vidya at CCO.CALTECH.EDU
Mon Aug 18 18:07:44 CDT 1997
The recent arguments for and against Rajneesh (Osho) points to one
Almost every modern guru claims to subscribe to a monistic philosophy.
Apart from the Buddhists, most of them are either Indians or derive
inspiration from Indian traditions. So, some acquaintance with the broad
currents of these traditions is necessary.
India has produced both the yogin who talks of citta-vRtti-nirodha
(stopping the modifications of the mind), and the "left-handed" tAntric
who insists on flouting expected rules of conduct in society as a means to
salvation. All these traditions might also have a background of
non-dualistic/monistic thinking behind them. However, that does not make
all of them "advaita."
I suggest that if one wants advaita vedAnta, one should take Sankara and
his tradition seriously. Other kinds of advaita, e.g. the Kashmir Saiva
approach of pratyabhijnA, or the tAntric approach of the nAtha lineage,
teach some variety or other of monism. However, one should be careful not
to talk loosely of all these traditions as teaching advaita, without
understanding the source texts and the most important authors of
commentaries properly. This is because arm-chair philosophizing has never
been the way of Indian teaching. Philosophy goes hand in hand with
religious outlook, rituals and specific scriptures. Traditions with
similar philosophical doctrines can differ widely in social and religious
practices, while traditions with widely different philosophical doctrines
can share a large amount of their practices.
Finally, one point about scripture. There seems to be an anti-scriptural
feeling among many people, specifically anti-Sanskritic feeling. Why? A
tale about a sufi mystic is as much "scriptural" as a tale from the
upanishads. The sufi tales are not acknowledged as official scripture in
Islam, while the upanishads are official scripture for Hinduism. The fact
is that historically, the mystical traditions have been suppressed in
Christianity and Islam, and to some extent, also in Judaism, in favor of
an official ideology. In Hinduism, however, mystical traditions have
supplied the official scripture. These texts may be dry, and they may be
in a hallowed language, but ultimately these texts argue against organized
religion. Salvation is promised not because of a specific belief, but
because of all-encompassing knowledge, that the individual strives to
attain. Therefore, those who reject scripture because they reject
organized religion should not have much reason to reject the upanishads.
This puts the official advaita stand on scripture in proper perspective.
Just because Sankara and others say that the enlightened being needs no
scripture, there is no reason to reject these texts. Scripture can be seen
as a ladder used to climb to some height. Once that height is reached,
there is no more use for the ladder. However, for someone at the foot of
the ladder, it is very useful.
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