Re: Swami Dayananda interview about Advaita
- --- In email@example.com, "steve"
> I found the interview between Andrew Cohen and Swami Dayanandawhere
> he talks about Ramana Maharshis inauthenticity and the correct pathDear Steve:
> of Advaita. For those interested: http://www.wie.org/j14/daya.asp
This is a terrific article. Thank you.
I disagree with the person who wrote the introduction that it in some
way invalidates Sri Ramana. Swami only adds excellent reasons for
understanding vedanta in addition to the 'experience' of the mystical.
What caught my eye was the following paragraph about what I take is
the "Yoga Sutra"-
!~~~~AC: Before Shankara there were no written commentaries?
SD: There were some. In fact, what I'm teaching every morning now is
a commentary on one of the Upanishads, by Shankara's own teacher's
teacher, Gaudapada. There are a few others also, Vyasa's sutras.
These sutras are analytical works in a style of literature that has
very brief statements, one after the other, so that you can memorize
them. But these, again, are part of the tradition of teaching, so
they are always backed up. You write the sutra and then you teach it
to a group of people, and these together are what is handed down.
Then, when you recite the sutra, you remember what we call "the
Tradition." In fact, the whole of Advaita Vedanta is analyzed in the
He is apparently giving the authorship of "Yoga Sutra" usually given
to Patanjali to the sage Vyasa. Feuerstein in his commentary on
Patanjali frreely uses Vyasa as a translator of 'Yoga Sutra' and even
mentions that some attribute the works to Vyasa.
Of most interest to me is the idea from a foremost authority on
Advaita that the 'Yoga Sutra' analyzes the whole of Advaita Vedanta.
This was so good I copied and pasted it here.
An Interview with Swami Dayananda Saraswati
by Andrew Cohen
The interview that follows was excerpted from over eighty pages of
transcripts documenting a series of dialogues between Swami Dayananda
and Andrew Cohen in February 1998.
What is Advaita?
Andrew Cohen: In the last twenty years or so there has been great
interest in Advaita in the West, as you know, and it's my impression
that there has also been a lot of confusion about this teaching, that
it has been very misunderstood and even abused in some cases. We
wanted to speak with you so that we could present an authoritative
traditional view. So, to begin, could you please explain what the
philosophy of Advaita Vedanta is?
Swami Dayananda: The word "advaita" is a very important word. It's a
word that negates dvaita, which means "two." The "a" is a negative
particle, so the meaning would be "that which is nondual." And it
reveals the philosophy that all that is here is One, which means that
there is nothing other than that One, nor is it made up of any parts.
It's a whole without parts, and That they call "Brahman" [the
Absolute], and That you arebecause the nondual cannot be different
from you, the inquirer. If it is different from you, then it is dual;
then you are the subject and it is the object. So it has got to be
you. And therefore, if you don't recognize that, you'll miss out on
being the Whole.
AC: Can you please explain the historical background?
SD: The Vedas [sacred Hindu scriptures] are the most ancient body of
knowledge we have in humanity. And the tradition looks upon the Vedas
as not having been authored by any given person, but given to the
ancient rishis [seers] as revealed knowledge. It is considered that
the Vedas are traced ultimately to the Lord as the source of all
knowledge, and it is this body of knowledge that is the source of
Advaita. The Upanishads [the concluding portions of the Vedas] talk
about God realizationand they not only talk about it, they
methodically teach it. What I am doing today is what is taught in the
Upanishads. The Upanishads themselves are a teaching and also a
teaching tradition. And it's a communicable traditionthere's nothing
mystical about it.
But I don't think advaita is only in the Vedas; I think it's
everywherewherever there is the idea, "You are the Whole." That is
advaita, whether it is in Sanskrit, Latin or Hebrew. But the
advantage in Vedanta is that it can be taught and it is taught. We
have created a teaching tradition, and it has grown. Whereas in
America, when suddenly people turn vegetarian, for example, all that
they have is tofu and alfalfa and a few other things, because there's
no tradition of vegetarian cooking. It takes time. You can't create a
AC: Who are considered to be the foremost exponents of the Advaita
SD: There have been a lot of teachers who have maintained this
tradition whose names we don't know. But from the Upanishads down we
can say: Vyasa, Gaudapada, Shankara, Suresvarathese are the names we
repeat every day. But Shankara occupies a central position because of
his written commentary. It is the written commentary that gives you
the tradition of teaching and the method of teaching, and the method
is very important in this tradition: How do you teach? There are a
lot of pitfalls in this process, and one of them is the limitation of
the languagethe linguistic limitation. But the teaching has to be
conveyed through words, which means that you must have a methoda
method by which you can be sure that the student understands, because
the enlightenment takes place as the teaching takes place and not
afterwards. That's the tradition. So Shankara occupies an important
place because of his commentaries, because he left written
commentaries on palm leaves for us. But I wouldn't say that the other
teachers were any less important.
AC: Before Shankara there were no written commentaries?
SD: There were some. In fact, what I'm teaching every morning now is
a commentary on one of the Upanishads, by Shankara's own teacher's
teacher, Gaudapada. There are a few others alsoVyasa's sutras. These
sutras are analytical works in a style of literature that has very
brief statements, one after the other, so that you can memorize them.
But these, again, are part of the tradition of teaching, so they are
always backed up. You write the sutra and then you teach it to a
group of people, and these together are what is handed down. Then,
when you recite the sutra, you remember what we call "the Tradition."
In fact, the whole of Advaita Vedanta is analyzed in the sutras.
The Self is already present in all experience
AC: Why is it that you feel the study of the scriptures, rather than
spiritual experience, is the most direct means to Self-realization?
SD: Self-realization, as I said, is the discovery that "the Self is
the whole"that you are the Lord; in fact, you are God, the cause of
Now nobody lacks the experience of advaita, of that which is
nondualthere's always advaita. But any experience is only as good as
one's ability to interpret it. A doctor examining you interprets your
condition in one way, a layperson in another. Therefore, you need
interpretation, and your knowledge is only as valid as the means of
knowledge you are using for that purpose.
As the small self, we have no means of knowledge for the direct
understanding of Self-realization, and therefore Vedanta is the means
of knowledge that has to be employed for that purpose. No other means
of knowledge will work because, for this kind of knowledge, our
powers of perception and inference alone are not sufficient.
So I find that by itself there is nothing more dumb than experience
in this world. In fact, it is experience that has destroyed us.
AC: It has been my experience as a teacher that for most human
beings, generally speaking, simply hearing the teaching is not
enough. Usually they do need to have some kind of experience that
makes the meaning of the words obvious in a very direct, experiential
way. And then the person says, "Oh, my goodness, now I understand!
I've heard this for so many years, but now I recognize the truth of
SD: Yes, but even that experience is useless without the correct
interpretation. Suppose your sense of being a separate individual
falls away for a moment or ten minutes or even an hour, and then
suddenly that apparent duality seems to come back again. Does that
mean the one true Self gets displaced? Of course not! Then why should
enlightenment require an experience? Enlightenment doesn't depend
upon experiences; it depends upon my shedding my error and
ignorancethat is what it depends upon, and nothing else.
People say that advaita is eternal, that it is timeless, and at the
same time they say that they are going through an experience of it at
a particular time and under certain conditions. That's not
traditional! But that is what we hear everywhere. The tradition
says: "What you see right now is advaita."
Suppose a fellow has an experience and then he comes out and says, "I
was one hour eternal." No time means timeless, and timeless means
eternity. Whether it is one hour eternal or one moment eternal, it is
always the same. So confidence in truth cannot depend upon a state of
experience. Confidence in truth is in your clarity of what is.
Otherwise what will happen is, "I was non dual Brahman for one hour
and then I came back and now it's gone." Then every thought becomes a
nightmare because when I am not in nirvikalpa samadhi [ecstatic
absorption in nondual consciousness], then I cannot even relate to
the world; I have to be stoned forever, you know? Whereas
enlightenment is just knowing what is. That is called sahaja, which
means "natural"; it means just seeing clearly. If people insist on
having a particular experience, that simply means that they have not
understood the teaching. Even right now, for example, we are
interpreting our experiences. For example, you are experiencing me
SD: And your experience seems to reveal two things: one is the
subject, the other is the object. But let us suppose that both of
them happen to be one reality.
AC: All right.
SD: Then you don't have any lack of raw material here. The experience
of seeing me or seeing anybody, seeing anything or hearing anything,
thinking about anythinginside, outside, whateverthat experience is
advaita. And if that is so, then we are not lacking experience, and
therefore we need not wait for any experience to come. Whatever
experience you encounter within yourself, that experience reveals
advaita, reveals nonduality. And if your interpretation of that
experience is that there is an object other than yourself, then it is
your interpretation itself that is duality. Therefore, it's a problem
of cognition, and that problem of cognition is to be solved.
AC: Cognition of?
SD: Of this nondual! Am I talking about something that is absolutely
unknown to me? No. Unknown to anyone? Not at all. Right now, for
instance, you see me and you say, "Swami is sitting here." How do you
know? You say, "Because I see you, I hear you; therefore you are
here." Therefore I am evident to you because you have a means of
knowing, you have a means of seeing, you have a means of hearing;
therefore Swami is. Swami is because he's evident to you, just as
anything is because it's evident to you. Sun is, moon is, star is,
space is, time isall these are evident to you.
The same is true of your experience of yourself. Suppose I ask
you, "Do you have a physical body?" "Yes," you'll saybecause it's
evident to you. "Do you have any memory of being in such-and-such a
place?" Yesbecause it's evident to you. To whom are all these
evident? To you! To yourself. That means you are self-evident.
When are you not self-evident? Tell mewhen? It is because you are
self-evident that you don't need to become self-evident at any time.
All my experiences are because of my self-evidence. Therefore, the
Self is already experiencedthat's what I say. Self is experienced as
the ultimate content of every experience. I say, in fact, that our
very experience is the Self.
In all experiences, therefore, what is invariably present is
consciousness, and no object is independent of that. And
consciousness is not dependent on and has none of the attributes of
any particular object. Consciousness is consciousness, and while it
is in everything, it transcends everything. That's why I say: this is
advaita, this is nondual, this is Brahman, this is limitless;
timewise it is limitless, spacewise it is limitless. And therefore it
is Brahman, and therefore you are everything already. This is the
teaching, and what it means is that I need not wait for any
experience because every experience is Brahman, every experience is
AC: But this is a subtle point that is not necessarily easy to grasp
without some previous direct experience of the nondual.
SD: If the person doesn't see, then that means I have to teach
further; or maybe they do see but in spite of that they say, "I still
have got some cobwebs here or there." But that is not a problem; they
just need to be cleared away.
First, you have an insight that is knowing, and then, as difficulties
arise, we take care of them. I don't say it is not a matter of
experience, but I say that experience is always the very nature of
yourself. Consciousness is experience, and every experience reveals
the fact of your being Self-evident. And what is Self-evident is, by
definition, nondual. So subject and object are already the same.
Here is a wave, for instance, that has a human mind. It thinks, "I am
a small wave." Then it becomes a big wave, swallowing in the process
many other waves, and begins boasting, "I am a big wave." Then it
loses its form, and again becomes smallfiles a "Chapter Thirteen," as
you say in America, you know, bankruptcyand now it wants to somehow
get to the shore. But from the shore, other waves are pushing into
the ocean, and from the ocean, waves are pushing to the shore, and
this poor little wave is caught in between, sandwiched, and begins
crying, "What shall I do?" There is another wave around, a wave that
seems to be very happy, and so the first wave asks him, "How come you
are so happy? You also are smallin fact, you are smaller than me! How
come you are so happy?" Then another wave says, "He's an enlightened
wave." Now the first wave wants to know, "What is enlightenment? What
is this enlightenment?" The happy wave says, "Hey, come on! You
should know who you are!" "All right. Who am I?" And the enlightened
wave says, "You are the ocean." "What?! Ocean? Did you say that I am
the ocean, because of all the water by which I am sustained and to
which I will go back? That ocean I am?" "Yes, you are the ocean." And
he laughs. "How can I be the ocean? That's like saying I am God. The
ocean is almighty, it's all-pervasive, it's everything. How can I be
So we can dismiss Vedanta's statement of the non dual reality, or we
can ask, "How come? How come I am That?" The nondual teaching is not
necessary if our identity is obvious, if what is apparent to us is
not a difference but an essential nondifference. Here, there is
nondifference. There is no wave without water, and there is no ocean
without water. Every other wave, and the whole ocean too, is one
Nondual realization and action in the world
AC: One of the subjects I'm very interested in is the relationship
between the nondual realization that you've been describing and
action in the world of time and space. For example, in the empirical
world, in empirical reality, even the realized soul who has no doubt
about his true nature finds that he still must take a standagainst,
in opposition tothe forces of delusion and negativity operating
SD: We need not impose a rule like should and musthe may take a
AC: May take a stand?
SD: Yes. Because once he's free, who is to set rules for him? You
see, if he is free enough to do, then he is just as free not to
dothat is what I say. He will spontaneously do what he has to do.
Perhaps he thinks that everybody is all right. In fact, that's what
the truth is. Because until you tell me that you have a problem with
me, I don't have a problem with you.
AC: But let's say, for example, that the realized soul is sitting in
a room and then a killer comes in and starts killing people. Some
people might say, "Well, it's all one Self and there's no opposition,
so there's no need to interfere." But someone else would say, "I have
no choice; I have to interfere."
SD: Why should he not interfere? Clearly, at that level, there is
SD: And maybe he is not even killing, maybe he is only using abusive
language. Why should this realized soul not say, "Foolish man, change
your language. What are you doing?" So he can help him; he can help
him to change. And he can do it without creating any big problem for
him; he can be angry without causing anger to this fellow, he can
talk to that person and make him see that he is abusive because of
his background and help him to change. So that's what he will do. But
we cannot say that he should correct. For that, who is to set the
rule for me? Suppose one is enlightened; who is to set the rule for
that person, for the enlightened person? Nobody has to set the rule,
because he is above all the rules.
AC: He's above the rules?
SD: Yes, he's above the rules and not subject to any rule. Nobody can
objectify the Self; there is no second person to objectify the Self.
And therefore the Self is not subject to hurt nor guilt, and
therefore is free from hurt and guilt. In other words, it is neither
a subject nor an object, and if that is so, then "should" does not
come into the picturenot even into the picture of empirical
transactionbecause it's just not an issue. The issue is: Here is a
person who has a certain problem and therefore he is abusive, and
that person can be helped. So of course he will help!
AC: Everything that you're saying obviously is completely true
because, ultimately, the nondual cannot be affected and has no
preferences. But what I am saying is that there is always a profound
effect on the human personality of the one who has realized that
nondual, and I'm using this extreme example only to make the point
that some criterion has to be there. For example, historically,
individuals who have deeply realized this nondual Absolute have
expressed sattvic nature, have expressed egolessness. So even though
I know that enlightenment takes many forms, and the expression of
enlightenment is different in different people, still, fundamentally,
there is always an expression of selflessness and compassion which
allows us to say that if someone was truly a realized person they
would not be able to act in a profoundly self-centered manner.
Therefore, there are certainly things a person wouldn't do if he or
she was an enlightened person. That's my point.
SD: So how will you judge an enlightened person?
AC: Well, if he was raping and killing people, then we could at least
say, "This is not an enlightened person." Correct?
SD: But that doesn't come into the picture anyway because in the
traditional system he has to have gone through a life of rigorous
moral and spiritual training, and only then is he enlightened, and
this fellow has not done that, so clearly he still has some problems.
There is a statement, though: "It takes a wise man to know a wise
man." If you are a wise man, then you don't need another wise man to
become wise; if you are otherwise, you need a wise man, but because
you are otherwise, you cannot discern him. So you are in a helpless
situation. Therefore, the criterion for a wise man, I tell you
finallythe way to find out whether he is wise or notis if he makes
you wise. Then he knows. That is the only criterion, and there is
none other because the forms his compassion can assume are very
varied, and with all our actions we don't always console people.
The Mystic and the Vedantin
AC: Shankara and Ramana Maharshi are generally considered to be two
of the greatest exponents of Advaita teaching and advaita
realization. And yet I've always wondered why Shankara's teaching
gave rise to a monastic system in which one is encouraged to renounce
the world in order to pursue the spiritual life in earnest, while
often when people would ask Ramana Maharshiwho was a renunciate
himself"Master, should I give up the world?" he would encourage them
to inquire into the nature of who it was that wanted to give up the
world, and discourage them from trying to make any external changes
in their lives.
SD: Shankara is just a link in the tradition, as I said before. He's
not the author of any particular system or monastic order. It's true
that he himself was a sannyasi, a renunciateas a young person he
renounced everythingbut a sannyasi is different from a monastic.
A sannyasi doesn't belong to any monastic order. He is simply a
noncompetitor in the society. He is a person who has gained a certain
maturity, a certain discriminative understanding, which drives him to
pursue spiritual knowledge in a dedicated fashion. In Shankara's
time, such a person was absolved from all familial, social and
religious duties by a ritual in which he said, "All is given up by
me. I don't compete. I'm not interested in money or power or security
or in anything else here." That is a sannyasi. He is not a member of
an organization or order. There is no monastery to protect that
fellow. He's "under the sky."
But there is still a deeper level of renunciation which this
sannyasi, this renunciate, has to gain, and that is the knowledge
that "I am not the doer, I am not the enjoyer, I never did any karma,
any action, before"direct knowledge of the nondual Self, which is
also actionlessness. Action is always there as long as doership is
there. Even "not-doing" is an action. So the freedom from doership
that comes in the wake of knowledge of the Self is not an act of
giving up. It is: "I know and therefore I am free. And so there is no
choice." This is what is called the real sannyas, the true
renunciation of all actions at all times, and that is enlightenment.
AC: It's not true that Shankara started a monastic tradition?
SD: No, he didn't start any monastic tradition. They said so
afterwards, but that was because he was such a popular teacher and
because he was a sannyasi. His disciples had maths [monasteries] that
they had created, but it wasn't a new order. Some of his disciples
were perhaps dispatched to different places, but we don't know
whether he sent them or they went. My feeling is they wenthe didn't
send anybody anywhere. That's how I would be, anyway, if I were
Shankara; I'd say, "Go wherever you want!" Now if a small person like
me would do that, then I don't think Shankara would have done
anything else. So that's one perception taken care of.
Then there's Ramana. Some people say that Ramana is the highest, the
one who in the modern world has accomplished advaita. That's the
perception because he's known to some people, but there could be
unknown millions we don't knowsome may even be householders, people
who are at home, some of them just your ordinary housewives. In
India, you know, you can't take these people for granted; some of
these women are enlightened. They are! And they may be housewives,
mothers of ten children. We don't know. India is a different country.
There are no criteria to find out whether this person is enlightened
or not. And so Ramana is said to be enlightened, but we should ask
him, "Are you enlightened?" And he will say, "Why do you want to
know? Who are you who wants to know? Find out who you are." He
discovered this way of speaking with people that did not require him
to answer any questions. One fellow comes and asks, "What is God?"
and he answers, "Who are you that is asking this question?" This is a
way of answering questions that he adopted as an attempt to turn the
person toward himself. Therefore, his attention was not toward any
particular style of living. He neither encouraged sannyas nor
anything else. He was only telling people: "Understand who you are.
That's what is important."
AC: In fact, if people would say that they wanted to leave their
family and take sannyas, he would discourage that.
SD: Every sannyasi will say the same thing, because otherwise all
those people would end up in the ashram! Certainly I would say the
same thing in this case, because anybody who says, "I want to give up
everything," has got a problem.
SD: Because he's doubtful! If he were not doubtful he would have left
already; he wouldn't have come and asked me. Because the mango fruit,
when it is ripe, falls down; it doesn't ask, "Shall I fall down?"
Ramana was not dumb; he knew exactly what he had to say. If I were
he, do you know what I would have said? I would advise the
person, "Hey, come on, you need not change anything. Be where you
are; it's a change of vision." Even Shankara would say the same
thing. Shankara had only four disciples. He traveled up and down this
country on foot, which means he met thousands of people, yet he had
only four disciples! That means he was advising everybody, "Stay
where you are."
AC: Yet at the same time, from what we have heard, both Jesus and the
Buddha encouraged people to leave everything and follow them in order
to pursue the spiritual life. So this is an intriguing question.
SD: They encouraged, they encouragedI don't know what for. Perhaps
they wanted people to spend time with themselves. But the value of a
contemplative life has always been there in the Vedic tradition, and
a contemplative life can be lived anywhere. And you can be in the
midst of all activities in the contemplative life, or you can be
alone and not contemplative at all.
AC: In one of your books, you make a distinction between a mystic and
a Vedantin. When referring, for example, to Ramana Maharshi as a
mystic, you seem to be distinguishing him in some way from a
Vedantin, and since many people consider him to be the quintessence
of Vedanta, I'm curious to know what that distinction is.
SD: The only difference here is that a mystic has no means of
communication to make you a mystic, an equally great mystic as
AC: To clear up empirical confusionis that what you mean?
SD: Yes. Suppose this mystic has got the knowledge of his being
always Allthat kind of a mystic's experience. So that person is a
mystic, but he has no means of communication to share that
experience. If he has a means of communication by which to make
another person equally a mystic, then there is nothing mystical about
what he knows. Therefore, I will not call him a "mystic"; I will call
him a "Vedantin."
AC: In Ramana's case, everybody said that he communicated through
SD: Again, this is an interpretation, because there are a lot of
people I know who went to him and then came back saying that he
didn't know anything.
AC: But there are also many people who said that they had profound
experiences in his presence.
SD: Each one has to interpret in his own way. But we can only say
someone is a Vedantin as long as they teach Vedanta!