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On advaita philosophy

Ananda Wood is a disciple of the Sage Sri Atmananda Krishna Menon (1883 - 1959).

He was born in 1947 of mixed parentage (mother Indian national of Parsi descent, father English national of Irish descent).
The possible ontological distinction is what Krishnamurti (hereafter "K.") gives evidence of being, primarily, a realist and would seem to favor a parinamavada interpretation of the relationship between the phenomenal world of apparent multiplicity and the non-dual essence or Brahman. This interpretation (giving reality to the effect -- i.e., the world -- as an actual, and not merely apparent, transformation of the cause -- i.e., Brahman) is accepted by the dualistic Samkhya school of Hinduism but rejected by the Advaitins.

His upbringing and school education took place in Mumbai, India. He obtained his bachelors degree in mathematics and theoretical physics at King's College, Cambridge, UK and his doctorate in anthropology (with specialization in Indian tradition) at the University of Chicago, USA.
This unclear methodological divergence with Advaitic tradition is perhaps clarified and reinforced in light of K's theory of karma, already discussed. Since knowledge, tradition, etc., is all a matter of memory, of conditioning contained physically in certain portions of the brain, then what is called for is a quieting of this brain-activity, and thus an awakening of a dormant, unconditioned portion of the brain (or a becoming aware of that already operant region). That brain, in silent meditation, has "a religious quality of unity" (BV, 156). K. often uses the synonyms whole, holy, healthy, and sane. Thus the religious mind is not only a pure instrument for perceiving truth -- it is truth (T&A, 20).

After his university education, he returned home to India, where he worked for some years as a junior industrial executive. He has now settled down to work from home in the city of Pune, on a long-standing interest in the modern interpretation of Advaita philosophy.
For those interested, here is a link to a recent interview with myself conducted by Creative India magazine. It provides a general introduction to the nature of Advaita and background to my own involvement. The only aspect that readers of this site might find novel is a disagreement I had with respect to the Sringeri Acharya’s definition of Astika!

He is married, but with no children.

Ananda Wood has inherited this ability and provides a very readable, fresh and modern approach to traditionally difficult topics. He wishes to make the following books and essays freely available to anyone who is interested and has, accordingly, produced some superb PDF versions.

The similarities, then, are remarkable. Each of the following Advaitic notions has a close correlate in Krishnamurti's teaching: non-dual Brahman (absolute or ground of existence), maya (illusion), upadhi (limitation), adhyasa (superimposition), karma (causation or bondage), avidya (ignorance), badha (sublation or subration), the via negativa (negative method), moksa (freedom), the mahavakya (great saying, expression of the truth), nirvikalpa-samadhi (non-dual Brahman-consciousness), and susupti (dreamless sleep as a state of awareness). How these notions find correlates in Krishnamurti I will demonstrate after examining the differences.

The following may be read on-line from this site or downloaded. The size of the files for downloading are indicated in brackets.

  1. From The Upanishads - Free translation of selected passages from a number of the Upanishads into blank verse, along with some occasional prose.

  2. Divided up according to clear topic headings.
    For Krishnamurti, then., non-dual consciousness (cp. nirvikalpa-samadhi) is God and this consciousness in man is alone God. This emphasis on God in man might be purely referential -- that is to say, of the many things known to the mind of the listener, it is man, the listener himself, who alone is "the door to truth" and thus (potentially) is truth. Whether, with the decay of the brain cells following death, some aspect of an individual's consciousness survives and "returns" (sic: this indicates duality) to God or brahman forever, is a question that K. does not answer but which I suspect he would answer in the negative.

    An original adaptation to make them more accessible to the modern reader. (538k)

  3. Interpreting The Upanishads - This focuses on particular ideas from the Upanishads, and explains how these ideas can be interpreted. For each idea, selected passages are translated and placed for comparison beside much freer retellings that have been taken from the first book.

    This example originates from the commentaries of gaudapAda on the mANDUkya upaniShad. Seeing a rope in the dark, it is mistaken for a snake - an error or adhyAsa. We mistakenly superimpose the image of an illusory snake onto the real rope. In just such a way we superimpose the illusion of objects etc. upon the one Atman .

    The Sanskrit is often referenced with explanation of alternative translations. (463k)
    (The latest versions of the above two books contain hypertext links both within and between the two documents so that translations and interpretations may be viewed together) N.B. Both of these books may be purchased in normal paperback form.
    A: Advaita is a teaching methodology. It provides a step by step ‘education’ for the seeker to bring him or her Self-knowledge. Ideally, this teaching is given by a qualified teacher. This is someone who already has Self-knowledge and also has the skills to teach it to someone else. Since the original teaching derives from the scriptures, a deep understanding of these and a knowledge of Sanskrit is also deemed by many to be a necessary qualification for a teacher.

  4. Levels of Experience - How a reflection upon the states of consciousness described by the Mandukya Upanishad may be used to educate the mind to an understanding of the nature of reality. (40k)

  5. Levels of Language - An essay on the relationship between Consciousness, mind and the world of appearances, inspired by Bhartrihari's writings on the levels of sound and the mechanism of its manifestation. It makes extensive use of the metaphor of maps to show how a background of knowledge and experience of the whole underlies our attention to and interaction with a specific thing.

    A (Dennis): You cannot ‘practise’ Advaita. Advaita is a teaching/philosophy. Its aim is to bring you to the total understanding that reality is non-dual; that all-there-is is brahman or Consciousness, and that who-you-really-are is that brahman. Only the body-mind can ‘practise’ or ‘live a life’ and you are not that. The body-mind and the world are mithyA, which means that they are not real in themselves; their real substratum is brahman.

    (107k)

  6. Nature and Consciousness - Using the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad as a starting point, this essay begins with the classic five elements and moves on to a discussion of nature, life and the underlying non-dual Consciousness. (100k)

  7. OM - Three States and One Reality - An interpretation of the Mandukya Upanishad's discussion of the OM mantra, with its realitionship to the three states of consciousness and turiya. (69k)

  8. Where thought turns back - a skeptical approach to truth - A comparison of the scientific method and philosophical enquiry as means of discovering the truth. Includes a beautiful and simple analysis of what we actually mean by happiness and love. (85k)

  9. Old Ideas of Language - An essay on linguistics, comparing the ideas of the Upanishads and Bhartrihari with those of modern physics. Sound and light are explained as vibrations from the background of Consciousness. The mechanisms of speech are treated as a microcosm for the macrocosm of the universe. Covers material from 4 and 6. (185k)

  10. Educating Sciences of Life and Mind - Compares the objective, outward approach of science with the reflective, inward method of subjective enquiry as a means for obtaining knowledge. The five traditional elements are used as metaphors to explain the levels of experience.

    When one has examined the teachings of Jiddu Krishnamurti closely, one is hard put to find any distinction whatever between his ideas and those of the Advaita Vedantic tradition. It is unclear whether there are any differences -- which would indicate something of a contradiction in Krishnamurti, insofar as he denies all tradition. Only two points of divergence have suggested themselves to me: one involves an unclear ontological point of considerable importance and the other is a subtle but significant methodological distinction.

    (87k)

  11. Questioning back in -- some articles - A series of short articles for an ordinary, non-technical reader. The articles ask questions that are raised by Advaita philosophy, about current issues of life, knowledge and experience in the modern world.

    Q: Many thanks for the response. I have a question though. I understand that Advaita is a philosophy. But what does one do with a philosophy? Try to understand? Try to live it? What is my next course of action? I know that action should be ruled out. But what is the next step for me? What do I do or where do I go from here. I hope I am able to explain my point. I look forward to hear from you.

    (229k)

  12. Old ideas of mind - A description of the traditional conception that mind is 'consciousness going out towards objects'. In this conception, consciousness goes out through layers of personality that have been described as the five 'coverings' or 'koshas'.

    The concept of superimposition in Quantum Physics is just that - a concept. It is a good example of what I am speaking about.

    (68k)

  13. Read the essay on Science and Reality, posted to the Advaitin Egroup in August 2004.

  14. God in the Upanishads - An essay on God and the Self, as described in the Isha and Shvetashvatara Upanishads. (121k)

  15. Knowledge Before Printing and After: A View of the Advaita Tradition - How the advent of printing technology affected the attitudes towards teaching and learning in respect of the spiritual disciplines of Advaita. (61k)
download, 21 kb.
download, 21 kb.

A Brief View of Advaita

  • Sri Ananda Wood's new book: "Ways to Truth: A View of the Hindu Tradition" is available from D.K. Printworld (P) Ltd. He describes this as follows:

    It looks at the Hindu tradition from a philosophical perspective of Advaita
    enquiry. From this perspective, two broad questions are raised:

    * One is historical, to ask for a deeper view of history that would
    allow for the primacy of living speech and interpretation, in our accounts
    of the past.
    * And the second is educational, to ask for a deeper view of reasoned
    investigation. Such an investigation must somehow go completely beyond the
    use of mechanical instruments, through a reflective examination back into
    the correctness of our living faculties.

    Notes on Shankara’s examination of the nature of ‘Error’ in the introduction to the brahmasUtra.



    Modern communications media (from printing onwards to computers and the net)
    have of course been very useful to spread information through society; and
    also to document the administration of institutions that get organized and
    promoted politically and commercially in the external world.
    Q: I need some practical guidance on practising advaita in daily life. Please advise me of the best course of action.

    But what about
    the inner education of living individuals, who each make their own good or
    bad use of our externally instituted capabilities? That inner education has
    for long been addressed in old spiritual traditions like Advaita Vedanta.
    Just what those old traditions mean is now a rather delicate question...

      Sources:
    • 1. www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/ananda_wood/ananda_wood.htm
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    • 2. www.advaita-vision.org/
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    • 3. alangullette.com/essays/philo/k_av.htm
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      Pictures
    • image 1: www.advaita.org.uk/images/truth_ananda.jpg
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