Q.509 Direct Path vs Traditional – Pt. 2

Part 2 – Free Will

Q: We talked earlier about the difference between the direct path and the traditional path.

I was looking through the free will section in your book Back to the Truth and I found this quotation by Franics Lucille:

We are entirely conditioned; therefore, there is no free will. It appears as though we exercise free choice, but in fact we are only reacting like automatons, running through the same patterns of our bio-sociological heritage without respite, leading invariably to the same old reactions, like a vending machine dispensing soft drinks in a train station. As individuals, our freedom is illusory, with the exception of the freedom which is ours at each moment to stop taking ourselves for separate individuals and thus putting an end to our ignorance and our suffering.

On the other hand, at the level of our deepest being, everything flows out of our freedom. Every thought, every perception takes birth because we want it to. We cannot understand this at the level of thought, but we can experience it. When we are totally open to the unknown, the personal entity is absent; then we realize that the tangible and intelligible universe arises out of this openness in the eternal present. We want, create and are at every moment everything in the unity of awareness. (Ref. 8)

[Waite, Dennis. Back To The Truth: 5000 Years Of Advaita (p. 76). NBN_Mobi_Kindle. Kindle Edition.]

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Q.508 Direct Path vs Traditional – Pt. 1

Part 1 – Prerequisites for Enlightenment

Q: I’ve been on the direct path (Krishna Menon, Jean Klein, Francis Lucille, Greg Goode, Rupert Spira) for about 3 years now and the journey has been incredible. Recently, while browsing your website, I came across Shankara’s sAdhana chatuShTaya, which, if my understanding is correct, are the prerequisites for self-realization according to Shankara. But I’m confused as to how some of these are prerequisites. I feel like some of them can only be fulfilled once one has realized their true nature, not before.

I can see how viveka and mumukShutva can be considered prerequisites – that is very reasonable. However, if we take vairAgya, or uparati, I cannot fathom how an apparent, separate self can satisfy or practice these requirements. How can it be possible for an apparent, separate self to be indifferent to joy and grief, like and dislike? A separate self is, almost by definition, strongly affected by likes and dislikes, joy and grief. In order to be indifferent to pleasure and pain, joy and grief etc., I feel like one has to have at least tasted the truth a few times and be able to (through something like self-inquiry) ‘walk back’ to and ‘rest’ as one’s true self, and only then be able to successfully practice uparati.

Then why are things like vairAgya considered prerequisites for self-realization, if (in my book) self-realization is a prerequisite for being able to satisfy the vairAgya requirement? How can an apparent separate self prepare or practice something like uparati (one of the shamAdi ShaTka sampatti), without it being completely fake? In my experience, uparati is only possible (and completely effortless) once you have realized the self. So the whole things seems backwards to me.

One explanation is that here Shankara is talking about final Self-realization in which there is no falling back to the old conditioning. But that implies that it is possible to realize the self clearly but, out of conditioning, fall back to the old patterns. (I’m not sure what traditional Advaita’s stance on this is yet). I may have answered my own question but I’d love to hear what you have to say about it!

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Apologies to Questioners

I offer my sincere apologies to any reader who has tried to submit a question (or other comment) in recent history. I discovered last week that attempts to send a message were receiving an error message reporting failure. I don’t know how long this problem has existed but I have noticed that, for some months, the numbers of questions had reduced and the ones that I did receive came from the Advaita.org.uk site.

I am pleased to say that I have now managed to fix the problem (by deleting and reinstalling the plugin). So the ‘Contact Us’ link at the bottom of this page is now working again! I would ask that any reader who was unsuccessful before now tries again.

After correcting this error, I had two spam posts within the first hour! Accordingly, I have added a few questions to the form to try to foil the spammers. Sorry about this (but they are quite easy if you are genuine)!

Q.507 – Mumukshutva

Q: In your ‘Book of One’, in the section ‘Process of realization’ is written “And if enlightenment has still not dawned, go back to the listening stage and repeat as necessary!“.

I understand that ‘being ‘established’ as a jñāni means you know who you are but further śravaṇa- manana-nididhyāsana is required to ‘eliminate’ the rest of the ignorance. But then I read “Only when the desire for freedom has been lost can we appreciate that we are already free.“.

Isn’t śravaṇa- manana-nididhyāsana also based on the desire for freedom? Then doesn’t it have to be let go too?

A: I warn in the beginning of that section about ‘sloppy’ thinking and writing but I myself often verge on that in trying to write in a way that will be ‘readable’ and even sometimes amusing or entertaining. It is a risky business and sometimes fails!

There is also the problem that, as my own studies continue, I will find better ways of expressing things and be more accurate (or less confusing) in what I say. I am currently rewriting ‘Back to the Truth’ so that it is clear that I only really recommend traditional teaching and so that I do not include potentially misleading extracts unless I also point out why they may be misleading. The second edition of ‘Book of One’ was written around 12 years ago so maybe that is also in need of a new edition!

Anyway – to your question.

People only become seekers when they become dissatisfied with their lives and realize they want to find out how things ‘really’ are. This is the most important requirement – mumukśutva – the desire for liberation. This is the one desire that is ‘allowed’ (indeed necessary) in Advaita. The other required mental ‘skills’ you will have read about under sādhana catuṣṭaya sampatti. Once you have the right mental outlook, you can begin the process of acquiring Self-knowledge. The aspect that actually gives you enlightenment is śravaṇa – hearing the explanation of the scriptures from the guru. The ‘repetition’ is that, when you hear something (or read), you may need to ask questions to clarify and remove doubts. That is manana. Then you listen some more, ask more questions etc. Eventually you hear/read the final clarification and you ‘get it’. You are now a jñānī. But habitual ways of thinking and acting still linger and you have to go over the teaching again, perhaps many times, before those habits go and you have total peace of mind, fearlessness, desirelessness etc. That final stage is nididhyāsana and ‘converts’ the jñānī to a jīvanmukta. You can read all about that stage in the posts on pratibandha-s beginning

https://www.advaita-vision.org/pratibandha-s-part-1-of-6/.

I would actually delete the paragraph regarding losing the desire for freedom. Don’t know where that came from!

Hope that dispels the confusion.

Q.506 – Prayer

Q: I have been studying Advaita for the last 20 years. I have read multiple books on the subject and I am presently reading your book “Answers…” but have only read 213 pages so far. 

The dilemma I have concerns praying or addressing myself to what I call ‘Infinite Consciousness’. 

I start by asking that the veil of ignorance be lifted from the mind so that ‘what is’ may be revealed. Next, I give thanks for the day, for all things done, for animals and vegetables eaten and meaningful words read. But, in so doing, 3 questions have occurred:

  1. Adhering to the teachings of Advaita, I find myself asking: “Who am I praying to?” and
  2. “Who is praying?”. 
  3. If I am simply an expression of ‘God’, am I addressing myself in these prayers (because if so, I have a huge issue with an ego inflating itself)?
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Q.505 Creation and Enlightenment

Q: I am struggling to reconcile the empirical account of what may be called ‘creation’ (the Big Bang, followed by billions of years of mechanically unfolding interactions with no sense of self, until the absurdly *recent* emergence of consciousness after further millions of years of blind evolution) with the advaitic concept of ‘creation’ (the absolute Being, timeless and changeless, manifesting in Itself as experience). 

A: The ‘bottom line’ of Advaita is that there has never been any ‘creation’. There is only Brahman. Everything is Brahman. You are Brahman. The ‘universe’ is simply a ‘form’ of Brahman, to which you have given ‘names’ implying that there are separately existing entities.

The scriptures (from which Advaita derives) certainly give ‘empirical accounts’ of a creation. But these are interim explanations only to satisfy the enquirer temporarily until ready to accept the truth.

Science does attempt to rationalize consciousness as an emergent phenomenon, but it is doomed to fail because it cannot objectify the ultimate subject. See my article on ‘Consciousness – Not Such a Hard Problem’ beginning https://www.advaita-vision.org/consciousness-not-such-a-hard-problem-1-of-2/. Also https://www.advaita-vision.org/science-and-consciousness/. Science in general is intrinsically unable to address the problems dealt with by Advaita. See my 4-part article on ‘Science and the nature of absolute reality’ beginning https://www.advaita-vision.org/science-and-the-nature-of-absolute-reality-part-1/, which may contain useful pointers. And the 3-part article by Dr. Sadananda beginning https://www.advaita-vision.org/science-and-vedanta-part-1/

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Q.504 – Covid and Enlightenment

Q: According to Advaita, God is  ONE, and manifestations are  many. The term ‘God’ is also called ‘Consciousness/Awareness’. It is a fundamental principle that there is nothing beyond Consciousness; everything arising from  Consciousness is Consciousness only. Dualities such as good-bad are not found in Consciousness.

If all this is the case, can the  virus COVID-19,  which is  shaking the world,  also be termed  as ‘Consciousness’?

A: Yes indeed – the substantial reality of Covid is also Consciousness, since there is only Consciousness. It is like the metaphor – bangle, chain and ring are all only gold.

But in the empirical reality of the world, the form of Covid brings disease whereas the form of vaccination brings protection from disease. No real problem – Consciousness is not affected by any of it!

Q: Thank you very much for your reply. However I have the grievance that I, the individualized spirit, cannot stop worrying  about the distress caused  practically , even though my ego mind is convinced with the theory of Advaita.

How can I reconcile the practical difficulties which  I face  with the teaching of advaita? What  you have stated is  only based on Advaita theory. I am badly hit by the above disease. Please advise.

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Q.503 Seer-seen discrimination

Q. How can we inquire into our true self, if the one inquiring (mind) is not actually the self?

A: You are not the mind – it is an instrument if you like. You are the Consciousness that ‘reflects’ in the mind.

Q: By saying that the mind is an instrument, are you suggesting that the mind can refer to our true self (pure consciousness) during contemplation?

A: I am not clear what you are asking here. By ‘mind is an instrument’, I mean that who-you-really-are is not the mind; you are using the mind to interact with the world. (Indeed the ‘mind enlivened by Consciousness’ effectively ‘creates’ the world by separating out forms and giving them names.) The mind is itself inert and cannot do anything without Consciousness (your ‘true self’).

Q: If thought has some form of awareness, as demonstrated by introspection, and its ability to refer to contents of the mind, would it be out of the realm of possibility to assume that it is the one responsible for direct experience of mental objects? How can we be certain that awareness is an independent entity when it is something that seems to also be possessed by thought in some instances?

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Q.502 Brahman and Awareness

Q1.     Many advaita teachings suggest that on the absolute level of reality, there are no objects, no people, no selves, and many times, people will say that, ‘from awareness’ point of view, there is just awareness’… However, in my experience it seems that awareness has the ability to know finite objects because ‘I’ (awareness) am the observer of thoughts, feelings, and sensations (all finite objects). So how can we say that from awareness’ point of view there are no objects, when awareness is aware of finite things? To piggyback off of this, is there some way to differentiate between the witnessing position and the absolute viewpoint? because I think this is where I am really getting mixed up.

Q2.     Why does it seem that awareness can know something finite when it is infinite? I’ve heard from certain advaita teachers that consciousness takes the form of the mind in order to know finite objects, but this confuses me because that would imply that awareness becomes the mind, but is also simultaneously aware of the mind. It seems a little far fetched in my opinion, but maybe I’m just not understanding it completely.

A: I never use the term ‘awareness’ for precisely this sort of reason. It is a term used by Nisargadatta and his disciples and causes much confusion. I only use it in the context of X being ‘aware of’ Y, in duality.

The non-dual reality in Advaita is called Brahman, strictly speaking. Being non-dual, it has no ‘attributes’ If it had the attribute X, this would mean that it could not be ‘not-X’, which would then negate the fact that Brahman is said to be unlimited or infinite (anantam). You might find the 3-part post beginning https://www.advaita-vision.org/satyam-gyanam-anantam-brahma/ useful.

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Desire and Enlightenment

Following an extended, off-line discussion, I have added a new sub-section to Volume 1 of my next book, ‘Confusions in Advaita Vedanta’ and I am posting this below. I am currently in the process of editing the proof copy of the book and it will be published by Indica Books in Varanasi, hopefully in 2022. Details will, of course, be provided as soon as it is available. It will be printed in hardback and paperback but unfortunately not in electronic format.

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It was mentioned in 2.g that desire stems from the belief that we are lacking something in our life, and that acquiring the desired object (gross or subtle) will somehow make us complete. The fact that this appears actually to happen albeit only for a short time, if we get the object, reinforces this belief. When Self-ignorance is removed, it is realized that we actually are the complete, infinite Brahman. Accordingly, it is reasonable, natural and, indeed, inevitable that desires are effectively dissolved instantly. There is nothing other than me that I lack and could want. (The proviso here is that some desires may seem not to have disappeared because the associated action was habitual. This is discussed at length in 3.s – pratibandha-s.)

As Sureshvara puts it in his Naiṣkarmya Siddhi (1.73):

“And tell me what possible cause could there be for action on the part of one who is established in the Absolute and has become everything, both individually and collectively, not seeing anything as other than himself.” (Ref. 7)

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