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 have been listening to the various talks on yogamalika.org. These are very powerful. I enjoy them as well, but it is very difficult to follow all the ideas of the tattva bodha. I have four questions:

  1. Is this something that one can expect to 'get' overnight or is this something that is manifested over one's lifetime ?
  2. Can following the principles given by the talks at Yoga Malika be important as far as enlightenment or gaining knowledge or removing ignorance is concerned? 
  3. Can listening to speakers on Vedanta in all forms be a substitute (for the time being) for the voice of a teacher, until I find one?
  4. Am I even doing all of this seeking in the 'right' way from what you may know of what I have written so far?

A: You really cannot expect to understand everything and gain full self-knowledge instantly. The scriptures say that it takes many lifetimes! But even optimistically, you can expect to continue learning for many years. I don’t know which ‘principles’ you are referring to at Yoga Malika. When you are learning with a traditional teacher, ‘mind preparation’ and ‘gaining of self-knowledge’ tend to go hand in hand but it is the pointers to truth that bring about enlightenment, not the practices. When you do not actually have a teacher, any reading / listening / discussion is likely to help. Doing this, you will undoubtedly pick up ideas that are not useful but, providing you keep an open mind and always use reason to question everything you read/hear, you should eventually get to the truth – it will just take much longer. From what you have said, it does sound as though you have the right attitude. You probably no longer have any choice about pursuing this (head in tiger’s mouth and all that) so just be patient!

Q: One thing I was wondering ... why do you have links to some of the "neo-advaitins" like Tony Parsons on your site if you don't really rate what they are doing ? Or does this imply they have some value ?

Another musing... on reading "Be as you are" transcripts from Ramana Maharshi (who seems to be thought beyond reproach), some of the things he says sound to me very like what some of the "neos" say - but that might just be me of course !

A: A few other readers have made the comment about the links from my website. This was one of my responses: “I am really not trying to discredit neo-advaita as such. In fact, you will see from my website that I highly recommend the books by Leo Hartong and David Carse, for example. 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.”

One potentially good thing about any book by a neo-advaitin is that it just might alert the reader to the possibility of non-duality being the reality. If it did, when this was not there to begin with, it would have served a valuable function. As long as one is aware of their severe limitations, neo-advaitin books/satsangs may also be interesting and conceivably useful. It is even theoretically possible that they could bring about enlightenment for an already advanced seeker. The problem is that the majority of seekers do not fall into any of these categories.

You are right about Ramana Maharshi. He was not a traditional (sampradAya) teacher. He spoke from direct experience/knowledge rather than utilizing the traditional methods. Coincidentally, I have just had an extensive discussion on the Advaitin list about the claim that Ramana ‘taught through silence’ (which I refuted). There is a whole raft of today’s satsang teachers who have been influenced by him, although he did not authorize anyone to ‘take over’ from him. Many of these have incorporated his teachings to some degree into their own approach so it is inevitable that you will see many correspondences.

Q: I read so much on websites and in books saying that nothing matters.

From the level of brahman, the relative level has no meaning.  Let's say I become enlightened or realized,  will there be any concern for apparent others, or will I turn my head and not care?  From all I've read I know there is no "I" with a head to turn, but does brahman care?  What is the unconditional love that is spoken of so much if not brahman?  I want to care, even if the "I" is false, and therefore the 'want' is false.

A: Once enlightened, a person knows that there are no others in reality. But he/she also knows that this was not appreciated before and is not appreciated now by the vast numbers of seeming others. Accordingly, it is natural for there to be compassion/love for these seeming others and this has been seen to be the case for all jIvanmukta-s.

Q: (Continuation of Q119) Herewith you find some clarification to my former mail:

Sri Siddharameshwar teaches to focus on 'I am" whereas Sri Ramana teaches to ask the question "Who am I?" Do you call this also a methodology, a progressive and skilled pursuit?

Referring to the example of the programmed love for our children, I believe the "path" from ignorance to enlightenment is also somehow programmed in the lIlA of Brahman. Why should there be any difference regarding the experience of the non-dual reality? Since the "path" from ignorance to enlightenment has also been programmed  this "path" should forcibly lead to enlightenment (the experience of the non-dual reality)!

My point about the Eskimos is that maybe there is no Eskimo-shruti, which would be a quite unfair handicap for those guys.

The point about wine and art is that according to my experience they can be fully appreciated without studying with a teacher. Using a manual while I am drinking a glass of Champagne would not improve the experience.  I would even say that it could hamper the fullness of the experience and appreciation. Again, why should this be different for the experience of the non-dual reality?

To me, enlightenment means the complete  realization of  the non-dual reality as Brahman (sat-chit-Ananda), beyond happiness and unhappiness.

So, could you be my qualified teacher?

Concerning the science of the mind, I mean that this science is suited for the study of the "outer world" whilst the science of the heart is suited for the "preparation" towards "enlightenment". By "heart" I am just referring to "intuition" which takes you "beyond" the limited knowledge of the brain and which is needed to experience non-reality. What is your experience?

A: Ramana’s ‘Who am I’ teaching is a technique, not a methodology. A methodology incorporates many techniques so that a skilled teacher may select whichever one is appropriate at a given time for a particular student and those techniques/metaphors etc are graded to provide a beginner-to-advanced capability. Ramana’s one-off technique is given to all, regardless of their present level of understanding. (Note that I am not criticizing Ramana or suggesting that the technique is not valuable.)

From where do you get the idea that one’s spiritual path is ‘programmed’? If you do nothing, nothing will happen. Effort has to be made in a direction which is contrary to our habitual behavior.

You say there is no Eskimo-shruti but there was no English shruti either until relatively recently. If there was the interest, I’m sure someone would translate and publish relevant texts.

I disagree about the wine tasting. Someone knowledgeable can draw your attention to those aspects (tastes, smells, color, transparency) which could easily elude the inexperienced. Even more so with art. But I don’t think this is really a good analogy because in both of these cases, there are actual attributes to be observed. In the case of brahman, there are no attributes. Since we already are brahman, you could ask why there should be any need to observe anything anyway, let alone require a teacher. The point is that, although we are That, we do not know it.

I don’t think it is a viable proposition to attempt to teach formally via email. The written question and answer is too time consuming and any attempt at presenting a topic would be vastly more so. I did offer a one year course locally a couple of years ago but there were no takers. In the UK, it really has to be based in London for there to be lots of interest and I live too far away. So, for the time being at least, I am sticking to writing books!

‘Heart’ as used in advaita is really synonymous with mind. People used to think that the mind was ‘situated’ in the heart. All knowing and feeling takes place in the mind. The heart has nothing to do with any of this. Traditional teaching is always reasonable – although it may sometimes be counter-intuitive. And what do you mean by ‘experiencing non-reality’? Do you mean ‘experiencing non-duality’? If so, when do we ever NOT experience it?! The point is that every ‘thing’ is always non-dual, but we do not know it – it is self-knowledge that is needed.

Q: I am curious to know how you feel about the ‘Secret’ and or Neale Donald Walsh (Conversations with God), or the ‘Law of Attraction’ ideologies?

I guess when I posit the concept that there is no person or individual to desire, create or to even have a life to begin with, since it is all the Life of God, how can a book such as your ‘Happiness’ book be written?

I guess what I am asking is I understand ( I think!) that on the mental and or human level there is the ‘appearance’ of choice, but in ‘TRUTH’ there is none. There is the appearance (if you will) that the above 3 concepts or ideologies have made people happy and abundant, but when I read my Advaita books – it’s all an ‘illusion', since there is no one to be happy or abundant, just LIFE – being abundant or happy.

I guess I still apparently need to ‘understand’ (Nisargadatta word) who I really am!

Does this make sense? I guess I am trying to reconcile these ideas by struggling with “being in the world and not of it” as Jesus put it.

A: I know of these books but haven’t read them. I haven’t even read 'Course of Miracles'. I simply do not have time – I always have half-a-dozen books on the go at any one time with another pile still waiting. (I’ve had a number sent to me well over a year ago that I haven’t yet looked at. Of course, it is always a matter of prioritization and I do not really have any wish/purpose to look into any other philosophy.)

The point that you always have to remember is that, prior to enlightenment, there ARE people, there IS a world and these are REAL. It is only post enlightenment that we realize that these were only seeming reality, that everything is name and form of a non-dual reality. And even then, it all seems to continue as before – not as an ‘illusion’ but as mithyA rather than satyam.<

So, the apparent duality is where we have to start from. All seeking and all teaching is at this level. ‘It is all the Life of God’ is simply a concept in duality. You must not pretend otherwise, especially to yourself. Apparent free will does have its part to play at this level. When you hear ideas such as these, there is an effective choice to ridicule them, ignore them or decide to pursue them. And that decision will have its lawful outcome in due course. And the truth is not about a ‘happy’ outcome but about transcending happiness and unhappiness altogether. There is always an ‘effective’ person (until death) and that person may be happy or unhappy, enlightened or unenlightened. The difference with the enlightened person is that the essential Self is known and is unaffected by any of it. It doesn’t really make any sense to talk about ‘life’ being abundant or happy.

Q: Do you think that it is true to say that only knowledge exists and that there is nothing beyond knowledge?

A: How do you define knowledge? My answer (with my understanding) is that, in reality, only brahman exists. From the standpoint of the apparent world, a person must gain self-knowledge in order to realize that only brahman exists.

Q: Sorry I didn't make myself clear. When I say knowledge, I mean all the notions, names, concepts, ideas, theories which arise as a result of culture, science, religion and philosophy. Even the basic concept of "I am" is just knowledge which you learn as a child.

My question is:  Does that mean that beyond what you learn (knowledge) there is nothing? Or, if theoretically someone were able to erase all that knowledge, what would be left?

A: All the stuff arising from culture, science etc. is what you should rather call ‘information’. There is no end to it – the more that you find out, the more there is to find out. ‘I am’ is not information. It is absolute and irrevocable. You do not need anyone to tell you this. At the website, there is a series of essays on the subject of knowledge. These are Dr. K. Sadananda’s posts to the Advaitin Egroup on his understanding of the vedAnta pratibhAsa of dharmarAja adhvarindra. This is the definitive book on advaita epistemology (theory of knowledge). I suggest you read this.

Q: I work as a freelance musician so that most of my money comes from TV and radio advertisements but sometimes it seems that contracts never arrive when I need the money. And then my girlfriend gets somewhat stressed! (I try to explain to her the advaita point of view on this but…)

Do I just have to stay in and wait for contracts etc.or should I 'do' something else to makes some money? (But how can I when there are no doers?) It seems a bit hard to change to have no desires, since society is so geared up to desiring and satisfying those desires. So, while It seems like a good challenge for me to let go all desires for gain, at the same time I am afraid I might lose everything and become homeless! Something inside me says that, if I have the guts to live the 'real life', then pain cannot exist, since the big snake that I see is really just a rope

A: Your question seems to be a confusion of paramArtha and vyavahAra again. In reality there are no people doing things but at the relative level of the world there are and you cannot avoid acting. Since this is the case, traditional advaita advocates that you pursue your ‘natural inclinations’ (svadharma) but without any attachment to the outcome. Unfortunately, most people do not live in India, where such an attitude is (or perhaps it would be more true to say ‘was’) both permitted and laudable. There, one could give up one’s job, home, family and possessions without worrying that one might starve.

It is really a case of exercising discrimination and reason and of adapting one’s style of living to one’s circumstances without feeling hard done by or resentful and without wishing that things were better. I use to have a highly paid job in computing but was made redundant. I could have tried for other jobs, whether minor management or shop-related or whatever. Instead, I decided to write books on advaita and accept a vastly reduced standard of living. And I have never regretted this decision (although my wife, like your girlfriend, often complains bitterly about it!)

Q: As self-ignorance is replaced by self-knowledge, there arises an understanding of the utter purposelessness and lack of meaning in our apparent "lives".  Yet sensations, thoughts and emotions continue to arise … aches and pains in our ageing bodies; doubts over future choices, concerns over finances, etc… universal human experiences.  What then arises is a sense of hollow emptiness, that nothing really matters, and that there seems no point in making any effort.
If "waking up in the dream" results in such bleak despair, it would appear preferable to go back to sleep and continue with the dream of having a life and a future to control. Being lost in a relative reality is more comfortable than having awareness of an absolute reality that sweeps away all sense of direction and purpose.

However once the illusion is seen through (the rope is seen, not the snake) it seems as if there's no going back.  It is seen that any effort to change or achieve happiness is a movement away from 'what is', and that 'just this' is absolutely appropriate and perfect.  But … where is the 'bliss' of pure Being ? Is there such a thing as the 'dark night of the soul'?

A: “That which is only living can only die”, as T. S. Eliot says. Is a flower not beautiful? Is not the whole process of bud to flower to dropping petals a marvelous process? Could you have one aspect of that process without the others?

All of that is part of the movement of the apparently separate in the seeming creation. In reality, each supposed object is only name and form of the unchanging, unlimited, non-dual brahman. Where is there a problem?

The teaching of advaita is a two-stage process effectively. The ‘neti neti’ is to distance us from those things with which we initially identify – principally body and mind. In the end, however, they have to be brought back again since there is nothing that we are not. How could there be when there is only brahman?

The most recent question that I had before yours is relevant:


Q: I keep getting stuck on something. I have been studying the various writings of the Upanishads, very beautiful. My question would be... "If all is the Self, and all that we see, taste, touch, hear, smell, feel, witness; is a manifestation 'out of' Self (it comes out of Self, so it is the Self;) then why is it to be negated as not this, not this, if it is all part of Self? All is Self, but then, not this thought, or not this feeling, or object, or not this or that, etc?

A: This is just a teaching technique in advaita (neti, neti). The idea is that you start off being identified with something – e.g. you really believe that you are your body. You have to be disillusioned of this before you can move on. Once you have moved nearer to an appreciation of how things really are, this is also admitted to be a wrong notion. Since there is only the non-dual reality, the body must also be this. It is sort of complementary to the adhyAropa-apavAda technique – see the terms and definitions at the website. In that technique, we initially attribute something to brahman and then later take it away. Here, we are initially taking it away and then later giving it back. You might also have come across the Buddhist saying that ‘mountains are initially seen as mountains, then later they are seen as not mountains but finally they are seen as mountains again.’ This is the same idea because, although we eventually realize that we are not the body, nevertheless, the body is still seen as a separate entity. In this final stage, however, it is known that despite seeing the form, the essence is nevertheless brahman.


It sounds as though you are temporarily stuck at the second stage. Happiness and misery are the two inevitable polarities of relative existence. The despair that you feel is identification with the negative aspects of the polarity. Both are emotions that arise in the mind of the person. See them as that but identify with neither. You are that in which everything arises: person, emotions and all of those seeming objects and events that gave rise to those emotions. You cannot achieve lasting happiness as a person… but who-you-really-are is already unlimited and free.

Q: How does one move towards enlightenment in advaita? Does it offer the equivalent of a eightfold path to awakening or is it more like Krishnamurti — any attempt to get 'enlightened' leads you further into delusion?

A: In advaita, 'enlightenment' is synonymous with self-knowledge. The acquiring of this at the practical level is a process of hearing the teaching from a qualified teacher, clarifying understanding through questioning, discussion, repeated hearing etc. and absorbing that knowledge. Simple, really! Also logical and reasonable, unlike many other so-called paths.

Q: In your story about advaita, you use the example of taking a rose to pieces to illustrate the meaning of mithyA. So that you know how your readers are affected emotionally by what you write, when the master ripped apart the rose, you lost me. I saw this as an unnecessary act of violence, killing a living creature to make a point. For me it harkened back to western science and the Judeo-Christian ethic: human dominion over all. This in turn made me suspicious of advaita — does it 'endorse' this sense of dominion? Does it extend to animals? Again, this is not a criticism of the story, which is good, rather an insight into how some readers might react to the rose vivisection.

A: Point taken, though a cut rose in a vase already has a somewhat limited life expectancy!

But, as the Gita points out, the Self does not kill, nor is it killed; is not born and does not die. Death of a 'living creature' is only rearrangement of form, with the essence forever unchangeable. There is no question of human 'dominion' in advaita - the essence of every seeming thing, rock or human, is the same non-dual reality. The point is made in the traditional teaching, however, that man alone is capable of realizing the truth of this. To that extent alone you might regard man as 'superior'.

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

Return to list of questions.



Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012