Transcendentalism and the Introduction of Advaitayana
Da Free John (Adi Da Samraj) – 1982
Table of Contents
The Way of Radical Understanding
and the Traditional Formulae of Enlightenment
The principal traditional summation of the “point of view” of Enlightenment is expressed in the language of Upanishadic Advaitism: (1) The world (or any and all objects, conditional existence, suffering, etc.) is un-Real. (2) Only Brahman (or Transcendental Being) is Real. (3) Brahman is the world. The Mahayana Buddhist tradition restates the same point of view in the formula: Nirvana (Transcendental Being or Existence) and samsara (or conditional existence) are the same. And the Advaitic schools also maintain other versions of the same point of view, expressed in such Upanishadic formulae as “Thou art That” and “The atman (or the essence of the individual self) and Paramatman (or the Transcendental Self) are identical.”
Each of these conceptual summations is based upon Transcendental Realization. Therefore, in the form in which they are stated, none of these formulae represents a means for attaining Realization or Enlightenment. That is, from the un-Enlightened or conventional point of view, the world is not un-Real, Brahman is not Real, Nirvana and samsara are the opposites of one another, and the individual self is not the Transcendental Self or Source of the world. However, traditionally, these formulae have been used as guides to belief, philosophical presumption, meditation, and even the presumption of a logic wherein Enlightenment is regarded to be the case merely on the basis of acceptance of the ideas contained in these formulae.
Truly, these formulae may be affirmed to represent the point of view in Enlightenment—but only those who have Realized Enlightenment can affirm them. Otherwise, the process of Awakening must somehow be entered into—since the Truth of the traditional formulae cannot be affirmed by the un-Awakened.
Of course, the traditional guides also generally propose practice for the sake of Realization, but the schools of practice tend to base themselves on fundamental errors, problems, and the search for release or ultimate solutions. Thus, depending on the stage of life to which any school most basically belongs, certain objects of belief, meditation, contemplation, or experience are recommended—and such objects or states are regarded to be the Truth or Ultimate Reality and Condition.
The fourth stage schools generally regard one or another Divine Name, presumed Incarnation, or God-Idea to be the Ultimate Object. The fifth stage schools regard certain subtle internal objects (such as sound or light), or the various yogic states of trance-absorption in such objects, to be the Way and the Truth. And the sixth stage schools generally regard the self-essence (or the atman, exclusive of objects) to be the Ultimate Identity. But all such schools and their methods are based upon the search for Realization—that is, the search itself is founded upon un-Enlightenment or the conventional mind.
Truly, none of the “ultimate” objects proposed by the traditions is the Truth. Absorption in those objects is not Enlightenment. Even the traditional formulae tacitly condemn such enterprises as false views. Each of the traditional formulae specifically regards the world, or all objects, to be un-Real or non-Truth or “samsara”—except from the point of view of prior Enlightenment.
The principal traditional summary could be applied directly to the enterprises that are commonly built upon it. (1) The “x” (where x is any object) is un-Real. (2) Only Transcendental Being (not even any Ultimate Object) is Real. In this manner, not only any object or state of conventional daily awareness and experience but any conventional or conditional meditation object or experience is denied Reality.
This denial of Reality to merely conditional or conventional objects and states is in fact the essential first step in the process wherein Reality or Truth is actually Realized. Realization or Enlightenment cannot be attained either by denying the unReality (or merely conditional and conventional status) of any or all objects and states or by asserting the Ultimate Reality of any particular object or state. The traditional viewpoint is generally based upon the search to solve or attain release from existence proposed as a problem. Therefore, many objective and subjective conceptions or experiences are proposed to be Reality, Truth, the Goal, and the Way. But the Way that is Truth is based, first of all, on discriminative insight or understanding, wherein it is clear that all of the conventions, objects, conditions, experiences, and presumed knowledge of the six stages of life (apart from Enlightenment, or the seventh stage of life) are not the Truth or the Way to Truth.
Such insight is itself a profound Awakening, wherein the Ultimate Truth simply stands forth as the Obvious. Therefore, on the basis of such insight (traditionally expressed in the form “The world is un-Real; Only Brahman is Real”) the ultimate expression of Enlightenment is made (as a spontaneous Confession of Enlightenment, not merely as a convention of conditional belief or logic).
It is only when “Brahman” (or the Transcendental Condition of Being) is Realized that any object or condition is seen in Reality. Otherwise, any object or condition is seen in its un-Real aspect (that is, in its apparent form rather than in its equation with Reality or Transcendental Being). And if Brahman is Realized, all objects or conditions are seen in Reality. (Therefore, in the case of Enlightenment, no particular object or state is regarded to be Reality in an exclusive or special sense. Neither the atman—or self-essence—nor any mystical or physical or gross or subtle or presumed Divine object is, from the “point of view” of Enlightenment, regarded to be the Reality. Rather, the unique characteristic of Enlightenment is utter freedom from the conventional or exclusively samsaric mind, and thus freedom from both the vision of un-Reality itself and the vision of Reality as an exclusive attribute of any particular object or state.)
It is only as Brahman (or in Reality) that any object or state is Real. And as long as Reality seems to pertain only to certain particular objects or states, Brahman has not yet been Realized.
Therefore, none of the gross or subtle objects of attention to which human beings become oriented in the first five stages of life is Reality, Truth, or Brahman. Transcendental Freedom or Bliss is not Realized via the attainment of any of the objects of knowledge or experience, high or low.
Likewise, the essence of subjectivity, the atman or internal witness, is not Reality, Truth, or Brahman. It is proposed as Reality, Truth, or Brahman in the sixth stage schools (particularly of Advaita Vedanta), based on the ancient scriptural pronouncements of the traditional formulae of Realization. But it is only as Brahman that the atman or basic consciousness is identical to Reality or Truth. Until the Realization of Brahman, the atman is merely the atman, and it is, therefore, un-Real, merely conditions, or not-Brahman.
The sixth stage schools favor the atman as the only appropriate object of meditation, even as the usual man or woman prefers the gross objects of sensation and thought, or the fourth stage schools prefer the Words and Names and Ideas and Incarnations of God, and the fifth stage schools prefer the subtle objects and states of mind and self-absorption. But the internal witness or self-essence is only one of the possible “objects” or orientations of attention. Absorption in the atman is merely another conventional state. All of the objective and subjective orientations of mankind are “sinful”—that is, they “miss the mark,” or merely express and affirm the presumption of unHappiness or separation from the Real Divine Condition.
It would seem, therefore, that the only proper object of attention is Brahman (since It is the only Reality) rather than any of the possible gross or subtle objects or experiential states, or the witnessing subject of objects and experiential states. Such would seem to be an appropriate conclusion based on a right understanding of the traditional formulae. But Brahman, or Transcendental Being, is not an object. It is not associated with any particular experiential state. And it is not a particular being. Therefore, it is impossible to “think” Brahman, meditate on Brahman as an object, or invert upon Brahman as if It were by definition identical to the self-essence. Even so, it is only if Brahman can be Realized that any and all conditions, experiences, objects, and beings can be seen in Reality.
It is not by means of any formula for objective or subjective meditation that Brahman can be Realized. Brahman is not by definition identical to any object or subject. Therefore, no conventional meditation is of any Ultimate consequence. It is necessary to exercise discriminative intelligence or profound understanding for Reality to be Realized. It is only in such understanding that the conventions of object and subject are inherently transcended. It is the tacit transcendence of the conventions of object and subject that is Enlightenment. What is un-Real is the “world” (objects or sub)ect-modes seen in themselves, as their conventional apparency). “Brahman” is not any object or any particular subject. It is, therefore, unfortunate that the term “Brahman” has the appearance of a name or a conventional reference pointing to particularity in the form of an object or a subject. The term “Nirvana” is equivalent to the term “Brahman,” but it has the limitation of appearing to point to the mere negation of any and all objects or subjects. The best “term” of reference to Reality is perhaps silence, no-thought, no-indication, or no-action. Or, perhaps even better, all possible references, forms of speech, thoughts, indications, and actions are the best term of reference. Therefore, any term will do. (I commonly use the term “Radiant Transcendental Being.”)
The necessary point is not contained in the substantial meaning of any form of reference to the Real or Transcendental Condition. Rather, the point to be made is a process of intelligent understanding and tacit transcendence of conditional and conventional limitations. Whatever the term of reference applied to the Real and its Realization, what is signified or called for is that profound understanding that inherently transcends the conventions of un-Reality (or objective and subjective conditionality).
To turn upon any object, or condition, or experience, or the subjective being itself, as Reality or Truth, before the Truth is Realized, is the primal error of un-Enlightened being. And that very error is not only fundamental to everyday life (or the first three stages of life). It is fundamental to all of the sacred, magical, mystical, religious, spiritual, and high philosophical schools of the fourth, fifth, and sixth stages of life.
How can Brahman, or Reality, or Truth, or Radiant Transcendental Being be made the “object” or the “subject” of meditation? Reality cannot be reduced to any convention of the subject-object realm of being. At best, when Transcendental Being is Realized, then any and all objects, states, and subjects are inherently recognizable as Really the Transcendental Being.
Then what is the Way of Realization of That which inherently Transcends objective and subjective references? It is the radical Way of understanding, or present and direct transcendence of the objective and subjective conventions of the moment. The radical Way of understanding is the moment to moment process of presently transcending the limiting power or implications of any and all objects that are arising to the notice. It is not a matter of intentionally meditating on any object or attaining any state of manifest knowledge or experience, high or low. Rather, it is a matter of direct transcendence of any object or state that is presently arising.
Likewise, it is not a matter of intentionally turning attention away from psycho-physical objects or states and toward the subjective consciousness that witnesses all objects and states. That subjective consciousness is not by definition identical to Brahman (but only by virtue of Realization). By definition, and by virtue of experience, the subjective consciousness is the independent self-essence, exclusive of objects, different in kind from objects, and apparently different from other essential individual selves. The traditional Buddhist view of the self is that it is not at all founded upon an immortal conscious or subjective entity (or atman) but is merely a phenomenal appearance implied by or based upon the temporary arising of the constituents of the body-mind. Thus, the Buddhist tradition tends to recommend a practice based on rigorous denial of the existence of an internal being or atman separate from the body-mind. But the ultimate Goal of Buddhist meditation is not negation but Transcendental Awakening. And such Awakening indeed transcends the conditional categories of object and subject wherein the existence of an “atman” is either affirmed or denied. Therefore, the Buddhist point of view is not epitomized in the denial of the Reality of the atman.
The denial of the atman as Ultimate Reality is, however, a basic proposition of the original understanding in which the Truth becomes obvious. It corresponds to the formula “x (or the object in question) is un-Real.” And, as an argumentative proposition, it is traditionally placed in opposition to the apparently conventional Vedantic or Upanishadic proposition that the atman exists. Actually, the original Buddhist denial of the existence of the atman is based on the same logic that appears in the traditional Upanishadic assertion that the world, or samsara, is un-Real and only Brahman is Real. And the traditional Vedantic proposition that the atman exists is based on the “common sense” observation of experience, the facts of life after death, reincarnation, and so forth, and it is justified by the later part of the traditional Upanishadic formula, which affirms the Reality of conditional states of being on the basis of Ultimate Realization. Therefore, the proposed conflict between Buddhism and Advaitism is merely a consequence of certain conventions or styles of logical analysis, although certain differences in the technique of meditation and so forth also follow from the independent propositions of the two great traditions.
In my view, the “atman” exists in the conventional sense. That is, the manifest self is an apparent or phenomenal process that continues to change even beyond bodily death. The Buddhist criticism of the concept of atman tends to be used to justify a materialistic or mortal and ultimately nihilistic view of human birth, but such was not the original view of Gautama (who was psychically aware of the continuum before and after bodily death). But the Buddhist criticism can be a useful interpretation of the facts insofar as it helps us to maintain the view that the manifest self is merely or wholly a phenomenal process, rather than a phenomenal appearance superimposed on an immortal soul that should be systematically separated out from the world (as commonly proposed in the fourth and fifth stage schools). Likewise, the Buddhist criticism of the traditional concept of the atman is rightly disposed to abandon all meditative exercises based on the idea of the separable atman (or salvation via gnostic separation of the soul from the body and the lower worlds). The Buddhist view is thus also rightly disposed to abandon meditation on the atman or self-essence (as proposed in the sixth stage schools of Advaita Vedanta).
However, I regard the ultimate Realization of Upanishadic Advaitism (expressed in the formula epitomized by the Confession “Brahman is the world” and other formulae, such as “Thou art That” and “Atman and Paramatman are identical”) to be the same as that proclaimed in the Buddhist schools as the correct view of Nirvana and expressed in such formulae as “Nirvana and samsara are the same.”
The radical Way of understanding is the ultimate Way of Truth. It is implicit and often, to one or another degree, explicit in the traditional schools (particularly in the great traditional formulae of the Upanishads and ultimate Buddhism and such seventh stage texts as the Ashtavakra Gita and the Lankavatara Sutra). The Way of Radical Understanding is a matter of presently transcending the conventional objective and subjective modes of phenomenal being. It is a matter of directly and presently transcending the meditative techniques of object meditation and subject-meditation—or the error of ascribing necessity, independence, or Reality to any of the possible objects or subject-modes that condition phenomenal existence according to the various preferences that characterize the first six stages of life.
What Transcends or stands beyond any present object—What is Obvious when the self-contraction that defines self and objects independent of the Radiant Transcendental Being, Brahman, or the Nirvanic Reality is itself presently and directly transcended—is the Condition or Identity in which all objects, the self, all beings, or the fundamental contraction that differentiates the un-Real from the Real are arising as apparent modifications of Itself.
Real meditation (or that meditation in which Reality is directly, tacitly, or already Obvious) is not a matter of meditation on any object (high or low in the chain of phenomenal appearances). Nor is it a matter of meditation on the self-essence, the witness of objects, or the atman. Real meditation is a matter of unmediated transcendence of the conventional limitations, implications, or consequences of attention. It is a matter of direct, present understanding or recognition of attention itself. It is a matter of present understanding and transcendence of the self-contraction that is the basic or primal element of every form or object of knowledge or experience.
When the habit of attention is presently understood, or when the idea of the self-essence as being or a being separate from objects and even from other beings is transcended, or when the conception of self, not-self, and the separation between self and not-self is gone beyond, then the Real is Obvious. And when the Real is Obvious, then any and all objects or subject-modes that presently arise are recognizable in That, without any dependence on strategic fixation on any object or strategic and exclusive inversion upon the essence of being.