Q.543 Life-coaching

A: Fundamentally, everyone is already the Self/Brahman/Absolute (whichever word you prefer), since there is only the nondual reality. But of course most people do not know this. They are only interested in pursuing money/fame/relationships etc. and would never accept the truth or even be interested in listening. Assuming that you, yourself, are convinced of the truth, you would simply be wasting your time attempting to explain this.

Nevertheless, again assuming that you fully accept Advaita, you know that these ‘others’ are in fact your Self, so why would you want to propagate their mistaken view of life? The only reasonable approach is to be available to help them move towards the truth if they actively seek to do this, but simply to let them continue in their ignorance otherwise.

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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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Q.540 Following Bhakti Yoga

A: There are two main points here.

First, since you are asking a question about Advaita, you must appreciate that, in reality there is only Brahman, or Consciousness. From the empirical standpoint, of course, you see a dualistic world with other people etc. and, from this point of view, it is not unreasonable to speak of a god, or gods. But anything to do with this empirical point of view has to be provisional only. It all has to be acknowledged as simply name and form of that non-dual reality eventually. That ‘acknowledgement’, and the firm belief that it is true, is what we call ‘enlightenment’.

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Meaning of anubhava

The Sanskrit term that is interpreted by many modern teachers as ‘experience’ is anubhava. And indeed ‘experience’ is one of the translations given by Monier-Williams, along with the expansion “knowledge gained from personal observation or experiment”. (Ref. 179) But words such as ‘understanding’ and ‘apprehension’ are also given and these are much closer to the intended meaning.

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Q.537 Need for a Guru

A: It is highly desirable to have a qualified, traditional guru. There do not seem to be many of these around today and it is unlikely that you happen to have one conveniently close by! Consequently, the best you can do is to read books that reliably present material in the traditional manner (unfolding scriptural texts and Shankara commentaries) and listen to recorded talks from similarly reliable sources.

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Q.519 How can one experience the bliss?

Q: In ‘The Book of One’, you say: “If our true nature were allowed the freedom to experience to the full, what then? The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad tells us that “All the joys of the entire cosmos put together would be only a small drop of the bliss of this Supreme Being. Whatever little satisfaction we have, whatever pleasures we have, whatever joys we are experiencing, whatever be the happiness of life – all this is but a reflection, a fractional distorted form, a drop, as it were, from this ocean of the Absolute.” (Ref. 7)

Is there a way to get a taste such an ocean of joy while not ‘realized’?

A: This is a good question and highlights the dangers of attempting to relate the more ‘rapturous’ statements of the scriptures to the mundane experiences of life! When the Upanishad talks about the ‘bliss of this Supreme Being’, it cannot mean this literally. Brahman is non-dual, part-less, changeless, does not ‘experience’ or ‘know’ etc. In fact, whenever the word ‘bliss’ (Ananda) is encountered, it is a good idea to substitute ‘eternal’ (ananta) so as not to risk such a thought process. (See discussions at the AV site on ‘satyaM j~nAnamanantaM brahma’.)

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New Book Announcement

Confusions in Advaita Vedānta: Knowledge, Experience and Enlightenment

This is being published by Indica Books at Varanasi and may be purchased directly from them (PayPal accepted) at indicabooksindia@gmail.com.

It will also be available to buy from Amazon and I will post the links as soon as this is possible. (Note that it may still be cheaper to buy from Indica, even with postage costs, but it will obviously take longer to arrive in the West.)

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Q.518 Reincarnation and Enlightenment

Q: I have been trying to wrap my mind around the question posed here: https://www.advaita-vision.org/q-489-creation-and-reincarnation.

Specifically: if reincarnation is not actually true and is just a part of adhyaropa-apavada — then why study Advaita at all when the probability of enlightenment is so low! Seems like life efforts would be better spent then trying to maximize ephemeral happiness.

The only way I can rationalize the practical utility of advaita is to accept that reincarnation is true in vyavaharika — that its a natural law, like gravity. Is that a fair understanding or is reincarnation truly just a teaching tool?

A: Where did you get the view that the probability of enlightenment is low? I know that this is implied in a few places in the scriptures but I rather think the point there is to ensure that only those who genuinely have mumukShutva pursue these ideas. If you are merely ‘interested’, you are going to lose that interest sooner or later and return to seeking the usual gratifications of empirical life. One of the seekers in the Upanishads is ecstatic when he is told that he ‘only’ has to live another few thousand lives before gaining enlightenment!

I believe that one of the main reasons that people today think that it is extremely ‘rare’ is their notion that there is ‘intellectual’ understanding that comes relatively easily and then there is experiential understanding that is extremely difficult to acquire. This is wrong! It is the erroneous understanding in the mind that keeps us in saMsAra and the correct understanding in the mind that frees us. It is perfectly possible to gain Self-knowledge in a single lifetime if you have the determination to do so. Obviously the best way is to find a qualified teacher. Then maybe years would be enough. If you have to read books and discuss with other seekers, it could take decades – especially if you read the wrong books!

As regards reincarnation, I wouldn’t worry about that too much. Whilst you really believe that the empirical world is real, then karma and reincarnation make sense. Without them, the ‘lawful’ nature of the universe appears to break down. The ‘good’ apparently suffer while the ‘evil’ triumph. Just look upon it as a mechanism that science is unable to explain or even believe. As I said in that other question, read the book by Muni Narayana Prasad if you want to understand more.

Ramanuja vs Shankara

Who would win in an argument between Ramanujacharya and Shankaracharya?

As non-duality can be said to go beyond, and at the same time enclose duality within itself, we can also say that Shankara, being a non-dualist philosopher, goes beyond and ‘incorporates’ Ramanuja, that is, the latter’s philosophy (it has been said: a jñani understands a bhakta, not vice versa).

Ramanuja took the ego (psychological self) as being the Self, an error for an Advaitin. For the former, destruction of the ego (“me”) will thus entail the destruction of the Self. For an Advaitin, the ego or subtle body (mind, senses, and vital breath) dissolves when the body dies – not so awareness or pure consciousness.

From the viewpoint of Advaita Vedanta, ‘consciousness’ is another name for reality/being/existence: all there is or that can be (all possibilities of existence). Neither ‘subject’ nor ‘object’, it annihilates this (mental) division, as well as sublating all concepts.

Or, as Francis Lucille, a well-known teacher wrote: ‘Simply put, non-dualism is the hypothesis that reality is non-dual, that there is only one single reality which is the substance of all things, of all phenomena, both mind and matter. If that is true, it follows that the reality of our ordinary consciousness, meaning whatever is really perceiving these words at this moment, must be this non-dual, single, and universal reality.’

Shankara said:

‘An enlightened person, after his death, does not undergo a change of condition – something different than when he was living. But he is said to be “merged in Brahman” just due to his not being connected to another body.’ Quoted from ‘The Method of Early Advaita Vedanta’, Michael Comans.

Is Advaita a trap?

Yes, it is a trap for individual mind – that is, the mind that considers itself a separate and independent individual, a doer and enjoyer. After usually many years of seriously studying Advaita (emphasis on ‘seriously’) with full force and dedication, it may dawn on that mind that the belief described above was actually a trap and a lie. Realizing this, by a stroke of magic as it were (so one might think without straying much from the truth), BINGO! you are free… free from the mind’s doubts, fears, hopes, projections, and tribulations. You then realize that only universal consciousness (a.k.a awareness) is true, and that that is what You are —the quotidian mind has disappeared, become no-mind, that is, pure unalloyed consciousness.