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.
Reminds me of what I’ve been reading in Krishnamurti–then, he kind of says it’s always right there, but also that a very vigorous process (a kind of non-practice–I’m still working on understanding that guy) is necessary. Then, I’m inclined to agree with [whatsisface–one o’ them Zen dudes] that enlightenment is really a term to apply to a particular state of mind in a particular moment, rather than to a person who’s supposedly reached some kind of more permanent state of being above the rest of us. I also agree with Ram Dass that anybody who claims to be enlightened probably isn’t, and certainly that anybody egotistical enough to give himself titles and have people worshipping him is about as far from enlightenment as a person can get….then, I also distrust anybody who gives himself a name like Ram Dass…though he claimed he would’ve gone back to “Bob” if his publishers had let him…and Krishnamurti himself developed quite a cult around himself….Apparently, I’m in a mood to go on disorganized rants this afternoon, probably because I really, really want to go for a walk and it keeps raining….
Hey Dr Jay,
Send us some rain! And cold weather.
Yes, I’m with you. I read Krishnamurti about 20 years ago and put him away cos I was getting into New Age fluff.
The more I study and learn (and find out that there is so much to learn), the more I know I’ve stumbled across the truth (according to me) with the Advaita philosophy.
I’m convinced that the Zen tradition -which doesn’t do it for me- Dzogchen and the various Vedic schools of Advaita provide road maps and concrete exercises for us mere mortals.
Practice, and all will come. I know Jois is right.
Hey there…. one of my favorite topics.
Sure, enlightenment is just around the corner – as long as your channels are clear, your karmas burned off etc etc. Theoretically, this is meant to be possible for any human at any time – to just drop all our ‘stuff’ and experience enlightenment. But you kinda need to be an avatar or some such before that’s likely. And there just aren’t too many of those hanging around these days!
Right up to their deaths, great Gurus practice. They don’t stop just because they’re enlightened. They probably refuse to admit to anyone they *are* enlightened. Its not something they put on their business card. Chogyam Trungpa did the most basic beginners practice towards the end of his life.
So why would beings like that continue to practice? I’ve heard tell its because they are demonstrating. Because they can. Because it becomes what practice truly is once you’ve done enough – no longer practice, but actually *doing* – communion with Parasiva.
My Guru says there’s no “one” singular enlightenment – more a series of awakenings, each more profound than the last (hopefully). And I kinda get that because in my very human & flawed way, I know I’ve had some of the primative, early experiences along that path.
That’s what my poem “I am Shiva” (you can find it on my blog in the “Poetry” category) is all about – a night in my life where everything was crystal clear. Its actually hard to talk about that particular evening… the poem is the closest I’ve come to explaining it.
So until I can live in that experience of total understanding of the world & complete recognition of my Siva nature… I’m gonna practice. Because I know of no other way that’s equally effective for communing with my greater nature.
Hari Om Tat Sat!!
I would agree with the general idea that enlightenment is a lot easier than people think, and that some people are drawn to the idea of making it more hard for themselves than they need to… a form of making oneself SUFFER/WORK to EARN enlightenment/salvation/understanding. Though I’m no longer a christian, one of the ideas that crosses over here is the idea the idea of being born-again… if done right, and with a true heart, it is a Very Simple Process… and doesn’t require WORKS… but the willingness to make that leap from non-believer to believer.
I also think that enlightenment is an ongoing process… yes… you can step into it quite easily, whether by physical practice or a blow to the head or just the right meditation at just the right time… and the key is to never take it for granted.
And then there is the part of me that believes that “enlightenment” is total BS. Both because Everyone can be considered the best they can be in any given moment and because the dogma attached to reaching enlightenment is often utter BS…. but without it thousands of religions/dogmas would not exist.
I think inherent in the grasping for enlightenment through practice practice practice is not only ego grabbing onto Seeking, but people in general believing that they will never be Good Enough… not necessarily believing in Improving for evolution’s sake… but the simple belief that we are terribly flawed and so we must fix that.
I’d like to see that part of Seeking lessen, in all areas of Practice and Being.
Great article! Glad to have found this blog.
Just a few thoughts for what they’re worth (and we both know what thoughts are really worth). In truth, there’s nothing you can do to awaken: no practice, no matter how much and how long, will help (or is needed). On the other hand, in the dream, you must work hard at awakening. But ultimately, awakening only happens through Grace. I think that says it all.
Intereting essay, thank you