Did you ever
formally study traditional Advaita Vedanta?
should at the outset say that other than as a matter,
perhaps, of curiosity, me or what I did is utterly
inconsequential, not to be considered important. I never
studied Advaita formally under a Guru-Sishya
(tradition) nor did I pursue any particular teacher or
ashram. In fact I feel repulsed to “follow” any organized
system that upfront demands obsequious obeisance, dictates a
belief structure, creates a hope and promises a distant
spiritual inquiry, if I may use that term, has been more
like the pursuit of research in science – define the problem
as it arises, do a literature search, then investigate,
check and cross check to the extent possible and so on. In
this process I was exposed to Zen, a wide variety of
teachers in Advaita (from traditional to Direct path to Neo)
and also bits and pieces of other systems. Undoubtedly there
is a greater influence of Advaitic thought of the ancient
Indian texts on me simply because they are some of the
finest philosophical texts based on logic and were also the
more readily accessible resources for me. I am truly
indebted to each one of them and also to the innumerable
people who helped me in arriving at a clear understanding.
NDM: Is there any particular method or study out of
all these various ways that clicked with you over the
Vemuri: Never give up questioning even in the face of an
apparently convincing answer. Keep wading through the jungle
(of information) until a clear meadow is in sight and you
begin to feel the fresh breath of air just like that at the
daybreak after a stormy night (sorry for the mixed metaphor;
but hope you got the picture!).
Why exactly do you feel repulsed to follow
any organized system that demands
obsequious obeisance exactly?
Vemuri:: A Philippine friend of mine used to quote a proverb. If
you want the bird in your hand to fly high, you have to
loosen the grip of your fist. There cannot be free inquiry
when you are already told to fall in line with a system. An
open wondering mind is a pre-requisite for new discovery.
Let me quote from Scientific American, July 2010 about a
recent research paper (www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-willpower-paradox&page=2)
"[T]hose with questioning minds were more intrinsically
motivated to change. They were looking for a positive
inspiration from within, rather than attempting to hold
themselves to a rigid standard. Those asserting will lacked
this internal inspiration, which explains in part their weak
commitment to future change. Put in terms of addiction
recovery and self-improvement in general, those who were
asserting their willpower were in effect closing their minds
and narrowing their view of their future. Those who were
questioning and wondering were open-minded—and therefore
willing to see new possibilities for the days ahead."
Supplication or obedience to an authority or subjugation or
deference to a power is a poor translation of the surrender
that happens with the collapse of an individuating 'self.'
One cannot impose by force upfront the
(quality) that automatically comes with the attainment of
lakshya (goal), particularly in this peculiar situation
where lakshya and
lakshana are one and the
Any extraneously imposed discipline requires a rigid
disciplinary structure, an adjudicating authority and a
policing mechanism. These systems then acquire a life of
their own and struggle for their survival and perpetuation.
They adopt all the tricks of the ‘ego’ in creating a
“personality” for themselves ultimately proving to be
counterproductive and detrimental to the very ‘death of
ego’, the ostensible purpose for which they have come in the
NDM: Have you read the Guru Papers: Masks of
Authoritarian Power by the way? Here is a short pdf
from a chapter from this book. Assault on Reason.
Vemuri:: Thanks John for the Link. I have not read the book. I
do vibe with questioning any authority, however spiritually
high it is rated to be – not out of derision or disrespect
but not to be impeded in my own search by second hand wisdom
handed down with a diktat to follow.
Most of the Gurus whatever color robes they come draped in –
black, orange, white, pink, yellow and so on – are concerned
with human ‘relationships.’ Some of them treat Oneness as
a theory from which societal ‘apps’ can be derived and in
the process they build up empires of their organizations,
expand with imperialistic ambitions, develop loyal colonies
and be lost in a plethora of monetary and material problems
– all in the name of transcending those problems. Advaita
teaching is not aimed at groups. It is an individualistic
inquiry, deconstruction of one’s own imaginary world
sublating into an ineffable
So without a teacher/guru of some
kind, how does one navigate a path through this
non-dual jungle? How did you do this without falling
into all the traps like getting stuck in the
absolute, or only seeing half the picture and the
Vemuri:: Non-duality is not the jungle. Non-duality is
clarity. Information on it, about it and around it
is the jungle!
One of the derivative meanings for the Sanskrit
word Guru is, as you may have known: the dispeller
(ru) of darkness (gu). In the ancient
times when knowledge is transmitted through oral
tradition, a human Guru (dispeller of darkness or
ignorance) was necessarily required because the Guru
was the only information source. Each Guru
developed, used and expanded certain terminology to
explain the Truth as realized by that Guru to a
lineage of his disciples.
Fast forward to the present day. We have now
multimedia storage devices as information resources
and satellite communication technologies for its
dissemination. These do dilute the mandatory
requirement of a human Guru (dispeller of
The more important question is how do we manage
with the information ‘overload’ and distinguish the
grain from the chaff.
No acid tests are available. No guarantees
provided. No Bureau of Standards certifications.
I do not know how it happens, but normally some or
other information source becomes accessible when a
seeker is seized with an intense yearning. Maybe
because information is everywhere or whatever. You
resonate with the information that opens up before
you and keep moving with your inquiry.
NDM. How does one know if one is deluding oneself
without some outside source, authority, validating
the persons understanding and knowledge and
Vemuri: Tests, validations and approvals by an external
agency can certify an acquired and accumulated
knowledge and expertise.
Suppose there is a TV antenna that beamed several
programs in the last one hour in different
languages. Can there be a test to know the
“understanding, knowledge and experience” of the
antenna? The antenna does not hoard any knowledge.
The seeker is like the antenna.
It is quite possible a person may be wallowing in
his/her delusion. Advaita does not have a British
Pharmacopeia or an American DSM to prescribe a
standard line of therapy. (In the strictest sense of
Advaita, ultimately everything as ‘Is’ is okay;
nothing needs to be changed! So no prior manuals of
If a particular individual is unclear, gets a doubt
at one time or other, it is (s)he who has to define
his problem and probe deeper into it. No advocate to
hold a brief on his behalf. No proxy to ask and
seek solution. Each individual seeker has to
himself pose his question as it arises and he will
find the solution. (The surprise is that the
problem; not the
content of the question!)
NDM : Do you see we are living
in a time of the end of the traditional guru. or the
cyber guru, giving email satsangs, or the universal
guru that speaks one language only. English.
Greg Goode says:
No longer can people believe that liberation speaks
only Tibetan, or that the world was created from
holy Sanskrit syllables. People are saying, "If it
can't be said in my language, then it isn't so
universal after all." Even as recently as thirty
years ago, seekers of self-awareness had to trek to
India or the Himalayas to see someone who could
impart a message of liberation. These days there are
many routes: Barnes & Noble, Borders, Amazon,
Yahoo, Google, mobile phones and BlackBerries"
Vemuri: Any stored information will always be
something of the “past.” It can never be in the
present like a live teacher is. A storage device
conveys what is merely stored. A live teacher may
be able to convey more than that in interactive mode
and by interpreting the info in a more contemporary
For example, ocean and waves
was an ancient metaphor for Brahman and world. In
the mid 20th century cinema and film
projection was cited. Present day teachers talk
about computer screen and the documents on it.
Every new generation may come
with new questions in the light of their own
backgrounds because the Advaitic search is for the
“Unknown” and not what is known at a given point of
time. A static dead information device cannot meet
such growing demands.
Thus while a live teacher may
not get replaced totally, the seeker may be able to
pursue his inquiry in greater physical comfort in
the cyber age.
NDM: Also what about this
sensitive money issue that seems to hit a raw nerve
when ever its raised.
Is there anything right or
wrong with doing this? Is there any thing right or
wrong with making a few , rupee's on this
ancient non dual teaching? What is your take on
this controversial and almost taboo question?
Vemuri: First of all no question
need be a taboo. If a particular doubt posits
itself as a stumbling block, well, it should be
The ancient Indian system
advises a student to redeem his indebtedness to the
teacher by rendering service, by payment in kind or
cash or in the absence of any other means of
repaying, by passing on the wisdom obtained by him
to others after taking Guru’s permission. This
obviously shows the necessity of some accepted
social structural norm to preserve and propagate the
knowledge to to others. Does this mean that the
‘wisdom’ is on sale or available for prostitution by
the highest bidder? Moreover, a seeker had to be
eligible to receive the wisdom, the most important
criterion being his single minded unswerving
devotion for liberation in exclusion of any other
desire (including food, clothing, wealth, status
The ancient sages also
foresaw a danger in throwing open the knowledge for
one and all because it can be detrimental to the
very health of the individual and the society if it
is misunderstood and/or incompletely understood.
For example, if everything is
Brahman, is it okay to feed dog shit to a hungry
beggar? Or because all is One and there is nothing
like right or wrong, is it okay to go on chopping
off the heads like the Queen in Alice’s wonderland?
Is not one accountable for a crime as per Advaita?
The point is one has to
stick to the full course of Self-inquiry, right up
to the very end – the end being he, his separate
individuating ego with all its desires, plans,
wishes, needs etc. etc. is completely dissolved.
When that happens a spontaneous morality will shine
in him, not the acquired or assumed or imposed
As declared in the Upanishads
and repeated in Bhagavad-Gita, such a man is feared
by none nor is he afraid of anyone. He harms no
body nor does anybody harm him.
Such sages were the conscience
keepers of the nation state whose rulers always
sought their guidance and advice (by visiting their
forest dwellings if necessary) in the governance of
The social fabric too was
designed to facilitate the development of the
individual through four stages of life – learner,
householder, forest dweller (for contemplation – a
recent research paper, incidentally, says life in
forests contributes to good health) and renouncer
. A supportive economic rubric was built as if the
entire nation state is one organism.
Under those circumstances what
for are the green backs or red francs required by a
Now the cyber-guru has thrown
open free access to the knowledge without the
support structure and promises of misleading (in
some cases at least) permanent happiness even in the
absence of some ground preparation. Have we reduced
it to the gimmicks of market forces and ad
NDM: If one is pure actionless non dual awareness, A Jivanmukta, then who is doing the
spending of this money that is earned through the
teaching? Who is the doer/enjoyer/spender/earner?
Would a so called Jivanmukta, or a so called
arharant be interested in making some rupees from
Vemuri: We have already seen that a
full blown Jivanmukta who does not have even the
consciousness that there is a separate body with
limbs for him would hardly need any money. His life
goes ‘effortlessly’ taking things as they happen,
eating whatever is available, sleeping wherever
possible without any sense of possessions, ownership
or doership or experiencership claims.
But as we have also seen there
is a time gap between the attainment of firm
abidance in Brahman and obtaining Knowledge about
Brahman. He is not totally unaware of his body and
the need to feed it during this intermittent period.
How will he survive in this phase?
The guiding texts in the
traditional system of teaching for the three stages
of Listening (shravana), Reflection (manana)
and Contemplaton Meditation (nidhdhyasa) are
the Upanishads, Brahmasutras and Bhagavad-Gita
respectively. Thus Bhagvad-Gita is the
life-strategy manual to answer any questions
regarding one’s actions in the third phase. That
was the system followed in the olden days.
But we are now in instant
coffee days. We want instant enlightenment and
instant permanent abidance in Brahman.
Unfortunately we are unable to shed the accumulated
baggage of habits and thought patterns equally
We have the super structure but
lack the lower floors. Driven by market forces, we
would like to have our own USP and wear our wisdom
as a distinct ornamentation. We put it up for sale
to make both ends meet. In the process we forget
that we are back in the game of the worldly miasma.
[In this context, I really
wonder how the reclusive
Nibley who does not seem to hold satsangs and
retreats survives and how she gets medical insurance
paid in a country where falling sick is scary. Truly
a saintly lady.]
NDM: Ok, what about the
belief in karma? Reincarnation? Whatever the
incorporeal essence is that some believe
It is known in
different spiritual traditions; "the most
sacred body" (wujud al-aqdas) and "supracelestial
body" (jism asli haqiqi) in Sufism,
"the diamond body" in Taoism and Vajrayana,
"the light body" or "rainbow body" in
Tibetan Buddhism, "the body of bliss" in
Kriya Yoga, and "the immortal body" (soma
athanaton) in Hermeticism.
- causal body, subtle body, Jiva, Atman" and
"Purusha" in Vedanta. Budhuta, Linga
Sharira in Theosophy. Rudolf Steiner's
Anthroposophical teachings usually referred
to the Etheric and Astral Bodies. American
Indians and indigenous peoples from around
the world refer to this as a spirit,
animism, or guide.
Others like James
Hillman call this psyche. These are the
various etheriall bodies that some believe
contain samskaras, or sin and so on? Do you
believe that such an ethereal essence or a
What are all these
various traditions talking about or pointing
Vemuri: When we discussed
‘samskaras and vasanas’ in Part – I, we have
seen how we invented those explanatory
fictions. Karma is no different.
Transmigration and re-birth are further
stories to back up the fiction of karma.
The three bodies you
are referring to – gross, subtle and causal
– correspond to the three states of awake,
dream and deep sleep. They are said to be
made up of finer and finer substance. It is
said that the grossest part of the food you
eat is excreted. The grosser part goes to
make the physical body. Finer material goes
to make the subtle body and the finest the
causal body. You can draw your own
conclusion on what all this would mean.
In the olden days
dreams were a complete mystery. They
belonged to the mental body (subtle or
manomaya kosa) made of up mind-stuff of
the mental world. The mental was said to be
accessible only to yogis and gods. It was
believed to have its own life even after the
death of the physical body. Thanks to the
modern research, we have much better picture
of dreams now. Of course the last word is
not yet said. But we are able to pierce
through some of the mystery. We may even
get a handle in future to control our dreams
That being the case, do
you still like to go along with all these
bodies and stories?
Further, when we
understand that nothing is really born,
nothing has a birth, where is the question
NDM: What would
you say is the difference between "crazy
wisdom" teachings and simply being crazy?
Vemuri: I do not know what
is “crazy wisdom” teaching.
NDM: I would like to
ask you about non duality awareness and
dissociative disorders such as derealization
If you look at this list of symptoms below,
how different are they from what you
described earlier concerning Jivenmukta?
Continuous or recurring
feelings that you're an outside observer of
your thoughts, your body or parts of your
Numbing of your senses
or responses to the world around you
Feeling like a robot or
feeling like you're living in a dream or in
The sensation that you
aren't in control of your actions, including
Awareness that your
sense of detachment is only a feeling, and
How would you make the
distinction between someone who is self
realized, and someone with a dissociative
disorder of some kind?
Vemuri: There is Cotard’s
syndrome too wherein an individual claims
that he is dead because he does not possess
a body! They even do self-endangering acts
that could prove fatal because they feel
they have no body.
Our ancient scriptures
too say that sometimes it is hard to
distinguish a mad cap from a highly realized
individual. That is why any assessment by
an external agency is said to be impossible
about the realization status of an
do have some knowledge of the pathological
state of the brain of sick individuals, we
have absolutely no known record of the brain
scans of a realized man. It is high time we
should build up this information base.
NDM; Next question; – R.D. Laing said "True sanity entails in one
way or another the dissolution of the normal
ego, that false self competently adjusted to
our alienated social reality... and through
this death a rebirth and the eventual
re-establishment of a new kind of
ego-functioning, the ego now being the
servant of the divine, no longer its
In the west, when this happens it is
referred to as when an ego collapses,
fragments, or disintegrates and when the
shadow and archetypal contents flood in from
the personal and collective unconscious
causing psychosis, or a psychotic break from
In the east, its
considered Self-realization or
God-realization, seeing the face of God,
Shiva and so on?
How do you make the
distinction between a psychotic break like
this here and a satori or awakening
Any of the
psychological phenomena, hallucinations,
lack of control, inability to filter diverse
and dissonant signals coming to the brain
(schizophrenia) are all related to the
activity of the mind. So also visions etc.
These have a clear signature in the brain.
Orgasmic or epiphany states are also clearly
seen in the activity of different cortical
regions (see: Pleasure of Sex vs. Bliss of
Self in Brain Scans, Religion Demystified,
2008, p: 86-88).
In contrast, Advaita is
about when the activity of the mind is
zeroed. As per the metaphor provided by the
sages, still wind is Brahman. Moving wind
is world. Movement is work done. It is
energy expensive. Still wind is
Consciousness. Movement is mind. Still mind
is Consciousness. When mind is still, the
cognizer, what is cognized and the process
of cognition become one. It is interesting
to see the scan of such a brain. This has
got to be different from epiphany.
NDM. Do you think it is wise for someone to make self
evaluations, self assessments, self enlightenment
claims and assertions, with it being thoroughly
questioned, tested, investigated by someone who
knows the ropes, has been there and done that so to
Vemuri: To make self-evaluation and self-assessment is
advised in Advaita. Because he is still conscious
of a ‘self’ within him to do it.
But not claims and assertions of
self-enlightenment! A claim to do so is an
oxymoron. The very loss of ‘self’ is
enlightenment. Who or what is there to make a claim
An external agent, as we have already discussed,
can at the best provide some pointers as and when a
question is raised by that specific individual. It
is up to the individual to
“moon” in the direction of the finger.
NDM; Is entrusting someone's eternal soul just as
important as entrusting someone's mind or physical
body to a doctor for an operation? I ask this
since there are many snake oil salesman out there,
masquerading as gurus?
Vemuri: Is there an “eternal soul” that
And does that “eternal soul”, if any, need a fixing?
Or are all such beliefs the marketing of the snake
How should someone make a decision like this?
Vemuri: If you are going by the metaphor of handing over
your body-mind to some doctor: A “You” sitting here
do not surrender to other “something” there in
Non-dualism. If you and the other are two distinct
entities to be related by ‘surrendering’, it is
dualism. Jivanmukti does not exist in dualistic
NDM; How do you know if a guru is legitimate or not
if they do not belong to some kind of tradition and
have been thoroughly tested by their own teacher?
For example, I could even say I was a guru, anyone
can make this claim?
Vemuri: This is an age-old question, much discussed even
in the Indian scriptures too. There are innumerable
schools of thoughts and equally highly competent
individuals in each line. The advice we find in the
scriptures is that a seeker should explore what
appeals best for him, find a knowledgeable man in
that line and discuss with him in detail. The
seeker then may adopt the method of approach that
resonates with his heart. If, by chance, he finds
later on that that particular teacher was a fake, he
should leave that teacher and find another. There
need not be any feelings of regret or guilt, for
what he needed at that time perhaps was just that –
what he got!
Some sages suggest that the Guru need not be a fully
realized person to communicate the teaching. In
fact Sankara says that some of the Jivanmuktas may
not even teach because they do not find an ‘other’
to impart knowledge.
After all, it is only Consciousness making all the
appearances – what difference does it make whether
it is a small wave, a large one, one that crashed
midway or aborted even before the swell? A small
wave or a big one, a guru or a disciple, a fake or
genuine one – everything arises when I begin to
cognize them and assign a reality to them. A
separate individual making efforts, trying to
change, seeking, running after something is a
fantasy. There is nothing else other than what is,
there is no other. And that ‘what is’ acquires the
name of the world when ‘you’ separate yourself as a
remote ‘viewer’ and begin to see the world. If you
are not conscious of a ‘you’ watching the world, no
‘you’ is created. What is not created need not have
NDM: Do you think some sort of guru test could be
devised, to measure the gurus knowledge about
enlightenment, as well as teaching it?
Vemuri: The sort of industrial mass scale manufacturing
model of assembly line production, quality tests,
setting standards with tolerance ranges, franchising
the technology for replication may be inapplicable
to Advaita, its core message being there is only
One, no other.
Having said that, I would also like to point out, as
already expressed in Part –I of our discussion, it
will be interesting to investigate if a ‘footprint’
of the absence of doership, universal care, Deep
Sleep with Awareness (Yoganidra) and such other
markers can be found in the ‘brain’ of a Jivanmukta.
Maybe someday an organization will take up this