Screeching squirrels

Jonathan Bricklin brickmar at EARTHCOM.NET
Mon Mar 23 16:33:19 CST 1998

On 20 Mar 1998, Prasant Sharma wrote:

>If you think of an individual's brain as a computer, knowledge is the data
>in its hard disk.

>I resist this metaphor.  I see the brain as a transmitter.  Like a radio

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.

>There is
>thus, nothing that one can call his own.

Including the sense of "his".

>There are no thoughts that we can
>call our own, because there is actually no thinker there.


>[Epistemogical theory]

I still do not follow it.  If you have a reference to someone else who
it, I will take a look.

>one can never suceed in taking oneself away and
>seeing a thought arise.

One's very sense of being a one is not one's thought.  There are thoughts
and there are spaces between thoughts.  Consciousness abides as witness to
them both.

>>Free will is even easier to topple
from its status as "knowledge"--and, as Benjamin Libet showed, with less
powerful machinery.  A physiologist at the University of California, he
found a way to record the onset of electrical energy in the brain that
immediately preceded a muscle movement.  He then devised an experiment
comparing the precise moment the electrical energy was initiated to the
precise moment that a subject was conscious of having initiated or "willed"
it. If we accept that the "willed" thought, like all thoughts, arises, that
it is "somehow given" to consciousness, it follows that it would have a
formation of its own prior to the added-on sense of being our own personal
thought.*  And that is what Libet found:  "Some neuronal activity
associated with the eventual performance of the act has started well before
any (recallable) conscious initiation or intervention is possible.  This
leads to the conclusion that cerebral initiation even of a spontaneous
voluntary act of the kind studied here can and usually does begin

>        True, I never said that the brain is the originator of things.

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

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.
        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.

>...there is NO special "knowledge" that any realized person has or can

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.


Jonathan Bricklin
Brickmar at

"Nor ever [it] was, nor will [it] be, since now [it] is all together, one,

>From  Mon Mar 23 15:13:04 1998
Message-Id: <MON.23.MAR.1998.151304.0500.>
Date: Mon, 23 Mar 1998 15:13:04 -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: Beyond Karma
Comments: To: Advaita List <Advaita-L at>
Comments: cc: Jonathan Bricklin <brickmar at EARTHCOM.NET>
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit


On March 17, Swami Visparupananda stated "If there was no free will,
where would also be no karma associated with our actions."   In his
reply, Shri Jonathan Bricklin expresses his disagreement with Swamiji
using an alternate approach to explain actions with the presence of
Karma and the absence of free will.  The statement of Jonathan regarding
the requirement of the absence of free-will is in fact the subtle
message of Gita.   Arjun tried to establish his free will by throwing
the arms on the ground and pleaded Lord Krishna for approval.   Lord
Krishna during his discourses in the eighteen chapters of Gita convinces
Arjun to deny the notion of free will.  The attitude and behavior of the
new born child are a good illustration for the absence of free will but
the presence of Karma.   The new born child represents the Jeeva and the
appearance of the birth of the child represents the illusionary Karma.
When the child starts believing it's free-will it becomes an
individual.  Jonathan's explanation is logically valid and precise.
However, it raises several other intellectual questions:
(1) How does this explanation help the "individual" to the realization
of SELF?
(2) Who is responsible for the CREATION of belief in the child's mind?
(3) Who are the witness and the judge?
(4) why is any explanation necessary?

Any explanation to any of these questions is likely to introduce
additional questions and this will be an endless loop of explanations
and questions.  Intellectual Analyses of spiritual matters apply
scientific models  to explain the "TRUTH."  These models and their
explanations are unnecessarily restrictive and inconclusive.  Truth is
the direct experience and all scientific measurement of truth is
conditional and subject to the precision of the tools and methodology.
The understanding that science gives is incomplete and, by definition,
never final.  All scientific discoveries are subject to revision and not
absolute.  TRUTH is absolute and is beyond the scope of science and
scientific explanations.  Science has the potential to describe the
nature of the world, while religion has the potential to explain the
nature of the Spirit.

The problem is that science has missed the Spirit and attempts to
explain everything without the presence of the Spirit.   Einstein, a
fervent believer in the causality of the universe posed the question:
"Does the moon just disappear when we don't look at it?" Science can
only partially explain because it ignores the cause of all causes.
Scientists may try to explain the consciousness as a combination of
chemicals... But any combination of chemicals will not develop a
specific thought in human mind.  The consciousness is the symptom of the
soul, the living spirit of the universe and is responsible for all
thought processes.  Science ignores the spiritual component in the
measurement of causes and the effects. It's like trying to understand
why my motor car drives to my office every morning without considering
me, the driver.  The knowledge about the motor, the mechanical
arrangement, and the freeways is important but it is incomplete.

In conclusion, belief becomes an integral part of finding TRUTH.   The
Vedic scriptures outline the path of Sadhana for the realization of the
TRUTH.  The Vedas ask us to focus our attention to the progress of our
life rather than the origin of life.  The question of origin of life is
an intellectual question and will lead to an intellectually satisfying
answer.  This is an impossible puzzle because the intellect grows along
with the questions and answers and this expansion of the intellect will
never end!  The seers and sages have understood the pitfalls of
intellectual debates. That is why they suggest the path of Sadhana, the
package containing code of ethics, discipline, dedication to remove all
notions and bondage.  Gita outlines a subtle path for the salvation with
the following beliefs and commandments.
1. Life is the gift of God's Grace and is ever present.
2. God is an integral part of the soul and the separation is an illusion
3. Conduct the actions with the conviction:
    A. Purva Karmas (Vasanas) are causes of the present actions.
    B. Rewards and Punishments are integral parts of an action and learn
to accept them.
    C. Freedom from the bondage is an integral part of spontaneous
4. Surrendering the Thoughts to God will remove the thoughts

The messages in the Vedic Scriptures are subtle and simple.  The seers
and sages have understood that the observer and the observation are the
same.  When we perceive the illusionary life with the materialistic
world, we have to continue with the imaginary process of removing those
illusions.  It is just like cutting a diamond with another diamond or
removing the thorn using another thorn.  Sadhana is the illusionary
process of the removal of illusions.  Life is an illusion but life is
necessary to remove the illusion of life.  The entire Gita is an
illusionary dialog between the intellect (Arjun) and the Conscience
(Lord Krishna).  Sadhana (Karma), Dhyana (Bhakti) and Jnana (Wisdom)
became the integral part of this conversation to conduct the human life
with divinity, morality, discipline, honesty, dignity, love, compassion
and friendship.

Note: I agree with Jonathan that my reply to him is not due to my free
will.  It is an action that is spontaneous and is due to the Grace of
God.  Any misstatement is necessarily from my individualistic mind!

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

More information about the Advaita-l mailing list