Ancient Indian Philosophy: Ramana Maharshi and Advaita Vedanta
Advaita is India's Greatest Gift to the World
In India are the oldest texts known to man. Their oldest holy books go way back into the B.C. era, and until relatively recently the nation had the largest GDP in the world. Advaita (Vedanta) is the final Teaching which sort of puts a cap on the end of their whole history of religious books.
Vedanta means "end of the Vedas". (The Vedas are the last series of holy texts in Hinduism.) And Advaita is the highest teaching in the Vedanta.
We need to break down the word Advaita in order to more fully understand what it is pointing at and even why it might be considered the "end of religion" itself. It is a Sanskrit word:
a + dvaita = not + two
So this ancient philosophy's name can be sorted out to mean "not two". Sometimes called "nondual" or "nonduality". This may or may not mean the same thing as the new age hokier sounding "oneness". Technically it is a negation and not an affirmation. I'm sure there is a separate Sanskrit word for "one" if the old Indian sages had wanted to use it they probably could have.
Advaita in Modern Times
The way Advaita circulates nowadays, owing to a semi-growing popularity in the West, including many awakened Americans, Australians, Brits, and other Europeans, is through what is called satsang. Satsang means "in the company of truth". Oftentimes an Advaita sage (one who is awakened, although in reality no one awakens) will open his or her home to spiritual seekers once or twice a week, so that they may sit around the sage and ask him questions.
- What can I do to get enlightened?
- What is it like to be enlightened?
Typical answers are, as stated earlier:
- No one awakens.
- Enlightenment is not an event in the time-space continuum. It is not an event at all.
- You will never be enlightened because enlightenment is the absence of a you to get it in the first place.
Famous Advaitins: The Greats
Ramana Maharshi was an Indian who awoke at the age of 16 back around 1900. He had an anxiety-provoked near death experience which instead of turning away from he let himself experience and his sense of self evaporated for good.
Many Advaita teachers who have come after him seem to hold a special place in their heart for Ramana. Why? I'm not exactly sure. But he was an amazing man and his story is well worth reading.
Nisargadatta was a Bombay shopkeeper who sold children's clothes and cigarettes. He was alive as recently as 1983 I believe.
He is sort of a hilarious man because of his quick wit and no-B.S. attitude towards spiritual seekers who came to see him at his apartment in Mumbai. His classic tome is called "I Am That". It was one of the first Advaita books I read, though I have to admit it's so big I still haven't read the entire thing. But it still sits on my bookshelf. It is yellow and black and thick. Whoever designed the cover was a book cover designing genius.
The Difference Between Advaita and Nonduality
There really is no actual difference between Advaita and the philosophy of nonduality. Basically, "nonduality" is the English translation of the Indian word.
However, you could say that nonduality in practice encompasses a wider range of religion-philosophies than Advaita. Zen could be classified as nondual, as could tidbits of all mystic traditions; maybe even some of that new-fangled quantum physics.
There are more hokesters and frauds operating under the term nonduality than in Advaita, so take that into consideration, just with a a grain of salt, that's all.