Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

A response to 'not two-ness'
Dennis Waite

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Response to the essay by Tony Parsons.

The book ‘Enlightenment: the Path through the Jungle’ aims clearly to define the meaning of the word ‘enlightenment’ and explain how traditional advaita functions to bring it about. It contrasts this teaching with the method-less, and sometime apparently content-less talks and discussions that take place under the banner of ‘satsang’ in the west today. In particular, it formally defines (for the purpose of the book) the term ‘neo-advaita’ as:

“ the style of teaching that purports to express only the final, absolute truth of advaita. It does not admit of any 'levels' of reality and does not recognize the existence of a seeker, teacher, ignorance, spiritual path etc. Whereas satsang teachers in general differ quite widely as regards their particular ways of talking about and teaching advaita, neo-advaitin teachers do not. The statements of one are essentially interchangeable with those of another, with only personal style and coined phrases differing.” (This description is expanded and clarified in the book.)

All of these approaches claim (overtly or not) to speak of the absolute, non-dual nature of reality so that a comparison of their ability to do so in a reasonable and logical way is certainly valid. Amongst the ‘disclaimers’ in the book are the following statements:

“ 12. The book makes no specific claims about relative ‘success rates’ of the different approaches. There are no statistics available upon which any such claims might be made and views might well differ even upon whether a given teacher is ‘enlightened’ or not. What it will do is to present, analyze and criticize the various issues and endeavor to persuade the reader that anything other than the traditional approach is unlikely to succeed.

“16. I would like to emphasize that this book is not criticizing specific teachers nor suggesting that anyone is inept or unenlightened. I am criticizing satsang as a teaching method, when used on its own and attended only infrequently, as is typical in the West. Specific teachers are not usually quoted, since I did not want to imply that anyone was being singled out for disapprobation. Instead, I have endeavored to paraphrase actual quotations to make the points in a more general way. Those quotations which are present are included because they are particularly helpful and relevant to the point being made.”

The fundamental practical difference, as far as neo-advaita is concerned, is the existence or otherwise of the seeker and the ability or otherwise to obtain enlightenment. All approaches agree that, in reality, there is neither seeker nor enlightenment... but we do not perceive reality. From the vantage point of the seeker, suffering in an apparent world of separation, such absolutist statements cannot help. Traditional advaita recognizes this condition of self-ignorance and provides proven techniques for disabusing the seeker of all false notions. It is not a ‘teaching of becoming’, as Tony states, because there is nothing to become.

‘Enlightenment’ is defined in the book as:

“ Enlightenment takes place in the mind of a person when self-ignorance has been eradicated. It is true (in absolute reality) that we are already 'free' - there is only ever the non-dual reality so how could it be otherwise? It is not true that we are already enlightened (in empirical reality), as the seeker well knows. Enlightenment is the event in time when the mind realizes that we are already free.”

Enlightenment is not an ‘idea that comes and goes within the individual story’. It is an irrevocable change (vRRitti) in the mind, beyond mere idea or belief. In reality, there are no ‘things’ at all; there is only non-duality but, at the transactional level , ‘mind’ is a perfectly meaningful term to everyone (including Tony) and it serves no useful purpose to deny its existence. It is the notional ‘place’ where thoughts are deemed to arise.

The apparent paradox results from a confusion of absolute and relative reality (paramArtha versus vyavahAra). From the relative point of view there IS a person and this person CAN become enlightened. It is only from the absolute perspective that it could be said (except that there is no one there to say it!) that there is nothing to be gained. As soon as we say anything at all, we are necessarily firmly in the relative viewpoint; only silence is commensurate with reality. It is pointless to deny this, since speech and thought are themselves dualistic.

Seeking is valid at the level of the person – it is not a myth. The Open Secret may recognise “the relative as the absolute appearing and form as formlessness” and know that “ everything is already the unconditional expression of wholeness, including the belief that it isn’t ” but, unfortunately, the seeker doesn’t. We have to begin from where we believe ourselves to be. Even those would-be seekers who go to Tony Parson’s talks believe themselves to be separate, suffering individuals and are looking for guidance. The fact that neo-advaita offers no guidance does not alter this fact. Traditional advaita also maintains that the Self is already non-dual and free. The difference is that it acknowledges that the seeker nevertheless believes himself to be a separate entity as a result of error and the only way that this misconception can be corrected is by recognition of this error. This usually results from guidance by a suitably qualified teacher.

He says that: “ Individuality is the transient appearance of wholeness seeming to be part of itself that feels separate from wholeness and can only apparently seek to be whole. But a part can never know the whole.” There is no argument here but the point is that the mind can come to realize that there never was a part but only the whole. Traditional advaita aims to bring about this understanding. Simply stating it to be so (as neo-advaita does) will not normally achieve this.

Tony Parsons claims that the perspectives of traditional and neo-advaita ‘do not meet’ and cites the example that the latter does not recognize the existence of an ‘individual’. Yet, in the same essay, ‘Tony’ is repeatedly referring to ‘Dennis Waite’. Every time he takes a satsang, he speaks to others ‘individuals’. It is pointless to deny the transactional level of reality in which he charges £10 per person for a 3-hour talk (to no-one). Traditional advaita also uses duality to point to non-duality (and openly admits this). It just does so in an infinitely more logical, reasonable and effective manner.

Regarding the topic of ‘practice’, anyone who has tried to solve a problem when their mind is diverted by strong emotions will know the impossibility of concentrating and thinking logically. It must therefore be eminently reasonable that some mental preparation is need before being able to tackle the most intransigent problem of all – the nature of our own existence. Such practices as meditation and directed self-inquiry must therefore be extremely helpful for clearing the mind of irrelevancies.

Tony says that I recommend “ that the aspiring so-called spiritual teacher should ask themselves if they are truly enlightened”. This point is actually under the heading of “What should you do if you are a satsang teacher? ”:

“537. Answer yourself honestly – Are you really enlightened, according to the traditional concepts of the term?”

The question clearly does not apply to neo-advaita teachers since I state that:

“528. Since neo-advaitin teachers deny the existence of the person, ignorance and enlightenment, they are patently unenlightened according to their own definition.”

The Open Secret states that its “apparent communication is illogical, unreasonable, unbelievable, paradoxical, non-prescriptive, non-spiritual, uncompromising. There is no agenda or intention to help or change apparent individuality.” This is indeed paradoxical since seekers (real or imaginary) usually attend satsangs for the purpose of learning something useful , as opposed to merely being entertained in some pointless manner. The idea that there is no truth is also incomprehensible. To be true means to be in accordance with reality; what is actually the case. The truth is that reality is non-dual. The world is a manifestation, whose name and form we erroneously endow with a separate existence – its essence is the same non-dual reality. Who-I-really-am is that same reality. The purpose of advaita, and other traditional approaches, is to bring us to the realization of this truth.

The ‘bottom line’ is that nothing matters. There is only the non-dual reality, the Self. The rest is only a wonderful, ever-changing manifestation – merely name and form of that same, unchanging, unmanifest reality; ever whole, ever complete, never two. This is the case regardless of whether or not the apparent person ‘realizes’ this truth. But it is also part of this marvelous, apparent creation that, occasionally, one of these ‘persons’ wonders about the nature of this reality and looks for understanding and self-knowledge. Traditional advaita provides a structured, reasonable and assured approach to gain this understanding, entirely within the context of this seeming manifestation.

One might argue that, whether or not this apparent person gains self-knowledge makes not the slightest difference to the reality – and one would have to concede that this is necessarily the case. Nevertheless, at the level of the seeming world of duality, it seems to make the most enormous difference to the ‘person’. It is the difference between the dreamer trapped in a nightmare that he erroneously believes to be true and the lucid dreamer who recognizes the dream for what it is and enjoys every minute.

Although words and concepts can never describe the ineffable, they can point and use metaphor and other strategies to enable the mind to recognize, intuit and ultimately realize the non-dual truth. It is the duty of any teaching worthy of the name to utilize such techniques and not simply make gratuitous and unfounded claims which do nothing to help the apparent person finally to acknowledge his or her limitless essence.

Dennis Waite, June 2008

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