Believing a teaching

Neo-Advaita picked up this teaching from traditional Vedanta.  It is called neti neti, not this, not that.  Bascially, all that Neo-Advaita has is neti neti, but it is not actually properly understood by the teachers. Negating the mind can take you quite a way, but it cannot close the deal because the denial of the apparent reality is not tantamount to the hard and fast realization “I am limitless non-dual ordinary actionless awareness.”  And the removal of the apparent is not accomplished by BELIEVING in this teaching, by mindless denial.  It only comes about by intense self inquiry, applying inquiry to everything that happens in you on a moment to moment basis.

This apparent reality teaching is quite sophisticated and I cannot do it justice here.  James Swartz Interview in non-dualitymagazine (capital letters added)

24 thoughts on “Believing a teaching

  1. amartingarcia said: ” Negating the mind can take you quite a way, but it cannot close the deal because the denial of the apparent reality is not tantamount to the hard and fast realization “I am limitless non-dual ordinary actionless awareness.”

    Then you said: “And the removal of the apparent is not accomplished by BELIEVING in this teaching, by mindless denial. It only comes about by intense self inquiry, applying inquiry to everything that happens in you on a moment to moment basis.”

    You make an interesting jump in the assertion that neti, neti doesn’t lead to the realization that you think you must accomplish, “I am limitless non-dual ordinary actionless awareness.”

    Yet, you Do believe in the second statement that this only comes about through intense self inquiry, etc.

    Why do you assume that this is true? Perhaps self inquiry also may not lead you to the ‘promised land’. The attempt at inquiry is always using the mind, which is conditioned and only concerned with what it already knows. What can it possibly discover other than some other form of itself? I only see your statement as a continuation of a separate self trying to keep itself alive and leading to more experience and knowledge. It’s an intellectual pursuit, a game of thrones, so to speak. Perhaps the same ‘realization’ about neti, neti is applicable to self inquiry and all attempts at trying to ‘attain’ something. Perhaps no removal is necessary. Perhaps the very idea of removal is bogus, an illusion, mirage, or what have you?

    • Hello Anonymous,

      Maybe you missed that Martin’s post is a quote – a contribution to our topic of the month, which is “belief”?

      ”Negating the mind can take you quite a way, but it cannot close the deal because the denial of the apparent reality is not tantamount to the hard and fast realization “I am limitless non-dual ordinary actionless awareness.”
      This is a tenet of Advaita Vedanta teaching as well as my own, and probably Martin’s own, experience.

      “the second statement that this only comes about through intense self inquiry, etc.”

      This is based on the same: it is a tenet of Advaita Vedanta as well as my, and probably Martin’s, own experience.

      Mind you, no tenet of Advaita teaching is to be believed in. Advaita Vedanta is about understanding, not about believing. But you seem to be unable to accept that there is a difference between the two: understanding and believing, because both times the mind is involved.

      This is well worth being discussed. I would appreciate it though if you made it clear whether these questions are questions you ask yourself and for that reason would like to discuss them.

      From your post I get the impression that you actually have made up your mind already and all your questions are nothing but intricate statements. In that case I wonder why you bother to comment at all. A discussion based on those statements cannot be anything but mind gymnastics and, as far as I am concerned, is a waste of time.

      Also, let me repeat Dennis’ request for you to give us a name to be addressed with. Please be so kind to choose one that we can use.

  2. I did miss that he was quoting. But, he was using it to make a point about the superiority of self enquiry vs neo-advaita’s use of neti neti.

    You make a sharp observation about what I said regarding understanding and believing. Of course these are things I question and observe in myself. All of us have made up our minds. Isn’t that what you’ve done by teaching Advaita? This is my whole point. I’m not criticizing your choice. This is what our program is all about, making choices and continuing the sense of ‘someone’ who either believes or understands. It is basically an intellectual activity with no real transformative power in the sense that the separateness that we talk about is continued despite all kinds of penetrating insights, energies, & non-dual awareness. These are all experiences and states of mind. They come and they go. Essentially, they have no lasting reality.

  3. Dear ‘Anonymous’: Allow me to address myself to you personally. You are saying that “penetrating insights, energies and non-dual awareness… are all experiences and states of mind… they have no lasting reality”.

    How do you know? Are you saying that as by fiat, that is, on your personal authority? In normal language (“penetrating”) insight is distinguished from belief or opinion, and is equivalent to understanding, be it on a particular subject matter. What is worse, you put ‘non-dual awareness’ in the same bag, i.e., ‘states of mind’. Further, If the awareness is ‘non-dual’ (your words), where is the separate consciousness that has that experience, as you are implying? Is it like any other ‘experience’, as you are affirming? Your use of logic is unusual, to say the least.

    Moreover, you only talk of belief (“states of mind”), and, when you mention the word ‘knowledge’, as in your first comment, you place it in the same category as “experience/s” and “intellectual pursuit/s”, thus reducing it to ‘old knowledge’. In fact, you are right that these three (belief, ‘knowledge’, and experience) generaly, for the most part, reduce themselves to nothing more tan ‘old knowledge’, a set and dead thing (if it is dead). Could it not, though, be just slumbering or, in the case of ‘intellectual understanding’ come closer to either virtual, or real understanding? Sitara has brought your attention to the difference between understanding and believing, but, as with the word ‘knowledge’, you are evidently skirting the issue. Is this not willfully ignoring it?

  4. I think one of the difficulties that we are having is the vocabulary that we are both using. Advaita uses a very precise set of terms to describe everything. I have only cursory familiarity with the language and I have chosen to describe my own experience in ‘lay’ terms, so to speak.

    I said that ‘penetrating insights, energies, and non-dual awareness are all experiences and states of mind…they have no lasting reality’. How do I know? By repeated experience of these occurrences and the continued sense of a separate self that is having the experience over a near 50 year period.

    You are correct that in ordinary usage, insight is more or less equivalent to understanding and distinguished from belief and opinion. But there is the experiencer of this in either case which leads me to say that they are all states of mind, some subtler than others.

    My statement about non-dual awareness being also a state of mind and is a reflection on a particular kind of perspective that the experiencer can have. For me, if that experiencer is present, before, during, or after any experience one may have, it is a state of mind. The only way we can call awareness ‘non-dual’ is by having an experience of it. And, for me, Awareness is not a goal. All of this is happening as consciousness. For me, there is no ‘pure’ consciousness. It is what it is. There is no separateness outside of consciousness. For me, consciousness is separateness.

    I don’t agree with Sitara’s view about understanding and believing. They may appear different, but the substratum is the same. I am not ignoring this, just not accepting it. If there is something living us, it has nothing to do with how we define or think about life. Everything we talk about is ultimately empty. That living thing, whatever it is, has nothing to do with our explanations. Somehow, we are compelled to try and explain all of this. This is the only thing I am trying to get across. All explanations are useless and only serve to ensnare the mind in a circuitous dialogue with itself.

    Huang Po, the great Chinese Ch’an master, told his monks, the only thing I am telling you to do is stop engaging in conceptual thinking. Personally, I can’t think of anything more useful.

    With respect.

  5. Dear Anonymous:

    Now, this exchange is getting interesting! I sense that you (empty of name and form, hence ‘anonymous’) have been ‘schooled’ in Buddhism and, if I am correct, of the Sunyavada tradition of Nagarjuna (Madhyamika), not of Vijñanavada – consciousness as reality. You could have said that before, and our conversation would have turned on the two different approaches: Advaita vs. Sunyavada and their relative merits – to see which one is better, and in which respect?, or perhaps, more fruitful, which are their points of coincidence, or even complementarity, and which are not. That is because there is much common terrain between the two systems, and the question as to which one to choose is contingent on so many variables… Having come to this realization (your standpoint and its source), no wonder there has been so much misunderstanding between us, together with the language we have been using.

    To begin with, for the Upanishads and Shankara (his greatest exponent, apart from Gaudapada, Shankara`s grand-tutor) experience of reality is gained through total transcendence of language and thought, that is, conceptual formulations; this agrees with your stance. Evidently you are not prepared to eschew all experience/s, since you use the term (“repeated experience of these occurrences”; “there is the experiencer of this”, referring to yourself). Willy-nilly you introduce the notion of a subject, but subject or no subject, object or no object, there is no ‘what it is’ (your definition of reality) without an experience of ‘what it is’, even if, ultimately, this experience is ‘empty’ [important subject: what is the meaning of ‘emptiness’, which we could talk about]. Surprising that you reject the reality of understanding (not different from knowing in fact); it is like rejecting intelligence. I cannot think that Nagarjuna did that rejection, or else there would be nothing at all, not only no doctrines, but no world, discussions, no writings by Nagarjuna, etc.

    You make some interesting statements about mind, consciousness, awareness, and the experiencer (of the different states of mind), but it is not altogether clear what you mean by these terms and expressions. First, there is an experiencer. Fine. What or who is it if not consciousness or awareness? But it appears that for you there is no difference between consciousness, awareness, and even mind? – they are all ‘states of mind’. The problem remains: to whom, or what do they appear? I think that it would be worth-while to pursue this line of thought or discussion. It is up to you. Respectfully,

  6. Martin, I am a bit in awe of your ability to jump from teaching to teaching with such finesse. I am in no way your equal in this. In fact, I will admit to the fact that I’ve never even read the Upanishads, the Bible, or those Buddhist teachings you mention. Of course, I’ve heard of all these and have read bits and pieces of this and that but never signed on to any of it. Ch’an and Zen teachings, especially Huang Po had a deep effect. Read Ramana but could never really connect with what he said. It was JK who spoke to me in a language that I could understand easily and it threw me into real turmoil which resulted in some kind of deep insight into the nature of experience and the experiencer. Or, so I thought. Deep insights continued and continue to this day, but I now see this as a sort of dead-end. They never truly penetrate mind because they are mind, modifications of mind, and mind is always conditioned. The belief that somehow there is something other than mind is another trap that continues this experiencer chasing another experience. This cannot be stopped through any willful gesture. It’s almost like an involuntary reflex that we have no control over at all. Clarity, awareness, attention, seem like qualities of the brain. When you relax deeply and stop chasing after something, all these qualities are there, functioning in a healthy way. For me, Huang Po and UG’s exhortations of nothing to understand or realize ring very true. They relieve you of the obsessive desires to become something. I believe the Buddha was also very big on this topic of becoming.

    I hope I didn’t bore you with all this. I am not used to discussing these things very much and feel quite inadequate to express many things. Feel free to respond and question anything you like. Thank you.

  7. This conversation raises a fundamental question. WHAT is it that gets jnana / understanding / moksha?

    Clearly the pure limitless consciousness that we are supposed to be has ever been free, and is just the witness of all that happens. So it cannot be that which becomes free.

    So it must be the ‘individual’ mind that gains freedom. Freedom from what? Freedom from the illusory thoughts that it is a separate individual.

    So then is moksha the (intellectual) knowledge / understanding that one is not separate – which is another set of concepts / thoughts and therefore must be a function of conditioning. Or is moksha the TOTAL absence of the thoughts / feelings that one is separate, i.e. the elimination of the ego?

    Given the limitation of words, much of the descriptions given by both types are likely to be similar. But the former will describe a path to be followed to gain the conviction; whilst the latter will say nothing matters there is no path and no moksha to be attained; only surrender.

    With the former, a seeker can initially believe, test and develop firm conviction in, through a tried and tested path. Whilst the latter arguably has a higher ‘authenticity’ and ananda about it – Ramana, Nisargadatta, JK, Atmananda all have this perfume about them. The moksha they point to is one wherein, on the screen of the ever free ever pure consciousness, there no longer arises any thoughts related to a separate ego. As opposed to the arising of thoughts that convey the knowledge that there is no separate ego.

    But then again, it doesn’t really matter anyway.

    “Do you not see how ridiculous all this is? Your coming here day after day only shows that you are not prepared to accept my word that there is no such thing as an ‘individual’; that the ‘individual’ is nothing but an appearance; that an appearance cannot have any ‘bondage’ and therefore, there is no question of any ‘liberation’ for an appearance” – Pointers from Nisargadatta (soundly very like Gaudapada!)

    Thoughts? 😉

    • Venkat, Why do you think pure consciousness is the witness of all? From what Nisargadatta and UG have said, it would seem that any experience would have ended with the ending of the belief in a self. Can you separate your self from any experience you’ve ever had?

      The way I see this is that there are no answers for the questions you raise. The questions themselves just stop. There may be nothing to figure out and we are all fools.

      • OK, thanks. I get that you think that there is nothing beyond what is. As an aside, that is not what Nisargadatta articulated, but that’s not the point here.

        The point I was trying to explore is the “the hard and fast understanding of non-dual awareness” – i.e.:
        – the presence of conviction in the understanding / knowledge of no ego (which must be a thought), and
        – the absence of ego-thoughts in their entirety.

  8. Dear Anonymous:

    Huang Po, and zen Buddhism, can be a great help, because they endeavour to shatter the vise of conceptual thinking, the relentless activity of the mind, which is mostly unwanted and unhelpful. In this type of pursuit (knowing oneself and the world, or reality) paradoxes and other such means (parables, stories – whether mythological or popular – ) are, or can be, inspiring, relaxing, and entertaining at the same time; they can afford glimpses of what is beyond reason and rationality. One can be caught too much in linear thinking, problem solving, or what you might call mind games. Mind and its trappings can be, as you very well know, a trap; but while mind can be a killer, it can also be a healer. Careful with demeaning the function, workings, and value of the mind!

    I could say something more about all this, but for now I will limit myself to giving you two quotations – for pondering and contemplation. And, please, take into consideration what – particularly by Sitara – has been written in answer to your comments. Please re-read all of it with sufficient time, at leasure. A three-pronged way of assimilating what is offered as truth in traditional advaita consists of ‘listening’, reflection, and meditation on what has been received (not what is conventionally understood as meditation). A fundamental point – also made by Sitara – is the import of trust – rather than faith or belief; it is a requirement, much as the I-sense, ego, or a posture of scepticism will strenuously resist it. Without humility – which is openness, and trust – which is renunciation, there is no way. At least initial trust, albeit with an open mind.

    “Reason cannot ascend above itself without affirming the reality of that which is above itself”. Plato – Dialogue Crito.

    “The end lies beyond dialectic thought and doctrinal formulation.”
    Bruno de Jesse – Buddhism and Vedanta.

    • Martin, I really have no quarrel with thought. It is a function of the brain, part of the makeup of the body. My ‘quarrel’ is with the erroneous belief that thinking is going to help solve these questions that have been raised throughout the ages. Systemization and definition don’t seem to approach the living reality at all. Trust, faith, belief, seem like stabs in the dark once one begins to contemplate all of this. The attempts at understanding are enough to humble me as I see I fear one thing above all, surrender, and the end of ‘me’.

  9. My story
    Huang Po told his monks to stop conceptualizing and the monks started seriously thinking about the ways to stop conceptualizing – they are still thinking.
    A Teacher told his student to throw the stick used to turn the corpse in the funeral pyre back into the fire after the dead body was burnt. The student lost track of the fire & the corpse – he is still holding his stick.
    Parrots trapped on a rope by the hunter were told by the wise owl that there was no need to hang on to the rope – they were free. Those parrots are still chanting “we are free” slogan still hanging on to the rope.
    This is my story whether it is self-enquiry, manonasha or “drop all concepts” …….. I cannot get rid of my habit of telling the whole world that I have taken Mauna (silence).

  10. Alright, Anonymous. And what is that “living reality” you mention that “cannot be approached by systematization and definition”?

    • In my view, it is not anything that can be known through our experience, our mind. In this respect, it doesn’t exist, much the same as the jnani doesn’t exist as a ‘person’. It is the ultimate koan, so to speak. I think UG articulated this quite well when he said the natural state was simply the harmonious functioning of the body. This is not the same as being healthy, but the end of the superimposition of thought upon the body’s direct experience of life. Remember, he talked about a mutation occurring. This has been echoed by others that have seemed to have had this happen. Some call it parabrahman. It is clearly not a mental state, but rather a physical one, that leaves the body without a sense of self and separation. The Christians called it transfiguration, I believe.

  11. Greetings to you all !
    I am a newcomer to the blog .. my name is KR Raman (“KR”) ..
    We can quite agree with comments by Anonymous that the locus of our knowledge is the physical mind only .. the mind is a finite entity hence knowledge also has to be limited only. But then, so is human suffering or samsara .. its locus also is in the mind only .. caused by ignorance .. so their battle is happening in the mind only .. the knowledge gained thru vedanta is capable of permanently destroying the samsara causing ignorance .. this is the central message of vedanta.

  12. And yet, in the Yoga Vasishta there is this statement:

    “An individual (jiva) is a form of Consciousness at all times and in all positions. Hence it is not necessary for there to be a mind along with Consciousness… an individual acquires the mind when he is in a state of ignorance.” NIRVANA – Book ll.

  13. Ignorance and Knowledge, Samsara and Moksha are relevant only when we grant a reality to the mind – through error. I have not had the opportunity to study Yoga Vashishta, but the statement in your comment also appears to point to the same idea only. A jiva indeed can be called ‘a form of Consciousness’ (which we call Cidabhasa, the impostor) .. that is why he/she says “I am a jiva” with conviction and not “I am Brahman”.

    When the quote says “.. it is not necessary for there to be a mind along with Consciousness”, I suspect it is referring to Cidabhasa only .. because there is no question of a mind existing along with non-dual Consciousness


  14. It seems to me that consciousness can be both dual and non-dual. All things, experience, worlds, etc., are consciousness and its modifications. Zen teachings as well as others point to a transcendence of both dual and non-dual, self and not-self, etc. All these concepts are consciousness. Perhaps I am fooled by the meanings of the words, but the transcendental spoken about by sages is not within this ‘field of consciousness’. How could it be? Yet consciousness continues in its myriad forms. Samsara is Nirvana. This is the mystery that is unknowable. No amount of explanation can describe it or do it justice. Mind or no-mind, jiva or jnani, keep us spinning in time-being. The real practice is not to engage in all the explanations and solutions.

    As Dogen said: “To learn the buddha way is to learn one’s self. To learn one’s self is to forget one’s self.”

  15. ‘This is the mystery that is unknowable’ .. this is precisely the state of mind of an individual trapped in samsara. Vedanta says before any progress can be made in the clearing of that mystery, acknowledgement that an ignorant person cannot by himself remove his own ignorance .. an intense desire to clear that mystery .. an unbiassed, open mind to seek and receive help from a trusted source .. (“Sraddha” that Sitara mentioned in another post) .. are all essential.

    The entire first chapter of the Gita is the description of the mind of a deluded samsari .. in the form of Arjuna .. all through which Krishna, the benevolent teacher, does not even utter a single word .. knowing that would have no effect on Arjuna. Only when Arjuna, finally surrenders his ego and approaches Krishna as a student, does Krishna begin his teaching.

    If I have a painful ailment and go to a doctor for its remedy, that is possible only by taking the medicine the doctor might prescribe and not by endlessly debating with the doctor on the efficacy or otherwise of that medicine (unless, of course, I am a hypochondriac 🙂 )


  16. Anonymous will not readily agree with that, and that is because for him there is only mind (states of), and consciousness is reducible to that, not accepting that from the view point of consciousness there is no subject-object dichotomy, in the sense of ‘x being conscious of y’; he takes ‘consciousness’ in the same way as Nisargadatta, as just described, and not as the latter’s ‘awareness’, which is above or beyond ‘consciousness’.

    Is there a mind in non-dual consciousness? Not from paramarthika view. It and the body are superimposed on consciousness – frequently called ‘adjuncts’ in traditional advaita (or ‘body-mind complex’ in contemporary idiom). When there is Knowledge (call it awakening or realization) the mind is as if annulled: it does not operate; hence the quotation from Yoga Vasishta. This is my understanding.

  17. KR, don’t assume I am a novice in these matters because I don’t use the same terminology as you, or might disagree with some points you are trying to make. I have trusted sources. None of them would say I was ailing from anything and that they could cure me. lol.

    Maybe you can show me where there is an unbiased mind? I’m sorry, but your response is a very arrogant one.

  18. Sincere apologies, Anonymous .. I assure you that was not my intention.
    As you have pointed out before, it is a matter of the terminology being used. In vedanta, ‘mumukshutvam’ i.e. an intense longing for liberation is mentioned as an important qualification for self knowledge .. I was only referring to that.

    I hope there will not be any hard feelings.

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