…These things, when they pour down or come in, present themselves with a great force, a vivid sense of inspiration or illumination, much sensation of light and joy, an impression of widening and power. The sadhak feels himself freed from the normal limits, projected into a wonderful new world of experience, filled and enlarged and exalted;what comes associates itself, besides, with his aspirations, ambitions, notions of spiritual fulfillment and yogic siddhi; it is represented even as itself that realisation and fulfillment. Very easily he is carried away by the splendour and the rush, and thinks that he has realised more than he has truly done, something final or at least something sovereignly true. At this stage the necessary knowledge and experience are usually lacking which would tell him that this is only a very uncertain and mixed beginning; he may not realise at once that he is still in the cosmic Ignorance, not in the cosmic Truth, much less in the Transcendental Truth, and that whatever formative or dynamic idea-truths may have come down into him are partial only and yet further diminished by their presentation to him by a still mixed consciousness. He may fail to realise also that if he rushes to apply what he is realising or receiving as if it were something definitive, he may either fall into confusion and error or else get shut up in some partial formation in which there may be an element of spiritual Truth but it is likely to be outweighted by more dubious mental and vital accretions that deform it altogether.
These words by the Indian sage Sri Aurobindo, refer to what he called the Intermediate Zone, a dangerous and misleading transitional spiritual and pseudo-spiritual region between the ordinary consciousness of the outer being and True Realisation.
Although written in 1932 as cautionary words for his disciples, they are more relevant and important today than they were then.
It seems that every other day another self-proclaimed ‘enlightened’ teacher of Neo-Advaita appears on the scene. These Neo-Advaita guru’s have reduced thousands of years of Advaita teachings into the spiritual equivalent of McDonald’s junk food. No longer is it necessary for the spiritual student to engage in self-inquiry or inner work on oneself. Now all that is necessary to ‘realize the Self’ is a constant repetitive denial of one’s own identity and the (pseudo) ‘understanding’ that the ego and all and everything else that happens in the universe (essence and belief systems included) is ‘simply an illusion’. Everything ‘just happens, there is no path, no cause’, so consequently there is absolutely nothing to do.
It’s really simple, just like it was for Shankara, Buddha, Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta Maharaj, Rumi and the relatively few others who are generally agreed to have been enlightened.
What? Wait a minute, I don’t recall that it was easy for the above mentioned Masters. Didn’t they spend years, and sometimes entire lifetimes meditating, engaged in self-inquiry and inner work? Oh yeah, they did. And this is the problem that exists now, because the Neo-Avaita movement claims lineage from and history from Advaita, but advocates none of the work. In fact they continue to espouse that it is simply not necessary. Merde!
No real work on oneself is necessary, only a constant repetitive denial of one’s identity and the ‘understanding’ that the ego and all (and everything) that happens (essence and belief systems included) is ‘just an illusion’. Everything just happens, there is no path, so there is nothing to do.
Occasionally these self proclaimed ‘enlightened or awakened masters’ even believe themselves to be superior or more advanced than their own teachers. For example Tony Parsons has declared that Ramana Maharshi was obviously still living from duality and Andrew Cohen has said that his guru Poonjaji was not enlightened – in other words both Maharshi and Poonjaji were asleep and Parsons and Cohen are awake. Yeah, right!
In addition to Parsons and Cohen, the best known English speaking Neo-Advaitin gurus also include Eckhart Tolle and Ramesh Balsekar. Meanwhile there are hundreds of others in Europe, the United States and Australia.
And they all have one thing in common, they declare that they have realized the Self, and awakened to their true nature. And of course they all want to teach (and in some cases) prey upon Neo-Advaita adepts in search of their own liberation. In the process these Neo-Avaitins have bastardized and twisted the original tenets and practice of Advaita until it is no longer recognizable except by the most discerning of adepts. Unfortunately it appears that most adepts are not able to discern the differences between Advaita and Neo-Advaita. Perhaps this will help.
The Path of Advaita according to Shankara
For the purposes of this article, presented below is a very short summary of the pre-requisites needed by a seeker before achieving Self-Realization or Liberation (as specified by Shankara in his Vivekachudamani – The Crest Jewel of Discrimination translated into Tamil by Ramana Maharshi and from Tamil into English by Sir Arthur Osborne).
In order to be qualified for enquiry into the Self, a man must have a powerful intellect and ability to seize the essential and reject the inessential besides the various qualities enumerated in the scriptures. What are these? He must be able to discriminate between the real and the unreal. He must have an unattached mind. He must ardently desire liberation. And he must be tireless in practice Only such one is qualified to enquire into Brahman. The qualifications are enumerated as follows:
- Discrimination between the real and the unreal.
- Disinclination to enjoy the fruit’s of one’s actions.
- The six virtues of tranquility, self-control, withdrawal, forbearance, faith, and concentration of the Self.
- Intense yearning for liberation.
The aspirant must indeed have these qualities in order to attain abidance in the Self; without them there can be no realization of the Truth.
This then is the simplified version of Shankara’s instructions for truth realization.
The Neo-Advaita Shellgame
Contrast this with what is necessary according to Neo-Advaita. Which is nothing. Absolutely nothing is necessary except for a strategy of denial. Neo-Advaita teachers simply declare or fool themselves into believing that their identity/ego doesn’t exist, in fact, that nothing really exists and everything is simply an illusion.
This can easily done by anyone, just give it a try and you’ll see. Take a few minutes now and start rebuffing everything you perceive, everything that comes up in yourself, including yourself. If and when you do this regularly, you may find yourself getting hooked by the fundamental Neo-Advaita trickery. Of course there is also a bit of cheating necessary. You need to be ready and willing to deny values and ethics and if you are ready and willing to cheat yourself then you’re ready to be enlightened the Neo-Advaita way.
Having integrated Neo-Advaita will bring up the joy of a constant feeling of superiority. You will also be rewarded with the feeling of constant rightness and will never be proven wrong anymore no matter what you say or do. Simply because nothing is real: all is illusion. Who is there to be wrong? Merde !
Traditional Advaita says that the ego is an illusion. The “Satsang Prophets” emphasize this as THE starting point, completely omitting that this realization may only occur at the end of years of self-inquiry and work on oneself (and not necessarily with any certainty). Once this premise is understood and the self-cheating is engaged, one obtains a constant very pleasant feeling of superiority and invulnerability. This is what they regard as being the ultimate accomplishment and they believe that it is the same as that lived and taught by Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta Maharaj and even Shankara, although in reality it’s nothing but the Neo-Advaita version of nihilism. (If this is what you’re looking for Parsons, Tolle, Balsekar and their cohorts are a good choice for teachers.)
Giving satsang allows them the opportunity to meet obedient and easily hypnotized listeners to whom they can teach what apparently is so easy to understand: ‘Everything is just an illusion.’
Below are other common features of these teachers:
- “Uncomfortable” questions are evaded. The evasion strategy is easy because in the background there is a safe haven: neither I nor the other exist.
- Essence – Essential Value is seen on the same level as identity: as being non-existent.
- An attitude of utter arrogance/vanity (How can I be wrong? The one who can be wrong doesn’t exist, only those who still believe that there is anything other than illusion are wrong).
- Total absence of humility (“who cares?”) and ethics.
The result is mind-f_____g at it’s purest – spiced with some borrowed and misunderstood Advaita wisdom.
A real seeker is one who has the desire, commitment and talent to ‘make’ it. But it’s difficult for me to say if a real seeker automatically has the discrimination to avoid falling into the Neo-Advaita trap. There may be a question of destiny, luck and/or grace involved.
Some adepts who have difficulties in switching off the self-delusion have ended up in mental hospitals (paranoid syndrome), others have had the courage to jump to the teacher role and give satsang which gives their ‘non-existent’ ego the recognition and food for continued survival.
Life becomes a play between ‘enlightened’ nihilistics or between a self-declared nihilist and an ignorant fool who just serves as ‘confirmation-that-I’m-right’ food. As this is so obvious, there seems to be a kind of collective self-hypnosis that is happening on a relatively large scale.
Neo-Advaitins tend to evade inquiring questions because these types of questions challenge their axiom “that they don’t exist and everything is an illusion.” Instead they use words that disguise: How can I be wrong since I don’t exist as a separate ‘I’? Therefore I am always right.
This all occurs not as a result of work on themselves but as a starting point of all that is (re)presented. Of course, at a certain point, one needs to cheat oneself in order to do this. When cheating oneself any and all sincerity towards oneself is eliminated. This cheating arises when it comes time to deny the humanness, what Jesus meant with “the son of god” and what Meister Eckhart said when he referred to the “Gottesgeburt im Menschen,” “the birth of God within man.”
Through constant repeated self hypnosis (telling yourself that everything “just happens,” only “here and now” exists, you then slip into a ‘super-identity’ based on overall denial of ego/identity. Sadhana is an unnecessary burden because the one who does this has simply not understood that all is illusion, even work on oneself (so “why care?”).
Instead of considering the realization that everything is just an illusion as the result of years of inquiry and guided work on yourself, just take it as starting point, an axiom, a self-evident truth. Once this self-generated ruse is accomplished you will automatically come to the conclusion that self-enquiry (Ramana Maharshi) or work on oneself (Gurdjieff) or a guru (Nisargadatta Maharaj) are just illusionary un-necessities.
If you feel offended by what has been written:
Either you need to become a bit more tricky in denying your own and the author’s existence (isn’t everything just an illusion?). Or you’re not yet completely hooked by the Neo-Advaita game and you might want to reconsider if this is the direction you want to take.
I offer to you the following dialog from Nisargadatta Maharaj…
Nisargadatta: “To go beyond the mind, you must have your mind in perfect order. You cannot leave a mess behind and go beyond. He who seeks Liberation must examine his mind by his own efforts, and once the mind is purified by such introspection Liberation is obtained and appears obvious and natural.”
Q: “Then why are sadhanas prescribed?”
Nisargadatta: “Freedom to do what one likes is really bondage, while being free to do what one must, what is right, is real freedom.”
Q: “How can the absolute be the result of a process?”
Nisargadatta: “You are right, the relative cannot result in the absolute. But the relative can block the absolute, just as the non-churning of the cream may prevent butter from separating. It is the real that creates the urge; the inner prompts the outer and the outer responds in interest and effort.” “You seem to want instant insight, forgetting that the instant is always preceded by a long preparation. The fruit falls suddenly, but the ripening takes time.”
“The way to truth lies through the destruction of the false. To destroy the false, you must question your most inveterate beliefs.”
So by now, since you have chosen to read this through to end, I suppose that you might be asking yourself, “Why should I listen to you? Who the hell are you anyway?” And the answer is that you shouldn’t listen me. Anymore than you should listen to Eckhart Tolle or Tony Parsons. At least not without truly listening to yourself. What you can do is search into the very depths of yourself, not taking someone else’s (anyone else’s word) for anything. Instead listen to your heart and seek a teacher who teaches you how to eliminate the unnecessary burdens and who at the same time promotes the blossoming of your essence (your essential value), your divine nature, the best of the best that resides in the core of your (and his) humility.
If you have found this article useful, interesting, stimulating, controversial or you just like to ‘stir the pot’, submit and/or post it to the appropriate websites, forums and newsgroups; perhaps you and I together can play a small part in awakening a few people from the Neo-Advaita trance.
— Author unknown
14 thoughts on “Neo-Advaita Demystified: a critique”
I don’t know if Eckhart Tolle qualifies as Neo-Advaita. He does talk a lot about doing stuff , perhaps going a bit too far in almost encouraging people to mimic the awakened state.
Thank you for writing about such an unpopular concept: preparation and work. Wow. Yes. Sometimes though that work does occur in other lifetimes. Then usually more precocious Nisarga and Sahaja abiding arises.
The trickery of pretension is easily illuminated by that famous scene in Harry Potter: when faced with a bogart one must summon the courage of the heart and say ‘ridiculosum’!!
Thank you thank you
Very interesting, but as I find, biased.
Do you not think, that followers of each master have fallen for this trap?
My teachers have been Osho, Samarpan/Soham, Mooji, and at least the last two stand for, what you call Neo-Advaita.
I do not find, that I was encouraged to stop inquiring when I had reached this mental illusion. But the question is: Who is it, who believes, that he has understood it all…and so on.
Ramana didn’t practice or meditate. He didn’t do self enquiry. His liberation was spontaneous. Ramana himself said that self inquiry can’t liberate anyone and he didn’t actually recommend it. He only gave it to people who are not ripe enough and insisted on receiving a practice. Ramana’s actual “teaching” was in silence and he’s said many times that being in the presence of a liberated being is all. Most of the time he was completely silent. Of course you can’t write books about this, so it remains obscure to the public. You may check the videos of David Godman on youtube, where he explains what Ramana was really about. And you clearly don’t understand the message of Tony Parsons. What he says is actually the same as that of Ramana Maharshi. What Tony calls “nothing” Ramana calls “the Self”. “Nothing is everything” is the same as “Only the Self exists”. “You are the Self” actually means “You are nothing”, which is the same as Tony’s “There is no one”. The confusion comes from using concepts to point to that, which is non-conceptual. Different people will use different concepts, unless they are parroting each other, which obviously isn’t the case with Tony and Ramana. Of course self inquiry is in the realm of dualism and even Ramana himself has said it. He’s also said that there is no I, no ego, no mind and liberation actually doesn’t exist, because there is nothing to be liberated. He’s said that the “path” is part of the illusion. There is absolutely no discrepancy between Tony and Ramana, but you hear Tony denying cetrain words of Ramana and draw the conclusion that he thinks he’s “better” than him, whe he clearly states that there is no Tony and no Ramana, so no one can possibly be “better” than the other. As a matter of fact Tony is denying his own words all the time. He’ll speak about “liberation”, how it happens and what not and then he’ll say that such thing doesn’t exist and it doesn’t actually happen. Ramana did absolutely the same. This is what happens when you to speak about that, which is beyond words. Nothing is everything, emptiness is form… it’s nonsense, it’s inevitable. Tony has said countless times that the words are useless and the only thing that seems to make a “difference” is being together. So how’s that different from the “presence” other advaitins speak of? This was what Ramana was about also. In the past I thought that Tony is against Ramana just like you, until the realization that this actually wasn’t the case dawned upon me. Here you are only projecting your own confusion. You want to do self inquiry? You want to do it for a long time? Well, ok, do it, but in reality it’s always just happening. What’s also just happening is the idea that there is “you” who’s doing it. In reality you simply don’t exist, but you are not ready to embrace this simple fact just yet. You still insist on practice. Mind you that Tony first “awakened” in his early 20’s and final “liberation” didn’t come until he was in his 60’s. So he’d spent 40 years in that “middle” ground you speak of. During that time he was a spiritual seaker, practiced, spent time in an Osho commune and what not. He basically exhausted himself with the illusion. The same happened with Ramana when he ignored the body, didn’t eat for days or bathe for months. Btw even when Tony wrote “The Open Secret” he was still in that middle ground. Until one day it became clear that he never did anything, because he never existed, everything… simply… happened. This truth is TOO BIG. Sometimes it’s too hard to swallow it right away. And there is one last thing. When someone asks Tony “so I should not do anything” he responds with “That’s not the message. Who is the one who is not going to do anything? There is no such entity.” Whenever Tony replies to such questions with “But who’s going to do or not do it?” it is the “practice” of self enquiry. The idea is to direct the attention to the self in order to see that it doesn’t exist. Like Ramana said – you hold onto the self until it is realized that it doesn’t exist. Then self inquiry drops and only the Self remains. The “problem” with Ramana is that he uses self for ego and Self for reality. There is a point to it, but it also creates confusion. Tony uses nothing and everything, which doesn’t clear the clouds much better really. But essentially it’s the same. You self inquire only to reach your true Self, which is Nothingness and then comes the realization, that this is everything and the self never existed, so you never actually self inquired. Funny, eh? Ultimately, self inquiry is not needed. Don’t forget that Ramana himself never self inquired. He said that his “liberation” came out of the blue and was “final”.
The problem is that Ramana and Tony Parsons don’t have a teaching methodology. Today people want fast instant enlightenment. That is not possible. Telling the truth about your essence, Brahman is very simple, but to live it is another. Ramana did spend several years in contemplation to assimilate his insight. But that isn’t told. People don’t want this. I, my ego want something to play with and want to have it now and that is enlightenment. Neo-advaita is very tricky and gives what the people want, sometimes for free but even more for a lot of money (Tolle). I agree totally with the text above. I think most people aren’t ready and have to do some work, but don’t want to hear it. Swami Chinmayananda sended people away who were not ready. I think that a proper methodology is necessary and is offerd for thousands of years by Vedanta. Some western teachers are so selfish and egocentric that they think they can use parts of it for their own good on their own insight. The only thing they do is misleading themselves and other people. Thank God they don’t know they are doing it. If they do…
Ramana undoubtedly had teachings for awakening at many different levels depending upon the readiness of the people who came to him.
Tolle keeps getting classified as Neo and he’s not. He never ever says life is an illusion. He says the ego is but that doesn’t even matter because it doesn’t matter if it is or isn’t real….what matters is the identification with it.
Then he gives specific spiritual practices to be freed from that. You know like, coming to the present moment.m
Do you know anyone who become enlightened using his practices?
I have met 2 people who claim they were ‘enlightened’. 1 ended up living in my house. It was very clear after living with him for a few weeks that he was very ego driven and not very ‘self-aware’ of his own motives let alone his affect on others. ie he had a lot of traits characteristic of someone has narcissistic personality disorder. Even using and manipulating people for his own means. He wanted to be a guru.
This person led me into the cult run by Scott Kiloby. I can assure you Mr Kiloby, Funkhouser, or whatever his real name is not at all enlightened. My dealings with him show he has a bad ego driven temper. I was privy to a zoom conference where the senior facilitators of the cult were discussing how they were going to deal by covering up that Mr Kiloby was on ketamine. Meanwhile he was putting out YouTube videos as high as a kite claiming he was ‘enlightened’. Also at the same time he was advertising he could cure physical pain by his inquiry methods. So you decide.
Identification is also dualistic. Something identified or not with something. It’s really easy. Any relationship is dual. Anyway it all happens in that which is not separate. So it never really happens.
This whole article feels like you’ve just overheard some rumors about what neo-advaita is and got angry about it, because in reality it’s nothing at all like what you wrote. You just described spiritual bypassing, which is a real problem in every spiritual path and has nothing specific or exclusive to do with neo-advaita.
I agree wholeheartedly with your summary of the modern neo-advaita satsang/seminar/webinar scene. It’s appalling how so many greedy attention seekers are making millions from peddling dumbed down to nothing ‘teachings’ to the lost and vulnerable. The egocentricity of it is mind blowing yet people are so desperate they just can’t see it. It’s certainly a marker for the bizarre times we’re living through. So glad to be old!
Neo advaita does as neo advaita is…or not so much/so little.