Shanti Sadan and Self-Knowledge name
Key Yoga Teachings: Advaita Vedanta

The Philosophy of Advaita Vedanta

From Self-Knowledge Winter 1977, and reprinted in
What Yoga has to Offer published by Shanti Sadan

The spiritual affirmations which underlie this Yoga are tremendous and startling. If they awaken immediate antagonism in you, or shock you, this Yoga is very probably not for you at present. But if they arouse a feeling of awe, or even of curiosity, prepare to make the spiritual experiments which will prove their truth to you.

The word 'affirmation' is used rather than 'philosophy', because philosophy to us has a very different meaning from the meaning it bears in the East. Here, the popular conception of philosophy is that it is a mental approach to fundamental questions, such as the nature of God and the soul, the nature of good and evil, and the goal of life; and that the answers to these problems which it supplies must be based on and supported by reason and logic. The activity is mental; devotion and reverence are not characteristics expected of a philosopher. No-one would look for a saint among the followers of Bergson or Betrand Russell.

In the East, on the contrary, the questions considered are the same, but the answers to them are obtained, not be reasoning, but by direct spiritual experience. In other words, those philosophers who have influenced thought in the East, have been seers, saints, and the trainers of saints as well. Their opinions were never personal opinions, but pronouncements made in a state of consciousness in which they transcended the finite personality.

In the West we tend to think that if a man is intelligent enough he can know anything: in the East they believe that if he is pure enough he can know everything. They look upon philosophy, the pursuit of knowledge, as a sacrifice to God. Until the man has undergone a course of spiritual discipline and self-purification, no truth that he hears will germinate and bear fruit, and he will only be performing lip-service to God by trying to solve His mysteries.

You will know begin to see why the East places such importance on the preliminary yogic training and why they insist on the necessity of being accepted as the pupil of a traditional teacher. The yogic discipline fits the man to obtain that knowledge which leads to union with God, and gives him mastery over all limitations, including death. Only through purification (and they stress this again and again) will seemingly limited man realize his unlimited and real nature and transform his human consciousness into God-consciousness. Consciousness does not evolve, it is present in its totality as the substratum of everything all the time, from man to rock, stick or stone, but it is veiled in varying degrees of density. The task of man is to remove these veils, but he cannot do this until he has gained some degree of mastery over his lower nature and recognition of his higher nature. This mastery and understanding is achieved as a result of the yogic training and discipline.

The human mind dominated by animal instincts, or at best by logic and reason, cannot know God. It operates in the region of duality, and although it may obtain an intellectual conception of Him it sinks down and evaporates before the vision of non-duality. If the lower mind can only operate in duality, and God is One, how can he be known? Behind the lower mind, so to say, and obscured by the unrest and activity of the lower mind, there is a super-conscious mind, the enlightened intellect—the faculty of spiritual perception—and when the lower mind has been stilled by discipline and the grace and instruction of the teacher, this higher faculty can be located and used.

What are the great questions which every philosophy has to try and solve?
1. The nature of God.
2. The nature of man and the world.
3. The relationship between God and man.
4. The goal of life.
Here are four such questions.

The primary doctrine of Advaita Vedanta, the sacred science of the East, is unity. It holds that there is one undivided and absolute Consciousness. Man is part of this Consciousness—this Existence—and the conceptions of love, law, order, universal brotherhood, are indications of the workings of this power of God. It holds that God is all, that God alone is real, that the soul of man and God are intrinsically one, and that the goal of life is to realize this truth—not to know it intellectually but to realize it and be transformed by it.

As has already been said, on some, such tremendous statements will have an awe-inspiring effect, while others will consider them to be blasphemous; but do not forget that they have been made by great saints as the result of direct experience, and if you read the testimony of some of the Western mystics with these statements in mind you will find indications that they too may have had the same experience in their highest state of consciousness, which they only hint at on account of its unorthodox character.

Now what is meant by the word 'real' in the affirmation "God alone is real, the world unreal"? The Vedantin uses this word in a special sense. By it he means that which is unchangeable, which remains the same through the three categories of time—the past, present and the future. The one subject to which everything conceivable and perceivable is an object. God alone is THAT. He is unchanging Consciousness, Existence which ever was, is now, and ever will be, Bliss absolute, omnipotent and all-pervading.

In this sense the world, and man who is but an object in the world, are unreal in that they are passing and subject to endless change when judged by the unchanging standards of God. Empirically speaking, however, when looked upon as objects of perception they are as real as the mind that perceives them. The real meaning of these words will only reveal itself through study, devotion and meditation.

The statement that man is intrinsically God is open to great misunderstanding, yet it must be made for it is the cornerstone on which Vedanta is based. If we wish to consider it, let us purify ourselves and strengthen our supersensuous faculties so that we may reach a state in which the necessary instruction can be given. "God alone is real, all else is unreal, and God and man intrinsically one" means that God is all-pervasive, and that no-one, or no thing, can exist apart from Him. The sages say that everyone must inevitably realize this truth about their divine nature at some time, and perhaps the greatest contribution they have made to the world is that they teach that this knowledge can be obtained in this very life. In fact they insist that it must be obtained either in this or in some future life on this earth, for it can be obtained nowhere else. A startling statement, but one meriting reverent and serious enquiry.

To recognize identity with God, to experience complete liberty—complete fearlessness and bliss—for this all things come into manifestation, gradually evolve from inanimate to animate objects, from manhood to Godhead. According to the holy Adhyatma Yoga, this is the goal of life.

Here finishes the indications of the answers to the four questions set out at the beginning. Now what is their significance when considering man's life as man on earth? That consciousness that binds all things together as one family, so to say, and which is one of the manifestations of God's nature and His power, is seen by the enlightened to operate in this world through law and order. There is, notwithstanding our ignorance and disregard of it, a spiritual law behind the seems chaos of the world, which the East calls 'dharma'. A knowledge and understanding of this law is given by the holy Yoga. The results arising from actions performed in obedience to it or in violation of it, are called 'karma'. The East believes implicitly in the saying: "As a man sows, so shall he reap", and this is what is implied by the law of karma: the compulsory eating of the fruits of action—of activity, mental, physical, emotional, spiritual.

At this juncture the thought will probably arise in most minds: "If it is true that there is nothing but God in varying stages of manifestation, why has He created the world at all? Why has he allowed poor man to forget his real divine nature and struggle and suffer?" Just so would a child question if you were to read the Scriptures of the Upanishads to him: "Why?" "What for?" We are all children to the Lord, but we shall grow up in time, and know, not the answers to our questions, but His purpose.

The magic power of the Lord by which He veils Himself and causes unity to appear as diversity is called 'maya'. It is the principle of change, and its beauty and significance will only be caught by one whose hearing is pure enough to catch the rhythm of infinity. It is so with all these high truths, they will only reveal themselves to those fitted to receive them. If any feel drawn to make this adventure, they must learn to qualify for instruction. In spiritual experience problems disappear, for what a man knows that he becomes. To know is to be.