About Advaita and Satsang-wallahs
Advaita: the Highest Philosophy
First, an apology, once again, for the cavalier
modus operandi of the english language, stealing words from
other languages and redefining them as required. The word "Advaita" in
particular is potentially contentious, so here is a
link to an informative page on which the traditionalist
and modern/english usages of the word are expressed, along
with some thoughts on recent trends in modern Advaita
Advaita (non–dualism) is the "highest
always staying close to the ultimate truth of "all
is one" and emphasising
the dissolution/integration of polarities. Traditionally, there
is emphasis on deeply investigating what "one is",
asking the question "who/what are you" is often the
primary or only method.
Other schools that have encountered Advaitists
in debate have had criticised them for having an "unassailable"
philosophy. No fun at all to debate with. Disillusioning.
Not endemic, but prevalent, is a tendency for
Advaita teachings to be a bit rejecting, a bit remote from,
a bit avoiding of "sensible reality", samsara, maya,
the world as it appears to us, instead seeming to prefer
the spiritual, or "other
zone of (non) involvement.
Advaita applied to Tantra is more rich. The
division of existence into the worldly and other-worldly is
unnecessary. If "all that is" is a manifestation of the ultimate
oneness, then there's no sense in preferring one end of the
polarity to the other. Truth will be abundantly available
Tantra is all about methods: ways to
increase awareness, evoke satori and ultimately, methods to
become available to "spontaneous" awakening.
This appears contradictory, crazy, unhinged.
The logic is clearly broken. That which is not, seeming to
strive to become what it already is? … Ok, it is a deep
paradox. Deep. Handle it. Or rather, don't bother about it
at all. Just get on clearing your angers, frustrations, hurts
and fears. Working from where you are right now with what's
available to you here and now is far more useful than striving
to live in a remote philosophical abstraction, no matter how
elegantly complete it may appear.
Halfway up the Mountain – when you're starting
out, it's not a bad first objective!
There's a qualitative difference between satori
and samadhi, which I write about in more
Nonetheless, it's very excusable, understandable, that they
can be confused. Satori, after all, are very impactful experiences,
particularly early on the path. More than one Enlightened
Teacher has later said "oops, not quite", and retired
from teaching until fully done, or until they realise that
there's nonetheless helpful teaching work they can still
Someone halfway up the mountain can be of great
support, great use on your path. Often, more help and support
than someone on the peak, though less inspiring, perhaps. Less
satisfying to the ego than studying with someone that is "definitely
fully enlightened". The reason they can often be more
helpful than the fellow on top is that they are closer to you
and more aware of what it's like to be where you are.
Even when learning from the Great Ones, the
Rishees and other Spiritual Supermen, it is often through their
disciples who have progressed somewhat that you will finds
useful tips and techniques for handling what you, personally,
have to face.
Osho used this fact to great effect, founding
This continues to be an oasis of learning and spiritual rejuvenation
with many powerful and effective resident and guest teachers
(South Africa, being already halfway to India is naturally
very well represented). There is certainly no suggestion that
the Multiversity's therapists and group teachers need to be
enlightened in order to be of great support to their fellow
the contrary, there's a lot
of caution and resistance around the idea of Sannyasins who've
awakened being allowed to teach from that perspective.
Of course, where people see problems is with
the halfway fellows who claim the full deal. The mad cult leader
problem. The spiritual snake oil salesman. I believe these
fellows are for the most part, just businessmen, enthusiastic
about their product. As long as there's no harm, and people
want to buy…
For non-seekers, or fashionable-seekers, the
worst of Advaita-style teaching from someone of incomplete
understanding or mixed motivations, is not as harmful as many
Seekers of any sincerity, any discernment, are usually pretty
good at avoiding useless or limiting teachers. We tend to get
the teachers we deserve and, generally, teachers
get the students they deserve.
Halfway Down the Mountain – if the rope doesn't
reach to you, it is not all that helpful.
Listening to most of the modern teachers of Advaita,
one often hears expression and re-expression of Truth as follows:
- There is no reality behind what your senses report.
- Nothing is happening, and all appearance of things happening
- There's nowhere to go, nothing to attain.
- Just a shift of perception, no effort, and you can be enlightened.
- There's no awakening. All is anyway awake.
- There is no enlightenment, no path, no guru and nothing
- Existential Truth is immediately, currently and always
available to you.
- All you need do is realise what you already know.
- There is no good or evil and nothing to be benefited or
Which is all, in the ultimate meaning of these words, true.
True, but, as far as it supports most seekers, for most of
their journey, particularly the tough bits, these wise sayings
are basically bullshit. Utterly useless.
Very clever, very zen, of course, because these teachers generally
don't claim that anything could possibly be of any use. their
method can be basically summed up as: It happened to me, mysteriously,
suddenly. It can happen to you. Maybe by hanging out with me,
listening to me describe the incredibly deeply profound spaces
of my non-me non-experiences, it could happen to you too.
Of course, this bare-bones, unfleshed kind of teaching
does work for some. As is written in some old holy books,
some seekers come to a teacher ready to slip into their own
enlightenment on just a glimpse of a living example, or even
upon just hearing that there is one, that such a phenomenon
For someone very close, very well explored, already very close
to Truth as such, a more or less traditional Satsang or Darshan can do the final "trick", can reveal the possibility
of that last step of submission, of availability.
It is for seekers starting out, and seekers in progress i.e.
most seekers, for most of their journey that these fellows
at best provide a hint, an encouragement. Nothing more. At
their worst, they encourage spiritual
laziness. Indulgence and protection of ego with the idea that
"there's nothing to do, no method, and enlightenment has already
These fellows are not being intentionally nasty. There is
no intention on their part to keep beginners in awe of the
logically unattainable, and dissuade them from practice. Just,
the surface of the message they put out goes far further than
their closer teachings, and for most seekers does not support
the urge to awareness.
As far as I can tell, this state of affairs
has two roots.
One is the understandable hurry to teach. Eager Bodhisattvas.
The other is teachers that lack the basic compassion required
of a teacher. Who regard teaching as a business ideally suited
to their understanding. Arahats.
A paradox of the path is that a total effort is required,
and then a total dropping of all effort, all desire for the
prize is utterly essential. This is not a strange, or unknowable
phenomenon. It happens all the time. You are reading, which
is a highly complex skill (congratulations) but happens more
or less automatically once it's been learned. If you want to
teach people to read, things won't go that well if you sit
with them, read to them for five minutes, so they get the vibe,
the feeling of "reading as such", then hand them your copy
of War and Peace.
Of course, few would make that mistake with reading, having
learned by slogging it out oneself, learning letter shapes,
words, spelling and such. Enlightenment is a bit different
from reading, though. It typically comes along in a space of
accepted defeat, of giving up on all transcendent visions,
accepting the utter futility of all effort that has been made.
Hence it's a bit understandable that the freshly free can take
a long time to catch on to the fact that, if teaching
is going to be of use, what needs to be taught is mostly that
which the Teacher has transcended and has no personal need
Eager teachers face another issue. If they've written, and
pronounced loudly on the "nothing to attain no effort
no method" at the start of their teaching, it can be difficult
later to say later on that actually, there is something useful
for the Beloved Students to do. To go from expressing "no method,
no effort, no attainment" to encouraging use of methods can
certainly look a bit strange.
Another factor is the understandable urge to express one's
state of understanding, of perception of Truth. For many, it
feels more real or more authentic perhaps, to stay in the high
rarefied atmosphere of higher philosophy; glad to be out of
the messier, murkier, less transcendent looking regions of
existence. This gives us writers like J and UG Krishnamurti,
Eckhart Tolle, Alan Watts. Absolutely beautiful expressions
of Truth at it's highest. Absolutely useless until you are
already enlightened and can therefore appreciate their eloquent
attempts at describing the essentially indescribable, or unless
you're so very close that, really, help may not have been needed
Don't get me wrong here. I love these guys. Deeply. I've found
all the abovementioned writers very useful with their explorations,
explanations and elucidations of the enlightened condition,
after the fact. Before that, they were interesting paradox
and mind-game merchants. Fun, but not much use in any practical
Bodhisattvas also have other outlets for their urge to help.
Not all are inclined or suited to traditional forms of teaching,
or taking on the Guru trip. Some become, or were already poets,
artists, musicians, writers, entertainers … and support many
with their "teaching" in an artistic context. John
Lennon. Samuel Clemens. Bill Hicks.
arahats … Aha-rats
In some circles, these fellows are greatly looked down upon.
At least one of the Great Masters have said "it is not
a sin to kill an arahat". Strong words!
Arahats are of
course perfectly OK with this. "go ahead, kill this body"
they say. "It's purpose is anyway finished".
An arahat's basic attitude to teaching enlightenment can be
characterised as "It happened to me. Nothing caused it,
nothing prepared me for it, there's nothing I can do for you,
there's no one here. Go get your own fewkin insights."
Where the Bodhisattva has an attitude
of compassion and cultivates a desire
after enlightenment to support all other beings to the same
realisation and beyond, the arahat, on awakening, sticks to
the immediate and apparent truth of "there's no attainment,
no teaching and no path" and doesn't explore beyond that.
Sometimes, an arahat gathers a following, and finds the relationship
to be symbiotic. Sometimes, this may convert the arahat into
a Bodhisattva, if his students are able to push him a bit and
thereby make him into the teacher they deserve.
There is nothing wrong with arahats. They are after all, enlightened!
Everyone who jumps in the ocean gets equally wet. their attainment
is as good, as deep, as real as anyone else's. This doesn't
make everyone a diving instructor.
I have not found convincing
answers to what it is that produces an arahat or a Bodhisattva.
Structured and unstructured schools have produced both. So
have schools which impose "Bodhisattva Vows" and
those who don't. In the spiritual wilds, spontaneous awakenings
have resulted, again, in both flavours. Research continues …
The traditional view (even Osho's view) is that upon awakening,
one is either an arahat or a Bodhisattva and there's no problem
with it, nothing to do about it. From my personal experience,
I have to argue with this. As with all polar phenomena, they
are truly one. Just different expressions. Susceptible of integration,
it seems to me.
Doing some research before writing this, I notice things are
changing a little, here and there. One or two teachers, that
years ago were one–method satsang–wallahas of note
have now started to teach lessons from Tantra and other method–positive
approaches. The "nothing to do, nothing to desire" attitude
may be on the decline. It will never again be where it belonged,
back in the Masters' bag of tricks, a secret teaching
reserved for a specific moment of readiness in the student.
No problem. There are plenty of other tricks in that bag.
So, dear seekers of truth, the bad news is that it is existentially
true that one day you may regard all your effort as wasted,
as utterly futile. Sorry about that. The good news is that
with sincere effort on your part, a lot of living and perhaps
some guidance along the way, you can become available and open
the possibility of Samadhi, your oneness with the Divine.
After all … it happened to me, it could happen to