Here is an article I was asked to write recently for my publisher’s blog. It discusses my approach to writing about Advaita, with particular emphasis on my last book, ‘A-U-M: Awakening to Reaility’. It also touches upon that perennially thorny issue – experience versus knowledge!
A philosophically-inclined wit once inquired into the difference between having God speak to one in a dream and dreaming about God. This metaphysical query is the basis of this article on Mind-Body-Spirit books in general and my own writing in particular.
Let’s assume for a moment that I am a ‘successful’ author (by which I mean that I have written books that are acknowledged as ‘worthy’ rather than that I have made much money from the pursuit!) There are effectively two elements to this success:
A) being able to write, and
B) being knowledgeable about the subject-matter of the books.
If I am deemed to have achieved those accomplishments, what were the principal factors?
Three elements have influenced this: a deprived childhood, an enquiring mind and a good education. By ‘deprived’ here, I mean ‘socially deprived’. There were no other children of my age in the neighbourhood. I had to provide my own entertainment. This was mainly achieved by reading around 3 books per week from the library throughout most of my childhood and adolescence. Mostly SF, I concede, but I also graduated to some traditional and modern classics as well as a little non-fiction. This had the effect of developing a wide vocabulary (I always looked up new words in the dictionary) and an appreciation of how to put those words together in an interesting and informative manner.
This academic style of leisure activity both supported and enhanced my education and my attitude to it, so that I gained a scholarship to a prestigious school. There, I was obliged to study Latin. Although I did not at all appreciate it at the time, this provided an understanding of the underlying structure of words and the importance of correct grammar.
On leaving university, having spent the previous 10 years specialising in Chemistry, I got a job as a computer programmer. Some years later, I discovered that I had a hitherto unrealised skill for explaining difficult concepts, when I was asked to write a manual to explain the functioning of the software in a complex telecommunications system. Provided that I could fully understand the intricacies myself, I found that I was able to break things down into their fundamental elements and document this knowledge in such a way as to educate others. But, in order to reach that stage, I had to sit down with the authors of the software and get them to explain to me all of the interactions and functions until I understood everything for myself. This was an absolute requirement!
Knowledge of subject
I also have my education to blame for this aspect, to some degree. Since it was an all-male school, in addition to the woeful social skills that I had gathered earlier, my ability to interact with the alien female of the species was virtually non-existent. This shortcoming significantly helped to bring about my general dissatisfaction with life and engendered an interest in philosophy and matters spiritual, to try to fathom some meaning and purpose.
I floundered for some years in the mass of miscellaneous material available before I finally became aware of Advaita. Again, it took some years even to find out what exactly this was about, since there was (and still is to some extent) a dearth of books on the subject.
Having decided that I sincerely wanted to understand this teaching, I soon discovered that there is actually only one process for achieving this. Shankara, who is the principal historical teacher of Advaita and responsible for making it more generally available in around the 8th century CE, states it as follows: Listen to the teaching (from someone who is qualified to give it); ask questions to remove all doubts; dwell on what you have learned until it is completely assimilated.
This poses an immediate problem: how does one find a ‘suitably qualified’ teacher? Such a person has to know the scriptures inside out, understand Sanskrit, and (most importantly) be able to explain it to a ‘suitably qualified’ seeker. This level of knowledge is really only available to someone who has studied for a long time with another, already-qualified teacher. I have received emails from seekers all over the world asking if I can recommend a good teacher in their area. I am rarely able to oblige. If you live in India, there is no problem. If you live in one of the major cities of the civilised world, there is a possibility. Others have only two choices: relocate or resort to reading and the Internet, as I had to do.
Experience and Knowledge
Writing about ‘spiritual’ matters is fraught with language problems. Many authors in the MBS category are presumably attempting to communicate their ‘experiences’ of whatever topic they write about. I say ‘presumably’ because I freely admit that I have not read any of those books that claim to use extrasensory means of acquiring information, whether from angels or crystals or any other source. This is not because I believe such books are entirely fictional. But, even if they are based on what the writer believes to be fact, it is simply not possible to communicate experience in an unambiguous manner. Experience is ultimately ineffable; only masters of fiction write about it with any degree of success.
To some degree, even ‘objective’ data suffer from these problems. After all, unless we are talking about the axiomatic or mathematically defined, even physical ‘facts’ are observer dependent or relative to the frame of reference. Attributes of objects depend upon the nature and acuity of the senses that perceive them, as well as on individual prior knowledge and experience. Thus it is that anyone attempting to describe or teach a system of philosophy needs to tread very carefully, as it were, when they speak or write.
I actually began my first book, ‘The Book of One’, in a similar spirit to that with which I had approached the Technical Manual; I wanted to reach that level of understanding with respect to the teaching of Advaita. And the process was the same – read extensively, ask lots of questions of others more knowledgeable than me. I began in relative ignorance but acquired more and more understanding as I continued. I often encountered views that were mistaken, maybe because the writer was still following a similar path. But, over time, the correct views were reinforced by constant repetition from different sources and the erroneous ideas were discarded. There was the constant need to be alert to the dangers, cross-referencing every new source against previously read material, looking for reinforcing or contradictory views, and always exercising doubt and reason to question and validate new information.
The vast amount of research I conducted on ‘Book of One’ enabled me subsequently to write ‘Back to the Truth’, since I had collected hundreds of excellent references from other sources. This process has been the cornerstone of all of my books. ‘A-U-M – Awakening to Reality’ is an exposition of a book I had read some 25 years earlier. I recognised its importance at the time but was quite unable to understand it, or to find anyone who could explain it to me. In researching it, I acquired virtually every book (in English) that had been written, including several that had extremely low print runs in India. And I listened to hundreds of hours of talks from acknowledged experts. The annotated bibliography in the book runs to 34 pages.
Without such background research, discovering the truth from those who already know it, it is impossible to write books such as these in other than a cynical manner. Of course, there are those who are perfectly aware that what they write is little better than fiction, but their livelihood depends upon persuading others through their books and lectures. Some may genuinely delude themselves also but there will always be complete charlatans in any field.
The advice I would give to any seeker-of-truth, whether via a proven path such as Traditional Advaita or via some of the more recent, questionable paths is as follows. Only accept and give credence to books that provide knowledge that seems to be authentic, and which include lots of references that can be checked. Such books must also not be contrary to reason and need to provide convincing arguments if they are to change one’s views. If a book is constantly saying ‘this is what I have found’, ‘I believe’, ‘it has been my experience’ etc – by all means read it (if you must) but take all that is said with a large pinch of salt and look for a book that does not rely on such tactics. Remember the premise of this article: Experience equips one to write fiction; knowledge equips one to write non-fiction.
Can you elaborate on what you mean when you say ‘ a proven path such as Traditional Advaita’.
What is meant by ‘proof’? And, how does one verify this ‘proof’?
To further complicate the seeker’s mind, he might come upon this popular quote from one of the world’s most reknowned philosopher/sages of the 20th century, J. Krishnamurti, who spoke with a lot of dignity and power:
‘I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or to coerce people along any particular path.’
Point taken, and it is a valid one. Instead of ‘proven’, it would be more correct to say ‘a path that one has reason to believe is a valid one’. Such a belief is justified after reading/hearing the teaching for a sufficient period of time to form a reasoned judgement. And one verifies the validity of that assumption by realizing the truth for oneself. Traditional advaita does not lead or coerce; it simply answers the questions of those who ask.
Since the seeker already has some ideas in his/her head about what they want to achieve, it seems they will choose a ‘path’ that promises to fulfill their desires, or whatever is available to them within their own culture. This seems logical and reasonable. But, we have to return to the quote above which states something very different from what traditional paths say. In fact, it is diametrically opposed to the very idea of a path and the attempt by a conditioned mind to realize anything other than what they already know, which cannot be truth if truth is truly the Unconditioned state prior to consciousness. Since the questions that you speak of are conditioned by the nature of mind, the answers given are also conditioned. No answer is possible that will satisfy any seeker if they are honest with themselves. The framework that is built up in the mind just adds it in to its store of knowledge to keep the structure of self perpetuating fulfillment alive. The very idea of hope is part of that self perpetuating fulfillment. Here is another quote that addresses this:
“The Kingdom of God is only for the thoroughly dead.” Meister Eckhart
“In truth there is no unalterable Dharma which the Tathagata
could have preached. Methods and techniques cannot
be compared to the sudden elimination of conceptual thought,
in the certain knowledge that there is nothing at all which
has absolute existence, nothing on which to lay hold, nothing
on which to rely, nothing in which to abide, nothing
subjective or objective.” – Huang Po.
I think you have intimated before that one can only rely upon one’s own experience in these matters. My experience is that one’s ‘desire’ is for some rational explanation for purpose and meaning in life, not to attain to some permanently ‘happy’ state. And one does not look particularly within one’s own culture. In fact, likely the opposite, since one’s own culture has not been providing any promise of explanation.
And my experience of Advaita is that one’s existing framework is not at all maintained. On the contrary, it is systematically destroyed and one’s values subsequently are quite different from those that were pre-existent.
I do not recognize quotations from Krishnamurthy, Eckhart or Buddhism as having any particular relevance for an Advaita site. Are you not doing exactly the same as you are accusing me of doing, namely using such quotations to bolster your existing view (erroneous from the perspective of Advaita)?
The intention of these posts and subsequent discussions is constructively to seek explanations within the context of Advaita for readers who visit the site to find out about Advaita. Questioning what is said, for the purpose of understanding what Advaita is saying is perfectly acceptable. But anyone whose subtext is to rubbish Advaita teaching and attempt to propagate other methodologies is not welcome. I am sure you must agree with this from a detached, reasonable standpoint?
Seekers are going to seek no matter what culture they find themselves in. What they choose is not my concern or target to undermine. When I put forth a quote from anyone, the seeker has to assess what is being said no matter what tradition or path they have taken up. The relevance of the quotes is the same relevance that Advaita ultimately teaches, if I’m not mistaken. Do you really think these quotes are harmful to your goal?
Here’s another quote closer in geography to your chosen path, uttered by an acknowledged jnani (who is certifying these jnanis?):
The mind ceased producing events. The ancient and ceaseless search stopped—I wanted nothing, expected nothing—accepted nothing as my own. There was no ‘me’ left to strive for. Even the bare ‘I am’ faded away. The other thing that I noticed was that I lost all my habitual certainties. Earlier I was sure of so many things, now I am sure of nothing. But I feel that I have lost nothing by not knowing, because all my knowledge was false. My not knowing was in itself knowledge of the fact that all knowledge is ignorance,that ‘I do not know’ is the only true statement the mind can make.”
“What is Truth for me is something that cannot, under any circumstances, be communicated to you. The certainty here cannot be transmitted to another. For this reason, the whole Guru business is absolute nonsense.” UG Krishnamurti.
These are all tough statements to wrap a mind around. Our minds are not constructed to understand anything that has not been experienced. The whole structure is opposed to any liberation, hence, Meister Eckart’s quote.
No seeker is likely to discover the truth if they flit from one source/tradition to another. It is possible, even likely, that any of the main paths will lead to realization of the truth but if one is to avoid confusion and frustration, one should decide on one of the highly regarded, and long-established, ‘paths’ and follow it. Each tradition has its own terminology and process and these will conflict with those of another.
It is true that, in the end, all that can be said about the nature of reality is false; all ‘knowledge’ is partial or erroneous. But, in order to reach the position of being able to acknowledge this, a reasonable and self-consistent path is still needed. Advaita is one such path and communicating the details of the path (not the ultimate nature of truth) is the purpose of the site.
I’m not against anyone who is committed to a genuine interest in this subject, be it with a traditional path, or without one. The very same structure of mind applies to both. The structure of mind can only concern itself with what it knows and what it commits to memory, whether that be learning a traditional path or a non-traditional one. The same mechanics apply. The same dilemma lies at the end of the road, mind and its inability to transcend itself. The structure remains in place in spite of whatever you learn about it. Nothing touches it because it is a self-fulfilling mechanism. The leap that we all dream about has nothing to do with the path that we are all involved with. You have to come to the end of your search because you see the impossibility of you ever attaining anything. This is equally true for the Christian as well as the Advaitist. You can’t go further than the instrument you are using. That instrument, mind, is to be seen for what it is, whether through enquiry or however else one approaches it.
I refer, once again, to Meister Eckhart, “The Kingdom of God is only for the thoroughly dead”. In a sense, it’s God’s choice who he wants to hang out with. Anything less than that and we haven’t understood a thing. The price is steep, your whole existence as you know it.
Have you actually looked at the concept of bhAga tyAga lakShaNa? It is possible to follow a traditional learning progression and then, when you reach the end of that, realize the truth of the matter and throw away all that went before. The final realization does not involve the mind in the usually understood sense. And yet, without the preliminary teaching, the final realization would not have been reached.
Read http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/definitions/bhAga.htm several times, understand it, and then make further comment if you want.
Thanks for the link. The description states that the final realization is dependent on the preparation, in this case, the study of scripture and the application of neti, neti, just to summarize. For me, all this is still taking place within the structure of mind. How could it be otherwise? You and countless others who have studied and practiced various paths have all learned that there is a realization somewhere in all of this that you are That, God, Truth, etc. What I’m talking about is not a contradiction of this, but the impossibility of the structure that is seeking it to realize it. It can only understand it intellectually. The actual realization is the end of that structure and all that it represents. As the Buddha said, ‘The house collapses’ and it cannot be rebuilt any longer. It is finished and so are you.
The intellectual has nothing to do with the actual reality of what we are. The best example I know is the case of Ramana Maharshi who had no prior instruction or experience with any path. He spontaneously enquired deeply about what this ‘I’ is. It resulted in his own ‘death’.
Granted, most people that are interested in this subject will take up a path and it could be argued that the path ‘prepared’ them in some fashion for this transformation. But this is not a ‘provable’ point. This is why the descriptions from Ramana, UG, Nisargadatta, and Bernadette Roberts are so important for the living. They all described their own deaths and none ‘practiced’ a traditional path yet each came to the same realization in their own way. The last 3 all mention the discovery of their own deception and the complete cessation of their former selves. UG describes the mutation that takes place and so does Bernadette. It’s what keeps the body going instead of just clinical death. As UG used to say, “If you knew what this was, you wouldn’t touch it with a 10 foot pole”. The utter end of you and everything you know. Echoes of Meister Eckhart again. Have you come to that point, Dennis? I think not, but you are not alone in this. 🙂
Dear Anon and Dennis,
If I may be allowed to intervene in this interesting discussion trying to focus the microscope to examine whether the so-called ‘traditional path’ helps or not, I would like to make a couple of points.
But before that, let me first begin with an expression of Congratulations to Dennis for opening himself up a bit (for the first time, perhaps??) with an autobiographical blog post. I have no doubt that he definitely shattered the walls of shyness and proved to himself how wrong he was in imagining that the “ability to interact with the alien female of the species was virtually non-existent” and, in the process, instead realized that it is he himself who is non-existent! 🙂
When we talk of the methodology of teaching the Non-dual message as developed by Shankara, we ought to bear in mind the type of climes that were existent in his times and the audience targeted by him. It was a society lost totally in the belief of caste hierarchies, in giving primacy to elaborate ritualistic actions with a hope of reaching Heaven (tantric or sacrificial) or believing in the absence of brahman (anatta). How does one bring such a total Advaita-illiterate to realize the Oneness was the main concern. In other words, how does one inspire and train a man on the street into Advaitic thinking.
The traditional teaching adopted a curriculum, if one may say so, as described by Sureswara in Naishkarmya siddhi. His scheme is as follows:
From doing the Nitya and Naimittika Karma there Dharma will arise.
From rise of Dharma there will be loss of demerit
From that there will be purification of mind
From that the knowledge of true nature of samsAra
From that grows detachment towards the world
From that desire for Moksha arises
From that search for the means for Moksha
From that giving up all Karma and its sAdhana
From that practice of yoga
From that the mind will turn to brahman
From that the knowledge of tattvamasi and other sentences will be gained.
From that removing of avidyAa
From that abidance in brahman.
However, the traditional teaching always held that the final thing, whatever it is, is NOT something new or acquired. It is something which you already are.
The final outcome was not guaranteed for everyone that follows the scheme spelt out above. The final result would depend on “grace,” an X-factor – unknown and undefinable (vide Vivekachudamani). The probability of success is said to be pretty low (vide BG III-7).
Further, the teaching says that all shAstra-s (scriptures/scriptural teaching) can do is only to “illuminate” and not to bestow a result. Under the illumination, hopefully the nescience of the Seeker gets exposed.
A man on the street, if and when he starts with full resolve the first step of the scheme, is described as a Seeker.
For anyone to be called a ‘Seeker,’ he obviously must have heard about the teaching and got motivated to go into it with determination. A casual reader cannot be described as a Seeker, IMHO.
The traditional path can and will lead such a Seeker towards the final “tipping point” only.
NO guarantees are given. Nothing is known how the “tipping” happens.
What seems to me is that almost all of the Posts by Anon talk at the edge – the tipping point for a committed Seeker.
What Dennis is referring to is about all the methodology that can take one till the tipping point.
The UG-isque terminology that Anon uses often in his posts has a history. UG hailed from a family of ritualistic orthodox brahmins. He initially was faithful to that system, then rebelled against it, mocked it and developed a language to give a ‘shock treatment’ to the people complacently lost in it, carving out a comfott zone for themselves in the process. Therefore, we cannot say that his style of non-teaching teaching will also be universally acceptable.
Once again quoting Sureswara, the most important thing is to attain that freedom from one’s own unverified presumptions, no matter what method one adopts.
And mind you, the freedom that Advaita talks about is not to the body-mind or even the person who thinks s/he is. The body-mind, however holy it may be, has to decay and perish, as Charles showed in his maiden Post.
There is no freedom for anyone as long as s/he thinks there is an entity to get it.
That is a guarantee.
Thank you, Ramesam, for the clear summarization. What is generally not understood in any tradition or non-tradition, is that the tipping point has nothing to do with what was practiced or known beforehand. All of that was experienced by an illusory self incapable of understanding anything other than itself and its experiences. There is no way for this self to become liberated or enlightened. As UG would say at this point, ‘you just stop’. For those who ‘just stop’, there is still no guarantee, as you say and also as UG said, that this inexplicable ‘hand of God’ taps you on the shoulder. But, if you do stop, you are already in quite an altered state compared to the usual seeker. These states should not be confused with that ‘tipping’. The structure of self is still operating, but without a center. Only the touch of the Divine can complete this work. It is not humanly possible to bring about an end to self and consciousness.
UG described this ‘tipping’ as a biological mutation, a chemical and neurological event that left his body in its ‘Natural State’.
J.Krishnamurti also talked about a mutation of the brain.
Bernadette Roberts describes what remains beyond the self structure is the body and senses, now functioning without consciousness (self structure) in what she calls ‘a pure sensory perception.’ She describes it in Christian terms as ‘the resurrection and Christ’s eternal mystical body.
I would like to join with Anon in thanking Ramesam for his impartial and succinct summary of the key issues. I had already written a response to Anon before reading this but the system did not allow me to post it. I considered revising it but on reflection, I believe that what I said still needs to be said. It is effectively a criticism of Anon’s continued stance in these discussions.
You say: “The actual realization is the end of that structure and all that it represents.” You are merely rephrasing what I said in the link. The teaching leads you to the brink and you then jump off, as it were. Or you throw away the ladder, as Wittgenstein puts it. But you could not get there without the ladder. The ladder that we are using at this site is the teaching methodology of Advaita.
How do you justify accepting what is said by UG, Krishnamurty, Ramana, Nisargadatta etc and rejecting what is said by Shankara, Swami D etc? Unless you have verified for yourself the success of one approach over another, how can you do this? Are you not making precisly the same error as you accuse me of making?
And what gives you the authority to judge whether or not someone is enlightened? (Ignoring the fact that respected teachers state that even a j~nAnI cannot say whether or not another person has Self-knowledge.) Not declaring a name suggests to me that you still very much have an ego rather than the other way round!
As I have said before, the purpose of Advaita Vision is to guide those who have decided to use Advaita as the teaching methodolgy towards a realization of the truth. If someone has already decided that Advaita is not an appropriate ‘path’, then they should not contribute to these discussions. And most certainly they should not be trying to confuse others and point them towards other paths.
I think the time has come to ask you, Anon, to do one of the following:
a) reveal your name, and henceforward use your obvious knowledge and intellect to join in these discussions constructively or
b) cease to contribute (and presumably, since the material is of so little value, cease to read it also).
To further clarify what I understand about this subject is this: The teaching doesn’t lead you anywhere. It is your search and you are walking in your own way. 2 people studying anything will not see things the same way. But, let’s say that a teaching did lead you to the brink. That tipping point is as far as you or anyone else can go under your own power, so to speak. You, the structure of self, cannot leap and if you come to the tipping point, the ladder is no longer useful. The ladder is part of the structure of mind. You are finished climbing. I gave you the example of Ramana. He had no ladder. He spontaneously enquired into the nature of ‘I’. No preparation.
Because of my association with UG, I got a first hand look at someone who had gone through an extraordinary transformation. I spent many years chatting with him. They were not easy years. It was an enormous struggle for me. Because of this, when I hear Ramana or Nisargadatta speak about their state, I see the similarity to what UG said. Is it provable? No.
I am not against anyone following a teaching. I thought I had made that clear. Sankara has never interested me for some reason, it doesn’t mean that I think any less of him. UG held Gaudapada in high regard, btw. I’m also not interested in Buddhism and Christianity, in general, but many of the teachings of Advaita, the Christian Mystics, and Buddhism, are of interest to me. I don’t see a problem.
I am a nobody, Dennis, with a serious interest in this subject. All aspects of this self structure, ego included, are fully operational. Just go with the flow, Dennis, and don’t worry about control. I am not trying to usurp anything or have someone join my bandwagon. Just making a few comments.
I’d also like to add my thanks to Dennis, Anonymous and Ramesam in this interesting discussion which demonstrates one of the underpinnings of this website, namely:
“Advaita rejects nothing, includes everything.
Just because Newton’s laws of physics have been surpassed as a description of how things are, that does not mean they are useless: after all the industrial revolution was based on their understanding. Applying this reasoning we too accept all teachers who genuinely teach of the Oneness of all.”
Anon – you have been very clear in this series of posts, and I also was taken by Ch’an and Meister Eckart.
I agree with you (from my grokking, to use Ramesam’s word) that going past the tipping point requires ‘grace’, and agree about the ‘stopping’ that must precede it. My suggestion though is that this ‘stopping’ – which is I think, a seeing of, and a stripping away of conditioning to some significant extent – can come about by reading/hearing and reflecting on this non-dual teaching. This is not a methodical process, but a pointer (or series of pointers), after which you have to do all the work of understanding. Again, this cannot be guaranteed, but at some point it may ‘click’ – much of the habitual thinking / conditioning falls away and you stop; you see that the seeking is meaningless, as is the ladder to get there.
But, as you say, that has only taken you nearer to the tipping point, and no further. To wait, without waiting, without expectation, for the hand of god.
“This is not a methodical process, but a pointer (or series of pointers), after which you have to do all the work of understanding”.
What do we mean by a pointer? How many pointers (all supposedly pointing to the same goal) do we need? How much time do we need/take after which we start to do the work? 10 years, 20 years, a lifetime, many lifetimes?? I read Advaita for 10 years, then Ramana for 10 years, Buddhism for 10 years etc etc. still reading, still supposedly reflecting and still claiming these are only pointers.
So invariably the question arises. Have I really understood that these are only pointers? Or is that just a clever intellectual answer to cover the fact that I am under the firm grip of book reading and intellectual knowledge which are my strong vasanas (conditioning if you prefer)? Vasanas are very self protective but do we even know that?
Each person has to answer these troubling questions to himself. If I find that my ‘pointer’ explanation is merely an expression for my vasana of reading and accumulating book knowledge endlessly, I have at least started to understand my self deception.
Of course if none of this applies to you, kindly ignore.
I entirely concur twopaisa. The mind is very self-deceptive.
The number of books I have gone through from various traditions over the years. But I end up back where I started with what JK, Nisargadatta, Ramana, and Ch’an advised – thought with a far more intimate appreciation than at the outset – let go of the concepts, and just be.
It is true of just about everybody here. Years and years have been spent in reading, accumulating, and quoting from books. I would hesitate to quickly agree that the mind is very self deceptive. Then another conclusion is merely being added and accumulated. But if we are able to see the operation of our self deception even in a few instances/situations in daily living it will reveal a lot. But do we have such situational awareness even for a few brief moments? Or are we occupied all the time in discussing choiceless awareness, grace, god or whatever else? We must answer this only ourselves.
Two Paisa said:
“But if we are able to see the operation of our self deception even in a few instances/situations in daily living it will reveal a lot.”
What can it reveal? The mind can only know what it has experienced. What you are suggesting is a trick that J. Krishnamurti has written extensively about and has made popular with his followers. Vipassana meditation is designed for the same purpose. It can help to lessen the gross illusions, but it has little to do with that tipping point and the transformation that has been discussed here.
As UG would often say, ‘There is no way out’.
“What can it reveal?”.
One who has done it will find out. But a mind burdened with theories will only seek to know/ theorize beforehand by seeking assurances and guarantees.
As UG would often say, ‘There is no way out’.
Yes another theory/conclusion. They come in all shapes and sizes.
“it has little to do with that tipping point and the transformation that has been discussed here.”
Yes very true. It has nothing to do with all the theories and discussions about tipping point, balancing point, points of light, and other “points”.
You are welcome to continue with more theories and quotes, I will not interfere.
Two Paisa, I’m afraid you miss my point. I’ve tried to describe this as best I can. I will leave it at that.
Dennis, same as Two Paisa.
I am not arguing against the removal of ignorance as you describe, but your analogies are much too theoretical to be taken as true. Your logic about being Brahman has nothing to do with the ‘work’ at hand. It is a nice picture, but it doesn’t address the actual experience of a seeker. It is part of a philosophy. It may be true, but the philosophy is not what actually removes ignorance. It is the ‘sadhana’ of enquiry or any other ways and means that one chooses to engage, but the realization that I am That is not guaranteed and can only be given through Grace. Why? I can only guess and what good is that?
This talk of ‘tipping point’ makes me realize that Anon, Twopaisa and Venkat are looking at things the wrong way. They are treating the traditional path as the acquisition of knowledge and comparing it to the mechanism of an automatic loo (WC, toilet), where water trickles into some container which gradually fills until it tips, emptying the water and flushing the bowl.
Since we cannot know brahman (I think we are all agreed on this!), they reasonably argue that acquiring more and more knowledge can never trigger enlightenment because all it affects is the contents of mind.
But it is not like this. The traditional teaching should not really be regarded as acquisition of knowledge so much as removal of ignorance. A more appropriate metaphor is Ramakrishna’s taking algae off the surface of a pond. Any glimpses of clear water are quickly covered over as the weed spreads out. But there eventually comes a time when so much has been removed that there is insufficient left to cover and surface tension leaves the entire surface clear.
Or you might imagine living in a house with no windows. It is a sunny day outside but we are ignorant of the existence of the sun. We start out on a path of chipping away at the bricks in one of the walls. When the wall suddenly collapses, the sun streams in unhindered.
The point is clear in this last metaphor – we have no choice about whether or not we see the sun. It is there and the eyes operate. And the same applies to brahman. Brahman is already the case – we are already brahman. We may not ‘know’ it but we cannot help but ‘be’ it. Traditional advaita chips away at the wall of ignorance and, when what remains is insufficient to maintain the illusion, we realize the truth. There is no choice in the matter and nothing to do.
Dennis, you may be right, and I may have misinterpreted what you and others have been trying to articulate about ‘traditional’ advaita.
What I have understood from you about the traditional path, is that it is the transmitting of knowledge, in steps that: I am not the body-mind that I think I am, but that I am non-separate from everything, I am that consciousness from which (the appearance of ) everything arises and subsides. You may use different words, but I think that is the gist?
If I have understood Ramana, Nisargadatta, and JK properly (and Ashtavakra / Sankara for that matter), is that they undoubtedly make a similar point, but go a step further, to point to the radical elimination of any ‘I’-structure whatsoever. But an ego cannot eliminate itself, its own conditioning, because of basic self-preservation.
Hence Ramana, Nisargadatta and JK, all pointing, in their own words to a choiceless attentiveness of the ‘I’; not to try to eliminate it, but just to be aware of it and its working, and to be aware of what is aware. And to turn away from the drsyam, the external world. And as this deepens, the unnecessary thoughts, which are a function of the I subside. And in that silence, grace, the tipping point may happen.
So this tipping point is not about a filling until it overflows and empties itself. The preceding is actually the non-volitional emptying that arises (from viveka and vairagya).
And hence Sankara’s commentaries that suggest renunciation, living on what comes unasked: before to attenuate the ego, and after as an inevitable consequence of egolessness.
Niargdatta said something along the lines of in the triputi of knower, knowing and known, you are the knowing, the knower and known being concepts; that you are best described as verb rather than a noun. Jean Klein gets at the same point:
“The mind must come to a state of silence, completely empty of fear, longing and all images. This cannot be brought about by suppression but by observing every feeling and thought without qualification, condemnation, judgement or comparison . . . then only alertness remains, only silence in which there is neither observer nor observed.”
“When you are free from direction, you have no reference to anything. You have no desire for anything. It is important to live this directionlessness, this not-knowing, this waiting without waiting for anything. All that remains is your directionless awareness. Live in this absolute absence of yourself. It is the threshold. You are in complete openness, open to nothing, free from all ideas, free from all hope. And when you are completely transparent, open, open to openness, you are taken by Truth, by Grace.”
This is, I think (and please correct me Dennis), very different from your conviction. The emphasis here is on the self-investigation, self-discovery; not the step-by-step imparting of knowledge by a teacher that removes ignorance.
“not the step-by-step imparting of knowledge by a teacher that removes ignorance.”
When the issue is self awareness, self reflection or whatever you call it, how can anybody else remove my ignorance? At the most, a “teacher” can raise questions to investigate. But my continued resistance (to pursue the questions non intellectually in myself) will invariably prevail. As stated earlier, our vasanas are self protective. This means my vasanas will and must resist any effort to question them deeply. So my age old vasana of accumulating book knowledge will quarrel, argue, fight to the finish with anybody who questions it. This reaction is inevitable and happens everywhere. The whole theory of some teacher imparting self reflection/discovery step by step (or by some other method) is absurd.
What you are all saying makes no sense. If reality is non-dual, and we are really brahman, then we are brahman NOW, whether we realize it or not. Clearly some false ideas are obscuring our realizing that this is so. If those ideas are removed by some teaching that shows them to be false, then we are obliged to acknowledge the reality.
Suppose that you have your eyes closed and someone whom you know comes into the room and stands in front of you; when you open your eyes, you have no choice but to recognize them. vAsana-s have nothing to do with it. Nor has choice.
But if you are still wearing distorting lenses in front of your eyes, it does not matter how much you look and enquire, you are still not going to see your friend.
“If reality is non-dual, and we are really brahman, then we are brahman”.
1. Do you live In reality ? ( i prefer to use this word ‘live’ instead of ‘know’ since many don’t understand it).
2. Do you live in non dual state?
3. Do you live as Brahman whatever that is?
Based on your reply, I may raise other questions but this will do for a start.
Dennis, Do you know first hand what reality is? I thought we had established that it was unknowable? Clearly, you are not Brahman now. This doesn’t negate any higher truth. It does acknowledge that what you are putting forth is all part of the self structure and limited to the accumulated knowledge of our collective past and memory. If you call that Brahman, which you don’t, I would agree. What is the problem?
This is nothing to do with knowledge. If it is the case that reality is non-dual, then it is the case the reality is non-dual. Whether you think it, believe it, live it or deny it, if it is non-dual, there is nothing you can do about it. (Because, if you like, there is no ‘you’ and no ‘it’.)
Is it the case that reality is non-dual? Or, is it your conjecture, a philosophical deduction, that says reality is this or that? Dual or non-dual are qualities that live in our mind. I can see that you haven’t come to this point yet in your own search. Surely, in Advaita teaching, they must talk about this and point out that these dualities are the very thing that obscure your vision. Conceptual thought, which you take as real, has become your argument, your banner.
God is great, Allahu Akbar, they shout. But how many who shout this are living it?
UG said: :”This movement of thought within you is parallel to the movement of life, but isolated from it. It can never touch life. You are a living creature yet you lead your entire life within the realm of this isolated, parallel movement of thought. You cut yourself off from life.”
If it is the case that you are convinced that reality is dual, then please leave the site. I have no interest whatsoever in argument for argument’s sake.
As regards my own ‘search’, what difference would it make to you for me to say that I know that the claims of Advaita are true? It would not make my reasoning any more valid and it would certainly not convince you that my conclusions are correct. I suggest that it would only give you more apparent ammunition for your unhelpful arguments.
I think the time has come to end this thread since no one else is contributing.
I think you are putting words in my mouth. I never said reality was dual. I said it was neither dual nor non-dual. Is that a problem? I’m sure that Advaita says the same thing somewhere in its literature. What possible difference could it make?
‘a’ – not
‘dvaita’ – dualism
Can I say that the debate seems to be now getting around to be centered on asking: “Is not the snake also brahman (in the classic metaphor snake on the rope)?
Rather I feel there are questions being raised about how different (if any) is Brahman from Martian cheese for someone who has not experienced either. He could just as well assert his theory that there is nothing but Martian cheese and the universe we all see is a superimposition on that cheese. It is so whether we like it or not, believe it or not, experience it or not. Everything is pure, non dual Martian cheese. It is irrefutable.
Just playing devils advocate, of course.
How can there be a debate? What is unclear about the statement sarvam khalvidam brahma?
From your own translation of YogavAshiShTa VII: “It means that the entire visible world is Supreme Brahman because all of this is born from the Supreme Brahman, it is sustained by Brahman and it is dissolved into Brahman. Therefore, a spiritual aspirant should pursue Self-inquiry in peace with the thought that he is himself that Brahman. Salutations to myself who is thus established to be none other than Brahman! Salutations to me who is a solidification of Consciousness-Bliss! “
We are now in this discussion at a stage that unless one states upfront very very clearly the meaning of a word used by him/her (more so with ‘pointer’ words – pratIka-s – whose meaning cannot be inferred from the context), what is being communicated can be misunderstood.
Therefore, though it may be a bit tedious to read, I wish to first define the way I am using the words.
World: that which is under constant ‘change’ (jAyate gachchati iti jagat), exists within space-time-causation realms and comprises finite objects that can be identified with a name and form (and, therefore, the world is not indivisible).
brahman: that which is not sublatable, transcends space-time-causation phenomena, impartite, indescribable and unthinkable (yato vAco nivartante aprApya manasA saH). It is the only ‘no-thing thing’ that “IS.” It is “Conscious” and undimensional (In-finite).
If twopaisa chooses to call it Martian cheese (MC) instead, there is no harm. Then the words MC and brahman are synonyms. There is no difference between the two. Existence, Consciousness and Infiniteness are also its synonyms.
In the expression, “the universe we all see is a superimposition on that,” what does superimposition mean? Does it imply that a rock like solid brahman is at the base ON which a thing called world sits – as if there is a two-layered structure?
No, that is not what the scriptures say. Sage Vasishta explains in the Chapter III on the Origination of the world (utpatti) YogavAshiShTa in unambiguous terms. A short excerpt:
“Rama: Sir! You repeatedly say that the world has formed as an imaginary superimposition over cidAkAsha or the Supreme Self. At the same time you tell us that there are no spatial or temporal directions in Supreme Self. How can you then hold that the world is a superimposition on the substratum when there are no directions like up or down? How can you say the world is superimposed ‘on’ the Supreme Self?
Further, if there are no directions present in the Supreme Self, how can the world which has come out of cidAkAsha possess directions? Will it not be better to say that directions do exist within the Supreme Self?
Vasishta: Rama! Suppose a person has a defective vision. He sees some balls of hair flying in space. Can any balls of hair be present in space? They don’t really exist in air. It is because of the defect in the vision, the balls seem to be present. When we express it in words, we say “Due to his defective vision he sees hair balls in space.” But does it mean that the space is below and the hair balls are flying up above? When a thing is not really there, terms like up or down, in or on do not mean anything.
Similarly, if the projected world were to be real, then only the question of Supreme Self being below and the world being present ‘on’ It will arise. When the world itself is not really there, how can such arguments about above or below come up?
Your next question was about the directions being present in the world when there was no directionality in cidAkAsha. After all, what we are talking about here is an imagination. What is an imagination? When you see things that are not present in the source, we call it an imagination. As the wolrd is purely imaginary, the spatial and temporal directions that are non-existnet in cidAkAsha appear to be present within the imagined world.
You must also note that the directions you see in the world are not absolute. They have only a relative value. We talk about something being above or below relative to our position. We talk of the directions relative to the earth where we live. Otherwise, there is nothing like above or below in open space. Anything can happen as per the intentions of the cidAkAsha.”
The above extract would also answer a lot of questions like “Are you brahman?” being raised in the debate that is going on.
A ‘you’ or ‘me’ or the tree across or the bird on the tree are imaginary. The word ‘brahman’ is not 100% applicable to them because those objects are finite, have well-identifiable attributes and so on unlike brahman.
But then, if one were to consider not the finite form but the ‘actual’ substance they constitute of, it is the same as what ‘brahman’ is, though imaginary.
So one way we may model it is to think of the individual finite entities (sentient and insentient objects) and also the changing ‘world that is seen,’ as appurtenances or extrudates. Any single object is NOT the same as brahman but the basic ‘substance’ of the object is brahman.
Our scriptures provide an excellent metaphor. Your own one mind emerges itself as multiple objects with different shapes, sizes and characteristics in your dream.
Can any single object of your dream be described as equivalent to your mind? Yet they are all out of, in and as your mind only.
All in all, IMHO, world, if seen as a conglomerate of diverse and distinct objects, is not congruent to brahman. But the entirety without objectification is brahman. Hence, the keyword which is very significant in the quote kindly provided by Dennis from YogavAshiShTa VII is “entire.” We should also note that the entirety is lost when we begin to “see” because, we necessarily use a medium (mind) in ‘seeing,’ and mind as the medium cannot ever show us the “entirety.” Mind and the eyes provide us a pratyaksha anubhave (direct experience) but not aparoksha (immediated) of entire brahman.
If we take a modern metaphor, when I am seeing a specific picture on the computer screen, I am in actuality seeing the screen only. But the picture is not the entire screen. So also, when I see any object or man I am seeing brahman only, but that object is not the Infinite brahman.
“If twopaisa chooses to call it Martian cheese (MC) instead, there is no harm. Then the words MC and brahman are synonyms. There is no difference between the two. Existence, Consciousness and Infiniteness are also its synonyms.”
Thank you for accepting they are synonyms. Since nobody has experienced Martian cheese here, it is also true that nobody has experienced Brahman/Infiniteness here. That is exactly what a few have been saying. One can spin any theory based on a concept of Brahman or Martian cheese that we must first assume to exist. They are creations of the human mind and so equally valid or equally absurd depending on the needs of a particular individual mind which either accepts or rejects it. That is the beauty of theories and why we have so many of them – to suit/satisfy different minds.
Ramesam, you make an effort to describe the above dialogue and define terms. However, the point is that is as far as it goes, words. This is why I referred to UG’s quote about the parallel movement of thought to life. Thought never touches life no matter how much you want it to.
In the case of Vasishta, here is someone who can explain things from his own experience. He speaks not from the point of view of the structure of self. I also believe that UG and some others that I have mentioned also talk from that pov.
There is a world of difference when someone who does not live that pov talks in the same fashion about the Absolute, Martian Cheese. Then it becomes an evangelical pursuit, and the subsequent sale of goods. All true teachers know that words are insufficient to either convert or transform the self structure. They weren’t meant to be tools (pointers) for philosophy. It is another illusion to come to terms with. Agree or disagree and the words continue……….What other choice is there?
Thanks to Ramesam for an excellent elucidation of the matter. But I fear that your efforts are wasted.
Twopasia and others: The purpose of this website and blog is to discuss Advaita and the various manifestations of its teaching constructively so as to help visitors understand and thereby remove some of the Self-ignorance that may be obstructing Self-knowledge. If you are only interested in trying to demonstrate that Advaita teaching is useless or mistaken then you are not welcome here! Is this clear?
Just back from a short holiday, it appears clear to me that there are at least two discussants here that are so entrenched in their own individual (ego) point of view that they cannot see the merits or reasonableness of another, different, viewpoint. Otherwise it is difficult to understand how statements by Dennis –
(1)’The teaching leads you to the brink and you then jump off, as it were. Or you throw away the ladder, as Wittgenstein puts it. But you could not get there without the ladder. The ladder that we are using at this site is the teaching methodology of Advaita.’
(2) what he says about the removal of ignorance being the aim of the teaching of traditional advaita.
3) ‘Ignoring the fact that respected teachers state that even a j~nAnI cannot say whether or not another person has Self-knowledge’, all of which should be truisms – are so bitterly rejected (in psychoanalysis this is called ‘projection’, equivalent to self-justification, a very ‘self-centered’ or individualistic one).
Another sign o this is attacking the mind (that wonderful instrument) while using it – that is, their ‘own’ mind – with alacrity and self-assurance.
Well, things are as they are.
We are waiting for you and Dennis to jump off. Are you close? 🙂
(Excerpted from my article on the ego, being serially posted in this blog)
… Is the ego, then, not the basic disorder –a veritable nest of disequilibria- the one and only ‘subject’ of dysfunction? From the Buddhist perspective at least, it is not just a question of there being a number of personality types and disorders, which can be described, diagnosed and treated by whatever means are available to the therapist, but over and above that that personality itself, and including the notion of person, are ultimately a disorder, or an illusion .
The problem, to repeat, lies in ‘self-identification’ and attachment to what is a limitation of being – both based on ignorance. These tendencies (attachment and ignorance) are two of the three ‘poisons’ or defilements as seen from the Buddhist perspective; the third one -aversion, anger or hate- follows, of course, by implication or extension (fig.1). The result is suffering, which ties that triad with another related one: duhkha, anitya, anâtmân – suffering, impermanence, non-self (trilakshana, ‘the three marks of existence’).
The three ‘poisons’ – addiction, aversion, delusion
…. Furthermore, going beyond Buddhist doctrines without contradicting them, we may conclude that to be ‘possessed’ by the ego at its most virulent extreme, that is, as either aggressive or defensive, is tantamount to being demented, ‘out of one’s mind’, ‘besides one’s self’. It is to be possessed by the ‘devil’, as a force underlying and encouraging the ego. The latter, however, is not unopposed, for there is a persistent battle going on ‘inside’, the ‘devil’s opponent being none other than the Spirit or Self, bearer of the true light. But what could the ‘devil’ be other than ignorance and delusion?