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.