Advaita Gurus and Critics – part 9

Analysis and Interpretation
by Prof. Phillip Charles Lucas

<Read Part 8>

In the remainder of this article, I analyze and interpret the criticisms of NTMA teachers and teachings using theoretical frames drawn from the sociology of religions, history of North American religions, and ongoing scholarly conversations concerning adaptations and distortions that occur when Hindu traditions move from their homeland to the cultural matrices of North America.

On one level, the spread of Modern Advaita (both NTMA and TMA) gurus and organizations is simply a manifestation of the entrepreneurial spirit that long has characterized the North American religious landscape. In a sense these teachers are engaged in niche franchising of the Modern Advaita message. This is the case because most teachers active in North American Modern Advaita circles today spent time as disciples of one or another guru from either the TMA or NTMA orbits.

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Advaita in the Vedas – Rig Veda 10.125.8

Rig Veda 10.125.8 is unique as it is one of the rare occasions in the Vedas where a mantra is spoken in first-person. Such mantras are categorised as directly relating to the Self, where the worshipper is identical with the deity being worshipped and the illusion of separation is seen through.

In Rig Veda 10.125.8, it is declared that,

I breathe forth like the wind, giving form to all created worlds. Beyond the heaven, beyond this earth, so vast am I in greatness.

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Bhagavad Gita (Topic-wise) Pt 20

Part 19

Part 21

6 Moksha
6-1 Preparation
6-2 Jnana, Jnani, and Jnana-Phala
6-2-6 Action, inaction, non-action 4(16 to 18), 18 (13 to 15) 6-2-6-1

 4(16 to 18) Sri Krishna says that even sages are deluded about the nature of action, non-action, and inaction and offers to explain them so that upon knowing them, one is freed from the bondage of karma and samsara. An inquiry is important as people suffer from vague ideas about them. Action refers to action prescribed by scriptures. Non-action means prohibited action, i.e., not sanctioned by scriptures. Inaction is being idle. It is a cardinal mistake to think that the true nature of a person does any action and that it reaps the fruits of action.

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Maya-stuff

According to Vedanta, Brahman is the Absolute Reality. The universe is a lower order of reality drawing existence from Brahman and is mithya. Maya is the power of Brahman with two aspects, namely, projecting power and veiling power. The former projects the universe and due to the latter a jiva forgets that his essential nature is Brahman. Indeed, maya is powerful. What is it made of?
There is a clue in verses 8.18 to 8.20 of Bhagavad Gita. A day and a night of Brahmaji constitute one calendar day of Brahmaji which is made of two thousand maha-yugas. During his daytime, when Brahmaji is awake, the universe is in manifest form and when he is asleep during the night it is in unmanifest(resolved) form resting in potential form in the unmanifest Brahman. It is again manifested at the dawn of Brahmaji’s day. The universe has two states: manifest and unmanifest and the cycles of creation continue.
It follows that maya is the unmanifest universe. It is also called Prakriti. A jiva takes rebirth because of the causal body which is the sanchit karma, i.e., the karmic balance at the time of death. At the time of dissolution, i.e., at the end of a cycle of creation, the aggregate causal body of all jivas is the unmanifest universe resting in Brahman. Maya is the cosmic causal body. Brahman owes maya power to jivas.

Advaita Gurus and Critics – part 8

by Prof. Phillip Charles Lucas

<Read Part 7>

Theme Five: Pre-transcendence, Depersonalization and Level Confusion

A fifth and final theme of the critics is that NTMAs make no allowance for the Advaita distinction between absolute and relative levels of awareness. As a result, these teachers allegedly tend to devalue a life of engaged spiritual practice and the balanced development of physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual dimensions of the self. By placing all their emphasis on the most advanced state of spiritual realization, NTMA teachers and students are seen as being prone to “pre-transcendence,” a premature assumption of ultimate spiritual liberation that leads to de-personalization and disengagement from ordinary life. California-based NTMA teacher John Wheeler articulates this radically depersonalized position:

The real clarity comes from seeing the absence of the person. It is the person that gums up the works and creates all the problems and supposed solutions. Just keep coming back to the fundamentals. Your nature is luminous, ever-present, radiant, perfect, being-awareness. This is fully realized and complete right now…. With the emphasis off of the mind and the [personal] conceptual story, you will be much more present, because there is no filter. There is no person with all of its preferences and partialities trying to negotiate every experience.

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Bhagavad Gita (Topic-wise) Pt 19

Part 18

Part 20

6 Moksha
6-1 Preparation
6-2 Jnana, Jnani, and Jnana-Phala
6-2-5-3: 13(1 to 11)
Arjuna asks Sri Krishna to explain six terms, namely, Prakriti, Purusha, Kshetra, Kshetrajna, Jnana, and Jneyam. They can be reduced to three. Prakriti and Kshetra are the same and represent the material universe. It is a field of experience. Purusha, Kshetrajna, and Jneyam are the same and represent the consciousness principle. Sri Krishna explains that the body is Kshetra and the knower of Kshetra is Kshetrajna. The physical body is like a field because karma requires a field for performance. In this sense, the mind and external world are also fields. Their common features are that they are made of matter and inert in themselves and further that they are subject to change and decay. A knower of Kshetra is Kshetrajna. The knower is the consciousness principle. Hence Kshetrajna is the consciousness principle.

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Advaita Gurus and Critics – part 7

by Prof. Phillip Charles Lucas

<Read Part 6>

Theme Four: Shortcomings of the Satsang Format

A fourth theme of the TMA criticisms focuses on the shortcomings of the satsang format itself. The usual format of the NTMA satsang begins with a period of quiet reflection followed by mantra invocations/chanting and questions and answers from attendees. Some participants approach the raised platform where the teacher is seated and enter into an intimate dialogue with the teacher. As Frisk observes in her study of the Satsang Network, there is sometimes an element of entertainment and laughter in these events, often focused on questioners and their interactions with the teacher. [Frisk, “The Satsang Network,” 67.]

Music and dance also can be part of the program, although this was rare in my fieldwork experiences. The satsang format is well suited to North American seekers, who have been conditioned to the public confessional approach found on daytime talk shows such as Oprah and Dr. Phil and who may expect personal attention or “therapy” along with spiritual instruction from their teachers. TMA proponents question the core motivations of attendees and allege that many of them are simply seeking self-empowerment, “self-help,” and an ephemeral experience of spiritual community rather than serious engagement in the arduous task of ego transcendence.

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Advaita in the Vedas – Gayatri Mantra

The Gayatri mantra is one of the most famous, chanted by millions of people every day and heralded for many reasons. But what makes it so significant? Two explanations are its Vedic origins and the meaning of the mantra itself — 

That greatest Savitri is the light of the shining one we meditate on which illuminates our intellect.

The mantra, which is ‘tat savitur varenyam bhargo devasya dhimahi dhiyo yo nah prachodayat’, first appears in Rig Veda (3.62.10). When it is chanted, it is preceded by Om and the mahavyahriti: bhur bhuvah svah. They symbolise the three regions earth, atmosphere and heaven while Om is their source, beyond them. Similarly, the Chandogya Upanishad says about Gayatri as the personification of the mantra,

Gayatri is all this, whatever exists. Speech is the Gayatri: speech sings (gai) and protects (trai) all this that exists. [1]

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Advaita Gurus and Critics – part 6

by Prof. Phillip Charles Lucas

<Read Part 5>

Theme Three: Insufficient Grounding in Vedanta Traditions (concluded)

Tony Parsons articulates the NTMA counterargument on this matter quite clearly:

Traditional Advaita appears to make proper use of logic, reason, belief, and experience, rational explanation, truth, and traditional wisdom, all directed towards helping the seeker along the path to their enlightenment. The Open Secret’s apparent communication is illogical, unreasonable, unbelievable, paradoxical, non-prescriptive, non-spiritual and uncompromising. There is no agenda or intention to help or change the individual. Its resonance is shared energetically, not through the exchange of ideas. It is prior to all teachings and yet eternally new. [Tony Parsons, “Traditional Not Two-ness.”]

Waite counters that Advaita tradition, although holding a high degree of reverence for its scriptural corpus, does not regard the scriptures as a perfect articulation of absolute truth that cannot be questioned or clarified. Rather, they are a “reliable source of self-knowledge in which one can trust until such time as the truth is realized for oneself, at which time they are discarded along with the ignorance they helped to dispel.” [Waite, Enlightenment, 24, 37-39]

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‘Tipping Point’ in Advaita Vedanta

Question:  “I’m curious what is the ‘Tipping Point’ in the Advaita philosophy.”
Answer:
Just as it is easier to say what the Self is apophatically, perhaps, the “Tipping point in Advaita” too can be expressed only by stating what it cannot be!

4.4.5, BU clearly establishes how everything, including objects, actions, interactions, thoughts, emotions, feelings etc. etc., in short our entire ‘perceptual knowledgebase’ gleaned from the time-space-causational world we are familiar with and live in, is merely upahita caitanya (conditioned Consciousness). Continue reading