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#2809 - Thursday, May 10, 2007 - Editor: Jerry Katz   

The Nondual Highlights -  

One: Essential Writings on Nonduality:    

Three stories from the newspapers.    

Dvaita or Advaita, Take Your Pick  

4 May, 2007  

Rohit Viswanath  

As children, we are taught to pray to the Absolute called God. We are told that He alone is
independent and all else is dependent on Him. We are subtly imparted the realist view that a
fundamental difference exists between the individual self and the ultimate reality.

The dependent reality, which consists of our souls, other inanimate objects and the universe
itself, is a real creation of that Supreme Being. The plurality of souls is bound due to
beginning-less ignorance, and perseverance through devotion to the Supreme Being is the only way to
be released from this bondage. Through just devotion to the Supreme Being, we can get released from
this bondage and attain a place at His lotus feet.

There are others who claim that only the ultimate is real, everything else is deceptive. According
to them, there is no difference between the self and that ultimate. This means that the final
reality is nothing but our own self. We are deluded to believe that there are other entities apart
from us. That is so frightening. We suddenly become so lonely. All our relations and associations
are nullified. Our emotions freeze and we have no one to give us a shoulder.

However, when we are in a dream-state, don't we perceive the happenings in the dream as real? Only
when we awake, do we realise that it was only a dream. If we can accept our nightmares as
illusions, why are we so frightened to accept life itself as an illusion? This does not mean that
we deny the reality of life. We are denying it only at a level, when we understand ultimate
reality. We would understand that reality only when we cleanse ourselves of our actions.

In a dark room a slippery rope can be imagined to be a snake. Wouldn't that make our hair stand on
end? Only when there is light we understand that we had mistaken the rope to be a snake. So, in the
dark, we become genuinely scared of the snake, even though in reality it does not exist. In the
same way, although we go about our daily routines in life, once we apprehend the highest truth
through the washing away of our negative actions, we will realise that what we are going through is
just an illusion.

Subsequently, all relationships, of father and mother, husband and wife, employer and employee,
humans and animals, bird and tree, become mere constructs of our ignorance. If that is the case,
why do we feel for things — emoting love, hate, jealousy and anger? If there is no entity apart
from us, there is indeed nothing to be feared. The reality then is so serene and beautiful. Just
pure bliss.

What then is more appealing to the human mind — the absolute as an independent reality distinct
from the dependent, individual reality or the absolute as a single and all-encompassing entity?
These two streams of thoughts are the most important philosophies inspired by Vedanta.

The first, emphasising the duality of the individual soul and the Supreme Being is called Dvaita
Vedanta. The second that postulates that the individual soul is the same as the Supreme Being is
Advaita Vedanta. They are such enchanting ideas that it becomes very difficult to say conclusively
that one is more appealing than the other.

Perhaps, even the great saint-poet Tyagaraja was mystified by this very dilemma, which is why he
sang, "Dvaitamu sukhama, advaitamu sukhama..."    

excerpt from  

Jerusalem in Benares  

by Nathan Katz  

Professor Sharma kindly invited us for dinner in his home. As the BHU campus is a long way from the
city, he recommended we hire a cycle rickshaw and have the driver wait while we spent the evening
with his family. It might not be easy to find a rickshaw for the return journey, he explained. We
had a tasty vegetarian meal and delightful conversation. But what struck both of us was how
Professor Sharma treated the rickshaw driver. One might expect a Brahmin to hardly even notice a
rickshawallah, a low caste person. Because it was so in variance with what we thought we knew of
Indian society, the kindness with which Professor Sharma brought out dinner for the rickshawallah
was striking. Speaking softly and most courteously, the professor looked after the rickshawallah,
making sure he had enough food and was comfortable. This menial was treated as a guest, and I knew
beyond any doubt that Hinduism teaches a way of being in the world that is consonant with the
biblical principle that we humans are all created b’tselem Elokim, in the image of G-d. Whatever we
may think of her more mundane religious practices, it cannot be denied that Hinduism creates a
cultured human whose actions honor both humans and our Creator.

A Seminar at BHU (Benares Hindu University)  

Professor Sharma’s predecessor as Head of BHU’s Department of Philosophy was T.R.V. Murti, one of
the most highly regarded academic philosophers of twentieth-century India. And like Professor
Sharma, Professor Murti was a cultured Brahmin, a human of vast heart to complement a forceful
intellect. Professor Murti was also the dissertation director of my dissertation director at Temple
University, Bibhuti S. Yadav. So according to both Hindu and academic tradition, Professor Murti
was my grandfather.

Murti’s scholarship concentrated on India’s non-dual tradition known as Advaita Vedanta. Advaita is
a thread within the esoteric textual tradition known as Vedanta, based on the Upanishads, some of
the most elevated and inspiring works of literature in human history. As Kosti, the old Polish coal
miner, said incredulously to Larry Darrell in W. Somerset Maughm’s The Razor’s Edge, a favorite
novel of mine, “You’ve never read the Upanishads? You don’t know so much. You really don’t know
anything, do you?” I agree with this sentiment entirely, and I repeat it to my students more often
than they care to hear. One simply isn’t educated until one has seriously studied this masterpiece.

Advaita is codified in the writings of the eighth-century philosopher-saint Shankara, arguably the
greatest Indian thinker of all time. It is a strict monism, or non-dualism. The universal essence
known as Brahman is identical to the essence of the individual, or Atman. Tat tvam asi, “That are
Thou,” is the dictum of the Upanishads, and the everyday experience of duality is our own
imposition on Reality, a limitation of the Infinite, a magical display known as Maya. “Truth is at
the back of things,” say the sages, and meditation when coupled with a life of study and virtuous
conduct can lead one to the transformative experience of Oneness. This experience is known as
moksha (liberation), or nirvana (enlightenment).

To read Shankara’s texts with a master is to bathe oneself in the purest mystical philosophy; it is
inspiring, elegant, beautiful not only for the language and ideas themselves, but for where those
words and thoughts transport the student. To have read these jewels with Professor Murti is one of
the great intellectual intoxications of my life.

It really wasn’t so surprising, then, when a foreign Christian student at BHU got carried away. He
came to Murti with great emotion, and told his teacher that he was so taken with Advaita that he
wanted to convert to Hinduism to follow it as his life’s mission.

It was the only time this student, or any of Murti’s students, had seen the professor become angry.
“If you think you should convert to Hinduism,” he told him, “then you have utterly misunderstood
everything I have been trying to teach. You insult both Hinduism and your own Christianity.” With
angry gesture he dismissed the crestfallen student and never spoke to him again.

I sympathize with both the student and the professor. The student fully expected to be embraced
into Hinduism just as one born Hindu might be welcomed should he decide to become Christian. This
view is part and parcel of the student’s religious worldview. But just as foundationally, the
professor saw Advaita as a way of understanding a religion and not a religion in itself. Therefore,
a Christian who appreciates non-dualism should bring that understanding to his Christianity.

For traditional Hindu and Buddhist teachers, religion is not a banner or an allegiance. It is a way
of improving people, of enhancing compassion and wisdom. To switch religions is impossible because
one is born into a society and a family for important reasons, and the anguish a conversion would
cause to one’s own community is utterly, thoroughly unjustifiable and ultimately selfish.

In this spirit, the fourth-century Hindu lawgiver, Manu, wrote that to desire another person’s
religion is a sin akin to adultery: lusting after something that is not properly one’s own.
Therefore, Manu concluded, the wise king must outlaw conversion as a prerequisite for social and
familial harmony.

Manu’s view is also rooted in the unshakeable Hindu conviction that all religions are paths leading
to the same goal. Metaphors to make this point abound, but it is a cultural bedrock assumption in
India, and it gently challenges an equally bedrock assumption of most of the Western world, that
religions are by nature competitive and truth must reside in one, but not all. Conversions are
celebrated as triumphs, the heartbreak caused to families and disruption to society be damned.

I was searching for news stories mentioning Jack Kerouac, and found this one. Has nothing to do with Jack Kerouac. Or maybe it does.  

Even the oddest of jobs never bothered him
By Albert McKeon
Telegraph Staff

NASHUA – Bob Whalen had a hard life. He couldn’t keep pace with evolutions in technology and had to scratch out an existence through menial jobs.

Still, Bob Whalen had a good life. He savored the work that others had spurned – including a sometimes thankless gig as a street-side Uncle Sam – and made the most of the little he had.

The 60-year-old died last weekend, his heart finally failing to keep pace with his ideals.

“He was struggling. Absolutely,” his sister Lori Whalen MacKenzie said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

“The truth of it is he had technical skills that were useful in the past, but when the computer revolution came along, he became outdated. He couldn’t keep up with the work force. He found odd jobs to make a living.

“But the neat thing about him was it was always an honest living. He would do things people would turn their nose on. He did it with pride.”

Bob Whalen’s most recent job, before his health dipped sharply in February, required him to don a top hat, long coat and baggy pants festooned with red, white and blue. He was Uncle Sam.

For three straight winters – braving cold winds and splashes of slush from passing tires – Whalen practiced his trade on a small sector of concrete between a Main Street sidewalk and a parking spot in front of his employer, Liberty Tax Service.

He greeted all who passed in car and on foot. He acknowledged obscene gestures and sayings with smiles and waves.

No one likes to be reminded of an approaching tax filing deadline, especially by a man dressed in a costume. But Whalen held the belief that if in some small way he could recall the spirit of Uncle Sam, this flash of patriotism would inspire people to take their tax obligations seriously – and perhaps step inside and conduct some business.

“It’s a very difficult position,” Liberty Tax Service owner Rich Kerouac said. “People get tired of it. It’s not a job a whole lot of people like to do, but Bob had a lot of enthusiasm.”

Kerouac remembered Whalen stopping by in January 2006 to eagerly ask when he could resume his seasonal work. “He didn’t have a goatee in the off season,” Kerouac said. “But he’d grow it to do the Uncle Sam thing. It lent him an air of authenticity.”

With a Telegraph reporter by his side on April 15, 2005 – the deadline for filing tax returns – Whalen empathized with a man who yelled from his truck a vulgar phrase that would be anatomically impossible to perform.

“I’m not too keen on the U.S. government, either,” Whalen said. “I’m a patriot. I love this country. I just can’t believe we’ve done wrong over the years.”

He believed the government robbed the American Indians of their land and has continued to wrong citizens.

Whalen acted with compassion and generosity, his sister said. He didn’t hesitate to help someone with a heavy package or give a ride to the most unseemly hitchhiker, she said.

Whalen MacKenzie took her brother into her Conway home 12 years ago. He had arrived from New Jersey broke, divorced and without hope of re-establishing employment in his profession.

The printing presses that he could rebuild from scratch had all slowly become digitally integrated, and the market itself shrunk, his sister said. First, his longtime employer in New Jersey, Rutherford Machinery, closed its doors, and soon other companies across the country no longer contracted Whalen to fly in and repair their machinery, she said.

“I asked him if he wanted to move back to New Jersey,” Whalen MacKenzie said. “He said, ‘No, I have friends up here now.’ He fell in love with New Hampshire.”

Whalen took on a variety of unglamorous and low-paying jobs once he settled in the Granite State. He worked for construction crews, factories and telemarketing firms. He sold food at Holman Stadium.

“Whatever he could find,” his sister said. “He would never ask for help until the last minute. He tried to stay independent as long as he could.”

Whalen never complained about his inability to land a steady paycheck and put a positive spin on his station in life, she said.

He was intelligent but never flaunted his book smarts, she said. He once turned down an offer to join Mensa International – the high-IQ society – because he thought its members were boring, she said.

Whalen MacKenzie last saw her brother not long ago. He visited her Conway home, and she brought him to an L.L. Bean store so he could return a pair of slippers.

His brother Ken had given him money for the slippers, but they didn’t fit. Whalen got another pair that was $10 cheaper. His sister encouraged him to buy something else, but he insisted he would mail his brother the money.

“He told me that extra 10 dollars wouldn’t be right,” Whalen MacKenzie said. “He gave it back to Ken. He was very satisfied with what he had in life. He never wanted any more. His spirit couldn’t be crushed.”

Whalen leaves behind a 25-year-old son, Richard, and three younger siblings. He will be cremated, and a service will be held later in his native New Jersey.

He wished for his ashes to be spread in Ireland and Germany to honor his Irish-German descent, but his family is unsure if they’ll be able to meet his request.

“Longevity is not big in our family,” his sister said. “I think he knew that and tried to cram as much living in the years God gave him.”

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