deifying them. So to reify or deify is the mantra that our mind has
learnt as the modified form of the natural mechanism of fight or flight
syndrome in the game of survival.
After all, we are using old machinery (i.e. our brain) which evolved for
some other job (survival) to a new use (abstract thinking) for which it is not
really designed. So man takes easily to religions (particularly theistic
ones) as religions excel in the art of reification and deification.
Amelioration of Affliction and Advaita
In order to be free of sorrow, Vedanta advises us to deny the claim of
ownership and doership of our perceptions and actions. The world is not
bothered by an individual who successfully denies the ownership and doership of
the sensations; nor is such an individual bothered by the world. (Yasmat
na udvijate lokah lokat na udvijate ca yah BG XII
Chandogyopanishad tells us that Happiness and sorrow do not touch one who
has become definitely unembodied (Ch.VIII. xii.1).
Since embodiedness is the result of claiming ownership and doership of
perceptions and subsequent false construct of individuation, it is established
that the enlightened man has no embodiedness even while living. The
amelioration of pain and suffering is thus brought about by ending inferred
embodiedness, or the imaginary sufferer. The actual sorrow of the physical
body is not alleviated by Advaita. All the greatest known Jivanmuktas or
let us say their bodies, did suffer ghastly diseases, they aged and
John Wheeler in his 2007 book You Were Never Born was very categorical
about what sort of pain can be avoided by Advaita. While physical pain and
sorrow are admittedly unavoidable in the relative world, 'advaita' can free the
individual from 'psychological suffering'. Psychological suffering for
him is emotional turbulence, doubts, worries, fears, concern about myself,
what people think of me, the feeling of being a separate individual etc. (p:
245). The key is about one's shifting the focus from a memory-based fictitious
persona of autobiographical 'self' to that very 'awareness' which
'awares' (for lack of a better word) within oneself (see my Book Review at:
I shall discuss the Neuronal Correlates in the Brain of a Jivanmukta in my
next blog entry.