Rational Vedanta

About Rational Vedanta

What is reality? This is a deceptively simple question, and it might seem like a trick answer to say that it depends on what you mean. But it does! If you think about your everyday experences - the smells and tastes, the shapes and colours in your visual field, the sounds you hear - these are all self-evidently real. The trouble comes when we step beyond the immediate and empirical evidence of our senses, and project a sense of real existence to the three-dimensional world of physical objects. Are they real? Are their subatomic fields and waves that make up those objects real? What exactly is the intended meaning of that question?

In the Eighteenth Century, an Irish philosopher named George Berkeley published a philosophical theory that has become a locus classicus for debate on the nature of mind, body, and reality ever since. His theory, which he called immaterialism, asserted that nothing but consciousness exists, and that our experienced lives are embedded in the mind of God. This doctrine, more generally known as 'mental monism', stands opposed to Cartesian 'dualism' and the prevailing 'physical monism'.

Berkeley's thinking was located firmly within the tradition of empiricism, but it echoed the mytsical teachings of Adi Shankara in Eighth Century India, namely the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta. The Vedanta is a deeper and more mystical philosophy than Berkeley's, and is located within a pre-scientific religious culture that is not so accessible for most Westerners.

Rational Vedanta is a an endeavour to articulate the philosophical truths of Advaita Vedanta in a rational and empirical framework that is congruent with the Western, scientific way of understanding the world.

Most followers of Vedanta come to it through meditation or contemplation, and regard it as something to be practised, rather than an abstract theory to be studied and tested. Most teachers of Vedanta will tell you that the core theses of this school, such as our identity with Brahman, cannot be taught or even expressed, but can only be 'known' directly. In contrast, Rational Vedanta's stance is that everything that can be known is amenable to rational inquiry and evaluation, and that the scientific method is the only reliable means of discovering the facts of the world. This is not to say that meditation is 'wrong', only that it is insufficient. What may be 'realised' through meditative practice is not necessarily veridical. Any notions that are obtained through that method need to be tested and verified by rational investigation: rational vedanta therefore stands to contemplative vedanta as science stands to anecdote.

Historically, investigations of reality have migrated from philosophy to science. At first, we struggle to intuit the ideas and formulate frameworks, but over the decades and centuries we tighten up the thinking and develop a hardened science. Rational Vedanta is, obviously, diametrically opposed to the physicalist presuppositions that pervade current science, but rational vedanta emphatically does not stand against the spirit or method of science. It should be seen as a foundational step in the long march toward a science of consciousness.

About Peter B Lloyd

I realised the physical world did not exist when I was eighteen years old, and I spent many years formulating rational arguments to defend this insight, and debating it with other amateur philosophers. I started publishing in the early 1990s - articles in Philosophy Now magazine - and in 1999 I self-pubished two books (the so-called 'White Books' because of the colour of the covers) that comprehensively defended Berkeley's immaterialism, and expanded on the implications of mental monism for the understanding of paranormal phenomena.

Also in the mid-1990s, I started presenting this philosophy at conferences such as Toward a Science of Consciousness that is held in Tucson, Arizona, and, in alternate years, in cities in other countries. In 2005, I wrote a 44-page chapter in a peer-reviewed book edited by Alexander Batthyany and Avshalom Elitzur, which was the clearest and most concise statement of mental monism that I could formulate. Throughout these endeavours, I found it profoundly frustrating that people's faith in physicalism was so strong that I was endlessly repeating the same arguments without being heard. Most people, when they are told that the physical world is a fiction, pull down the mental shutters and refuse to engage with this assertion at all. So, I pretty much gave up on philosophy and switched my attention to other pursuits (especially the history of public transportation maps, which has nothing whatsoever to do with philosophy.)

What got me interested again in seeking to communicate mental monism was the Science and NondDuality (SAND) conference in San Rafael, San Francisco, in 2010. I gave a presentation there to a packed room, entitled "The Logical Structure of Consciousness". I was amazed to discover that there was a large and growing community of people who are into non-duality, the theory that everything in the manifest world is identical with the ineffable Brahman. Admittedly these were mostly contemplative or practising Vedantins, rather than Rational Vedantins, but the intellectual ambience was far more congenial than that of the faithful followers of physicalism at Tucson

After the European SAND conference in Amsterdam in 2012, where I gave another talk, I decided to try to keep this going by holding roughly monthly seminars entitled 'Science and NonDuality' in London. At first evening seminars at the North London Buddhist Centre, then at Conway Hall, and then all-day seminars in my flat in East London, these attracted numbers ranging from six to twelve people and have provided a great opportunity to gain feedback and hence improve the quality of my presentations and texts. This web site includes information about these meetings, and a link to the Meetup site where you see forthcoming meetings.