Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Advaita & Enlightenment
The teachings of Advaita have resonated with me for some time. When I hear the words "I am that", something in me knows that it's true. I know on a cellular level that I am not this. I'm not what I think I am. Neither are you. We've bought into this incredibly convincing story about ourselves, and the illusion is so real that we believe it without question. We cling to our stories, we become our stories, and seemingly there's no alternative to the attachment. Pain, joy, jealousy, lust - we're caught in a web of emotions, and the only escape is to numb ourselves with painkillers to escape the tyranny of our passions. Or so it would seem.
But there's another way out. Recognize the illusion. See the emotions and the circumstances of your life for what they are - persuasive stories created by the mind. Notice who's at the center of each story, and who's always "right". That in itself should tell you that something is amiss. We should be so tired of spinning our stories, but we go right on doing it, and thus the pain persists.
Advaita teaches that there is only a nondual universe, and everything is made from the same soup, and that soup is God (or Brahman, or That). So instead of being an independent ego that runs around making itself the center of every story, you're actually That. It's the most mind- and ego-blowing piece of information that you'll ever receive, and something inside you resonates when you hear it. Advaita shows up in Christianity as well: Saint Francis (pictured above) said, "What you are looking for is what is looking." And Meister Eckhart: "The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me." All the enlightened ones knew it, embodied it, and tried to show us that we too are it. You are it. There's nothing that you have to do. Running around and trying to find enlightenment is like searching hither and thither for your own nose. When you relax, take a deep breath, and let go of all effort, you suddenly realize that not only have you found your nose, but you've been breathing through it the whole time. Awakening to your true nature is like this. It's so simple that almost everyone misses it.
I love the simplicity of Advaita. It's so counterintuitive to our culture. We think we need to work hard to gain anything, and in most cases that's true enough. But not when it comes to enlightenment. There's nothing to achieve. Just a simple recognition of what is, and that's That.