Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

The Need for Practice

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(Edited from a post to the Advaita-L list in Sep. 1996. Some readers may note the influence of SES! I also note that, 8 years later, not much seems to have changed!)

I was very pleased to see concern expressed about the lack of practical experience being reported on the list. The ego was very reassured by the response and the quotation to the effect that intellectual knowledge is important. After all, 'I' enjoy it - otherwise why join such a group as this? However, other posts seemed to be construing this as deriving practical value from studying the scriptures in and for themselves, which I feel is missing the point.

The scriptures are not intrinsically of any value. They are like the pole used to lift the jumper to the bar in pole vaulting. They may be of tremendous value to help 'lift' the individual to the 'bar' of self-realisation but, in order to actually leap over to the knowledge of unity, he must leave the 'pole' of the scriptures behind. (If he holds onto them the bar will be pulled down.)

To pursue that analogy a little further however, we would be unlikely to be able to take the pole for the first time and break the vaulting record. We would have to undergo training and considerable practice. So it is, on my understanding, with the scriptures - especially the Bhagavad Gita. This is a supremely practical book and I am sure we are meant to use it as such, not as a text for academic study. Krishna's admonition to Arjuna is to drop all his mental prevarication and to get up and fight. Similarly, we (to whom, after all, Krishna is really addressing his comments) should get up and act.

I disagree with the view that no value can be gained from discussing practical topics. (My wife incidentally would say that in the ten years that I have been studying Advaita, I have become more selfish, single minded and boring; disinterested in all of the usual thing that people do to 'enjoy' themselves'. I could easily choose to interpret this as a compliment!)

Similarly, another poster seems to be missing the point. He expresses concern about his ability to describe his personal experience and seems to despair of the group doing other than it is and implies that 'practical experience' only relates to one's own experience of the Self, gained through meditation or study.

What about the rest of 'everyday life'? There is not just meditation and study. There is getting up, washing, eating, driving to work, working... Advaita is not just an academic presentation of the way things really are, which we appreciate intellectually - think and talk about for part of the time - and then, for the rest (majority) of our lives carry on 'as normal', in the hope that, at some time (life) in the future, we will suddenly actually 'realise' the truth in its entirety. Advaita is (should be) a way of living our lives every moment. It is about letting go of thoughts about likes and dislikes or about results. It is about dedicating our actions to the paramAtman. It is about giving our attention to what is in front of us and responding to each situation as it occurs without thought of past or future. It is about seeing the person in front of us as the Self. It is going about our business from moment to moment in full knowledge that we are not the body or mind. And so on!

All of this is supremely practical and for one to relate a personal experience of how applying this knowledge to an actual situation enabled one to realise a truth not previously fully understood can be of direct benefit to others. This is of far more value in a satsang than mere intellectual discussion over a dry academic point from the scriptures (assuming of course that our purpose is one of 'moving towards' self-realisation, rather than one of satisfying the ego's demand for the fillips derived from intellectual discussion).

Apologies if this comes across as unduly critical but it did seem that these points needed to be made strongly since the thread has apparently died. My own experience is that I seem, for so much of the time, not to apply the knowledge I have acquired to my everyday life. It is as though I spend large parts of my time reading travel brochures and thinking about exotic places but never actually going anywhere. The path to enlightenment for the householder seems to require knowledge, meditation and practice. It does not seem likely that the first on its own, or even the first two alone (assuming that we all meditate for at least an hour each day of course!) will get us anywhere very quickly.

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012