1) TRADITIONAL Advaita
In a nutshell, Advaita teaches us that:
- Reality, or Brahman (Absolute) is eternal, undifferentiated, attributeless, beginningless, “one without a second”;
- The universe, all beings, and the creator are all manifestations of Maya (Illusion), and are “unreal” in themselves
- The universe, all beings, and the creator IS Brahman (thus are real as Brahman)
- Our essential and true Self (atman) is Brahman.
The perception of multiplicity and of an “external” universe is compared to a dream, or to a rope in a half-dark room that appears to be a snake. Enlightenment is the realization of our true nature as Awareness, and the consequent dissolution of the illusion of being an individual identity (sometimes called “ego” or “mind”), just like a mirage ceases to deceive when it is seen to be illusory.
The truths meditated upon are the ones exposed above, often under the form of “Great Sayings” (mahavakyas)—such as “I am Brahman” and “I am That”—or as an exercise of denying identification with anything that is perceived by the mind and senses, “not this, not this” (neti neti). Because the process happens mostly through mental practices, it is often known as Jnana Yoga, or union through wisdom.
The main obstacles on the path are known as vasanas (or samskaras), which are the innate mental predispositions, conditionings, and psychological colorings. These psychic patterns are based on the illusion of individuality, and reinforce that illusion; they are at the root of all our desires, aversions, fears, and ignorance.
Advaita, in this context, is mostly a monastic tradition. These advanced teachings were imparted only to “worthy disciples”, which often meant people who have spent at least 12 years studying, practicing, and serving the master.
The Advaita masters measued the spiritual maturity of the student by his level of development in these four qualities:
- Spiritual discernment (viveka) —ability to tell the real from the unreal, permanent from impermanent, true from false
- Dispassion or non-attachment (vairagya) — letting go of desires and attachments to everything except the Self
- Six virtues (shat-sampad) — tranquility, self-control, renunciation, forbearance, faith, meditation
- Intense yearning for Liberation (mumukshutva)
As you can see, the bar is set quite high, and most practitioners would not qualify. Those who did were highly mature, self-controlled, selfless, desire-less and wise individuals. So the chances of the teaching being misunderstood or misused were very low.
To such advanced disciples, the teachings of Advaita Vedanta could quickly bear fruit. Until then, it was not taught, for it would be like good seed thrown in infertile ground.
The onlooker, unaware of all the previous training and preparation, might have the impression that the final teachings are magical, and if we could simply jump directly to them, then realization could be speeded up. Yet, the magic doesn’t work without all the preparation.
This model is indeed very restrictive, and can benefit only an increasingly small number of highly “spiritually mature” people.