James Swartz is an expert on Vedanta. Vedanta or ‘end of knowledge’ explores the nature of full enlightenment in oneness. Advaita means non-dual or one. Recently, I ran into an essay of his that’s worth sharing.
What is Advaita? (pdf 186k)
This thirty page pamphlet explains why enlightenment is not a permanent experience of a particular state of consciousness, why it is not a thought-free mind, and why karma does not have to be exhausted for liberation. It debunks many of the major misunderstandings about Vedanta and spiritual life in general – first and foremost the idea that Vedanta is a philosophy or a school of thought. It carefully explains what Vedanta actually is and highlights several of its most important teachings: cause and effect, the Three State analysis, and the five sheaths [koshas]. It discusses the Self as bliss confusion, the Self as Knowledge confusion, the Self as Energy confusion, and the Multi-Path confusion. And finally it resolves the issue of the “stages of enlightenment”.
An excellent read for all students of advaita. I don’t agree with all of his points though. For example, I see the 6 Darshanas (systems of philosophy) as relating to stages of development. Inquiry can be very useful for recognizing the unfolding silent observer. But until you have some value of witness or observer established, it’s just mind games. To get that observer happening, Yoga is a great means and effortless meditation the key.
Part of the issue may be the difference between popular teaching of Yoga (not to mention the over-emphasis on postures) and the real intention of Patanjali. But I fully agree that if you expect Yoga to take you all the way, that may be a mistake. I’ve seen quite a few long-term meditators quite ripe but stuck, looking for experiences.
“And if only knowledge sets one free because ignorance is the problem, a technique that is meant to give ‘experience’ of the self would in fact be indirect realization since the experience would have to be converted into knowledge for it to last.” …
“The many seekers of self experience that eventually become disillusioned because they are unable to obtain a permanent experience of the self need to convert their quest for experience into a quest for understanding if they wish to free themselves from bondage to their attachment to experience…which prevents them from enlightenment.”
I would say we have to transcend even the knowledge and understanding to have a shift in being. It is in realizing who we are, not what we know, that awakening takes place. As mentioned elsewhere here, I’ve observed that prior understanding has to be released for a new stage to unfold. He fails to differentiate that “direct knowledge” is gained by being. Knowledge itself is not the source of waking but rather a consequence. Knowledge can help us surrender into being, which is why I explore it here, but is not the way in itself. In that sense he makes the same mistake as Yoga folks emphasizing experiences.
He rightly discounts the anti-intellect that’s common in “advaita” circles. It’s the intellect that does the discriminating of inquiry to recognize unity. Understanding is important so we can effectively engage the process and not get stuck. But again, we have to be willing to surrender our understanding.
He discounts the idea of different paths, other than householder and monk. In posts here, I’ve described the Yogas or paths (action, devotion, etc) as both an orientation to the journey (a more devotional or intellectual approach) and as related to the emphasis of different stages (heart opening, intellect). But he’s right in that the separate paths are not in themselves liberating ideas. More ways of relating to the natural form of your journey. Of course, if you discount the value of Yoga, such path ideas would seem pointless.
And yes, you do have to transcend the bliss body too. (the ananda kosha or anandamaya)
He falls down in his attempt to resolve the question of “stages of enlightenment” though. He lists them as Endarkment, Self realization, and Enlightenment. His Self Realization is the seeking phase and his Enlightenment is what I call Self Realization or Cosmic Consciousness. (I use realization to mean become) He apparently falls into the trap of confusing inner unity and outer Maya (dwaita or duality) with the total inclusivity of Unity and the shift from Maya to Lila. Given that Vedanta is about what comes AFTER Self Realization, it rather weakens the whole paper.
If you doubt this, I can point, for example to the Mahavakyas from the Upanishads. I am That, Thou art That, All This is That, That alone Is. These describe not only realizations of awakening but the stages of the process.
I can also observe how Shankara describes the realization of Atman, THEN the realization of Atman as Brahman. The Self experienced in Self Realization is Atman, not Brahman. (technically it is the same thing but Brahman is a much fuller value, shifting from the wave to the ocean – yeah, this is what he calls a Yoga approach)
I explore Shankara’s observations about the changing perception of Maya into the play, Lila here. (Maya does NOT mean illusion)
He discounts a personal God as a religious thing, not recognizing the God consciousness phase that follows his “Enlightenment” nor God Realization that takes place after Unity. (it should be noted that a personal God is an orientation. Some prefer a more impersonal relationship. See How to Know God)
Really interesting bit on Self illuminating the vasanas that are there post-waking. And some other points that are excellent.
In summary I’d say that Yoga and Vedanta are different layers. Yoga to prepare the way, Vedanta to support the realizations.