Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Advaita Vedanta On My Mind

Somehow the first teachings I explored outside of the Christian mystical tradition I was brought up with, were Lao Tzu and the Tao Teh King, and the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna as well as Sri Ramana Maharshi. In the context of the sort of theosophical atmosphere of my upbringing, these were perhaps obvious connections, and now after studying ACIM for almost 25 years, it seems even more obvious to me now how it all fits together.

Recently, I became aware of Ken Bok's visit with Mooji, in the context of "Il congreso del perdon," in Madrid, Spain in 2012, which apparently included both Advaita teachers (mainly Mooji) and some ACIM teachers, mainly spanish. Ken interviewed Mooji, and one of the interesting features was certainly to notice how the very idiosyncratic idiom of both traditions can get in the way, if you don't watch out.

Evidently ACIM and Advaita would agree on such ideas as: only truth is true, and everything else is false. In many ways Advaita and the Course come very close, and there would be no fundamental disagreement, but there is a vast difference in form that may not be easy to bridge for some. Being fully conversant with the terminology of both is not a trivial task. The Course says "God is, and then we cease to speak..." (ACIM:W-169.5:4) Only the absolute is, all else is but appearance, maya, illusion. Again, Advaita would have no problem with that statement.

Besides the differences in terminology, and in process, it seems to me that at the abstract level of the teaching, there is only one specific issue that really separates the two, and that is the answer to the question which the Course would humorously refer to as: "How did the impossible happen?" I was reminded of this not too long ago by a former advaita teacher in Holland, Jan van Delden, who more recently got involved with A Course in Miracles, in part because of the way it deals with that particular question, and in part because as a path it gives people a level of handholding that is unprecedented in any other spirituality. Curiously, his own process involved mostly Advaita, but also a strong experience of recognition and guidance from Homer's Odyssey, which is nothing but a parable for the "homeward journey' we all have to make, not just the hero from the Trojan war. It is a symbol of our journey home, just as much as the book of Exodus is in the Old Testament, or in fact the gospel story itself. 

Jan shared with me how towards the end of the life of his advaita teacher, Jan told his teacher how he suspected that the dream that is our life in the world is made up by us, that we are the dreamer of the dream - which is an essential concept of the Course, and the very reason salvation is even possible. Namely, if we had an insipid idea, and we're suffering the consequences, we can also choose to change our mind, and the Course in effect offers us the tools to help us change our mind. The Advaita way of talking about the same thing varies between the Godhead playing a game of hide and seek, "who am I," or variations on that theme. (See a discussion of the major variations here.) As Eliot Deutsch points out in his book Advaita Vedanta: "For Advaita Vedanta, then, the phenomenal world is maya, and it is produced by maya. But it is not on that account merely a figment of one's imagination." (Deutsch, p.31) 

ACIM on the contrary says simply: There is no world, as here:
But it is pride that argues you have come into a world quite separate from yourself, impervious to what you think, and quite apart from what you chance to think it is. There is no world! This is the central thought the course attempts to teach. Not everyone is ready to accept it, and each one must go as far as he can let himself be led along the road to truth. He will return and go still farther, or perhaps step back a while and then return again. (ACIM:W-132.6, highlighting added)
In short, in the language of metaphor, God does not even know about the world, he did not create it, because it is not there, just as much as your dreams at night simply disappear when you open your eyes. To ACIM the thought that God created the world is definitely part of the problem set, because it grants the world an objective reality it does not have.

An Advaita site goes sofar as to criticize ACIM over this issue as follows: 
ACIM's theology is also grounded in the idea that people's experience of the world is a cognitive mistake or error. This is very different than the best of Indian Advaita, which teaches this same idea as a preliminary doctrine but ultimately counsels that the world is a dream or illusion emanated by God (Brahman), not by the ego, and that it is an emanation out of pure Divine playfulness or lila (pronounced “leela”) and loving Grace, not a "mistake." 
It seems to me there is simply a different teaching approach behind both systems, and this is a clear example of why you can't mix and match, for you'll get duck soup.

Just like ACIM says "God is, and then we cease to speak"  so in Advaita, Brahman is "one only without a second," as the Upanishads would have it. But then the differences arise. The Course sees the world as an "attack on God," (ACIM:W-pII.3.2:1), and how it gets there is that the Son, all the while being one with his creator, entertains a "tiny mad idea," the idea of separation, following which he represses the memory of Heaven (called the Holy Spirit in the Course), and fully identifies himself with the separation thought (ego), and to escape the pain in his mind, because he is driven mad by guilt over his attack on God, he then projects a physical world, that is the expression of the separation thought. In short, all the world is, is the expression of a silly little idea we had, and when we stop fighting it, which only makes it real, we can forgive it, and eventually undo our belief in it, as we remember the reality of who we are in truth and it fades away into the "nothingness from which it came." In short, we never ever were separate from God, but we thought we were because we entertained the "tiny mad idea," and took it seriously. So yes, in the Course the world is maya, and sustained only by our belief in it, because its origin lies in the guilt that arises from the thought of a separate identity, the ego thought.

In Advaita, the way that story of the origin is told, it takes on a little more objectivity, as if Brahman, as Ishvara, had the idea of the world, which grants it some objectivity, almost in spite of the fact that anything besides Brahman is treated as illusory, maya. In a way it is as if Isvara is somewhat of a parallel of the creator God, Ialdabaoth in the gnostic tradition, be it that Ishvara is merely another aspect of Brahman. In the way the Course describes it, Ialdabaoth is a projection of the ego, the separation thought, and is the progeny of Sophia in gnostic myth, or, to describe it more psychologically he is the angry God of the Old Testament, who we fear, because we have projected our guilt over the thought of separation onto him. It is this imaginary God we are running from. The real God is not angry about the separation thought, or the world - He does not even know there is a world, or a "you," ALL of that is a figment of your imagination. Ken Wapnick liked to sum this up as: "The world is a maladaptive solution to a non-existent problem." For there never was any separation, it was only a dream, our only job is to have the "little willingness," to doubt the reality of it and then ask the Holy Spirit, and our inner teacher, Jesus to guide us on the journey home. "It is a journey without distance to a goal that has never changed." (ACIM:T-8.VI.9:7)

On the other hand, when I hear Mooji state it as; "You are the supreme and perfect self. Playing a game of how do I find myself," it is clear that to some degree the distinctions between the two at the abstract level are small and subtle. At that level he is addressing our real Self, just as does Jesus in the Course, (or, more precisely the "decision maker" to use Ken Wapnicks, term - the faculty to choose between ego and Holy Spirit. If you would just add that it was a stupid little game, and to hear in your other ear Jesus saying how we can laugh the consequences of that stupid little idea away with him, the two schools of thought are very close indeed. The reality of it is that different forms and different paths are necessary within this world of differences, and to quote something Jesus said to Helen: you should not judge your brother's path, nor should you take it as your own. And to look at the process of learning the Course, one becomes aware more and more that we all learn it by misunderstanding it first, for the resistance is enormous. So we all constantly misinterpret the Course, because our ego is fighting it, and then we get to correct ourselves again, and again and again. Some of us may go off for a while even making a business out of our misinterpretations, which has given rise to a whole "Course in Miracles Industry," as Ken Wapnick used to call it. It does not matter. They are all ways of working with the material, and we will go deeper and deeper as we go along, and at some point we will realize there simply is no going back, the pain of the ego system is simply too great. The fleshpots of Egypt have lost their appeal for good.

On a practical level, the Course is a path that engages with the world, with your dream life and your relationships, by teaching you to not make decisions with your ego, but to learn gradually that it is all thought, and that what matters is to let go of the ego's urge to think that anything at all must be done, and instead every thought needs to be forgiven first, to the point where we are no longer acting from the ego, but purely under the guidance of our inner teacher. The Course does not teach abandoning the world, but engaging with it, just with a different teacher, the Holy Spirit, not the ego:
You who have tried to learn what you do not want should take heart, for although the curriculum you set yourself is depressing indeed, it is merely ridiculous if you look at it. Is it possible that the way to achieve a goal is not to attain it? Resign now as your own teacher. This resignation will not lead to depression. It is merely the result of an honest appraisal of what you have taught yourself, and of the learning outcomes that have resulted. Under the proper learning conditions, which you can neither provide nor understand, you will become an excellent learner and an excellent teacher. But it is not so yet, and will not be so until the whole learning situation as you have set it up is reversed. (ACIM:T-12.V.8, highlighting added)

I discovered Mooji through my friend Ken Bok just now, and I've been listening to some of his YouTube videos intently. It has mobilized my profound interest in Advaita Vedanta all over again, although I was already on that track because of my communication with Jan van Deelden. I find it most helpful to listen and read the Advaita material with the full appreciation that they are different systems, so much so that it can actually be helpful to notice how the same things are approached in different ways. I feel very much at home in the Advaita material, and I'm enjoying re-reading stuff I had rarely looked at for forty years, but the Course is definitely my path, for it helped me with some critical things that no other discipline has ever given me. Which means nothing special, except that it is clearly my path.

To outsiders looking at the Course, the difficulty is equally great. The idiosyncrasies of the Course and its very specific idiom are such that it is easy to misread it. The fact that it is written on such a high level, makes it hard, but also, to the casual reader it is very easy to overlook the levels within the Course. Level one, which is "God is," "Truth is true," "Heaven," "God," "Oneness," "Spirit," and Level two, the level of the world we experience, which is a dream, and all duality is metaphorical, but what we learn with the Course is that, by asking our inner teacher for guidance, we can learn to reinterpret the metaphor, and it can become our classroom, and the vehicle for our journey home. 

I am going to enjoy my re-discovery of the world of Advaita for a while... Thinking back to my first acquaintance with Advaita Vedanta teachers, I remember that it was a conscious decision on my part that I somehow sensed the solution was not to go and meditate in a cave in the Himalayas, but I wanted to be in the world. That was a very deliberate choice, and so it could be no surprise that I ended up finding A Course in Miracles later in life, a path that very much teaches that the journey is right where you are, and that inner change is the only thing that makes a difference:
Projection makes perception. The world you see is what you gave it, nothing more than that. But though it is no more than that, it is not less. Therefore, to you it is important. It is the witness to your state of mind, the outside picture of an inward condition. As a man thinketh, so does he perceive. Therefore, seek not to change the world, but choose to change your mind about the world. Perception is a result and not a cause. And that is why order of difficulty in miracles is meaningless. Everything looked upon with vision is healed and holy. Nothing perceived without it means anything. And where there is no meaning, there is chaos. (ACIM:T-21.in.1, highlighting added)

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