Advaita Made Easy
Either way, the attachment remains to a 'persona', and the heart-felt surrender to the Infinite that is the one thing that is required for Liberation is avoided. True peace is not attained, and the seeking continues. Otherwise, they can lead us in circles, seeking, seeking, seeking, and only staying in the same place, like a dog chasing its own tail. If we are not careful we not only waste our time but also become elitist and just keep developing a more and more sophisticated ' spiritual ego'. Many elements of the ancient Yoga and Tantra were passed on in great secrecy to preserve them intact.
Even the teachings that were passed on in written form always contained a reminder of the importance of personal guidance from a Master teacher. Today, the Yoga and Tantra that can be found tends to be incomplete, and at best diluted, at worst it is totally misunderstood, distorted and even dangerous. I nstead of empowering teachers to first develop the inner sensitivity and to awaken the subtle and and the potent life-forces, they are simply given 'systems', procedures, sequences, etc..
Yoga and Tantra require that we do not only follow systems and sequences.
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What is required also is a profound humility and a 'listening' to the guidance that comes from the intelligence of the Life-force. We've all heard that 'God' is within. In Yoga and Tantra too, it is said that the guru is within. However this doesn't just mean, follow 'your own path', without an adequate guide. It means remember that the guide is only taking you to a place that you already have within.
The guide is a reminder of who you are. Because Shakti is the guide that is always with us - the true guru. It is said in the traditional teachings that Shakti leads us to Shiva - that Kundalini Shakti is Guru. Nowadays people hear 'Shakti' and 'Shiva' and think only of the 'Tantric female' and the 'Tantric male' in the context of exotic sexual games. The Shakti that leads to Shiva is the awakened life-force, flowing naturally, without blockages, opening the energy-body, expanding the consciousness, leading to divine awareness.
Without this key process, we don't truly have Yoga or Tantra. A true understanding of the Liberation teachings of Advaita - not just theoretical, but experiential - also requires this inner process. Advaita has become, like Yoga and Tantra, popularized and diluted, taken out of context. Many teachers of Advaita in the past were also Yogis or Tantric adepts. Shankaracharya himself - the consolidator of the Advaita tradition in ancient times - taught about the Kundalini Shakti in the Yoga Tharavali. Sri Ramana Maharshi's great life-long disciple Ganapathi Muni was a Tantric adept, and through his Tantric practice together with his teacher's guidance he experienced the Ultimate Union - Self-Realization, or Liberation.
But, while science proved to be marvelous at investigating objects — indeed its methods became synonymous with being objective — it was found to be useless regarding our subjective lives. It has been entirely unable to tell us who we are, why we are here or what we ought to do. Though there are many books written on the subject of consciousness for example, which is fundamental to our perception of ourselves, there is little in the way of consensus about what it actually is. Most scientists believe that consciousness is somehow generated or imagined when a certain level of complexity of life is attained.
Modern western society inculcates the idea of the supremacy of the individual in an ethos that is materially, rather than spiritually motivated. When the important problems of life arise — What is the purpose of my life? How can I be happy? Who am I? We are unique and only I can say what is important for me. Unfortunately, this is so far away from the truth that it is hardly surprising that the approach fails completely. Hence it is that there is increasing dissatisfaction with life, increasing moral turpitude, lack of concern for others and so on. What is needed is some spiritual authority that does not contradict either science or our own experience and which does not require faith, in so far as that is understood in connection with traditional religions.
These sources do exist and some discover them. Zen Buddhism, for example, has been popular in the west for the past few decades. Taoism and Sufism are two others, with which readers may be familiar. One which is less well known, but is even more logical and scientific in its approach, is Advaita. Access to the Vedas is the greatest privilege this century may claim over all previous centuries… In the whole world there is no study so beneficial and so elevating as that of the Upanishads.
It has been the solace of my life and it will be the solace of my death. Schopenhauer quoted in Ref. Advaita Vedanta is a philosophy that was systematized in India around the eighth century AD by someone named Adi Shankara. In fact, the essence of the teaching had been around for very much longer than this, being based upon the material contained in the Upanishads. The Upanishads are a part of the sacred Indian texts called the Vedas, written around BC, though they are said to have existed in spoken form long before this. Some evidence suggests this may have been prior to 6, BC, with the written Sanskrit alphabet — Devanagari - in use in BC in western India.
The Vedas consist primarily of hymns and rituals relating to the various Gods of what came to be the Hindu religion. The Upanishads are mostly found in the final sections of the Vedas, which are also called Vedanta i. They summarize the philosophy underlying these practices and it is from them that Advaita derives. It is a non-dual philosophy, which means that in reality there are not two. This is the literal meaning of the word Advaita — a meaning not, and dvaita two. This is an alien and apparently meaningless concept to most people at first hearing and I will not attempt to elaborate further at this point.
Suffice to say that, if you have not met it before, you will hopefully be persuaded that it is literally true by the end of this book. The actual Devanagari script will not be used, however, except in the Glossary, since few readers are likely to be familiar with it. Instead, they will be shown in ITRANS format, which is explained in Appendix A, along with a presentation of the alphabet and a guide to pronunciation. The glossary provides a definition of all of the Sanskrit words used in the book.
Sanskrit words will always be shown in italics. The names of Indian teachers and characters from the scriptures will usually be given in their English or Romanized version, since this is the form that is most often encountered.
Thus Shankara will usually be written as shown rather than the correct form — shaMkara - and Gaudapada rather than gauDapAda. In the case of the titles of scriptural texts, both forms will be encountered. This section is included so that the terms will be understandable when encountered later in the book. But it is also of interest to know where Advaita fits into the complex of systems that comprise Hinduism.
There are six philosophies, which can be separated into three groups as shown below, representing the three divisions of orthodox Hindu philosophy. Its traditional originator was Gautama in the 3rd Century BC. It was so called because the system goes into all physical and metaphysical subjects in a very logical manner. The word literally means relating to number and refers to the reckoning up or enumerating of the 25 tattva-s or true principles. It is a dualistic system concerned with the liberation of the spirit puruSha from the bonds of creation prakRRiti.
It is closely related to sAMkhya and its practices bear some relation to Buddhism. It is associated with the philosopher Jaimini, supposedly a pupil of vyAsa regarded as the original compiler of the Vedas. Its founder was bAdarAyaNa , who authored the brahmasUtra -s. There are three main schools:. The sources of this teaching, then, began with the Upanishads. Over the centuries which followed the writing down of those scriptures, other important works, which interpreted or attempted to summarize them, followed.
Amongst these, perhaps the most famous is the Bhagavad Gita, the Song of the Lord. This is a book whose importance to the Hindu religion is on a par with that of the Bible for Christians. It forms the central part of a much larger, epic poem called the Mahabharata. At the level of the story, it speaks about the crisis of confidence, facing the prince Arjuna, as he faces his old teachers and members of his family at the start of a great battle in which most of them will be killed.
His charioteer is the lord Krishna and the Bhagavad Gita tells of the conversation in which Krishna persuades Arjuna that it his duty and destiny to fight. It is, of course, very much more than this, effectively using the essence of the Upanishadic philosophy to provide guidance to the ordinary person as to how to live his or her life. Aldous Huxley refers to the Perennial Philosophy and summarizes his understanding in his introduction to the Bhagavad Gita:.
First: the phenomenal world of matter and of individualized consciousness - the world of things and animals and men and even gods - is the manifestation of a Divine Ground within which all partial realities have their being, and apart from which they would be non-existent. Second: human beings are capable not merely of knowing about the Divine Ground by inference; they can also realize its existence by a direct intuition, superior to discursive reasoning.
This immediate knowledge unites the knower with that which is known. Third: man possesses a double nature, a phenomenal ego and an eternal Self, which is the inner man, the spirit, the spark of divinity within the soul. It is possible for a man, if he so desires, to identify himself with the spirit and therefore with the Divine Ground, which is of the same or like nature with the spirit.
The principal book that attempts to explicate the actual philosophy of the Upanishads is called the Brahmasutra. Commentaries have been made by various scholars and their interpretations have not always coincided. In addition to Advaita, two other main branches resulted, one of them dualistic dvaita , associated with the philosopher Madhva and the other qualified non-dualism vishiShTAdvaita , associated with the philosopher Ramanuja but Shankara, in his own commentary bhAShya , brilliantly challenges and demolishes all interpretations other than that of Advaita.
Further to these three sources, there have been other classics that have become frequent reference works for students of Advaita. A number of others are very well known, many of them being attributed to Shankara, though the authorship is sometimes disputed. That the authorship is uncertain is understandable since loss of ego accompanies the gaining of understanding at this level and there would be no interest on the part of such a person in attaching their name to what was believed to be a pointer to absolute truth.
In the past hundred years, there has been a resurgence of interest in Advaita in the west. This has been associated with a number of specific Sages a Sage is someone who has had direct realization of the truth regarding the nature of reality. Ramakrishna — is possibly the teacher most responsible for increasing the popularity of Advaita in recent times, with missions now operating throughout the world. His principal disciple was Swami Vivekananda — , who toured the world with the aim of uniting all religions, the underlying truth of all of them being realized in Advaita.
Amongst seekers in the west, however, Ramana Maharshi — is perhaps the most famous of all latter-day sages, having influenced so many modern teachers, as well as writers such as Paul Brunton and Somerset Maugham. And Atmananda Krishna Menon - , not so well known as yet, was one of the most logical.
He was well educated and held a high position in the police force. Today, it is principally the disciples of these sages who tour the world giving satsangs and seminars. A satsang is a gathering of teacher and students in which the teacher usually gives a short presentation, which is then followed by questions and answers. Traditionally, the knowledge that gives rise to enlightenment is passed down from teacher guru to disciple through the ages. Of course, it is possible for this knowledge to arise spontaneously, or in response to some ordinary or life-threatening event, but habit and our attachment to conventional modes of thinking make this very unlikely.
Nevertheless, there is a relatively new class of teacher, growing in popularity, which denigrates this traditional approach. They insist that there is nothing that can be done to attain this knowledge; that in truth there is no seeker, nothing to be sought. There is no realization of a person because there is no person. Reality is now — this is it. This method of teaching has become known as Neo-Advaita, from the Greek neos , meaning new. In fact, the essence of what these adherents say is extremely old, not differing from classical Advaita. The differences lie in their descriptions of the world-appearance and in their style of teaching.
Advaita is Simple
Although there are differences between it and Traditional Advaita, I have ignored these for most of the book, which is aimed primarily at a western audience. More is mentioned about this in the final chapter, on Teaching Methods, by which time the subtleties of the differences will be better appreciated. Other sources, especially any of Indian origin, may use these terms interchangeably to refer to the Vivekananda teaching. The expansion of the Internet and its rapid integration into the modern world as the principal reference source has meant that a wealth of information on Advaita is now readily available to everyone.
Teachers advertise their services and make available extracts from their books and satsangs. Organizations such as those of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Chinmayananda provide schedules of their meetings. Even Indian temples describe their facilities and give historical details of their development.
Many scriptures are now directly downloadable in both original Sanskrit and transliterated form with many different translations and commentaries. Finally, the most basic and the most abstruse questions that challenge spiritual seekers are discussed on Email groups by students from beginner level to the most advanced.
The reader should note that any given section may quote extracts from several different teaching methods. Although the essential truth is always the same, care must be taken to note the source so as not to confuse them! There are two major problems with the explanations from some of the sources. The first of these is that the original documents, i. Few westerners understand Sanskrit. Accordingly, not only does the text have to be understood and explained, it first has to be translated.
If it is being translated into English, the writer has to understand both languages well. But it is even worse than this. There are many concepts in the traditional philosophy that have no direct equivalent in English and, of course, the words were originally directed at a society that differed drastically from our own. Thus it is that the only person really able to communicate the wisdom of the Vedas is someone who can read Sanskrit and speak English fluently, is as familiar with the ancient Hindu concepts and way of life as he is with those of western society and ideally is already enlightened.
Needless to say there are not many such people around!
- From the Heart. My Autobiography.
- Advaita Made Easy on Apple Books;
- Advaita Made Easy | Advaita Vision.
That this can cause very serious problems is highlighted by Stanley Sobottka Ref. The Bhagavad Gita is a practical manual for karma yoga , describing how we should act in our lives. Chapter II, Verse 47 tells us that we should only concern ourselves with the action itself and not worry about the outcome.
We should not do something because we want a particular result, nor should we be attached to inaction. But, says Sobottka, Ramesh Balsekar interprets this to mean that there is no free-will and work merely happens spontaneously. A quite contrary interpretation is provided by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who says that you have control over action alone, never over its fruits. As Sobottka points out: Any translation will inevitably convey the message that the translator wishes to convey. The second major problem is that, intrinsically, it is not possible to describe reality in any sense.
As will become clear later in the book, who we truly are is the ultimate subject, that which is effectively dreaming the universe. Obviously, this subject can never be treated objectively — otherwise it would not be the ultimate subject. Thus it is that teachers have to approach the truth obliquely, using stories and metaphor, even resorting to half-truths as a step along the way to understanding. What is half-truth and helpful to one student may be nonsense and distinctly unhelpful to another.
It is the perennial problem of the teacher to be able to judge where the student currently is in his or her understanding and lead them onwards from there. This is why a living guru is really needed, so that questions may be asked and answered face to face. When we read a book, or even listen to a tape recording of a lecture or dialogue, we are receiving only a particular viewpoint, aimed at a student of a particular level. It may resonate or it may not. Even the method of expression is crucial.
Whilst one person may appreciate logic and intellectual analysis, another may need sympathetic reassurance and practical guidance. Some benefit from the crutch-like support of a personal God, others from the karate-chop of a Zen koan. Ultimately, the truth is one and everything else that might be said is only at the level of appearance, using a language that is necessarily objective and dualistic.
What is needed is a teacher whose words and style click with our particular mental conditioning. This book aims to present excerpts from traditional and modern teaching in a wide variety of styles, in the hope that something will click. It is also apparent that many modern teachers are diverging from or even shunning the traditional scriptural sources. This is in keeping with the tendency of individuals in modern western society to want results now , to want to hear the bottom line and avoid preparatory material, especially when it may be admitted that this is only provisional anyway.
Many students are no longer interested in studying the Upanishads, which are often alien to the western mind, and most of them certainly do not wish to learn Sanskrit. Thus it is that many of the teachers themselves are also in this position. What this means, unfortunately, is that a background understanding of the ultimate claims of Advaita is often lacking completely and there is a grave danger that students will have the experience but miss the meaning as T. Eliot puts it in his Four Quartets Ref. Many teachers today seem almost to be providing more of a psychotherapy session through their meetings than a spiritual unfolding of the truth and, unfortunately, this seems to be effectively what many of their students are looking for.
But that is not Advaita. These differences in approach are compared and contrasted and the intention is to provide a balanced view of the best of the teachings that are available from all of these sources, which include:. Other Teachers and writers - Monica Alderton, A. Gangolli, David Godman, Dr. Krishna Warrier, Prof.
Krishnamurthy, U. Harsh K. Luthar, Swami Madhavananda, Sachindra K. Padmanabha Menon, Jock Millensen, A. Parthasarathy, Dr. Radhakrishnan, Anantanand Rambachan, Prof. Sadananda, Ranjeet Sankar, S. Subramanian, V. Advaita is about discovering who we essentially are. It is not about establishing the well being of who we think we are. Therefore the reader will find nothing in these pages about self-improvement the Self is already perfect and complete , or about becoming healthier or wealthier such things relate only to the body or person and we are not those.
The world and our seeming place in it have little relevance to any of these discussions, as will be explained. The overall format of the book will be such as to present a logical development of the philosophy of Advaita, beginning with who we seem to be and the problems that we appear to have, and proceeding to an explanation of our true nature and that of the world and reality. Extracts from the above sources will be used to help explain all of these aspects and the final chapter will specifically look at the assumptions and styles of the three main teaching approaches — Traditional Advaita, Direct Path and Neo-Advaita.
At the end of each chapter, there will be a short summary, in which I will attempt to provide bullet points of the key topics that have been covered. Science may have relegated religion to the status of superstition but it has failed to answer the fundamental questions of life.
Teaching Advaita is difficult because of the need to interpret scriptures for a modern western audience and because Truth cannot be known, only pointed to. We are completely unaware of our true nature because we identify ourselves with our body, our emotions and our thoughts, thus losing sight of our unchanging centre, which is pure consciousness.
When we return to our true nature, our thoughts and perceptions no longer appear as modifications of a single substance, they come into being and subside like waves of the ocean. Advaita is a supremely logical philosophy. There are a number of systematic procedures or methods, called prakriyA -s in Sanskrit. Each of these begins with our actual experience here and now, not asking for us to believe in anything that contradicts that experience or to put our faith in Gods that are entirely beyond it. Thus there is a sRRiShTi prakriyA to discuss the nature of creation and an analysis of the relationship between cause and effect, the kAraNa-kArya-prakriyA — these will be looked at in detail in Chapter 7.
There is the avasthA-traya-prakriyA to analyze the three states of consciousness — see Chapter 6.
See a Problem?
The function of these methods is not to learn about the topic of the method but to see that the topic is misconceived. Thus, in examining creation, we discover that there has never been a creation. The net outcome of all these investigations is the realization that there is nothing other than Brahman. In this chapter, we look at the most fundamental of these methods — the discrimination between the seer and the seen, the dRRigdRRishya—prakriyA , in order to discover who we are not. There appears to be me here while you and the table are over there — clearly the appearance of separation.
We can appreciate that we are not the objects that we see — we go out of the room and can no longer see them but we continue to exist. Likewise, we are not the other people that we see. But the same argument extends to our own bodies and senses — we can each lose bits of our bodies and even go blind or deaf, yet we remain.
Similarly, we are not the thoughts or emotions, which come and go. We are not the mind — we continue to exist even when its operation ceases during deep sleep or under anesthetic. Even the I-thought is just that - another idea. The only constant aspect in all of this is Consciousness, so that is what I must be - not an object but the ultimate subject. But I can never describe it because everything that I might use in such a description is itself an object of Consciousness and has therefore already been negated. There is thus a process of negating all of those aspects that we think we are, until what remains and cannot be negated must be the real Self.
A special phrase is used to describe that process. It is called the seer-seen discrimination dRRigdRRishya-viveka. This is the title of a short book prakaraNa grantha attributed to Shankara , which opens with the following statement:. The form is perceived and the eye is its perceiver.
It eye is perceived and the mind is its perceiver. The mind with its modifications is perceived and the Witness the Self is verily the perceiver. But It the Witness is not perceived by any other. The exercise that is usually associated with it is to exclaim not this, not this with respect to anything that we perceive or think we might be — " neti , neti " in Sanskrit. Probably the oldest known occurrence of this expression is in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.
It acknowledges that no direct description of truth, of who we really are, is possible. These mahAvAkya -s together contain the ultimate purport of the entire Upanishads. All other sentences are called avAntara vAkya -s — intermediate statements, which may only be true in an empirical sense. Brahman is what we truly are but is beyond description. Now therefore the description of Brahman : Not this, not this. Because there is no other and more appropriate description than this Not this. Now Its name: the Truth of truth.
The vital force is truth, and It is the Truth of that. This self is That which has been described as Not this, not this. It is imperceptible, for it is never perceived; undecaying, for It never decays; unattached, for It is never attached; unfettered — It never feels pain, and never suffers injury. Direct translations of the Upanishads are frequently difficult to appreciate without further explanation. Swami Krishnananda provides helpful commentary on the last verse:.
You can only say, what it is not. You cannot say, what it is. It is not the body; it is not the senses; it is not any one of the prANa -s; it is not even the mind; it is not the intellect. What else it is? You do not know. If anyone asks you, what is this essential Self in you, you can only say; it is not this; it is not this. But you cannot say, what it is, because to characterize it in any manner would be to define it in terms of qualities that are obtainable in the world of objects.
The world of objects can be defined by characters perceivable to the eyes or sensible to the touch etc. But the Atman is the presupposition and the precondition of every kind of perception. It is the proof of all proofs. Everything requires a proof, but the Atman does not require a proof because it is the source of all proofs. And therefore, no one can define it; no one can say, what it is. It can only be inferred, because if it were not to be, nothing else could be. So, it can be said to be capable of definition only in a negative manner as "not this, not this, neti neti Atma.
This Atman is defined as not this, not this, or not that, not that, not in this manner, nothing that is known, nothing that is sensed, nothing that is capable of being expressed by words, nothing that is definable, nothing of this sort" etc. What it is, no one can say! It is impossible to grasp it through either the power of speech, or the power of the senses, or the power of the mind. The notion that I am the body is the most basic identification.
This is quite understandable when I am ill, since pain and discomfort have a tendency to disrupt clear thinking. But spending vast amounts of money on the latest fashions so that I look beautiful or even more money on injections or surgery to try to counteract the aging process, ought to make us wonder whether something has gone wrong with our thinking. The body, after all, is nothing more than the food that we have eaten, reprocessed and reconstructed into a new form.
And the scriptures are quick to point this out in no uncertain terms, as in the Narada-Parivrajaka Upanishad :. If one were to take delight in the body, which is a conglomerate of flesh, blood, pus, feces, urine, tendons, marrow and bones, that fool will be delighted in hell as well.
The attitude I am the body is the same as the path leading to the hell… Ref. It is through the body and senses that we enjoy the apparent objects in the material world and this is the grossest level of identification to which we are prone. Shankara describes it as follows, in the Vivekachudamani:. This material body, which arises from past action out of material elements formed by the combination of subtle elements, is the vehicle of sensation for the individual. This is the state of a waking person perceiving material objects.
The life force creates for itself, out of itself, material object of enjoyment by means of the external senses - such colorful things as flowers, perfumes, women, etc.
Back To The Truth: 5000 Years Of Advaita
That is why this has its fullest enjoyment in the waking state. Even for a moment do not think that you are the body. Give yourself no name, no shape.