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Questions And Answers

Some preliminary questions about Advaitism.


What is Advaitism?

Advaitism is very simple, but maybe not so simple to explain. At its root, "Advaitism" means "not two".

It is based on the "non-dualist" school of Vedanta founded by the 8th century Indian philosopher Sankaracharya. Some may consider what is proponed here to be "neo-advaitism" as explanations are kept simple, free of religious jargon and free of superfluous beliefs and practices.

Advaitism is the realization that existence is non-dual. That is, you are not separate from anything else in existence. It is ALL you!

-- Brian William Drisko, 15-Oct-2008 1053 bwd@advaitism.com


What is existence?

Existence in a nutshell:

Everything is much simpler than you thought!

Just think of this universe as a bunch of stars, planets and other stuff zipping here and there.

Pretend that no life ever evolved anywhere in the universe. No life ever started on earth or anywhere else.

It is just the universe of burning stars, planets and other stuff zipping around.

That is it.

Birth, death, life, mind, and thoughts don't play any part. Just a bunch of gas and rocks spinning around. That is the universe.

Then after billions of years, some chemicals combine together to create a self reproducing form. An unlikely event, but an event bound to happen eventually with matter and energy interacting for eons of time. Over more billions of years, these evolve into more complex self reproducing forms.

Eventually, one of them evolves to such a level of complexity that it looks up and says "I see the Universe!"

Though it is nothing more than just another piece of all the matter and energy that make up the universe, it can look out for the first time and see the universe.

It is like when you look at your foot. You can see your foot. You say: "My foot is down there. I am not my foot. I am separate from my foot since I am up here." But you know that is not true. You are your foot as much as you are your nose, your ears, or your fingers. Your foot just seems separate and "down there" because your eyes are up here and can look down there at your foot.

In the same way, you are not separate from the universe at all. You are just the universe looking at itself from the vantage point of a pair of eyes and a brain located in a very tiny corner saying: "I am here and the universe is there." But you are not separate from it at all. You are part of it all. You are made of it. You came from it. You will go back to it. But actually you never left it and are never separate from it!

Water arises from the ocean as a wave, breaks at the beach as surf, then is absorbed back into the ocean. That water is still a part of the ocean even when it is a wave. It never becomes not a part of the ocean. Like the water in the ocean forming a wave, energy from the universe forms into a being, You. For a while you are a vantage point from which you, the universe, can look at yourself and contemplate yourself. In the same way that the water is still the ocean even when it is the wave, you are still the universe even when you seem to be just an individual. You can never be separate from the universe. The universe is all that there is to be, ever.

It is as simple as that!

-- Brian William Drisko, 16-Jan-2009 2206 bwd@advaitism.com

P.S. Due to the theory and possibility of multiple universes, you may want to substitute the word "existence" for the word "universe" in the above text. But other than that, the interpretation that we are just the part of existence that is able to look at and ponder itself is still valid.

-- Brian William Drisko, 16-Sep-2010 0908 bwd@advaitism.com


How did a sense of 'Me' being separate from everything else come about?

From the moment the very first life form came into existence and starting interacting with its environment, there began a sense of separateness.

Before life, there was just matter and energy obeying the laws of physics. There was nothing to have a sense of separateness.

But each living thing interacts with its environment. Thus for the first time there is a sense of "me" vs. "my environment".

For the simpler life forms, it is just a matter of our observations. There is no "conscious" process going on in the simple life form that "thinks" about "me" and "my environment". But we can watch its behaviour. We can see it consume nourishment, grow, reproduce, etc. We can watch how it interacts with its environment. It acts separate from its environment, taking actions to sustain and replicate itself. Often its actions appear to be at the detriment of other life forms in its environment, especially when it consumes them for nourishment. But the very definition of life is the beginning of the illusion of duality.

As more complex life forms evolved with "consciousness" and "thinking", regardless of how simple those thought processes may be, there became more of a perception of the individual life form's separateness from its environment. Even a simple lizzard will run for its life when it sees you. It will act to preserve its own individual life. It senses that the environment is separate from itself and that there are things in the environment that can destroy its own individual life form.

Then we get to humans with a brain complex enough to see and contemplate the universe. We look at the universe in awe and try to figure out what it is all about.

But, we ourselves are not separate from that universe. We are made of the matter and energy of that universe. You could say that the matter of which we are made will someday return to the universe when we die, but that is not entirely accurate. The matter from which we are made never left the universe. The matter that makes us up never leaves the universe. It always remains part of the universe. Thus we are always part of the universe, never separate from it.

In the end, we are just a way that the universe has of seeing itself, contemplating itself, and interacting with itself.

-- Brian William Drisko, 02-Feb-2009 1026 bwd@advaitism.com


What is Englightenment or Awakening?

Awakening is the realisation that there is no one and nothing that needs awakening. Therefore there is no one and nothing that needs to be awakened and there is no one who has anything.

So after awakening it isn't that one's life is suddenly wonderful and there are no problems. The apparent life of that character continues just as it always did, with the same sort of apparent difficulties. But there is no one there anymore. There never was anyone there. Before awakening, there is an idea that there is someone there who has problems, who suffers, who owns pain. Afterwards there is no one.

-- Tony Parsons in All There Is, pg 162


If there is Non-Duality, why does my mind see 'Me' as something separate from everything else?

Non-Duality or Advaitism is not a very easy concept to wrap your mind around. Most with this viewpoint consider it to be ultimately impossible to fathom with your mind. The reason it is difficult for your mind to conceive of this is the same reason it is difficult for you to touch the tip of your left index finger with the tip of your left index finger. You may be able to touch just about everything in existence with the tip of your left index finger, but the one thing you may never be able to touch with it is the tip of your left index finger itself, for an obvious reason. In the same way, trying to understand that we are not separate from everything else may be difficult for the mind to conceive for the very reason that we are that everything else that we are trying to conceive. It may be as difficult as trying to package up a box and put the box inside of itself!

-- Brian William Drisko, 15-Oct-2008 1053 bwd@advaitism.com


Why call yourself an Advaitin?

Most people have preconceived notions about Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, etc. Christians are viewed as following a religion based around the teachings of Jesus Christ, Buddhists around the teachings of Buddha, Muslims around the teachings of Mohammed, etc. Very few people have a preconception of what it means to be an Advaitin (unless they get confused and think you said "Adventist"). That gives you a chance to start with a blank slate and an opportunity to explain a little about Advaitism and non-duality.

-- Brian William Drisko, 15-Oct-2008 1053 bwd@advaitism.com


Why am I interested in this?

From page 89 of The Complete Idiot's Guide To Understanding Einstein by Gary Moring, this explains why I got interested in all of this in the first place:

"In philosophy and physics, cosmology is the study of the origin of the universe.

Whether you approch cosmology from the very small or the very large, the questions remain the same:

  • How was the universe created?
  • What is the basic underlying structure of the universe?
  • What is the smallest piece that can exist on its own?
  • Is the universe infinite?
  • Why was it all created in the first place?
The core question is this: Is the origin of the universe spiritual or material in nature?

Since I started studying Buddhism and Advaita I learned that many follow this path in the hope of reaching "Enlightenment" or becoming "Awakened". This was never my motivation. My perception from the very beginning was that it wasn't "about me".

After I had learned about the vastness of time and space from my science studies, it just didn't seem reasonable to me that the universe had a purpose that was specifically about "me" or my "personal salvation". After all, the universe was here for billions of years before "I" arrived and would be here for billions of years after "I" am gone. For that matter, the universe was here and will be here for billions of years before and after the existence of humans, or of even any life forms. Thus, it seemed to me that if there was any purpose of the universe at all, it was beyond "me", beyond human existence, and even beyond the existence of life at all.

At first I wondered why it seemed that all the Buddhist and Advaita books mentioned that "Enlightenment" and "Awakening" would not be possible so long as one continued to seek this goal. It took me a while to realize that most people who had entered the paths of Buddhism and Advaita did so in an attempt to seek personal enlightenment or awakening. I had run into Buddhist and Advaita concepts on my quest to just understand why the universe existed, not for any quest for personal enlightenment or awakening since I never believed that was relevant to anything. How could I when I believed the universe would still have been here with just as much meaning, if any, regardless of whether I ever existed, whether or not intelligent life had ever come to be, or even if any life forms had ever come into existence?

I think the motivation for my particular approach really helped me to be able to put the puzzle pieces together, and especially helped me to understand that it didn't matter if I had ever put them together, or if anyone were to have ever put them together.

-- Brian William Drisko, 08-Jun-2009 1632 bwd@advaitism.com


What is the difference between Buddhism and Advaitism?

Understanding the non-duality of existence seems to be at the core of both Buddhism and Advaitism. Buddhism, however, seems to place a lot of emphasis on ending suffering. Buddhism acknowledges that there is no 'you', that the seeming individual is a delusion, and that you as an individual can't do anything to wake up. Buddhism seems to acknowldege that 'You' are already awake and Enlightenment already is. But then Buddhism seems to talk about methods to wake up and relieve suffering of oneself and others. In Advaitism, since there is no 'you', there is no one suffering and no one to take any actions to either wake up or to end suffering. There is nothing 'you' need to do and actually nothing 'you' can do. Buddhism sometimes seems to imply this also, but then gets a bit confused in again talking about what 'you need to see'.

-- Brian William Drisko, 29-Nov-2009 0949 bwd@advaitism.com


References:
Wiktionary.com
Sankaracharya.org
Enlightened-Spirituality.org

-- Brian William Drisko, 15-Oct-2008 1053 bwd@advaitism.com


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