In common with many people in the West who are pursuing a spiritual path, I went down a couple of blind alleys before finding my present teacher, Swamni Atmaprakāśānanda, who had been given the vision of the truth of the Self by her guru, Swami Dayānanda Saraswati.
Of course one doesn’t know that one is going down a blind alley at the time and some alleys are so long that it takes several years before you bang up against the wall beyond which there’s no understanding. This was the case for me. The first alley was long. In the mid 70s, I came across a Philosophy School in London that offered a tantalising and a balanced diet of Upanishad and Gita study, meditation and other practical exercises and disciplines, Sanskrit, fine music, fine food, opportunities for service, regular retreats and the guidance of a ‘realised master’ from India (whom we didn’t personally meet, but received transcripts of his ‘Conversations’ with the founder of he school. These had been translated from Hindi and edited before we got to hear them – and the original recordings erased so no authentication possible). It took several years before discovering that all the right ingredients without an experienced cook will serve up a meal that might satisfy the hungry for a while, but is eventually one that’s lacking in real nourishment. I eventually left to follow my own direction. Continue reading
In the Taittiriya Upanishad we are told that 1 unit of human joy is that enjoyed by a young person described as being in the prime of life, fit and healthy, possessed of strong mental faculties, amazingly good looking and incredibly well read, spiritually disciplined and ethical, and in possession of untold wealth (not exactly the person next door). Try to imagine the effort that would be required to have untold wealth and untold wisdom. Imagine the effort required to live a highly ethical and spiritual life. It can take a whole lifetime – by which time we will have lost our youthful vigour. The other person, however, who enjoys the same level of joy is ‘a follower of the Vedas, unaffected by desire’ (which can be anyone who makes the effort).
100 times that unit of human joy is one unit of the joy of a being called a Man Gandharva in a higher loka [realm]. In this embodiment as a celestial musician there will only be the experience of subtle enjoyment and no pain. To attain this loka one needs to have accumulated a huge amount of punya [merit] from leading a value-driven and prayerful life. The other person, however, who enjoys 100 times the unit of human joy is the follower of the Vedas, unaffected by desire. Continue reading
PART III: THE ANTIDOTE
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Many people set themselves up as self-help gurus and offer remedies for the children of democracy. They are sensitive to the characteristics of these children, whose governing sound is ‘freedom’ and have been described so well over 2500 years in Book VIII of Plato’s Republic. Here is how Democratic Man is spoken of:
“… He lives on, spending his money and labour and time on unnecessary pleasures as on necessary ones; but if he be fortunate, and is not too much disordered in his wits, when years have elapsed, and the heyday of passion is over… he balances his pleasures and lives in a sort of equilibrium, putting the government of himself into the hands of the one which comes first and wins the turn; and when he has had enough of that, then into the hands of another; he despises none of them but encourages them all equally…
“Neither does he receive or let pass into the fortress (of mind) any true word of advice; if anyone says that some pleasures are the satisfactions of good and noble desires, and others of evil desires, and that he ought to use and honour some and chastise and master the others – whenever this is repeated to him he shakes his head and says they are all alike, and that one is as good as another… Continue reading
PART 2/3: PREPARATORY STEPS
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Having established the principles involved in escaping from the torments of living a false identity, we can examine how traditional advaitins approach the journey.
Preparedness. Am I fit for the journey? Three essentials are needed:
1) Clarity of purpose. This is the conviction that self-knowledge is the over-riding goal of life. Of course other activities involved in day-to-day living do carry on, but the fruits of wealth and pleasures are not to be over-valued. They give a respite, no doubt, but they will never deliver peace. And, without peace, how is self-knowledge possible? We do the needful: pursue security and pleasure, in conformity with universal values, for the sake of self-knowledge. Continue reading
PART I/3: THE IDENTITY CRISIS
According to the teaching of Advaita Vedanta even the most well balanced people have an identity crisis (even if they don’t know it). If we meet a person who claimed to be Napoleon we’d most likely quietly cross to the other side of the room. The ancient sages of India, despite knowing that most of insist we are characters very different from who we are in truth, are slightly more accommodative of our self-delusion and try to help us rise above it. Everyone is born ignorant of the world and also of the truth of one’s identity: that is part and parcel of the human condition. Worldly ignorance is relatively easy to overcome, but self-ignorance requires subtle work and takes longer.
It is a rare person, says the Upanishad, who turns back from worldly involvements and wants to know who the observer is. Most, however, remain firmly fixated in their partial views of who they are, and end their lives deluded. The view is partial because they know ‘I am’, but do not know what ‘I’ is: and never even think that it is worth the enquiry. It’s not just the Eastern tradition that finds this a waste of a human embodiment, the same sentiment is also evident in the Western tradition in the words of Socrates: ‘An unexamined life is not worth living.’ Continue reading
My teacher, Swamini Atmaprakasananda, raised a question: If, as in the Gita, Krishna says, ‘I am consciousness’, who is speaking? Consciousness does not speak, nor does the mithyA body-mind-sense complex, all of which are inert matter.
Then, by way of answering her own question, spoke of the levels of knowledge:
Knowledge is of two types: pure knowledge and manifest knowledge. Pure knowledge, śuddha jñānam, is knowledge that is not manifest and vyakta jñānam is knowledge that is manifest. Vedanta says that Reality, the Absolute Truth of this entire cosmos, the one substance of this substantive universe is pure knowledge. (Pure knowledge, pure consciousness, pure awareness are all synonyms.) Continue reading
It’s always wonderful when a dormant giant wakes. And it’s nice to be able to play a role in keeping it going. So welcome to Advaita Vision
I must confess to having had a sheltered journey so far: I found a school that was being guided by a teacher who they said was the ShankarAchArya of Jyotir Math, they practiced meditation, they studied Gita and Upanishads, they taught Sanskrit. So I was pretty comfortable in the belief that, not only was I following a traditional path, but there was no other path. Little did I appreciate that all these ingredients don’t necessarily add up to a traditional path. And only after coming into contact with this site a couple of years ago did I realise that there were several approaches that purport to teach advaita, the ‘philosophy’ of non-duality: direct path, neo, Western satsang, etc.
It is only since coming in touch with traditional advaita, as taught by Swami Dayananda Saraswati that I realised how different each approach really was: what once seemed like nuance, now loomed like a chasm. Needless to say that adherents of each of the different streams all claim that their way, their teacher, their group, is the real deal. And that it leads’ all the way’. And so do the traditionalists.
I’ve therefore decided not necessarily to take on any of these ideas head on (and that includes the plethora of other ideas that claim to be spiritual from channeling, to past life stuff, to crystals, angels and more like these). All this blog will do is present a viewpoint: I will simply attempt to present the way I have come to understand things.
I claim to be no different from any reader and thus invite a robust challenge to the things I write. I’ll leave this opening salvo with a thought from Swami Dayananda which cuts across most people’s ideas and blew my socks off:
Neither experience nor knowledge can destroy the perception of duality.