True Nonduality And Neo-Advaita—Moving Beyond A Cognitive Realization25 min read

3.5) Lack of an ethical framework

The highest nondual teachings don’t speak directly of ethics. This is not because they are against it, but simply because the requirements demanded from the disciple before he was deemed ready to receive these teachings were so high, that at this point talking about ethics would be beating the dead. With the traditional emphasis in the development of non-attachment, self-control, forbearance, discernment and egolessness, ethics was a given.

It is true we are not bound and that the real Self has no bondage. It is true that you will eventually go back to your source. But meanwhile, if you commit sins, as you call them, you will have to face the consequences of such sins. You cannot escape them.

If a man beats you, then, can you say, ‘I am free, I am not bound by these beatings and I don’t feel any pain. Let him beat on’? If you can feel like that, you can go on doing what you like. What is the use of merely saying with your lips ‘I am free’?

—Ramana Maharshi

When asked about behavior and rules of conduct, Ramana answered, “Since the prescribed observances for self-discipline [niyamas] help one to a considerable extent, they are worthy to be accepted and followed.

And also: “Whatever is done lovingly, with righteous purity and with peace of mind, is a good action. Everything which is done with the stain of desire and with agitation filling the mind is classified as a bad action.

Contrarily, what we see in neo-Advaita is the idea that there is no right nor wrong, and we simply ought to accept everything as it is. Well-known teachers have used these “Advaita excuses” to justify their lack of compassion, gross mistakes, and even power and sexual abuse. It is beyond the scope of this article to analyze individual cases.

A pseudo-advaitin’s own misbehavior can be quickly rationalized away in the same glib manner as merely “a dream,” “God’s will,” “Mâyâ”.

On this point, the towering sage of nonduality, Sri Ramana Mahârshi (1879-1950), has strongly critiqued this confused mixing of levels and “misplaced advaita” by saying that advaita should NOT be applied to action, in the sense of non-discrimination between proper and improper behavior.

Timothy Conway

Just as it is problematic to think that there is no need to make any spiritual effort, thinking that one does not need to be mindful of ethical values causes issues both for that person, as well as for his community.

Borrowing again from the concepts from the Buddhist tradition, the spiritual practice has three pillars: Wisdom (prajna), Meditation (dhyana), and Ethics (sila). The ethics can be principle-based, as Ramana suggested (actions based in love, compassion, egoless-ness, detachment), rather than fixed in rules of conduct. But if they are not integrated at all, something is definitely missing.

  • Be cautious with rationalizations. As a beginner practitioner, don’t let impressive words of a teacher distract you from the truth of his or her behavior. Advaita is not an excuse for mindless and egotistical actions. Also, be suspicious of groups where there is a strong emphasis on spending heaps of money for receiving the teaching or participating in events.
  • Be down to earth. As an advanced practitioner, don’t think you are beyond good or evil. Yes, you are not the body nor the mind, and the Self is beyond all dualities. But the body-mind produces actions, and will receive the results of its actions. Openness to see how they can be improved can help you go a long way.
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