Recently, I ran into the below talk by Swami Sarvapriyananda of Vedanta NY on the philosophy of consciousness found in Eastern thought.
He reviews the major unsolved problems in modern Western philosophy and how most are related to the hard problem of consciousness. A materialist perspective sees only the objective, measurable world as real. It wants to place consciousness as an effect of brain complexity or similar. However, this denies a broad range of subjective experience that this approach cannot explain. Being conscious of being unconscious, for example.
If we try to turn the subject, consciousness, into an object, we create the hard problem. This is because consciousness is not an object, it is pure subjectivity. We cannot use a physical object, like a microscope or EEG machine, to study something non-physical. However, the subject can be studied by subjective means in a systematic manner.
Swami explores this duality of what is an object of experience and what is the subject, the experiencer. If we can experience it, it is an object; it is content in consciousness.
Similarly, he distinguishes between brain (psychical), mind (subtle), and consciousness. Because consciousness can experience brain and mind, they are both objects.
For example, if they offered you a billion dollars but in exchange, you had to be in a coma, would you accept the offer? What would be the point if it couldn’t be experienced?
The philosophy of Nyaya outlines valid means of knowing, including through subjective means. For example, with an effortless meditation, we can all experience consciousness itself within, without content (object). Then we discover it is the true Self, our true nature.
He rightly notes that the arguments don’t hold up through higher perspectives. For example, in Unity stage we discover that the objects of the world arise in consciousness and thus are themselves subjective. Inversely, in Refined Unity, consciousness itself becomes an object that can be experienced. Subject and object have become one and the same and can take either role. The subjective-objective duality has collapsed.
You can see why I speak often of the stages of enlightenment. They set the context in which these perspectives are a lived reality. If we take a philosophical position that is not our experience, we create a disconnect with our lived reality.
Discovering consciousness is key. If this remains a philosophy in the mind, it is only concepts and a mind that thinks it knows something. That’s just content. The subject remains hidden by concepts about it.
To get past that, we first have to recognize the distinction between who we are and what is content. Then we can find consciousness. Or, inversely, we find consciousness and recognize this duality. And then consciousness can know itself through this body-mind.
After the first hour, he opens the floor to discussion. That part is less useful as it gets more into the mind. Philosophy has deep value if it serves our direct experience. But if it serves only mind, it just reinforces ego identification and bondage.
Swami Sarvapriyananda has quite a few talks online. He follows the common interpretation of Vedic literature. In that we differ, as many articles on this blog explore. Too much of the literature is argued by a mind rather than understood by direct experience. This is why you see so many branches and schools of thought.