Neti Yoga

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Mon Sep 16 22:37:48 CDT 2002

This is a combined answer to several messages in this thread.

On Fri, 13 Sep 2002, Ashish Chandra wrote:

> Why is it irrelevant? The implication of what you are saying is that
> *everyone* who talks about non-duality today is because of Adi
> Shankaracharya.

Without evidence to the contrary, yes.  It is unreasonable to assume some
just independently pulled something like that out of their hat when there
is clear evidence of a long-existant and well-known intellectual tradition
around that idea.

> For example, the saint that I follow neither mentions
> Shankaracharya nor his lineage to affirm that All is One. It is clear to
> Him.However, you want to make the claim that when he talks of Advaita (non
> duality and oneness of all existence - note the umpteenth time I am not
> mentioning Advaita Vedanta so the adjective Advaita, if you please, does
> not refer to Vedanta as taught by Adi Shankara or his lineage), he is only
> doing so, or it is only possible for him to do so, because of Shankaracharya
> (s). That is plain wrong.

The hardest kind of delusion to destroy is self-delusion.  This can affect
people at even the most fundamental levels.  This weekend I was glancing
at a book by an Israeli journalist.  To give a brief background, the
ancient Jews were made up of 12 tribes.  During wars with the Assyrians,
10 of these tribes were enslaved and deported.  Modern Jews are the
descendents of the 2 that remained. But there remained a romantic hope
that somewhere those lost tribes still existed.

So this journalist wondered if there was any truth to the legend.  He came
to know of a Rabbi whose mission was the same and who had found out
there was a tribe in India in Manipur and Mizoram who claimed to be
Jewish.  The two set off to investigate and they found out this tribe in
the middle of nowhere did indeed practice many Biblical Jewish customs and
claimed to be one of the lost tribes.  However much to their
disappointment in the end they discovered that these people had actually
come into contact with Christian missionaries in the late 19th century who
had brought knowledge of the old testament and the legend of the 10 lost
tribes.  But being illiterate, they had totally forgotten this fact and
maintained to the end that they were actually Jews and always had been.

Historically most Indians have also been illiterate.  Even today, many
have a poor grasp of history and the higher tenets of our philosophies.
And of course most foreigners have hardly any background in such matters.
So words are used with garbled meaning and haphazard context.  They just
gradually seep into consciousness.  I believe those saints are quite
sincere when they speak of oneness without reference to Shankaracharya but
they are as mistaken about the source as the "jewish" tribesmen.

> If Advaita be an adjective, it must qualify Vedanta to be identfied with
> the lineage of Adi Shankara. And in fact, the adjective truly must be
> Kevaladvaita to properly be identified, beyond doubt, to Shankaracharya's
> lineage.

If we want to be precise then, yes. (for advaita vedanta at least.
Kevaladvaita is only used by post-Shankaran opponents and even they might
prefer e.g. mayavadi or something.)  Precision is good, it's one of the
things serious philosophers strive for.  But it cuts both ways.  If
advaita is an adjective, than your use of it as a noun is too imprecise to
be valid.  It must be asked if the saint you have in mind is not an
Advaita Vedantin, then he is an Advaita what?  An Advaita Buddhist?  I'll
return to this later.

> Advaita directly implies Brahman,

No advaitam or some other noun form directly implies Brahman.

> if it is only used alone because all else is misapprehension and only
> Brahman is non-dual and One. So when you are using Advaita to describe
> something else, you must use that which it qualifies as well. Just
> because in America the word The Queen has been popularly connected to
> the Queen of England, it does not follow that the usage of the word
> Queen is only limited to describe the Queen of England.

The flaw in your argument is Queen is a noun not an adjective.  What if
instead we were talking about the Blue versus the Blue of England?  You
would immediately recognize this as a nonsensical statement and ask Blue

I recognize that in loose, everyday speech Advaita is misused as a noun
but if we want to think clearly about it, we have to ask Advaita what?

> Similarly, Advaita does not *imply* Advaita Vedanta as taught by Adi
> Shankara alone, even though this connotation is very popular.

> If there is a popularity contest about what the word Advaita means to
> most people, then yes, most people would say it means Advaita Vedanta of
> Shri Adi Shankaracharya. However, this is not a popularity contest.

Oh but it is to some extent.  Language is about communication between
people.  So popularity considerations come into it too.  This is why good
dictionaries also give citations of usage instead of just proclaiming
meanings of words.  Words have fashions just like clothes.  We have seen
that advaya is a synonym for advaita.  So why do you call various people
advaita and not advaya?  Or why not atritiya (not three)  or abahava (not
many)?  All of those words will satisfy the condition of showing oneness
of Brahman.  So why advaita?  It is the most popular word.  Why? because
Shankaracharya made it popular.

Another thing to consider when analyzing the meaning of a word is the
person saying it.  If I said you needed a spleenectomy it would carry less
weight than if a doctor said it.  Because you know a doctor has had
training and is therefore more qualified to throw around big words like
spleenectomy than a person like me.  For defining words, the qualification
is literacy.  As Shankaracharya is obviously a well-educated and literate
person, who has taken pains to meet all conceivable objections to his
ideas, his definitions have more "weight" than J. Random Guru who either
isn't literate or chooses not to reveal it.

This is why astikas insist upon the apaurusheyatva of the Vedas.  Only by
establishing that their "authorship" is beyond reproach can its' words be
sufficiently binding.  And that's why those mystic saints of the past took
the trouble to systematize their thought and experiences, defend them
against doubts, etc.

> We  have gone over the meaning of the word advaita. These are the findings:
> advaita (a.): non-dual, blismishless etc.
> advaitvaadin/advayavaadin [one of the meanings]: follower of vedanta.
> (note vaadin and not simply the word Advaita)

note the absence of advaita as a noun at all.

> advaita from the word advaya:
> advaya: non-dual etc...and then the word Buddha.
> So now advaita denotes another name for Buddha through the word advaya
> (please refer to Vaman Shivram Apte's dictionary).

Again read carefully. the noun advayaH is a name for the Buddha--the
non-dual. Or the noun advayavAdina.  but advaya by itself is an adjective
just like advaita.

The information about names of the Buddha is news to me and bears further
investigation (For one thing it adds fuel to the fire of controversy about
the relationship between Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism.  Unfortunately Apte
has not given a citation here.) but it does not seem to me to have much
impact on the point I'm trying to make here.

> If the word advaita implies Vedanta, then what does the word dvaita imply?

Nothing by itself.  It too is an adjective.  Apte is showing a little bias
by equating Advaita Vedanta with all Vedanta.  We can certainly speak of
Dvaita Vedanta too.

> As for usage:
> brahman is nirguna, brahman is ananda, brahman is advaita (non-dual, one
> without a second).
> How many times did you see me refer to the word Advaita Vedanta of Adi
> Shankaracharya while using Advaita.

Where did you get the idea of calling concepts such as nirguna, ananda,
etc. Advaita and equating them with Brahman?  Shankaracharya set the
course you are following based upon the Vedas.  If this were not so then
we should be able to see throughout history, instances of non-Shankaran
people using Advaita in this way.  But you can't.  The only possible
contenders it would seem are the Buddhists and they are extinct (and
didn't base their ideas upon the Vedas anyway.)

> What I have been saying is that when a saint says exactly the same thing
> as above, he is not necessarily referring to Adi Shankara's philosophy
> and lineage.

They may not be aware of it.  Liberation does not imply one suddenly gains
all worldly knowledge.  That's why sadhakas should always seek the most
educated teachers just as you would the most educated doctors, the most
educated accountants etc.  If they are aware of it and not admitting it,
then that's even worse.

Jagannath Chatterjee wrote:

> The Truth, as you say, is the Truth and it is not dependant on anybody.
> Sages prior to Sri Shankaracharya have also attained the non-dual state.
> They may not have recorded their experiences as systemetically as Sri
> Shankaracharya but that does not sully their realisation any.

This is true but besides the point.  We cannot test realization because it
is beyond our present comprehension.  But by the same token we cannot use
it as a criterion because it is beyond our comprehension.  Vedanta or any
other systematic sadhana is not for the already liberated.  For them it is
just as much illusion as anything else.  It is for the benefit of those
who are not presently liberated but want to be.

We can only go by what has been said and noone who is available to us
today has said it better, more precisely, and as free from doubt as
Shankaracharya did.  So his words are the only rational yardstick by which
we can measure those who spoke less or spoke vaguely.  It didn't have to
be this way, anymore than I had to be born in 1971.  But history worked
out that way.

> --- "Jaldhar H. Vyas" <jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM> wrote:
> Apart from the fact Apte wrongly says Brahma instead
> of Brahman this
> should be clear.  It is "not two" not "all is one."
> There is a subtle
> difference in emphasis here.  Can you see what it
> is?
> It means that advaita is not a view/opinion/path but a
> state. Is that it Jaldharji?

advaitam.  Yes you are right but I wasn't thinking along those lines.
Rather let us consider why it is a-dvaita rather than a-tritiya etc.  The
problem with the formulation "all is one" is while there is a discrete
'one' we can talk about and describe, there is no 'all'.  All refers to an
infinite variety of things.  That's why Advaita Vedanta refers to maya as
anirvachaniya ('indescribable') there is nothing you can say about maya as
a whole other than it is unreal and that is only in comparison with the
real.  But you can talk about bits of maya.  And if you look at the
mahavakyas that's what they do.  This atma = Brahman, You = That, All this
Indeed = Brahman, Consciousness = Brahman.  In each case two things are
compared (one of which is always Brahman.)  This is why it is non-dual.

The practical upshot is unlike the "all is one" proponent who just waves
his hand and dismisses maya, the Advaitin seeks to thoroughly understand
as much of it as he can.  Unlike the worldly person who wants to
understand it for its own sake, the Advaitin does so in order to negate
it, still he does end up understanding it.  Brahman for us cannot be
reduced to a cipher, it purna (full) all things are contained in it and
more.  thus there is no knowledge whether it is Dharma or science or
history or anthropology etc. which shouldn't be learned by us.  There is
no question that we have which we should be afraid to ask.

My objection to Neti Yoga (to get back to the start of this thread) is not
about being "orthodox" or "liberal" but even more basic than that.  It is
gibberish, two random words strung together.  It does not help us know

My objection to Ashish's mysticism is on the same lines.  It does not add
to knowledge. By mixing up concepts and not understanding their origins,
it actually decreases knowledge.  It lessens the value of saints by
forcing them into boxes where they might not belong preventing us from
understanding them for what they are. It adds to the already considerable
stagnancy and backwardness in Indian culture at a time when we can least
afford it.

If I seem very smug and certain in my opinions, it is because I am
confident they were built on solid rock.  It wasn't always this way.  Once
I too had to humbly ponder over questions and struggle to understand the
answers.  If I can answer others now it's because I made the effort to
learn.  Everyone reading this is capable of doing the same thing if they
only try.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at>
It's a girl! See the pictures -

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