What is the path of Advaita?
Advaita is the path of non-duality, the path of wisdom. This is the path the Buddha teaches; the path towards Enlightenment.
The important question to ask on any path is, “Where do I want to go? What is the goal at which I wish to arrive?” Once we have identified the goal and set our compass in that direction, the steps toward that goal become clearer.
If we can agree that we wish to advance our conscious awareness of who and what we truly are, and to cut away all that is keeping us from that realization, then we are one step closer to arriving at our goal along the pathway towards Enlightenment. This is the path of Advaita.
This is not a path of addition, but rather one of subtraction. There is nothing to ‘get’ or add. There is actually not even a place or goal to arrive at. Advaita shows us that we are already that which we seek. The only thing to be surrendered is the idea that we are separate from that which we wish to realize – our true Self.
Let us bring our attention to that which is in the way of this realization. As Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita:
“Nothing in the world purifies as powerfully as wisdom…Through the path of yoga, realize this wisdom in yourself.”
As taught by the Buddha,
there is only one real danger, and that is the danger of ignorance. All suffering is born of ignorance, which is sometimes referred to as sin. As the Buddha teaches, “The only real sin is ignorance.”
What is this ignorance and how does it come to be? The answer is the dualistic mind. Being born as humans, we have inherited this thing called ‘ego.’ The ego comes from the animalistic tendency to label things as either good or bad, or more true to the point: beneficial or harmful to life. Even the simple single-celled bacteria knows that it must move towards nutrients and away from toxins, otherwise it will die.
As life evolved into the animal kingdom, this simple instinct became more refined and complicated. The animal mind became a storehouse of this knowledge – an endless cataloging: foods that are nutritive, foods that are toxic; places that are safe, places that are not safe; friend or foe; etc. Here we see the formation of duality in which the ordinary mind operates. It is beginning to operate on labels: good/bad, hot/cold, right/wrong. All incoming stimulus is then labeled and separated according to these distinctions.
This was an incredibly beneficial tool for survival. Things could quickly be identified as beneficial to survival or not. Anything labeled as non-beneficial was quickly discarded and avoided. As we evolved into our present-day human experience, we’re still able to observe this inherent drive for survival, which manifests as the ego.
Modern man, who no longer needs to worry about basic survival, still has this built-in ‘fight or flight’ instinct. Because basic human needs are now taken care of, this energy manifests in other forms and seeks other outlets of expression. Importance is shifted from food, shelter and clothing to symbols of status, desirability and the gathering of material objects. These are different objects of focus, but still the same dualistic energy.
In modern day society, when we believe that something is ‘good,’ what we really mean is that we want it. When we believe that something is ‘bad,’ we really mean that we don’t want it. We can see this same animalistic tendency to label and categorize everything in our world. Labeling creates separation, and in turn, the mind forms the distinction of ‘internal’ and ‘external.’ In reality, this is only a perception…
When we practice the pathway of non-duality, we begin to examine this viewpoint of an external world and an internal ‘experiencer’ of the world. While the mind is concerned with the content of the world, there is also the space in which the content exists, called the context. One can start to place their awareness on the context rather than the content which is experienced. We can ask ourselves who (or what) is experiencing the content of the mind and the world.
This question cannot be answered with the mind. It is actually a question that is meant to confuse the mind and point it towards that which is outside of the mind. As Albert Einstein said,
“We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”
So we realize it is quite a foolish undertaking to try to solve problems of the mind with the mind. Trying to solve problems of content with content only creates more content, a metaphorical house of mirrors. The only way out of the mind is by placing awareness on the context, or the space in which the content of the mind occurs.
Once we are able to stop identifying with the content of mind and instead identify with the context, then we come one step closer to a non-dual reality. We can then view the mind for what it is: a filter for labeling experience, operating in duality. This polarity may be useful for moving through the world and for simple communication, but it is one step removed from reality. The map is not the territory, as they say.
Upon further examination, we learn that there are no polarities in reality. Take heat for example. We commonly refer to temperature as either hot or cold, but we can see that temperature is really a gradient scale. What is referred to as ‘hot’ are really molecules vibrating at a high rate, whereas ‘cold’ are molecules vibrating at a slower rate (or the absence of heat). There is really no such thing as ‘cold’, it is just a label we apply to the lack of heat. There is no measurement on the temperature scale where we can say that it moves from hot to cold. Hot and cold only refer to preferences and are subject to perception. 72 degrees Fahrenheit is quite an agreeable room temperature, however to store certain foods at the same temperature would be considered dangerous. Therefore, the same temperature can be considered both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ depending on conditions and our perception.
How does perception work? Perception is subject to change, and that which is subject to change cannot be considered real (or true). This is an important realization. It is said that the mind isn’t real because it is subject to change. With this realization, we remain true to the path of subtraction, let go of identification with the mind, and dive deeper into the understanding of our true Self.
If we are not our mind, if we are not who we think we are, then are we the ‘experiencer’? Close, but not exactly. Once one begins to place attention on the experiencer, one realizes that there is a quality of consciousness that is observing the experiencer: We can observe that the experiencer is experiencing the thoughts, emotions, sensations, etc. However, this is still a dualistic viewpoint.
We are able to observe that a certain stimulus causes a reaction in the experiencer. We can observe how the apple creates a feeling of satisfaction in the eater of the apple. We can observe the emotional response to a snide remark. We can observe the emotional response when our favorite pet comes and snuggles up at our feetWith the attention shifted out of the experiencer and onto the observer, we begin to see a spaciousness emerge.
We can sense a space created between the observer and the energetic movement of experience. Now we begin to see patterns emerge. Whereas at the level of mind the permutations of thought are endless, on the energetic level it becomes much simpler. On the emotional level (or simply energy in motion, e-motion) there are a limited amount of emotions we can experience, for instance guilt, anger, acceptance, love, peace, etc. One can begin to see that underlying all thought is an energetic movement, or emotion.
The thoughts are like bubbles on the surface of the water, but where they come from is deep down in the realm of emotions. Thoughts of resentment are recognized as coming from an emotion of anger; thoughts of despair are recognized as coming from an emotion of apathy. When we dive down and deal with the underlying emotions creating the thoughts, life becomes easier.
Now a spaciousness begins to emerge. We have created the space to allow these emotions just be. There is no need to resist or be afraid of feeling a certain way. Defense mechanisms such as denial, suppression and distraction are no longer necessary. These defense mechanisms are only there because we have identified with our fragile ego, which is not capable of facing discomfort.
With this new understanding of the way in which emotions and thoughts move through our consciousness, we can more easily remain centered. Even in the midst of turbulent thoughts and strong emotional reactions, we can apply this technique of shifting our awareness onto the vast field of our consciousness, in turn creating more space and tranquility in our being.