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.Continue reading
Q: Do you know of any effective (tried and true) praxis methods for Advaita? Meditations, contemplations, visualizations, prayers, mantras, hymns, and so on. Particularly methods that nurture the understanding of the mahavakyas. I’ve been meditating daily and I’m open to different approaches.
I suppose I might do okay with reading, rereading, fathoming, and contemplating the mahavakyas, one by one. But if there are already good praxis methods out there, I’d love to give them a try.
A: The ‘problem’ is Self-ignorance and the ONLY remedy for this is Self-knowledge, which comes from scriptures, ideally interpreted/explained by a qualified teacher.
Having said that, the only value of any practice is to enable the above or enhance the ability of the mind/intellect to do the above. sādhana catuṣṭaya sampatti tells you what practices are of value. But practicing to the extent that you are able to still the mind at will and give all your attention to what is front of you, dropping desires etc., is of no value (as far as Advaita is concerned) unless you give that attention to scriptures/teacher.
You do that in the form of shravaṇa-manana and then go away and regurgitate-reassimilate that until it is fully accepted. ‘Doing’ of any sort, such as learning shruti by heart, singing mantras, trekking to the Himalyas etc. is not going to achieve anything.
[Part – 5]
One may think that the household and other responsibilities are impediments standing in the way of Non-dual practice. If one has followed this talk carefully, it can be seen that those are not obstructions at all. The seeker has to dissolve them all into his/her ‘Knowingness.’ People who are unable to do so call it as their ‘prArabdha’ – the inescapable effect of past actions. Concepts like the effects of past actions is invalid in Advaita. In fact, Advaita holds that the world itself does not exist because there is no creation and nothing was ever born. How then can prArabdha exist? There is no scope for rebirth or prArabdha when birth itself has not taken place. Continue reading
‘pratyabhijna’ and ‘pravilApana’ form the two limbs of Advaita sAdhana. We have to practice these two with full involvement and clear understanding. Total commitment and unswerving focus are necessary for this practice to happen.
All our thoughts are the particulars sparkling out of the Knowingness. If we look at our thoughts from the stance of Knowingness, everything that is noticed including the body will dissolve in that vision. It is pravilApana.
We have to keep paying attention to the Beingness everywhere. Be focused on the all-pervading space-like Beingness which is present at every spot and ignore the form that pops up at each locus. It is important that we should not look at the Beingness as if it is an object sitting out there. We should get the feel that it is “I” as Beingness and Knowingness that is present at each locus. Such a vision requires total involvement. Continue reading
[Part – 3]
If the world is the superstructure, like what is seen in a magic show, the Magician is the Knower, the Substratum! A seeker on the Knowledge Path pierces through the multiple layers of the superstructure to discover the base. He finds what is at the core. He knows that the ‘Universal’ has to be present wherever a ‘particular’ manifests. For example, if there is a bubble or foam or spray or a wave, he knows that water is the substance inside them all. Even an eddy can “be,” only if there is water.
The Advaitic seeker, hence, goes behind the apparent form to find the ‘Reality.’ He is aware that the world is merely an appearance of The Supreme Self and that the Universal and the particular exist woven together as the warp and the weft. Therefore, he understands that there is no occasion to be overwhelmed by the ‘appearance.’
[Part – 2]
Our mind is accustomed to get the impression of an object which has a finite shape (form). It is easy for the mind to think of finite forms. But AtmA is formless. Further, if AtmA were to be located at a particular place, the mind can see in that direction to find the AtmA. But AtmA is everywhere. It exists in all directions, at all points; there is no specific locus for It. The mind cannot look for It in all directions at the same time. The doctrine also says that AtmA is not an object to be seen but is “my own real nature.” How do I see my own nature? Therefore, it feels like a big effort to get a thought that corresponds to the AtmA.
As a result, we find the practice (sAdhana) in Advaita to be difficult. However, the very problems could be the cues which help us to have AtmAnubhava. We have from Bhagavad-Gita,
प्रत्यक्षावगमं धर्म्यं सुसुखं कर्तुमव्ययम् ॥ — 9.2, Bhagavad-Gita.
[Meaning: Immediately comprehensible, unopposed to dharma, very easy to perform, imperishable.]
Krishna says that the Self is seen directly and easily at every locus. We need to understand carefully the implication of this statement. Continue reading
In order to experience the Self, AtmAnubhava, we should first know where the “I” is. If the ‘I’ is not already with us, we have to make an effort to obtain it.
In general, there are three ways by which we can obtain a thing. Say, we have to obtain a pot. If no pot is available, we have to newly produce (make) one. Or suppose it is available with someone or somewhere. We have to procure it from that place. Or, a pot is available but it is dusty or dirty. We have to wash off the dirt and make it neat and clean. These three ways are known as utpatti (production), Apti or prApti (procurement) and samskriti (refinement) respectively. Now let us apply it to the problem we have.
Do we have to newly produce the Self, or get It from some other place, or cleanse and refine the Self that already exists?
One may produce an idol or a symbol of a deity but none can manufacture the formless Self. Moreover, the knowledge that “I am” is already with us and that knowing itself is the Self. Therefore, we need not newly produce the Self. Continue reading
[This Series of posts is based on Shri Yellamraju Srinivasa Rao (YSR)’s Audio Talk in Telugu – An Overview of The Advaita Doctrine – 4/192 .The write up here is a free translation after slight modifications and editing. The Talk was described by a seeker as “Powerful and Compelling.” I do not know if I could achieve that ‘force of persuasion and spirit’ in the translation. Yet I hope the Reader gets at least a flavor of the original if not the whole taste in this English rendition.]
Any philosophical knowledge system comprises three components – The Doctrine (siddhAnta), The Method or the Process (sAdhana) and The Results or the Fruit (siddhi). (‘siddhi‘ is attainment and need not be confused with ‘sAdhya’ which means aim or objective).
The doctrine expounds the subject matter of the teaching. The method or the process is the effort we make to experience what is taught. The result or the fruit is the fructification of our effort, which is the im-mediated direct “experiential understanding” of what was taught.
We begin the study of any subject with an intention to learn and implement, and complete the study with an experiential understanding of the subject. We hope to experience a feeling of satiation at the end of the study. The effort to implement what we learn, sAdhana, therefore, is an important part of any teaching. ‘siddhAnta’ or the teaching is like a recipe, while ‘sAdhana’ is like cooking a dish following the recipe. In fact, the Sanskrit word sAdhana also means cooking! The siddhi or the fruit is the ‘contentment’ we get after eating the dish. Continue reading
Q: I have been reading Vedanta for a few years and have a question. We are always playing some form of role such as Employee, Worker, Husband, Son etc. My understanding is that Advaita tells us to let the role do its own work but you remain who you are which is the ‘Absolute witness’.
How do we practice this in our daily life? It seems difficult to have the same kind of energy when you are in that state.
A: What you are speaking of is karma yoga as preparation for j~nAna yoga. The aim in daily life is to respond appropriately to whatever is in front of you, perform the task with attention and do not be attached to the results. This is all a part of the process of acquiring discrimination, mental discipline and detachment. You need these in order to study Advaita (by listening to a qualified teacher explain the scriptures). It is not the purpose of any of this to acquire ‘good energy’ (whatever that means). Continue reading
Q: I need some practical guidance on practising advaita in daily life. Please advise me of the best course of action.
A (Dennis): You cannot ‘practise’ Advaita. Advaita is a teaching/philosophy. Its aim is to bring you to the total understanding that reality is non-dual; that all-there-is is brahman or Consciousness, and that who-you-really-are is that brahman. Only the body-mind can ‘practise’ or ‘live a life’ and you are not that. The body-mind and the world are mithyA, which means that they are not real in themselves; their real substratum is brahman.
Q: Many thanks for the response. I have a question though. I understand that Advaita is a philosophy. But what does one do with a philosophy? Try to understand? Try to live it? What is my next course of action? I know that action should be ruled out. But what is the next step for me? What do I do or where do I go from here. I hope I am able to explain my point. I look forward to hear from you.
A: Advaita is a teaching methodology. It provides a step by step ‘education’ for the seeker to bring him or her Self-knowledge. Ideally, this teaching is given by a qualified teacher. This is someone who already has Self-knowledge and also has the skills to teach it to someone else. Since the original teaching derives from the scriptures, a deep understanding of these and a knowledge of Sanskrit is also deemed by many to be a necessary qualification for a teacher.
Accordingly, the next step would ideally be to find such a teacher and study with them for as long as necessary – usually at least a few years. Failing that, you have to read widely (but only those books that do not confuse!) and ask lots of questions (of someone who can answer them!).