Thursday, September 30, 2010


Last night Jamie and I watched Babies. This delightful slow film documents the period from birth to the first steps of four babies: Hattie (USA), Mari (Japan), Bayar (Mongolia), and Poijao (Namibia).

There are notable contrasts between the girls who were being raised in developed countries and the boys who were not. We see Hattie learning how to be picky, Mari having a huge fit while playing and Bayar getting picked on by his older sibling. I was most amazed by the wonderful care Poijao was receiving - even though he is living amid dirt and flies.

Director Thomas Balmes has created an insightful film that is well-worth watching. Take a peek at the official trailer and see if you aren't completely hooked:

Sunday, September 26, 2010

"i thank You God for this most amazing"

Here is an excerpt from a poem by the American poet e.e. cummings:

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any - lifted from the no
of all nothing - human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

Mr. cummings is famous for the playful use of language and presentation he incorporated in many of his poems. Just how famous? typing this poet's name into Google images and searching you can find a number of e.e. tattoos - such as this one!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Why Slow?

Now that this blog contains over fifty posts, it is probably worth addressing the topic of Slow advaita. What is it anyway?

The basic idea is the result of observing that many advaita presentations in the West go to the extremes of being either overtly traditional, on the one hand, or, on the other, of being unwisely dismissive of tradition.

I am a person who is wired to go Slow. So I propose applying the relative wisdom of Slowness to the current unfolding of advaita in the West.


Overt traditionalists often immerse themselves unreservedly in a tradition, down to the details. While they are potentially following the wisdom being offered, they may also be adopting the Hindu diet (no meat, fish or eggs) and giving themselves an Indian name. Although these things are not deleterious in and of themselves, not building and exercising one's capacity for critical thinking can be.

To spend time obsessing over extraneous details also draws one's attention way from what is essential.

It is out of concern to avoid this sort of blind following that some risk falling into the other extreme of completely throwing out tradition. This is not prudent since tradition, at heart, is a deep-level dialogue. It is tragic to throw out the baby of time-honored wisdom with the bathwater of culture-specific details.


In relation to these extremes, Slow advaita is an opportunity to explore a pragmatic middle ground. One wants to keep the baby and only toss the extraneous.

For example, the upaniShad-s are typically dialogues between earnest, would-be disciples and wise forest RRiShi-s. The answers given by the RRiShi-s are not all that is important in these dialogues. The questions are important too; since it is often the case that earnest, would-be seekers do not often know what questions they would like to ask. So these model dialogues provide a two-fold example of what questions are worth asking and how to respond - in general.

I say "in general" because the strength of a given wisdom tradition is essentially in the way in which it provides a mean. Once a disciple has been accepted by the guru, and once the orienting generalizations of the mean have been introduced by the guru to the disciple, then there is a starting point for considering matters that were not addressed in the teaching.


These teachings are immensely valuable to both the guru and the disciple. To put it simply, they have an already-proven inherent perfection (relatively speaking), which is similar to the 'roundness' of a wheel. While it may be possible to improve on this quality of roundness, the possibility seems so remote upon looking at a wheel, that nobody is tripping over anyone else trying to re-invent the wheel.


Slow advaita is an opportunity for those of us who do not wish to be drawn in by the extremes - however acceptable these may seem to be in our fast-paced, instant-everything culture.

Rather we wish to pause and reflect, taking in what is valuable, as we see that value for ourselves, but leaving behind the husks of the non-essential.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

What is Realization?

I remember once having a conversation at one of the two spiritual retreats I have attended. The man I was talking with had the view that realization was beyond the mind. "Why do you think we use the term realization?" I asked.


But what is realization? The upaniShad-s describe realization in terms of the macrocosm and the microcosm by using the word brahman to refer to the former and the word Atma to refer to the latter. Realization is realization of Atma-brahman. But then we may ask, "Who realizes?"

A person realizes, of course. The realization, as with every other realization, occurs in the mind - and is not limited by any manifestation, including that of the manifest person.

You do not have to take my word for this. Consider this quote from the kaTha upaniShad: "This brahman is attained through the mind alone. There is not diversity in brahman."


It is possible to object to the point I have just made by citing another shruti. The taittirIya upaniShad states, "Failing to reach which, words turn back along with the mind."

Here we have to consider that this shruti phrase is in fact comprised of words that we are reflecting on with our minds. So our next question may be, "Is this an example of contradiction within the Scriptures?"

The key here is that these shruti passages are addressing two different dimensions of our minds. The passage I just cited from taittirIya is addressing mind in its lower sense as manas, while the first passage, from kaTha upaniShad, is addressing mind as buddhi (the intellect).


Coming back around to the conversation I had at that retreat, the upaniShad-s actually support the view that realization occurs in the mind. But the mind has to be raised from its valleys and plains to its greatest height, its peak. And a mind can only ascend to this peak if it is fit.

The reason so many misread this important teaching and cling to misinterpretations of shruti passages, is precisely because the mind is by nature unfit. It must be made fit through diligent and focused effort.

The instances that would seem to give lie to this assertion can be explained easily when we consider that the diligent and focused effort may have been made in a previous lifetime. There is a widely-known passage of conversation with shrI Ramana Maharshi, in which the Maharshi was questioned about not having a guru. His reply was, "I may have had a guru at some time or another, and didn't I sing hymns to Arunachala."

I discovered vedAnta after the publication of words from an empty boat. I was gradually oriented to classical advaita teaching shortly afterwards, through the writings of Dennis Waite, the Italian sage Raphael and the jagadgurus of Sringeri.

Meditation upon such steady wisdom has made it possible for me to become a little more clear on the fine points of wisdom. But I should specify that the clarity is not the result of a vague 'spontaneity'. Nor is the fruit of mere nondualist autosuggestion. Rather it is the result of bringing my mind into harmony the words of the wise.


If it is possible for me to have some success in this, it would have to be possible for anyone else to have similar success. But the voices of distraction are innumerable. I spent years distracted by the hope of saying something unique, of somehow adding to wisdom or of discovering some new facet of wisdom. In the back of my mind, I was puffed up with these kinds of thoughts. It took time and effort to get some distance from them.


Without overcoming egotism, it is not possible to experience peace of mind. As another passage from kaTha upaniShad states, "Not by him who has not desisted from evil conduct, who does not possess shama, etc., who has not collected, who does not have a mind at peace can this be attained by praj~nA alone."

Egotism holds the mind to manas. However, by overcoming egotism, we are more readily able to ascend to the intellect, and in this way meditate upon the profound truths, such as those revealed by the Scriptures and the wise through words.

In short, although words and the mind "turn back" from Reality, they are also central to Its realization. Where the mind and words intersect, knowledge of whatever order is possible. As the aitreya upaniShad states, "The world is lead by knowledge. Knowledge is the basis. Knowledge is brahman."

Friday, September 17, 2010

Frithjof Schuon - On his Philosophy

Frithjof Schuon (1907-1998) is perhaps the most formidable modern perennialist philosopher. In his books, his poetry and his art, we find a man out of time - which is to say he lived in a world of timeless - and time-honored - spiritual ideas and principles. The scope of Schuon's insight may be compared to two of his own favorite philosophers: Plato and shrI shaMkarAcArya.

There have been numerous other brilliant modern philosophers. Yet all of them have been noticeably influenced in their ponderings by temporal changes. Were Schuon took note of such changes, and then boldly rejected them, many others have used such changes as a foundation for presenting innovations alongside any time-honored wisdom.

Here is a brief video in which Mr. Schuon is asked about the essentials of his philosophy. In this case, his philosophy is nothing less than the universal wisdom of the ages.

A Plant with One Leaf

Several months ago my friend Joanne gave me a pathetic-looking plant she had considered throwing in the trash. It had only one discolored leaf. I took it home, watered it and placed it on our kitchen windowsill.

As days passed I was sceptical about whether this plant could survive. Still I continued to water it.

One morning a few weeks later Jamie called from the the kitchen for me to come look at the plant. At first I didn't see. Then I leaned in closer and spotted a tiny green shoot. Soon this shoot unfurled into a beautiful new leaf.

Then, tragedy struck. I found the old leaf with a bent stem - and held my breath as I pruned it away.

Currently the plant has shoots for two more leaves. And it has sent up a second plant - with a leaf of its own. This is the beginning of a plant colony.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Inedible Egg

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The Realm of Perfect Peace

Disciple: Oh wise and all knowing one, take me to the realm of perfect peace.

Master: If I take you to that realm, it will no longer be peaceful.


For more spiritual humor, click here.

brahman is One

Every week for the past five years, I have been meeting with anyone interested at a local coffee shop, to meditate on the Scriptures. Here is an excerpt from one of our recent meetings I hope you will enjoy!

Pointing to the One-Good

In the opening paragraphs of his Introduction to the Philosophy and Writings of Plato, Thomas Taylor gives the example of a pyramid. Philosophy, Mr. Taylor explains, may be compared to a "luminous pyramid, terminating in Deity".

A pyramid, we all know, is broadest at the base. Similarly a metaphysics or philosophy proper has a broad base. This is due to the fact that many human beings have a lot of questions and doubts regarding the nature of things. The broad base has to address these questions and doubts in a comprehensive manner.

After this, another layer of teaching can be added. Subsequent layers are added until the adhikArin (qualified student) is oriented to that which is highest and deepest within all.

As the apex of a pyramid points into vast space, the apex of a valid teaching will point into the boundless mystery of the Atma, or, to use the language of Platonism, the One-Good.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Good vAsanA-s

vAsanA-s can be bad as well as good. On the spiritual path (including the advaita path) we strive to eliminate bad vAsanA-s and cultivate good vAsanA-s.

In the bhagavad gItA, shrI Krishna teaches three principle yoga-s. These are karma, bhakti and j~nAna. In simple terms, the first is the obligation of everyone - even those who, as a matter of speaking, are not on the spiritual path. It is necessary for all to strive to do good action.

bhakti and j~nAna, on the other hand, are means for realization of the Atma. In this respect, we can say that bhakti is essential, since it is the way of loving God, and that j~nAna is sublime, since it is the way of knowing God.

For the adhikArin, the means of devotion and knowledge are of paramount importance. By helping us to realize Atma-brahman, these means provide the greatest foundation for the cultivation of good vAsanA-s.


By Jordan Klemons

When we stop for a moment and look at the state of our existence, on every level that we can see - from the microcosm to the macrocosm - stillness is non-existent. On the smallest, most minute scale, we could say that we are made of atoms and molecules. Modern science says that the particles that make up these atoms and molecules are in constant motion - even that they are constantly vanishing and then reappearing. Zoom out to the biological level. Every cell in our body is constantly moving and performing a function. There are cells that are currently being created and cells that are currently dying. Over the course of roughly seven years, every cell in the body is replaced so that there is nothing in your body today that was there when you were born....unless you haven’t turned seven which case, props to you for reading about vedAnta before your elementary school graduation! On a normal, day-to-day level, we are constantly moving. Waking up, showering, eating, working, walking, repeating mantras, itching, breathing, blinking, reading the upaniShad-s, cleaning, dreaming....repeat. Zoom out farther and we see that we are on a giant rock hurling through space! It feels like you are sitting still as you read this, doesn’t it? But you are flying through space as you sit and read this. I wonder how many miles I have moved since sitting down to write this. They even say that the universe is expanding which would imply that our entire solar system is flying through space as well!

So where, in all of this madness, is even the potential for stillness? With all the motion that exists on every level of the physical world, how are we able to experience the sensation of stillness?

“The Self is one. Unmoving, it moves swifter than thought. The senses do not overtake it, for always it goes before. Remaining still, it outstrips all that run. Without the Self, there is no life.” This passage from the ISa upanishad offers insight to our questions from the vedAntic wisdom. “The Self” can also be referred to as satchidAnanda - meaning “existence-consciousness-bliss”.

One way to try and speak about consciousness - which cannot be objectified or verbally described, except perhaps with satchidAnanda - is to say that it is the stillness that allows for the movements and actions of day-to-day life to exist. Just like a movie needs the stillness and emptiness of a white screen to be viewed, just like the mirage of an oasis needs the desert sand to sit on, just like the yin and the yang need the unchanging circle to dance within, just like the rushing rapids of the greatest river needs the unmoving and hidden earth beneath it to flow over - so too do the actions of our lives require the stillness of consciousness.

This consciousness, is our true nature. satchidAnanda is the natural state. Our thoughts will never catch up with it, our senses will never perceive it, and our actions will never achieve it, but this is good news! We do not need to go seek this beauty out in the world. It is in our own hearts, where it has always been and where it always will be. Graciously giving us what we call “our lives”, it is sitting in stillness.

"There is no self"

"There is no self." This is a teaching one hears frequently in current non-duality circles. This teaching comes from the Buddha, only in the cases to which we are referring, it is, in general, not being correctly understood.

Categorically stating "There is no self" is an idea, a concept in the mind - albeit a very subtle one. A person clinging to this idea - because it is so subtle - does not easily recognize what they are doing. However, others will observe and sometimes experience the rigidity that comes along with fiercely clinging to any idea.

But let us consider why this idea is so subtle. Firstly, the idea "There is no self" is correct from an Absolute perspective. There is no separation. There is only the Self. brahman (God) is one-without-a-second.

Nonetheless, no genuinely realized person outside of or inside of any tradition, including Buddhism, will state "There is no self" in a categorical way. This is because Reality is viewed as non-dual. If we look at the Sanskrit word "advaita" we see that "a" means "not" and "dvaita" means "two". So the term is indicating that what appears to be two is not. Here we can ask, "What two are not two?" These are vyavahAra and paramArtha, which is to say, the relative and the Absolute.

Secondly, once it has been categorically stated that "There is no self" the dimension of the relative is seemingly undercut - but from a subjectivist point of view, which maintains there is no ontological existence. Rather than categorically stating "There is no self", genuine non-duality situates the relative within Consciousness. This relative existence is considered to be mithya, underscoring that name and form are neither Real not unreal.

Name and form are not Real because they are not the Real, since the Real is by nature abiding and permanent. Simultaneously name and form are not unreal because they do have ontological existence, if only temporarily.

Instead of saying "There is no self", great vedAnta RRiShi-s and sages have taught that there is only the Self. This Atma, this Self, this Reality is not devoid of appearances; It is full of them. And emptiness is only one of those appearances. When we consider how emptiness is objectively verifiable (as in the case of seeing nothing in a cup), we are able to understand how stating "There is no self" is tantamount to saying existence is comprised entirely of one objective substance. It is like saying, for example, that Reality is stone.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Doing Good to Others

The late shrI Abhinava Vidyatirtha offers this profound teaching on the value of doing good to others:

God wanted to know, "What constitutes the heaviest or most exalted object in the world?" So, He said, "Bring a balance." He took the state of absolute freedom in which He abided and put it on one pan. On the other pan, He kept loading some object or the other; on it, He placed heaven, other worlds, wealth, etc. Yet, no matter what He placed, the pan with absolute freedom on it continued to remain low; it did not rise up at all. The Lord became afraid and thought, "What! Is there nothing at all to match absolute freedom?" Finally, He took "Doing good to others" and placed it on the balance. The pan that was above came down while the pan that was below went up.

The Lord deemed, "Doing good to others is the truly heavy object. So what should I do? I shall eradicate whatever problem any person in the world has and cause an arrangement of doing good to others to develop."

If even Ishvara considers this to be greater than realizing the Absolute, then it is imperative to always strive for this.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

the idea

was plato gazing

wondering what
makes a star
a star

or was he gazing
in a terrestial manner
a lowly

and wondering
the same

when his mind
opened to
the idea of
the idea

the question
of course
is not the point
of this poem
which is but the shadow
of the idea
of a poem

the idea shines
from heaven
to earth
to make a heaven
of earth

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Did God Create the Universe?

In his latest work titled The Grand Design, scientist Stephen Hawking has written, "Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist."

This view is in sharp contrast to Mr. Hawking's previous acceptance of Sir Isaac Newton's view (that the Universe was set in motion by God), as well to time-honored religious perspectives, which (excluding Buddhism) unanimously affirm that the Universe or - to use the more inclusive Greek term - the Kosmos was created by God.


advaita vedAnta is the finest example of a traditional spiritual metaphysic, and according to this metaphysical perspective, if we attribute causality to something on the manifest level, we have to ask what causes the thing that triggered the cause. Specifically, when Mr. Hawking sights the law of gravity as a cause for the Universe to create itself out of nothing, we have to ask, "If gravity allows this, then what caused gravity?"

We might also consider that nothing is a thing, due to the fact that nothing is objectively verifiable. For example, if a cup is reportedly empty, this report can be easily confirmed by looking to see that nothing is in the cup.


Ishvara, it must be pointed out, is not merely an elusive, anthropomorphic Being. Ishvara is Creator, Sustainer and Dissolver, which is to say, the First Cause or the Principle.

If it is acceptable to consider one thing (or some combination of things) as cause of another thing, then it will be incomprehensible to hold the view that causes are the effects of prior causes ad infinitum. For this reason, and for us to avoid believing any manifest thing to be the Cause of things, the Principle is offered.

Additionally, we may point out, the Principle or Ishvara brahman is only a thing to the degree It must be considered manifest. But brahman is also the Absolute, and so is found - however paradoxically - to be the the Cause of every cause, which causes are, in light of the Absolute, nothing if not mithya.