Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Truth is Tenable
Critical Responses to an Essay by Tony Parsons
Nathan Spoon

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The following is a response to the essay by Tony Parsons.

Beginning remarks: The author titles his essay “The Divine Misconception: Traditional Advaita (Oneness) versus Neo-Advaita”. If there is misconception, this implies the possibility of proper conception. The colon indicates that to view a Traditional Advaita over and against a Neo-Advaita is the misconception to be addressed by the essay. Also, “Oneness” is a mistranslation of the Sanskrit word Advaita, which translates into English as “not-two”. However, as the term is frequently used throughout the essay it must be allowed in order to respond to the author’s points.

Tony writes: “It has recently been argued that Traditional Oneness is somehow better than Neo-Oneness, or even Pseudo-Oneness. The strangeness of this idea exposes the foolishness of trying to give title to that which is limitless.”

1) Language is itself a limitation—whether the language is clear and developed or not. Therefore to use any term, including terms such as “Oneness” or “that which is limitless”, is still conceptual and limited.

Tony writes: “The cunning and manipulative guru mind inevitably objectifies verbal expression, and out of that objectifying arises a plethora of dogmatic movements all claiming supreme understanding of that which cannot be understood.”

2) “Objectifies verbal expression” means considering the expression rather than not considering it. Using this sentence itself as an example, the author might have either a) weighed his words carefully as he wrote them or b) repeated them out of habit. If he did the former, he was discriminating. If he did the latter, he was not discriminating. The implication in this sentence is that the latter is preferable to the former because it prevents dogma. Only when one analyzes the former one sees that a habitual response is nothing other than forgotten discrimination. At some point the author discriminated, deciding that it is preferable to not actively discriminate about “that which is limitless”.

3) Additionally, in the act of contributing this essay for this website the author is encouraging others to adopt his view that it is preferable to not discriminate. It should be pointed out as well that stating (however unwittingly) that one should not discriminate about what one expresses verbally is actually a principle basis for dogma, while “objectifying verbal expression” is not.

Tony writes: “As a consequence, so-called Traditional Advaita, for instance, is just another established religion with a proliferation of teachings and literature, all of which very successfully and consistently miss the mark. It stands alongside Christianity and Buddhism as one of the many systems of personal indoctrination promising the eventual spiritual fulfillment. To quote from The Open Secret: “To translate the inexpressible into the doctrinal is to attempt to transform a song of freedom into a dogma of limitation. When the bird has flown, the essence of its song is often mislaid and all we are left with is an empty cage.””

4) By the phrase “just another established religion with a proliferation of teachings and literature” the author expresses his view that he finds such a thing to be problematic. So problematic, in fact, that its adherents are fated to “miss the mark”. This last phrase additionally implies that it is possible for one to not “miss the mark”—and the remainder of this third paragraph explains that one’s best chance not to miss it is by avoiding “established religion”. The mistake here is that the author recommends to others that they should avoid established religion. Since not every one will follow his recommendation, the end result of this could only be a group (of whatever size) that establishes itself to some degree on the basis that it should not be established! This is performative contradiction.

Tony writes: “The teaching of “Traditional Advaita” has no relevance to liberation because it is born out of a fundamental misconception. Its logical and sensibly progressive recommendations include meditation, self-enquiry, self-restraint, and to quote “the renunciation of the ego and all desire”. Of course there is nothing right or wrong with the idea of desiring to renounce desire. However, these idealistic recommendations and teachings are based on the fundamental misconception that there is such a thing as a separate individual with free will and the choice to become.”

5) In this paragraph the author misleads the reader to believe that Traditional Advaita is merely presenting “progressive recommendations” which he asserts are “based on the fundamental misconception that there is such a thing as a separate individual with free will and the choice to become.” What Traditional Advaita really teaches is that every person experiences two levels of reality. One is empirical (vyavaharika) and the other is absolute (paramarthika)—hence Advaita which, as mentioned above, translates as “not-two”. The author’s assertions here are applicable only to the absolute level and have relevance only after self-ignorance has been removed by self-knowledge. The progressive recommendations of Traditional Advaita are presented with the intention of aiding an aspirant in turning from the unreal to the Real, the separate “self” to the Self.

Tony writes: “The belief that there is a separate seeker (subject) who can choose to attain or become worthy of something called enlightenment (object) is a direct denial of abiding oneness (Advaita).

Within the hypnotic dream of separation, the prevailing perception is that of the seeker and the sought. The ignorance of this perception continues in the search for enlightenment, and inevitably the dreamseeker is attracted to a dreamteaching which upholds and encourages the same premise of personal discipline and sacrifice (seeking) leading to the eventual goal of enlightenment (the sought).”

6) The phrase “personal discipline and sacrifice (seeking)” is equating personal discipline and sacrifice with seeking; by the content of the essay, the author, of course, means spiritual seeking (of which he disapproves)—only it is not made clear in this paragraph how personal discipline and sacrifice are seeking. At any rate, and more importantly, the author is failing, once again, to account for the existence of the empirical, which has already been addressed (in number 5).

Tony writes: “The recommendation to cultivate understanding and refine something called “the mind” (?) is hugely attractive to the dreamseeker because it prolongs the very worthy search and thrives on logic, detachment, complication, endeavor, hierarchy and exclusivity.”

7) In this paragraph the author misunderstands the Traditional Advaita teaching about the mind. As Swami Dayananda explains, “The antahkarana, the mind, is the place where knowledge takes place. If knowledge does not take place when both the object of knowledge and an appropriate means of knowledge are available to the one who wants the knowledge, then there must be present some obstacle which is responsible for knowledge not occurring. The only such obstacle is lack of preparation of the mind.” (Ref. 1)

Tony writes: “Trying to understand oneness is as futile as trying to fall in love with an inch.

There is no possibility of teaching oneness. However, the sharing can bring a rediscovery of that which is already known.”

8) In these paragraphs the futility of understanding Oneness and the impossibility of teaching Oneness are mentioned in an extolling manner. It should be added as well that Traditional Advaita does not teach Oneness, but rather provides pointers to the Self; to quote from Swami Dayananda again, “[Advaita] is a pramANa in the form of words and sentences which, when wielded by a competent teacher, are meant to throw light on the Self.” (Ref. 2)

Tony writes: “If we are to believe recent descriptions of something called “Neo-Advaita” as being “the forcing of the truth (?) on unprepared minds” or “advising people to stop seeking” or suggesting to people that they are “nothing but the mind itself”, these teachings, if they exist, are equally as dualistic as the “traditional Advaita” they were born out of.”

9) Due to the fact of criticizing it throughout this essay, the author clearly admits to the existence of a Traditional Advaita. In this paragraph we find that he also admits to the existence of a Neo-Advaita, as he takes aim at it as well, describing it as “dualistic”; although he expresses doubt about its existence, as indicated by the phrase “something called Neo-Advaita”. It is illogical to criticize something that does not exist. So it must be concluded here that, despite his doubt, the author also admits to the existence of a Neo-Advaita. As a result of these admissions, he contradicts the premise of his essay.

Tony writes: “This confusion is of course as much an expression of oneness as the clarity which exposes it.

All of this silly circus is simply the eternal play of oneness apparently seeking itself. It is the wonderful cosmic joke oneness plays on itself by pretending to be an individual seeking something called “not being an individual”.”

10) Here “confusion” as opposed to “the clarity that exposes it” is referred to as a “silly circus” and as a “wonderful cosmic joke”. The former is critical toward the “confusion” while the latter is accommodating. As a result the reader might question what exactly the author is saying.

Tony writes: “When it is suddenly and directly rediscovered by no-one that liberation brings with it the realisation that there is nothing to seek and no-one to become liberated, then there is much laughter . . .

11) The author concludes his essay with a sentence that has lightness and a ring of poetic mystery to it; however, the phrase “rediscovered by no-one” can have no possible meaning for the reader, as “no-one” cancels out the possibility of “rediscovery”.

Final remarks: It is clear after reading and analyzing his essay that the author relies upon emotion more often than logic to make his points. If logic, which the essay heavily criticizes (mostly by criticizing its results such as discrimination, organization, etc.), is contrary to Oneness, then the reader is left wondering how emotion is not.


Ref.1 Swami Dayananda, The Value of Values, 4.
Ref.2 Swami Dayananda, The Value of Values, 3.

Visit Nathan's blog: Ganapati-Advaita Ashram.

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012