Guru-Student Tradition in Advaita Vedanta

guru-śisya-paramparā – Self-knowledge passed down from guru to student to help remove beginningless ignorance; cause of rebirth in saṃsāra. Then shift the ‘I' from false body-mind to Brahman.

Yes Vedanta purpose is to protect and expound the original message of Advaita Vedanta sampradāya (tradition revived by Adi Shankara) – by revealing the depth of their evergreen non-dual teachings contained in texts (sourced from last section of Vedas called jnana-kanda) like: Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Brahma Sutras, Vivekachudamani, Narada Bhakti Sutra, Aparokshanubhuti, Panchadasi, etc.

Advaita Vedanta is not a philosophy, not a school of thought, not a system of ideas, not a set of contentions. It is a means of knowledge (pramana) for something that has to be understood through prescribed practice and self-inquiry, rather than believed.

Vedānta precisely reveals the eternal truth which we miss owning to beginningless ignorance (avidyā). Then we seek for it in places where it is not. Just like never finding the pen because it's sought everywhere but it's one true source, the ear. It was here and now all along.

In same way, no amount of self-effort can reveal the absolute. Because effort implies “gaining what I don't already have”. But one can't gain what one already is; self. Just like a word can't become nor gain the ink. It's already pervaded by the ink. Thus any word's attempt to attain the ink will fail. For this reason, absolute reality can only be pointed out by an ācāryaḥ (teacher) through Vedānta pramāṇa.

Yes Vedanta classes are taught according to traditional Vedanta (as originally unfolded and without watering down). Also frequent use of Sanskrit words are employed for sake of strictly preserving the Vedantic Indian tradition.  Mainly because advaita (non-duality/non-dualism) taught in English strips half of the comprehension and appreciation of oneness.

“Traditional” Indian Advaita Vedanta has nothing to do with partial western Advaita — devoid of Sanskrit, devotion (Bhakti), Karma-Yoga, God (Īśvara), dharma and karma.

How to identify? Western style hardly acknowledges Advaita (non-dualism) is strictly of Vedas. Also śloka (verse) or text which contains the teaching is unmentioned. This often causes unintentional glorification of the teacher due to his “excellent examples”.

In truth, all examples/lessons come from Vedas (source of Upanishads) from India. It is duty of every teacher to acknowledge and protect the source — just like father's duty to protect his son being spoiled by immorality.

Partial knowledge leads to intellectual superiority like “I am beyond this world. Why pray to atoms? World is an illusion“. It encourages snobbish attitude. Fortunately the self-deluded bubble bursts sooner or later.

Another reason why sincere spiritual seekers aren't progressing is because of need to mix schools of various philosophies. Irony is mixing schools prevents Liberation (moksha). Why? It creates contradictions between words and encourages scholarly intellectual understanding (dvaita), rather then abiding in Truth AS the Truth (advaita).

Thus Vedanta establishes a precise vocabulary so student-teacher is on same page at all times. It's an already perfected methodology. Therefore student can feel safe one is not entering a contaminated or corrupted teaching; a genuine concern for seekers.

What's more, being presented multiple schools at once (eg: Neo-Advaita, Buddhism, Western philosophers, Taoism, etc) encourages greed and personal preference based on the already confused mind. For example…

Choosing Spirituality BlindI'll take this just because I like it, and reject that just because I dislike it! “. It's basically how children pick. And adult seekers are not exempt from this physiological weakness.

It's as good as a 3 year old being left alone in a candy store. What will happen? Child will innocently pick whatever appeals to his/her personality. Irrespective of whether it's healthy or not.

Eventually the genuine aspirant/seeker tastes all sweets to Enlightenment in the spiritual candy store. And soon discovers none have liberated oneself from the body-mind complex. Still giving validity to false “I”. But at least the person's mind is now purer owning to sādhana. This is when Vedanta teacher comes in aspirants life and helps them fulfill the highest stage of life; mokṣa (freedom from birth-death).

Yes Vedanta

advaita-vedanta-swami-chinmayananda-dayananda-paramarthananda-adhi-shankara-ramana-maharshi

Yes Vedanta only presents the purest Self-Knowledge from original Sanskrit to English, as presented by our greatest sages. It is not over-simplified or partial in hopes to attract masses. Teachings are detailed and structured step-by-step.

Yes Vedanta exists for devotees those who seek Self-Knowledge (parā vidyā / brahmavidyā).

parā vidyā: The higher knowledge by which the immutable and the imperishable Ātman is realized, which brings about the direct realization of the Supreme Reality, the source of All (Brahman).

The student listens to the teaching, reflects on it and ascertains it by one's own self-inquiry (contemplation/meditation).

We're not an institution, nor a business, nor donation-dependent. All classes are free. Teacher is self-supported financially.

No commitment of attendance or academic qualification is needed. No race, gender, religion or nationality is excluded. Only your sincerity and willingness to pay attention is expected.

Vedanta also positively influences relationships, money, meaning of serving/giving, negotiating and communicating. So it's not just about having clarity of “Who am I?”, but embodying the wisdom and being an example for others of how to live in harmony with the TOTAL. It is student's duty to live and shine the knowledge to inspire others.

Teaching Lineage

Teaching and language usage is based mainly on Swami Dayananda (Arsha Vidya) lineage, most prominently Paramarthananda. There is also involvement with Chinmaya International Foundation, specifically Advayananda.

Both lineages perfectly compliment each other. Former strictly adheres to classic language utilized by Adi Shankara. Later employs considerable amount of Sanskrit in all texts, thus demands high intellectual sharpness in all students.

james-swartz-ramj-advaita-vedanta-non-duality-teacherMy first introduction into classic Vedanta was through James Swartz. He is king of cleaning up the spiritual mess constructed and spread by modern confounded non-dualists and spiritual “know it all” Einsteins. Both ironically (despite best efforts) contributed in derailing sincere seekers into realms of “quick fix”.

Thus James Swartz major contribution to the Western world is restoring purity of traditional unspoiled Advaita Vedānta and protecting the unbroken lineage from being blurred with dysfunctional new-age views of oneness.

neema-majmudar-discovervedanta-advaita-vedanta-teacher Neema Majmudar, I look up to most because never met anyone who excels her unique ability to practically convert abstract principles INTO concrete and down-to-earth relatable living. Her way of teaching perfectly balances the intellectual need to firmly grasp, and the emotional need to integrate — or to be it and feel it simultaneously. Neema's shining brilliance is my daily dose of inspiration because through her I see what's it like to breathe the wisdom of our scriptures.

 

About Andre

andre vas vedanta teacher Australia

Class involves listening to and contemplating Upaniṣadic declarations on what is Real/Unreal.

After finishing school – personal improvement, general prosperity and psychology was love-at-first-sight. A treasure which had to be explored. Idea of becoming better was irresistible. It supported the vision of family's tradition: find a wife, have children and provide them a safe happy home.

Although looking back, exploration was motivated out of lack, insecurity, unworthiness. In other words it was fear driven self-improvement of not having enough. Either way it was suffice reason to quickly master subject of money, which gave way to financial independence.

However decent success until 23 raised suspicion in form of inquiry. A gradual recognition of impermanence of financial security, friendship, intimacy and self-help — grew overwhelmingly noticeable.

“There seems to be no ending to any of this”, I thought. Why is there a constant drive to achieve more? When will I be peace with what already gotten? How will even-more make a difference – and to whom?”

Thus began “symphony of endless inquiry”, whose questions eventually turned to the subject “I” —

self-enquiry-inquiryWhy this ceaseless yearning for an end in the future? End to where and to what? What does the end look and feel like?

Since it is “I” who wants to know the answer, this means the end matters to this “I”. Meaning “end” is complete, and “I” is incomplete. Logical! Since it's always the INCOMPLETE which chases after the COMPLETE – and not the other way around.

Hmm, so far we know this much: (1) I = incomplete (2) End = complete

Aha! Then “I” must be referring to mind, since mind is limited in knowledge.

But wait! How can a LIMITED MIND know about an END? That's impossible! A little fish can't know about a vast ocean. Only the ocean can know of the fish.

It's obvious I am not a fish. Else there would be constant happiness in my small coral-reef world. But fact is, there is a sense of dissatisfaction. This means I already have knowledge of something more superior then this small fish-like body and dissatisfied mind.

Aha! This must mean I am already the ocean; the end itself. And my mind is standing in the way of knowing self as entire ocean. This means the MIND must be treated, and not the “I”.

Hmm, so far we know this much: (1) I = already complete (2) Mind = incomplete (3) Solution = treat the mind that's denying full knowledge of “I AM”.

But how to treat the mind, where do we start?

Thereafter, next 8 years was discovering the means to “Know Thyself”.

pursuit-of-spiritual-enlightenment-checklistMost means worked, but none provided a PERMANENT remedy. The high wore off days/months later. “Nothing lasts“, I thought. So what's the point of attending one more satsang. One more ayahuasca session. One more biography of a saint. One more meditation. One more anything.

What's more, in stage of seeking, almost every guru seemed worth listening to. It causes contradictions because everyone has different definitions. Especially the most abused word “enlightenment“. Today we have “Enlightened Cooking! Money for the Enlightened! Buddha's Enlightenment 10 Day Retreat!“. Consequence was bursts of salvation. But it too dissipated upon reentry into ordinary life like driving on road, family and colleagues.

By now, I was now ready to die, anytime, anywhere, anyplace to KNOW. Nothing else mattered.

Eventually by grace of Ramana Maharshi whom I revered for years, there was attraction to visit Arunachala. It so happened James Swartz was teaching Vedanta nearby.

After hearing the entire Vedanta program magnificently expounded… I stuck with it by mere faith that what Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads are saying — must be true. Despite having no way of verifying the Vedic authority to be any better then other methodologies.

Self-Knowledge was further clarified through participation in Chinmaya International Foundation (Kerala, India). Much respect to them for upholding the Vedic tradition via strong emphasis on Sanskrit usage. But also with projects like 52 episode TV series “Upaniṣad Ganga”; portraying Upanishads in entertaining format.

Finally I was introduced to Neema who meticulously expounded the vision and meaning of not-two; advaita (essence of Upaniṣads). When I met her, definition of “guru” came fully alive. And finally understood the power of guru-śisya-paramparā. (see top pic)

Nowdays, majority of day consists of studying Vedantic texts and Sanskrit. Life purpose is solely dedicated to protecting and disseminating the Advaita-Vedanta tradition to last breath.


How Vedanta solves the beginingless problem?

Vedanta gradually burns up ignorance (who I am NOT) and firmly establishes self-knowledge as direct understanding and not mere intellectual idea.

Now one never again sporadically confuse “I” (limitless Self) with what I am NOT (limited Body-Mind-Intellect). Saṃsāra is no longer seen as saṃsāra. “I” shifts from time-bound body-mind TO the timeless self (Ātman).

Upon physical death, the body-mind dies, but “I” don't. Whereas ignorant person (ajñāni) gains a new body-mind.

Finding an Ācārya (Teacher)...
We meet many characters amidst the Spiritual journey in various forms. Each benefits us in some way. However there is only ONE ācārya who after which – vision of absolute truth (Ātman/Brahman) is revealed COMPLETELY in it's TOTALITY. How is this possible?…

Like space, it has no parts. And it accommodates everything. It accommodates the smallest particle to the largest form. For example, a person's body needs space. Earth needs space. Galaxies also need space. So forms are many, space is ONE. Space accommodates all forms. Without space, forms cannot exist. Therefore in this metaphor, space and all forms accomodated by it are considered the TOTAL (Īśvaraḥ).

In the same way, the absolute truth or TOTAL even accommodates space/time/forms. It doesn't exclude past-present-future, nor God (Ishvara), nor any wisdom from any religion at any age by anyone.  Hence TOTAL is the absolute Supreme Truth. And YOU are not apart from this Supreme Truth, because you are ALSO inclusive of the TOTAL.

Therefore ācārya's duty is to lead the student to come to this realization by oneself. This is the highest accomplishment in human life. Some call it self-realization, discovering God, mokṣa, liberation, enlightenment, salvation, nirvāṇa… but all terms are pointing to this one Supreme Truth.

Why permanent freedom seems difficult?

Highest reality (Ātman; self) always was, is, will-be. Self is present as ORDINARY awareness right NOW. Self is never not available. Self never escapes you. Because YOU are that. Can you escape from yourself? Try. Try not to be aware of yourself.

This is exactly why moksha (liberation) seems like a far-away SPECIAL event. Because we are interested in anything BUT ordinary. We want EXTRAordinary! Which presupposes a future based event that is not true right now. This erroneous assumption arouses all kinds of spiritual pursuits like:

Give me some ecstatic Kundalini raising. Or 3rd eye opening experience, and I'll pay you $10,000! Take me to some sacred site. Connect me to an Ascended master. Give me the latest Vipassana-like technique, twice effective! Dismiss everything, just believe in Jesus. Find a tantra-partner to orgasm oneself to God and then prolong that state.

These are normal notions within niche spiritual communities. They won't die. Mind's imagination knows no end. We don't have a problem with their methods. Although it becomes damaging when they advertise themselves as the END. Implying a future based result of something extraordinary.

The correction is that they are all MEANS (mind purifiers) to an END (mokṣa/liberation). Just like toddler's toys are only meant to exhaust fascination with toys so toddler can progress onwards to youth, etc.

Immediate or gradual?

Clarity of self (ātma) and not-self (anātma) doesn't occur instantaneously as falsely imagined. For example, does one get promotion in company overnight OR it's result of years of prior hard work?

If nature bypasses a season, the food chain collapses. There's no skipping in Bhagavan's manifesation. Only a greedy mind entertains “I want to bypass!”. It's as good as saying “I can outsmart God!”.

For this reason, only further unceasing self-inquiry (nididhyasana) – and continued study of śāstra (vedic scriptures) can remove subtle doubts preventing fruits of self-knowledge. In fact this work continues until one's last breath.

Most dislike hearing this because mind holds the portrayed image of “Buddha sitting under a shady tree who attained Enlightenment in one extended sitting session“.

Matter of fact, it's symbolic of his immense PRIOR EFFORT and BURNING DESIRE for liberation.

Whereas majority seekers, secretly keep one foot in world and another in Liberation. Then lament, “I'm not the choosen one. I'm not up to this. It isn't working for me! Not in this lifetime”.

In reality maturity and mind-purification takes years. Even after gaining self-knowledge from guru/teacher… dissatisfaction may and likely will arise from childhood love-issues and lifetimes of saṃskārās (habitual/unconscious impressions).

Thus we need to cultivate patience with ourselves. Mokṣa (liberation) is not like winning the lottery and such false ideas are nowhere mentioned in Vedic literature.

Therefore only with patience and perseverance is one's success mathematically predictable.


Yes Vedanta purpose is to educate the student's mind in light of the highest knowledge, called brahma-vidya or simply Advaita Vedanta.

Such knowledge leads to aparokṣa-jñānam. Meaning, directly assimilated self-knowledge which destroys beginingless ignorance and ceases cycle of birth-death. Also called mokṣa.

Thus the whole vision of the eternal śāstra is complete.

In reality, rare are ready for traditional Vedanta. It's the last rung of the spiritual ladder.

Perhaps we'll see the rare one in class soon.

Hari Om,
Andre Vas

 

Random pictures of events:

uttiṣṭhata. jāgrata. prāpya varān nibodhata
“Arise! Awaken! And Realize the Truth!”
– Kaṭhopanisad 1.3.14