Advaita in the Vedas – Rig Veda 1.115.1

The imagery of the Sun features throughout the teachings of Advaita. It appears multiple times in the Upanishads and is first found in the Vedas. But what is its significance and how does it relate to the ultimate reality of Brahman? 

The meaning Rig Veda gives us couldn’t be clearer, 

The Sun is the Self of the whole world both moving and non-moving and rises with its own effulgence in heaven, the earth and atmosphere. [1]

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Advaita Gurus and Critics – part 9

Analysis and Interpretation
by Prof. Phillip Charles Lucas

<Read Part 8>

In the remainder of this article, I analyze and interpret the criticisms of NTMA teachers and teachings using theoretical frames drawn from the sociology of religions, history of North American religions, and ongoing scholarly conversations concerning adaptations and distortions that occur when Hindu traditions move from their homeland to the cultural matrices of North America.

On one level, the spread of Modern Advaita (both NTMA and TMA) gurus and organizations is simply a manifestation of the entrepreneurial spirit that long has characterized the North American religious landscape. In a sense these teachers are engaged in niche franchising of the Modern Advaita message. This is the case because most teachers active in North American Modern Advaita circles today spent time as disciples of one or another guru from either the TMA or NTMA orbits.

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Advaita in the Vedas – Rig Veda 10.125.8

Rig Veda 10.125.8 is unique as it is one of the rare occasions in the Vedas where a mantra is spoken in first-person. Such mantras are categorised as directly relating to the Self, where the worshipper is identical with the deity being worshipped and the illusion of separation is seen through.

In Rig Veda 10.125.8, it is declared that,

I breathe forth like the wind, giving form to all created worlds. Beyond the heaven, beyond this earth, so vast am I in greatness.

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Advaita in the Vedas – Rig Veda 3.62.10: Gayatri Mantra

The Gayatri mantra is one of the most famous, chanted by millions of people every day and heralded for many reasons. But what makes it so significant? Two explanations are its Vedic origins and the meaning of the mantra itself — 

That greatest Savitri is the light of the shining one we meditate on which illuminates our intellect.

The mantra, which is ‘tat savitur varenyam bhargo devasya dhimahi dhiyo yo nah prachodayat’, first appears in Rig Veda (3.62.10). When it is chanted, it is preceded by Om and the mahavyahriti: bhur bhuvah svah. They symbolise the three regions earth, atmosphere and heaven while Om is their source, beyond them. Similarly, the Chandogya Upanishad says about Gayatri as the personification of the mantra,

Gayatri is all this, whatever exists. Speech is the Gayatri: speech sings (gai) and protects (trai) all this that exists. [1]

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Advaita Gurus and Critics – part 5

by Prof. Phillip Charles Lucas

<Read Part 4>

Theme Three: Insufficient Grounding in Vedanta Traditions

A third theme criticizes NTMA teachers for their lack of grounding in the Sanskrit language and Advaita scriptures, and their concomitantly premature assumption of the guru role. TMA proponents see this grounding as essential for any teacher who is to be an effective agent of Advaita awakening. Without it, the Advaita system of self-realization gets watered down, key Sanskrit terms are misinterpreted, and NTMA teaching becomes little more than a psychological massage for stressed-out Westerners.

Sanjay Kumar Srivastava, a frequent TMA commentator on various Advaita-oriented discussion forums, bluntly summarizes the TMA position: “In ‘Advaita’ you get enlightenment only through study of Upanishads and other Vedic scriptures. All other religious practices including meditations etc. are considered at best a preparation of mind to understand the message of Upanishads and at worst superfluous.” [Sanjay Kumar Srivastava, “Watering down Advaita: Westerners Corrupt Hindu Terminology!” Sarlo’s Guru Rating Service, at <http://www3.telus.net/public/sarlo/Yadvaita.htm>, accessed 6 May 2013. The first entry is written by Sanjay Kumar Srivastava, but the whole seems to be Waite’s.]

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Advaita in the Vedas – Rig Veda 10.129.4

Alongside Purusha Sukta (10.90), the Nasadiya Sukta (10.129) is one of the most famous Suktas of the Vedas. Known as the Creation Hymn, its fourth mantra says,

In the beginning, there was the disturbance of desire, from which sprung the first seed, which was born of the mind. Sages, searching in their hearts, realised the wisdom of the connection between existence and non-existence.

The creation the Nasadiya Sukta discusses is often believed to be the origin of the universe. However, 10.129.4 does not refer to any ordinary creation but, rather, the illusion of duality. This is attributed to desire in the mind – the first ‘seed’ of ignorance which gives the impression that we are separate. Before this disturbance, there was nothing to realise and no one to know because there was no appearance which was taken to be real as separate from the Self or Brahman. Continue reading

Advaita in the Vedas – Rig Veda 10.90.2

Alongside Rig Veda 1.164.46, 10.90.2, part of the famous Purusha Sukta, is one of the most succinct declarations of Advaita in the Vedas. It goes further than 1.164.46, as it gives a name to ‘what is one’ – Purusha (the Self). It says,

It is the Self who is all this – whatever has been and whatever is to be.

We could easily mistake this for a mantra from the Upanishads or another Advaita text, as it is perfectly in-line with their teachings. For this reason, it is unsurprising that it later appears in the Upanishads, in Shvetashvatara 3.15. Continue reading

Advaita Gurus and Critics – part 3

by Prof. Phillip Charles Lucas

<Read Part 2>

TMA proponents strongly disavow these claims and emphasize the necessity of lifelong, sustained sadhana. An essential aspect of this sadhana is mental preparation, which entails the development of habits of discrimination (discerning what is real from what is only appearance), detachment (releasing attachment to the world of forms), calmness of mind and a profound desire for liberation. Only once this preparation is well underway can the student’s mind fruitfully engage with advanced Advaita teaching. As put by American TMA teacher/author James Swartz, a one-time student of Swami Chinmayananda:

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Fear of annihilation

A (Martin): I have made a life-long search for the meaning and reality of ‘myself’ and the world.

Apart from the advice (and different diagnoses) given by others, I am thinking of something else, which has a psychological as well as a philosophical side to it. It is not just fear of death but self-annihilation, an emptiness or void where there is no longer an experience of selfhood or continuity (“What if I don’t wake up?”).

This can become an obsession – an existential angst – one of the worst kind. A sensitive child may (I experienced it) entertain the idea of nothingness, including that of *me/myself*, that is, my very personal, intimate consciousness not existing or vanishing into nothingness. It may or may not be associated with the thought “Why is there something (a world) rather than nothing?”.

If that strikes a chord – and it is a question of temperament and inclination – there is an answer, which can be obtained at the end of a lengthy, arduous journey: ‘Know thyself’, as it was written on the frontispiece of the oracle of Delphos in ancient Greece. After a lifelong search, I found the most complete, satisfying answer in Advaita Vedanta. According to this philosophy or discipline, deep sleep is the most blessed state short of full awakening – that is, awakening from the ‘darkness’ of the awake state and its narrow ego-centered vision, shot through with doubt and suffering.

Advaita Gurus and Critics – part 2

by Prof. Phillip Charles Lucas

<Read Part 1>

Modern Advaitins are the successors of a long line of Vedanta-inspired teachers and movements in North America that reaches back to 1830s New England Transcendentalists, the Theosophical Society (founded 1875), New Thought (originating in the late nineteenth century), Vedanta Societies (founded in the 1890s), Paramahansa Yogananda’s Self-Realization Fellowship (founded 1920), Transcendental Meditation (founded 1959 in Los Angeles as the Spiritual Regeneration Movement), the Integral Yoga Institute (founded 1966), Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers (founded 1959), and many other teachers and movements. [For a recent and comprehensive view of these teachers and movements see Philip Goldberg, American Veda: From Emerson and the Beatles to Yoga and Meditation (New York: Random House, 2010).]

TMA proponents have witnessed the profusion of NTMA (sometimes pejoratively called “Neo-Advaita”) satsangs and teachers in the past twenty-five years with a growing concern that the forms Advaita spirituality is taking in Western cultures may no longer be providing spiritual seekers with an effective methodology to achieve moksha, the ultimate liberation from the ocean of human suffering and rebirth (samsara). This article takes no position on the efficacy issue but seeks to examine various dimensions of tension between these two factions that might shed light on the larger phenomenon of orthodoxy versus innovation in transnational spiritual movements.

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