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: I am following the teaching of Shri Raman Maharshi on Self- inquiry but I have one doubt: when I ask the question "Who am I?", I get the answer "body + mind + intellect". Why can't we consider ourselves to be this composite which is everchanging but keep our identity at that moment as 'I'?

A: You could consider that you have answered this question yourself. 'Who-you-really-are' does not change. Whenever you consider the body-mind-intellect, what you see is always different from when you last looked; yet 'you' who are looking is always the same. Therefore, you cannot be these things. Another, even simpler way, is to say that since 'you' are the subject seeing the body, mind or intellect as an object, therefore you cannot be them.

However, that is the traditional way of analysing the situation. Ramana does not advocate this. He says you should not analyse. When the answer 'body + mind + intellect' arises, you should ask 'to whom does this answer arise?' and carry on enquiring.

Q: What should be the life-style of an "enlightened" person in todays world?

A: In reality, nothing changes when 'someone' becomes enlightened - before there was the non-dual brahman, after there is the non-dual brahman. From the standpoint of the relative world, what has happened is that self-knowledge has arisen in the mind of the now-enlightened person so that he or she now knows that everything is brahman. From the standpoint of another person, it will outwardly appear that nothing has happened, except that the enlightened person's behavior is likely to change. I say 'likely' because the extent to which this happens is somewhat dependent upon the mental preparation that this person underwent prior to the enlightenment. Such things as mental eqanimity are likely to increase post-enlightenment. The person's behavior to others is likely to be different - more sympathetic, loving etc. - because it is now known that these 'others' are in fact one's own Self. Desires etc. are likely still to arise but whether these are satsified or not will no longer be important. And so on... The person's working, social life etc. may well continue as before, since there is no reason to try to change anything when all is known to be perfect (and changeless) in reality but then again, it may not. E.g. perhaps the person had a natural inclination to teach, which had been supressed and, since there are now no ambitions etc., he may give up his materialistic lifestyle and devote it to others. Who knows?

Q: I feel that language itself is the only entity which has the possibility to create ignorance, duality, freedom, bondage..etc. In the realm of language the (individual) subject and object are created by language itself and its structures (nouns, names, verbs...). The very concept of being (existing) or not being (not existing) is given by language itself and has no power outside its frames. Time and space are created by language also. Language only has the posibility to create the division of perceptor-percepted, and so on. Is reality outside the frames of language?

A: I think that I would have to say that language helps perpetuate the illusion of duality but does not in itself cause it. There is no question but that language can only take place in seeming duality and its use inherently assumes another (to whom it is directed) and objects/thoughts/feelings that form the topic of the language. But the cause of our failure to realize that all there is, is brahman and 'I am That' is self-ignorance. I do not see how you can argue that language is the cause of self-ignorance. On the contrary, it is only by skilled use of language, through shravaNa and manana, that we gain the direct self-knowledge to remove that ignorance and bring about enlightenment.

I'm not sure what you mean by your last question. As noted above, language necessarily implies dualism but reality cannot be 'outside' anything (otherwise it would not be non-dual).

Q: Language creates the illusion of the "I" and the illusion of the "this" or "that". Language creates concepts, definitions, conditions... Language divides reality into "I" and "you". Krishna Menon once said "...where there is no where...", What is that? The words of the sage are useful in order to neutralize the illusion, and ignorance created by wordly language. Do you agree?

A: Nothing can affect reality, including language but I think we agree that its use can certainly confuse us in vyavahAra. And yet, as you say, the sage has to use language in order to point the way out of our confusion, towards the truth.

Q: Just finished reading your book and found it a noble and mature work.

I note that in the "Teaching Method" section you say you come from the Traditional perspective and looked into Direct & Neo before eventually returning to Traditional. I come from the Direct perspective because that was what resonated with me. As mentioned before I have read one book on the neo perspective which I found invalid. I have also read the Bhakti essays on your website which were interesting. I see Bhakti not as worship, reciting mantras, singing, dancing, a descent into sentimentality or anything like that but as in devotion to the work of integration. Do I now need to go to the Traditional methods, I don't know.

What happens when we no longer identify with who we take ourselves to be (and   this is not a case of switching identity to another conceptualised sense of self). How do we live as we did before playing our roles as before if that seems ridiculous? For example children in a kindergarden one of whom finds that although they still look the same on the outside discovers that inwardly they find it's no longer necessary to play with toys, enacting little dramas etc. Are you supposed to just carry on playing whilst just not identifying with it until the secenery changes. Surely you only carry on doing it whilst you believe it's true.

A: I have probably said this before (I have certainly said it many times) but it is the essence of Advaita so bears repetition: The entire problem (of identification, saMsAra or whatever) is one of self-ignorance and the only thing that can remove this is self-knowledge. So, if you still have doubts or uncertainties, you are still lacking some aspect of self-knowledge. The surest way of gaining this is traditional teaching. However, if as seems to be the case, you already understand, and know to be true, most of this stuff, then it may be that reading more, seeing some reputable teacher, discussion etc. will be sufficient. 

Once the self-ignorance is gone (or, if you prefer, when you are 'enlightened'), life carries on much as before outwardly. Yes, you now know that all is brahman, that there is no created world etc. but the body still exists (as name and form) and prArabdha karma is not wiped out (if it were, the body would come to an end there and then). So it just carries on and, knowing that you are not doing any of this, you can just watch and enjoy. It's not ridiculous - it is lIlA, the divine play.

Q: I have two questions for you.

First, I heard rumors that you were working on a book about the differences between traditional and Neo-Advaita due out 2008, is this true?

Second...bear with me here, it's hard to explain... I've been studying nondual philosophy for ten years and a devotee of Ramana Maharshi for two, and every contact with Ramana through words, pictures, and his ashram in New York has given me peace. Indeed, this is the quality he says to look for in a guru!

I recently came across the writings of Tony Parsons and this has been anything but peaceful. Tony says that Self-enquiry is "not possible" but he seems to imply that he has a better method--read his books and attend his seminars. I would not be troubled by Tony if he had simply said, nothing is possible and left it at that. But the way in which he presents his teachings seems to imply that satsang with him or one of his recommended students is the only way to realization and this has been highly disturbing to me because I see his logic:

"Self-enquiry is a method that requires the illusion of free will doing the enquiry; reading or hearing Tony's lectures is passive, they can be heard by no-one, (as opposed to self-enquiry, which must be done by "someone") and requires no free will, hence no ego illusion is strengthened." (in my words)

I am truly struggling with this as I see Tony's logic, which would imply that he and his students are "the only way" as yet, but this "dream seeker" feels no attraction to Parsons and even less interest in reading him further or attending his meetings. Tony would most definitely claim that I feel disturbed by him because I have truly heard him and my ego is threatened; and this is good; but what I feel is not a sense of risk or danger, but a sense of paralysis, as his logic has taken away Ramana's way and self-enquiry and left me with another option--go see him--which I am simply uninterested in.

ou seem to be much more experienced in these issues than myself--actually, more than anyone else I've read so far--so I would really appreciate any insight into this conundrum--basically, is it true that only Tony's (or Gill, Kersschot's) "communications," because receiving them does not involve a false sense of "you" doing something, are the only possible method of awakening and that "self-enquiry is a myth?" I'm sorry to ramble on for so long but I find these ideas rather difficult to articulate!

A: The quandry that you describe is one, I am sure, that is shared by many seekers and it is specifically in order to resolve issues such as this that I wrote the book. (It is called 'Enlightenment: the path through the jungle - a criticism of non-traditional teaching methods in advaita' but will not be published until the summer of next year.)

The key to the understanding of this problem relates to 'levels' of reality. The absolute truth is that there is no creation, there are no objects, no people, no duality of any kind. This is what the neo-advaitin teachers claim and this, too, is what traditional advaita teaches. But it does not seem like this to the 'person' who is deluded by self-ignorance into believing that they are a separate individual living in an alien world. A useful metaphor is the dream. The dream world may be endlessly complex and totally believable to the dreamer but this is not seen until the dreamer awakens, when the world and the dreamer are seen (by the waker) never to have existed separate from the mind.

Neo-advaita refuses to acknowledge the validity of the empirical world of the person, whereas tradtional advaita does. Traditional teaching openly acknowledges the person and aims to remove the self-ignorance via a series of well-proven, stepwise procedures, carefully gauged to the level and understanding of the seeker. Neo-advaita simply restates the bottom-line reality. No matter how many times this message is repeated, it is most unlikely to have any effect (unless this is the negative effect that you mention). Furthermore, it is not at all helpful to deny the existence of the person since that is what the seeker believes himself to be. The belief in 'I' must not be denied since that essential 'I' is also the non-dual reality.

To most people, it does feel that we have free will and this belief creates no problem as long as we use it to 'choose' a path that is going to lead to enlightenment! Advaita is not inimical to reason. Each step of the traditional path is logical, totally comprehensible and brings immediate and unarguable self-knowledge. When neo-advaitin teachers makes statements such as 'heard by no-one', it does not take much discrimination to 'choose' between them! The ego is also not a problem, in the sense that you need not worry about it. As you progress on a traditional path, it naturally looses its dominion and ulitmately is seen for what it is - a mistaken superimposition.

Needless to say, there is much more about all of this in the book but if you feel that your specific question has not been answered, please come back.

Q: I have long been interested in the diverse schools of mysticism. I have a rudimentary knowledge of Vedanta, having taken several Indian philosophy classes in university.
A few days ago, I chanced upon Michael Langford's "The Imposter," which was inspired by Ramana Maharshi. I was very impressed by the clarity of its exposition. The author says he is enlightened.
Later, I read some more documents on the main site, specifically, "Sahaja - What is Liberation according to Sri Ramana Maharshi?" The ideas therein horrify me:

  1. According to Michael Langford and his interpretation of Ramana's teachings, after sahaja samadhi, the mind is dead. The sage does not perceive particulars (names and forms) but resides in reality. Objective knowledge (perception of particulars) is no longer possible. Reality is defined as non-dual awareness.
  2. That the appearance of the sage continues after his enlightenment is merely the body-delusion of unenlightened people. Basically, Ramana has no awareness of anything in this world after his enlightenment, because he is perpetually in sahaja samadhi. It is other people's delusion who create the appearance of Ramana, after he ceased to be aware.
  3. All phenomena are unreal. Nothing ever happened.
  4. All paths other than self-inquiry lead nowhere.

Normally, given my background in Indian philosophy, I would assume that the author has fallen into extreme views, e.g. asserting ultimate reality while denying conventional reality. Previously, I assumed that after enlightenment, objective knowledge persists. For instance, if I'm crossing the road, I become aware of cars, etc. Basically, the mind-body nexus persists, and my ego with it. In fact, I have read in some Yogic exegesis that without the ego, aham, perception and activity are impossible. And that the aham, rather than dying after enlightenment, actually functions better, because it is no longer entangled by desires.
Now the author asserts that after enlightenment, the ego dies, and that perception and activity are no longer possible, and that one resides perpetually in non-dual awareness. Now if this were pure speculation, then I wouldn't pay much attention to this - since it contradicts everything I've been told. The problem is that the author claims that he is personally enlightened, and that he testifies to this, etc. And he has quotations from Ramana to back his assertions:
"In sahaja, however, the mind has resolved itself into the Self and has been lost. Differences and obstructions mentioned above do not therefore exist here. The activities of such a being are like the feeding of a somnolent boy, perceptible to the onlooker (but not to the subject). The driver sleeping on his moving cart is not aware of the motion of the cart, because his mind is sunk in darkness. Similarly the sahaja jnani (liberated sage) remains unaware of his bodily activities because his mind is dead, having been resolved in the ecstasy of Awareness (Self). In sahaja, however, the mind has resolved itself into the Self and has been lost. Differences and obstructions mentioned above do not therefore exist here. The activities of such a being are like the feeding of a somnolent boy, perceptible to the onlooker (but not to the subject). The driver sleeping on his moving cart is not aware of the motion of the cart, because his mind is sunk in darkness. Similarly the sahaja jnani (liberated sage) remains unaware of his bodily activities because his mind is dead, having been resolved in the ecstasy of Awareness (Self)."
"From the above talk by Sri Ramana we can see that the liberated sage is not aware of objects, the world, the body, the universe, activity, walking, talking, etc.
However, the onlooker who is still under the illusion of the ego imagines a sage with a body walking, talking, etc."
After reading the above quotations, I was very shocked. I wanted to burn all of my spiritual books. Now I'm simply confused. What if he is right and everyone else is wrong?
This problem is too difficult for me. If it is within your power, please give me some definitive explanation and clear up my confusion. I seek the truth sincerely.
The document containing the views of the author on sahaja samadhi
Main site
The Imposter

A: I have read some of Michael Langford's material in the past and he certainly appears to be confused regarding some key concepts. Your existing understanding is much more nearly correct.

Regarding the principal point of concern, the mind is NOT destroyed upon enlightenment. Enlightenment is, after all, an event in the mind! On the contrary, the mind increases in strength and peacefulness following enlightenment. As you say, 'it is no longer entangled by desires'. The realized person clearly continues to function in the world and this would not be possible without a mind! The confusion possibly arises by misunderstanding the terms:

nirvikalpa samAdhi is the state in which the person is no longer aware of the outside world - but it is a state and the mind returns to normality after a time.

sahaja sthiti is not a state and simply means that one never forgets that 'I am the Self' and 'this Self is all there is'. Nevertheless, the world appearance continues and the body-mind continues its role in the world. It is just that it is known irrevocably that the world appearance is mithyA. It is like still seeing the sun rise and set but knowing perfectly well that the earth goes around the sun.

(It is ok to say that the ego dies - this is just the process of identification of Self with some supposed other thing in creation. So this mistake no longer occurs post-enlightenment.)

It is true that all phenomena are unreal from the absolute standpoint but transactional reality is from the empirical, vyavahArika standpoint. This mixing up of absolute and empirical is the cause of most confusion in advaita. Similarly, there is only brahman in reality - no differentiation at all. But at the relative level, there are separate people going about their business in an apparent world. The realized man has no problem accepting this seeming duality, knowing that the reality is non-dual.

Regarding the subject of paths, there are many of these. Pragmatically, those paths which have been proven over thousands of years are the most relaible to tread. Traditional advaita has withstood this test of time. Ramana's Self Enquiry (and I regard Ramana very highly indeed) has only been around a relatively short time.

As regards the quotations, it is very dangerous to take these out of context. Ramana, as with other teachers, gauged his replies according to the perceived needs and understanding of the questioner. Traditional advaita teaches many things that are later withrawn, after the understanding of the student has grown. (An obvious example is creation itself.) A cynical observer would have to ask why, if Ramana no longer perceived a world, he was making these statements...

Q: I just have to comment on Charlie Hayes essay: I REALLY have a problem with ANYONE, (and I 'know' Charlie, we've talked and emailed in the past) who writes: "Correcting the error is simple, A little investigation is all it takes." These are the kinds of statements that have made my life HELL for so many years... because, if this is TRUE, then there is something SERIOUSLY flawed with "me". Because I have been 'investigating' this error for about 20+ years now, and no matter how much I KNOW the Truth, the error still runs my life 99.9% of the time. Maybe some people are just not 'meant for' Advaita. Very discouraged.

A: The fault is not with you but with the neo-(non)teaching. And you are not alone! Many (most? all?) seekers whose exposure to Advaita has only been via the modern Western satsang and neo-style of teaching are similarly frustrated and confused. My next book (with the publisher and due for publication next summer) is all about this and will hopefully clarify the situation once and for all. All of our lives, upbringing, education, experience are dualistic in nature. This teaching is contrary to all of that. It is scarcely surprising that it takes time (the scriptures talk of lifetimes, of course, but it is not really that bad!) Self-knowledge is needed to remove the self-ignorance and that has to be taught by someone who not only has the self-knowledge but is able to utilize proven methods to convey it to others. The vast majority of Western teachers do not have this capability and the satsang medium is unable to provide the environment in any case.

(Note that Charlie's essays were removed from the site at this request.)

Q: I have read most of your books, in fact I am re-reading "How to meet yourself". I have also read most of the direct path authors. Everything resonates deeply but this apparent me finds it difficult to accept without some definitive "peak experience", which all these authors seem to have had where once glimpsed acceptance is not questioned.

All I can say for sure is that the very possibility that IT is all there is makes me feel lighter and at peace , so why do I find myself wanting this genuine article stamped on it, and does it really matter as long as it feels right? The common theme here is that IT can not be understood by the mind......which only leaves an apparent leap of let's say for want of a better word FAITH in "IT".

A: It is not the case that some sort of experience has to happen. After all, experiences have a beginning and an end in time whereas the reality is beyond time. The process whereby self-knowledge removes self-ignorance is most likely to be gradual. This means that there will, in all probablility, be a number of 'mini-experiences' if you like, each of which represents a leap in understanding in a particular area. The final removal of self-ignorance by the akhaNDAkAra vRRitti will also represent a quantum leap but there is no law that states that this will be experienced as a blinding flash of light. It is natural for the ego to want some 'seal of authenticity' but ignore it. The ego naturally loses its dominion with the gain of knowledge.

It is certainly the case that IT cannot be understood objectively by the mind but this is not a problem. Who-you-really-are IS That so there doesn't need to be any ability to pin it down by description. The faith really only applies to having a degree of trust in the sources of that self-knowledge, be it written or (ideally) spoken by a true teacher. Good teaching is always reasonable and able to be validated for oneself. If a good and totally trustworthy friend describes something to you which is outside of your own experience, it does not occur to you to doubt them. This is the only sort of faith that is needed.

Q: As you and many others have pointed out we don't really have any volition, just apparent choice, so you can guess what question is arising, which is, does this apparent me really have any choice whether or not acceptance of what IS happens or not?

A: I think the belief in free will (or not) really depends upon the nature of your own mind. I personally have never really had any problem with the concept of no free will but of course many do. Certainly the traditional view is that we should consider that we DO have free will until such time as we know differently. As to the question of a choice regarding enlightenment, however, I don't believe we do have any choice there. If you imagine that I ask you to close your eyes and then I hold an object in front of your face. I then tell you to open your eyes but not see the object I am holding. Maybe if I hypnotised you, you really would believe that you couldn't see it but, in the normal scheme of things, you would simply see it and (presumably) recognise it. You would not be able to choose not to do so - the perception would be immediate and direct. Similarly, if the mind is suitably prepared and you are normally intelligent (!) and the relevant self-knowledge is unfolded to you by a qualified teacher, enlightenment will necessarily follow eventually. When the last of the self-ignorance is removed, there is no choice involved.

Q: Is this sense of Being inert? This sense of I AM that Nisargadatta and others say to stay with. I AM 'seems' like the ground. What we are and what we are looking for. But isn't this also content? Is being just more content? I'm not sure of my question. Being seems as transient as any other content. Can the other be without content?  Awareness and I AM may be one but so is any other content. 

A: 'I' am that in which everything apparently arises, exists and to which it returns. 'I' am that which is unchanging. In fact, everything is simply name and form of that same non-dual reality that 'I am'.

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