Somehow it's ironic that something called advaita (literally non-dual) could have different faces, but it does - at least, in a manner of speaking. I'm talking practically now, or viewpoint-wise. Historically, Advaita or more specifically Advaita-Vedanta, is (was) a particular school or sect of the Vedanta Darshan, one of the 6 primary philosophical understandings of India. Vedanta (meaning the 'End of the Vedas'), attributed to Vyasadeva, came out of the Brahma Sutras or Vedanta Sutras. How someone interpreted the Brahma Sutras came to be known as a particular school. Thus there were several main branches - dvaita-advaita, suddha-advaita, advaita, and so forth, as established by Ramanujacharya, Madhvacharya, Vishnu Svami, Shankaracharya, etc. What we principally think of as Advaita, is more properly called Kevaladvaita (or absolute non-dualness) and was developed by Shankaracharya, back a thousand years or so ago.
However, this is not really what I wanted to talk about at all. I wanted to talk about how Advaita looks today. The way I see it, there are now three basic kinds of advaita or non-duality around town: 1. Pure non-duality or recognition of what is; 2. The practice of non-duality, 3. Neo-advaita or the non-duality belief system. Let's elaborate...
1. Pure non-duality or recognition of what is. This is not a belief system or a school of thought. This is simply 'What Is' and the recognition of 'What is'. This is the 'abiding in' the non-dual as proposed by Ramana Maharshi, by the Ashtavakra Samhita, Avadhuta Gita, and traditional texts. There is no place to go, nothing to do. It is the recognition of 'That' as it is. In other words, it is essentially the Awakened state.
2. The practice of Non-duality is the traditional form of 'achieving' the above #1. Through effort, one practices Self-inquiry, reads the scriptural verses pertaining to Advaita, meditates, and so forth. They go through the three phases of 'shravanam' (hearing from the teacher), mananam (thinking about or considering those teaching), and nididhyasanam (deeply contemplating and recognizing those truths within themselves). In other words, they make effort. Ramana Maharshi said, "Effortless & choiceless awareness is our real nature. If we can attain that state and abide in it, that is all right. But one cannot reach it without effort, the effort of deliberate meditation. All the age old vasanas (inherent tendencies) turn the mind outward to external objects. All such thoughts have to be given up and the mind turned inwards and that, for most people, requires effort." [Teachings of Bhagavan pg 78]
Even many of the present day 'choicelessness' and 'there's nothing to do' schools recognize the need for effort. Even Nisargadatta Maharaja, many followers of whom believe in the 'nothing to do' approach said, "I simply followed (my teacher's) instruction which was to focus the mind on pure being 'I am', and stay in it. I used to sit for hours together, with nothing but the 'I am' in my mind and soon peace and joy and a deep all-embracing love became my normal state. In it all disappeared - myself, my Guru, the life I lived, the world around me. Only peace remained and unfathomable silence," and also, "Give up all questions except one: 'Who am I'? After all, the only fact you are sure of is that you are. The 'I am' is certain. The 'I am this' is not."
3. Neo-Advaita or the non-duality belief system. This could also be called neo-zen or new age non-duality, or ... The basic practice here is, um, er, I'm not sure if there is one. Actually, I think it boils down to reading whatever the books of whomever is the top selling non-dual teacher du jour, and perhaps attending a gathering (satsang or retreat) or two of theirs, or a whole bunch of them. Yes, I'm being a little bit harsh or critical, but only to make a point.
The point is that belief systems are subtle, and often what people are doing is not practicing a system (#2), or abiding in consciousness (#1 or #2) but rather embedding themselves in another belief system. They look at their life and recognize suffering; they look for a way to alleviate suffering; they find the idea of Enlightenment; they read a bunch of books on Enlightenment and Waking up that sound really great; they do what they've always done, with the addition of talking about how great Enlightenment will be and how they can't wait to get there. And, since we're 'all already Enlightened', they often put on a happy face of enlightenment, even though they feel like shit. (Now doesn't this somehow seem a little familiar - like we're born again; how great heaven will be, and can't wait for the rapture -coming soon- and since we've accepted Jesus, we'll just put on our happy face even though we're scared as hell about everything?)
The problem is that Neo-advaita is about supporting the ego with a new way of thinking; making oneself feel better and giving them hope for the future. Real advaita is about the destruction of the ego, that very thing that obscures the Truth of non-duality. It's about recognizing Truth in the moment as it is, and if that Truth is not apparent, then Slashing and Burning all beliefs that stand in the way of that. As the Ashtavakra Samhita says, "Unless you forget EVERYTHING, you can not wake up." And, "Where there is an 'I', there is bondage; where there is no 'I', there is freedom." So, we are not looking for a new belief system (i.e. neo-advaita or neo-zen) to bolster our false sense of security, but rather either to directly recognize the Truth of non-duality, or to practice discrimination, Self inquiry, and so forth, whole-heartedly, continuously, until that recognition arises.
So, there you have it. You choose. Oh wait, there is no choice! Damn!
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