- The Dialogue
- Student’s Question
- My Response
- The Confusion of Paths
- About Truth Being a Pathless Land and The Reason for a Path
- Problems With Neo-Advaita Like Approaches
- The Wisdom of Advaita Teaching Methodology: Alternate Superimposition and Recension/Cancellation
- Krishnamurti’s teachings as a preliminary to Advaita’s Jnana Yoga in My Teaching Methodology
- There Are Even Practices in Jnana Yoga of Advaita
- Choiceless Awareness of ‘What Is’ and the Question of Ethics
- Uniqueness of Krishnamurti’s Teachings
A modern seeker of truth is faced with a plethora of paths and schools in this digital age. While this is a boon, it also presents a challenge for the seeker to decide which path to take, because more often than not, paths conflict and critique each other. In this dialogue, a seeker raises some of these dilemmas. One dilemma he raises is that of the issue of practice vs no-practice. Many new-age teachers, like Neo-Advaitins scorn effort, path and methods of traditional paths as useless baggage. In this article, I show how this can be very self-defeating and disorienting for the vast majority of seekers who need a structure, path and practices for preparing the mind. I show how Advaita Vedanta teachings have a sophisticated methodology to lead a seeker through alternate superimposition and cancellation of concepts, and from practice to the final state of no-practice. One can enter the spiritual path at any point on the scale of practice to no-practice. I show how my teachings start just a shade beneath the point of no-practice but I do not totally discount practices.
Student: I have difficulties differentiating between awareness and suppression, but one question sir. Since “practising” or trying to practice “watching” oneself tends to give peace, leading to one practising that more often, and getting that peace. Even delving into interesting reading has the same motivation; is this too not an escape (at this stage?) Watching oneself react angrily and damage stuff without suppressing anger (could it become an excuse to keep reacting that way?) initially. Also, I think (not sure) I’ve read of a Yogic method of “purifying the mind” by saying “no, no” as soon as unwanted tendencies pop up. Is that suppression?
The Confusion of Paths
Anurag: You should not be trying to understand what is Awareness at this stage. Secondly, to avoid all confusions you should not be reading the texts from other schools. Not that they are wrong or useless but each school has its own vocabulary, concepts and methods, which, actually tend to clash with each other. This is the most common mistake made by many spiritual inquirers, especially in the beginning and middle stages, and sometimes even in the more advanced stages too. I myself went through many schools before coming to Advaita, so I know the difficulties, problems and suffering involved due to confusion of paths. I am really happy that you got this topic out for discussion so that you and others can get the benefit of my experience in this regard. Even in one and the same path, there are many sub-schools and variations. (See my article Difficulties in Finding the True Method of Advaita Vedanta of Shankaracharya – Part 1) For example, what Vivekananda taught as Advaita was not true Shankara Advaita but something called Yoga-Advaita: a mixture of Yoga and Advaita, which actually mixes both the paths and makes them both ultimately unintelligible to a seeker who wants ultimate truth. (See the section on Yoga-Advaita) In this NEEV Psycho-Philosophy Group, I don’t teach Awareness as implied by Advaita, primarily. Here I teach “Choiceless Awareness of What Is” based on the teachings of J Krishnamurti. The latter is a ‘practice‘ to make your intellect ready and capable of getting direct knowledge that “You are Awareness”. Depending upon your Karma, this stage is actually a very long stage. (Took seventeen years for me) Once you are through with this stage till every level is seen, the final insight of Advaita is a matter of months.
Now answering your questions on practising “Choiceless Awareness of What Is”
1.) Question: Is the practice of choiceless awareness an escape?
About Truth Being a Pathless Land and The Reason for a Path
Well, in one of my debates, someone told me that Truth is a Pathless Land; no path can lead to Truth. He was damn right. No path can lead to Truth because You Are Truth. But my saying that You Are Truth/You Are Brahman/Tat Tvam Asi, does not move a hair in your body. Why? Because your intellect is not trained for this. It is full of rajas and tamas. Self does not require enlightenment. It is the intellect that requires enlightenment. The intellect reflects the Self. In all cases of reflection, you see that the quality of reflecting surface determines the quality of the image reflected. If the reflecting surface is imperfect in any way, the quality of the image reflected is imperfect in a corresponding way. So even though there is one sun, we see as many suns as there are reflecting surfaces. So, for example, we get one kind of reflection of sun in muddy water, one in moving water and one in pure transparent water. Similarly, the Self is reflected in different ways in the intellects of different Jivas/persons depending upon the reflecting quality of intellect, which, in turn, depends upon the degree of sattva present in it. Rajas creates an excited, turbid and dissipated intellect whereas Tamas creates a dull intellect. Sattva creates a calm, transparent intellect. So all practices form a path to polish your intellect to receive the reflection of Self. In traditional Advaita, if your intellect is sattvic enough, and the teacher just says that “You Are Truth/Self/Brahman/Witness/Awareness”, you will get Self Realization in one shot, just by hearing this. Some people, due to the force of their karma, actually require very little practice. Those graced by their past karma with exceptionally sattvic intellects get enlightened just by hearing this statement. The Aitareya Upanishad talks of Vamadeva who was born enlightened in the womb.
“While I was in the womb, I knew all the births of the gods. A hundred walls made of steel, protected me. I burst out of them with the speed of a hawk,” Vamadeva spoke this verse while lying in the womb.”Aitareya Upanishad, Verse 2.1.5
This is again mentioned by Shankara in his Brahma sutra Bhashya. The commentary by Shankara is as follows:
“The Yogi, striving assiduously, purified of taint, gradually gaining perfection through many births, then reaches the highest goal” (Ibid 6. 45). Moreover, that Knowledge sometimes fructifies in the next life is known from the life of Vamadeva who possessed Knowledge even while he was in the womb. This shows that it must have been the result of his past actions, for he could not have practised any Vidyas in the womb. Knowledge did not manifest in his previous life owing to obstruction, and this being removed when he was in the womb, Knowledge fructified as a result of his past Sadhana.”Brahmasutra Bhashya, Verse 3.4.51
Problems With Neo-Advaita Like Approaches
But very few are blessed with such karma. Most have to practice to attain a sattvic intellect. In fact, some people listen to the teachings of Krishnamurti or the higher teachings of Advaita, Dzogchen etc and say that no practice is required at all. This is very harmful. That is actually a deception of the mind. There are many neo-Advaita teachers and satsanga teachers who work on this principle of no practice being required. Just sit in the satsanga, listen to a teacher, and at some point, the insight shall dawn. This has a sort of paralysing effect on the mind. On one hand, the seeker is bursting with rajas, seeing himself as a thinker/doer/experiencer and lurching forward to seek and find; on the other hand, you have these Neo-Advaita and other New Age Satsnaga teachers telling seekers that all practices are a mark of your ignorance.
The Wisdom of Advaita Teaching Methodology: Alternate Superimposition and Recension/Cancellation
The great teachings like Advaita which having the wisdom of centuries, realize the predicament of students. From the ultimate viewpoint they realize that the phenomenal world is an illusion, and that all actions happen only in an illusion. For example, we have this verse from Gaudapada,
“There is neither dissolution, nor birth: neither anyone in bondage, nor any aspirant for wisdom; neither can there be anyone who hankers after liberation, nor any liberated as such. This alone is the Supreme Truth.”Mandukya Upanishad, Karika, Verse 2.32
And further, relating to the futility of all knowledge of the scriptures, we have this verse from Bhagavad Gita
“For the Brāhmaṇa who knows the self, all the Vedas are of only so much use as a small reservoir is when there is flood everywhere.”Bhagavad Gita Verse 2.46
These quotes show that the seeker, the teacher and the teachings are all an illusion from the ultimate point of view. But it also realizes that for a seeker stuck with the ignorance that this phenomenal world is real. To accommodate both views and resolve this seeming dilemma, Shankara evolved a two-fold view of reality. He spoke of
- Ultimate Reality/ Paramarthika Satya: Reality as conceived from the ultimate viewpoint, which is Self/Brahman/Awareness/Formless. From this viewpoint, the phenomenal world is mithya or only apparently real like a dream. This is the viewpoint of a Jnani or Self Realized Beings
- Conventional/EmpiricalReality/Vyavaharika Satya: Reality as conceived by people who are ignorant about the ultimate reality and take this phenomenal world of forms as the only reality, like materialists do.
According to the true teachings of Shankara Advaita, the teacher of Advaita, wielding the true method of Advaita learnt from the scriptures, helps the seeker move up the stages from conventional reality to the ultimate reality, in a graded manner, through a sophisticated teaching methodology of Advaita called Alternate Superimposition followed by Recension/Cancellation. Thus, the teacher does not perplex a newcomer seeker with the ultimate statements of Advaita I quoted above. Rather, for the sake of the student, the teacher first, accepts for his sake, that this world is real and the seeker is a real thinker/doer/experiencer entity. After that through a series of investigations starting from grosser conventional reality, the teacher helps the student understand and negate the reality of each level, rising up to subtler levels till no other phenomenal reality can be negated and Awareness shines due to it’s self revelatory nature. This process is beautifully explained by Shankara here:
“He who knows It, the Self described above, as such, as the fearless Brahman, becomes the fearless Brahman. This is the purport of the whole Upaniṣad put in a nutshell. It is to bring home this purport that the ideas of projection, maintenance, dissolution, etc., as well as those of action, its factors and its results were superimposed on the Self. Again, by their negation—by the elimination of the superimposed attributes through a process of ‘Not this, not this’—the truth has been made known. Just as, in order to explain the nature of numbers from one up to a hundred thousand billions, a man superimposes them on certain lines (digits), calling one of them one, another ten, another hundred, yet another thousand, and so on, and in so doing he only expounds the nature of numbers, but he never says that the numbers are the lines; or just as, in order to teach the alphabet, he has recourse to a combination of leaf, ink, lines, etc., and through them explains the nature of the letters, but he never says that the letters are the leaf, ink, lines, etc., similarly in this exposition the one entity, Brahman, has been inculcated through various means such as the projection (of the universe). Again, to eliminate the differences created by those hypothetical means, the truth has been summed up as ‘Not this, not this.’ In the end, that knowledge, further clarified so as to be undifferentiated, together with its result, has been concluded in this paragraph.”
A detailed description of how Enlightenment happens in Advaita can be found in my article “Shabda Pramana: Enlightenment through Words in Advaita Vedanta: Presenting a Dialogue
Krishnamurti’s teachings as a preliminary to Advaita’s Jnana Yoga in My Teaching Methodology
As mentioned in my section Krishanmurti & Choiceless Awareness of What Is, I use Krishnamurti’s teachings as a preliminary preparation for the Jnana Yoga of Advaita. Krishnamurti can be seen in a neo-Advaitic light, but he was not that. He did talk of ‘no practice’, ‘no effort’ but did talk of effort to become aware. He talked of putting his words to practice but his practice is very subtle and requires more than average sattvic intellect to follow him. Which also explains why his teachings are not popular among the masses. In fact, if you are in this group and if you can hang around in this group till the end, it indicates that you have a sattvic intellect to a very great extent. This is because I don’t teach Karma yoga or Bhakti Yoga or Raja Yoga, as is done in traditional Advaita, which are the basic steps to prepare the intellect for most. I start directly with a ‘form of Jnana Yoga’ found in the teachings of J Krishnamurti. One person had joined our Neev Advaita Study group and was very enthusiastic. But then he discovered Karma Yoga in the Advaita teachings which talks about sacrificing your work to God. He fell so much in love with that, that he left the group saying that he is not ready for Jnana Yoga right now, as he is enjoying the Karma Yoga. I did not resist him at all. In fact, I encouraged him and wished him all the best. My wife who lived with me for twenty-five years, having dialogue with me every single day, has moved away into the path of intense Bhakti Yoga to such an extent that she has given up married life and lives separately, following her own practices though legally we remain married. So this ‘path’ thing is really very important as it determines the nature of your practice.
There Are Even Practices in Jnana Yoga of Advaita
Coming back to your question, practice is required to make your intellect ready enough or sattvic enough to understand that you are the truth. Even in final Jnana Yoga of Advaita, there are ‘practices’, if you do not get Self Realized by mere listening or ‘shravana‘. Then one has to do further practices of manana/reflection/dialogue and nidhidhyasana/deep contemplation. In my own journey, I did not have to proceed till nidhidhyasana or deep contemplation. The insight came through after shravana and manana only. Same was the case with others who got Self Realization in the NEEV Advaita Study group. As you can see the practices get subtler and subtler till finally, you understand your True nature as Self had always existed, and all your practices never made any dent to it. Your practices only helped you get a true reflection of Self. At the point of insight, the distinction between reflection and the source of reflection, which is Self, is overcome – The intellect knows itself as Self.
Finally, a person comes to Self Inquiry to escape suffering. Is this an escape as you have asked in your question? Some say that even a desire to escape suffering is, after all, a desire. The answer is that once Truth is known, even this desire ends. You come to know that your real nature was always liberated. Suffering only happens in illusion. Once you get up from the dream, you don’t bother about whatever you did or did not do there. After Self Inquiry is over, you wake up to your eternal nature, which you are always and which has always been free from suffering.
Choiceless Awareness of ‘What Is’ and the Question of Ethics
I shall now answer your second question.
2.) Question: Watching oneself react angrily and damage stuff without suppressing anger (could it become an excuse to keep reacting that way?) initially.”
My Response: First, you have to understand that Krishnamurti uses the word Awareness differently from how Advaita uses it. For Advaita Awareness is the ultimate reality. For Krishnamurti, Awareness is the process through which mind is understood. In my system, to avoid this confusion, I use ‘choiceless awareness of what is’ when talking about it as a process like Krishnamurti does, and simply the word Awareness with a capital ‘A’, when I am talking about it in terms of Advaita: as an ultimate reality-Awareness. In the way Krishnamurti uses the word, and, in the way which you should understand it, as of now is, that it has its own intelligence. When you are watching anger, there is a complex web of thoughts that come. It’s not just one unidirectional flow of thoughts. For example, if you are thinking of throwing and damaging stuff, that is one thought. Simultaneously there would be another thought that could arise telling you the consequences of what will happen when you damage stuff. This does not mean that the second thought is much wiser than the first thought. When we are being choicelessly aware we are not choosing between thoughts, judging between them, saying that this thought is wise and this thought is unwise. We are just looking at all our thoughts. We are not even bothered about looking at our thoughts to decide what action needs to be taken. Because if we do that then we shall have to judge and choose between thoughts. And we choose thoughts only on the basis of past conditioning, so we are never able to examine the whole network of thought. We are not able to watch the whole network of anger. We suppress anger out of fear, out of our desire to be respectable. So the network of fear and anger remains. If we do not suppress then what happens, you are plunged into the unknown. Within your mind and with all your relationships, you come into a zone of unknown. You are no longer playing by the rules and codes of conduct, of norms and acceptable behaviour set by society. You become a rebel. And one is very afraid of being a rebel, of losing relationships, of being seen as an angry person, of being insulted and losing reputation. Whatever I have said is not something that you have to agree with. See for yourself whether what I am saying is true or not? All people have anger, but they either suppress it or dissipate it or substitute it with other concepts like God, chanting etc. All these are only temporary measures. The only way to end anger or whole of thought is to watch it choicelessly. Look at what happens to you the moment I say this? Most probably there is a fear. What fear? The fear of losing all control, of becoming an impulsive animal. What happens the moment you get this fear? You pull back. Isn’t it? You get back into the game of control, into the split between the thinker and the thought. The thinker which is trying to control thought because of fear. Now, the question is why did you come to self inquiry? To become a respectable member of society or to know truth at all costs. To know the truth you have to pay the price. This is not a journey of acquisition. It is a journey of ending, of dying to all of thought and its acquisitions: it imples the ending of all acquisition, including the acquisition of virtue. I wrote about all this in my latest article: You (Self) Are Not (Your) Thoughts: A Dialogue
So when you are opening out to choiceless awareness is it a dumb act or is it an act of great intelligence? The basis of choiceless awareness of what is, is the desire to know yourself truly, to see through all falsity. Is this intention, a dumb intention, or an intelligent intention? If the intention is intelligent can it produce dumb acts? A socially respectable person dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s may be a darling for the family or society. A ruthless, ambitious person is an object of envy and adoration for the family and the masses. These so-called successful, respectable and adored people who follow all etiquettes are in fact dumb. Choiceless Awareness of what is, is certainly not going to take you down this path. You shall go to that path which is your truest intention. If your intention is to know the highest indisputable truth, you will move to that and if your intention is to become respectable and gain power, you will move to that even within the field of spirituality. If your intention is to seek experiences, you will move to that. All traditional paths will start off with ethics as I mentioned in my blog article I mentioned above. But I don’t start off with ethics because ethics anyway is a step, not the aim. I like Krishnamurti’s teachings because they don’t start off with ethics but start just a step lower than the ultimate truth. But not all can start off here. It may be a shorter climb up the mountain of falsity, to the peak of truth, but it is a very steep climb. Most people prefer a gentler climb, starting with ethics, gradually moving up the stages. So what you have mentioned as the Yoga view of ‘saying no no’ is a beginning step of that path which moves through eight stages. Even Yoga, in the ultimate stage, transcends the world of virtue and vice as its end is the same as that of Krishnamurti’s teachings: ending of all thought. With Krishnamurti, while we cannot make a direct comparison with Patanjali’s Yoga system, but in a general sort of way, I can say that we enter several stages above: almost in the fifth stage of Yoga, called pratyahara, or even in it’s sixth stage called dhyana.
Uniqueness of Krishnamurti’s Teachings
Now, coming to the last part of your question:
3.) Question: “Also, I think (not sure) I’ve read of a Yogic method of “purifying the mind” by saying “no, no” as soon as unwanted tendencies pop up. Is that suppression?”
My Response: I have already answered in my comment related to your first question that ‘choiceless awareness of what is’ is a means for purification of mind only. Not only this, at the end of my comment to the second part of your question, I have mentioned that this method of Krishnamurti is almost the fifth or sixth stage of Patanjali’s yoga in a very general sort of way. I am not very familiar with a lot of Buddhist teachings, but I guess they teach the same practice calling it mindfulness etc. There is a school called Dzogchen school in Buddhism, which is generally considered containing the highest teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, also kind of talks of choiceless awareness of ‘what is’. Of course, most of these schools talk about this in a set up of monks and renunciates, so the complexities are greatly reduced. However, to Krishnamurti’s credit goes the fact that he taught this in the set up of the non-ascetic world most of us live in. Thus, his teachings are quite unique, even if his process is found in other schools. His teachings cover all the issues we face as people in society; something that is lacking in the teachings of similar Buddhist schools.