The reification of ignorance or the One-percent Brigade
There has recently been a brief spate of posts relevant to this topic on the Advaitin List. I rarely post there these days for fear of getting involved in long arguments with members committed to opposing views. But, after someone claimed that 99% of Advaitins accepted that ‘ignorance’ was a really existent entity, I posted to assert my membership of the ‘1% Brigade’, explaining that “I mainly wanted to reassure those readers who were dismayed to think that they were in the 1% and apparently did not understand Advaita!”
What I said was: “(In volume 2 of ‘Confusions’), one of the aspects that I specifically address is the notion of avidyā as a really existent entity and I am afraid that I have to conclude, using reason and common sense, as well as the quotations, that what is meant by ‘ignorance’ is simply ‘lack of knowledge’. Essentially, it is a language problem. So, yes, there is certainly ignorance in the deep-sleep state, simply because the mind is resolved and incapable of having knowledge about anything. But there is no mūlāvidyā, I’m afraid. And I hope that many will be convinced if they read all of the arguments.”
Note that, when I originally reviewed this book, it also included a free DVD of extracts from the interviews. This is no longer the case.
Premananda is the author of a number of books, including ‘Indian Masters: Blueprints for Awakening’, which I have reviewed at http://www.advaita.org.uk/reading/read_general.htm#blueprints. He spent 15 years with Osho, followed by another 5 with H. W. L. Poonja (Papaji) and much of his teaching now is influenced by Ramana Maharshi. He runs the Open Sky Satsang Community in Germany (between Cologne and Düsseldorf) and periodic meetings are organized throughout Europe.
Note that, sometime during the elapsed time since I wrote this review (around 2011), he has reverted to his (presumed) birth name of John David. All reference to the name ‘Premananda’ appears to have been removed from his website and books (although the URL remains the same). I have left the words of the review itself, and the images, as they were in the original review.
The following is the continuation of 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.Read Part 1
NDM: An Indian sage once said, “No learning or knowledge of scriptures is necessary to know the self, as no man requires a mirror to see himself.”
Swamiji: He does require a mirror to see his face. No man requires a mirror to find out whether he exists or not, correct. But if he wants to see his face, he requires a mirror.
I have no question about myself whether I exist or not. I don’t have a doubt. I don’t need any mirror. Even my eyes and ears, nothing I require, because I exist and therefore I use my eyes. I exist and therefore I use my mind.
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.
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.
Q: I would like to tell you about an experience I had recently.
I was walking the park and suddenly everything became clearer before my eyes and I was astonished I was like “ah….” in those few moments everything was myself and I was everything. I was the pavement I was walking, the trees, the bushes, the fences and the whole space was filled with myself without slightest gap like water fills a sea. I was everything and everywhere. I was omnipresent and all pervasive. I didn’t have a specific location as I normally experience with out body a specific location. At that very moment of experience I asked myself “what am I?” The answer very clearly and immediately dawned in me “peace, consciousness and bliss” it was an incredible experience of peace and awareness. It left a profound peace and awareness in me that since then all my desires have disappeared and I am in total peace all the time and nothing however good or bad from the outside moves me any longer.
Is this the experience or awareness of the Atma?
A: This is not really a question that is amenable to a short answer. There is a lot about it in my next book (‘Confusions in Advaita, Vol. 1’).
The short answer is ‘no’. You cannot ‘experience’ Atman. Experience requires an experiencer and a thing experienced – and that would be duality. You could also say that anything you experience cannot be Atman. You are Atman – the conscious experiencer – and anything experienced must be anAtman. But you might also say that, since reality is non-dual, there is only Atman-Brahman. Therefore, whatever you experience must also be Brahman.
Enlightenment is the intellectual realization of the truth of all this. It requires mental purification and then a process of listening to the teaching from a qualified teacher, clarifying any doubts through questioning and then a period of mentally going over all of this until it is clear and certain.
But your experience is not to be denigrated. It should serve as an incentive to investigate all of this properly!
Here is how I described this teaching some years ago:
First of all, however, I will say a little about sRRiShTi dRRiShTi etc, since I have mentioned these above. I once thought that these were the principal creation theories of advaita. sRRiShTi is the Sanskrit word for creation. The mythical stories of God creating a world, for example over six days as in the Bible, are called krama sRRiShTi, meaning ‘gradual creation’ (krama means ‘ progressing step-by-step’). dRRiShTi is the Sanskrit word for ‘seeing’ or the faculty of sight. Thus, sRRiShTi dRRiShTi vAda means that a world is created and then we perceive it. dRRiShTi sRRiShTi vAda, on the other hand, supposes that perception precedes creation. This effectively boils down to a form of subjective idealism; i.e. the world only exists in our mind. This, in turn, implies that there are no other individuals than ourselves; i.e. solipsism. (The theory that there is only one person is called eka jIva vAda in Sanskrit.) Continue reading →
Whenever we have an “experience,” like I see, I walk, I do and so on, we should remember that the entity “I” has first separated out from the “Whole” that-IS and positioned itself as the “subject” (agent) of the action. Thus, at the moment of experience, it is not anymore a single entity, Oneness. There are two — the experiencer, “I,” and the experience. But the “experience” in turn consists of the object experienced and the act of having the experience (experiencing). So whether we are aware or not, a multiplicity got introduced. Continue reading →
Eka jIva vAda – the devil’s teaching (part 1 of 2)
The ‘bottom line’ of Advaita is that there is only Brahman. The world with all its objects, bodies and minds, is mithyA – it is not real in itself but ‘borrows’ its existence from Brahman. Who-I-really-am is Brahman.
But all of this is already saying too much. We cannot actually say anything at all about Brahman. We ‘know’ it by ‘being’ it; that is all.
This, then, is the ‘final’ message of Advaita. Advaita is a teaching methodology that functions by removing all of the misunderstandings about the world and our ‘real Self’. It progressively removes Self-ignorance (neti, neti) until the time comes when the intellect can make the intuitive leap to a realization of that final truth which is beyond words and concepts.
The teaching utilizes various devices to enable us to remove misconceptions. These might be stories (e.g. ‘tenth man’), metaphors (e.g. gold and ring, wave and water) or more elaborate ‘prakriyA-s’ such as pa~ncha kosha or avasthA traya. The purpose of all of them is to draw attention to a particular aspect of the way in which we presently think about the world, and then to show by examination (comparison etc.) that we might be mistaken. In each case, by making us look at the situation in a different way, we advance our ‘non-dualistic outlook’.
But these new ways of thinking about the world are themselves only temporary, to help us to readjust our mental boundaries. They, too have to be discarded eventually because, as pointed out above, we can never truly ‘understand’ any of it. Once they have served their purpose, we drop them – adhyAropa-apavAda. Continue reading →
Q: I have heard a teacher say that, if you have listened to Vedanta / Upanishads teaching, you have heard the truth; if you do not honor this by continuing to deepen the listening, there are the following consequences : you will not hear the truth for thousands of lifetimes, and have to be reborn starting again from plants, insects and so on. Can you shine some light on this please?
A (Dennis): What you have heard is nonsense. The most important requirement for pursuing Advaita is what is called mumukShutva, which means the ‘burning desire’ to discover the truth. Once you have that, you are going to continue seeking anyway. The other requirements are things such as a still mind, ability to concentrate and discriminate, ability to control the mind and senses so that your attention is not easily distracted, being prepared to put provisional trust in what is said by the teacher.
The theory of karma says that your actions will have lawful consequences in this life or the next. But this is all interim teaching anyway. The ‘bottom line’ is that who-you-really-are was never born in the first place and is already perfect, complete and free. You just don’t realize this. Hence the requirement for finding and listening to a qualified teacher.