Problems with Neo-Advaita

The Problem with Neo-Advaita

Neo-Advaita is what it sounds like a "new" Advaita. It is largely a Western phenomenon though it has Eastern precedents. I will not attempt to analyze Neo-Advaita in a historical fashion or in comparison or contrast to the so-called "real," "true," or original Advaita. Frankly, I see such discussions as intellectually meaningful but as spiritually useless and irrelevant. Advaita simply means non-dual or the realization of nonduality, as it is more of a description of an experience than it is of a philosophy. The emphasis of Advaita old or new is practical, being aimed at the direct experience of Self, through knowledge, experience, transmission, awareness, understanding, Realization and Enlightenment.

Neo-Advaita is a more recent Westernized "movement" that is based on Satsangs or gatherings that are centered around a spiritual teacher. On the whole I think that the Neo-Advaita movement is a good development given that it makes spirituality accessible and available to everyone in a no-frills fashion. Much of the initial thrust of Neo-Advaita seems to have been centered in and around Poonja. Apparently, he received transmission of energy from Ramana Maharshi and realized Enlightenment. As people came to him for teaching he transmitted energy and Enlightened a number of individuals. His whole message was along the lines of "stop," "don't think," "you are already That." There was no clear methodology per se...but, he was effective! The problem with Neo-Advaita was not Poonja but the misinterpretation or misunderstanding of Poonja. Though, his approach did work, it was touchy-feely, anti-intellectual and depended mostly upon his capacity to transmit Enlightening energy.

The point is that the purpose of Advaita is to Realize Truth, not merely to "feel your way to it," "just get it" or merely to "affirm or parrot whatever the teacher says." The Advaita path is ultimately a spiritual path of knowledge that leads to direct experience. The two main problems with Neo-Advaita are its lack of a clear methodology for Self-Realization and that it is more of a belief system or a faith than it is a system for experiencing Enlightenment. When it comes to Advaita, the experiential is more important than the philosophical. Without clear methods based upon real understanding of the process - that work - what can one teach and how? This is exactly where most Neo-Advaita teachers find themselves. They have the experience and the Realization. The majority of them are truly Enlightened but...few understand the process of Realization and fewer still have a clear methodology for Enlightenment. Only a handful possess the energy necessary for transmission.

Neo-Advaita has potential but it lacks the three necessary ingredients of understanding, methodology and transmission. The understanding being based on a knowledge of what Enlightenment is and how it is Realized. The methodology is the defocusing of awareness through whatever means. Transmission can only occur when one possesses sufficient psychic energy. These three principles must be understood and must be developed to be incorporated into a teaching system, if a teacher is to be consistently effective. I still think that the more teachers the better...but the more complete the teaching is the more effective the teachers will be. The soil can only be prepared so long before it must produce. It must be made clear that being Enlightened is not the same as understanding Enlightenment. Likewise, the awareness in itself is no guide towards methodology. Where you are at is not as important as how you got there. Most spiritual teachers don't really know where they are or how they got there!

Energy development is another matter altogether. Most Enlightened teachers have energy, just not the right frequencies of energy. A preacher with the "Holy Spirit" often possesses more of the "right stuff" for healing or transmission, than many who are Enlightened.  Practices of energy cultivation may be especially helpful to those who are Enlightened for the purposes of healing and transmission. If you can't give it, others can't get it! There is no round about way to go about it. One cannot give understanding that they do not possess or share a methodology that they do not have. As far as psychic energy, either one has developed it over the course of one's spiritual path or one has not.

First, become a teacher, then teach.

As for the solution to the philosophical problems in old Advaita and the methodological problems of Neo-Advaita they may be solved through a synthesis of the old and the new. Just as Zen synthesized Buddhism, Shintoism and Taoism, likewise there can be a new synthesis within Advaita that is more practical, simplified, clarified and effective. The experience of Enlightenment is the most important point. This is why it is necessary to define what it is and it is absolutely essential to describe how to get there. Without a destination how can one begin and without a compass how can one have direction? The paradox inherent in Enlightenment is no excuse for not trying to figure it out...yes, we are trying to get somewhere and yes, it is nowhere and yes, it is everywhere. If we want to swim in the Light, we must be willing to grope in the dark!

Spirituality is an area of knowledge like all others. One must study and practice, to learn and to experience. Enlightenment is a short leap but spirituality is a life-long path.

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