Screeching squirrels

Prashant Sharma psharma at BUPHY.BU.EDU
Mon Mar 23 22:11:12 CST 1998

On Mon, 23 Mar 1998, Jonathan Bricklin wrote:

> On 20 Mar 1998, Prasant Sharma wrote:
> >I resist this metaphor.  I see the brain as a transmitter.  Like a radio
> >tower.
> It is the stuff that has been put in there.
> >Location of this stuff in the brain has not been forthcoming.  The hard
> disk metaphor is
> not doing well these days.

        One can replace this picture by the following.  The brain is like
a receiver (an antenna rather) which picks up thoughts from a universal
thought sphere, something which is common to all beings.

> I still do not follow it.  If you have a reference to someone else who
> shares
> it, I will take a look.
        These are things that (when I was an undergraduate in India) I had
thought and discussed with some vedAnta scholars.  Its been more than
three years now and I can't immediately give you references to any
relevent material. Besides, I doubt if any reference would refer to this
viewpoint, as I have presented it, though they would, I believe, support

> The point of Libet's experiment was not about the brain, it was about
> consciousness.  Free will is nothing if not a subjective experience.  As
> Libet, James, Marbe, Freud, Jung, and a host of other introspective
> psychologists (not
> to mention hordes of meditators) come to realize,  subjective experience is
> less supportive of the reality of free will than is commonly supposed.
> >What I am saying is the following.  There is always a space between
> >perception and memory (this phenomenon is what I called "maya").
> >There is a space between images identified with the past and images
> >identified with the future.
> >Perception is very quick (essentially the speed of light, albeit not that
> >in vacuum), memory is much slower (reading from the hard drive takes
> >time). However, we have no abilityto put memory in the background and
> >allow these perceptions to go on in the way that they arise. The moment
> >recognition (or naming) happens, the being comes into existence.  The
> >knowledge about the past starts operating before the senses can move on to
> >anything else. Therefore I said that there is no individual without
> >"knowledge".
> I think I can follow this, but you are making more of the individual than
> is warranted by experience.  All knowledge is just a passing thought like
> all thoughts.  And much of experience does not include sense or knowledge
> of being an individual.  When the Zen Buddhist monk Fa-ch'ang was dying, a
> squirrel screeched on the roof.  'It's just this' he says, 'and nothing
> else.'"  When a sound as startling (yet unthreatening) as a squirrel
> screeching on the roof is heard, attention is one-pointed.  For a moment
> consciousness ^× all seeing, tasting, hearing, smelling, touching, thinking,
> imaging, all *feeling* ^× is reduced to the experience of that screech.  If,
> say, you were watching TV when the squirrel screeched, you could not
> describe the TV image that coincided with its onset.  Likewise, when you
> bite into a particularly rich piece of chocolate you lose the sensation of
> how the chocolate feels in your hand;  when you see a shooting star, you
> stop hearing the crickets;  and when the answer to a question you have been
> puzzling over for weeks suddenly bursts into consciousness, you lose
> complete contact with all external sensations.

>         Most of the time our consciousness has no such exclusive point of focus.
> The blissful feeling of one-pointed consciousness contrasts sharply with
> the mild disturbance (from the Latin word "turba" meaning "mob") of
> ordinary consciousness. No matter what we are conscious of, there is also,
> as William James says, a "staining, fringe, or halo of obscurely felt
> relation to masses of other imagery."  By contrast, in the whole mind of
> mystical consciousness this fringe drops away.  Everything that arises to
> consciousness commands undivided attention upon arrival and then vanishes
> as the next point of focus arrives.  Whatever "I" am conscious of, "I" am
> conscious of fully.  As in the consciousness of the screech of the
> squirrel, there is no residue, no feeling of self inhabiting the moment.

        However, one still remembers the build up to these events as "I
heard the squirrel screech". The "I"  continues because of the fact that
the build up to (as well as the aftermath of) the event was recorded in
the memory.  Infact one has to be told by someone whose senses didnot
react so violently (or he can infer from previous experiences) that a
squirrel screeched. Thus the peak  of the act is also captured by
the memory through the "thought sphere" and has imparted continuity to the
"I". Infact if the chocolate (to use your other example) tastes good to
this person he will endeavour to repeat the experience, further
strengthening the "I" (and this shall be an act of will!).

>         One-pointed whole mind moments are far more common than we may realize.
> Not only does the sense of "I" not accompany all states of consciousness,
> it continually flickers in and out ^× a flickering that happens so rapidly
> as to barely register in consciousness.  It flickers out, for example, when
> there is a flash of red color outside the window;  it flickers back in when
> the flash of red color "becomes" a cardinal.  Like the screech of the
> squirrel, the redness, when it first appears, is undefined, unconnected to
> anything else, unpositioned, without context;  and if attention is without
> definition, position, or context the sense of "I" is without definition,
> position or context, which is another way of saying it is no sense of "I"
> at all.  Is it an "I" that turns the red flash into a cardinal or does the
> name "cardinal," along with all other names and words, turn a
> non-positioned, non-contexualized consciousness into an I?  At any rate,
> what you are calling the individual is not to be confused with some abiding
> substance on an analogy with the body.  It alights, flies away, and
> alights,  just like the cardinal.
        The moments the "I" is not there, no "knowledge" is
there.  There is no sense of time associated with these moments.  Whatever
knows, is the "I" and all knowledge gives it continuity.

> >...there is NO special "knowledge" that any realized person has or can
> >have.
> When Ramakrishna  says:
> "A man becomes liberated even in this life when he knows that God is the
> Doer of all things...Not even a leaf moves except by God's will.  Where is
> man's free will?  All are under God's will.  Therefore I say, "O Mother, I
> am the machine and Thou art the Operator;  I am the chariot and Thou art
> the Driver.  I move as Thou movest me;  I do as Thou makest me do".
> I think he *is* in possession of and imparting special knowledge.  He's
> telling you the snake "I" is a rope.

        First of all note that RAmakrishna Paramhansa says that "A man
becomes liberated ... when he knows that God is the doer of all
things...".  The point that I am trying to make is, that along with the
dissolution of free will the "I" also goes, the two things (the "I" and
free will) go hand in hand, very much in line with his gospel. However,
what you are saying is that (if I correctly understand you) free will is
some kind of an add-on to the "I" which can be swept away for good by
some  arguments, with the "I" remaining albeit in some weaker form. This
is what I disagree with.
        Second, about the statement that "there is no special knowledge
that a realized being possesses". What I mean by this is that, since
knowledge belongs to the entirety of mankind no
one person can possess it. Moreover, possession of knowledge (even in the
ordinary sense) doesnot lead to any change in the way a man functions. A
realized being need not have any more knowledge on any issue than any
other person. He may be a philosopher *and* a "jnani", but while the
former may imply his success as a teacher, it is the latter which gives
him the stature of a "jnani"-- the "param pad".
More directly put it (knowledge, acquired or possessed) can't do anything
to dissolve the "I" and thus lead to "moksha". Finally, the word
"knowledge", at least the way in which I have used it, is not at all the
same as "jnana".

Best Regards,

>From  Tue Mar 24 08:11:43 1998
Message-Id: <TUE.24.MAR.1998.081143.0500.>
Date: Tue, 24 Mar 1998 08:11:43 -0500
Reply-To: chandran at
To: "Advaita (non-duality) with reverence" <ADVAITA-L at TAMU.EDU>
From: Ram Chandran <chandran at TIDALWAVE.NET>
Organization: Personal
Subject: Advaita and KevalAdvaita
Comments: To: Advaita List <Advaita-L at>
Comments: cc: Vivek Anand Ganesan <v_ganesan at YAHOO.COM>
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit

Greetings Vivek:

On belhaf of the members of the list, let me welcome you from the bottom
of our hearts.  My answers below may not be complete and you will get
answers from more knowledgeable from our group.  Wish you all the best
in pursuit of TRUTH. Your name Vivek Anand Ganeshan contains the entire
vedanta philosophy in a nutshell!

The philosophy of kevaladvaita is exclusive monism and the followers are
called Mayavadis.  The Mayavadis are Krishna worshipers and they believe
that kevaladvaita philosophy represents  the pure understanding of
Vedanta-sutra.  They also believe that Krsna has a body made of material
elements and that the activities of loving service to Krsna are
sentimentality.  They are known as Mayavadis because according to their
opinion Krsna has a body which is made of mAyA, and the loving service
of the Lord executed by devotees is also mAyA.  They consider such
devotional service to be an aspect of fruitier activities (karma-kanda).
According to their view, Bhakti consists of mental speculation or
sometimes meditation.  This is the difference between the Mayavadi and
Vaisnava philosophies.

Mayavadi sannyasis accept that the commentary by Sri Sankacarya known as
Sarirakabhasya gives the real meaning of Vedanta-sutra.  In other words,
Mayavadi sannyasis accept the meaning expressed in the explanations of
Vedanta-sutra, the Upanishads and all such Vedic literatures in their
own impersonal way.  The great Mayavadi Sanyasi Sadananda Yogindra in
his book, "Vedanta Sara" elaborates the Sariraka-bhasya commentary of
Sri Sankacarya.  There are other Vedanta commentaries written by
Vaisnava acaryas, none of whom follow Sri Sankaracarya or accept the
imaginative commentary of his school.  Their commentaries are based on
the philosophy of duality.

 I haven't come across the term, "VishhuddhAdvaita." It is possible that
it is misspelled then it is Vishistadvaita.   Shri Ramanujacharya is the
proponent of the qualified monism, Vishistadvaita philosophy. The most
important Vedanta schools are: (1) Advaita of Sri Sankara, (2)
Vishistadvaita of Sri Ramanuja, (3) Dvaita of Sri Madhva.  In addition,
there are other less known Vedanta schools that include:  (1)
Dvaita-Advaita of Sri Nimbarka, (2) Suddha-Advaita of Sri Vallabha, (3)
Acintya-Bhedabhed of  Sri Chaitanya and (4)Sri Ramakrishna's school also
known as Neo-Advaita.

Ram Chandran
9374 Peter Roy Ct.
Burke, VA 22015
Ph: 703-912-5790

More information about the Advaita-l mailing list