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' .

Ignorance and existence

Q. Two questions:

(1) Who is ignorant? It would be begging the question to claim that the ignorance is illusion, or the experiencer of that ignorance doesn't exist, for then one could ask who, or what, is experiencing an illusionary ignorance, and in what sense can there be an experience of illusion without an experiencer? If it is the 'one Self' that assumes the illusion, then it posits a dualism within that Self; a 'part' that is aware and a 'part' that is not yet aware that it is aware, or some other clumsy statement. With this approach, we've introduced both a dualism of being and of time.

(2) It seems to me that there is a dualism at the basis of the distinction that brahman, the One, is 'real', and the other stuff around isn't, or doesn't exist. It would seem to me that the distinction 'exists, or not', or 'real or not', is misleading here. The table is real, it exists. As does the ego. A table may be a world of pulsating energy with more space than 'material' if looked at from a different perspective, but that doesn't make its existence as a table less valid. It may be other than what we perceive it to be, but it exists, just as a whirlpool exists even though the water is not so much spinning around as flowing through. It may not exist as an independent structure; it perhaps exists as a temporary construction, a form of a more basic 'energy' that stands out temporarily from its surroundings by an act of interpretation and some other process of distinction, but it still exists.

I understand that 'emptiness' does not mean not real or non-existent, but empty of the illusion of independence. Just as brahman isn't real if it is seen as an independent reified Being distinct from non-brahman stuff. Please correct me where you feel I have gone awry in this thinking.

These two questions are, of course, quite connected. I am just beginning to read your books, and besides a response from you would appreciate if you can refer me to writings of yours or others that deal with this topic of the subject of the illusion.

A. Your questions are really going right to the heart of the teaching of advaita and if I tried to answer them fully (as indeed they deserve), I would end up writing another book. They are certainly answered fairly comprehensively in the next edition of Book of One, due out at the end of next April. I don't think they were satisfactorily covered in the first edition, unfortunately - probably because I didn't really understand the teaching completely myself. If you have Back to the Truth, I think that should clear up the issue - but you won't read that overnight!

The two topics that you really need to understand first are the two-level teaching of advaita - paramArtha and vyavahAra - and the concept of mithyA. And there are lots of essays and definitions of terms at the website which address these.

Very briefly (and I am sure inadequately), the person does exist at the empirical level (vyavahAra). And it is the mind of the person that is ignorant. At this level, the ignorance is just as real as the person and the experience of duality is equally real. From the standpoint of absolute reality (paramArtha), where of course 'we' can't stand, there is no person, no ignorance and no duality. If one attempts to explain this in a few sentences, it is very likely to sound clumsy and unconvincing. If it is explained gradually, by a qualified teacher who understands and can interpret the scriptures, the hearer is left with no doubt at all that this is how it is. (But if you have no prior understanding of advaita at all, this could take quite a long time!)

Regarding the question of the 'reality' or 'existence' of the table, why not read the story I wrote and then come back to me if you are still not clear. When you say that the table 'exists', there is no doubt that there is something that has existence. That 'something' is brahman. brahman is the essential reality of all apparently separately existing things. There is only brahman. The 'table' is simply name and form of that.

As I say, please do come back if you want specific clarification. But please read some more first so that you have an understanding of what advaita is saying on these matters.

Finding a teacher

Q. First I would like to thank you for writing Back to the Truth. I found it perfect for the place I'm in, as far as the teaching is concerned - more of a validation for where I am at, I guess. I hold Ramana Maharshi as my teacher and guru, but have looked at many others over the years. It seems to me that there has to be a powerful resonance to finally settle on what and whom works for the progress of the individual. Things just did not ring true for me as far as the teaching of a lot of people out there. I went to see Ramesh Balsekar a couple of years ago and witnessed first hand what I thought to be some morally questionable behavior that actually helped in the sense it showed me his mortality and fallibility, and that I was OK with the way I was. Since being back home (New Zealand), my life has changed for the better as the judging has stopped, thoughts come up and go away; there is no judgement there and that seems to be the key for me.

I have noticed there have been a few people with alcohol problems on your and other sites, and I myself was a huge problem drinker but have not touched anything for years now, with no desire to at all; it seems to have dropped off somehow with no real effort apart from asking 'who am I' and sitting with that question. My question is, I don't seem to enjoy groups and have no desire to become part of one, and finding a teacher in New Zealand seems quite impossible. Reading is even dropping off and everything seems regurgitated, so I'm wondering if I am heading down a dangerous path on my own? I do carry the thought that 'I could be wrong' with everything I do and hope that there is guidance there. Any opinion or advice would be well received.

A. I have received other �questions� from people in a similar situation, i.e. living somewhere where there do not seem to be any suitable teachers. I do sympathize and do not really have any very constructive suggestions to make.

I have made comments elsewhere in the Question and Answer section on Ramana�s �Who am I?� technique. It seems to me that its value really lies in its revealing of who you are not rather than who you actually are. Basically, if you can see it, you cannot be it. But this can lead you into solipsism if you are not careful. The only means of knowledge for discovering who you are is shabda pramANa � the words of a trustworthy �other�. This is the ultimate reason why you really need a qualified guru. But, in the absence of this, it seems that you do have to rely upon reading, discussion with others, etc. Have you lost interest in reading simply because you haven�t found anything worth reading? I assume that, since you are asking the question, you are not altogether happy that the path you are pursuing is going anywhere? There is no �danger� here. You may not gain enlightenment (in this life!) but it is of no problem according to traditional advaita � your puNya will be carried forward to the next one! Of course, if your mumukShutva (desire to attain enlightenment) was sufficiently great, you would simply (!) relocate from New Zealand to be somewhere close to a reliable source of wisdom!

Do ask further questions if you wish but there is no easy way out of this one, I�m afraid.

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