WELCOME to the 22nd edition of our Guest Teaching Series. I’ve heard from a good many of you in the last two weeks, and I really appreciate your writing in and touching base with me. It’s always good to hear that what’s being done here seems to be working. All any of us can do is open ourselves to having awakeness function through us in an unsupervised manner, so to speak. We are responsible for a sense of effort, but clearly the results are none of our business, good or bad. Having said that, let me say that my sense of ownership of this website is such that I still enjoy a bit of positive feedback!
THIS IS THE GREAT THING about Nondual living. We don’t have to distance ourselves from the relative truths of our lives. What happens in our everyday life matters; but once we begin to really discover who we are, it just doesn’t matter so much. Here’s an example of what I mean. I love the PBS series Downton Abbey; it’s great TV. For an hour I’m completely caught up in the characters’ lives. I care what happens. Within the parameters of that experience, what happens matters a great deal to me. But I don’t confuse myself with the characters. All the while I’m watching, even when I’m caught up in the maelstrom, I know I’m neither an English Earl, nor one of his charming, but ever-challenging daughters. There is an identification gap between me and them, between my situation and theirs, and that little gap makes all the difference. I don’t stay up nights fretting over whether the Earl’s valet is going to be hung or not.
IN MY EXPERIENCE, Nondual living is strikingly similar. There is, in a manner of speaking, a “gap” between the activity called “Fred”, which is really Fredness, and me, the one who watches that movie, who indeed is that movie, but I am the whole movie, not a single character within it. I won’t profess that there is precisely the same gap between me and Fredness that there is between me and Downton Abbey, but it’s more similar than it is different. It might be more accurate to speak of it as agapness; there’s not really a witness and a witnessed, nor is there actually a gap. There’s just one thing going on and it’s a verb. Being. When we are living as this one thing going on–language fails us miserably here–then within the parameters of Fredness, as in the parameters of Downton Abbey, or a chess game, or a political race, what happens matters. But it’s not felt to be ‘life and death,’ even if what’s happening is life and death.
I REALIZE THIS DESCRIPTION is not the same thing as a direct prescription. Really I’m just talking out loud to myself, and have made no attempt at discretion. Still, I think these descriptions can be helpful; they were for Fredness! Perhaps it could be seen simply as encouragement–from myself here, to myself there–to find the willingness to go ahead and be surrendered. Ultimately, Nonduality is an offer for us to die; to die that we might see what comes next. It’s quite worth letting go of nothing for the sake of finding everything. There: my invitation to you is now officially sent.
DENNIS WAITE, has been with us before, back in the beginning of May. He has a new book out, Advaita Made Easy, from which this is an excerpt. If you’ll click on the inserted link you’ll find it on Amazon. As always, there are more links below; lots of them! Dennis’ publisher, O-Books, part of John Hunt Publishing, sent me a copy of his new book, and I both read and reviewed it last week. So that link will also take you to my review, which was, deservedly, quite positive. Traditional Advaita is a complex subject, and Advaita Made Easy is a much needed introductory text. This book is all anyone needs to get their feet wet; to see if you resonate with this ancient Indian philosophy. It’s also manages to be more than an simple introductory text. It outlines the key points of Advaita in such a way that it’s useful as an ongoing reference, and rereading it, perhaps several times, will surely be rewarded. I highly recommend it, and I’m delighted to present an excerpt of it here, which is the complete second chapter.
TO FIND OUT MORE about Dennis Waite, simply go to his May post and read that introduction. Here’s a link to his excellent article, Realization & Desire from his May appearance. I’ll just say here that he’s been following Advaita for decades, and that years ago he was one of the prime forces in getting information on Nonduality initially established on the Internet. He’s also the editor of what in my mind is the premier Western Advaita site out there, Advaita Vision. To read a good and simple encapsulation of the Advaitic view, take a look on Friday, July 27, for Dennis’ guest appearance on Inspire Me Today, which is forum O-Books hosts as a way for their authors to share their point of view with their writers. Dennis’ post is quite out of the ordinary for them. Dennis sent it to me ahead of time, and I liked it quite a bit. In fact, I would say that it fits in perfectly with this entire post. Come July 27, you’ll be able to check it out here: Inspire Me Today.
Lastly, for those of you who are new to Dennis and his writing, I’ll provide this little recap:
Educated in Chemistry, Dennis Waite worked until 2000 in computing, after which he began writing. His books to date are: The Book of One (2003), extensively revised in 2010; The Spiritual Seeker’s Essential Guide to Sanskrit (India, 2005); How to Meet Yourself (2007); Back to the Truth (2007); Enlightenment: the Path through the Jungle (2008). His most recent book is ‘Advaita Made Easy’, which is scheduled for publication in July, 2012. The above is the second chapter of this book. Dennis maintains the most popular website on Advaita at www.advaita.org.uk, which has been redesigned and extended as Advaita Vision.
AND NOW. . .
How ought we to act?
An excerpt from Advaita Made Easy
Life is a never-ending cycle of desires followed by actions followed by results (usually disappointing ones because we expected too much). It is a cycle because, once we have attained the desired objective, we quickly supplant the old desire by a new one and the process begins again. We thought that we would be happy when we got whatever it was that we believed that we wanted – and indeed this is often the case. But unfortunately, it does not last – it always turns out that we were mistaken about its ultimate value.
Why do we do it? It is because we feel that we are limited in some way and that the desired object will make us complete. This applies to all desires, from the most basic to the most sophisticated. But there is only one desire which, once satisfied, will bring us the fulfillment that we seek and that is to realize our true nature. This is because that realization will bring with it the discovery that we are in fact unlimited. We are already complete.
The Bhagavad Gita tells us that thinking about objects leads to attachment and we then want to have them. If we are thwarted in this, we become angry. This progresses to delusion, confusion and loss of reason – we are then lost.
Advaita recognizes the existence of a kind of moral law that operates in the universe, it is called ‘dharma’ (but this is a big subject and not one which I will address in this book). The effect of this is that, when our actions are in accord with dharma, we gain ‘merit points’; when they go against dharma, we gain ‘demerit’. So, as a general rule, we could say that actions which help society, other people, the environment etc result in merit, while actions which injure others or ourselves bring demerit. If the motive fits in with this attitude, we can avoid satisfaction or guilt and simply accept whatever happens.
All our actions will inevitably have their consequence at some time in the future, since there is a cause-effect relationship, just as with physical laws of action and reaction. This can be easily understood at the gross level. Living a profligate and indulgent lifestyle, for example, may give pleasure now but will probably lead to regret as the body rebels in later life. But it applies to the subtle world of thought and motive, also.
This, then, is the theory of ‘karma’. Karma is effectively another word for the law of cause and effect. We know that, if we apply heat to a kettle full of cold water, it will eventually boil and turn into steam. If we kick something, it may fly into the air or bruise our toe, depending upon its inertia – but there will be an effect. The law of karma says that everything we do will have an effect; maybe not straight away but eventually, even if in a subsequent life. And the law applies to all of our actions, not just the simply physical.
We often note how some people seem to have no concern for others, spending vast sums of money on themselves without (in our view) really having done anything to earn it. And, at the same time, we see some who devote their lives to the service of others and yet live in relative poverty themselves. And we ask ‘where is the justice in this?’
Now, before you read the next section, please bear in mind that what I am about to say is not the final teaching of Advaita. So, if you cannot countenance the idea of gods or reincarnation, do not worry too much. Just read on! It will take a while for the total picture to become clear.
The basic teaching of advaita tells us that, over the course of our lives, these good and bad points accumulate – these ‘points’ are called karmas or sanskaras, and, although they may not come to fruition in this life (so that the bad people get their comeuppance), they will eventually do so, since reincarnation forms a part of the teaching. This means that we are born into a situation appropriate to a subset of our accumulated karma. If we have been very bad in a previous life (not necessarily the one immediately preceding), this may entail being born as a lower life form, such as a cockroach. The word for the package of situations we encounter in this life – be they the cause of happiness or the opposite – is prarabdha. The human form is not quite the highest, since there are also celestial beings in heavenly realms. But is by far the most important, since it is the only form in which one can escape this cycle of birth and death, which is called ‘samsara’.
Escape from samsara, the ‘eternal round of birth and death’, is achieved by becoming ‘enlightened’. More will be said about this later but, briefly, it means recognizing the true nature of oneself and reality (i.e. being non-dual). Once this has been achieved, one lives out the remainder of one’s life (thereby exhausting the sanskara that brought it about) but is then born no more. This may seem like it is not especially desirable but there is rather more to it than that, as you will shortly see.
Thus it is, that the goals in human life are divided into four by traditional advaita:
1) The first of these relates to the basic necessities of life and the means for obtaining these. Until we have these, we are never going to think about looking for enlightenment!
2) The second goal relates to satisfaction of personal desires, whether crude or refined – obtaining those things that give me pleasure.
3) Once I have satisfied my own needs, only then can I start to think about others. Living within society, I have responsibilities within the community and outside. We could think of this as a series of concentric circles, with myself at the centre and the human race at the edge, and with a decreasing importance as we move outwards.
As noted above, we gain brownie points as a result of doing good deeds so that, in one sense, such activities also benefit myself eventually in that an accumulation of good sanskara will improve my prospects for the next life.
4) A few people eventually realize that the pursuance of the above three goals is ultimately unfulfilling. The house falls into disrepair; clothes become frayed and holey; the satisfaction following a good meal soon grows into renewed hunger. The fulfillment of those basic needs is an eternally ongoing process. Similarly, the enjoyment following a satisfied desire is invariably short lived. And, no matter how many people we help, there are innumerable others still in need. What we want ultimately is the freedom from needs of any kind, all of the time. This is the ultimate goal – it is called ‘moksha’.
Whenever we talk about action, it is inevitable that we must eventually address the topic of free-will. We all know that it feels as though we have (at least some) freedom of choice but what does Advaita have to say on the matter?
Although, the subject itself is quite complex, the fundamentals can be summarized quite easily. When we ‘choose’, the so-called choice may be the result of:
1) Fate or Destiny. This means that the choice itself, as well as the result, is bound to happen no matter what we do. The entire unfolding of creation has been ‘set out’ in concrete since it began.
2) Determinism. This means that the choice and the result can be traced to prior causes. There is no freedom in our choice, which is invariably determined by genetic and environmental aspects.
3) Free will. Although we are clearly influenced by past events, by our particular personalities and by the present circumstances, we are able to choose to act or not, and how to act, within the limitations of our personal capacity.
According to Advaita, our scope for action is limited by our past karma but, within those restrictions, we do have free will. So this coincides with what we might regard as the ‘common sense’ view. We are also constrained by the laws of creation. E.g. we might choose to fly to work under our own power but the law of gravity and construction of the human body prevent us. One metaphor used is that of a motor boat in a fast flowing river. The current of the river will tend to take the boat with it but there is limited scope for maneuver and directing our journey; and the more powerful the motor (i.e. determination), the better we can counter the flow.
As will be seen later, at the empirical level (i.e. the world as it seems to us in our day-to-day life), Advaita accepts the existence of individual persons and a ‘creator’ and ‘ruler’ of the universe called Ishvara. Ishvara is the name given to the totality of the laws that govern how the creation ‘works’ and, in particular in this context, He is responsible for giving us our bodies in this life, according to the accumulated sanskara from previous lives. Thus, we can say that action is, in a sense, a ‘joint’ effort. Ishvara manifests the world to meet the needs of the global karma from previous creations, which itself was generated as a result of our past actions. And we act within the context and limitations imposed by the natural laws of the creation brought about by Ishvara. Thus, at this level, both we and Ishvara can be said to ‘act’ (and ‘enjoy’ the result of our actions). (In reality, neither acts because neither exists as a separate entity – but the explanations for that statement will come later!)
Our actions are therefore mostly triggered by pre-determined prarabdha but we have some free-will. Since we cannot know which will be effective in any instance, we have to assume free-will and endeavor to ensure that we act in accord with dharma.
* * * * *
Copyright 2012, Dennis Waite
All Rights Reserved, Used by Permission
Dennis’ website: http://www.advaita.org.uk/
Dennis’ Advaita Vision blog: http://www.advaita-vision.org/category/dennis/
Dennis’ Guest Appearance on Inspire Me Today (on July 27): http://bit.ly/Ovwbj4
On Amazon: http://amzn.to/PZ21Js
On Barnes & Noble: http://goo.gl/DBMk1
On O-Books: http://www.o-books.com/authors/dennis-waite&i=1
Selections from the Book of One: http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/thebook/thebook.htm
Resources on Dennis on Jerry Katz’s Nonduality.org blog: http://nonduality.org/tag/dennis-waite/
Interview with Dennis on Non Duality Magazine: http://goo.gl/tVems
Article by Dennis on Nirmala’s Endless Satsang website: http://goo.gl/mXD5S
Dennis’ listing on numii.net: http://www.numii.net/word_press/people/dennis-waite
Article on Advaita Vedanta Meditations: http://goo.gl/BPGfI
My belated review of Back to the Truth: http://goo.gl/gCxjL
- Let me welcome Luxembourg, Dominica and Algeria as countries number 91, 92, and 93 to join our ever-expanding family. People in those countries now join thousands of readers around the world in quite literally awakening Clarity.
- We’ve signed Mukti, an Associate Teacher at Open Gate Sanghato be with us in October. Yes, she’s Adyashanti’s wife. I’m very much looking forward to her post which she and her very efficient assistant, Randy Specterman are already at work on.
- One of my very favorite people, Rupert Spira will be with us in two weeks, on August 3.
- July 31 marks the first year anniversary of Awakening Clarity. I’ll me putting up a short post next Thursday night, July 27, to commemorate that. So, this week it’s Dennis, next week it’s me, and the following week it’s Rupert. After Rupert’s post we’ll return to the regular bi-weekly postings, with Ellen Emmetjoining us on August 17. Do stay with us.