Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Interview with Dennis Waite (part 3)

conducted by non-duality magazine

... Read Part 2 of this interview ....

NDM: Can you give me an example of bhAga tyAga lakShaNa?

Dennis Waite: Suppose that you and a friend, A, both went to school with a third person, X. Although you were not particularly friendly with X, you knew him quite well but, since leaving school you lost touch and have forgotten all about him. Today, you happen to be walking along with A and see Y, who is a famous film star, walking by on the other side of the street. You have seen films starring Y and admire him very much. A now makes some comment such as, 'Y has come a long way in the world since we knew him, hasn’t he?' You are mystified since you have never even spoken to Y as far as you know and you ask A to explain himself. A then makes the revelatory statement: 'Y is that X whom we knew at school.'

All of the contradictory aspects, that X is an insignificant, scruffy, spotty oik that you once knew at school, while Y is a rich, famous and talented actor, are all cancelled out, leaving the bare equation that X and Y are the same person. Furthermore, the knowledge is aparokSha – immediate. We do not have to study the reasoning or meditate upon it for a long time.

NDM: In sutra 50, you talk about avidyA. This is also at the core of the Buddhist teachings. Do you see any difference in the way this is taught?

Dennis Waite: As answered in an earlier question, I do not really know anything about Buddhism. You will need to ask someone like Greg Goode.

NDM: In sutra 54, you say we do not have any organ for Self knowledge - sudden insight through an epiphany?

Dennis Waite: That sutra is talking about pramANa-s – the ‘means for acquiring knowledge’. We have the sense organs – sight, etc. – for acquiring knowledge about external objects; but there is no organ for acquiring knowledge about the Self. Similarly, we cannot infer and have no reason to assume that the Self is the non-dual reality. Hence we need a trusted, external source to tell us and explain it. This is the function of the scriptures and guru. Although it cannot be stated categorically that enlightenment does not ‘suddenly come to one for no apparent reason’, this is not the normal route! Also, the traditional route is, throughout, totally amenable to reason whilst the ‘epiphany’ route is totally inaccessible to reason. Furthermore, if you sit around waiting for something to ‘happen’, you are likely to be waiting a very long time! If you commit to a traditional path for as long as it takes, the evidence is that you will get there eventually.

NDM: The Kena Upanishad says, 'The eye does not go there, nor speech, nor mind, we do not know "That" [meaning brahman]. We do not know how to instruct one about it. It is distinct from the known and above the unknown.' If this is the case, then how is this known and who or what knows this?

Dennis Waite: It is interesting that you should choose this verse because it is effectively an explanation of the need for sampradAya teaching. But you have omitted the last sentence, which says: 'Thus we have heard from those who have gone before us, who told us about it.'

The point is that brahman cannot be seen, or directly spoken of, or known (as an object) by the mind. And it is not saying that ‘we do not know how to teach it, period’, it is saying that ‘we do not know how to teach it other than by using such seemingly paradoxical statements as "the eye of the eye", "the ear of the ear", etc.' It has to be taught in an elliptical fashion, undermining erroneous views and coming at it from behind, as it were, because brahman is not an object of any sort but, on the contrary, the ultimate subject – infinite. When it says that we do not know how to teach it, it is referring to the usual means of knowledge – perception, inference, etc. I can’t point to it or say ‘what’ it is. It is different from the known (i.e. cannot be known as an object) and yet it is different from the unknown, meaning that we nevertheless know it. How can this be? Simply because we already are it.

NDM: Do you think that the mental disposition, akhaNDAkAra vRRitti, can be attained through nirvikalpa samAdhi?

Dennis Waite: No.

NDM: OK, but what about after waking from this nirvikalpa samAdhi? After the fact, when nirvikalpa merges into and becomes sahaja samAdhi while being awake and alert? In the Ribhu Gita by Sri Ramana, it states:

30. Remaining alertly aware and thought-free, with a still mind devoid of differentiation of Self and non-Self even while being engaged in the activities of worldly life, is called the state of sahaja nirvikalpa samAdhi (the natural state of abidance in the Self when all differentiation has ceased). This is called akhaNDAkAra vRRitti, the ‘I’ of infinite perfection as contrasted with the ‘I am the body’ notion of those who have not realized the Self (Ch.18, v.40).

What do you think he meant by this?

Dennis Waite: A temporarily thought-free mind is not a mind that has effectively ‘taken on the form of brahman’. We have a ‘thought-free’ mind every night during deep sleep but nevertheless still wake up believing we are the body-mind. The akhaNDAkAra vRRitti is an instantaneous ‘dawning of knowledge’ in which the mind suddenly gels (as it were); when the full realization of non-difference from brahman occurs as a result of the crystallization (as it were) of knowledge gained in the past. nirvikalpa samAdhi is a state of mind that is temporarily object-free; conscious, but only of Self. Since it is empty of anything (‘nir’ vikalpa means ‘without’ difference or distinction), how could any sort of change or vRRitti (mental disposition) occur in it? In any case, as I pointed out earlier, samAdhi-s are experiences and only knowledge can remove ignorance.

Furthermore, I would say that it is not possible to ‘engage in the activities of worldly life’ with a thought-free mind.

So I am not sure what exactly is meant by this passage. I haven’t read and don’t have a copy of the Ribhu Gita. Maybe the earlier verses throw some light on this. As I said earlier (I think) Ramana was a brilliant teacher and unquestionably enlightened but he did not have sampradAya training and had not, I understand, even read much scripture prior to his enlightenment; so some of his statements may be suspect, especially when taken out of context. The Bhagavad Gita (II.55) (the end of chapter 2) talks about the man of ‘steady wisdom’ as one who is ‘without desire’ but not ‘without thought’. sthitapraj~na means the ‘state’ of being in, brahman, and arises as a result of the akhaNDAkAra vRRitti; it is not the same as it. But, unlike samAdhi, it is not really a state; it is rather that the Atman is now (known to be) brahman.

NDM: A few days ago, someone told me about a Western Neo-advaita teacher in India who pays impoverished young Indian boys to have sexual relations with him. In this case who is the doer/enjoyer? Is it this Neo-advaita teacher’s vAsanA-s, or is it brahman doing this? Oneness, as some Neos would say.

Dennis Waite: This sort of confusion arises because of failing to differentiate ‘levels’ of reality. All of this ‘doing’ – whether working, playing, seeking, becoming enlightened, giving time and money to charity or having sex with young boys – all takes place within vyavahAra, the transactional or worldly level. At this level, there is duality, people and objects; and all of the usual issues of society, morality and responsibility apply. Traditional advaita says that the position into which a given person is born is determined by their actions in past lives and they have to ‘work through’ the related karma. The desires they have are determined by their vAsanA-s, which again are determined by past actions and formation of habits and so on. It is said that when a given situation is presented, one may act, not act or act differently from the dictates of past habits. And this brings us onto the topic of free-will, which I don’t want to enter into or we will be here indefinitely!

From the standpoint of absolute reality, of course, there are no people or objects; no time, space or causation. But you have to be very careful not to mix up the levels. Most conceptual problems in advaita result from doing precisely this.

NDM: Who is responsible for this karma - 'oneness' or this apparent man’s vAsanA-s?

Dennis Waite: Again, from the vantage point of the world, the individual person is responsible for his actions, which accumulate karma and eventually bring about the appropriate ‘fruit’ of puNya or pApa – good things or bad! In reality, there is no such thing as karma or reincarnation but then, there is no person either to worry about such things. You decide which aspect you are talking about and stick to it.

NDM: The Neos say that there is no karma because there is no apparent man or vAsanA-s or saMskAra-s. They say there is just 'oneness'. What are your thoughts on this?

Dennis Waite: This is what the Neos mostly do. They try to make absolute pronouncements, as if from a pAramArthika (absolute) perspective. But at the same time they seem to expect these statements to be meaningful and helpful to a seeker who is suffering, trying to understand what is happening at the level of the world and looking for guidance to help them remove this suffering. Mostly it just causes frustration and often increases the suffering because such a view does not accord with the seeker’s experience. The seeker is unable to rationalize what the Neo tells him without both prior mental preparation and significant preliminary instruction.

NDM: In a dialogue that you had with Jeff Foster, Jeff said, 'This message is about the simple and obvious appearance of life, now, now and now. That this moment - right now - is all there is. And everything, our whole lives, our pasts and futures, are just stories appearing now. And yes, of course, THAT is a story too! And so this can never really be expressed in words. It's the attempt to put into words what could never be put into words... This is about the possibility of absolute freedom, absolute "happiness" as you put it, right here, right now. This is about seeing that the miracle that we are searching for is always fully present, that enlightenment is already the case, but the "search" implied that it wasn't.'

What he is saying here sounds like the teachings of Eckhart Tolle, being in the now.

Do you think that he is missing the obvious here? That you can be in the now all day long and still not be enlightened?

Is it possible that he still has not realized the Self? It’s like he has only climbed half way up the mountain and mistaken this plateau for the top?

I say this because this brings to mind the Zen koan - does a dog have Buddha nature? A cat or a dog does not have a sense of Self nor is it attached to a personal identity. It comes when its name is called. It eats when it’s given food; it urinates, defecates, fornicates and so on, but it does not know that it is non-dual awareness.

Dennis Waite: It is impossible to know whether or not another person is enlightened. The best that we can do to assess this is to compare what the person says with what has been said in the scriptures (or perhaps, for most of us, with how the scriptures have been interpreted by those whom we believe to have been enlightened). But this has to be tempered with the fact that it is possible for people to learn pat answers without really understanding them.

Living ‘in the now’ and recognizing that there is only the present moment is part of the mental preparation for enlightenment. I suppose that it is an aspect of nitya-anitya vastu viveka – discriminating between the real and unreal, the transient and eternal. But, in itself, it is not enlightenment. And, you are right – you could be ‘in the present’ all the time and still not be enlightened. Enlightenment is Self-knowledge and has nothing to do with experience. (I may say this more than once in answers to these questions but repetition of this fact is very worthwhile for most people!)

NDM: If I came to you asking you to help me become enlightened, the way I asked these Neo teachers, would you tell me I'm enlightened already, no need to do anything and so on? That I'm already perfect just the way I am?

The problem is this hasn't changed a thing. I'm still the same miserable jerk as before. Each time I go to one of their satsangs it costs me 30 bucks. This enlightenment business is getting very expensive. Especially if I buy their DVDs and books, and photos of them as well. This all adds up. Then they tell me there is no hope, or meaning. I'm getting depressed and confused by all this Neo babble and feel like I'm at the end of my rope.

What would you say to me? Would you be able to help me do this without having to learn a new language and to study vedAnta like you did for 25 years? Is there a short cut? A direct path I could take, so I don't go broke or old waiting for this to happen?

Dennis Waite: This is a good example of the way that Neo teachers mistakenly present the message of advaita. It is true that who-you-really-are is already free, perfect and complete. The problem is that you think you are this body-mind, and the mind definitely does not think it is perfect and free. The mistaken views have to be undermined and then rejected or corrected. Only when this has been done, will you be ‘enlightened’. But there is simply no point in telling you this. You have to go through the process of examining your experiences and beliefs and, with the help of a qualified teacher, acknowledge that what he or she tells you is true. In this, you will have to utilize the means of knowledge available to you (mainly perception, inference and scriptures) and your faculties of reason and discrimination, possibly with a little bit of faith to begin with.

Ideally, then, you will find a suitable teacher and commit to studying with them for as long as it takes. Unfortunately there are not many of these around as we have already discussed. This need not be an insurmountable problem. One of the main qualities for a seeker is mumukShutva – the desire to achieve enlightenment, to the exclusion of all other desires. Accordingly, if this is really what you want, you can ‘simply’ move to somewhere where there is a qualified teacher. You will overcome all the obstacles in order to do this.

Realistically, most seekers do not have this all-consuming passion. For them, the best that they can do is to read as much and as widely as possible (but perhaps taking guidance from someone who knows more about all this). And join an internet discussion group such as Advaitin, where you can ask all of the questions that will arise and have them answered by a number of very experienced and knowledgeable people, some of whom are acknowledged academic experts or established traditional teachers. All of this will cost much less than attending satsangs!

But the process will take as long as it takes. (There is a story in the scriptures of someone being ecstatic when told it would only take as many lifetimes as there were leaves on the tree under which he was sitting!) You certainly don’t have to learn Sanskrit either. You do have to learn a number of Sanskrit terms, simply because there are no equivalent words in the English language. But this is really not a great hardship.

Regarding short-cuts, I would say not really. There is the Direct Path teaching of Atmananda Krishna Menon, currently being taught by people such as Greg Goode and Rupert Spira. It is certainly worth investigating this but it does not appeal to, nor is it suitable for, everyone. It is really for a particular sort of mind – very sharp, logical, perceptive and intellectual; ever-ready to drop a prior conception if reason or experience dictates that it was wrong. Traditional teaching, on the other hand, can cater for all levels of mind, with slow or fast-track techniques according to ability.

NDM: What would you say is the difference with brahman and Shunyata?

Dennis Waite: I know very little about any spiritual path other than advaita. shunya means ‘empty’, or ‘void’ and I understand the belief of some branches of Buddhism to be that there is literally ‘nothing’. This would seem to be diametrically opposite to brahman, which is all (everything). On the face of it, It would seem to be nonsensical to claim that there is nothing – who would there be to claim this? It is also our experience that we and the world exist. How could this (something) world have originated from nothing?

NDM: What if someone recognizes himself or herself as Shunyata; is this considered being enlightened, realizing absolute truth according to the Shankara and the vedAnta school or is this also a form of heresy or Neo-advaita?

Dennis Waite: In the Brahma Sutra and bhAShya, Vyasa and Shankara refute all of the other philosophies that were prevalent at the time. This includes Buddhism. Obviously people can believe and claim whatever they want but they cannot legitimately claim to be Advaitins unless their teaching corresponds with that of advaita.

... Read Part 4 of this interview ...

Interview conducted via Email July 2010

Page last updated: 11-Jul-2012