Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Does Advaita Make Us Insensitive and Heartless?

Does Advaita Make Us Insensitive and Heartless?

Questioner:  I find a tendency toward spiritual reductionism in modern non-duality--- everything is just X, and X doesn't really change. Whether that is God, or being, or consciousness, or sat-chit-ananda doesn't really matter. The point is there is a real and an unreal, and the unreal is not really valued. For example, saying that love arises from ourselves only, and is projected onto spouses, babies, and puppies seems to me to place the focus on the inner core to the exclusion of the outer manifestations. If our core is changeless and transcendent, and if all our core is the same core, and nothing really changes, well, then---- nothing really matters. 


Consider another approach. Instead of a false projection, what if objects were an expression? What if each moment was a unique and wonderful droplet of perfection, never to be repeated? What if instead of an error, the entire universe was an artistic creation? 

What about the hopes and dreams and the many small things that cause this particular vibration to be unique? I am not just a core of awareness, but an unbounded pool of thoughts, energies, and expressions that is not the same and yet indistinguishable from the rest of the world and the cosmos. What if, in fact, everything really matters?

I'm not saying that the first version is wrong or incorrect, but it leaves me feeling hollow. I cannot generate warmth and kindness--- real warmth and kindness, the wondrous sweetness of the heart, for a projection that is ultimately just me in disguise. Nor does it require a sense of self and other, because immersing into this sweetness obliterates concepts of self and other.

 Ramesam:  Your “What-if” questions are not any alternate doubtful scenarios. They are all affirmed statements in the teaching of Advaita Vedanta. 

As expressed in Bhagavad-Gita (BG) Chapter 10, every form that you perceive, and interact with is nothing but a Godly manifestation. BG IV – 24 says more explicitly that everything including you, the sentient doer, the insentient instruments that help in performing an action and the doing itself are all brahman.

Yes, Sir, consummation in the Totality dropping the sense that 'I am a separate person,'  and thus “immersing into this sweetness obliterates concepts of self and other,” (as you say) undoubtedly and with certitude. The fact that "the sense of a “me” to be separate from the rest is just an illusory belief" will be understood and the individual ego dissolves completely in that moment.

As far as Advaita is concerned, I would like to point out that the so-called ‘reductionism’ you are attributing to Advaita is different from the “reductionist” approach in Science. Yes, the teaching does talk of the irreducible Oneness, Consciousness, brahman or ‘X’ – call It whatever you like – it is but a step in imparting the Advaita message. 



Unlike what some people may think, Advaita is NOT about changing the world; it is also NOT about improvements to our puny imagined ‘self’ or 'selves.' It’s just an illumination that exposes in its brilliance our false beliefs and identities. It explicates that “What-Is” is all “That IS” and proclaims unhesitatingly that “You are That (brahman)” and not merely the tiny body-mind which you mistakenly take yourself to be.

The teaching does not end there. 
It’s only a halfway house. 

After having a taste of that ‘X,’ the student is asked to find out Its nature and “experientially realize” the same by himself/herself. Advaita does not provide any ready-made formula as an answer. There are no ‘theorems’ like:

a2 + b2  =  c2

which you can learn by rot, then take to the market for application carrying a setsquare and T. The seeker has to intuitively feel the Ultimate Advaita understanding, grok it, and live it.

Advaita tells you that the usual worldly perspective is misguided.

We normally value the ring, necklace, bangle etc. We worry and take care to preserve and embellish their shape and utility. The shape is the noun in our speech. Their real substance, gold, is just a ‘changeable’ adjective in our syntax – a golden ring, a silver bangle etc.  Advaita points out to the misplaced accent in that. It tells you that the variable form is NOT the real thing. Gold is the true substance of value. It is more appropriate to talk of ring-y Gold, necklace-y Gold, bangle-ly Gold. Gold is the true unchanging One ‘substance’ while forms are merely changing appearances. brahman is the Gold and all the entities in the world are the varying forms like ring, necklace etc. in the above metaphor.

Advaita does not ask you to destroy the form or act differently. There are no injunctions in Advaita. It’s not a religion with a laundry list of Dos and Don’ts. It only nudges one to let all the action spring from that "understanding" of Oneness as Oneness through Oneness within Oneness after a full realization of the non-existing illusory finite ‘me.’ The Consciousness that you called 'X' is not a crass cold clod of clay, insentient and insensitive. 


Consciousness is the very Life living Itself, ever fresh, always anew and ever in the Now without any claim for the agency (ownership) of action. A river flows. It does not claim ‘I am flowing.’ It does not mind an impediment in its path. It goes around it forever happy and bubbling. If it does not flow, it is no more a river. It just stays as a water pool.

Rupert Spira said in 2014:

"Knowingness itself raises as Attention and appears as thought.
Beauty itself raises as Perception and appears as the world.
Love itself raises as Devotion and appears as the beloved (God)." 

To that I added:
                                                                     
Tranquility itself raises as Equanimity and appears as justice.


An author explains: " Equanimity is even-minded openness that allows for a balanced, clear response to all situations, rather than a response borne of reactivity or emotion. It stresses the importance of balance. A balanced heart is not an unfeeling heart. The balanced heart feels pleasure without grasping and clinging at it, it feels pain without condemning or hating, and it stays open to neutral experiences with presence."  


Questioner:  The Gold is real and the ring, bangle, etc. are not. That is one view. The other view is that the gold is valuable, but so is the ring --- you can now wear as an ornament. In fact, a well crafted artistic ring is much more valuable than the gold, even though its form is temporary. There is an interdependence between the gold and its forms--- just as there is no ring apart from the gold, there is no gold aside from its various manifestations.

Ramesam:  Advaita would want you to carry your inquiry into the dream and deep sleep worlds too and not just stop with the awake world. If you do that, you will see that the POV of 'economics' of the awake world will not work anymore in the other states.

The inquiry also challenges you to inqu
ire into "gold" (or any object) without any form of manifestation.

Just as you say "there is no gold aside from its various manifestations," the above inquiry will lead you to discover that there is no object of any type anywhere aside from " mind."


Questioner:  Why should I enquire into the other states? My questions pertain to the waking-me.

Ramesam:  Our aim in our inquiry is to find the ultimate reality. In order to obtain a full answer, I ought to inquire into all the sates in which a 'me' exists. Otherwise, the result of the inquiry will only be partial. You never experience of an absence of yourself. So we have to find what is happening to the objects we value in the awake state or dream state in addition to what is the meaning of the very word "value" we seem to give importance in the awake state.


Questioner:  Is a human Guru essential for a seeker?

Ramesam:  The traditional Vedantins (TV) believe in the necessity of receiving an instruction only from a Guru.  In the good old days, there were no external storage media for the teaching preserving the correct pronunciation of the words etc. So all transmission of knowledge was through oral means of communication. The students too were taken at a very young age before their brains were fully mature. Such young lads had also to be trained in different fields of education like language, logic, arithmetic etc. The present times are different. The seekers are much older. They have basic education, they are reasonably trained in their ability to critically examine issues with focus and determination and so on. They come with certain level of maturity in the pursuit of inquiry. 

Shri Atmananda, who propounded the Direct Path (DP),
himself did NOT insist anywhere in his own writings about the necessity of a human guru though he did meet in-person his guru - Yogananda. Nityatripta who recorded and reported Atmananda's conversations with the seekers writes that Atmananda sometimes spoke about the importance of a direct contact with a Guru. However, that could more possibly be a reflection of his own slant.

I remember that a question was posed to Nisargadatta Maharaj about the necessity of a human guru. He clearly told the questioner that even the "word" in the book would carry as much effect as his verbal sound even after hundreds of years after he was gone!

One comes across in India
 stories from folklore and the ancient Indian Puranas that tell us how the flutter of a tree leaf, the grunt of a pig etc. worked as "triggers" to evoke the 'tipping point' in a mature seeker.

I concede, however, the presence of a fully-awakened Guru will be highly useful for a seeker to clear his doubts immediately and authentically saving the time of the disciple who, otherwise, may have to spend time in the searching within the storage media (print/multimedia etc).

Other than that, I go perfectly with JK who said that "it is the guru who needs the disciples and not the other way" or something to that effect and also with UG who is known as the anti-Guru guru! 


What is important is the unswerving earnestness and sincerity of the seeker in his/her quest to find the Truth. The Grace is always there everywhere. It may arise in any form as per the need. It appears as though it is the teaching or the teacher coming in search of you.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Two Courses to Advaitic Truth - 2

The Two Courses to Advaitic Truth - 2


  Oftener than not, the "loyalty" factor plays an important role in the philosophical pursuit of the people who are strongly bound by the apron strings of their background religion. Most of them take easily to monotheistic or other dualist philosophies. Those of them who migrate to Non-duality from such a background tend to carry the vestiges of their religious belief structures and amalgamate the same into their Non-dual teachings. The manifestation of the loyalty factor may take several forms with varied grades of intensity -- a servile devotion to the Guru (teacher), worship of a higher power, adherence to elaborate rituals, clinging to a personal deity etc. They would insist that the only way a spiritual aspirant  should proceed is to approach a master, who is well-versed in the scriptures and had realized the ultimate Truth "carrying with him a faggot of wood" and get the initiation only from him (the realized Guru knowledgeable of the scriptures). They deride and despise other forms of obtaining the Supreme Knowledge. They chant and sing rhapsodies and laudatory hymns adoring their favorite Godhead or many other godly forms who can bestow specific boons. They honor tradition, they are conservative in approach, very disciplined and devotional by nature. They entertain an unshakable faith in the concept of 'rebirth.'  They have detailed descriptions of the way how their subtle body travels after the death of the gross physical body carrying the effects of their past actions in the form of 'tendencies' along with it. They firmly believe in the 'Theory of karma.'

[Interested readers may see here my essay on the "Infirmities in karma theory":  Click ]

The ending of "the cycle of births and deaths" is 'Liberation' for them. It is bondage to be subjected to "the cycle of births and deaths." Hence a created world and 'birth and rebirth' occupy an important place in their approach. They have many prescriptive dictates to be rigorously observed placing themselves at the center as the "Doer" of those practices. They hope to be rewarded from a meticulous implementation of the stipulated methods. Their initial goal is to achieve the most subtle world called 'brahma loka' as a result of performing meritorious deeds and strict observation of the rituals. The Lord Brahma is expected to reveal to the eligible seeker the final Truth whereby he/she attains the Self-realization. Thus Liberation, they hold, can be attained in a progressive manner. The followers of this system use frequently a mantra, a deity or some such prop for repetitious daily rituals and once they get habituated to it, they experience its tranquilizing effects. There is a danger that some of the seekers may mistake that sort of happiness itself as the ultimate and be lost in a "comfort zone" they may etch for themselves and begin to deify the prop used by them. [Sometimes it is also possible that the seeker may get into a dependency syndrome on the guru and be attached to the guru or in worse circumstances it can be a mutual dependency of the student and Guru with one another - a symbiosis of sorts. ]

I will like to call them as the followers of the Religious path.  "Devotion"  and a Master - slave attitude is firmly believed and expected to lead them gradually in progressive stages to the final Non-dual realization. Almost all of the persons who claim to be the followers of "traditional Vedanta" can be put in this group.

The traditional Vedantins subscribe to the view that the three states of awake, dream and deep sleep we go though in our daily life are not real and the three states appear and disappear on a background which never disappears and is constantly present behind them as their substratum. The unchanging substratum is called as the Fourth (in Sanskrit, turIya). turIya is said to be the true nature, the Ultimate Reality unavailable to the mind and inexpressible in words.

The traditional system is mostly in vogue in India and is also claimed to be followed by many of the organisations that promote traditional Advaita through their centers in a few of the developed countries. 

What is to be noted is that the Advaita teaching does not invoke or need a God. Even if a reference is made to a God as a provisional statement in an argument, not a moment is wasted in declaring that 'you' yourself  are that God!  In the words of the well-respected Advaita scholar, Shri V. Subrahmanian, "In the method of Advaita Vedanta, theism is only a means and not an end. Theism is a starting point for spirituality and the transcending of theism is the end of spiritual process. Thus, the Vedanta introduces (adhyAropa is the technical term) God concept and portrays God as the cause of the observed world. Its intention is to turn the aspirant’s mind away from the world where she is engrossed and fix it in the Creator-God by enabling the aspirant to appreciate the glories of this Creator-God. Here comes the role of worshiping the God who is attributed with omniscience, omnipotence, etc. Once this is accomplished, the work of Vedanta is to take the aspirant further to the point where the creator-concept is dropped, the created-universe idea is dropped (apavAda) and the aspirant-consciousness alone is the all-important one, being unnegatable, undeniable. This consciousness is shown to be the infinite, free of body-mind apparatus. Thus theism is not the end of Vedanta.” [Emphasis added by me.]

We find that the sequence of creation mentioned in different Upanishads is not uniform. Creation is described in multiple ways. The main purpose of the various Upanishads "is not in establishing a real creation but only to teach us about the One 'Creator', brahman.  In other words, the creation shruti-s (scriptural statements) are only an upāya (means) to drive home the idea of the Sentient Cause, brahman, but not in the reality of a created universe."  Shankara tells us that the gist of Upanishadic teaching is essentially that "nothing is ever born; there is no cause for birth." It is also said that the purported teaching about the Laws of karma is only to nudge the dull-witted towards true Vedantic understanding.

Advaita Vedanta is not a system that teaches approved and prohibited observations to be practiced. It does not have a list of dos and don'ts. It is not about changing the world or working towards self-improvement. Advaita is an inquiry into the incontestable really real Reality, the Ultimate Truth. Advaita equips the seeker with a few time-tested tools to enable him/her to conduct a bias free inquiry, verifiable by oneself through one's own experiential understanding at each stage of the inquiry. It does not lay out a "path" proceeding by which the seeker is guaranteed to reach a goal.

The inquiry into Truth begins with an analysis of one's own experience. The two principal components of all experiencing are: the "I,"  the experiencer and the object that is experienced. So two simple questions launch the seeker on the course of his/her Self-investigation: "Who Am I?" and "What is this world that is being experienced?" This is what I would like to call as the logical or analytical stream.

The 20th century Advaitin trio Atmananda Krishna Menon, Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj popularized this method of approach which is christened as the "The Direct Path." It was Atmananda who gave the name "Direct Path."  The seeker is upfront made to realize the hollowness of the commonly assumed presence of a 'me,' a touchy-feely solid entity, living somewhere inside the body-mind. Next s/he is shown to be not separate from or different from what is perceived around, including his/her own body-mind. When this is firmly ingested by the seeker, s/he has to work towards bringing about his/her body-mind to be fully aligned in this understanding in its day to day functioning. The followers of the Direct Path consider that the awake and dream worlds are two modulations of the Deep sleep and the experience they have in the Deep sleep itself is their true natural position of Happiness. Thus, for them, turIya and Deep sleep are one and the same.


We see that The Direct Path of Advaita is spreading fast and has become quite popular in the Western countries.