Author Topic: The Finger Pointing to the Moon:  (Read 1265 times)

Subramanian.R

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The Finger Pointing to the Moon:
« on: January 21, 2016, 04:53:21 PM »
(An article by D. Samarender Reddy in the Jan.-Mar. 2015 issue of Mountain Path.)

*

That one which cannot be understood by the mind but because of which the mind is capable of understanding
something is Brahman.  Understand that alone to be Brahman.  All other things that are being defined as
'Brahman' and worshipped are not.

- Kena Upanishad.

There is nothing in the intellect that was not first in the senses (nihil est in intellelctu, guod prius non
fureit  in sensu.)

- Empiricist Axiom.

The purpose of this article is to think through in what sense the above verse from Kena Upanishad is
true or meaningful.  We can safely assume for our purposes that the empiricist axiom stated above is
true.  In doing so, we are side stepping the rationalist counter to it that there are certain innate truths
that the mind can 'know' merely by its own reflections, without recourse to any experience originating
from the world, for reasons which will become clear later on in this article.

The question now arises, what is 'Brahman' that the Kena Upanishad is referring  to.  One encounters
references to Brahman (also called as Self) in the Upanishadic lore, which is nothing but the teachings
of various ancient sages who supposedly realized their true nature as being Brahman and not merely
the empirical psychophysical body mind complex.  Brahman is the truth whose experiential understanding
one has, or the absolute reality or state one awakens to, upon Self Realization, as a culmination of meditative
contemplation of one's Being with a silent mind that is not thinking but absorbed in such meditative contemplation.  To 'know' Brahman is to be Brahman.  It is the realization  of Brahman that the Kena
Upanishad is saying cannot be obtained by the mind.  To see why, we need to clarify ourselves how the
mind 'knows' anything.


contd.,

Arunachala Siva.           
   

Subramanian.R

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Re: The Finger Pointing to the Moon:
« Reply #1 on: January 22, 2016, 10:33:53 AM »
The English philosopher John Locke opined that the mind at birth was a tabula rasa (clean slate) on
which the moving finger of experience writes.  That has a modicum of truth in that most of our
knowledge seems to originate in sense experience,  though we go on to refine it into ever widening
conceptual knowledge by the operations of our minds, or by thinking.  Even the truths of logic and
mathematics, which are seemingly derivable through pure thought without any experience per se,
as the rationalists are wont claim, on closer examination, would prove not to be the case because
even their basic axioms and concepts have at least an initial basis in experience.     

It is a different matter that our minds take the raw data of the senses and spin out far more complex
knowledge than seems to be residing in the sense experience.  This is the German philosopher
Immanuel Kant was quick to point out by saying that our minds supply categories, under which we
classify the sense data that is streaming into our minds from the world, and go on to derive the various
relations between the sense data.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.     

Subramanian.R

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Re: The Finger Pointing to the Moon:
« Reply #2 on: January 23, 2016, 12:24:47 PM »
The Categories of Kant are the general properties that belong to all things without expressing the
peculiar nature of any particular thing.  Having classified, categorized and related the sense data in
our minds,  we can then go on to make predictions of unobserved (that is. sense-independent)
future states of the world, which is how science proceeds, from particularities of sense data to the
rich tapestry of generalized truths captured in words by thinking and reflecting on the sense data.
But even those predictions become reality only when they are verified by actual sense data,either
directly or indirectly, that becomes available to us when the future state of the world about which
the prediction was made,  becomes the present to us with the passage of time. So, in a way the
touchstone of knowledge is sense experience.

Take the case of a leaf. We derive knowledge about the leaf through classifying and organizing sensory
knowledge.  Once I get the sensory experience of a thing out there as being green, rough, and rustling
in the wind, seen in its relation to the tree as a whole, I might call it a leaf in my thinking and attribute
to it properties of greenness, roughness, and rustling sound.  But if someone reads my thoughts cast
in the form of language about a leaf, he would not be able to understand what I mean unless he calls
to mind the greenness, roughness etc., from the memory of his prior experiences of such properties
or qualities, to acquire knowledge.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.             

Subramanian.R

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Re: The Finger Pointing to the Moon:
« Reply #3 on: January 24, 2016, 11:04:40 AM »
The word 'green' is not the same as the experience of the color 'green'  Thought and language, or words
and concepts, are merely an attempt to communicate what has been experienced, and are merely conceptual.
For a person who has not experienced, before the color 'green', the concept or the word 'green' does not lead
to any knowledge about 'green' in his mind.  The finger points out to the moon, but you should look at the moon
and not the finger.

So, in a way all conceptual knowledge is merely symbolic. Hence, any knowledge about Brahman or Self
captured in the words (which is the medium of thinking by the mind) cannot be knowledge, but merely
the finger pointing to the moon.  You have to experience Brahman or Self yourself to know what it is all
about and not expect the words to deliver you such knowledge.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.   

Subramanian.R

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Re: The Finger Pointing to the Moon:
« Reply #4 on: January 25, 2016, 10:07:14 AM »
We cannot get knowledge about the Self through thought unless we have already experienced the Self,
just like unless we have already experienced greenness through our sense of sight,  any words that
'Leaves are green' will be meaningless to us.  Hence, one cannot arrive at the truth through thinking,
though thoughts can point to the truth. Thinking can proceed only with words, and words stand only
as symbols for actual entities, and knowledge of entities is only through experience and not through words.

Words are only symbols for entities and their properties, just like a map of Delhi is for Delhi.  That is
why thinking cannot give us knowledge about the Self or Brahman.  Or in another words, mind which
subsists on thoughts, cannot understand Brahman. That is the assertion of Kena Upanishad quoted
in the beginning.

concluded.

Arunachala Siva.   

ramanaduli

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Re: The Finger Pointing to the Moon:
« Reply #5 on: April 12, 2016, 11:41:03 AM »
Dear sir.                                                                                             no body can ecplain about the 'self' it cannt be explained but can be ecperienced in the sense through. Self only we see hear talk and think. This is the reason in tamil they say கண்டவர்கள் விண்டதில்லை. விண்டவர் கண்டதில்லை. Am i correct.   Ramanaduli