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. I've been on the non-duality 'circuit' for a couple of years, and have devoured dozens of books running the gamut from Douglas Harding to Eckhart Tolle to Krishna Menon. In fact, I recently returned from the UK, where I attended a seminar with Tony Parsons (I've read the correspondence between the two of you - great stuff!). Presently I'm working with the Great Freedom teachings of Candice O'Denver, and, if you're familiar with this group, I'd really like your 'take' on their work.

Above and beyond all this, my conundrum is simplicity itself: I'm stuck! While I have a vast intellectual or conceptual understanding of the basic principles of nonduality (including Advaita Vedanta), I seem unable to incorporate these ideas into my daily life. Whether its Douglas Harding's 'headlessness' or Tony Parsons' 'nothing is everything', any practical, experiential realization of these concepts still elude me to a great extent.

My main focus has been the 'Neo-Advaitin' writing which you routinely eschew - and I can certainly understand why! With the possible exception of Great Freedon mentioned above, I've had very little success with the implementation of these concepts in my everyday life. The Great Freedom teachings recommend 'resting in short moments of awareness, repeated many times, until it becomes automatic'. At least Candice O'Denver appears bright, non-cultist, and accessible.

Dennis, I need a practical suggestion or proposed methodology that will bear fruit! I feel like the guy who has read a detailed textbook on swimming and, feeling confident and informed, jumps in the water and drowns! I could go on and on, but I'd be most receptive to any ideas you might offer.

A. I really do sympathize but you need to ask yourself what it is exactly that you are expecting � disappointment is always the result of unreasonable expectation! What do you mean by �incorporate these ideas into your life�? There is the stage of hearing or reading the material and realizing that it must be true. Then there is the stage of clearing up any remaining doubts by asking questions, listening or reading another time. Finally there is the stage of acclimatization to the now accepted knowledge. This final stage may take the rest of your life. It is necessary for those people who were not fully mentally prepared beforehand and, until it is complete, you will not see the effects in your life (of being always at peace, never worried and so on). If this is what you mean then that is your answer. It is covered by the practices of shravaNa, manana and nididhyAsana, sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti and the result of j~nAna phalam or jIvanmukta.

The fact is that life goes on, even after enlightenment. Enlightenment is not about results for me in this life; it is purely concerned with Self-knowledge, which brings with it the knowledge that this world, this life and this very person are all mithyA.

Free will

Q. When we say we do not have free will and everything is happening spontaneously, then one naturally assumes that all is governed by the universe or the Self. It is also said that whatever happens is fixed according to the will of God. So the question comes that if my body-mind organism has to die without any major 'success', shouldn't myself as the source try to become rich, etc.?

A. According to Advaita, you, as a person in the world, do have a limited degree of free will � as it is put in the scriptures �to do, not to do or to do differently�. The extent to which you are able to exercise this free will is restricted by your particular nature, upbringing, etc. There are many factors affecting any given situation and most of them are outside of your control. Things do not happen �spontaneously�; they happen according to the laws of creation (or the will of God if you prefer). But you, the jIva, are an aspect of this creation and also play a part in the happening. Your free will is also an input to the cause-effect nexus.

It is only from the point of view of absolute reality that there is no free will. There is none because there are no persons to have any. There is only the non-dual reality. And who-you-really-are is That.

So, when it comes down to asking �what I want�, it makes no sense to have as your ambition �to become rich� or anything similar. In reality, such things have no more meaning than does your dream after you have woken up. The only remotely meaningful aim is to attain enlightenment so that you realize the truth of the matter whilst still in this body and world.

Q. �It is only from the point of view of absolute reality that there is no free will. There is none because there are no persons to have any. There is only the non-dual reality. And who-you-really-are is That�.

What is written above becomes our reality only when realization happens, so when it does happen, does it not mean our will becomes God�s will; and so now can we at this stage know what my will would be for me? (Not from an ego point of view but from the Self's point of view.) The reason why I ask this question is because I heard Ramesh Balsekar saying that after Self realization, certain tendencies of the body-mind organism would remain as they are, as per the destiny and the will of God; but when we, as awareness, become aware of ourselves, can it not affect the body and mind�s destiny as well because the choice maker is source itself? For example, when we come across the law of karma and the law of attraction, it appears that we can bring in changes for our body-mind destiny, though the silent witness we are will be unaffected?

A. That�s a very interesting question but the bottom-line answer has to be that there is a confusion of levels of reality here.

From the absolute perspective, the Self does not act and there is nothing other than the Self. Nothing else to say.

From the standpoint of the world, everything happens in a cause-effect manner, according to the laws of Ishvara (brahman + mAyA). Your free-will is also subject to the same laws, which means that you find it extremely difficult to act outside the scope of your own nature. What you call your will is actually only Ishvara functioning through your mind-body instrument anyway. The state of the mind inevitably affects the outcome, as you know. E.g. your actions will differ according to whether you are feeling depressed or elated. And in particular, new knowledge affects the way that you (choose to) behave. For example, the new knowledge that what you thought was a snake is in fact a rope changes your outlook considerably. It stands to reason, then, that Self-realization will affect your outlook radically.

But, enlightened or not, what we are speaking of here is the behavior of the person. Whether or not the person is enlightened, he is still a person, with all that this entails. Although I may now know that the world is mithyA, I still see the world and still have to interact with these people whom I now know to be none other than myself. And the tendency will still be for the body-mind to act in similar ways to before.

I don�t know what you mean by asking �can we know what my will would be for me�. The Self has always been the Self. This person has always been, in reality, the Self � I just did not know it prior to realization. After realization, there is still a person. The difference is that the mind now knows that the person is mithyA and �I am brahman�. But this knowledge is still in the mind and, at the empirical level, actions and choosing continues as before. To say that �we as awareness become aware of ourselves� is not really a valid statement or is at least misleading. This is where the confusion of levels comes in and seems to be causing your confusion. From the pAramArthika standpoint, brahman does not do anything, including �becoming aware�. The best you can say here is that brahman is awareness. But even that is saying too much. And at the vyAvahArika level, it is effectively the reflection of Consciousness in the mind that becomes aware.

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