An Assortment of Short Questions

Here are a few short questions, with answers from Dennis, from the as-yet-unpublished backlog:

Q: I am a student of James Swartz.  I was wanting to find a good reference book for learning the terminology of Vedanta in Sanskrit.  James recommended I contact you to ask which one of your books would the most helpful.  If you have time to point me in the right direction it would be much appreciated.  Thank you.

A: That’s an easy one! The best book by far (of which I am aware) is John Grimes’ book. See first entry on http://www.advaita.org.uk/library/i_indian.html (and if you click through to Amazon to buy, you will earn me a small commission!)

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 Q: I am confused about what you mean (in the book ‘Enlightenment: The Path Through the Jungle’) by teachers who teach by Satsang.  I understood Satsang to mean an occasion to gather round a master to imbue his teachings and darshan and that this has been a time honored traditional practice of Saints and Gurus in India.

In the section where this is mentioned, it seems to take for granted that the reader is aware of what you mean by this term, as well as that a ‘neo-advaita’ movement, which I can’t really understand, has emerged.   Since I imagine I may not be the only one perplexed and uninformed about all this, Could you perhaps elaborate on this, possibly in the selfsame sections, as it certainly seems important and I am anxious to understand.  

Could what is termed ‘workshops’ in the US, which is to imply a weekend, week-long, or even just a day or half-day seminars be the way you mean ‘satsang’ in the UK.  Even if that is the case, I don’t understand the undesirability of this as great traditional teachers like Vivekananda traveled around conducting lectures and seminars to teach, so I am still in the dark and would implore you to shed light on this issue on behalf of those of us in ignorance about these matters.

A: What you say is correct. But the terms ‘satsang teacher’ and ‘neo-advaitin teacher’ are now in common usage in the West and understood by most. The book addresses the whole issue of correct traditional teaching versus the modern ‘non-teaching’ methods. Here are the definitions of those terms from the appendix of this book:

satsang (satsa~Nga) – (In the context of this book) the style of teaching popular in the West, whereby the teacher hosts short meetings of an hour or two or longer ‘residential’ courses of up to one or two weeks. The teacher may speak on a topic for a short time but, more usually, attendees ask whatever question might be on their mind and the teacher endeavors to answer this. Note that, in its traditional use, the word literally means ‘association with the wise or good’. It refers to a meeting in which some teaching is given, followed by question and answer. This is essentially the same meaning; the difference is that it forms just a part of traditional teaching whereas it is the entirety of most Western teaching.

Neo-advaita – the style of teaching that purports to express only the final, absolute truth of advaita. It does not admit of any ‘levels’ of reality and does not recognize the existence of a seeker, teacher, ignorance, spiritual path etc.

Very simply, the argument is that such approaches are most unlikely to be of any real help to the seeker.

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 Q: How does it happen that one can know “in the mind” that one is free, and yet continue to fall back into the conundrum of no longer feeling this freedom? Moments of complete freedom … knowing that it’s not my business to “do” life, not even to attempt to not “do” life … and yet slowly fall back into the habit?

A: There are quite a few questions on this topic at the site. What you are differentiating between is the j~nAnI (who is enlightened) and the jIvanmukta (who is established in peace/stillness etc all the time). The obstacles are called pratibandha-s (obstacle, hindrance, impediment, opposition, resistance ). And they are there because there was insufficient mental preparation (discipline, control etc) prior to enlightenment. So the mind is still prone to fall into old habits. If nothing is done, it is possible to ‘fall back’ to some degree. The solution is to continue to do nididhyAsana in the form of reading, studying, teaching or whatever; continually reminding oneself of the teaching and the truth of its conclusions.

But read the other Q&As and these might help.

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 Q: Many thanks to a great web page. I’ve been through all of the Q&A section, and it really cleared up a lot of things for me.

So, I really like Swami Dayananda’s way of teaching. His explanations is really excellent. I’ve been watching some old videos on YouTube with him (at a time when he didn’t talk so slow 🙂 ) and I’ve read “Introduction to Vedanta”. And now I want to read more written by him. I’ve visited the bookstore at http://books.arshavidya.org/ and there’s quite a collection of books, which makes me a bit confused of where to start. So, I want to ask you if you could please write me a list of in which order one should read his books. They are not that expensive, so I might buy a bunch of them the first time already.

A: Regarding Swami Dayananda’s books, I have not read all of them but all that I have read have been readable and useful to some degree. It really depends on the level or topic that interests you. If you want short talks on a wide variety of subjects, the two-volume ‘Talks and Essays of Swami Dayananda’ is excellent. You buy these separately, rather than as a set incidentally. Each is quite thick. I can highly recommend ‘Self-Knowledge’ and ‘Dialogues with Swami Dayananda’ – both short and ‘introductory’ in nature. ’The Value of Values’ and ‘Teaching Tradition of Advaita Vedanta’ are both classics. If you don’t mind a fair bit of Sanskrit (but English equivalents usually given when a word is introduced), then the two-volume ‘Mundaka Upanishad’ and ‘Vivekachudamani: Talks on 108 Selected Verses’ are both excellent. If you want really advanced, try the Taittiriya Upanishad, which is published in a ring binder – but I haven’t yet read this myself. But the highest recommendation has to go the Gita Home Study Course (I am currently on Volume 4). You can buy this in nine volumes, beautifully printed and presented, for $250 or as a searchable PDF on CD for $40.

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 Q: How does advaita explain psychic phenomena such as levitation, seeing past lives, creating a piece of fruit by thought, teleportation of things, and other phenomena mentioned by Patanjali and many ascended masters?

A: Advaita doesn’t attempt to explain such things, because they do not really have anything to do with Advaita. The bottom line of Advaita is that there is no creation, no people, no object, no action; there is only brahman. So you see it is not relevant.

It is certainly true that many teachers seem to tacitly acknowledge that some people do have such powers, which are called siddhi-s. But the pursuit of such things takes one away from the truth obviously and serves no useful purpose. Also, some teachers refer to what we might call magical illusions as part of their teaching of mAyA, for example. But this is purely for their utility in pointing towards the truth, in the same way as they use stories like the rope and snake.

This may not be a satisfying answer but I hope you can appreciate that it has to be the stance of Advaita.

Having said that, Advaita does address (in some of the more esoteric discussions) some aspects which fall into this sort of category. See, for example, my blog on the souls journey between lives: http://advaita-academy.org/blogs/DennisWaite/Between-Lives.ashx.

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Q: Whether this world, you ,me are present or I am dreaming,as I read in so many places in advaita books? If it is so then who is writing to whom?

A: There are lots of Q&As at the site on the subject of paramArtha versus vyavahAra. The answer to your question lies here. In reality, there is only Brahman but, in our ignorance we believe that there are separate people and a world of objects. When we gain Self-knowledge, we understand the reality. We still see the independent names and forms but know that they are all Brahman.

This word is real in the sense that it is Brahman; you are not dreaming it. You, the form of Brahman with the name X, are writing via computer name and form to me, who is also name and form of Brahman.

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1 thought on “An Assortment of Short Questions

  1. Q: How does it happen that one can know “in the mind” that one is free, and yet continue to fall back into the conundrum of no longer feeling this freedom? Moments of complete freedom … knowing that it’s not my business to “do” life, not even to attempt to not “do” life … and yet slowly fall back into the habit?

    What you are describing, the ‘complete freedom’ and the ‘falling back’, are both happening in the mind and are phases of intellectual interpretation of your experiences. It is not possible to have the freedom you seek in your mind. This is the hardest thing to come to accept. Because you are working from conceptual models of how you should be and what you think you should experience and feel like, you will be caught in this conundrum until you come to understand that all of this is a mental construct that you are giving energy to. All this becoming or not becoming has to be accepted as your self. Anything other than complete acceptance, keeps the conflict going and the search for understanding in place. This is the only problem. All of your concepts, all of your thinking, can never produce what you think you want. This is the illusion that keeps you identified with who you think you are. It takes tremendous attention to keep you focused on this movement of your mind. You have to observe yourself with your whole being. Good luck.

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