Q.528 Confusions in Advaita

Q: I am reading your book ” Confusions in Advaita Vedanta”.

I am from India, born in the Smarta Brahmin tradition of The revered Adi Shankara.
The purport of Adi Shankara as repeatedly explained by you is that no pramana or meditation except shabda pramana, teaching of scripture expounded by qualified teacher can give jnana. And this understanding happens in the process of listening once. Repetitions don’t help.

This caused both enthusiasm and later negativity in me. I have heard scriptures being expounded by Swami Dayananda, Swami Paramarthananda, Swami Brahmananda, Swami Parthasarathy, Sri Gangolli (translator of Swami Satchidananendra) etc. But no understanding or Jnana has resulted.

Am I doomed? Or Does it mean I was not qualified enough? More yoga sadhana required for purifying my mind? Of course there can be no doubt that the teachers were qualified. So fault is mine.

A: I don’t believe that I said anywhere that “this understanding happens in the process of listening once”. Certainly it is possible. If it does, the explanation usually given is that one was ‘almost there in a previous life’. When it happens quickly, it is also said that sādhana catuṣṭaya sampatti must have been carried out in the previous life.

For most people, at least a modicum of sādhana catuṣṭaya sampatti must be done. And it is then desirable to seek out a qualified teacher. Simply reading or listening to good books/teachers can still result in doubts, and those have to be cleared through manana. If you don’t have access to such a teacher, it may be necessary to read or listen to other presentations. When different words, metaphors etc. are used to explain the same topic, this can break through the habitual, ignorant thought patterns and eventually bring understanding.

So certainly do not be despondent! It sounds as though you are looking to the best teachers for explanations.

Q: Thank you for the profound insights in your reply.

I completed your book “Confusions…” just now. IT is truly a profound book. 

A: Thank you. Yours is the first response to the book that I have had (apart from the publisher) so it is very reassuring. If you wanted to write a review on Amazon.in, that would be very welcome (and might eventually filter through to Amazon UK and US).

Q: Just to share a few personal impacts :

1. The first spiritual influence I had was Sri Ramakrishna/Swami Vivekananda. I deeply revere them and recently had even gone to Kolkata to Belur Math and birthplace of the Paramahamsa etc and had a wonderful experience. However, having been exposed to the Vedanta teachings of Ramana, Nisargadatta, JK , Shankara, somehow intuitively except for the inspirational lives of the Paramahamsa and Vivekananda , I did not much follow the teachings, even though they were my initial inspiration in my younger days and even though I have been initiated by Swami Ranganathananda in the Ramakrishna Mantra, which I still follow. However, I still revere and worship both of them as high incarnations. 
You have very boldly brought out the differences in interpretation of Advaita between the followers of Vivekananda and Shankara. It requires great boldness and commitment to truth to ‘criticise’ Sri Ramakrishna and Ramana. 

A: Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Ramana and Nisargadatta were all great teachers in their own ways and should be revered. Reading books of their talks and answers are not, however, a good way to learn the teaching of Advaita!

Q: 2. WIth regard to Ramana, there are criticisms in your book but you acknowledge that Ramana was replying specifically to the person as per his stage of progress. Is your observations of Ramana influenced by Swami Dayananda’s views on Ramana wherein he states that Ramana is a Brahmanistha but not a stotriya.

A: No, I was not aware of that comment by Swami Dayananda. I have myself read most of Ramana’s (translated) words and, until quite recently, I managed the website for the UK Ramana group.

Q: 3. J Krishnamurti says that ‘in the understanding is the action’ i.e., nothing else is required to be done (no further action). It tallies with the correct definition of ‘anubhava’ as per the Sruti. Can not the words of a person with such understanding be considered as a scripture. Does it have equal validity.

A: I have only read a little of JK’s writing. My understanding is that he was a non-dual teacher based only on his own ‘experience’ and he was not associated with Advaita as such. According to Advaita, the Vedas are the only source of the teaching about Brahman so, in writing about Advaita, it is the sampradāya teaching that I follow and recommend.

Q: 4. Your views on Nisargadatta Maharaj .  Whether it has validity in getting the anubhava.

A: What do you mean by ‘getting the anubhava’? The ‘Confusions’ book explains that there is no ‘experience’ to be acquired in order to gain enlightenment. Enlightenment is nothing but Self-knowledge, obtained from shravaṇa. I would not really recommend Nisargadatta at all. He is principally only answering specific questions. Also, his later dialogs provide mainly ‘pāramārthika’ answers, which can be very confusing.

Q: 5. Your views , if any, about validity of Ramesh Balsekar, a disciple of Nisargadatta.

A: Ramesh again has some useful words but the same arguments apply: no systematic teaching; tendency to be answering questions from seekers with their own specific problems; tendency to respond from an ‘as if’ absolute perspective. It is the same with later ‘satsang’ teachers. E.g. I like Wayne Liquorman but he suffers from the same problems as his teacher, Ramesh. Someone like James Swartz is much better because he does try to teach a complete scripture at a time, and he follows the methods of his own teacher (Chinmayananda).

Q: 6. Regarding Vivekachudamani –  It is highly revered in Advaita circles. But as shown in your book, there are many translations, interpretations which do not seem to be genuine Shankara. I was thinking of making a deep study of it or the Panchadasi. But now I am confused, why to study scriptures or prakarana granthas which may cause confusion, (either due to translations or interpretations or due to the inherent book itself)

A: Vivekachūḍāmaṇi was almost certainly NOT written by Shankara. But as long as you bear in mind the things highlighted in the book (e.g. samādhi not relevant for enlightenment), it is an excellent text. I agree that there are many translations and some can mislead. If you want an excellent introduction to practically everything in Advaita, I recommend that you listen to the complete talks on Vivekachūḍāmaṇi given by Swami Paramarthananda. There are 170 talks of around 50 minutes each but worth every minute! I wouldn’t recommend Pañchadashī until you are very sure about the correct teaching. Vidyaranya had quite a few post-Shankara ideas which can easily cause confusion!

Q: 7. Whether Swami Dayananda differs from Swami Chinmayananda.

In essence probably not, but I have found the writings of Swami D much clearer, to the point, and less liable to confuse.

Q: 8. Can a systematic satsang teaching by a teacher who has the Understanding, not help by taking on the role of the scripture?

A: Not clear what you are saying here. As noted above, the only ‘satsang teacher’ I am aware of who actually ‘presents’ scriptures (i.e. you have to attend a series of talks to cover a text from start to finish) is James Swartz. It doesn’t matter how enlightened a satsang teacher is, he or she is not going to be able to convey this understanding and answer all your questions in a 2-hour session!

Q: 9. Your views on James Swartz, who has expounded on many scriptures.

I have a lot of above queries. Thank you for your patient reading so far and looking forward for your insightful comments on the above.

A: Yes. As I have said many times to others, I am always happy to answer the occasional question from seekers but I cannot undertake to become an effective one-to-one teacher as it takes lots of time and I am trying to write the next two volumes of the ‘Confusions’ book!