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About Advaita and Satsang-wallahs


Advaita: the Highest Philosophy

First, an apology, once again, for the cavalier modus operandi of the english language, stealing words from other languages and redefining them as required. The word "Advaita" in particular is potentially contentious, so here is a link to an informative page on which the traditionalist and modern/english usages of the word are expressed, along with some thoughts on recent trends in modern Advaita teachings.

Advaita (non–dualism) is the "highest philosophy", always staying close to the ultimate truth of "all is one" and emphasising the dissolution/integration of polarities. Traditionally, there is emphasis on deeply investigating what "one is", asking the question "who/what are you" is often the primary or only method.

Other schools that have encountered Advaitists in debate have had criticised them for having an "unassailable" philosophy. No fun at all to debate with. Disillusioning.

Not endemic, but prevalent, is a tendency for Advaita teachings to be a bit rejecting, a bit remote from, a bit avoiding of "sensible reality", samsara, maya, the world as it appears to us, instead seeming to prefer the spiritual, or "other worldly" zone of (non) involvement.

Advaita applied to Tantra is more rich. The division of existence into the worldly and other-worldly is unnecessary. If "all that is" is a manifestation of the ultimate oneness, then there's no sense in preferring one end of the polarity to the other. Truth will be abundantly available in both.

Tantra is all about methods: ways to increase awareness, evoke satori and ultimately, methods to become available to "spontaneous" awakening.

This appears contradictory, crazy, unhinged. The logic is clearly broken. That which is not, seeming to strive to become what it already is? … Ok, it is a deep paradox. Deep. Handle it. Or rather, don't bother about it at all. Just get on clearing your angers, frustrations, hurts and fears. Working from where you are right now with what's available to you here and now is far more useful than striving to live in a remote philosophical abstraction, no matter how elegantly complete it may appear.


Halfway up the Mountain – when you're starting out, it's not a bad first objective!

There's a qualitative difference between satori and samadhi, which I write about in more detail elsewhere. Nonetheless, it's very excusable, understandable, that they can be confused. Satori, after all, are very impactful experiences, particularly early on the path. More than one Enlightened Teacher has later said "oops, not quite", and retired from teaching until fully done, or until they realise that there's nonetheless helpful teaching work they can still do.

Someone halfway up the mountain can be of great support, great use on your path. Often, more help and support than someone on the peak, though less inspiring, perhaps. Less satisfying to the ego than studying with someone that is "definitely fully enlightened". The reason they can often be more helpful than the fellow on top is that they are closer to you and more aware of what it's like to be where you are.

Even when learning from the Great Ones, the Rishees and other Spiritual Supermen, it is often through their disciples who have progressed somewhat that you will finds useful tips and techniques for handling what you, personally, have to face.

Osho used this fact to great effect, founding the Multiversity. This continues to be an oasis of learning and spiritual rejuvenation with many powerful and effective resident and guest teachers (South Africa, being already halfway to India is naturally very well represented). There is certainly no suggestion that the Multiversity's therapists and group teachers need to be enlightened in order to be of great support to their fellow seekers. Quite the contrary, there's a lot of caution and resistance around the idea of Sannyasins who've awakened being allowed to teach from that perspective.

Of course, where people see problems is with the halfway fellows who claim the full deal. The mad cult leader problem. The spiritual snake oil salesman. I believe these fellows are for the most part, just businessmen, enthusiastic about their product. As long as there's no harm, and people want to buy…

For non-seekers, or fashionable-seekers, the worst of Advaita-style teaching from someone of incomplete understanding or mixed motivations, is not as harmful as many alternatives. Seekers of any sincerity, any discernment, are usually pretty good at avoiding useless or limiting teachers. We tend to get the teachers we deserve and, generally, teachers get the students they deserve.


Halfway Down the Mountain – if the rope doesn't reach to you, it is not all that helpful.

Listening to most of the modern teachers of Advaita, one often hears expression and re-expression of Truth as follows:

  • There is no reality behind what your senses report.
  • Nothing is happening, and all appearance of things happening is illusory.
  • There's nowhere to go, nothing to attain.
  • Just a shift of perception, no effort, and you can be enlightened.
  • There's no awakening. All is anyway awake.
  • There is no enlightenment, no path, no guru and nothing to practice.
  • Existential Truth is immediately, currently and always available to you.
  • All you need do is realise what you already know.
  • There is no good or evil and nothing to be benefited or harmed.

Which is all, in the ultimate meaning of these words, true.

True, but, as far as it supports most seekers, for most of their journey, particularly the tough bits, these wise sayings are basically bullshit. Utterly useless.

Very clever, very zen, of course, because these teachers generally don't claim that anything could possibly be of any use. their method can be basically summed up as: It happened to me, mysteriously, suddenly. It can happen to you. Maybe by hanging out with me, listening to me describe the incredibly deeply profound spaces of my non-me non-experiences, it could happen to you too.

Of course, this bare-bones, unfleshed kind of teaching does work for some. As is written in some old holy books, some seekers come to a teacher ready to slip into their own enlightenment on just a glimpse of a living example, or even upon just hearing that there is one, that such a phenomenon exists.

For someone very close, very well explored, already very close to Truth as such, a more or less traditional Satsang or Darshan can do the final "trick", can reveal the possibility of that last step of submission, of availability.

It is for seekers starting out, and seekers in progress i.e. most seekers, for most of their journey that these fellows at best provide a hint, an encouragement. Nothing more. At their worst, they encourage spiritual laziness. Indulgence and protection of ego with the idea that "there's nothing to do, no method, and enlightenment has already happened".

These fellows are not being intentionally nasty. There is no intention on their part to keep beginners in awe of the logically unattainable, and dissuade them from practice. Just, the surface of the message they put out goes far further than their closer teachings, and for most seekers does not support the urge to awareness.

As far as I can tell, this state of affairs has two roots.

One is the understandable hurry to teach. Eager Bodhisattvas. The other is teachers that lack the basic compassion required of a teacher. Who regard teaching as a business ideally suited to their understanding. Arahats.

Over-eager Bodhisattvas.

A paradox of the path is that a total effort is required, and then a total dropping of all effort, all desire for the prize is utterly essential. This is not a strange, or unknowable phenomenon. It happens all the time. You are reading, which is a highly complex skill (congratulations) but happens more or less automatically once it's been learned. If you want to teach people to read, things won't go that well if you sit with them, read to them for five minutes, so they get the vibe, the feeling of "reading as such", then hand them your copy of War and Peace.

Of course, few would make that mistake with reading, having learned by slogging it out oneself, learning letter shapes, words, spelling and such. Enlightenment is a bit different from reading, though. It typically comes along in a space of accepted defeat, of giving up on all transcendent visions, accepting the utter futility of all effort that has been made. Hence it's a bit understandable that the freshly free can take a long time to catch on to the fact that, if teaching is going to be of use, what needs to be taught is mostly that which the Teacher has transcended and has no personal need for.

Eager teachers face another issue. If they've written, and pronounced loudly on the "nothing to attain no effort no method" at the start of their teaching, it can be difficult later to say later on that actually, there is something useful for the Beloved Students to do. To go from expressing "no method, no effort, no attainment" to encouraging use of methods can certainly look a bit strange.

Another factor is the understandable urge to express one's state of understanding, of perception of Truth. For many, it feels more real or more authentic perhaps, to stay in the high rarefied atmosphere of higher philosophy; glad to be out of the messier, murkier, less transcendent looking regions of existence. This gives us writers like J and UG Krishnamurti, Eckhart Tolle, Alan Watts. Absolutely beautiful expressions of Truth at it's highest. Absolutely useless until you are already enlightened and can therefore appreciate their eloquent attempts at describing the essentially indescribable, or unless you're so very close that, really, help may not have been needed at all.

Don't get me wrong here. I love these guys. Deeply. I've found all the abovementioned writers very useful with their explorations, explanations and elucidations of the enlightened condition, after the fact. Before that, they were interesting paradox and mind-game merchants. Fun, but not much use in any practical sense.

Bodhisattvas also have other outlets for their urge to help. Not all are inclined or suited to traditional forms of teaching, or taking on the Guru trip. Some become, or were already poets, artists, musicians, writers, entertainers … and support many with their "teaching" in an artistic context. John Lennon. Samuel Clemens. Bill Hicks.


arahats … Aha-rats

In some circles, these fellows are greatly looked down upon. At least one of the Great Masters have said "it is not a sin to kill an arahat". Strong words!

Arahats are of course perfectly OK with this. "go ahead, kill this body" they say. "It's purpose is anyway finished".

An arahat's basic attitude to teaching enlightenment can be characterised as "It happened to me. Nothing caused it, nothing prepared me for it, there's nothing I can do for you, there's no one here. Go get your own fewkin insights."

Where the Bodhisattva has an attitude of compassion and cultivates a desire after enlightenment to support all other beings to the same realisation and beyond, the arahat, on awakening, sticks to the immediate and apparent truth of "there's no attainment, no teaching and no path" and doesn't explore beyond that.

Sometimes, an arahat gathers a following, and finds the relationship to be symbiotic. Sometimes, this may convert the arahat into a Bodhisattva, if his students are able to push him a bit and thereby make him into the teacher they deserve.

There is nothing wrong with arahats. They are after all, enlightened! Everyone who jumps in the ocean gets equally wet. their attainment is as good, as deep, as real as anyone else's. This doesn't make everyone a diving instructor.

I have not found convincing answers to what it is that produces an arahat or a Bodhisattva. Structured and unstructured schools have produced both. So have schools which impose "Bodhisattva Vows" and those who don't. In the spiritual wilds, spontaneous awakenings have resulted, again, in both flavours. Research continues …

The traditional view (even Osho's view) is that upon awakening, one is either an arahat or a Bodhisattva and there's no problem with it, nothing to do about it. From my personal experience, I have to argue with this. As with all polar phenomena, they are truly one. Just different expressions. Susceptible of integration, it seems to me.

Doing some research before writing this, I notice things are changing a little, here and there. One or two teachers, that years ago were one–method satsang–wallahas of note have now started to teach lessons from Tantra and other method–positive approaches. The "nothing to do, nothing to desire" attitude may be on the decline. It will never again be where it belonged, back in the Masters' bag of tricks, a secret teaching reserved for a specific moment of readiness in the student. No problem. There are plenty of other tricks in that bag.

So, dear seekers of truth, the bad news is that it is existentially true that one day you may regard all your effort as wasted, as utterly futile. Sorry about that. The good news is that with sincere effort on your part, a lot of living and perhaps some guidance along the way, you can become available and open the possibility of Samadhi, your oneness with the Divine.

After all … it happened to me, it could happen to you   ;-)










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