Q: I read an article of yours in which you said that traditional Advaita is a “proven methodology.” You also say that it is impossible to tell if another person is enlightened. But if you can’t tell if someone is enlightened as a result of practicing Advaita, how can you say that Advaita is a “proven methodology”? What constitutes “proof”?
1) Is a proof here the proficiency in discussing/remembering/debating on topics of this tradition shown by one who has followed it for x number of years?
Answer: That can hardly be a proof. Whether parrot-like or not, ability in this regard may show, at best, a degree of intellectual understanding in the areas discussed as well as, possibly, a good memory and lexical ability. A real proof would consist in bringing about a complete change in outlook on life, meaning an inner transformation in the way the person sees the world and reacts to it. Does he/she see themselves as a doer? This may not be evident to anyone other the one undergoing the change.
I answered this question in Quora along similar lines:
“A prevalent idea is that ‘the hallmark of the great sages such as those mentioned above [Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj] is that they have a transparent, translucent quality that emanates contentment and peace.’ Many, however, will think that the translucent quality, etc. is a very subjective statement (Sufis call it barakah), hard or impossible to assess – it is, to be sure, ‘in the eyes of the beholder’. Quite a different opinion or assessment from the above is saying – and it has been said – that ‘if you pass by or come close to a self-realized person, you will not be able to notice that s/he is such, since there are no external signs to reveal it, the outward behavior appearing as quite normal or unexceptionable.’”
2) What does the questioner mean by enlightenment or self-realization? Is there such? There are different views on this and I prefer not to elaborate, other than repeating that it is – from the empirical or vyAvahArika point of view – an inner transformation which brings about peace of mind, serenity or impassibility, and all doubts and uncertainties being eliminated.
A (Dennis): It’s a combination of faith/trust and personal validation. Before you are yourself enlightened, you have to place trust in the teacher/writer/speaker. You base that trust upon personal knowledge, experience and reason but ultimately there has to be some ‘faith’ since the essence of what is being taught is not accessible to any other pramANa. Once your Self-ignorance is eliminated, of course, you then know that the teaching worked. This is the final ‘proof’. But then you also realize that this teaching would have worked in the same manner for your teacher and would similarly work for others. This ‘proves’ the methodology.
It is similar to some degree to hearing about a foreign country. You have faith in what you hear/read initially. When you go there yourself, what you have heard is found to be true. It is dissimilar to the extent that what you find on enlightenment is not subject to opinion or contradiction, since the truth is your Self and not known via any intermediate mechanism. And, of course, it is the same Self for every other jIva.
The reason why you may have doubts about this may be that you do not accept that ‘enlightenment’ is only certain knowledge, gained in the usual ways. It is not any ‘experience’.
If you are going to put provisional trust in a claim that ‘you are Brahman’ or ‘everything is Brahman’, then it is no big deal also putting provisional trust in the teacher being enlightened.
You can compare this with the ‘method’ of the neo-Advaitin ‘teachers’: they simply give you the bottom line truth without any gradual, supporting explanation. The traditional ‘path’ has an entire series of partial explanations, suited to the seeker’s current level of understanding. These are successively superseded in a manner which has been ‘proven’ to work for seekers for over a thousand years. The traditional seeker is always satisfied at each step of the way, whereas the neo-seeker is usually left bewildered and floundering.