Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Interview with Dennis Waite (part 2)

conducted by non-duality magazine

... Read Part 1 of this interview ....

NDM: Can you please tell me about your awakening? When was it and how did it happen?

 Dennis Waite: As I mentioned in a previous answer, it is impossible to know whether or not someone else is enlightened so the answer to this question is irrelevant to anyone else. What do you conclude if someone tells you that they are enlightened? It smacks of egoism, hubris or superiority, none of which are traits one would associate with enlightenment. In addition, there is the very significant problem that most do not have a proper understanding of what is meant by the term. Accordingly, if you answer ‘yes’, they can only interpret this in connection with that misunderstanding. So, suffice to say that I do not have any specific ‘enlightenment experience’ to communicate. (Experiences, in any case, have a beginning and an end in time so have nothing to do with the ever-present freedom of mokSha.)

 NDM: Can you tell me more about this mokSha? What is this freedom like? Is it like a state of constant bliss? What does this do to your vAsanA-s? Do you still have any dislikes or likes, aversions or desires?

 Dennis Waite: You are still mistaking the terms, here. Enlightenment = Self-knowledge, which means that you know that ‘brahman is the truth; the world is mithyA; the individual is not other than brahman’. You no longer have any doubts about this. What you appear to be talking about here is jIvanmukti: the peace; detachment; lack of worries; indifference to results and so on. This is the condition which results either (a) on attaining enlightenment, when sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti had been fully satisfied beforehand or (b) following enlightenment, after further nididhyAsana for as long as necessary.

 Everyone is already ‘free’, irrespective of whether or not they are enlightened. Also, the jIvanmukta will still have desires, etc., albeit to a lesser degree, but the point is that there is no elation if they are fulfilled or disappointment if they are not. Everything is taken ‘as it comes’ with equanimity. (Or so I understand!)

 NDM: Yes, at an absolute level they are free, but what about on this empirical level. What if someone has Self-knowledge, know that they are brahman, yet still have an uncontrollable predilection for chasing after beautiful women or men, gambling, drinking and drugs? What kind of mokSha is that; being a slave to these unwholesome desires? How is that going to stop them from being reincarnated as a jackrabbit in the next life?

Dennis Waite: One who is enlightened still has a body-mind and vAsanA-s but also knows that ‘he’ does not act; and any action will not affect his Self-knowledge. Action is only at the level of the body and it is the mind that enjoys the result, albeit that both take place only by virtue of Consciousness. As an analogy, the petrol provides the motive power for the tank or the ambulance but is not affected by the motives of either. As explained elsewhere, the extent to which one gains the ‘fruits of enlightenment’ (jIvanmukti) is determined by how mentally prepared one was prior to 'enlightenment’. One who was just sufficiently prepared to be able to ‘take on board’ the Self-knowledge, will still retain the maximum (commensurate with enlightenment) of negative mental attributes. In order to be able to interact in the world at all, there has to be an ego and some degree of ‘identification’. The jIvanmukta has very little and consequently has virtually no desires/fears, etc. The person who only just made it will still have a lot and it is this person who may be perceived to act in ways that we would deem to be inappropriate.

 Another way of looking at it is that the j~nAnI (enlightened person) still has to use up the prArabdha karma that brought this body into manifestation in the first place. Thus he will (have to) experience certain desires and attachments and so on. When the prArabdha has been burnt up, the body falls and there is no rebirth for that ‘person’.

 It is understandable that there should be strong feelings on this issue and these have no doubt been exacerbated by the behavior of some who had been acclaimed as enlightened but who presumably were not. But it is also unreliable for the unenlightened to make pronouncements on the basis of what they may perceive as inappropriate actions. An obvious example would be Nisargadatta’s apparent addiction to bidis, obviously knowing that they were bad for the health of his body. Yet most Western seekers today seem to accept that he was enlightened.

 NDM: How do you know if someone has attained mokSha or is faking it? For example, some of these gurus have the mokSha shtick down pat. Some even quote from the scriptures, have Indian-sounding names, smile all the time, have dots on their foreheads, wear beads, orange robes and so on?

 Dennis Waite: You cannot know the mind of another. Unfortunately, all you can do is to listen to them teach (or if that is not possible) read their written material or transcripts of their talks. For as long as you continue to learn useful things from them (as determined by your intellectual discrimination), they are good teachers and therefore useful. If you are in their presence, and they say something with which you disagree, you can question them and maybe they will clarify the issue. If you are reading a book they can’t do this. If he or she is a very good teacher, then maybe you will eventually become enlightened also.

 Regarding behavior, this is not necessarily indicative of their status as ‘enlightened’. There is ample evidence of accepted enlightened individuals displaying anger or pain or sadness, etc. And someone who is not a jIvanmukta may also exhibit behavior that is popularly deemed to be inappropriate for someone who is enlightened. As long as you remember that enlightenment relates only to Self-knowledge, you should be able to answer any similar questions yourself.

 NDM: Yes, Ken Wilber said something like 'a schmuck before enlightenment, a schmuck after enlightenment' based on the old Zen quote. How does one know whom to trust with so many scandals breaking out?

 Dennis Waite: If you do not have direct experience yourself, you will have to rely on the words of someone who does. And in order to be able to believe them, they must have proven themselves to be trustworthy. This is why you accept what you are told by a personal friend when you would question it if told by a stranger. Failing that, you must fall back upon what I said above regarding learning useful things.

 NDM: So what about the sublation of Dennis, the moment in apparent time when this 'apparent Dennis' put his head in the mouth of the tiger and this apparent Dennis was devoured by this tiger. He realized that he was not this physical form, mind, the five sheaths and so on, which he had been identifying with all his life. When this non-dual light of awareness entered into the picture, he knew for the first time that he was not the snake, but the stick. That he was brahman.

 Are you saying that 'Dennis', not the Self, brahman, always knew this from his physical birth? That Dennis was always never ignorant about this, that he was enlightened on a relative level as well as an absolute level? That you were born an avatar of some kind like Krishna, Vishnu or Shiva?

Dennis Waite: You still seem to be hung up on the idea of a sudden transforming experience. It does not have to be like this.

 I guess the first hint must have been when I was about six – eight years old. My parents sent me to a Methodist Sunday School and I attended for maybe six – nine months. I eventually stopped going and I recall telling my parents that it just did not make any sense – if there was a God, then he couldn’t be in heaven; he had to be everywhere.

 But I didn’t actively begin seeking until my early twenties, by which time I was convinced that I was never going to gain any lasting satisfaction from worldly pursuits and decided that I had to look to philosophy for some explanations. I began attending the School of Economic Science (SES) in response to the ‘Course of Philosophy’ lectures that they advertized on the London Underground. And I stayed for a couple of years until they wanted me to part with a week’s salary to be initiated into TM. But at that time, they were still mainly influenced by Ouspensky and their teaching was a bit weird to say the least.

 After a break to get married, have a child, get divorced and re-marry, I returned to SES in the mid eighties, by which time their teaching was much more influenced by advaita. And I stayed until around 1998, by which time I had myself been tutoring for a number of years. I left because I had realized as a result of outside reading that the school’s advaita was corrupted by other philosophies such as Sankhya, Yoga and Grammarians. I also followed Francis Lucille for a while at this stage.

 After being made redundant in 2000, I tried to set up my own computer consultancy for a couple of years and wrote a book on Earned Value metrics. When this didn’t work out, I started the website and began to write on advaita full time. It was really this process – setting down all of the aspects of advaita, asking questions, reading lots of books until any points that I did not understand were cleared up – that consolidated my understanding. Basically, I have been doing this every day, evenings and weekends included since 2002. And, over the period of say 2004 – 2008 for the sake of argument, I came to the realization that I had no further questions. I was totally convinced of the truth of the teaching and found, through the question and answer section of the website, that there was no question that I could not answer (to my own satisfaction!). (Note that this does not mean I can answer all questions to other’s satisfaction. A lot of this teaching is stepwise and you cannot leap to the top step without traversing the intermediate ones. Also, some seekers may require lots of quotations from scriptures to back up an answer, and I am not always able to provide these, one reason being that there are still lots of scriptures that I haven’t read! And, of course, some seekers are so entrenched and committed to their existing mistaken beliefs that they cannot open up to any new ones. The parable of pouring more tea into a cup that is already full applies here.)

 But, again, I am not sure that you appreciate the significance of all of this at the transactional level. Dennis still quite definitely exists. It is a mistaken belief that the person somehow disappears on enlightenment. The person continues until death of the body, driven by prArabdha karma (the arrow continuing to its target once the bow string has been released). And I am certainly not a jIvanmukta. As I point out in a Q&A just posted to the site, I am still prone to the usual human failings. One does not gain the mental/emotional benefits (j~nAna phalam) unless one is fully accomplished with respect to sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti prior to enlightenment. And, unfortunately, I never became fully accomplished!

 NDM: Was Francis Lucille of any help at this point in time with his pointers and satsangs?

 Dennis Waite: Francis was very helpful. I emailed him a number of questions a year or two before meeting him and he answered them in detail (they appear in his book Eternity Now). And I was very impressed with the satsangs in general and the way that he answered questions. (This is not to say that I always agreed with what he said.)

NDM: You say, 'Dennis still quite definitely exists. It is a mistaken belief that the person somehow disappears on enlightenment.'

 What about the identification with this 'persona', the mask of Dennis? Do you mean you still identify with this, or that you know that it’s mithyA (false, transient, not constant, not permanent) and so on like any other object?

 Dennis Waite: Dennis still moves around in the world, doing all of the sorts of things he used to do and outwardly appearing as normal. I know that this body-mind is mithyA but still sometime behave as though I don’t. Note that this habit of not saying ‘I’, or referring to oneself in the third person, is really not something I approve of. It is an affectation really. Pedantically knowing that ‘I am not this person’ does not escape the fact that it is this person who is speaking as far as most hearers are concerned! So to use this method of speaking is tantamount to saying to the other person 'Just remember that you are not speaking to another "ordinary" person but to someone special!' And ‘I’ am not special – ‘who I really am’ is ‘who you really are’.

 NDM: As far as not being a jIvanmukta; what kind of meditation, karma yoga, bhakti yoga, along with j~nAna yoga, had you done previously to your realization?

 Dennis Waite: No bhakti; probably around 15 years of karma and meditation twice per day for 30 minutes.

 NDM: Did you ever experience nirvikalpa samAdhi prior to this realization?

 Dennis Waite: I’m going to cut short this line of questioning. Answers to questions such as these are really of no help to any other seeker. Each one’s path, glimpses of the truth, realization gradual or sudden, etc., will differ. Examining the minutiae of any one person’s experience really is pointless.

 NDM: Yes, is that because it is also misleading and can send others barking up the wrong tree so to speak? Like if someone has a sudden enlightenment holding a bucket of water over their head while dancing the Macarena; will others think that by holding buckets of water over their heads while dancing the Macarena, it will also bring them enlightenment?

 Dennis Waite: That’s a good way of putting it, yes! The bottom line is that only Self-knowledge can give enlightenment because Self-knowledge is enlightenment. Whatever one might be doing, where one is or what is happening at the moment that final, full Self-knowledge dawns, is totally irrelevant.

 NDM: What is evolutionary enlightenment? Does this have anything to do with Shankara’s interpretation of the Upanishads or advaita vedAnta? Andrew Cohen, Papaji's disciple, was in India recently promoting his ideas about 'evolutionary enlightenment'. He says he doesn't believe the purpose of enlightenment is to attain freedom from incarnation. He says it’s to come back again and again and again and again to enjoy this physical world. He also states that he is challenging the ancient traditions with his new teaching. At 17 minutes and ten seconds into the video he talks about this here.

 Dennis Waite: I don’t have any direct experience of Andrew Cohen’s teaching. Comments that some trustworthy contacts have made about him did not inspire me to find out more. What he says above would seem fully to justify this decision.

 NDM: In sutra number 18 of your book, Enlightenment: The Path through the Jungle, you say that some Neo-advaita teachers may be helpful; particularly the ones who try to embody some methodology in their teaching. What kind of methodology were you referring to? Is there any teacher you can think of who is doing this?

 Dennis Waite: I’m referring to the traditional prakriyA-s or systematic procedures that are given in the scriptures and ‘unfolded’ by a skilled teacher. These include such things as the three states of Consciousness (avasthA traya), differentiation between seer and seen (dRRik dRRishya viveka), the five ‘sheaths’ (pa~ncha kosha); and the classical metaphors such as rope-snake, pot-space and pots, gold and rings/bangles, etc. There are many of these and they are all demonstrably valuable for showing a seeker how to look at things in a new way and thereby overturn habitual patterns of thinking.

 NDM: In sutra 22, you speak of the terminology to be used, such as brahman and Atman; what would you say is the difference with using the word 'awareness'?

 Dennis Waite: The problem with using English words that are used in everyday conversation is that they can lead to confusion or misunderstanding. Even seekers who are familiar with ‘spiritual discussions’ may not clearly understand what is meant, or may use a word in a way which is understood differently by the other person. The word ‘awareness’ is a common example, particularly because Nisargadatta uses the words ‘Consciousness’ and ‘Awareness’ differently from most other teachers. By using the correct Sanskrit term (and it is acknowledged that one has to learn what these mean before using them in conversation), this difficulty is avoided.

... Read Part 3 of this interview ...

Interview conducted via Email July 2010

Page last updated: 11-Jul-2012