Teaching Vedanta in Germany

sitara_image1

A while ago Ramesam inquired about the way I teach students in Germany. After receiving my answer he suggested to post it on Advaita Vision and was so kind as to help me put it into better English.

I feel blessed to have the opportunity of teaching Advaita Vedanta to select students who are sincerely committed to explore the ultimate truth. The program I adopt is highly flexible and tailored to the particular needs of the students, yet I have a general approach that I apply with variations.

I have to admit that my way of teaching is quite time consuming compared to other teachers. But it works. That’s why so far I keep sticking with it. In the future I may have to change it because with more and more students joining I will have to find more practical solutions.

Medium of Instruction:

The medium of instruction is German, and usually I do not give classes in English. Even though most Germans have a working knowledge of English, some don’t (especially those who grew up in Eastern Germany where they learned Russian, and not English, as the second language). Most of my students are very intelligent and educated, but I also have a few who failed in school and do not know English. What I look for in a student is whether he/she wants to discover the ultimate truth and yearns for liberation (mumukshatvam). So if they have mumukshutvam, I accept them as students, with or without English. However, as the student advances in his studies, it usually becomes necessary to shift to English because I find that there are no suitable German translations of Vedantic texts, let alone Shankara’s commentaries on the Upanishads etc. Fortunately for us, so far there has always been one or the other student who could translate the texts from English to German with me carrying out the corrections. I use these translations in my classes. Continue reading

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

Three Advaitic Views on Creation

Quote

 

The Supreme Brahman is both the material as well intelligent 
cause but unchanging;

The creation is transfiguration and not production of a thing not 
existing before or transformation.

97668_web_R_by_Hans Georg Staudt_pixelio.de

  1. yathA srShTi tathA drShTi – as the creation so the vision 
(experience) is put forth by advocates of many 
individual souls. Hence creation of the world is by God; certain experiences (universal) like fire burning whether you know it or not, 
sun will rise in east and set in west even if you know truth to be 
otherwise; sky will appear blue though colourless…. World has 
empirical reality.
  1. yathA drShTi tathA srShTi – as the vision (experience) so the 
creation is put forth by advocates of single soul. 
One’s own likes and dislikes are the cause for 
experience of pleasure and pain and contact of senses with objects is 
the producer of heat and cold. So whole world is subjective. World is 
apparent reality.
  1. ajAta – not separately born is put forth by those who say there is 
no individual soul separate from brahman at any point of time. 
As all have to agree that in the beginning (before world) only brahman was there and after dissolution it is only going to be there, that 
which was not in the beginning and not going to be in the end need not be accepted to exist in the middle. Since Vedas declare all these are brahman only, they hold at no point of time there is a jIva
(individual soul) ever separated from brahman to be re-united through efforts and become brahman – none in bondage or trying for release or as released. Since brahman cannot be grasped but is the substratum of this 
superimposed world, all talk about world/its creation by Veda is to teach about the brahman.

All three are advaitic in nature and based on Vedas. So no one school needs to criticize the other two.

From a post of Br. Pranipata Chaitanya in the Yahoo Advaitin group (March 2009)

Photo Credits: Hans Georg Staudt@pixelio.de

Buddhi – An Invitation to Use the Mind

620396_web_R_K_B_by_Jakob Ehrhardt_pixelio.deWhen introducing Advaita Vedanta the mind is one of the first things I deal with for two reasons:

  1. the average Western seeker is “anti-mind”. So he needs to start to appreciate this instrument, which for Advaita Vedanta is indispensible.
  2. The average seeker (probably the world round) is confused about what is going on in his mind and needs to be able to distinguish between its useful and its less useful functions.

In my experience seekers respond very positively when learning about the four different functions of the mind (in fact four different aspects of thought): manas, chitta, ahamkara and buddhi. This teaching is helpful in two ways: it enables the seeker to distinguish between manas and buddhi, and it enables the seeker to understand the nature of the ego. As the latter is not the topic of this month, I will not go into ahamkara (ego) here but concentrate on buddhi.

As to what buddhi is, I think that Dennis’ quote sums it up excellently, http://www.advaita-vision.org/topic-of-the-month-buddhi/

The average Western seeker has never heard of buddhi or any of the different functions of the mind. For them mind is a uniform thing, a container filled with thoughts, perceptions, knowledge, abilities, experiences and possibly feelings. Why I say “possibly feelings” is because, at least in German speaking countries, feelings or emotions will never be accounted to the mind but to the heart, a mysterious entity which no-one is able to locate or clearly define except for pointing vaguely to the physical heart region. Continue reading

Topic of the month – Becoming

507166_web_R_by_johnnyb_pixelio.de“Becoming” seems to be an ensnaring urge for human beings the world over. This drive to “become” better or different from ‘what Is’ is not merely confined to mundane matters; it pervades the spiritual scene as well. Accordingly most of the spiritual/religious approaches cater to or focus on this human need for betterment: improving this quality or eliminating that one, mastering siddhi-s, strengthening faith, deepening some trait or transcending another one etc. And all of this “becoming” is supposed to lead us to a preset goal – whatever this may be in the respective context.

Advaita is the only philosophy that goes beyond this ubiquitous orientation towards ‘becoming.’  Not that the acquisition of certain skills or the elimination of certain identifications would be devalued but advaita points out that becoming by itself will not lead anyone to the True Knowledge, the only goal of every pursuit – simply because that goal is never away in space or time from the seeker.

Advaita’s fundamental teaching that “You are That” means that everyone in essence is already the perfection, the sat – cit- Ananda, that he/she strives to attain. In fact the only missing thing is the recognition of that simple fact. Yes, in order to gain the understanding of who you truly are, usually you will have to invest some time and effort. But at least you need not struggle to become something different from what you already are. Advaita provides the signposts towards this understanding.

Please submit your quotes, short extracts or personal blogs on this topic.

Photo credits: johnnyb@pixelio.de

The Absence of Belief

Quote

“I would define a ‘true sage’ conceptually as a human organism in which the sense of separation as the author of their actions is gone. It is a human being for whom the belief – and it is a false belief – that they are the centers of the universe, the authors of their thoughts and their feelings and their actions – that belief is absent in a True Sage.

And this is not a belief on the part of the human organism that they are not the authors of their action, it is the absence of the belief that they are. So it is not the presence of the belief that they are not, but the absence of the belief that they are. There are a lot of people running around with the belief that they are not the authors of their action and that belief is simply another belief.”

Wayne Liquorman

Translating Vedantic terms to Western seekers – Faith, God, Sin

599985_web_R_B_by_Dieter Schütz_pixelio.deThe following is blog I posted in 2011 when I was a blogger of Advaita Academy. As all of the addressed terms concern our topic of the month “belief” I am publishing it here again (with small alterations):

Faith

The word faith carries two meanings: trust and belief.

When I trust in something I meet it with confidence; even without knowing its exact nature, I assume that it will not harm me, rather that it will be beneficial to me when I expose myself to it.

When I believe in something I meet it with a conviction to be existent; I also may not know its exact nature but there is not necessarily an assumption involved that it will be beneficial to me.

Trust invites devotion – devote what? Time, energy, other resources. Devotion to what? To something assumed to be benevolent.

Belief demands submission – submit what? Any convictions, insights, reasoning or intuitions that contradict the belief. Submission to what? To something assumed to exist.

Shraddha is one of the nine virtues that should be cultivated by an aspirant to Advaita Vedanta, i.e. shraddha is considered to be one of the most essential traits someone should own when embarking on the journey to discover his/her own true Self. Usually shraddha is translated as “faith”.

Now, in the context of Advaita Vedanta it seems to be crucial that shraddha as faith is explained, understood and associated with trust and devotion, not with belief and submission of one’s own reasoning capacities. This is especially important when addressing Western seekers.

Why?

Continue reading

MokSha and bhakti

Quote

Among all means of liberation (mokSha), devotion (bhakti) is supreme. To seek earnestly to know one’s real nature – this is said to be devotion (bhakti).

vivekachUDAmaNi 31

In other words, devotion can be defined as the search for the reality of one’s own Atman.

vivekachUDAmaNi 32 (first sentence)

Appearance versus Reality

Quote

384916_web_R_by_Pascal Willuhn_pixelio.deI am posting this quote vom Yoga Vasishta because it perfectly fits the topic of this month.  Unfortunately I do not have the exact references, so I am asking anyone who has it to let us know and possibly fix the translation if it is not correct (dear readers, please check the comments).

O Rama, you have reached that state of satva and your mind has been burnt in the fire of wisdom. What is that wisdom? It is that the infinite Brahman is indeed the infinite Brahman; the world-appearance is but an appearance whose reality is Brahman. Page 328

Because the substratum (Infinite Consciousness) is real, all that is based on it acquires reality, though the reality is of the substratum alone. The universe and all beings in it are but a long dream. To me you are real, and to you I am real; even so the others are real to you or to me. And, this relative reality is like the reality of the dream-objects. Page 71

Whatever there is here which exists and functions here is real to the self and not to another who does not perceive it and is unaware of it. Therefore, all these creations and creatures that exist within the field of the energy of consciousness are true to the perceiving self and are unreal to the non-perceiver. All the notions and the dreams that exist in the present, past or the future are all real, because the self which is the self of all is real. Page 574

One can say that this world-appearance is real only so far as it is the manifestation of consciousness and because of direct experience; and it is unreal when it is grasped with the mind and the sense-organs. Wind is perceived as real in its motion, and it appears to be non-existent when there is no motion: even so this world-appearance can be regarded both as real and unreal. Page 88

 

from: http://www.yogavasistha.com/ptoy.htm

Photo credits:  Pascal Willuhn@pixelio.de

The Only Reality – Consciousness

Quote

Your consciousness of your world is all there is to your world.

Consciousness isnt a word. It is literally the very Substancewherein all existing goes on. Consciousness is actively aware and alive as all Presence, the only real Placethere is. It is the one, essential Stuff” without which your everyday affairs and entire universe wouldnt even appear to exist.

Consciousness has to be Reality, for nothing else is really being to be Reality. Reality isnt a far-off state one ultimately becomes conscious of. Reality simply is what really iswhich is Consciousness effortlessly being, right here, now.

Consciousness is All, Ch. 1