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#3182 - Friday, May 30, 2008 - Editor: Jerry Katz
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This is a lengthy issue consisting of three parts.
First is a summary of Enlightenment: The Path Through the Jungle, by Dennis Waite. It is not my review of the book, only a summary.
Next is a response to the book written by Tony Parsons.
The third part is a response to Tony written by Dennis.
At the end of this issue I have included links to the relevant books.
In upcoming issues I'm happy to post responses from readers.
Enlightenment: The Path Through the Jungle
A summary written by Jerry Katz
This is a summary of Enlightenment: The Path Through the Jungle, by Dennis Waite. It is subject to my biases, errors, oversights, and limits of understanding. Though Ive tried to give a decent representation of the book, the entire work must be read to get the full picture. These are only fragments with much significant material left out. For example, I did not include much, if anything, on what enlightenment is and isnt.
I have mostly quoted from the book, which is evidenced by the quotation marks around passages. However, a few times I have paraphrased Denniss writing, so keep a close eye on the quotation marks!
I thank Dennis Waite and Tony Parsons for entrusting their positions to the Nonduality Highlights. Thanks also to Julian Noyce for communications which assisted in bringing this discussion together. Follow-up dialogue could also by hosted by the Highlights, if writers allow their responses to appear.
Dennis Waite says in the Introduction that he began this book with the intent of comparing and contrasting the ways advaita is presented in the West. As his research unfolded, the negative aspects of nontraditional teachings i.e., neo-advaita and satsang-based teachings became so glaring that he changed the intent of the book.
He writes, The aim is now to set down clearly, reasonably and unarguably the facts of the matter: what enlightenment is (and isnt) and why traditional techniques will take you there while Western-style satsang and neo-advaita are unlikely to do so.
Hence the theme: You can become enlightened through traditional advaita, while it is unlikely you will become enlightened through neo-advaita and satsang.
The purpose is specifically to address the concerns of seekers who are dissatisfied with the satsang or neo-advaitin approaches to the teaching of advaita and to answer related questions.
It is not primarily a book about non-duality but about the teaching of non-duality. It discusses the guru and the seeker and the ways in which the former relate to the latters attempts to become enlightened.
I am not primarily criticizing neo-advaita in respect of the truth or falsehood of its actual statements but as regards its utility as a teaching methodology, the author claims.
Neo-advaita is a very recent phenomenon and its principal protagonists were unknown before the mid nineteen-nineties. It is the term used for the style of teaching that purports to express only the final, absolute truth of advaita.
Neo-advaita is a belief-system without a system i.e. no structure, no method, no practice; the bottom line without any preceding text.
The teachers of neo-advaita, though they do not use the term neo-advaita, include Tony Parsons, Jeff Foster, Richard Sylvester, Nathan Gill, and others.
Some comparisons between traditional advaita and nontraditional satsang/neo-advaita:
Many satsang teachers imply that enlightenment has nothing to do with gaining any sort of knowledge but is simply being in the present and accepting that you already are that for which you are searching.
According to traditional teachings however, we cannot see that we are already free because of avidyA [ignorance]. The explanations provided by traditional teaching enable direct recognition of the Self that we already are.
The neo-advaitin contention that we are already enlightened is considered an error. While it is true that we are That, or Brahman, we do not know it. We believe we are suffering or not free. The false self the one that is suffering -- is not already enlightened. That false self becomes enlightened and thereby finished. The recognition arises that there is only Self, that there is no person, nor was there ever. Still, that one could be said by someone to be an enlightened person.
Satsang in traditional Advaita is the brief Q & A session that follows a teaching session in which a verse in scripture is explained and enhanced with metaphors, examples from students lives, and portions of other scriptures. The verse taught is part of an entire text which is being covered.
In modern nontraditional satsang the teacher gives a brief introductory talk and attendees ask questions that may or may not relate to the talk. The satsang teacher has the view that one may become enlightened simply by attending and getting the essence of what is being said.
In traditional advaita it is by understanding and rejecting the unreal that we come to know what is real.
Since neo-advaitins only acknowledge the real, their teaching is doomed to failure.
Traditional teachers do not attempt to describe reality (instead, they provide pointers to it.)
On free will:
Traditionally, we do have limited choice and we do act. And, as we act, so do we reap. the motivation for action or attachment to the results of action entrenches us deeper in the mire of saMsAra. In contrast, the neo-advaitin claims that we do not act and have no choice; this clearly implies that what we do makes no difference. This is a rash, uninformed and potentially damaging doctrine.
On the seeker becoming enlightened:
The traditional view is that there is an individual seeker (a jIva), who is motivated to seek the truth.
The extreme neo-advaitin position is that this is untrue. Most other satsang teachers appear to hold intermediate positions. The differences (are) considered under four, separate, section headings:
... The idea that there is no doer to begin with and therefore no seeker.
... The idea that there is nothing that needs to be done we are already That; already enlightened, etc. There is therefore nothing to be sought.
... The idea that irrespective of the above, nothing could be done to bring about enlightenment anyway; all doing is for the ego and only results in something for me. There cannot, therefore, be any spiritual path to enlightenment.
... The idea that, consequently, no practices can ever help us either to prepare for a path or to follow one.
On (the claim that there is) no doer:
The claim that there is no doer and no one who can choose to do anything is frequently used by neo-advaitins to conclude that no spiritual path can be chosen or could be effective in bringing about enlightenment. ... But this is to confuse levels of reality... . The jIva, who is the one who needs the path, is at the relative level of the world. It is only brahman who, in reality, is not a doer that does not need any path.
On (the claim that there is) nothing to do:
Given the basic premise of a non-dual reality, we must already be That (brahman). Logically, therefore, it would seem at first sight that it cannot make any sense that something needs to be done to bring this about. Tony Parsons asks, But who is it that is going to choose to make the effort? There is no separate individual volition. How can an illusion dispel itself? But this is the usual confusion of reality and appearance. In the empirical world, there are people who act. Effort to gain direct self-knowledge may eventually bring about realization. No effort will at best maintain the status quo. The confusion arises because of the failure to differentiate between being and knowing. We cannot do anything to be That which we already are but we can do something to remove our ignorance of the fact namely seek self-knowledge.
On (the claim that) practice is of no value:
Neo-advaitins argue that the methods of traditional advaita support rather than undermine the ego whereas neo-advaita sees through the person as an illusion. In this context, the metaphor of setting a thief to catch a thief is sometimes used the ego can never conquer the ego.
But the person, in the sense of a body-mind organism is not an illusion it is mithyA. It also seems likely that much of their criticism is based upon a lack of clear understanding of the traditional methods.
Finally, those teachers who deprecate any form of practice fail to explain why regular attendance of their satsangs is not itself a form of practice.
mithyA is defined in Denniss book as dependent reality; ... depending upon something else for its existence. It is ascribed to objects, etc., meaning that these are not altogether unreal but not strictly real either i.e. they are our impositions of name and form upon the undifferentiated Self.
On the need for a guru:
Since neo-advaitin teachers believe that any sort of practice is futile, it follows that they also claim that there is no need for, or value in, a guru.
Nevertheless, they themselves continue to hold meetings and residential courses around the country, and many of those attending are habitual followers.
(In their satsangs the) process of question and answer is usually called teaching but neo-advaitins deny that they are doing this.
We need a guru to help us dispel the self-ignorance. Ramana Maharshi explains: The guru does not bring about Self-Realization. He simply removes the obstacles to it. The Self is always realized. (Note that he actually means that the self is always free.)
Traditional teachers never ask for money seekers usually go to the teacher at their own cost. If they do travel to teach, their hosts usually pay their expenses. Satsang teachers almost invariably do ask for money and pay their own costs out of the proceeds, presumably leaving a healthy income.
Most seekers will typically attend satsangs by a number of different teachers, usually whichever one happens to be in their area. Consequently, a seeker is likely to hear varied, and possibly even conflicting, answers to what may be apparently the same question. Attempts to reconcile these will probably lead to greater confusion. ... This is why traditionally one is advised to find and stay with a single teacher.
Many satsang teachers and all neo-advaitin teachers imply that the non-dual truth is somehow self-evident, that there is nothing new to be discovered to make this fact apparent. ... In fact, the only self-evident truth is that I am. The facts that I am unlimited (ananta), that there is only That and that I am That are not initially self-evident. There is thus a need for the scriptures (to provide the methodology) and a guru who knows how to use them.
In the worst cases, the claimed futility of further seeking can lead to a total sense of hopelessness on the part of the seeker. Unfortunately, many teachers in such a situation rarely seem to have any sympathy or empathy and can offer no help other than to reiterate that there is no one in need of any help.
It has to also be said that the minimalist message of neo-advaita with its formulaic mantras can easily be learnt by the unscrupulous, or unintentionally absorbed by an uncritical mind. Any voluble and quick-witted individual could then offer themselves as a teacher, whether truly enlightened, honestly deluded or merely cynical.
Why do seekers pay money to attend talks by someone who uses no proven method or documented system and who effectively admits that he or she is not enlightened? Why would they think that such teachers are qualified to hold satsangs? There are three possible answers:
a) it is assumed that the teacher IS enlightened (even if this only amounts to the final understanding that there is no such thing as enlightenment);
b) it is the appeal of a path that entails zero effort on the part of the seeker they can have enlightenment NOW without having to do anything at all;
c) they are simply following the crowd, assuming that their peers cannot all be wrong and not wanting to be left out. Whichever is the case, such a seeker is suffering self-delusion.
Advice for seekers and teachers:
If you must attend satsangs, do so with extreme caution.
To satsang teachers, Waite offers, Answer yourself honestly Are you really enlightened, according to the traditional concepts of the term? If not, he suggests the traditional teaching be accessed. Dennis notes that even if a satsang teacher is enlightened, study of traditional advaita will aid the teaching process.
Waite also suggests that satsang teachers stop traveling, stay local, and offer long courses instead of short satsangs. The courses should unfold the scriptures, or at least provide clear topics.
Traditional not two-ness versus Neo not two-ness
It seems that Dennis Waite and his fellow Traditional Advaitists have been challenging the validity of something they have decided to call "Neo Advaita" or, it has to be said, their particular interpretation of it!
I have been asked to comment because The Open Secret communication seems to have been their main target and so, of course, I can only respond from this apparent "perception".
So right away I am puzzled at any attempt to make a comparison between two perspectives which simply do not meet. Dennis Waites works are an excellent expression of the fundamental principles that generate the majority of traditional and contemporary dualistic teachings. They are, in simple terms, rooted in the belief that there is something called a seeker (one) that can attain something else called enlightenment (two). The Open Secret recognises everything as already the unconditional expression of wholeness, including the apparent belief and experience of separation.
Traditional Advaita is a teaching of becoming, The Open Secret is not, but involves the dissolution of the myth of seeking.
It seems that Dennis Waite does not recognise the difference.
So, I will not respond to these criticisms with any counter arguments, but will only try to demonstrate the futility of comparison.
Presuming that Dennis Waite accurately represents something he calls Traditional Advaita, he confirms his belief and experience in the reality of the constant existence of an individual with free will and the ability to choose and bring about consequence.
The Open Secret recognises that the belief and experience of a central "I" or a "me" or a "self" is an assumed inconstant state. Out of that belief arises a transient belief in the reality of time, the story, meaning, purpose, deity and destiny. Identification is the transient appearance of wholeness seeming to be part of itself that feels separate from wholeness and can only apparently seek to be whole. It is a metaphor.
Dennis Waite believes and recommends that, in order to resolve the real and constant sense of separation and become enlightened, the individual should choose to follow a progressive spiritual path. This path involves practice, meditation, self-enquiry and the eradication of ego and ignorance through a clear understanding of the scriptures and the guidance of a teacher.
The Open Secret recognises that the above beliefs and recommendations are generated out of an assumed and inconstant sense of being a separate individual who needs to attain something called enlightenment. It is also recognised that an investment in the above recommendations can reinforce and maintain the assumed sense of being an individual who can resolve its sense of being separate.
Dennis Waite confirms that enlightenment is something that can be described in words, and attained and known by the individual mind when it acquires the knowledge that there is only a non-dual reality.
The Open Secret recognises that there is no such thing as enlightenment or liberation, or an individual that can become enlightened or liberated. When the assumed sense of being separate seems to collapse, already there is only the constant and unknowable wonder of being.
The Open Secret perception is that there is no such thing as a "mind". Thinking seems to happen and sometimes thoughts formulate into belief systems which are still experienced sporadically by the apparent individual in what seems to be a story in time. Understanding also arises in the story.
Traditional Advaita appears to make proper use of logic, reason, belief and experience, rational explanation, truth, and traditional wisdom, all directed towards helping the seeker along the path to their enlightenment.
The Open Secrets apparent communication is illogical, unreasonable, unbelievable, paradoxical, non-prescriptive, non-spiritual and uncompromising. There is no agenda or intention to help or change the individual. Its resonance is shared energetically, not through the exchange of ideas. It is prior to all teachings and yet eternally new.
Belief is seen as married to doubt, and experience as a fluctuating personal state. The Open Secret does not recognise anything as being "the truth" nor does it see how something called Traditional Advaita could be anything other than a complex collection of ideas.
Traditional Advaita is a teaching about that which can be known and The Open Secret points to unknowing.
Surely an unbiased view of these two "perspectives" would immediately recognise that they do not meet. However, it seems to me that Dennis does not agree, because he seems unable to comprehend, even intellectually, the principle and implication of individual absence. I think he still believes that Tony Parsons is an individual who tells other individuals that they are enlightened and so there is nothing that they need to do.
Because the ineffable cannot be understood, and therefore controlled, it can seem threatening to the apparent seeker. Consequently any attempt at expression of the indefinable has to be rejected or misinterpreted. What often emerges is a reconfiguring which can be believed, and is safe, and which offers hope and purpose to the seeker.
Dogmas, doctrines and progressive paths which promise eventual enlightenment, or Nirvana, or the Kingdom of Heaven, through sacrifice, discipline, refinement and purification of the self, appeal tremendously to that within the seeker which feels unworthy. Hence, the power of classic religion and teachings of becoming. Traditional Advaita is just one of these.
Of course, for any apparent seeker who believes in self-autonomy and the seeming reality of needing to climb a spiritual mountain, Dennis Waites work seems a logical, sound and reassuringly complicated instruction manual to follow. However, what does devalue this apparent testimony to "the truth" is seemingly its distorted portrayal of so-called "neo Advaitans" which appears to be mainly based on hearsay, wishful thinking and the misinterpretation of quotations taken out of context.
Of course there is a lot of dualistic nonsense broadcast under the non-dual Advaita banner. A relentless regurgitation of the idea that there is "no-one", or that everything is fine because it is only arising as "all there is", is nothing more than a replacement of one set of beliefs for another.
Words can only ever point to the inexpressible, and anyone can nit and pick and tut their way through every word of this response with the sole purpose of seeing nothing more than that which is right or wrong. It is what happens . . . apparently.
Isnt it wonderful that all of this is already only the unconditional expression of wholeness appearing as much ado about nothing.
Dennis Waite responds to Tony Parsons
The book Enlightenment: the Path through the Jungle aims clearly to define the meaning of the word enlightenment and explain how traditional advaita functions to bring it about. It contrasts this teaching with the method-less, and sometime apparently content-less talks and discussions that take place under the banner of satsang in the west today. In particular, it formally defines (for the purpose of the book) the term neo-advaita as:
the style of teaching that purports to express only the final, absolute truth of advaita. It does not admit of any 'levels' of reality and does not recognize the existence of a seeker, teacher, ignorance, spiritual path etc. Whereas satsang teachers in general differ quite widely as regards their particular ways of talking about and teaching advaita, neo-advaitin teachers do not. The statements of one are essentially interchangeable with those of another, with only personal style and coined phrases differing. (This description is expanded and clarified in the book.)
All of these approaches claim (overtly or not) to speak of the absolute, non-dual nature of reality so that a comparison of their ability to do so in a reasonable and logical way is certainly valid. Amongst the disclaimers in the book are the following statements:
12. The book makes no specific claims about relative success rates of the different approaches. There are no statistics available upon which any such claims might be made and views might well differ even upon whether a given teacher is enlightened or not. What it will do is to present, analyze and criticize the various issues and endeavor to persuade the reader that anything other than the traditional approach is unlikely to succeed.
16. I would like to emphasize that this book is not criticizing specific teachers nor suggesting that anyone is inept or unenlightened. I am criticizing satsang as a teaching method, when used on its own and attended only infrequently, as is typical in the West. Specific teachers are not usually quoted, since I did not want to imply that anyone was being singled out for disapprobation. Instead, I have endeavored to paraphrase actual quotations to make the points in a more general way. Those quotations which are present are included because they are particularly helpful and relevant to the point being made.
The fundamental practical difference, as far as neo-advaita is concerned, is the existence or otherwise of the seeker and the ability or otherwise to obtain enlightenment. All approaches agree that, in reality, there is neither seeker nor enlightenment but we do not perceive reality. From the vantage point of the seeker, suffering in an apparent world of separation, such absolutist statements cannot help. Traditional advaita recognizes this condition of self-ignorance and provides proven techniques for disabusing the seeker of her false notions. It is not a teaching of becoming because there is nothing to become. Enlightenment is defined in the book as:
Enlightenment takes place in the mind of a person when self-ignorance has been eradicated. It is true (in absolute reality) that we are already 'free' - there is only ever the non-dual reality so how could it be otherwise? It is not true that we are already enlightened (in empirical reality), as the seeker well knows. Enlightenment is the event in time when the mind realizes that we are already free.
The apparent paradox results from a confusion of absolute and relative reality (paramArtha versus vyavahAra). From the relative point of view there IS a person and this person CAN become enlightened. It is only from the absolute perspective that it could be said (except that there is no one there to say it!) that there is nothing to be gained. As soon as we say anything at all, we are necessarily firmly in the relative viewpoint; only silence is commensurate with reality. It is pointless to deny this, since speech and thought are themselves dualistic.
Seeking is valid at the level of the person it is not a myth. The Open Secret may recognise everything as already the unconditional expression of wholeness, including the apparent belief and experience of separation but, unfortunately, the seeker doesnt. We have to begin from where we believe ourselves to be. Even those would-be seekers who go to Tony Parsons talks believe themselves to be separate, suffering individuals and are looking for guidance. The fact that neo-advaita offers no guidance does not alter this fact. Traditional advaita maintains that the Self is already non-dual and free. The seeker believes himself to be a separate entity as a result of error and the only way that this misconception can be corrected is by recognition of this error. This usually results from guidance by a suitably qualified teacher.
Tony Parsons claims that the perspectives of traditional and neo-advaita do not meet and cites the example that the latter does not recognize the existence of an individual. Yet, in the same essay, Tony is speaking about Dennis. Every time he takes a satsang, he speaks to others individuals. It is pointless to deny the transactional level of reality in which he charges £10 per person for a 3-hour talk (to no-one). Traditional advaita also uses duality to point to non-duality (and openly admits this). It just does so in an infinitely more logical, reasonable and effective manner.
Regarding the topic of practice, anyone who has tried to solve a problem when their mind is diverted by strong emotions will know the impossibility of concentrating and thinking logically. It must therefore be eminently reasonable that some mental preparation is need before being able to tackle the most intransigent problem of all the nature of our own existence. Such practices as meditation and directed self-inquiry must therefore be extremely helpful for clearing the mind of irrelevancies.
The Open Secret states that its apparent communication is illogical, unreasonable, unbelievable, paradoxical, non-prescriptive, non-spiritual, uncompromising and entirely without meaning or purpose. There is no agenda or intention to help or change the individual. This is indeed paradoxical since seekers (real or imaginary) usually attend satsangs for the purpose of learning something useful , as opposed to merely being entertained in some pointless manner. The idea that there is no truth is also incomprehensible. To be true means to be in accordance with reality; what is actually the case. The truth is that reality is non-dual. The world is a manifestation, whose name and form we erroneously endow with a separate existence its essence is the same non-dual reality. Who-I-really-am is that same reality. The purpose of advaita, and other traditional approaches, is to bring us to the realization of this truth.
The bottom line is that nothing matters. There is only the non-dual reality, the Self. The rest is only a wonderful, ever-changing manifestation merely name and form of that same, unchanging, unmanifest reality; ever whole, ever complete, never two. This is the case regardless of whether or not the apparent person realizes this truth. But it is also part of this marvelous, apparent creation that, occasionally, one of these persons wonders about the nature of this reality and looks for understanding and self-knowledge. Traditional advaita provides a structured, reasonable and assured approach to gain this understanding, entirely within the context of this seeming manifestation.
One might argue that, whether or not this apparent person gains self-knowledge makes not the slightest difference to the reality and one would have to concede that this is necessarily the case. Nevertheless, at the level of the seeming world of duality, it seems to make the most enormous difference to the person. It is the difference between the dreamer trapped in a nightmare that he erroneously believes to be true and the lucid dreamer who recognizes the dream for what it is and enjoys every minute.
Although words and concepts can never describe the ineffable, they can point and use metaphor and other strategies to enable the mind to recognize, intuit and ultimately realize the non-dual truth. It is the duty of any teaching worthy of the name to utilize such techniques and not simply make gratuitous and unfounded claims which do nothing to help the apparent person finally to acknowledge his or her limitless essence.
29 May 2008
Enlightenment: The Path Through the Jungle, by Dennis Waite
As It Is: The Open Secret to Living an Awakened Life, by Tony Parsons
Non-Duality Press, publishes books on the contemporary expression of Advaita by mostly western authors and communicators. Direct, clear and free from the arcane language of the past, we feel these books represent a contribution to the understanding of Liberation. We offer these books as a resource for those that are familiar with the subject and an inspiration for those in the process of discovery.
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