Q. 376 – Is preparation necessary?

Q: As I consider devoting myself to the path of Advaita Vedanta, I find that I keep coming up against a few constant, nagging protests:

 First, it seems that the tradition and methodology (although I also assume that there is quite a lot of variety of how Vedanta is taught and realized) is overly academic and scholastic, at least as I view it from the information that I’ve gleaned during my research. The unfolding of the teaching of Vedanta seems to leave the student engaging in a lot of analysis, rather than a deep exploration of how they genuinely experience the world, which lacks transformative power because it remains something objective.

 Second, according to some of the sources that I’ve gleaned, it seems to place Vedanta on an extremely high pedestal, as something engaged in only following years of other preparatory practices. But modern practice appears to demonstrate that such preparation, while helpful, is not necessary. I cite websites like “Liberation Unleashed” and Scott Kiloby’s excellent work which show that directly exploring and inquiring into the truth of statements like, “All there is is pure awareness,” etc., can still be highly transformative outside of the context of a more robust regime of spiritual purification and development.

 My fear is that if I follow the traditional route, I will end up entangled in these preparatory practices. I’ll just be getting the appetizer for years before getting the meal, in other words, but, in my opinion, why wait?

 Is this perception true (given that there will be a lot of diversity)? Do most acharya’s make their disciples engage in such practices for prolonged periods of time before discussing Vedanta?

 I have heard you and many other teachers in the traditional Advaita lineage say things like, “Unless you have a very pure mind…” or “Unless you are highly developed…” etc., the practice of Vedanta will be fruitless. But, if you read the logs, for example, of the website “Liberation Unleashed,” you will find some very impure people – depressed, addicted, desperate, you know, the usual seeker lot!, who come out transformed after only a few days of directly looking into their experience.

 I appreciate your thoughts on this and your generosity in helping so many confused seekers.

A: A qualified (sampradAya) teacher is never academic. But it is certainly true that a lot of the books around ARE overly academic. If you look at the books in the library pages – http://www.advaita.org.uk/library/library.html – probably 60% of them are written by university types as theses or critiques, with far too much Sanskrit content and lots of refutations and affirmations rather than unfoldment. So you do have be very careful when purchasing a book on Advaita that sounds as though it ought to be good!

Good teaching does not encourage analysis; it elicits recognition.

The correct (i.e. the one that works) approach to Advaita is the traditional one – shravaNa, manana and nididhyAsana. There is no question about this. But not everyone is immediately able to assimilate the teaching. A degree of sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti is necessary. Again, this is a proven fact. Someone with no qualifications will simply not ‘get’ it. But it does not require ‘years of preparation’ before you can embark upon listening to/reading Advaita. You can still gain Self-knowledge. The only thing is that you will not immediately gain the full benefit (jIvanmukti).

Exploring and inquiring is extremely unlikely, on its own, to bring about enlightenment. You will not discover that everything is brahman by looking! And simply hearing the words, without the methodology, is not very useful. You may well read of “very impure people – depressed, addicted, desperate, who come out transformed after only a few days”. You also read about alien abductions and people who communicate with angels…

14 thoughts on “Q. 376 – Is preparation necessary?

  1. An interesting Question and equally an intelligent answer!

    The Advaita Academy recently republished an article of mine – almost touching on the exact topic that the Question asks. It is here: ADVAITA — A PARADIGM SHIFT IN OUR WORLDVIEW
    (Link: http://advaita-academy.org/blogs/advaita-a-paradigm-shift-in-our-worldview/ )

    Another Post which may be relevant for what to study first is here: Sankara Bhashyas vs. Prakarana Granthas – A View
    Link: http://www.advaita-vision.org/sankara-bhashyas-vs-prakarana-granthas-a-view/ )


  2. Q: As I consider devoting myself to the path of Advaita Vedanta, I find that I keep coming up against a few constant, nagging protests:

    What do you really need to come face to face with yourself? A path? Just try sitting down and spend some time getting to know what is going on with you. Forget about all the stuff you’ve learned and get to know what you actually are. Do you want someone to do it for you? To tell you what you are and aren’t? That’s the beginning……if there is such a thing.

  3. Doe one need “preparation”, for the end of Samsara?

    No, but you need life experience, maybe a few lifetimes of it, maybe many lifetimes.

    But that isn’t onerous, and I wouldn’t regard the end of lives and of Samsara as a goal, but rather just as something that eventually happen, but not something that you need.
    But why call it “preparation”? Why not just regard it as life, which what it is. What, other than life, prepares for the completion of Karma and the eventual end of Samsara?

    So don’t regard it as a deferred or distant goal, for which preparation is needed.

    And please don’t think it’s really necessary to live in a way that isn’t natural for you and liked by you. It’s satisfying to live a minimalist lifestyle, with needs minimized more and more. A little can be a lot.

    So, living right, Dharmically, isn’t something onerous.

    Nisargatta was asked what is the most important thing in this life. He answered “Love”.

    Nisargatta said that the movement of life is being happy and making happy.

    How difficult or onerous is that?

    It seems to me that completion of Karma is what Liberates. But that’s just a matter of living right, something that (as described above) isn’t such a chore.

    The completion, fructification, exhaustion of Karma could take a few or a lot of lifetimes. So what? It isn’t a matter of preparation for a deferred want. It’s a matter of living in what is really the natural, easygoing and likeable way–and the fact, after
    however many lives, that will eventually end when your Karma is completed and when you’re eventually done with Samsara. It won’t end because you need it to, and are impatiently waiting for and working for it to. Samsara will end when and because you’re done with it. What’s the hurry?

    Here’s an analogy that describes the relationship of metaphysics to Reality:

    Knowing all about how a car-engine works isn’t at all like taking a ride in the countryside.

    Real knowledge is experience, not theory, words, or metaphysics.

    Michael Ossipoff

  4. Actually the teaching of Vedanta is very simple and straight forward – you can say that in any of the simple statements 1. You are what you are seeking for all the time – life after life but not finding it or you are that – tat tvam asi. Or one can more formal and use sophisticated Sanskrit to impress others – 2 a) Brahma satyam b) jagan mithyaa c) jiivaH braham eva na aparaH. or in simple English a) Brahman or infiniteness alone is real b) the world is neither real nor unreal (it is not illusion) and c) You are that Brahman or you are infinite-ness. Or little bit more complicated if you want – 3. The self in you is self in all; and all in yourself – that means you are all alone by yourself. Or if your prefer 4) Seeing God everywhere and everything is nothing but God only (which means you are not there anymore!) That is the end of the teaching. These are facts expressed and no intellectual gymnastic involved. It is not direct path – it is path-less path – a clear understanding, nay, clear claim what you already are. If you can claim yourself to be limitless or infinite or Brahman; Vedanta has done its job; you can forget everything else- not that there is something else for you to forget since you have realized that there is nothing other than you as you are infinite.

    Oh! What about the world? What about others; what about this or what about that….. If have further questions that prevent you from claiming what you are already; Vedanta understands the problem and goes one further teaching to prove the unreality of the world from the point of the truth; but appears to be real at transactional level.
    The problem is Vedanta does not provide dinner on the table if you are hungry, since it says neither your hunger, nor the table nor the food are really real; hence, you should not worry about those trivialities in life. What about others who are spending time teaching Vedanta – or all the questions you have asked – Why bother – there are no questions no answer once you have understood that you are infinite as infinite cannot have any divisions what so ever. If it sounds like teaching to a fellow who running for life in the forest, being chased by a tiger – sir there is no real tiger, no forest, not even your body that need to be saved – no need to run from an apparent tiger, because you are safe and that who is sleeping comfortably in AC room in five star hotel.
    All the mental preparations are only for those who are deeply rooted in the reality of this world and for him to say this world is not really real, requires lot of teaching – more so if he is very logical and rational intellect who does not have simple faith like Nisargadatta Maharaj or some other saints.
    Just my 2c. For more details – see the writings on Introduction to Vedanta series that Dennis Waite has edited and available in the website. Hari Om!

    • “Of course you are the Supreme Reality! But what of it? Every grain of sand is God; to know it is important, but that is only the beginning. Discover all you are not. Body, feelings, thoughts, ideas, time, space, being and not-being, this or that – nothing concrete or abstract you can point to is you. A mere verbal statement will not do. You must watch yourself continuously – particularly your mind – moment by moment, missing nothing. This witnessing is essential for the separation of the Self from the not-Self.” – Nisargadatta

      Nisargadatta did have faith in his guru, who instructed him that he is not the body but the all-pervading Reality; and to dwell / meditate on the sense ‘I am’, which he then did earnestly for 3 years in every spare minute that he had.

      Nisargadatta, like Ramana, emphasised self-enquiry, who am I, inward abidance in the Self, which was the path that he followed – and which is exactly what Dayananda’s followers seem to disparage, as this is not their taught conceptual knowledge of ‘I am Brahman, the Supreme Reality’. Though interestingly, they seem to be quite happy to quote from Ramana and Nisargadatta when it suits.

      “Knowledge, just through words, does not mean that you have got rid of desires and passions. When you understand all this verbally you may become a pseudo-guru, which is not realization. You must realise that you only observe, and you are not that, you are not that ‘I am’ in which all the universes are playing.” – Nisargadatta

      “Think carefully and deeply, go into the entire structure of your desires and their ramifications. They are a most important part of your mental and emotional make-up and powerfully affect your actions. Remember you cannot abandon what you do not know. To go beyond yourself you must know yourself.” – Nisargadatta

      “For a seeker for reality there is only one meditation – the rigorous refusal to harbour thoughts. To be free from thoughts is itself meditation . . . once the mind is quiet, keep it quiet . . . watch your thoughts and watch yourself watching your thoughts. The state of freedom from all thoughts will happen suddenly and by the bliss of it you shall recognise it.” – Nisargadatta

      “Sadhana is a search for what to give up. Empty yourself completely. Self-remembrance, awareness of ‘I am’ ripens man powerfully and speedily. Give up all ideas about yourself and simply be. Stop making use of your mind and see what happens. Do this one thing thoroughly. That is all.” – Nisargadatta

      “Silence is the main factor. In peace and silence you grow . . . Just turn away from all that occupies the mind; do whatever work you have to complete, but avoid new obligations; keep empty, keep available, resist not what comes uninvited. In the end you reach a state of non-grasping, of joyful non-attachment, of inner ease and freedom, indescribable yet wonderfully real.” – Nisargadatta

      The bottom line is this – we all need to find out for ourselves whether stopping at this conceptual knowledge and being convinced of its veracity – like physicists are convinced about the subatomic particles that are the building blocks of nature – is the moksha that is spoken of. Or whether there is some intangible step beyond the known, that perhaps can be taken through this Self-abidance and detachment that Ramana and Nisargadatta talk of.

  5. Any physicist can say with conviction that the universe is made of the same building blocks and is both real and unreal. That does not mean he has attained moksha.

    Sri Abhinava Vidyatheertha, a Sankaracharya of Sringeri, said:
    “Prior to the dawn of knowledge, a jnanin’s mind should have been very pure, for jnana dawns only after the mind is thoroughly purified. Hence compassion should have been cultivated earlier. That manifests itself more prominently after realisation of Truth. Jnanins have nothing to attain through any action. They are ever content, having attained what is to be attained. therefore it may be said that they live only for the welfare of others”

    Note the last sentence – and test for yourself the extent to which this is true for you.

    The preparation – detachment, discrimination, calmness of mind, equanimity, earnestness, etc – are necessary in order to move beyond the intellectual knowledge that you are Brahman and not a separate soul – which indeed is simple to understand – to the elimination of the ego. These preparatory qualities are also effective descriptors of the end-result, the jnani. Thus the preparatory steps are essentially serving to attenuate the ego, to de-condition the mind.

    Hence Ramana Maharshi in Guru Vachaka Kovai says:

    529: the fire of desires of the jivas will be extinguished only by the direct (aparoksha) experience of the pure Self-knowledge, in which all the vasanas of the ignorant mind are dead. If the thirst and heat of the physical body could be quenched and cooled by a mirage, then the spiritual thirst could also be quenched by indirect knowledge (paroksha jnana).

    532: Is it possible to appease one’s hunger by eating food cooked by a painted picture of a blazing fire? Likewise, an end to the miseries of life and the enjoyment of the bliss of Self cannot be achieved by mere verbal knowledge, but only by the practical knowledge of Self, which is obtained by extinguishing the ego in the heart. Thus you should know.

    • Venkat,

      I see a big difference in what Ramana says and what you are putting forth in your paragraph above about The preparation……
      Moving beyond just an intellectual knowledge is not cultivated by any practice, any conformity. The dawning that you are not a self or separate being gives truth to detachment, discrimination, equanimity, etc., not the other way around. The real practice then begins as you deepen this realization through total surrender to what you are. What you are has nothing to do with practices, qualities, and mind. You can’t practice compassion. It is an expression, not an end in itself. How can you purify a mind?! Believing this kind of thing is trouble. Bringing your attention back to what is always present is the direct experience that Ramana talks about. This is what extinguishes the fires of desires.

      • Anonymous,
        This one Sufi told me
        “This whole business is about not talking about it – if you are not there you cannot talk about it because you have no clue; those who are there also say that you cannot talk about it because there is nothing to talk – if you understand this then you will really learn never to talk ”

  6. Anonymous

    I don’t disagree – that is the conundrum of preparation. And I agree that understanding leads to detachment leads to a deepening of the understanding, etc. Which happens on its own trajectory.

    What I was commenting on, is that there are 2 schools of thought here. One is that all you need is the ‘knowledge’ that “you are Brahman”, and if you are convinced of this, have complete belief / faith in it, then you are essentially free; so this is a ‘positive’ knowledge in the mind. The other, which Ramana (and JK, Nisargadatta, Atmananda, Ch’an, Dzogchen) talked about, is transcending knowledge and ignorance, i.e. going beyond concepts, to no-mind.

    So, as far as I can tell, the first school of thought stops at this knowledge – and if you are ‘convinced’ of it you, are a jnani. It goes on to say (see above, the initial article) that you may not be a jivanmukta (i.e. gain the ‘benefits’ of jnana – which seems a bit of an oxymoron) unless you are sufficiently detached and have equanimity. It doesn’t talk about the dissolution of the ego. So you can get a certificate once you have passed the jnana exams.

    Consequently it struck me, that this is probably why Sankara talked about the fourfold preparatory steps – to start attenuating the ego – or at least drawing attention to it, and its constant chattering, likes / dislikes, etc. Then you are more open to understanding the concept of no-separation, no I, etc

    Ramana’s self-attention, focusing on who am I, then takes over, and further deepens both the detachment from not-I and the understanding of I. If I may repeat Ramana’s v.44 from Aksharamanamalai:

    ‘Turning towards the Heart and away from external phenomena through detachment (vairagya), ceaselessly and one-pointedly examine and know the Self through the self, with the inward-turned vision which is of the form of the enquiry “Who am I? ” Then shall you (yourself) clearly know (as your very own nature , the truth of the words ,“You yourself, You alone, are the essence of the Real .”).’ Thus did you instruct me, [Arunachala! ] What a wonder is this!

    Two points on this verse. First, Ramana’s was direct, experiential knowledge, arising from the dissolution of the ego, not abstract knowledge (as he makes clear elsewhere).

    Second, to abide in the Self, in consciousness, you need the initial discrimination to see what is I and not-I, and to be detached from the not-I. These are two of Sankara’s four preparatory steps. And clearly to ceaselessly focus on the Self (rather than paying ‘serious’ attention to what you mistakenly think you are and the world around you) also needs a high degree of earnestness, or as Nisargadatta would say a “a surfeit of being the person that you are” – which is the third of the preparatory steps.

  7. PS. Just to reiterate, anonymous, I agree that you can’t practise these things. You can understand and be aware of your attachments, likes / dislikes, the habitual conditioning etc. You can’t force yourself to be detached, or compassionate. But by understanding that your separate I is false, then the awareness of your daily attachments may lead to a detachment on its own; and ditto compassion. Not sure how or why that arises, but you can’t really practice detachment, as both you and Michael have commented.

    PPS On compassion Nisargadatta said something alone the lines of ‘you either care for nothing at all (including yourself / family) or you care for everything equally, which amounts to the same thing’. Funny how it all kinda hangs together, correlates, once the illusion of the ego is appreciated.

  8. From my pov, the knowledge ‘You are Brahman’ is an intellectual understanding based on the mind’s reasoning/analytical capabilities. There is nothing wrong with that, but you are still bound in terms of believing in a separate self and all that it implies. Do you have to be convinced of this before the real stuff happens? I don’t think so.

    The only preparation that I can see is the actual contemplation of what you call yourself and what it implies. The breakthrough comes when you give up trying to understand with your mind. It is an acceptance of what is and what is always present no matter what experience arises. Then there is abidance. This abiding is all that’s necessary. Your ‘job’ is to abide, but you can only do that if you’ve entered The Stream. Before that, everything is just intellectual, theory, philosophy. The thirst remains. Systems don’t take you there. Only a clear look at ‘you’ can make a difference.

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