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#1858 - Wednesday, July 14, 2004 - Editor: Jerry
This is a fairly brief Highlights. It
includes an original letter by me and a couple of articles found
online. The subject is Advaita Vedanta.
Question: Advaita as a tool? A practical question. Is there anything that can be applied?
Wayne Liquorman: "If you go on the Web and type in 'advaita' you'll find 'the advaita of parenting', 'the advaita of business' etc. in the same way as 10 years ago about 'Zen': 'the Zen of power', 'the Zen of relationships' etc. and before that we got 'Tao', 'the Tao of power', 'the Tao of Pooh', 'the Tao of relationship' etc. So now 'advaita' is the latest label to play with. Parenting, relating, marketing, business or whatever ... in order to give it some marketing punch. But advaita is not a tool! Advaita, as all esoteric teachings like Zen and Tao are not tools, they are descriptors; they describe the nature of what is; they don't prescribe what you should do!!
response from Jerry Katz
I typed into Google 'Advaita' and 'the advaita of', and apparently there is no such culture. To my knowledge, the only 'Advaita of' book (excluding titles such as 'The Advaita of Sankara ... of Hinduism, etc.) is The Advaita of Art, by Harsha V. Dehejia (excerpt below). It is a little known, scholarly work which puts forth an advaita of assertion, joy, creation and freedom. It's a diverse, playful Advaita, mostly steeped in Kashmir Saivism.
Besides that book, there is no such 'Advaita of' culture. The roots of such a culture are found in The Advaita of Art and probably in the spirit of other books, people and groups. There is an 'Advaita Vedanta of' culture which can be culled from the teachings of gurus and sages.
As far as description versus prescription, it is true that in the radical nondual teachings there is pure confession or description: "Where mind and speech can utter nothing, how can there be instruction by a teacher? To the teacher -- ever united with Brahman -- who has said these words, the homogenous Truth shines out." --Avadhuta Gita.
An impossible search is one that leads through the Upanishads and finds its way into the eternal Vedas in an effort to identify a founder of Advaita Vedanta. None is found. There are only expounders of eternal knowledge found in the Indian scriptures. Among those expounders are those who prescribe methods and in doing so create an 'Advaita Vedanta of' culture without ever calling it such. Some teachers of Advaita Vedanta speak to questioners about the practicalities of life. In groupings of Ramana's teachings there are sections on diet, sex, breath control, yoga.
There are three terms interesting to look at: Advaita Vedanta, Advaita, and Nonduality.
The Upanishads lean against the Vedas like ivy conforming to architecture. Vedanta means "end of the veda" and is the essence of the Upanishads as set forth in the Vedanta Sutras. Of Vedanta's three schools of thought, Advaita espouses radical nonduality as exemplified in the words from the Avadhuta, quoted above. Nonduality, or nondualism, is non-separateness known either within or outside the roots of Advaita Vedanta. Nonduality is described from any point of existence, whether one is a farmer, a physicist or a transvestite. A given known nonduality may be fully separate from Hindu scriptural texts. Some western nondual realizers and confessors had no exposure to Hindu scriptures and have yet communicated classically about nondual realization.
Advaita is usually used as an abbreviated form of Advaita Vedanta. There is another Advaita that I would call chai nonduality. It's westernized Advaita Vedanta. It has some roots in Hindu scripture. Perhaps it's best demonstrated on certain email lists and forums where people speak freely. I don't have an example of it, but, like Wayne, I have an impression of its use. Some people use 'advaita' when they could use 'nonduality'. Maybe they're the same people that use chopsticks in a western restaurant where everyone else is using a fork. There is also the pre-Advaita Vedanta use of advaita. I don't know if we'd find anyone anywhere who is using the term advaita from that disposition
I like the freedom of the term 'nonduality' because there's nothing in the name that links it to any culture other than its own.
Here's an excerpt from The Advaita of Art, by Harsha V. Kehejia
Literally advaita merely means non-dual, the negative emphasizing the oneness, but even more importantly advaita is essentially an epistemic concept. Abhinavagupta rightly says that "ignorance is the sense of duality." However in the Indian tradition the term advaita always refers to matters transcendent and not merely mundane. What it came to the darsanas the term advaita came to be used to identify a certain school and in particular the Advaita Vedanta of Sankara, which is our purvapaksa. Our usage of the term advaita in this inquiry stays away from these conventional usages but instead investigates the oneness of art and aesthetic experience, the bond of the kavi, kavya and rasike, the unbroken unity of kavya, artha and ananda, the biune unity of the cognising subject and the object of cognition in an artistic epistemic experience, the advaita that retains the material and the vital of a purusa but pushes to the spiritual of the Purusa, and advaita that sustains itself not by negation but by assertion, and advaita of joyous celebration of the creative spirit of man, an advaita of artistic creation and aesthetic recreation, and advaita of freedom, and advaita that stirs the aesthete to experience the art object and exclaim Sivo 'ham.
THE SPEAKING TREE
Ultimately the Seer Becomes the Seen
The word ' Veda ' is derived from the Sanskrit root ' vid '. The Vedas are the wellsprings of
Indian literature and philosophy. They consist of: Samhitas or collection of hymns, prayers and
sacrificial formulas, Brahmanas , which contain theological matter and the significance of
sacrificial rites, and Aranyakas or forest texts and the Upanishads.
The Upanishads are like secret doctrines which are contained in various Vedas and the Brahmanas are
independent works and the meditations of forest hermits and ascetics on God, the world and
humankind. Containing samhitas which originated in different schools, these divergent branches are
known as shakhas . Together, they form the foundations for sanatan dharm or eternal religion.
The acme of Vedas is known as the philosophy of vedant , the spirit of which is based on the
teachings of the Upanishads. Inspired by the content of the Upanishads, philosopher Badarayana
wrote some sutras known as Brahma Sutras . Since they were unintelligible to most, they were
defined and redefined by Shankara, Ramanuja and Madhwacharya. Shankaracharya formulated the
doctrine of advaita or non-dualism that only the ultimate principle is real and all other
phenomena are ephemeral or maya ('that which is not'). For Shankara the apparent reality is
illusive and the only recourse to dispel this illusion is self-realisation with the help of
knowledge. The means to the attainment of knowledge are dispassion, discrimination, propitiating
the Lord, implicit faith in the words of the Vedas, turning away completely from all sense objects
and yearning for liberation from the bondage of ignorance. Shankara's doctrine of monism is
non-negotiable. According to him, you recognise the implicit nature of Brahmn when you become
oblivious of your own material existence. The seer becomes seen. The experiencer and the experience
Ramanuja's Shribhashya is a classic Vaishnava text. According to Ramanuja, Brahmn existed before
any other type of existence. Vishnu or Brahmn is the cause of all apparent reality. He is free from
all imperfections and beyond him there is nothing. Brahmn is the highest spiritual principle and is
at the root of all phenomena. For him the material world is achit or unconscious, but because of
being an integral part of Vishnu, apparent reality including the human soul, can never be separated
from Brahmn . It can't even offer resistance. Vishnu is full of love for humankind; therefore he
incarnates in various forms for the salvation of humans. The individual human soul is a quanta of
the Supreme Being and yet it has a separate identity. Ramanuja repeatedly said that the individual
soul is subject to ignorance and suffering mainly because of 'unbelief'. For him the means to
salvation is not knowledge but faith or love of Vishnu. Ramanuja's philosophy is known as qualified
dualism or Vishishta-advaita. Madhwacharya propounded the theory of dualism. According to him,
though Brahmn is the cause of the world, he is essentially different from the individual soul.
The differences in these approaches are fundamental, but as long as one is caught in the cycle of
birth and death it is fallacious to think that the jiva or the individual soul is identical to the
Brahmn . They cannot be coupled together as long as the individual soul is engaged in the pursuit
of material happiness. However, once ' jiva ' has transcended all the ordeals of worldly desires, a
reunion becomes possible.
In the Sankrit language Advaita means "not
two" and Vedanta means "the end of knowledge". So
one could say that Advaita Vedanta is the non-dual experience at
the end of knowledge, or beyond knowledge. However, in the
non-dual state there can be no experiencer and experience and so
the term arises, "The Mystery beyond the mind," simply
because that That that is beyond the mind cannot be
conceptualized much less described by the mind. This mystery
refers to the cessation of the experience of duality, the removal
of separation between any two objects, the lifting of the veil of
illusoryness, the drowning of individualness in the eternal ocean
This Mystery is the Majesty of Saints like Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharishi of Tiruvannamalai, his disciple Sri H.W.L. Poonja of Lucknow, Ananda Mayi Ma of Haridwar, and Sri Nisargadatta of Bombay. By their words, their touch, their look, and mostly just by their presence these Saints enlighten their disciples.
Enlighten is a word that is a gossomer vessel overflowing with sticky concepts. For lack of a better word it is used but realize that any word, any concept, and any Saint is a finger pointing to Advaita Vedanta, the Mystery Beyond the Mind.
The Rig Veda, the oldest book on the planet, tries to describe the mystery by singing hundreds of thousands of hymns and yet it comes to the famous conclusion: Neti, Neti, meaning 'not this, not this'. Freedom, Enlightenment, Love, though the topic of Advaita Vedanta remains untouched by the wondering mind, and yet is the light by which the mind sees. Only when the mind stops does Consciousness behold Itself. Then 'Consciousness knows the Truth and the Truth sets itself Free'. You are this Truth, the Isness joyously radiating as the Light of this Moment.
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