Doubt About Advaita

S: Dear sir, greetings from India. I am a student of Advaita Vedanta and I’ve attended a few classes of Swami Paramarthananda in Chennai.

Vishnudeva:  Greetings from America.

S: I have a doubt regarding the Sankhya philosophy.  My basic question is this: What are drawbacks of moksha of Sankhya?  I feel the dualism / non-dualism difference is only nominal. What does it matter, if I get absolute peace following either “system”?

Vishnudeva:  If you get absolute peace it doesn’t matter what “system” you follow, whether it be dualism or non-dualism.  There’s no drawbacks to the moksha of Sankhya if you attain it and it truly makes you feel free.

S: My understanding is that the separation of purusha and prakriti in Sankhya is similar to the separation of the atma (self) from the anatma (not-self) in Vedanta.

Vishnudeva:  Yes, it’s similar.  But Vedanta never says that anatma (not-self) is an independent, material entity like the prakriti of Sankhya. 

S: It would be much easier to stop there (at the separation of purusha from prakriti). We would be free from the mortality and suffering of the body.  What is the need to prove the illusory nature of the world?

Vishnudeva:  The only way to find out is to try it for yourself.  If you feel drawn to Sankhya, apply yourself to it fully and use its teachings to separate purusha from prakriti.  See for yourself if it gives you the freedom from suffering that you’re seeking.  If it does, then you can stop there without proving the illusory nature of the world.

If it doesn’t, you can move on to Advaita Vedanta if you choose.

S: What are the benefits of accepting only one brahman as opposed to an infinite number of purushas?

Vishnudeva:  There’s only a benefit if there’s a benefit to you.  If realizing that you’re one of an infinite number of purushas gives you peace, then you won’t need to accept one brahman.  Although I would add that Vedanta isn’t about accepting brahman as one.  It’s about investigating the nature of brahman (which is just your true nature) and seeing what it is for yourself.  No acceptance is required when you see something firsthand, just like no acceptance is required when you walk outside and see the sun with your own two eyes.  In that case, it just is what it is and no acceptance or denial is possible.

If you wish, I can give you all of the technical, philosophical answers for why I think that Advaita is a more tenable position than the dualism of Sankhya.  But establishing that a particular position is logically tenable doesn’t always equate with peace of mind (which is the real point of the spiritual journey). 

Besides, Advaita isn’t looking for converts so there’s no reason to try to convince anyone of anything.  So you should follow the path that appeals to you most, the one that seems the most reasonable.  Otherwise, you won’t be able to properly commit to it.

If you happen to decide that the path for you is Advaita Vedanta, then I am here to help you in whatever way I can.

S: Thank you so much for your detailed reply. It helped clear many of my doubts. I really didn’t expect a thorough reply in a short time. Your mail was much appreciated.

Advaita Vedanta is the path I have chosen to follow. The doubts in Sankhya arose because of its seeming similarity to Vedanta. Now they are put to rest. (I am particularly reassured when you say we can “see” the truth for ourselves and don’t have to accept anyone else’s idea.)

Vishnudeva:  Yes.  This is a big advantage of Advaita Vedanta.  It makes claims about your true nature but then it gives you the tools to understand your true nature for yourself.

S: I am guessing the many questions I have will get sorted as I walk along the path. I shall surely approach you if I am stuck with any doubt. Meanwhile, what advice do you have for someone starting on the path?

Vishnudeva:  Yes, your questions will be sorted if you stay fully dedicated to the path.

In general, the most important thing is to make sure that your mind is calm and focused.  Otherwise, you won’t be able to properly listen to the teaching, contemplate its meaning or meditate.

There are many, many practices to promote a calm, focused mind.  So many in fact that it will be impossible to discuss them all here.  But two key practices are karma yoga and meditation.

Karma Yoga

Many people make karma yoga sound very complicated but it isn’t.  It’s simply a positive attitude you take towards action that prevents you from being overly concerned with the results of action.

Karma yoga is very much like performing a regular action.  You decide what you’re going to do, you plan out how you’re going to do it, and then you do it.  Afterwards, you wait and see what the result of the action will be.

The difference is that with karma yoga, you choose to not worry about whether or not you’ll get the result that you desired in the first place.  Why?  Because once you perform the action, you understand that you’ve done what you can and that the result is out of your hands.  At that point, there’s absolutely no logical reason to worry because there’s nothing else for you to do.  Worry disturbs the mind and directs it outward to the world so it’s useless, especially when trying to go “inward” to investigate your true nature. 

So say I want a new job.  I find the job I want, brush up my CV and turn it in to management.  Because I’m practicing karma yoga, I don’t worry whether I’ll get called for an interview or not.  I did my part in the process so I am at peace.  I wait patiently for the result.

Management calls me for an interview.  Because I’m practicing karma yoga, I do my best to prepare for the interview.  Once I’ve done that appropriately, I know that worrying won’t help anything.  I am at peace and I patiently await the interview. 

I do very well at the interview.  Management tells me that they’ll call to tell me their decision.  Because I’m practicing karma yoga, I know that I did what I could at the interview and that worry will not change the results in any way whatsoever.  I am at peace and I wait patiently.

Management calls and tells me I didn’t get the job.  Because I am practicing karma yoga, I don’t feel angry or sad.  I know that I did what I could and I am at peace about that.  I take the attitude that what was supposed to happen happened. I learn what I need to from the situation, view it as a chance for personal growth, and move on.

If I am religiously inclined, I view all of my actions as an offering to Isvara (the entire universe and all of its inhabitants) and the results of my actions as a gift from Isvara, a gift that is exactly what I need at the time, whether I know it or not.  And because of that I am thankful.

The result of taking this approach to action is peace of mind, which is essential to self-inquiry (Vedanta).

Meditation

This topic is too big to even summarize.

But in general, establish a regular meditation routine.  It’s best to do it at the same time and same place each day.  When the mind is stilled in meditation, it is the perfect platform for doing Vedantic self-inquiry. 

Also, meditation is where you take what you’re told from the teaching and experience it directly.  For instance, if Vedanta says, “You’re not the body” or “You’re not your thoughts” you can see that for yourself while meditating.  Then you take that understanding with you from the meditation seat to your regular everyday life.

Listening and contemplating

Listen to Vedanta teachings daily.  Of course I’ll recommend Swami Paramarthanada but you should choose the teacher that appeals to you the most.  Listen with an open mind and be willing to set your current beliefs and opinions about yourself aside.

After listening to a teaching, contemplate it’s meaning during your day.  This contemplation is to be done during regular activities as well as during meditation.

I hope this serves as an overview and helps get you started.  Let me know if you have further questions.

All my best – Vishnudeva

Book Sale: Journey of a Master-Swami Chinmayananda

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I’m getting ready to move yet again and I have a massive book collection I’m tired of carting around.  It’s time to lighten the load so I’m getting rid of some great books I’ve already read.  

Next up is “Journey of a Master: Swami Chinmayananda.” This is a very comprehensive biography of Swami Chinmayananda, from his time as a political activist fighting for India’s independence to becoming a world-renowned teacher of Advaita Vedanta and the figurehead of Chinmaya Mission.

This book is available on Amazon for 36 dollars.  You can buy it from me on Ebay for 24.99. This books is in Like New condition with completely clean pages and no significant marks on the cover or spine.   

Currently, I’m not shipping outside of the U.S. because of the shipping costs.  But if you’re willing to pay extra, Contact Me directly and we’ll work out the details. 

Book Sale: Himalayan Hermit-Life of Swami Tapovan

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I’m getting ready to move yet again and I have a massive book collection I’m tired of carting around.  It’s time to lighten the load so I’m getting rid of some great books I’ve already read.  

Next up is “Himalayan Hermit: The Lofty Life of Swami Tapovanam.”  This is an excellent biography that I thoroughly enjoyed reading.  It’s the story of a man who was completely dedicated to the pursuit of self-knowledge.  And when he gained self-knowledge he was completely dedicated to dwelling in that knowledge.  He lived in the Himalayas with few creature comforts and avoided money and attention.  He never sought students unless they came to him.  Were it not for his most famous disiciple, the Vedantic giant known around the world as Swami Chinmayanda, Swami Tapovanam would be completely unknown. He once famously told Swami Chinamayananda not to bother spreading Vedanta to the masses (a practice that was virtually unheard of at the time) because it would not be appreciated.  Notwithstanding the countless number of people who in fact did not appreciate Swami C’s message, I am glad he ignored his guru’s advice! 

To today’s current crop of fame and money seeking “sprititual” teachers with their endless amounts of books, seminars and fancy retreats, take note. This man knew he was fullness itself and he lived accordingly i.e. like he didn’t need anything from anyone.   

This book is available on Amazon for 18 dollars.  You can buy it from me on Ebay for 15.99. This books is in Like New condition with completely clean pages and no significant marks on the cover or spine.   

Currently, I’m not shipping outside of the U.S. because of the shipping costs.  But if you’re willing to pay extra, Contact Me directly and we’ll work out the details. 

Book Sale: Sankara Digvijaya

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I’m getting ready to move yet again and I have a massive book collection I’m tired of carting around.  It’s time to lighten the load so I’m getting rid of some great books I’ve already read.  

Next up is Sankara Digvijaya.  This is the life and times of Shankara, a man who on this website needs no introduction.  Originally written by Vidyaranya Swami, author of Panchadasi.  Edited and translated by Swami Tapasyananda of Ramakrishna Math. 

Book is like new.  There is a two-inch vertical ridge on the upper part of the spine from the printing process.   

This book is available for 36 bucks on Amazon.  You can buy it from me on Ebay for 19.99.  

Currently, I’m not shipping outside of the U.S. because of the shipping costs.  But if you’re willing to pay extra, Contact Me directly and we’ll work out the details.           

Object Happiness Theory

J: I am still searching for freedom in the world.  I can’t stay dedicated to inquiry and I get wrapped up in my daily life and pursuits.  I am finding it very hard to appreciate the value of knowledge and really what it can do for me.

Vishnudeva: Honestly, I don’t want to pitch you the value of Vedanta because it makes it seem like I’m selling a product (and since Vedanta is just about yourself, I can’t sell you what you already have).  But if I must, the value of knowledge is moksha, permanent freedom from all forms of limitation and suffering. Personally, that always motivated me to seek it.

J: I feel like happiness really is having things go my way and getting what I want.  

Vishnudeva: Then I’m sorry but you aren’t ready for self-inquiry, plain and simple.  Because in order to undertake self-inquiry you have to see that all pursuits in the world are impermanent and therefore fraught with fear and anxiety.  When you know that, you give up trying to seek them and go directly for understanding the truth of who you really are (brahman).       

J: I don’t know what to do.  I am fearful and all I can do is seek pleasure.  Could you please help me on this? What is an inquirer supposed to do?  

Vishnudeva: An inquirer is supposed make self-knowledge their number one goal and then inquire non-stop. At all times, an inquirer should discriminate the atma (self) from the anatma (not-self), until they directly realize that they are the self.  Then no more inquiry is required. 

J: How can I make the mind see that it wants freedom and not a particular result in the world?

Vishnudeva: You use the mind to investigate whether or not pursuing objects in the world gives you what you really want (Hint: It doesn’t).  But this is something you either see or you don’t see. If you can’t see that pursuing objects doesn’t give happiness, fulfillment etc., you have the following two options.

Option One: Take the scripture’s word for the fact that what you really want when you pursue objects is actually freedom and not the objects themselves.  Then continue your sadhana until you see for yourself that what the scripture says is true.  

Option Two: Put the Object Happiness Theory to the test by trying to gain freedom through objects. Put all of your time and effort into getting everything you want and avoiding what you don’t want. Get as much money and pleasure as you can. Get a great job, a spouse, a house, a nice car, kids etc. Try to accomplish all of your worldly goals.

You might think I’m kidding but I’m not. If you can’t see that objects won’t give you freedom and you can’t take the scripture’s word for it, then you have to go find out for yourself. As long as you follow dharma, there is no shame in this approach. This is what most people have to do anyway.  Trust me, the world is a much better teacher on this matter than I will ever be: It will mercilessly chew you up and spit you out. Then you will be good and ready to seek freedom through knowledge.

Or maybe you won’t. It’s always possible that you’ll be satisfied with the amount of temporary happiness you gain through your dharmic efforts. Then the question of gaining permanent freedom becomes irrelevant. So the problem is solved by either gaining permanent freedom through knowledge or by getting enough temporary happiness that you no longer care about seeking permanent freedom (for the time being). I know many relatively happy, well-adjusted people that fall into the latter category. Again, there is no shame in being this kind of person. When you are good and ready, you’ll pick up your search for knowledge once more.

-Vishnudeva