Author Topic: Misconceptions about Advaita - David Frawley - Mountain Path -Aradhana 2004  (Read 2994 times)

Subramanian.R

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The Allure of the Direct Path:

Advaita, which refers to the state of non-duality of the Self and God, can easily lend itself to all sorts of misconceptions. 
Indeed one can argue that since the Advaitic state transcends all thought and all dualities, all conceptions about it are
ultimately misconceptions!

Advaitic practice is itself about the removal of these misconceptions, particularly wrong ideas about our true nature, negating
its false identification with the body and the external world.  But misconceptions about the path can also be significant obstacles
to overcome.  Of course, many of these same misconceptions can be found relatives to any spiritual path, because all spiritual
paths aim to take us to a higher state of consciousness, which can appeal to fantasy and escapism as well as to genuine aspiration.

Yet as Advaita is the highest and most direct path, this potential for distortion is even greater, like an ordinary climber's fantasy
to scale the heights of Mount Everest.

Advaita is formless in nature and in practice, so there is much room for overestimating, if not exaggerating one's attainments,
and little objective to keep one grounded.  Going all the way back to the Upanishads there are criticisms of practitioners who
can brilliantly talk the Advaitic view but lack the realization to really back it up.  Advaita, therefore referring to the Brahmic state
beyond Maya, therefore, has its own glamour or Maya.  The allure of a quick and direct path to becoming God and guru has a
special appeal not only to the awakened soul but also to the unawakened ego that wants the glory of spiritual realization
without any real toil or tapas in order to get there.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.                 

Hari

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Sri Subramanian, my observation is that majority of the so called advaitins speaks like parrots about non-duality and Advaita but actually are acting like visishthadvaitins. Visishtadvaita is the only applicable non-dual philosophy. Advaita cannot be taught and it cannot be 'practiced'. Advaita is beyond every thought, theory or concept. Even Self-inquiry can be seen as visishthadvaitic practice because it suppose actually ego and the Self (jiva and Shiva), no matter that its goal is pure monistic experience and its theory is that the Self alone exists.
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Subramanian.R

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Dear Hari,

I agree in the sense that the Advaita cannot be practiced.  All practices are only to remove the body-mind complex and try
to be in 'I am' state, (asmitham).  It has only to be experienced. 

Again Advaita is not a philosophy to speak about.  It is an experiential bliss.  Sri Bhagavan used to say that it is like a thief
getting stung by a scorpion inside a dark room, where he went to steal.  He has to put up with the pain and at best he can
speak  something without being known of his predicament.  All that Sri Sankara and Sri Bhagavan is like speaking something,
which explained their pain or bliss!

Arunachala Siva.     

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continues.....

However these usual misconceptions are getting magnified as Advaita becomes popular in the West, which as a media dominated
culture, easily falls into stereotype, image production and fantasy-fulfillment.  Just as Yoga has undergone many distortions in
the West, which has reduced it largely to a a physical asana practice, and aerobics, so too Advaita is often getting reduced to an
instant enlightenment fad, to another system of personal empowerment or to another type of pop psychology. 

An entire 'neo-Advaitic' movement has arisen reflecting not only traditional teachings but the demands of Western culture.  While
this movement is arguably a good trend for the future and contains much that is positive in it, it is also a fertile ground for many
distortions, which are likely to  become  pronounced as the popular base of the movement expands.

The Advaitic path is also rooted in a powerful simple logic, which is not difficult to learn.  'You are That', 'The Self is Everything',
'All is One' and so on.  We can easily confuse adapting this logic, which is not difficult, with the actual realization of the state of
awareness behind them, which is something else altogether.  We can answer all questions with 'Who is asking this question?'
when it may no more than a verbal exercise. 

Faced with both old and new misconceptions, the Advaitic student today is in a difficult position to separate a genuine approach
and real guidance from the bulk of superficial or misleading teachings, however, well worded, popular and pleasant in
appearance these may be.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.
                     

Subramanian.R

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Advaita and Vedanta:

Advaita is primarily a term of Advaita Vedanta, the non dualistic tradition of Vedanta.  Though rooted in the Vedas, Upanishads
and Gita, its most characteristic form,  occurs in the teachings of Sankaracharya, who put these Vedic teachings in a clear rational
language that remains easily understandable to the present day.  The basic language and logic of Sankara can be found behind
most of the Advaitic teachings of even today.

There are many specifically Advaitic texts from Sankara's Upanishadic commentaries to more general works like Yoga Vasishta,
Avadhuta Gita, Ashtavakra Samhita and Tripura Rahasya as part of an enormous literature, not only in Sanskrit but in all the
dialects in India.

Similarly, there have been many great gurus in the tradition of Advaita Vedanta throughout the centuries. Most of the great
gurus of modern India have been Advaitins including Vivekananda, Rama Tirtha, Sivananada, Chandrasekhara Saraswati of
Kanchi, Ramana Maharshi and Ananda Mayi Ma.  Most of the great gurus from India who brought Yoga to the West like
Vivekananda, Yoganananda, Satchitanda and Swam Rama, also taught Advaita Vedanta, if we really look at their teachings.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.               

Subramanian.R

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continues.....

However, a recent trend has been to remove Advaita from Vedanta, as if it were a different or independent path,
not bring in the greater tradition of Vedanta.  Though neo Advaita usually bases itself on modern Advaita Vedantins
like Sri Ramana Maharshi or Nisargadatta Maharaj, it usually leaves the Vedanta out of the term and neglects the
teachings of other great modern Vedantins from Vivekananda to Dayananda, though their works are easily available
in English and quite relevant to their practice.

This 'Advaita without Vedanta" is particularly strange because many important ideas found in the neo Advaita movement,
like that of a universal path of Self Knowledge, reflect the neo-Vedanta movement that was popular in the early twentieth
century following the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna and Vivekananda and have been echoed throughout the modern
Vedanta movement. 

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.
 
             

Hari

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Dear Srubramanian, many Vedantists consider Sri Ramana and all His students as Ned-Vedantists because He has taught that all that is necessary was Self-inquiry - no brahmacharya, even no belief in God is necessary, no change in the way of living and so on. And this is considered as path very different from classic Advaita. This is the view of the 'pure' Vedantists whose critics I have read.
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Dear Hari,

Sri Bhagavan is not neo advaitin.  He followed the principles of Vedanta and and unlike neo advaitins, He has not stopped
with mere group discussions which they call satsangh.  He took care of all conventional acharam, sadhana, self inquiry
and also satsangh to cap it all.  But He is an ati varnasrami.  He is beyond all castes of Hindu system (varanam), and
asramam (the stages of life, like brahmacharya, housholdership, vanaprasta and sannyasa).  Though He did not follow the
acharam in all respects, He respected the acharams, like reading Vedas, having tuft of hair, sacred thread etc., He was
however beyond all these.

Arunachala Siva.     

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continues....

Neo Advaita and Ramana:

The teachings of Ramana Maharshi are often the starting point of neo adviata teachers, though other influences also exist
in the movement.  However, instead of looking into the background  and full scope of Ramana's teachings, there is often focus
only on those of His teachings that seem to promise quick realization for all. 

Some neo advaitins even refer to Ramana's teachings as if Ramana was a rebel or outside any tradition, as if He invented
Advaita Himself.  No.  While Ramana based His teachings on His own direct realization, He frequently quoted from and recommended
reading of traditional Advaitic texts, which He found represented the same teachings as those arose from His own experience.
This included not only the works of Sri Sankara, the main traditional advaitic teacher, but man other texts like Yoga Vasishta,
Tripura Rahasya, Ribhu Geeta, Advaita Bodha Deepika, Viveka chudmani and Kaivalya Navaneetam.

Sri Ramana did broaden out the traditional Advaitic path from medieval monastic Hindu forms.  Yet even in this regard He
was continuing a reformation since Vivekananda who created a practical Vedanta or practical Advaita and taught it to all
sincere seekers, not just to monastics.

Many students come to neo advaitic teachers because of  Ramana's influence, looking for another Ramana or for instruction
into Ramana's teachings, but apart from Sri Ramana's image used, by these teachers, what they get may be something different.
That someone may use the image of Ramana or quote from Him, therefore is no guarantee that their teaching is really the same.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.   

             

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Are there Prerequisites for Advaita?

One of the main areas of difference of opinion is relative to who can practice Advaita and to what degree?  What are the
prerequisites for Self Inquiry?  Some people believe that Advaita has no prerequisites, but can be taken up any one, under
any circumstances, regardless of their background or life style.  After all, Advaita is just teaching us to rest in our true nature,
which is always there for everyone.  Why should hat rest on any outer aids or requirements?  This is a particularly appealing
idea in the age of democracy, when all people are supposed to be equal.

In much of neo advaita, the idea of prerequisite on the part of the student or the teacher is not discussed.  Speaking to general
audiiences in the West, some neo advaitic teachers give the impression that one can practice Advaita along with an affluent
life style, and little modification of one's personal behavior.  This is part of the trend of modern yogic teachings in the West that
avoid any reference to ascetism or tapas as part of practice, which are not popular ideas in this materialistic age. 

However, if we read traditional Advaitc texts, we get quite a different impression.  The question of the aptitude or adhikara
of the student  is an important topic dealt with at the beginning of the teaching.  The requirements are quite daunting and
stringent, if not downright discouraging.  One should first renounce the world, practice  brahmacharya, and gain
proficiency in other yogas like Karma Yoga,  Bhakti Yoga and Raja Yoga and so on (sadhana chatushtya). One can examine
texts like Vedanta Sara for a detailed prescription.  While probably no one ever had all of these requirements before starting
the practice of Self Inquiry, these at least do encourage humility, not only on the part of the student, but also on the part of
the teacher who himself  may not have all these requirements!

Sri Ramana keeps the requirements for Advaita simple yet clear -- a ripe mind, which is the essence of the whole thing,
and encourages practice of the teaching without over estimating one's readiness for it.  Yet, a ripe mind is not as easy as it
sounds either!

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.             

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continues....

Sri Ramana defines this ripe mind as profound detachment and deep discrimination, above all a powerful aspiration for
liberation from the body and the cycle of rebirth  -- not a mere mental interest but an unshakable conviction going to
the very root of our thoughts and feelings.

A ripe, pure, or sattvic mind implies that rajas and tamas, the qualities of passion and ignorance, have been cleared not
only from the mind but also from the body, to which the mind is connected in Vedic thought.  Such a pure or ripe mind was
rare even in classical India.  In the modern world, in which our life-style and culture is dominated by rajas and tamas, it is
indeed quite rare and certainly not to be expected. 

To arrive at it, a dharmic life style is necessary.  This is similar to the Yoga Sutra prescription of yama and niyama as pre-
requisites for Yoga.  In this regard, Sri Ramana particularly emphasized a sattvic vegetarian diet as a great aid to practice.

The problem is that many people take Sri Ramana's idea of a ripe mind superficially.  It is not a prescription that anyone can
approach or practice Advaita in any manner they like.  Advaita does require considerable inner purity and self discipline,
developing which is an important aim of practice which should not be lightly set aside.

contd.,

Arunachala 'Siva.           

Subramanian.R

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continues.....

Is Advaita against Other Yoga practices?

A related misconception is that Advaita is against other spiritual and yogic practices like mantra, pranayama, puja,
bhakti, which from its point of view are regarded as of little value, and only serve to condition the mind further.
Even a number of traditional Advaitic texts speak of setting all such other yogic practices aside as useless.

Many neo advaitins emphasize such advanced teachings.  They may tell even beginning students to give up all
other practices and discourage them from doing mantras, pranayama  or other yoga techniques.  We could call
this Advaita without Yoga.

Traditional Advaita, which Ramana echoed, states that the advanced aspirants who are truly ready for a dedicated
path of Self inquiry can discard other yogic practices if they are so inclined.  But it also states that for gaining a ripe
mind, developing proficiency in these preliminary practices is a good idea.  Most people can benefit from at least some
support practices, even if their main focus is  Self Inquiry. Note the Ramana Gita in this regard.

If we study traditional Advaita, we find that Yoga practices were regarded as the main tools for developing the ripe mind
necessary for Advaita to really work. Many great Advaitins taught Yoga as well. Even Sri Sankara taught Tantric Yoga in his
teachings like Soundarya Lahari and composed great devotional hymns to all the main Hindu Gods and Goddesses.  This
tradition of Yoga Vedanta -- using Yoga to create a ripe or sattivic mind, and using Advaita for the higher realization through it
-- has been the dominant approach in Vedanta found not only in the works of older gurus like Sankara and Vidyaranya,
but modern gurus like Vivekananda, Sivananda and Yogananda.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.               
             

Subramanian.R

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continues....

Sri Ramana, though He emphasized Self Inquiry, never rejected the value of other yogic practices.  He commonly extolled
such practices as chanting the name of God, chanting OM, and doing pranayama.  During His life time regular Vedic chanting
and pujas were done at the Asramam which continue even today.

This traditional Advaitic view of different levels of practice should not be confused with an approach that rejects all practices
as useless.  In this regard we can contrast traditional Adviata, which Sri Ramana followed and the teachings of J. Krishnamurti,
which is often the source of neo advaita's rejection of support practices.

Advaitic aspirants may not be attracted to all such Yoga practices, but they should not therefore regard them of no value or
discourage others from doing them.  Until the mind is fully ripe or sattvic, such practices have their value, though we should
use them as a means to Self Inquiry, not in exclusion of it.  Advaita without Yoga, like Advaita without Vedanta often leaves
the student without proper tools to aid them along their sometimes long and difficult path.

continued..

Arunachala Siva.         

Subramanian.R

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The Advaitic Guru:

Of course, the greatest possible distortions are relative to the Advaitic Guru.   Since Advaita relies less on outer marks
than other traditions, almost everyone can claim to be an Advaitic Guru, particularly once we have removed Advaita from
any tradition of Vedanta or Yoga.  In much of neo Advaita, there is a rush to become gurus and give satsanghs, even
without much real study or practice.  while certainly even a beginning student can teach the basics of Advaita for the benefit
of others, to quickly set oneself up as a Self realized Guru raises a lot of questions.  One can have an experience of the Self,
while the full realization may yet be far away.  Full Self realization is neither easy nor common, under any circumstances.

Advaita does not emphasize the advantage of instruction from a living Self realized Guru.  Many people therefore think that
they must have a living Self realized Guru or they can's practice Self Inquiry.  This is not the case either.  If one has access
to genuine teachings, like those of Sri Ramana, and follows them with humility and self discipline, one can progress far on the
path, which will lead them to further teachers and teachings as needed.   On the other hand, in the rush to get a living Self
realized guru, students may get misled by those who claim Self Realization but may not really have it.

A related misconception is that Advaita realization can only be gained as a direct transmission from a living teacher, as if
Self realization depended upon a physical proximity to one who has it.  Practice may get reduced to hanging out around the
so called guru and waiting for his glance!  The presence of a real sadhak does indeed aid one's practice, but physical proximity
to gurus is no substitute for one's own inner practice.  And physical proximity to those who don't have true realization may not
bring much of benefit at all. 

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.           

Subramanian.R

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continues....

If Self Realization were as easy as coming into physical proximity with the teacher, most of the thousands who visited Sri Ramana
would have already  become Self Realized.  If the teachings had to come from a living guru only, then no teachings would be
preserved after the guru left the mortal coil, as these would no longer be relevant. So the realization behind the guru and depth
of his teaching is more important than whether he is in physical form or not.  A great guru leaves teachings for many generations
and his influence is not limited by the lifetime of his physical body.  A lesser guru, on the other hand, does not have much real
transformative influence even if we spend a life time around him.

In addition, true Advaitic gurus are not always easy to find, nor do they always make themselves prominent in the external world.
Like Sri Ramana, many great gurus are quiet, silent, and withdrawn.  We find them by karmic affinity from our own practice,
not by external searching or running after personalities.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.