Neo-Advaita

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Neo-Advaita, also called the Satsang-movement[1] and Nondualism, is a New Religious Movement lending authority from the teachings of the 20th century sage Ramana Maharshi,[web 1] which were introduced in the west by Paul Brunton[2] and Arthur Osborne,[2] and popularized by H. W. L. Poonja and several of his western students.[3] Other influences are western discourses, such as "New Age millennialism, self-empowerment and self-therapy".[4]

It is a controversial movement,[web 2][5] which makes little use of the "traditional language or cultural frames of Advaita Vedanta".[6] It has been severely criticized[7][8] for its lack of preparatory training in the form of knowledge of the scriptures[9] and "renunciation as necessary preparation for the path of jnana-yoga".[9][10]

Critics doubt whether the Neo-Advaitins are prepared for the insight into non-duality[note 1] and regard enlightenment-experiences induced by Neo-Advaita as superficial.[12][13][note 2]

Teachings[edit]

Neo-Advaita teachers emphasize the direct recognition of the non-existence of the "I" or "ego." This recognition is taken to be equal to the Advaita Vedanta recognition of the identity of Atman and Brahman, or the recognition of the "Formless Self." According to neo-Advaitins, no preparatory practice is necessary, nor prolonged study of religious scriptures or tradition: insight alone suffices.[web 3][web 4][web 1][web 5]

Poonja, who is credited as one of the main instigators of the neo-Advaita movement, saw this realization as in itself liberating from karmic consequences and further rebirth. According to Poonja "karmic tendencies remained after enlightenment, [but] the enlightened person was no longer identified with them and, therefor, did not accrue further karmic consequences."[14] According to Cohen, Poonja "insisted that the realization of the Self had nothing to do with worldly behavior, and he did not believe fully transcending the ego was possible."[14] For Poonja, ethical standards were based on a dualistic understanding of duality and the notion of an individual agent, and therefore were not indicative of "non-dual enlightenment:[14] "For Poonja, the goal was the realization of the self; the illusory realm of relative reality was ultimately irrelevant."[14]

History[edit]

According to Lucas[15] and Frawley,[web 1] the spiritual root of neo-Advaita is Ramana Maharshi:

These groups constitute a growing segment of North America’s liberal spirituality subculture and bear witness to the transposability of the Maharshi’s teachings and the portability of his method of self-inquiry into non-Indian cultural spaces.[16]

In the 1930s Ramana Maharshi's teachings were brought to the west by Paul Brunton in his A Search in Secret India.[2] Stimulated by Arthur Osborne, in the 1960s Bhagawat Singh actively started to spread Ramana Maharshi's teachings in the USA.[2]

Since the 1970s western interest in Asian religions has seen a rapid growth. Ramana Maharshi's teachings have been further popularized in the west via H. W. L. Poonja and his students:[3]

In North America alone, at least seventy-seven different teachers and organizations acknowledge or claim the influence of the Maharshi, or of prominent followers such as H.W.L.Poonja (a.k.a.Papaji, 1913–1997). Many of these teachers fall into the category of Neo-Advaita, a term not always complimentary from a traditional Advaita perspective.[17]

Poonja, better known as Papaji, has been sharply criticized for too easily authorising students to teach:

One of the tragedies of Poonjaji's teaching ministry is that he either told, inferred, or allowed hundreds of individuals to believe they were fully enlightened simply because they'd had one, or many, powerful experiences of awakening. These "enlightened" teachers then proceeded to enlighten their own students in a similar way, and thus was born what is known as the "neo-Advaita", or "satsang" movement in western culture.[18]

Neo-Advaita has become an important constituent of popular western spirituality:

...a Neo-Advaitin subculture stretching from British Columbia to Nova Scotia, from California to North Carolina, from Australia to New Zealand, and from Western Europe to South Asia. These seekers can listen to a diverse cohort of Neo-Advaitin and Advaitin teachers at seminars, workshops, retreats and satsangs on five continents.[6]

It is being spread by websites and publishing enterprises, which give an easy access to its teachings.[6]

The "Ramana effect"[edit]

According to Lucas, Ramana Maharshi was the greatest modern proponent of Advaita Vedanta, well—known for emphasizing the enquiry of the question "Who am I?" as a means to attain awakening.[19]

Though Ramana Maharshi himself never initiated students, nor started a lineage,[web 6] his teachings have been popularized in the west. Lucas has called the popularisation of Ramana Maharshi's teachings in the west "the Ramana effect".[19] According to Lucas, following Thomas Csordas, the success of this movement is due to a "portable practice" and a "transposable message".[19]

According to Lucas, Ramana Maharshi's main practice, self-inquiry via the question "Who am I?", is easily practiceable in a non-institutionalized context:[19]

Although the Maharshi was inscribed in a Vedantic culture/tradition, he did not require seekers to adopt it in order to practice self-inquiry. He also did not demand commitment to an institution or ideology, but only to the practice itself. [...] Neo-Advaitin teachers in North America use variations on this basic practice, and present it without its traditional Advaitic framing.[19]

Ramana's teachings are also transposable:

The Maharshi made no demands that seekers leave behind their primary religious affiliations and often quoted Jewish and Christian scriptures to Westerners. By deemphasizing specifically Advaitic elements (i.e.,traditional language, philosophy and theology) of their teaching and repackaging them within the psychologized thought-world of contemporary North Americans, Neo-Advaitin teachers are able to transform Maharshi’s Advaitin teaching into a species of self-help accessible to a sizable number of adherents.[20]

Western discourses[edit]

Neo-Advaita uses western discourses, such as "New Age millennialism, Zen, self-empowerment and self-therapy"[4] to transmit its teachings. It makes little use of the "traditional language or cultural frames of Advaita Vedanta".[6]

The western approach to "Asian enlightenment traditions".[21]

... is a notoriously eclectic and messy affair. The individual actors and communities involved in the dialogue have often practiced or still practice in more than one Asian or Asian-inspired tradition and borrow from numerous Western discourses such as psychology, science, and politics.[21]

Neo-Advaita is framed in a western construction of experiential and perennial mysticism,[22] "to the disregard of its social, ethical and political aspects":[22]

This modern experiential and perennialist mystical framework has been hugely influential in the presentation of Asian religions in the West. It can be found in Neo-Vedanta, particularly in the works of Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Swami Vivekananda, and is present in D.T. Suzuki's popular decontextualized and experiential account of Zen Buddhism. The notion of a philosophia perennis is also a major theme in the works of the Theosophical Society and undergirds much of the New Age appropriation of Eastern religions within contemporary western culture. Particularly influential are Aldous Huxley's The Perennial Philosophy, which champions Advaita Vedanta and Mahayana Buddhism, and his The Doors of Perception, which compares his experiences on mescaline to Hindu and Buddhist soteriological goals. The perennial philosophy also reappears and is widely disseminated in psychological form in transpersonal psychology with the work of popular thinkers such as Ken Wilber.[23][note 3]

Gregg Lahood also mentions Neo-Advaita as an ingredient of "cosmological hybridization, a process in which spiritual paradises are bound together",[25] of which New Age, transpersonal psychology and the works of Ken Wilber are examples:[26]

[T]ranspersonalism’s search for a presumed inner truth may well be the skeletal structure around which the New Age has clothed itself—with a hybrid paradise.

Central to this project was a series of strange marriages, amalgamations, juxtapositions, and cultural borrowings largely between the mysticism of the East and the psychology of West—between America and Asia. These included, the American Transcendentalists’ embrace of the Vedas [...] Aldous Huxley with Vedanta, Allan Watts with the Tao, Zen, Advaita Vedanta [...] This long cultural procession of religious blending is the fertile cultural mélange out of which Ken Wilber’s influential ladder of consciousness grew: a hybrid cosmos of Neo-Platonism and Neo-Advaita Vedanta (which as will be shown is also the backbone of the New Age movement).[26]

Brown and Leledaki place this "hybridization" in a "structurationist or post-dualist theoretical view of the social world",[27] pointing out that this is an "invented tradition", which claim a continuity with a "historic past", where...

...the continuity with [the historic past] is largely facticious. In short, they are responses to novel situations which take the form of reference to old situations, or which establish their own past by quasiobligatory repetition. (Hobsbawm, 1983, quoted in [28]

Brown and Leledaki see these newly emerging traditions as part of western Orientalism, the fascination of western cultures with eastern cultures, but also the reduction of "Asian societies, its people, practices and cultures to essentialist images of the 'other'".[29] Brown and Leledaki also note that this Orientalism is not a one-way affair:

[T]here has been a dynamic interaction between Asian and Western representatives of various religious traditions over the last 150 years. These interactions do illustrate that sufficient numbers of cultural exchanges have taken place both formally and informally for us to suspect that cultural blending of thought and practice is embedded (to various degrees) in the invented traditions emerging from modernities in both East and West.[30][note 4]

Criticism[edit]

Neo-Advaita is a controversial movement,[web 2][5] which has been criticized,[7][8][note 5] for its emphasis on insight alone, omitting the preparatory practices:[web 5][web 7]

The teachings of Ramana Maharshi are often the starting point for neo-Advaitic teachers, though other influences also exist in the movement. However, instead of looking into the background and full scope of Ramana’s teachings, there is often only a focus only on those of his teachings that seem to promise quick realization for all."[web 1]

It has also been criticised for its references to a "lineage" of Ramana Maharshi, whereas Ramana never claimed to have disciples[citation needed] and never appointed any successors.[web 8][web 9]

Limited practice[edit]

Practice is necessary[edit]

According to Caplan, traditional Advaita Vedanta

[I]nvolves decades of study and practice under the guidance of a qualified teacher and has little to do with the "enlightenment" that is proclaimed in much of the present-day neo-Advaita movement.[1]

According to Swartz, this study and practice is necessary to prepare the mind for the insight into non-duality:

Traditional Vedanta completely [...] insists that a person be discriminating, dispassionate, calm of mind, and endowed with a ‘burning’ desire for liberation along with other secondary qualifications like devotion, faith, perseverance and so on. In other words it requires a mature adult with a one-pointed desire to know the Self.[web 7]

Classical Advaita Vedanta gives an elaborate path to attain moksha. It entails more than self-inquiry or bare insight into one's real nature. Practice, especially Jnana Yoga, is needed to "destroy one’s tendencies (vAasanA-s)" before real insight can be attained.[web 7] Classical Advaita Vedanta uses the "fourfold discipline" (sādhana-catustaya)[33] to train students and attain moksha.[note 6]

Neo-Advaita is unhelpfull[edit]

According to Dennis Waite, neo-Advaita claims to remove ignorance, but does not offer help to remove ignorance:

A neo-advaita teacher typically claims that the world and the person are unreal. Consequently, there is no one searching for the truth and no one who can help them to find it (i.e. neither seeker nor teacher). There is therefore no point in wasting time and effort looking for the truth; the scriptures are of no value and so on. So no, you cannot say that ‘they teach advaita but without the traditional methods’ because the traditional methods are really what constitute advaita. Advaita is a proven methodology for helping seekers to remove the ignorance that is preventing them from realizing the already-existing truth, namely that there is only Brahman (or whatever you want to call the non-dual reality). Neo-advaita makes the same claim but offers nothing at all to help the seeker remove the ignorance.

Given that there is only Brahman, we are obviously already That. But clearly we do not know this to be true. Simply saying that it is true is of little help, but this is effectively all that the neo-advaitins do." [web 10]

According to Caplan, the enlightenment-experiences induced by these teachers and their satsangs are considered to be superficial:

To assume that such temporary experiences of perceiving emptiness and enlightenment are the end of the path is a grave error.[1]

"Seeing through" is not enough[edit]

The "Neo-Advaita trap"[web 4] is the fallacy of regarding seeing through the 'illusion of ego' as the main point of Advaita Vedanta:

Traditional Advaita says that the ego is an illusion. The ‘Satsang Prophets’ emphasize this as THE starting point, completely omitting that this realization may only occur at the end of years of self-inquiry and work on oneself (and not necessarily with any certainty). Once this premise is understood and the self-cheating is engaged, one obtains a constant very pleasant feeling of superiority and invulnerability. This is what they regard as being the ultimate accomplishment.[web 4]

Jacobs warns that Advaita Vedanta practice takes years of committed practice to sever the "occlusion"[37] of the so-called "vasanas, samskaras, bodily sheaths and vrittis", and the "granthi[note 7] or knot forming identification between Self and mind":[38]

The main Neo-Advaita fallacy ignores the fact that there is an occlusion or veiling formed by vasanas, samskaras, bodily sheaths and vrittis, and there is a granthi or knot forming identification between Self and mind, which has to be severed [...] The Maharshi's remedy to this whole trap is persistent effective Self-enquiry, and/or complete unconditional surrender of the 'phantom ego' to Self or God, until the granthi is severed, the vasanas are rendered harmless like a burned out rope.[39][note 8]

Some teachers, like Jeff Foster and Andrew Cohen, have admitted that their own insight or "awakening" did not put an end to being a human being with personal, and even egoistical, feelings, aspirations and fears. Cohen admitted that this spiritual bypass even resulted in the mental abuse of some of his students.

Lineage[edit]

Ramana did not publicize himself as a guru,[40] never claimed to have disciples,[citation needed] and never appointed any successors.[web 8][web 9][note 9] While a few who came to see him are said to have become enlightened through association,[note 10] he did not publicly acknowledge any living person as liberated[citation needed] other than his mother at death.[41]

Ramana never promoted any lineage.[note 11] Despite this, there are numerous contemporary teachers who assert, suggest, or are said by others, to be in his lineage.[42][web 13][web 14][web 9][note 12][note 13] These assertions have been disputed by other teachers.[web 7][web 5] In contrast to those Neo-Advaita teachers,[web 5] Ramana and like-minded teachers like Nisargadatta Maharaj[web 5][note 14]

... never charged any fees or "suggested donations" and [...] generously, virtuously, compassionately and heroically lived and exemplified the Advaita or Advaya, not just talked about it.[web 5]

Western critics object to the perceived relation between Ramana Maharshi and Neo-Advaita. According to James Swartz:

Then in the Eighties the Western spiritual world became reacquainted with Ramana Maharshi [...] The rediscovery of Ramana roughly coincided with the rise of ‘Neo-Advaita.’ Neo-Advaita is basically a ‘satsang’ based ‘movement’ that has very little in common with either traditional Vedanta or modern Vedanta or even its inspiration, Ramana [...] except the doctrine of non-duality.[web 7]

And Timothy Conway states:

...there's NO LINEAGE FROM MAHARSHI and most of these figures are NOT fully enlightened or liberated in any really meaningful sense of the term.[web 5]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Alan Jacobs: "What Neo-Advaita presents is the seductive formula that 'there is nothing you can do or need to do, all you have to know is that there is no one there.'",[11]
  2. ^ Frawley: "[I]nstead of looking into the background and full scope of Ramana’s teachings, there is often only a focus only on those of his teachings that seem to promise quick realization for all."[web 1]
  3. ^ See also Sharf's "Buddhist Modernism and the Rhetoric of Meditative Experience".[24]
  4. ^ See also the influence of the Theosophical Society on Theravada Buddhism and the Vipassana movement,[31] and the influence of the Theosophical Society and western modernism on Buddhist modernism,[32] especially D. T. Suzuki.
  5. ^ Lucas: ... serious critiques leveled at Neo-Advaitins by more traditional Advaitins in India and North America. Disputes over the authenticity of a transposed tradition are a commonplace in the history of missionization and the spread of traditions across cultures.[7]
  6. ^ Classical Advaita practice fits into Indian philosophy, which emphasizes that "every acceptable philosophy should aid man in realizing the Purusarthas, the chief aims of human life:[34]
    • Dharma: the right way to life, the "duties and obligations of the individual toward himself and the society as well as those of the society toward the individual";[35]
    • Artha: the means to support and sustain one's life;
    • Kāma: pleasure and enjoyment;
    • Mokṣa: liberation, release.
    According to Puligandla: "Any philosophy worthy of its title should not be a mere intellectual exercise but should have practical application in enabling man to live an enlightened life. A philosophy which makes no difference to the quality and style of our life is no philosophy, but an empty intellectual construction."[36]
  7. ^ See The Knot of the Heart
  8. ^ Ramana Maharshi:"Therefore, leaving the corpse-like body as an actual corpse and remaining without even uttering the word 'I' by mouth, if one now keenly enquires, 'What is it that rises as "I"?’ then in the Heart a certain soundless sphurana, 'I-I', will shine forth of its own accord. It is an awareness that is single and undivided, the thoughts which are many and divided having disappeared. If one remains still without leaving it, even the sphurana – having completely annihilated the sense of the individuality, the form of the ego, 'I am the body' – will itself in the end subside, just like the flame that catches the camphor. This alone is said to be liberation by great ones and scriptures. (The Mountain Path, 1982, p. 98)." [web 11]
  9. ^ "In actuality each of us is privy to his knowledge and blessing without any intermediary if we are open and receptive to the teachings. Each of us legitimately can claim lineage from Bhagavan although he himself was not part of any succession but stood alone, and in that sense of linear continuity he neither received nor gave initiation. But that is not the point, because though we each have the right to receive his grace, it is entirely different when it comes to assuming authority to disseminate the teachings. It is here we need to be very clear and separate the claims of wannabe gurus from the genuine devotees who are grateful recipients of grace."
  10. ^ For example, H. W. L. Poonja[web 12]
  11. ^ "There have been many senior devotees of Bhagavan who, in their own right, had both the ability and authority to teach in his name. Muruganar, Sadhu Natanananda and Kunju Swami are some of those who immediately spring to mind. None of them to my knowledge ever claimed pre-eminence and the prerogative to teach. They knew two things. One, there would be many who would bow to their superior knowledge and set them up as an independent source, but secondly, they also knew that to abrogate for themselves the privilege would run contrary to Bhagavan’s mission or purpose."
  12. ^ Most of them are connected with Ramana Maharshi via H. W. L. Poonja, who has been criticised for too easily sending students out to "teach".[18] See, for examples, Andrew Cohen,[citation needed] Gangaji,[web 15] Kosi,[web 16] Eli Jaxon-Bear,[web 17] Aruna,[web 18] Lisa,[web 19] Arunachala Ramana (Dee Wayne Trammell)[web 20] & Elizabeth MacDonald,[web 21] and Yukio Ramana.[web 22] Other examples are Sri Lakshmana and Mathru Sri Sarada.[web 23]
  13. ^ The reference by those teachers to Ramana fits into Berger's notion of legitimacy, which is part of the plausibility structure, the socio-cultural context in which a set of beliefs and assumptions is accepted as "real" (see .[43] Ramana's "lineage" lends legitimacy to the position and teachings of those teachers.
  14. ^ To get an impression of what a sampraday is, see Inchegeri Sampradaya, the sampradaya to which Nisargadatta Maharaj belonged, a teacher who also attracted a lot of attention in the west.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Caplan 2009, p. 17.
  2. ^ a b c d Lucas 2011, p. 99.
  3. ^ a b Swartz 2008, p. 306-307.
  4. ^ a b Lucas 2011, p. 108-109.
  5. ^ a b Michaelson 2009, p. 79.
  6. ^ a b c d Lucas 2011, p. 109.
  7. ^ a b c Lucas 2011, p. 110.
  8. ^ a b Lucas 2014.
  9. ^ a b Davis 2010, p. 48.
  10. ^ Yogani 2011, p. 805.
  11. ^ Jacobs 2004, p. 81.
  12. ^ Marek 2008, p. 10, note 6.
  13. ^ Jacobs 204, p. 82.
  14. ^ a b c d Gleig 2013, p. 194.
  15. ^ lucas 2011.
  16. ^ lucas 2011, p. 93.
  17. ^ lucas 2011, p. 94.
  18. ^ a b Caplan 2009, p. 16-17.
  19. ^ a b c d e Lucas 2011, p. 96.
  20. ^ Lucas 2011, p. 97.
  21. ^ a b Gleig 2011, p. 9.
  22. ^ a b Gleig 2011, p. 5.
  23. ^ Gleig 2011, p. 5-6.
  24. ^ Sharf 1995-B.
  25. ^ Lahood 2010, p. 31.
  26. ^ a b Lahood 2010, p. 33.
  27. ^ Brown 2010, p. 127.
  28. ^ Brown 201, p. 127.
  29. ^ brown 2010, p. 129.
  30. ^ Brown 2010, p. 131.
  31. ^ Gombrich 1996.
  32. ^ McMahan 2008.
  33. ^ puligandla 1997, p. 253.
  34. ^ Puligandla 1997, p. 8-9.
  35. ^ Puligandla 1997, p. 8.
  36. ^ Puligandla 1997, p. 11.
  37. ^ Jacobs 2004, p. 84.
  38. ^ Jacobs 2004, p. 85.
  39. ^ Jacobs 2004, p. 84-85.
  40. ^ Forsthoefel 2005, p. 37.
  41. ^ Osborne 1959, p. 74.
  42. ^ Lucas 2011.
  43. ^ Berger 1990, p. 29–51.

Sources[edit]

Printed sources[edit]

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  • Sharf, Robert H. (1995-B), "Buddhist Modernism and the Rhetoric of Meditative Experience" (PDF), NUMEN, vol.42 (1995)  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  • Singh, Sarina (2009), Lonely Planet, "South India" 
  • Swartz, James (2008), How to Attain Enlightenment: The Vision of Non-Duality, Sentient Publications 
  • Venkataramiah, Muranagala (2000), Talks With Sri Ramana Maharshi: On Realizing Abiding Peace and Happiness, Inner Directions, ISBN 1-878019-00-7 
  • Waite, Dennis (2007), Back to the Truth: 5000 Years of Advaita, Mantra Books 
  • White, David Gordon (2006), "Digging wells while houses burn? Writing histories of Hinduism in a time of identity politics", History and Theory, Theme Issue 45 (December 2006), pp. 104-131 
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Web-sources[edit]

Translations of Indian texts[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Background
Teachers
Ramana Maharshi
Personal accounts