The paradox of body and the mind

“For the sake of clarity, one might speak of a tradition of dualism in Hindu spirituality involving matter and spirit, with both body and mind falling on the side of matter, and wit the principle of consciousness conforming to the spirit. Advaita Vedanta adds a further wrinkle to this picture by proposing that the principle of consciousness involved here is a universal principle of consciousness, which only appears individuated on account of its association with a specific body-mind complex. In Sankhya, by contrast, we appear as separate individuals because we really possess distinct bodies and apparently distinct souls………..

………….. We are not conscious of our mind in deep sleep, but on waking up we regain mental consciousness. ….What is more, we even lose consciousness of the body both while we are dreaming and in deep sleep, just as we lose awareness of the mind in deep sleep. Thus both bodily and mental consciousness appear to be subjects of self-consciousness……………

…………. Advaita Vedanta uses simple analogies to illustrate how this could happen. When we look into the mirror an image of us appears in front of us. And if there was more than one reflecting medium, more images would appear. In fact the number of our images  which appear will depend on the number of reflecting media. The fact is also worth considering that although they will all be our reflections, these reflections could still differ from us in significant ways, depending on the nature of the reflecting media…………

………….. The analogy can be further developed in a way which might be helpful in spiritual practice……………

……….. An illustration will help to convey this state of affairs graphically. It is as if the moon was reflected in a lake choppy with wind. The single orb of the moon would then appear shattered into a thousand pieces. IN fact all that we would see are these numerous shining pieces, with their number changing all the time so that we wouldn’t even be able to count the number of such pieces……..

………….If we do not already know that that we were witnessing are the broken parts of a single reflection as fragmented on the surface of a choppy lake, we are not likely to draw this conclusion merely by looking at the shining, floating spots of light on the surface of the lake. This will only become obvious once the wind subsides and the waters have become completely still. The slightest movement in the reflecting medium of the water will destroy the unity of the reflected image of a single moon. Now it becomes clear why almost all spiritual practices emphasize the need for stilling the mind. How difficult the task might turn out to be can be imagined by meditating further on the imagery of the reflection in the lake. Not only can the surface of the lake be disturbed by changes in the environment it is in, as for instance by wind blowing on it or drops of rain falling upon it; disturbances could also arise by what goes on upon the surface………

……….To some the achievement of this stillness might seem the end of spiritual practice, but for Advaita Vedanta it is only the beginning.” (Verbatim extracts from pages 54 to 60 of ‘A guide to Hindu spirituality’ by (Prof.) Shri. Arvind Sharma, Vision Books, 2006).

This blog post has been in the making for several months. Somehow, I managed to complete it today. Thank God.