I. Core Nondual Teaching
1. There is just one Reality.
2. This Reality is “transcendent” as well as “immanent.”
- It is transcendent in the specific sense in which it goes beyond (a) all kinds of finite minds, (b) all kinds of physical bodies, and (c) all kinds of worlds or universes. That is, Reality as Reality is entirely “whole” or “unto itself” while also being the “ground” or “groundless ground” and, as such, is the condition
- And Reality is immanent in that every temporary phenomenon is not only an expression of this Reality; every temporary phenomenon is also nothing but this Reality.
3. It follows from premises 1 and 2 that I am That, you are That, etc.
4. Realization, awakening, or enlightenment is simply the name we give to whatever being has understood, in the most immediate, most direct, and most complete way, that he or she is not a finite bodymind but is instead That.
II. Advaita Vedanta’s Triple Method
How do we come to this realization? Advaita Vedanta suggests a general method of inquiry:
- Listen to the teaching as if you were a sponge. Be deeply receptive while watching, listening to (e.g.) Dharma talks, and reading sacred texts. The attitude here is not one of skepticism but of deep, genuine openness.
- Ponder over or contemplate the teaching. Ask questions and make sense with a view to clearing doubts (the doubts that arise from the finite, sometimes skeptical mind).
- Meditate (in the ways I’ll describe).
III. Three Basic Paths
In Section II., we find instructions that are applicable to any spiritual aspirant. But which path is right for me?
As I see it, there are only three basic paths:
- The jnana path.– Inquire into the nature of Reality until you know it. You know it only when you are it. (Knowing by being)
- The bhakti path.– Through love and devotion, surrender yourself completely to God. (Loving what one truly is)
- The karma path.– Act so selflessly on behalf of all beings that you come to realize that (a) there is no doer, (b) there is no deed, and (c) there are no recipients. (Selfless emptying of ego-self via action that essentially becomes Supra-personal process)
IV. Progressive vs. Direct Approaches
Suppose that you’re on the jnana path. My suggestion is that most people cannot immediately benefit from a direct approach.
Instead, it can be helpful to train the mind so that there is concentration as well as steadiness of mind. When one has developed greater stability and one-pointedness, then one can benefit from a direct approach.
And what is a direct approach or direct pointing? Quite simply, the teaching points to your true nature right here. Consider this paraphrase from Zen master Rinzai: “Who is the one speaking and hearing these words right now?” To take the examples I’m most familiar with: koans, huatou, and Self-inquiry are all jnana-based direct approaches to seeing what is always already underfoot.
V. Some Important Types of Meditation
I’m coming to the third part of the triple method mentioned above. In my view, the following are quite important types of meditation:
- Clearing: We should undertake meditations with a view to “cleaning up” or “clearing” ego-self tendencies (samskaras in Sanskrit). This is what Zen calls “polishing the mirror” or what, in more colloquial terms, we might call “taking care of your own shit.”
- Concentration: We should cultivate one-pointed concentration through, say, following the breath through the nostrils (anapana).
- Direct Pointing: We should engage in direct path meditations in order to see, right here and right now, what remains when thoughts, perceptions, feelings, and sensations have all faded away.
- Love and Lovingkindness: “Outward-facing” meditations like metta ensure that there is not just “the ascent” to Reality but also the “descent” back into worldly engagement. Love, lovingkindness, and empathy should be cultivated regularly, daily, perhaps even moment by moment.