Advaita Vision


Advaita for the 21st Century

Questions and Answers
Dennis Waite

flower picture
Dennis photo

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: If given the choice between liberation from rebirth, and rebirth with self-knowledge, which should one choose?

A: You cannot have Self-knowledge without also knowing that I was never born in the first place, in which case where is the question of death or rebirth? I have, in any case, always been free and unlimited. Where is the question of ‘gaining’ freedom? You are effectively asking ‘can one choose to gain knowledge and still be ignorant?’

Q: What then is meant by ultimate mokSha? I thought that this meant the merging of the jIva into brahman, just as the river merges into the ocean. Once merged, how can an individual continue to experience or have any knowledge? Is it like being in deep sleep but without any awakening, because there is no longer any 'one' to wake up?

A: Self-ignorance is the belief that one is a limited individual, subject to saMsAra (punarapi jananam etc.) The truth is that who-you-really-are is *never* this, i.e. it is not a matter of gaining release from saMsAra; it is a matter of realizing that you never were subject to it in the first place. It is effectively the subtle body that goes from birth to birth so that, as long as you remain identified with this, it appears that *you* also are reborn. Enlightenment is simply recognizing this truth and realizing that who-you-really-are is brahman. Subsequently, the body-mind with which you were identified continues until death of that body and that subtle body is then not reborn again.

There is no ‘merging’, either at the time of enlightenment or at the time of death of the body, because you were never separate to begin with. It is not that you are a ‘part’ of brahman – you *are* brahman.

As far as ‘experience’ or ‘knowledge’ post-enlightenment is concerned, the normal body-mind activities continue until death of the body. The only difference is that the Self-knowledge that ‘I am not the body-mind’ and ‘I am brahman’ is now irrevocably in place.

Q: Are the vAsanA-s stored in the causal body (kAraNa sharIra) or subtle body (sUkShma sharIra)? In 'Back to the Truth' you state the former but I have heard that the kAraNa sharIra is a state of ignorance and that the vAsanA-s are stored in the subtle body.

A: If you press for a yes or no answer, I think one has to concede that, since the mind is resolved in deep sleep, the vAsanA-s have to be stored in the causal state. There is no avoiding this conclusion. The mitigating point is that the vAsanA-s only become manifest in the gross and subtle states, where they can be said to be stored in the subtle form. Swami Paramarthananda differentiates waking and dream from sleep by the words ignorance and error. Both ignorance and error are present in waking and dream but ignorance only in deep sleep. Since vAsanA-s are associated with the error aspect (i.e. we perceive and act according to fructifying saMskAra), this is where they are meaningful. Nevertheless, there is no escaping the fact that they must be somewhere in deep sleep! Hope this resolves the confusion.


Q: It seems not uncommon to encounter seekers who clearly know, without a shadow of a doubt, that the world is mithyA, that Brahman is all there is and that they themselves are Brahman. But they refuse to admit that they are enlightened because “something is missing” (while often not being able to clearly pinpoint what that something is.) Some of these may even have spent many years doing sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti.  And yet there are others who have never practiced, who do claim to be enlightened. Is it possible that both are enlightened but that the personality of the former is such that they need more work before they are prepared to admit it?

A: What you say about not ‘claiming enlightenment’ is very familiar. Basically, since the mind *does* continue post-enlightenment, the person is still susceptible to the habitual ways in which the mind works, including such things as false humility! Also, there is undoubtedly a very strong feeling/belief in most seekers (prior to enlightenment) that something will be clearly experienced, that one will instantly move from a position of doubt to one of absolute certainty, and so on. I do not believe it is like this. The shravaNa-manana-nididhyAsana process is one of acquiring all the knowledge – clearing all the doubts – consolidating and changing one’s behavior accordingly. I guess the ‘enlightenment’ comes after the second stage but the j~nAna phalam do not come until during/after the third, unless one was totally mentally prepared to begin with (fully acquired sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti).

So, yes, I agree entirely with your assessment of what I said. And I think that perhaps the majority of ‘enlightened’ people, certainly in the west, are in this position because the incentive to work fully for SCS is not there. We no longer have the discipline. Especially, knowing that it is Self-Knowledge that brings enlightenment, we do not want to spend years doing karma yoga. I am a typical example of this! I was with SES for many years, doing all the exercises and meditating etc but felt I was not ‘getting anywhere’ so left. I still believe leaving was the right thing to do but I was clearly not an uttama adhikArI when I left!

You ask: “Liberation IS there, even for the student who is not prepared, who has not chatuShTaya sampatti, who is madhyama adhikArI. He IS jIvanmukti.  Is that so?” I would say no, because Swami P equates the word jIvanmukti with j~nAna phalam. I also don’t like the word ‘liberation’ because it implies moving from a state of not being free to one of being free and, of course in reality, one is always free. As I have indicated before, I would say that a madhyama adhikArI can be enlightened but not have j~nAna phalam. And it follows both the one without practice and the conscientious one who has practised, can both be enlightened, irrespective of whether they openly admit it. As Swamiji puts it, in this position one continues to do nididhyAsana until such time as the sense of pUrNatvam is clear. Also, Swami P says that it is impossible to become enlightened with *no* SCS. But, of course, one may naturally have some without having done years of karma yoga (tradition would say that you acquired it in a previous life).

Q:It is also said that, without shabda pramANa, there is no possibility for liberation. This must have been the position of Shankara. Yet there are many liberated ones who never even knew about Hindu scriptures and many more who never read them. What is your position regarding this?

A: I think the key word here is ‘shabda’, which Monier Williams gives as ‘scriptural or verbal testimony’. The point is that we already ‘experience’ the Self, in that we already *are* the Self – we are already complete and unlimited. We just don’t know it. Accordingly, we need someone or something to tell us - in such a way as to convince us. In advaita, the ‘telling’ source to which all refer as ultimate authority is shruti. This is the way the sampradAya method operates. But there are obviously other valid sources – the Tao Te Ching springs to mind – and enlightened people from other traditions will be able to pass on the pointers as they see them. The ultimate truth cannot be spoken of directly but there are many indirect ways to point people in the right direction. This is the ‘many paths up the mountain’ metaphor. But this does not mean that one can avoid the climb! There are no helicopters in gaining enlightenment, as neo-advaitin teachers would have us believe!


Q: I have read J Krishnamurti over and over again and I always thought that he was telling us that the observer is the observed and that there is no difference. Have I misunderstood him? I read in the 'Introduction to Vedanta' at your site that the subject is different from the object. This teaching on Vedanta seems to give me more space. However, I am still confused. Also, A Course in Miracles teaches that we are all one and everything is one. Is the subject really different from the observer or are these different teachings or have I misunderstood?

A: First of all, the ‘Introduction to Vedanta’ series is by Dr K. Sadananda – I only edited it. Also, I have only read a little J. Krishnamurthy so cannot really answer any detailed questions on his teaching. (If you have any, I can pass them on to Sadananda, who did begin his studies with JK.)

Having said that, the bottom-line of all non-dual teachings is that there are not ‘two things’, ‘we are all one’ etc. The difference lies in the way that the teaching brings about this understanding in the mind of the seeker. You will appreciate that, on the one hand, there is the claim that ‘everything is one’ and on the other there is the experience that ‘I am here and the world is there’ – there is a clear disjoint between what we experience and what the teaching is saying. This has to be resolved by the mind before any ‘realization’ or ‘enlightenment’ can occur.

The way that advaita brings about this understanding is by beginning with our current, dualistic experience. ‘I’, the subject, am clearly ‘here’, while ‘you’ the object, are ‘over there’. Obviously, I cannot be you. Similarly, I am not this computer in front of me. I am not even this body, since I can lose bits of it and continue to exist without them. I am not even the mind. Thoughts come and go but I remain. And so on. The teaching takes us forward from that basis and only later starts to ‘take back’ some of what has been said earlier, in the light of our growing knowledge. It is a bit like beginning with Newtonian mechanics and later introducing relativity.

There is no point in trying to feel ‘I am everything’ to begin with, because all your prior knowledge, your peers, the media etc. will all insist otherwise. Such a strategy will only result in frustration. Find a good, traditional advaita teacher if you want to take things slowly, using proven techniques.


Q: When I try to watch my thoughts all I feel is a form of resistance in my stomach and head - sometimes quite painful - but it is really hard to see my thoughts. Its almost as if my mind has gone blank, even though I am trying to see them. Is there a reason for this?

A: This is a very common problem, especially noted by people trying to get into a regular meditation routine. Watching your thoughts is not really an active task at all and trying to make it into one will give rise to the sort of symptoms you mention (and will not give any benefits either!) The reason why you find it difficult to ‘see’ your thoughts is because you get carried away by whatever you happen to be doing. The key is attention. Simply attend to whatever is happening in a passive way, almost as though you are sitting outside of your body and mind and simply watching what is going on as an observer. Our habitual tendency is to jump in and get involved because the belief is ‘I am doing this’. In fact, there is just ‘doing’ or ‘thinking’ going on and who-you-really-are is not doing anything at all. But you will not see that this is really how it is unless you can cultivate the detached witness attitude. Again, this is something that a good teacher will address and get you to practice as part of the teaching.


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