Q. 423 Logical proof

Q: Is there a logical proof that all souls are multiple personalities of the same self, and of what therefore  to do?

A (Dennis): ‘No’ is the simple answer. If there were, scientists would not still be looking for the origin of consciousness in the brain! It is rather that there exists a body of knowledge from those who have realized that this is how it is. ‘Teachers’ draw on this, together with their own experience, to explain things to seekers until such time as they realize the truth for themselves. To one who has been through this process, there is no problem in understanding that this is perfectly acceptable. To one who has not, however, it seems quite unacceptable and not really any different from the ‘faith’ of religions.

Incidentally, the phrasing of your question indicates that you do not appreciate the ‘bottom line’ message of Advaita. There are no individual ‘souls’ or ‘personalities’ and nothing to ‘do’ in reality. There is only the Self – and you are That (already). You just do not realize this. I.e. all that needs to happen is to remove the ignorance that is preventing you from seeing what is already the case.

Q.404 Practising Advaita

Q: I need some practical guidance on practising advaita in daily life. Please advise me of the best course of action.

A (Dennis): You cannot ‘practise’ Advaita. Advaita is a teaching/philosophy. Its aim is to bring you to the total understanding that reality is non-dual; that all-there-is is brahman or Consciousness, and that who-you-really-are is that brahman. Only the body-mind can ‘practise’ or ‘live a life’ and you are not that. The body-mind and the world are mithyA, which means that they are not real in themselves; their real substratum is brahman.

Q: Many thanks for the response. I have a question though. I understand that Advaita is a philosophy.  But what does one do with a philosophy? Try to understand? Try to live it? What is my next course of action? I know that action should be ruled out. But what is the next step for me? What do I do or where do I go from here. I hope I am able to explain my point. I look forward to hear from you.

A: Advaita is a teaching methodology. It provides a step by step ‘education’ for the seeker to bring him or her Self-knowledge. Ideally, this teaching is given by a qualified teacher. This is someone who already has Self-knowledge and also has the skills to teach it to someone else. Since the original teaching derives from the scriptures, a deep understanding of these and a knowledge of Sanskrit is also deemed by many to be a necessary qualification for a teacher.

Accordingly, the next step would ideally be to find such a teacher and study with them for as long as necessary – usually at least a few years. Failing that, you have to read widely (but only those books that do not confuse!) and ask lots of questions (of someone who can answer them!).

Q.397 – Why are scriptures needed?

Q: From the blogs and articles on Advaita, it seems like Scriptures are the basis from which everything is derived. If Scriptures were also written by humans, why is it considered sacred? Why can’t we independently come to same conclusions completely discarding scriptures?

e.g. Why couildn’t Vivekananda or Ramana Maharishi state something original about Self without reference to scriptures? All we see is a definition of Self without knowing the process by which it has been arrived at. I feel I am no different from the guy who slaughters innocent people because something is stated in a Book.

A (Dennis): Upanishadic material was passed down by word of mouth long before it was written down. From teacher to disciple; from those who knew to those who did not. The disciple trusts that the teacher will explain things until such time as the disciple realizes the truth. The seeker is specifically asked to use reason and own experience to validate what is said. If what is initially taken on trust is found to be invalid, it is rejected. If it is contrary to reason, it is rejected.

How does this process differ from science? Should you re-prove/re-derive all of the scientific laws from first principle and own experiments before you accept them? And if something is true, and fully understood by those who have gone before, how can one state something ‘original’? Moreover, why should one try? If teacher-seeker tradition over thousands of years have established an optimal way of passing on knowledge, isn’t it the height of arrogance to think one could do better?

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.

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

Why Advaita Works

To explore the womb, or tomb, or dreams; all these are usual

Pastimes and drugs, and features of the press:

And always will be, some of them especially

When there is distress of nations and perplexity

Whether on the shores of Asia, or in the Edgware Road. (T. S. Eliot. Four Quartets, 3.5)

If you are reading this magazine*, I suggest that there is a high probability that you are not happy! It is an undeniable fact that the majority of people today are dissatisfied with what they perceive as being a mediocre existence. They may feel that they are limited by an unattractive and illness-prone body or by a mind that is imperfectly educated and unable to make intellectual leaps of understanding. There are very many things that we want – objects, partners, lifestyle, jobs etc – but few that we seem to be able to obtain. (And, even when we do obtain them, their rewards are invariably ephemeral.) Western society relies upon the media advertising all of these things, and thereby continually reinforcing the desires. Being repeatedly frustrated by this materialistic lifestyle, it should be hardly surprising that many turn towards the spiritual in the hope that this might bring about peace and a durable happiness. Continue reading

Guru – Teacher

For the knowledge “Tat Tvam Asi – Thou art that”, espoused by the Vedas, to become “Self-Knowledge”, tradition says we need to hear it from a Guru. It is important to understand why we do need to hear it only from a Guru. Will not text books, audio recordings, internet and such other facilities do? Even if I were to surrender to the traditional advise how do I know who a Guru is? Where will be come from? How do I identify him to be the one?

गुकारस्त्वन्धकारोवै रुकारस्तन्निवर्तकः। अन्धकारनिरोधित्वात् गुरुरित्यभिधीयते॥

gukārastvandhakārovai rukārastannivartakaḥ| andhakāranirodhitvāt gururityabhidhīyate||

The word Guru is formed from two roots, Gu, and Ru; Gu stands for darkness and Ru stands for removal of that darkness. The person who dispels one’s darkness (ignorance) and leads one to light (knowledge) is called a Guru. Only such a person, who gives one self-knowledge, can be called a Guru; none else. Contemporary phrases such as “Management Guru” are extensions of this understanding, however I deem them to be inappropriate.

The next question that naturally arises is how do I know that this given person is my Guru.

तद् विज्ञानार्थं स गुरुमेवाभिगच्छेत् समित्पाणिः श्रोत्रियं ब्रह्मनिष्टम्॥

tad vijñānārthaṁ sa gurumevābhigacchet samitpāṇiḥ śrotriyaṁ brahmaniṣṭam||

The upaniṣad uses two adjectives while referring to a Guru, Śrotriya and Brahmaniṣṭa. A Śrotriya is one who has learnt the wisdom of the Vedas from another Guru who, in turn belongs to the Guru Śiṣya Parampara. A Brahmaniṣṭa is one who, having gained the knowledge, has made it his own and revels in it. Of these two adjectives, it takes another Brahmaniṣṭa to know one of his own kind; a student is unqualified to make that conclusion. This is the truth; all indicators currently used to identify a Brahmaniṣṭa are motivated and only serve to claim their own leader to be a Brahmaniṣṭa, and that’s precisely why we see so many leaders with diagonally opposite characteristics confusing the day light out of our wits. Therefore, it is the Śrotriya that a student should seek; and his Parampara should vouch safe for his qualification to be a Guru.

Now to the question of why should we hear it only from a Guru. Here is why. To understand a single word of a given upaniṣad, mere knowledge of Sanskrit or just that upaniṣad, is not sufficient; but that of the entire śāstra, is required. However, knowledge of the whole śāstra, is gained only word by word; how does one break this catch-22? The Guru Śiṣya Parampara provides the answer, for, when you hear it from a Guru, you hear the meaning of a given word from the one who knows the whole. That Guru, as a student, would have heard it from his Guru, who knows the whole, and so on. What about the 1st Guru, the ādi guru? He is none other than Sadāśiva or Nārāyaṇa, whose nature is “All Knowledge” and hence do not need a Guru.

Vedanta is like Mathematics. 1+1 should always yield 2, irrespective of which part of the globe you are taught, which language you are taught in, who teaches you, or what time it is. Knowledge we have seen already is vastu tantram – so there should only be one answer, one solution, like even in Mathematics; yet there seems to be many schools of thought, opinions and conclusions. A proper teaching methodology, that’s time tested and proven, will resolve this conflict. This is what an aspiring student should opt for, for this is not only the surest method, but the only one to gain self-knowledge. More on this later.

It should be evident by now that this knowledge cannot be gained from mere textbooks, for, our prejudices will interfere with the purport of the words. Constant and consistent interaction and clarification with the Guru is required in order to grasp the intended meaning.

Lastly, how do I come across this Śrotriya who has the proper methodology to teach. That is just by Īśvara‘s grace; to get that grace, sincere Prayer is the only way.