The Negative Way, The Traditional Positive Way, And Atmananda’s Innovative Positive Way

I believe a considerable methodological mistake Wei Wu Wei makes can be found here:

Absolute is phenomenally negative, objects phenomenally positive. That is why only by totally negating the positive can Absolute be revealed, for the negation of phenomena lays bare Noumenon.

Posthumous Pieces, P. 207, my emphasis.

And here (though see my emendation):

[Only] When the ultimate object has been negated,
Then what remains is I,
and I am the affirmation of all that has been denied. (p. 209)

Ibid, p. 209

I believe this emendation (“Only when…”) is warranted as this epigraph appears just two pages after the sentences cited on p. 207.

Now, Wei Wu Wei not wrong to emphasize the Way of Detachment or the Negative Way. He’s just wrong to draw the conclusion that the negative methodology he endorses is the only viable one. That is, he’s definitely right that this is the “classical way” to Truth. But he misreads the stunning inventiveness of Sri Atmananda (whom he did read) who, in fact, argued for both the Negative Way and for a novel version of the Positive Way.

The traditional version of the Positive Way is plain in classical Advaita: It’s (e.g.) Aham Brahmasmi (the affirmation: “I am Brahman.”) Zen, in addition to its commitment to the Negative Way, also has a traditional Positive Way. It’s front and center in this koan case:

Joshu once asked Nansen, ‘What is Tao?’ Nansen answered, ‘Ordinary mind is Tao.’ ‘Then should we direct ourselves toward it or not?’ asked Joshu. ‘If you try to direct yourself toward it, you go away from it,’ answered Nansen. Joshu continued, ‘If we do not try, how can we know that it is Tao?’ Nansen replied, ‘Tao does not belong to knowing or to not-knowing. Knowing is illusion; not-knowing is blankness. If you really attain to Tao of no-doubt, it is like the great void, so vast and boundless. How, then, can there be right and wrong in the Tao?’ At these words, Joshu was suddenly enlightened.

(My bolded text)

But what Atmananda also offers is as elegant as it is unique: it’s the Way of Reduction. Nothing need be discarded or removed. It just needs to “get transformed”–that is, to be reduced–to what it actually and essentially is. Every single experience, in Atmananda’s hands, is thus an opening to Understanding. He shows us how, really, to take any garden-variety experience and to understand it as, and only as, Pure Consciousness. 

Mind you, I am not pleading against the Negative Way; I’m only suggesting that Wei Wu Wei was seduced by it to the point of taking it to be exclusive. This is a blindspot–and a mistake–for sadhakas have various spiritual temperaments and also because each sadhaka may need to move improvisationally, indeed Daoistically, as needed. I have found my practice so much enriched by “all of the above,” even if my heart belongs only to my dear Sri Ramana.