Q.545 – How can I ‘do’ anything?

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Q.544 – Evil in the world

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Q.543 Life-coaching

A: Fundamentally, everyone is already the Self/Brahman/Absolute (whichever word you prefer), since there is only the nondual reality. But of course most people do not know this. They are only interested in pursuing money/fame/relationships etc. and would never accept the truth or even be interested in listening. Assuming that you, yourself, are convinced of the truth, you would simply be wasting your time attempting to explain this.

Nevertheless, again assuming that you fully accept Advaita, you know that these ‘others’ are in fact your Self, so why would you want to propagate their mistaken view of life? The only reasonable approach is to be available to help them move towards the truth if they actively seek to do this, but simply to let them continue in their ignorance otherwise.

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Advaita Gurus and Critics – part 9

Analysis and Interpretation
by Prof. Phillip Charles Lucas

<Read Part 8>

In the remainder of this article, I analyze and interpret the criticisms of NTMA teachers and teachings using theoretical frames drawn from the sociology of religions, history of North American religions, and ongoing scholarly conversations concerning adaptations and distortions that occur when Hindu traditions move from their homeland to the cultural matrices of North America.

On one level, the spread of Modern Advaita (both NTMA and TMA) gurus and organizations is simply a manifestation of the entrepreneurial spirit that long has characterized the North American religious landscape. In a sense these teachers are engaged in niche franchising of the Modern Advaita message. This is the case because most teachers active in North American Modern Advaita circles today spent time as disciples of one or another guru from either the TMA or NTMA orbits.

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Advaita Gurus and Critics – part 8

by Prof. Phillip Charles Lucas

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Theme Five: Pre-transcendence, Depersonalization and Level Confusion

A fifth and final theme of the critics is that NTMAs make no allowance for the Advaita distinction between absolute and relative levels of awareness. As a result, these teachers allegedly tend to devalue a life of engaged spiritual practice and the balanced development of physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual dimensions of the self. By placing all their emphasis on the most advanced state of spiritual realization, NTMA teachers and students are seen as being prone to “pre-transcendence,” a premature assumption of ultimate spiritual liberation that leads to de-personalization and disengagement from ordinary life. California-based NTMA teacher John Wheeler articulates this radically depersonalized position:

The real clarity comes from seeing the absence of the person. It is the person that gums up the works and creates all the problems and supposed solutions. Just keep coming back to the fundamentals. Your nature is luminous, ever-present, radiant, perfect, being-awareness. This is fully realized and complete right now…. With the emphasis off of the mind and the [personal] conceptual story, you will be much more present, because there is no filter. There is no person with all of its preferences and partialities trying to negotiate every experience.

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Advaita Gurus and Critics – part 7

by Prof. Phillip Charles Lucas

<Read Part 6>

Theme Four: Shortcomings of the Satsang Format

A fourth theme of the TMA criticisms focuses on the shortcomings of the satsang format itself. The usual format of the NTMA satsang begins with a period of quiet reflection followed by mantra invocations/chanting and questions and answers from attendees. Some participants approach the raised platform where the teacher is seated and enter into an intimate dialogue with the teacher. As Frisk observes in her study of the Satsang Network, there is sometimes an element of entertainment and laughter in these events, often focused on questioners and their interactions with the teacher. [Frisk, “The Satsang Network,” 67.]

Music and dance also can be part of the program, although this was rare in my fieldwork experiences. The satsang format is well suited to North American seekers, who have been conditioned to the public confessional approach found on daytime talk shows such as Oprah and Dr. Phil and who may expect personal attention or “therapy” along with spiritual instruction from their teachers. TMA proponents question the core motivations of attendees and allege that many of them are simply seeking self-empowerment, “self-help,” and an ephemeral experience of spiritual community rather than serious engagement in the arduous task of ego transcendence.

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Advaita Gurus and Critics – part 6

by Prof. Phillip Charles Lucas

<Read Part 5>

Theme Three: Insufficient Grounding in Vedanta Traditions (concluded)

Tony Parsons articulates the NTMA counterargument on this matter quite clearly:

Traditional Advaita appears to make proper use of logic, reason, belief, and experience, rational explanation, truth, and traditional wisdom, all directed towards helping the seeker along the path to their enlightenment. The Open Secret’s apparent communication is illogical, unreasonable, unbelievable, paradoxical, non-prescriptive, non-spiritual and uncompromising. There is no agenda or intention to help or change the individual. Its resonance is shared energetically, not through the exchange of ideas. It is prior to all teachings and yet eternally new. [Tony Parsons, “Traditional Not Two-ness.”]

Waite counters that Advaita tradition, although holding a high degree of reverence for its scriptural corpus, does not regard the scriptures as a perfect articulation of absolute truth that cannot be questioned or clarified. Rather, they are a “reliable source of self-knowledge in which one can trust until such time as the truth is realized for oneself, at which time they are discarded along with the ignorance they helped to dispel.” [Waite, Enlightenment, 24, 37-39]

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Q. 542 ‘Doership’ and Osho

A: Osho is not a reliable source of teaching according to Advaita. I have read a few of his books and was most impressed by his breadth of knowledge. But his sources are many and he does not always differentiate. There are several non-dual teachings and any may take you to the final understanding. But my own knowledge is now strictly oriented towards traditional Advaita (Gaudapada-Ṥaṅkara-Sureshvara).

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Advaita Gurus and Critics – part 5

by Prof. Phillip Charles Lucas

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Theme Three: Insufficient Grounding in Vedanta Traditions

A third theme criticizes NTMA teachers for their lack of grounding in the Sanskrit language and Advaita scriptures, and their concomitantly premature assumption of the guru role. TMA proponents see this grounding as essential for any teacher who is to be an effective agent of Advaita awakening. Without it, the Advaita system of self-realization gets watered down, key Sanskrit terms are misinterpreted, and NTMA teaching becomes little more than a psychological massage for stressed-out Westerners.

Sanjay Kumar Srivastava, a frequent TMA commentator on various Advaita-oriented discussion forums, bluntly summarizes the TMA position: “In ‘Advaita’ you get enlightenment only through study of Upanishads and other Vedic scriptures. All other religious practices including meditations etc. are considered at best a preparation of mind to understand the message of Upanishads and at worst superfluous.” [Sanjay Kumar Srivastava, “Watering down Advaita: Westerners Corrupt Hindu Terminology!” Sarlo’s Guru Rating Service, at <http://www3.telus.net/public/sarlo/Yadvaita.htm>, accessed 6 May 2013. The first entry is written by Sanjay Kumar Srivastava, but the whole seems to be Waite’s.]

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Advaita Gurus and Critics – part 4

by Prof. Phillip Charles Lucas

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Theme Two: The Necessity for Moral Development

The second critical theme claims that NTMA teachers ignore moral development as a prerequisite for spiritual realization. TMA proponents claim that efficacious sadhana includes the cultivation of traditional Vedic virtues such as faith, devotion and perseverance, and allege that many NTMA gurus not only lack these virtues but also fail to emphasize their importance. Some critics articulate the development of virtues employing the traditional practice of Vaidika Dharma, rules of conduct that govern human behavior according to a system of duties to society, the gods and one’s family. TMA proponents contend that when a person sacrifices personal desires to serve the Divine and others, vasana-production becomes non-binding and therefore no longer an impediment to realization of the self. [Swartz, “What is Neo-Advaita?”]

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