Q: Advaita Vedanta has caused me two persistent difficulties. Firstly its argument that we are dependent upon Brahman, yet Brahman has no dependence; secondly that since we cannot know Brahman, only be It.
The questions concerning the meaning of life and why we are here will find no answer, beyond the speculative in vyavahAra. It’s just that statements such as these come across as rather negative, divisive and, particularly, dismissive. This is not what I expected from ‘not two’!
But, undeterred, and mindful that Advaita advises that its own teachings must eventually be left behind, I’ve moved towards a more all-inclusive perspective…. (I hope). You, Sir, seem perfectly at ease with the notion of ‘no choice’; and you present a flawless case for its validity, with which I can only concur. However, actually facing it is terrifying. Fortunately, familiarity offers a happier and unshakable strength in the ‘surrender’, although this is not an on/off situation – more a ‘work in progress’ lasting a lifetime.
So my question (if you’re still awake) is: where is ‘enjoying the journey’; joie de vivre; ‘experience’ as the key to unlock the understanding we seek? If living it can assist so well in making sense of it, why does Shankara always want to go the long way round?
A: I will endeavor to extract (and hopefully resolve) your problems.
<< we are dependent upon Brahman yet Brahman has no dependence>>
There seems to be misunderstanding here. We are not ‘dependent upon’ Brahman – we are Brahman. Brahman is not ‘dependent upon anything’ because there is nothing else. You have to be careful to differentiate absolute and empirical reality here. In the world everything is just name and form of Brahman but appears to be separate. (Table and chair are separate entities but are both only wood; they are not real ‘in themselves’.)
This second aspect may also address your concern about ‘meaning’. Why are there tables and chairs? Well, there aren’t actually – there is only wood. See what I mean? You dismiss the question of the ‘purpose’ of life because there are not actually any independently existing entities, whether living or inert. There is only Brahman.
Not sure where your idea of ‘not enjoying the journey’ comes from. The teaching of Advaita is certainly all about bringing you to the realization of nonduality. Everything and everyone is mithyā; their real substrate is Brahman, which is perfect and infinite. But that does not mean that you cannot enjoy and wonder at the beauty of all these forms, and even pursue related worldly activities. (I spend a lot of my time on photography, both taking and editing them – https://500px.com/p/dwaite1?view=photos.)
But you go on to say: “…experience as key to unlock the understanding we seek ? If living it can assist so well in making sense of it…”. This implies that you think that our ‘experience’ and ‘worldly pursuits’ are relevant to gaining enlightenment. The belief that actions, behavior etc. contribute or lead to enlightenment belongs to the karmakāṇḍa and Pūrvamīmāṃsā-s. The main parts of the Vedas carry instructions about how we should behave, injunctions, prohibitions and rituals. None of this is relevant to Advaita. The relevance of action is limited to sādhana catuṣṭaya sampatti – those actions that prepare the mind for listening to the guru explain the scriptures. Give attention to the task in hand, without concern for benefiting from the result. Avoid unnecessary thinking and so on. If you give something your full attention, you will find that you enjoy it more, in any case!