3.2) No practice, no effort, no seeking
2.1 Don’t give up the search
One of the most characteristic marks of neo-Advaita is the premature demand that people “call off the search”.
Neo-Advaita says: If the search, the seeker, the suffering, and the illusion are all illusory, what is the need for spiritual effort or practice? It suggests that it’s enough simply going to Satsang, gaining an intellectual conviction about the absolute Truth, and dropping some concepts. It teaches that all effort, practice, meditation, and spirituality depend on the ego, and the ego is an illusion, so these are just useless activities.
It’s literally throwing the baby out with the bath-water.
Or, when wanting to cross a river to the other side, you throw away all your luggage, and also your boat and the oars! Well, after all, you want to get to the other side, and you won’t need the boat when you are there, so why should you make use of it now? Good luck with that!
Or like throwing away the life jacket, believing that you are already saved—since there is no ocean, no drowning, no getting saved, and no land. You may say that there is no safe-land, and no saving, all you like! But the reality is, even as you open your mouth to say these things, water is already coming in and you are drowning.
The neo-advaita view seems to have a foundation on the traditional teachings, including of the three modern Advaita masters mentioned above (Ramana, Papaji, Nisargadatta), but it overlooks the paradox of Enlightenment: you don’t need to look to see it, but if you don’t look you won’t see it.
We must, like the Buddha put it, “do the impossible and attain the unattainable”. And the Hindu saying, “There is no path, but only a fool does not walk it.”
Of course, this fast-food spirituality approach—or McAdvaita, as I call it—is very attractive to many people that want fast results. The problem is that the results you get are, of course, superficial; there is some flavor there, but no nutrition. And this way of approaching spirituality leaves you without the tools or understanding needed for further progress and true Realization.
The metaphor that some texts use is that of a king who goes on a far-away ride on his horse for several hours, and has an accident. Falling from the horse, the king forgets his identity, and for several years after the accident lives in a village as a peasant. Meanwhile his palace is invaded and a neighboring king takes control. One day he remembers his identity—but that doesn’t make him a king again. He needs to ride back to the palace and reclaim his position. Only then can he again truly live and rule as a king.
This is a great video that illustrates very well the difference between intellectual understanding and true realization.
It is not enough to address the deep cognitive bias of illusion (avidya, maya, ajnana) at a conceptual level; for realization to be complete, the mental tendencies that support this bias need to get completely uprooted. This is done through persistent internal practices of meditation, study, self-examination, etc.
As Nisargadatta’s guru (Sri Siddharameshvar Maharaj) puts it, we must hear the truth that we are the Self, and then behave accordingly. Being pulled and pushed here and there by our mental conditioning is not in accordance with that realization.
The way the search unfolds evolves and changes by time. It often starts as a neurotic obsession, and by time evolves into a more “holy aspiration”. Yet, to “give up the search” altogether is a disease.
The spiritual search is like a stick that you use to move everything into the fire, and that it itself get’s thrown in the fire at very the end. If you barely use the stick, and decide to simply throw it in the fire straight away, feeling “relieved”, you are left with no means to continue the work. You are left with heaps of illusion unburnt.
2.2. Ripening the mind
Both in traditional Advaita as well for modern sages, the nondual realization requires a ripe mind, also called a sattvic mind. This is a mind devoid of craving, ignorance, restlessness, fear, and other mental poisons. This type of mind is very rare, and not to be expected.
Therefore, spiritual practice is needed to prepare the ground for the final realization.
While the ultimate Enlightenment “happens” in an instant, it is always preceded by sincere spiritual practice. Some may argue that Ramana Maharshi, who had no previous spiritual practice, had sudden enlightenment, without following a spiritual path. However, he did mention that he had practiced in previous lives.
Hence the emphasis that ancient sages have put on developing the four requirements as “conditions” for full and irreversible Liberation to occur. The Advaita truth cannot flourish unless the mind is thus prepared. If we skip the foundation, we end up with a picture of a cake—rather than eating the real one.
As long as our minds are still filled with craving, aversion, fear and pride, no amount of intellectual understanding can bring about Enlightenment. We end up with fake or superficial spirituality.
Our initial goal should be steadiness in practice along with equanimity of mind, even in the absence of any great dramatic results, not quick enlightenment in the absence of practice!” – David Frawley
On the same lines:
Why bother to listen to all of the preparatory stuff when you can get the final message straight away? ‘Don’t bother telling me about arithmetic, I want to learn quantum mechanics!’ (…)
Neo-Advaita attempts to force the truth of the matter upon an unprepared mind at the outset (denying indeed the very existence of a mind), offering no process of gradual discrimination or logical development. It says ‘this is it’ and that is that! The bewildered ego is possibly left with an intellectual acceptance that it doesn’t really exist but, in fact, it remains as strong as it ever was. (…)
Because of the unverifiable nature of Enlightenment, this term has been much manipulated. Satsang has been Americanized. In an average satsang-gathering everybody is laughing, showing signs of euphoric and unauthentic joy, while the teacher tries to look like he or she is in bliss. Just like a TV show. Very few actually meditate. Why meditate if we are already all awakened?
—Aziz Kristof [likely author]
2.3. Effort, practice, and awakening
Ramana Maharshi always recommended spiritual effort, in the form of Self-Enquiry, surrender or meditation, for the sake of freeing oneself from vasanas (mental tendencies), and from the grip of the ego, so that our true nature can shine unimpeded.
If you give up all effort, you will remain in your current state.
A philosophy that suggests you to drop all effort, and simply be happy where you are because everything is perfect and you are already the Self will leave you as the perfect Self expressing itself as a person with confusion, suffering, and illusion.
“There is a state beyond our efforts or effortlessness. Until it is realised effort is necessary. (…)
Effort is necessary up to the state of realisation. Even then the Self should spontaneously become evident. Otherwise happiness will not be complete. Up to that state of spontaneity there must be effort in some form or another.”
“Effort is needed so long as there is mind.”
“In the presence of the Guru, Samadhi can occur. To be further established in this state, however, effort is needed.”
– Ramana Maharshi
If we were dealing only with an intellectual misconception, then intellectual understanding and conviction would be enough to dispel it. However, the state of spiritual ignorance (illusion, bondage, samsara, whatever you call it) is much deeper than that.
It is ingrained in our whole perceptual and mental framework, and is confirmed and strengthened by each of our fears, attachments, desires, compulsions, memories—which is what is called vasanas. The way our mind and senses worked is fundamentally supporting this state of delusion.
Without changing this, any intellectual understanding, however wonderful or euphoric, produces no radical transformation, but only a split in your being. You need to enlighten your guts and heart as well, not only the mind. And for that, you need to put in some effort to stabilize, purify, interiorize, and transcend the mind.
The effort need not be aggressive, or forceful. Meditation, and other spiritual practices needed to purify the mind, take a subtle type of effort.
Therefore, a consistent spiritual practice is needed; first to weaken then to transcend the vasanas—and cut asunder the knot of the identification of Consciousness with the body-mind complex.
Advaita is a proven methodology for helping seekers to remove the ignorance that is preventing them from realizing the already-existing Truth. Neo-advaita makes the same claim but offers nothing at all to help the seeker remove the ignorance.
Few things are as dangerous in the spiritual journey than a misunderstanding of the nondual truth. The higher the truth, the bigger the effects of misunderstanding it. In this case, it leaves the aspirant in a spiritual limbo, without meditation, spiritual study, ethics, or any other means of truly moving forward.
Personally, I know that reading or listening to the absolute level truth can be very satisfying and produce a state of peace. For very mature souls, this can even produce a permanent awakening. For most souls, however, it can leave them in a spiritual limbo, unless they are willing to move on.
Suggestions for a more wholesome attitude:
- Keep on the path. Mooji, who some might consider a neo-Advaita teacher (I personally don’t), puts it beautifully “Don’t give up the search. Let the search give you up.” The impulse to give up the search is, in itself, an ego thought. Let this thought pass and keep firm in your path.
- Make effort to transcend the ego and vasanas. Traditional spiritual practices such as the study of the teachings, meditation, and self-enquiry are ways you can channel your efforts to arrive at an authentic experience of nondual Consciousness.
- Beginners mind. Don’t close yourself down on any experience. Keep open and humble. Doubt everything – doubt even the doubter. Keep on learning, keep on growing into silence, keep letting go. “Humility and silence are essential for a seeker, however advanced.” (Nisargadatta Maharaj)