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' .


Q. You stress the importance of meditating, and I have been meditating for a number of years. I somehow feel that while I meditate on a regular basis, it is all a little unstructured. Which way of meditating would you suggest for the best results in regard to advaita?

A. What do you currently do?

Q. I lie down, counting my breath from one to ten when exhaling. When I have done that for some ten minutes, I stop and let go, i.e. 'connecting to' brahman/Big Mind/Supreme Being. This is based on Big Mind Meditation by Genpo Roshi. It was from here I went on to find advaita, and it appears to me to be quite similar. I think it works rather well, but I feel that it is somehow not very organized, and sometimes I mix it with other methods. I started to read I Am That and tried to meditate on 'I Am', and it seemed to work as well. I have a feeling that perhaps I should avoid mixing different methods, but on the other hand I don't know if it matters. Often, I also use meditation tapes with theta sounds as well.

A. You will have read the principles behind meditation, and its purpose, in Book of One. From my own experience, I do not believe that a duration less than 30 minutes can be effective. Also, twice per day seems necessary for a prolonged period (years) before the benefits start to be realized. And I do feel that, in order to ensure that your practice is correct, and to address any problems that you are having, you should have regular counseling from someone who is very experienced in your method. I also agree that you should find an �approved� method and stick to it. Ideally, you would receive guidance from the teacher by whom you are being instructed in advaita. If you do not have a teacher, you could do worse than TM (and I think you would probably be able to find an approved instructor in any major city in the world). Failing this, find a book on the subject of mantra-based mediation and use OM as the mantra. Tapes of so-called �guided meditation� are not really meditation at all.

Pursuing enlightenment and rebirth

Q. Since everything conceivable in any shape or form, conceptually or otherwise, is an appearance of Consciousness/brahman, this must mean that any form of realization is appearance too. That which is revealed (so to speak) is not an appearance and is, therefore, not subject to modification or destruction - yet the revelation itself since it happens via the mind is an appearance and will surely disappear at the dissolution of the body/mind. It would be magical thinking to suppose that the realization could survive the death of the mind, faculty of recognition, memory, etc. So although our true nature is eternal, indestructible and magnificent, the realization of it is limited, fragile and feeble - and really not worth a lifetime's amount of dedication to recognize it.

A. This is a problem which worried me once, too, and someone asked a question some time ago, ostensibly about near-death experiences but effectively raising the concern that you express. The question and my answer are here.

What you say is effectively true but, from the relative standpoint, the unrealized mind reincarnates indefinitely whereas the realized mind dies with the body. So, if �Fred� becomes enlightened, �Fred� will not be born again. If �Fred� lives a life of dissolution, indifferent to the feelings of others, he might come back as a cockroach! Enlightenment is the only worthwhile pursuit. There�s a story in one of the Upanishads (I think), where the seeker is told that he will realize in only a thousand more lives � and he is overjoyed (that the end is in sight)! So, not only is Self-realization not �limited, fragile and feeble�; it is final, unlimited and irrevocable.

Q. What you say would indeed be worthwhile and comforting if it were true. However, it must be true that the appearance that we call a realized mind is as equally 'unreal' as the appearance we call an unrealized mind - equally mithyA. And surely neither is of any consequence to the Self. Realized or unrealized, the Self shines in its glory. It almost seems as if realization is just a fortunate blip in the human story and nothing more significant than that - except perhaps to the fantasizing capacity of the mind.

A. You are right about the realized or unrealized mind being mithyA. But you are not the mind � you are the Self, which is satyam. Is this a problem??

Q. Well, the point is that mind is required in order to recognize that you are Self. When the mind is no more, the recognition of being the Self is no more. This is the sleight of hand that the neos are fond of. They insist that your true nature cannot be lost, that it is always the case. This is true, but the recognition of your true nature is not always so - it can and will be lost at some point. If you are saying that since you are the Self there can ultimately not be a problem - then seeking and realization are ultimately pointless.

A. There is a danger of going round in circles, here! From the point of view of the absolute reality, there is only the Self. There is no mind, so there is no non-recognition of true nature. There is no question of seeking or realization. Agreed?

From the point of view of the individual person, who is presently not realized, there is suffering and there is the prospect of an indefinite number of future lives of suffering also (you may not believe this, but neither do you know that it is not so). This is all the result of ignorance; of not realizing that one is the unlimited Self. The only thing that can relieve the suffering is to remove this ignorance. Removal of the ignorance also removes, at a stroke, all concerns about anything. Subsequently, I know that pain and pleasure alike do not affect who I really am. (Prior to this, you might think that this is so, but this is scarcely the same. It is the difference between having been told that putting your hand in the fire will hurt and actually burning yourself.) And, when the body dies, there is no cause-effect chain to bring about rebirth of that �person�.

So you have to ask yourself: to whom is the �seeking and realization ultimately pointless�? They are only relevant from the vantage point of a person and the effect for that person is to put an end to suffering in this life and to future lives.

Q. This all hangs on the notion that when a mind recognizes its true nature, all cause and effect in the appearance (where else?) will expire. Now this is hard to swallow since apparent body/minds, realized or not, are part of an unstoppable causal chain. Of course, who you really are is and was always free from conditions.

If in a movie a character realizes he is in fact the screen and therefore untouchable, this is still a scene in the movie - even though it paradoxically seems to point beyond the movie. Both the ignorant character and now the insightful character are equally fictitious - dream characters having dream awakenings. The screen is indifferent to these goings on. Talk of rebirths and liberations are further scenes in the movie - dream ideas. Scenes will vanish and the screen will 'persist' without the need for realizations - realizations are purely in the realm of fiction; of appearances on the screen. As you say, we are probably going round in circles here, so I'm happy to leave it for now.

A. The world is not your personal dream. When a mind recognizes its true nature, the �owner� of that mind knows henceforth that he/she is the actor and not the role. The play continues, with pretty well all of the other actors firmly identified with their roles.

Thinking that you realize you are the screen is not a helpful metaphor here. If you want to relate to the reincarnation theme, you might say that the realized actor ends his career with this movie, while the others go on to play more, continuing to believe that they really are the roles that they are playing.

Q. Yes, the world is not anyone's personal dream - that view would be solipsism. I use the screen metaphor to emphasize my original point: a mind that realizes that its true nature is in fact Consciousness, is a relative construction, and like all conditioned things it will be subject to dissolution - and so will its realizations.

A. So are you now convinced that enlightenment is a worthwhile pursuit or is your original viewpoint unchanged?

Q. When I hear of seekers who have been at it for over 25 years, have spent a fortune, etc., and who seem to be in a constant state of frustration, yes, I do wonder if it is worth it. After all, a liberation is a liberation in the appearance (it can have no other meaning), it will last for the duration of the body/mind. It really makes no sense to suppose that a relative reorientation of the mind (so to speak) will result in a cessation of causation. But even if it did, Dennis may 'attain' a total and irrevocable cessation, but you will arise again and again as Jack, Mary, Abdul, etc. It doesn't matter which skin you appear as, the wheel of suffering will go on. I'm sorry if this seems somewhat pessimistic, but this is where these type of teachings seem to point. Personally I'm not so sure; what happens after the death of the organism is really a mystery. Everything we could postulate about what might happen is part of a very limited knowledge which is itself merely an appearance, a dream understanding at best.

A. Please call a halt to this discussion if you�ve had enough. I�m continuing only because I once shared your concern and can see that you are still pretty negative about it. (And, when others come to read this exchange, they may not be satisfied with the outcome!)

It seems that you are still ignoring the absolute reality of the situation. This is that there are no individuals to begin with; there has never been any creation. Everything is only name and form of the non-dual reality, which is limitless, perfect and complete. And �you� are that reality. There are no problems; there is no causation. This is the �bottom-line� of these teachings and this is what is to be �realized� by the mind of the (apparent) person. There is no way (is there?) that this truth can be construed as �pessimistic�.

The �reorientation of the mind� (good way of putting it!) does not result in the cessation of causation. But the reoriented mind knows that, in reality, there is no causation; it is only an appearance.

The problem is only a seeming one, from the vantage point of an ignorant mind, believing that �I� am suffering and �I� am going to die. You are still speculating in your last paragraph. Self-knowledge means what it says: knowing without any doubt the nature of the Self. Don�t get hung up about topics such as karma and reincarnation � you can throw these out if you really don�t click with them. From the pAramArthika standpoint all are mithyA anyway.

Q. In a way I am being Devil's Advocate with this discussion: it is your resolute contention that enlightenment occurs in the mind, and I'm just exploring the implications and possible limitations of that premise. Excuse the repetition in what follows.

It is precisely because I am not ignoring the Absolute Reality of the situation that these conclusions have arisen. To realize that I am the Supreme Reality is to know that I am the indestructible, unlimited, stainless reality in which everything appears. This is wonderful; I am untouchable and boundless, I will persist - what joy! BUT, in this eternal Supreme Reality arises a play; the play is the realization of Supreme Reality - realization of my true nature is an appearance. What I am, is not an appearance - but the realization of it, is! What you are in danger of doing here, Dennis, is what the neos do all the time - you are flipping to the magnificent bottom-line fact that I am the Supreme Reality and are using this fact as an argument against my reasonable assertion that the knowledge of this fact (in the mind) is an appearance and is impermanent.

To sum up:

  1. Realizations, like all conditioned things, are impermanent.

  2. THAT which is realized is not impermanent.

The confusion of these two statements is the crucial issue here. Enlightenment is not simply the BE-ing of Supreme Reality, it is the recognition of this fact. So we are left with a rather paradoxical situation; recognition by its very nature is a mithyA recognition - enlightenment is a mithyA enlightenment. The only way out of this as far as I can see, is to recognize that it's mithyA all the way down. We can throw out ALL conclusions regarding Reality - and yet Reality itself is irrefutable. The 'what', 'who', 'why', etc., can only ever remain speculative.

A. I actually agree with most of your statements here � and they are very well summarized and expressed. And therefore you seem to be mostly agreeing with what I have said so that the 'Devil�s Advocate' appellation is not altogether appropriate.

Firstly, you say that I am 'flipping to the magnificent bottom-line fact that I am the Supreme Reality and you are using this fact as an argument against my reasonable assertion that the knowledge of this fact (in the mind) is an appearance and is impermanent'. I think you will find that I have never done this � I freely admit that enlightenment is part of vyavahAra. Since it is an event in the mind (which is mithyA), how could it not be?

Secondly, I don�t believe I have ever confused your two statements: '1. Realizations, like all conditioned things, are impermanent. 2. THAT which is realized is not impermanent.' Again, since enlightenment is an event in the mind, and since the mind of a realized person comes to an end upon death of that body, the first statement necessarily follows. So I don�t see that there is any paradox here. And realization that everything other than brahman is mithyA is another description of enlightenment.

So my understanding is that we actually agree. It just leaves the somewhat unsatisfactorily explained fact that you seem to be rather depressed about it�

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012