Monday, March 7, 2016

Are There Prerequisites for Advaita? by David Frawley

Are There Prerequisites for Advaita?
Who can practice Advaita? What are the prerequisites for Self-inquiry?

One of the main areas of difference of opinion is relative to who can practice Advaita and to what degree? What are the prerequisites for Self-inquiry?

Some people believe that Advaita has no prerequisites, but can be taken up by anyone, under any circumstances, regardless of their background or life-style. After all, Advaita is just teaching us to rest in our true nature, which is always there for everyone. Why should that rest on any outer aids or requirements? This is a particularly appealing idea in the age of democracy, when all people are supposed to be equal.

In much of neo-Advaita, the idea of prerequisites on the part of the student or the teacher is not discussed. Speaking to general audiences in the West, some neo-Advaitic teachers give the impression that one can practice Advaita along with an affluent life-style and little modification of one’s personal behavior. This is part of the trend of modern yogic teachings in the West that avoid any reference to asceticism or tapas as part of practice, which are not popular ideas in this materialistic age.

However, if we read traditional Advaitic texts, we get quite a different impression. The question of the aptitude or adhikara of the student (read the sadhana-chatushtya) is an important topic dealt with at the beginning of the teaching. The requirements can be quite stringent and daunting, if not downright discouraging. One should first renounce the world, practice brahmacharya, and gain proficiency in other yogas like Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Raja Yoga and so on. One can examine texts like the Vedanta Sara I.6-26 for a detailed description. While probably no one ever had all of these requirements before starting the practice of Self-inquiry, these at least do encourage humility, not only on the part of the student, but also on the part of the teacher who himself may not have all these requirements!

Ramana keeps the requirement for Advaita simple yet clear – a ripe mind, which is the essence of the whole thing, and encourages practice of the teaching without overestimating one’s readiness for it. Yet a ripe mind is not as easy as it sounds either.

Ramana defines this ripe mind as profound detachment and deep discrimination, above all a powerful aspiration for liberation from the body and the cycle of rebirth – not a mere mental interest but an unshakeable conviction going to the very root of our thoughts and feelings (note Ramana Gita VII. 8-11).

A ripe, pure or sattvic mind implies that rajas and tamas, the qualities of passion and ignorance, have been cleared not only from the mind but also from the body, to which the mind is connected in Vedic thought.
Such a pure or ripe mind was rare even in classical India. In the modern world, in which our life-style and culture is dominated by rajas and tamas, it is indeed quite rare and certainly not to be expected.

To arrive at it, a dharmic life-style is necessary. This is similar to the Yoga Sutra prescription of the yamas and niyamas as prerequisites for Yoga practice. In this regard, Ramana particularly emphasized a sattvic vegetarian diet as a great aid to practice.

The problem is that many people take Ramana’s idea of a ripe mind superficially. It is not a prescription that anyone can approach or practice Advaita in any manner they like.

Advaita does require considerable inner purity and self-discipline, developing which is an important aim of practice which should not be lightly set aside.

Extract from : Misconceptions about Advaita by David Frawley