Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

by Dhanya

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Question and Answer (posted on the Advaitin Group)

Q. How can we use this intellectual understanding in a way that results in humility, innocence and purity of mind-heart?

A. Namaste. Although I'm sure there are other members, much more learned than I, who can address your concerns, I will try to write out a response which your post elicited from me.

As is said in the Bhagavad Gita, 'the one who has sraddha (faith pending understanding) is the one who gains self-knowledge.'

Many who write on this list [Advaitin] must have that same sraddha (IMO), and it is also my surmise that many who write on this list, no longer need to have sraddha that the teachings are true, because they know that they are true.

Their sraddha, their faith in the teacher and teaching, along with exposure to the teaching, and the grace of the Lord, has 'done the job.'

Their sraddha has fructified into the direct and immediate knowledge of the truth of that which the teachings of Vedanta are pointing out.

So faith (or sraddha), trust that the teachings and teacher are true, helps the student gain knowledge, because sraddha allows the student to stay around long enough, with the right attitude, to discover that truth for him or herself.

But for many here, I would surmise that it is no longer a matter of belief, but rather one of direct immediate knowledge.

And this leads into your next question.

Above you are using the words 'intellectual knowledge,' and implying that that is what one is gaining on a list such as this. The word, intellectual, is a bit of a problem, IMO, because actually self-knowledge takes place in the intellect, in the buddhi, not as an idea or a concept, but rather as the direct immediate recognition of the truth.

If one were to replace the word 'intellectual' with the word 'conceptual' in your question, then I think that word might more accurately reflect your concern.

But here's a question in return for you. Is the knowledge which the teachings of Vedanta have to give conceptual, in the form of ideas, or is it actual?

It is actual. It isn't that we listen to the teachings, gain a lot of concepts about what they are saying, and then get attached to our concepts. I suppose that could happen, but that isn't the way the teachings are intended to work.

The teachings are intended to work as a 'pramana,' a direct means of knowledge for the gain of the recognition of your self as atma/brahman, the nondual reality of all that is.

Thus when the teaching is taking place, the mind of the student is guided, as it were, by the teacher, the teachings as a pramana, to directly apprehend exactly what it is the teachings are pointing out.

The classic example often given is a person at dusk being guided by another to see the small sliver of a crescent moon rising at the horizon.

The one doing the guiding starts out by saying, 'See that tree over there? Now follow with your eyes up the trunk of the tree. See that first branch on the right? Follow with your eyes to the end of that branch. Now see the little V shape formed by the two twigs at the end of the branch? Right in the middle of those two twigs, in the middle of the V shape, you will see the moon.'

Now, my question to you is, is the person being guided being given knowledge which is a concept, an idea, or in your words 'intellectual' i.e. away from the facts, or is the person being guided to directly see the moon for himself? To see the exact same thing that the person who is doing the guiding sees?

It is the latter. The teacher, who knows how to use the words of the Upanishads, as a pramana, as a direct pointer to the self, is guiding the mind of the student just as directly as in the illustration above, to recognize the truth, that atma is brahman.

Therefore, in reality, (and ideally) Vedanta isn't giving conceptual knowledge of the subject matter of advaita.

We may gain a lot of concepts along the way. And some of them may be way off the mark. So a good teacher will lead us out of our misconceptions, misconceptions of taking ourselves to be samsaris in the first place, and any further misconceptions which may possibly have been gained as the result of misunderstanding what the teacher is saying.

We all misunderstand until we understand. We all have concepts until we recognize the truth. The purpose of clearing doubts is to clear away all of our misconceptions, so the truth stands clearly revealed.

We can also gain sraddha through clearing doubts, but if the teachings are effective, eventually sraddha itself will give place to moksha.

Then when I 'know' the truth, do I need to believe it, or do I just know it?

If I see a flower held up in front of my eyes, and my eyes are open, and my mind is backing my eyes, do I need to believe the flower is there, or do I just know that it is there?

In terms of the other things which you ask about 'humility, innocence and purity of mind-heart,' these are the qualities which we need to embody in order to gain jnana nistha.

The teachings of Vedanta explain and provide lots of ways to gain these qualities. A person with these qualities is an adhikari, someone whose mind is qualified for self-knowledge.

My teacher would say that we all come to the teachings with enough of these qualities already, or we wouldn't be interested in the first place, and the teachings will take care of the rest.

For some of us, the process may take a longer time, and for others a shorter time, but 'knowledge,' being stronger than any other thing, will win in the end.

So in order to 'hang in there' we do need sraddha and the grace of the Lord, and lots of other things as well. We need to apply ourselves in certain ways.

And on the other hand, I like something I once heard my teacher say, 'the subject matter is sukha (pleasant), the study is sukha, and the goal is sukha.' So we are truly blessed if we see it that way.

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012