Edited from posts to the SatsangDiary and Advaitin groups March 2005.
I am a student of traditional Advaita Vedanta, studying in a lineage which is reputed to stretch unbroken back to Shankara. My teacher, a westerner, says this:
"You are already That. How can you be more That than you already are? There is nowhere to travel, and nothing you can do to be more yourself than you already are.
"If you think that there is something which can be done to make yourself That, it's like asking God to put a head on your shoulders. You've already got a head on your shoulders.
“No meditation. No technique. Nothing that you can do, can make you who you already are. Who you already are doesn’t need to be traveled to. And it doesn’t need maintenance.”
There is ignorance of your true nature. Ignorance which is held to be beginningless. Once gone, ignorance is forever gone and cannot return. Once the snake is seen as a rope, you cannot get the snake illusion back.
The Upanishads act as a mirror held up to the student to directly show the student, with infinite patience, from more angles than you can even imagine, that you are already free. You are already what you seek. As this is what they do, the Upanishads are called the Mother Shruti, the Mother scripture, because they, with infinite patience, directly show the student the truth.
So to my mind, whether the teacher points to you and says, "This is It," and you see directly who you really are, or if the Upanishads point to you and say, "You are That," it really amounts to the same thing. "This" and "That" are the same.
In fact, when using the words "You" and "It", it seems to me that the word "You" is even more direct, because it is *you* who you really are. The self-experience which you are having at this very moment is That, is It, is This. In fact in some way the word, ‘You,’ is better. It points directly to you. The words ‘This’ and ‘It’ are rather impersonal. When the Upanishads say you, they mean you. Hey you! Yes, you.
The 'problem' if problem there be, is one of ignorance. The 'solution' is knowledge. IMO the Upanishads, in the hands of a competent teacher, are just as direct as direct can be. There is nowhere to travel, and nothing you can do to be yourself. You are already That. That is your own self-experience, which you are having at this very moment. You’ve just taken it to be something which is one with, and dependent on, the body and the mind.
The teacher points out to you that you have made a mistake. A mistake which is one of ignorance, and which isn’t your fault. A mistake which everyone makes until the truth is pointed out to them. And the mistake is this, you have taken your never changing self-experience to be one with, and dependent upon, the ever changing body/mind. How can your ever present, never changing self-experience be dependent on things which are changing? S/he shows you clearly and directly in a way that cannot be mistaken, because it is experiential, that you are not the body-mind (those experiences which come and go). You are the Self, never, ever at any point coming or going. Always and ever present, unchanging. This is your experience right now.
The teachings of Vedanta are often equated with the Tenth Man Story, which has been told so frequently, that I leave it out here.
Anyway, I don't think that people should denigrate the ways in which the Truth reveals itself. There is only one Truth. One Self. The Self, that which you are, is free from time. So all of this discussion of time, etc., actually it seems to me, is only from the standpoint of time, from the standpoint of duality. Why bother with arguments, which take place in and are about time?
Why not see the moon and enjoy it, instead of pointing the finger at each other?
You could say that our ‘Ordinary Everyday Awareness’ is IT. Yet most do not realize this. Is it somehow their ‘fault’ that they do not have Self-knowledge?
It is no one's fault. Why does someone not have Self-knowledge in the first place? In the teachings, as I understand them, ignorance of one's true nature is held to be beginningless.
What is ignorance? Ignorance is the mistaken, but strongly held belief, that the Atma, the Self is one with, and dependent upon, the <body/mind/sense organs> experience. Therefore one takes one's true self to be the body/mind.
This is the conviction which most people have, and if you were to try and tell them otherwise, they would think that you were crazy.
Every once and a while, it may occur to someone to ask the question: "What is actually going on here? Because all of this certainly is not working out the way it is ‘supposed’ to." And that is the birth of the seeker of Self-knowledge.
The teachings of Advaita Vedanta are not about the seeking of an experience of Oneness by spiritual practice.
The teacher tells you, "You are already That. There is nothing which you can do to make yourself That, because you already are That. The problem is one of ignorance. The solution is knowledge. There is no practice by which you can become more your Self (more That) than you already are."
You can listen. You can contemplate. And you can directly know the Truth. How? By listening to what the teacher has to say. By contemplating his/her words. By directly perceiving the truth of yourself as That.
There is no "final destination." I have heard my teacher's guru, Swami Dayananda Saraswati, say, "Anyone who teaches you that you have to travel somewhere in order to be happy is promoting tourism."
The purpose of sAdhanA in traditional Advaita, as far as I understand it, is only aimed at gaining clarity (or purity) of mind. Why would one need that? Because the problem of ignorance lies in the mind. The mind has taken the Self to be the mind, because no thought ever takes place away from the Self.
Thus whatever thought the mind has, whatever mood, whatever emotion, that is who `I' am. And since the mind is seen to be a product of the body, well then I am the body as well. So `I' am a product of the body/mind. This is the mistaken understanding which causes the problem of ignorance, and which leads to the next even worse conclusion. "When the body/mind dies, I will die."
The teacher points out to you that this is not the case. Your Self-experience, who you really are, is here right now. Constant. It does not depend on any changing mental or physical experience. And there is a method and a logic in this pointing out.
The main difference which I see between traditional and neo-Advaita (and I studied with neo-Advaita teachers for over thirteen years before coming to these teachings) is this: Advaita Vedanta provides a methodology, which neo-Advaita teachings lack.
Perhaps there are some lucky individuals who do not need a methodology. Perhaps they are so ripe that someone can just walk right up to them and say with conviction, "You are already what you seek. You are That." And the lucky one upon hearing those words, recognizes the truth of those words, and walks away with Self-knowledge.
I would salute such a person because I feel that such a one is very rare indeed. For most people, I think it takes a bit more than that. And that is what the teachings of Advaita Vedanta so beautifully provide. They are a direct means of knowledge to know the truth. They show you directly, with superb logic and patience, in more ways than you could possibly imagine, that you are already That. That the One you have taken to be dependent upon the body/mind changing experiences is not conditioned, is constant, and is already free.
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