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' .

Behavior of the guru

Q. Once again I need your experience, knowledge and comment on which I have been reading through the night: Stripping the Gurus: Sex, Violence, Abuse and Enlightenment by Geoffery D Falk. The bibliography is quite impressive. The index will help you to find whomever or whatever you are looking for: Ramana Maharshi, Dalai Lama, Yogananda, Sivananda, Ramakrishna, Vivekananda� This is really too much for me.

A. I've not heard of it before but it doesn�t surprise me all that much.

There are two points, I think. First is that there will always be cults who are intent on talking advantage of seekers who do not know any better. You just have to do your research before getting involved.

Secondly, though, you need to be very aware of the distinction between a j~nAnI and a jIvanmukta. One can be Self-realized yet still be subject to mental suffering, still indulge in bad habits, etc. This will occur when there was insufficient preparation (sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti) prior to enlightenment. The remedy is continuing nididhyAsana. This need not affect one�s ability to teach. Indeed, even someone who is not yet enlightened may be a good teacher if they know the scriptures and have learned the various methods from a sampradAya. Of course, someone who is enlightened as well will be even better.

This does mean that a seeker has to be alert to the potential dangers and there is always the possibility of scandal in the extreme, as happened with Ramesh a few years ago.

What the �seeker community� fails to appreciate is that the teacher, too, is a person from the vyAvahArika standpoint. Of course, he is the Self in reality (and knows this if he is enlightened). But so is the seeker (although he does not know it). And the teacher still functions as a person for the remainder of their life. The extent to which this person�s behavior tallies with the seeker�s notion of how it ought to be will depend, as I said above, on the state of the teacher�s mind � better prepared means purer and less likely to behave in any way �antisocially�!

Near-death experiences

Q. I've studied advaita for years and I can't reconcile why the philosophy takes the stance it does on life after death. Everything else makes sense except for the fact that they try to say that Conciousness needs a body to exist. If all you know for sure is that you are, and that you exist as awareness, how then can you infer from that that you don't continue to be aware after the death of the body or that you don't leak into some higher dimension or more subtle plain where you continue to exist as an individual?

I have seen the other questions that you have answered concerning life after death experiences, but the reference to a book by Susan Blackmore, Dying to Live: Near-Death Experiences, written in 1993 as your evidence that Consciousness as an individual doesn't survive death, seems kind of weak to me, especially with all the recent cases of people being monitored and verifiably having no chemical or electrical activity in their brain and still having incredible tales of a life after death not dissimilar from all the others.

I've really liked advaita for a while but this discrepancy has been bothering me and it seems no one has any real explanation for it. Perhaps I will have to start a new branch of advaita allowing for the possibility of Consciousness surviving the death of the body, seeing as how traditional and neo-advaitans don't have the balls to admit that enlightenment in this life doesn't mean you've figured everything out!

Ramana Maharshi or Nisargadatta Maharaj could have already been re-born into new physical bodies and could currently be having to re-enlighten themselves all over again. Or perhaps they were surprised at the time of 'death' when they didn't merge into brahman and instead found themselves in a higher more subtle plain where they encountered beings with a spiritual knowing more advanced than themselves.

A. Consciousness does not �need a body to exist�. From the standpoint of absolute reality (i.e. Consciousness), there is only Consciousness. Bodies are simply manifestations (names and forms) of that same Consciousness. There are no �individuals�. Who-you-really-are does not exist as an individual now, let alone in the past (or future). The purpose of referring to the Susan Blackmore views is to provide what might seem like an adequate argument for one who firmly believes that he is an individual and who find science a persuasive approach.

There is no question of �merging into brahman� on death, since you are already brahman. Also, you should not rely on reported experiences. After all, you do not accept reports of dreams as true. Why should you accept reports of experiences when the brain was nearly dead? advaita does not merely �allow for the possibility of Consciousness surviving the death of the body�, it insists that Consciousness is prior to the birth of the body. The body arises in Consciousness, not the other way round. Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta were physical forms whose minds realized the truth of all this. But they were never born in the first place � where is the question of their reincarnation?

Q. I truly appreciate your responding to my enquiry. I understand the advaita doctrine and tenets thereof so when I say things like Consciousness surviving the body, I've been convinced that it does. And when I refer to them as 'him' or 'his', I'm speaking of that individual as impersonal Consciousness. But my quarrel isn't the nature of the 'I', it's the manner in which it's reported to exist after death. Now if Ramana Maharshi showed up in his last life as he did, being raised from a baby, being fed concepts, creating an ego, and finally having to realize his way out of the whole thing, what's to say that even though he or Consciousness had realized itself, it didn't blink out for a period of time, and then reimplant itself directly into another physical body and have to re-do the whole thing over again?

There is verifiable evidence of people during brain surgeries being closely monitored and having no electrical or chemical activity in the brain and still regaining consciousness and telling tales of 'being' there all along, from popping out of their bodies and witnessing what the surgeons were doing and talking about it, to being led by other beings into heavenly realms where they were privy to knowledge and understanding that wasn't accessible in our world. I don't know if you've ever researched NDEs [Near Death Experiences] or the detail and the accounts and circumstances of the stories but it seems a bit hasty to pass them all off as mere dreams, especially given the fact that there are a few that can be scientifically verified as not being able to be produced by a dying brain.

I recently saw an NDE that seemed to support advaita where a man talked about having an NDE and was allowed to approach 'God', which to him was perceived as a bright, radiant, intelligent light, and on his approach he was told that the closer he came to this oneness with God, the more psychologically painful, so to speak, it would become. As he approached 'God', he became aware that if he wanted to merge into this light completely, he was going to have to shed all forms of individuality and self-identification. At a certain point, his 'ego' objected, refusing to let go of a few remaining dearly-held self-identifications.

I'm not trying to argue or debate and I do appreciate your taking the time to listen, but it just doesn't make sense to me that all these NDEs are reduced to dreams and make-believe just because they are ephemeral. The only way that I can work it out is that if one is enlightened before 'one' 'dies', then one merges automatically and has no more experiences; maybe the NDEs are reserved for the people who still believe themselves to be individuals.

The Hindu outlook on life after death just seems to be a little cold, and it seems to me that seeing as how most traditional advaita came from India and Hindu people, that coldness has leaked into the advaitan concept of life after death. I can't for the life of me reconcile how realizing the true nature of what you are gives you an all-pervasive, iron-clad knowledge of what will become of you and what other experiences you may have in the eternal now.This is obviously all just sprouting from my over-active ego and exaggerated fear of death but I thank you for taking the time to read and hear me out.

A. No worries. I do understand that this is a tricky topic and sympathize with your attempts to come to terms with it. It is actually a problem that I have worried about myself in the past so I can appreciate your frustration.

I think that the NDE aspect is a red herring. Let us accept that there is such a thing. Even so, it is only another �state of consciousness�; like waking, dream, deep sleep, hypnosis, hypnagogic imagery, etc. All of these states are valid only in the context of the state and lose that validity once you move to another one. Thus, the dream world is valid for the dreamer and the waking world has no relevance. Once the waking state is re-established, you (the waker) now know that the dream world was only a manufactured image of your mind. From the standpoint of absolute reality, only Consciousness is real, i.e. existing in all three periods of time � past, present and future. Consciousness is not a state; it is the background and substance of all states.

When you are in the dream, you the dreamer � the subject of your dream experience � is the �real you�. Although, in waking life you might be married with children, in your dream you might be a rich bachelor running after nubile young women. As far as the dreamer is concerned, you are the bachelor � the married waker does not exist.

The situation regarding the waker is somewhat different in that the waking world seems to be independent of �your� state of consciousness, i.e. the world that was there when you, the waker, transferred to the dream, seems to be still there when you �return� to the waking state. This is because the dream is a product of your personal mind, whereas the waking world is a product of the �universal mind�. But don�t get hung up on this because who-you-really-are is Consciousness and it is the same Consciousness which manifests as personal or universal mind anyway.

Hinduism also accepts the existence of a heaven, with gods and demons, etc. If you are very, very good but do not become enlightened, you might go to heaven or even become a god yourself. But you have to come back eventually as a man in order to gain enlightenment. So NDE is not a problem for Hinduism. But all of these possible states, worlds, gods, etc., are all ultimately irrelevant from the absolute perspective of advaita, since all are only manifestations of Consciousness; name and form of the same non-dual reality.

Similarly, the traditional teaching is that, although the gross body dies, the subtle body of mind and vAsanA-s continues after death, if that person did not become enlightened, and is then reborn into another body. But again, this is only Consciousness manifesting in different forms. There aren�t really any separate individuals ever.

So, yes, you could say that Consciousness was in the form of Ramana Maharshi, say. And then the mind of Ramana gained enlightenment, thus ensuring that �Ramana� would not be reincarnated. And then you might want to argue that this Consciousness that was Ramana does in fact come back as Fred, even though Ramana had gained enlightenment. And then you will ask: what was the point of striving for the enlightenment in the first place?

The problem with this view is that you are confusing levels of reality. At the level of appearance, there was Ramana, Ramana gained enlightenment, Ramana died (and supposedly his subtle as well as gross body died too), and Fred is then born who has to begin a spiritual path to attain enlightenment. Now, even if Fred claims to have memories of having been Ramana (contradicting the teaching of traditional advaita), this would still not be a problem from the perspective of absolute reality. From that perspective, there has only ever been Consciousness throughout all of this. Forms are born and forms die. If you think of the wave-ocean metaphor, waves die and new waves are born that may or may not contain water from earlier waves; but all is always water only.

The dream analogy takes you all the way. You, the dream bachelor, effectively die when the dream comes to an end. Who you really were was the waker-mind, manifesting the entire dream world, including the bachelor you. In the next night�s dream, you might be a beggar, starving on the streets of Mumbai. Has the bachelor been reincarnated as a beggar? You could say this � in the dream, the beggar might have memories of his previous life. And he might ask what was the point of having all the money that he had then � after all he didn�t even spend most of it � if he is now to be reborn as a penniless beggar. But the point is that both bachelor and beggar are manifestations of the waker�s mind only and have no existence of their own.

Similarly, you the seeker might go on to attain enlightenment in this waking life and your body-mind die a jIvanmukta. And then, sometime later, someone might be born who is seriously not enlightened but who claims to have memories of a previous life in which he was �you�. So what? In reality, both are only manifestations of the one eternal, limitless, complete brahman and have no separate existence of their own.

You see, enlightenment only has relevance to your personal mind in this lifetime. Whatever happens to the person, who-you-really-are remains untouched.

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