Here are a few more short Q & A’s which do not merit a separate post of their own: (Dennis’ answers, so don’t blame any of the other bloggers!)
Questions addressed are: how to improve one’s life; the value of japa meditation; who it is that removes ignorance; and (that perennial favorite) why bother seeking enlightenment?
Q: Can you recommend any book that talks about how traditional vedAnta can improve one’s life, and give deep peace as a result of j~nAna phalam?
A: I doubt that such a thing exists. You’ve really got this the wrong way round. vairAgya – being disinterested in one’s life, good or bad – is one of the pre-requisites for enlightenment. And the phalam is a spin-off rather than the prime objective. Enlightenment brings freedom from saMsAra; our aim is to get off the treadmill altogether rather than to get cushioned seats!
Q: It’s my understanding that you did Transcendental Meditation. Is this still a practice that you would recommend for preparing the mind? Also, is there any difference between Maharishi’s T.M. and japa?
A: The meditation I did was effectively identical to TM (initiated via an offshoot of Maharishi called ‘The School of Meditation’ in London). And it is a japa meditation.
Yes, I can definitely recommend it. It is not only for stilling the mind though (shama), but also as part of a karma yoga attitude, i.e. rigorously regular practice, two half-hours per day (ideally with the first being when you wake up, irrespective of how early it might be!) I kept it up for quite a number of years (though the ‘when you wake up’ for not quite so long). I also taught it for a couple of years and, by then, I was able regularly to reach total stillness of mind during the meditation. The combination of the practice and the discipline are very powerful as preparatory techniques, i.e. to make you ‘qualified’ (in the sense of sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti) to do Atma vichAra under a qualified teacher.
Q: If all we can do is to remove the ignorance that prevents us from seeing the truth, who is removing it? If there is something that can be done, it implies that there is someone who can do it. Who is that someone if we do not really exist?
A: This is just a confusion between paramArtha and vyavahAra, between satyam and mithyA.
At the level of the world, there is a person; there is ignorance and there is the possibility of removing it so that the person can understand this teaching and realize that, in truth, there is no person, ignorance or realization, since there is, in truth, no creation at all.
No one ‘removes’ the ignorance exactly. The words of the guru act as a pramANa and bring about a direct realization of the truth in the mind of the seeker. Again, at the transactional level, there is someone speaking and someone listening and words passing between them but in reality no one is doing anything, since there are no individuals. All there is is brahman or Consciousness if you prefer. ‘Everything else’ is just name and form of that Consciousness.
Q: Does this mean that the realization occurs in the mind?
A: Yes indeed. ‘Enlightenment’ occurs when the mind realizes the truth of the non-dual nature of reality. (Note that this is not an ‘intellectual understanding’, though, but the sudden, certain knowledge as in bhAga tyAga lakShaNa – see http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/definitions/bhAga.htm, where I include the description I used in several of my books.)
Q: I am not enlightened. I seek to become so. But why bother? The cause of my lack of enlightenment is the illusion set up by ego. When ‘I’ die, my ego dies – once it’s dead it can’t cause an illusion. The only thing that’s left is consciousness. So surely we all become ‘enlightened’, or wake up, at the point of death. All I need to do to become awake is to die! Yes, no?
A: Afraid not! For those not enlightened, all actions have their effect and, if you don’t reap the rewards/punishments in this life, you are reborn to live through them in future lives. According to Advaita (from the point of view of relative, empirical reality), you have already lived through countless lives and this will continue indefinitely until you become enlightened. It’s called saMsAra. Only the gross body effectively dies for the unenlightened; the subtle and causal bodies continue until reborn in another body.
Q: Ah well, worth a try. I guess it does matter what we do then?
I don’t know if this makes sense Dennis but I find it amazing how many times I can read something from a book and it doesn’t seem to have real meaning but hear the same thing when actually directed to me and it works.
I have found myself in a very dark place in recent years. Having spent my life working along my ‘spiritual’ path I found that I didn’t (don’t) seem to have moved from the starting point all those years ago when I read Paul Brunton’s, ‘Search in Secret India’ and first came across Sri Ramana. I ended up following a Zen path for many years but, despite many retreats and even a little time in a Zen monastery, nothing seems to have changed in me. Eventually I found a darkness was creeping in and I could no longer sit, nor concentrate on anything to do with Buddhism, or Advaita – it just didn’t ring true anymore. Around 5 years ago I stopped my daily sitting and effectively gave up.
Occasionally I’d read something you’d written and it so resonated that I almost felt the spark again – but it rapidly died and I could rekindle the flame (sorry for the metaphors). I guess that now I’ve retired I’ve no excuse for not being able to commit the time – I just hope that eventually this phase will pass and I will reconnect to these wonderful teachings.
A: I think the problem with most written (and maybe lots of the hands-on variety) ‘teaching’ is that it sounds good, positive and even inspirational but, when analyzed in the cold light of reason, it doesn’t really add up. So, while you are in the right frame of mind, it seems you are making some kind of progress but then, when your mood inevitably sinks, you realize that nothing has actually changed.
I suggest (as I do to most people these days, it seems) that you buy and read Swami Dayananda’s ‘Gita Home Study Course’. It’s now available in 9 hardback volumes, although I think you can still purchase the 4-volume ring binder version (and the PDF is available on CD). I don’t think anyone can do better than to read and study this slowly (unless they have direct access to one of his disciples). Probably most aspects of Advaita are covered and nothing contradicts reason. Teachers like Ramana and Nisargadatta were no doubt brilliant, if you could live with them for a few years and ask questions etc. but one hits too many irresolvable problems trying just to read transcripts of their talks.