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The Teachings of Advaita
There are many ways to gain enlightenment, meditation being just one.

The Teachings of Advaita

Adi Shankaracharya was the most prominent teacher of the Advaita school of Vedanta. His commentaries to the Srimad Bhagwat Gita, the Upanishads, and the Brahma Sutras define the parameters of Advaita thought. Although it must be kept in mind that all the Vedanta philosophies go back to the Upanishads.

Adi Shankaracharya is revered as the pre-eminent preacher who continued the Advaita tradition and "Shankaracharya" has become the title for the heads of the many Advaita schools in India today. This is because of the great fame and respect associated with it.

The philosophy of Advaita literally means 'non-dualism'. It is the oldest extant among the Vedanta schools of Indian philosophy. The unending quest, first begun in the Upanishads, is to decipher "brahma", the eternal source of the universe; the Atma (higher-self) and the Self (ego), and the mutual relationship between Atma and Brahma.

The Upanishads look at the issues from all the different angles but the school of Advaita teaches essential identity between the Atma and Brahma. In the other Vedantic practices, this relationship between Brahma and Atma is understood in many different ways.

The swan has a very special association with Advaita. The swan is also called 'Hansa' in the Sanskrit language and all of the greatest teachers in Advaita Vedanta are called the 'Paramahamsas' - the eternal swans. The word 'Hansa' is the full form of 'Ham' meaning 'I am He'. It represents the state of highest realisation. A swan stays in water for the entire day, but interestingly, its feathers are never wet. In the same context, an Advaitin lives in this materialistic world and yet remains unaltered by the life's ups and downs. The Swan is also believed (mythically) to possess the ability to separate milk from a mixture of milk and water. The Advaitin also differentiates the Atma from the materialistic world. The Atma is here bound up with the world. It is like milk, which cannot be separated from a mixture of milk and water. It can only be realised with the right discrimination between the ephemeral and the eternal. This is important for the Advaitin. Thus the swan is the symbolisation of the Moksha, ie., liberation while still alive by the realisation of Brahma.

1.
What is the literal translation of the Sanskrit term 'Advaita'?
Nothing there
Only One
Not Two
One Consciousness
For fairly complex reasons, Advaita means 'not two' rather than 'all one' or similar, as saying all is one is seen as too simplistic. Saying 'not two' leads to a state more or less beyond words
2.
An essential part of learning in Advaita is 'Satsang'. What is 'Satsang'?
Interaction with a guru
Prayer
Singing holy songs
Meditation
Satsang is any lecture or group interaction with a guru, sage or other teacher, designed to break down the ego towards enlightenment. Although it is not meant to come about by understanding but by direct realisation, Satsang challenges existing ideas, gives students the chance to ask questions and puts one in the energy of a teacher.

"There are various interpretations of the Sanskrit word Satsang. Sat denotes being, or existence, while sangha means collection. Thus, the word Satsang is often used to signify the coming together of a group of people. The translation of the word Satya is truth. Putting these three root meanings together, there are those who describe Satsang as the coming together of a group of people speaking their truth."
3.
In Advaita there is said to be only one 'true teacher' who all other teachers guide their students towards. How is the one true teacher referred to?
Krishna
Shankaracharya
Brama
Satguru
A guru is a teacher, literally meaning 'the one who takes the student from darkness to light'. In Advaita there is only one true guru, and the outer guru points you to the inner one or 'Satguru'. You may trust the outer teachings but can only know from the inner experience of direct knowledge.

Satguru has many other meanings outside of Advaita, including the Hindu equivalent of a high priest or a teacher beyond a guru
4.
Another path towards enlightenment is the transfer of energy from the master to the student. What is the usual term for this method?
Punnam
Shaktipat
Ananda
Sadhana
Shakti is the Sanskrit word for the universal life energy, and is given by a Shakti guru in various ways to students - a look, laying on of hands, or with Muktananda, the laying on of a feather. Of all the teachers worldwide only a relative few can give Shaktipat. The main lineage is the Siddha Yoga of Swami Muktananda, who died in 1982 and was followed by Gurumayi. Although originally carried out face to face, it can be performed over any distance and Gurumayi does regular mass transmissions which are viewed around the world on satellite and supposed to be just as powerful as any other. They are designed to give students who are ready a direct revelation of their true nature as the first step towards the ultimate goal.

Punnam is good deeds or meritorious actions and Sadhana is spiritual practice
5.
What is the end of the Advaita path?
Death
Enlightenment
Rebirth as an animal
Puja
Although a fraction of students currently reach enlightenment, it grows and deepens throughout life. But the attainment of a constant state where the ego, or illusion of individuality goes is considered the point, but is not a static state once reached. There are often fleeting experiences of oneness and other aspects of enlightenment along the route, and it is no longer an idea but something which is known directly.

There is also the preliminary condition of oneness, where you feel unity with everything but still have a separate self or ego
6.
What is the predominant practice used by students of Advaita as a path towards enlightenment?
Focusing on the present moment
Chanting Mantras
Performing Yoga
Satsang
Teachers use a wide variety of practices, including all of the above. Yoga is a blanket term for a multitude of spiritual practices which touches Advaita at the edges but does not include it directly. Some teachers dismiss all practices besides Satsang, but in fact hardly any students become enlightened without long and regular practices. Mantras are very widespread in eastern teaching, but less so in Advaita, and are usually used in conjunction with 'active' meditations which can be carried out while doing more or less anything else.

The simplest method is being aware of where you are now and what you are feeling, which is very simple but not easy to maintain and remember to do. Some teach a focus on certain chakras, which are the seven energy centres along the spine and above, usually on the heart or third eye (between the others). But moving your attention from the past and future and back to now, which is actually all there is, is the essence of the practices. It is also said to detach the emotions from their hold over you by putting your attention fully on them. Being impermanent they mask the unchanging nature behind them so need to be transcended in order to become enlightened
7.
The essence of Advaita teaching is that duality (ie. that you are separate from everything else) is an illusion. What Sanskrit word is used for this illusion?
Dukkha
Citta
Samsara
Maya
The philosophy behind Advaita and enlightenment is we are not just our body but all consciousness. The boundary between 'me' and 'not me' is gradually broken down by practice, and then you realise directly the separation between yourself and everything else is an illusion and you are actually everything that is here now.

The Vedic quote by Vivekacûḍâmaṇi describes it as "Brahma satyaṃ jagat mithyâ, jîvo brahmaiva nâparah" - 'Brahman is the only truth, the world is illusion, and there is ultimately no difference between Brahman and individual self.' Brahman being the creator or universal self.

Samsara is the Buddhist term, also used by some other religions, for the cycle of birth and death while still in the illusion of Maya.

Citta is consciousness, part of our true nature 'Sat, Citta, Ananda' - Truth, Consciousness and Bliss.

Dukkha is the Buddhist term for the suffering which is the inevitable result of being in the illusion of separation. When enlightened there is no suffering as there is no ego to suffer. The activity continues but you are not there to feel the victim or beneficiary of it. Like the lotus flower, you float on the muddy water but are not affected by it
8.
'Darshan' (which translates into English as 'sight') is considered a great honour amongst Advaita students. What is Darshan?
Initiation into a school
A service devoted to a particular student
A meeting with a guru
A recognition that enlightenment has been achieved
Darshan is a great honour and experience, and with popular teachers you can queue for a long time for only a short meeting. You may be able to ask questions, receive a blessing and possibly Shaktipat. It translates to 'sight' as you have a direct sight of the guru
9.
Only one thing is constant in Advaita - consciousness. What term is given to the apparent activity within consciousness which changes constantly?
Raita
Samadhi
Leela
Duality
The Leela is the film that plays on the screen of consciousness; the screen is never affected but the pictures and sounds move constantly. Moving your attention to the screen from the activity is the aim of practice. Leela translates into English as 'dance'.

Samadhi is a higher level of consciousness, with different stages leading ultimately to liberation and enlightenment.

I hope you didn't pick Raita, it's Indian for yogurt!
10.
Enlightenment is a part of what?
Leela
Death
Ego
Heaven
Bliss may or may not occur both on the way to, and once enlightened. But it is still part of the Leela and something which passes and changes. Some other schools teach meditation purely to reach this stage, called 'Ananda', but serious students are told to treat this as all other feelings and let it pass as it is still within duality.

Enlightenment itself is a state where Leela continues, but it is not perceived the same way. The trademark constant state is the peace and contentment as well as the oneness with all that is and a lack of ego.

The ego is the word for the illusion of you being a body which exists separately in a world outside. Your identity as a person, with a history, pride and possessions, needs to be softened and broken down in order to perceive the true state behind it. The body remains after enlightenment, but is no longer identified with 'me'

 

Author:  Siddarth Bhattacharjee

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