Q: I am confused about the concept of mAyA and its origin. If brahman has no attributes and does not act, then what is the origin of mAyA? Is it something that is outside of brahman? That would negate the whole non-duality idea. I have heard people say mAyA should be understood like waves in a ocean, but then that would require either action by the ocean or an external influence like wind. The explanation that I am under the influence of mAyA and that it is impossible to understand its origin seems inadequate.
A: Have a look at the essays on the subject of Appearance and Reality – these are listed by topic. Quite a few of them deal with mAyA.
It is analogous to the dream. Within the dream, you might invent all sorts of explanations for what is happening but, when you wake up, all are superfluous since everything was your mind alone. You are not going to find answers, as such, to any question regarding ‘why the universe (appears to) exists’, ‘why is there ignorance of the fact that we are already That’ etc.
Q: The notion of the witness as found in some Advaita writing is troubling me. It seems like a distinction that steps back from self in a "process" to find Consciousness, Reality, Self, et.al. This sometimes strikes me as inserting a "layer" in the apprehension of Self. When there is some understanding, intuitive or intellectual, of "witness", the moment is simply consciousness.
Can you add some clarity to what seems like "doing"....[witnessing]?
A: What you say is essentially correct. It is part of the process of getting the mind to see that we are not those things that we have always taken ourselves to be. (It is yet another example of the adhyAropa- apavAda method of advaita.) It is relatively easy for us to accept that we are not the body. It is less easy for us to see that we are not the mind, since this is where all of the rationalisation takes place. Accordingly, the natural step is to say that ‘that which can see the thoughts and recognise that it is not those’ is ‘something which is a step removed from the mind’. Since this entity is seeing the mind, ‘witness’ seems an appropriate term.
But, when you examine this idea more closely, you see that a ‘witness’, seeing thoughts and the mental process, would still be a part of duality and so this cannot be the final answer. The witness ultimately has to go along with everything else. In the end, ‘all there is’ is brahman or Consciousness.
Probably Sri Atmananda Krishna Menon is best for examining all of this in detail. You will find lots of references in the ‘Notes’, which you can download.
Q: Since I finished reading your book, Enlightenment: the Path Through the Jungle, I've gained deep respect for traditional teachings. Since then, I've followed some of the back and forth comments expressed on your Web site, particularly those involving Tony Parsons. I appreciate your concern for holding up the tried-and-true perspective of traditional Advaita and also your willingness to present both sides of the argument. However, this wrangling that's come to prominence lately is not a good sign in my opinion. It clarifies distinctions, but I'm wondering if it clarifies what truly matters.
No doubt, there are people who have discovered the more traditional approaches through an introduction to these ideas gained through the so-called neo-Advaita point of view. And if some of the traditional folk have moved in the other direction, that is, to the neo approach, so be it. I don't think it's helpful for anyone to take strong positions that result in continual bickering, particularly about fine points of distinction that in the end don't really matter all that much, except in the MINDS of the combatants. Koans make far better mental gymnastics.
It reminds me of the silly arguments, often taken ever so seriously, by various Christian denominations over the past two thousand years, such as the Calvinist/Arminian debates, not to mention the various segments of Hindus, Islamists and Buddhists. Even if one gains some sort of mental conviction about these finer distinctions, what has one really gained?
Isn't it possible to hold our opinions much more lightly, with a degree of love and true respect, always open to wider views? Our insistence on being right is a troubling human quality that we seem hellbent on perpetuating, particularly unseemly in matters deemed to be the root and essence of being.
A: I agree with you. Having made the points that I wanted to make in the book, I would now like effectively to take a ‘back seat’ apart from responding to ‘questions’ made by visitors to the site. But the book was bound to generate some strong feelings and I think it was necessary to allow some of these to be aired so that, hopefully, everyone may be better informed and eventually settle down into the attitude that you yourself have expressed. I don’t think that it would have been reasonable to refuse to answer any questions that arose or respond to any objections or refuse to publish any more articles on the subject, whether ‘for’ or ‘against’. The site exists to disseminate views on topics in advaita and provide links to related sites. I will not publish any articles that are merely ad hominem attacks on other teachers but, where they are part of an ongoing debate that clearly interests many readers, I do not feel that I can legitimately exclude them.
Personally, however, I am now getting on with my own research and writing, which takes no further interest in the debate. My next book will be based upon the Mandukya Upanishad and Gaudapada’s kArikA and will occupy me pretty much full time for the next couple of years. I hope and expect that the ‘fuss’ will die down naturally over the next few months. But I am glad that you made this point since it gives me the opportunity to make this clear.
Q: I have recently come across your site and have some questions if you have the time. To begin, I think I am starting to grasp the idea of non-duality; however, I am very much a "beginner". I understand that this world is simply an illusion, played out by our minds. In the end, once one has become fully aware of Self, then the mind can cease to exist and the Self is One with Reality (much like the Ocean Wave metaphor). I have read on your site and others that when it comes down to it, nothing really matters. However, I have researched quite a bit on phenomena such as Near-Death experiences, Out-of-Body experiences, mediumship, etc. Dr. Sam Parnia of Southampton General Hospital in London suggests that in a NDE, we actually are seeing the afterlife (http://www.horizonresearch.org/nde-cardiacarrestactual.html). So, to this end, the Self is actually still thinking, observing, realizing, even during clinical death (brain and heart death). How can the teachings of Advaita explain such a phenomena? There have been numerous studies conducted over the years which imply a complete transcendence of spirit - After-Life dreams of deceased loved ones, offering information not presently known to the experiencer.
I have personally had a dream of my deceased Father, but it was not like a "normal" dream. I hugged him, after brief conversation, but it was the most joyous experience I have ever known. I woke up with a feeling I had never experienced before - it was real. I was so excited I called my family, to inform them of this great experience. One could say this was my mind, coping with a great loss. However, why has my mind not had such dreams in the past? There are many reports of similar dreams, but the dreamer explains their loved one carried a very unique, provable message; one that could not possibly have been known to either the deceased (because they're dead) or the dreamer (because they didn't know the information). It is the understanding of teachers such as Dr. R Craig Hogan, Dr. Peter Fenwich, etc, that our Mind (which is Spirit) is simply having a physical experience in a virtual reality world, played out by our Brain-Mind system. The importance of NOW is stressed, because this life, this physical body, is simply education for our soul. As we live, we learn. As we learn, our Soul develops and matures. In the afterlife, there are infinite planes of growth, of which we "ladder" through and progress.
So, as I am learning of the teachings of Non-Duality, you can see where I come to a crossroads. It is difficult for me to understand that the ultimate goal is not to experience our earthly lives, but to let go and know Self. Isn't the purpose of our earthly existence to further develop Self? And is Self not simply our consciousness without the physical body? If so, it would make sense to me that Self actually carries on after death, in a very similar state. However, ego would no longer be apart of it, which is attached to our physical realm. So, then, Self would be our Mind, without ego, which would be comprised only of happiness, peace, brotherhood, and the like.
A: First of all, I’m
not sure what you mean by ‘illusion’ when you
say that: “this world is simply an illusion”.
The world has the status of ‘relative reality’ – it
is real for the jIva or one who believes himself to be a person.
It is called vyavahAra, as distinct from the totally unreal
(‘son of a barren woman’), called pratibhAsa,
or the absolute non-dual reality of paramArtha. An even better
word to use to describe it is ‘mithyA’ – that
which is neither totally real nor totally unreal. All these
terms are explained in detail at the web site. Certainly,
when the mind realizes the true nature of the Self, the mind
does not disappear. (Nor does the Self become one with reality – it
already is since That is all that there ever was, is or will
I read about advaita and believe I have at least a pretty good intellectual understanding of it. I used to attend pujas and some events now and then at a temple in San Francisco. The small temple was established in 1957 by Master Subramuniya, considered by many in India as well as by his own monks as a "sat-guru" who taught advaita but fully believed that though one is already the Self, it take practice, meditation, devotion, and the grace of a sat guru to finally realize it with certainty, to become self realized. Master adopted Saivite Hinduism early in his life as a vehicle containing essential practices.
What I am not clear on at all is the teaching of Neo Advaitans, which seems to be echoed in some more traditional schools of thought that there is no one. No individual is actually real. The more traditional paths teach that but do stress practice and a progressive path to realizing what one already is. Not just so easy as thinking "There is no me", "I am That".
But the traditional paths, and I have read your book "Back to the Truth" do seem to me to more or less state that one's experience of being an individual, separate self is the result ot ignorance. And once this ignorance is dispelled, one's suffering ends because it is seen that "there is no one who is suffering".
Pure ignorance does not seem to be something that could cause sensations of body and mind which seem to be happening to oneself, the illusory self. And especially it seems that intense sensation could not be caused by simply harboring erroneous ideas. Take pain, for example. How could the intense, excruciating agony of being burned by fire be "caused" by simply holding erroneous views that you are an individual self? And would not even a fully realized being, person, experience horrible agony, very excruciating pain, if burned by fire? Now as far as there being "no one to feel the pain", that the pain is not happening to "anyone"... it seems to me that all sensation, particularly strong sensation will always seem, and seem very, very profoundly, to be happening to a self, and individual self.... to be happening, in short, TO YOU! And if that is an illusion, that the sensation is happening to "you", then is it not a very very strong illusion which cannot be nullified by holding to the idea that "there is no "me" to whom this sensation is happening"? Would not sensations always seem to be happening to an individual self? To me? I know that any living person is capable of feeling agony, for example, and I strongly believe that even a self realized being feeling extreme agony would suffer greatly and have the sense that the pain was happening to himself/herself as an individual being.
A: I have to say that your concern is one that used to worry
me, too. I think that the way to look at it is firstly to
differentiate between pain and suffering and secondly to ask
what is meant when we refer to ‘I’.
Q: In a previous answer you quote the scriptures as saying that it takes many lifetimes before one achieves mokSha. Surely the original understanding has been distorted as, rather than individuals with multiple lives, there are multiple individuals with a single life source?
A: No – traditional advaita teaches that
the causal and subtle aspects of the jIva reincarnate.
Obviously the gross body does not and neither does
the memory but the ‘nature’ of the individual,
as ‘recorded’ in the saMskAra by the
law of karma does proceed to a new body. Indeed
the new body is supposedly chosen so as best to
enable the accumulated saMskAra to be worked out.
Q: I've been an admirer of yours and of your site for a long time. I think you're doing the spiritual community a great service in sorting out and clarifying so many issues regarding Advaita, and your books, to me and others I know, are certainly some of the best in the field.
My query is about teachers of Neo-Advaita, who I know you do not totally approve of, because their message is only partial, and they leave a lot of seekers confused. I have read much about this on your site, and much of what you say has made perfect sense to me for a long time.
Well, that was until a while ago when I visited one of your listed teachers, Jeff Foster, in London. I had wanted to experience what you call a Neo-Advaita teacher for a long time, to get another perspective and to check for myself whether these guys are as misleading as you claim. After all, you've written some quite hard-hitting stuff about them, and I'm always one to check for myself before coming to any conclusions. And so I found Jeff on your links page, and went to one of his talks in London with an open mind, but with a hell of a lot of questions, mainly stemming from the articles I'd read on your pages. I hadn't read any of his books or listened to his CD's beforehand, so I went as a clean slate, as it were.
When I met him (and please forgive this long email.. I took along a pencil and paper and made notes you see! ) Jeff was an incredibly grounded, patient and compassionate fellow, who, when I sought him out after the talk, gave me his full attention and time. I addressed directly to Jeff the issue of traditional versus neo-advaita. His answer surprised me. He said he would never reject the traditions, or tell anyone to give up their spiritual practices. This was shocking to hear and challenged my assumptions about neo-advaitin teachers, especially after all I'd read on your site!. I posed to him the dilemma: if the person is an illusion, then what is the benefit in self-inquiry, and so on? He said, to the person, it is of much benefit. He said, as long as there is a person there, who thinks he or she can benefit from spiritual practice, then that's exactly what they should be doing. I asked him whether he saw himself as a neo-advaitin teacher, and he said he didnt see himself as a teacher at all, or anything for that matter, and that people liked to classify each other, which I strongly agreed with. He said he sees himself as trying to describe, as clearly as possible, the seeing that there is no person, the awakening from the dream, and the settling into clarity. But what he said, which really struck a chord, was that he didn't expect anyone to see this until they saw it. In other words, his message is not a rejection of the traditions, but merely to say that the traditions will appear to be relevant as long as there is a person. Also, he said (and this cleared so much up for me) that the only reason he doesn't give out specific spiritual practices, is that he doesn't know what's best for anyone, in the sense that there are some very effective practices in all the traditions, and since he is not aligned with any one tradition, he does not favour any single one of them. Crucially, I asked him whether I should keep going with my self-enquiry, and he enthusiastically answered yes, of course. He even gave me some incredibly helpful and knowledgeable pointers and information about self-inquiry. I told him that I was very surprised, after reading everything on advaita.org.uk, that a so-called "neo-advaitin teacher" had been more helpful, compassionate, knowledgeable and more genuine than many of the other "traditional" teachers I've met.
I told him I would contact you, Dennis, about it, and he says that you two have spoken before, and that you were very respectful to him but had very strong beliefs about what was correct and what was not, and I think he was implying (though I might be wrong) that you were coming from a place of intellectual understanding rather than direct experience, though that might be my own projection. I did get the feeling from Jeff though that he genuinely respected you and the traditions very much, but that he doesn't understand why he is referred to as "neo-advaitin". I can't remember exactly what Jeff said here, but it was something to do with the fact that maybe his earlier work had a more "neo" emphasis, but his expression has moved far away from that as he's been doing the public talks. But what struck me was his honest respect for the traditions. Although as I gather, for Jeff, all seeking including spiritual practices fell away when the awakening happened, and that's why his emphasis is not all the time on the practising. He did accept that that could be challenging for people who were very attached to their spiritual practising, and this resonated with me very much, but he said very clearly that it wasn't a rejection of practising at all.
So, Dennis, where I am left is this: I am no longer sure that what you are doing by separating "neo-advaitin" teachers from the others is such a great idea. For example, many people may now be put off visiting teachers like Jeff, because of what you say, and yet in some ways I find Jeff more "traditional" (in his clarity and ability to plunge the mind into silence - which I experienced many times during his talk and whilst talking to him)- and certainly more compassionate and helpful - than some traditional teachers! The point is I think, Jeff - and teachers like him- do not stick to any one lineage or tradition, so he meets people exactly where they are. Actually, in his talk, this is what he said; that this meeting somebody where they are is the essence of true compassion. He said that from the place where he is, he sees clearly that there are no others, and yet he says this awakening goes back into the world, to meet apparent others exactly where they are, because it knows that before this is seen, it's not seen! In the meeting, I asked him what he thought of teachers who repeat "there is no person.... there is no point to traditions, etc". He replied with directness that ultimately it might be true (the gateless gate and so on) but that it doesn't help the person who is looking for help. Also, that it's too easy to set yourself up as a teacher by just repeating those words and having a purely intellectual understanding, and that's why he always emphasises that it's not about intellectual understanding or repeating "there is no person", but a clear seeing, which is what the traditions are always talking about!. I was very surprised at this, Dennis - as it's exactly what you say!
I am very confused with many aspects of your site now. I think
that in rejecting what you call "neo-advaitin" teachers:
I still have great respect for you, Dennis, of course, but I am increasingly worried about this categorising of yours. I'm not so sure it's the compassionate thing to do. In separating traditional from neo, you are adding more separation into a world already full of it, and certainly there must be more mis-categorised teachers out there. I can absolutely see what you are trying to do, though, and I do respect your right to do it.
I wonder what you have to say about all of this. Having said all that, your site in the most part has been very helpful for me, and I am sure many others. But I am sure you can understand my concern now that I've experienced Neo-Advaita for myself, and seen that it's not always everything you say it is.
Thanks for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.
A: First of all, let me assure you (though you haven’t implied otherwise) that there is nothing personal in any of my criticism of neo-advaita. Although I have not met many teachers of any persuasion in person, I have communicated via email with many, and pretty well all of them seem genuinely to believe that they are saying useful things and they mostly seem very personable, polite and friendly.
However, being sincere and responsive does not in itself make a good teacher. Nor does it make what is said necessarily true or helpful. The ultimate mark of a good teacher is that he leads the seeker eventually to enlightenment. And the key requirements seem to be a) knowledge of proven methods; b) ability to convey these in such a way that the seeker also gains that knowledge. (A subsidiary requirement is that the teacher is also enlightened – and Shankara himself also puts this requirement last.)
When I have discussed advaita and teaching methods with Jeff, he has always come across with all of the traits that you mention and, as a person, I genuinely like him. My understanding of his teaching is based upon his first book ‘Life without a centre’ and our discussions (some of which you can read at the website) were also based upon this. There is no doubt in my mind that most of what was said in there was fundamentally non-helpful. (I could use stronger language but I endeavor never to be unpleasant in any of my criticism.) It is, however, perfectly possible that he has altered the style and content of his teaching since then so that what he now says may be more valid and useful to the seeker.
The ‘bottom line’ of all teaching has to be that the seeker’s problem is one of self-ignorance. He already *is* the non-dual brahman but he does not know this. Accordingly, practice of any kind, experience of any kind will not in itself bring about enlightenment. Only self-knowledge can do this.
Jeff may not call himself a neo-advaitin (or even a teacher). Tony Parsons also ridicules the term. But the fact remains that they advertize and hold satsangs and seekers go the these expecting to learn something useful. They write books and seekers read them, expecting to learn something useful. To my mind, this gives them the status of would-be teachers, irrespective of what terms they use. And what they say bears some resemblance to the scriptural writings about the nature of reality. So I think the reference to them as ‘neo-advaitin teachers’ is a reasonable one. Unfortunately, what they ‘teach’ is most unlikely to bring about self-knowledge.
It is quite possible that what is said by such teachers appears reasonable at the time if you are not extremely well ‘clued up’ about the whole subject. They are successful in what they do precisely because they are personable, persuasive and usually much more knowledgeable about the subject than those to whom they speak. Most of them can ‘blind with science’ those less experienced. These concepts are subtle in the extreme. It is ultimately not possible to describe reality in any way. All words break down in the limit. Accordingly, any discussion is constantly playing with words at the boundary of meaninglessness. It is hardly surprising that a seeker comes away from a meeting with someone who is practiced in manipulating these concepts fully believing what they have been told.
But the proof is in the follow-up let-down, when it is later realized that nothing has changed. Nothing has been really understood and life carries on as before. All that can be done is to go back for another fix!
I’m not entirely sure what, of what was said, persuaded you that there was teaching of value. You say: “He said he would never reject the traditions, or tell anyone to give up their spiritual practices.” Yes - he has said much the same to me. too. His message of the first book essentially boils down to: “This is all there is.” He repeats this in many ways throughout the book. And it is true (assuming that what is meant is ‘sarvaM khalvidam brahma’. But the understanding of this can only come about as the end result of a systematic approach which gradually supplants all of the erroneous misconceptions with which we have lived all of our lives. Simply stating this as a fact at the outset achieves nothing. You have heard this – are you now enlightened?
You say: “He said, as long as there is a person there, who thinks he or she can benefit from spiritual practice, then that's exactly what they should be doing.” Not necessarily. It all depends upon how mentally prepared they are already and their present state of understanding. To repeat: practice in itself will never bring enlightenment.
“He said he sees himself as trying to describe, as clearly as possible, the seeing that there is no person, the awakening from the dream, and the settling into clarity.” Describing ‘how it is for me’ is not providing self-knowledge. The seeker has to gain the direct knowledge for himself. This is done traditionally by providing pointers etc. that enable this to take place. Read the example of bhAga tyAga lakShaNa at the website for a good example of how traditional teaching works and then quote an analogous example from neo-advaitin teaching.
“But what he said, which really struck a chord, was that he didn't expect anyone to see this until they saw it. In other words, his message is not a rejection of the traditions, but merely to say that the traditions will appear to be relevant as long as there is a person.” Well, the first sentence is not really saying very much, is it? The second point is precisely why traditional teaching is necessary, yes! ALL teaching is for the person, including neo-advaita. Who else would it be for? It is the person who gains enlightenment when self-knowledge is gained by the mind. Who else would become enlightened? And the person is not going to become enlightened as a result of the teacher repeatedly stating that there is no person!
“Also, he said (and this cleared so much up for me) that the only reason he doesn't give out specific spiritual practices, is that he doesn't know what's best for anyone, in the sense that there are some very effective practices in all the traditions, and since he is not aligned with any one tradition, he does not favour any single one of them.” I’m afraid that I cannot help but see this as a cop-out. Traditional advaita teaching is suitable for anyone who is sufficiently mentally prepared. And I am not talking here about practice of any kind, but of self-knowledge. What, in any case, does he offer instead?
“Crucially, I asked him whether I should keep going with my self-enquiry, and he enthusiastically answered yes, of course. He even gave me some incredibly helpful and knowledgeable pointers and information about self-inquiry. I told him that I was very surprised, after reading everything on advaita.org.uk, that a so-called "neo-advaitin teacher" had been more helpful, compassionate, knowledgeable and more genuine than many of the other "traditional" teachers I've met.” As I have already said, Jeff is a genuinely sympathetic person. However, supporting your ideas (wrong or otherwise) may dispose you to think favorably of him but says nothing about his ability as a teacher. (In fact, it seems from the earlier comments that he is actually saying effectively ‘I don’t want to teach you anything at all’ and you are responding by saying he is a good teacher?!
“He did accept that that could be challenging for people who were very attached to their spiritual practising, and this resonated with me very much, but he said very clearly that it wasn't a rejection of practising at all.” Pardon me if I sound a bit cynical, but the implication that spiritual practice is unnecessary is one that appeals to many seekers! But it is necessary to the extent that your mind is made sufficiently receptive to the teaching. You must be able to exercise reason and discrimination and follow the key advaitin procedure of shravaNa, manana and nididhyAsana. With a modicum of such preparation you will be able to gain enlightenment (self-knowledge). If, however, you also want the fruits of enlightenment (peace of mind, freedom from fear etc.) then either more practice is required up-front or more nididhyAsana afterwards.
“I asked him what he thought of teachers who repeat "there is no person.... there is no point to traditions, etc". He replied with directness that ultimately it might be true (the gateless gate and so on) but that it doesn't help the person who is looking for help. Also, that it's too easy to set yourself up as a teacher by just repeating those words and having a purely intellectual understanding, and that's why he always emphasises that it's not about intellectual understanding or repeating "there is no person", but a clear seeing, which is what the traditions are always talking about!. I was very surprised at this, Dennis - as it's exactly what you say!” This would seem to suggest that he has indeed changed his emphasis somewhat (in the right direction!).
Regarding your more general points about my categorizations and ‘setting myself up as an authority’, have you read the extracts from my new book? (Even better, the complete book is now available: ‘Enlightenment: the path through the jungle’.) This addresses in great detail all of these issues and hopefully provides evidence enough to convince anyone of the distinctions and the need for these. I can email you a copy of the extracts (3MB) if you like.
Hope this resolves your concerns, which I obviously regard very seriously.
Q: Thankyou for your reply. It helped to clarify, for me, your position on this. And whilst reading your response, I think I've realised what's going on here, and where I think you're going wrong. It's quite a revelation for me after years of admiring your work. I've now seen what's going on.
Dennis, from you - and please don't take this the wrong way - I sense a strong intellectual understanding of all of this. However, I do not believe that your purely intellectual understanding has given way to a clear seeing of what the words are pointing to. I do not sense joy, radiant love, compassion and peace in your words, and certainly from speaking to those who have met you in person, they've confirmed this. What I do sense is a very clever man who has put a lot of time and effort into the academic side of this, and for that you rightly deserve the respect of the academic world. But I feel that you have not made the final leap beyond the intellect, which is what the words point to in the end. Therefore, I'm not so sure you are qualified to judge What Works and for Whom.
In other words, what you are saying is correct from a purely intellectual point of view. However, since you are not enlightened, it is still very much a theory of yours that self-knowledge is the only path. It has not yet led to your own enlightenment, so I'm sorry but you remain for me a very intellectual man with a vast understanding of the traditions, and nothing more. And that's fine in itself. However, someone I'd really want to listen to, is someone who is speaking from absolute clarity, from a deep sense of peace and an equanimity with the world. That is why teachers like Jeff Foster and of course others I've met in my many years of seeking (from across the spectrum, both traditional and neo) make much more sense to me. That's why they resonate, because they are not just speaking from the intellect. They are not trying to load their belief systems onto me or convince me that they are right (as I feel you are trying to do in your email and in your many essays and books). I know you will say they are probably deluded, and that they are misleading people, and so on, and you are well known for these criticisms. But again, you are saying that from the intellect. You evidently have not MET these people. You have not sat with them, questioned with them. All of your theories seem to come from books. You have not tasted freedom for yourself. Otherwise you would not sit with your books all day! I have always believed that one should never trust those who speak in words taken straight out of books.
Dennis, I am not condemning intellectual understanding. Years ago I feel I'd reached the same stage as you. I had a vast understanding of the traditions and huge bodies of knowledge regarding self-knowledge and so on. But the final freedom and awakening had not happened. What is happening these days is that the intellectual understanding is starting to fade into the background, and life as it is is becoming more astonishing than I'd ever dreamed. Now, my point is, that someone like you would have resonated with me years ago. These days, someone like Jeff Foster resonates. I recognise his peace of mind, his compassion and his clarity, and it speaks to me far more than words ever could. You may say it's not a teaching, but I (and many of those I know) would say it's a wordless teaching. And I know you'll say that's meaningless. You have an answer for everything, Dennis. I know, I used to as well. It was safe. I could hide behind my intellect and not really experience life.
I say this merely to counter your (rather arrogant let me say!) claim that no "neo" teacher could have been of any help. Who are you to decide, Dennis, who is of help and who isn't? I told you what a joy it was to meet Jeff, and basically all you could say was that I and him were deluded. That's basically what you are saying. It's just arrogance. Just ego. Jeff was nothing but compassionate, and very respectful of you and your work, and all you can do is call him "neo" and unhelpful, as if he was out to mislead people and wasn't as enlightened as you. That to me is arrogance. And the funny thing is, you are saying this without having met any of these people! It's easy to sit there, hiding behind your books (yes, people do talk about you in this way), withdrawn from the world, casting your judgments on everyone else. Real compassion goes out into the world and meets real, living, human beings. I've been wondering for a long time why your site niggles me, and now I see it. It's a purely intellectual understanding that you have. Intellect will only take you up to the gate, Dennis. You should know that by now.
I apologise if some of these words sound harsh. I am only trying to be honest with you. I do feel that you display quite some arrogance in claiming that neo teachers are of no help, and it's about time that somebody strongly countered your claim, with strong words. Just because "neos" have not helped you doesn't mean that others won't benefit. Plus, you've obviously mis-classified many of them, but we won't go into that. If you claim that neo's do not help, you obviously have some idea of what does help. But the irony is, that it hasn't helped you to reach enlightenment. You are very clearly only left with an intellectual grasp of this. If you had reached enlightenment, no doubt you would be out - in public - meeting real people, teaching this in the way you expect others to teach it. Once that happens perhaps I'll listen to you. For now, you just have a superb intellectual grasp of the concepts.
And my question is, so what? So what if one had a great intellectual grasp of this? That's not the point. The point, as the traditions have always pointed to, is a seeing, a falling away of seeking, an equanimity with what is. If you're not there yet, why the hell should we listen to you? Why should we listen to an academic telling us about love? Surely we should listen to someone who radiates love, and doesnt just quote out of books? That's why ultimately your books do not sell. People want the real thing, not just words.
Dennis, your email has confirmed many things I've thought about you and your site for a long time, but those ideas have not crystallised until now. I found your words patronising and arrogant.
I still respect you very much as an academic, but that's not what most people are looking for. I feel you may be very wrong in turning Advaita into another religion. Have you ever considered that you might, in fact, be wrong?
A: Sorry that you seem to have reacted negatively to the statements I made. I would like to be able to reconcile these with you but I can only make a short response now and then not again until the 19 th at the earliest.
You seem to be making the same kind of judgments about my own ‘status’ as you accuse me of making about others. You should know that you can only really assess the degree of self-knowledge of a person from the statements that they make. Most seekers can only judge a teacher on the basis of what they write, since they do not have the opportunity actually to meet them. Moreover, even when they do meet them, it is not possible to know whether or not they are enlightened. Their general demeanor, social skills, arrogance or humility are all dependent upon the prior conditioning of their mind and have no obvious correlation with enlightenment.
I would also be interested to know what your own definition of enlightenment is, since this is obviously crucial in making any decision about another’s status. The new book lists nearly 50 misconceptions about this term, ideas frequently and erroneously stated by various new-age and supposedly more legitimate sources. It is most certainly not a ‘theory of mine’ that self-knowledge is the ‘only way’. That self-knowledge equals enlightenment is the fundamental fact of advaita philosophy. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is seriously misleading you.
I am not ‘trying to convince’ anyone and have no vested interest in doing so. I do not teach so am not dependent upon payment from seekers for my livelihood. I make scarcely any money from the books (as you noted!) but, again, this was never my expectation. The reason I began writing about advaita is because I had found it so difficult to find out about the real philosophy. The school I attended purported to teach it but didn’t. Teachers I visited or read supposedly taught it but didn’t. In recent years, I have discovered that many seekers are genuinely suffering as a result of what they have been wrongly told. Accordingly, the *sole* reason for the site and the books is try to put forward the true teaching for those who genuinely want to hear it. You may choose to construe that as arrogance, of course.
I have always said that the ‘bottom-line’ of the neo-advaitin teachers is true and have stated many times that a ‘ripe’ seeker may be enlightened by such a teacher. Clearly, from what you say of your background, you fall into such a category… but a significant number of those who go to such satsangs do not. It is to them that my ‘message’ is addressed.
You ask: “Who are you to decide, Dennis, who is of help and who isn't?” I am not deciding anything. I am merely stating the facts of the matter and letting each reader decide for him/herself.
I do not, myself, teach for the simple reason that I know that a prolonged course of teaching from ‘first principles’ is needed to get the message across. One or two occasional two-hour satsangs are woefully inadequate. Having condemned such an approach, it would be the height of hypocrisy for me to offer satsang. If I lived in London, I would certainly have attempted to arrange such a course. (I did attempt to do so in my own backwaters but there is simply not the interest outside the major cities.)
You say that: “basically all you could say was that I and him were deluded. That's basically what you are saying. It's just arrogance. Just ego.” If you wanted (and I had the time), I could list all of the things that Jeff said in his first book that are plain wrong. In fact, if you read the dialog that we had at the website, you will see some of these. His book is the medium by which he reaches most seekers. I don’t believe I actually claimed that either of you were ‘deluded’. Could you quote the relevant sentence from my post for this, please.
You say: “I do not sense joy, radiant love, compassion and peace in your words, and certainly from speaking to those who have met you in person, they've confirmed this.” I would be very interested in hearing whom you have spoken with to gain this impression. Although, actually, since I have met so very few, I rather think that I can guess. <name of suspect mentioned here> We had a number of discussions over neo-advaitin views and this person called me a few unsavory names as I recall. We did meet once only at <y>. In any case, as I have pointed out, ‘joy, love, compassion, peace’ are associated with the jIvanmukti but have nothing to do with enlightenment per se.
Lastly, advaita *is* the ultimate religion because the only real religion – ‘reuniting’ one with the truth. The fact that the word has been distorted into meaning so many untruthful things does not change this.
<No further response received.>
Is it your positive view that there is no judgment or punishment when we die?
A: I suggest you read Prof. Susan Blackmore’s book(s) on Near Death Experience (Amazon US or UK) – this has a perfectly logical and scientifically based explanation and nothing at all to do with heaven or hell. Whatever a person’s experience might be, this has nothing to do with reality. You can choose whatever ‘explanations’ you like to rationalize the world appearance – creation, gods, heaven, hell etc. – but the reality is that no one is ever born, no one dies, there is no creation. It is all an appearance whose essence is the non-dual reality. Yes there is a cause-effect relationship within the relative reality of the world and judgment and punishment fall within this. It is all effectively real while you believe it to be real. What you must do to realize its lack of absolute reality is to gain self-knowledge.
Q: So, if we don't exist than that means that I won't see any of my deceased relatives or even my deceased dog? But will my consciousness still be aware?
A: You do exist! (You are existence.) We do not exist *as
persons*. Bodies and minds are mithyA. Who-you-really-are is
the same non-dual reality as who-your-relatives-really-are
is the same as who-your-deceased-dog really is. There are not
two in realty. As regards consciousness, you as a person are
aware *because of* the non-dual reality, brahman. You are aware
of ‘things’ as separate entities because of self-ignorance.
When you have self-knowledge, you still perceive ‘things’ through
your senses and mind but now know that they are not separate.
It is not really meaningful to ask ‘what will it be like
to simply be brahman without a body and mind’ because
this is now beyond the realm of words or thought – ‘whereof
we cannot speak, thereof we must remain silent’.
Q: Why does Dr Goode refer to Nisargadatta as "neo Advaita" in the introduction to your new book on Enlightenment? Have been following the blog of Floyd Henderson for years and had not picked up that inference. Granted, if you refer me to your book , I understand the need to purchase That.
A: He doesn’t say that Nisargadatta was a neo-advaitin; he says that Nisargadatta (and Ramana and Papaji) inspired neo-advaita. One of the main points is that all of these effectively established satsang (attending occasional question and answer sessions) as a bona fide method of teaching. Those teachers who claim any of these as their inspiration mostly teach only using the satsang method. I.e. (probably) none of the teachers in these ‘lineages’ can now claim to be traditional teachers.
The other point about Nisargadatta in particular is that he had a habit of making ‘radical’ statements about self, reality etc., as if to ‘shock’ the listener into at least an intellectual appreciation of the truth.
Greg is also perhaps a bit less concerned about differentiating ‘satsang’ from ‘neo-advaita’ as a teaching method.
Q: About seven years ago, I embarked upon a spiritual quest through the Christian path, a quest to attain liberation and live from my authentic nature, whatever that might be. I became involved with group of spiritual Christians who were very open to mystical things. We met on a very regular basis to discuss scripture, pray, meditate etc and there appeared to be a lot of spiritual activity, but in the end I became very disillusioned. We all considered ourselves to be quite spiritual but I had the sense that this was all an egoic illusion and ultimately not Real. On the other side of this realization was a certain amount of freedom, for the first time in my life I was happy in my own skin, and I had a desire to be in a relationship with others for the pure joy of the relationship. Now I find myself in an Advaita group. The whole focus is on the teachings and the goal of enlightenment. I am reading your books, learning a new language and engaging with others. There is an Advaita teacher who is a beautiful expression of the Self, and yet for some reason I'm not sure my goal is enlightenment, I know that's not what's driving my involvement. My interest seems to be in opening up to another perspective, another language in order to gain understanding of others and the oneness of it all . Does this make any sense? This is obviously not an intellectual question.
A: Yes, I understand your views. I used to belong to the SES organization in the UK and attended for many years. Although, ostensibly teaching advaita, this was much more of a group who were sharing their common practices, environment and cultural values, if you like. It seemed to me that they were using the supposed aim merely as a the trigger that had brought them together and the purpose was now forgotten. The group itself was now the raison d’être.
In my experience, the true pursuit of enlightenment is generally confined to those who are deeply dissatisfied with their lives and the supposed values of society. Those who actually enjoy life or who seek to find satisfaction through dualistic means (ambition, money, objects, finding a partner etc.) are not suited to the enlightenment search and are unlikely to have the determination to follow a serious path. To put it brutally, if you are enjoying the dream, why bother waking up? The problem is of course that life, being dualistic, will always have its ups and downs. If things are going well, they are likely to get worse (and vice versa of course!). There is no problem with this. You are the non-dual Self whether you seek to discover this or not (and whether you like it or not). If knowing that your true nature is unlimited, that ‘you’ cannot die etc. is important, then you will (eventually) become a seeker. Whatever happens is ok from the absolute perspective so if you are happy from the relative perspective, don’t worry about it!
If you are more interested in psychological aspects, learning an attitude to life that will optimize your outlook (feeling at one with everything etc.), then why not try some of the western satsang teachers for whom this is often more important than genuine self-realization?
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.