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How to Teach the Basics of Vedanta
Andrew: A friend again has asked me to give a two- or four-hour talk on Advaita Vedanta for her yoga teacher training that she runs. I was considering taking Tattva Bodh as a text. However, it is a short time, so perhaps a more general introduction into karma yoga, satya-mithya, etc. would be better. Any advice would be appreciated.
Sundari: I am glad you will be putting your Vedanta knowledge to good use. Tattva Bodh is a great introductory text, especially since it explains the terms used in Vedanta so well. For a short talk though, I would do a quick intro on the Big Picture, the main points (see below). It must include a little history on Vedanta, what it is and isn’t, why it is not a belief system, why it requires qualifications, why it is a progressive teaching methodology, the method and stages of Self-inquiry (karma yoga, upsana, sravanna, manana, nididhyasana); it must emphasize the main purpose of Vedanta is to discriminate satya from mithya – i.e. the identity between Isvara and jiva, what they have in common and what they don’t, and very importantly, the difference between experience and knowledge. If you have time, touch on one or two of the main prakriyas, such as the karana-karya vada (cause and effect), panca kosha (five sheaths) and avastha traya (three states). Explain that the reason Vedanta offers prakriyas – which are logical proofs – is to reveal the natural logic of existence (which is everyone’s unexamined experience) by removing the non-essential or incidental attributes, leaving only consciousness as the unchanging constant.
As your audience has a yoga background, you will have to explain why there is no way you can “do” anything to free the mind of ignorance, that the doer is the problem, therefore emphasizing the importance of understanding difference between experience and knowledge, not an easy sell to that crowd!
Ramji has done Self-inquiry the big-picture teachings often. A really good book to read if you can get your hands on one is Dayananda’s Teaching Tradition of Advaita Vedanta. Here is the basic intro talk that Ramji does:
Concentrate on the gist of the first three chapters of How to Achieve Enlightenment.
1. What Do I Want? – Motivations, Values
What I think I think I want is not really what I want. I want freedom from the one who wants.
If I want freedom, is freedom a new experience or is it my nature?
If it’s my nature, I cannot experience it, I can only realize it, since reality is non-dual and I am always experiencing myself all the time.
2. Means of Knowledge
Since the Self cannot be objectified by the mind or the senses, I need an independent means of knowledge. Vedanta is such a means that removes your ignorance. (Explain a little about what Vedanta is and is not.)
Vedanta does not give an experience, because you are already experiencing, e.g. the eyes cannot see if they have cataracts, i.e. if your mind is not clear you cannot understand the teachings – need to be qualified. Explain qualifications briefly.
4. Teacher and Sadhana
You need a qualified teacher to unfold the teachings or you will interpret them according to your own ideas. You need to commit yourself to the process of Self-inquiry, meaning svranna, manana and nididhyasana – give a brief description of those three stages.