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Ancient Indian Philosophy: Ramana Maharshi and Advaita Vedanta

Updated on August 5, 2009

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

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 Maharaj

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.


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      soumyasrajan 6 years ago from Mumbai India and often in USA

      I like your expressons their simplicty at the same time quite clear to the point- like here also "stepping out of this place"

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      newday98033 6 years ago

      I think one can say that enlightenment is stepping out of this place. When one has, one realizes that one is not enlightened, but recognizes that we all see differently, the same thing! So the above article is true, and so is it true that event has something to do with understanding.

      Thus duality is simply not seeing that one is capable of being anything. Which is a condition everyone here shares, intermittently.

    • profile image

      soumyasrajan 6 years ago from Mumbai India and often in USA

      Hi! Will

      Nice article short and slick still quite complete. I must have read it earlier also but I enjoyed again. I also wrote some months back an article on Advaita Philosophy

      But your article is in a very different style and perspective. I enjoyed very much devotion you convey.

      I do not know about whom Madame X was talking. But

      I had read some years back a very interesting book "On the road to freedom: A pilgrimage to India" by Neal Rosner, who spent some years in Ashram of Ramana Maharshi and was sort of grand student of Ramana Maharshi and later became a disciple of Amma. His book is indeed great one, very enjoying.

    • sujju profile image

      sujju 7 years ago from mangalore, india

      wonderful hub... thanks very much for the valuable piece of information...

    • Greenheart profile image

      Greenheart 8 years ago from Cambridge

      Thanks Will for the informative blog!

      Have you heard of the teacher Adi Da?.

      He took Maha-Samadhi last year,having awokened to "The Bright" in 1970 and having been the devotee of great masters in India in the 1960's.

      Happy new year.


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      philip carey 61 8 years ago

      I've been a sort of disciple of Maharaj for the last 15 years. "I Am That" is the most compelling spiritual book I have ever read.

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      Madame X 8 years ago

      She's not a disciple of his, but a Saint herself. Sorry if I was confusing :)

    • Will James profile image

      Will James 8 years ago from New York, NY

      @Madame Thank you. Yeah I've heard of Amma but I didn't know she was a disciple of Ramana.

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      Madame X 8 years ago

      Will - marvelous hub! I am a practicing Hindu, though raised in the US. I met a direct disciple of Ramana's who is now a Swami with Sri Amritanandamayi Ma. You've probably heard of Her - Amma, the "Hugging Saint". Have you met her? Or other Masters? There are a few that frequently come to the US and you can go and see them. It has always been an experience that defies verbal description. It's nice to know other's are looking into this subject - very important!

    • Will James profile image

      Will James 8 years ago from New York, NY

      Thanks Bloggify. And thanks for the Youtube link at the other post.

    • Bloggify profile image

      Bloggify 8 years ago

      Nice hub Will