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#3052 - Monday, January 21, 2008 - Editor: Gloria Lee
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What is Psuedo-Advaita? Here's an extensive compilation of critiques, and later including remarks by Greg Goode, Dennis Waite, and Jerry Katz. It's a lot to read at once, but worth re-visiting. Many thanks to Ben for this valuable link. -Gloria
Traps and Pitfalls in the Neo-Advaita or Pseudo-Advaita form of Advaita (Nondual) Spirituality
discussion of Indian sage Papaji (HWL Poonja)
discussion of money-charging and Advaita spirituality
conversation on Advaita instruction in the West
2000/2006 by Timothy Conway.
Latest revision/additions: September 12, 2007.
Traps and Pitfalls in the Neo-Advaita or Pseudo-Advaita form of Advaita (Nondual) Spirituality
In the Zen tradition there is a saying, "Nothing matters... and everything matters." It is in this context that we say there's a lot at stake in who gets to define Advaita or Nonduality. Is it going to be the "neo-Advaita" throng of "enlightened" or even "fully enlightened" teachers (as they usually style themselves) who go around the USA, Europe, India and elsewhere presuming to teach (usually for a price) the highest level of nondual spiritual truth? Or is it going to be the real Advaita sages like ShrÓ Ramana Mah‚rshi, ShrÓ Nisargadatta Mah‚r‚j, ShrÓ R‚makrishna, Amma Amrit‚nandamayÓ, Sw‚mÓ GŮ‚n‚nanda, N‚r‚yana Guru, and much earlier luminaries like Shankara, JŮ‚neshvar, N‚g‚rjuna, and other avat‚rs, adepts, sages and saints--who never charged any fees or "suggested donations" and who truly lived the Advaita or Advaya, not just talked about it.
Neo-advaita, which attempts to articulate nondual spirituality, and often does a very good job of presenting some of the traditional advaita teachings (though usually, it seems, quite ignorant of the specific ancient sources for these teachings), can be fairly summed up by its main teaching: "Call off the search, You are already the Self, no need to seek for It."
Now, traditional Advaitaas articulated by authentic sages from YajŮavalkya to Shankara to Ramana Mah‚rshi in Hindu Ved‚ntaalong with real nondual spirituality in all our genuine "pure mysticism" traditions, also would have one abandon any neurotic, selfish seeking for a desirable goal-state for "me." But the obvious limitation of neo-advaita is that it tends to completely ignore the "ego-free holy aspiration" for real Divine expression that ensues for the true sages and saints once selfish seeking drops off in initial levels of awakening. Just to merely have "the Understanding" (as some have made a fetish out of it) that "only the Self is Real," or that "Consciousness is all there is" and think that there is nothing more to spirituality than this conceptual understanding and a corresponding "blanked-out" zombification is simply not sufficient for authentic awakening from the selfish "me-dream."
In an analogy given by genuinely free sages like the awesome holy woman M‚t‚ Amrit‚nandamayÓ (the "hugging mother" Ammachi), we can say that it is certainly true on one level that the acorn is in some "potential" sense a pine tree, destined to grow into one if conditions are right. But the acorn is not yet fully functioning and serving as a full-grown pine tree. In the same way, all sentient beings truly have the Divine Atma-Self as their real Identity. But are they maturely functioning and fully serving as the Self? Are they really manifesting the Divine virtues of self-sacrificing compassion, generosity, empathy, goodness, kindness, and all-embracing love that we find in the true spiritual masters? Or are they still plagued by egotism in various subtle or not-so-subtle fashion, but rationalizing and justifying all such egocentricity as "God's will"? Recall Jesus' great criterion for genuine spirituality: "By their fruits ye shall know them."
1) Some neo-advaita teachers, not fully balanced or compassionate in their living and teaching, exploit the two-level nature of discourse by repeatedly, chronically one-upping their dialogue-partner, their interlocutor. For instance, they respond to questioners' legitimate queries and concerns with: Who is asking the question? or What are you before your thoughts and feelings arise? or What happens when all such concerns entirely stop? Such questions subrate or undermine the finite, personal sense of self and intuitively point to the Infinite, Transpersonal Vastness of our abiding, eternal Reality. Now granted, going to the ultimate, absolute level of discourse is an ancient way for the Guru to undermine false thinking and ego-identification by a disciple. When used in certain circumstances, at the right time, it can have a beautifully liberating effect. The problem is that many so-called spiritual teachers in the neo-advaita movement evidently feel a contrarian compulsion (it is definitely characteristic of the mis-matcher personality style or temperament) to repeatedly prove their superiority over any and all dialogue partners by using this technique in chronic oneupsmanship manner to stay on top in any relationship by posturing as the Guru of Infinite Awareness mentoring the lowly disciple, still identified with the finite self. This is just egocentric attachment to power over others in a posture of being rightit is not compassionate, skillful means (up‚ya) to help sentient beings fully awaken. A true sage, one who is authentically free, feels entirely at ease to communicate on either the absolute or conventional truth-level, at any time in any situation. A true sage acknowledges the partner/interlocutor (a disguise of the God-Self) as both Infinite Awareness and wonderfully, poignantly human. And the usual human being will naturally have some legitimate concerns and questions from time to time, deserving care-full consideration, not just the "oneupping" strategem.
2) Similarly, the pseudo-advaitin labors under and suffers a chronic compulsion to always absolutize everything onto the ultimate or final truth-level of discourse (param‚rtha-satya). Theres no appreciation for the Divine manifestationthe Form of the Formless, i.e., the multiple worlds and beings emanated by the God-Self for the sake of Divine lÓl‚ or relationship-play. All relationship is negated, dismissed or de-valued in a manner that verges on or falls completely into de-personalization, a syndrome marked by strong, pathological dissociation and detachment, apathy and loss of empathy. Basic humaneness, warmth and tender loving care vanish in a preference for a cool, robotic demeanor.
3) Often needing to go perfectly still and stare and smile (or not smile!) in human interactions with a partner. This is the playing possum approach to relationships. There's nothing wrong with and actually something very beautiful with being able to silently "gaze at the Beloved" in the form of a dear fellow human being, with a tremendous sense of gratitude and veneration for the Manifest Divine Self. But when one feels the chronic need to go "cool and silent" on someone and suppress or ignore our warm expression as human beings, this comes close to or falls right into the de-personalization disorder, not honoring the richly meaningful Divine manifestation as the beautifully unique and wonderful person. Yes, it is true (on the absolute level) that any and all personalities and worlds are deconstructively realized in penetrating spiritual wisdom to be just a dream, but the final wisdom/love/devotion realizes, Wow! What a dream the Divine One dreams! In this consummating realization, well-known to the Chan/Zen tradition in the daily-chanted Heart SŻtra, it is clearly seen that Emptiness is form, form is emptiness, emptiness is not different from form, form is not different from emptiness, and so on with each of the other aggregates (skandhas) of personality (i.e., not just form, but sensations, perceptions, emotions and volitional impulses, and the cognizing sense of personal consciousness). In other words, the personality-aggregates need not always, chronically be deconstructed via literal stillness-frozenness and "blanking out"the personality can be appreciated as a wondrous, miraculously-manifest Appearance of the Void. As Zen might say: Guest (Phenomenon) meets and is welcomed and suffused by Host (Noumenon/Awareness).
4) The aloof pseudo-advaitin condemns any forms of engaged spirituality (politically aware and active spirituality) as m‚y‚ (illusion) or buying into sams‚ra (the world's cycles of cause-and-effect, death-and-rebirth). For the pseudo-advaitin, justice and injustice issues (e.g., economic justice, environmental justice, gender justice, racial justice, etc.) have no meaning and are simply absurd, not worth bothering about. Of course, this makes a mockery of everything the Buddha and other sages taught about morality, virtue, ethics, and a just society. Engaged spirituality heroes and heroines like Mah‚tma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, et al., according to this stunted view of spirituality, were just wasting their time. A woman is being raped or a child is being physically abused on the street? No problem for the pseudo-advaitin. Its all just a dream. Nothings really happening. Whatever happens is Gods will, the insubstantial play of the One.
5) A pseudo-advaitin's own misbehavior can be quickly rationalized away in the same glib manner as merely "a dream," "God's will," "M‚y‚". On this point, the towering sage of nonduality, Sri Ramana Mah‚rshi (1879-1950), has strongly critiqued this mixing of levels and "misplaced advaita" by saying in several places that advaita should not be applied to action, in the sense of non-discrimination between proper and improper behavior. Siddhar‚meshvar Mah‚r‚j (1888-1936) and his famous disciple, the sage Nisargadatta Mah‚r‚j (1896-1981), always taught that one must realize the Self "and behave accordingly," staying clear of desires, selfish behavior and anything else that binds one to the dreamlike sams‚ra-cycle of egoic rebirths on the pragmatic level according to the law of karma. Yet one Western neo-Advaitin has written, in the type of remark echoed repeatedly by other neo-advaitins: Once awakening happens, it is seen that there is no such thing as right or wrong.... All concepts of good or bad, karma or debt of any kind are products of an unawakened mind that is locked into time and the maintenance and reinforcement of a sense of father, mother and self. (Tony Parsons, Open Secret, p. 40) To this we can only reply: Oh really? Then the Buddha, N‚g‚rjuna, Shankara, Ramana Mah‚rshi, Siddhar‚meshvar Mah‚r‚j, Nisargadatta Mah‚r‚j and many, many other great advaitins were all by this neo-advaitin definition quite unenlightened, because all of them taught that, on the conventional level, we must still be able to distinguish between wholesome and unwholesome actions, and be well aware of karmic consequences. The Buddha, for one, often defined the disbelief in karmic consequences as that dangerous heresy of nihilism (uccheda-ditthi). Much of what is taught by neo-advaita (and postmodernist versions of Buddhism, for that matter) is clearly a form of the nihilist heresy, as defined by the Buddha. Ramana Mah‚rshi said, "It is true that we are not bound and that the real Self has no bondage. It is true that you will eventually go back to your Source. But meanwhile, if you commit sins, as you call them, you will have to face the consequences of such sins.... Whatever is done lovingly, with righteous purity and with peace of mind, is a good action. Everything which is done with the stain of desire and with agitation filling the mind is classified as a bad action.... Therefore even the means of doing actions should be pure.... What is the use of merely saying with your lips, 'I am free'?" Shankara wrote some 1300 years ago, in his famous commentary on the Bhagavad GÓt‚ (xiii.2): "We see that an ignorant man regards the physical body, etc., as the Self, and is impelled by attachment and aversion and the like, performs righteous and unrighteous deeds, and is repeatedly born and dies, while those are truly liberated who, knowing the Self to be distinct from the body etc., give up attachment and aversion, and no longer engage in righteous or unrighteous deeds to which those passions may lead." So a perfectly released, unidentified sage, no longer caught up in the "me"-dream, is certainly free from all karma and rebirth (that is, if he or she stays impeccably clear and lucid, and does not fall for karmic involvement with any objects), but he/she will still teach others on the conventional level about right and wrong, karmic consequences, and rebirth, as well as sharing the "secret teaching" about our Real Nature as beyond all action, karma or sams‚ra.
6) One of the most characteristic marks of pseudo-advaita is the premature demanding that people call off the search when theyve not yet authentically intuited their true Identity as the vast, open, empty, formless, boundless, changeless, birthless, deathless ¬tma-Self, but instead are still stuck in confusion or mere concepts about the Self and yes, are still riddled with samsk‚ra-reactions of attachment and aversion, the karmic ties of binding likes and dislikes. And yet this is fallaciously termed Enlightenment or Freedom. Not by any stretch of the imagination! Real advaita is about being awake and lucidly dreaming the dream of manifest life with great unattachment, virtue, compassion and generosity, it is not about having the mere "Understanding" that "life is but an empty dream" and yet continuing to act with ego-driven greed, lust, anger, fear, competitiveness, jealousy, violence, insensitivity and/or apathy. Siddhar‚meshvar Mah‚r‚j spoke of the "Auspicious Aspiration" and Nisargadatta Mah‚r‚j frequently emphasized the "great earnestness" needed to recover real spiritual freedom and virtue, not just have a glib cognitive "understanding" of Truth. As Siddhar‚meshvar puts it: "It is not enough to have a merely intellectual understanding of the concepts of the Self, humility, etc. Putting this teaching into practice is what really matters.... Never let the Knowledge be contaminated with impurities.... Those who are not true devotees [of the Self] do not attain the Bliss of the Self. They... drink of the world, and not of the Self.... One should carefully consider as to how far he has succeeded in giving up pride and curbing body awareness.... One should give up being obsessed with the body. Only then does one discover ones true Self.... One should investigate and find out how much body consciousness and how much consciousness of the Self one possess, and in what proportion.... Loyalty towards the Ultimate Truth leads to Self-realization, whereas loyalty to desires leads only to the generation of more desires. The Self is present everywhere, even present even in desires, but desires have blinded the Self into believing that I am male, female, etc. The Master weans his disciples from desires and reveals their True Nature to them. To get rid of the inclination towards desires, it is necessary not only to say that the desires are untrue, but also to bring this understanding directly into practice." (Amrut Laya, vol. 2, pp. 61, 128, 79, 43, 60, 40) In short, it is not enough merely to be "enlightened" about the cognitive Truth that "there is only the Self." One must be thoroughly liberated into/as this Truth on the affective and motivational-behavioral levels, i.e., fully established in real freedom from binding samsk‚ra/v‚san‚s. Put even more simply: one must "walk the talk."
7) Neo- or Pseudo-Advaita condemns or denigrates any form of devotional spirituality as more m‚y‚ or dualism. This, despite the fact that the most towering figures of Advaita nonduality in India, from Shankara to JŮ‚neshvar to Utpaladeva to Ramana Mah‚rshi to R‚makrishna to Sw‚mÓ GŮ‚n‚nanda to P‚p‚ R‚md‚s to Siddhar‚meshvar Mah‚r‚j to Nisargadatta Mah‚r‚j to Ammachi (M‚t‚ Amrit‚nandamayÓ) and others, all featured a strongly devotional side--albeit a nondual devotion (abheda bhakti, "devotion without difference," or parabhakti, "transcendent devotion"). In truly mature and full Self-realization, a spontaneous love flows nondually in/by/from the transcendent Self for the Self immanent within all persons, human, celestial and divine. Thus there can blossom the ancient nondual play of love for the Beloved, who is both Subject-ively and Object-ively alive as Transpersonal and Personal One. I'm speaking here of this delightful sense of wondrous awe that an appearance of worlds and beings is happening at all, through the almighty power of this Self or Awareness. A blissful zest and "nondual heartfelt gratitude" spontaneously express over the fact that the One is somehow Many, and the Many are really this One, i.e., that Emptiness is Form, and Form is Emptiness. All this is indeed Brahman (Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma) (Ch‚ndogya Upanishad, iii.14.1)
8) Another serious flaw in neo- or pseudo-advaita is a strong aversion to or apathy about genuine spiritual education or intuitive-intellectual development, an attitude shared with many New Agers, right-wing Christians, and others in our tragically dumbed-down modern society so rife with spiritual, political, and environmental ignorance. Yet the great nondual wisdom traditions of India, China, Japan and Tibet (as well as western mystical traditions) all put a strong emphasis on study of wisdom texts as an essential part of the spiritual curriculum. Consider how the eminent modern-era jŮ‚ni-sage Ramana Mah‚rshi, so famous for his wisdom-inducing silence and whose own powerful spiritual opening occurred without any significant intellectual preparation (he had read a book about the great Shaiva saints before his awakening in 1896), in the ensuing years actually spent much time listening to and promoting the reading of sacred texts, especially the Upanishads, Bhagavad GÓt‚, Yoga V‚sishtha, Tripura Rahasya, Bh‚gavatam Pur‚na, Asht‚vakra GÓt‚, Ribhu GÓt‚, AvadhŻta GÓt‚, the works of Shankara and stories of saints. Ch'an-Zen-Son Buddhist masters of the Far East likewise spent much time poring over classic texts of their own tradition, as well as the earlier Chinese and Indian classics. The Tibetan Vajray‚na masters are well known for their devotion to textual study. All this study promotes a balanced understanding of the various subtly nuanced teachings about authentic spiritual realization, the avoidance of common pitfalls, working through more insidious forms of delusion and attachment, and so forth. Such study is, of course, the prime ingredient in the classic "triple method" utilized in both the Hindu Advaita Ved‚nta tradition and N‚g‚rjuna's and Mah‚y‚na Buddhism wisdom path: hearing the teaching about our real Identity/Nature, pondering it ever more deeply through intensely penetrating reflection, and meditating upon this Truth (or having the Truth "meditate" you). (These are respectively, in Ved‚nta, shravana, manana, and nididhy‚sana; and for N‚g‚rjuna: shruti, cint‚, and bh‚van‚.) Alas, modern pseudo-advaita advocates no such study of the classic works of the Great Tradition. Instead, one is seduced and trapped by neo-advaita in a "false choice" of either-or logic: "You are coming either from your head [bad!] or your heart [good!]." Yet a mature, balanced sage is not at all lopsided. A true sage knows s/he is neither the head nor the heart energy, but THIS Absolute Awareness prior to and beyond both; and yet the sage utilizes the clarity of a well-developed mind-instrument and the warm loving-kindness and compassion of a fully-feeling heart to help all sentient beings (none other than the One Self!) consciously come Home to the Self-effulgent Light and omni-healing Love.
9) Along this line, much of neo-advaita presents itself as an attack on the mind, an attempt to stop the mind in its tracks and destroy it forever. Nothing wrong with the "no mind" or "mindlessness" state from time to time, especially when a person is addicted to mental contents in lieu of a pure, open intuition of their Real Identity as THIS bodiless, mind-free Awareness always prior to the mind. But the notion that a sage no longer has any kind of mind at all and just spends the rest of his or her days in some kind of a tranced-out zombie state is ridiculous. Ramana Mah‚rshi, we have already noted, made great and beautiful use of the mind, utilizing it as an instrument for editing and translating texts, monitoring correspondence, resolving the doubts and clarifying the confusions of his interlocutors, inquiring into their well-being, managing the kitchen work, and so forth. There were clearly paranormally gifted ways in which his ego-free mind worked, too. But a really interesting Zen-like kŰan-riddle for neo-advaitins is this: Ramana Mah‚rshi was observed on almost a daily basis to carefully read the newspaper. If there was "no world" and "no need for the mind" for anything, what was this daily newspaper-browsing all about? The old-timers i've talked to insist that Ramana was not just "looking at the pictures," nor using the newspaper as some kind of a "cloak" or "cover" merely to go into interdimensional states or avoid any visitors assembled in the old hall. He was genuinely interested in the well-being of people, animals, and society. The newspaper (along with the radio, to which he oftened listened) was a conventional way for him to access information about sentient beings at other places, just as the Mah‚rshi obviously seemed to have paranormal ways of accessing information about them, too.
Let us here further consider how too many neo-advaitins put down all book-reading as a waste of time being stuck at the mere mental level. (Would they like to return us to the medieval and/or totalitarian days of massive public book-burnings?) And yet, in a quite unintended but hilarious stroke of irony, we are encouraged by many of these neo-advaitins or by their disciples and PR persons to buy all the books (and CDs and DVDs) of their Great Teacher's teachings. I guess we are to ignore classic gems like Shankara's Upadesha S‚hasrÓ and JŮ‚neshvar's Amrit‚nubhava, but by all means we should hasten to buy the dumbed-down, distorted pile of deconstructivism from the latest "fully enlightened" neo-advaitin.
10) So much of neo-advaita, as revealed by
many quotes from its main proponents, can be seen as a stunted
form of spiritual development in only emphasizing the
deconstructive via negativa or
"negating way." Chan/Zen Buddhism has long
taught a truly complete model of unfolding spiritual realization
that, in its more elaborate form, is depicted as the Ten
Oxherding Images, but more simply and memorably schematized
in threefold manner as follows: First there are
mountains and rivers. Then there are no mountains, no
rivers. Then there are
mountains and rivers. The first of
these three stages represents the average sentient being who
treats the manifest world as solid, real, something to be reacted
to from an equally solid, real, but narrow and alienated position
of me and my. The second stage refers
to the utter dropping or relaxing of all sense of self or world.
Mystics with an aptitude for it can in this stage easily merge in
formless trance states (nirvikalpa sam‚dhi, etc.),
thereby literally blanking out any perceptible inner or outer
world of phenomena. The third stage in this Zen
model refers to the intrinsic/natural oneness of sahaja
sam‚dhi wherein the sage lovingly honors and responsibly
interacts with a world of beings, promoting their wellbeing and
awakening from the selfish dream of me. Such action
spontaneously flows, however, from a nondual intuition of
nonseparation from the world and no distorting presumption of an
alienated, addictive, or aversive me-self.
In its presentation of spiritual teaching, neo-advaita stumbles badly here, falling into the dark cavern of second-stage no mountains, no rivers. Indeed, it is actually an even stranger state of nihilism that neo-advaita falls into--i.e., denying the relative reality and meaningfulness of persons; denying any Divine purpose or plan to life; denying the validity of any and all phenomena, including moral distinctions between help and harm, virtuous morality and selfish sinfulness, ego-free behavior and egocentric behavior. In this way, neo-advaita nihilistically stays stuck in a strange no mans zone which at best can only be considered an intermediate, deconstructive level of spiritual development. The only purpose for the No-thingness teachings of this intermediate level (as originally presented by the true advaita sages) is to clear out all false egoic-identifications with the bodymind and relax all worldly or otherworldly attachments-aversions. Once free and liberated from these identifications and attachments-aversions, it makes no enlightened sense to fixedly dwell in the vacuous limbo of mere nothingness, amorality and impersonality, like so many neo-advaitins do. (Many neo-advaitins appear like a team of "demolition wrecking crew" men who delight in exploding and collapsing all the old beautiful buildings in a neighborhood, and then triumphantly standing atop the pile of rubble.)
Truly enlightened spirituality is transcendence so fully transcendent as to be fully immanent within and involved with a manifest world. Again, this authentic spirituality is to be fully disengaged while paradoxically fully engaged. Yes, the world is "a dream," but the great spiritual adepts are compassionately engaged with it for the sake of liberating sentient beings who are, paradoxically, none but the One Self! We see this holy, helpful and healing involvement exemplified by the most acclaimed sages and saints. They know that, ultimately, there is no absolute reality to personality or morality, but on the conventional, relative level these holy ones (the One!) are themselves supremely moral persons (by Divine Grace) and they invite other persons to come into this same beautiful and benign morality or enlightened ethics. Such is the Pure Land Paradise realm/no-realm of mountains and rivers appearing as Divinely-dreamed appearance. And these mountains are flowing and rivers are solid! :-)
Let me close this section with a quote from the Avat‚r Incarnation and nondual jŮ‚ni-bhakta ShrÓ R‚makrishna, "In the beginning, when a man reasons following the Vedanta method of 'Not this, not this' [neti, neti, i.e., 'I am not the body, not the mind, not the soul'], he realizes that Brahman [Reality or Spirit] is not the living beings, not the universe, not the twenty-four cosmic principles. All these things become like dreams to him. Then comes the affirmation of what has been denied, and he feels that God Himself has become the universe and all living beings . After realizing God, one sees that it is He Himself who has become the universe and the living beings. But one cannot realize this by mere reasoning." (Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, p. 345)
SrÓ Nisargadatta Mah‚r‚j simply put it this way: "When you see the world, you see God." (p. 71, Vol. 1, 1979 ed.)
May all beings (the One Being in disguise) be awake to real Freedom, Bliss, Peace, Clarity and Love.
* * * * * * * * *
More on Pseudo-Advaita from Various Writers
Jessica Roemischer, for
issue 22 of the magazine What Is Enlightenment?,
weaves together an imaginary satsang with a
group of neo-advaitins, adeptly patching together a revelatory
compilation of what these neo-advaitins (Tony Parsons, Wayne
Liquorman, Esther Veltheim, Gangaji, Francis Lucille, and Isaac
Shapiro) have actually said about the empty purposelessness of
life, the meaninglessness of the personality and morality, and so
on. The URL for her article is
Very much worth reading and linked to that same webpage is editor Tom Huston's INTRODUCTION to Jessica's article, wherein he talks, in part, about "the numinous narcotic [of neo-advaita] that nearly destroyed me," creating the distorted view of looking "upon everyone and everything as nothing but an illusory display of light and energy. Nothing was real, nothing was important.... Even the global crises of the mid-nineties appeared empty to my eyes. Global warming? Ha. Species extinction? Please. The Rwandan and Balkan genocides? Atrocities, sure, but all part of the same illusion. In me, the overarching apathy of Generations X and Y had reached an all-new high. And why? Because the truth revealed by Neo-Advaita makes nihilism seem sublime. Through its warped lens, the entire universe appears, beyond all doubt, to be ultimately pointless and absurd.... A deep understanding of universal Oneness, or the seamless 'nonduality' of Being, seems to be exactly the kind of spiritual truth the world needs to help bridge the countless divides that continue to keep human beings separate and conflicted, within and without. In fact, thats what spiritual enlightenment is all about, and its what saints and sages throughout history have willingly died to defend, convinced that the sacred truth of nonduality is more important than anything else. But Neo-Advaita [in stark contrast to traditional Advaita] serves up the glory of cosmic unity with a distinctly sour twist.... It places no explicit value on moral growth, spiritual purification, or character development....
[The following important revelations are excerpted and adapted from Jerry Katz's Nonduality Salon website, at www.nonduality.com:]
Papaji himself made it clear, in his teachings included in the book Nothing Ever Happened, edited by his students, that those he sent to teach not only are not enlightened, they are not even temporarily enlightened, in the fullest sense.
#1. When asked about those he sent to teach, Papaji said that the purpose was to have them point the way to Lucknow, not to pose as awakened teachers.
#2. Papaji said that many can fool others into thinking they are liberated but they are the false coin.
#3. When asked about the experiences that so many people had in Lucknow, he said they were false experiences.
#4. When asked, "Why did you give them false experiences?" he said to get the leeches off my back.
[Note from Timothy: this seems a bit duplicitous; this attitude, along with point #1, which appears rather self-serving, and some other aspects of Papaji discussed below, are why some of us do not regard Papaji as having been the most authentically realized among those who encountered Sri Ramana Mah‚rshi (1879-1950).]
#5. Papaji said he met only two JŮ‚nis [truly realized sages] in his lifetime. One was Ramana Maharshi. The other was a man who appeared from out of the jungle into the town of Krishnagiri. [NOTE: In the book Papaji: Interviews, edited by David Godman, 1993 edition, pp. 48-9, two jŮ‚nis other than Ramana are mentioned by Papaji as having "attained full and complete Self-realisation": the jungle sadhu in Karnataka and a Muslim pÓr. On page 64, in endnote 5, David Godman reports, "Sri Poonja told me that he thought his mother's Guru was also a jŮ‚ni." On page 50 of this book, Papaji states: "Though many people have had a temporary direct experience of the Self, full and permanent realisation is a very rare event."]
#6. Ramana Maharshi said that there is a false sense of liberation that aspirants reach that very few ever go beyond.
--By Dennis Waite
[Note: An exceptionally fine new book by Dennis, tentatively titled, Enlightenment, The Path Through the Jungle: A Criticism of Non-traditional Teaching Methods in Advaita, will be out in print by 2008. I had the pleasure to go through the entire manuscript and can report that it is an extremely thorough, careful, and eloquent case for traditional, "classic" Advaita over the "neo-advaita" approach, which Dennis persuasively argues is riddled with myths, mistakes, and self-contradictions. This book, and the following article, serve as a corrective to Dennis' first book on Advaita, The Book of One, wherein far too many neo-advaita teachings (and teachers) were mixed in with traditional Advaita teaching.]
[...] 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 Dangers of Pseudo-advaita
by Aziz Kristof
[from Poland, with a strong practice background in Zen and Son,
and appeciation for real Advaita]
[posted at www.globalserve.net/~sarlo/Yaziz.htm ]
We would like to express our concern regarding the recent phenomenon of "satsang-culture" which in our opinion has impoverished seriously the Original Spirit of Advaita. These days many individuals, who have very little or no knowledge at all about the Process of Awakening, feel qualified to give satsang and lead other souls on the Path. Enlightenment has become very cheap these days. Nobody actually really knows what is the meaning of this term as it virtually means everything and nothing. Nowadays, it is sufficient to say "I am awakened" in order to give satsang.
Because of the unverifiable nature of Enlightenment, this term has been much manipulated. Satsang has been Americanised. In an average satsang-gathering everybody is laughing, showing signs of euphoric and unauthentic joy, while the teacher tries to look like he or she is in bliss. Just like a TV show. Very few actually meditate. Why meditate if we are already all awakened?
But is this really Advaita? Is Advaita a poor repetition of a several slogans like "There is nobody there," "You are That," "You are already awakened" or "There is no Path," etc? Has this anything to do with teaching of great masters like Nisargadatta Maharaj or Ramana Maharshi? Ramana sat in caves for 20 years before he could be really complete. In his presence disciples had to meditate for months and years before they could receive from him the glimpse of the Self.
It is true that New Millennium is a time of global awakening. But this awakening is mostly partial and relative to the level of most people's unconsciousness. It was Jesus who said that there would be a time when many false teachers will teach in the name of Light. It seems to be happening now. Many of these teachers are not necessarily "bad people" but simply unqualified and lost, in truth. They have believed too quickly in the thought "I am now ready to teach!"
A few specific, constructive SUGGESTIONS--intended for anyone in the Advaita "business" (as they have made it):
1) Instead of calling oneself "enlightened" or "fully enlightened," and making claims and setting up expectations that wind up being somewhat or very fraudulent, why not adopt the old Buddhist parlance and simply market oneself as "a helpful spiritual friend" (kalyana mitra)?
2) Instead of charging money, why not trust in the God-Self and see what spontaneously comes in the form of donations?
3) Please honor the ancient sacred trust given to anyone in the helping professions and NOT solicit students/clients for any kind of favors or gifts such as free labor, excessive amounts of time or energy, or anything having to do with sexual pleasures.
4) Utterly refrain from saying that anything one is doing is "in the lineage of Ramana Mah‚rshi." One has no right to usurp this unspeakably selfless, generous, gracious, authentically free, and dearly beloved spiritual master for one's own selfish marketing purposes.
A last comment for this section: I repeat that the great and glorious Dharma-teaching and lifestyle bequeathed to us by Ramana Mah‚rshi and other truly adept Advaitins is entirely too beautiful to be tarnished by the opportunists and exploiters, however well-intentioned they may seem to be in their own minds. Hence the need to be critical of anything less than the full and balanced Truth.
[Email letter from Nirmala, March 25, 2007:]
After reading through some of your informative and helpful website, I feel moved to write you and share my perspective about the neo-advaita movement that you sometimes single out as a repository of half-baked and sometimes even harmful teachers, especially since I am mentioned by name [Timothy: Nirmala is mentioned neutrally, i would add] in one of your discourses about neo-advaita. Unfortunately, much of what you report and suggest is true in specific cases and of course in those cases one can only lament the shortcomings of the teacher and the teachings, and, as you often do on your site, wish the best for all involved.
However, it seems at times that the portrait you create of neo-advaita and the people offering satsang is one-sided and unbalanced. Even though you often soften your comments by pointing out that there may be positive examples of teachers in this vein, the overall impression is that if this were so it would be a rare exception. And so I am writing to share my own experience since it mostly contradicts any suggestion that the abuses by spiritual teachers in this genre are widespread.
Of the spiritual teachers offering satsang including many who were directly or indirectly influenced by Papaji that I have met, most are sincere, loving, thoughtful individuals who present a balanced and healthy teaching. Specifically, I will mention my own teacher Neelam who in the 10 years I have known her has continued to deepen and broaden her own perspective on spiritual awakening and embodiment. Her style of teaching has shifted and changed to incorporate more and more of an emphasis on a truly complete meeting of everything about our nature including our relative human side, and has also incorporated an emphasis on living as fully as possible from the deepest wisdom of our being. And I have seen this same broadening and subtlety in the work of many others that I have met and observed in (and sometimes out) of satsang, including Adyashanti, Pamela Wilson, Gangaji, Catherine Ingram, and Francis Lucille. Again, I mention these examples to hopefully give a sense that there are teachers out there doing meaningful and helpful work within the very loosely defined category of neo-advaita. It is in large part through my own contact with these teachers that my own life and perspective have been profoundly transformed.
I also wanted to address your comments in the same piece about neo-advaita regarding the collection of donations at spiritual gatherings, again because I and others I know and respect do ask for donations at our events. I was struck by how in response to a question about people asking for donations at satsang, you offered examples of truly gross abuses of money grubbing by spiritual organizations that have nothing to do with adavita such as Scientology. In contrast, it is my experience that most of the people mentioned above have shown integrity and a sense of balance regarding money at satsang. And in some cases, they are just getting by and are not profiting in any way beyond a barely adequate support of their basic needs.
As for myself, I have always clearly communicated that money never needs to be a reason for someone not to come to my satsangs. And while there is a suggested donation, this message is clearly being heard since the donations received rarely average even half of the suggested amount. This is fine with me as I have also directly experienced the kind of divine grace you describe that seems to support me in my work in many unexpected and wonderful ways. However, I do not think it is necessarily a sign of spiritual advancement that money is never asked for at a satsang, and I think it can at times even be an imbalanced approach in an opposite way from those demanding exorbitant sums for their teachings. If money is a part of the relative truth, why not be completely open and transparent in ones dealings regarding finances? Donations can be just one more way for the Divine to support the teaching work, and so why treat them as something that can not be spoken about? In my announcements at satsang, I am also willing to share the general picture of the financial requirements for my work and how well they are currently being met. And after recently seeing this on another teachers site, I plan to post the financial statements of my non-profit organization on my website. It seems respectful of the people attending to give them as much information as possible and allow them to determine what is truest for them regarding the offering of a donation. Again, if there is complete openness and transparency, then why does the subject of donations have to be avoided?
[This willingness by Nirmala and the other unnamed teacher to be financially transparent and accountable is a big, positive step forward.
Naturally, I still have some concerns, which I think every mature person in the field of advaita instruction would share, about turning this instruction into a "career" or a "gig," because of the obviously inherent danger that, once one's livelihood is dependent on income from students attending satsang or private sessions, there will always be the temptation to find ways to "attract" and "hold on" to students, to "boost one's ratings and marketshare in the competitive advaita field," etc., so as to get a steadier, more reliable, and ever-more substantial income.]
Mostly, I have appreciated the clarity of your writings on your site, and I also appreciate your willingness to directly confront the actual abuses and unhealthy activities that are occuring. I especially appreciate your descriptions of absolute truth and relative truth, and how both are relevant. I just hope that you might consider a further softening of the impression you might be giving that everyone out there offering satsang in the current blossoming of neo-advaita teaching is somehow implicated by the unfortunate actions of a few.
As you have also suggested, there is a wonderful gift in much of what is being shared so openly and directly about our ultimate true nature, so that it would be a shame if people threw the baby out with the bathwater and concluded that all the teachers and teaching in this somewhat new approach were somehow suspect. There are many people I have met and shared with through the years who have had their lives deeply and permanently transformed by their association with teachers within neo-advaita.
With love and gratitude,
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