Advaitin vs. Neo-Advaitin

Advaitinment is Not Necessarily Enlightenment

Recently, I had the good fortune to observe a Neo-Advaita teacher sitting side by side with a more traditional spiritual teacher. What I noticed immediately was how pushy and condescending the Neo-Advaita teacher seemed to be. I am in no way questioning the Realization of this teacher but...I was mildly annoyed, if not subtly offended by the fact that this teacher not only dominated the discussion but consistently attempted to push a certain position. This is a teacher whom I have seen personally once and whom I happen to like, as well as respect the teaching and presence of but...it was the Neo-Advaita conceptual position that disturbed me. Since, I also have reservations about traditional Advaita Vedanta as well, I will use this post to address my concerns or grievances with both approaches, philosophically, as well as methodologically.

Overall, I like Advaita Vedanta and on the whole I appreciate what Neo-Advaitin teachers are doing but...I see problems with both perspectives that need to be addressed. First, I need to talk about the problem of Advaitinment.

Advaitinment vs. Enlightenment

I have observed a trend in Neo-Advaita circles that possibly is also present in traditional Advaita Vedanta. It is was I am calling Advaitinment. What is this state of Advaitinment? This is the point when a practitioner begins to parrot what the teacher is saying, instead of actually experiencing "I Am That" directly. At this place called Advaitinment one is merely relating to the conceptual perspective of Advaita Vedanta as more of a belief system than as a means to direct spiritual experience. You will see people who may have had some kind of awareness of Self - at some time or the other - agreeing with the teacher, nodding their heads and criticizing other questioners ("because it is so obvious!"). But, generally, it is the case that those who have achieved Advaitinment are hangers-on who really don't understand experientially what the teacher is discussing or describing. Yes, they may have had a moment of Self-Awareness but a glimpse is not Self-Realization, nor is it Enlightenment.

The teachers are as much at fault as are the students because they fail to emphasize one principle or fact: that nothing must be done with thought but that something must be done with awareness. Either they do not understand or recognize this distinction themselves or they fail to mention it. Practice is absolutely necessary to Realize and to Abide in awareness. It must be a practice, in, of, by and for awareness only. In so far as Enlightenment or Self-Realization is an awareness of Reality, no it is not just a concept, it is an awareness. Concepts are not even the point. In fact, most Neo-Advaita teachers overemphasize concepts and under-emphasize awareness. This is precisely why knowledge of the Self is important and why methodology to Realize Self-Awareness is absolutely essential. Any other perspective makes students dependent upon the teacher for energy or for transmission but awareness cannot be transmitted. Only knowledge, methodology or energy can be transmitted. A teacher without knowledge and without method, only possesses energy to transmit but how often is that effective in and of itself?

Problems with Traditional Advaita Vedanta

My main issues with traditional Advaita Vedanta are two: philosophical and methodological. The philosophical perspective of the "unreality of the world" is not only false and contrary to all experience but may also be psychologically unhealthy. It is an absurd, impractical and invalid position that has no utility in either spiritual practice or in daily life. My personal opinion is that such a philosophical position is harmful socially, economically and psychologically. As for methodology, I can see no clearly practical and effective methods for Self-Realization within Advaita Vedanta prior to Ramana Maharshi. Maybe, this is unfair but I find no evidence to support the contrary view. Through, the method of Self-Inquiry, Ramana Maharshi made Advaita Vedanta philosophy pragmatic and useful. The entire approach of traditional Advaita Vedanta was conceptually-based intellectual practice, rather than awareness-based spiritual practice.

Problems with Neo-Advaita

Thankfully, most Neo-Advaitins don't harp too much about the "unreality of the world." It makes sense after all given that so many of them are Westerners. The main problem with Neo-Advaita is its lack of a clear methodology that is consistent and that is effective. One may argue that the same is true of most spiritual paths, ways or traditions and it would not be inaccurate to say so. The approach to Realization cannot merely be a negative one, as it must also be positive. You can say what the Self is not day and night, until you are blue in the face but it is what it is that is the most relevant point. The Self is Awareness, not concepts, forms or energies. There is a definite practice to Realize the Self though and it is distinguished by the criteria of an awareness of awareness. To ask the question over and over again, "who is happy," "who is aware," etc...is to introduce an absurdity ad infinitum.

This whole notion of never-ending, ever-subtler "egoes" that one must watch out for is silliness. There is awareness and awareness is Self. Keep it simple!

What is the Practice?

1. Recognize that awareness is focused.

2. Understand that whenever there is a focus of awareness, there is also a psychological position.

3. Notice that a psychological position is a localization of psychic energy that is unnecessary.

4. Know that there is no psychological position that can define, describe or circumscribe who and what you are.

5. Question all of your own psychological positions.

6. Begin to defocus your awareness with one of the following three approaches: By turning your focus inward coming to an awareness of Awareness; With an expansion of awareness outwardly, everywhere throughout Space; Through entering into the experience of total Oneness between "self" and "other."

7. Continue going backward; retreating from every object of experience; dropping everything; expanding in all directions; filling space; letting go; merging with every object of experience; entering into the space between "self" and "other"; getting behind, before or beneath "subject" and "object."  

8. Where there is two-ness, find Oneness. Where there is form, find Space. Where there are objects, find Awareness.

9. Reach the perspective of unfocused objectless awareness.

10. Realize that this is your True Nature or Real Self, while experiencing uncaused happiness that is the intrinsic, innate and inherent Bliss of the Self.


1 comment:

Giovanni Dienstmann said...

Neo-advaita is a distortion of traditional advaita. It is watering it down. It can be an entry point for many people, but the problem is that, after a certain time in it, it becomes hard to move out.

In this article I explored 6 main problems with the neo-advaita approach. Thought you might be interested in having a look: http://liveanddare.com/neo-advaita/