One of the main messages I’m getting from the Advaita teachings (hang on, I’ll qualify that: apparently, most of the people I’ve been reading and listening too are considered neo-Advaitans), is that one can spontaneously awaken (obtain enlightenment, self-realise … whatever) without practice of any shape or form. So all the meditation, yoga, study, service, prayer etc that you might encounter on other paths is excess baggage; the products of seeking and ego.
Remarkably, understanding is all that is needed. Remarkably, what is not needed is lots of doing -as in meditating, chanting, purifying the nervous system, engaging in therapy, studying sacred texts, and so on. Self-realization (American spelling) is all in the being and not at all in the doing… (James Braha, Living Reality, 2004: xvii)
If you listen to people like Sailor Bob Adamson, Gilbert Schultz, Mark West, Adyashanti, Nirmala, etc, you swiftly come to the understanding that you can simply just self-realise. You eliminate the ego (in the sense that you recognise that it isn’t anywhere -it’s nothing), the thoughts, even awareness – which are all really nothing, just concepts – and find unity with ALL THAT IS. You are THAT.
Now, I don’t have a problem with the idea of spontaneous self-awakening. Spontaneous unity with the all THAT or whatever label you care to stick on it … Yes, I’m sure people have had that happen to them. A few rare individuals. Nor do I have a problem with the idea of ‘this is all that there is, there is no salvation, no meaning to life, we are life experiencing itself’. To me, this is just commonsense.
But the alarm bells are ringing – loud and clear- over the notion that self-realisation just comes without practice, preparation, or the absence of exercises you undertake in order to arrive at this truth. You read a few books, hang out with Sailor Bob or Adyashanti for a few months, and BANG!- you’re enlightened.
(As I’m writing this, I just got a massive pang of camping withdrawal… you see, the camping season is over in Central Australia cos it’s too hot now, and I need my out bush fixes L ). Totally random, but hey – I thought I’d share it.
New Age Commersialism?
To me, this popularity, commodificiation and simplification of Advaita Vedanta smacks of New Age -buy-your-way-to-nirvana spirituality. It is the latest fad, with Oprah getting into Eckhardt Tolle (who I think has some valid things to say) and neo-Advaitan teachers popping up like adolescent pimples. It’s kind of like those flashy ads you find on websites saying: “meditate like a Zen monk in 5 minutes“.
How appealing is it to the ego to say: well, you don’t have to meditate, you don’t have to perform any self-enquiry, no purification of the mind or body, hell, you don’t even have to read the Yoga Sutra or be nice to anyone … you can just read this little book, listen to that teacher there, intellectualise it and bingo! You’re enlightened.
It’s kind of like saying that those Ab-Blaster 2000 things are going to make you lose weight without any other exercise or lifestyle modifications. They’re not. Fact.
But we all like the idea of instantaneous flat abs, so why not instantaneous enlightenment?
But here’s the catch.
Each of those teachers (Sailor Bob, Adyashanti, Mark West, Nirmala) spent years before their awakening, in ashrams, meditating, having satsang and transmission with teachers. That’s right: years.
They did the hard yards, the work, the practice. They all came to self-realisation after this work. Somewhere, this fact gets lost in the mix and frantic retelling of their truths by their followers.
What they’re teaching isn’t wrong – it’s probably the utter truth- it’s just not that easy to get.
Ok, they’ve said: here’s the essence of the teachings and here’s the ultimate truth.
And yes, I believe they’ve got that right.
They have cut through the guru-ego bullshit and misbehaviour, the need to go on a quest to India (but hey, I’m not going to complain about another trip to India!), join an ashram or a monastery.
But what their followers are missing is this: they all arrived at this understanding after years of practice.
Don’t believe me? Fine. Go check the facts for yourself.
I guess what bugs me is that many of the followers (and some of these teachers) say: it’s the ego’s illusion that you need to meditate or practice yoga to grow towards truth. The teachers themselves have realised the truth, and might not need to mediate any more, but you can bet your boots that the followers who are struggling with concepts and mind arising and thoughts arising and that time at Christmas when Great Aunt Tolly’s false teeth got stuck on their tongue do need to practice.
I might not agree with the crass commodification that Ashtanga Yoga has become, but I agree with Patthabi Jois’s oft-quoted statement: With practice, all will come.