|A while ago Ramesam inquired about the way I teach students in Germany. After receiving my answer he suggested to post it on Advaita Vision and was so kind as to help me put it into better English.
I feel blessed to have the opportunity of teaching Advaita Vedanta to select students who are sincerely committed to explore the ultimate truth. The program I adopt is highly flexible and tailored to the particular needs of the students, yet I have a general approach that I apply with variations.
I have to admit that my way of teaching is quite time consuming compared to other teachers. But it works. That’s why so far I keep sticking with it. In the future I may have to change it because with more and more students joining I will have to find more practical solutions.
Medium of Instruction:
The medium of instruction is German, and usually I do not give classes in English. Even though most Germans have a working knowledge of English, some don’t (especially those who grew up in Eastern Germany where they learned Russian, and not English, as the second language). Most of my students are very intelligent and educated, but I also have a few who failed in school and do not know English. What I look for in a student is whether he/she wants to discover the ultimate truth and yearns for liberation (mumukshatvam). So if they have mumukshutvam, I accept them as students, with or without English. However, as the student advances in his studies, it usually becomes necessary to shift to English because I find that there are no suitable German translations of Vedantic texts, let alone Shankara’s commentaries on the Upanishads etc. Fortunately for us, so far there has always been one or the other student who could translate the texts from English to German with me carrying out the corrections. I use these translations in my classes. Continue reading
Author Archives: Sitara
An Ode to Vedantic Teaching
Visitors of this site will have noticed that I am not as active any more blogging and taking part in the discussions as I have been for years. The reason is mainly because I am very occupied with teaching and I simply do not have enough energy left for a lot of activities on the site. So I am happy to be able to post a blog today. It is in fact a blog that one of my students has posted on his own website and I felt that it was a veritable hymn about Advaita Vedanta. With his kind permission I offer it to all seekers who may be in a similar situation as the author was before he discovered the treasures of Vedanta.
You know that moment, at the end of the night and u wake up, knowing, determent, clearheaded, when u realise things fall back into place, yes fall back into, as u come back to knowing that u realise stuff, more, when information has made sense. As the wind gently howls across the building in late autumn. Continue reading
The Theory of Vivarta
Advaita Vedaanta explains the creation of the world by the theory of vivarta. (…) According to Advaita, the effect is not an actual transformation of the cause. Brahman is immutable and there can be no transformation of it. It only serves as the substratum (adhishThaana) for the appearance of the universe, just as the rope serves as the substratum for the appearance of the illusory snake.
This appearance of the universe is due to avidyaa, or nescience, which conceals Brahman by its veiling power (aavaraNa s’akti) and projects the universe by its power of projection (vikshepa s’akti). The universe is therefore said to be only a vivarta, or apparent transformation, of Brahman. Like the illusory snake with rope as the substratum, the universe is illusory, or mithyaa, with Brahman as the substratum.
But there is a vital difference between the illusoriness of the rope-snake and that of the universe. While the snake is purely illusory, or praatibhaasika, the universe has empirical, or vyaavahaarika, reality. That means that the universe is real for all those who are still in ignorance of Brahman. It loses its reality only when Brahman is realized as the only reality and as identical with one’s own self, or, in other words, when identification with the body-mind complex completely disappears.
Bondage is nothing but identification with the body-mind complex. This identification being due only to the ignorance of the truth that one is really the aatmaa, which is the same as Brahman, it can be removed only by the knowledge of one’s real nature as Brahman.
Vedanta Spiritual Library | http://www.celextel.org/ Elucidation of Terms and Concepts in Vedanta [Based on the Commentaries of Sri Sankaracharya and other authoritative texts] By S. N. Sastri
Three Advaitic Views on Creation
The Supreme Brahman is both the material as well intelligent cause but unchanging;
The creation is transfiguration and not production of a thing not existing before or transformation.
- yathA srShTi tathA drShTi – as the creation so the vision (experience) is put forth by advocates of many individual souls. Hence creation of the world is by God; certain experiences (universal) like fire burning whether you know it or not, sun will rise in east and set in west even if you know truth to be otherwise; sky will appear blue though colourless…. World has empirical reality.
- yathA drShTi tathA srShTi – as the vision (experience) so the creation is put forth by advocates of single soul. One’s own likes and dislikes are the cause for experience of pleasure and pain and contact of senses with objects is the producer of heat and cold. So whole world is subjective. World is apparent reality.
- ajAta – not separately born is put forth by those who say there is no individual soul separate from brahman at any point of time. As all have to agree that in the beginning (before world) only brahman was there and after dissolution it is only going to be there, that which was not in the beginning and not going to be in the end need not be accepted to exist in the middle. Since Vedas declare all these are brahman only, they hold at no point of time there is a jIva (individual soul) ever separated from brahman to be re-united through efforts and become brahman – none in bondage or trying for release or as released. Since brahman cannot be grasped but is the substratum of this superimposed world, all talk about world/its creation by Veda is to teach about the brahman.
All three are advaitic in nature and based on Vedas. So no one school needs to criticize the other two.
From a post of Br. Pranipata Chaitanya in the Yahoo Advaitin group (March 2009)
Photo Credits: Hans Georg Staudt@pixelio.de
Buddhi – An Invitation to Use the Mind
When introducing Advaita Vedanta the mind is one of the first things I deal with for two reasons:
- the average Western seeker is “anti-mind”. So he needs to start to appreciate this instrument, which for Advaita Vedanta is indispensible.
- The average seeker (probably the world round) is confused about what is going on in his mind and needs to be able to distinguish between its useful and its less useful functions.
In my experience seekers respond very positively when learning about the four different functions of the mind (in fact four different aspects of thought): manas, chitta, ahamkara and buddhi. This teaching is helpful in two ways: it enables the seeker to distinguish between manas and buddhi, and it enables the seeker to understand the nature of the ego. As the latter is not the topic of this month, I will not go into ahamkara (ego) here but concentrate on buddhi.
As to what buddhi is, I think that Dennis’ quote sums it up excellently, https://www.advaita-vision.org/topic-of-the-month-buddhi/
The average Western seeker has never heard of buddhi or any of the different functions of the mind. For them mind is a uniform thing, a container filled with thoughts, perceptions, knowledge, abilities, experiences and possibly feelings. Why I say “possibly feelings” is because, at least in German speaking countries, feelings or emotions will never be accounted to the mind but to the heart, a mysterious entity which no-one is able to locate or clearly define except for pointing vaguely to the physical heart region. Continue reading
Becoming and Progressive Paths
“Dogmas, doctrines and progressive paths which promise eventual enlightenment, or Nirvana, or the Kingdom of Heaven, through sacrifice, discipline, refinement and purification of the self, appeal tremendously to that within the seeker which feels unworthy. Hence, the power of classic religion and teachings of becoming. Traditional Advaita is just another one of these.”
Full article can be read here: http://www.theopensecret.com/traditionalnottwo.html
Topic of the month – Becoming
“Becoming” seems to be an ensnaring urge for human beings the world over. This drive to “become” better or different from ‘what Is’ is not merely confined to mundane matters; it pervades the spiritual scene as well. Accordingly most of the spiritual/religious approaches cater to or focus on this human need for betterment: improving this quality or eliminating that one, mastering siddhi-s, strengthening faith, deepening some trait or transcending another one etc. And all of this “becoming” is supposed to lead us to a preset goal – whatever this may be in the respective context.
Advaita is the only philosophy that goes beyond this ubiquitous orientation towards ‘becoming.’ Not that the acquisition of certain skills or the elimination of certain identifications would be devalued but advaita points out that becoming by itself will not lead anyone to the True Knowledge, the only goal of every pursuit – simply because that goal is never away in space or time from the seeker.
Advaita’s fundamental teaching that “You are That” means that everyone in essence is already the perfection, the sat – cit- Ananda, that he/she strives to attain. In fact the only missing thing is the recognition of that simple fact. Yes, in order to gain the understanding of who you truly are, usually you will have to invest some time and effort. But at least you need not struggle to become something different from what you already are. Advaita provides the signposts towards this understanding.
Please submit your quotes, short extracts or personal blogs on this topic.
Photo credits: email@example.com
The Absence of Belief
“I would define a ‘true sage’ conceptually as a human organism in which the sense of separation as the author of their actions is gone. It is a human being for whom the belief – and it is a false belief – that they are the centers of the universe, the authors of their thoughts and their feelings and their actions – that belief is absent in a True Sage.
And this is not a belief on the part of the human organism that they are not the authors of their action, it is the absence of the belief that they are. So it is not the presence of the belief that they are not, but the absence of the belief that they are. There are a lot of people running around with the belief that they are not the authors of their action and that belief is simply another belief.”
Translating Vedantic terms to Western seekers – Faith, God, Sin
The 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):
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.
A lovely Balance
Most people like to believe something is or is not true. Great scientists tolerate ambiguity very well. They believe the theory enough to go ahead; they doubt it enough to notice the errors and faults so they can step forward and create the new replacement theory. If you believe too much you’ll never notice the flaws; if you doubt too much you won’t get started. It requires a lovely balance.
Richard Hamming (American mathematician, 1915 – 1998) ‘You and Your Research’, Bell Communications Research Colloquium Seminar, 7 Mar 1986.