An Interview with Swami Dayananda

The following is an interview with Swami Dayananda Saraswati, conducted by John LeKay for Nonduality Magazine. That site is no longer available and the article was submitted by Dhanya. It is in three parts.

Introduction

Swami Dayananda Saraswati is a contemporary teacher of Vedanta and a scholar in Sanskrit in the tradition of Sankara. Swamiji has been teaching Vedanta in India for more than five decades and around the world since 1976. His deep scholarship and assimilation of Vedanta combined with a subtle appreciation of contemporary problems make him that rare teacher who can reach both traditional and modern students.

          A teacher of teachers, Swami Dayananda taught six resident in-depth Vedanta courses, each spanning 30 to 36 months. Four of them were conducted in India and two in the United States. Each course graduated about 60 qualified teachers, who are now teaching throughout India and abroad. Under his guidance, various centers for teaching of Vedanta have been founded around the world; among these, there are three primary centers in India at Rishikesh, Coimbatore, Nagpur and one in the U.S. at Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania. There are more than one hundred centers in India and abroad that carry on the same tradition of Vedantic teaching.

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Neo – Advaita & Traditional Advaita

Martin. In this seeming world of so-called saṃsāra (or vyavahāra) language and understanding, is there an entity or entities that understand, judge, etc.?

Neo-Advaitin. This is simply ‘life’. ‘Being’ appears to talk to ‘Being’ about things that ‘Being’ already knows (and need no reminding). It is just ‘playing’.

Since there is never an actual central ‘self,’ there could be no separate entity that asks a question or makes a reply. There is no separate entity that asks or answers. It is simply Life answering Itself.

But it seems that you don’t get this, or are not able to discuss it without going back into concepts and the need to find the correct label to assign, whether that is ‘nihilism’, ‘Advaita Vedanta’, ‘spontaneously self-realized’, ‘abhāsa’, etc. I suggest you drop all that, all those presumed ‘things you know.’ Freedom lies in the unknowing, the moment-by-moment un-nameable, not in the knowledge, information, and labels that the ‘mind’ thinks it has gathered. Who is the ‘you’ called ‘Martin’ writing this question?

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What exactly is “Self-Knowledge”?

There is a lot of earnest discussion, here and elsewhere, on self-knowledge, self-realisation. But what exactly is it? What does knowing that ‘I am Brahman’ actually mean, when Brahman cannot be known?

For all the words that have been written by Sankara: on creation, on satyam / jnanam / anantman, on ‘tat twam asi’, on knowledge rather than action – what is the essence of it all?

Surely the essence is this, and this only. Self-Knowledge is the utter dis-identification with the not-Self, the most difficult of which is the body-mind.

And That (which remains, which cannot be defined) is the ananda, the peace, of a jivanmukta.

The sruti is the means of knowledge, in that it points this out. Sruti is said to be the only means of knowledge, because normal sense perceptions and reasoning would not inevitably lead to this very radical self-challenge: I am not what I fundamentally believe that I am.

The seeker hears it, mulls over it, develops the conviction that it is true that s/he is NOT the body-mind, and lives on the strength of it. And in so doing that habitual body/mind – identification is dissolved. Hence why desirelessness is both a path to and a fruit of knowledge – if there is no body/mind identification, then what desires can there be?

And sruti tells us that utter desirelessness is the cause of the highest joy.

Moksha and the ‘person’

Kratu Nanadan, a knowledgeable friend I met in Bangalore through another friend, has made some lucid comments in all aspects of Indian philosophy, including the Puranas, which he shared with me and others. The following is an example:

When a ‘person’ reaches mokṣa, there is no more that ‘person’; there was no person, to begin with. The whole thing, including reaching mokṣa was a story that never happened. It was not even a story, and it was nobody’s story. As the well-known analogy puts it, it is like picking up a handful of ocean water and finding that the ocean’s blueness is absent in it. There is no karma, and all that is is the nondual Ātman-Brahman.

The words of the Taittarīyopaniṣat echo such a realization in many ways, one of them being: “He is not agitated as ‘why did I not do good deeds; why did I do bad deeds. Having thus known (the Ātman), he elates/invigorates himself, and verily sees both (bad and good karma) as (Param) ātman. Thus, the upaniṣat.”—Taittarīyopaniṣat, Ānandavallī, VI, ii.

——Karma goes absent with the dawn of Ātman.

Q.509 Direct Path vs Traditional – Pt. 2

Part 2 – Free Will

Q: We talked earlier about the difference between the direct path and the traditional path.

I was looking through the free will section in your book Back to the Truth and I found this quotation by Franics Lucille:

We are entirely conditioned; therefore, there is no free will. It appears as though we exercise free choice, but in fact we are only reacting like automatons, running through the same patterns of our bio-sociological heritage without respite, leading invariably to the same old reactions, like a vending machine dispensing soft drinks in a train station. As individuals, our freedom is illusory, with the exception of the freedom which is ours at each moment to stop taking ourselves for separate individuals and thus putting an end to our ignorance and our suffering.

On the other hand, at the level of our deepest being, everything flows out of our freedom. Every thought, every perception takes birth because we want it to. We cannot understand this at the level of thought, but we can experience it. When we are totally open to the unknown, the personal entity is absent; then we realize that the tangible and intelligible universe arises out of this openness in the eternal present. We want, create and are at every moment everything in the unity of awareness. (Ref. 8)

[Waite, Dennis. Back To The Truth: 5000 Years Of Advaita (p. 76). NBN_Mobi_Kindle. Kindle Edition.]

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Q.508 Direct Path vs Traditional – Pt. 1

Part 1 – Prerequisites for Enlightenment

Q: I’ve been on the direct path (Krishna Menon, Jean Klein, Francis Lucille, Greg Goode, Rupert Spira) for about 3 years now and the journey has been incredible. Recently, while browsing your website, I came across Shankara’s sAdhana chatuShTaya, which, if my understanding is correct, are the prerequisites for self-realization according to Shankara. But I’m confused as to how some of these are prerequisites. I feel like some of them can only be fulfilled once one has realized their true nature, not before.

I can see how viveka and mumukShutva can be considered prerequisites – that is very reasonable. However, if we take vairAgya, or uparati, I cannot fathom how an apparent, separate self can satisfy or practice these requirements. How can it be possible for an apparent, separate self to be indifferent to joy and grief, like and dislike? A separate self is, almost by definition, strongly affected by likes and dislikes, joy and grief. In order to be indifferent to pleasure and pain, joy and grief etc., I feel like one has to have at least tasted the truth a few times and be able to (through something like self-inquiry) ‘walk back’ to and ‘rest’ as one’s true self, and only then be able to successfully practice uparati.

Then why are things like vairAgya considered prerequisites for self-realization, if (in my book) self-realization is a prerequisite for being able to satisfy the vairAgya requirement? How can an apparent separate self prepare or practice something like uparati (one of the shamAdi ShaTka sampatti), without it being completely fake? In my experience, uparati is only possible (and completely effortless) once you have realized the self. So the whole things seems backwards to me.

One explanation is that here Shankara is talking about final Self-realization in which there is no falling back to the old conditioning. But that implies that it is possible to realize the self clearly but, out of conditioning, fall back to the old patterns. (I’m not sure what traditional Advaita’s stance on this is yet). I may have answered my own question but I’d love to hear what you have to say about it!

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Q.507 – Mumukshutva

Q: In your ‘Book of One’, in the section ‘Process of realization’ is written “And if enlightenment has still not dawned, go back to the listening stage and repeat as necessary!“.

I understand that ‘being ‘established’ as a jñāni means you know who you are but further śravaṇa- manana-nididhyāsana is required to ‘eliminate’ the rest of the ignorance. But then I read “Only when the desire for freedom has been lost can we appreciate that we are already free.“.

Isn’t śravaṇa- manana-nididhyāsana also based on the desire for freedom? Then doesn’t it have to be let go too?

A: I warn in the beginning of that section about ‘sloppy’ thinking and writing but I myself often verge on that in trying to write in a way that will be ‘readable’ and even sometimes amusing or entertaining. It is a risky business and sometimes fails!

There is also the problem that, as my own studies continue, I will find better ways of expressing things and be more accurate (or less confusing) in what I say. I am currently rewriting ‘Back to the Truth’ so that it is clear that I only really recommend traditional teaching and so that I do not include potentially misleading extracts unless I also point out why they may be misleading. The second edition of ‘Book of One’ was written around 12 years ago so maybe that is also in need of a new edition!

Anyway – to your question.

People only become seekers when they become dissatisfied with their lives and realize they want to find out how things ‘really’ are. This is the most important requirement – mumukśutva – the desire for liberation. This is the one desire that is ‘allowed’ (indeed necessary) in Advaita. The other required mental ‘skills’ you will have read about under sādhana catuṣṭaya sampatti. Once you have the right mental outlook, you can begin the process of acquiring Self-knowledge. The aspect that actually gives you enlightenment is śravaṇa – hearing the explanation of the scriptures from the guru. The ‘repetition’ is that, when you hear something (or read), you may need to ask questions to clarify and remove doubts. That is manana. Then you listen some more, ask more questions etc. Eventually you hear/read the final clarification and you ‘get it’. You are now a jñānī. But habitual ways of thinking and acting still linger and you have to go over the teaching again, perhaps many times, before those habits go and you have total peace of mind, fearlessness, desirelessness etc. That final stage is nididhyāsana and ‘converts’ the jñānī to a jīvanmukta. You can read all about that stage in the posts on pratibandha-s beginning

https://www.advaita-vision.org/pratibandha-s-part-1-of-6/.

I would actually delete the paragraph regarding losing the desire for freedom. Don’t know where that came from!

Hope that dispels the confusion.

Q.505 Creation and Enlightenment

Q: I am struggling to reconcile the empirical account of what may be called ‘creation’ (the Big Bang, followed by billions of years of mechanically unfolding interactions with no sense of self, until the absurdly *recent* emergence of consciousness after further millions of years of blind evolution) with the advaitic concept of ‘creation’ (the absolute Being, timeless and changeless, manifesting in Itself as experience). 

A: The ‘bottom line’ of Advaita is that there has never been any ‘creation’. There is only Brahman. Everything is Brahman. You are Brahman. The ‘universe’ is simply a ‘form’ of Brahman, to which you have given ‘names’ implying that there are separately existing entities.

The scriptures (from which Advaita derives) certainly give ‘empirical accounts’ of a creation. But these are interim explanations only to satisfy the enquirer temporarily until ready to accept the truth.

Science does attempt to rationalize consciousness as an emergent phenomenon, but it is doomed to fail because it cannot objectify the ultimate subject. See my article on ‘Consciousness – Not Such a Hard Problem’ beginning https://www.advaita-vision.org/consciousness-not-such-a-hard-problem-1-of-2/. Also https://www.advaita-vision.org/science-and-consciousness/. Science in general is intrinsically unable to address the problems dealt with by Advaita. See my 4-part article on ‘Science and the nature of absolute reality’ beginning https://www.advaita-vision.org/science-and-the-nature-of-absolute-reality-part-1/, which may contain useful pointers. And the 3-part article by Dr. Sadananda beginning https://www.advaita-vision.org/science-and-vedanta-part-1/

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Desire and Enlightenment

Following an extended, off-line discussion, I have added a new sub-section to Volume 1 of my next book, ‘Confusions in Advaita Vedanta’ and I am posting this below. I am currently in the process of editing the proof copy of the book and it will be published by Indica Books in Varanasi, hopefully in 2022. Details will, of course, be provided as soon as it is available. It will be printed in hardback and paperback but unfortunately not in electronic format.

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It was mentioned in 2.g that desire stems from the belief that we are lacking something in our life, and that acquiring the desired object (gross or subtle) will somehow make us complete. The fact that this appears actually to happen albeit only for a short time, if we get the object, reinforces this belief. When Self-ignorance is removed, it is realized that we actually are the complete, infinite Brahman. Accordingly, it is reasonable, natural and, indeed, inevitable that desires are effectively dissolved instantly. There is nothing other than me that I lack and could want. (The proviso here is that some desires may seem not to have disappeared because the associated action was habitual. This is discussed at length in 3.s – pratibandha-s.)

As Sureshvara puts it in his Naiṣkarmya Siddhi (1.73):

“And tell me what possible cause could there be for action on the part of one who is established in the Absolute and has become everything, both individually and collectively, not seeing anything as other than himself.” (Ref. 7)

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Can brahman be a ‘percept’?

A few events seem to have conspired against the peaceful summer slumber at this site prompting me to pen a few words. Hope you will enjoy and add a few of your thoughts.

I have been struggling for a couple of months to locate the original Upanishadic quote for the phrase ‘sacchidAnanda‘ popularized by Shankara in all his bhAShya literature. I couldn’t. We all know that the phrase ‘sacchidAnanda’ does not come from any major Upanishads. So, I sent a query to our Dennis if he could help me out. Pop comes back the response in a jiffy from him giving me the mantras where this sobriquet for brahman appears. One of the Upanishads is maNDala bhrahmaNa Upanishad which, perhaps many have not heard even. I was floored! It was amazing how he could search so many of the Upanishads so fast especially when we know none of them are in the form of a searchable database. Not only that Dennis has a such a large collection of books, his Upanishadic knowledge too is so vast that one cannot but applaud and admire. Which, anyway, we often do here. Continue reading