Part 4 – Experience
Q: While I agree with your statement about philosophers over intellectualizing the truth, there is something about Greg’s writing that is so magnetic to me. I really think he is the most articulate writer I have ever come across. Usually when I write, I feel a big part of what I’m trying to get across gets lost, whereas with Greg, I feel like 100% of what he’s trying to express comes through perfectly. I’m going through Standing as Awareness at the moment and the clarity with which he writes is so so beautiful.
But as you can probably sense by my emails, I’m a bit disappointed with the direct path. It is without a doubt the clearest and most direct teaching I have come across (so far), and the teachers themselves are brilliant, and I have no doubt that they understand the truth, and also live their understanding, but I feel I am craving something more systematic and formalized, that can answer these questions I have without confusion.
And just to clarify regarding the use of the word happiness in my last email, I certainly meant the happiness that has no opposite, or the sense of completeness that is the background of all experience, the complete absence of lack. In the teachings of Jean Klein (and I think Krishna Menon?), Francis, and also Rupert, when they use that word it is always in reference to the happiness of our true nature, not as a state of mind or feeling of well being, peace, or any other positive emotion. In fact, I think the greatest part of the teaching is the sense of complete freedom from circumstances and states of mind, where you can still feel the ‘completeness’, even when things are going wrong (in the body, mind, or world).
Do you still hold the view that reading Swami Dayananda’s Gita course is the best way to get started on the traditional path, or has your opinion changed over the years? Is it sufficient to learn the Sanskrit words gradually as they are introduced or should a separate study of Sanskrit be done?
A: I corresponded with Greg for quite a few years and I do agree regarding clarity and understanding. But in the end, Direct Path seems to be trying to explain through experience something that can only be gained through knowledge. Everything that you perceive/experience is mithyA – how can this make you realize the truth? (The Vedas are supposed not to have been written by man in that way, should you reason thus!). As an example, think of the mirage or sunrise. No matter how hard you try, you still perceive these illusion; it is only through knowledge from other sources that you appreciate the truth. Read my review of Rupert’s first book to see some of the problems with Direct Path – https://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/teachers/transparency_waite.htm.
When I read Krishna Menon’s ‘Notes’, I flagged lots of them as being particularly perspicacious but, for the most part, I don’t know that they ‘helped’ ultimately. Understanding the way your mind tends to function, for example, does not help you to appreciate your true nature. The thing about traditional teaching is that its methods have been honed over the past 2000 years and passed from teacher to disciple. They know what ‘works’. This is quite different from a clever insight in the moment.
So, yes, the teaching of Swami Dayananda (and some of his disciples) Is still the best recommndation. The Gita Home Study Course is the only comprehensive course I am aware of that you can realistically tackle on your own. If you want to sample something much cheaper, try his ‘Vivekachudamani – Talks on 108 Selected Verses’. That is also brilliant. It does use a lot of Sanskrit but the words are (mostly) translated when first introduced. You certainly cannot assume that any book you happen upon, on the subject of Advaita, will give provide ‘correct’ understanding (according to Shankara). I have over a thousand books and quite a few of them are useless, and occasionally even dangerously misleading.
I really wouldn’t attempt to learn Sanskrit as a language. I did Latin at school for several years. That was bad but Sanskrit is worse! You don’t have to learn it to follow traditional teaching, although some knowledge certainly helps. The translations of some authors can depend upon their own prior misunderstanding! You can often get by with just a dictionary. You can download Monier-Williams, which is the most complete. John Grimes’ ‘A Concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy’ is the best book of ‘spiritual terms’ that I know. You may be able to find it online but it is really worth buying. For Monier-Williams, you will at least need to learn the Sanskrit alphabet and, unfortunately, this is a significant task in itself. My own book ‘Sanskrit for Seekers’ helps with all this introductory stuff.
Q: Does the direct path say that experience (or the investigation of it) can make you realize the truth? I haven’t heard Francis or Rupert ever say that, if anything I’ve heard them say that enlightenment is not an experience, and cannot be brought about by experience, nor that it happens through an investigation of experience (and I’ve watched literally hundreds of their videos!). According to my understanding, the purpose of investigating experience (using higher reasoning for example), is to remove any false beliefs we have about the subject ‘I’ (that it is a body or mind, or exists in an ‘outside’ world that has independent reality from the subject). After these false beliefs have been removed, we have the clarity to investigate the nature of the subject ‘I’ without any obstacles. But I’ll check out your review of Rupert’s book, maybe you have other issues with the direct path as well.
There is also the issue you brought up earlier about shruti and valid sources of knowledge so that’s something I have to explore further.
I’ve barely read any Krishna Menon. I very briefly checked out the Notes on Spiritual Discourses book but it was all over the place and I didn’t understand much so I dropped it, I may revisit in the future.
I actually already own the Gita course on Kindle, the digital version was not that expensive. But I’ll also check out the other book you mentioned, maybe it will give me an overview before I dive in. I’ve watched almost all of Dayananda’s ‘Spiritual heritage of India’ series on youtube, and I have to say that I enjoy his style of teaching (even though he talks so slowly that I had to listen on 2x speed).
You’re absolutely right that just because the subject of a book is Advaita Vedanta doesn’t mean that it is correct (that’s why I’ll stick to Dayananda for now until I have sound judgement to check out other authors, and I’m sure there are other credible authors who’s books you recommend on your website). I was skimming through a book written by scholar Jaideva Singh (called Vedanta and Advaita Shaivagama of Kashmir: A comparative study), comparing Advaita Vedanta with nondual Kashmir Shaivism, and he was claiming (and criticizing) how, in Advaita Vedanta, it is stated that the world literally disappears upon enlightenment, even though, like you point out on your website, this is just one of the many confusions about Advaita Vedanta!
Thanks for clarifying re the need to learn Sanskrit. And I’ll check out the dictionaries you mentioned.
A: I am no expert on Direct Path and would not attempt to argue with Greg (about anything!), but that is my impression from all that I have read. I just picked up several books at random and read:
“The only way out is to simply observe.” (Jean Klein – ‘I am’)
“‘Direct’ means ‘unmediated’ and refers to the direct presence and clarity of your experience… We discover that in direct experience there are actually no objects at all, and nothing pointing to any objects.” (Greg Goode – ‘The Direct Path’)
“There is only experience of our self, aware presence, simultaneously being and knowing itself… See clearly that all we know is experiencing. However, experiencing is not known by someone or something other than itself. It is experiencing that experiences experiencing.” (???) (Rupert Spira –‘Presence Vol. 1’)
“In one’s experience – strictly so called – there is neither thought nor external object present. It is the state in which all alone one abides in one’s Self.” (Atmananda Krishna Menon – ‘Atma Darshan’)
They all seem to be saying that you will realize the truth of reality if you just clear your mind and observe. This cannot be so. Reality is non-dual so that X perceiving Y is a meaningless concept. Shankara points out that the ONLY pramANa for Self-knowledge is scripture. After you have heard it, you THEN subject what you have heard to reason and experience.
Personally, I avoid all the Hindu-related, cultural aspects. Of course Advaita ‘grew up’ in this context so it is not exactly irrelevant. But because I have no experience of it, I find it does not usually help (unless I am specifically trying to understand something like saMnyAsa for example).