NDM: In spiritual terms, where are you coming from?
Sitara: Since my childhood
religion/spirituality has always played a prominent role in my life. Raised in a
(loosely) protestant Christian family with a father who leaned more and more
towards Buddhism and the philosophy of G.W.Leibniz, I first took to
Christianity. But by the age of 21 I dropped Christianity altogether.
I was 23 when I first heard
about Osho, then Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, and a few months later went to see him
in India. I was initiated by him into Neo-Sannyas and lived in the Neo-Sannyas-context
for the next 22 years. In these years I worked as a therapist/astrologer and/or
as a journalist/translator. In 2002, I met Dolano, who had been an Osho-disciple
about the same period of time as me, and from then on discovered Western-style
NDM: What was it exactly about
these teachings that did not work for you? I know about Osho with his neo
sanyasins, but what about Dolano. Was she celibate by the
Sitara: As far as I am
concerned everything worked perfectly well, except for the final analysis. I am
deeply thankful to Osho for opening up the realm of freedom to me. The main
message I got from him was: “Even if the whole world tells you that you are
wrong, stand up for what you have understood to be true. You can correct it if
things need correction; so remain open to the possibility that your
understanding is faulty, but never corrupt your truth.”
This has become the “mantra”
of my life. This is why I have always moved on if I felt that no further
progress was possible for me with the teaching at hand. I see Osho as someone
who was able to address Westerners, especially young people and to eventually
open them up for spirituality. Young Westerners at that time needed a mind
opener, because they were caught up in the age-old trauma that Christianity with
its concepts of sin and atonement had left in their lives. They wanted to free
themselves from this burden but they were throwing out the baby with the bath
water: Religion was reduced to nothing else but the opium of the people.
Osho opened up a different
view on spirituality, saying that you can remain free AND be spiritual. This is
his invaluable gift to the world today.
He offered and explained to
us a huge amount of different spiritual schools of thought. Although he only
presented the non-dual aspect, he was not an Advaita teacher, let alone an
Advaita Vedanta teacher. He did not follow any methodology or tradition and was
much more a “stirrer up” than a teacher in the conventional sense.
The downside of being
exposed to such a lot of different perspectives was that in my mind they started
to become one big conglomerate. Basically I did not make much of a distinction
between Buddhism, Taoism, Jainism, Sufism, Chassidism etc. or Vedanta. To me,
what was severely missing was exactly determining what is what, using logic and
to thoroughly thinking things through. I contented myself with whatever
somehow felt right or true.
That’s why I have found the
relentlessly logical approach of Advaita Vedanta so valuable, especially for
those who got stuck with Osho’s teachings. As for me, Osho prepared the ground:
I went through a school of karma yoga with him, but true understanding happened
with Dolano. She, too, is not an Advaita-Vedanta-teacher but she cut through all
those imprecisions in my, then, poorly developed buddhi. To answer your
question, Dolano is a celibate by nature, at least she was when I met her. But
she certainly does not hold celibacy as a necessary ingredient to the spiritual
Whatever Dolano offered when
I visited her in 2002 bore fruit with me – this fruit, she calls it awakening,
which is not yet enlightenment.
With awakening you have realized who you are, but this realization is not yet
stable in all circumstances. Now I would put it like this: you know clearly that
you are sat-chit whereas the ananta-aspect remains somewhat vague
which can still trigger short-term identification with a separate I. The root of
identification with a separate I has been cut but temporarily it may give the
impression of being restored again.
After Dolano’s teaching I
went through five years of “spiritual schizophrenia” as I call it, i.e. I knew,
and at the same time I knew not. In one way it was a fundamental relief because
something had come to a close. In another way I felt split because it undeniably
did not mean the ultimate end of the journey.
After those five years two
sentences from two of Gangaji’s books closed the split.
Only then I discovered
Advaita Vedanta. After
reading “Back to the Truth” by Dennis Waite in 2007, I started to study
traditional Advaita Vedanta (main influences being Swami Paramarthananda, Swami
Dayananda and Swami Chinmayananda).
NDM: What was it about
this book that made you want to switch from neo advaita to traditional advaita?
Sitara: I was not a seeker
anymore and I wanted to convey to others, what I knew to be true. I browsed
through the websites and books of Western Advaita teachers and found them
unsatisfactory because all of them seemed to offer the same, ultimately vague,
material. I did not want to add my own version of it: if you knew what they were
talking about, it made sense. If not, you had to believe them. Basic questions
remained unanswered, the main one being why, when there is only one reality, we
do experience a world. (At that time I had not come across Direct Path teachers
like Greg Goode, Francis Lucille or Rupert Spira).
Reading Dennis’ book I
discovered Advaita Vedanta and on top of that its unique methodology that
possibly was exactly what I had been looking for. The next step was going
through the “Introduction to Vedanta” series by Swami Paramarthananda on his
This made all the difference to me and I decided to explore this teaching more
deeply. Yet it also became increasingly obvious how little I knew and how much I
was still to learn.
In Germany there are no
traditional teachers with whom I could have studied. On the other hand I also
felt that because I did not want to learn for my own sake but in order to be
able to teach, the normal route designed for students of Advaita Vedanta was not
the way for me to go. Mainly it would have taken too long because meanwhile
there where students who I taught the best way I could, i.e. Western style,
which was fine to start with but I definitely wanted to offer more.
I have always been naturally
drawn to self-study, so I simply started to study Vedanta the best way I could.
In 2010 I found support by meeting a spiritual fellow traveller who was a
student of a traditional Vedanta teacher in England. We intensely studied
together for almost three years until he died.
By now I teach several
students, mainly on a one-to-one basis (Western-style teaching inspired by
Advaita Vedanta and Direct Path).
NDM: Do you see a danger
with a guru teaching a member of the opposite sex in private? Or on a one
to one basis. Such as conventional boundaries being violated in some way through
temptations of sex, or other means.
Sitara: If the Guru is truly
accomplished I do not see any danger. Otherwise the danger of abuse is always
there, no matter whether the teaching is private or public. Even in the latter
case the teacher can call the student in for “private darshan” and abuse the
I initially teach (so far)
on a one to one basis because I have found this to be the most efficient way for
the seeker. People’s minds are different and if a beginner not only has to
understand what I say but also needs to follow the half-baked ideas of others,
or needs to wait for someone much slower than himself, valuable time and energy
is wasted. Maybe at some point I will have to change the way I teach but as long
as I can manage,
I prefer to go along these lines:
First – in terms of Dennis’
book – “the jungle”
needs to be cleared, i.e. the ideas about their personal problems, about
spirituality, enlightenment etc. need to be sorted out. This is done in open
talks or on the basis of my essays published on my own website. Seekers need to
understand what is relevant or irrelevant for their spiritual quest. In the
course of this process, all my students realize who they are (in the sense of
Dolano’s awakening). Usually only after this has happened we systematically
start with the basics of Advaita Vedanta, continually relating them to that
particular student’s mind frame and life, deepening and crystallizing the
understanding. I also go with them through the script of a book on Advaita
Vedanta for Western seekers that I have written, which is still unpublished.
This prepares the ground for the study of scriptures in small groups.
NDM: In the
Tatvabodha, Adi Shankara mentioned that there are certain prerequisites, or sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti.
One on the list
is samAdhAna, or what is known in the west or other traditions as simply "samadhi". Or
ultimately nirvikalpa samadhi, or some refer to it as Asamprajnata Samadhi.
of the Divine Life Society has said "Asamprajnata Samadhi is possible when there
is perfect Nirodha of mind. Para Vairagya brings complete rest to the mind. All
Vrittis stop. This is the highest end of Raja Yoga which gives freedom."
result of this the akhaNDAkAra vritti is understood.
It is also understood that
as a result of the attainment of asamprajnata Samadhi, this will help in
purifying the vasanas and samskaras, cleaning the mind of past karma?
In doing so,
easier for the insight to occur as well as gaining other fruits?
Why do you feel that this path of samadhi is not practiced
today in Vedanta as it is with "neo Vedanta" or yoga, but the teachings seems to
rely more on scriptural pointing, reflection and so on?
I ask this because
some would refer to this
as more of a philosophical understanding only. In the Buddhist tradition, this
is known as “dry insight” Or like a ladle in a pot of soup, that has never truly
tasted the soup.
There are several aspects to the question. One is the basic understanding of
Advaita Vedanta as such. The second is about sadhana chatushtaya sampatti.
The third is about samadhi.
Advaita Vedanta as such:
preliminary point two definitions: Akhandakara vritti is not something to
be understood, akhandakara vritti is the understanding as such. Any kind
of practice is an action.
Understanding cannot be brought about by action. Understanding happens by
deploying one’s mind. This is not abstract or dry; it simply is how things are.
Action can help qualifying the mind for the task of gaining the understanding;
it can also help finding a teacher or studying scriptures. But the mind, in fact
the buddhi, is going to deliver the understanding and not a practice,
whatever it may be.
understanding is like a ladle that will never be able to taste the soup,
then it is
akhandakara vritti. The
understanding that goes hand in hand with akhandakara vritti is
existential and irreversible because it is the one and only objectless thought.
To make it
more clear: everyone knows that he is. But he does not really know who he is
because whatever he may attribute to himself is subject to change in the course
of time. For example as a 5 year old you attribute different things to yourself
than as a 50 year old. But the knowledge that you are is
unshakable and no-one will be able to convince you of the contrary. If the
knowledge of who you truly are is as unshakable as the knowledge
that you are, only then akhandakara vritti has occurred.
is for preparatory purposes. In due course this karma yoga will qualify
the seeker for jnana yoga, the path of knowledge. This is because being
equipped with certain qualities will make him realize that whatever he does (karma=doing)
will always a) generate objects, which on top of it are b) always going to
change and thus pass. If the seeker has reached a certain maturity he will be
able to see that this is not what he wants. He will understand that what he
seeks is a) not an object but the subject, the true Self, and he will be able
to, at least provisionally, accept b) that this subject is never going to pass
because it is is-ness itself.
As to the
second aspect: Sadhana chatushtaya sampatti
certain qualities and the maturity resulting from them, both mentioned above,
are brought about by karma yoga. One instrument of karma yoga is
sadhana chatushtaya sampatti. This sadhana (=discipline) enlists
nine qualities that enable the seeker’s mind to be calm and clear enough to
embark on the path of knowledge (=jnana yoga).
called prerequisites but there is no seeker who has got them in perfect measure.
As much as you can pass the entrance test to a school with ‘excellent’ or just
with ‘passed’ you can set off on the path of knowledge with more or less of
those qualities. But not with none of them; preparation is needed. In fact,
Western Advaita seekers already have got enough of those qualities to start the
journey. Otherwise they would not even be interested in the enquiry into their
true nature. The difference between traditional Advaita Vedanta and Western
Advaita is that the tradition goes about it systematically. Western Advaita
simply relies on only those people coming to it who are ready enough to ask the
question about their true nature.
As to the
qualities enlisted in sadhana chatushtaya sampatti I refer to the
following essay about them
mentioned, samadhana is one of those qualities. In Advaita Vedanta
samadhana has little to do with the practice of certain techniques to reach
a state of samadhi. On the path of knowledge this attempt would distract
the seeker who will start to place undue stress on reaching something that only
in the context of yoga is considered an end in itself.
context of Advaita Vedanta we are happy if through practice the seeker’s mind
gets reasonably cleared, i.e. cleared enough to be able to follow the teaching
and develop authentic understanding of his/her true nature. There is no need for
perfection or for states like samadhi. Samadhana means
focusing on what contributes to the path of
knowledge alone – and not getting sidetracked into running after experiences or
reaching certain states. Samadhana – understood as the attempt of
reaching a state – in fact would be the opposite of how it is understood in
Advaita Vedanta. And the idea that a certain state, which is most difficult to
gain, being the door to ultimate understanding is even more foreign to Advaita
As to the third
Your question: “… asamprajnata
Samadhi, this will help in purifying the vasanas and samskaras,
cleaning the mind of past karma? Making it easier for the insight to occur as
well as gaining other fruits?”
no need of cleaning the mind of past karma, in fact, it is impossible; all the
while you go on living you will inevitably create new karma. Even the idea of
ever being able to rid yourself of all vasanas/samskaras is a myth. And
luckily there is no need of all this ‘for the insight to occur’. And ‘other
fruits’ are of no interest once the insight is gained.
question: “Why do you feel that this path of samadhi is not practiced
today in Vedanta as it is with "neo Vedanta" or yoga, but the teachings seems to
rely more on scriptural pointing, reflection and so on?”
‘the path of samadhi’, as you call it, is considered to be a waste of
time. This does not mean that samadhi is altogether useless but the
effort required is in poor proportion to the result.
context I’d like to refer to what the Direct Path teacher Ananda Wood says in
“Ways to Truth” under “Altered States”.
Downloadable as pdf here:
question comes down to what it is that brings about enlightenment. Advaita
Vedanta’s definite answer to this question is “understanding alone”. Yet Advaita
Vedanta does not deny that enlightenment happens within all kinds of
philosophical and religious contexts. There are supreme enlightened beings in
Buddhism, Sufism, Christianity or wherever. Even though they may claim that
‘their’ enlightenment has been brought about by meditation, whirling, fasting or
prayer, they – in the course of meditating, whirling, fasting, praying – have
been exposed to their scriptures. Akhandakara vritti can only result from
the insights gained through this exposure – while meditating, whirling, fasting,
praying may have created a conducive, reasonably peaceful mental state, not more
and not less.
NDM: When you say that “ There is no need of cleaning the mind of past
karma, in fact, it is impossible; all the while you go on living you will
inevitably create new karma. Even the idea of ever being able to rid yourself of
all vasanas/samskaras is a myth.”
Yes, some traditions say there isn't a "you" on an absolute level
either, but what about
the fetters, or binding to various types of conditioning, or behavior, on a
For example if "someone" is saying they are liberated, have
attained moksha, but are still acting out on their sexual impulses and hurting
others in an inappropriate way. What kind of moksha would you consider that to
Is this an adharmic sort of moksha, that’s not in accord with the laws of
Sitara: Your interpretation is
not quite right: cleaning or not cleaning happens on the relative level. I did
not refer to the absolute level when I said that there is no need of cleaning
the mind of past karma and that this is as impossible as getting rid of
As to karma: the idea of
clearing past karma is very prevalent in the West and it may be a yogic idea,
too. But according to Advaita Vedanta karma gets cleared by experiencing.
Nothing else will clear it. The law of karma is impartial: every action
has a result, comparable to an arrow that has been shot; it will inevitably take
its course and hit its goal, no matter whether you change your mind after you
have shot it.
Having said this, I am aware
that there are rituals and prayers that are supposed to alleviate the results of
past actions. But the bottom line of the law of karma is that if
something is part of your karma package for this life (prarabdha karma),
there is no way to avoid the experience of it.
As to vasanas: maybe I
should have made it more clear that what I mean to say is that it is impossible
to get rid of all vasanas/samskaras.
In fact, it is very much needed
to work on overcoming one’s vasanas/samskaras. First of all you have to
eliminate those that are in the way of fully understanding who you are; and
after the understanding did happen you still have to work on those that continue
to reinforce habitual error.
But it will be impossible and
unnecessary to render all vasanas inoperative. Vasanas,
as well as karma, is what keeps the body going. If all the vasanas
were overcome and all the karma cleared the body would instantly perish.
You say: ‘For example if
"someone" is saying they are liberated, have attained moksha but are still
acting out on their sexual impulses and hurting others in an inappropriate way.
What kind of moksha would you consider that to be?”
First of all, just because
someone says that he is liberated does not mean that he is
liberated. Basically it is a question of how you define ‘liberated’.
Someone may have got a basic
understanding of his/her true nature. This basic understanding usually consists
of knowing that he/she is sat-chit (is-ness–consciousness) and is the
ultimate subject, the witness-consciousness to everything else. This is a very
valuable realization and on enquiry it is even seen that sat-chit is
But, very subtly, separation
continues. There is still a ‘me’ and an ‘everything else’. If someone is in this
state he may be able to help people and to teach, but as long as the last
realization – of “Aham Brahmasmi”, of “I am all there is”, ananta
(limitlessness) – has not happened, he is not altogether trustworthy. Such a one
I would not call liberated.
The one who truly knows himself
as sat-chit-ananta is unable to do harm to others. He may be having his
lot of residue vasanas but the unconditional love that he is will
outweigh them. Although he may be able to commit mistakes – he is neither
all-knowing nor perfect – he will not cause pain to others on purpose or to his
own advantage. But I admit that it can be a very fine line between a mistake and
a hurtful act.
Your last question: ‘Is this an
adharmic sort of moksha thats not in accord with the laws of karma?’
Firstly I do not believe in any
adharmic (=unethical) sort of moksha (= liberation). I
completely trust that someone who is fully liberated has lost his/her ability to
act adharmically. Yet I have to say that I do not agree with all
traditional ideas about what is supposed to be dharmic or adharmic.
I do not understand how your
above mentioned ‘laws of karma’ come in here. I suspect that we hold different
ideas about the law of karma.
NDM: Just going back to the Samadhi question, Ananda Wood says:
“In its content, a nirvikalpa samadhi is exactly the same as deep sleep.
There are no differentiated appearances in it. No differing perceptions,
thoughts or feelings appear. There is no sense of passing time, in which
appearances could come and go. There’s only pure experience: unmixed with any
physical or mental things that are perceived in space or time. In short, a
savikalpa samadhi is a special kind of dream; and a nirvikalpa samadhi is a
special kind of deep sleep.”
What Ananda wood may be speaking of is "murcha", Yogic swoon, “murcha”,
where the person becomes unconscious as a result. A muddy sort of samadhi,
practiced by one with an unpure mind or not much ability. Obviously this is not
going to be conducive for any insight, not more than being in a coma, on drugs,
or in deep sleep.
However in the mandukya karika, it says “For that mind loses itself in
sleep, but does not lose itself when under control. That very mind becomes the
fearless Brahman, possessed of the light of consciousness all around.”
In his bhashya on mandukya karika , Sankara says:
“When the mind becomes motionless, like a lamp in a windless place, it
does not appear in the form of any object imagined outside; when the mind
assumes such characteristics, then it becomes brahman; or in other words, the
mind then becomes identified with Brahman.”
The Tripura Rahasya (Ramana Maharshis favorite book) says that "the mind
is not there in deep sleep, but is like a mirror covered in tar so how can it
see its true nature. In the same way, the mind is covered with the
darkness of sleep and is not able to illuminate thoughts...
“Would such eclipse of
the mind reveal the glimmer of consciousness?”
In either case, it appears today that many are taking a short cut, a
“direct path" as with Zen or "neo advaita."
You call the practice of samadhi a "waste of time" but why did Adi
Shankara and the ancient rishis before practice this way?
Are you saying reflecting on scripture alone, or going to a satsang is a
much better way?
If so, has modern day Vedanta deviated from the ancient path of
the rishi is my question?
Sitara: To begin with let me
clarify: whereas I may have experienced savikalpa samadhi without
calling it that, I definitely have no experience of nirvikalpa samadhi. I
do not know about murcha, nor do I have much knowledge of yoga. As I am
neither able nor interested in countering one quote with another I will not go
into a discussion of details on samadhi or/and what others have to say
On top of
all that, I cannot be considered a Vedanta teacher either because a Vedanta
teacher is someone who has gone through sampradaya teaching, which I
haven’t. I do lean on Advaita Vedanta and deeply appreciate it, but my teaching
is tailored to the needs of a particular student, not to a particular teaching
method or tradition. Basically I am talking on my own authority. And I am ready
and willing to bring out my own viewpoint and have it questioned and discussed.
As to your claim that Shankara
and the rishis practiced samadhi I must say that whatever I‘ve
read of Shankara does not confirm this. Shankara stresses time and again that
the path of knowledge is about understanding and not about practice. I also
cannot detect any reference to the practice of samadhi in your quote from
Shankara’s commentary of Mandukya Karika. I take him saying that the mind
becomes identified with Brahman when it is like a lamp in a windless space, as
referring to what happens in the moment of akandhakara vritti: the mind
does not have any object anymore, it is pure subjectivity, i.e. Brahman.
I could imagine that
samadhana or samadhi in some contexts may mean nidhidyasana. I
do not know enough Sanskrit but this would make sense to me. Be that as it may:
as far as I am concerned, if it is samadhi (no matter what kind of –kalpa),
it is a state, i.e. something that will eventually go. If it is
self-realization, it is the immediate recognition of who you are, which is what
happens simultaneously with akandhakara vritti. No duration is needed,
there is no time lapse between that vritti and enlightenment. Once
akandhakara vritti happens, that’s it.
You say “it appears today that
many are taking a short cut, a direct path as with Zen or neo advaita.”
Here I would
like to add a definition of some crucial terms:
refers to every approach that considers reality to be non-dual, whether Zen,
Taoism, Vedanta, most of Western Satsang and others.
refers to those who accept the authority of the Vedanta, which is that part of
the Vedas that is also called Upanishads.
refers to those who do not accept the Vedas or Vedanta or anything else except
the ultimate reality. This Western approach denies the world of objects any
reality whatsoever, even a provisional reality.
is the approach of the followers of Ramakrishna, Sw. Vivekananda and Swami
is the tradition based on Adi Shankara’s teachings. There are slight differences
amongst different teachers, for example Swami Chinmayananda differs from Swami
Dayananda/Swami Paramarthananda. Ramakrishna Mission, although having a
different name to qualify their approach (Neo-Vedanta), also considers itself to
be in the tradition of Adi Shankara.
Advaita Vedanta is based on the teachings of Adi Shankara; it only accepts
teachers who have gone through a sampradaya teaching themselves and apply
that teaching in their work with students. Sampradaya teaching is a
methodology taught by teachers in the lineage of the five mathas founded
by Adi Shankara.
and Nisargadatta Maharaj are not traditional Advaita Vedanta, as their teaching
does not follow the traditional methodology, even though Nisargadatta’s Guru
belonged to one of the lineages.
usually is Advaita but not Vedanta. One can distinguish it from Neo-Advaita
although there are overlaps.
– in the narrowest sense – is the school of Atmananda Krishna Menon that exerts
self-exploration and logic. The teachers usually have some scriptural knowledge
although this is not part of the teaching.
In a wider
sense one can differentiate between the traditional and the direct approach. The
traditional approach is gradual, the direct approach claims that anyone can go
directly towards self-realisation.
In that sense
neo-advaita is direct, whereas neo-vedanta is gradual.
There are many
intermediate approaches, for example Ramana Maharshi recommended atma vichara
(Who am I?) as a contemplative technique (direct) while at the same time
recommending many other things for people unable to do this (gradual).
Now my answer to your question
above: “it appears today that many are taking a short cut, a direct path as with
Zen or neo advaita.”
I do not
proclaim these kinds of paths. Zen anyway is altogether different. First of all
it recommends action, i.e. meditation, as the means to self-realisation. And its
goal, shunya, is neither what I consider worthwhile pursuing nor can I
logically accept it.
When I talk of
Direct Path I refer to whatever I know of Sri Atmananda Krishna Menon’s method,
which is direct but neither illogical – something that I consider Neo Advaita to
be; nor vague – something that I consider Satsang teachings to be.
You say “Are you saying reflecting on scripture alone, or going to a
satsang is a much better way?”
My answer: (As to satsang, see
Reflection on scripture and on
one’s own understanding is the way, yes. It needs to be done with a teacher who
does not talk from book knowledge but from his own knowledge, i.e. someone whose
mind has turned into pure subjectivity in the above mentioned sense.
You: “If so has modern day
Vedanta deviated from the ancient path of the rishi is my question?”
I cannot say
much about “the ancient path of the rishis”. As I mentioned before, this
may well be your interpretation. Ask a hundred people about the “path of
the rishis” and you will get at least a hundred answers. The rishis
channelled – but did not author – all four Vedas, including Vedanta. Any
tradition in Hinduism that accepts Vedas (which most, but not all, do) will
claim the Vedas as authority for their tradition.
Advaita Vedanta has always recommended practices in order to clear the mind, as
far as I know it has never focussed or insisted on a “practice of samadhi”.
Its main focus has been on deepening the understanding through sravanana
(scriptural study), manana (clearing doubts that come up in the course of
that study) and nidhidhyasana (clearing away remains of habitual error,
which are not in the way of understanding but in the way of complete peace and
serenity in all circumstances). And this is what Advaita Vedanta does to this
practise of Samadhi”
is part of nidhidyasana it may well be useful for some people. But I cannot
accept it as a must even then.
NDM: When you said previously “This admittedly means a danger for
the seeker of truth; but if one can meet the challenge, love offers a unique
chance. Since it is not love itself that is a danger, not even the bond or
desires that arise – the danger is identification. Identification with what? It
is not the identification with love, but the identification with the emotional
reactions that usually come along with the feeling of love.”
But what about at the point of death, if one still has these desires for
sex and love? What will happen then? Will one be out of samsara or not?
Sitara: No, one will not be out
of samsara. In the process of dying many issues may resolve but if these
desires still come up strongly they will remain and they will keep you in
For a dedicated seeker of truth
it is important to ask: why are these desires still there? I see two possible
One is that the seeker has been
fighting those desires. Fighting the desires for love or sex is the surest way
to keep them alive and thriving. Why? Whatever you fight needs your constant
attention. This means you will keep on focusing on you desires, providing them
with a continual energy supply.
The other is that the seeker
has always wanted to go into love or sex and did not have or take the
opportunity to do so. If a strong desire for love or sex is there but the
opportunity is missing, we have to consider this as prarabdha karma.
My conviction is that, usually,
you will not be able to transcend these desires without going through the
experience itself. As you cannot force the desires out of your mind you can only
pray for the opportunity to arise in order to transcend them. More in the essay
Love and the path
of knowledge do not seem to have a lot in common, except at the
highest level, absolute love – a love of all. But love is part of
life, not only the love of the divine, of humanity, of nature, of
people in need, of friends and family. What we in the West usually
understand by love is the love between two human beings in a love
relationship that usually involves sex. What about that? What value
does such a relationship have for the seeker of truth?
spiritual traditions either disregard it or treat it as a sort of
adolescent phenomenon which, by all means, should not be given too
much attention – a sort of pedeatric disease to which one hopefully
becomes immune in the course of life. Those who have completely
grown out of it take up the highest rungs in the spiritual hierarchy
– be it in Christianity or in Eastern religions.
Is it really
necessary to transcend love relationships in order to become
enlightened? Do they really pose a threat to the search for truth?
Are they necessarily an obstacle on the spiritual journey?
Continue reading the
rest of the essay here "on
If in the process of dying
these desires still arise you should simply relax with them. They are a fact,
they show that something is not complete and this is just how things are. It
does not help dramatizing the situation. Instead, see that along with these
desires there also is the desire to complete the journey. The strongest desires
determine our next incarnation. So there will be opportunity enough to go
through the experience of love and sex as well as beyond the desire for them and
complete the journey.
NDM: This is Stuarts question. Vedanta, Taoism, Buddhism,
Judeo-Christian Gnosticism, Mystical Sufism, all laud transcendence of duality
and desire verified by transcendence of sex, from Buddha to Dalai Lama and
millions of others in India over the millenniums. Has ...modern nondualism
created something new where sex and desire are not transcended?
Sitara: I cannot say much about
modern non-dualism in general because there are too many varieties. I can only
outline my own viewpoint:
Enlightenment requires dis-identification
with who you are not. If desire means identification it is incompatible with
truly knowing your non-dual nature. This refers to all desires, no matter what
their object may be.
Basically there is no problem
with renunciation, be it of personal desires for sex, riches, fame or whatever –
if, and only if, the desire is not very strong. Similarly there is no problem
even if these desires are strong but are not nearly as strong as the desire for
moksha. But if none of these “ifs” apply there is only one option: going
beyond it by going through it.
Maybe this is a relatively new
phenomenon. Modern society places high value on anything personal, i.e. on
personal desires and their fulfillment. This is how material, emotional and
sexual gratification has gained a momentum that seems out of proportion compared
to the past. But there is no use to lament this development. It is a fact now
and will become more so in the future. So non-dualistic teaching needs to take
it into account.
To my mind the chance to
transcend strong desires for sex or love by traditional methods seems quite
remote, at least in nowaday’s world. Coping with them in the traditional way
they are more likely to become suppressed than transcended. For dedicated
seekers I rather recommend passing through the “sadhana of love” pointed
out in the essay ”on Love” – even though it is a hard sadhana and needs
the guidance of a skilled teacher in order to be successful. Also, it is
relatively new so there are not many who would be skilled enough to deliver that
The only other alternative I
see is to go through the “sadhana of life”, which will work out in the
end but may take many lifetimes of fruitlessly suffering one’s way through the
ups and downs of the so-called “love-life”.
Any sadhana is an
instrument that helps the seeker to transcend identification with what he IS
NOT. In case of the “sadhana of love” this is the identification with the
one who needs the love of the other to be complete.
But in order to know what one
truly IS, you need more than a sadhana: you need knowledge. Only with the
knowledge of who one truly is, the path can be completed. So, even though this
sadhana is of immense value, it only clears the way for the knowledge to
The reason why I consider the
sadhana of love so valuable is because the identification with the one
that needs the other in order to be complete is universal and so far there are
not many methods that can help to surpass it. And it definitely needs to be left
One other sadhana that
helps to overcome the identification with the one needs the other in order to be
complete is bhakti. But it may not be able to help with the sexual
To sum up my answer: I do not
see any need to transcend sex for enlightenment to happen but I do see the need
to transcend the identification with anything one is not.
NDM: Is this a higher state than what Buddha and founder of advaita, Adi
Shankara, taught to monks and lay people and lived personally?
Sitara: Shankara’s was a
different time that needed different sadhanas. The teaching methodology
of Advaita Vedanta is timeless. But the code of conduct recommended is subject
to change. If it is not adapted to people living in nowaday’s world it will fail
to get through to them.
NDM: Sitara, why do the
Vedic monastics practice celibacy and have no material possessions?
Sitara: If it works for them it
is because they are living in a different world and thus time than you or me or
those who read these answers. If it does not work for them it is a sure
sign that modern times have reached them and they, too, need different measures.
END OF INTERVIEW
Talking on a
weekly basis for an hour or more with each student takes time. As I also
need to earn my livelihood, I have 12 students. If more came I am sure
that I would find a way to work with them, too. Yet I do not accept
everyone. I need to feel that he/she is a dedicated seeker, i.e. is
ready to drop experience hunting in the realm of artha, kama and
END OF INTERVIEW