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.
Hence a committed seeker must learn to let all things just happen and be a mere witness to the happenings. He cannot be judgmental “accepting or rejecting” the events and situations as they arise. It can be achieved by dropping the claims for doership and ownership, every time the sense of ‘agency’ arises.
It is sine qua non that a healthy body and a sane mind are necessary for pursuing the Advaita inquiry. The mind has got to be bias-free and tenuous. It should also have the ability to stay focused with single-minded attention without succumbing to the worldly temptations. This necessitates the cultivation of certain discipline on the part of the seeker in matters of his/her conduct, food, interactions with others. Obviously, then it is important that the seeker knows that s/he cannot say “I will continue to be what I have been in my behavior and interactions and still be committed to seeking Non-dual understanding.”
Reducing the number of the parameters and their intensity that defined the “me” thus far, vide the Equation-1 (in Part – 1/2) will help the seeker stand out less and less as a separate entity and that would in turn help him/her in easily melding himself/herself with the Universal.
As per Advaita:
The main reason for our inability to recognize ourselves as the unchanging screen, vide the model we presented, is our ignorance of the fact that there is no “thing” that is not “I.” This ignorance occludes the truth and hides the Reality of Oneness from us. The veil also distorts our vision showing to us a thing to be different from what it actually is. As a result, while all That-IS everywhere is “I” only, we see diverse objects and take them to be “not-I.” Then a “desire” arises in us to acquire those objects that are “not-I.” Desire then propels us into “action” to acquire them. Action will necessarily have “consequences” – either favorable or unfavorable. The consequences bring the “experience” of happiness (when favorable) and misery (when unfavorable).
So the remedy has to be at the root before this whole problem inflates into a complex structure. That root is the ignorance of what we are. The ignorance can be eliminated only by acquiring the right Knowledge.
We obtain knowledge in our day to day life through the “means” of our five senses (i.e. direct experience) and mind (inference). We do not possess any other means to obtain knowledge. But those two means available with us can give us memory based accumulative knowledge about the empirical world. That type of knowledge cannot dispel our ignorance of the fact that there is nothing other than “I” everywhere.
Therefore, we have necessarily to depend on a valid “scripture” to give us the true “Knowledge” which will be an antidote to our ignorance. There is no other way. The scripture informs us that the true Knowledge is not a piece of new information that we have to acquire. It is already known to us but seems as though we have forgotten It. The core teaching of Advaita from scripture is, therefore, a reminder to us that all things we see are “I” only and no ‘thing’ exists that is “not-I.” Shri Y. S. Rao, an Advaitin writes as follows in a book of his:
“Shankara compares the attainment of true Knowledge to becoming healthy. We are by nature healthy. It’s our normal condition. Then, say, some illness took over. Because of the illness, our health, which had not gone anywhere, got tentatively masked. Administering a medicine to get rid of the illness is all that needs to be done. Once that’s done, health shows up. We feel as if we got our health back. Similarly, Advaita avers that we are already brahman. By nature we are That. So there is no question of acquiring newly something which we do not have.
Nevertheless, a disease in the form of thoughts such as “I am not-That” has overtaken us. As a result, our own natural state seems to be far away from us. It is like a temporary amnesia. Like our health being hidden by illness, our True nature is hidden by our forgetfulness. It is enough to remove the dark layer called forgetfulness by means of the Knowledge generated through the scripture. We will get back to our natural intrinsic quality as brahman.”
Once this Non-dual truth that everything “That-IS” is I only is clearly understood, the Upanishads give us several techniques to stabilize ourselves in that understanding. For example,
ईशा वास्यमिदं सर्वं यत्किं च जगत्यां जगत् ।
तेन त्यक्तेन भुञ्जीथा मा गृधः कस्य स्विद्धनम् ॥ — mantra 1, IshAvAshya upa
Meaning: All this – whatever exists in this changing universe − should be (seen as) covered by the Lord. Protect the Self by renunciation. Lust not after any man’s wealth.
The implied exercise is to consider that “I myself cover (permeate) all things in the universe. I notice only the “Universality” in everything and I am already that. I do not have to covet anything because there is no ‘thing’ that is ‘not-I.’ What is necessary is the “Understanding” that all that IS is a modulation of my Self which is none else than what “I am” – the Universal Beingness and Knowingness.”
The end game is that instead of experiencing the “not-I” which I call as the world (anAtma anubhava) through my senses and mind, I experience “I” only (called Atma anubhava). That is the True Happiness.
The Method of Teaching:
Shankara follows a uniform method of teaching in all his works. He devotes a large amount of the text in explicating the “Doctrine.” He follows up by an almost equally long description of the method of practice towards the attainment of the goal of Oneness. Then he briefly touches on the nature of that which is attained. For example, if we take the famous ten verses of “Hymn to dakShiNAmUrti,” the first five explain Non-duality (50 % of the text). The next four and a half verses teach about the practice (45 %) What is obtained finally is told in half a verse (5 %)!
Shri Y. S. Rao explains the rationale of such a distribution with the analogy of consuming food to appease hunger. The procurement, assembling and putting together all the necessary material including the finalization of a recipe for the preparation takes a lot of time. Then the food is consumed following in a particular sequence – appetizers, drinks, main course, dessert, mint etc. Once the food is eaten, the satiation obtained is only to be experienced by each individual by himself/herself. It cannot be expressed or communicated to another. So also nothing much can be said about the ultimate Happiness from the Non-dual Knowledge.
This analogy contains another lesson for us. Once the satiation is obtained, none goes back to the exercise of procuring or preparing. Those jobs are done prior to the satisfaction being achieved. He or she just enjoys being satiated. Therefore, all preparatory work has to precede the attainment of true understanding. Here too the teachers in the West seem to differ.