Meditation, Non-Duality and the Advaita Vedanta
E: What is the Advaita Vedanta?
S: The Advaita Vedanta or Non-dual Vedanta, is the jewel in the crown in traditional Hindu philosophy. It is a theoretical–practical philosophical system that provides answers to basic questions that every human being may ask themselves, and for those who study the different levels of consciousness in depth, that range from the dream state to the exquisite Non-Dual states that come about in Meditation and Samadhi.
E: What does the term “advaita” or “Non-Duality”refer to?
S: To explain it in a brief, straightforward manner, the concept of Non-Duality or non-difference implies that the observer is non-different to what is being observed; or that the subject is non-different to the object; or that the individual is non-different to the Absolute. For instance, do you think that, even though any two cells in your body are not the same cell, both are non-different; in fact, they both share the same genetic information. In the same way, although you are not me or neither am I you, we are both essentially non-different. This is precisely what a gnani or Hindu sage, a Christian or Muslim mystic, a Bhudda or any enlightened or awakened being from any tradition is aware of.
E: And what is meditation from the point of view of the Advaita ?
S: Meditation is the quietening of mental agitation. Meditation does not destroy the mind, but silences it; it allows consciousness to know reality directly without the mediation or interference of mental activity
E: Do you mean it can be known without the intervention of the mind? How can this be?
S: In the west the Mind and Consciousness are usually assimilated; which means, it is considered that what it is that knows is the Mind. Nevertheless, it is not like that. This could sound odd, but it is very easy to see. For instance, when the mind becomes silent, that is to say, when there are no thoughts, it is evident that there continue to be perception and consciousness. In fact, one is more conscious and perceptive when there are no thoughts. This demonstrates that, in reality, that which truly knows within us is not the thinking mind but something even deeper, real and genuine. This luminous part that really knows is what is called consciousness; the mind is just its reflection.
E: So, meditation is not thinking?
S: To be more precise, we could say that meditation is to perceive the world without the dialectical intervention that the mind continuously offers. Of course the mind still exists, but its activity is no longer a basic part of the cognitive process. And a delicious consequence of the quietening of mental activity is that, although cognitive activity proceeds, is even increased, there is, nonetheless, a lack of ego.
E: Lack of ego? What you mean is that the ego disappears when the mind disappears?
S: Effectively. The ego or “I” is a part of mental activity. In fact, it is the part of the mind which provides the sense of purpose and ownership; that is what the ego really is: the sense of possession, of being “I”, of what is mine. This is easy to understand: For instance, tell me who you are without thinking... In these moments while your mind is silenced, you understand me, and so you know, and you know that you know, and you know who you are, but if you do not think, you do not know who you are. Which means: You can know everything, but you only appear as an “I”, with a name and personal history, when you think about it. Therefore, the silencing of the mind brings about the disappearance of this sense of egotistic belonging, from the sense of being “someone” apart, even though knowledge continues to exist. This shows that there is knowledge without the need for there to be “someone” responsible for knowledge, that is, an “I” that is aware of it.
Knowing is an act which goes far beyond that of being an apparent egotistical, possessor of knowledge
E: If there is no mind, I mean, if there are no thoughts or ego, how does one know? How can knowledge exist? And who is it who knows?
S: Imagine a flow of permanent intuition allowing it to be conscious of the knowledge it contains. You will note that, while the intuition is active, there is no owner of knowledge; so there will be knowledge that belongs to nobody but is known by knowledge itself. We call this type of cognition Non-Duality, and the activity that educates the mind to produce this persistent Non-dual cognition is called meditation
E: Therefore how does one speak, communicate with others, walk...?
S: In the same way as you do when you control the absorption of food through enzymes or maintain the rhythm of your heartbeat
E: But these body functions happen automatically..., there is no need to think about them!
S: Exactly. In the same way, the capacity of understanding, fruit of the inborn quality of consciousness, automatically allows one to know without the need of thinking. Thinking is the act of giving mental “names” to outer “shapes”, and mental “shapes” to outer “names”. The skill in not performing such assignments is what is called meditation
E: How does one experience the world when he/she does not undertake the assignment of “names” to “shapes” or “shapes” to “names”?
S: Obviously, the world continues to exist; but the sense of experiencing oneself as a creator/being separated from the rest of the world disappears: that is to say, the sense of “I”, of “mine” disappears from the cognitive scene. Hence, the relationship which is established between what is perceived and who perceives it takes on a new direction; this new perspective of experiencing reality is what we call Non-Duality
E: Ah, Don-Duality!
S: Yes. Non-Duality has to do with the way the observer and observed are related. When there is no difference between the observer and the observed, then the observer is the observed and the world is experienced as Non-Dual. This means that when someone sees anything, he or she sees him or herself, since that is all that is.
E: And how does one achieve this?
S: Precisely through meditation practice. When the mind is moulded through meditation practice, this leads to the differentiated representation, which one usually has on experiencing objects, fading away. Then the mind takes on a sense of marvellous quietness. You see, the mind still exists, but it remains silent.
E: What effect does the condition of a silent mind have on everyday life?
S: It allows one to get into the activity which one is doing constantly without there being any distractions. The mind does not conceal itself in fantasy or in excess imagination. The mind responds naturally to things that happen depending on time and space.
Our level of awareness improves, allowing for an increase in efficiency in all kinds of mental and physical work. Our nervous system rests while we undergo this activity, as our devotion to every instant inhibits the emergence of different thoughts unrelated to this instant and, hence, there is a lower level of stress in the cognition
Since our nervous system is not suppressed by tension in an uncontrolled mind, this allows us to carry out each step in more detail and with more intensity; the reason being the source of joy provided by each step undertaken, happiness that has no need of cause or motive. This is joy without object, supreme bliss.
E: Could you tell us, what led you to investigate, to go deeply into meditation?
S: My concern, as with most young people and teenagers, had to do with coming to terms with the reason for being of all things: why the world is like it is, why God is like he/she is; in short, with this straightforward questioning a naive teenager's mind usually indulges in.
Unlike for others, tiredness did not overcome my longing to find answers. For years I probed into myself for the reason for being, for thinking and existing. Even though I lacked deep philosophical aids, I had myself. I investigated my own mental activity, trying to find a form of protocol in the functioning of the cognitive process. Years studying myself, and continuous observations of my mental and inner processes, led me to experience that which on occasions I found that sacred oriental books told of. I began to understand that my own experience corresponded to similar conditions to those which had been written in age-old times. Eventually, the supreme experience of knowledge was attained; since then things have been different: from then on my mind became an open book.