Saturday, December 29, 2007

Neo-Advaita & Traditional Advaita

My 2 cents on "clarifing the differing teaching methods of traditional Advaita and so-called 'Neo-Advaita'.

As a seeker I have often expressed to my wife, "This guy is really interesting, but he's not helpful," or "This woman is really helpful." Of course I'm speaking from the point of view of a seeker, and this means that whatever position my my mind is stuck in, or resonating with, some authors open a path out, bring an "Aha," and some don't.

After years of searching, I became aware of a process my mind was undergoing. This was my process, and does not exclude knowing that "Truth is a pathless land." I became aware that as soon as I finished a book, I would go to the bookstore and search for another book. Each time though, I noticed I was looking for a book that was close to my current mental condition, but just enough of a stretch that I could take it on. In other words, something was aware of my mental position, and something knew that my mind could only be pushed so far. And that something that was driving the search, acknowledged my position, and was OK it. It knew what I could take as a stretch. There was a progression to deeper and deeper truth. There was process to the search. And the Advaita part? Who was searching, and who was aware of the search? There was an awareness that respected the search, but it was also pushing the search toward expansion, to depth, to clearer truth.

Who became aware of the process? My mind became aware of the process. Perhaps this is an unconscious aspect of many seekers. If there is a process, then there are also levels. This discussion seems to be about teachers who acknowledge levels, and teach with this in mind, and those that don't. From my seeker standpoint, those who acknowledge levels are more helpful. These are the ones who acknowledge me as a seeker. And the seeker, to be helped, needs someone who can acknowledge where they are, and THEN point beyond. If I am told I don't exist, and there is no point or meaning to any of it, why listen. That's where I turn to my wife and say, "helpful," or "not helpful."

I really enjoy listening to Tony Parsons, and Karl Renz and Jeff Foster. These three are examples of the "No Levels School." I sense the enlightenment, and I am not frustrated, but I don't find them helpful, even though I agree with them. Krishnamurti has been widely criticized for being one of the great teachers that never had results (no group of enlightened teachers from his entourage).

However, reading Krishnamurti took my mind entirely apart. And from that place, what Parsons says, and what Carse says is absolutely true. The knowing that came was with such authority that there was no questioning it. I knew that I knew, but I didn't know how I knew. I knew that I could not explain how I knew. But the knowing was absolutely certain, absolutely beyond logic, not provable, not deniable.

As Jeff Foster admits, the search helped him. Of course, it was a story seen from his present awareness. I can only comment that from a seekers point of view, Tony, Jeff, Carse, might do well to acknowledge the seeker. They may be speaking from the position of the absolute, but as long they teach from that position, without acknowledging the seeker's position, they may not be much help. Acknowledge the Absolute, but acknowledge the duality (it is where the seeker is). Only someone close to popping into the Absolute is going to get what Tony, Jeff, Renz, Carse are pointing to.

When I experienced the knowing state, one of the knowings I received was this:
"You are surrounded by Absolute beauty, you always have been, and you always will be, whether you are aware of it or not." This was such an Absolute knowing, with such authority that I could not deny it then, and I cannot deny it now. Further, I could not stay in that "state" as there was no me there. Also, there was such utter and complete satisfaction, that I could not see moving from the floor, eating, or even participating further in life. It wasn't fear that made me leave the place, but the knowledge that I had two kids to feed, and raise, and other responsibilities.

It was as if there was this all knowing, not me, and me. The me decided to let the state go, as the me felt responsible to being able to function in the world. So it was let go.

I have to agree with Dennis that there are levels, and that those teachers who acknowledge that, are usually more helpful. Obviously Hawkins believes in levels. It seems to me that there are levels to all human endeavor. Although there is a knowing that we are all one, and equal, I prefer Advaita groups over spending time with Buba's at the local bar. Could be simple prejudice, but people, groups and organizations appear to me at least, to be at different levels.

I really enjoyed Carse's book, but I have to say he describes a process "in the jungle" that is very similar to many stories of awakening. If you read the literature, process seems to be a very definitive part of the stories. I agree that after awakening, the story seems unnecessary, but the authors certainly had theirs, and their stories do seem to follow a process, although each path may be very different. So, we can say that "Truth is a pathless land," but we can't say that there is no process, when looking at the operational facts.

Carl Renz talks from the nothing to do perspective, but if you read his interviews, he certainly describes his seeking, his trials and errors, and the process of "seeking" was certainly there. And if you read the histories of other teachers, they were processed through the seeking. Though there is no prescription because we are all unique, there is a process.

From this seeker's perspective, there are levels, and teachers who address a student from where the student is, pointing to where he could be, are more helpful than those who say, "Forget it, there is nothing to do, nowhere to go." The Absolute's knowing does not translate. Knowing that it doesn't translate, as they admit, shouldn't the teacher step down and lead up? Let's acknowledge that the teachers were once seekers, and even though they are no longer seekers, the rest of us are somewhere on the mountain and you have to meet us where we are.

If the finders are at the top of the mountain, telling us on the way up to just leap to the top, that isn't a lot of help. But if the teacher walks down the mountain, and meets us half-way, perhaps we can grab a hand and be shown a way.

In conclusion, I would like to suggest that there is a process, however pathless it may be. Denying the seeker, while he appears to be that to himself, does not offer much help. And it can certainly do damage by making the seeker feel that the teacher is way up there, and he is way down here, and there is no hope, and no help. I say this, but also acknowledge that at some point, more advanced in the process, the right thing to say, is "Stop seeking, give up all hope." But this if for the few. And is not helpful to the many, especially those just starting on the path.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. If you don't lead the horse to the water there is no chance he CAN drink.


Anonymous said...

Having attended many retreats given by Bernadette Roberts over a period of nearly twenty-five years, I know for certain that her paradigm is completely different from "nondualism"-- Advaita or otherwise.

Indeed, she calls the nondualist misconception of her paradigm "forcing the fit," which she defines in a recent book as "redefining, clipping, pasting, twisting-- to make the original fit a dissonant paradigm" (Roberts, "Forcing the Fit," Foreword, 2008).

In her essay, "Nondualism," she writes: "It is unfortunate that those who aspire to a nondual state will never reach it-- because it doesn't exist. In truth it is just another illusion to be dispelled. With or without self, there is no state in the journey truly 'nondual,' neither in our earthly journey nor in heaven" (Roberts, "Essays on the Christian Contemplative Journey," 2007, p. 71.)

In addition, she clearly distinguishes her paradigm from that of nondualism in another work, "What Is Self? The Spiritual Journey In Terms of Consciousness." All books cited above are available at

Maury said...

Thanks for your post. I have read all of Bernadette's books, and love them dearly.

As you know words are just pointers. Neither what I saw or what Bernadette says contains that which is. Words are pointers.

The truth matters. Whether you call it non dualism, or something else, irrelevant.