Friday, May 19, 2017

The Role of A Teacher in Teaching Advaita Vedanta

The Role of A Teacher in Teaching Advaita Vedanta
By Dhanya
  
[Dhanya, a fellow-Blogger at Advaita Vision, has been interested in sanAtana dharma and Eastern philosophy since about the early 1970s. In 1973, she traveled to India in search of a guru to guide her on the spiritual path. While there she encountered disciples of Neem Karoli Baba. His teachings of bhakti and karma yoga very much influenced her life from then on. She studied Vipasana meditation, met HWL Poonja, and other advaita teachers like Jean Klein and Sri Ranjit Maharaj. Finally she found a resonance in her current teacher, Dr. Carol Whitfield, a disciple of Swami Dayananda Saraswati. Dhanya has undertaken a deep study of Advaita Vedanta as the means to Self-knowledge with Carol. Dhanya lives in Northern California, and often writes on Non-duality.

I am very grateful to Dhanya for contributing this crisp and highly insightful Post for publication at our Blog – ramesam.]


The Role of A Teacher in Teaching Advaita Vedanta
By Dhanya

In the teaching of Vedanta, we say Vedanta is a 'pramANa' (a means of knowledge) that uses words for teaching.  So we don't go by 'presence of the teacher' or 'transmission' or other things that some in the non-dual scene seem to feel are effective. We just go for pointing out, through words, what the student's own direct immediate experience already is, in order that he or she recognizes it.

So if a teacher uses words as pointers, and we are using those words to point to something that is already 'here,' but isn't here as an object, then those words have to be handled very carefully, and also understood very carefully.

Language is inherently dualistic.  All words point to something that exists in duality.  Even the words 'Atma' or 'brahman' will initially conjure up a concept in the mind of the student. (They certainly did for me!).

So then, how can words, which initially point and refer to objects, be used to point to your “Self” which isn't an object and yet is here to be recognized?

The teacher needs to 'knock off,' or negate, the initial, primary, i.e. usual, meaning of the word prior to using it as a pointer to the Self.  And this requires skill on the part of the teacher, and an openness to understanding on the part of the student.  

Doing this is the first part of the dual process of negation and positive assertion.  Vedanta employs for this purpose various methods which in the end lead to the recognition of 'aham brahmasmi,' 'I am that brahman (Non-dual Existence/Consciousness) alone.'

So for instance with the word 'Consciousness,' the teacher negates from that word all the ideas and definitions one has around it, as well as negating all the other concepts one has about who one is.  

Once the 'initial' meanings of the word have been knocked off through negation, then the teacher introduces what is called 'the secondary meaning of the word,' or ‘the positive assertion’, and uses that meaning to point to the Self which one already is (conscious/being).  

It might be better to first talk about is-ness or existence, rather than beginning with an explanation of the word consciousness, as everything obviously has is-ness and the ‘consciousness’ part may not be always evident. Even something that doesn't exist has is-ness conceptually, whereas in one's initial understanding of the meaning of the word 'Consciousness,' not everything has consciousness.

Many people know about the negation aspect of the teachings--the neti, neti, 'I am not this, not this.'  But many do not know about the 'positive assertion'-- how words are used to point out “THAT” which one truly is.

The teacher needs to be skilled to know how to do both the negation and positive assertion.  I think that some in the modern non-dual scene think that once everything you are not has been negated, what you are, naturally kind of pops up, or automatically gets revealed. I have heard such statements from modern Western Non-dual teachers.

But Vedanta would say this is not so--that the positive assertion--the pointing to That which you are--is as important to the recognition of 'aham brahmasmi' as is the negation of what you are not.

IMO, the interesting thing is the 'consciousness' which we initially assume to be a product of the body/mind, and different from everyone else's consciousness, actually is Non-dual Consciousness.  


So a teacher needs to know how to use words to negate from the student's mind the notions about all that he or she is not; and then, using words again, point out that the Existence/Consciousness one takes oneself to be, minus the 'overlay' of the individual body mind, *is* the Non-dual. 

(Courtesy: Kathy Moffitt)

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