Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Interview with Dennis Waite (part 4 - final)

conducted by non-duality magazine

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

NDM: When the Buddha came across some brahmins, they were discussing the nature of brahman.

Buddha asked, 'Have you seen brahman?'

'No,' said the brahmin.

'Or your father, has he seen him?' asked the Buddha.

'No, neither has he.'

'Or your grandfather, has he seen him?'

'I don't think even he has seen Him,' answered the brahmin.

Buddha replied, 'My friend, how can you discuss a person whom your father and grandfather never saw?'

According to Shankara, you don’t have to be enlightened to teach it. Using the logic of the Buddha, how can a doctor perform brain surgery if he doesn’t even know what a brain looks like?

Dennis Waite: brahman is not an object and cannot be objectified in any way. If it could be objectified, there would have to be a subject treating it as an object and that would be duality. But, in order to know brahman, you do not need to objectify it – you are brahman.

NDM: Can you please tell me the difference between Neo vedAnta inspired by the Vivekananda and the Ramakrishna Mission and Neo-advaita?

On book learning, Vivekananda said: 'This quickening impulse, which comes from outside, cannot be received from books; the soul can receive impulse from another soul, and nothing else. We may study books all our lives, we may become very intellectual, but in the end we find that we have not developed at all spiritually... In studying books, we sometimes are deluded into thinking that we are being spiritually helped; but if we analyze ourselves we find that only our intellect is being helped, and not the spirit. That is why almost every one of us can speak most wonderfully on spiritual subjects, but when the time of action comes, we find ourselves so woefully deficient. It is because books cannot give us that impulse from outside. To quicken the spirit, that impulse must come from another soul. That soul from which this impulse comes is called the Guru, the teacher... [From The Teacher of Spirituality, selections pp. 51-2.]

Dennis Waite: Neo-advaita, as I think we have already discussed, is the attempt to convey the truth through simple, absolute statements without any supporting rationale or mental preparation, denying the existence of seeker, teacher or of any path that might be followed.

Neo-vedAnta may initially seem to be identical to traditional advaita. However, there are subtle differences which only become apparent when your understanding of the teaching is quite advanced. I have not made a study of these differences so cannot say a great deal about them. Principally, I think that neo-vedAnta is ‘corrupted’ as it were by confusion with aspects of Yoga philosophy. In particular, they claim that enlightenment is a spiritual experience rather than a vRRitti (disposition) of the mind. They therefore place great emphasis on samAdhi, and equate nirvikalpa samAdhi with realization. advaita, on the other hand, states that this is simply another (albeit very profound) experience, with a beginning and an end in time.

But it should be noted that many of the books by swamis of the Ramakrishna Missions, etc., are excellent. They translate and comment on Upanishads, etc., including Shankara’s commentaries and these are often brilliant. It is likely that you will not even notice the minor discrepancies. I only discovered the problems myself when I began to write my own books on advaita and began to encounter statements in their writing which contradicted my understanding.

NDM; What are your thoughts on this: 'All these talks, and reasonings, and philosophies, and dualisms, and monisms, and even the Vedas themselves, are but preparations, secondary things... The Vedas, Grammar, Astronomy, etc., all these are secondary. The supreme knowledge is that which makes us realize the Unchangeable One. [From The Sages of India, selections, p. 237.]

Dennis Waite: It is true that all scriptures, commentaries, teachings are mithyA. It is never possible to ‘describe’ reality in any way. So, in a sense, for the enlightened person, they all become redundant.

NDM: In your book, you talk a lot about knowing through the aid of scripture, but seem to relegate intuition. How do you think the first sages who spoke these scriptures, secret forest teachings, Upanishads, Vedas, got to know this when there weren’t any books or teachers at the time? Was it not through direct intuition?

Do you feel that book knowledge and scripture are superior to intuition? Isn’t intuition the internal sat guru as well?

Vivekananda also said:

You must keep in mind that religion does not consist in talk, or doctrines, or books, but in realization; it is not learning but being. No amount of doctrines or philosophies or ethical books that you have stuffed into your brain will matter much, only what you are, and what you have realised. [From The Need of Symbols, selections, p. 64-5.]

The whole world reads scriptures, Bibles, Vedas, Korans, and others, but they are only words... the dry bones of religion... Those who deal too much in words, and let the mind run always in the forest of words, lose the spirit... [From The Teacher of Spirituality, selections, pp. 54-5.]

The network of words is like a huge forest in which the human mind loses itself and finds no way out... To be religious, you have to first throw all books overboard. The less you read of books, the better for you... It is a tendency in Western countries to make a hotch-potch of the brain... In many cases it becomes a kind of disease but it is not religion. [From The Need of Symbols, selections, pp. 64-5.]

What are your thoughts on this? Do you think these old scriptures should be thrown overboard in order to realize this truth intuitively through gnosis?

For example, how did Buddha realize the truth? Did he read books all day long, listen to a guru giving satsang or did he sit out in the forest alone until this realization came to him intuitively? In a flash, like the first sages of the Vedas.

Dennis Waite: Intuition is fine – but where do you go to get this? What can you do to increase the likelihood of getting it? In a sense, the final realization might be called ‘intuition’. You have been hearing ‘You are That’, ‘Everything is brahman’, etc., time and again but nothing has happened. And then, suddenly, there is the overwhelming certainty: ‘Ah! Now I see – everything is brahman! How could I not have appreciated that before?’ But, for the vast majority, this only comes as the culmination of prolonged study with a qualified teacher.

And, as I said in respect of the sampradAya, the process is one of guru teaching disciple, who then becomes the next guru and so on. And this process is said to stretch back to the beginning. Long before scriptures were written down, they were learned by heart in the sampradAya-s. OK, you may not want to accept that there never actually was a human author, but we are talking about scriptures that are thousands of years old.

So, if you want to sit around on the off-chance that some intuition will suddenly come along – fine! But don’t hold your breath…

Regarding the quote from Vivekananda, all scriptures, gurus, seekers and the world itself are mithyA. Only the Self is satyam. So, yes, once you are enlightened, by all means throw all of the books away if you like. But I would make two points: firstly (if I may repeat), for the vast majority, it is gurus and scriptures that will have brought you to this point; secondly, the scriptures and their unfoldment by a teacher such as Swami Dayananda are beautiful – the most profound truths embodied in simple verses and metaphor, explained with crystal-clear logic. The enlightened person still lives on in the world for the remainder of that embodiment; so why throw away such beautiful things? Read and enjoy!

I think you are still caught up in the idea that there are very, very few enlightened people in the world; that maybe most of the ones who were enlightened are now dead; and that most of these reached enlightenment by chance or sudden ‘intuition’. This is a false picture. I suggest that there are actually quite a lot of enlightened people, most of whom have become so as a result of following a traditional path. You don’t get to hear about them because they do not have ‘teacher vAsanA-s’. Ones like Buddha and Ramana are the exception rather than the rule.

NDM: Yes, so what about this one?

The Ashtavakra Gita says:

My son, you may recite or listen to countless scriptures, but you will not be established within until you can forget everything (16.1).

If even Shiva, Vishnu or the lotus-born Brahma were your instructor, until you have forgotten everything you cannot be established within.

How do you interpret this? When one goes to dinner, does one eat the paper menu or the dinner? What do words made out of ink and paper taste like?

Dennis Waite: The words alone will never bring about enlightenment, no matter how many times they are repeated, even if learned by heart. As I said earlier they, like the rest of the world, are mithyA, not satyam (the menu, not the meal if you like that metaphor). The mind of the seeker has to be suitably prepared and there must be the intense desire for enlightenment above all worldly pursuits. And of course the words themselves are not the reality – they point towards it and need to be understood. Hence the need for a qualified teacher to explain their meaning. Your quote about Shiva, etc., is really emphasizing the need for nitya-anitya vastu viveka – the ability to differentiate satyam from mithyA. You have to ‘forget’ the unreal world before you can realize the real Self.

NDM: You ask, 'Intuition is fine, but where do you go to get this? What can you do to increase the likelihood of getting it?'

Well, according to the Buddhist tradition, you don't sit around holding your breath, even though this is a prANAyAma method, (kevala kumbhaka) or waiting for it to fall out of the sky. Some would say through the discipline of meditation:

•Mindfulness (sati) i.e. to be aware and mindful in all activities and movements
both physical and mental;
•Investigation (dhamma vicaya) into the nature of dhamma;
•Concentration (samadhi) a calm, one-pointed state of concentration of mind;
•This leading to the ninth jhana [for more information, see].

According to the Christian Gnostic traditions, some would say through prayer and fasting and devoting one's life to God, heart, mind and soul, with all one's strength.

According to Patanjali, he prescribes adherence to eight 'limbs'. The eight limbs or steps are: yama, niyama, Asana, prANAyAma, pratyAhAra, dhAraNA, dhyAna and samAdhi, which lead to nirvikalpa samAdhi and can result in sahaja samAdhi. Or turIya, the fourth state, even though it’s not a state.

Others some would say bhakti yoga, karma yoga and all the other yogas would result in intuition. Clear vision. There is also a so-called fifth state, turIyatIta, which happens when the witness disappears. At this point you become pure awareness. No identification with any objects at all. This is jIvanmukti in vedAnta or nirvana in Buddhism.

The Taoists would say through the practice of Wu-wei - usually translated as non-action, inaction or non-doing - is one of the most important Taoist concepts. When linked to the Tao - the creator and sustainer of everything in the Universe – non-doing means the actionless of Heaven.

Or through Tai Chi and Qigong and doing so will open up all the meridians including one third eye, the ajna (brow) chakra and the sharastara chakra. The third eye, being knowledge itself.

Others would say through grace, as well as studying the scripture as in your case with advaita vedAnta. There are so many ways and means to heighten one's intuition.

Dennis Waite: The reason why we do not already recognize that we are free, unlimited, ever-present, non-dual Consciousness is that we are ignorant of our true nature. The only thing that can remove ignorance is knowledge. Action of any kind can never remove ignorance because action is not opposed to ignorance. All of the things that you mention are great for preparing the mind and this has to be done before enlightenment can occur but, in themselves, they cannot bring enlightenment. samAdhi may be a beautiful experience of the oneness of all things but, in 99% of cases at least, it comes to an end and we are back in duality. Maybe the remaining 1% lead to sahaja sthiti; I don’t know. But I would think most would prefer to go the certain 99% route rather than the maybe 1%.

Incidentally, as I said, I have no knowledge of other traditions. You clearly have a much wider understanding than I do. But I don’t agree with your comments regarding turIyatIta or jIvanmukti in respect of vedAnta.

NDM: Sorry, I wasn’t being clear. What I meant by turIyatIta is not a state but it is non-dual awareness, or brahman. Does not one become a jIvanmukta if one is permanently turIyatIta? I don’t mean as in some kind of samAdhi, or meditation, or an experience of some kind one has to go into.

I read this on your site by the way. Am I misreading or misunderstanding it? Please correct me if I’m wrong:

turIya (Atman): non-apprehension of duality;
praj~nA (deep sleep): non-apprehension of Reality and of duality;
taijasa (dream state): non-apprehension of and misapprehension of Reality;
vishva (waking state): non-apprehension of and misapprehension of Reality.

Dennis Waite: The word turIyatIta is defined in the site dictionary as follows:

Literally the 'fourth' [state of Consciousness]. It refers to the non-dual reality, the background against which the other states (waking, dream and deep sleep) arise. It is our true nature. The other three states are mithyA. (If defined merely as the highest 'state' then Ramana Maharshi calls our true nature 'turiyatita' but this word is not encountered in the scriptures.)

Unfortunately the link to this page is missing from the menu! (Thanks for enabling me to discover this!)

turIya could be considered as a synonym for brahman. There is only ever this so that we are always this, whether or not we are enlightened. Enlightenment is, if you like, the realization in the mind that we are turIya. jIvanmukti, as I said before, refers to the person whose prior or post mental state means that he or she also has the ‘fruits of knowledge’, i.e. mental equanimity, etc.

Regarding the definitions that you quote from the article, I wouldn’t have defined them likes this. I would prefer to say that:

•vishva is associated with ignorance and error;
•taijasa is associated with ignorance and error;
•prAj~na is associated with ignorance only;
•turIya is associated with neither.

‘Ignorance’ is ignorance of the fact that I am turIya. ‘Error’ is in thinking that I am the limited individual.

But I believe that the way this is put in the essay is actually saying the same thing, just in a different way.

NDM: You said, '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!)'

So, do you see yourself as a guru or a pundit?

Dennis Waite: I discovered during my work on defense communication systems that I had a particular skill for describing complex software functions in ways that newcomers could easily understand, provided of course that I had understood it myself to begin with! Accordingly, it seems natural to write books on advaita, maintain the website and answer questions from seekers. It is a subject that is endlessly fascinating and ultimately the only one worth pursuing. I don’t teach formally, mainly because I don’t want to travel and there is insufficient interest in my area to begin a formal group. So… call me what you like.

NDM: Sailor Bob said, 'Subject-object thinking seems to cover the natural state (awareness). But without awareness, thinking could not take place. Because thinking appears in awareness (like a cloud appears in the sky), realize that thinking in essence is awareness. Understanding this, thinking cannot obscure awareness.'

Do you see anything wrong with this statement?

Dennis Waite: First of all, Bob is using the term ‘awareness’, where most would use ‘Consciousness’. But this is OK because he is following Nisargadatta. It is not that what he says is wrong, it is that it implies that ignorance cannot obscure Self-knowledge, whereas it can and does. But then maybe he didn’t intend this connotation. Without the complete context in which the statement was made, it is not possible to say. If he did mean to imply this, one might as well say that, since everything is brahman (or Consciousness), therefore there is nothing that can or should be done to attain enlightenment. And, of course, this is what the Neo-advaitins say – but it is wrong.

NDM: What are your thoughts on James Swartz’ 'enlightenment sickness’?

He refers to this on pages 261 and 262 of his book, How to Attain Enlightenment. He calls it pseudo enlightenment or enlightenment sickness.

He says, '...after realization, usually a strong sense of goodwill toward everyone arises at this time and you almost invariably feel that you should share what you know with others. But before you set out to do so, you better check you are not suffering from the disease of enlightenment. It is similar to enlightenment and is difficult for the sufferer to diagnose, although it is a well known malady. It should be treated quickly before it becomes a chronic condition.

'One benign symptom of enlightenment sickness is transcendental boredom. It is an understandable and slightly negative feeling born out of you having accomplished everything that had to be accomplished in this life, the realization that what you do from now on will not fundamentally make any difference – ignorance is here to stay after all – and the crystal clarity about the basic emptiness of life. It is caused by the residual sense of doer ship and unpurified traces of rajas. You may long for a bit of excitement but you know you can't go back.

'If you interpret this nothingness of reality as a void and become vaguely disillusioned, know that you have enlightenment sickness, due to unpurified traces of tamas. Enlightenment is not the experience of the void. There is no void, only the pureness of awareness appearing as the void.

'If you formulate your enlightenment as a grand happening and make it into a big story, you have enlightenment disease. If you hear yourself telling others you are awakened, or enlightened or 'cooked', you have enlightenment sickness.

'If you believe that your words are gospel and your deeds, whether they correspond to common sense or not and with reason, or whether they are in harmony with dharma and tradition, are a teaching stratagem, you need help.'

Dennis Waite: James Swartz is excellent! He may not be the best Western teacher in the world but he is almost certainly the best Western teacher for the typical satsang attendee. He doesn’t pull any punches, correcting all of the mistaken views out there regarding spiritual ‘seeking’. I’m glad you asked this question because I’ve been reading this book for the past two – three months but, because I always have so many books on the go at any one time, it takes me ages to get through any particular one. Having now read the last chapter, it prompts me to review the book on Amazon and hopefully get others reading it too. (It goes without saying that it merits 5* - more if they were available.) The one thing I would add to what he says is that I don’t think that all of those teachers exhibiting the symptoms actually have the disease. I fear that there may be a few who are knowingly taking advantage, deliberately adopting all of the expected traits and learning the key phrases off by heart so that they can simply earn an enjoyable and easy living at others’ expense – cynical this may be but I do fear it is true.

Interview conducted via Email July 2010

Page last updated: 11-Jul-2012