Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

'Firmly Abiding'
Dr. Kuntimaddi Sadananda (ed. Dennis Waite)

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Dr. Kuntimaddi Sadananda


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(From a post to the Advaitin Egroup, Dec 2008)

Q: On the topic of experience and knowledge, you said:
"You are the substantive of jIva-Ishvara-jagat. That is true whether one understands it or not. When one understands and firmly abides in that understanding, then duality is recognized as mAyA."
"This teaching is understood, and firm abidance in that understanding occurs, by constant listening, reflecting and meditating on the scriptural teaching."
Apparently, according to your words, one cannot just ‘understand’ (maybe because it may be intellectual understanding) , one has to also ‘firmly abide’ in that understanding. Bhagavan Ramana used this expression all the time as you may know, but is definitely linked to the experiential nature of Pure Awareness – what we would call an ‘experience without an experiencer’ which, in the case of the j~nAnI is present ‘all the time’ since nothing is obstructing it any more.

Could you explain the meaning of ‘to firmly abide’ in the context of the posting?

A: Bhagavan Ramana provides a beautiful explanation in his SATDARSHAN text, calling it dRRiDhaiva niShTha – firm abidance in that knowledge [dRRiDha means fixed, firm, resolute etc.]

Let us take the example of sunrise and sunset. My experience says that the sun rises every day and sets every day. When I learn from science that the sun does not rise and it is the earth that is rotating around its axis that give the impression of sunrise and sunset, that is shravaNa - listening to the science or scriptures through a teacher who can explain to me clearly. I have understood. But if there are still doubts, these have to be eliminated by reflecting on that teaching.

Now firm abidance on that knowledge would involve abidance in the understanding that there will never, under any circumstances, be a doubt that that is not real, whatever contradictory experiences may arise or questions come.

Of course, the sunrise example is an objective fact and abidance occurs quickly since there are no contradictory experiences.

But when it comes to the subjective fact that ‘I am the totality or Brahman’, which contradicts all my day to day experiences, there is a big problem. I have to understand advaita in spite of my continuous experience of dvaita. When I hear the teaching (shravaNa), I may initially understand the essence of it. Sometimes, the scriptures themselves appear to be contradictory but, by listening to a competent teacher, I am able to resolve these apparent contradictions and appreciate the samanvaya or self-consistency in the teaching – this is the result of manana or reflection on the teaching.

In spite of all the listening and the study of scriptures, abidance in the knowledge may not happen because of the pressure of vAsanA-s or due to habitually falling into the trap of dvaita due to the multitude of day to day experiences. I may get a glimpse of that understanding when all is well and I am sitting in meditation and no one is there to bother me at that time. I may feel that I am experiencing that advaita state. But advaita is not about experience. I do not become an advaitin suddenly and then a dvaitin in the next moment. What is happening is here is that I am enjoying my own true nature of non-duality when the duality is not disturbing me and dislodging me from my understanding. But, as soon as some problem arises, I fall; I am disturbed and that so-called experience of advaita has slipped out of me.

How can I not experience myself at any time? It is not about lack of experience. The problem is that I am getting contradictory experiences and not able abide in my clear understanding that I am beyond any experience of duality. Hence nididhyAsana is required and Krishna advocates abhyAsa [mental discipline] and vairAgya [detachment or dispassion] - constant practice to ‘re-abide’ myself in my true understanding and give up the wrong notion that duality is a reality for me to be concerned about.

There are no direct paths or short cuts here. shravaNa, manana and nididhyAsana are the only accepted means for one to abide in that knowledge. Otherwise people say ‘I have experienced non-duality in some moments’. One does not lose knowledge; one only loses experiences. In fact, if I am always longing for some experience, I get hooked on the experience and miss the knowledge that ‘I am that which is experienced all the time and every time in all experiences’. This requires clear understanding; this is knowledge.

Abiding in that knowledge alone means that the knowledge is ever available at any time, since I am available all the time as existence-consciousness. What I am conscious of differs but, that ‘I am existent-consciousness’ is independent of any experience. It is like the shruti in the classical Indian music. The singer’s voice will go up and down but, throughout, that background shruti provides the constant anchor for the music.

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