Q.481 Robert Adams and Reincarnation

Q: I discovered Advaita Vedanta by beginning to read the satsangs of Robert Adams, an American disciple of Sri Ramana Maharshi. I also read books about the latter. These readings have had a considerable impact on “my”  existence, which started to take another turn.

However, there is one point that bothers me, if may say so. Let me explain :

In his satsang “It’s All A Dream” of October 18, 1990, Robert Adams says:

So today we think we are going to make this a better world in which to live, and we are going to save the world, and so on. The world has its own collective karma. It’s going through a phase. Your job is to save yourself. If you find yourself in a burning building, you do not stop to admire the pictures on the wall, you get out of the building as fast as you can. So, when you know you have a short time in this existence you do not stop to play the games of life, you try to find yourself and become free as fast as you can.

So, Robert Adams seems to use a shock image (building in flames) and strong or even scary formulas (“save yourself”, “as fast as you can”, “you have a short time in this existence”) to urge the sincere aspirants to free themselves from maya: it is now or never. Does this mean that if someone, despite all his efforts, does not attain Self-realization in that “short time of existence”, he or she is permanently “lost”? If the Self is the Only Reality, who is there to be “saved” or “lost”? As long as “we” are in ignorance, we may seem to be struggling with the karmic chains of the so-called relative world. Did Robert simply mean that spiritual practice is a serious matter that requires a complete and uncompromising commitment, otherwise one only prolongs indefinitely the sufferings and lies of the spatio-temporal illusion?

Further in the text, Robert says:

When you realize, “I am not the body, I am not the mind, and I am not the doer,” then you are safe. But as long as you think you are doing something kind for somebody, then you want a reward, you want recognition. But when you know there is only one Self, you are automatically kind to everybody. And virtue has its own reward. So by being kind, compassionate, even though you may not become selfrealized in this life, you will be born to better parents, and you will be a step ahead of the game of life next time around, if there is such a thing.

Therefore, if we do not attain Self-realization in this life, would we still have the opportunity to come back here to continue the sadhana (through the so-called process of “reincarnation”)? As you said to another seeker:

Initially, reincarnation is taught so that one might believe that they will get there eventually. Once all of the theory has been understood and intellectually accepted, however, it can be appreciated that there is nowhere to get and no one to make the journey.

In spite of that, there is a French teacher, Eric Tolone, who claims to be a Ramana Maharshi’s devotee. He has an immense erudition in the great spiritual traditions. He prides himself on having dedicated all his life to sadhana. He also attended great jnanis including Annamalai Swami. In a very long video, he says that not everyone will be saved, that spirituality is a matter of life and death and that the vast majority of the ajnanis will follow the deadly “lunar path” after their death (vs “solar path” for the jnanis). For me, these assertions are absurd but I can be wrong.

Finally, what is your opinion on René Guénon who claimed that reincarnation was, unlike metempsychosis, a Western invention in total contradiction with the Hindu traditions?

I confess to being confused. In any case, please excuse me if my questions may seem inept or inappropriate. I am only a spiritual aspirant at the beginning of the path.

In advance, thank you very much for your attention and help.

A: A key aspect about Advaita, that causes much confusion amongst seekers who do not follow a start-to-finish traditional route, is that its teaching methodology is adhyAropa-apavAda. This means that an explanation is given, which is appropriate to the present level of understanding. Later, when more is understood, this is often taken back and a more sophisticated explanation given. Ultimately, on realization of the truth, ALL the teaching is taken back. Words can never describe reality.

This makes it difficult to answer questions that anticipate an explanation later than the present level of understanding! Satsang teaching (Robert was definitively a satsang teacher and Ramana effectively was) is particularly prone to this problem because attendees are at many different levels.

Reincarnation is a topic that is especially susceptible to this dilemma. It is certainly a key aspect of Hinduism and Advaita. It goes along with the theory of karma. If there were no reincarnation, there would be no point in pursuing karma yoga and j~nAna yoga unless there was a clear likelihood of gaining Self-knowledge in this lifetime. But, as you will appreciate, if the truth is that reality is non-dual, there can be no separate people, world etc. The ultimate teaching of Advaita given in the Mandukya Upanishad and Gaudapada’s kArikA-s (covered by my book ‘A-U-M: Awakening to Reality’) is that there is no creation, no one has ever been born. So how can there be reincarnation?

Much of Robert Adams’ writing (transcriptions of talks) is good and Ramana and Nisargadatta were, of course, excellent as one-to-one teachers. But, if you are a beginner who does not want to be confused, I cannot recommend any of these I’m afraid. I am presently writing a book all about aspects which cause confusion in seekers; and Vivekananda and Ramana are teachers who have, unwittingly in the case of Ramana, given rise to considerable confusion. (Vivekananda just had some serious misunderstanding!) You do have to go to traditional teachings if you want to avoid confusion, because a sampradAya teacher will follow well-proven methodology for introducing topics so that you consistently move forward in understanding. If you have no access to such a teacher, then I suggest reading and listening to good traditional teachers. If you can afford it, get Swami Dayananda’s ‘Gita Home Study Course’ (9 volumes). If not, you can find an excellent coverage of all the basic material in “Vedanta: the solution to our fundamental problem, D. Venugopal, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 2012. ISBN 81-7276-457-X”. [This is serialized beginning http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/venugopal/venugopal01.html and I believe you can download the book off the Internet.]  Or you could read the 2nd edition of my ‘Book of One’. For a very readable account of karma and reincarnation, see the book of that title by Swami Muni Narayana Prasad, ISBN 81-246-0022-8.

8 thoughts on “Q.481 Robert Adams and Reincarnation

  1. Dennis, I don’t mean create unnecessary controversy but there is a reference to the “curious case” of Robert Adams on page 7, foot note 5 of the April/June issue of the Mountain Path from Ramanasramam in Tiruvannamalai.


  2. Quoting a sentence from the above:
    “Your job is to save yourself. If you find yourself in a burning building, you do not stop to admire the pictures on the wall, you get out of the building as fast as you can. So, when you know you have a short time in this existence you do not stop to play the games of life, you try to find yourself and become free as fast as you can”.
    Above statement even if it is used to explain the basics of philosophy may lead an average reader to the following confusion: Is my goal in life to save myself? Why? I may not admire the picture hanging on the wall in a burning building, but should I not at least take the time to look around to see if I can save anyone in more dire need to reach safety in comparison to myself? There may be a helpless child, an old person or a cat? Should I not cultivate such a mindset to look out for others even at the moment of crisis and my peril? Was that not Arjuna’s anguish which resulted in the extensive conversation we now read as Bagawath Geetha? What are the games of life? What does freedom really mean? Why is there such a hurry for my freedom at the expense of looking out for the freedom through love and joy for others, for the universe at large?”
    One can reason that Sankaracharya, Ramana Maharishi and Vivekananda were asking such questions of any common man and possibly they were answering them as well.
    There will always be confusion in reading the teachings of any one. What is needed is a serious, analytical reflective thinking to the above questions. This requires seeking the meaning rather than accepting literal meaning of any teacher and his/her words.
    A story from the life of Adi Sankara goes like this: He saw a parrot in a cage. He opened the door but the parrot would not fly away from its cage! Sankara reflectively said “You are like so many men in this world! Even though they have the freedom to liberate themselves from the shackles of their miseries of daily life through philosophic inquiry, they cling on to literal meaning of scriptures and the rituals conditioned by their mind, just as you are conditioned to stay inside the cage, as you have been trained for that your whole life time!”
    Let us take a word like “reincarnation” for example. It can be accepted in its literal meaning as “life after death”. This requires understanding of “What is life?” and “What is death?” and what is the new state – the reincarnation?
    We are informed that we live in five sheaths, layers (Pancha Kosha) simultaneously:
    Material state (Annamaya). Rejuvenation of body parts is as natural as branches of a tree that grow again even after they are broken. Is this not reincarnation at this state?
    Physiological state (Pranamaya): In this state change is eternal and permanent. According to researchers, the body replaces itself with a largely new set of cells every seven years to 10 years, and some of our most important parts are revamped even more rapidly (I will avoid links for research reference, but can provide for any reader interested). Here reincarnation is just a natural event!
    Emotional state (Manonmaya): We change every time we go through a new experience. With each experience I am a new person, whether I admit it or not. We can control our mind and hence reduce the number of times we go through change. This is the steady state of mind and hence Nirvana that Buddha teaches us.
    State of Analytical thinking (Vignanamaya): Through reflection and analysis we comprehend that all our experiences are the product of the three connectors (Guna). Through objectivity (equal treatment for all thee Guna – Sagunathvam) we minimize the number of mutations – experiences and their effects – we go through each day and in the course of time. By minimizing such “reincarnation” a man of steady mind (Sthitha Pragna) arises. Those who excel in this become great masters, teachers and leaders (Mahathma). Gita extols the virtue of such Gnani and their state of mind as Samadhi.
    The final layer we exist is the Anandamaya (the state of bliss): Aren’t all these states – the material state, the living state (with its associated life and death), emotional state and analytical state – are merely the reflections of nature and the natural order of the way they are? Aren’t they in sum total representations of Brahman, the eternal force which can only be inferred through what we know, but can not be identified, described and touched or felt independently?
    For one who understands the five states of our existence as individuals and everything in the universe falling in one or more of these states, reincarnation may be just another way to describe the “change”? He/she may seek ways to achieve a “changeless state” – Moksha. For others it can be a metaphysical experience or literally speaking life after this life!

  3. I still haven’t received my ‘Mountain Path’ for April-June (maybe because my surname begins with ‘w’? It often happens!).

    An interesting idea about the metaphorical use of ‘reincarnation’. But, whilst the concept is certainly only an aspect of the adhyAropa-apavAda teaching of Advaita, I do think it is intended literally from the vyAvahArika standpoint. Why else would there be talk of such things as speedy gain of mokSha as a result of sAdhana completed in a previous life?

    There is also the Occam razor principle, of course. When ALL explanations are mithyA, why not accept the simplest, literal meaning?

  4. पुनरिप जननं पुनरिप मरणं पुनरिप जननी जठरे शयनम् I
    इह संसारे बदुारे कृ पयाSपारे पािह मुरारे II

    Punarapi jananaṁ punarapi maraṇaṁ punarapi jananī jaṭhare śayanam
    Ihasaṁsāre bahudustāre kr̥payāpāre pāhi murāre

    Being born again, dying again, and again lying in the mother’s womb; this
    saṁsara is extremely difficult to cross over. Save me, O destroyer of Mura,
    through your infinite compassion.

    bhaja givindaM 21 is the generally accepted meaning in Advaita (even if not written by Shankara).

  5. The April-June issue of the Mountain Path has been put online, because of the lockdown in India which has severely curtailed the postal services. It can be found at


    The reference to Robert Adams is in footnote 5 in the Editorial, titled “Who is a Genuine Guru”, which begins on page 3. Here is the relevant section, on page 7.:

    “We hear of those who claim to be in the lineage or parampara of Bhagavan. It is a nice thought but it actually reveals an ignorance of who Bhagavan was in history and who he is now. Firstly, Bhagavan has never left so why the necessity to pass on the lineage? The proof of that is the increasing number of people who come to the ashram to receive his blessings. People are not fools and though we may behave foolishly at times we intuitively know what is good for us. When we bathe in the sublime light at the Samadhi we know it is not an illusion. The proof is the profound peace we feel. And secondly, if someone claims affiliation with Bhagavan, is it because they wish to be immersed in the reflected glory of his name? Is it that the truth they proclaim is insufficient and they cannot stand on their own feet? 5

    5 There is the curious case of a Robert Adams, an American guru who asserted that he was at Sri Ramanasramam between 1947-8 and 1952 (the dates vary in his conversations) and that he moved closely with Bhagavan. Until such time as there appears objective, verifiable evidence to substantiate this claim, we cannot but come to the conclusion that his account is unreliable.”

  6. The evidence is overwhelming that Robert Adams fabricated his stories of having been with Ramana Maharshi during the last 3 years of Ramana’s life, arriving there as a 17 year old boy. He claimed to have spent many more years in India, and that he was close to other revered Indian sages, such as Anandamayi Ma, Neem Karoli Baba, Swami Ramdas and Nisargadatta Maharaj. The recent articles by Steven Strouth, who was Adams’ best friend and neighbor and who helped organize Robert’s early satsangs in Los Angeles give the details.

    Part 1: https://selfreflexiveloopphotography.photo.blog/2020/02/10/the-mystery-of-robert-adams-did-he-really-meet-ramana-maharshi-and-the-sages-of-india/

    Part 2: https://selfreflexiveloopphotography.photo.blog/2020/05/17/was-robert-adams-really-in-india-part-2/

    Old devotees of Ramana have also explained why Adams’ stories of being with Ramana Maharshi could not possibly be true. David Godman has removed his Youtube video talk on Adams, and Ramana Ashram in Tiruvannamalai has taken down Adams’ photo from the wall where there are photos of prominent devotees of Ramana Maharshi.

  7. Very intersting – thanks for those references. I will endeavor to bear all this in mind when I do the rewrite of ‘Back to the Truth’!

    Typical that there should be postal problems when there is an article I would be particularly interested to read!

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