|What Am I? Galen Sharp
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In this issue Janaka Stagnaro responds to an article by Greg Goode.
Dennis Waite and Tony Parsons give their different takes on traditional vs neo Advaita.
Hello Jerry. I enjoyed Dr. Goode's article -- http://nonduality.com/hl2097.htm -- and set me to thinking. The following are some thoughts I would like to share.
From the Age of Guru to the Age of Friend, by Dr. GoodeSome Thoughts
When I first read this I said, yes. The age
of guru worshipping in the West I see as fading away and that the
message that we are One can come from any source. But is that the
only message we are to learn? And are we, who see information as
the new form of currency, and who live in a society (
As a Waldorf teacher I am called Mr. Stagnaro by both parents and students. At first I recoiled from the formal use of addressing me. However, when I got out of the personal me and saw it as simply a way of showing respect for the role I was occupying, the sacred role of teacher, then I began to appreciate it. As a teacher I am not a friend to my studentsat least not in the normal way of friendship. I see myself as a mentor. I am not equal with them in the realm of time and space. In the Infinite there is not two. When the Buddha reached enlightenment his previous students met him once more and addressed him by his old name in a familiar way. He corrected them that they needed to address him by his new name of the Buddha, not for his sake, but for theirs. We live in such a time that many of my students address their parents by their first names. The intention of the parents is to be democraticto show their children that we are all equal. However, my 13-year-old son--despite what he thinks!does not have as much wisdom about living as I do. He is not my friend. I am his parent. Maybe in another life roles will be different.
Yes, we can get all the information about enlightenment and anything else we want in this information age. The same is true with education. The big tendency is to learn in cyber schools. No need for human interaction. The information is the important thing now. The human is not. As a Waldorf teacher we are taught that teaching is not about the information we are conveying, but about who we are who are standing in front of the children. They learn how to be a human being by watching the teacher strive to do his best and failing most of the time. I had a dream last night where I had a group of adult students playing a sort of soccer game with me. I was the goalie (as a child this was my dream to achieve in adulthood) in a very large goal and they were trying to score with a very small ball. After I stopped a couple of shots I realized that being a teacher was not about stopping all the shots but how I reacted to the goals. If I could stay in cheerfulness no matter the score, then I was teaching.
I think there needs to be a middle way to approaching the teacher-student relationship. For the teachers sake, as well as for the student, worshipping the teacher/guru can be dangerous and lead to emotional dependence and abuse. However, seeing every teacher as just a friend or an equal does not promote humility, something that is generally lacking in this country. Just as a parent and child relationship is not hierarchal but only two roles in time, so is the teacher-student relationship. It is so easy to go from teacher to teacher, just like we do in our relationships, if we dont like everything about the person or what they say. Seeing a teacher as a mentor seems to be healthy as it recognizes that there is someone who has more experience and greater abilities than one may have, yet it implies that this is a temporary situation of disparity, that there will come a time when the student must leave and go his separate way, to perhaps become a mentor to share what he has learned. However, just like in most relationships, it takes time to develop such a mentoring relationship, with much acceptance of human faults.
There is a danger of coming to the Truth as
though we should be given it. In
I wondered if you would be interested in the attached article. It was
written by Tony partly in response to a piece by Dennis Waite (also
attached). Anyway, just thought I would pass it along, you have
permission to use it in nd highlights if you think it's suitable.
With best wishes
Traditional versus Neo-Advaita
By Dennis Waite
The word neo means new
so that Neo-Advaita is an impossibility. Advaita
means not two,
referring to the non-dual reality that always was, is and will be - unchanging because change would
necessarily be from one thing into another, which would be contradictory. There cannot, therefore,
be an old and a new Advaita, only the one truth.
Having said that, Advaita is a concept, a
philosophical term in a language which is necessarily
dualistic, devised for use in this world-appearance in which we seem to exist. This concept is
intended to refer to the non-perceivable reality that underlies the appearance. And, to the extent
that language is able to point to this reality (rather than describe it, which is impossible), the
words used by both traditional teachers of Advaita and by modern, neo, satsang teachers are
essentially the same.
The approaches diverge, however, as soon as
any attempt is made to rationalise the apparent world
and my seeming place in it with this non-dual reality. Traditional Advaita refers explicitly to a
phenomenal level vyavahAra in which there appears to be objects and people, some of whom
become seekers, following a path towards self-realisation. Neo-Advaitin teachers attempt to deny
all of this, insisting upon the reality and only the reality there is only perception or stories; there
is no one, no seeker, no doer and no path. There is nothing that could be done to lead a non-existent
seeker towards something that already exists here and now.
The teaching of traditional Advaita is
gradual. It begins from where we believe ourselves to be. It
acknowledges an identification with the body-mind organism, desires and fears etc. and aims to
educate and undermine this belief gradually, using unarguable logic and a variety of devices aimed
at reducing the dominion of the ego. In contrast, Neo-Advaita attempts to force the truth of the
matter upon an unprepared mind at the outset (denying indeed the very existence of a mind),
offering no process of gradual discrimination or logical development. It says this is it and that is
that! The bewildered ego is possibly left with an intellectual acceptance that it doesnt really exist
but, in fact, it remains as strong as it ever was.
Every few months or so, an old friend of
mine appears in my dreams. We talk, go places together
and all seems perfectly normal. The only problem is that this friend has been dead for over thirty
years. Of course, my waking ego is well aware of this but the dreaming ego is not. Nothing seems
untoward in the dream. If a dream character were to come up to me and say: Look here! This cant
be your friend because he is no longer alive., I would probably reply something to the effect of:
Rubbish! Look I can see him right here. Do you think I cant recognise him? I talk to him and he
answers me in a perfectly intelligible manner. How can he possibly be dead?
One of the metaphors used in classical
Advaita in respect of enlightenment is that of the dream lion.
The idea is that we continue along quite happily in the dream state, accepting all of the events as
real no matter how silly they might later seem to the waker, and nothing in the dream serves to
awaken us to the reality of the waking world. But, should we come across a lion in the dream and it
sees us, turns and charges, then we are very likely to awaken. It is said that, in a similar way, an
event in our waking dream can serve as a dream lion to awaken us to the true reality.
Now it seems to me that the teacher of Neo-Advaita is rather like the character in the dream who
comes up to me and says that I must be imagining the person to whom I am clearly talking because
he is dead. The information does not tally with my experience. It seems that no matter how much
such a teacher talks about how things really are, how there is no person, no seeker, no liberation
and so on, it is never going to make a difference because the everyday experience continues
regardless and clearly refutes such assertions.
In contrast, the teaching and practices of
traditional Advaita function like a dream termite,
burrowing away almost imperceptibly at the foundations of our grand illusion until the whole
edifice of ignorance is so riddled with knowledge-holes that it all comes tumbling down. It functions
within the context of our actual experience gradually negating, for example, all of the things that we
imagine ourselves to be. It provides
exercises to discover that we do not act or do not originate
our thoughts and so on. All of these things are artificial devices that are themselves part of the
illusion but they work, slowly but surely, to loosen the grip of our misunderstandings.
The reality about which both teachings speak
is the same there is only one. And Neo-Advaita may
even be better at this, since its adherents use the language of modern society and shun Sanskrit
terms that may be confusing to western minds. But this seems to be all that Neo-Advaitins do. They
deny the level of appearance in which everyone (probably including themselves) is trapped. They
assert that there is nothing that can be done to remove the ignorance because ignorance itself is
simply part of the story.
Traditional Advaita, in contrast, claims
that the ignorance can be dispelled by knowledge, enabling
the illusory snake to be seen for what it always was a rope. And they claim that the mind can be
prepared to accept this knowledge through practices such as the renunciation of the ego via bhakti
yoga or the reduction of the egos power in the desireless action of karma yoga.
The attraction of Neo-Advaita is undeniable
there is nothing to do because there is no doer, no
revelation to be discovered because this is it, here and now. We can stop seeking because there is
no seeker and nothing to be sought. There is no need to learn Sanskrit, to spend a lifetime (or
many lifetimes) studying with a teacher. Gaining more knowledge will not help, only hinder by
virtue of deluding the ego into thinking it is making progress. Indeed, seeking itself serves only
to reinforce the ego. Everything is already fine as it is. We just need to accept this.
But this is simply the restatement of the
truth. It is the dream guru telling the dream disciple
about the waking state. The dream is fine, he says. It is simply an appearance in mind; both you
(the dreaming ego) and the (dream) world are nothing but the mind itself. True though all of this
might be, it does not help awaken the dream disciple into realisation of the truth of the waker. It
does not allow the waker to dissolve into the waking dream so that the dream world may simply be
enjoyed as an elaborate construction in which Consciousness, the true Self, can never be affected.
To that extent, it is ultimately of little value to the seeming seeker who wants precisely that
to enjoy the waking dream knowing that he does not really exist, will never die etc. (Of course,
in reality, nothing is of any value, as the Neo-Advaitin will be quick to point out, but then all
of this discourse is at the level of appearance.)
There are also two significant dangers
regarding the Neo-Advaita movement. Firstly, there is
clear possibility of charlatans who, having read a little or heard the fundamental elements of
descriptions of reality, can devise a few routines of their own and then advertise themselves
on the circuit. Providing that they are good speakers/actors, it is certainly possible to make a
living from deceiving seekers in such a way, without ever giving away their true lack of
knowledge or the fact that they are no nearer any realisation than their disciples.
Secondly, seekers themselves may be deluded
into a belief that some specious realisation has been
obtained when, in fact, all that has happened is that they have come to terms with some
psychological problem that had been making life difficult. The ending of such suffering could well
be seen as a liberation. Of course, such a thing would not be at all bad it simply would have
nothing to do with enlightenment. Indeed, such people might well go on to become teachers in their
own right, not charlatans in the true sense of the word, since they genuinely believe that
realisation has taken place.
The use of the language of non-duality (e.g.
avoiding use of the word I) cannot be relied upon to
mean that the ego of such a speaker is dead. Indeed, an ego can quite happily put up with non-
reference to itself when it thinks it is realised whilst everyone else is not! (And conversely,
of course, there is no need or desire to avoid the use of the word I in the absence of an ego.)
This is not to say that these dangers do not also exist in traditional Advaita but it might at
least be argued that someone who has spent many years studying scriptures, reading and attending
classes etc. must at least not be in it just for the money! Also, several thousand years of
traditional teachings have emphasised that preparation, in the form of acquiring knowledge of the
truth, is of value. Such characteristics as renunciation, discrimination and self-restraint etc.
are also advocated, topics which are most unlikely to be mentioned at the meetings with any
Neo-Advaitin teacher. And is it surprising that many of the attendees of Neo-Advaita satsangs are
simply not interested in any of this? Why bother to listen to all of the preparatory stuff when you
can get the final message straight away? Dont bother telling me about arithmetic, I want to learn
Finally, of course, the message given by the
Neo-teachers is not the ultimate truth anyway, which
can never be spoken of. The claim that everything is a story is itself a story. I can only quote
again, the message from Greg Goode that I used at the end of The Book of One:
In Advaita Vedanta, there are various
reductive stories and theories that are taught in a certain
clever order. Each one reduces attachment to the previously-cherished metaphysical view. The
ladders rungs get kicked out one by one. The goal is not to hang out on the highest rung (e.g.
It's all Consciousness is one of the highest rungs in that teaching, and a sticky one) but to be
free from the ladder. What actually gets said and believed about the nature of a what is nothing
but another what.
The Divine Misconception
Subject: Traditional Advaita (Oneness) versus Neo-Advaita
It has recently been argued that Traditional
Oneness is somehow better than Neo-Oneness, or even
Pseudo-Oneness. The strangeness of this idea exposes the foolishness of trying to give title to
that which is limitless.
The cunning and manipulative guru mind
inevitably objectifies verbal expression, and out of that
objectifying arises a plethora of dogmatic movements all claiming supreme understanding of that
which cannot be understood.
As a consequence, so-called Traditional
Advaita, for instance, is just another established religion
with a proliferation of teachings and literature, all of which very successfully and consistently
miss the mark. It stands alongside Christianity and Buddhism as one of the many systems of personal
indoctrination promising the eventual spiritual fulfilment. To quote from The Open Secret To
translate the inexpressible into the doctrinal is to attempt to transform a song of freedom into a
dogma of limitation. When the bird has flown, the essence of its song is often mislaid and all we
are left with is an empty cage.
The teaching of Traditional Advaita
has no relevance to liberation because it is born out of a
fundamental misconception. Its logical and sensibly progressive recommendations include meditation,
self-enquiry, self-restraint, and to quote the renunciation of the ego and all desire. Of course
there is nothing right or wrong with the idea of desiring to renounce desire. However, these
idealistic recommendations and teachings are based on the fundamental misconception that there is
such a thing as a separate individual with free will and the choice to become.
The belief that there is a separate seeker
(subject) who can choose to attain or become worthy of
something called enlightenment (object) is a direct denial of abiding oneness (Advaita).
Within the hypnotic dream of separation, the
prevailing perception is that of the seeker and the
sought. The ignorance of this perception continues in the search for enlightenment, and inevitably
the dreamseeker is attracted to a dreamteaching which upholds and encourages the same premise of
personal discipline and sacrifice (seeking) leading to the eventual goal of enlightenment (the
The recommendation to cultivate
understanding and refine something called the mind
(?) is hugely
attractive to the dreamseeker because it prolongs the very worthy search and thrives on logic,
detachment, complication, endeavour, hierarchy and exclusivity.
Trying to understand oneness is as futile as trying to fall in love with an inch.
There is no possibility of teaching oneness.
However, the sharing can bring a rediscovery of that
which is already known.
If we are to believe recent descriptions of
something called Neo-Advaita as being the
the truth(?) on unprepared minds or advising people to stop seeking or suggesting to people that
they are nothing but the mind itself, these teachings, if they exist, are equally as dualistic as
the traditional Advaita they were born out of.
This confusion is of course as much an expression of oneness as the clarity which exposes it.
All of this silly circus is simply the
eternal play of oneness apparently seeking itself. It is the
wonderful cosmic joke oneness plays on itself by pretending to be an individual seeking something
called not being an individual.
When it is suddenly and directly
rediscovered by no-one that liberation brings with it the
realisation that there is nothing to seek and no-one to become liberated, then there is much
laughter . . .
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