— Swami Narasimhananda —
Advaita Vedanta or Advaita is first and foremost a spiritual discipline, a method of sadhana, a path that can be taken by anyone wanting to know one’s true nature. Let us see how to practise Advaita. For this, first we need to understand what is Advaita. We also need to understand what it is not and then we have to see, step-by-step, the method, the way to practise Advaita.
What is Advaita?
When you stand in front of a mirror, you see your reflection there. That reflection is completely dependent upon you. It cannot be there if you were not there. You cannot see that reflection if your mind was not focussed there. Your mind cannot be focussed if you do not have the sense, ‘I see my reflection’. Just look around yourself, not just at your reflection in a mirror, but everything or everyone around you. You cannot see anything or anyone if you do not have the sense, ‘I see this or her or him’.
When you see something or someone, even your reflection in a mirror, you see that which is seen as something different from you. Though the reflection in the mirror cannot be there without you, you see the reflection as something separate from you. It is not separate but you sense a separation because of a wrong understanding. We see everything or everyone as separate or distinct or different from us. In their essence, nothing or no one is separate from you. I am not separate from you. You are not separate from me. We do not understand this because of a fundamental error in the way we see things. We could call it a manufacturing defect.
In their essence, nothing or no one is separate from you. You are not separate from me.
How do we know that we have a manufacturing defect? Suffering is the indicator that we have some problem by default. If things were working fine, we should not be suffering. We should not be having all the problems like greed, jealousy, anger, pride, and hatred. The way to get around this manufacturing defect is the way of Advaita. To know that there is no difference between you and what you see is Advaita. It goes further. You see yourself changing with time. You see yourself changing with place. If you go to Alaska, you will certainly feel cold! You go to the Sahara Desert in summer and of course, you will melt! Advaita is the knowledge that you do not change with time and place. It is the knowledge that you will not change even if your body stops functioning, even if you die, or more accurately, even if your body dies.
Advaita is the path that will take you beyond suffering, beyond separation, beyond distinctions, beyond differences. Advaita is the path to the knowledge that there is nothing or no one from which you will be ever separate.
What is Not Advaita?
Advaita is not merging into something. It is the understanding that there is nothing or no one to be merged into just like that there is nothing or no one different from you. Advaita is not merely denying the experiences that you have but it is asserting that these experiences are not real, but are merely factual statements. Advaita is not denying the existence of this universe but it is asserting that this universe is not really what it looks like. Just like when you see water on a tarred road in an afternoon, you go near it and find that there is no water, Advaita is going near the true nature of this universe and finding that everything in it is only a permutation and combination of that one, true, Reality, which is beyond any name and form.
The mind and the body are not obstacles to practising Advaita. The mind will have its ups and downs. That is its nature. The body will have its strengths and weaknesses, its health and illnesses. That is its nature. You definitely do not blame a pen for not working. Writing is not there in your pen. It is in you. If the pen does not work, you change the pen till you can write what you want to write. Your true nature, the Reality, is in you, the real, not in the body or the mind. You will keep on changing the body and the mind, till you get that real you.
Advaita is not something that cannot be practised in the body and the mind. You might ask: ‘I am in a body; how can I understand something beyond the body?’ Advaita answers: ‘The truth is that you are not in a body; you are mistaking yourself to be a body. How can you understand the truth if you insist on believing what is false? If you insist that there is water on that tarred road, in the afternoon, and do not go near it to examine if there really is water, how can you know the truth that there is no water? And, will that water quench your thirst?’
Yes, we need the water of Advaita to quench the thirst of suffering. We need to experience our non-separate nature to be free. Let us now see how to do it.
The Step-by-Step Method of Advaita
You see everything changing around you. You are yourself changing. Your body keeps on changing. Your mind keeps on changing. For something to be real, it should not change. So, whatever you see around you is not real. Your body and your mind are not real. What is it in you that has not changed since your birth? Analyse this. You will understand that the sense of ‘I’ has been constantly in you since your birth. You have this sense while you are awake. You have this sense of ‘I’ while dreaming. Though you do not know what happens in deep sleep, when you are not dreaming, your ‘I’, your real ‘I’ remains, and that is why, when you wake up, you say that you had a good sleep. Your real ‘I’ was seeing it all, it sees everything all the time. Catch that ‘I’. Let us see how to do that.
Your mind has desires. A desire becomes a thought. A thought becomes a resolve. A resolve might turn into an action. That action might fulfil your desire. When the desire is fulfilled, there is some time, when your mind is free from any thought. This time could be in seconds or in minutes. Be on the lookout for this thought-less time of the mind. If you increase your alertness, you will see that this thought-less state of the mind happens even when no desire is fulfilled. It could be just after you have woken up from sleep. It could be just before going to bed. It could be some other time. Look for this space and just watch that moment. Watch for this space while you are waking. Try to consciously watch this space even when you are dreaming.
No thoughts. No prayer. No hymns. No chanting. Just watch this space. There is hidden your real ‘I’ in these spaces. The good news is that this space of your real ‘I’, this space of thought-less mind is not different from anyone or anything. This space is the real you. This is Atman. This is Brahman. This is Advaita.