Advaita Vision


Advaita for the 21st Century

Questions and Answers
Dennis Waite

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How to Meet Yourself cover   The Book of One cover  Back to the Truth cover  Enlightenment: the path through the jungle

Read extracts from and purchase my books: For beginners to Advaita - 'How to Meet Yourself (and find true happiness);
For intermediate Advaita students - 'The Book of One';
For advanced students - 'Back to the Truth: 5000 Years of Advaita'.
For a comparison of teaching methods in advaita - 'Enlightenment: the Path through the Jungle' .

Q. I understand that no realised man has written a book, when realised. In your view is this correct? And if so, why would this be?

A. Shankara and Ramana both wrote books subsequent to realisation. Whilst it is true that there is only the Self in reality and this is obviously known by the 'realized man', ignorance obscures this truth for 'other individuals'.
(jIva = Atman + avidyA upAdhi)

There will always be the need for knowledge to remove the ignorance from the 'other jIva-s' to reveal the already existing, non-dual Atman. If the nature of the body-mind of the now realised man was to teach or write, existing prArabdha saMskAra will dictate that he continue to do it following realization.

Thoughts and Reality, satyam and mithyA:

Q. (Andrea) Do thoughts create our reality? I have played with this for years and watched how 'my' thoughts created my so-called reality. Can you explain?

A. You use the adjective ‘so-called’ reality, regarding your thoughts so you obviously appreciate that the ‘true’ reality is not something that is at all relevant to your thoughts. It was, is and always will be the only, non-dual reality before the Andrea body-mind-personality was born and after it has died.

So who you really are (the non-dual Self, reality, Brahman, God, Absolute or whatever you prefer) is totally unaffected by any of that. At the level of appearances however, i.e. Andrea, the world and others, this Self is presumably identified with a body and mind and the mistake is made that ‘I AM this body called Andrea’. Whilst this error continues to be made, there will be the belief that you are limited by this body-mind. To this extent, the world of Andrea will appear to be your reality. If there are thoughts of fear, you will say ‘I am afraid’ and your world will become very small. If you are in love and your heart opens, all will seem well and the world very large and full of happiness.

So yes, you are right, in the normal state of man and woman our thoughts effectively create our reality. But this normal state is one of error, mixing up real and unreal and resulting in our effectively living out a dream.

Q. I understand that everything is a concept, that all that is really here is consciousness, god, brahman, whatever the label. And yet, isn't the mind also consciousness? Isn't the whole idea to witness the concepts, know that if they are coming from consciousness that there is some truth to them as well, and yet it is not the whole truth? Therefore having the non-attachment to the concepts...for example I play a lot with Vedic astrology and have yaj~na-s (large puja-s) performed for me... incredible experiences with both, and I know that I am just playing, having fun, opening more to the awakening...and these practices are not the ‘whole truth’. Does this make sense? Perhaps you have more to add to this?

A. The only sensible purpose for the presumed person must be to discover who they are, to realise the truth, to understand the nature of reality.

Practically all of the words in the above sentence should really be put into quotation marks, in recognition of the fact that they are concepts and, as such, do not correspond with the way things actually are. The fact of the matter is that we cannot 'under'-stand reality, we can only stand 'as' reality. It is only the mind or ego that seeks, that wants to reach somewhere and get something. And the mind and ego are nothing more than concepts themselves so the whole idea is a non-starter.

Yes, the fact of the matter is that all 'things', including concepts, are nothing but Consciousness but until this is directly realised, we are in the position of the man seeing the rope but thinking it is a snake.

The Sanskrit word for 'truth' is satyam and this is also the word for reality. The only reality is brahman. Everything else in the world, including concepts, is mithyA. There is no English equivalent for this word.

The metaphor that is often used to explain it that of clay and pot. The clay exists before the pot is made. Whilst the pot is in use to hold something, it is still clay. And after the pot has been broken, the clay is still there. Advaita defines ‘real’ as being that which exists in all three periods of time (past, present and future), so that it is only actually the clay that is real by this definition. Yet whilst the clay is in the form of the pot, it would not be true to say that the pot does not exist. Clearly it has some reality but it cannot be described as real according to the definition. But neither is it false, since we can use it to carry water about, while the clay can almost certainly not. Its reality is entirely dependent upon the clay and, moreover, it is always clay and nothing but clay whether it is in the form of the pot or not. The pot has a 'dependent reality' and is said to be mithyA.

Similarly, the world did not exist a few billion years ago and will be swallowed up by the sun in few more. The reality upon which it depends is brahman. Brahman exists before during and after the world. The world, whilst it exists is nothing but brahman. Brahman is the only reality; the world is mithyA. And the same with concepts, emotions etc.

So, change the small 'i's in your question to big ones and say 'I am just playing... having fun', meaning I brahman, and you will be right!

Watching the thoughts and feelings:

Q. Do you mean it literally when you say that you just sat and watched/observed? In such cases, one must still be "thinking," correct?

A: You imply that thinking is somehow bad. But thoughts simply arise in Consciousness. If you have ever tried to ‘think’ a thought, you will find that this is not possible. What actually happens is that the thought comes and THEN you say ‘Hey, I just thought that!’ But in fact there is never any ‘thinker’, in just the same way that there is no ‘doer’. Every ‘thing’ is just the non-dual reality, partially obscured by the limiting idea that there is an ‘I’ somewhere involved in all of this – there isn’t. In the case of thinking, there is an identification with the idea that there is an ‘I’ who thinks.

Q: What about feelings? Can they be observed in the same way?

A: There is effectively no difference between perceptions, feelings and thoughts. All of these appear to awareness in exactly the same way. We are aware of a chair apparently out there, a pain apparently in here or a thought. Direct path teachings do not differentiate between them – Francis Lucille calls them all ‘mentations’.

Q: Is this watching of thoughts and feelings of value to a seeker?

A: Having said there is no ‘I’, it follows that there is no ‘seeking’ (who would do it?). There is no enlightenment to be gained or received as a prize at the end of a process of seeking. However, contrary to what some modern teachers might tell you, preparation and practice ARE needed. This is not for the individual (since there is none) and not for a result (‘you’ are already the Self) but in order to remove the ignorance that obscures the truth of the matter. Remove this apparent ignorance from the apparent individual and you are left with the Self, non-dual Consciousness, which is then realised (in the absence of the ignorance) always to have been the case.

Watching our thoughts etc. is valuable to the extent that it allows us to appreciate that we are not the thoughts or feelings. If we can see them, we cannot be them. But it is the knowledge that is gained form the practice that is of value, not the practice per se.

Faith and Religion:

Q: What is the practice of Advaita Vedanta?

A: Advaita (Vedanta) is not really something that one practices; it is rather a particular method of 'teaching' the non-dual truth.

Q: Does the Vedanta tradition ultimately rely on faith? And if this is the case, what keeps Advaita from being a religion rather than a philosophy?

A: As regards faith, this is required to a degree but the nature of this is similar to that of trusting someone whom you respect. If a close friend gives you instructions for travelling from A to B, you do not ask whether or not you should have faith in their directions. You trust them implicitly and follow them without question. When it comes to trusting the words of sages such as Ramakrishna and Ramana Maharshi, there is even less reason to question them. The ultimate authority is the shruti, the Upanishads, whose words have been validated time and again by such sages over the past several thousand years.

The literal meaning of religion is 'to bind back (to the truth)', from the Latin re-ligare. Therefore, Advaita is literally a religion. However, as with many English words, the original meaning has become distorted over time so that we now associate with the word 'religion' all of the dogma and misunderstanding that has overlaid the original statements of whichever religion you care to consider. If therefore you understand this 'modern' meaning of the word, then Advaita is not a religion.

Free Will and Behavior of Realized Men:

Q: What is your view about "free will" and the position of Ramesh Balsekar saying we are mere puppets on a string (the body-mind mechanism)?

A: The teaching of Advaita regarding the existence of free will (or any other topic for that matter) really depends upon the current level of understanding of the student. For one who believes that he or she is a separate person, Advaita teaches that it is possible to exert self-effort in order to discipline the mind, acquire self-knowledge etc. and ultimately attain liberation. As you know, the ‘bottom line’ of Advaita is that everything is brahman and you are that. There are no persons who could choose to do anything. The world-appearance is simply the ever-changing form of the never-changing reality. So, clearly, in the end the concept of free-will is meaningless. Apparent individuals are just following a chain of cause and effect at the level of the appearance.

Even ignoring the Advaita, it is possible to see that within the appearance you do not actually exercise free will. The experiments of Libet and theory of Daniel Wegner suggest that the feeling of having chosen to do something only occurs after the action has been set in motion anyway. Thoughts arise and actions happen and that is the most that can be said. Unless you can choose to originate a thought, you are logically forced to acknowledge all of this.

Q: Do you have any comments concerning the (sex/money) behaviour of Ramesh as it was discussed at InnerQuest?

A: The question of the behaviour of so-called ‘realised men’ can actually be viewed in much the same way. The ideas that they should obey certain standards of morality can only be ideas, along with the standards themselves. Again, the bottom line is that there are no realised men because there are no men. This is all part of the appearance.

However, I assume that this question is intended to be taken at the level of appearance only. So-called enlightenment is the deep realisation of the truth of the teaching of Advaita. It is now known that there are no people, that every ‘thing’ is simply name and form of the non-dual reality. But these names and forms continue just the same after ‘realisation’ as they did before, i.e. action and reaction according to their prior conditioning. Now an additional tremendously significant factor in this cause-effect nexus is the knowledge that ‘all there is, is brahman’. There is no ‘I’ and nothing to achieve, nothing that I could want and so on. It might be expected that this knowledge would override all of the trivial desires and fears that were present before. Accordingly, it might be expected that the so-called ‘realised man’ would not be affected by these in quite the same way as he might previously have been. So, in each ‘individual’ case, all of the various causes act as before to produce the particular actions. Whether or not the knowledge overrides the previously conditioned tendencies depends on their relative strengths.

Ultimately, of course, none of this matters in the slightest. (Incidentally, if you want to read some of the ideas that helped lead to this understanding, see my discussions from 6 years ago.

If you want to ask a question, and do not object to its being included in this section, please email me.

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012