Advaita — A Paradigm Shift In Our Worldview
Theoretical Physicist Sean Carroll emulating the famous Physicist John Wheeler, asked on the Twitter, the microblogging service that limits posts to 140 characters: “How can you best explain quantum mechanics in five words or fewer?” The best answer was given by Aatish Bhatia: “Don’t look: waves. Look: particles.”
That’s a brilliant summation of the quantum mechanics in a nutshell. What appears to exist in a quantum field behaves and interferes as waves as long as one does not measure or look for it. The moment an observer looks, it behaves as a particle with finite dimensions in space and time. Following Aatish Bhatia’s response, we can paraphrase the teaching of Advaita in five words as: “Don’t look: Brahman. Look: world.”
The implication of the above cryptic statement is that the world is non-different from Brahman as long as we are just aware of the ‘totality’; it’s the world the moment we interpret or give names and delimiting forms divvying what arises within Consciousness.
This exercise triggered many questions in my mind. Does the way Advaita is formulated in the ancient times appear too complicated in the present day? Have we intellectualized it too much and made it highly pedantic? Does the shastriac expression confound it making it to look ethereal and remote? Do some of the gurus with vested interests of their own authority make it mystical, inaccessible and far-removed for an average man on the street?
Let us admit it; even Sankara, the stalwart promoter of Advaita, did not totally negate the existence of the world. He did not ask us to shun it. He did not call the world ‘tuchcha.’ He described it as ‘mithya.’ Moreover, he toiled and spent considerable energies of his in bringing our perspective of the world on an even keel by organizing and systematizing spiritual approach and practices. So the immediate and relevant question is how do we convey the Advaitic message of All Oneness, undoubtedly the pinnacle contribution of the ancient Indian Sages and Seers, in simple words intelligible even to an uneducated and Vedanta-illiterate man while (s)he is living and functioning in the world?
Typically here the West appears to have outdone us. And in the process, the Non-dual teaching is spreading far and wide all across Europe, the USA, Australia and so on. Hundreds of teachers, if not thousands, in those countries are bringing down the message to street level sensitizing people to the fact that ‘who we truly are’ is not what we normally take for granted ourselves to be – a limited body mind – but the very awareness because of which we are aware! Consequently several Psychologists and Psychiatrists, Neuroscientists and also academic experts in those countries are imparting the Non-dual teaching to their patients in order to help them in the amelioration of their problems of addiction, depression and similar other maladies. There are now Producers of TV programmes and Publishers of books and CDs etc. dedicated exclusively to Non-duality in UK, USA.
I cite below, as an example, a recent Post of my friend and Non-dual teacher Vince Flammini:
“There isn’t a lot you need to do to access this great intelligence that runs all of reality because, in fact, we have never been separate from it. It is only our being mesmerized by our own thinking that makes it seem otherwise. All that is needed is to stop. Do nothing for a moment. What happens to thinking? What happens to feeling? What happens to experience in that moment of stopping? Nothing! It just continues on. The nature of thought is to just keep tumbling, bubbling, flowing along. We can’t capture it and fix it in place.
This is good news. Seeing this in our own direct experience reminds us of the impermanence of the world of form (thought, feeling, experience). We see clearly that we have never left the spaciousness that contains all experience in every moment. Regardless of what kind of thinking/feeling experience is arising right now, like every other experience (pleasant or unpleasant) it, too, will amble along and dissolve. All of it just naturally flows on by. Even all of our deeply held beliefs arise and pass away like the rest of reality, the rest of experience.
The constant in us isn’t our thinking or our beliefs or our ideas about ourselves or others or life. The constant is this formless space that is aware of all of it. Even right now, stop for a moment and notice how experience just tumbles on. Isn’t there something present that is watching it? THAT is what we are – that is our Innate Wisdom, our Innate Sanity. I say innate because it has always been there and will never leave. Regardless of how dysfunctional or unhelpful our thinking might become, this Consciousness is always present watching it flow along. It is Consciousness which makes this experience or any experience ‘knowable’. We can rely on that in the midst of all our crazy, upset, hurt and hurtful thinking.
By just stopping and resting for a moment and leaving everything alone, we reconnect with Source. We are always at a fork in the road: do we focus on and rely on this ever-changing flow of thinking or do we rest in and rely on this vast, silent, spacious intelligence that is our Innate Sanity? We choose each moment. You are choosing even now.”
The essence of Non-dual teaching beautifully expressed in less than 400 words (actually 383) without any jargon, obscure and abstruse quotations. I am sure you must have come across still shorter expressions.
The Non-dual teacher Gary Crowley says that “Enlightenment is the direct result of freedom from the illusion of a separate self.” Nothing really changes in the world (but for the perspective) from the collapse of the separate self within us. He illustrates this paradigm shift in his 2006 book, “From Here to Here: Turning Toward Enlightenment” using a Necker cube-like image (See below the Slide from one of my Presentations in 2008).
Francis Bennett, author of the 2013 book, “I Am That I Am” described it as: “a radical perceptual shift in consciousness.”
John Wheeler, who was instrumental in spreading the message of Nisargadatta Maharaj in North America and authored the book (2007), “You Were Never Born,” often exhorts everyone in simple words: “You know you are aware because you ‘exist.’ You know that you exist because you are ‘aware.’ So you, the awareness and existence are all One and the same.”
The reasons for the misery we experience in the world can be grouped under one or the other of the four heads given below:
- Changes — that happen in space and time;
- Conflicts – that occur in relation to resources or competing interests;
- Constraints — that limit our capability, capacity, longevity (age);
- Composites – that subject us to the vagaries of multiple entities and processes.
We normally seek to remedy the above situation by wishing for:
- Changelessness – so that we are assured of Constancy and Certitude;
- Oneness – so that we can avoid differences and enjoy Lovingness and Uniformity;
- Infiniteness – so that we are not restrained by any boundaries and lack nothing;
- Homogeneity – so that there are no divisions and variations both within and without us.
Instead of conceiving a hypothetical external entity that satisfies the above criteria, Advaita teaches us to realize that we are already such an entity ourself. That realization dawns from a change in our perspective of the world. We move away from the habituated pattern of ego-centricity – as the perceiver viewing a remote world out there – to being the very activity of unconcerned and disinterested perceiving.
All our perception is based on noticing some difference over the background. If the object seamlessly merges with the background we can hardly sense anything. Even as you read this page on the computer screen, you notice only the contrast as the letters. We do not pay attention to the screen, though the background screen is present within, in between and around the letters.
If you examine more closely, even when you are noticing the letters, you are actually noticing the screen only. The screen is not absent where the letters are. The screen itself is taking the appearance of a letter at that specific pixel position. The letters may be changing from place to place or from time to time on the screen, but the screen remains the same unalteringly forever there. If you imagine the screen to have sentiency (awareness), the screen is seeing itself anywhere and everywhere and it sees no letters different from itself. As far as the screen is concerned, there is only itself and nothing else, though it may take the appearance of a letter sometimes. There are separate letters only from the point of view of a letter which is obviously a false view.
Now can you visualize yourself to be that unchanging and aware screen of Oneness and not a separate letter? That’s the paradigm shift Advaita speaks about. It is not about erasing the letters or annihilating what is.