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' .

Neo-Advaita and meditation

Q. I think that some Advaita teachers are somewhat disingenuous in that they insist that there is no point in coming to their meetings or buying their books, etc., as there is nothing that 'you' can do. I usually roll my eyes and still buy their books and turn up at their meetings though! I know that really they mean �you� in the �small you� sense but it�s still difficult to grasp exactly what they mean.

I have been meditating for 30 odd years so I have a feeling for the presence, and enjoy what appears to be my own awareness as it seems to be fresh and new all the time, which I�ve always assumed to be why we don�t �feel� any older. But my point is that it might be because I�ve meditated that I have come to this point, or maybe because I�ve just got a spiritual nature and would have been interested in Advaita anyway. I intend to buy your Book of One as your approach seems to be more inclusive.

I really admire some of the Neo-Advaita teaching for the stripped-down minimalist approach but their insistence on meditation being dualistic exasperates me, as last time I looked, 'transcendence' meant going beyond (to the bigger Self).

What do you think about this? I do understand the pointlessness of an apparent person seeking to find that there is no one. It's made worse by the fact that I seem to know this already but still keep going around in circles. When I just stick to my enjoyment of my own awareness all this goes away; perhaps this is where the problem lies?

A. The problem is that Neo-Advaitin teachers have no methodology for developing what they are trying to say. Thus, they are effectively speaking without any meaningful context. What they say makes no sense, either from the standpoint of absolute reality or from the person and the world. So they make the classic mistake of mixing the two levels and ending up with nonsense.

Meditation is an extremely valuable practice for many of the classical pre-requisites of sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti. But, as with all practices, it cannot in itself lead to enlightenment � only Self-knowledge can bring this about, through the practice of shravaNa, manana and nididhyAsana. It is certainly not pointless seeking. This is one of the Neo-Advaitin fallacies. The person is in the dualistic world and has to gain Self-knowledge to remove his ignorance. There is no way around this.

Q. What you say about levels makes immediate sense and is a good example of how knowledge destroys ignorance; I could feel a lot of 'distress' caused by attending satsangs dissolve as soon as I read this.

I tend to have the mental model (or conceptual metaphor) that meditation is like a 'portal' embedded in dualistic reality; that if stumbled across lets unlimited being be known. I wouldn't even say being be known by the 'small self' - just being being known by being, which slowly becomes to be known as all that there is.

Your concept of levels has already helped me to be able to express this a bit more eloquently than I was able to before, even though my underlying experience hasn't changed. So it is a bit like Nisargadatta says 'using the mind to unpick the mind'.

Although I'd always thought that the use of Sanskrit terms as always a little spiritually pretentious (mainly because I'm lazy and had to do Latin at school!) I can now see the need for it if we're going to talk about levels in spiritual life. So where would I start with this to catch up?

A. Sorry about the Sanskrit. I wouldn�t recommend learning it, really (pity we didn�t learn it at school instead of Latin, though!). You pick up the main terms just by reading and joining email discussion groups. There is a dictionary at the website � look under the �Sanskrit� menu heading. But some Sanskrit terms are essential because there are no English equivalents - mithyA is an obvious and key example. There are page entries on some of these terms � see �Terms and Definitions� under the Sanskrit menu.

It�s not a good idea to think of the �levels� too literally � there is only actually the non-dual reality. But the appearance of name and form is so �realistic� that practically everyone takes it for the reality itself. It�s good to think of dreams in this respect. Our dreams can be extremely real, too � while we are dreaming. So we don�t ever �move� from the world appearance into a non-dual reality. From the perspective of the person, both are there all the time. Advaita is sometimes referred to as �non-duality in spite of seeming duality�. And you never �know� that reality in an objective sense � it is what you are.

Q. I have been looking at your website, especially about the Tradtional Advaita versus Neo-Advaita debate. I can see how I've got into a bit of a muddle. As an example, I am 54 and have been practising some sort of meditation since I was 23, which I have hugely enjoyed. I then stumbled across Advaita and Neo-Advaita when following up a 'lead' on Ramana Maharshi.

So of course, I've found it appealing. The only problem is that a lot of the people who turn up at these things haven't meditated for years and had that sort of empirical experience. I'm not saying it's better, just different. The problem for me was the nagging feeling of the fundamental hypocrisy of all this - none of them seem to realize that all these people who turn up think that there is a method i.e. turning up! This reminds me of the self referential sentences along the lines of 'this statement is not true', which led Bertrand Russell and co. into all sorts of morass when they were trying to 'prove' mathematics.

I think I've learnt more in a couple of days talking to you and perusing your site than I have in a while. I can't wait to get hold of your books. The problem with a lot of Neo-Advaita books is that they are just transcriptions of dialogues they've had with their students. Nothing wrong with this as far as it goes, but they don't start with fixed axioms and develop them logically, so they haven't had to think it all out.

I remember a bit of Sanskrit that always stuck with me when I heard Deepak Chopra say it: 'aham brahmAsmi' - I am the totality.

A. It is certainly difficult not to see holding satsangs as a bit hypocritical when it is claimed there is no seeker, no teacher, no path, etc.! Enlightenment: The Path through the Jungle is specifically about all of this; i.e. comparing traditional, satsang and Neo-Advaitin teaching and explaining in detail why the first works and the other two are most unlikely to do. It is set out in short points (559 of them) � inspired by Wittgenstein!

aham brahmAsmi is one of the four �great sayings� (mahAvAkya) and means �I am brahman�. Most of the problem with Neos is that they attempt to speak as if from this level all of the time. And of course this is not possible. If you are a (would-be) teacher addressing someone who thinks they are a seeker, you are already firmly in duality so this is where you have to start. From the perspective of the world, there is clearly time, space and causality; and you, the person, are subject to these. It is only from the viewpoint of absolute reality (if there could be one!) that you can say that time, space and causality are all �in you�. What this means is that who-you-really-are is totally unaffected by these. The universe is mithyA. (See definition of terms at the website.) In reality everything is brahman (sarvaM khalvidaM brahma).

Q. So what you are saying really is what I (intuitively) suspected all along; that as long as one recognizes presence/awareness/existence as the most basic level, all the other things (i.e. phenomena perceived from other levels) it pretty well doesn't matter. However, I do like the Neo-Advaita boiled down simplicity of 'you are that which knows you exist' or as Sailor Bob says 'the only thing you can't negate is your own existence'.

A. You will find that pretty much anything (accurate) that is said by Neo or satsang teachers has been said by traditional teachers well over a thousand years ago. There really is nothing new that could be said, only using more modern metaphors to express them. Thus, for example, that �the only thing you can�t negate is your own existence� was said by Shankara in, I think, his commentary on the bRRihadAraNyaka upaniShad in the 8th century CE. The point is that you can�t just come right out with many of these statements and expect the hearer to know what you are talking about. You have to start from their level of understanding and take things one step at a time.


Q. When you say that we do not have a choice in what we do, do you mean that the ego does not have choice and that it is Consciousness that makes the choice, at that particular moment in our spirit's evolution?

A. Choice (or not) only relates to the person � Consciousness does not do anything. Who-we-really-are is Consciousness � now and always. There is no �evolution�, only varying degrees of ignorance in the mind.

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