As most traditional readers will know, the main obstacle on the path to self-realization is the human minds tendency to objectify. This word “objectify” may need to be explained for Western Advaitins, because Traditionalists and Westerners do not only use a different terminology but have a different use of language altogether.
The mind lives in duality, it perceives a dual world and sees itself as the subject in relation to anything around – be it things, life forms, thoughts or the gross body. As Advaitin (of any kind) we know that what we are seeking is our true Self, Traditionalists call it Atman, and all would agree that what we are seeking can not possibly be the mind.
Yet, having nothing else at our disposal, we use the mind to find the Self. Nothing wrong in it, in fact the mind is able to find the answer. Why? Because what we seek is what we truly are already, so the mind need not perform an impossible task, it just has to use its ability to discriminate, detect and deduct in order to discover what is already the case.
Still there is one difficulty: As the mind is used to dealing with objects, it will automatically turn the Self into an object. Now, it cannot be found like this. As the Self is our self, it is the subject and not an object. So what the mind will go on proudly producing as findings, can never be the Subject, the Self. The mind has to be deconditioned of its old habit, which is called the “tendency to objectify” by Traditional Advaitins.
Even if Traditional and Western Advaitins had nothing in common – they certainly share two things: 1. They want to find their true Self and 2. Their minds tend to objectify even that Self. The difference lies in the way the mind brings this tendency into play. Incidentally, it is not an obstacle per se, only when seeking the Atman, the true Self, it turns into a stumbling block.
As mentioned before, in Advaita Vedanta study of the scriptures is a basic ingredient of the spiritual path, called Shravana. The body of Vedanta scriptures and comments to them is the biggest and best advaitic treasure house of humanity. In the hands of a good teacher the scriptures will reveal non-duality in uncountable ways - ever fresh, ever deep, ever lucid. Yet, my observation is that some of the minds of traditional students will use this wonderful tool and get stuck with it. How? Once the mind gets into the ins and outs of Vedanta philosophy, it tends to objectify it, enthusiastically trying to grasp its logic and its subtleties. True, there is great beauty in how the Rishis and teachers of Vedanta unfolded the teaching, but if you do not apply it to yourself, it won’t get you anywhere.
Application does not mean going back to preparatory measures, i.e. living a life of dharma, meditating, praying etc. All this has its place and can or should be maintained – but in no way it will unveil ones true nature, the Atman. Application means asking myself how what I learn from the scriptures helps me to realize who I am.
Now, while studying there will be times, when asking questions is inappropriate. You first have to get a bigger picture, only then you can ask and apply. But this point must not be missed, otherwise absorption goes on and on, it becomes an end in itself: The mind has settled with a new object, called Self, and the seeker remains frustrated because as much as it is talked about, the Self seems to remain forever away from himself.
Western Advaitins do not study much, so they do not tend to go into this kind of trap. They have their own traps. Western Advaitins, being Western, usually have a strong sense of feasibility, i.e. if only you try enough and find the right method, you can make it work. So the idea that they are already what they seek is heard but not comprehended. It remains kind of abstract, is ignored and off we go, making enlightenment work! Most Western seekers have tried millions of different ways to try and make it work. There is so much on offer and as the Western seeker usually has no family tradition, he/she will simply try everything that possibly could help.
A suggestion to get out of the Western trap:
You really are what you seek – all enlightened beings, whether Eastern or Western have told you – take it seriously, stick to this as fact and look at what it implies.Doing that, the frantic search for yet another method that might get you there will stop automatically. The only method needed is one that will use a tool that you already have: the mind. It has to be trained in such a way that it will assist you discovering what you look for. Fortunately such a method exists, and yes, it is called Advaita Vedanta. It’s worth to have a closer look at it!
A suggestion to get out of the Traditional trap:
If you really want to know who you are, if you really want to apply what you learn from the scriptures, you need to do practical inquiry. You will need a teacher who helps you with it and there seem to be traditional teachers who do just that. But if you have no teacher, it may be worth having a look at how some Western Advaita teachers approach their students. Because in Western Satsang teaching this is done all the time: Practical inquiry. Mind you, it will not replace the traditional teaching, but it may well change your perspective on it - enabling you to really take it to heart, instead of having to contend yourself with philosophical talk.
to be continued