An Overview of the SAND Conference by Dhanya
The Conference on Science and Nonduality held in San Rafael, CA in October 2009, was interesting. On the one hand, it brought together some very good teachers and exponents of the teachings of nonduality; on the other, I don�t think it did much to clear up confusion on the subject matter.
For anyone who already understands what the word, Advaita, or nonduality is pointing out, it might have been a lot of fun. But for someone seeking clarification on the topic, the sheer volume of presenters with their various viewpoints was probably overwhelming.
The word Advaita is very popular now amongst spiritual seekers in the West. Despite this popularity, or perhaps because of it, there doesn�t seem to be much clarity about what the word actually means.
Take for instance the first talk which I heard. The speaker began his presentation with a slide show illustrating the teachings of Advaita/Vedanta. The first slide indicated that 'brahman' is the absolute, or underlying reality, and that 'atma' is a part of brahman and equivalent to the individual mind. My heart sank at that point. The speaker clearly had not understood the teachings of Vedanta at all.
In the teachings of Advaita/Vedanta atma and brahman mean exactly the same thing. The whole point of the entire teaching is to aid the student to directly recognize that atma is brahman. That which the mind of the individual had initially and erroneously taken to be one's separate self (atma) is indeed actually seen to be brahman, the reality of all that exists. Atma is not a piece of brahman, not a part of brahman. Atma is brahman entirely, the nondual reality of all things, the self of all that is, in fact the only 'thing' which exists absolutely. The great statement, 'Tat Tvam Asi,' You (atma) are That (brahman), is the subject matter of the entire teaching.
There were, however, some good speakers on the topic: Vijay Kapoor, who outlined the basic teachings of traditional Advaita/Vedanta; Greg Goode, who pointed out a major stumbling block to nondual realization, the sense that awareness is located in the body; Jody Radzik, who spoke passionately on the various misunderstandings which lead a person away from, rather than toward, the recognition of the nondual nature of reality; Jerry Katz, whose enthusiasm on the subject of nonduality was contagious and inspiring; Brant Cortright, who pointed out the psychological problem of spiritual bypassing; Tomas Sander, who carefully built a sophisticated model based on the joyful irony of Western emptiness teachings; Nick Yiangou, who read poetry from the Sufi poet, Ibn �Arabi; and James Swartz, whose hard-hitting style outlined the tradition of Advaita/Vedanta while aiming to counteract some of the notions which popular �satsang� teachers have promulgated on the subject.
So all in all it was an interesting gathering. And yet, did it clear up anyone�s confusion? Did anyone really learn anything? And was that even the point of the conference? In some ways it reminded me of a trade show whose theme was nonduality, and in other ways, it was just a sweet gathering of like-minded friendly people.
I enjoyed myself. Did I learn anything? Yes, I did.
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