An Ode to Vedantic Teaching

674164_web_R_K_by_Wolfgang Dirscherl_pixelio.deVisitors of this site will have noticed that I am not as active any more blogging and taking part in the discussions as I have been for years. The reason is mainly because I am very occupied with teaching and I simply do not have enough energy left for a lot of activities on the site. So I am happy to be able to post a blog today. It is in fact a blog that one of my students has posted on his own website and I felt that it was a veritable hymn about Advaita Vedanta. With his kind permission I offer it to all seekers who may be in a similar situation as the author was before he discovered the treasures of Vedanta.

You know that moment, at the end of the night and u wake up, knowing, determent, clearheaded, when u realise things fall back into place, yes fall back into, as u come back to knowing that u realise stuff, more, when information has made sense. As the wind gently howls across the building in late autumn. Continue reading

Prologue – Time for the Wind

time_for_windThe E-Book of this new thriller (with more than a few hints of Advaita) should be available in E-Book format now. The paperback version has been printed and should be avaialble for purchase within the next 2 – 3 weeks. I posted an article about the problems of wtiting a book such as this several weeks ago, together with an extract in which the philosophical dialog first begins.

Here, hopefully to whet you appetite, I have posted the entire prologue to the story, which is based on an actual incident: Weston, near Runcorn, Cheshire, England, Jan. 2000.

Language and Teaching

I think we have probably had enough discussion on the ‘Experience versus Knowledge’ question. I cannot imagine many visitors wanting to read through 50+ comments on the topic! So here is an article that I have just had published in the Newsletter of Ramana Maharshi Foundation UK. It is on a subject closely related to the above question and indeed was touched upon in some of the comments…

Language and Teaching

Language is something we tend to take very much for granted. When someone says something to us, and providing we recognize the words, we think that we understand what it is that the speaker intends to communicate. And we respond appropriately. This is often not verbal – when it is, there is a subsequent opportunity to resolve any misunderstanding. Our response is usually to form an immediate mental opinion or judgement upon what has been said. And this is probably not merely a spoken or unspoken comment upon the particular topic expressed but also upon the person who made the statement. This all happens instantaneously and automatically. Thus it is that it can actually be worse for our comprehension if we already know something about the topic to begin with than if we are completely ignorant. What we take in will be significantly coloured by what we believe to be our prior knowledge (which may actually be ignorance). Continue reading

Q.381 – Knowledge, belief and experience

Note: This discussion follows on from the last question on ‘Finding a Teacher’ (apart from the introductory paragraphs).

Many seekers think that the essence of enlightenment is ‘experience’; that they need to actually experience something for themselves before they can be regarded as enlightened. In line with this, they denigrate the notion that a teacher can convey whatever it is that the seeker needs by simply talking to them, answering questions and so on. Even worse, they feel, is the idea that enlightenment can be gained by reading a book!

Maybe the term ‘Self-inquiry’ is largely to blame for this misconception. Seekers attached to this idea think that subjecting their own experiences (perceptions, ideas, theories etc) to close examination is somehow the key.

Whatever is the case, such seekers are seriously confused and need to distinguish carefully between ‘experience’, ‘belief’ and ‘knowledge’. Below I provide a question and answer discussion I had early last year with a reader on this general subject. But first I would like to give an example from my own experience, which (for me) provided a very clear distinction between these three. (And I refer to this example in the question and answer session.)

The experience occurred about 30 years ago. You will have to bear with me as it takes a little while (and two diagrams!) to explain. Continue reading

Q.380 – Finding a teacher

Q: I’ve been reading books about the perennial philosophy recently and they often state that to develop spiritually you need to be attached to an exoteric tradition or you probably won’t detect any errors, and will be essentially wasting your time or worse. I’m not attached to any tradition, never have been, and can honestly say that the only one I’d be interested in would be Hinduism.

Hinduism strongly suggests that you need a teacher, but my question is, how are you supposed to get a teacher when there are so many experts out there taking advantage of our ignorance, and money.

A (Dennis): A true teacher will never take advantage of your ignorance and will only take money to support basic needs (travel, hotel, food etc, as relevant). If someone is charging lots of money for large gatherings, give them a wide berth!

That is one point. The other is that you could spend a lifetime doing the rounds of the various traditions and not feeling comfortable with any. There may be a single truth behind them all but the finer details of the process, and even the final positions, differ. You cannot even refer to ‘Hinduism’ as a single approach. Vedanta, which is probably what you mean, has three branches with quite different teaching. Advaita uses scriptural-based arguments, logical reasoning and experience to refute all the other Indian philosophies.

Ideally, the optimum way forward would be to read widely in all the traditions and then decide on one to pursue in depth. Only then, look for a teacher – and do that by asking those who have already been following that path for some years to make recommendations based upon their knowledge. The problem with this is that you do not know which books to read to begin with. I, for example, have read very many books on Advaita and I am now able to say that a large percentage contain erroneous or at least misleading statements. Either that, or they are so academic as to be unreadable! All very difficult!

I can’t really help any further, I’m afraid. My knowledge is really only in Advaita. I know that this ‘works’ but why should you believe me? And that is the third point. Eventually, you have to resort to ‘faith’ to some degree, where this means putting trust in someone whom you believe to be trustworthy.

Time for the Wind

time_for_windReaders of this blog, and its associated website, will (I hope!) associate my name with my books on Advaita, which have been published fairly regularly since 2003. What very few people know is that I have also written a novel! In fact, this was the first book I wrote. I actually began it around 1974, while I was working as a contract computer programmer and temporarily idle. Unfortunately (I was still being paid), I was not idle for very long and the book was not completed until 1982! Since then I have revised/rewritten it four times! I did attempt to get it published back in the nineteen eighties, but without success. Earlier this year (after completing ‘A-U-M’), I decided the time had come, even though I have had to subsidise the publication as I am not recognised as an author of fiction.

I usually describe the novel as an ‘ecological thriller’, since the action revolves around a landfill site and waste disposal. The science fact also develops quite quickly into science fiction. By the time of the third iteration, however, I had reworked the material to introduce aspects of philosophy, with emphasis (surprise, surprise!) on Advaita. Originally, there had been lots of quotations from T. S. Eliot, but I discovered when writing ‘Back to the Truth’ that copyright permission for lots of Eliot quotes would be both difficult and expensive to obtain. Then I had the brainwave of changing one of the main characters from someone calling himself ‘Elyot’ (T. S. Eliot’s grandfather) to someone calling himself ‘Krish’ (short for ‘Krishna’). And, of course, I used quotations from the Gita instead of from ‘The Four Quartets’.

‘Krish’ only communicates via computer and, in addition to helping the principal character with his investigations into the waste disposal activities, he also discusses matters of Self-inquiry. Blending these elements without artificiality was quite difficult but I think I have succeeded. I was asked to write a blog on these writing aspects for the publisher to tie in with publication in early December. I reproduce this below, together with an extract from the book. (I will post another extract in a few weeks.) Continue reading

‘ego’, self, and metaphysics – Part lV

In the Buddhist perspective, the ego or self as ordinarily considered in Western traditions (i.e., as soul or person), is a non-self, actually a non-entity (anatta). Hence the suffering, which stems from an experience -ultimately illusory- of separation and vulnerability.

Here we have to consider two things. First, according to Mahayana Buddhism, Adi-Buddha, equivalent to Dharmakaya – the highest metaphysical, or divine, level – represents that unique Being or Divine ‘State’, pervading all manifestation as Buddha-nature; and second, the notion of the Self (Atman, derived from the Hindu Vedanta) is not only compatible with that view, but also with that of the Spirit in Christianity and in Islam.

As to the soul (metaphysics and theology), though intrinsically perfect or whole in itself (one could add: in ‘primordial man’ –the purusha or Hiranyagarbha of Hinduism)- it experiences imperfection, self-limitation, anxiety and doubt in its state of (aparent) separation -the ‘fallen state’. Being, not just potentially, a ‘focal point of the Universe’, yet it becomes, through ignorance and self-will, the subject of illusions, attachments, and passions which lead to that predicament. Its condition is thus ambivalent; it can orient itself upwards (or towards the centre) – to ‘holiness’ and integration – or downwards, pulled by its ‘lower nature’ (nafs in its lower stages, according to Sufism). The end result will be either self-denial, or self-assertion; self-giving, or ego-centeredness. Inevitably, this latter tendency, based on ignorance, can only lead to an unwanted result: dispersal, disintegration, and suffering. Alas!, on the whole, if not in principle, psychiatry is not interested in this distinction or dichotomy; but let not anything else be said about this at this point.

From the viewpoint of advaita vedanta, all of what is described in this paragraph – and what follows – pertains to the empirical, relative (ontological and epistemological) level: mithya (or vyavahara), in other words. Continue reading

Q.379 – Practice, Enlightenment and Reincarnation

Q: My understanding is that the purpose of spiritual practice is to purify the intellect so that it ‘reflects’ Consciousness without distortion. This enables the mind to recognize the delusion caused by ahaMkAra. This would mean that ‘enlightenment’ is a function of the mind. Is this correct?

If this is so, it would seem to mean that any ‘benefits’ gained from enlightenment would only apply to this body-mind, in this life. Is this so?

Scriptures indicate that one may have to undergo many lives before gaining mokSha, and suggest that fruits of previous lives accumulate to enable this. But, if enlightenment is an event in this mind, how can previous lives be of any benefit? Is there something in the mind that is ‘carried over’ into future births?

A (Ramesam): The most fundamental aspect of Advaita teaching is that an individual (jIva) is non-different from the Supreme Self (brahman). It follows, therefore, from this that a seeker is already of the nature of ever pure, all-knowing and liberated entity. As Gaudapada explains in his kArikA on mANDUkya Upanishad, by Its own freedom, brahman takes the form of an individual (and the world) and there is neither a creation nor liberation, neither a seeker nor something to be sought. Continue reading

S N Sastri

SNSastriSri S. N. Sastri (1922 – 2015)

It is with sadness and regret that we have to announce the death of Sri S. N. Sastri, one of the oldest and most respected scholars of Advaita. Sri Sastri was a moderator of the Advaitin forum for as long as I can remember. Recently, he had mostly ceased to participate in discussions as he found them very tiring but he remained an authority to whom we often turned for guidance – I consulted him on the topic of eka jIva vAda earlier this year and we were last in touch regarding ‘A-U-M’ only a couple of months ago.

To read a brief biography, bibliography and a selection of his writing, see

Vedanta the Solution – Part 23

VEDĀNTA the solution to our fundamental problem by D. Venugopal

Part 23 begins the chapter on ‘Analysis of the subject in its three states of experience’. This first part looks at the three aspects of the body-mind-sense complex – the causal, subtle and gross bodies.

There is a complete Contents List, to which links are added as each new part appears.