Advaita in the West

Readers of my books and blogs will know that, over the years, my position has shifted from early support of modern Western teachers to an increasing criticism of anything other than the traditional approach of Ādi Ṥaṅkara. My book ‘Enlightenment: The Path through the Jungle’ spelled out the key differences between these approaches and explained why so many aspects of modern teaching failed the seeker. More recently, my ‘Confusions in Advaita Vedanta’ books(s) are addressing specific topics in Advaita and showing how many post-Ṥaṅkara teachers have distorted or even rejected the original explanations and thereby brought much confusion to today’s seekers.

My next book will specifically address the problems of trying to learn about Advaita in the West and how to spot the indicators of good and bad sources. I have been doing lots of research for this book, endeavoring to look at all of the current websites purporting to teach nonduality, and Advaita in particular. In the process of doing this, I came across this paper by Phillip Lucas, who was a Professor at Stetson University in Florida until 2021. He has kindly given permission for me to post it here. In it, he looks at the modern attempts to teach a modified version of Advaita, adapted to Western ‘ethos’, and the increasing criticism of these attempts by those, such as myself, who espouse the traditional approach. It is quite long, so I will be posting it in around 6 parts over the next couple of months. The first part follows. My sincere thanks to Prof. Lucas.

Translating Vedantic terms to Western seekers – Faith, God, Sin

599985_web_R_B_by_Dieter Schütz_pixelio.deThe following is blog I posted in 2011 when I was a blogger of Advaita Academy. As all of the addressed terms concern our topic of the month “belief” I am publishing it here again (with small alterations):


The word faith carries two meanings: trust and belief.

When I trust in something I meet it with confidence; even without knowing its exact nature, I assume that it will not harm me, rather that it will be beneficial to me when I expose myself to it.

When I believe in something I meet it with a conviction to be existent; I also may not know its exact nature but there is not necessarily an assumption involved that it will be beneficial to me.

Trust invites devotion – devote what? Time, energy, other resources. Devotion to what? To something assumed to be benevolent.

Belief demands submission – submit what? Any convictions, insights, reasoning or intuitions that contradict the belief. Submission to what? To something assumed to exist.

Shraddha is one of the nine virtues that should be cultivated by an aspirant to Advaita Vedanta, i.e. shraddha is considered to be one of the most essential traits someone should own when embarking on the journey to discover his/her own true Self. Usually shraddha is translated as “faith”.

Now, in the context of Advaita Vedanta it seems to be crucial that shraddha as faith is explained, understood and associated with trust and devotion, not with belief and submission of one’s own reasoning capacities. This is especially important when addressing Western seekers.


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