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' .

brahman and the mind

Q. I have just been rereading Journal 02, I feel that many people may end up in a dead-end, although it may be a dead-end with many delightful attractions and diversions.

The commentary on the Brahma Sutra by Swami Paramarthananda at the start of the journal states that, 'We must know what we are investigating,' and 'Have an appropriate means of acquiring data.' Such an approach must mean that we have projected a goal (however vague or otherwise) and at some point we will achieve that goal. This is what our minds do, so whatever is 'discovered' or 'realized' in this way can only be within the 'known' that is the mind.

The main drive of what we call our mind is for its own search for security and permanence; if any system can contribute to its maintenance and continuity it will latch onto it - all religious and spiritual traditions have this fatal floor.

For this reason we need to understand the mind, not through a path or prescription but through our own observations of the moment-to-moment movement of this 'self' perpetuating but amazing tool. To ask how to do this is to be back in the loop that is the mind, the known; all we can do is to 'watch' - but without becoming the 'watcher'.

All this is very unsatisfying, but only for a mind that seeks a result.

Of course, we have to start out believing that we are looking for something for �me� � usually happiness. Of course, we have a goal (to become enlightened). How else could it be? Simply observing the mind may lead us to the realization that we are not the mind but how can it lead us to the knowledge that we are brahman? The knowledge about brahman has to come from outside initially, trusting in what we are told by the teacher or the scriptures. Eventually, through careful guidance, we may come to the realization that who-we-really-are is, in fact, this same brahman. There is no problem with searching for security. When the mind finally realizes that there is only brahman and �I am That�, it finds infinite security. It seems that, like another questioner with whom I am presently in discussion, you feel that enlightenment mean �death of the mind� (manonAsha). Please read the essay from Swami Suddhananda (extract from Premananda�s book) that I have posted to the website.

What is a �dead end� is being told simply �This is IT� (or whatever) and �that is all that you need to know�. Then, there is simply no way of removing the self-ignorance; you have simply put yet another layer of ignorance in front of the stuff that was there already.

(The introductory material, incidentally, was my own, based upon what I have heard from Swami Paramarthananda. I wouldn�t want to attribute any misunderstanding on my part to him!)


Q. I visit your site now and then and I was wondering how you judge a teacher to be realized. On your site you state that Dr.Goode is a 'self-realized teacher of advaita'. Why do you think this? Would you say the same for Francis Lucille? Could you please let me know?

There is no objective way of determining whether someone else is or not. Having understood what enlightenment *is*, the only way to make a subjective judgement is to listen to or read what they say and use discrimination to ascertain whether they truly understand what they are talking about. In the case of Greg and Francis, I have discussed many topics with the former and listened to the latter and my view is that both are enlightened.

Q. A few more Advaita Vedanta questions for you which I would really appreciate your help on:

  1. What is the relationship between antakarana (ahaMkAra, chitta, buddhi, manas) and the physical brain? Modern neuroscience and psychology has conclusively proven there is certainly some sort of link between the physical and subtle entitites - clearly different electrical brain activites correspond to different functions such as perception, memory, emotion, etc.

  2. The fact that ingested food and drugs DO have an effect on the antaHkaraNa - e.g. you can take LSD or ecstacy and experience 'blissful' states associated with the subtle realms perceived/enjoyed/known by the antaHkaraNa - this suggests that the antaHkaraNa is NOT a subtle instrument as I think vedAnta would claim, but that it is gross owing to the fact that physical matter can be affected by it? What is vedAnta's view?

  3. Does the antaHkaraNa physically reside in the brain, or does it somehow permeate everything in space-time, or is it outside space-time?

  4. You are a big advocate of 'traditional vedAnta' - the reasons for this (practicality and effectiveness of teaching method), I fully agree with. But I still struggle to resolve how NON-vedAnta 'sages' in other spiritual traditions (e.g. Buddhism), apparently attained mokSha. IF vedAnta IS a means of knowledge for the Self - then how can any jIva who has never employed this means EVER attain mokSha on their own? Technically, wihout vedAnta, it should be impossible, right?

  5. Leading on from above... Is Buddhism (I'm no expert in the different Buddhist sects, so I will generalise) the same as advaita vedAnta ? I beleive Shankara and his guru specifically criticised Buddhism on certain teachings - roughly what were these concerned with? Is the Buddhist notion of enlightenment (nirvana) the same as vedAnta's definition of mokSha? Everytime I read snippets of Buddhist texts, I never hear anyone teaching about non-duality: is this even asserted within Buddhism as the nature of Self?

(1) � (3) Both antaHkaraNa and brain are mithyA so there is no future in pursuing such questions. It is like asking about the relationship between entities in the dream that you had last night. Another way of looking at it is that both are simply name and form of brahman so that there is no question of �relationship� � you can only have a relationship between two things.

(4) There is a great danger for confusion here. You ask whether other approaches can lead to mokSha but you are using the advaita term �mokSha� with its advaita meaning. Unless the other approach uses the same definition, you are not talking about the same thing. For example, the concept could have no meaning at all for those branches of Buddhism that believe that shunya is the nature of reality. But advaita is a means to an end only and is itself mithyA so there is no reason why other non-dual paths such as Sufism, Taoism, etc. should not have their own equally valid teaching methods for leading one to the truth. My own search happened to lead me to advaita and, in it, I found completely reasonable explanations for everything; explanations that did not conflict with my scientific upbringing.

(5) As far as I am aware (and my knowledge of Buddhism is extremely limited!), the only branch that is close to advaita is the yogachAra sect. And their belief is that Consciousness is �momentary�, arising with a thought or perception etc. and dying an instant later. So even this branch is not the same as advaita. You will find that the Mandukya kArikA-s and the Brahmasutra address (and dismiss) the other spiritual approaches that were prevalent at the time.

Q. I am half-way through Enlightenment: A Path Through the Jungle - just a few questions based on this book I hope you could help me with:

  1. Dennis: (Stanza 42/43/123): '... shabda is unique in communicating knowledge about the Atman... scriptures are regarded as the only source of knowledge about the Self... if one does not study scripture, true knowledge does not arise even in millions of years.'

    Questioner: If this is true, HOW is it possible that enlightened people such as Ramana, Anandamayi Ma, various Direct Path / Neo-Advaita people, etc. were enlightened WITHOUT having been exposed to shabda? Please explain the exact means of knowledge (pramANa) they used to attain enlightenment? This implies your above statement is not strictly correct.

  2. Dennis: (Stanza 50/301-304): 'Use of means of knowledge automatically removes self-ignorance... one does have limited ability to choose actions to influence the qualtiy of the mind, which is more conducive for enlightenment... no cause, no effect... etc.'

    (a) You essentially say, in many places, that there IS a cause for enlightenment, right?
    (b) However, you seem to imply that I, an apparent jIva, can directly/indirectly cause my own enlightement, correct?
    (c) I always thought there are three factors enabling enlightenment: (1) Qualified Student; (2) Qualified Teacher; (3) Ishvara's grace. Is this correct? In the book, you seem to ignore factor (3). Why?

  3. Dennis: (Stanza 74/73): '...traditional teaching literally takes us to the goal... the hearer attains enlightenment on hearing the text for the last time...'

    Questioner: If this is true, can you confirm that this was the case (i.e. enlightenment occurred whilst hearing/contemplating scripture) with your own enlightenment?

  4. Dennis: (Stanza 142): '...a true teacher can lead the mind of a student step by step to the direct recognition of the non-dual Self without the text/Sanskrit.'

    Questioner: Please offer some examples of where this has actually occurred. Are there any teachers alive today on the planet, who you believe have such an ability in the English language? If so, who?

  5. Dennis: (Stanza 257): 'Nor is enlightenment about a still or silent mind...'

    Questioner: You also spoke of meditation in the Book of One. I have practised Samatha (Buddhist) meditation with an experienced teacher for two years BUT I just don't understand the UTILITY of meditation in relation to enlightenment.

  1. The point about knowing/experiencing reality is that this is *already* the reality (how could it not be). We even �experience� the Self/non-duality every night in deep sleep. So we cannot say that all of this is alien. It is the very nature of our Self, always. The problem is one of Self-ignorance. Pre-existing ideas in the mind cover over the truth and cause us to misperceive the reality, thinking that it is dualistic.

    To counteract this ignorance and misperception, Self-knowledge has to arise. This is most unlikely to do so �of its own accord� � it hasn�t done so for all of our life to date (and all our previous lives, if you believe in reincarnation). So, the natural way that it can be �prompted� is by input from others. The �others� who are able to give us this input are the Self-realized sages who are able to unfold the truth, based upon our presently misconceived beliefs. The scriptures contain proven techniques for doing this and good teachers make use of these. These techniques have been validated over thousands of years. This is why they are uniquely valuable.

    Of course, this does not directly answer your question. The reasonable answer would be that, although the vast majority of people need explanations, reasoned argument etc., there are always the rare exceptions who, for whatever reason, make the intuitive leap on their own and then subsequently find validation for their experience in the scriptures. This, I suggest, was the case with Ramana. The strictly traditional view is that Ramana (and such like people) would have been exposed to the teaching and scriptures in previous lives and come close to enlightenment in their immediately preceding lifetime.

  2. (a) Yes � there is a cause for enlightenment.

    (b) I wouldn�t say that one can *cause* one�s own enlightenment. All that I can do is optimize the conditions. This means firstly, preparing the mind (sAdhanA chatuShTaya sampatti) and secondly, pursuing the self-knowledge, ideally with the help of a qualified teacher. If I do this assiduously, then enlightenment must follow eventually (though not necessarily in this lifetime, according to traditional teaching).

    (c) Pedantically, you are right. I admit that I mostly ignore Ishvara in the book for three reasons. Firstly, I believe that most Western readers are not comfortable with the concept; secondly, I do not believe it is a *necessary* concept; thirdly, I myself have never been very happy with it.

  3. No, I cannot confirm this. I have never claimed to be enlightened but, to the extent that I am, it has been a gradual process with no obvious �Ah-ha� event. I am certainly not a jIvanmukta.

  4. As I have just answered another questioner, there is no objective indicator of enlightenment. 'Having understood what enlightenment *is*, the only way to make a subjective judgement is to listen to or read what they say and use discrimination to ascertain whether they truly understand what they are talking about.' Many modern satsang teachers claim that they are enlightened as a result of listening to their own teacher (who is or was, typically, Papaji, Nisargadatta, �Sailor� Bob). I really wouldn�t want to risk being quoted as to which modern teachers I consider to be enlightened. There would always be the implication that I considered any that I didn�t mention to be *not* enlightened! You really should not indulge in such speculation. The overriding importance is to decide for yourself whether what is said by a particular teacher helps you to remove some Self-ignorance. If it does, then that teacher is useful; not otherwise. Only if you are able to commit yourself to long-term study with a particular teacher does it become important. Even then, as Shankara has pointed out, a good, unenlightened teacher is far better than a bad, enlightened one.

  5. Meditation is extremely valuable as part of the mental preparation. Only a clear, quiet, disciplined mind is able to be optimally receptive to the teaching and able to discriminate the truth. But meditation in itself can never lead to enlightenment which, as I keep saying is not the result of any action.

If you want to ask a question, and do not object to its being included in this section, please email me.

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012