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.