Consciousness in Indian Philosophy
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Consciousness in Indian Philosophy

The Advaita Doctrine of 'Awareness Only'

Sthaneshwar Timalsina

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eBook - ePub

Consciousness in Indian Philosophy

The Advaita Doctrine of 'Awareness Only'

Sthaneshwar Timalsina

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About This Book

This book focuses on the analysis of pure consciousness as found in Advaita Vedanta, one of the main schools of Indian philosophy. According to this tradition, reality is identified as Brahman, the world is considered illusory, and the individual self is identified with the absolute reality. Advaitins have various approaches to defend this argument, the central one being the doctrine of 'awareness only' (cinmatra). Following this stream of argument, what consciousness grasps immediately is consciousness itself, and the notions of subject and object arise due to ignorance. This doctrine categorically rejects the plurality of individual selves and the reality of objects of perception.Timalsina analyzes the nature of consciousness as understood in Advaita. He first explores the nature of reality and pure consciousness, and then moves on to analyze ignorance as propounded in Advaita. He then presents Advaita arguments against the definitions of 'object' of cognition found in various other schools of Indian philosophy. In this process, the positions of two rival philosophical schools of Advaita and Madhva Vedanta are explored in order to examine the exchange between these two schools. The final section of the book contrasts the Yogacara and Advaita understandings of consciousness. Written lucidly and clearly, this book reveals the depth and implications of Indian metaphysics and argument. It will be of interest to scholars of Indian philosophy and Religious Studies.

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Part I

1 Establishment of ‘awareness only’

Cinmātra (awareness only)

The Advaita school grounded upon
tradition and advocated primarily by
and his disciples can be studied in many different ways. It can be a study following the exegetical tradition of the
or a philosophical inquiry of essentially what exists, based on arguments. It can be a guide for liberation, or an approach to the nature of reality. Furthermore, the study of Advaita can reconcile logical investigation with the authority of the texts. Realization of the self as Brahman identified as being, awareness, and bliss, the goal of Advaita, can also result through the analysis of perception and immediate experience. This essay relies on the latter method by exploring the essential nature of awareness through analyzing one stream of Advaita that propounds ‘awareness only’ and defends the existence of a single jīva, the immediately experienced self.
Advaita philosophy rejects duality on many grounds. This rejection of duality can be interpreted in terms of the ontological perspective that there is ultimately no essential plurality in what exists. Through the epistemological lens, what is cognized is essentially non-dual awareness only. Through the soteriological perspective, essentially there is no difference between Brahman and the individual self. What makes Advaita Vedānta drastically different from other classical Indian philosophies is its acceptance of pure consciousness as the singular reality. This concept is essentially compatible with all Advaita approaches. Following this understanding, the self identical with Brahman is the immediately cognized awareness. This awareness must be felt, as this philosophy rejects the reality of awareness out of the domain of self-experience. This non-dual consciousness is what is actually cognized in different cognitive modes. The duality that is perceived, in the self-experience of different subjects, or in cognition of different objects, is the very pure consciousness manifested in various forms due to the state of not knowing reality.
‘Awareness only’ existed as a concept as early as
1 When analyzing the elaborate discussions of Sureśvara, it becomes clear that
position on consciousness within his system of ‘identity in difference’ (bhedābheda) influenced the arguments that led to
Advaitins apparently utilized
system in establishing their own philosophy, while rejecting the categories not congruent with their system.2 This process of philosophical debate influenced a circle of Advaitins to utilize a coherent logic that consequently led to the establishment of ‘seeing’ as the only reality. Having emerged from the chain of arguments establishing cinmātra, the Advaita position shifted from a monistic standpoint of consciousness as the fundamental principle to the epistemological theory of ‘what is perceived is consciousness alone.’
The establishment of ‘awareness only’ primarily relies upon the analysis of perception. The question, ‘What is directly perceived?’ precipitates a series of arguments concluding with the establishment of ‘consciousness only,’ free from difference. The arguments in this discussion rely on the thesis that what exists has to be known by means of knowledge
The first step leads to the thesis that knowledge, independent of an object, can be established, demonstrating that the self, identical with awareness, is self-evident. The inherent nature of this self is ‘seeing only.’ In this very step, the singularity of awareness cognized in the form of the self (jīva) is established with the presumptive argument that self-awareness has never been experienced as many. The second step analyzes ‘what appears,’ with an investigation into the nature and function of ignorance. Advaitins have contrasting positions on the nature and scope of ignorance, and the model that supports our thesis does not rank ignorance, nor does it consider a categorical difference between ignorance (avidyā) and illusion (māyā). The third step in these arguments demonstrates that a difference between knowledge and its object cannot be proved, on the ground that difference as such cannot be established. The arguments presented in this study are gleaned from the writings that establish the Ābhāsa model of Advaita philosophy, traditionally credited to Sureśvarācārya. The stream of arguments analyzed in this study is found in a model distinctly identified in the later classical period as
(DS), the philosophy that identifies creation with seeing.
The sets of arguments that emerged from this foundation lead to ‘awareness only,’ independent of other means to reveal itself. Awareness alone is the intrinsic nature of the self, and nothing other than awareness can be proved. The awareness of pain or the awareness of blue is dependent upon awareness for its validity, and what can be confirmed as existing is what is validated by means of knowledge. The logical structure through which this is established is twofold:

  1. analysis through affirmation, proving the svaprakāśatā of awareness, that awareness is illuminated by itself and does not require anything else, including a second degree of awareness, in order to illuminate the first awareness, and
  2. analysis through negation, refuting all entities that are supposedly presented to be other than solitary awareness.
The sequence of this argument begins with challenging the validity of an object that is dependent upon another for its own affirmation. The advocates of DS argue that something valid does not require another entity for its confirmation. Inquiry into the nature of knowledge reveals that awareness-in-itself does not depend upon another means of knowledge for its confirmation and so it is confirmed. This is not the case with the objects of knowledge, because these depend upon knowledge for their confirmation. This logical necessity confirms the singularity of awareness that is established by itself. Since the subjective experience does not occur in plurality, the singularity of the self relies upon what is directly known. These arguments consequently establish Ekajīva (EJ), the doctrine that is often identified with the doctrine of DS.
The thesis of solitary awareness, which in itself is the self, is based on the following concepts:

  1. Awareness manifests itself;
  2. Difference is not the nature of awareness, and so difference is not svaprakāśa;
  3. This non-dual awareness is the very nature of the self.
In this way, the Advaita philosophy defending the model of EJ posits that, since awareness is the self and there is no svaprakāśatā in anything other than what is immediately experienced, all that is immediately experienced is the self of the character of non-dual awareness alone.
‘Awareness only,’ therefore, is the conclusion of a sequence of epistemological arguments. This conclusion is grounded in the analysis of perception, focusing on what is immediately known. This pure consciousness, nonetheless, is not generated by a means of knowledge, because the scope of the means of knowledge is only to reveal what is real, not to invent its own reality. Furthermore, ‘means of knowledge’ are confirmed as valid by relying ...

Table of contents

Citation styles for Consciousness in Indian Philosophy
APA 6 Citation
Timalsina, S. (2008). Consciousness in Indian Philosophy (1st ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from (Original work published 2008)
Chicago Citation
Timalsina, Sthaneshwar. (2008) 2008. Consciousness in Indian Philosophy. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis.
Harvard Citation
Timalsina, S. (2008) Consciousness in Indian Philosophy. 1st edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Timalsina, Sthaneshwar. Consciousness in Indian Philosophy. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis, 2008. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.