A work of popular philosophy from an Eastern perspective, this analyses our perennial search for happiness and explains why we can’t find it in modern lifestyles, pleasure or fame. It enlists the help of polls by sociologists, findings of evolutionary psychologists, historians, philosophers and others, as well as drawing on personal experience and examples, to show that true happiness is to be found in realizing that we are not separate from everything else-whether people, objects, or happiness itself.
Dennis Waite has previously published The Book of One (O Books), and is recognized as a world authority on Advaita, maintaining the largest website on the subject. He lives in Bournemouth, England.
Click here to browse inside.
Questions and Answers
Q. I would like to refer to the notion that enlightenment requires a path that leads to it, which you have discussed before. I do not want to argue for or against this, and I do not know if I’m about to present anything new on this. I just have this feeling that it is simply ‘horses for courses’. There are going to be some who do see themselves on a path heading towards an endpoint or goal. Then there are going to be others who may have been on a path for a while until they realize that they are already what they are searching for, and that they always were. Furthermore, there might be some who never knew of any path or anything called enlightenment, who one day find that they are ‘no longer in Kansas anymore’.
So, there are many ways to ‘skin a cat’, and yes I do feel sorry for all these cats. The point is that I do not know what good it makes claiming that one way is better than another. I would rather people make up their own minds, instead of being influenced by experts in a particular field.
A. All that you say may be true to some degree. The bottom line, however, is that enlightenment = Self-knowledge and Self-knowledge is prevented by ignorance. So the ONLY way to attain enlightenment is to remove the ignorance. This is a mental activity and a still, perceptive mind, able to exercise discrimination etc. is the one most likely to succeed. An approach is needed which cultivates this condition of mind and simultaneously provides knowledge appropriate to removing the ignorance. Traditional Advaita is such an approach. Some other “paths” do not provide either.
Q: Is enlightenment personal?
A: This question arises as a result of the mistaken concept that there are individuals who are not currently enlightened but may become so at a future time.
In reality, there is only brahman and it is obviously not meaningful to speak of brahman becoming enlightened – brahman IS unlimited light, consciousness etc. And in reality, there are no persons, egos or individuals – no one who could become enlightened.
At the level of the apparent world, there appear to be jIva-s as a result of Atman seemingly being limited by ignorance. Why this should be the case is not a question that can meaningfully be addressed. The mechanism by which this confusion is resolved, however, is to bring in knowledge to eliminate the ignorance. When this occurs, it can be said that it is now understood (at the level of mind) that there never was a separate individual. This process is called ‘enlightenment’. So it is not altogether meaningful to speak of the person having become enlightened (but then, if anyone has become enlightened, it has to be the person)!
The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (IV.4.19) states that “It is only through the mind that the truth can be realized.” And when so-called realization occurs, it is seen that nothing has actually changed. It is simply that the mistaken view of a “world” and “separation” has now disappeared.
Hence the expression of Sri Poonja (?): ‘Nothing ever happened’ or the Zen term: ‘the gateless gate’.
In another one of those frequent examples of ‘synchronicity’, I read the following extract last night from David Carse’s book ‘Perfect Brilliant Stillness‘ in which he addresses precisely this question (his material is specifically not copyrighted, in case anyone should wonder):
There is a sense in which there is no ‘awakening,’ no enlightenment, because there is no ‘one’ to awaken. Who would this be? Who is awakened?
‘Me,’ david? Of course not: david is a dream character, an idea, a fiction; not the dreamer, and therefore obviously cannot awaken. There is no ‘david’ to do anything, including awaken.
Or is it ‘Who I Really Am’ that has ‘awakened;’ Presence, Awareness, All That Is?
But of course Awareness has never been asleep, has no need to awaken to anything; Awareness is always already All There Is.
Clearly then, there is no one to awaken. ‘Awakening’ is only an analogy, a concept, a pointer. The seeker community tends to take it literally, but like most analogies it only takes you so far.
What has happened is more like this: in the dream, in the case of the dream character ‘david,’ All That Is stops pretending that ‘It’ is asleep. What has always been awake lets the misunderstanding that there is some one to be asleep and some one to awaken, fall away.
That is all. And the dream continues, as before. The misunderstanding has fallen away, but the misunderstanding was not real anyway, so what has happened? Nothing. The character ‘david’ now knows he is only a dream, not ‘real;’ knows it is all a dream. But even this dream character’s ‘knowing’ is part of the dream, part of the unfolding of the script of the dream for that dream character, and nothing has happened. The dream character goes on being the dream character.
Q: Can meditation bring about enlightenment?
A: Meditation is a valuable rest for the mind, providing some welcome freedom from thoughts. But the point to bear in mind is that the root cause of all of our problems is ignorance and the only thing that can remove that is knowledge. Experiencing a still mind is nothing more than an experience. Even an ascetic who goes into a cave to meditate for days at a time will come out and be no more enlightened than when he went in – just thinner!
Meditation is of value when the mind is very active. If thoughts, objections, problems, ideas etc. are continually being thrown up, the mind is not going to be receptive to knowledge – a still mind is sAttvika. But nothing can take ‘you’ (the ego) anywhere, whether to enlightenment or hell, because ‘you’ do not exist. Who you really are must already be ‘enlightened’. The problem is simply that there are thoughts that there is a separate entity that exists and is not enlightened. These thoughts (ignorance) have to be shown to be mistaken. This involves the mind, paradoxically. New knowledge is input, from scriptures or a teacher, and reason shows the previous notions to be false. Obviously this process cannot happen in the absence of mind.
Hence, meditation could never itself bring about recognition of Self; it can only help prepare the mind to be more receptive to the knowledge. In fact, meditation (dhyAna) is not even part of the traditional preparation of Shankara’s Advaita ( sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti). It is the seventh of the eight steps of aShTA~Nga yoga.
Q: I went to a satsang a few weeks ago. At the end of the last session, someone came forward to ask to be accepted as a disciple (at least I think that was what was going on). The teacher put his hands on the man’s head and there was a moment of quiet. I wondered if you could explain what the implication of this ritual is?
A: Regarding your description of the satsang, I do not actually know the teacher or his writing. I have heard that he does have a strong presence but you should be careful not to be taken in by this. The way in which anyone ‘presents’ themselves is part of the nature of the body-mind organism. This is obvious in the case of a deep, commanding voice for example, which is clearly dictated by the construction of the larynx etc. But things such as self-confidence, persuasive power, oratory ability etc. are all learned or conceivably inherited characteristics and have nothing at all to do with non-duality. I cannot imagine what he was doing in respect of the ‘laying on of hands’ but this could never achieve anything other than simple physical reassurance or comfort. If someone makes a habit of this one would have to assume it was an affectation to encourage guru worship – hardly something which could be interpreted as authentic. All of our ‘suffering’ (or whatever you want to call it) is the result of ignorance and ignorance can only be removed by knowledge. Knowledge cannot be transferred by touch unfortunately!