I must admit that I am a bit confused when you are writing a book about the shortcomings of the neo-Advaitans and yet list quite a few of their books in your Recommended section, including those of Sailor Bob, Francis Lucille, Nirmala, John Wheeler, etc.
Perhaps I have missed something, but this appears to me to be a contradiction.
Do you recommend living teachers in your E-Book? It's a very confusing spiritual scene out there today. There are hundreds of teachers, including Buddhist, Tibetan Buddhist, Sufi, Nondual, etc. and it would be impossible to check out even a small number of them.
As they say, "When the student is ready, the teacher appears." Perhaps I should stop looking for a teacher as it has been a very frustrating and disappointing processs.
A: The teachers you mention are not neo-advaitins (by my definition). Francis Lucille is Direct Path, which is very different. The others you mention are what I call ‘satsang’ teachers. Sailor Bob and John Wheeler actually belong to the Navnath sampradAya through Nisargadatta Maharaj, although they do not teach according to any traditional method now. Nevertheless, I do also recommend books by teachers such as Leo Hartong and David Carse, who are neo-advaitins. The reason for this is that I acknowledge the value of all these books as pointers to non-duality. If reading a book such as one of these alerts the reader to the possibility of a non-dual reality and sets them off on a path towards discovering the truth, then they have served their purpose. I also prefer to let readers make their own decisions about which ‘path’ to follow. I will certainly indicate the dangers and suggest what I believe to be the better routes but, in the end, it is for each seeker to decide for themselves.
The EBook (which I will send in a following email) is only about 10% of the actual book, to be published in August. It does not specifically recommend any teacher. What is does do is suggest that no satsang based ‘path’ is likely to lead to realization at all. Only a traditionally based, prolonged course of teaching, given be a realized teacher who is a good teacher and is fully conversant with the proven techniques of the past thousand years is likely to provide that. In the west, the only sources I am aware of which can do this are Swami Dayananda and his disciples, the Chinmaya Mission and The Philosophy Foundation. (Note that I only have any knowledge of advaita teachers. I do not know anything about other traditions.)
I’m afraid I don’t believe in the teacher ‘appearing’ when the student is ready. It is rather that the continued probing by the seeker eventually finds the connection. But I do agree that the search can be very frustrating.
Q: Not discounting your fine work and the clarity with which you present it... the question of whether or not neo-advaita can "deliver the goods" makes exactly as much sense as the question of whether or not the sound of a lark can.
A: That sounds like a typical neo-advaitin comment to me! The bottom line is that the problem is self-ignorance and only self-knowledge can dispel that. Sounds of larks (or neo-advaitin 'truths') will never provide self-knowledge. Let me know if you want a copy of the E-Book.
Q: Thanks for, and as regards to, your reply...
You know, I think the bottom line problem is, rather, the in(effing) effability of it all.
That said, I'm wondering. . . in what realm do the words ONLY and NEVER, which you have so freely used, really function? The Relative? The Ultimate? The Linguistic?
Really, I am only writing out of a sense of bafflement as to the expenditure of energy being given to trying to discredit what has been tagged "neo-advaita." What's the point? Do you think traditional advaita is threatened? Seekers will never stop seeking. Those who are exposed to neo-advaitic ideas and remain unsatisfied will likely run in droves toward more path-oriented teachings. Seekers of truth aren't likely to feel they've reached the end of the search when only the intellect has been convinced. If they do, then they weren't really seeking the truth in the first place. Worried about confusion? Isn't confusion one of the great motivating forces in the search for truth?
"Typical neo-advaitin comment" indeed! (!) It almost sounds like a dirty word!
I do not believe that the sounds of larks provide self-knowledge. (Did you really think that's what I was saying? My point was just the opposite, the notions of sequence and cause being absent.) When there is unobstructed hearing of the lark's song, the concept of self-knowledge is rendered non-sensical. (Does that sound too neo- advaitic? Too zen? Too true?) It may be that my choice of words here is technically unsatisfying, but you get my drift.
Yes. Please send me your e-book. Even though I read some of the endorsements, I'm hoping that the path through the jungle involves more than just obliterating a few wild orchids along the way.
Thanks again for all of your good work and the time you took to respond to my e-mail. Feel free to classify any of my questions here as unanswerable.
A: I can now see that you have given serious thought to the difficulties and intransigent problems inherent in talking about all of this stuff (rather than simply making clever, throw-away remarks, as many who support the neo-advaitins do). Now that you have revealed that you know what you are talking about, I withdraw the 'typical neo-advaitin comment' comment!!
I am really not trying to discredit neo-advaita as such. All I am trying to do is to pin it down as an attempt to achieve the impossible (namely describe the way 'it really is') and to point out to its many adherents that it is not in the remotest sense a teaching method that is likely to bring about enlightenment. There is no doubt that many seekers are severely frustrated (and even occasionally suicidal) as a result of taking on board the non-teaching of neo-advaita and it is to help them that I wrote the book.
To answer your questions: the words 'only' and 'never' apply to the relative realm, as all words necessarily do. That is where we all find ourselves and the aim is to realize that it IS only relative and that the (indescribable) reality is non-dual.
Traditional advaita is not under threat. It has survived for over a thousand years because it works. Neo-advaita is a flash-in-the-pan which will fade away when it is discovered that it doesn't.
You are right that confusion (and, even more so, suffering) is a great motivator in the search for truth. But surely you cannot be claiming that it is ok for a supposed teacher of truth to add to that confusion?
Regarding your expansion of the 'lark singing' remark, this seems to highlight the other major concern in the new book about what is meant by enlightenment. It is not an experience, e.g. of being totally in the present and at one with nature etc, with no concerns or thoughts and so on. Experiences begin... and end; enlightenment is irrevocable. What it is (according to traditional advaita) is the event in time, in the mind, when the last of self-ignorance is cleared and there is full self-knowledge. The mind is said to 'take on the form of the undivided reality'.
Interesting discussion. I like your style of writing, too - do you want to write an essay for the 'Discourses by other teachers and writers' section? As long as the topic is advaita, you can say what you like - I won't censure it!
Q: I have enjoyed reading your books and I am intrigued by the questions raised in my mind by the extracts of your new book. I get the sense that you feel that the ubiquitous “neo-advaitins” are leading modern would be j~nAni-s down the primrose path. Is it really true that Sanskrit syllables have special inate vibratory power, not possessed by most other languages? Or could it be possible that the books “Nothing Being Everything” or “Emptiness Dancing” could be the Astavakra Gita 1000 years hence?
I am trying to familiarize myself with the Advaitic teachings of the Vedas and the treatises of Shankara but the talks of the modern (so-called sages) are very seductive. What to do?
Thank you for your efforts to bring clarification to this area of utmost importance.
Please let me know how I can go about obtaining the current publication of “Enlightenment: The Path Through The Jungle”
I think you’ve tickled the tiger.
A: The situation is rather (as I see it) that there are many seekers out there who genuinely want to discover the truth but are finding only frustration or worse as a result of visiting various satsang teachers or reading their books but I certainly would not presume to claim that the neo-advaitins are merely cynically taking advantage of this
Sanskrit is by no means a sine qua non of good teaching. Its value is simply in that all of the historical classic works in traditional advaita were written in this language. Many of the words are still used simply because there is no equivalent term in English and a good teacher wants to avoid the danger of a student understanding a word in the way he has always misunderstood it rather than in the way that will point towards the truth.
My belief is that many of the modern works can alert one to the possibility of a non-dual reality but, if you want systematically to undermine all of the erroneous beliefs built up since birth and introduce a certain knowledge that ‘all there is is brahman’ and ‘I am That’, then the best option is a prolonged course of traditional teaching by a qualified traditional teacher.
The book itself is due to be published in August. The E-Book contains around 10% of the total material. I assume you want a copy so will send it in a following message (it is 5MB).
"I believe that each of us is a separate entity, but none of us has the real power to do anything. I am an ego, you are an ego, but the difference is, Ronald's ego thinks he is the doer of his actions, but my ego is totally convinced that no one is the doer, neither me nor you.." (p.252)
"Therefore, what can we do? Very simple. I accept that basically all there is, is the 'I' and so long as the 'me' is there I live my life thinking and doing whatever I think I should be doing at any moment and leave the 'I' to itself. Forget the 'I'. Live my life with the one understanding that whatever happens is what the source does. I am not the doer." (p.265)
Balsekar 'admits' very directly (and pretty boldly!) that to him Advaita is just a belief, or a philosophy, making life a little easier (for the ego) by removing sin and guilt from the equation (by removing the personal responsibility for ones actions). Is that really what Advaita is all about? Has Balsekar totally misunderstood, or is he just more 'honest' than most teachers?
A: This is an excellent question and voices concerns that I think will have been felt by many. Ramesh is generally recognized as one of the greatest living sages - after all, he is only ‘one step down’, as it were, from Nisargadatta – but it has to be said that it is statements such as the ones you quote that are likely to give advaita a bad name! The sense that is carried by them, to those who may not be as ‘enlightened’ as Ramesh, is just as you say; namely that we can ‘do what we want’ as long as we believe that it is not really ‘me’ who is doing these things.
This is not what advaita says. The point is that, once we reach the stage where we truly know that there is no separate self (i.e. once we have complete self-knowledge or are ‘enlightened’), we also know that there are no ‘others’ either. We know that there is *only* the Self. Accordingly, we have total compassion/empathy for so-called others. We also no longer have any vested interest in the outcome of any action. Nothing can ever make any difference to the unlimited fullness that we now know ourselves to be. We may still have desires (these are the result of so-called prArabdha saMskAra) and we may even act in such a way as to fulfill them (providing that this does not impact adversely on others) but it matters not whether the result is in accord with that desire or not. So the ‘wants’ that the enlightened have cannot be compared with those of the unenlightened.
Secondly, the doctrine of ‘no free will ’ is not one that is generally acknowledged by traditional advaita. On the contrary, it is said that, although the scope for our actions is limited by past karma, we do have scope for modifying our behavior. The metaphor of a boat on a river is often used. The current of the river acts on the boat regardless but we may use the oars or a motor to try to counteract that current. Often the current is far too strong and our limited free will counts for naught but it is still there. It is only when we (try to) speak of the absolute reality that it has to be said that there is no such thing as free will because there is no one to have it.
This idea that there is no one to act, no free will and therefore no responsibility is one of the most dangerous ideas to have been taken up by neo-advaitin teachers. It runs completely contrary to traditional advaita by failing to recognize that, at the level of the world (apparent though it may be), people exist as separate individuals who act and interact. It is intrinsic to the whole process of seeking on a path and eventually becoming enlightened. This process cannot be bypassed by attempting to deny it before the mind is ready. As you say, these false ideas effectively license the ego to do whatever it wants. This is, of course, completely contrary to what advaita is really about.
Q: Thanks for your fast and thorough answer. You don't say it directly, but I guess the answer to my question whether Ramesh is a genuine 'enlightened' teacher, is a 'no'. But somehow I respect his honesty. Contrary to many other teachers he doesn't claim to be 'enlightened' in any traditional or mystical sense. He acknowledges that it's all just a concept, and that he is centered in his mind/ego, just like (most) other people.
Lots of teachers out there seems to believe they are 'enlightened'. How can I know whether it's for real or not? Isn't it perfectly possible for someone to believe, beyond any doubt, that he/she is 'enlightened', when in fact it's only the mind playing its games? Is there any objective criteria to determine whether a person is 'enlightened', such as for example constant awareness, also during the sleep?
A: I appreciated that this question was behind the others but did not wish explicitly to answer it! The fact of the matter is that, no, there is no objective criterion for determining whether or not a teacher is enlightened. And ideas such as constant awareness in sleep are just that - ideas.
But enlightenment is not a concept. Enlightenment equates to self-knowledge, and the 'final' self-knowledge is an event in the mind of a person. Outwardly, everything remains the same. That person continues to (apparently) act in the world just as before. The difference is that it is now known by that 'person' (who now knows that he is not the person) that there is only the non-dual reality, despite all the appearance to the contrary. There is no problem in admitting enlightenment, providing that the person(s) to whom it is admitted understands what is being said.
You can pretend to be enlightened, it is true, but knowing with irrevocable certainty is not the same as believing or pretending. The mind is the means but not the end. Once enlightened, the mind is said to take on the form of the non-dual reality. There is no question of playing any more.
It seems to me that unless mAyA has a context there is a piece of the puzzle missing. It must be a truth that we are all born in an enlightened state but such is the attachment power of mAyA that we are under the spell of the illusion before we are able to rationalize and exert any apparent control over the function of the mind. However I have the proof with my own children that if you are sensitive to the fact that we fundamentally feel our way into this world and help them to come to terms with the crude communication that is words, it manifests in them staying more in touch with their true selves. In this way it seems to me that mAyA must have a context otherwise everything we do or say in this world is an irrelevance. Also how do you reconcile the changing behavior of "enlightened" individuals with an irrelevant mAyA? It maybe that I am confusing a neo v traditional advaita principle but it also seems to me that there cannot be any fundamentally meaningful difference between neo & traditional advaita.
I look forward to hearing an answer to my simple question. I'm 224 pages into Back to the Truth - an impressive tome. I've read Rinpoche, McKenna, Roach, Katz having arrived there out of curiosity rather than a feeling of emptiness or despair. I think I am somewhere along the path without knowing precisely where. I'm intrigued, though ultimately not bothered, by the seeming lack of retro-engagement possibility of the enlightened state. Why is it that when you know you cannot maintain a meaningful role within mAyA? My children have opened my eyes and I hope to continue to be helpful and relevant to them for as long as I draw breath. I believe there is work to be done to enable more people to genuinely access the truth but the state itself appears to work against the individuals desire or ability to communicate better for others.
A: Enlightenment is not a state; it equates to self-knowledge and is effectively a permanent disposition of the mind. It is one of those modern myths that we are born enlightened. According to traditional advaita, we are ‘born’ (at the relative level of the world) because of past karma and because we are *not* yet enlightened. (Of course, at the absolute level, no one is ever born because there are no individuals and no creation; there is only the non-dual reality.)
Given that we do seem to be in a world of separate people and objects, mAyA is the ‘force’ that is postulated to provide an interim explanation of what is going on. It goes along with Ishvara, who wields the force, and all of the jIva-s, who are subject to it. But it is only an interim explanation. As our understanding grows, traditional advaita provides successively more subtle explanations and withdraws the previous, course explanations. In reality, mAyA is just as false as every ‘thing’ else. So, the simple answer is that the context of mAyA is vyavahAra; in paramArtha, there is no such thing.
When enlightenment occurs, all of this is known as unarguably true. Nevertheless, just as the sun still appears to rise and set, even though we know that it is the earth rotating around the sun, so the world, with its objects and people continues to appear just as before. The enlightened man knows that everything is just name and form of brahman but he continues to play his role for the remainder of his life. Indeed, the role is played better, knowing that who-he-really-is is totally unaffected by the seeming appearance.
For the unrealized, whose ‘context’ is vyavahAra, everything is relevant – vyavahAra *is* the reality. There is the possibility of seeking, finding a path and a teacher, gaining self-knowledge and becoming enlightened. For the realized, all of this is mithyA – an appearance of brahman and simply a game to be enjoyed, with no winners or losers. This is mAyA.
The problem with neo-advaita is that it denies the existence/relevance of vyavahAra and tries to ‘impose’ the absolute reality upon ignorant and enlightened equally. This is not helpful!
Not sure what you mean by ‘lack of retro-engagement possibility’. It seems you are implying that, for the realized man, the world disappears somehow. This is another one of those myths. As noted above, everything continues as before; it is just now known to be mithyA. Having been previously confused himself, the realized man has compassion for those seeming others who are still confused and he is perfectly willing to help them. The extent to which he will be able to do so successfully will depend on his teaching skills and knowledge of appropriate methods etc. Your last question: “Why is it that when you know you cannot maintain a meaningful role within mAyA?” seems to be missing something.
The Advaita terms need translating in a glossary at least.
It would be helpful to have more on the different views of the term ‘enlightenment’ from your point of view, maybe, and the misuses of the term – but there are different views and much confusion.(I’d never claim to be ‘enlightened’, even if I thought I was – who knows exactly what it means?) Also, how does enlightenment relate, in practice, with morality (given some moral relativity to being human e.g different beliefs, customs, laws and cultures)?
I still found Tony Parsons helpful, though not in isolation, and have no need to hear him again. The Advaita teachers I know of are Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta, who are both excellent. Who is a good, living Advaita teacher, nowadays?
Zen Buddhism seems closely related to Advaita – I believe they have a common ancestor in Shankara. Look at the Diamond Sutra. Non dual is beyond all words, beliefs, doctrines and separate religions.
A: Thanks for the comments. Most of them are covered in the book itself – the extracts E-Book only contains about 10% of the total. There is a comprehensive glossary of the terms. There are many pages of examples of incorrect and correct views/usage of ‘enlightenment’ (according to traditional advaita) and the relevance of practice and morality are also dealt with. I didn’t want to address ‘good’ and ‘bad’ teachers in the book. Instead, I aimed to present the objective criteria and let readers make up their own minds. I actually think that most teachers are not aiming to delude/defraud/exploit etc. but I think that the combination of a) being enlightened; b) being a naturally good teacher; c) being familiar with the proven techniques for teaching is fairly rare. The best living Advaita teacher that I have encountered to date is Swami Paramarthananda.
I know very little about other traditions. What little I know of Zen suggests that it may bear some similarity with modern attempts to teach advaita, aiming for a sudden paradigm shift rather than a systematic removal of self-ignorance. But I don’t see how Shankara can be thought of as an ancestor. Shankara is the epitome of the traditional approach (since he effectively devised it!) Yes, of course the non-dual reality is itself beyond words or teaching. But conversely, the seeker is in vyavahAra and all teaching is necessarily dualistic. What is often overlooked (always overlooked in the case of neo-advaitin teachers) is that vyavahAra *is* reality for the seeker, since he or she has no appreciation of mithyA.
Q: I enjoyed your 'Book of One' and began to see some things in there that were new to me in a sense. At the end of the book, you mentioned the 'Direct Path', though this does not seem to be something that I would be interested in following at present, maybe later. I will be moving on and purchasing 'Back to the Truth' soon. Is there any particular way to look at this book or is it something that should just be incorporated into my practice; just a book to enjoy? The three paths of yoga, that you have mentioned in 'Book of One' are where I am at and am very pleased with them, along with the meditation practice twice a day. Although, sitting for a half hour is a really difficult thing to do!
A: Glad you enjoyed BoO. It ended with Direct Path really because that was ‘where I was at’ at the time. As it transpired, although I found Sri Atmananda’s ‘Notes on Spiritual Discourses’ (free download from the website) to be very good, I eventually settled with the traditional approach epitomized by Swami Dayananda and his disciples as probably being the best for most seekers.
'Back to the Truth' was intended to cover all of the essential topics in Advaita in some depth and uses extracts from other teachers/writers/scriptures so as to give the reader a very wide exposure to lots of different sources. They can then pick and choose those which resonate. You can just dip in anywhere but I did try to organize it all in a logical way so that front to back reading is probably optimum. I hope that the book does actually convey some real knowledge so that it will actually ‘move the reader along the path’.
It does deal with practices but it must always be remembered that practice is for mind preparation and does not in itself bring about enlightenment. shravaNa, manana and nididhyAsana are the true ‘practice’, acting directly to bring about self-knowledge (which equals enlightenment). Meditation is certainly valuable in helping to still the mind and giving a measure of mind control. Indeed, it is possibly the best practice, so stick with it! It does become easier. When I was a student with SES, we were supposed to get up immediately we awoke and meditate for half an hour. If it happened to be 3.00am so be it! The optimum times are supposed to be sunrise and sunset, when sattva is at its natural peak. Anyway I kept it up for quite a number of years (10+?) and the benefit was clear. Ideally, you should have a mentor to whom you can talk about your experience – someone who has a number of years more experience of meditation than yourself. For example, it is very easy to get the idea that ‘there must be no thoughts’, when in fact thoughts are inevitable – you just have to learn to see them and let them go, not allowing the mind to run with them.
First of all, is it possible to "set down clearly,
reasonably and unarguably the facts of the matter"?
What is the Truth? I think Wittgenstein would not speak
a single word on this, nor would Buddha or Lao Tse.
Is methodology a must? Do I love my children because of a methodology. Do the Eskimos, the aboriginals etc. follow any methodology?
Do I need to study arts to enjoy a beautiful painting or the science of wine to enjoy a bottle of wine? A dog can be happy without any teaching method because he is here and now! People are first of all looking for happiness, not for the truth says Ramana, says the Buddha.
What is the difference in reading a book from Shankara and reading a book from a modern satsang teacher? Where do I find a qualified guru?
Is it because the scriptures are old that they can claim the final authority? Are more advaitins enlightened than neo-advaitins? Are you enlightened?
The nature of things is evolution. The science of the mind is evolving, so why not the science of the heart? Is real knowledge coming from the mind or from the heart? Knowledge from the mind is indirect knowledge. Knowledge from the heart is direct knowledge. Silence is the non-dual way of the heart and reason is the dual way of the mind.
I think nihilism is a way of thinking but cannot be a way of living.
I believe yoga can be a path to start with, depending on the spiritual level of the aspirant, but the final teachings are like the focus on "Who am I?" or "I am".
As a last comment, I believe it to be confusing that quite a lot of the material on your website is yet about satsang teachers?
A: What a lot of questions! I will have to start charging! :- )
What is truth? I assume you are referring to the non-dual reality, called ‘brahman’ in traditional advaita? In which case, the answer is easy – brahman has no attributes and, since we can only describe attributes and not the ‘thing-in-itself’, the question is essentially unanswerable. This is why Wittgenstein would not say anything. “Whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must remain silent.”
As you go on to say, all ‘definitions’ are relative. This is necessarily the case since every ‘thing’ takes place at this level – both our ignorance and our enlightenment.
Teaching is a progressive and a skilled pursuit. You cannot teach quantum mechanics to someone who doesn’t first have a thorough grounding in math and physics. So, equally, with spiritual teaching. You can tell someone outright that ‘you are That’ but without lots of ‘grounding preparation', they are unlikely to make much of it. The ‘grounding preparation’ in a systematic manner is what I mean by ‘methodology’ and, yes, I believe it is required. Such things as loving your children are ‘programmed in’ – they do not have to be taught. Not sure what you are getting at with Eskimos. I’m sure their parents teach and demonstrate no end of things. The ‘methodology’ may not be written down but I guess an alien might observe, take notes, and write a book if so inclined.
Art and wine may be appreciated. I’m sure they are better appreciated when the subtleties are explained by someone more knowledgeable. But I don’t know what point you are making. Dogs may be happy but can they be enlightened? I agree that most people are looking for happiness. They may find it and it may even last… for a time. But only the truth can take you beyond happiness and unhappiness.
The difference between reading a book by Shankara and one by a modern satsang teacher is that you will probably understand the latter. (Yes, I did say ‘latter’!) But neither is likely to bring enlightenment on its own. A qualified teacher can, in time, provide all of the pointers needed to bring about self-knowledge. You can find one in India (almost certainly, though apparently it is becoming more difficult!). Disciples of Swami Dayananda teach in USA and India and there are Chinmaya Missions scattered around the world. There are undoubtedly other sources but they do not always advertize!
The shruti are ancient, yes; passed down by word of mouth through enlightened men for a long time before being written down. Their authority lies in the fact that the knowledge of what they essentially say (that ‘all there is, is brahman’ and ‘thou art That’) cannot be obtained in any other way (apart from direct realization). The ways in which they explicate these truths have been used successfully for thousands of years by traditional teachers.
Neo-advaitins have only been around for 10 – 15 years. Numerous people claim to have been enlightened through their ‘methods’ but, reading what they have written in their own books must cause one to doubt these claims. But who knows?
Every sensible person who writes about non-duality is very wary of stating whether or not they themselves are enlightened because the understanding of what is meant by this term varies so widely. You tell me what you understand by it and I will give you an answer.
“The nature of things is evolution,” you say. No it isn’t, I say – the essential nature of things is brahman. Evolution is simply changing forms at the level of appearance. I don’t know what you mean by ‘science of the heart’ or ‘knowledge from the heart’. Knowledge takes place in the mind. The heart is a physical organ for pumping blood. In some old texts, the word ‘heart’ was sometimes used because the mind was believed actually to be in the heart, rather than (as it is believed today) in the brain. There is an extensive section in the new book talking about direct and indirect knowledge etc. Please hang on until it comes out!
Regarding your last point about material on the website, here is what I said in (part) response to an earlier question on a similar theme: “Nevertheless, I do also recommend books by teachers such as Leo Hartong and David Carse, who are neo-advaitins. The reason for this is that I acknowledge the value of all these books as pointers to non-duality. If reading a book such as one of these alerts the reader to the possibility of a non-dual reality and sets them off on a path towards discovering the truth, then they have served their purpose. I also prefer to let readers make their own decisions about which ‘path’ to follow. I will certainly indicate the dangers and suggest what I believe to be the better routes but, in the end, it is for each seeker to decide for themselves.”
Q: I've been studying non-duality for some years now, and Advaita for the past two. I've read your books "How To Meet Yourself" and "The Book of One". I'm on my second reading of the latter. I asked this similar question of other authors on the subject and did not really get a clear answer. Could you please help?
My question concerns good and evil, right and wrong. As I understand it from the Advaita point of view these opposites don't exist. Is there no way to determine what is right and wrong?
Is anything that happens ok? Is Mother Teresa no better than Hitler? I know these questions have probably been asked many times. I understand that there is no "I" for these things to be of concern to, but still, they are a concern, at least for now.
Does nothing really matter? If a man driving down the street sees an injured child on the side of the road, does it make no difference morally if he helps the child or runs over that child? How can I look at moral issues like these and say that it doesn't matter?
Maybe there is no "I" to look at it, but doesn't it matter somehow? These are the ideas I've got from the readings I've done in Advaita. Maybe it's the wrong impression.
I read somewhere once that above the human level of right and wrong is 'absolute right'; above the human level, good and evil is absolute good, but we just cannot see it because of the illusion. Does Advaita see it like this? Your answer will be very much appreciated.
A: Your difficulty, as with most questions in advaita, is caused by failing to differentiate the point of view. The purpose of philosophies such as advaita is to point you towards an appreciation of the essential non-dual nature of reality. However – and you must never lose sight of this – the world always continues to appear, along with separate objects and people. Post enlightenment (when you have gained self-knowledge), you will know that this appearance is only name and form of the essentially unchanging, limitless One, just as bangles and necklaces are name and form of the same gold.
So, you need to decide at what level you are asking your questions. From the absolute standpoint, all is brahman. Nothing can ever be affected by anything else because there are not two things. But from the relative standpoint, there are people, subject to happiness/unhappiness, pleasure/pain and so on. Suffering *is* not knowing that there is only brahman! Until you are enlightened, you are very much in the world. That is your reality and you are forced to live by its rules. Indeed, according to traditional advaita, part of your preparation for enlightenment involves acting unselfishly, not harming others, living a moral life etc. All the opposites do exist at this level and, if you act knowing your action to be wrong, you will incur the lawful penalty (karma).
The term that best helps you to understand this is ‘mithyA’. It does not get much of a mention in Book of One unfortunately (Back to the Truth goes into all of these aspects in much greater detail) but have a look at the definition here. The name and form is always there. Prior to enlightenment, we think that is the reality; afterwards, we know that the essence is brahman. Ideas of ‘right and wrong’ are equally mithyA. In reality they must be meaningless (‘right’ for whom?). But at the relative level, they always apply. Have a look at these other questions, which also touch on this topic – 17, 85, 87 and 100. If you still have concerns, do come back – advaita can certainly give a clear answer!
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