Different Teachings – Q.334

Q: How do you explain two enlightened people (in the advaitic sense) that have different teachings?  For instance, I think someone like Greg Goode and Swami Dayananda would disagree on many things despite both arguably being enlightened. For example let’s take Greg’s essay on idealism (http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/teachers/idealism_greg.htm).  

 I don’t think Swami Dayananda-ji will agree with the core position that an object doesn’t exist unless perceived.   In fact I have asked Swami Tadatmananda this question (in the form of ‘does a rock exist before someone sees it?’) and he answered in the traditional sense saying that it does.   From your point of view does this still fall under the umbrella of differences in teaching style?    I also believe we could get a debate between the two on the topic of Ishvara and freewill.

A (Peter): Whether Swami Dayananda and Dr Goode will agree on everything I have doubts, but I have no doubt that Swami Dayananda would not challenge the teaching of Dṛg Dṛśya Viveka, the first topic of which deals with the relationship between objects and perception. Below are my notes from how my teacher, a close disciple of Swami Dayananda, explained the three seers described in Dṛg Dṛśya Viveka:

 The first seer, is the power of the organs of perception – ears, skin, eyes, tongue and nose. What’s seen are the objects that can come within their scope. The sense object is illumined, and the sense power is given the status of illuminator. By being brought to light, the objects are lent existence: without being brought to light by the powers of hearing, seeing, touch smell or taste, objects would be as good as non-existent. There are two ways that existence is lent to objects: the first is as clay lends existence to the pot (where clay and pot are non-different: pot is a form taken by clay). The other is as light lends existence to opaque objects: opaque objects may exist, but only come to light in the presence of light. Light and opaque object are different. It is in this second way that sense powers lend existence to sense objects. Sense power is the first type of seer and sense objects are the seen.

 Sense powers are insentient (they cannot reveal themselves by themselves, and do not have awareness of their own existence): they borrow their sentience and consciousness from the second seer,the mind. If the mind is not connected to the sense power, the sense is as good as non-operational. Sense powers need to be illumined for them to act as illuminators of sense objects. From the point of view of sense objects, sense powers are illuminators, but from the point of view of mind they are the illumined. They do not have access to consciousness directly but are brought to light by the mind.

 Mind, the seer of the various powers of perception, is one and the sense powers, the seen, are various in both category and quality. Then again, the single mind is composed of a whole gamut of insentient thoughts and moods: it can be decisive, indecisive, faithful, unfaithful, happy, sad, etc. All these variations are seen by a single seer. This is the third seer and is called the witness, sākṣī. Mind borrows its existence from this witness, and thus gains the status of knower/illuminator of sense powers – just as the moon borrows light from the sun to light up the earth on full moon day.

 The witness, the ultimate seer, does not need any other intermediary with which to bring thoughts in the mind to light. Thoughts in the mind, on the other hand, not being self-luminous, need the witness to bring them to light in order for them to be known. Equally, the powers of perception need the mind to back them up: if I do not know what I see, then it as good as not seen. Something that is not heard, touched, seen, tasted or smelt is as good as non-existent. Thus we see that the universe of names and forms (gross as well as subtle) is ultimately dependent on consciousness for its existence, whereas consciousness is not dependent on names and forms for its existence.

 The above is one level at which to answer the question: the technical level. Here is another more practical way: there is no utility in seeking differences between the Direct Path and Traditional approaches – apart from an academic one. If, however, one genuinely seeks the truth of one’s identity then what does it matter whether these two approaches agree or not.

 Each person will resonate with one approach or another and, such being the case, the thing that’s important is to stick with the teacher and their methodology with śraddha, trust, faith, without cavilling. As long as there is satisfaction then one can carry on with that teacher till clarity is reached concerning their view – a good teacher is one who allows you to see what they can and not require you to believe/accept what they say. Understanding is the end of the first stage of knowledge: śravaṇam. Then one can test the validity of one’s understanding thus acquired against other views: mananam, the second stage. (One can see in all of Śaṅkara’s commentaries, how even he continued to defended the advaita position against that of dualists and other contentions). What if you find another view/approach that seems to prevail against the one you hold? Change! Jump ship! Bow to the previous teacher with gratitude and walk away. (The mistake of many in this position is to try to create a synthesis between both old and new approaches: a sure-fire recipe for failure.)

 Greg Goode’s position, as far as I understand it, acknowledges its roots in Vedānta. In that it is massively preferable to a view that has angels or men from outer space creating the world. Speaking personally, I find engaging with the source teaching of advaita – the Gītā, Upaniṣads, etc – as properly unfolded by an adept like Swami Dayanandaji, suits my love for precision and clarity. It takes effort to stick with this approach, but, when they come, the pay-offs in the form of chunks of misunderstanding dropping off, are well worth the effort.

 So, instead of asking in a general way, ask yourself in a personal and specific way: ‘As far as I am concerned, does a rock (or anything) exist if it does not exist in my perception?’ Look to your own clarity first before being concerned with the clarity of the rest of the world. What does your answer to the above question imply for your search for the truth of yourself? And, from the perspective of the oneness of yourself and Absolute Reality, what is the value in settling the difference (or not) between the views of two teachers (who you have labelled ‘two enlightened people (in the advaitic sense)’). Would you really care?

A (Ramesam): The questioner seems to seek to iron out the apparent differences in the viewpoints of expression used by certain teachers.

Instead of dwelling on why a particular statement is made by a specific teacher, it will be of greater benefit, IMHO, to examine the issues involved therein from a basic level so that clarity emerges on its own unambiguously.  So I shall cast my response from a more generic pov.

Enlightened Individuals:  As per the Advaita philosophy, everyone is already free – nitya suddha buddha mukta swabhAvah. One may be abiding in that ‘Knowledge of Self’ as Self or one may be wandering in ignorance of that fact under the presumption of an individuating (separate) ‘personality’ for oneself. How does one then know who is an ‘enlightened individual’?

We should understand that mere “Proficiency or scholarship” in the knowledge of scriptures does not automatically mean abidance in the True Knowledge of Brahman. Secondly, there is no way that a second person can tell whether one is abiding in Brahman or is still wallowing in ignorance. As Yogavaasishta says, there are “Experts on Truth” and “Knowers of Truth.”  And again, as the Upanishadic saying goes, “the one who says he knows does not know and one who knows does not say”!

Existence of Objects:  Understanding the activity of “Cognition” itself in general together with understanding what constitutes the “Cognition of objects” is one of the significant bed rock principles that help us in grokking the Advaita philosophy, the other being an Analysis of the Awake-Dream-Deep sleep states.

All cognition is erroneous as per Advaita and the error takes place because of “ignoring” the true fact of Reality. So all ‘cognition’ (cognising a separate “other”) happens in ‘ignorance.’

From our worldly day to day transactional life, we may consider ‘objects’ to be something physical or solid – kind of touchy-feely things. But Advaita explains that there is no solidity or physicality to the objects.

In fact, all the so called ‘objects’ (things, nouns) are merely the descriptors for ‘how “Beingness” appears.’ Thus, whatever we may consider to be a “noun”, is, in fact, an “adjective” for Brahman. Let me illustrate this with an example:

We normally speak of a steel ring, a steel bracelet, a steel chain, a steel pan, a steel hammer etc. For us the shape and appearance of an object are more important for executing a transaction (taking an action or carrying out a business) with it. We put to use a ring for one purpose and a pan for another and so on. The ‘adjective’ steel is not as important as the object indicated by the ‘noun’ from a utilitarian point of view (pov). This is the way we are accustomed to and hence we give overbearing importance to the ‘noun part’ in our language construction.

If we examine critically, at a basic level it is all steel only taking different forms like a ring, a chain, hammer etc.  If I am interested in knowing the true component of a thing and not its variable shapes, I have to lay my emphasis on and pay attention to what is not changing. 

So writing the unchanging part as ‘noun’, and making the changing ‘form’ as the qualifying ‘adjective’, the word pairs in the above example will be ringy steel, braceletty steel, chainy steel, hammery steel. This revised syntax points our attention to what really is present and important. It is one ‘steel’. In other words, if I neglect the variability of ‘form’, what really exists unchangingly is ‘steel.’

Likewise, the fundamental unchanging and everlasting “Thing” is Beingness (the only Noun) which gets cast in various shapes and forms (adjectives) which we call objects. So ‘objects’ (a hill or a lake or fire or wind etc.) can be viewed as ‘extrusions’ of Beingness.

A detailed PowerPoint Presentation on “Object Cognition — Advaita and Neuroscience” was posted by me at my Blog over two and half years ago. If we go by their statistics, over 4750 views have been made and the PPts are embedded in 20 other websites/blogs. The PPt-s are periodically updated by me.

The PPt-s can be viewed at:  http://beyond-advaita.blogst.inpo/

The PPt  explains Cognition of Objects in greater detail and in simpler concepts supported by graphics. It also compares the Advaitic viewpoint with modern Neuroscientific findings.

Please take a look of the PPt.  I will be happy to answer any further questions arising thereon.

With regard to your idea of “…… a debate between the two on the topic of Ishwara and freewill”,  I believe Dennis is more competent to respond to it.

A (Sitara): In traditional Advaita Vedanta an answer can express truth on several levels, depending on the level of understanding of the questioner. That’s why I cannot say much about the statement of Swami Tadatmananda that you quote.

 But ultimately no traditional teacher would claim that a rock is real. A rock is mithya, neither absolutely real nor absolutely unreal. There is only one reality, called satya or brahman or sat-chit-ananda.

 So Greg Goode and Swami Dayananda may have different viewpoints, particularly concerning the value of a teaching tradition, the need for certain preparatory measures and regarding the usage of specific terms, but they will not contradict each other regarding the unreality of anything perceived.

 You seem to be confused about how different teachings can exist at all within advaita teaching. I would say that many of the seeming contradictions are not essentially about the teaching but due to different teaching styles. All advaita teachers agree that in truth there is only one reality and that it is possible to recognize this one reality as Self.

 Every seeker will pick the way of teaching approach that rings true to him and – hopefully – if at some point he/she gets stuck, he/she is going to seek another teacher who can help him to keep going. So just involve yourself with what appeals to you now.

A (Dennis): All teachings are mithyA and ultimately have to be discarded (pole vault metaphor), traditional and Direct Path Advaita included. If a teaching removes Self-ignorance, it brings enlightenment, by definition. paramArtha is not amenable to objectification, so even the enlightened have to use mithyA words to teach others. So I don’t think Swami D and Greg would disagree about the nature of reality, just on the most appropriate way of teaching it. In particular, they might differ on their descriptions of empirical ‘appearance-reality’. Traditional Advaita teachers are quite happy to accept vishiShTAdvaita (and even dvaita) as interim positions of understanding en route, as it were, to advaita. Whether someone takes an interim idealist stance or a realist one does not really matter very much as long as they reach the final understanding that there is only brahman. Certainly, I would agree with you that traditional advaita uses a realist position for vyavahAra. So, yes, they will differ from Greg in the way that that they teach this.

One thought on “Different Teachings – Q.334

  1. There are some core truths of Advaita on which there cannot be difference; I am referring to truths such as brahma satyam, jaganmithyā, six essential anādis, and a few more. However, on peripheral matters, there can be opinions. Appaiya Dīksita, one of the great advaitins belonging to the 16th Century, has written a book entitled “siddāntaleśasaṁgrahaḥ” wherein he enlists various schools of advaita post śankarācārya, such as the vārtika school of sureśvarācārya, the vivaraṇa school of prakāśātmayati, the bhāmati school of vācaspatimiśra, śuddhādvaita, kevalādvaita and various others. As an introduction to this text, he observes that different ācāryās have taken apparently contradicting positions relating to peripheral matters, probably to suit the needs of their students at that point in time. He attributes the success of advaita to this ability to be flexible and grow and adapt on the peripheries. It would be very gratifying to study this text, however, please be fore-warned that it calls for very good understanding of the basic concepts of advaita before you can venture into this text, else it will appear extremely confusing. Best wishes.

Leave a Reply