It appears that more and more people are taking to Non-duality as can be seen from the discussions on the social network platforms. One unfortunate fallout of this development is the absence of the rigor and purity of the Advaita message. Keeping in mind new beginners, I made three posts at a popular networking site. I thought of sharing them so that they may be useful for casual readers here and also to benefit myself from the comments/observations of the more senior followers of Advaita.
Post # 1. The Big “Me” and the small ‘me’:
It appears to me that there is some confusion in the concepts and usage of the two terms — the Big “Me” and the small ‘me’ in the Non-dual discussions.
I do not know about other Non-dual systems; but as far as Advaita goes, its doctrine explains these terms UNAMBIGUOUSLY.
It is quite popular in the West to suppose that all there is, is the Big Me alone. Hence, the theory seems to get extended to say that the apparent ‘me’ (the separate self) and the apparent world are also the “Me.” Therefore it’s all Oneness. That is NOT what Advaita says.
The misconception and obfuscation of what is True, partly arises because of the mischievous (or please choose a more proper word) metaphor of the ‘aware screen.’ The Awareness does not just become the world. The world, by definition, is an ensemble of multiple “forms.” There is NO oneness about the forms. The Big “Me” is sat-cit-Ananda (Beingness-Knowingness-Bliss). The small “me” is, yes, a thought. But so also is the world – YES, a thought! Sounds unbelievable. But that is it.
With the arising of a separate “me” enclosing within itself a set of features (attributes – autobiographic) as a thought, automatically then there will be the “not-me” comprising all the left out features. The popular name for that residual “not-me” is the world! Therefore, the apparent world and the apparent little “me” belong to the same order of reality. One is not holier than the other.
Yes, admittedly, it is a huge ‘explanatory gap’ in Advaita about the origination of the small ‘me’ from the Big “Me.” There are at the best many “models” available to offer an explanation. The ‘concept’ of “vRittis” (mental modulations) which some people find it unclear is one such model.
But the “ultimate” position of Advaita is “nothing” has really happened; nothing is ever born or created. What is perceived is comparable to a dream or a virtual reality.
Post # 2. Varieties in mokSha:
Strange but true! All varieties of philosophies do not have the same “concept” of salvation (mokSha).
Even within Vedanta, there are three distinct concepts on what ‘liberation’ is. The Advaitins (lead by Shankara) say that the “im-mediated realization” of “I am God or brahman” is the final liberation. The Visistadvatins (lead by Ramanuja) believe that a seeker can be at the most in the ever presence of the Supreme Lord or become a part within him. That is the “ultimate” for them. The Dvaitins (lead by Madhwa) hold, much like the Muslims and Christians, that it is blasphemy to say “I am God.” A seeker can at most achieve to be the most loyal permanent ‘servant’ of the God.
Even among Buddhists, the views between the vijnAna vAdins and sUnyavAdins differ. Though broadly speaking, they all support a Non-duality, many of them believe in ‘rebirth.’ Advaitins do not support ‘rebirth’ and for them ending of being born is the Liberation.
Even within the so-called Advaitins, there are subtle variations in the concept of liberation between the Shankara Advaitins and the followers of Kashmir Shaivism, other Shaivite groups etc.
Swami Madhusudhana Saraswati (1540 -1647 AD) lists over 20 concepts of what Enlightenment/Liberation can be in his book, “Vedanta kalpa latika” available online.
Post # 3. Category mix up:
There is a funny story that many must have already heard.
It appears that the Mendicant Shankara was walking along through a thick forest with his cohorts on way to a pilgrimage place deeply immersed in a discussion on the unreality of the apparent world. Then, all of a sudden, as if from nowhere, a wild elephant in heat appeared uprooting trees and crushing and pulverizing anything that came on its way. Abruptly stopping his discourse, Shanka ran away to save himself. People who came to know about this incident, laughed and poked fun at Shankara and his theory of the illusory world.
This story was most probably concocted by the dualist philosophers merely to ridicule Shankara. Lost in their own mirth, the creators of this story have obviously missed the illogical ‘category mix’ they committed in its concoction. While they assume the world to be ‘unreal’ as per Shankara’s mAyAvAda, they take ‘Shankara’s running’ which is also an integral part of that world as if it could be ‘real’! After all, parts within one whole cannot have different orders of reality.
We often, IMHO, commit the same mistake. If the “I,” – the separate self or ego – is fictional, the world which appears to that ‘self’ cannot have reality to it. A dreamer, within his/her dreams does not see the real (relatively) London roads or climb the real Swiss Alps.