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: Many teachers seem to imply that the ego will disappear simply by ignoring or denying it. But if the innate tendencies or samskaras have not been completey eradicated, a teacher cannot call himself 'enlightened'. A tree whose branches have been cut grows again. So long as the roots of the tree remain unimpaired, the tree will contnue to grow. Unless the samskaras are totally destroyed by j~nAna, they will automatically attract rebirth at the appropriate time.

A: Of course, what you say is what is taught by the traditional teaching at a particular point – and very useful it has proven to be for many seekers for centuries. To the extent that it ‘fits’ with one’s upbringing, culture, education etc, it will continue to be invaluable for providing provisional answers for such seekers until such time as they are ‘ready’ for more appropriate pointers to the absolute truth.

In the West, many seekers do not have any affinity for ideas such as reincarnation or divine beings wielding powers of creation and destruction. Since the ultimate truth is that none of these are actually satyam (absolutely real), it may be counter-productive to try to impose such ideas upon them. Teachers in the West generally do not make use of them and I do not believe that you can say this is unacceptable.

Your main point seems to relate to the difference between enlightenment and j~nAna phalam (jIvanmukti). I have written several times on this topic but here is the answer I gave to a questioner some time ago:

"...the distinction between j~nAna - the knowledge gained as a result of one's sAdhanA through to enlightenment - and j~nAna phalam - the fruits of that knowledge in the form of peace of mind, equanimity in the face of adversity etc. Thus it is the case that one can have all the knowledge and be enlightened yet still be subject to the sort of disturbances of mind that you describe. According to commentaries on Gaudapada's mANDUkya kArikA (III.40 - 2), it all depends upon the extent of preparation (sAdhanA chatuShTaya sampatti) that was done in the past. The seeker who has done none will gain neither enlightenment nor the fruit. The middling student will gain enlightenment but not the fruit. The one who was fully prepared will gain both.

“The one who is now enlightened but does not have the peace of mind etc. (the madhyamA adhikArI) must perform nididhyAsana to recover the situation. This will convert the emotional blockage into j~nAna phalam. This practice should take the form of repeatedly listening to, reading or writing scriptures or discussion or teaching. (Alternatively, Vedantic meditation, as per Patanjali yoga, may be practiced.)"

The key point in respect of what you are saying here is that not having j~nAna phalam need not impact on a teacher’s ability. Indeed, Shankara has pointed out that a skilled and knowledgeable teacher who is not even enlightened is preferable to an enlightened one who is lacking teaching skills. Someone who is both a skilled teacher and enlightened would still be an excellent teacher even if themselves still suffering occasional mental problems as a result of insufficient preparation.

Incidentally, we are all in that ‘stateless state’ of being the Self, since there is only the Self. The problem is that most do not know it. This is self-ignorance. The purpose of all teaching is to introduce Self-knowledge to eliminate that ignorance. When this happens, the ‘person’ now recognizes this truth (i.e. is ‘enlightened’) but nothing has actually changed.

Q: Do you feel the need to write about the self, about advaita and let the others know that you know all this? It happens to me all the time. Do you think that is ego? Sorry if the question is too direct but I really want to know your opinion about that.

A: It would be the ego if you do it because you want people to admire you, in order to gain fame etc. Personally, I have always felt the drive to understand things and, having understood them, explain them to others by analyzing them and writing. Obviously this is especially the case with regard to the nature of ourselves and the world. This is explained by Vedanta as the result of vAsanA-s (from past lives) – as in the case of someone like Mozart who was born with such musical genius and had to express it. If you don’t accept the idea of reincarnation, just call it one’s intrinsic nature.

Q: (continued from question 135) What about the dream state ? Are the people that we see in dreams real, as in the waking state (from relative standpoint) or they are solipsistic (i.e. do I create them)?

A: From the standpoint of the dreamer, the people that you meet in the dream are real. From the standpoint of the waker, it is all a creation of the mind. But you can’t call this solipsism since the dreamer ego is not real either (from the standpoint of the waker).

This is why dreams are such a good pointer for the seeker looking for the truth! You know that, while you were in the dream, everything seemed so real yet, on awakening, you find that none of it was real. So it is with the waking state, too. Just as the dream was a creation of your individual mind, the world is a creation of the macrocosmic mind (Ishvara). Both are mithyA.

Q: So, to rephrase what you said: From the standpoint of the waker, the people that you meet are real. From the standpoint of the macrocosmic mind ( Ishvara), it is all a creation. But you can’t call this solipsism since the waker ego is not real either (from the standpoint of Ishvara). Is that right?

A: No, that is not quite right. Certainly, from the standpoint of the waker (empirical reality), other people are real and creation is real (and we say that Ishvara is the creator). From the standpoint of absolute reality (turIya, paramArtha, brahman), you the waker are not real, the world is not real, Ishvara is not real. Ultimately, only brahman is real (sat). Everything else is either unreal (asat) or mithyA.

Q: In respect of the ongoing traditional versus neo argument, if there are "not two", then how can one be better than another?

A: The 'not two' refers to paramArtha; the 'better than another' refers to vyavahAra, where there are (contrary to the claim of neo-advaitins) seekers, paths and enlightenment at the end of those paths.

Q: You missed the subtlety of my point. As a one-time student of Western philosophy, I learnt that its all "horses for courses". In other words, while some teachings or commentaries may resonate for some, they may not resonate for others. So once again, if paramArtha and vyavahAra, are essentially "not two", then why do you separate them?

A: All teaching takes place in vyavahAra. Most people need to go through a prolonged period of deconditioning of the usual dualistic beliefs before being able to take on board the bottom-line message of advaita. A very few may be able to see the ultimate truth straight off. Others may have already spent years trying this and that and reading many books. The 'non-teaching' of neo-Advaita is only ever going to be of any value for these latter categories. All the rest have to go the long way round.

Q: Why do you claim that your method is valid and the "method" of the so-called neo-advaita is not?

I do not have a method. I advocate the traditional advaita path as one that has been vindicated for the past 1500+ years by many seekers. I have also satisfied myself that it is one that is in accord with reason. Neo-advaita has no path (and denies that there is one).

Could it not be that both are valid?

The ultimate statements of both are the same. To this extent they are both ‘valid’ but, as noted above, you cannot say that the ‘methods’ are the same. The ‘non-method’ of neo-advaita might work for someone who has already been ‘travelling the traditional path’ for many years and understands all of the theory.

It seems a bit ridiculous: each one claiming that the other one is "ignorant".

I don’t think I have ever claimed anyone is ignorant. Can you provide a reference please?

Of course this is the way to bind people: you say that your way is the way and the others are wrong. Then the others react and say that you are wrong. In my view nobody is wrong and nobody is right.

No one can make any truthful statement about reality by definition, since all language is in duality.

There is no straight forward path to enlightenment. How could there be a straightforward path to nothing?

What is your definition of enlightenment? Your statement implies that it is different from mine.

There are many. Each one follows his own. Setting your self up as a teacher is in fact very dualistic and artificial and the greatest teachers aren't teachers. Both Tony Parsons and you have fallen into the teacher trap, I am afraid.

I have not ‘set myself up as a teacher’. All my books take the stance that ‘I have been looking into advaita as a teaching that explains the nature of self and reality and this is what I have found so far’. I do not teach – hold no satsangs or residential courses. I just write books.

Am "I" right?

For myself, I would say ‘no’. (I can’t speak for Tony.)

Q: Maya means splendour or something mysterious not easily understandable. In Advaita it is linked to illusion [confusion], avidya [wrong knowledge] mithya [unreality] jagat [world or prakriti to be precise] and all of them I think do not give the right meaning of avidya. What is there mystery or splendour there. I find no satisfactory answer to the concept or the doctrine of Maya. I think ignorance, illusion, wrong knowledge etc., do not exactly define Maya. Can you give me exactly why illusion, wrong knowledge, unreality are linked to Maya in advaitic literature. I think the English translations have failed to bring out the exact concept of Maya. What is your view? As I propose to do some research on Maya which is often quoted yet it is not easily intelligible to the common man, I gather all the materials available on Maya to get fairly good idea before plunging into the subject. Will you please help me clarifying the points raised by me here.

A: I think there are several essays at the website on this topic – if you search from the home page using the ‘Picosearch’ facility, it will list them for you.

Briefly, avidyA is associated with the jIva – i.e. the microcosmic, personal level. mAyA on the other hand is the ‘power’ wielded by Ishvara to seemingly create the world – i.e. the macrocosmic level. This is why it is ‘mysterious’ – because it is beyond our personal comprehension – and a ‘splendor’ – because creation is so incredibly complex and inspiring of wonder.

Q: The sense of "I" cannot be detached from the other perceived objects "floating in consciousness" because it is itself a part of consciousness. Waking up from deep sleep, for example, gives birth to the sense of "I" together with everything else (consciousness). It simply sticks to the perceived all the time. How can it be separated from the perceived? It is impossible. During deep sleep there is no sense of "I" at all but your real nature is still there, with or without the sense of "I". So the identification with the "I" is in my opinion also mAyA.

In other words, the sense of "I" is also perceived and as the perceived cannot be the perceiver (which is your real nature), the "I" is not your real nature. Your real nature therefore possesses no sense at all. All senses can only exist in the domain of consciousness.

Do you agree?

A: Atman is not a ‘part’ of consciousness. Atman is brahman and that is all there is.

As soon as you start talking about ‘witnessing’ ‘objects’ (including the sense of ‘I’), you are in duality – vyavahAra. You can try to bring the two together by talking about there being no separation between ‘I’ and the ‘perceived’ but this is ultimately only an attempt to rationalize the ineffable and must necessarily fail.

I would argue that the sense of ‘I’ is NOT perceived. Who would be perceiving this? The sense of ‘I’ is a priori and sat. Everything else is only mithyA.

Q: In deep sleep there is no sense of 'I'. Waking up, the sense of 'I' comes out with everything else (like in a dream). So my question is: Is it true that the sense of 'I' is perceived by that entity (our true nature) which is 'I-less' and is alone present in deep sleep?  Is that the entity which is perceiving knowledge, ignorance and, at the end, the sense of 'I' too?

A: When we (the jIva) are in deep sleep, the mind is resolved so that we do not ‘know’ anything. But the Atman is not affected, is ‘state-less’. In deep-sleep, we directly experience our true nature of sat-chit-Ananda but all that we know, when we wake up and the mind functions once more is that ‘I slept well’.

I think the problem you are having is in your use of the word ‘I’. Do you see that you are in danger of an ‘ad infinitum’ problem? Who is it who has ‘the sense of I’? If you say that ‘I’ have the sense of ‘I’, then who is it that has the sense of THAT ‘I’? The ‘real I’ is self-evident (you do not need a light in order to see another light).

The point is that all of this perceiving and thinking is in vyavahAra and <I = brahman> is an (the) ultimate truth. Consciousness (turIya) is the only reality; waking, dream and deep-sleep are apparent states that ‘take place’ within that. You cannot say that the ‘true I’ is only present in deep sleep. It is ALWAYS present (since that is all there is). But the mind is reactivated in dream and waking and the apparently separate world appears once again.

There is obviously a lot of teaching around this one topic. My next book will deal with all of this so ask me again in about 18 months and I should be able to give you a clearer answer!

(The following dialog is edited from a discussion on the Advaitin list.)

Q: If there are not two things then it cannot be possible for one man to reach God before any other. When we do awaken, we must awaken all at once, because there is only one of us.

A: This is not the case. It is like saying that, when one person dies, everyone will die. Or suggesting that sages such as Shankara and Ramana Maharshi were not enlightened. It is a confusion of the absolute reality with the empirical. As enlightenment is an event in time in the mind of a jIva, it does not affect any other jIva. For some excellent observations on all of this, read about the pot-space versus total-space metaphor used by Gaudapada in his Mandukya kArikA II.3-9.

Q: I would say that, once a person has reached this enlightenment, they also see that we are all there already. Some of us just don't know it. There is no journey for there is no place to go. Isn't this the knowledge that exists within each of us?

What you are saying about time is my point, exactly. Once we have stepped out of time then we see that all time has passed because it was not real anyway. It may only appear from our Earthly domain that we are awakening in parts, and this is because of this illusion of time, but once we have woken then the truth is otherwise. Once time is no more, which is, in truth, always.

I think, in a manner of speaking, that when a person dies for the last time (that is to even say there could be a last time if all time occurs at once) then yes, once the transition from time is achieved, it could be said that all have died. We are all born at once and we all die at once. How can this not be so if all time is one moment? Are we all not one another; past, present and future?

A: As I said, you should read some presentations on this topic, such as the one I mentioned. In that metaphor, the ‘awakening’ relates to the pot (i.e. the mind), not the pot-space (i.e. the Atman), which is always only total-space. The pot (i.e. body of the person) only seemingly separates out a ‘part’ of the total space. The pot is born and dies but the space is unaffected. The pot is subject to time, the space is not. There is one total-space but lots of pots. ‘Enlightenment’ of one pot does not affect the others.

So, yes, some of what you say is correct: there is no real journey to be made; we are already the non-dual reality (the pot space is already the total space). People are never ‘absolutely real’ and enlightenment is realizing all of this. But the realization is in a single mind (a single pot) so that this understanding unfortunately does not impact directly on the understanding of another mind. This knowledge belongs to the pot and, while some have it, most do not. There is only seeming duality but the appearance of duality continues after enlightenment (the sun still appears to rise even though we know this is an appearance caused by the rotation of the earth). Time continues at the relative level for all jIva-s, enlightened or not. It is only true to say that there is no time, space and causation in respect of absolute reality. ‘We’ as separate persons never ‘step out of time’.

Q: This is what I meant when I was saying that I am sure I am not using the proper terminology. When I am speaking of "reaching God" I am speaking of the next step after enlightenment, I suppose; the only REAL state to achieve; the goal; The step that occurs at the end of all lives.

I do appreciate your helping me to differentiate. We, as separate person, do not step out of time but once time has been trancended then there will be no separate persons. Once it does happen it will have always been.

A: This is where you start to diverge from what we have been saying. There is no ‘next step’ in respect of the apparent person in the world. (There isn’t even a first step in respect of who-we-really-are in reality.) Realizing that there is no person, that we are already perfect and complete, *is* the goal for the one who still believes himself to be a person. The idea of ‘reaching God’ is for the person still seemingly trapped in duality. At the end of ‘our life’, nothing at all happens to Consciousness. When the pot breaks, the pot-space is unaffected because the pot-space never existed. The space is not in the pot; it is the pot that is in the space. Consciousness is not in the body; it is the body that is in Consciousness.

Q: As I have read more about Advaita I have seen that this is a truth that lies within all of us if it lies within any of us. I have always said that if any one of us will see Heaven then we must all see it because we are not separate. If any one of us is to know true peace and truly experience Heaven then we must all experience it because the truth of Heaven is without the chaos of human emotion and it cannot be had as long as any part of God believes itself to be in Hell.

It cannot be possible for any one person to experience the true reality and be one with God and also still believe he is a person. In reality we are ALL one with God and this is the only reality and it is now. It could not be possible for some of us to be one while others are not. Those who are not "enlightened" may not yet see this but those are also the same who do not see any truth, or very little.

A: All the you said up to about half way through sounded fine but then you again said: “I have always said that if any one of us will see Heaven then we must all see it because we are not separate. If any one of us is to know true peace and truly experience Heaven then we must all experience it because the truth of Heaven is without the chaos of human emotion and it cannot be had as long as any part of God believes itself to be in Hell.”

If I can return to the pot-space and total-space metaphor. The individual pots (the actual material) correspond to individual persons (body-minds).

Now pot A is not realized. He thinks that ‘who-I-really-am’ is the space inside me (equivalent to my ‘soul’ or whatever you want to call it). He thinks that, when he dies, his space will merge with God or go to some heavenly space or be reborn inside another pot. Or perhaps he thinks that, when he breaks (the body dies), his space will disintegrate and exist no more.

Pot B is enlightened. He knows that, in reality, there is only total-space and that who-he-really-is IS that total-space. Each pot actually exists in total-space. Each pot does not really have pot-space inside of it. He knows that when he breaks, all that will happen is that the clay of the pot will return to the ground but he, the total-space, will be totally unaffected.

But B’s knowing of the truth is an aspect of B’s pot (his mind). This does not affect A’s pot and A still does not know it (unless B becomes a teacher-pot and explains the discovered truth to others).

So, the bottom line is that the pot-spaces of ALL pots are really total-space, whether or not they know this. Total-space is all there is. But most pots do not realize this. When one pot is enlightened, other pots are not automatically enlightened.

Hope this is now clear.

Q: My understanding is that only the unenlightened jIva is reincarnated but not the realized man - is this correct?

A: There are some questions that touch on this already: 19, 23, 50 and 52. Also, the previous question (168), although I was actually answering a slightly different question, will throw some light on your question.

Basically, reincarnation is a teaching which is given to fit in with the apparent causality in the world. It is also in accord with Vedic/Hindu teachings about how one should behave in the world (morality/dharma). It is logically necessary for the theory of karma, which states that we must reap the fruits of our actions. Even so, they relate to the jIva – the apparently separate individual living in the world. It is the subtle aspects (vAsanA-s) that are said to transfer from one body-mind to another and, as you say, this ceases once there is enlightenment in the present incarnation.

From the standpoint of absolute reality (turIya, paramArtha), however, there has never been any birth (of world or jIva). Therefore, the ‘bottom-line’ has to be that what has never been born can never be re-born. Who-you-really-are is the limitless, eternal brahman. Whatever appears to happen in the world has reality for the person living in the world to the same degree that the dream world is real for the dreamer.

Q: As I am new to the study of Advaita and turlya, paramArtha, (why the capital A?) I have to have confirmation from someone who knows and not to just assume it intellectually. Have you actually experienced that you, as Brahman, are the dreamer of the Universe,and that it doesn't really exist, or is it just a theory ? And the truth is that I am dreaming my body, all bodies, all events including death and reincarnation, the Earth, the Universe; that I am dreaming that I am writing this on a dream pc and that  I am dreaming you are reading it and may or may not reply?

A: The traditional teaching is not quite as you have outlined.

It is a good way of looking at it to say that the universe is real for the person (just as the dream is real for the dreamer). But, from the standpoint of absolute reality, there is no person or universe.

The ‘A’ in paramArtha is simply to tell you the correct spelling in Sanskrit (if you are interested). There are two ‘a’ vowels: one short and one long. The ‘A’ means the ‘long’ one. See the ITRANS page at the website if you want more info - http://www.advaita.org.uk/sanskrit/itrans.htm.

All of this is not a theory. If you study traditional advaita (or much better are taught it by a qualified teacher), you will find ample proof. Eventually this is directly realized since you ARE that non-dual reality. My next book will be based on the Mandukya Upanishad and commentary by one of the greatest philosophers – Gaudapada – and this will hopefully convince you. It should be published in 2011.

Q: I have been looking at the material on the advaita.org web-site. I was interested to see all of the debate, attack and counter-attack between Dennis Waite and the so called neo-advaitins such as Tony Parsons, Jeff Foster etc. My question is: has full and total 'realization' occurred for any of these so called authorities on the subject, or are they all communicating from their limited experiences along with learned book knowledge i.e. from a state of ignorance?

I can't imagine Sri Nisargadatta or Ramana Maharshi engaging in this kind of behavior. Arguments about how many 'people' have been awakened by traditional advaita versus neo-advaita (as if it's a competition) is nonsense. Do we actually have any fully realized being present at the empirical level (as Dennis Waite calls it) and if so why would they want to awake the 'unreal'? If the One is experiencing Itself through the dream of existence then presumably It intends the unreal to exist as Its cosmic play. Once Reality is known why would there be any need to re-enter the dream to change anything? Waking up all apparent persons surely spoils the dream? If I dreamt that my house was flooded, when I wake in the morning do I arrange for the fire service to be in attendance for when I sleep again tonight?

A: I actually make some of the same points in my books so that your criticism seems somewhat harsh!

In 'Enlightenment: the path through the jungle':
"12. The book makes no specific claims about relative ‘success rates’ of the different approaches. There are no statistics available upon which any such claims might be made and views might well differ even upon whether a given teacher is ‘enlightened’ or not. What it will do is to present, analyze and criticize the various issues and endeavor to persuade the reader that anything other than the traditional approach is unlikely to succeed."

And, in Question 93 on the website, as part of the answer I said:
"Suppose you have a dream in which you find someone injured, say, and you are just about to call for an ambulance when you wake up. Having woken up, your concern for the injured person disappears completely because you now know that the entire incident was illusory. Similarly, the enlightened mind knows that the world, with its separate persons, global warming etc. is mithyA only. All is brahman and nothing needs to be done (or can be done because brahman does nothing). [Note that this is not to say that the realized man ignores those who are suffering around him. On the contrary, action will take place in response to the need, without any attachment, according to the nature of his body-mind.]"

If you can point to anything I have said on the website that is unreasonable in my criticism of neo-advaita and that is clearly "communicating... from a state of ignorance", then I will happily remove it.

On the topic of the 'empirical level' (this phrase is not my invention - it is a reasonable translation of the Sanskrit 'vyavahAra'), I'm not sure what you mean by 'awaking the unreal'. It is certainly pointless to talk about motives in respect of the 'cosmic play'. The bottom line is that there has never been any creation - everything is brahman, perfect and complete. But your implication is that whatever is happening is fine (from the point of view of 'the One') so that must also include seeming arguments between traditionalists and neo-advaitins!

Even the enlightened will tend to continue to do whatever their nature dictates. This may well include trying to communicate what has been discovered, even to those non-existent others who are now known to be already free.

One other point on your comment that "I can't imagine Sri Nisargadatta or Ramana Maharshi engaging in this kind of behavior". According to the stories about Shankara's life (there is no 'certified' biography), he used to travel around the country *specifically* to engage in philosophical disputes with those who disagreed with him and a section of his commentary on the Brahman Sutras specifically refutes the positions of other philosophies. Similarly, parts of Gaudapada's kArikA on the Mandukya Upanishad specifically address other views and contradict them. Since these two can be regarded as the 'fathers' of advaita philosophy, I think the precedent is established!

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