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.

Tattvabodha – Part 5

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPart 5 of the commentary by Dr. VIshnu Bapat on Shankara’s Tattvabodha.This is a key work which introduces all of the key concepts of Advaita in a systematic manner.

The commentary is based upon those by several other authors, together with the audio lectures of Swami Paramarthananda. It includes word-by-word breakdown of the Sanskrit shloka-s so should be of interest to everyone, from complete beginners to advanced students.

Part 5 continues to look at the six sAdhanA-s (shamAdhi shakti sampatti), and in this part addresses uparama (observance of duty), titikshA (forbearance) and shraddhA (faith). There is also a hyperlinked Contents List, which will be updated as each new part is published.

Q. 367 – shraddhA – Is it necessary?

Q. I come from an atheistic upbringing, and in addition I have studied a good chunk of modern Western philosophy and science, and such a position has become my “default mode”. A day came a couple years back where I found myself in a deep existential crisis (one that is most certainly still ongoing), and so I looked for a spiritual path that could reconcile what I knew of philosophy/science with spirituality. Advaita seemed to be the one that not only fit the bill the best, but also resonated with me the most. But on this path, I find myself constantly slipping into the habits of thought that I am used to. I try to cling to the pieces that don’t fit neatly into the materialist story, but I’m very much aware that I’m hanging on to them because I’m worried, not because I have a strong belief in their truth. If there is a teaching that goes against the grain of most scientific thought, even slightly, I tell myself I must discard it – “otherwise you’re just fooling yourself”, I say.

I notice this thought process, and it’s disturbing to me. I want to be open to what Advaita has to offer, but it’s incredibly tough – I worry often that a spiritual path of any kind is not possible for someone like me. I have a good deal of mumukshutva, but no shraddha. Can someone without shraddha somehow gain it? How necessary is it? And how can I break through my old habits of thinking, and gain that faith that there’s something more than just this body? Continue reading

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?

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Topic of the Month – Belief

The topic for Aug 2014 is belief.

People believe all sorts of things. Over time, these may prove to be true but all too frequently are found to be false. Are we ever ‘justified’ in believing? There is clearly some overlap with the Advaitin’s concept of shraddhA, faith, here!

Here is a quote I used in ‘Book of One’: A belief is not merely an idea the mind possesses; it is an idea that possesses the mind. Robert Bolton

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

The Purpose of Life, Part 6

 

Inquiry 6:  What is the Purpose of the Apparent?

 
And even if reality is non-dual, why this seeming duality? Why does this mithyA of life exist?

 

As has already been established, there is no creation.  The word “creation” implies that something that previously did not exist has been somehow brought into existence, that something new has entered the arena of the old or already-previously-established.  Since, however, there exists nothing other than consciousness/awareness and therefore such is the sole substratum of the entire field of manifestation and all the objects inhabiting it, it is not possible for anything new to arrive on the scene.  All apparent objects, including those making their first appearance in a given form, are nothing other that a reconstitution and/or reconfiguration of the same one substance of which the entire apparent reality consists.

 

From perspective of both the apparent individual and God/Isvara/the macrocosmic causal body (though it should be understood that the latter is not a personal entity) there is, nevertheless, an apparent creation.   There is, however, a difference between the apparent individual’s projected interpretation of reality (i.e. jiva shrishti) and God’s appearance as “creation” (i.e. Isvara shrishti).

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The Purpose of Life, Part 5

Inquiry 5:  What Validity Has Vedanta?

 


The root problem is that in the end, even Advaitic teachings finally rely on ‘blind faith’ to put their point across. There’s nothing wrong in having faith. All religions ask for blind belief in the almighty to get you your promised ‘Kingdom of God’. It’s only in Advaita that folks try to push their case by saying: “No, it’s not pure faith, it’s by reason and discourse that we reach the truth etc”.

To quote Gaudapada in his Mandukya Upanishad kArikA, “That which is stated in the scriptures ‘and is supported by reason’ is true and nothing else”. The ‘reason/discourse’ argument for following Advaita is pure bunkum, in my opinion. It relies on blind faith not on a deity, but in an obscure ‘Self’.

 

The implication of this series of questions is that the self is wholly theoretical, that it is some philosophical conjecture cooked up and served to the mindless masses as a means of pacifying their angst over an apparently purposeless existence.  It further suggests that the self is either a half-baked notion to be accepted on blind faith or an intricate intellectual construct whose validity is so be settled through argument alone.

 

Vedanta, however, is neither a faith-based religion nor a theoretical philosophy.  True, its method of self-inquiry does require faith in its initial stages because the student’s understanding is still clouded by ignorance.  But the truth revealed by Vedanta is verifiable through a conscientious examination of one’s own experience.  This isn’t to say, of course, that self-knowledge is a discrete experience, but rather that the knowledge contained in experience and which can be culled from it through thoughtful, logical inquiry does serve to reveal the truth when it is properly understood and assimilated.

 

Actually, according to Vedanta, the quest for a discrete experience of the self is completely gratuitous.  The fact of the matter is that we are already experiencing the self every moment of our lives.  If reality is non-dual – which it is – then quite obviously there exists nothing other than the self that can be, ever has been, or ever will be experienced.

 

This assertion, of course, voicing as it does the fundamental understanding upon which the whole science of self-inquiry is based, begs an answer to the question, “How do we know that the nature of reality is non-dual?”

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Q. 355 – Faith in a Path

Q: How do we get the conviction to go on a spiritual quest?  Unlike science, there are no indicators to give feedback if this is even the right path. We need to have blind faith the general idea itself before we venture into it. Can we only do this through negation of the other paths where apparently validations are possible by material feedback.

A devil’s advocate argument could be do dismiss everything associated with vedas/upanishads as nonsense as nothing can be proved. Another way to look at this is to acknowledge that the ancient sages have come up with practices such as yoga and meditation which sort of proves their intellect and extra polate on their ability to see things farther than a average person can and thereby have faith in their judgements.

 I am not able to articulate my question very well but I hope I got my point across.

Answers are provided by: RamesamDhanya, Ted and Dennis.

A (Ramesam): Man, by his/her very nature, feels incomplete. He seeks fulfillment of what he lacks through effort using his natural or acquired talents.  In fact, it is this “lack” that drives his passion for action along the path of the means chosen by him suiting to his comfort-level.

At the most basic level the drives that motivate a man for action are the biological and physiological needs.  As described by the Psychologist Maslow, the subtlety of these needs changes from a lower to higher level in the following manner: Continue reading

The Purpose of Life, Part 4

Inquiry 4:  Is There Any Proof That The Self Exists?

This then raises my more fundamental query. This ‘Self’ on which reams have been written – what is the proof that such a ’Self’ exists? 

I know that the self is by virtue of the fact that I am.  Simply put, the self is – I am – self-evident.  More to the point, I know the self because I am the self.

“Still,” you might ask, “how do I know that my self is THE self?”

Some suggest that there may be more than one self.  The singularity of awareness, however, can again be verified by yet another meticulous examination of one’s own experience.

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