If you’re going to invest valuable time into my teachings, you probably want to know something about me. That makes sense and I totally understand. But will knowing what I look like, who my teacher is, what practices I’ve done or whether I’ve had a life changing transformation tell you if I’m a credible teacher?
Maybe…or maybe not.
Does seeing my picture actually tell you anything about me? Not really. What does ‘credible’ even look like? If I’ve had a good teacher, does that mean I’ve actually understood what they’ve taught me? Nope. Good teachers usually have lots of students, most of which have no idea what the teacher is really talking about. If I say I’ve done lots of spiritual practices and they’ve transformed my life, can you say for certain this is true? Sorry, but no. It’s quite easy to formulate a story like that and I’m pretty sure more than a few people in the so-called ‘spiritual’ world have done it. Even if my story were true, does undergoing a life altering transformation qualify me to teach? Not necessarily. Undergoing a transformation doesn’t automatically mean someone is going to be adept at conveying what they’ve learned to others, which is the point of teaching in the first place.
Such are the limitations of learning about a teacher. I’d like to think that being candid about this at least proves that I’m honest, but if I’m being honest, it doesn’t 🙂 You can’t really know much about me by seeing my picture and reading a few paragraphs about my life. Since this is the case, all you can really do is listen to what I have to say and decide if what I’m talking about makes sense. And more importantly, is what I’m saying helping you lead a happier, more peaceful life. Because that’s what this teaching is all about. It’s shows you that despite the fact that you seem like a person, subject to all manner of suffering…you aren’t. And the world, which seems very real…isn’t.
Why does this matter? Because it’s you as a person that has problems, both mental and physical. And the outside world is often a source of those problems. But if that person and the world they live in aren’t actually real–at least the way you think they are–then what would that mean? That everything is okay and you can stop worrying so much!
Sounds really weird huh?
Yes, but it’s not as weird as you think. There’s actually some pretty sound logic behind this claim and this teaching can help you verify it for yourself. So you don’t have to rely simply on belief or worse, just take my word for it. Because like I said, you don’t really know anything about me.
But taking what I say with a grain of salt, and perhaps a healthy dose of skepticism, maybe I can change that…at least a little. After all, you came to this page to find out at least something about me.
My name is Isaiah ‘Vishnudeva’ Sanders. I teach a system of meditation and inquiry that is based on my study and practice of Advaita Vedanta, a very old teaching from India that helps you remove unhelpful ideas you have about yourself and the world. What I’ve learned from my study and practice has radically changed my view of myself and the world for the better. But like I said, you can’t know this for sure, so don’t take my word for it. Try the teaching for yourself. That’s the test.
But where did I learn Advaita Vedanta in the first place? I think this is the part where I’m supposed to establish my spiritual street cred by telling you about my highly qualified teacher or by claiming to be part of a prestigious teaching lineage or even better, that my highly qualified teacher commissioned me to continue the prestigious teaching lineage. But I’m not exactly going to do that.
Instead, here’s a story. There was once a guy who got interested in meditation. This led to the study of Eastern scriptures where the Bhagavad Gita in particular caught his interest. After studying the Bhagavad Gita he started practicing Hinduism (Sanatana dharma) and attending a nearby temple. At the temple the guy was fortunate enough to meet some nice folks who pointed him to a class at a local chapter of Chinmaya Mission, where he was first exposed to Vedanta. He felt like he was on the right path but unfortunately, he did not understand Vedanta at all. He was already having enough trouble comprehending Hinduism in general–with it’s myriad practices, symbols and scriptures–so Vedanta was completely over his head.
However, by searching for websites such as this one and by reading biographies not unlike the one you’re reading now, he was able to find an American teacher of Vedanta who was able to present the teaching to him in a manner that was easier for him to understand. And it really helped. The meaning of the teaching became extremely clear and the guy thought he got it. And he did.
Lo and behold they guy’s teacher–who laid claim to the mantle of the teaching tradition–did ask him to start teaching and continue the tradition, which delighted the guy because he wanted to be a teacher anyway. So off he went, writing articles, making videos and meeting with students. Eventually the guy began working for his teacher.
But unbeknownst to him, the guy still a small misunderstanding about the teaching. Luckily, he had started studying the lectures of another Vedanta teacher, Swami Paramarthananda. He learned a few things he had not previously known, one of which finally cleared up the small misunderstanding. Grateful, he wrote to Swami P, thanking him and asking the Swami to also be his teacher. The guy was accepted as a student. All was well.
Except it wasn’t. The guy had decided it would be best for him to leave the employ of his first teacher. After this happened, for reasons the guy keeps to himself (not that they are scandalous, they just aren’t any of your business), he decided to disassociate himself from the teacher completely. This was really hard on the guy. Ending his relationship with a teacher he respected and was close to caused him to become a little disillusioned. Despite still having a great teacher in Swami P, he stepped back from Vedanta for awhile. His understanding of it was still intact but his enthusiasm and zeal for the teaching was not.
But the situation had a silver lining. Eventually he came back to Vedanta. With his reverence for the teaching shaken by ending his relationship with his teacher, he was able to look at Vedanta with new eyes, this time re-analyzing the teaching method, scrutinizing it and even criticizing it. At first this idea was foreign to him because he’d been taught that there was only one traditional method of teaching passed down from teacher to student from time immemorial, that the teaching never changed, and that it was sacrosanct. To be a part of the tradition was to honor this idea.
But looking at this idea with a critical eye showed the guy that there was no uniform consensus in Vedanta as to what the tradition was. Even within the particular tradition of Vedanta he was supposedly a part of, there were obvious differences of opinion among the works of various teachers. On the core issues, they mostly agreed. But on other things they outright didn’t. So it seemed that if anything, the tradition of the teaching was…to not always be traditional.
With this idea in mind, the guy considered that he might not be obligated to stick to a certain style of teaching and that there might be a different way to teach the core truths of Vedanta in a clearer, more practical and contemporary way, minus the commonly used and often confusing theology, cosmology and symbolism. So at first a few things were dropped. And then a few more. And then a few more things were dropped that guy didn’t even expect to drop. But after a good long time and a healthy dose of discussion and encouragement from a couple friends, he came up with a clear and helpful teaching, in some ways exactly like Vedanta, and in some ways very different. That is why I said my teaching is based on Vedanta, not Vedanta proper.
Oops, I guess now you know I was talking about myself the whole time. So, in the end you did find out a few things about me and my history, not that it really matters. What matters is that what I teach is a method inspired by a time tested system of meditation and inquiry called Vedanta. This method can make you feel happier and more peaceful. If you’re interested in being happier and more peaceful, then I encourage you to check it out. If it works for you, then fantastic. If it doesn’t, I highly encourage you to try something else, because happiness and peace are of the utmost importance. Really.
A little note: I don’t want people to get the impression that just because I no longer teach Vedanta in it’s traditional form that I have something against Vedanta. I don’t. Vedanta is great and it helped me get the answers I was looking for. I simply came to a point as a student that I felt I did not agree with certain aspects of it, the theology and cosmology in particular. And as a teacher, I felt like by removing some of these aspects–which were not central to the teaching anyway–that I could make the teaching clearer and easier for others to understand. And I think I have.
But if you are studying a more traditional Vedanta and you like it and it’s helping you be happier and more peace, then by all means stick with it! There are many excellent traditional teachers out there, such as Swami Paramarthananda or Swami Tadatmananda of Arsha Bodha. If you prefer a more Western teacher, check out my friend Ted Schmidt. He’s great too. You can find links to their websites on the ‘Links’ page.
One more note: I do not claim that Swami Paramarthanda endorses or even agrees with the things I say on this site. Some I think he surely would, some I think he wouldn’t. To be clear about our relationship, we have never even met. I simply have hundreds of hours of his recorded lectures and I’ve written to him.
So the bottom line is that I’m not going to try to use his reputation and credibility to bolster my own. I hope what I say stands on it’s own because it corresponds to good reason and serves the practical purpose of improving one’s life.
Either way, many thanks and much respect to a great teacher.