Book Review by Dennis Waite
Standing as Awareness: The Direct Path
New, expanded edition, with foreword by Jerry Katz (Non-Duality Press, October 2009)
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Visit Greg's website, Heart of Now, for more information about his work.
(Note that this was written as the foreword to the first (electronic) edition of this book.)
Reality is non-dual � there is only That, referred to in the East as Brahman, or in the West as the Absolute or Consciousness (with a capital �C�). But, of course, most of us don�t know this; we believe that we are separate entities living in an alien world subject to its vicissitudes and consequential, ever-present threat of suffering. We have our moments of happiness, usually all too few, but our only certainty is that one day we will die. So we think�
How can we be so wrong? According to Advaita, the reason is simple � self-ignorance. We know that �I exist� but we do not know the nature of this �I�. We fail to differentiate the unchanging, limitless �I� from the changing names and forms in the world that we deem to be separate. We think that we are the body, the mind and the roles that we play. All of these things are subject to change; they come and go� and die.
Traditionally, there are long-established and proven techniques for educating the mind to appreciate the truth of the matter. Following such procedures, we will undergo mental training to gain some control over the mind, increase the power of discrimination and reduce its susceptibility to external distractions. In parallel with this, we are gradually introduced to the teaching of Vedanta, learning to undermine our identity with mind and body and discovering who we really are. As this information is imparted by a skilled teacher, direct intuition of its truth may occur in the mind, eliminating forever the previously mistaken views that we were taught by parents, peers or a misguided educational system. And eventually there may come a time when, all of these erroneous ideas having been removed, we see the truth clearly for ourselves. This is enlightenment.
Over the past few decades, the numbers of spiritual teachers attempting to spread the message of Advaita in the West has increased dramatically. But most of them do so through the medium of �satsang� � a gathering of seekers who ask questions, on a variety of topics, to which the teacher responds. Lasting no more than a couple of hours, after which the teacher usually departs for another country, these rarely embody any method and even less frequently actually help the seeker on his spiritual path. More often than not, the questions themselves relate to personal and inter-relationship issues rather than to the nature of reality.
In the past ten years, an even more extreme form of (non-)teaching has appeared, dubbed �Neo-Advaita�. In this, the practitioners simply try to make statements about the non-dual reality, denying the existence of seeker, teacher, path or purpose. Lacking any background understanding of Advaita, most seekers are quite untouched by such pronouncements, unless it be in the negative sense of gaining a spurious amoral attitude and generally nihilistic outlook.
There is, however, a small band of teachers who, though employing the satsang method, take the seeker�s own immediate experience as a starting point and endeavour to utilize proven, logical argument to engender direct, intuitive knowledge in the listener. Indeed, when used correctly, this technique more nearly resembles the Socratic method of dialectic, in which the existing beliefs of the questioner are examined and challenged until they are discovered to be unsustainable. The approach is called �Direct Path� and is said to have originated with Sri Atmananda Krishna Menon, though the term itself (vichAra mArga) may first have been coined by Ramana Maharshi. Perhaps the best known teacher in recent history to use such methods was Jean Klein. Current teachers/writers associated with Direct Path are Francis Lucille, Ananda Wood, Rupert Spira and the author of this book � Greg Goode.
But the technique is not really new. The basic idea is to look at our experience of an everyday situation or topic in a novel manner and argue from that in such a way that the hearer is forced to discard an habitual way of thinking (effectively destroying some self-ignorance in the process). Since the new view cannot be refuted, the seeker has to make a paradigm shift in the direction of a non-dual view of reality.
For example, if we look at the oft-used example of a pot made out of clay, the initial stance is that there is really a pot and the man-in-the-street would think one mad were one to deny that there is a pot in reality. But then we begin to probe this belief, asking about the weight of the pot for example, or asking where the pot goes when it is broken or at what point it came into existence. Eventually the seeker is forced to admit that there really is no pot at all � it is only the name that we give to that particular form of clay. All there ever was or will be is clay.
And then we can take another paradigm leap by suggesting that, since there is no actual object �pot�, the word itself is serving no useful function and should also be discarded. Why give a word to something that does not exist? What we have done therefore is first to dismiss the �object� pot and then to dismiss the word that described it.
But these are not examples from Sri Atmananda; they are from Gaudapada, sometime around the 7th Century CE.
So it is possible to lead the seeker from a position of self-ignorance to one of increased self-knowledge by such logical reasoning processes, even in a satsang environment. Of course, only a well-designed schedule of talks and discussion over an extended period could hope to complete the process but, at least in theory, the Direct Path method may bring a seeker to enlightenment. (It should be noted, however, that the benefits of peace and strength of mind etc. are a separate issue. Unless significant mental preparation was carried out before, these rewards will only come later, as a result of a consolidation of understanding.)
The Direct Path practitioner requires special skills over and above the usual teacher, namely an exceptionally lucid mind, ideally trained in philosophical methods and able to communicate complex ideas in a cogent and articulate manner. Those who have such skills rarely seem to be attracted to non-dual philosophies so that Greg is possibly unique in his accomplishments. Greg is not only enlightened but also has a background of Western philosophy as well as an encyclopaedic knowledge of Eastern non-dual philosophies. His communication skills have been demonstrated time and again on various Internet discussion groups. It is the ability to choose and use from the vast array of teaching methods, metaphors and stories the one specific to the need of the moment that distinguishes the teacher from the mystic and Greg possesses this knowledge in spades. There are many instances in these dialogs where you will see and appreciate the skill with which he plays with the various paradoxes that are thrown up by this questioning.
Anyone who has read Sri Atmananda�s books or the notes on his discourses will know that following his reasoning processes is not always easy. The reader may well feel that what is needed is for the ideas to be reformulated for the modern Western mind. Jean Klein�s books do achieve this to some degree but, since they are mainly answers to questions raised at his satsangs, they lack continuity and editing. The topics in this book, on the other hand, are culled from the many talks that Greg and his dinner companions have held over the past ten years and the material is carefully organized to present particular points in a coherent manner. This it does in a brilliant and readable way and, consequently, all of the material is valuable and relevant. Francis Lucille�s book, �Eternity Now�, is very good and was written in a similar manner to this, being based upon �prepared� questions. But, in this book, Greg excels in clarity of presentation and any reader should find it both stimulating and valuable.
You may feel that many books contain hidden meaning, like a deep well that requires you to lower the bucket into its murky depths and bring it up to the surface for later, careful examination. But the material here is more like a mountain stream, bubbling over rocks in bright sunlight, its profundities sparkling with clear simplicity for all to see. It is short enough to read several times until the ideas gain familiarity and can be seen to be true directly in one�s own experience. Drop your habitual and erroneous beliefs about the way things are and open your mind to the simple reality.
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