This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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The unconditioned state

Finally we reach Atma unconditioned:

Waking, dreaming, deep sleep, and that which is beyond, such are the four states of Atma: the greatest [mahattara] is the Fourth [Turiya]. In the first three Brahma dwells with one of Its feet; It has three feet in the last.[1]

The symbolism here is interesting because it is the reverse of what we might expect. We are dealing with the fourth of four states of Atma, and so we might expect each to be represented by one foot. Yet we find that all previous states are reduced to one leg, and three to the Unconditioned State. This is profound, and is meant to convey the incommensurability between the absolute and the relative, that which is conditioned–in whatever way–from that which is not. The proportions, then, are not meant to establish an exact ratio of properties or content, but to express the fact that no comparison can be made between the first three states and the fourth, which exceeds them all entirely. We are speaking here from the metaphysical point of view, and not from the point of view of Being.

In other words, only one quarter of Brahma is in Being, since pada, which means foot, can also mean quarter, and the remaining three quarters are outside of Being. What are the divisions of the three quarters of ‘non-Being’? First, the totality of possibilities of manifestation insofar as they are not manifested (insofar as they are manifested they belong to the previous states). Second, the possibilities of non-manifestation (although here, beyond multiplicity, it is not strictly accurate to speak of these as plural or singular). Third, the Supreme Principle, Universal Possibility, which is total and infinite.

To reiterate, the first three states–waking, dreaming, and deep sleep–constitute the realm of Being. As for the first two–waking and dreaming–we might say they make up only one third of Being, since they contain formal manifestation only. Deep sleep, escaping the limits of form, contains both formless manifestation and unmanifested Being. And so again we see an inverse proportionality which suggests that as we ascend to higher states we approach infinity.

To expand, now, on the unconditioned state:

The Sages think that the ‘Fourth’ [Chaturtha], which knows neither internal nor external objects [in a distinctive or analytical sense], nor the former and the latter taken together [regarded synthetically and in principle] and which is not [even] a synthetic whole of integral knowledge, being neither knowing nor not knowing, is invisible [adrishta, and indeed non-perceptible by any faculty at all], actionless [avyavaharya, in Its changeless identity], incomprehensible [agrahya, since, It comprehends all], indefinable [alakshana, since It is without any limit], indescribable [avyapadeshya, since It cannot be qualified by any particular attribute or determination[, the unique, fundamental essence [pratyaya-sara] of the Self [Atma present in all the states], without any trace of the development of manifestation [prapancha-upashama, and consequently absolutely and totally free from the special conditions of any mode of existence whatsoever], fullness of Peace and Beatitude, without duality: It is Atma [Itself, outside of and independently of any condition], [thus] It must be known.[2]

Here we have entered the apophatic, at which point we can only express things in the negative. This is the case because positive affirmations is a limitation. Now we can understand why this state is simply called ‘the Fourth’ and not given a descriptive name, like the previous states. Thus, the only affirmation we can give is that it is ‘without duality,’ which is, as has been said before, the negation of negation, an absolute affirmation. We must always remember that Atma is not to be imagined as either manifested or unmanifested: it is the principle of both.

It [the Supreme Brahma, with which unconditioned Atma is identical], the eye does not attain to,[3] nor speech, nor the mind [through discursive thought, the individual faculty, or represented through mental images]: we do not recognize It [as comprehensible by aught other than Itself] and it is for this reason that we do not know how to expound Its nature [by means of any sort of description]. It is superior to what is known [distinctively, or superior to the manifested Universe] and It is even beyond what is not known [distinctively, or beyond the unmanifested Universe, one with pure Being]; such is the teaching that we have received from the wise men of former times. It should be realized that That which is not manifested by speech [nor anything else], but by which speech is manifested [as well as everything else], is Brahma [in Its Infinity], and not what is looked upon [as an object of meditation] as ‘this’ [an individual being or a manifested world, according as the point of view is macrocosmic or microcosmic] or ‘that’ [Ishvara or Universal Being itself, outside of all individualization and all manifestation].[4]

We end by quoting the important commentary of Shankaracharya on this passage:

A disciple who has attentively followed the exposition of the nature of Brahma must be led to suppose that he knows Brahma perfectly; but, in spite of his apparent justification for thinking so, this is nevertheless an erroneous opinion. In actual fact the well-established meaning of every text concerning the Vedanta is that the Self of every being who possesses Knowledge is identical with Brahma. Now a distinct and definite knowledge is possible in respect of everthing capable of becoming an object of knowledge: but it is not possible in the case of That which cannot become such an object. That is Brahma, for It is the Knower, and the Knower can know other things, but cannot make Itself the object of Its own knowledge, in the same way that fire can burn other things but cannot burn itself.[5] Neither can it be said that Brahma is able to become an object of knowledge for anything other than Itself, since outside Itself there is nothing which can possess knowledge [all knowledge being but a participation in Its knowledge].

If you think that you know [Brahma] well, what you know of Its nature is in reality but little; for this reason Brahma should be still more attentively considered by you. [The reply]: I do not think that I know It; by that I mean to say that I do not know It well [distinctively, as I should know an object capable of being described or defined]; nevertheless, I know It [according to the instruction I have received concerning Its nature]. Whoever among us understands the following words: ‘I do not know It, and yet I know It,’ verily that Man knows It. He who thinks that Brahma is not comprehended [by any faculty], by him Brahma is comprehended [for by Knowledge of Brahma he has become effectively identical with Brahma Itself]; but he who thinks that Brahma is comprehended [by sensible or mental faculty] knows It not. Brahma is unknown to those who know It and It is known to those who do not know It at all [as ‘this’ or ‘that’].[6]

We also offer this Taoist text as a correspondence and affirmation:

The Infinite said: I do not know the Principle; this answer is profound. Inaction said: I know the Principle; this answer is superficial. The Infinite was right in saying that It knew nothing about the essence of the Principle. Inaction was able to say that it knew It as regards Its external manifestations…Not to know It is to know It [in Its essence]; to know It [in Its manifestations] is not to know It [as It really is]. But how is one to understand this, that it is by not knowing It that It is known? This is the way, says the Primordial State. The Principle cannot be heard; that which is heard is not It. The Principle cannot be seen; that which is seen is not It. The Principle cannot be uttered; that which is uttered is not It…The principle, not being imaginable, cannot be described either. Whoever asks questions about the Principle and answers them, both show that they do not know what the Principle is. Concerning the Principle, one can neither ask nor make answer what It is.[7]

[1] Maitri Upanishad, VII.2.

[2] Mandukya Upanishad, I.7.

[3] Likewise in the Koran: ‘The eye cannot reach Him.’ Or in Taoism: ‘The Principle is reached neither by sight nor by hearing.’ (Chuang Tzu, chap. 22).

[4] Kena Upanishad, I.3-5.

[5] Cf. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, IV.5.14: ‘How could the [absolute] Knower be known?’

[6] Kena Upanishad, II.1-3.

[7] Chuang Tzu, chap. 22.

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