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:

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Q.528 Confusions in Advaita

Q: I am reading your book ” Confusions in Advaita Vedanta”.

I am from India, born in the Smarta Brahmin tradition of The revered Adi Shankara.
The purport of Adi Shankara as repeatedly explained by you is that no pramana or meditation except shabda pramana, teaching of scripture expounded by qualified teacher can give jnana. And this understanding happens in the process of listening once. Repetitions don’t help.

This caused both enthusiasm and later negativity in me. I have heard scriptures being expounded by Swami Dayananda, Swami Paramarthananda, Swami Brahmananda, Swami Parthasarathy, Sri Gangolli (translator of Swami Satchidananendra) etc. But no understanding or Jnana has resulted.

Am I doomed? Or Does it mean I was not qualified enough? More yoga sadhana required for purifying my mind? Of course there can be no doubt that the teachers were qualified. So fault is mine.

Continue reading

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

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

Hope that dispels the confusion.

‘Not Two’ – a Critical Review

On the face of it, this is a well-written and readable book, ideally suited for a new seeker. E.g. the sections on ‘The Illusory Nature of the Separate Self’ and ‘Knowledge Dispels Ignorance’ are excellent.

Unfortunately, should any reader accept everything that is written at its face value, they will come away with some serious confusions. In what follows, I apologize in advance for some of what may seem to be harsh criticisms, but my own perception of these points is heightened as a result of spending the last year writing my own work on ‘confusions’ of precisely this sort.

The author uses the traditional teaching method of adhyāropa-apavāda but it is not made clear when what is being said is only provisional. Also, there are very few references to the source of what is being presented. (And one of those that is provided doesn’t exist!) There are many places where the author writes ‘as Shankara said’ but scarcely a single pointer to where he said it. There are numerous places where I, as an informed reader, need those references before I will even consider what is being said to be credible!

Continue reading

Q.451 Nothing to be done?

Q: After reading and listening to non-duality teachers I got to know that there is nothing that can be done; there is nothing to attain and nothing to achieve. Whatever ‘is’, simply is.

So what should we do actually? After knowing this truth how should we live our life? Earlier I wanted to do sAdhana to attain self-realization and enlightenment. Now I have understood that it is the ego which is asking that.

Now in my life I have a feeling that, whatever activity I undertake, it’s just about keeping my mind and body engaged. Be it any activity – reading a book, doing meditation, working at the office – I feel that there is a separation between ‘I’ and the ‘mind’. When an activity or any kind of work starts, then the Mind and body are involved in it but I am separate from all of them. When the activity finishes, I again have my body and mind available to be engaged in another activity.

A: You seem not to be differentiating between absolute and empirical reality (paramArtha and vyavahAra). From the absolute viewpoint, there is only Brahman so that doing, enjoying, knowing etc. have no meaning – there is no one, no thing. But from the empirical perspective – from your personal viewpoint – there is a world and people. And there are j~nAnI-s and aj~nAnI-s (people who know the truth and those who do not). If you do not know the truth, you will suffer in life, so what can (and should!) be done is to find out the truth: that who-you-really-are is Brahman. Of course it is the ego that wants to do this but this desire is the one desire that is not only permissible, it should be encouraged!

Once your mind truly and irrevocably knows the truth (this is the meaning of being ‘enlightened’), you can then do whatever happens to be your svadharma or ‘calling’. This may just be carrying on doing your everyday job, living a family life, or whatever. But you may need to continue nididhyAsana in the form of study, reading, teaching, discussing Advaita so that the Self-knowledge is consolidated and you benefit from peace and happiness etc. for the remainder of the jIva’s life.

‘sAdhana in Advaita’ – 6/6:

[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

‘sAdhana in Advaita’ – 5/6:

[Part – 4/6]

‘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

‘sAdhana in Advaita’ – 4/6:

[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.’

Continue reading

‘sAdhana in Advaita’ – 3/6:

[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