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
“ 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
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
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
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
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.
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