Zen and Non-dual Vedanta, etc.
I read "Radically Condensed Instructions for Being Just as You Are" a couple of years ago and found it an excellent book.
I have been reading books about Non-Dual Vedanta and related thinkers like Krishnamurti and Adyashanti (influenced by both a Zen background and Non-Dual Vedanta) for about the last 5 years.
I'm familiar with Greg Goode's books, but find them a little dry for my taste.
Personally, I would say Krishnamurti and Ramana Maharshi were the towering spiritual thinkers of the twentieth century. And Krishnamurti is particularly valuable as a free spirit who stands outside all traditions.
Can we learn from these folks? Absolutely! I very recently had a powerful realization that meditation is an expression of enlightenment rather than a means to enlightenment by studying and meditating upon these teachings, and almost immediately after stumbled upon Treeleaf Zen and Dogen's teachings.
At the same time, the question arises, how do we implement these spiritual insights in practice?
That's where I think Zen particulary excels. I think Krishnamurti's "meditation is simple awareness" translates directly into Dogen's "Shikantaza is undivided activity." But where Krishnamurti, ever fearful of having his thoughts being turned into a mechanical method, only gives hints, Zen teachers have discussed shakantaza in detail without turning it into a straightjacket.
Just want to point out that there are big differences between Advaita (non-dual) Vedanta and other schools of Vedanta, with Advaita-Vedanta being closer to Zen.
For anyone interested in Advaita Vedanta, see Dennis Waite's "Back to the Truth: 5000 years of Advaita" plus his encyclopedic website, advaita.org.uk.
jundo's question - difference between Advaita Vedanta and other schools of Vedanta
What is the difference between Advaita Vedanta and other Vedanta schools? Well, Advaita Vedanta is non-dual and the other schools are more or less dual (drum-roll: Ta-da-dum :D ).
But seriously, for a very rough-and-ready charting of their difference, I think one could do worse than put Advaita (non-dual) Vedanta at one end of a spectrum, with knowledge of the Self (jnana) as the way to liberation, and put Dvaita (dual) Vedanta at the other end of the spectrum, along with eternal souls, eternal matter, an eternal God, and with Bhakti (devotion) as the way to salvation.
Traditional Advaita Vedanta emphasizes intellectual understanding. The guru gradually reveals a more encompassing and valid truth about the Self through a process called sublation.
What is gradually revealed is that only Brahman, ultimate reality beyond all categories, exists. Everything perceived is just a projection.
Unfortunately the incredible richness and complexity of Indian spirituality sully my neat little model. For instance, one of the two founders of Advaita Vedanta, Shankara, wrote a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, sometimes known as the Hindu Bible. The Gita was already quite a syncretist work, incorporating theistic and dualistic views. Meditation, social duty or dharma, devotion to a god - all kinds of practices are covered. In general I believe the Gita gives the idea that liberation is a matter of actively taming the mind, as if the tamer and the mind were separate, like a horse and rider.
Let’s move on to the modern era. Here it becomes even more complicated. We still have traditional Advaita Vedanta. In the West, I would put Greg Goode in this category. His approach is quite intellectual, although his terminology is more modern, substituting “awareness” for “Brahman” as the ultimate reality. His books contain numerous thought experiments to help one realize this.
Well, I don’t intend to write a thesis here, nor could I, and am only going to mention one more modern Advaita Vedanta teacher, Ramana Maharshi, who to me symbolizes the diversity of approach that emerged from traditional Advaita Vedanta in the twentieth century. He is truly a legendary figure, and was the inspiration for W. Somerset Maugham’s novel (and later the film) "The Razor’s Edge". He recommended the practice of self inquiry (in effect, a koan), constantly asking one’s self "Who am I?” ”Who is perceiving this?”
For more, see Dennis Waite's "Back to the Truth: 5000 years of Advaita" plus his encyclopedic website, advaita.org.uk.
Zazen, Vedanta, and a sensory deprivation tank experience
You guys provide a great service to the Zen community. And what is your reward? Having to deal with argumentative nit-pickers like me.
O.K. this is my last post on this thread (and I’m not kidding).
Trust me (as Mitt Romney used to say), there is a point to this.
This morning I took advantage of a half-off coupon and tried a sensory deprivation tank session for the first time. I became acclimated to the tank almost immediately and started to relax. As in my daily zazen, I just tried to relax and be passively aware. In a relatively short time, I became aware that I was more relaxed than I am during zazen, and in this more relaxed and empty state I realized that during zazen I had been subtly shaping my mental states.
I relaxed still further and realized that there was a definite resistance to carrying the process of relaxation any deeper. From this point on, I just watched my resistance, which occasionally resulted in involuntary muscular contractions.
Although I skipped my zazen today, because I didn’t have time to do both, I believe I learned something quite valuable that I can now apply to my zazen.
Let’s return to Oheso’s question that began this post:
“Can a Zen Buddhist learn from the study of writings of Adavaita Vedanta proponents? any thoughts or familiarity with this philosophy or Greg Goode?”
I also believe I learned a lot that I can apply to zazen from Krishnamurti, who, because ya gotta put him somewhere, is often lumped in with Vedanta.
It’s not always a case of either/or ideas or practices, mixing practices, consumer-like attitudes towards religion, etc. And I believe the uniqueness of Zen can be overemphasized. I personally would rather leave that to the fundamentalists (I specifically had in mind "No one comes to the Father except by me").