Q: Does brahman have 'room' for the spark of unique individuality that is in all living organisms: humans, animals, plants, stones, ideas? Or is all this precious individuality forever lost in the oneness?
A: So-called 'individuality' is related to the attributes and not the essence. In vyavahAra, each person, creature or object has its own individual characteristics. There is no question of 'losing' this, only of recognizing that this individuality is only apparent; the ever-changing, now beautiful, now ugly but always only the seeming surface characteristic of what is always one reality. It is the outward differing manifestation of the inner unity. Since all is always That, how could there not be room for it?
Q: I've been taking antidepressant medications for some time. As a pharmacist who dispenses countless prescriptions for these drugs, my observation is that they may have some value in severe clinical depression, although their mode of action is unknown and their efficacy and safety cannot withstand rigorous scientific scrutiny.
When I was going through a difficult period some years ago, I became somewhat depressed and, as is generally the case, an MD prescribed Effexor, a popular AD drug. It was not particularly helpful, if at all, but I continued its use based on the doctor's recommendation.
I'm still taking antidepressants, although my doctor thinks at this point they're probably irrelevant to any existing emotional problems I have, which are few. However, withdrawal from these meds can be extremely difficult, even when tapered slowly and, although I consider my progress and development unrelated to ADs, I'm nevertheless frightened to discontinue them.
I read your viewpoint on this issue in the Q&A section of your website, and found it very discouraging. I've progressed well and learned much about Oneness, with your work as one of my prime sources! Knowing, of course, that neither of us is a physician, can you definitively say that these drugs will preclude the development of spiritual progress?
I only ask because, as I've stated, I've put a lot of time and effort into studying non-dualism, and I'd hate to think I've been operating at half-power and am limited in my progress by virtue of taking these meds. I love this area of study, and any encouragement at this point would be very welcome.
A: I stand by what
was written in principle but I am no expert on the effects
on the brain of modern anti-depressant drugs. It may
well be that they do not affect one’s ability to
reason or discriminate. Perhaps they only dull any negative
emotional reaction to external events. If this is this
case, then perhaps their possible role in the mind’s
ability to realize the truth is minimal or even non-existent.
Certainly, if the result of stopping the medication were
depression or any other activity decreasing clarity of
the mind, then to stop them would be worse than continuing… at
least in the short term.
Q: I'm going to be 50 years old very soon and have done everything and can't find a true lasting solution. I feel the more I've done and more I've read, I get more confused. I feel so much guilt in my life about so many things, so many problems with fear and depression, I just can't seem to be able to be consistent and happy. I'm an alcoholic and have been sober for nearly three years now, and still find myself unable to feel happiness. Is there a little hope that maybe I might be able to live in this world without it affecting me, regardless of the insanity and contradictions?
So I come to you asking for a possible way of, I guess just being happy, regardless of all the problems in the world and all the problems of my physical, mental, spiritual life. Can you suggest something. I'm in therapy; I'm in and out of Alcoholics anonymous and worked the 12 steps strenuously, still not getting what they promised me, and if I wasn't feeling okay, all these alcoholics would tell me that I'm not trusting God and that I suffer from agnosticism and lack of faith in God. It seems that all of these alcoholics eventually come together to worship this punishing God, that I don't even want to know. For so long I believed that I should suffer because these so called 'spiritual beings' were more connected than I was, so they knew better than me. Help, please!
A: If you are looking
for personal happiness or an end to personal unhappiness,
then advaita is not the answer. Advaita is about the
realization that there is no person, that who you really
are is already limitless, full and complete. One comes
to advaita when it has been accepted that lasting happiness
is never going to be found in people or things (including
alcohol!) – how can anything that is transient
and ever-changing bring lasting happiness?
Here is my understanding:
Does this understanding make sense?
A: This is another
of those questions where you have to differentiate carefully
between absolute and relative reality (paramArtha and
A: From the standpoint
of absolute reality, there are not two.
Q: Although Krishnamurti famously said that truth is a pathless land, I do look forward to your book on the path through the jungle. In the meantime, before I get my hands on your new book and my feet on the said path, may I ask you if you consider Pamela Wilson and Adyashanti as Neo-Advaitins or would you place them in some other category?
A: I think the simplest way of answering your question is to say that there is only one traditional path in advaita and that is the one that follows the proven methods of the past thousand plus years, ideally presented by a teacher who is both enlightened and a part of that tradition. And those whom I call neo-advaitins are the ones who deny that there is a seeker, a path and a world of duality that is seemingly real and who claim that practice is pointless because there is no doer and nothing to do... and so on.
In between, if you like, there are those teachers who 'teach' by answering questions at satsangs and on residential courses. What they teach varies tremendously. A few may be familiar with advaita scriptures and make some use of them; many may loosely 'follow' Ramana or Nisargadatta; more and more seem to be adopting the neo-advaitin 'message' (possibly because it is easiest to pick up and pass on?); and a lot adopt various new-age stances or address the psychological well-being of the 'seeker'.
What I attempt to demonstrate in the book is that *only* the traditional approach is likely to be effective in bringing about enlightenment.
A: No problem. All of the teaching of advaita is provisional, appropriate to the level of understanding. The ultimate truth of traditional advaita is the same as that of the neo-advaitins – no creation, no persons to have free will etc, no god(s), no time. It’s just that, for me, the concept of free will has never been helpful (or, alternatively, the concept of no free will has never been an obstacle).
Q: I am having
difficulty with something that Nisargadatta Maharaj is
quoted as saying:
"Once you know that the body alone dies and not the continuity
of memory and the sense of I am
reflected in it, you are afraid no longer."
A: Nisargadatta was part of a formal sampradAya, which meant that he was essentially teaching traditional advaita (although he became somewhat extreme, especially toward the end of his life!) According to traditional advaita, the mind is NOT part of the gross body but an effectively separable ‘subtle’ body. This does not die when the physical body dies but transmigrates. Actions in this life generate merit and demerit according to the motives of those actions. Every ‘cause’ must eventually have its ‘effect’. These stored ‘causal’ elements DO survive death and are reborn in a new body in order that the effects may ensue in due course. But the personal memory is not an aspect of this and does not reincarnate. As the questioner notes, the memory dies with the brain.
Accordingly, Nisargadatta must have been referring to the continuity of the jIva, with the saMskAra held in the subtle body. As the responder in your post indicates, a skilled teacher will answer the questions at the students level of, or readiness for, understanding. For some students, the concept of reincarnation is one that 'strike a chord' and provide satisfactory answers 'for the time being'. There comes a time, if the student continues to study, assimilate and validate the teaching, when these explanations no longer satisfy and a different approach is needed. All study, question and answer, experience, student and teacher and the world of objects are at the 'empirical' level of reality. 'Truth', in the absolute sense, is always only One - there is only the non-dual brahman.
Q: I am about to begin study of the Brahma Sutras commentary from Shankaracharya. All of the various schools are about knowledge of Brahman but they differ in their approach. As far as I can see, Shankara is leading the seeker to Brahman through a philosophical approach to Vedanta, but others were not able to follow this path (j~nAna?). Those such as Sri Ramanuja approached Vedanta through rituals (bhakti?).
Now, since I am now more attracted to the intellectual path (been trying bhakti my whole life and cannot give praise to external powers as easily as others), can I practice j~nAna solely? There is no need for bhakti as a primary but may it be a secondary? Please help - I am a bit confused, especially now with satsang and ne-teachers. I am also going to get your book (Enlightenment Path through jungle) because, from the Ebook you sent, it seems that the neo teaching is based on shortcuts and I don't think this is a good idea.
A: Best of luck with the BS commentary! I have never succeeded in completing these (in fact can scarcely claim to have made significant inroads). Whose commentary are you reading? If you find Swami Gambhirananda’s too difficult, V. H. Date’s ‘Vedanta Explained’ is much more approachable.
Ramanuja and Madhva are not non-dualists so you will not be learning about Advaita if you study works based upon their commentaries.
Certainly you may follow the path of j~nAna alone. The traditional (advaita) view is that bhakti and karma yoga are ‘preliminary’ to j~nAna for those whose nature is more suited to those approaches. Some will argue that all three effectively merge anyway as you progress but the bottom line is that only self-knowledge can remove self-ignorance.
Definitely you are making the right decision to turn away from neo-advaita if you want to make progress in understanding. But there is no instant solution. You may find it hard-going to begin with (especially if you try to study the BS bhAShya!) but remember what the Bhagavad Gita says about this: The happiness that comes from stillness of mind is like poison in the beginning but like nectar in the end. But the happiness that comes from senses and objects, though like nectar in the beginning, turns to poison in the end. (XVII. 37 – 8) So perseverance is the key!
Q: On reading several of the essays by Dr. Sadananda, it struck me that there should be no means of knowledge required to know the Self as 'I am that I am', since it is not an object. But I guess a means of knowledge is required to drop that veil and purify the mind as they say. At some point, maybe one doesn’t require the guide and that ‘knowledge’ is recognized.
As Dr. Sadananda puts it in ‘Experience vs. Knowledge’ :
But, his essay on ‘Vedanta as Pramana’ had me
confused. He says:
These two seem to be contradictory but I think I have misunderstood something. Can you clarify what exactly is shabda pramANa required for? Why is it necessary to know who I am when there is no distance between the two? If it is required to clean up the mind, then why can’t other methods be useful to clean up the mind? Why is the Vedanta the only means to do so?
This leads me to a second question. Does that mean that Bhakti Yoga and other forms of Yoga are NOT alternate paths to the state of j~nAna but preparatory stages? I read somewhere that Karma Yoga is required more for the four qualifications of sAdhanA chatuShTaya sampatti rather than an alternate path.
And what about other ‘ism’s’ such as Buddhism, Zen, Tao etc? Are these considered to be in keeping with Vedanta or not? Are they valid means to recognize the true Self?
A: I do not need anyone or anything to tell me that I exist. But I do not initially (think that) I know anything about brahman. brahman is not and cannot be an object of knowledge. Therefore, I am never going to discover brahman by looking for it. The scriptures provide pointers and metaphors etc. to explain to us what brahman is and then they reveal a) that ‘I am brahman’ and b) that ‘everything is brahman’. There is no other source for this knowledge.
It is possible that you are confusing knowledge with experience. It is certainly true that no means of knowledge is required for me to experience brahman – this happens every night in deep sleep – but I am ignorant of it. It is because of this ignorance that self-knowledge is the only solution. Worship (bhakti), right action (karma), meditation etc. cannot themselves bring about self-realization. You should also be careful not to confuse relative and absolute – it is the mind that is seeking to understand all of this at the relative level, despite the fact that I am (already) brahman.
I assume that Zen, Taoism etc, also have valid methods but I’m afraid I do not know anything about these.
Hope this has answered your question. If not, you can rephrase the question or I am happy to refer it to Dr. Sadananda if you like.
Q: Thanks Dennis. I think it has. I suppose the pramANa is necessary for the mind to know ABOUT the natural state and be convinced of it, totally. Is that so? And once the mind is pure enough and the conviction is total, I will just ‘recognize’ it?
A: That’s right, yes. Read the explanation of bhAga-tyAga-lakShaNa to see how gaining this knowledge operates.
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