Why Self Development Does Not Lead To Enlightenment

Awakening to Enlightenment

With my practitioner hat on (rather than my academic one), in this post I’m going to explain why spiritual growth [and self development] doesn’t lead to enlightenment; but of course a lot hinges on what we mean by those terms.

First of all, we should get clear that ‘enlightenment’ is in many ways more of a Western concept than a traditional Asian one. The Sanskrit word bodha means, depending on the context: being awake, knowing, understanding, wisdom, intelligence, perception, awakening, awareness, blossoming, opening, or expanding. It’s an everyday word, not an abstract noun, and it doesn’t imply some final state of perfection.

When used in spiritual contexts, it connotes being awake to and aware of one’s real nat ure, of the true nature of reality, or both. The English word ‘enlightenment’ implies (to most people) some kind of super-wisdom and/or a higher state of consciousness that elevates the one who has attained it above the mass of humanity. The Sanskrit word is sweeter, simpler, and humbler: it connotes waking up to the reality of what you really are (and always have been), and becoming generally more aware and open. Abiding in this awake alive open awareness is the goal of the spiritual life as conceived in the Yoga traditions.

In our culture, however, the pursuit of ‘enlightenment’ (which really means abiding in direct awareness of reality) has become confused and mixed up with the self-help / self-improvement project. People talk about wanting to grow and become a better person, and often imagine that the terminal point of this growth process is something like enlightenment. This demonstrates a real lack of understanding of the nature of the spiritual path (as conceived in the Asian traditions, anyway). Not only is abiding-awakeness not the endpoint of the growth process, it doesn’t even lie in that direction.


Look, if you stop and think this through, you’ll see it’s obvious: according to all the Yoga traditions, your true nature is always already perfect, the core of your being is pure radiant divinity, and you are always already one with the infinite divine Consciousness which gives rise to and supports the entire universe. TAT-TVAM-ASI: you are That, here and now. Therefore, realization of this truth does not depend on any degree of personal growth. Rather, it is a paradigm shift in which you stop identifying with the phenomena within Awareness (e.g., thoughts, emotions, body-image, etc.) and wake up to the fact that you are Awareness itself—the only constant in the ever-changing world of your experience.

And yes, it is possible to become so awake that you never fall back asleep again. You don’t become a categorically different kind of person, you just finally see the truth so clearly and completely that you can’t unsee it, and thus you dwell in a different paradigm from before

Now, despite fanciful stories about ‘sudden enlightenment’, this doesn’t happen overnight. Just as it can take you a while to wake up from physical sleep before you’re fully awake and clear, in the same way, once you’ve touched into the truth of your Being, you have to keep touching in and deepening your awareness of Awareness for months or years before it becomes your default state. In that process, there is a kind of growth that is necessary: reaching a level of maturity where you know what you really want and your daily-life actions reflect your heart’s deepest longing. In other words, you have to grow up enough to get out of your own way and make room for the awakening process to unfold. But this kind of growth is a necessary ancillary to awakening, not its cause.

So you have to ask yourself: are you subconsciously holding the belief that abiding in awakeness to your real nature has to wait until you’ve completed your therapy, or until your life’s not a mess, or until you can retire to a forest retreat, or until you’ve attained samādhi? Are you spending a lot of time and energy on a self-improvement project that yields only incremental gains, without first accessing the source of unconditional love within? If so, you’re suffering. And you’re not alone.

This is what looks really weird from where I’m sitting: a lot of people doing self-improvement type spirituality are working really hard to acquire the traits that are natural byproducts of abiding in awakeness (bodha-stha). This is going at it back-to-front. First wake up to what you really are, then integrate that realization into all the aspects of your life. Waking up is actually the easy part compared to integration, but way harder than both is trying to integrate a realization you haven’t really had yet. Which is what most people in this game are trying to do. I know, you’ve had powerful experiences in which you tasted your divine essence; but this is really not the same as properly waking up out of the belief that your thoughts, memories, and story have anything to do with who you really are.

It’s this simple: you cannot heal the ‘broken self’ as long as you believe that you are it. Or you can, but it’s ridiculously difficult. By contrast, if you wake up to and become centered in your real nature, then you can lovingly address any misalignments in the body-mind that need addressing. If you’re willing to do the work of integration, every layer of your being becomes permeated with the powerful energy of awakeness. You start to then embody that awakeness, which is beneficial to all beings. If you don’t do the work of integration, even if you’re centered in your divine core, you’re not really benefitting anyone else.

This is important. Some people wake up to their real nature and then dismiss the body-mind and its problems rather than work with them. This is called ‘transcendentalism’ by my teachers (and ‘spiritual bypassing’ by others), because such people seek to simply transcend the body-mind. By contrast, on the Tantrik path, we seek to allow the energy of pure Awareness (chit-shakti) to permeate all the levels of embodiment and aspects of daily life. This is called integration. But again, in order to do that, you have to be able to access the energy of Awareness at will, which takes practice.

So integration is the real spiritual growth, but it has nothing to do with trying to recondition oneself to conform more closely to an ideal found in books on spirituality or in the mouth of a teacher (which is what most people call spiritual growth). Rather, it means doing whatever is necessary to open up the body-mind system in such a way as to allow the energy of awakeness to flow unimpeded and permeate every aspect of your life (when actualized, this is called mahā-vyāpti, the Great Pervasion, in Tantrik Yoga).

Dwelling in the midst of the sea of nectar, with my heart-mind immersed solely in the worship of You [as the substance of every experience], may I attend to all the common occupations of man, savoring the ineffable in every thing. ~ Utpala Deva

This process of integration-and-embodiment involves a lot of looking. When you hold up a thought or self-image and look at it in the Light of Awareness (again, assuming you have access to that Light), you can clearly see to what degree it is misaligned with your deepest nature and discard it (by definition, they’re all misaligned to some degree; but the less misaligned thoughts can be useful for a particular purpose). For most people, this doesn’t happen automatically; they need to actually do the work of looking & discarding; or, in the case of saṃskāras or unresolved experiences, looking & digesting; this is a crucial distinction. This explains why some people can be ‘enlightened’ but unintegrated; and if they become teachers, they usually cause harm. There’s a difference between having access to the Light of Awareness (prakāsha) and doing the work of seeing what does and doesn’t reflect that light in its fullness (this is called vimarsha, or self-reflection).

Artwork by Jungle Eye

Someone who has done a lot of vimarsha and has therefore shed their self-images and digested a lot of their unresolved experiences dwells in a state of freedom called moksha. Such a person is called jīvan-mukta, liberated while still in the body. This is significantly less common than awakening or even abiding-awakening. It is the ultimate goal of the spiritual life, but it’s not an attainment since nothing has been attained; rather, something has been lost. It’s a state of being truly unburdened and free. But even this is not a terminal state, since there’s always more saṃskāras that can be digested and more integration that can be done. Still, there is a tipping point beyond which you could never go back to the state of bondage and delusion. Passing this tipping point is what caused the Buddha to say simply and humbly, kṛtyaṃ kṛtam: that which needed to be done is now done.

What would it look like for you to drop all self-improvement projects based in a sense of unworthiness and spend your practice time learning how to access and abide in your already-perfect innermost Self? This is not as easy as it sounds, since it means going beyond enjoying a feel-good idea of your own divinity and accessing the real deal, which humbles and softens you more than it exalts and affirms you (‘you’ here meaning the body-mind-personality complex).

What if you stopped trying to be a ‘better person’ and simply learned how to fully embody the being you already are?
✽ ✽ ✽

By speaking to important misunderstandings of the goal and clarifying the nature of the path (according to tradition, my teachers, and my own experience) this post addresses #1 in my list of the Eight Great Pitfalls on the spiritual path: that is, lack of alignment of View, Practice, and Goal. Alignment of these three, by the same token, is #1 in my list of the Eight Keys to sustainable Awakening. I’ll be posting on all Eight going forward (I already posted on #2, Energy Leaks.)

Do you want to understand the awakening process in more detail, avoid a major pitfall, and ensure alignment of View, Practice, and Goal? In the Trika lineage of Tantrik Yoga, we find an important teaching about three primary phases to the awakening-and-liberation process. In the first phase, you awaken to your divine core or real Self or ‘soul’, then integrate that awakening (which entails shedding a critical mass of what’s not alignment with your ‘soul’).

In the second phase, you awaken to your oneness with the entire universe, your seamless unity with the whole field of energy, then integrate that awakening. In the third phase, you awaken to the formless ground of being, the field of absolute potential ‘beyond’ manifestation (yet permeating it), then integrate that awakening. (To be more accurate, you don’t awaken to the formless ground, it wakes up to itself through you, and ‘you’ dissolve. No more you; only the One.) In Sanskrit, these three phases are called:

  • āṇava-samāveśa ~ immersion into your soul-essence or innermost Self
  • śākta-samāveśa ~ immersion into the whole field of energy
  • śāmbhava-samāveśa ~ immersion into the ground of being

When a person intentionally or unintentionally tries to reach phase two before phase one, or phase three before either, the results can be messy. It’s more or less impossible to sustain and integrate phase two or three without stabilizing the prior phase(s), my tradition argues. This explains why so many people who experience unity-consciousness (phase two) or the absolute void (phase three) can’t seem to integrate the experience in a sustainable or healthy way. It’s crucial to be stabilized in your absolute center (phase one, ‘Soul Immersion’) if you want to actualize phase two or three in a sustainable manner. (Not that it’s about ‘wanting’ it; you’re either called further or you’re not.)

Written by Hareesh (Christopher Wallis)

What is Awakening?

Most people have heard about a phenomenon called “Awakening”, but what exactly is human Awakening, what does it mean experientially, and how does precise understanding of it clear the path of its most common obstacles?

Nearly every spiritual tradition names awakening to your true nature and/or liberation from mind-created suffering as the goal of the spiritual life, and this has been true for millennia. So why aren’t we surrounded by awakened beings by now? Partially because people on the path today don’t have access to some of the key insights of those who have come before, especially regarding the successive phases of the awakening process and the many areas where a person can get “stuck”.

This workshop outlines in clear and precise language the three main phases or stages of Awakening, drawing on the Trika lineage of classical Tantra.

Through clarifying the nature of the path and the goal, and understanding the obstacles and the pivotal forks in the road, our path suddenly seems shorter and clearer. We see that we have what it takes to walk the path — and our whole life is energized by that conviction.

The sequel to the above video is on the 8 common pitfalls on the path: vimeo.com/livetru/8-pitfalls

What is Liberation?

Rupert discusses liberation.

Adyashanti – Why We Struggle

Published on Oct 30, 2016

Adyashanti – Why We Struggle
Satsang Talk From: Santa Monica CA, 4/10/1999

Values and Habits after Enlightenment – Nonduality Vedanta by James Swartz

Does an enlightened person still work on their values and habits?
Well, I worked on my sugar habit (vasana) for about 13 years after my moksha.
Vasanas don’t just disappear overnight. It takes a long time. Slowly by slowly I reduced the intake of sugar.
Once you assimilated the knowledge that I am the self then it doesn’t matter if you have a sugar vasana or tobacco vasana.
Dispassion is a direct consequence of self-knowledge. At the same time you can still work on it because your jiva might suffer from a sugar or tobacco vasana.
The spiritual work of cleaning up the Jiva’s vasanas

“Sahaja Samadhi and Advaita Vedanta Enlightenment – James Swartz” 

Sri Harilal Poonja Papaji ◦ Call Off The Search ◦ Full Movie


Recognize who you truly are!

Sacred Sangha of Earth,
Beloved Beings of Presence,
Being One, we liberate Humanity

Be present! Be joyful! Be free!

~ Blessings to You ~

Polishing the Mirror: How to Live From Your Spiritual Heart by Ram Dass (Author), Rameshwar Das (Contributor)

Ram Dass (born Richard Alpert, a Harvard University Professor who traveled to India in the early 1960s to explore spirituality), is an American contemporary spiritual teacher who has dedicated himself to the search of inner peace and tranquility. His message of “Be Here Now” caught on among the seekers of spirituality as a cultural shift in consciousness. This book reiterates that message through practicing loving awareness of being here and living fully in the moment (now). As individuals we tend to get lost in the world easily, but the author strongly believes in getting back to one’s “self.” Tuning in to one’s spirit is the recommended practice to master. Ram Dass proposes not to get overwhelmed by expectations but to practice yoga, pray and meditate daily, recite mantras and hymns, and ultimately, listen to your inner self. These are the keys to inner peace and happiness.

Moments of boundless love and realization do occur spontaneously, reflects Ram Dass, but it is our daily life practice that clarifies the mind and heart-and makes these experiences an abiding part of who we are.

For over five decades, Ram Dass has ventured across the globe, into the depths of consciousness, and along the path of service to others. With Polishing the Mirror, he gathers together his most essential practice-based guidance for living fully in the here and now.

Readers will find within these pages a rich combination of perennial wisdom, humor, teaching stories, and detailed “nuts-and-bolts” instruction on Ram Dass’ most valued spiritual practices, including:

.Bhakti Yoga-opening our hearts to universal love
.Practices for living, aging, dying, and embracing the natural flow of life
.Karma Yoga-how humility and service profoundly transform us
.Working with fear and suffering as a path to grace and freedom
.Step-by-step guidance in devotional chant, mantra and mala practices, and much more

For those both familiar and new to Ram Dass’ teachings, here is this vanguard spiritual explorer’s complete guide for polishing the mirror of the soul, discovering who we are and why we are here, and reflecting fully the light of our true nature.

Ram Dass means “Servant of God.” Born Richard Alpert, Ram Dass is the founder of the Love Serve Remember Project and co-founder of the Seva Foundation and the Prison Ashram Project. He is the author of the worldwide spiritual classic Be Here Now, and many other books. For more information, visit ramdass.org.

Click here to browse inside.

Ram Dass and Rameshwar Das on the Mirror of the Guru

Ram Dass and Rameshwar Das (Co-Author of Polishing the Mirror) talk about the moment of transformation after meeting Maharaji, and being reflected in “The Mirror”

Eternal Way to Bliss: Kesari’s Quest for Answers, Solutions and Meaning ~ Vinita Dubey Pande

Published Date Aug 16, 2013

A simple yet comprehensive insight on wisdom that is universal and eternal for transforming self in three stages into ultimate bliss.

Eternal Way to Bliss is about Kesari’s soul stirring journey, an ordinary girl who wants to be free. It’s her quest to seek truth, happiness, and solutions for life’s challenges. This is about her entrapment in the world, the grand design of her mind, and her journey towards freedom.

Like each one of us, she is earnestly seeking guidance for making life evolutionary, transforming from feeling incomplete to being complete…whole. As she seeks and explores, an ancient wisdom tradition becomes her guiding light. Starting from her distress and disillusionment with the world, she articulates her search for answers, meaning, solutions; and for consciousness and bliss. The theme rhymes with the Bhagavad Gita and summarizes its teachings. Having faith in this time-tested path for liberation, she unravels the discoveries made.

Being a householder with a family and a career in the Silicon Valley, Kesari’s quest becomes real and achievable. As a Hindu of Indian origin living in America she presents a global, modern perspective. She brings this deep and complex wisdom to us in a simple, practical, concise yet authentic way.
The problem is that her journey is not yet complete…
Welcome to her world, the truthful tale of an imperfect human.

Vinita was born in Kanpur, India, and has lived in and traveled to several cities around the world. Her family lived in Zambia (Africa) for many years. She went to boarding school at St. Mary’s, Nainital, India and then college in the US. Although her daytime job is in the IT industry her first passion is spirituality and well-being which she has been studying for the last 25 years.

She is a certified teacher of the Art of Living Foundation and conducts classes on yoga, meditation, and spirituality. She has also given several talks and lead workshops at public events, organizations, community centers, libraries, colleges, and companies for over 15 years. Vinita is also enthusiastic about volunteering and has been involved in several service projects for non-profit organizations. She lives in the Silicon Valley with her husband and two sons.

Click here to browse inside.

DENNIS WAITE: Interview with non-duality magazine

Dennis Waite

NDM: When and how did you first become aware of “neo advaita” and can you please tell me what your immediate impression was?

Dennis Waite: I think my first exposure to those teachings (which I did not come to know as ‘neo-advaita’ until much later) was through the Ramana Maharshi Foundation UK around 1999 – 2000. They used to have a regular newsletter, in which they advertized forthcoming satsangs (without necessarily endorsing the teachers) and a quarterly journal of essays, satsang and book extracts etc. Around that time the names of Tony Parsons and Nathan Gill began to appear and, later, there were some intriguing extracts. Initially, I found their material fresh and exciting. It spoke of the ‘here and now’ and seemed immediately relevant. I bought Tony’s book ‘The Open Secret’ and Nathan’s booklet ‘Clarity’ after reading the essays.

NDM: What exactly happened when you read Tony Parson’s book, “The Open Secret”? How did it go from it being fresh and exciting to something other than this? Was there a particular moment, a sentence or a paragraph when you began seeing red flags?

Dennis Waite: I can’t remember much about what I read yesterday, so there is no chance of remembering from 10 years ago! What I have done for the past 5+ years, however, is to mark up (in 3B pencil) any passages in books I read that trigger comment or seem particularly useful. And I know that, for example, by the time I came to read books such as Nathan Gill’s ‘Already Awake’, I was scribbling quite a few comments, not always complimentary! I guess that it was simply the case that, as I read more in general and came to understand Advaita more and more, I became more critical. Probably because of my scientific education, I have always insisted that any teaching that I encounter is totally amenable to reason. There is a proviso here that I am prepared to take something new ‘on trust’ temporarily if I am sufficiently familiar with previous books or teaching of that author/teacher and therefore know that they are ‘trustworthy’. (This is effectively a practical definition for the Sanskrit term ‘shraddhA’.)

NDM: Do you know who first coined the term “neo advaita”?

Dennis Waite: I don’t know who first coined the term. I know that Greg Goode has attributed it to me but I don’t think this is strictly accurate. Probably someone else casually used it in an email and I then started referring to it regularly through my website and then later took it for granted in my books. Certainly it is an obvious term, when the proponents claim to be speaking of non-duality but reject the traditional teaching, so I don’t think any kudos should be attached to its inventor!

NDM: Do you see that this would also apply to other traditions such as Zen, Sufism, Kaballah, Taoism, Gnosticism and so on? Does it apply to anything that deviates from traditions? Or does this just apply to Vedanta?

Dennis Waite: I don’t know anything about other non-dual traditions but since the final message is presumably the same, I guess there might be people trying to teach those and bypass the related methodology. In fact, I suppose that it is only because of a particular teacher’s background, or the background of their attendees, that one can identify a ‘neo-teaching’ as related to Advaita rather than another tradition.

NDM: What are the criteria for being labeled a neo advaita teacher? Is it simply someone who teaches Advaita, but without the traditional methods of meditation, self-enquiry, study of the scripture, use of the Sanskrit terminology and so on?

Or is it someone who has not been initiated by a Guru, but deemed qualified by the sampradAya system, through a succession of linage? As Wright and Wright put it, ‘If one cannot prove natal legitimacy, one may be cast out as a bastard. The same social standard applies to religious organizations. If a religious group cannot prove its descent from one of the recognized traditions, it risks being dismissed as illegitimate”.

Dennis Waite: A neo-advaita teacher typically claims that the world and the person are unreal. Consequently, there is no one searching for the truth and no one who can help them to find it (i.e. neither seeker nor teacher). There is therefore no point in wasting time and effort looking for the truth; the scriptures are of no value and so on. So no, you cannot say that ‘they teach advaita but without the traditional methods’ because the traditional methods are really what constitute advaita. Advaita is a proven methodology for helping seekers to remove the ignorance that is preventing them from realizing the already-existing truth, namely that there is only Brahman (or whatever you want to call the non-dual reality). Neo-advaita makes the same claim but offers nothing at all to help the seeker remove the ignorance.

Given that there is only Brahman, we are obviously already That. But clearly we do not know this to be true. Simply saying that it is true is of little help, but this is effectively all that the neo-advaitins do.

NDM: When Nisagadatta was asked about this by a questioner who wished to join the Navnath Sampradāya, he said, “The Navnath SampradAya is only a tradition, a way of teaching and practice. It does not denote a level of consciousness. If you accept a Navnath SampradAya teacher as your Guru, you join his SampradAya… Your belonging is a matter of your own feeling and conviction. After all it is all verbal and formal. In reality there is neither Guru nor disciple, neither theory nor practice, neither ignorance nor realization. It all depends upon what you take yourself to be. Know yourself correctly. There is no substitute for self-knowledge”.

Question: How does one become a Navnath; By initiation or by succession?

Maharaj: Neither. the Nine Masters’ tradition (Navnath Parampara) is like a river – it flows into the ocean of reality and whoever enters it is carried along.

Question: Or is it simply acceptance by a living master belonging to the same tradition?

Maharaj: Those who practice the sādhana of focusing their minds on “I am” may feel related to others who have followed the same sādhana and succeeded. They may decide to verbalize their sense of kinship by calling themselves Navnaths, It gives them the pleasure of belonging to an established lineage.

So if this is the case, could anyone who has realized the “I Am” call himself or herself a Navnath (As Nisargadatta stated here)?

Or would that still not make them legitimate enough to teach advaita?

Dennis Waite:
The usage of the term ‘sampradAya’ is not in accord with the tradition as it comes down through Shankara. The key point about teachers in a sampradAya is that they are qualified to pass on the teaching of that sampradAya. And the key point about such teaching is that it has been proven time and again to work. Thus, in order genuinely to ‘belong’ to a sampradAya, one has to have studied with a teacher of that sampradAya for however long it takes fully to understand all of the aspects (i.e. many years). (In the past, this would have meant learning scriptures by heart, in the original Sanskrit, and knowing how to explain their meaning to a seeker.) And in order to become a teacher oneself, one should also have the appropriate skills of a good teacher. Ideally, one should be enlightened, too, but Shankara himself pointed out somewhere that this is actually of lesser importance.

NDM: What about the sampradAya roots of these often followed teachers: Sri Ramana and Papaji. Which sampradAya system did Sri Ramana belong to? Which sampradAya system did Papaji belong to?

Dennis Waite : Ramana did not belong to any sampradAya. He is someone who is acknowledged to have attained enlightenment without any of the usual prior teaching and is therefore held up as proof by many modern teachers that prolonged studies with a qualified guru are not necessary. Unfortunately a single example does not disprove the general rule, and history shows that most do need prolonged formal teaching. Papaji is generally regarded as having been a disciple of Ramana. He did not belong to any recognized sampradAya either. As far as I am aware, neither formally recognized anyone as their ‘successors’ either, although numerous teachers now claim that they were ‘authorized’ to teach by Papaji.

NDM: There are a number of teachers in the United States who advertise and claim lineage from both of these teachers. Such as this one see here: http://www.gangaji.org/index.php?modules=content&op=lineage

Would this lineage claim be considered legitimate or rather an illegitimate lineage according to the sampradAya teaching system?

Dennis Waite:
The term sampradAya (for Advaita) implies a lineage effectively stretching back to Shankara and Gaudapada in a continuous guru-disciple chain. So, the answer to this question is that no one claiming to be a follower of Ramana and/or Papaji belongs to a sampradAya.

NDM: So in effect this chain (please see here) http://www.advaita.org.uk/teachers/ramana_parampara.htm is an offshoot? There are about 75 well known teachers here from all across the world who give satsang, write books, give seminars, retreats and so on.

Since none of these can prove natal legitimacy to the sampradAya dating back to Shankara and Gaudapada, should they all be cast out as a “bastards” so to speak? Or to put it in polite terms, considered neo Advaita?

Dennis Waite: You will see the note at the top of the Ramana ‘lineage’: “(Note that a solid line represents a direct teacher-disciple link (‘in the flesh’) and a dotted line an ‘influence’ only. All entries are to the best of my knowledge and may be mistaken.) N.B. Strictly speaking, Ramana Maharshi never authorized anyone to teach in his name. This is therefore not a formal lineage.”

I derived pretty much all of the information for these charts by looking at the websites of the teachers mentioned. So, in many cases, a teacher has been added simply because his or her website states that they were influenced by Ramana – i.e. I trust what they say.

You seem to be making much of this sampradAya issue. Not formally belonging to a sampradAya does not mean that a teacher is ipso facto not worthy of reading/listening to. What it means is that they are much less likely to have a complete grasp of all of the teaching methods and aids, stories, metaphors and so on that would automatically be handed down, learned and totally understood within a sampradAya. But they may still be a good teacher by virtue of their own reading, understanding etc. and because whoever taught them had a good grasp. The point is that the probabilities are imponderable outside of the sampradAya. It is unfortunately the case that there are many self-claimed teachers who are simply in the business of making money (a sampradAya teacher would never ask for money), and who are neither good teachers nor enlightened.

NDM: I don’t see Mooji on the list by the way. Shouldn’t he also be on this list since his Guru was Papaji?

Dennis Waite: The ‘home page’ of the lineage information has the following statement:

“In the charts, I have listed teachers as accurately as possible, given the limited information I have available – i.e. primarily the Internet. I have not contacted every living teacher to ask them where they consider they should be placed. Also, there will no doubt be many teachers who do not have an ‘Internet presence’ so that I will be unaware of them.

Finally, my judgment as to whether a given teacher is a teacher of Advaita is often dependent upon a quick appraisal of the content of their website. Some indicate other traditions as being specially influential (e.g. Zen or Dzogchen) but nevertheless write articles that ‘read’ as if they were Advaita – I have given these the ‘benefit of the doubt’ in some cases. Others may have been excluded because there is simply no material on their website by which to make an assessment. Some teachers may appear on more than one chart. Accordingly, I am asking for help from all visitors to correct errors, suggest additions (or deletions) etc.”

Despite this, I think only about 3 or 4 people have ever contacted me to tell me about errors or omissions. So thank you! I have now added Mooji to the Ramana chart – and my apologies to him if he reads this.

NDM: So what about Nisargadatta and his line? How does this differ since according to your chart, his line only seems to go back to the 13th century and not to the 8th century and Shankara? /www.advaita.org.uk/teachers/navnath_sampradaya.htm However, doesn’t his line go all the way back to Dattatreya?

Dennis Waite:
As before, I have only been able to take whatever information I could find on the Internet. I am not setting myself up as any sort of authority.

You also have to accept that, in the past, Indians had no real interest in documenting any personal history. In advaita, after all, the person is not a real entity. Even in the case of Shankara, academics still argue about when he lived, with conclusions being anything from several centuries BC to around the 8th century AD. (Most agree that it was probably the latter.) The only probably valid historical records of lineage are in the Shankara mathas.

NDM: Can you give me the names of any western teachers today who belong to the lineages dating back as far as Shankara?

Dennis Waite
: Westerners probably only began to learn about this teaching with the advent of people like Ramana and Nisargadatta and we have already spoken about these. Teachers such as Swamis Chinmayananda and Dayananda are associated with Swami Sivananda and the former now have Western disciples who are teaching. For example James Swartz was a disciple of Chinmayananda and Michael Comans of Swami Dayananda. But I don’t know if Sivananda and Tapovanam can be traced back to Shankara. John Lehmann, of the Advaita Meditation Center in Massachusetts receives guidance from Shri Bharati Tirtha Swamigal, who is the present Shankaracharya of Sringeri Sharada Peetham; so maybe he is the only Westerner I am aware of who can trace back to Shankara. But then he has not been formally accepted into the lineage as far as I am aware so that reduces the number to zero!

NDM: Why do you think that no westerner has been accepted up to this point? What are they missing? Is it their skills or something else? Wouldn’t His Holiness Shri Bharati Tirtha Swamigal make this decision, being the pontiff of Advaita Vedanta?

Dennis Waite: The formality of the lineage is part of the Hindu tradition. I understand that only saMnyAsI-s are given the title of ‘Swami’ and a new name, and I don’t think that lifestyle appeals to most Westerners! Also, as I said earlier, Advaita did not really come to the attention of Westerners until very recently, relatively speaking. But I think this is another red herring; it doesn’t say anything about ability or worthiness. Certainly a number of Westerners have studied with Swami Dayananda and become excellent teachers in their own right. Michael Comans is now ‘Sri Vasudevacharya’.

I think the other point about the tradition is that, as implied by the name, procedures are long-established. I don’t think any individual, Shankaracharya or not, could unilaterally decide to do things differently.

But all this discussion is really outside of my field of expertise. If you want to ask Indian cultural-type questions, you need to ask someone else.

NDM: Can you please take a look at this question and answer below with Suzanne Foxton and tell me how morality is understood according to traditional Advaita Vedanta?

Where does morality (right and wrong) play into this equation?

Suzanne Foxton: There is no right or wrong. There is what is. Including many differing ideas about what is right and what is wrong. However, compassion often seems preferable; yet if every apparent individual were consistently compassionate without exception…gag, barf! How dull would THAT be? AND there’d probably be a loved-up population explosion.

We live in Utopia. We are Utopia. We are the perfect, dualistic playground with every possibility shining, weaving, tearing, growing, destroying, creating NOW.

Dennis Waite: Hindu dharma is a vast subject with many entire books written about it. And I am certainly no expert! Very simplistically (according to my understanding), the key point is similar to Kant’s ‘moral imperative’: behave towards others as you would wish them to behave to yourself. You try not to hurt others, either physically or emotionally, just as you would not want others to hurt you. You allow others to believe what they like as long as, by doing so, it does not cause you any harm.

NDM: Do you believe that some neo advaita teachings are violating Hindu Dharma by misleading others about the nature of reality and truth?

Dennis Waite: As I said, I know very little about Hindu dharma but I think that is a red herring here, anyway. In the context of spiritual seeking, the function of a teacher is to help the disciple to realize the truth. The seeker usually has a lifetime of misconceptions and erroneous convictions about this and the process of resolving these is necessarily a gradual one, requiring skill and patience on the part of the teacher. It is ludicrous to expect that one or two satsang attendances, probably with different teachers who know nothing about the seeker’s personal level of understanding, can bring about enlightenment. A qualified teacher will know this and acknowledge that any implication to the contrary is both misleading and effectively immoral.

Having said this, most neo-advaitins deny that they are teaching anyway so one might argue that they avoid this contradiction and escape any possible charge of deception or dishonesty. But then they do advertize their satsangs and residential courses and they do charge seekers to attend them. So, at the very least, it is a somewhat ambiguous situation.

NDM: Can you please tell me about your awakening? When was it and how did it happen?

Dennis Waite:
As I mentioned in a previous answer, it is impossible to know whether or not someone else is enlightened so the answer to this question is irrelevant to anyone else. What do you conclude if someone tells you that they are enlightened? It smacks of egoism, hubris or superiority, none of which are traits one would associate with enlightenment. In addition, there is the very significant problem that most do not have a proper understanding of what is meant by the term. Accordingly, if you answer ‘yes’, they can only interpret this in connection with that misunderstanding. So, suffice to say that I do not have any specific ‘enlightenment experience’ to communicate. (Experiences, in any case, have a beginning and an end in time so have nothing to do with the ever-present freedom of mokSha.)

NDM: Can you tell me more about this mokSha? What is this freedom like? Is it like a state of constant bliss? What does this do to your vAsanA-s? Do you still have any dislikes or likes, aversions or desires?

Dennis Waite: You are still mistaking the terms, here. Enlightenment = Self-knowledge, which means that you know that ‘brahman is the truth; the world is mithyA; the individual is not other than brahman’. You no longer have any doubts about this. What you appear to be talking about here is jIvanmukti – the peace, detachment; lack of worries; indifference to results and so on. This is the condition which results either a) on attaining enlightenment, when sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti had been fully satisfied beforehand or b) following enlightenment, after further nididhyAsana for as long as necessary.

Everyone is already ‘free’, irrespective of whether or not they are enlightened. Also, the jIvanmukta will still have desires etc, albeit to a lesser degree, but the point is that there is no elation if they are fulfilled or disappointment if they are not. Everything is taken ‘as it comes’ with equanimity. (Or so I understand!)

NDM: Yes at an absolute level they are free, but what about on this empirical level. What if someone has self-knowledge, know that they are Brahman, yet still have an uncontrollable predilection for chasing after beautiful women or men, gambling, drinking and drugs? What kind of mokSha is that; being a slave to these unwholesome desires? How is that going to stop them from being reincarnated as a jackrabbit in the next life?

Dennis Waite: One who is enlightened still has a body-mind and vAsanA-s but also knows that ‘he’ does not act; and any action will not affect his Self-knowledge. Action is only at the level of the body and it is the mind that enjoys the result, albeit that both take place only by virtue of Consciousness. As an analogy, the petrol provides the motive power for the tank or the ambulance but is not affected by the motives of either. As explained elsewhere, the extent to which one gains the ‘fruits of enlightenment’ (jIvanmukti) is determined by how mentally prepared one was prior to enlightenment’. One who was just sufficiently prepared to be able to ‘take on board’ the Self-knowledge, will still retain the maximum (commensurate with enlightenment) of negative mental attributes. In order to be able to interact in the world at all, there has to be an ego and some degree of ‘identification’. The jIvanmukta has very little and consequently has virtually no desires/fears etc. The person who only just made it will still have a lot and it is this person who may be perceived to act in ways that we would deem to be inappropriate.

Another way of looking at it is that the j~nAnI (enlightened person) still has to use up the prArabdha karma that brought this body into manifestation in the first place. Thus he will (have to) experience certain desires and attachments and so on. When the prArabdha has been burnt up, the body falls and there is no rebirth for that ‘person’.

It is understandable that there should be strong feelings on this issue and these have no doubt been exacerbated by the behavior of some who had been acclaimed as enlightened but who presumably were not. But it is also unreliable for the unenlightened to make pronouncements on the basis of what they may perceive as inappropriate actions. An obvious example would be Nisargadatta’s apparent addiction to bidis, obviously knowing that they were bad for the health of his body. Yet most Western seekers today seem to accept that he was enlightened.

NDM: How do you know if someone has attained mokSha or is faking it? For example, some of these gurus have the mokSha shtick down pat. Some even quote from the scriptures, have Indian sounding names, smile all the time, have dots on their foreheads, wear beads, orange robes and so on?

Dennis Waite: You cannot know the mind of another. Unfortunately, all you can do is to listen to them teach (or if that is not possible) read their written material or transcripts of their talks. For as long as you continue to learn useful things from them (as determined by your intellectual discrimination), they are good teachers and therefore useful. If you are in their presence, and they say something with which you disagree, you can question them and maybe they will clarify the issue. If you are reading a book they can’t do this. If he or she is a very good teacher, then maybe you will eventually become enlightened also.

Regarding behavior, this is not necessarily indicative of their status as ‘enlightened’. There is ample evidence of accepted enlightened individuals displaying anger or pain or sadness etc. And someone who is not a jIvanmukta may also exhibit behavior that is popularly deemed to be inappropriate for someone who is enlightened. As long as you remember that enlightenment relates only to Self-knowledge, you should be able to answer any similar questions yourself.

NDM: Yes, Ken Wilber said something like “a schmuck before enlightenment, a schmuck after enlightenment” based on the old Zen quote. How does one know whom to trust with so many scandals breaking out?

Dennis Waite: If you do not have direct experience yourself, you will have to rely on the words of someone who does. And in order to be able to believe them, they must have proven themselves to be trustworthy. This is why you accept what you are told by a personal friend when you would question it if told by a stranger. Failing that, you must fall back upon what I said above regarding learning useful things.

NDM: So what about the sublation of Dennis, the moment in apparent time when this “apparent Dennis” put his head in the mouth of the tiger and this apparent Dennis was devoured by this tiger. He realized that he was not this physical form, mind, the five sheaths and so on, which he had been identifying with all his life. When this non-dual light of awareness entered into the picture, he knew for the first time that he was not the snake, but the stick. That he was Brahman.

Are you saying that “Dennis”, not the Self, Brahman, always knew this from his physical birth? That Dennis was always never ignorant about this, that he was enlightened on a relative level as well as an absolute level? That you were born an avatar of some kind like Krishna, Vishnu or Shiva?

Dennis Waite: You still seem to be hung up on the idea of a sudden transforming experience. It does not have to be like this.

I guess the first hint must have been when I was about 6 – 8 years old. My parents sent me to a Methodist Sunday School and I attended for maybe 6 – 9 months. I eventually stopped going and I recall telling my parents that it just did not make any sense – if there was a God, then he couldn’t be in heaven; he had to be everywhere.

But I didn’t actively begin seeking until my early twenties, by which time I was convinced that I was never going to gain any lasting satisfaction from worldly pursuits and decided that I had to look to philosophy for some explanations. I began attending the School of Economic Science in response to the ‘Course of Philosophy’ lectures that they advertized on the London Underground. And I stayed for a couple of years until they wanted me to part with a week’s salary to be initiated into TM. But at that time, they were still mainly influenced by Ouspensky and their teaching was a bit weird to say the least.

After a break to get married, have a child, get divorced and re-marry, I returned to SES in the mid eighties, by which time their teaching was much more influenced by Advaita. And I stayed until around 1998, by which time I had myself been tutoring for a number of years. I left because I had realized as a result of outside reading that the school’s advaita was corrupted by other philosophies such as Sankhya, Yoga and Grammarians. I also followed Francis Lucille for a while at this stage.

After being made redundant in 2000, I tried to set up my own computer consultancy for a couple of years and wrote a book on Earned Value metrics. When this didn’t work out, I started the website and began to write on Advaita full time. It was really this process – setting down all of the aspects of Advaita, asking questions, reading lots of books until any points that I did not understand were cleared up – that consolidated my understanding. Basically, I have been doing this every day, evenings and weekends included since 2002. And, over the period of say 2004 – 2008 for the sake of argument, I came to the realization that I had no further questions. I was totally convinced of the truth of the teaching and found, through the question and answer section of the website, that there was no question that I could not answer (to my own satisfaction!) (Note that this does not mean I can answer all questions to other’s satisfaction. A lot of this teaching is stepwise and you cannot leap to the top step without traversing the intermediate ones. Also, some seekers may require lots of quotations from scriptures to back up an answer, and I am not always able to provide these, one reason being that there are still lots of scriptures that I haven’t read!

And , of course, some seekers are so entrenched and committed to their existing mistaken beliefs that they cannot open up to any new ones. The parable of pouring more tea into a cup that is already full applies here.)

But, again, I am not sure that you appreciate the significance of all of this at the transactional level. Dennis still quite definitely exists. It is a mistaken belief that the person somehow disappears on enlightenment. The person continues until death of the body, driven by prArabdha karma (the arrow continuing to its target once the bow string has been released). And I am certainly not a jIvanmukta. As I point out in a Q &A just posted to the site, I am still prone to the usual human failings. One does not gain the mental/emotional benefits (j~nAna phalam) unless one is fully accomplished with respect to sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti prior to enlightenment. And, unfortunately, I never became fully accomplished!

NDM: Was Francis Lucille of any help at this point in time with his pointers and satsangs?

Dennis Waite: Francis was very helpful. I emailed him a number of questions a year or two before meeting him and he answered them in detail (they appear in his book ‘Eternity Now’). And I was very impressed with the satsangs in general and the way that he answered questions. (This is not to say that I always agreed with what he said.)

NDM: When you say, “Dennis still quite definitely exists. It is a mistaken belief that the person somehow disappears on enlightenment.”

What about the identification with this “persona”, the mask of Dennis? Do you mean you still identify with this, or that you know that it’s mithyA (false, transient, not constant, not permanent) and so on like any other object?

Dennis Waite: Dennis still moves around in the world, doing all of the sorts of things he used to do and outwardly appearing as normal. I know that this body-mind is mithyA but still sometime behave as though I don’t. Note that this habit of not saying ‘I’, or referring to oneself in the third person, is really not something I approve of. It is an affectation really. Pedantically knowing that ‘I am not this person’ does not escape the fact that it is this person who is speaking as far as most hearers are concerned! So to use this method of speaking is tantamount to saying to the other person “Just remember that you are not speaking to another ‘ordinary’ person but to someone special!” And ‘I’ am not special – ‘who I really am’ is ‘who you really are’.

NDM: As far as not being a jIvanmukta; what kind of meditation, karma yoga, bhakti yoga, along with j~nAna yoga, had you done previous to your realization?

Dennis Waite: No bhakti; probably around 15 years of karma and meditation twice per day for 30 minutes.

NDM: Did you ever experience nirvikalpa samAdhi prior to this realization?

Dennis Waite: I’m going to cut short this line of questioning. Answers to questions such as these are really of no help to any other seeker. Each one’s path, glimpses of the truth, realization gradual or sudden etc will differ. Examining the minutiae of any one person’s experience really is pointless.

NDM: Yes, is that because it is also misleading and can send others barking up the wrong tree so to speak? Like if someone has a sudden enlightenment holding a bucket of water over their head while dancing the Macarena; will others think that by holding buckets of water over their heads while dancing the Macarena, that it will also bring them enlightenment?

Dennis Waite: That’s a good way of putting it, yes! The bottom line is that only Self-knowledge can give enlightenment because Self-knowledge is enlightenment. Whatever one might be doing, where one is or what is happening at the moment that final, full Self-knowledge dawns, is totally irrelevant.

NDM: What is evolutionary enlightenment? Does this have anything to do with Shankara’s interpretation of the Upanishads or Advaita Vedanta? Andrew Cohen, Papiji’s disciple was in India recently promoting his ideas about “evolutionary enlightenment”. He says he doesn’t believe the purpose of enlightenment is to attain freedom from incarnation. He says it’s to come back again and again and again and again to enjoy this physical world. He also states that he is challenging the ancient traditions with his new teaching. At 17minutes and 10 seconds into the video he talks about this.


Dennis Waite: I don’t have any direct experience of Andrew Cohen’s teaching. Comments that some trustworthy contacts have made about him did not inspire me to find out more. What he says above would seem fully to justify this decision.

NDM: In sutra number 18 of your book, Enlightenment, Path Through The Jungle you say that some Neo Advaita teachers may be helpful; particularly the ones who try to embody some methodology in their teaching. What kind of methodology were you referring to? Is there any teacher you can think of who is doing this?

Dennis Waite: I’m referring to the traditional prakriyA-s or systematic procedures that are given in the scriptures and ‘unfolded’ by a skilled teacher. These include such things as the three states of consciousness (avasthA traya), differentiation between seer and seen (dRRik dRRishya viveka), the five ‘sheaths’ (pa~ncha kosha); and the classical metaphors such as rope-snake, pot-space and pots, gold and rings/bangles etc. There are many of these and they are all demonstrably valuable for showing a seeker how to look at things in a new way and thereby overturn habitual patterns of thinking.

NDM: In sutra 22 you speak of the terminology to be used, such as Brahman and atman; what would you say is the difference with using the word awareness?

Dennis Waite: The problem with using English words that are used in everyday conversation is that they can lead to confusion or misunderstanding. Even seekers who are familiar with ‘spiritual discussions’ may not clearly understand what is meant, or may use a word in a way which is understood differently by the other person. The word ‘awareness’ is a common example, particularly because Nisargadatta uses the words ‘Consciousness’ and ‘Awareness’ differently from most other teachers. By using the correct Sanskrit term (and it is acknowledged that one has to learn what these mean before using them in conversation), this difficulty is avoided.

Enlightenment, Path Through The Jungle

NDM: Can you give me an example of bhAga tyAga lakShaNa?

Dennis Waite: Suppose that you and a friend, A, both went to school with a third person, X. Although you were not particularly friendly with X, you knew him quite well but, since leaving school you lost touch and have forgotten all about him. Today, you happen to be walking along with A and see Y, who is a famous film star, walking by on the other side of the street. You have seen films starring Y and admire him very much. A now makes some comment such as “Y has come a long way in the world since we knew him, hasn’t he?” You are mystified since you have never even spoken to Y as far as you know and you ask A to explain himself. A then makes the revelatory statement: “Y is that X whom we knew at school.”

All of the contradictory aspects, that X is an insignificant, scruffy, spotty oik that you once knew at school, while Y is a rich, famous and talented actor, are all cancelled out, leaving the bare equation that X and Y are the same person. Furthermore, the knowledge is aparokSha – immediate. We do not have to study the reasoning or meditate upon it for a long time.

NDM: In sutra 50, you talk about avidyA. This is also at the core of the Buddhist teachings. Do you see any difference in the way this is taught?

Dennis Waite: As answered in an earlier question, I do not really know anything about Buddhism. You will need to ask someone like Greg Goode.

NDM: In sutra 54, you say we do not have any organ for self knowledge; sudden insight through an epiphany?

Dennis Waite: That sutra is talking about pramANa-s – the ‘means for acquiring knowledge’. We have the sense organs – sight etc – for acquiring knowledge about external objects; but there is no organ for acquiring knowledge about the Self. Similarly, we cannot infer and have no reason to assume that the Self is the non-dual reality. Hence we need a trusted, external source to tell us and explain it. This is the function of the scriptures and guru. Although it cannot be stated categorically that enlightenment does not ‘suddenly come to one for no apparent reason’, this is not the normal route! Also, the traditional route is, throughout, totally amenable to reason whilst the ‘epiphany’ route is totally inaccessible to reason. Furthermore, if you sit around waiting for something to ‘happen’, you are likely to be waiting a very long time! If you commit to a traditional path for as long as it takes, the evidence is that you will get there eventually.

NDM: The Kena Upanishads say, “The eye does not go there, nor speech, nor mind, we do not know “That” (meaning Brahman). We do not know how to instruct one about it. It is distinct from the known and above the unknown”.

If this is the case, then how is this known and who or what knows this?

Dennis Waite: It is interesting that you should choose this verse because it is effectively an explanation of the need for sampradAya teaching. But you have omitted the last sentence, which says: “Thus we have heard from those who have gone before us, who told us about it.”

The point is that Brahman cannot be seen, or directly spoken of, or known (as an object) by the mind. And it is not saying that ‘we do not know how to teach it, period’, it is saying that ‘we do not know how to teach it other than by using such seemingly paradoxical statements as ‘the eye of the eye’, ‘the ear of the ear’ etc. It has to be taught in an elliptical fashion, undermining erroneous views and coming at it from behind, as it were, because Brahman is not an object of any sort but, on the contrary, the ultimate subject – infinite. When it says that we do not know how to teach it, it is referring to the usual means of knowledge – perception, inference etc. I can’t point to it or say ‘what’ it is. It is different from the known (i.e. cannot be known as an object) and yet it is different from the unknown, meaning that we nevertheless know it. How can this be? Simply because we already are it.

NDM: Do you think that the mental disposition, akhaNDAkAra vRRitti can be attained through nirvikalpa samAdhi?

Dennis Waite: No.

NDM: Ok, but what about after waking from this nirvikalpa samAdhi? After the fact, when nirvikalpa merges into and becomes Sahaja samAdhi while being awake and alert?

In the Ribhu Gita by Sri Ramana writes,

30. Remaining alertly aware and thought-free, with a still mind devoid of differentiation of Self and non-Self even while being engaged in the activities of worldly life, is called the state of Sahaja Nirvikalpa Samadhi (the natural state of abidance in the Self when all differentiation has ceased). This is called Akhandakara vritti, the ‘I’ of infinite perfection as contrasted with the ‘I am the body’ notion of those who have not realized the Self. (Ch.18, v.40)

What do you think he meant by this?

Dennis Waite: A temporarily thought-free mind is not a mind that has effectively ‘taken on the form of Brahman’. We have a ‘thought-free’ mind every night during deep sleep but nevertheless still wake up believing we are the body-mind. The akhaNDAkAra vRRitti is an instantaneous ‘dawning of knowledge’ in which the mind suddenly gels (as it were); when the full realization of non-difference from Brahman occurs as a result of the crystallization (as it were) of knowledge gained in the past. Nirvikalpa samAdhi is a state of mind that is temporarily object-free; conscious, but only of Self. Since it is empty of anything (‘nir’ vikalpa means ‘without’ difference or distinction), how could any sort of change or vRRitti (mental disposition) occur in it? In any case, as I pointed out earlier, samAdhi-s are experiences and only knowledge can remove ignorance.

Furthermore, I would say that it is not possible to ‘engage in the activities of worldly life’ with a thought-free mind.

So I am not sure what exactly is meant by this passage. I haven’t read and don’t have a copy of the Ribhu Gita. Maybe the earlier verses throw some light on this. As I said earlier (I think) Ramana was a brilliant teacher and unquestionably enlightened but he did not have sampradAya training and had not, I understand, even read much scripture prior to his enlightenment; so some of his statements may be suspect, especially when taken out of context. The Bhagavad Gita II.55 (to end of chapter 2) talks about the man of ‘steady wisdom’ as one who is ‘without desire’ but not ‘without thought’. sthitapraj~na means the ‘state’ of being in, Brahman, and arises as a result of the akhaNDAkAra vRRitti; it is not the same as it. But, unlike samAdhi, it is not really a state; it is rather that the Atman is now (known to be) Brahman.

NDM: A few days ago someone told me about a western Neo advaita teacher in India who pays impoverished young Indian boys to have sexual relations with him. In this case who is the doer/enjoyer? Is it this Neo Advaita teacher’s vAsanA-s, or is it Brahman doing this? Oneness, as some neos would say.

Dennis Waite: This sort of confusion arises because of failing to differentiate ‘levels’ of reality. All of this ‘doing’ – whether working, playing, seeking, becoming enlightened, giving time and money to charity or having sex with young boys – all takes place within vyavahAra, the transactional or worldly level. At this level, there is duality, people and objects; and all of the usual issues of society, morality and responsibility apply. Traditional advaita says that the position into which a given person is born is determined by their actions in past lives and they have to ‘work through’ the related karma. The desires they have are determined by their vAsanA-s, which again are determined by past actions and formation of habits and so on. It is said that when a given situation is presented, one may act, not act or act differently from the dictates of past habits. And this brings us onto the topic of free-will, which I don’t want to enter into or we will be here indefinitely!

From the standpoint of absolute reality, of course, there are no people or objects; no time, space or causation. But you have to be very careful not to mix up the levels. Most conceptual problems in advaita result from doing precisely this.

NDM: Who is responsible for this karma “oneness”, or this apparent man’s vAsanA-s?

Dennis Waite: Again, from the vantage point of the world, the individual person is responsible for his actions, which accumulate karma and eventually bring about the appropriate ‘fruit’ of puNya or pApa – good things or bad! In reality, there is no such thing as karma or reincarnation but then, there is no person either to worry about such things. You decide which aspect you are talking about and stick to it.

NDM: The neos say that there is no karma because there is no apparent man or vAsanA-s or saMskAra-s. They say there is just “oneness”. What are your thoughts on this?

Dennis Waite: This is what the neos mostly do. They try to make absolute pronouncements, as if from a pAramArthika (absolute) perspective. But at the same time they seem to expect these statements to be meaningful and helpful to a seeker who is suffering, trying to understand what is happening at the level of the world and looking for guidance to help them remove this suffering. Mostly it just causes frustration and often increases the suffering because such a view does not accord with the seeker’s experience. The seeker is unable to rationalize what the neo tells him without both prior mental preparation and significant preliminary instruction.

NDM: In a dialogue that you had with Jeff Foster, http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/trad_neo/jeff_dialog.htm Jeff said, “This message is about the simple and obvious appearance of life, now, now and now. That this moment – right now – is all there is. And everything, our whole lives, our pasts and futures, are just stories appearing now. And yes, of course, THAT is a story too! And so this can never really be expressed in words. It’s the attempt to put into words what could never be put into words.”……This is about the possibility of absolute freedom, absolute “happiness” as you put it, right here, right now. This is about seeing that the miracle that we are searching for is always fully present, that enlightenment is already the case, but the “search” implied that it wasn’t.”

What he is saying here sounds like the teachings of Eckhart Tolle, being in the now.

Do you think that he is missing the obvious here? That you can be in the now all day long and still not be enlightened?

Is it possible that he still has not realized the Self? It’s like he has only climbed half way up the mountain and mistaken this plateau for the top?

I say this because this brings to mind the Zen koan, does a dog have Buddha nature? A cat or a dog also does not have a sense of self nor is it attached to a personal identity. It comes when its name is called. It eats when it’s given food; it urinates, defecates, fornicates and so on, but it does not know that it is non-dual awareness.

Dennis Waite: It is impossible to know whether or not another person is enlightened. The best that we can do to assess this is to compare what the person says with what has been said in the scriptures (or perhaps, for most of us, with how the scriptures have been interpreted by those whom we believe to have been enlightened). But this has to be tempered with the fact that it is possible for people to learn pat answers without really understanding them.

Living ‘in the now’ and recognizing that there is *only* the present moment is part of the mental preparation for enlightenment. I suppose that it is an aspect of nitya-anitya vastu viveka – discriminating between the real and unreal, the transient and eternal. But, in itself, it is not enlightenment. And, you are right – you could be ‘in the present’ all the time and still not be enlightened. Enlightenment is Self-knowledge and has nothing to do with experience. (I may say this more than once in answers to these questions but repetition of this fact is very worthwhile for most people!)

NDM: If I came to you asking you to help me become enlightened, the way I asked these neo teachers, would you tell me I’m enlightened already, no need to do anything and so on? That I’m already perfect just the way I am?

The problem is this hasn’t changed a thing. I’m still the same miserable jerk as before. Each time I go to one of their satsangs it costs me 30 bucks. This enlightenment business is getting very expensive. Especially if I buy their DVDs and books, photos of them as well. This all adds up. Then they tell me there is no hope, or meaning. I’m getting depressed and confused by all this neo babble and feel like I’m at the end of my rope.

What would you say to me? Would you be able to help me do this without having to learn a new language and to study Vedanta like you did for 25 years? Is there a short cut? A direct path I could take, so I don’t go broke or old waiting for this to happen?

Dennis Waite: This is a good example of the way that neo teachers mistakenly present the message of advaita. It is true that who-you-really-are is already free, perfect and complete. The problem is that you think you are this body-mind, and the mind definitely does not think it is perfect and free. The mistaken views have to be undermined and then rejected or corrected. Only when this has been done, will you be ‘enlightened’. But there is simply no point in telling you this. You have to go through the process of examining your experiences and beliefs and, with the help of a qualified teacher, acknowledge that what he or she tells you is true. In this, you will have to utilize the means of knowledge available to you (mainly perception, inference and scriptures) and your faculties of reason and discrimination, possibly with a little bit of faith to begin with.

Ideally, then, you will find a suitable teacher and commit to studying with them for as long as it takes. Unfortunately there are not many of these around as we have already discussed. This need not be an insurmountable problem. One of the main qualities for a seeker is mumukShutva – the desire to achieve enlightenment, to the exclusion of all other desires. Accordingly, if this is really what you want, you can ‘simply’ move to somewhere where there is a qualified teacher. You will overcome all the obstacles in order to do this.

Realistically, most seekers do not have this all-consuming passion. For them, the best that they can do is to read as much and as widely as possible (but perhaps taking guidance from someone who knows more about all this). And join an internet discussion group such as Advaitin, where you can ask all of the questions that will arise and have them answered by a number of very experienced and knowledgeable people, some of whom are acknowledged academic experts or established traditional teachers. All of this will cost much less than attending satsangs!

But the process will take as long as it takes. (There is a story in the scriptures of someone being ecstatic when told it would only take as many lifetimes as there were leaves on the tree under which he was sitting!) You certainly don’t have to learn Sanskrit either. You do have to learn a number of Sanskrit terms, simply because there are no equivalent words in the English language. But this is really not a great hardship.

Regarding short-cuts, I would say not really. There is the Direct Path teaching of Atmananda Krishna Menon, currently being taught by people such as Greg Goode and Rupert Spira. It is certainly worth investigating this but it does not appeal to, nor is it suitable for, everyone. It is really for a particular sort of mind – very sharp, logical, perceptive and intellectual; ever-ready to drop a prior conception if reason or experience dictates that it was wrong. Traditional teaching, on the other hand, can cater for all levels of mind, with slow or fast-track techniques according to ability.

NDM: What would you say is the difference with Brahman and Shunyata?

Dennis Waite: I know very little about any spiritual path other than Advaita. shunya means ‘empty’, or ‘void’ and I understand the belief of some branches of Buddhism to be that there is literally ‘nothing’. This would seem to be diametrically opposite to Brahman, which is all (everything). On the face of it, It would seem to be nonsensical to claim that there is nothing – who would there be to claim this? It is also our experience that we and the world exist. How could this (something) world have originated from nothing?

NDM: What if someone recognizes himself or herself as Shunyata; is this considered being enlightened, realizing absolute truth according to the Shankara and the Vedanta school or is this also a form of heresy or Neo Advaita?

Dennis Waite:
In the Brahma Sutra and bhAShya, Vyasa and Shankara refute all of the other philosophies that were prevalent at the time. This includes Buddhism. Obviously people can believe and claim whatever they want but they cannot legitimately claim to be Advaitins unless their teaching corresponds with that of Advaita.

NDM: When the Buddha came across some Brahmins, they were discussing about the nature of Brahman, and the Buddha asked, “Have you seen Brahma?”

“No,” said the Brahmin”;

“Or your father, has he seen him?” asked the Buddha

“No, neither has he,”

“Or your grandfather, has he seen him?”

“I don’t think even he saw Him.” Answered the Brahmin.

Buddha replied. “My friend how can you discuss about a person whom your father and grandfather never saw?

According to Shankara you don’t have to be enlightened to teach about it.

Using the logic of the Buddha, how can a doctor perform brain surgery if he doesn’t even know what a brain looks like?

Denis Waite: Brahman is not an object and cannot be objectified in any way. If it could be objectified, there would have to be a subject treating it as an object and that would be duality. But, in order to know Brahman, you do not need to objectify it – you are Brahman.

NDM: Can you please tell me the difference between Neo Vedanta inspired by the Vivekananda and the Ramakrishna Mission and Neo Advaita?

On book learning, Vivekananda said: This quickening impulse, which comes from outside, cannot be received from books; the soul can receive impulse from another soul, and nothing else. We may study books all our lives, we may become very intellectual, but in the end we find that we have not developed at all spiritually… In studying books, we sometimes are deluded into thinking that we are being spiritually helped; but if we analyze ourselves we find that only our intellect is being helped, and not the spirit. That is why almost every one of us can speak most wonderfully on spiritual subjects, but when the time of action comes, we find ourselves so woefully deficient. It is because books cannot give us that impulse from outside. To quicken the spirit, that impulse must come from another soul. That soul from which this impulse comes is called the Guru, the teacher…. From “The Teacher of Spirituality.” Selections, pp. 51-51.

Dennis Waite; Neo-advaita, as I think we have already discussed, is the attempt to convey the truth through simple, absolute statements without any supporting rationale or mental preparation, denying the existence of seeker, teacher or of any path that might be followed.

Neo-vedAnta may initially seem to be identical to traditional advaita. However, there are subtle differences which only become apparent when your understanding of the teaching is quite advanced. I have not made a study of these differences so cannot say a great deal about them. Principally, I think that neo-vedAnta is ‘corrupted’ as it were by confusion with aspects of Yoga philosophy. In particular, they claim that Enlightenment is a spiritual experience rather than a vRRitti (disposition) of the mind. They therefore place great emphasis on samAdhi, and equate nirvikalpa samAdhi with realization. Advaita, on the other hand, states that this is simply another (albeit very profound) experience, with a beginning and an end in time.

But it should be noted that many of the books by swamis of the Ramakrishna Missions etc are excellent. They translate and comment on Upanishads etc, including Shankara’s commentaries and these are often brilliant. It is likely that you will not even notice the minor discrepancies. I only discovered the problems myself when I began write my own books on Advaita and began to encounter statements in their writing which contradicted my understanding.

NDM; What are your thoughts on this, “All these talks, and reasonings, and philosophies, and dualisms, and monisms, and even the Vedas themselves, are but preparations, secondary things…. The Vedas, Grammar, Astronomy, etc., all these are secondary. The supreme knowledge is that which makes us realize the Unchangeable One. From “The Sages of India.”? Selections, p. 237.

Dennis Waite; It is true that all scriptures, commentaries, teachings are mithyA. It is never possible to ‘describe’ reality in any way. So, in a sense, for the enlightened person, they all become redundant.

NDM: In your book, you talk a lot about knowing through the aid of scripture, but seem to relegate intuition. How do you think the first sages who spoke these scriptures, secret forest teachings, Upanishads, Vedas, got to know this when there weren’t any books or teachers at the time? Was it not through direct intuition?

Do you feel that book knowledge and scripture are superior to intuition? Isn’t intuition the internal Sat guru as well?

Vivekananda also said:

You must keep in mind that religion does not consist in talk, or doctrines, or books, but in realisation; it is not learning but being. No amount of doctrines or philosophies or ethical books that you have stuffed into your brain will matter much, only what you are, and what you have realised. From “The Need of Symbols.” Selections, p. 64-65.

The whole world reads scriptures, Bibles, Vedas, Korans, and others, but they are only words… the dry bones of religion…. Those who deal too much in words, and let the mind run always in the forest of words, lose the spirit…. “The Teacher of Spirituality.” Selections, pp. 54-55.

The network of words is like a huge forest in which the human mind loses itself and finds no way out…. To be religious, you have to first throw all books overboard. The less you read of books, the better for you…. It is a tendency in Western countries to make a hotch-potch of the brain…. In many cases it becomes a kind of disease but it is not religion. From “The Need of Symbols.” Selections, pp. 64-65.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you think these old scriptures should be thrown overboard in order to realize this truth intuitively; through gnosis?

For example, how did Buddha realize the truth? Did he read books all day long, listen to a guru giving satsang or did he sit out in the forest alone until this realization came to him intuitively? In a flash, like the first sages of the Vedas.

Dennis Waite: Intuition is fine – but where do you go to get this? What can you do to increase the likelihood of getting it? In a sense, the final realization might be called ‘intuition’. You have been hearing ‘You are That’, ‘Everything is Brahman’ etc. time and again but nothing has happened. And then, suddenly, there is the overwhelming certainty: ‘Ah! Now I see – everything is Brahman! How could I not have appreciated that before?’ But, for the vast majority, this only comes as the culmination of prolonged study with a qualified teacher.

And, as I said in respect of the sampradAya, the process is one of guru teaching disciple, who then becomes the next guru and so on. And this process is said to stretch back to the beginning. Long before scriptures were written down, they were learned by heart in the sampradAya-s. OK, you may not want to accept that there never actually was a human author, but we are talking about scriptures that are thousands of years old.

So, if you want to sit around on the off-chance that some intuition will suddenly come along – fine! But don’t hold your breath…

Regarding the quote from Vivekananda, all scriptures, gurus, seekers and the world itself are mithyA. Only the Self is satyam. So, yes, once you are enlightened, by all means throw all of the books away if you like. But I would make two points: firstly (if I may repeat), for the vast majority, it is gurus and scriptures that will have brought you to this point; secondly, the scriptures and their unfoldment by a teacher such as Swami Dayananda are beautiful – the most profound truths embodied in simple verses and metaphor, explained with crystal-clear logic. The enlightened person still lives on in the world for the remainder of that embodiment; so why throw away such beautiful things? Read and enjoy!

I think you are still caught up in the idea that there are very, very few enlightened people in the world; that maybe most of the ones who were enlightened are now dead; and that most of these reached enlightenment by chance or sudden ‘intuition’. This is a false picture. I suggest that there are actually quite a lot of enlightened people, most of whom have become so as a result of following a traditional path. You don’t get to hear about them because they do not have ‘teacher vAsanA-s’. Ones like Buddha and Ramana are the exception rather than the rule.

NDM: Yes what about this one?

The Ashtavakra Gita says: My son, you may recite or listen to countless scriptures, but you will not be established within until you can forget everything. 16.1

“If even Shiva, Vishnu or the lotus-born Brahma were your instructor, until you have forgotten everything you cannot be established within.”

How do you interpret this?

When one goes to dinner, does one eat the paper menu or the dinner? What do words made out of ink and paper taste like?

Dennis Waite: The words alone will never bring about enlightenment, no matter how many times they are repeated, even if learned by heart. As I said earlier they, like the rest of the world, are mithyA, not satyam (the menu, not the meal if you like that metaphor). The mind of the seeker has to be suitably prepared and there must be the intense desire for enlightenment above all worldly pursuits. And of course the words themselves are not the reality – they point towards it and need to be understood. Hence the need for a qualified teacher to explain their meaning. Your quote about Shiva etc is really emphasizing the need for nitya-anitya vastu viveka – the ability to differentiate satyam from mithyA. You have to ‘forget’ the unreal world before you can realize the real Self.

NDM: You ask, “Intuition is fine, but where do you go to get this? What can you do to increase the likelihood of getting it?

Well according to the Buddhist tradition, you don’t sit around holding your breath, even though this is a PrANayAmna method, (kevala kumbhaka) http://www.holisticonline.com/yoga/hol_yoga_breathing_4stages.htm or waiting for it to fall out of the sky. Some would say through the discipline of meditation.

Mindfulness (sati) i.e. to be aware and mindful in all activities and movements both physical and mental
Investigation (dhamma vicaya) into the nature of dhamma
Concentration (samAdhi) a calm, one-pointed state of concentration of mind
This leading to the ninth jhana http://www.jhanas.com

According to the Christian Gnostic traditions, some would say through prayer, reciting and studying the scripture, contemplation, meditation and ascetic fasting and devoting ones life to God, Heart, mind and soul, with all ones strength.

According to Patanjali, he prescribes adherence to eight “limbs” The eight “limbs” or steps are: Yama, Niyama, Asana, PrANayAma, PratyAhAra, DhAraNA, DhyAna and Samadhi. Leading to nirvikalpa samAdhi, which can result in sahaja samAdhi. Or turIya, the fourth state, even though it’s not a state.

Others some would say bhakti yoga, karma yoga and all the other yogas would result in intuition. Clear vision. There is also a so-called fifth state, turIyatita, which happens when the witness disappears. At this point you become pure awareness. No identification with any objects at all. This is JIvanmukta in Vedanta or nirvana in Buddhism.

The Taoists would say through the practice of Wu-wei – usually translated as non-action, inaction or non-doing – is one of the most important Taoist concepts. When linked to the Tao – the creator and sustainer of everything in the Universe – non-doing means the actionless of Heaven,

Or through Tai Chi and Qi gung and doing so will open up all the meridians including ones “third eye”, the ajna (brow) chakra and the sharastara chakra. The third eye, being knowledge itself.

Others would say through grace, as well as studying the scripture as in your case with advaita Vedanta. There are so many ways and means to heighten ones intuition.

Dennis Waite: The reason why we do not already recognize that we are free, unlimited, ever-present, non-dual Consciousness is that we are ignorant of our true nature. The only thing that can remove ignorance is knowledge. Action of any kind can never remove ignorance because action is not opposed to ignorance. All of the things that you mention are great for preparing the mind and this has to be done before enlightenment can occur but, in themselves, they cannot bring enlightenment. Samadhi may be a beautiful experience of the oneness of all things but, in 99% of cases at least, it comes to an end and we are back in duality. Maybe the remaining 1% lead to sahaja sthiti; I don’t know. But I would think most would prefer to go the certain 99% route rather than the maybe 1%.

Incidentally, as I said, I have no knowledge of other traditions. You clearly have a much wider understanding than I do. But I don’t agree with your comments regarding turIyatIta or jIvanmukti in respect of Vedanta.

NDM: Sorry, I wasn’t being clear. What I meant by turIyatIta is not a state but it is non-dual awareness, or Brahman. Does not one become a jIvanmukta if one is permanently turIyatIta? I don’t mean as in some kind of samAdhi, or meditation, or an experience of some kind one has to go into.

I read this on your site by the way. Am I misreading or misunderstanding it. Please correct me if I’m wrong. http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/teachers/turiya_peter.htm

turIya (Atman): non-apprehension of duality;
praj~nA (deep sleep): non-apprehension of Reality and of duality;
taijasa (dream state): non-apprehension of and misapprehension of Reality;
vishva (waking state): non-apprehension of and misapprehension of Reality.

Dennis Waite:
The word turIyatIta is defined in the site dictionary as follows (http://www.advaita.org.uk/sanskrit/terms_tu.htm): literally the “fourth” [state of consciousness]. It refers to the non-dual reality, the background against which the other states (waking, dream and deep sleep) arise. It is our true nature. The other three states are mithyA. (If defined merely as the highest “state” then Ramana Maharshi calls our true nature ‘turiyatita’ but this word is not encountered in the scriptures.)

Unfortunately the link to this page is missing from the menu! (Thanks for enabling me to discover this!)

turIya could be considered as a synonym for brahman. There is only ever this so that we are always this, whether or not we are enlightened. Enlightenment is, if you like, the realization in the mind that we are turIya. jIvanmukti, as I said before, refers to the person whose prior or post mental state means that he or she also has the ‘fruits of knowledge’, i.e. mental equanimity etc.

Regarding the definitions that you quote from the article, I wouldn’t have defined them likes this. I would prefer to say that:

. vishva is associated with ignorance and error

. taijasa is associated with ignorance and error

. prAj~na is associated with ignorance only

. turIya is associated with neither

‘Ignorance’ is ignorance of the fact that I am turIya. ‘Error’ is in thinking that I am the limited individual.

But I believe that the way this is put in the essay is actually saying the same thing, just in a different way.

NDM: You said, “I was totally convinced of the truth of the teaching and found, through the question and answer section of the website, that there was no question that I could not answer (to my own satisfaction!)

So, do you see yourself as a guru or a pundit?

Dennis Waite: I discovered during my work on defense communication systems that I had a particular skill for describing complex software functions in ways that newcomers could easily understand, provided of course that I had understood it myself to begin with! Accordingly, it seems natural to write books on Advaita, maintain the website and answer questions from seekers. It is a subject that is endlessly fascinating and ultimately the only one worth pursuing. I don’t teach formally, mainly because I don’t want to travel and there is insufficient interest in my area to begin a formal group. So… call me what you like.

NDM: Sailor Bob said, “Subject-object thinking seems to cover the natural state (awareness). But without awareness, thinking could not take place. Because thinking appears in awareness (like a cloud appears in the sky), realise that thinking in essence is awareness. Understanding this, thinking cannot obscure awareness”.

Do you see anything wrong with this statement?

Dennis Waite: First of all, Bob is using the term ‘awareness’, where most would use ‘Consciousness’. But this is OK because he is following Nisargadatta. It is not that what he says is wrong, it is that it implies that ignorance cannot obscure Self-knowledge, whereas it can and does. But then maybe he didn’t intend this connotation. Without the complete context in which the statement was made, it is not possible to say. If he did mean to imply this, one might as well say that, since everything is Brahman (or Consciousness), therefore there is nothing that can or should be done to attain enlightenment. And, of course, this is what the neo-advaitins say – but it is wrong.

NDM: What are your thoughts on James Swartz’ “Enlightenment sickness’?

He refers to this on pages 261 and 262 of his book “How to attain enlightenment”. He calls it pseudo enlightenment or enlightenment sickness.

He says “after realization, usually a strong sense of goodwill toward everyone arises at this time and you almost invariably feel that you should share what you know with others. But before you set out to do so, you better check you are not suffering from the disease of enlightenment. It is similar to enlightenment and is difficult for the sufferer to diagnose, although it is a well-known malady. It should be treated quirkily before it becomes a chronic condition.

One benign symptom of enlightenment sickness is transcendental boredom. It is an understandable and slightly negative feeling born out of you have accomplished everything that had to be accomplished in this life, the realization that what you do from now on will not fundamentally make any difference – ignorance is here to stay after all – and the crystal clarity about the basic emptiness of life. It is caused by the residual sense of doer ship and unpurified traces of rajas. You may long for a bit of excitement and confusion marked your life in ignorance but you know you cant go back.

If you interpret this nothingness of reality as a void and become vaguely disillusioned, know that you have enlightenment sickness, due to unpurified traces of tamas. Enlightenment is not the experience of the void. There is no void, only the pureness of awareness appearing as the void.

If you formulate your enlightenment as a grand happening and make it into a big story, you have enlightenment disease. If you hear yourself telling others you are awakened, or enlightened or “cooked” you have enlightenment sickness.

If you believe that your words are gospel and your deeds whether they correspond to common sense or not and with reason, or whether they are in harmony with dharma and tradition, are a teaching stratagem , you need help”. End of quote.

Dennis Waite: James Swartz is excellent! He may not be the best Western teacher in the world but he is almost certainly the best Western teacher for the typical satsang attendee. He doesn’t pull any punches, correcting all of the mistaken views out there regarding spiritual ‘seeking’. I’m glad you asked this question because I’ve been reading this book for the past 2 – 3 months but, because I always have so many books on the go at any one time, it takes me ages to get through any particular one. Having now read the last chapter, it prompts me to review the book on Amazon and hopefully get others reading it too. (It goes without saying that it merits 5* – more if they were available.) The one thing I would add to what he says is that I don’t think that all of those teachers exhibiting the symptoms actually have the disease. I fear that there may be a few who are knowingly taking advantage, deliberately adopting all of the expected traits and learning the key phrases off by heart so that they can simply earn an enjoyable and easy living at others’ expense – cynical this may be but I do fear it is true.
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Moksha and Nirvana: Should We Seek It?

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