Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Is This Advaita—or Not???

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Sat Yoga Institute


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Someone asked recently if our institute is teaching Advaita. That is not an easy question to answer. Because one could say yes, and be correct. And one could say no, and also be correct. Let us say that we are teaching a unique, multimodal approach to the living realization of the nondual nature of our true Reality. Our approach values the struggles and victories (and the apparent losses as well) that make up the path toward the ultimate realization as well as the goal, the unitive realization itself. Perhaps the best description of the Sat Yoga Approach is to call it Advaita+ (Advaita plus a map of the levels of consciousness leading from the conflictual multiplicity of ego-consciousness to the realization of the Supreme Reality plus a variety of processes designed to bring about such transformation).

Perhaps the major drawback of ordinary Advaita is the underestimation of the power of the ego to appropriate the discourse of nonduality for its own covert narcissistic agenda, and the lack of sufficiently powerful means to depotentiate the ego and release its hold upon consciousness. Sat Yoga offers a methodology to ensure that the ego cannot continue its parasitic possession of our being. To realize the truth that underlies its verbal representation in Advaita discourse, we require a methodology that ensures that our spiritual guides actually walk the walk, not simply talk the talk.

Moreover, in order to break through the bedrock of the ego’s narrative construction, we must develop the skills of deep listening, of listening with the third ear, as the psychoanalyst Theodor Reik felicitously phrased it. This practice enables us to overcome the blind spots in our conscious awareness, and to help others go beyond theirs. In the practice of meditation, along the way toward achieving sahaja samadhi, or nisarga samadhi, as we term it—the natural state of nondual awareness, of inner silence and presence that remains constant throughout the day and night, throughout the states of waking, dream, and deep sleep—many phenomena of imperience (as opposed to experience) may arise. The adept spiritual guide ought to be able to help an aspirant overcome such demons of the deep unconscious—ranging from moments of agony or anxiety to paranormal phenomena to psychotic fragmentation to chronic distress, depression, fatigue, somatic conversion pain, or other psychospiritual symptoms. Neither ordinary Advaita nor ordinary psychotherapy offers a sufficient solution to such problems.

Some approaches to Advaita simply dismiss as illusion the levels of consciousness in which identification with some entity or archetype less encompassing than Parabrahman remains. Our approach does not dismiss those levels—and the insights and passions they ignite—as worthless. On the contrary, though they are certainly of only limited validity and value, in comparison to the realization of ultimate Reality, for the consciousness that is working its way toward the more sublime astonishment of nondual apperception, the melange of forces and tragicomic conundrums created in and by the maelstrom of Maya, are of extraordinary relevance. This is true of the ego’s understanding of its own unconscious puppeteer, and it is true of the higher levels of development that bring experiences of God or other visionary mystical states. None of these are ultimate, but their study can yield enormous transformational unfoldment. This is where the philosophy of Sat Yoga and mainstream Advaita differ—in emphasis more than in ultimate substance. But because our path includes a one-to-one relationship of guide and student in which empathic attunement is essential, the gradual (or sometimes sudden) reconceptualization of one’s existence leads to an accumulation of inner richness—in the form of greater capacity to love, to play, to think, to act decisively, to relate to others in a healthy, spontaneous, virtuous, mutually empowering way, among other benefits. This recuperation of joy and wisdom does not always occur in the classical Advaita path, which can be austere, repetitive, and even autistic in its emphasis on self-inquiry, and the absence of a relational component. This can result in an impoverished life, rather than an enriched one.

In fact, the fruits of inner transformation through relational paradigm-shifting comprise much of the substantial content of the spiritual journey, and it is the truthful confrontation of the projective illusions of ego versus other (I emphasize the word truthful) that produces the divine nectar of compassion, detachment, and acceptance that in turn intoxicates consciousness with the higher bliss of ego dissolution and the uncanny laughter that comes with the direct awareness of what is really going on here.

It is the patient inner work of peeling away the layers of illusion, the false axioms and paradigms that subtend the ego complex, depotentiating the irrational behavior, the paralyzing repressed conflicts, loosening the tightly wound springs of the egoic affects, that makes up much of the daily process of the spiritual warrior, leading to the ultimate unwinding of the egoic illusion as a whole. But this inner work of deconstruction is what requires the real courage and perseverance—and yields the real fruits of wisdom—that enable one to gain the necessary compassion and understanding to guide others on the path to Jivan Mukti, or Liberation, as well.

Beyond that, this work of gaining insight into human nature gives greater depth and richness of understanding of what may aptly be called divine nature. To understand from the highest Advaitic perspective the planetary/historic process of which we are a part, the spiraling intensities of cyclic time, in which the oscillation of our manifestation mutates from divine to demonic and back again, enables us to ride the crest of the transformational wave to its collapse and quantum reconfiguration. In the same way that reading Shakespeare or Rumi or William Blake or Marcel Proust can transmit a kind of understanding that one does not get from reading Kant or Hegel or Einstein (not to mention Shankara or Ramana), one’s approach to spiritual development can be either narrow-gauged or broad-gauged. The poetics of enlightenment ought not be limited to the simple truth that the ego is an illusion, and let’s be done with it. The divine play, the cosmic Leela, is far too beautiful, with an aesthetic complexity and taste far beyond that of the finest wine or the most creative literature, and all that beauty and intelligence ought not be wasted. That too is finally the work of Brahman, or Shiva, or Purusha, or Buddha-nature, or whatever name one chooses to bestow upon the Absolute. Advaita need not be a one-note melody.

In other words, our approach perceives a more fertile Advaita, a more flowering, empowering, overflowing fullness that unfolds along the path to our ultimate Oneness.

In the same way that meditation practice is not boring to those who know the bliss of nonduality, but to those whose consciousness remains mired in the ego-construct made of words and imaginary melodramas, it is a boring waste of time, or an irresistible opportunity to fall asleep—in the same way, Advaita can seem a boring negation of the logic of egoic drives or it can be apperceived as the dance of the devas to the angelic/symphonic music of the transcosmic spheres.

The path of Sat Yoga recognizes and encourages students and seekers on the spiritual path to annul immediately the pathological aspects of identification—but to do so not as an act of renunciation, but of poetic justice. To start on the path from where we really are, not from where we wish to be or pretend to be, is essential for ultimate success. To achieve most rapidly that success, called Liberation or Enlightenment or Self-Realization, we can use more tools than simply the cognitive recognition of the non-reality of the egoic pseudo-entity. We can take advantage, for instance, of the insights of contemporary psychoanalysis (but in the form of a far more encompassing Advaitic/Yogic paradigm, which we are calling clinical atmanology)—including the fact that much of our mental activity takes place beyond the ken of our waking consciousness, beyond the control of our waking mind, and sequestered from our reach by intricate defense mechanisms. Therefore, to win the battle against the diabolic intelligence of the Shadow (to use a Jungian term—referring to the part of the ego that lies beneath “normal” consciousness and which has power to control the flow of information that actually reaches our waking ego-consciousness), it pays to understand the dynamics of its operation. We can also benefit from being able to decode messages that come from an even deeper level, sometimes from what Jung called the archetypal level, sometimes from beyond that level, from the luminous intelligence of Atman itself, through our nightly dreams and our psychophysical symptoms, as well as our karmic entanglements—if we have the power to correctly interpret them. Gaining these skills is a legitimate—in fact, I would even say essential—part of the spiritual journey for many individuals. It is the full understanding of the egoic game that brings vairagya, or dispassion, that finally becomes the realization that we are not separate individuals at all, nor ever were.

In the same way, the Yogic map of psychic energy vortexes and assemblage points that is the underpinning of spiritual paths that have flourished all over the world throughout history—from Hinduism and Buddhism to alchemy, Hermeticism, and esoteric Judaeo-Christian-Islamic mystical traditions—still has tremendous value in realigning our intellectual paradigm with that of contemporary science as well as the phenomenology of our own transformational process. And of course there is no single practice that is of more value than that of meditation itself—meditation in the sense that Ramana and Nisargadatta and Shankara would approve—inquiry into the greatest mystery of all: Who am I? But even in the case of meditation practice, there is value in offering to students who need it more elementary and preparatory exercises. These may include asanas and pranayamas, or guided visualizations, or breath-counting techniques, or the more elaborate techniques of analytic meditation. Without losing sight of the goal, one can help people whose anxiety levels would otherwise not permit them to meditate, to reach such calmness and serenity that they are ready to face the far more profound question of ultimate identity. Beyond that, a framework of ethical and psycho-hygienic observances and self-restraints, referred to in Yoga as the Yamas and Niyamas, remain an important safety device for those who enter into the deep waters of supramental exploration.

So this is our path of Sat Yoga. Is it a form of Advaita? Only a very threatened or narrow mind would deny it. Does it encompass within itself elements that are not normally found in traditional Advaita? Of course. But if one is truly a nondualist, one recognizes the integral oneness of that which those who remain in illusion cannot see as connected and pertinent. We accept a constantly evolving Advaita, a path that makes use of the wisdom of all traditions, clinical observations, and philosophic insights that help in the achievement of the sweet perfection of our natural state. The natural samadhi that is our spiritual birthright is one of rest and peace, of love and acceptance, honoring all the apparent diversity that displays the transfinite creativity of the One Supreme Self. We have nothing to prove or preach. If you need the brand name “Advaita” and the guarantees of some celebrity gurus before you are willing to try it, then you are not ready for this more subtle sort of path. On the other hand, if this path seems of value to you, take from it what it offers that is of benefit, and leave the rest. If it seems utterly foreign, move on until you find what you are looking for. But if you have spent time with traditional Advaita, and you have the sense that its message is true, but it leaves you nonetheless with an illusory ego that you cannot shake off, despite your lack of belief in it, then you may be interested in another approach—one that will actually enable you to arrive at where you truly already are. Sat Yoga can bring you here.

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012