84 © 2020 Yoga Mīmāsā | Published by Wolters Kluwer - Medknow
Advaita Vedanta answer to the hard problem of
consciousness: A philosophical review
Ravi Kumar Reddy Juturi
Department of Regulatory Affairs, Shri Vishnu College of Pharmacy, Bhimavaram, Andhra Pradesh, India
The fundamental question about consciousness and its nature
is raised long ago in all schools of philosophies and discussed
comprehensively in the philosophical texts. But for the past
two to three decades, modern science especially brain and
neuroscientists are puzzled with the question of what the
consciousness is and how it can be understood? (Baars, 1997;
Block, Flanagan & Guzeldere, 1997; Chalmers, 1996). In
Vedanta, the same question is asked in a dierent way such as;
impelled by what light or inspired by what power mind thinks?
What luminous being directs the eyes and the ears? What is that
giving the experience of seeing internally? It is remarkable to
have a conscious experience of hearing, talking, listening, and
so on in the material body. So the question is, what makes it
possible to have this conscious experience in the material body?
(Swami Sivananda, 1985).
As per recent Oxford University publications, there are ve
great unsolved questions in Philosophy which are: rst, do we
have free will? Second, can we know (knowledge) anything at
all (skepticism regarding epistemology)? The third one, who am
“I”? (fundamental nature of human beings), the fourth one is
what is death (not physical death but as a psychological/sentient
being) and the fth one is what would “global justice” look like?
For thousands of years, human beings have been exploring the fundamental nature of the world and the self. In
this process, modern science and Vedanta philosophy do not dier in conceiving the physical body as a material
and mind also as a material. But now and then, the question is asked that so-called matter is not sentient, it cannot
be aware or conscious, and how does matter suddenly become conscious/aware/sentient being? For this reason,
consciousness studies have become very important in the last two to three decades and it has opened up. These
studies are now turn out to be multidisciplinary by the interest of brain scientists, neuroscientists, psychologists,
philosophers of mind, language, physicists, computer scientists, Articial Intelligence. A lot of work has been done
in this eld of science to address what is this subjective conscious experience which a human being has internally.
Consciousness studies are not new in the east, about two to three thousand years ago texts called Upanishads
which are originated from Vedas are clearly stated about consciousness and its nature. In this article, the nature
of consciousness is discussed and demonstrated according to Advaita Vedanta Philosophy. The article also
encompasses the standpoint of modern science on consciousness. Finally, an attempt is made to answer the
so-called hard problem of consciousness from the Advaita Vedanta perspective.
Key Words: Advaita Vedanta, consciousness, hard problem, neuroscience, Upanishads
Address for correspondence:
Dr. Ravi Kumar Reddy Juturi, Shri Vishnu College of Pharmacy, Bhimavaram - 534 202, Andhra Pradesh, India.
Submitted: 16-Aug-2020 Revised: 19-Oct-2020 Accepted: 20-Oct-2020 Published: 23-Dec-2020
How to cite this article: Juturi RK. Advaita Vedanta answer to the hard
problem of consciousness: A philosophical review. Yoga Mimamsa
This is an open access journal, and articles are distributed under the terms of the
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 License, which
allows others to remix, tweak, and build upon the work non-commercially, as long as
appropriate credit is given and the new creations are licensed under the identical terms.
For reprints contact: WKHLRPMedknow_reprints@wolterskluwer.com
Access this article online
Quick Response Code:
Juturi: Advaita Vedanta view on 'Consciousness'
Yoga Mīmāsā | Volume 52 | Issue 2 | July-December 2020 85
(5 Great Unsolved Philosophical Questions, Oxford University
The essential point in the above rst four questions is that these
questions are directly connected with consciousness. A very
interesting thing is whether it is ancient eastern philosophy like
Advaita Vedanta or Modern Western Philosophy all of them are
vitally connected with consciousness.
MODERN SCIENTISTS STUCK WITH
The physical body is described dierently by dierent scientists
like chemists, physicists, and biologists. Apart from all
descriptions, a person is experiencing dierent internally called
rst-person experience or qualia and this is not explained by
any of these modern scientists (Chalmers, 1996). So what is
the connection between this physical substratum of body and
conscious being living in the body? Some brain scientists even
now arguing that this consciousness is generating by the brain
(Robert, 2018), but on contrary, some other scientists from the
same eld like David Chalmers saying that the physical brain can’t
generate consciousness (Chalmers, 1995). He also says that never
makes a big mistake of transition from brain to consciousness
as both are fundamentally different (Chalmers, 2006). This
includes the reductionists or materialist’s approach of reducing
consciousness to the brain and states of the brain, quantum or
superstrings, etc. This is a big mistake as per David Chalmers due
to jump made from one category to another category in principle.
THE HARD PROBLEM OF CONSCIOUSNESS
In consciousness studies today, what is the central and essential
question is something called the hard problem of consciousness
(Block, 2002) (Dennet, 1988). David Chalmers who is an
Australian philosopher & cognitive scientist coined this term the
hard problem of consciousness. What is this hard problem is, so far
what is accomplished in brain science is the science of correlation
and with this, they are trying to understand neuronal activity
reports in the brain and matching with that of related activities
like listening to a speech or tasting coee, etc. But here there is
a huge problem which is pointed rst time by David Chalmers
is “how can a physical system as physical as inert substance the
brain and nervous system can generate rst-person experience or
qualia” (Searle, Dennett & Chalmers, 1997). Any sentient being in
his routine activities like listening, seeing, tasting, remembering,
thinking, loving, and including all the conscious activities of life
are generating the rst-person experience internally rather he/she
doesn’t experience anything about neurons ring in the brain
during any of these acts. How can a physical system generate
this rst-person experience is the central question in today’s
consciousness studies (Baars, 1997). The distinct point here is that
this kind of internal experience is not possible with any physical
constructs in nature except sentient beings.
STUMBLING BLOCK FOR MATERIALISM IN
Recently, there is remarkable observation is taking place in the
philosophy of mind including behaviorism and psychologism
which is the approach used in materialism for understanding that
consciousness is itself became a stumbling block (Shear, 1997).
This is because science is about objectivity that’s works ne
absolutely when studying objects, but when we are studying the
subject itself by the same approach, then it will miss by a wide
mark. Due to this reason despite desperate attempts made by
most scientists come out with no understanding about what is
consciousness and its nature. Then what is a solution to the hard
problem of consciousness according to David Chalmers, says that
though it is hard to accept we have to consider consciousness as
one of the fundamental realities of this universe (Chalmers, 1996).
It means no need to reduce consciousness to the brain or matter
because it is fundamentally irreducible in principle so it is also as
fundamental as like matter, time, space, and energy in the universe.
That implies consciousness is ubiquitous in the universe by itself
and it interacts with the physical world through the nervous system
and brain (Chalmers, 2006).
THE IDEA OF PANPSYCHISM AND ANCIENT
SANKHYA PHILOSOPHY IS ON THE SAME
In the philosophy of mind, panpsychism is the view that the
mind or a mind-like aspect is a fundamental and ubiquitous
feature of reality. It is also described as a theory that “the mind is
a fundamental feature of the world which exists throughout the
universe (Hartshorne & Charles, 1950).
About four to five thousand years ago one of the Indian
Philosophies called Sankhya states a similar thing that there are
two fundamental realities exists independently in the universe
(Vangiya, 1969) According to this philosophy entirety of the
universe including human bodies, brains, nervous system, and
mind (thoughts, emotions) are the “nature” (Prakriti in Sanskrit).
That which experiences the world, body, brain, and mind is the
“consciousness” (Purusha in Sanskrit). (Sankhya, the theory of
creation, Duality and Enumeration by Seer Kapila Muni).
ADVAITA VEDANTA AND CONSCIOUSNESS
Advaita Vedanta is a school of Indian philosophy developed
based on texts called Upanishads. In Advaita Vedanta, the focus
is dierent for understanding the consciousness from that of the
Modern studies. The focus was given to how one does overcome
suffering in life and how to attain lasting, profound peace,
happiness, and joy/wellness. In a most profound sense, the focus
is transcendence or cessation of sorrow and attainment of lasting
happiness/wellness. All the schools of Indian Philosophies are
addressing the same point, i.e., freedom to self from sorrow.
But the self is closely associated with consciousness. That
Juturi: Advaita Vedanta view on 'Consciousness'
86 Yoga Mīmāsā | Volume 52 | Issue 2 | July-December 2020
is how Vedanta and other schools of Indian Philosophies are
interested in the Self and Consciousness (Gambhirananda,
1996). The central teaching of Advaita Vedanta is “That Thou
Art” (Tat Tvam Asi). The fundamental reality in this universe is
Brahman meaning the vast or limitless. Brahman is also described
as Existence, Consciousness, and Bliss. What in general considers
this external world is the appearance of the underlying reality
which is Brahman. The individual being is none other than that
underlying reality. It does not include body, brain, and nervous
system as a fundamental reality except the consciousness principle
which functions through this body-mind complex (Chandogya
Upanishad, Cha. 6, Verse 6.9.4) (Thibaut, 1890).
BIG CLAIM OF ADVAITA VEDANTA
The Advaita Vedanta claims that self is perfect, certain, existence,
and pure consciousness which is beyond suffering, eternal,
immutable all-pervading in nature which rms the fundamental
reality of this universe. The individual self is already this
pure consciousness nothing to attain except need recognition/
cognizance of this truth by removing ignorance. As Swami
Vivekananda says each soul is potentially divine and the goal is to
realize divinity and manifest this divinity within (Eastern H, 1983).
This makes the Advaita Vedanta paradigm to give irrefutable proof
of the existence of God (consciousness in totality) is the existence
of the individual soul itself, this is unique and the highlight of
this philosophy (Sarvapriyananda, 2014; Tathagatananda, 2011).
An ordinary person in day-to-day life does not experience
anything about quantum mechanics, superstrings, and data, but
everyone is access to consciousness while thinking, remembering,
feeling, seeing, hearing, etc. in fact what we call life is a series
of experiences in consciousness. It implies everything is an
experience in consciousness and therefore consciousness is a
fundamental datum of life. As per Advaita Vedanta, everything an
individual self does in his life is in the consciousness; therefore,
everything in the universe is the manifestation of consciousness
(Vivekananda, 1983 & 1984) (Burke, 1984).
FOUR POSSIBLE APPROACHES TO RELATE
CONSCIOUSNESS TO OBJECTS
Now a common question put forth to all branches of philosophy
and modern science is, what is the relationship between the
consciousness and its objects? Four possible approaches are useful
to understand the relation; the First one is Object is primary and
consciousness is a by-product of it, this is the modern materialistic
and reductionist view of consciousness. The second approach is
Consciousness is primary and matter, space, energy (universe) is a
product of it, and this is almost all theologist’s view of the world. The
third option is neither created the other one, both are fundamental
and independent realities by nature, but they can interact with each
other means consciousness can function through the body-mind
complex and gives rise to conscious experience, this is the ancient
Sankhya and Yoga Philosophy which are already discussed. The
fourth approach is the Advaita Vedanta view which is not that the
object produces consciousness or consciousness produces objects
but the radical claim of Vedanta is there is only one nondual reality
(not two) that is the Consciousness. It is nondual because it appears
to be two such as consciousness and the world but in reality, it alone
exists. According to Vedanta a good example to understand this
approach is a dream, it’s the mind alone which appears as a dreamer,
and the dream world (people, things, events) all of this is the mind
alone. Consciousness does the same thing, as Swami Vivekananda
says one alone exists and it appears as Nature and Soul.
Advaita Vedanta further claims that every individual can
“experience” the Consciousness. According to this philosophy,
it’s not a journey in time or space to understand consciousness,
but it is possible now and here (Bhajanananda, 2010). There are
methodologies/techniques given in Advaita Vedanta like “Seer and
the Seen,” an inquiry into “three states of sleeping, dreaming and
waking” and an inquiry into “Five layers of Human Personality.”
These techniques take oneself in understanding the nondual reality
of Advaita Vedanta.
DEMONSTRATION OF CONSCIOUSNESS IN
The method of “Seer & the Seen” (Drig Drisya Viveka) can
demonstrate the consciousness which is based on a text called
Panchadasi wrote by the author Vidyaranyamuni from the southern
part of India about seven hundred years before. This method
works based on the operating principle the seer and the scene
are must be two dierent entities like eyes are dierent from its
objects scene and similarly, the experiencer and the experienced
are also dierent entities. This method comprises three steps in
understanding. The rst step is, eyes (seer) are dierent from its
objects known as forms (seen), note here forms are many, but the
seer is pair of eyes and forms are continuously changes and seer
is unchanging relatively means the experience keeps changing
but experiencer is constant. The second step is eyes themselves
become a scene and the mind is the seer as the mind aware of
the vision of eyes and no vision when eyes closed. So here eyes
are known and the mind is the knower. Last step, the mind itself
becomes the scene and consciousness (self) is the experiencer.
It means the modications of the mind like thoughts, feelings
emotions are experienced constantly by the experiencer. These
states of mind are continuously changing, but the experiencer is
unchanged. So if the mind is experienced, the experiencer must
be dierent from it according to the operating principle (seer &
scene are dierent). This witness (Sakshi in Sanskrit) is none other
than consciousness because it is aware of the contents of the mind.
This witness/consciousness/awareness is equated with self but
not in a sense of individual self but as a nondual impersonal self.
Finally, the method indicates that consciousness is unknowable
in a sense like an object; it never is objectied means one cannot
know it as an object. (Krishnananda, 1989).
The method of three states can also demonstrate clearly how
consciousness is an unchanging reality. Sleep has two aspects
Juturi: Advaita Vedanta view on 'Consciousness'
Yoga Mīmāsā | Volume 52 | Issue 2 | July-December 2020 87
which are dream sleep (REM sleep) and deep sleep (non-
REM sleep). In dream state, there is an experience of dreams
that is supported by awareness of dreams. But in deep sleep
also there is the persistence of consciousness (not a sense
of “I”) but this is questioned by modern science by saying
deep sleep seems to be an unconscious state. But Vedanta
responds to this by saying it seems to prove opposite that
means consciousness remains intact during deep sleep, not
that there is an absence of experience in deep sleep, but it is an
experience of the absence of objects. Therefore consciousness
is experiencing all sensations and thoughts in the waking state,
dreams in dream state, and absence of all above (experience of
blankness or nothingness) in the deep sleep state. According
to Vedanta deep sleep is the sleep of the mind, waking is the
waking of the mind, dreaming is the dreaming of the mind,
but consciousness is one unchanged and remains as it is in all
the three states. Until an object is presented to consciousness,
it cannot be experienced because an object is needed to be
reflected. (Sarasvati, 1995).
Vedanta denes experience as consciousness plus an object like
the experience of seeing, hearing, touching, and so on. So if no
object is there to experience, then consciousness alone illumines
but cannot be experienced (Gambhirananda S, 1996). This is
what happens precisely in the deep sleep state. Evidence for
consciousness presence in deep sleep is only possible from a
subjective point of view as a rst-person experience such as
experiential knowledge of not knowing anything or nothingness
with enormous peace expressed after waking. This is beyond the
science of correlation.
Advaita Vedanta states that this nondual self or consciousness
alone shining as the subject and everything else is known, by
its light everything else illumines. It can never be an object
of epistemology. But all knowledge and experiences are made
possible because of this fundamental nondual self-luminous
principle. This is the answer to the hard problem of consciousness
by the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta, the fundamental reality is
the consciousness only, which reveals itself and everything else
in the universe, which gives us the rst-person experience or
qualia. This consciousness is unchanging, immortal, immutable,
Financial support and sponsorship
Conicts of interest
There are no conicts of interest.
Baars, B. J. (1997). In the Theatre of Consciousness: The Workspace of the
Mind. NY: Oxford University Press.
Block, N., Flanagan, O., & Guzeldere, G. (1997). The Nature of Consciousness.
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Burke, M. L. (1984). Swami Vivekananda in the West: Discoveries. Vol. 6th.
Calcutta: Advaita Ashram.
Chalmers, D. J. (1996). The conscious mind: In: Search of a Fundamental
Theory. Oxford and New York Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Chalmers, D. J. (1995). Facing up to the problem of consciousness. Journal
of Consciousness Studies, 2 (3), 200-219.
Chalmers, D. J. (2006). Phenomenal concepts and the explanatory gap. In:
Alter, T., & Walter, S. (Eds.). Phenomenal Concepts and Phenomenal
Knowledge: New Essays on Consciousness and Physicalism. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
Dennett, D. C. (1996). Facing backwards on the problem of consciousness.
The Journal of Consciousness Studies, 3 (l), 4-6.
Thibaut, G. (1890). Vedanta Sutras of Badarayan. A with the Commentary by
Sankara, Sacred Books of the East, Vol. XXXIV. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
5 Great Unsolved Philosophical Questions. (2018). Oxford Reference Online,
New York,: Oxford University Press.
Hartshorne, & Charles, D. J. (1950). Panpsychism in a History of Philosophical
Systems, Vergilius Ferm (ed.), New York: Rider and Company, 442-453.
Eastern, H., & Admirers, W. (1983). Reminiscences of Swami Vivekananda.
3rd ed. Calcutta: Advaita Ashram.
Shear, J. (1997). Explaining Consciousness: The Hard Problem. London,
UK: Mit Press.
Vangiya, S. S. (1969). Introduction to Samkhyasamgraha, (Ed.) M. M.
Searle, J. R., Dennett, D. C., & Chalmers, D. J. (1997). The Mystery of
Consciousness. New York: New York Review of Books.
Gambhırananda, S. (1996). Brahma Sutra Bhashya of Shankaracharya:
Translated by Swami Gambhirananda. Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama.
Sarvapriyananda, S. (2014). Vivekananda’s interpretation of Vedanta
Philosophy and values for sustained development. International Journal
of Development Issues, 13 (3), 204-211.
Tathagatananda, S. (2011). Fundamental Principles of Vedanta, Vedantany.org.
Vivekananda, S. (1989). The complete works of Swami Vivekananda. Vol.
I-IX. Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama.
Bhajanananda, S. (2010). Four Basic Principles of Advaita Vedanta. India,
Advaita Ashram: Prabuddha Bharata.
Krishnananda, S. (1989). Commentary on the Panchadasi. Divine Life Society
Publications, India: Swami-krishnananda.org.
Sarasvati, S. S. (1995). How to Recognize the Method of Vedanta.
Swami Sivananda, (1958). Life and Works of Swami Sivananda. Divine Life
Society Publications, 1985.
Pepperell R (2018). Consciousness as a Physical Process Caused by the
Organization of Energy in the Brain. Front Psychol. 2018;9:2091.