The Non-dual teaching is quite simple, straightforward and very clear.
The brihadAraNyaka upanishad encapsulates it succinctly:
neha nAnAsti kincana — 4. 4.19
(No distinctions whatsoever exist here)
The IshAvAshya upanishad expresses the same in a different way
ishAvAsyamidagm sarvam — mantra 1
(All this (universe) is pervaded by the Lord (= brahman))
advaita says that that there is no multiplicity here. Whatever exists is all Oneness. This Oneness does not give scope for a second thing to arise within it. It is so Absolute and Alone. If anyone sees a multiplicity of things, such an appearance to the eye of the beholder is merely an illusion arising out of the ignorant stance taken by him/her. The word “ignorant” is not used in any pejorative sense. It simply means that the seer has ignored the truth. The upanishad even cautions that one goes from death to death if he misses to see the Oneness. By that the scripture is telling us that suffering and misery are inevitable for one who ignores this plain Truth of Oneness.
Reinforcing the statement above, cAndogya upanishad famously adds, whatever that is all, it is all you, yourself alone:
tatvamasi — 6.8.7
(thou art That)
All these upanishad vAkya-s (upanishadic statements) are fairly easy statements to grasp. These do not contain turgid phrases, complex formulae, intricate logic or ethereal invocations.
One can understand that the world is perceived through the five senses and it is the mind that gives a meaning to what is perceived. All this happens because of our fundamental quality of being present and being conscious. Yes, “I know I am present (i.e. I exist) and I am conscious (I am aware). I can also see that there is no separate consciousness away and different from me. So I am my consciousness. And everything I perceive is Consciousness taking all those forms.” Fair enough.
But why is it I seem to still feel a distance from all objects, I see and interact with a seemingly different person, I still have to show an ID to board an Airplane, and file taxes, secure my savings? I eat food which is different from me. I have to rush to a doctor to mend the broken leg in a traffic accident. Where is the Oneness in all this activity? Is any action possible at all in the absence of an “other” being present?
Why does not the intellectual understanding of Oneness percolate down into the day to day functional level of the body? Questions galore keep rising. No convincing answers available anywhere.
One feels a gnawing “lack” in imbibing the teaching. This is more glaringly obvious in the Western Advaita circles. The final message is well articulated, repeatedly emphasized by many Non-dual teachers but the listener goes away with a feeling of being left out, carrying with him a burden of dissatisfaction – a feel of ‘missing something.’ A number of teachers, apparently tasted the beauty of that Oneness, understood it in every cell of their body, yet seem to search for suitable words to impart the teaching. A number of others teachers, not knowing how to help the seeker to extricate himself/herself from this predicament, only repeat their message. Some teachers in the West think that it takes time for the body to fall in alignment with the new understanding and offer a repertoire of exercises to help the body-mind. It is like beating a dead horse. Liberation is not for the body. Body is the effect of ‘ignorance’ and it ends when its shelf-life (karmic load) is expended. It’s like a squeezed out paste. None can alter, stop or change course of an arrow that is already shot. Wrestling with it has no meaning after Self-knowledge is attained.
The traditional teachers of Advaita in India do recognize this problem faced by the seekers. They have a term for this. They call these impediments as pratibandhaka-s or obstacles on the path. These obstructions to the understanding can come in many forms, tangible and intangible, depending on the cultural and spiritual background, analytical acumen, accumulated experience, knowledge gained and several other factors. Hence it is not possible to administer a single prescription for all. Because these obstacles are personal to each individual, he/she has to identify the kinks and knots experienced by them in fully ingesting the Non-dual message.
Once the problem is identified, the seeker has to go back to manana (reflection) phase to find an answer to redeem the obstacle. He may discuss with a teacher, co-seekers, study again relevant scriptural texts, or even go on pilgrimages to new places in order to gain a fresh view of things.
To quote Swami Hariharananda Saraswati from his work, advaitabodhadipika:
“After repeatedly hearing from the master about the Self, reflecting on It and directly knowing It, the seeker should give up the shAstra-s even as the pole used to stir up the corpse in the burning ground is finally consigned to the burning fire of the corpse. From a study of the shAstra-s let the seeker of Liberation gather an indirect knowledge of the Self and put it into practice by reflecting on It until by experiencing It a direct knowledge is gained; later like a gatherer of grains who takes the grain and rejects the chaff, let him leave the shAstra-s aside.”
The Swami-Ji recommends a series of steps, as summarized in the Table – 1 below, to progressively peel away the various layers of latent tendencies which act as impediments in the attainment of an unbroken realization of brahman.
Table -1: Progressive Annihilation Of The Latent Tendencies Leading Finally to Liberation In This Life:
|S. No.||Latent Tendency||Characteristics of the tendency||Antidote|
|1.||shAstra vAsanA (Clinging to scriptural texts)||Inclination of the mind to always study Vedanta literature and to commit it to memory||By negation|
|2.||lOka vAsanA (Attachment to worldly status)||To think this is my country this is my family pedigree and this is the tradition||By negation|
|3.||deha vAsanA (Attachment to body-mind)||To think oneself to be of such and such age; to desire the full span of life and health and good looks||By negation|
|4.||bhOga vAsanA (Attachment to pleasure)||To want all good and enjoyable things; avoidance of undesirable things; to desire wealth etc.||By dispassion and detachment.|
|5.||ariShadvarga-s (Six detrimental emotions)||Six passions: namely; lust; anger; greed; delusion; pride; and jealousy.||By developing friendship (maîtri) with the holy; compassion (karuNa) for the afflicted; rejoicing (mudita) in the joy of the virtuous; and being indifferent (upeksha) to the shortcomings of the sinful.|
|6.||viShaya vAsanA (Attachment to worldly objects)||Clinging to the objects of the senses.||By a practice of the six-fold discipline consisting of sama; dama; uparati; titIksha; samAdhAna and shraddha.|
|7.||Mental Attachments||Constant brooding and emotional attachment.||By practising uparati (desisting from all thoughts on objects after proper reasoning).|
|8.||viparIta vAsanA (Special attachment)||Mistaken idea that `I am the body.’||By constantly remembering that `I am Brahman.|
|9.||mamakAra (Possessive feelings)||The idea of `mine’ in relation to the body or name; form; profession; life.||By steadfast meditation on Reality|
|10.||bheda vAsanA (Dualistic attitude)||Ideas like: “I am the witness of this; there is the world; these are the individuals; this one is the disciple and the other is Isvara and so on.”||By being free from thoughts of internal or external differentiation through nirvikalpa samAdhi|
|11.||Attachment to Non-duality||Clinging to and feeling pride in the knowledge of Non-duality.||By passing into untellable and unthinkable Reality; by being absolutely free from all modes of Non-dualistic concepts in thought and words.|