Does practice make any difference? (Q. 315)

Q. Dennis–I have read your books( and appreciate them) and many books and tapes from many teachers on advaita and “neoadvaita” .  There have been glimpses and experiencing here in the last 15 years  resulting in much lightness in this life. The real freedom came when it was realized there was no more need to “decide” “who to listen to or follow” and “I” have followed them all.   I have one question which seems to separate your views from Parsons yet he, you and the others all state that “the bottom line is “nothing matters”  and whether or not an apparent person “gains” self knowledge makes not the slightest difference to reality-oneness.  The question is this: 

If the truth is ultimately only oneness always present, what difference does it make whether “I” as a separate individual meditates or doesn’t, “prepares myself for awakening or doesn’t etc, etc or does whatever “I” thinks it is doing??.  If I rob a store which seems to be out of the nature of this ‘I’,  why do you( or the traditional Advaita scriptures) say this is “dangerous” if not prepared??.  Whatever apparently  happens is going to apparently happen anyway with no “doing” by “me”  The freedom here has come from having intuitive trust and let life guide.

A (Sitara): You are talking from paramartika perspective when you say The real freedom came when it was realized there was no more need to “decide” “who to listen to or follow” and “I” have followed them all. and Whatever apparently  happens is going to apparently happen anyway with no “doing” by “me”  The freedom here has come from having intuitive trust and let life guide.

 In order to respond I’d first like to clarify how I read your question:

 You appreciate Dennis’s as well as Western Advaita teachers, including Neo Advaita. But your own experience corresponds with what Neo Advaita says. Still you want to know on what grounds traditional Advaita Vedanta asserts that the seeker needs preparation for jnana yoga (the pursuit of self knowledge) and its result moksha (liberation).

 Answer: Both, Advaita Vedanta and Neo-Advaita, agree that reality is non-dual and that this fact needs to be understood/realized. The difference between Neo-Advaita and Advaita Vedanta is that the latter recognizes 3 views of this non-dual reality (pratibhasika, vyavaharika, paramarathika) whereas Neo-Advaita recognizes only one view, i.e. paramarthika.

 As you read Dennis’s books you will probably know what I am talking about, in case you want to refresh your knowledge about these so called levels of reality you can read about them here: http://www.advaita-vision.org/discrimination/#more-506 and here: http://www.advaita-vision.org/category/sitara/

 I would compare Neo-Advaitins to the mystics who simply sing their song of truth and do not make any effort to account for what the ordinary seeker perceives as reality. Neither of them is teaching and Neo Advaita claims that teaching anyway is a superfluous concept – a contention which is true yet again only from paramarthika perspective.

 As much as seekers can profit from mystics like Kabir, Mirabai, Rumi, Meister Eckhart, Mansoor etc., they also can profit from Neo-Advaita. Yet, they have to be at a certain stage of their personal and spiritual development, otherwise they will just shrug their shoulders and move on. Advaita Vedanta offers something to pick up any seeker who is starting to move in the direction of seeking an understanding of who they are and what reality is in truth.

 I feel that Advaita Vedanta is very compassionate in offering a methodology that points the seeker in the direction of the ultimate truth. This is not just proclaiming ultimate truth as such – which is something that is obviously indigestible for most; if not, people would have got it the first time they heard about it.

 With enlightenment, the seeker will realize that all of his preparation was not needed because, anyway, all along he has been who he realizes himself to be in the end. But only with enlightenment this realization is true because it is true only from the paramarthika perspective. Before enlightenment, “realization” is mere talk and will collapse as soon as there are really uncomfortable situations in life, which will reveal whether the paramarthika perspective is stable or not.

 Advaita Vedanta picks up the seeker from where he is, i.e. provisionally taking his false identity for real, whereas Neo-Advaita will speak only to the chosen few who already have some kind of insight into their true nature and leave all others merely talking the ‘paramarthika talk’ or turn away frustrated.

 Why is it unhelpful to assume that preparation is not needed? Or, as a positive statement, why does Advaita Vedanta assume that preparation is needed? First of all, we all are already the true, non-dual self. What is missing is the knowledge of this fact – not bookish knowledge but true authentic knowing. Neo-Advaita purports that the dawning of this knowing will happen at random, so whatever you do or not do is immaterial. Advaita Vedanta asserts that this knowledge has to be gained by and in the mind of the seeker.

 In fact there is no way of arguing with Neo Advaitins because they claim that there is no mind and no seeker – in fact they go further and say that even the arguing is not real, and thus totally irrelevant.

 Traditional Advaita Vedanta works on the grounds that although what is perceived as real is not ultimate reality (satyam) but certainly some kind of transactional reality (mithya). The import of this is that people’s/your experience is not denied but accounted for and the teaching starts from there. Accepting mithya is the pivotal element that makes for a proper understanding of reality, i.e. self knowledge. The mind, being the instrument for this understanding, needs to be in a condition conducive to this understanding. The fewer disturbances there are in the mind the better: less traffic, less turbulences, i.e. less identification with what you are not and belief in the absolute reality of the perceptible world. All methods of preparation are aimed at helping the mind into such a condition. Nothing more nothing less.

A (Peter): What every person ultimately seeks through every one of their actions is happiness. And not just a little happiness but happiness at all times, in all places, with everyone. If the ‘freedom’ that you gain from ‘intuitive trust’ and letting ‘life guide’ delivers this ultimate goal then the seeking ends, all questions end, all ‘listening and following’ ends, all reading books and listening to tapes ends. After all, what more is wanted or needed? In this happiness, which is the ultimate Reality, all contending views coalesce: and all differences are known to be there only for the sake of the cosmic play.

 Yet the difference between what the likes of Tony Parsons says and what Dennis Waite writes about (especially in ‘Enlightenment’) cannot be brushed aside. One says there’s nothing to know and do, and the other says there is the requirement to replace the wrong idea of the Self with the right one (i.e. there’s something to do). One says that ‘enlightenment’ just happens (somehow), and the other says that wrong ideas are corrected by actively soaking the mind in true ideas. One merely declares ‘Thou=That’ (the equivalent of asserting E=MC2) and leaves it up to you to accept or not, and the other indicate why this equation is what it is.

 You say that your real freedom came with the realisation that there is no decision ‘who to listen to or follow’, but the fact that you have chosen to follow ‘intuitive trust and let life guide’ seems to indicate that you have made a decision because ‘letting life guide’ is not what the proponent of the tradition teaching of advaita – from Adi Shankara right down to the present day – would advocate. But it is what the neo-advaitins assert.

 Then again, if I understand your question correctly, you appear to be asking why there is this difference between the neo view (nothing to do) and the traditional view (mind needs preparation) if, in truth, consciousness is all there is. Two responses arise to this.

 One: Just because he knows that a wave is nothing but water only a foolish person would stay put when a tsunami heads towards his home. Just because she knows that a wave is nothing but water does not prevent the surfer on Bondi Beach from enjoying the thrill it gives. Just because consciousness is the truth of all that is manifest does not mean that the manifest world can be dismissed: stealing is destructive and an act of love is not. For one who believes that there’s no real problem with stealing, then that person would also have no problem with being banged up in prison, nor with the strain that this would place on life of family members.

 The enlightened person IS free from the notion of smallness centred on ‘I’ and moves freely through the world. But merely emulating them is the equivalent of a poor man emulating the billionaire who doesn’t work and lives a jet-set life: it will merely lead to more deprivation.

 Two: Here is an important formula: Experience = consciousness + thought. Without the manifesting medium of thought there would be no experience. And without consciousness there is no thought in the first place! So, to experience truth, the thought in the mind needs also to be undistorted. If the thought is distorted then the experience will be distorted. Truth is that which stays true in all three periods of time. Experiences of ‘lightness’ and the like come and pass: they are not permanent so they are only relatively true – they are just other thoughts, whilst the truth of oneself is the very consciousness out of which the thoughts arise, by which they are sustained and into which they resolve.

 There is one thought spoken about, after which all other thoughts resolve into their truth as pure consciousness: that thought takes the form of the indivisible, non-dual Reality (akhaṇḍa-ākāra vṛtti). This does not just happen by accident, nor would it appear in a mind that is unsteady or indiscriminate. Mind needs to be prepared to qualify it for the rising of such a thought! It is the last thought, after which no doubt remains or ever surfaces again or ever covers the truth in ignorance.

A (Ramesam): You have articulated the essence of Advaitic message pretty well and that shows you understood it at least at a verbal level.

Now the important question to ask oneself is, “Has this understanding remained a mere ‘concept’ or has it been truly ingested?”

If it stayed at a conceptual level, it means that Advaita has been reduced to another of a “belief system” and the understanding as true ‘understanding’ has not taken place.

A belief system orders you with a list of Do’s and Don’ts. It mandates you “to do certain things and avoid certain others.” You become a ‘follower’ of the dictates emanating from that belief. Consequently, you continue to be a doer (= a follower, an observer, a thinker), with something to be done (followed, observed, thought upon) through a process of doing (following, observing, thinking).

It means that the subject-object-predicate, the triad of observer-the observed-observing continues to be in play. And that is a multiplicity of things, not Unicity. Covering up multiplicity which is actually present with a veneer of coating called Advaita (no – two-ness) arising out of a belief stored in memory which says ‘there is no one doing anything there’ is pseudo-Advaita. It is disingenuously deceiving yourself because “the person in you as a separate entity” (another name for suffering) is still existent in you.  Such a self-deceit is usually accompanied by a subtle arrogance: “Ah, I am a realized being; the other guy across the road is still an unrealized ignoramus.”

Examine yourself whether a sense of a ‘separate self’ as a “me” persists in you or not. Do I function as the cognizer contracted into a limited body-mind (which I claim to be mine) cognizing a world located out there (external to the body-mind)? Or “cognizing” is just happening without anyone claiming ownership and doership, choicelessly? An individual who has really understood Advaita will not intentionally exercise choice based on likes and dislikes. He welcomes all things as they happen.

Non-duality teacher Rupert Spira tells us: Pseudo advaita indicates a situation where we have appropriated the belief in advaita and adopted it as yet one more strategy to avoid honestly facing our suffering. It is pretense. It is very easy to detect the difference between the true understanding that there is nothing to do and the belief of that an apparent person holds. The former is accompanied by an unmistakable ease and peace whilst the latter is permeated with an air of despondency and resignation. 

A (Shuka): I remember a story which once Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati narrated. There was a King in whose court there were a number of preceptors from various philosophies, including one from Advaita. The King was very close to the Advaitin and the other philosophers were looking for the first opportunity to prove the Advaitin wrong. One day, when the King and his retinue were walking in a forest, suddenly there appeared a wild elephant. The Advaitin was the first one to take off and run for cover. Later, when all of them assembled in the King’s court, preceptors of other philosophies wasted no time in grasping the opportunity to point out to the King, that though the Advaitin taught everything was “Mithya”, he was the first one to run on seeing the wild elephant – and they asked “Why would the Advaitin run on seeing the wild Mithya elephant?” The Advaitin queried them back calmly “yes I did run – but who said my running was Satyam – it was also Mithya”. 🙂 

 Whatever is to be done has to be done. Bhagavān Kṛṣṇa says in Gīta “niyatam kuru karmatvam karma jyāyo hi akarmaṇaH – sarēra yātrāpi ca te na prasidhyedakarmaṇaH” – Bhagavad Gīta 3.08 – “Do your duty (duty is what is to be done), for action is superior to inaction; even daily chores like maintaining the body (eating, sleeping, bathing etc) is not possible by inaction. 

 When it comes to basic necessities like eating, sleeping etc, we do not say  “Whatever apparently  happens is going to apparently happen anyway with no “doing” by “me”, because it is impractical. That is why there is a maxim which prescribes “bhāvādvaitam sadā kuryāt kriyādvaitam kadāpi na” meaning, “be an advaitin in your being, and not in doing”. 

 Freedom in life comes from implicit acceptance of results of our action, and not by inaction. 

A (Dhanya): Namaste Dear Friend,

 On the basis of what you have written it sounds as if you have been seeking for a long time.  It also sounds as if you have seen many different teachers and heard many different teachings, but it doesn’t quite sound as if you have found or recognized That for which you have been seeking.

My advice to you would be, don’t give up.  Don’t give up until you have recognized the truth of your being. 

In an effort to find some peace of mind, it sounds to me as if you have settled for a concept or philosophy that you have patched together from different things you have heard and read which goes along the lines of, “It doesn’t make any difference to reality whether I gain self-knowledge or not.  There is nothing I can do. Whatever will happen, will happen.  Trust and let life guide.” 

 There are many who settle for a philosophical concept that they have heard or read which is comforting.  There are those who settle for the belief in going to heaven after they die.  Others may take the stance, ‘What can’t be cured must be endured’ and they settle for that.  And there are those who settle for the belief that ‘nothing matters, and one cannot decide to do anything anyway, therefore let life lead.’

 Although adopting a philosophical concept may bring some peace to a person’s mind, my direct question to you is, are you really happy? 

 If you are not happy then I don’t think that you will actually be able to stop seeking, no matter what philosophical standpoint you have adopted in order to find some mental peace.

 You have heard that ‘nothing matters to reality.’  More important than what matters to a so-called reality of which one may have heard, I think a more relevant and direct question to ask is, what matters to you?  And I would assume that things do matter to you.

 When the teachings say it doesn’t matter to reality whether an individual gains self-knowledge or not, you are leaving the entire world of name and form out of the equation.  And that means you are leaving yourself out of the equation as well.  

 So again I would ask, what matters to you?  Do you want to settle for a conceptual truth, or do you want to actually know the truth for yourself?

Since it is here, within this world of name and form, that we live out our lives, it is therefore here in this reality—in this world of name and form—that the gain of self-knowledge matters, and it matters to the individual.

Here’s the thing: self-knowledge—or the recognition of the truth—is itself for the mind of the individual alone.  As my teacher often says, “It is the mind that has the problem (self-ignorance), and it is the mind that needs the solution (self-knowledge).”

To expand upon this, the teachings of Vedanta clearly point out two orders of reality, (1) that which has a relative, or apparent reality; and (2) that which is absolutely real.  The interesting thing is that these two orders exist at the same time and in the same place; and the one—the relatively real—depends upon the other—the absolutely real—in order to be.

The recognition that the truth of the entire world of name and form has as its being That which is absolutely real takes place within relative reality, within the mind of the individual as a direct immediate recognition.  And it is within relative reality—in the mind of the individual—that the joy—the fruits of recognition—also takes place.

The best and most useful illustration of this is the dream analogy. When you have a dream at night, the entire dream is made of you.  All of the characters in the dream are you.  All of the objects in the dream are you.  You are the material of the entire dream world and everything in it.

It is the same here in this waking world of experience.  Everything in this waking world of experience has for its being one thing alone, and that one thing is That which is absolutely real.

If in a dream a dream character recognizes that the entire dream world has for its being one ‘thing’ alone, and my being is that one thing alone, that dream character has recognized the truth of the whole dream.

Here too in this waking world of experience when an individual recognizes that this entire world of name and form depends upon one ‘thing’ for its existence, and that one thing I am, that individual has recognized the truth of the whole thing. 

Recognizing the truth of the whole thing results in a type of happiness that doesn’t come and go and is not dependent upon changing circumstances lining themselves up to one’s satisfaction.  So that is the freedom, aka moksha, from taking oneself to be bound and affected by changing experiences.  This is liberation.

So in a way the irony is that the recognition of the truth is not for That which is absolutely real, but rather it is for the individual’s mind which has a relative reality. 

With that initial understanding under one’s belt, the mind of the individual then needs to be prepared in order to gain that recognition.  And there are certain things that can be done in order to prepare the mind, like behaving properly, not harming others, and the cultivation of certain mental attitudes.  So these are what can be called ‘preliminary or preparatory practices.’  At the same time one should endeavor to find a teacher who actually knows how to guide one to gain that recognition. 

In my own experience, the only teachers I’ve found who have the ability to do this are traditional teachers of Advaita/Vedanta, because they are the ones who have been trained.  They have the tried and true tools in their toolbox.  In my own experience (which is probably almost broad and long as your own) no one else I ever encountered had this ability.

When you say: “If I rob a store…why do you (or the traditional Advaita scriptures) say this is “dangerous” if not prepared?”

I’m not sure I understand that statement.  I would say that even if you are prepared to rob a store, it’s dangerous from any standpoint.  (Of course I’m joking.) 

The preparedness spoken of in traditional teachings is mental preparation.  One needs to have a mind which possesses a relative degree of peace in order that the teacher’s words hit the mark, and the teacher can guide the student to recognize the truth.

You say: ‘whatever apparently happens is going to apparently happen anyway with no “doing” by “me.”’

I would say forget all of these types of words, especially the word ‘apparent’ and ‘doing’ for the moment.  I feel these types of words and concepts when not properly understood lead to all sorts of confusion and can even lead one to engage in adharmic actions, (like robbing stores, or whatever). As long as you feel that you are an individual doing things, then do the right things. 

And again my advice would be don’t adopt and then settle for a philosophy which is only conceptual at this point.  Keep going and try and find out for yourself whether that philosophy is actually true nor not. 

What is it that you want?  Do you want to be happy all of the time?  Do you want to recognize that your true nature is happiness?  Or do you want to settle for the temporary peace given to the mind by a concept which may or may not be true as far as you know, and which may not be properly understood anyway? 

So forget those concepts.  Start where you are.  Find a teacher, listen, ask questions, get clear pointers, and then I think you will be much happier. In fact most likely you will come to recognize that your true nature is happiness itself, and there is nothing better than that!

A (Dennis): What you say about nothing making any difference to ‘reality-oneness’ is, of course, true. The gold does not care whether it is in the form of a ring or a necklace in the sense that it is always only gold. But what happens in this ‘apparent’ world makes all the difference to the ‘apparent’ person! At a purely practical level, if you rob a store (and are caught), you will be punished by society. If you go through life believing that you are the body-mind, you will be dependent upon the satisfaction of trivial desires for your transient happiness.

 You can’t choose what thoughts occur to you; these are dependent upon your particular nature and will arise regardless of your degree of spiritual attainment. But traditional advaita says that you do have the choice as to whether to act upon the thoughts. Whether you do or not is itself dependent upon how well developed your discrimination is; and this, in turn, is dependent upon mental preparation, such as learning to control the senses. Even if, like me, you do not believe that we have free will, it is still the case that the performing of those practices which produce sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti will increase the likelihood that you will not give in to inappropriate desires. And you can regard this entirely as cause and effect.

 The enlightened person, knowing that he or she is actually brahman, cannot act unlawfully in any case. Everyone naturally knows the difference between right and wrong and it is impossible to do harm to another, knowing that that other is one’s own self. Again, you can regard this as cause and effect if you like.

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