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Swami Suhitananda (English)
Developing one's Divinity
Swami Shridharananda (English)
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Karma and Divine Grace
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Prabuddha BharataLatest Issue
Editorial : Advaitic Surrender
Advaita means belief in a singular ultimate reality, of which there is no second. Surrender implies a person surrendering to another. So, how can there be an idea of surrender in Advaita? It is a common allegation against Advaita that it has little or no scope for practice. A devotee can worship, sing devotional songs, perform rituals; what can the follower of Advaita do? This stereotypical stance has led to two extreme positions among the followers of Advaita or their opponents. The first position is that Advaita is only a path to believe in, which needs to be supplemented by devotional tools like worship, singing, or rituals. In effect, they think that Advaita is just a concept and has no practical aspect. The other position is to believe that Advaita is nothing but contemplating and studying scriptures that talk of the identity of the individual soul and Brahman, the ultimate reality. For this group, there can be no practical aspect of Advaita either, not even as a supplement from other spiritual disciplines. They indulge in study, discussion, and contemplation of various texts their entire lives. This leads to the question: Does Advaita have any practical aspect of engaging in some spiritual practice?
Before we address this question, we need to understand how the Advaitic path is not so different from other spiritual disciplines of Sanatana Dharma when seen from its absolute standpoint, the standpoint of the person who is established in the Advaitic truth. Advaita emphasises the unitary identity of reality. The follower of Advaita has to realise this reality in the here and the now. That is a tall order indeed! And that is precisely the ground for objection by the followers of other spiritual disciplines.
Advaita is too difficult to practise. This conclusion is arrived at by seeing that the goal is lofty. Now, let us see the path of devotion or bhakti. The goal of a devotee is to realise one’s relationship with the divine. The specific relationship would vary from person to person. For instance, a particular devotee would be more comfortable following the path of being a child of God. The spiritual goal of that person would be to realise this relationship. Is that an easy task? Definitely not! However, since it is clothed in the language of human relationships that we seem to understand or at least claim to understand, it becomes so simple all of a sudden! But, it is anything but simple. To have an unalloyed belief in the existence of God and to have a living and real relationship with God is not different from realising the identity of the individual soul and Brahman. They are only different readings of the same unitary principle. Just as an Advaitic aspirant finds it difficult to be established in the non-dual truth, so also a devotional aspirant finds it difficult to relate to God.
Belief is the bedrock of any discipline. That is true even of reason. Every rational person believes in the axioms of logic. Without such belief,even reason would crumble to dust. Hence, the Advaitic aspirant needs to believe in the identity of the individual soul and Brahman. She or he needs to believe that this universe is a result of an ignorant understanding of the one indivisible reality. Rooted in this belief, the Advaitic aspirant sees that the universe, including one’s body and mind, is false. And false are all dealings in and with this universe. Falsity necessitates insignificance. A false phenomenon is insignificant. Thus, this universe and one’s body and mind are insignificant. Insignificance generates indifference. Nobody gives an ear to a person of no credibility, who claims to revolutionise the world. If one is convinced of the falsity and the consequent insignificance of this universe, why would one bother about it? When the Advaitic aspirant is convinced of the unreality of the universe, she or he is indifferent to the body and the mind and automatically dissociates oneself from desires. It becomes clear that whatever happens in this universe is nothing but an illusion. Therefore, the aspirant does not have any connection with these apparent happenings. The ideas of ‘enjoyership’ and ‘doership’ are given up. The aspirant gets the clear conviction that one is neither the doer nor the enjoyer of this apparent universe.
Just being anchored in one’s true personality, the Advaitic aspirant is unruffled by the extremes of experiences in this world. There is no elation or depression. Nothing perturbs such a person. What happens when one reads an autobiographical narrative of the adventurous undertakings of a great person? When one becomes concerned about the safety of the author indulging in such exploits, the mind reminds the reader that nothing fatal would happen to the protagonist, because the author has survived to jot down these experiences. When a famous hunter recounts the tales of coming face-to-face with man-eaters, the reader of such accounts is assured of the safety of the hunter; else there would have been nothing to read! Similarly, convinced of one’s true nature, which is beyond the farthest reaches of this universe, the Advaitic aspirant acts as a mute witness to whatever happens apparently as though they were words printed on the pages of a book or the fleeting images on a cinema screen.
Conviction is conclusive of any spiritual discipline. In Advaita, the conclusion one arrives at, is the unreality of this universe in its apparent form. Such a conclusion leads to a complete annihilation of the sense of doership or enjoyership. From the time of arriving at such a conclusion, there is no volition of the Advaitic aspirant to ‘do’ or ‘enjoy’ or experience anything. Just as a devotee taking refuge in God, ceases to have volition in anything, an Advaitic aspirant ceases to exercise willpower. Knowing all ‘work’ to be futile, the Advaitic aspirant stops working. Hypocrites beware; such cessation of work is possible only when one is truly convinced of the unreality of this apparent universe. Else, stopping work would only lead to a perturbed mind. An Advaitic aspirant does not stop actions voluntarily, that simply happens as soon as the conviction arises and the conclusion is arrived at.
From this point, the aspirant surrenders oneself to the effect of past actions done with the sense of ‘doership’ and ‘enjoyership’. Acts of volition of the past, before the conclusion of the unreality of the apparent universe was arrived at, continue to produce results. Just like the braking distance of a vehicle brought about by the force of the momentum of the vehicle after the brakes have been applied, the Advaitic aspirant waits in patience and conviction for the force of the momentum of the past actions to subside. The Advaitic surrender is a surrender of one’s body and mind to the effects of past actions. A person with such surrender is the proverbial lotus leaf onto which nothing sticks.