On pages 201-205 of One Taste, after indulging in his typical penchant for hyperbole, Wilber offers us his "Introduction" to Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi. He says:

Ramana, echoing Shankara, used to say:

The world is illusory;
Brahman alone is real;
Brahman is the world.

The world is illusory, which means you are not any object at all -- nothing that can be seen is ultimately real. You are neti, neti, not this not that. And under no circumstance should you base your salvation on that which is finite, temporal, passing, illusory, suffering-enhancing and agony-inducing.

Brahman alone is real, the Self (unqualified Brahman-Atman) alone is real -- the pure Witness, the timeless unborn, the formless Seer, the radical I-I, radiant Emptiness -- is what is real and all that is real. It is your condition, your nature, your essence, your present and your future, your desire and your destiny, and yet it is always ever-present as pure Presence, the alone that is Alone.

Brahman is the world, Emptiness and Form are not two. After you realize that the manifest world is illusory, and after you realize that Brahman alone is real, then you can see that the absolute and the relative are not-two or nondual, then you can see that nirvana and samsara are not-two, then you realize that the Seer and everything are not-two, Brahman and the world are not-two -- all of which really means the sound of those birds singing!...

I would like to know where in his works Shankara speaks of an "immanent" non-duality of the world and brahman, where is the world is realized to be as sacred and glorified as real as brahman.

The Chandogya and Brhadaranyaka Upanishad do indeed say that brahman and the world are "the same." But for Shankara this does not mean the that the world is as "real" as brahman. Shankara's central teaching is that Brahman and the world are ultimately absolutely distinct (vivikta). There is no "drawing down" of the sacred and reciprocal sacralization of the world as there is in the immanent non-dualisms of Tantric schools like Shaktism or Shaivism, or of Ch'an and texts like the Lankavatara Sutra.

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.

This then begs the question of whether statements like "all this is brahman" are "final teachings" for Shankara. While it might be argued that they do indeed belong with the ultimate (paramartha) statements that Shankara considered belonging with jnana yoga proper (as opposed to the teachings of merely preliminary teachings of upasana), it could be argued that he considered such teachings as merely propaedeutic.

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 it the Vivekachudamani is not considered an authentic work of Shankara; at least some of it was written as late as 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 also 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 a reference to the Chandogya Upanishad, which says in the third chapter, "all (sarvam) this (idam) is brahman." And yet, this saying is not traditionally considered one of the "great sayings" of classical Advaita. He most likely derives this idea about Brahman and the world from Ramakrishna's tantricized version of Vedanta. Vivekanandan puts this final "saying" 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 deal with this idea in greater detail at my site on Neo-Vedanta.

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 (an idea that approaches the immantized teaching of Tantrism and certain forms of Vinjnanavada.

Both presentations may be 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/Vijnanavada. There, three "turnings" of the wheel of Buddhist dharma are described.

1. The Hinayana teachings, which are realist and therefore a form of assertion (samaropa)
2. The Madhyamika (and Prajnaparamita) teachings, which are a form of negation (apavada).
3. The Yogachara/Vijnanavada teachings, which again are a form of assertion (samaropa).

First off, notice that the terminology here precisely parallels the language of the Advaitins. As we noted above, Shankara spoke of "aropa" and "apavada." The only difference in the terminology here is the slight variation on the term "-ropa."

Now notice that whereas Shankara and the Prasangika Madhyamika stress negation and discrimination, the Yogachara stresses affirmation and non-discrimination. As noted elsewhere in this bolg, in his translation of the Lankavatara Sutra, which is a Yogachara/Vijnanavada work, D.T. Suzuki stresses time and again, this aspect of "non-discrimination." A review of Suzuki's translation by Edward Conze raises a similar point, that this translation is rather misleading. Suzuki is here translating "vikalpa," dualistic thought, as "discrimination." This misleading since it is usually "viveka" that is rendered as "discrimination. However, I there is at least one passage in the Lankavatara Sutra that also criticizes discrimination and the Sanskrit there is "viveka," so Suzuki is not entirely off base.

As I suggested in another post, I believe that Adi Da (Franklin Jones) 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 as hierarchically ordered.

Historically, I think that what happened was that the Buddhist Tantrikas took over the dialectic that had first been presented by the Yogacharas. In their self-understanding, though, we get the following tripartite "progressive" revelation of the Buddhist dharma: 

1. Hinayana
2. Mahayana
3. Vajrayana

Da, I believe, takes up this idea in his book Nirvanasara. There, he essentiallly collapses the Mahayana and Vajrayana into each other, and then introduces his own term, "Advaitayana" as a placeholder for the "third revelation." Interestingly this sort of move had already been done by the Buddhist Sahajikas, who rebelled against the institutionalizated forms of Vajrayana. In a way similar to the earlier writing of Franklin, they used the term "Sahajayana" to characterize this final Buddhist "vehicle."

In any case, the "logic" of affirmation-negation-affirmation remains the same in each case.
Tantrism in general stresses this "affirmation" that the Yogacharas also spoke of. In its various Hindu forms, it tends to stress the idea that the world, represented by Shakti, is non-different from the transcendent absolute, represented by Shiva. The classical Advaita of Shankara, on the other hand, tends to emphasize the transcendence of Nirguna Brahman or the Supreme Self. Tantrism 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 takes the same root as the term "a-jata." Basically, "saha" means "together" and so the idea is that the absolute and the relative "arise" (ja) together.

To be fair, 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 Tantrism. This same "dialectic" has also been noticed by the Japanese scholar of Madhyamika and Yogachara, Nagao. Over and over he points to various instances of this three fold dialectic in Yogachara works. According to Nagao, for the Yogacharas, there is something "remaining" in emptiness. And that positive "thing" is the fact of cognition, or "vijnana."

This "dialectic" is a powerful and pursuasive rhetorical tool precisely because it works on two levels: the ontogenetic and the phylogenetic. Ontogenetically, it offers a kind of map for the path. An example might also be said to be found in the 10 ox-herding frames, where we start with the world, then move to emptiness in the eighth frame, then move back to the world in the tenth frame, "entering the market with open arms." It can also be found in the Zen saying:

at first mountains are mountains.
then mountains are not mountains.
then mountains are mountains again.

Or as Trungpa used to say:

At first form is form and emptiness is emptiness. Then form is emptiness, and emptiness is form. Then form is form again. 

We can imagine this movement is a kind of circular movement. First, we begin at a point on the bottom of a circle, life in the world. Then, second, there is the path of return to the "source", emptiness or the formless brahman, in Wilber's lingo. This is the "upward" arc on the left hand side of the circle moving toward the top of the circle, toward the transcendent absolute. Then, from this point at the top of the circle there is the "downward" arc and movement back to the bottom of the circle, back to the world as world, as it were.

Pylogenetically, this kind of dialectical description offers a way of understanding the movement of tradition, of its "progressive" development, as evidenced by the Yogachara and Vajrayana's "historiography" of teachings.

As such it is an effective description. But the "description" is also normative, and whether or not one "buys into" such a scheme depends on whether or not one buys into the idea that "affirmation," non-discrimination, immanence, and "inclusiveness," is superior to negation, descrimination, transcendence, and exclusion.


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Comment by kelamuni on June 23, 2011 at 5:42am
wow. is that ever badly written. hahaha.
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