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THE EXPERIENCE OF ADVAITA

Advaita basically means non-duality; non-duality means that God and created things, including the human person, are not two.  Even more than that, advaita is the spiritual awakening to the absolute unity of all beings in their innermost spiritual nature, an experience of the absolute unity  of the spiritual Self.  This is the revolutionary discovery of the writers of the Upanishads, the last writings of the Vedanta.

That all sounds too stiff still.  Let me try it another way, paraphrasing Fr. Bede in a kind of prose poem:

Before any form that nature takes
there is one, absolute, infinite transcendent Reality,
the ground of being.

This is known as Brahman.

And behind all human consciousness,
before sense or thought,
there is one, absolute, transcendent Self,
the ground of consciousness.

This is known as Atman.

And this Brahman and this Atman are one and the same;
the ground of being and the ground of consciousness are the same.

And so the Upanishads say, "Thou art That", meaning,
Thou––my consciousness, my deepest Self in its transcendent ground–
art one with That¬¬––the transcendent ground of the Universe.

This Self is not known by abstraction,
nor less is it known by philosophical speculation,
but by direct experience,
a religious experience in the ground of the soul
beyond sense or reason,
in the center of the soul by direct intuition.
By an immediate experience
the soul comes to know its own ground of being
as being one with the ground of all being.

And this, the experience of Being (sat)
in pure Consciousness (cit),
is one of absolute Bliss (ananda)!
Saccidananda!

This immediate-direct-religious-intuitive experience of the Self in the ground of the soul is often refered to as an awakening; of it Abhishiktananda writes in his own prose poem:

This awakening is not caused by anything,
and causes nothing.
A bell may provoke psycho-nervous results,
but the awakening is not caused by the sound of the bell.
It just is, simply.

This is the experience that underlies the Hindu religious sensibility at its best.  This is for a Hindu is a matter of faith; it is not something you can "figure out": theological, philosophical, psycological, anthropological speculations can at best lead to a thirst for the experience. 

The Self cannot be known through study of the Scriptures,
nor through intellect,
nor through hearing learned discourses.
The Self can be attained only by those whom the Self chooses.

The best way to foster the experience is through of life of virtue and spiritual practice––as the Upanishads tell us over and over again, "stilling the mind and training the senses"––that is, yoga.

The Self cannot be known by anyone
who desists not from unrighteous ways,
controls not the senses, stills not the mind,
and practices not meditation.

What follows from this in the strictest interpretation is that individual selves and created matter, in some schools of thought, actually come to be seen as maya, which means the "illusion" or "mere appearance" that results from advidya, ignorance.  Once one has had an experience of non-duality, of the Absolute Self, such as Ramana Maharshi had, that ignorance disappears. 

The main proponent of this advaitin school of thought was the great Sankara, an eight century Indian wandering philosopher.  Among the implications of his theology is the teaching that God is strictly abstract, nirguna-Brahman, which means without attributes.  Those who reach this awareness realize that their own deepest Self is none other than the Absolute, of which God is only the first emanation, and a semi-illusory one at that.  

Advaitan philosophy has had a profound effect on Indian thought.  All three of the founders of Shantivanam wrestled with it at length.  For all three the aim of the Christian is somehow a reconciliation of advaita and the Trinity, whom they loved to refer to as Saccidananda, the Father as Being, the Son as Consciousness and the Spirit as Bliss.  At first glance the doctrine of the Trinity seems to be opposed to advaita if one follows the strict school of Sankara, because it seems to imply separate beings, ie. duality in the Godhead.  Bede characteristically approaches it all very carefully, and often speaks of union by communion rather than union by identity.  Though he writes eloquently and at great length about advaita in many articles and books, he seems to associate himself a little more closely with another school of thought that was also very influential, known as visist-advaita, qualified non-duality.  This school of thought drew its language from the philosophical school of samkhya, which Bede was also fond of.  The main teacher of qualified non-duality was Ramanuja, an 11th century philosopher-theologian.  Ramanuja, who was a worshipper of Vishnu, first of all differed from Sankara in that he did not regard God-Brahman as simply nirguna, without characteristics; though beyond description, God can be he worshipped as saguna, with attributes, through various manifestations and avatars.  Ramanuja did agree with Sankara that Brahman is the only thing that truly is, without any distinction, but he did not agree that nothing else is real, nor that everything else is merely appearance or maya, that is, the projection of ignorance-advidya.  According to Ramanuja, individual selves and the world of matter are real, but they are the instruments of Brahman in a relationship like that of souls and bodies, and their existence and their ability to function are totally dependent on Brahman.

Abhishiktananda, on the other hand, leapt right in to a strict interpretation of advaita.  I found a little booklet called Saccidananda: Garland of Letters, that Bede and the monks of Shantivanam prepared in 1990 for their canonical visitation in which Bede writes, in an essay entitled "Our Founders", with uncharacteristic frankness about Abhishiktananda's path.  He says that Abhishiktananda's experience of this oneness with God, while in a cave on the mountain of Arunachala in Tiruvanamalai––and no one, not even Bede or Francis Archaya, denied that he had had a real and profound experience––was in fact so profound that it shook his faith in the traditional form of Christianity.  In his experience of advaita he was left with a sense of absolute oneness in which he no longer felt any difference between God and the individual human person.  For the rest of his life, as evidenced in his diaries, Abhishiktananda had to wrestle with how to interpret this experience as a Christian; it seemed to involve a denial of "rational difference between God and creation, whereas his Christian faith called for the recognition of distinctions in the Godhead and the Incarnation and the church."

To the end Abhishiktananda never gave up his faith in the church and continued to celebrate the mass, but he also felt that he could not give up the conviction born of personal experience of the truth of advaita.  In his diaries he expressed the agony which this conflict brought to him, and he was never able to reconcile his faith with his experience.

Then Bede writes that in his interpretation of Hinduism Abhishiktananda was too influenced by the extreme non-dualism of the school of Sankara and had ignored the modified non-dualism of other schools.  (I have heard him say in interviews before that he thought Abhishiktananda "went too far.")  Bede then goes on to explain that there is an understanding of advaita today that avoids any kind of monism, (which rejects all differences) and recognises that while the supreme reality is "not two", it is also "not one."  This is the distinction that we speak of in regard to the Trinity, recognising that there are distinctions in the Godhead and distinction between God and creation which do not negate the underlying unity of all reality.  The example that he used very often was of Jesus in the Gospels when he says “the Father and I are one,” but he never said, “I am the Father.”

Whatever were his personal struggles reconciling his experience with his faith, I was deeply consoled to read how Abhishiktananda himself had addressed this, concisely, beautifully, in his book Saccidananda, which I had only begun reading over again my last days at Tiru.  When I found these two paragraph I almost leapt up for joy.

The experience of the Absolute to which India's mystical tradition bears such powerful witness is all included in Jesus' word: 'My father and I are one.'  All that the Maharshi, and countless others before him, knew and handed on of the inexorable experience of non-duality, Jesus also knew himself, and that in a pre-eminent manner.  We need only refer to his words: 'He who has seen me has seen the Father' (John 14:9).  Whatever the Father does, he does through the Son; whatever the Son does, it is the Father doing it through him.  And yet, at the very heart of all this, there remains the 'face-to-face' of the Son and the Father.

The conclusion is inescapable: the experience of Jesus includes the advaitic experience, but it certainly cannot be reduced to the commonly accepted formulation of that experience.  Vedanta obliges us to recognize in [the human person] a level of consciousness deeper than that of reflective thought, more basic than [a person's] awakening to oneself through sense-perception or mental activity.  Christ's experience compels us to admit the existence in [the human person] of something even deeper still.  That [a human being] attains to this depth by grace alone is another matter. . . It is enough for us now to have recognized the existence of such a level in the person of Jesus.  If, as non-Christians maintain, Jesus is only a [human being], than whatever natural endowments he possesses must necessarily be available to every [human being].  And if he is the Son of God, as Christians believe, then they must not forget that, according to their faith, Jesus shares with them by grace all that he possesses by right of his divine Sonship."

What of course is interesting about this is that in saying that Jesus' experience "included" the advaitic experience, but cannot be "reduced" to that implies, at least to this reader, that there is something even beyond the advaitic experience, the experience of being-in-communion of Being-Knowledge and Bliss of the Trinity.  Be that as it may, especially Abhishiktananda throughout his life struggled to reconcile the experience of Jesus––that Jesus in turn shares with us––and the truth of the advaitin experience.

No one is ready for this awakening;
there is surely the role of love,
the termite that eats away egoism.
For that the Gospel,
freed from its tawdry coverings,
in uniquely valuable.
When put into practice it should awaken one
to the awareness of being from God,
in communion with every thinking being,
indeed with every being.
Only then does what was duty becomes natural,
does what was done in fear become done in perfect love.

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2011 brought forth 3 New CD's and these can be readily heard and purchased at CDBABY

Hare Yeshu--Cyprian with Gitanjali Lori Rivera and others. 

 

 

 

 

  Ecstasis --Cyprian's arrangements of original and classic tunes and traditional Indian melodies combine to take the listener on a uplifting musical journey.

 

 

 

 

The Ground We Share (Original Songs) with Gitanjali Lori Rivera

"A collection of songs designed to illustrate how different religious viewpoints can come together for common convictions." -Santa Cruz Sentinel.

CDs are available on CDBaby, itunes, OCP, and Amazon mp3 downloads. Napster, Rhapsody, and other online sources too.  Full list of recordings  here

 

Find Cyprian on You Tube

Recording by Richard Dunn, Gracenote Studio, Cardiff, UK

Circle Song - John and Cyprian at Boulder Integral 

My Soul's Companion  and Hidden in my Silence both recorded in his hermitage. There are more like this to find.

Thomas Merton Video: sound track by Cyprian and John Pennington.

Circle Song for the school children at Mt Madonna.

Sirens - 2009 Animas Festival in New Mexico

2009 Integral Institute Concert and Retreat and visit with Ken Wilber.