Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Fri Sep 4 16:50:41 CDT 1998

On Mon, 31 Aug 1998, nanda chandran wrote:

> The word "Consciousness" is a much used term in discussions on Advaita
> Vedanta. It's generally said that when the mind and it's adjuncts are
> supressed all that's left is pure consciousness. Further sometimes even
> Brahman is described in terms of consciousness. Personally I think the
> word is very misleading and not quite the way to describe the state
> beyond. Let me explain.

The word is misleading but that's because it is a very imperfect
translation as Shrinivas pointed out.  "Pure" consciousness is pragna
or chit.

> Consciousness in it's elementary sense involves two entities - a subject
> and an object. We're conscious of somebody behind us. We are conscious
> of the tree before us.  So the We or the I is the subject, which is
> conscious of an object that is somebody behind or the tree. Even whenwe
> meditate, most people meditate on something - an ishta deivata or some
> object like the flame of a candle etc Here, our mind or even better We
> are the subject and the object of meditation is the object. So
> definitely there's consciousness involved.

This may be true of ordinary waking consciousness but What about dreams?
What about the phantom consiousness of a limb that amputees feel?  In each
of these cases the subject-object distinction breaks down.

> Vasubandhu in his Trimsatika states that the Ego, mind, consciousness
> and the intellect are but words referring to the same entity.

One huge difference between Buddhists and Advaitins is that we believe
consciousness is continuous while for Vasubandhu et al. consciousness is
kshanika or momentary.  This is because they equate it with what we call

Then how can you say "this man is the man I met a few years ago"?  (That
example is from Sureshvaracharya's Brhadaranyakopanishadbhshyavartika
btw.)  An opponent could say that implies the existence of memory not
consciousness and that memory is an attribute of the ahamkar.

But then how do you explain how instincts are possible?  If I tap my funny
bone or blink my eyelids obviously there is some kind of consciousness
going on but can you say there is ego?  Do I "remember" to blink each time.

Advaita Vedanta explains these phenomena as being due to an underlying
consciousness.  When that consciousness is broken down into subject and
object, then it is ahamkar.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at>

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