- Dispelling the Myths and Misleading Teachings of
- Contemporary Non-duality (Neo-Advaita and Neo-Buddhism)
1. THE ARISING OF THE NEW ADVAITA
"If all is One, then nothing is wrong." Charles Manson.
Toward the end of the early 90s, teachers of a new approach to Advaita, now being termed Neo-Advaita,began springing up all over the world, and along with that, I began to see the same pattern play itself out over and over again, as follows:
A. The spiritual aspirant would have a glimpse.
B. He or she would mistake this for Enlightenment.
C. Then they would set up shop and begin teaching, often by writing about their personal experiences.
D. Then begin charging others for this information that often times they'd gotten for free.
E. Then the teacher would fall from grace or be exposed in some way, often by his or her student(s).
F. Some would apologize, take time off, and set up shop again somewhere else, only to repeat the same pattern over again.
However, there are many who never fall from grace because disgruntled students who see through the facade just move away and are replaced by new innocent faces. That is why some contemporary non-duality teachers last so long.
So most are never exposed and those few students who do eventually see behind the mask have by that time so much of their lives, time and money invested. They may have such high status in the community, that they often end up colluding with the false teacher.
But let's look at some of the reasons why modern people are so fascinated with neo-advaita. Obviously, it does fulfill some role, or it would not be so popular at a time where interest in conventional religion, especially in the west, is on the decline.
In terms of these contemporary non-duality teachings themselves, certain aspects can actually be quite helpful, like stepping-stones that may lead to legitimate insights and deeper paths or truths. Contemporary non-dual teachings can get one"s foot in the door. They may also be helpful to someone who is disgruntled, or looking for something new or fresh. To someone who may have unresolved authority issues, or who is unable to meditate, study the scriptures.
Does it have some advantages?
Yes it can, for example, a practice like being in the now is great if you can truly achieve this, as are other pointers that many Western contemporary teachers use. These simple, plain English terms are much easier to grasp for Westerners than the traditional Indian, Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese, Japanese and Tibetan ancient scriptures. It's usually easier for a Westerner to listen to a clear contemporary and ordinary-looking enlightened Western teacher who uses simple pointers such as awareness and so on.
However, it's also easy to misunderstand crucial points based on words alone, since so many Sanskrit words are similar, such as karma and kama, which mean very different things. Kama, for example, usually means sexual desire as in the well-known kama sutras by Vatsyayana; while karma means action. Kamma in Pali also means action.
Is neo-Advaita better than no teaching at all?
That depends of what is being taught, however another reason is that it's also not easy to find or even have access to an authentic Indian guru in the West versed in the Upanishads and the Vedas, where as it's so easy to find many hundreds if not thousands of Neo-Advaitin teachers advertising themselves on utube, Face book, or promoted on countless other non-duality websites. And if you do find a traditional guru, there may be other types of cultural hindrances that are not suitable for Westerners, such as bowing down, worshiping the guru, surrendering to the guru (especially if they are male, and you're female), touching the guru's feet, and so on.
There can be rites, rituals, and many kinds of unfamiliar exotic gods, goddesses, some even being elephants, monkeys. All of this and more can also cause internal conflicts, cognitive dissonance, especially for Westerners coming from a different cultural background of formal religion and ritual where anything like this can be an automatic turn off.
Though contemporary non-duality may work for some people, there are also so many stories of abuses prevalent today, with regard to Indian gurus that it's not so easy to trust someone no matter who they are or what lineage they come from, or even what kind of reputation they have, whether they be a monk, a lay person, or otherwise.
A Western teacher may be more familiar, more accessible, even more humble in some cases, and easier to relate to on a personal level.
However a problem seems to arise if the seeker gives up their traditional spiritual practice much too soon, because of being under the illusion that they have become "fully enlightened" or have attained moksha (liberation). They say Moksha is the final liberation and freedom from rebirth into the realms of samsara
Before we go any further, lets look at some of the differences and similarities with two of the main traditional schools, Vedanta and Buddhism.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THERAVADA BUDDHISM AND TRADITIONAL VEDANTA
Traditional Vedanta advaita, non-duality,believes that everything is "one without a second" and that pure awareness is not dependent on anything at all.
This is a complicated subject but Theravada Buddhism doesn't use the word 'advaita' a Sanskrit term. but the Pali word Tathagata does point to one who has realized ultimate reality - Nibbana, Pali for Nirvana. Somtimes this is referred to - Tat- Sanskrit or 'That' in English.
The Theravadin Buddhists also stress that the true cause of suffering is based upon various causes and conditions, known as dependent origination, paticca samuppada.
The Vedas are not homogeneous and often conflicting since they came from many sources. Non-dualism, qualified non-dualism. Vedanta, neo Vedanta, kundalini yoga, tantra, mantra, yantra and so on. Many of these schools have interpretations of the Upanishads and the various sutras.
Theravada Buddhism came from only one source, that being the Buddha and his tecahings are encapsulated in the Pali canon.
Buddhism also isn't an off shoot of Vedanta, the Upanishads or anything else, as some say it is.
Traditional Vedanta believes in an ultimate Self, known as Brahman or satchitananda:truth, consciousness and bliss.
To illustrate how this is often misunderstood in contemporary non duality circles, there is a story about a contemporary non duality teacher who was giving a satsang (for a fee) and believed he was Brahman or satchitananda:truth, consciousness and bliss. Then a seeker in the audience asked him for his Rolex watch and this teacher didn't know what to say.
So the next day he went and bought a cheap counterfeit five dollar Rolex watch and put it on his wrist. This time he was prepared and when this same seeker asked him for it again, he gave him the five dollar Rolex watch. However, this seeker was a very clever and then asked him for his wallet and his BMW car keys and deeds to his house.
This story points to one of the problems charging for the teachings and saying you are everything and why Theravada Buddhism doesn't have this problem with not self, anatta even though this is often misunderstood and can be very confusing.
However what the Buddha was pointing to is that any "attachment" to a permanent self, even a transcendental self, is seen as a sakkaya-ditthi, a 'personality view" or wrong view. Reason being any kind of "I Am", "I am-ness" small, or large, limited, or unlimited is seen as a form of conceit and wrong view.
Traditional Vedanta believes that everything is God, Brahman, and you are this God; however, there are aspects of this God, such as Brahma, the creator, Shiva the destroyer and Vishnu the sustainer.
Theravada Buddhism doesn"t believe in a monotheistic almighty creator God but does believe in many heavenly deities, or gods, such as Brahma, Sakka, devas, Mara, (tempter) as well as Nagas, hungry ghosts, and demons in other realms. 31 altogether that make up samsara. 4 are lower realms and 26 are higher heavenly realms and one human realm.
Traditional Vedanta practices chanting of the sutras, fire rituals and some Hindu schools/cults still practice massive animal sacrifices to appease the gods/goddesses, superstition, magic and other reasons but the school of Adi Shankara no longer does.
Theravada Buddhists don't practice fire rituals, sacrifice or kill animals, practice astrology, or believe in drinking alcohol, or taking any kind of mind-altering drugs like soma; (mentioned in the Vedas) however they do practice chanting of the suttas.
Celibacy and renunciation
Traditional Vedanta believes that lay people can be liberated. attain moksha, exit samsara without being celibate and becoming a monk and they can also drink alcohol and have sex and go about their business as usual. These are some of the reasons why its so attractive in the west because life is seen as being fun and not suffering at all. Samsara is seen as a divine play, or a game created by God or the various god(s).
Theravada Buddhists believe celibacy and renunciation is required to attain Nibanna/Nirvana. "Right intention" is often mentioned first in the Noble Eight Fold Path, that means renunciation. letting go and non harm and having good will towards others.
You can be non-celibate only up to the second stage of enlightenment. Sakadagami, (once returner). To attain nibbana you have to become a monk, or a total renunciate and live off alms and cannot handle money, grow, hunt or cook your own food and only eat food what is given to you.
This is why most westerners and even high caste Indians balk when they hear this and often ridicule it and want nothing to do with it and seek another way. The thought of begging to them is repulsive and any kind of renunciation is foolish since "you only live once". You often hear that saying , "He who dies with the most toys wins" and this mentality is not so easy to over come, even for non duality teachers.
Traditional Vedanta believes that one is born a Brahmin, or more holy/pure/superior than others at birth.
Theravada Buddhism believes one becomes a Brahmin (holy/pure) by one's actions, intentions, speech and thoughts, not by caste or birth. That Buddhism is equally available to all castes, Brahmins, merchants, politicians, warriors and even the untouchables.
Traditional Vedanta practice karma yoga, and fire rituals, sacrifices, use of mantras, and japa and attain merit.
Karma in the Theravada Buddhist system is also based on volition of thought, speech and deed.
In Vedanta, Krishna told Arjuna its right to kill, or injure his relatives in war since he isn't the doer and the lord protects killers as long as its their dharma, or duty to kill.
Theravada Buddhism says that killing any form of sentient beings, has serious karmic consequences and that its always wrong to intentionally kill, murder and that there is no lord, god, savior, deva, Mara or Brahma that can protect anyone from the fruits of their karma. Believing otherwise will result in a lower realm after death. Demon, hungry ghost, animal, or a hell realm, eight hell realms altogether. Four hot and four cold hell realms.
Rebirth and Reincarnation
Traditional Vedanta believes in reincarnation, many avatars like Krishna and various realms of existence. They believe that Buddha was the incarnation of the Hindu god and avatar, Vishnu. The Buddha himself denied that he was a god, or a reincarnation of a god and said that he was the teacher of gods and humans.
Theravada Buddhism believes in rebirth and various realms of existence, but not in avatars like Krishna. It says a Buddha will only appear in the world every few thousand years; the next one will be Maitreya in another 2,500 years and not before, however some of the commentaries say the date is not fixed.
Traditional Vedanta teaches with a guru, who is seen as being the supreme God, Lord, divine or holy: a Bhagavan or Supreme Being, avatar, or God on earth and of the heavens above, and everything that exists. The student also has to surrender to the guru and be subservient to them, and do as they say. Vedanta doesn't charge for the teachings, but some lay teachers do.
Theravada Buddhists teach with kalyana-mitta or a spiritual friend and takes refuge in the Buddha dhamma and the sangha.
Stages of Enlightenment
Traditional Vedanta believes in three stages of practice, built on a foundation of the Four Means and the Six Virtues: 1) Listening to the teachings (sravana); 2) Reflecting on those teachings (maana); and 3) Deep contemplative meditation on those principles (niddhidhyasana).
Theravada Buddhism believes in four progressive stages of enlightenment.
Traditional Vedanta teaches knowledge or jnana in order to become a jivanmukta and more or less be as you were before. This means you can behave as you see fit, or what suits your temperament, and you can still follow your inclinations, desires, which are now seen as gods desires, gods ambitions, gods enjoyment, god pleasures and doing.
Theravada Buddhism teaches one to overcome all greed, hatred and delusion in order to become an arahant and attain nibbana (Pali for nirvana).
Saint or scoundrel
Vedanta says that a jivanmukta has a "double consciousness" and can be a saint or a scoundrel, or a mixture of both and others have told me that "its ok to sin in moderation, or to sin intelligently". Meaning the idea is not to get caught.
"Yet, he may be the greatest scoundrel; he may be the most worldly- minded man with internal and external attachments. ...................This is integral development. This is the gist of the Bhagavad-Gita. This is the central teaching of Lord Krishna." See Jivanmukta by Swami Sivananda.
Theravada Buddhism says that you cant be a scoundrel and attain nirvana, or even the first stage of enlightenment and being one would indicate that one is still in samsara. Theravada Buddhism doesn't teach a "double consciousness", but aims at "attaining" a pure, holistic, unconditioned imperturbable type of consciousness that is rid of greed, hatred and delusion.
Traditional Vedanta teaches Sadhana Chatshtaya / Shatsampat: 1) Discrimination (viveka); 2) Non-attachment (vairagya); 3) Longing (mumukshutva); and 4) Six Virtues (shatsampat), namely: 1) Tranquility of Mind (shama); 2) Training (dama); 3) Withdrawal (uparati); 4) Forbearance (titiksha); 5) Faith (shraddha); and 6) Focus (samadhana).
Theravada Buddhism teaches a Noble Eightfold Path: Right View; Right Intention; Right Speech; Right Action; Right Livelihood; Right Effort; Right Meditation; and Right Mindfulness.
Neo-Vedanta is different from Traditional Vedanta, in that some teach samadhi and yoga. For this reason, it is closer to Theravada Buddhism, but differs at the end. In terms of views and fetters.
Sri Ramana Maharshi, Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj and Sri Atmananda Krishna Menon are all well known Neo-Vedantins and considered mystics by the Traditional Vedanta tradition; therefore, they are not authorised teachers.
Self enquiry/Atma vichara.
This only applies to Vedanta or schools of yoga popularized by the Indian advaitin Ramana Maharshi.
Theravada Buddhism see this as a wrong kind of investigation, being based on a faulty premise- (looking for a true self) even through aspects of it may be somewhat useful or a stepping stone to lead one to anatta, or see that "awareness" is also not self.
The Buddha in the suttas said its preferable to identity with the physical body than with "consciousness" citta or any aspect of the mind since its changes from moment to moment as the body lasts for at least 80 years.
NEO ADVAITA, THE NOW TEACHINGS AND MINDFULNESS
In the contemporary non-dual teachings of a Western teacher, most of the pointers about presence or awareness or being in the now derive from two main Indian traditions and sources: Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta. Unfortunately, many of these pointings only address part of the teaching from Vipassana and mindfulness practice and not the more profound aspects as taught by the Buddha in the Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness.
The Mahasatipathana sutta, what is referred to as insight meditation, will lead one to seeing that everything is impermanent and no self. It is known as the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, a meditation practice where one is mindful of the breath, the body, feelings, sensations, thoughts, that arises in one"s awareness. This also includes meditating on the five aggregates, the six sense bases, the five hindrances, the seven factors of enlightenment and the four noble truths. In the Noble Eightfold Path,a principle teaching of the Buddha known as right mindfulness.
Even though pointing to the now is very useful, the viewpoint of Vedanta is that you are not always in the now; the now is arising in you. Every thought that you have, whether it"s about the past or the future, is always a brand new thought that arises in the present. For example, you could recall a childhood memory, but that memory occurs in the present, so you don"t need to be in the now because you are the now. It"s not about time or an experience in time.
In reality Vedanta says that you are all time and all experiences, and that true knowledge can liberate you into your natural state so that you also embody this realization, moment to moment.
The Buddha in the Pali Canon taught that one should be present, aware, and mindful of one's intention and volition, and to always make the right choice, make the right effort; meaning to not act out on any thought, feeling, sensation or idea that might cause harm to anyone else or to one's self. This is the correct way to be present, aware, and clearly comprehending,or Sampajaa in Pali. This also means not forsaking your sense of conscience with your sense of self. In fact it means cultivating your goodness as well.
Not doing so can also result in the searing of the conscience or losing it altogether. Hiri-ottappa, in Pali, means having a moral sense of shame and an aversion of wrongdoing in general.
Another criticism of contemporary non-duality teachers is the conveyance of concepts such as, "There is nothing you can do or need to do. "
On an absolute and theoretical level and according to the teachings of traditional Vedanta, liberation is not something that is reached. They say we are already "That"which we are searching for. This pointing to the word "That"was made popular in the book I Am That, by Sri Nisargadatta, an Advaita Indian sage.
GIVING UP THE SEARCH
The problem arises when you tell someone to give up the search. This isn"t going to automatically solve the dilemma of dualism and the experience of being a separate individual encased in a body. Telling the seeker that they are already non-dual awareness can irritate or frustrate them even more, and in some cases, if this isn"t properly understood, can cause more problems. It may set them back and create a state of hopelessness, meaninglessness, or a sense of futility when their conditionings and unwholesome mind states begin to cause them grief, depression, fear, anger, and anxiety.
Going to satsangs (Sanskrit for in company with truth, usually meaning a guru; and traditionally the guru would use the Upanishads, Vedas, Bhagavad Gita and many other scriptures) may not bring relief either; it may even exacerbate the situation, this is why traditional Vedanta was not given to just anyone.
Like anything else, however, not every contemporary non-dual teacher is going to be the same, some are more skillful than others, and yes, there are some very skillful teachers out there. Many have backgrounds in traditional Vedanta, Buddhism, Yoga, psychology, philosophy, and other paths as well. Some have a clear way of communicating non-dual realization while others don"t. Not everyone has the same knowledge, intellect, skill, or experience to communicate the absolute truth, nor are many suited to teach this.
RADICAL NON-DUALITY AND CRAZY WISDOM
However, some nontraditional teachers seem to have an extreme way of teaching the absolute level of reality. Vedanta is traditionally taught or pointed to in some traditions as the last stage of the teachings.
It can be confusing to someone who is new to the subject, particularly when the student asks a question from a relative level and is answered from an absolute level. For example, you ask a metaphysical question about God and are answered with a mundane response about washing the laundry. The teacher may cut out crucial aspects such as conditioning, karma, dharma, or free will.
In some traditions like Zen, the reason for doing this could be a form of shock therapy or a "Zen slap." These tactics have been called "crazy wisdom," and in some historical cases, it may have been quite effective. A prime example is when Naropa, a well known Tibetan teacher, hit his student Tilopa on the head with a shoe. If a student is ripe, this kind of shock can take the blinders off. If not, it can cause psychological chaos or other complications. This is why in some of the Tibetan Mahayana Buddhist traditions one of the bodhisattva precepts is to not teach emptiness unless someone is ready for it. This is known as the "minister vow." The danger of the emptiness teaching is that some may misinterpret emptiness, shunyata, to mean non-existence, and as a result become nihilists, thus denying the relationship of cause and effect. The danger of this is when one does not acknowledge the cause and effect of their actions.
The true meaning of the shunya, or emptiness, is a profound teaching and can be difficult for some to understand. According to this doctrine, everything is seen as impermanent, suffering and Not-self. Telling someone that thier body, feelings, perceptions, thoughts and consciousness are not-self can be confusing, even frightening. Knowing this intellectually is one thing, living it day-to-day, moment-to-moment, is something else and can be difficult to truly realize.
Here"s an example: I watched a nontraditional non-duality teacher tell a confused seeker that she was nothing, "a complete fake," "a cardboard cutout," "a phony," in front of an audience of about 50 people. One of the listeners became distraught and started sobbing out of confusion, embarrassment, and misunderstanding.
Satsang is supposed to mean "association with truth." Again, this depends on the teacher's skill, the ripeness of the seeker, and other factors previously mentioned. The odds are if you are not prepared for the pointers, it's not going to work, or at best it's going to be hit or miss because having a fraction of a second of a glimpse at awareness during a satsang is not going to immediately solve your problems with craving, hatred, or other issues.
For many seekers, satsangs don't work if the teacher is speaking strictly from his or her personal experience without presenting a proven method or a path to follow.
NIHILISM / NO-DOER
Many non-dualists say, "All meditation is meaningless and has no purpose." This is simply not true and it's a perfect example of the misunderstanding of what true Buddhist meditation really is, also a misunderstanding of the two truth doctrines. On an absolute level nothing has any meaning; its only meaning is what you give to it on this relative level. On a relative level Vedanta says this is only half the message, and that it's important not to confuse the relative and the absolute when communicating this. The problem is that the nontraditional teachers cherry pick certain teachings from Advaita Vedanta and then take them out of context or negate the rest of the teachings.
Contemporary non-duality can be a form of spiritual nihilism. It's anything goes approach makes it dangerous if you do not take into consideration the relative aspects of this world.
In the Buddhist tradition, the Buddha often referred to these types of teachers as nihilist's, uccheda-ditthi, and dangerous heretics, because they distorted and misunderstood his teachings, and they did not believe in karma. So it is a general understanding in most schools of Buddhism that denying karma is considered having a wrong view.
Nagajuna, an Indian mystic and one of the founders of Tibetan Buddhism also warned about this. He said that, the dharma taught by the Buddha perfectly relies on two truths: the ambiguous truths of the world and the truths of the sublime, or the conventional reality, the world of name and form, and the absolute reality.
Nagajuna also said, "Those who do not understand the division into two truths cannot understand the profound reality of the Buddha's teaching. Without relying on the conventions, the sublime meaning cannot be taught. Without understanding the sublime meaning, one will not attain nirvana. If their view of emptiness is wrong, those of little intelligence will be hurt. Like handling a snake in the wrong way or casting a spell in the wrong way."
Some contemporary non-dualists say, "There is nothing you can do or need to do. All you have to know is that there is no one there." but you can"t really speak of "no one" there without also bringing into the equation the relative conventional reality. Also by truly understanding the doctrine of not-self which is different from saying there is, or is not a self, soul, jiva and so on.
For example, in Zen, emptiness doesn't mean empty in the traditional sense of the word. Emptiness implies clearly seeing beyond name and form, beyond feelings, perceptions, views, belief systems, speculations, opinions, and conditionings. The mind uses mental constructs, labels, and belief systems to create associations, all of which muddies one's awareness. It doesn't mean that everything doesn't exist, or that there isn't a self or not a self, but that everything is dependant on various causes and conditions known as patticca samuppada, dependent arising.
The Buddha said that suffering comes from our erroneous perceptions and our ignorance. That's why he stressed the importance of combining a practice of shamataand Vipassana meditation (actually meaning insight into seeing reality, absolute truth, and things as they really are beyond name, labels, and form, impermanent and material phenomena) and reflecting on this on a very deep level in order to see through the ignorance. Doing so will free us from all afflictions and suffering. Wrong perceptions concerning oneself, one's mind, body, feelings, emotions, sensations, concepts, and constructs, as well as those of others, are all interrelated. They are part of the misunderstanding that causes anxiety, fear of death, and aversion. Buddha said that when you remove these misunderstandings and wrong views, you remove all suffering.
Some of these non-duality teachers view the traditional teachings as antiquated, useless, and inferior, and as a result lead seekers away from the true traditional path. Some are outspoken and mock and ridicule the dharma, the traditional teachings of Buddhism, Vedanta, and especially meditation, or any kind of practice.
This brings to mind a story about a man in India who claimed to be enlightened. He was going around like the Neo-Advaita teachers of today, saying that there is no me or no world, it does not exist, there is just this, all is maya (illusion). The humble townspeople eventually got sick of hearing him, so they grabbed him and threw him into a deep pit where he could not escape. After two days they asked him, "Is this pit also maya?" He was stubborn and said yes, so they waited another week and then went back and asked again. He was filthy, starving, and cold, pleading for mercy and forgiveness, and he replied, "No it's real, please let me out. I will never say that again or speak about enlightenment. Please let me out of this pit. It is not illusion; it's real. I'm filthy, starving, and cold." Eventually he learned to keep quiet about this.
Continue to Part 2
 Most of the complaints were about inappropriate sexual misconduct, anger, verbal abuse, and other forms of manipulation, often with regard to money and feelings of being
"had"or conned by these teachers.
enlightened" is more for the Buddhists, indicating being an arahant (saint). Advaita Vedanta does not note stages of enlightenment.
 The Noble Eightfold Path consists of having a right view, right intention, right conduct, right speech, right livelihood, right effort, right concentration, and right mindfulness, which results in nirvana.
 The Pali Canon are a collection of the Buddha's words/scriptures from the Theravada Buddhist tradition. It is believed that these scriptures originated with the Buddha and his early disciples. These Pali scriptures are considered the final authority.
 The view of non-doing (akiriya-ditthi), the wrong-view of nihilism, primarily denies that actions have consequences. A similar view of not being the doer/enjoyer was popularized in the 1990s by many Neo Advaitins. This view was also prevalent during the Buddha's time.
 The bodhisattva is someone who has a wish to attain Buddhahood to benefit all sentient beings, and who is also willing to put off their own complete liberation until they do so. However, the Buddha in the Pali Canon didn't teach this bodhisattva doctrine the way it's taught today, but the Buddha did say that he was an 'un-enlightened bodhisattva' himself before his attainment of nirvana.
 Apaṇṇaka Sutta: The Incontrovertible Teaching.
 'Dharma' means the teachings that lead to truth. 'Dhamma' is the Pali word for this, but since many Westerners and Vedantins are more familiar with Sanskrit, I will use the Sanskrit word throughout this book.
 Maya is a term found in both Pali and Sanskrit literature. It has multiple meanings and can be translated to mean 'illusion' or 'delusion.'
Dhamma and Non-duality by Bhikkhu Bodhi