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' .

Describing brahman

Q. According to advaita, brahman has been described as sat-chit-Ananda meaning truth-infinite being-bliss as its characteristics. But Adi Sankara has said that brahman as nirguNa (having no qualities or characteristics). Don't they contradict each other?

A. brahman cannot be described at all, since language is necessarily dualistic. So the words that are used are actually �pointers� rather than descriptors or attributes. One way of looking at it is to say that brahman is not the opposite of the word used as the pointer. Thus, brahman is not �limited�, not �unreal�, etc. If you want a much longer and excellent explanation, something like Swami Dayananda�s Talks on 108 verses of vivekachUDAmaNi is brilliant. See the website for more on that. Ultimately, anything at all that you say about brahman is mithyA only, even that it is �non-dual�. This is why some teachers resort to silence when asked such a question!

Q. Thanks for your kind guidance but I cannot understand the two lines written by you:

  1. brahman cannot be described at all, since language is necessarily dualistic.

  2. Ultimately, anything at all that you say about brahman is mithyA only, even that it is �non-dual�.

According to these lines, advaita philosophy can never be made understood, owing to the above reasons, thus rendering the whole philosophy as false. It will be a great help if you could give an elaborate explanation.

A. Everything in the empirical realm is mithyA, including advaita philosophy. But mithyA does not mean false. It means that it is only name and form of the non-dual brahman. Advaita works by saying what reality is not and pointing towards what is as best as it is able, given the nature of language. And its efficacy has been proven over thousands of years. As a (not very good) metaphor, Newtonian physics does not provide an accurate description of motion but it still works pretty well at the macro level, at below-light speeds. Furthermore, you need to understand Newton before you can move on to Einstein and quantum mechanics.

I don�t have time for an elaborate explanation I�m afraid. I�m sure there are essays and/or Q&As at the website that will help with this. Alternatively, buy the second edition of Book of One when it comes out in April.

Different approaches and practices

Q. I wonder if you are familiar with subliminal technology (innertalk.com). I ask because I am a seeker (or in the process of becoming one) and am using 'subliminal spiritual awareness' CDs. It has barely audible messages like, for example, 'I am unconditional love', 'I am Consciousness', 'I am awakened', 'the kingdom of God is within me', etc., to target the subconscious mind in order to accept these messages without the conscious mind censoring them.

I was wondering if it will hinder my progress spiritually? I find the subliminal CDs my only hope to help my sisters who have serious OCDs [obsessive compulsive discorders] and they seem to respond well to them. I am taking lessons at Chinmaya and I heard that you endorse this approach.

A. There are no shortcuts to enlightenment, I am afraid. You have to follow the due process of mental preparation, karma and/or bhakti yoga and then the key practices of shravaNa, manana and nididhyAsana. Subliminal messages, hypnosis, autosuggestion, etc., may well be very helpful for psychological conditions but they can never provide Self-knowledge. This requires scriptures and, ideally a qualified teacher, accompanied by attention, listening, discrimination, reasoning and so on. And it will take however long it takes. I don�t suppose recorded messages will do any harm but they won�t help either � so why bother? If you are attending Chinmaya regularly, with a good teacher, you will get there eventually!

Q. Thank you very much for your answer. Do you suppose that if I study your books, The Book of One and Back to the Truth: 5000 Years of Advaita I can get there? I have trouble understanding the Indian accent and Sanskrit and it took me a very long time to be able to accept that praying to a statue of Krishna or Ganesha is OK (I still feel awkward because I used to be a Christian, who was told that praying to idols is evil and against God).

A. After many years of reading, discussion and study, my considered view is that only traditional advaita has the variety of techniques and teachings available to enable any suitably qualified seeker to become enlightened. Neo-advaita may �tip the balance� for someone already well versed in the subject. Direct Path may offer a suitable route for a certain type of mind (very intellectual!) but again, I feel that adequate preparation is needed first. Since you are already blessed by having access to a traditional path, I would really advocate sticking to it and not looking elsewhere.

A teacher is really needed � there is no one to ask questions of when you are reading a book. It would not do any harm to read books which are in keeping with the traditional approach, whilst still attending Chinmaya, but there is a danger of encountering conflicting ideas if you read outside the tradition and this will only bring about confusion. The second edition of Book of One is due out in April and this is now entirely in keeping with traditional teaching (the first edition was not).

Praying to statues is not an essential part of advaita. But I wouldn�t get hung up about it. The statue represents an aspect of the Self (which you are); it is largely a means for focusing the mind and for taking the ego out of the equation. For those to whom it appeals, it can be very helpful indeed. But if it really does not appeal to you, can you not drop this aspect entirely? If it is bringing about resentment or rebellion in you, this is obviously the opposite of the desired effect so is not helpful!

Q. I will definitely continue Chinmaya, knowing that I am blessed to have it 40 minutes away from my home. I guess it's natural to get hung up with idols since present-day Christian ideas were instilled in my mind and it's time to get rid of them to arrive at the ultimate goal. Lord Krishna said it's easier for one to reach Him through form and yet it's difficult to go to Him through the formless.

I was initiated into kuNDalinI by the Parajonthi Mahan group, which brings up the energy from the first chakra to the eyebrow chrakra. I tried to surrender to the Lord but sometimes the pulsation at the eyebrow starts on its own! I asked two swamis from the Chinmaya Mission: one said Consciousness should not be limited to that one spot, while the other said even this kuNDalinI could lead me to brahman.

I don't know what to do. I know if I meditate on the ajna chakra, I feel blissful with a peaceful mind and it sometimes happens on its own when I am at a swami's talk and concentrating on their discourses. Of course, if I can observe the kuNDalinI, it can't be the unmanifest unconditioned brahman since I as brahman cannot observe my Self as the subject but only as a projected object.

What's your view? The other reason why I still sometimes do kuNDalinI is it relieves my asthma and I see radiance and peace (a halo effect).

A. I�m afraid that the only thing I know about kuNDalinI is that it has nothing to do with advaita! Enlightenment is about removing the ignorance in the mind that prevents Self-knowledge. You are already the Self, which is not other than the non-dual brahman. You are not the body, nor the mind, nor its habits or inclinations. You really should not get hung up about those things. Giving attention to them means that you are not giving attention to shravaNa, manana or nididhyAsana. Sense control, mind control, stillness of mind, etc., are all important practices as preparation.

Q. If a realised master cannot fall back into ignorance, this would mean all jIva-s have never been, at one point in time, conditioned by mAyA in ignorance. Each jIva is simply born or rather unborn in ignorance, as opposed to the Ishvara level, like brahma, vishnu, etc., who are subject to mAyA's power but are not overpowered by it and are not ignorant of their brahmanhood. If my analysis is right, all of us prior to realization have never known our real identity and this goes against popular spiritual notions that we have branched out from the brahmanic ocean to be separate, as if we knew we are brahman in the beginningless time; there's no way we will fall into ignorance assuming a realised one cannot fall.

This opens a pandora's box for me. In the beginningless beginning, there is the ignorant brahman (jIva-s), brahman conditioned by mAyA but not overcome by it (Ishvara-level brahma, shiva, Allah, God the Father, the Son, etc.) and brahman (the Unmanifest beyond the unmanifest). This seems to create a case for duality in that all jIva-s even when realised will not be brahman like vishnu, in terms of having the power to create or destroy on a monumental scale or to know the power of mAyA and wield it. I was taught that the jIva is Ishvara unless my analysis is flawed.

How did you come to accept that traditional advaita is one of the few true paths to the Truth? You must been been 'born' a Christian or Catholic. I must admit I still have doubts after bad experiences in the church, after practising rAja yoga and reading Stripping the Gurus by Geoffery D Falk on the net.

Was the knowledge that you are That sudden, after much practice and introspection, or did you practise negating everything until you got it? How did you get it? I hope my tone is not rude or disrespectful.

A. You seem to have some confused ideas here. jIva-s begin in ignorance and Self knowledge removes that ignorance. Once the ignorance has been removed, it cannot return. If you read the example of bhAga tyAga lakShaNa at the website, you will see how this works. As soon as you are told that the person you have seen is the same person that you used to know, you recognize this truth and you will not subsequently forget it.

You cannot meaningfully speak about the origin of the jIva-s. From the absolute perspective, they were never born. Also from the absolute perspective, there is no such thing as ignorance. The �notion of branching out from the brahmanic ocean� is not an expression ever used in advaita. Everything is brahman � always. At the level of the world, there is simply the apparent manifestation of forms that are deemed to be separate by (an apparent) someone still deluded by ignorance. Persons remain deluded until they gain Self-knowledge. jIva-s, Ishvara and the world all belong to this apparent manifestation.

I wouldn�t worry too much about Stripping the Gurus. Someone can be enlightened and able to teach others yet still suffer from what you might call �unenlightened� traits. You can be a j~nAnI without being a jIvanmukta � there are lots of questions and answers about this on the site. There is also at least one Q&A on the subject of my �enlightenment�.

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