What is Vedanta and what is advaita Vedanta?
Occasionally a daring soul has turned inward and has found himself.
katha upanishad, 2.1.1.
What is advaita?
Many seekers of Truth have already heard the term ‘advaita’, because most satsang teachers around the world call themselves teachers of advaita. But still some in their audience do not know exactly what advaita is. Advaita means “not two”, “non-dual”; which means that advaita assumes that reality is based on one single principle, is basically one single entity. Beyond this single principle/entity there is no second.
But when we look around, we see a world full of forms and colours, we experience various sensory impressions, we experience our body, the energy that pulsates through it, its physiological functions, and we are aware of our thoughts and feelings. All of this is supposed to be a non-dual reality?!
The world of our experience is dual—here are not only we ourselves, but also what we experience: a division between subject and object. All the same we occupy ourselves with mystical and eastern teachings and we attend Advaita satsangs; we intuit that what advaita makes out as reality is a higher vision and we consider the possibility that this superior vision is more true than our day to day perception.
What is Vedanta and what is advaita Vedanta?
Not many people in the German-speaking region know the term Vedanta although Advaita and Vedanta are basically synonymous. Vedanta assumes and deals with the same non-dual realty. Therefore in India it is called advaita Vedanta.
One part of the Indian scriptures (the Vedas) is referred to as Vedanta. The Vedas belong to the ancient most spiritual writings in the world. The Vedanta portion of the Vedas is concerned exclusively with analyzing our perception of reality and explains how it is actually advaita, i.e. non-dual.
About 2000 years ago India had lost sight of the Vedanta scriptures and religion was considered something mainly concerned with the practice of rituals for propitiation of the gods. Adi Shankara, a sage and savant of this time, applied himself to the task of restoring the Vedanta texts to their proper place. He commented on them and composed his own works based on the wisdom of the non-dual Vedanta. The vision that emerged from it is called advaita Vedanta or Vedanta even today.
Over the course of centuries innumerable writings of innumerable sages have resulted in the exposition of the knowledge of non-duality more and more exactly. Thus has emerged a science of enlightenment. Enlightened is he, who inwardly lives, not in a reality of duality, but in a reality of non-duality. Advaita Vedanta aims at enabling a change of perspective to enable this understanding and places at our disposal a whole host of analytical approaches. Vedantas aim is to clear the mental blocks to realization and not in prescribing any activities. What we need is clear understanding: Actions do not help us to attain it. Advaita Vedanta is an epistemology, a path towards realization by understanding.
Advaita Vedanta is special in that it does not only declare non-dual reality as highest Truth. It rather acts as a bridge to the reality of the seeker, taking him by the hand and step by step exposing his perception as a wrong understanding. By this the actual truth will start to shine more and more clearly – until in a moment of grace the old perception is finally replaced by the new. The person to whom such a moment has happened is called enlightened.
The seeker of truth, who devotes himself to advaita, proceeds on the assumption that its statements are true, even if he himself cannot recognize them. He feels inspired by the statements of spiritual teachers, because what he hears or reads rings true within him. On the other hand it generates confusion, because he feels split between what he experiences everyday and what he intuits, hears or reads.
There is a simple solution for such situations in advaita Vedanta. All the statements that are considered to be true even though they do not conform to one’s own experience, become working hypotheses. The statement that this world is non-dual serves as a working hypothesis. That means that for the time being we simply take it to be so: Reality is non-dual. But this is meaningful only when one does not stop at that, true to the motto, “I take it to be so, because anyway can’t know it”.
No, everyone can know it! But, first of all he must admit that he does not know it. Then he must desire to know it—one who is content with hypotheses will not attain the realization of the truth. And, last but not least, he must do something for it.
True, I cannot get the realization through action, because I cannot produce it, but much less will it come to me if I do not seek it. On the path of realization that means that I should be ready to bring into play the only thing that helps me to realize something, my thinking apparatus, the mind.
Most seekers proceed on the basis that the mind must be conquered, because it only stands in the way of one’s spiritual pursuit. Of all things, is it the mind that will help me to find the Truth?
Advaita Vedanta says: The mind is the problem and the mind is the solution (Amritabindu Upanishad).
This means in concrete terms: to either confirm my working hypothesis or to refute it I must actively engage myself with it. I must have the desire to find out whether it is true or not.
The essays on this subject should help towards it.