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: Is enlightenment personal?

A: This question arises as a result of the mistaken concept that there are individuals who are not currently enlightened but may become so at a future time.

In reality, there is only brahman and it is obviously not meaningful to speak of brahman becoming enlightened - brahman IS unlimited light, consciousness etc. And in reality, there are no persons, egos or individuals - no one who could become enlightened.

At the level of the apparent world, there appear to be jIva-s as a result of Atman seemingly being limited by ignorance. Why this should be the case is not a question that can meaningfully be addressed. The mechanism by which this confusion is resolved, however, is to bring in knowledge to eliminate the ignorance. When this occurs, it can be said that it is now understood (at the level of mind) that there never was a separate individual. This process is called 'enlightenment'. So it is not altogether meaningful to speak of the person having become enlightened (but then, if anyone has become enlightened, it has to be the person)!

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (IV.4.19) states that “It is only through the mind that the truth can be realized.” And when so-called realization occurs, it is seen that nothing has actually changed. It is simply that the mistaken view of a “world” and “separation” has now disappeared.

Hence the expression of Sri Poonja (?): 'Nothing ever happened' or the Zen term: 'the gateless gate'.

In another one of those frequent examples of 'synchronicity', I read the following extract last night from David Carse's book 'Perfect Brilliant Stillness' in which he addresses precisely this question (his material is specifically not copyrighted, in case anyone should wonder):

There is a sense in which there is no 'awakening,' no enlightenment, because there is no 'one' to awaken. Who would this be? Who is awakened?

'Me,' david? Of course not: david is a dream character, an idea, a fiction; not the dreamer, and therefore obvi­ously cannot awaken. There is no 'david' to do anything, including awaken.

Or is it 'Who I Really Am' that has 'awakened;' Presence, Awareness, All That Is?

But of course Awareness has never been asleep, has no need to awaken to anything; Awareness is always already All There Is.

Clearly then, there is no one to awaken. 'Awakening' is only an analogy, a concept, a pointer. The seeker commu­nity tends to take it literally, but like most analogies it only takes you so far.

What has happened is more like this: in the dream, in the case of the dream character 'david,' All That Is stops pretending that 'It' is asleep. What has always been awake lets the misunderstanding that there is some one to be asleep and some one to awaken, fall away.

That is all. And the dream continues, as before. The misunderstanding has fallen away, but the misunderstanding was not real anyway, so what has happened? Nothing. The character 'david' now knows he is only a dream, not 'real;' knows it is all a dream. But even this dream character's 'knowing' is part of the dream, part of the unfolding of the script of the dream for that dream character, and nothing has happened. The dream character goes on being the dream character.

Why am I not all-powerful?

Q: If I am the Source, why do I not have the powers of the Source? Why can I not create worlds for example?

If what I will is the Source's willing, why is it not instantly fulfilled?

How do you experientially move from living in your ego to being the Source?

A: Sounds like delusions of grandeur!

This is another one of those questions where you have to clarify from which level you are speaking. From the standpoint of reality, there is only the ‘Source’ as you call it. Therefore you, being the Source, do have the power of the Source - what is happening now is exactly what you want to happen.

Far more likely is that you are asking this from the standpoint of the appearance, in which you are deluded into thinking that you are a separate person with your own particular desires which, naturally enough, you want to fulfil. Unfortunately, this is not possible – see the question above on free-will (i.e. on the page of Q and A at the website). All that you, the apparent person, can do is be thrown backwards and forwards at the mercy of the various forces acting upon you.

So what ‘you’ will is not what the Source is willing. What you ‘will’ is merely which thoughts arise and which seem the more attractive. Whether an action follows or not is again not a question of ‘will’ but simply of cause and effect within the brain-body mechanism. ‘You’ cannot ‘will’. And, back at the level of reality, it is not meaningful to speak of the Source ‘willing’. That would imply that the Source has desires, which implies lack, which is a contradiction in terms since the Source is already perfect and complete.

Finally, ‘you’ do not move from living in the ego to being the Source. ‘You’ do not exist as a separate entity. The idea that you do is a mistake – mixing up real and unreal. When this is truly realised, it will also be realised that you are already the Source and always have been.

Q: From your explanation I understand that you are saying that "will" as the origin of something doesn't exist. Why things happen is because of the law of cause and effect.

Isn't the natural conclusion of this a life of passivity --  a total acceptance of things as they are -- with no wish to develop or progress? Perhaps even reverting to living in the jungle?

A: At the level of appearance, yes, there is only causality to account for actions. But this does not lead to passivity. Darwinian selection naturally inculcates competition, ‘development’ and ‘progress’. And there is no escaping the fact that we feel as though we have free will. We feel good when we get what we want and bad when we don’t. All of this stuff will carry on regardless but there is no need to feel negative about it. It really is all quite amazing, isn’t it? It is all arising within you, for your enjoyment, as it were!

Origin of brahman:

Q: How did Being come into Being?  I.e., how did Brahman, i.e, us and everything, come into being?  How can something arise from nothing?  And isn't nothing a form of something, anyway?  I guess I'm wondering HOW the uncaused first cause (Brahman) could come into being.  I just can't conceptualize it.  If Brahman is concealing this truth from us, i.e., from itself, then why? 

A: I think this is the one they call the “devil’s question”! There isn’t ever going to be an answer that is understandable by the mind. How could the infinite ever be comprehended by the insignificant, finite mind of man which after all is only a transient form within that infinitude?

Having said that, Advaita teaches that brahman is existence ‘without limit’ (anantam), i.e. it did not come into being; it has always been all there is and ever will be. There never was ‘nothing’ but, equally, you cannot call brahman ‘something’ for that would imply that there could be some other thing (or nothing) and this is not the case (hence ‘advaita’ – ‘not two’.) So, no, brahman did not come into being and, more to the point, as I said to begin with, ‘you’ cannot conceptualise any of this.

As for concealing the truth from itself, this is traditionally the sort of explanation given for creation, namely that, not knowing itself, man was created in order that there could be objective knowing through the mind. Of course, this is just an idea that might appeal to some to provide the explanation that is ultimately not achievable.


Q: Can meditation bring about enlightenment?

A: Meditation is a valuable rest for the mind, providing some welcome freedom from thoughts. But the point to bear in mind is that the root cause of all of our problems is ignorance and the only thing that can remove that is knowledge. Experiencing a still mind is nothing more than an experience. Even an ascetic who goes into a cave to meditate for days at a time will come out and be no more enlightened than when he went in – just thinner!

Meditation is of value when the mind is very active. If thoughts, objections, problems, ideas etc. are continually being thrown up, the mind is not going to be receptive to knowledge - a still mind is sAttvika. But nothing can take ‘you’ (the ego) anywhere, whether to enlightenment or hell, because ‘you’ do not exist. Who you really are must already be ‘enlightened’. The problem is simply that there are thoughts that there is a separate entity that exists and is not enlightened. These thoughts (ignorance) have to be shown to be mistaken. This involves the mind, paradoxically. New knowledge is input, from scriptures or a teacher, and reason shows the previous notions to be false. Obviously this process cannot happen in the absence of mind. Hence, meditation could never itself bring about recognition of Self; it can only help prepare the mind to be more receptive to the knowledge. In fact, meditation (dhyAna) is not even part of the traditional preparation of Shankara’s Advaita ( sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti). It is the seventh of the eight steps of aShTA~Nga yoga.

Q: On the subject of Free Will (again): If everything is Brahman, and nothing is non-Brahman, then nothing can be counter-Brahman or anti-Brahman. In other words, in contrast to dualistic Christian philosophies, wherein people can "anger" God, in Advaita, assuming the basic premise is correct, it is impossible to do anything that Brahman does not want, because there is nothing other than Brahman.

Is this correct?

A: Sort of - but you are anthropomorphizing Brahman, which is not a valid thing to do. Brahman cannot be compared to a human (or a god). Things appear to happen in the phenomenal world but they are all only the ever-changing form of the non-dual Brahman - nothing really changes at all. And Brahman does not 'want' anything - it is already perfect and complete.

Q: If so, then the logical extention of this idea is that there is NO way we can do anything "wrong", and that absolutely everything we humans do on this planet is RIGHT, and is in fact pre-determined. If there is only one thing, Brahman, and we are all manifestations of Brahman, and Brahman is omnipotent, then Brahman (us and everything) knows exactly what will happen, because Brahman is beyond time, space, and causation, because these things are part of Maya anyway.

A: There are two issues here. Firstly, ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are purely human concepts, usually relating to a particular society. And they are obviously dualistic so could never have anything to do with Brahman. These ideas of omnipotent and omniscient do not relate to Brahman but to Ishvara. Just as the idea of an individual (jIva) corresponds to Atman (jIva = Atman + avidyA), so the idea of Ishvara corresponds to brahman (Ishvara = brahman + mAyA).

Within the context of the world-appearance, everything proceeds in a cause-effect manner. This is deterministic, yes, but in accordance with our past actions. The ‘soft’ approach allows us ‘self-effort’ to influence our future karma; the hard-line recognizes that this self-effort, too, is conditioned. But, again, the idea that Brahman ‘knows what will happen’ is not a valid way of looking at the situation. If you accept the idea of lIlA – that the universe was created in order for God to enjoy himself – this would not make any sense. All of your dreams are generated within your mind and proceed according to some cause-effect principle but this does not mean that you know what is going to happen next.

The best way of looking at the situation is to say that the jIva lives a pre-determined existence but you are not the jIva. Atman is always totally free. You are That.

Q: In other words, because Brahman is beyond time, and there is ONLY Brahman, and Brahman cannot do anything that angers itself, that runs counter to its own desires, and because Brahman brought Maya into existence, then there's NO FREE WILL, ever, only the illusion of free will that jivas (incarnated souls) feel is actually real.

A: This is anthropomorphizing again. Brahman does not have desires and does not act. In reality there is no creation. In ignorance, there appears to be individuals, the illusion of free-will and determinism. You are never going to be able to make unambiguous or ultimately meaningful statements about Brahman because all language and thought are necessarily limited and dualistic.

Q: As you say in your book, knowing these things, we can just watch the play unfold. This also implies that even our attempts to prove our supposed but illusory "free will" to ourselves or others is scripted and known by Brahman before we know we'll do it. Furthermore, this implies that every good thing, every bad thing, every mediocre thing "I" have ever "done" was pre-destined to happen. If I become a Nihilist and say "why do anything?/nothing matters", then that's scripted, too.

A: This idea of a script is just another metaphor. It is useful in that it helps us to understand that people cannot act other than the way in which they in fact do. It is unhelpful in that it implies that a god has ‘decided’ in advance what is going to happen.

Q: While I understand these concepts and am beginning to see the truth of them (reading John Wheeler, Vivekananda, and Maharshi, also), I still don't know HOW or WHY Brahman can exist. Human life may be a play of lila to amuse Brahman, but that doesn't explain how Brahman came into being. I recognize that Brahman is said to be eternal, beyond time, homogeneous, etc., but I can't conceptualize these things with my puny brain, and my ego rebels against these thoughts, quickly hitting a resistance point beyond which it can't go.

A: Yes – tough, isn’t it! This is one of the reasons why bhakti is often a more acceptable path than j~nAna. Surrender and humility are good attitudes to cultivate in the face of such ineffability.

Q: There seem to be two main schools of thought on the subject of self-realization: one says that all jivas are reincarnated until they self-realize, that this is the end-goal, and the other that it doesn't matter either way whether or not we self-realize, that Brahman really doesn't care what happens in that regard.

A: It’s not that there are different schools of thought so much as that Advaita aims to teach at the level of understanding of the seeker. Initially, reincarnation is taught so that one might believe that they will get there eventually. Once all of the theory has been understood and intellectually accepted, however, it can be appreciated that there is nowhere to get and no one to make the journey.

Q: Does our "sense of self" have the egoic power to manipulate the content of reality or is what "I" seem to experience just random?

A: There seems to be a number of misunderstandings here.

I assume that you now appreciate that in reality there is only the non-dual Self. So what we are talking about here is simply the illusory appearance. But even at the level of the phenomenal there is no such thing as ‘egoic power’ because there is no such thing as ego. (I assume that your ‘sense of self’ is another phrase for ego.) The ego is really just a bunch of ideas with which we identify.

Furthermore, no one does anything. Even ignoring the fact that there is no one to begin with, the seeming appearance is just a cause-effect nexus with one thing following on from another in a totally automatic way. So what happens is not random but entirely deterministic. However, one of those determining causes is our own mental makeup, itself the result of all of our upbringing, education, genetic makeup etc. Therefore it is inevitable that the way that we see ‘things’ will be determined by the nature of our mind. Someone sees a particular event or situation as exciting, another as frightening, yet another as mundane.

Thus, our experience is certainly dependent upon our ego (as defined above) but there is no manipulation. All that is happening is that all perceptions are filtered through our preconceived thoughts, habits etc. in a manner quite beyond any control.

Finally, all of this only affects the appearance, of course – reality is forever changeless, perfect and complete.

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