Who is the teacher? – Patrick Dunroven

I call myself an Advaitin, but lack the rigor of scriptural or linguistic (Sanskrit) study attained by other writers on this site. When I feel “left out”, I call myself a mystic or perhaps a Zen Buddhist. I am reminded of a recently told joke of a cowboy who sits down in a bar next to an attractive lady and is asked what he is.

“I am a cowboy. I rope and brand cows, fix fences, and break horses. Who are you? What do you do?”

“I am a lesbian. I dream of women, of running my hands all over them, of having ecstatic sex.”

The cowboy is amazed. The lady soon leaves and another patron sits down. The new companion asks the cowboy the same question, what is he?

The cowboy replies, “Well, I thought I was a cowboy, but now I think I am a lesbian.”

The effort and attention given to classifying oneself often seems more important than the  basic understanding of non-duality.

Isn’t discovering or clarifying reality a continuous exercise of neti, neti? Isn’t it, in a sense, all there is? These critiques and observations found on this website are not without merit, and I cannot argue about method, for I have none to which to compare. However, the recommendation of adherence to the teaching of a “true” teacher as one who knows scripture and tradition must necessarily be problematic. After all, a claim to precedent (scripture and tradition) or lineage is always interpretation and filters. To imply legitimacy is circular: This teacher is a true teacher because he/she teaches from the true source(s) of Advaita or other true teachers.

Of course, I will say the opposite as well: Advaita holds advantages in its articulated presentation of the Truth (hereafter synonymic to Reality, Source, One, Being, etc.)

In the end, there is harmonic recognition of the Truth. Does it matter who said it, or it can also be found in a book of words? It is known immediately, and all attempts at explication are conceptual and intellectual, always less than the experiencing.

If someone were to come to me with the how-question, I have no answer that guarantees partial or complete revelation of Being, or more importantly, the peace of this understanding.  I do not know of a method. We are stuck with the struggle of understanding using the intellect (mind), or there is a serendipitous intuition that has no confirmation except itself. Aren’t we looking for certitude without a secondary source, as thorny as that certainty must remain? If so, why do we encourage others to participate in a quest with an Advaitin “teacher”?

Yes, there seems to be too many people with this interest in non-duality who objectify the noumenal and are willing to discuss it authoritatively, or teach it. This is not my concern. It can’t be. I would encourage anyone to listen to these people with an unremitting caution, knowing full well the method and the messenger are not the Truth.

But the above comments point to another problem related to “teaching”. In an effort to explain or point to experiencing (thisness?) without a separate self, one must resort to apparent semantemes, often capitalized. Consciousness, Self and even “object” are very large concepts to digest. The teacher may be very cognizant of this, but even in one-on-one presentations, “Consciousness” remains reified and more often than not, an unsuccessful intent without the jump of immediate experience.

One often reads there is no knowing the thing-in-itself. The words used to arrive at “knowing” (or Knowing) are no more than descriptions, just pointers. There is an intended distinction between noumenal and phenomenal, Consciousness and consciousness, etc. This is the truth, but after saying this, if we consider the profusion of writing and teachers, there is a return to definitions and conceptual reduction that simply turn out to be variations of the Container Metaphor.

In short, neti neti, silence, fleeting Presence or “look within, end that which isn’t the Truth” are methods as well, just not ones that elicit further explanation if we realize all language is a perpetuation of subject-object construction.

Patrick Dunroven lives a very quiet life in a remote area of Eastern Oregon with his wife and cats. He is a retired school teacher with an Advaita and Zen avocation. A serendipitous exposure to J. Krisnamurti lead him away from typical Western philosophy. As that trend continues, Patrick names an eclectic group of writers and sages as distilling his thoughts about non-duality: Nisargadatta Maharaj, Ramana Maharshi, Atmananda Krishna Menon, Greg Goode, Dennis Waite, Rupert Spira and many others.

5 thoughts on “Who is the teacher? – Patrick Dunroven

  1. “The words used to arrive at “knowing” (or Knowing) are no more than descriptions, just *pointers*”.

    Precisely; there is a non-conceptual use of language “to inspire the student and awaken and orient his mind to the quest for ultimate reality… evocative and only secondarily informative…. resorting to analogies, metaphors, figures of speach, mythic discourse, parables…” (`’That Thou Art – The Wisdom of the Upanishads, by Ramakrishna Puligandla, p. 117). Following this author, this type of language is dominant in poetry, scriptures and religious works in general. Does “the profusion of writings and teachers” matter if the understanding is there? I do not mean it is that simple!

  2. As I have only just recently commented on another thread, it is certainly true that the noumenal can never be described (or perceived). But the very fact that it cannot be experienced means that something else is needed to draw our attention to the truth. We would never arrive at the conclusions that ‘all there is is Brahman’, that ‘the world is not in itself real’ and that ‘I am that Brahman’ in the normal scheme of things. This is why a teacher is required to point us towards the reality. Yes, they are only pointers, concepts in the phenomenal realm, but for the person whose mind is attuned to receiving these pointers, traditional Advaita works. End of story.

  3. Dear Patrick,

    Thanks for your very well written observations. I am someone who has benefitted from the traditional teachings of Advaita/Vedanta, but I do not consider labeling myself as ‘traditional’ more important that the basic understanding of non-duality. I would say that the basic understanding of nonduality I have gained is itself owed to having studied within the tradition. Therefore I acknowledge the tradition and am ever grateful that I encountered it.

    You mention that a true teacher is one who ‘knows scripture and tradition.’ Actually as far as I know, this isn’t quite correct. The statement goes a true teacher should be someone who knows the scriptures; and who is firmly rooted in the recognition of the truth, i.e. all that exists is one thing alone and that one thing I am.

    When it is said that a teacher should know the scriptures, from my understanding, this a type of shorthand, because certainly there are many learned people in India who know the scriptures, who can recite them chapter and verse, but that doesn’t make them true or effective teachers.

    ‘Knowing the scriptures’ as I understand the phrase means knowing the methodology which is contained in the scriptures, and knowing how to use that methodology effectively when teaching. This can really only be learned from someone who him or herself knew the methodology and then passed it along to the student, and that teacher learned it from his or her teacher, and so on and so on. Therefore there is what is referred to as a tradition of teaching or a lineage that allows for the passing of the methodology from teacher to student.

    The methodology is not obvious when reading the scriptures. One cannot just pick up an Upanisad and stumble upon it. It needs to be shown to you by the teacher, and while the teacher is showing it to you, you are also at the same time recognizing what the teacher came to recognize through exposure to the methodology from his or her teacher.

    Although we say the methodology is contained in the scriptures (and it is), I would go so far as to say that Vedanta itself can be taught effectively without using any scripture or Sanskrit, because it is the methodology itself and the ability to use it effectively which is all important and the key to why Vedanta works to bring about the recognition that nonduality is the truth of existence.

    The point of the whole teaching is not to give one a conceptual understanding of the subject matter, nor is it geared to giving the student an experience of nonduality.

    It is rather geared to guiding the student to recognize the truth of the experience one is already having. It is a process of knocking off through logic and reasoning incorrect conclusions held in the mind which when examined are directly recognized not to be true. And then a further pointing out of what is true.

    The pointing to the truth works because what is true is already true. It isn’t some experience to go and get, but rather it is something to recognize about the experience one is already having.

    We don’t need to give the student big concepts. We need to help them shed their incorrect concepts, so they can recognize what is already the case.

    The methodology works. I myself have seen it work over and over again. There are all sorts of people trying to invent new methodologies, and as far as I can tell, and in my experience, I have never encountered anything that works as effectively as Vedanta does.

    • Dhanya,
      Hi….again, after several years. Aren’t you the person living in the S.F. area?
      To your comments, other than “where do you find the time?”:
      My objections to teachers and teaching as found with “traditionialists” is that it begins to sound too much like western religions who claim they are the only “way”. This may not have been strongly stated in my brief essay. It is an objection that I have stated several times with Dennis, and he does come back admitting there are exceptions.
      I would love to engage in discussions and observations of the Truth, but I am no where near civilization. Nor do I trust words on a website or in a book to actualize an understanding. I don’t trust people either, in a general sense, so wouldn’t find myself in a student-teacher relationship. All these “aids” to finding the Truth are implied or stated plainly in traditionalist approaches.
      But the literature does admit the definition of guru, for instance, as anything you learn from. That could be going for a walk.
      It may sound like I prefer picking and choosing what is true, and that is somewhat fair, but as stated in the essay, the Truth is apodictic, or known immediately from its own light. To keep oneself attuned to that, and to continually question and recognize the false is a “method” in itself.
      It is really a no-dah! situation: one gets the Advaita answer (method) because one is reading and in contact with Advaita enthusiasts. My essay intended to say that is all well and good, however, the Truth is not found or arrived at through Advaita or because of Advaita, as in a cause and effect relationship. Within Advaita there is little or no eclectic recognition that other “teaching” (e.g. Zen) is saying the same thing but in different words.
      Hope all is well in your world.
      From Oregon — come visit — Patrick

  4. Namaste Patrick,

    I used to live in the SF Bay Area. Now I live on the beautiful island of Maui! So you come visit!

    You say you don’t trust people, or books, or written words on websites. That’s a lot of things not to trust, IMO. You seem to be saying that you trust only your own experience. If that alone works for you, then I’m happy that you have found something that works for you.

    My own experience, without helpful guidance from another living person, did not work for me. That is not to say that all teachers I encountered along the way, or books, or written words on websites worked, because none of them did until I encountered one teacher whose words when I heard them engendered feelings of profound relief.

    ‘Ahhhh,’ I thought, ‘At last someone who makes sense. This is what I have been looking for all along.’ (And all along comprised 30 years, so that’s a long time in a person’s life).

    I understand that you feel that words of a tradition start to sound like a religion and dogma. I’ve encountered that objection before.

    What can I say? If something works, it works. You seem to be saying you have found what works for you, and for that I say, ‘Congratulations!’

Comments are closed.