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' .

Do we have to read certain scriptures?

Q. Is it possible to become enlightened without reading the scriptures, for example the Upanishads? Ramana Maharshi became enlightened without studying the sacred texts and there are other examples, like the Buddha.

I am studying the tanmatra aspects of the tattva bodha and was wondering if I have to finish it before moving on to the Gita and Upanishads. It gets very technical and I was told it was written by Shankara, although you have mentioned it probably isn't? So if it's not by Shankara, is it worth studying?

A. It is possible to become enlightened without studying the Upanishads � as you note, Ramana was an example of this. There are also other non-dual systems.

Academics can argue about it but no one can be absolutely sure whether a given text was authored by Shankara or not. There is no problem about moving on to another text if you are not benefitting from one. I myself have not studied tattva bodha. But there is a clear implication that, if you cannot follow a simpler text, then you are likely to have difficulty with a more complex one. And there are certainly texts worth studying that were not written by Shankara. Unless you can read Sanskrit, you are going to have to rely on someone else�s translation and commentary anyway!

prArabdha karma and reincarnation

Q. What happens once I realize brahman and let's say I complete my prArabdha karma? Isn't it all just static and boring once I realize that there is nothing at all?

A. Upon exhausting the prArabdha karma, following enlightenment, the body falls away and there is no rebirth.

What do you mean by �realizing that there is nothing at all�? The truth is that you are everything � unlimited, complete, lacking nothing. How exactly can this be �static and boring�?

Q. Thanks very much for your kind words and I appreciate your reply. But my question is can there be interaction between jIvAtman and brahman?

A. At the level of the apparent world, you can worship gods, etc. In reality, there is only brahman so where is the question of interaction?

Q. Can you please explain multiple birth and incarnations in the material world (vyAvahArika).

It appears that millions of souls interact with each other and all those souls see the same effect of mAyA (universe and its principles) and each of those souls preserve their memory and carry over their karma through multiple generations.

The interesting fact is in order to preserve the memories, jIvAtman has to live eternally, even in the world of vyAvahArika, so that the same jIva continues to bear the fruit of his karma; otherwise, don't you think there would be cross connection between different jIvAtman-s when they are reborn because in reality, all the jIvAtman-s share the same memory source.

A. No one can explain why there should be the appearance of multiplicity. In reality, there are no jIva-s or world but equally there is no denying that this is how it appears.

Although saMskAra is carried over to future births in accordance with past karma, memories are not � do you have memories of past lives? From the vantage point of the jIva, there is reincarnation until mokSha. But Atman-brahman was never born and will never die so where is the question of reincarnation?

Q. Well, I may not have memories of my past life but there are instances where people do carry memories of their past lives (for instance Ramana). Please let me know if what I say below is right?

Let's say in vyAvahArika:

  1. jIva 1 in body of Person A performed some actions and then Person A died. Owing to his prArabdha karma, jIva 1 is reborn as Person B and so it continues until jIva 1 realizes that he is the ultimate brahman;

  2. jIva 2 in body of Person C performed some actions and then Person C died. Owing to his prArabdha karma, jIva 2 is reborn as Person D and so it continues until jIva 2 realizes that he is the ultimate brahman.

A. As far as I know, there is no proven case of anyone ever remembering a past life. Those instances that have been written about are invariably open to deliberate or unintentional deception.

What you say in 1 and 2 is correct.

In a sense, you could go with whatever explanation you like for the vyAvahArika appearance. In the final analysis, all such explanations are mithyA, whether they are scriptural ones or your own invented ones.

Q. As for as I know, there are many theories.

Dvaita philosophy says that soul and brahman are different and soul can never completely merge onto brahman but can go as close as possible, so that the relation between God and disciple is maintained. Another Western philosophy says that God divided himself into many souls in order to experience himself (so in other words, the main purpose of the soul is to experience itself by making God experience himself as a whole).

All these theories seem to be true. Which one to believe?

A. It depends what has influenced your mental development in the past.

Q. I am really thankful to you for replying my questions but I still have doubts:

  1. You say you have realized the real brahman, so how come it is possible that you don't know anything about other religions (you have stated this in some of your answers)?

  2. You say you have realized the real brahman; do you know your past and future in the appearance world?

  3. Can you do miracles?

I don�t believe I have ever explicitly stated this anywhere. But, in any case, enlightenment is about Self-knowledge; this has nothing to do with worldly information. Becoming enlightened does not mean that one can subsequently speak Chinese, know what someone else is thinking, predict the future, etc. Nor has it anything to do with miracles of any sort. If such things are at all possible, they are associated with yoga siddhi-s, which again have nothing to do with enlightenment.

Suffering and neo-advaita

This Q&A refers to the May Edition 2010 of the biweekly newsletter
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Q. I just re-read your conversation with Jeff Foster and it seems so clear to me that the two of you are like kids on a teeter totter, with the not-two as the fulcrum. The apparent self and its 'suffering' are just what the real Self does in the world. The suffering is perceived as painful but cannot do any real harm, and when it stops it stops, and nothing changes. 'I' think that's actually what both of you are saying, from 'two' sides of a line in the dirt.

A. That�s all fine from an assumed absolute perspective. But the average seeker has only a relative perspective � the suffering seems to be real and he/she wants to end it. When the self-ignorance is removed, it is seen that the suffering was not real and cannot harm and, you are right, that nothing is really any different. But until the ignorance goes, the apparently real suffering remains. So, from the point of view of the seeker, Self-knowledge is required. And this is the crux of the matter � traditional advaita provides a proven methodology for providing this; neo-advaita, by its own admission, has no methodology at all.

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