Meditation and Advaita Vedanta
VERDEMENTE/TRUTHFULLY: What are the origins of the Advaita Vedanta?
SESHA: The Vedanta – a term which literally means ‘ the end of the Vedas’ - is the denomination which is given to the main Indian philosophical system. Likewise, Vedas – a word derived from the Sanskrit root ‘ ved’, which means ‘ to know’ or ‘real knowledge’ - is the name given to the first and most sacred of Indoeuropean scriptures. Hence, the Vedanta represents the metaphysical culmination or apex of real knowledge originating in India from time immemorial.
The basis of the Vedanta system is formed by the confluence of the Upanishads (which constitute the most philosophic aspects in the Vedas) with the Brahma Sutras or Vedanta Sutras (aphorisms attributed to Sri Ved Vyasa) and with the Bhagavad Gita (also attributed to Vyasa and which forms part of the Mahabharata epic).
The Vedanta presents three disciplines with different variations. We will talk about the advaita or Non-Dualist school in this article, whose basic teaching states that the individual is non-different to the non-dual Absolute or Whole (Brahman). Its systematisation is basically derived from Sri Sankara Acharya and his disciples.
V: According to the Vedanta, what is the real nature of Reality?
S: Allow me to explain it with the help of a story:
Tradition tells that once there was a very just and wise king called Yanaka. All his subjects loved him, as he always thought of them before himself. Everyone who lived in his kingdom was prosperous, every project that was carried out there was successful: nature even seemed to be especially benign there: to such an extent that everything was more abundant in his kingdom than the neighbouring regions.
It was a custom that everyone who desired to educate themselves in the path of inner knowledge presented themselves at the court of King Yanaka
A young man called Asthavaku was taken there by his father so that he could study the path to self-knowledge under the most famous masters in the kingdom. Asthavaku studied for many years there at the court with the most famous masters in the kingdom, and afterwards returned home. On arrival, his father asked him if he had really learned about the essence of all things. Asthavaku replied affirmatively, as the masters had taught him the real essence of the reason why of all things and they had instructed him in that which underlies everything that exists
Once he had said this his father asked him:
—Son, what is the essence of this tree standing here beside me? Asthavaku walked up to the tree, picked a piece of fruit, broke it open and taking out a seed he said:
—This seed is the essence of this tree, it is the essence of this majestic fruit tree. At the same time this seed given time will be the essence of thousands of trees, which in turn will generate thousands of additional trees. It will be the seed of a place where birds will make their nests, a place inhabited by umpteen species of birds and insects. Thanks to the offspring of this seed, the hunger of countless people will be satisfied; with its firewood we will be able to protect ourselves from the cold and take refuge in our warm homes. This seed is not only itself but an infinity of other things in the future.
After listening to him carefully, his father went on to ask him:
— And what is the essence of the seed?
After thinking about it for a few moments, and without knowing what to say, Asthavaku answered that he did not know, he had not been taught this. And with the usual respect they have in India for parents he pleaded to his father saying:
— Please will you teach me, maybe you have the answer
His father replied in this manner:
— Take the seed between your fingers and break it open.
Asthavaku did what his father asked and opened the seed, which broke into pieces.
— What can you see inside it? - continued his father
— I see nothing, father- replied Asthavaku, puzzled.
—Well that is the essence of everything- his father said to him. It is the essence of the seed, it is the essence of the tree and of all other things that would bear fruit one day. This is the essence of everything that has been, there is, and will be. And this essence is Nothing.
The Nothingness which is described in this tale has been named in many ways. Some give it the name of God, others call it the Tao and others refer to it as enlightenment, supposing that one day with its aid they will discover the reason for being, the how and why of all things and the reason for their own understanding.
To be able to teach the Vedanta, to create a pedagogy, to create a system through which ‘That’ becomes accessible and understandable, the form in which this Nothingness reveals itself cognitively to the human being, is called Non-Duality. This Nothingness is the reason for being of all things, it is the reason for everything that exists and, although it is in all things, it cannot be harnessed, it can never be dialectically understood, even though it can be experienced.
V: It cannot be understood but it can be experienced, what do you mean?
S: This Nothingness, this reason for being in everything, this essence which exists beyond all things, to which all saints praise, for which trillions of hymns have been sung, That to which no one has failed to give reverence, even if they have only had the slightest hint of its aroma, becomes hard to grasp, uncontainable, unthinkable... the mind cannot even imagine it. However, all those who have recognised it know and explain that it can be recognised or, more precisely, it can be experienced, as the Absolute Being-Consciousness-Bliss that we are, is of the exactly the same nature as this Nothingness. This is what the concept of Non-Duality alludes to; in other words, Non-Duality appeals to the fact that we are no different from That, and in the Vedanta it is expressed in a summarised form stating that ‘ the individual is no different from the Absolute’.
The appreciation of Non-Duality is a highly intense cognition. It is not like anything you know. There is nothing that you know that may resemble It. You can know the intense beauty of dawn or dusk, for example, or an immense starry sky, where the Milky Way unfolds, and you can become entranced by it and immersed in what you are perceiving; or you can be enchanted by an inner experience or a sensual experience; or you can be engulfed by an orgasm... You may know any of these types of acts, even the most intense you can imagine or the most extreme you would be able to sustain or endure, but nevertheless, not even the most intense of all these acts would give you the slightest hint of what Non-Duality is, because Non-Duality is pure knowledge, and at the same time, pure self knowledge. Yes, that is it. That is why it is unimaginable.
V: Therefore how can we talk about this Nothingness? How can the experience be transmitted or taught?
S: The question is: What is That? What is this ‘That’ that is to be found? What is ‘That’ that cures all illnesses? What is ‘That’ that comforts all sadness? What is 'That', that by being so simple, can explain the most complex of things? And, because of its complex nature cannot be understood?
This Primary Essence absolutely overwhelms the mind's possibilities, it is totally impossible to think of or even imagine. However, it has ways of being experienced, there are ways to find oneself merged with it, there are ways to accomplish it. The main channel, the main way that the Vedanta tradition recognises, and through which it is possible to experience such a sublime state, is known as Meditation
N: And what is the Vedanta meditation technique? How does it resemble or differ from, Zen, Vipasana or other meditation techniques?
S: This question exposes a very common mistake; and I am very grateful you have asked this question, as in this way I can clarify this common error in conceptualization. Allow me to explain: Meditation is not a technique. Techniques can be employed to facilitate or help educate the mind, but the act of meditating, that is to say, meditation in itself, is not a technique at all
Meditation is surrendering oneself. There is a moment where inner perception in the present becomes an attitude of surrender. I was years trying out meditating to see if it was like this or like that, looking one way, or looking the other way, squatting in one position or in another. Because I thought there must be something in it I did not know, that I lacked the technique...and this was untrue. It comes without knowing how or why, and it goes in the same way. But it is an attitude of inner surrender, It is an attitude in the present. It is such a clean attitude, so immaculate at an inner level that it entails the least psychological effort. This is Meditation.
Meditation is inner awareness without the least psychological effort. It is the total absence of psychological effort. This is meditation. It is being there and only being. Only being. Only that. But it is not being there mentally... but it is mentally surrendering there. It is not feeling like anything, not wanting anything, not wanting to situate yourself anywhere in respect to anything, not even yourself.
And for this reason, sometimes, when people get to ‘That’ they achieve it out of desperation. Because you do not achieve it by doing something. Nor by not doing anything. It is a state which emerges spontaneously. It is an act of surrender. It is an act of divine surrender. It is an act of inner surrender. It is like saying to nature, to life itself, that it is wiser than us and that it should take us. That it knows more than us... so it should teach us. Meditation is a pure, unegotistical, immaculate act. Therefore, It loves and it loves itself, it knows and it knows itself, it becomes aware it exists and it exists in itself. And this is meditation.