January 18, 2009

Heterogeneous Vivekachudamani contains both the classical teachings of Advaita and later tantricized elements

Wilber on Advaita Vedanta from Gaia Community: kelamuni's Blog

The fact of the matter is that Wilber's presentation of Shankara is completely backwards to how Shankara orders the teachings of Advaita. For Shankara, the teaching that "Brahman is the world," as found in the Chandogya and Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, is merely a propaedeutic teaching. This is to say that it is preliminary to the final teaching that Brahman and the world are absolutely distinct (vivikta). Shankara says that the teachings of Vedanta make use of both assertion or imputation (aropa) as well as negation (apavada). As Shankara says in his Upadeshasahashri, first the student is taught oneness (aiktva). Then the student is taught the specific nature of Brahman or the Self. This means that the teaching of oneness preceeds the subsequent teaching that negates the limiting adjuncts (upadhi) of the Self -- the mind, body, etc -- by way of discrimination (viveka), that is, by way of the neti neti.

Now, the heterogeneous Vivekachudamani, which contains both the classical teachings of Advaita and later tantricized elements, teaches that the world is distinct from Brahman, just like Shankara, and also that the world is the same as Brahman. But since Mr. Wilber is not a scholar of Shankara, he thinks that the Vivekachudamani was written by the Acharya Shankara. But it was not; it was written in the 15th century, since it contains language that could not have come from the period of Shankara. Wilber's presentation of the teaching of Ramana is interesting. It parallels, almost exactly, Vivekananda's presentation of the classical Advaita.

Vivekanananda offers us three "great sayings" (mahavakya) of Advaita: "You are Brahman (tat tvam asi)." "I am Brahman." "Brahman is the world." The last saying is presumably a reference to the Chandogya Upanishad, which says in the third chapter, "all (sarvam) this (idam) is brahman." And yet, this saying is not one of the "great sayings" of classical Advaita. Vivekananda has made that up. He derives this idea about Brahman and the world from Ramakrishna's tantricized version of Vedanta. And he puts it toward a specific use: he wishes to say that since the world is Brahman, it is worth "saving." This is to say, it provides him a metaphysical backdrop against which he will figure his "practical Vedanta."

I will deal with this idea in greater detail at my site shortly. But what about Ramana? Is Wilber's characterization of Ramana fair and accurate? Notice, first of all that it completely contradicts Godman's description of Ramana's teachings about "creation theories." According to Godman, the final teaching, for Ramana, is the teaching of ajata-vada. But a-jata, non-arising, is clearly a reference to negation. On the other hand, drshti-srshti-vada, which according to Godman is merely propaedeutic, is clearly a form of affirmation. It says: the world is the same as "seeing," the same as mind, which ultimately means that it is the same as consciousness. So what is going on here? Maybe both presentations are correct.

My own sense is that the teachings of Ramana are themselves heterogenous. This is to say that they are a mixture of the classical Advaita of Shankara, as well as elements from tantricized forms of Advaita. Ramana also made use of Tamil Shaivism in his teachings, as is well known. This being the case, it is no accident that Ramana chose to translate the Vivekachudamani. It too is a heterogenous work, as I have noted above. The "logic" or dialectic that Wilber makes use of here ultimately derives from the Samdhinirmocana Sutra, which is a foundational text of the Yogachara. There, three "turnings" of the wheel of Buddhist dharma are described...

I believe that Da was influenced by Suzuki's rendering of the Lanakavatara Sutra. Throughout his earlier works, Da stresses that the so-called "seventh stage" texts, such as the Lankavatara Sutra and Ashtavakra Gita, are all "non-discriminative." This is actually a fair representation of such works, even if we don't accept Franklin's distinction between sixth stage (discriminative) and seventh stage (non-discriminative) texts. Historically, what happened was that the Buddhist Tantrikas took over the dialectic that had first been presented by the Yogacharas...

The classical Advaita of Shankara, on the other hand, tends to emphasize the transcendence of Brahman or the Self. Tantrism, as I say, tends to emphasize the immanence of the absolute, or the "non-duality" of transcendence and immanence, the absolute and the relative, as the tantric term "saha-ja" signifies. This term derives from the same root as the term "a-jata." Basically, "saha" means "together" and the idea is the the absolute and the relative "arise" (ja) together. This "dialectic" that both Wilber and Da notice and make use of is not something they are making up. It is actually there in the self-understanding of the Yogachara and in Tantrism. As I say, this is most plainly evident in the Samdhinirmocana Sutra. This same "dialectic" has also been noticed by the well known and well respected Japanese scholar of Madhyamika and Yogachara, Nagao.

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Sahaj "Samadhi"
Wilber's conception here is closer to the Shaiva tinged Neo-Advaita of Ramana Maharshi than it is to the classical Advaita of Shankara. Compare Ramana's interpolation of a passage from the Vivekachudamani, a work attributed to Shankara that is actually a 15th century pastiche of traditional Advaita, classical Yoga, and tantric Shaivism...

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