Continuing from yesterday – is it possible to prove that non-empiric reality exists? It might not be possible to prove it empirically but I only need a proof of concept for now. Let the atheists agree to the strong possibility that it exists and that there are methods of attaining it. It all has to be done on the examples of impersonalists because we can’t bring God into the picture, so vaiṣṇavism is out.
So far I enlisted help of Buddhists here in favor of advaitins for a number of practical reasons. The downside of using them is that I don’t know much about Buddhist doctrine and so can only loosely translate it into ours or into language accessible to the atheists. I don’t think it’s a big problem, though – we need to find a cross-cultural language anyway if we want to talk to people outside of our tradition.
The next step is this. Let’s say Buddhists achieve their nirvana, is it possible to prove that it is real? The main problem is that it is still a transcendental state that cannot be registered empirically so atheists would never be fully satisfied no matter what. Next best thing is to show connection between transcendental and empirical reality, the one that has always been there in our tradition but got lost as influence of Kali Yuga got stronger. There are external symptoms of a person who has achieved liberation and they must be uniform across all religious traditions.
At this point I must admit I can’t just recite a verse enumerating them one by one. There are several ślokas in Bhagavad Gīta that would fit, and there’s a whole chapter in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (11.11), so let’s start from there, these verses repeat what had been said in Bhagavad Gīta anyway.
It’s part of a conversation between Kṛṣṇa and Uddhava appropriately called Uddhava Gīta. Kṛṣṇa answers Uddhava’s questions and this chapter answers the one that I’m looking for (SB 11.10.37):
Please explain to me the symptoms by which one can tell the difference between a living entity who is eternally liberated and one who is eternally conditioned. In what various ways would they remain situated, enjoy life, eat, evacuate, lie down, sit or move about?
Note how the last sentence repeats Arjuna’s question (BG 2.54) almost word for word. In fact, Kṛṣṇa’s answers are also very similar. Come to think of it, Bhagavad Gīta’s version is even better and more to the point. Uddhava Gīta, otoh, has a bit more verses and a few more details. We, as devotees, need to remember, though, that liberation is only a preliminary stage and Kṛṣṇa spends half of the chapter describing what one should do AFTER he has become liberated, how one absolutely must engage in devotional service.
In both cases, first symptom is that liberated soul gives up all material desires. He simply observes interactions between his senses and their objects but takes no interest in them.
Afaik, that’s very similar to Buddhism – those who have attained nirvana still need to live out their karma first. That’s the stage we can use as practical examples. I believe there plenty of Buddhist monks who have visibly extinguished their material desires. The problem with them is that they also withdraw themselves from the world and those desires would come back as strong as ever if they were placed in our situation, in the midst of the civilization.
Atheists can certainly pick up on that and answering them is not going to be easy. A liberated person performs all kinds of ordinary activities but he does not see himself as a doer and he does not engage in actions because he wants something. I don’t know how we can demonstrate that, it’s just something one must experience himself. Even seeing a liberated person with one’s own eyes might not be enough because people ascribe all kinds of motivations to others and get them wrong all the time. “He does this but he doesn’t really want to” is not a kind of explanation that will go down easily.
Another symptom of a liberated soul is that he is exceptionally tolerant and undisturbed by hunger or pain, nor does he react to pleasure or worship (SB 11.11.15):
Sometimes for no apparent reason one’s body is attacked by cruel people or violent animals. At other times and in other places, one will suddenly be offered great respect or worship. One who becomes neither angry when attacked nor satisfied when worshiped is actually intelligent.
I think even fully liberated persons would visibly react when attacked by vicious animals, these are bodily reactions done on a subconscious level, no one can stop them, but a liberated person’s consciousness won’t be affected. He won’t become angry or protective, he won’t desire revenge, he won’t ask for help either.
Problem is, it’s hard to find examples of such behavior and it can be explained differently, too. Drugs make people feel impervious to pain, or extreme fear, or excitement. The key here is mental equilibrium which is not present in all these other cases, and to notice that one must observe the person very closely.
One more important symptom of a liberated soul is that he doesn’t judge things as good or bad and sees everyone equally. We always pass judgments on things that happen to us and we always pass judgments on people. Sages don’t. They are not outraged by injustice and they do not celebrate correcting it either. They have no morals, practically speaking. They refuse to condemn and they do not offer praise.
It makes sense to us but I’m not sure if atheists would be as agreeable. Morals are important to them, justice is important to them, I don’t think they expect a spiritual person to be indifferent.
Perhaps that could be played to our advantage, though – if we show this as evolution of consciousness rather than people being sociopaths from birth. For an ordinary man outrage over rape of a little girl is unavoidable, for a liberated person it’s nothing to be worried about, it’s just karma, same thing for everyone, the differences are relative.
I don’t see atheists accepting this attitude, though, it’s just cold blooded and heartless and won’t attract anyone. I wouldn’t personally mention it unless I’m absolutely sure the person on the other end is capable of understanding it.
Taken one by one, none of the above arguments would appear to be conclusive, but taken as a sum and coupled with unmistakable absence of personal desires and aspirations we might just establish a foothold.
The next step is crucial, everything depends on it – a liberated person must inspire trust in his words. If he says that the world is an illusion and there’s a higher reality then we must believe him even if we can’t share the vision ourselves. It’s at this point that possible misinterpretations of the earlier symptoms should not get in the way of establishing credibility.
Imagine a dude living in the mountains, eating and sleeping very little, undisturbed by the weather and lack of comfort, equipoised in all circumstances and without any personal desires and aspirations. Why would he lie? Why would he lie to you and why would he lie to himself?
It should be clear that he is not performing austerities in order to achieve something and then he’ll stop. It should be clear that it’s how he prefers to live his life, day in and day out, year after year, decade after decade, and he would never initiate any changes himself.
If we can demonstrate that then we might have a shot. It all depends on establishing credibility, and that’s a major point going for Buddhists because Indian gurus have very little.
Maybe I should give it a try on some public forum, see how it goes.
PS. Forgot to insert sense control somewhere there but it’s such an obvious point we should not need a special reminder.