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Student: Hi, James. An interest has been abiding within me for some time now, really ever since your teaching finally blew the lid completely off the coffin of ignorance within whose dark confines I had been groping about for years, and I at last awakened to the light of my true nature as limitless, actionless awareness.
I would really like to teach Vedanta.
Though we have only recently become acquainted, and this might sound a bit presumptuous to you, I voice this intention with a humble heart and mind. I just finished reading Swami Dayananda’s book Introduction to Vedanta: Understanding the Fundamental Problem, and I fully understand that being an effective teacher requires both a mastery of the subject matter and an ability to wield the means of knowledge (in this case, the words of Vedanta) in a meaningful and effective way. As Swamiji says, the teacher must know the methodology which enables him to create the context in which the words can show the student his limitlessness.
As you know, I have been studying paths influenced by and akin to Vedanta for years, and my understanding is solid. Furthermore, I am devoting myself to an ongoing study of the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Brahma Sutras and other important Vedantic scriptures. Still, I do not wish to be one of those self-appointed, Neo-Advaita gurus who is just playing the game for some kind of ego-satisfaction, power trip or even monetary gain but has no clear understanding or effective methodology with which to help those who are seeking guidance. Neither am I suffering from the compulsion to save the world. I simply want to be of service to those who are hungry for truth.
To a degree, I have already been functioning in a teaching capacity. Over the years, word has gotten out that I have some understanding of spiritual issues, and people sometimes seek me out for guidance. It wasn’t until I encountered traditional Vedanta, however, that I began to realize the importance of effective methodology. I figured teaching was simply a matter of answering questions and/or functioning within a satsang-like context. This was how spiritual teaching was portrayed in the books about Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta Maharaj, etc. that I had read. Now, however, I understand that true teaching is a matter of wielding words effectively enough to offer direct knowledge of the self.
James: Wielding words effectively is the essence of Vedanta. It is the most effective word mirror there is. Its phenomenal success is due solely to its methodology. The “satsang-like context” is woefully inadequate for anything other than a momentary satori. You need a complete means of knowledge backed by a technology, i.e. yoga, to give people something that will serve them on the way to moksa and after moksa. The satsang scene is based on the assumption that “getting it” is the goal and that nothing else is required. Somehow they seem to think that moksa is like magic and will take care of everything going forward. A committed teacher will help the inquirer establish the complete vision of non-duality (satya and mithya) in his or her mind, a vision that will serve him or her till the day the body dies.
Ramana and Nisargadatta were realized people, but they were not teachers. They would be the first to tell you that. They knew very well what the teaching tradition of Vedanta was and they knew they were outside it. In the tradition they are called brahmanisthas, realized people, but not srotriyas, teachers capable of wielding the means of knowledge. They made statements that were undoubtedly helpful for individuals at a certain point in their seeking, but neither of them presented the big picture, the knowledge that would resolve all the apparent contradictions in their statements.
Student: My question is this: Would you be willing to work with me to help me develop a sound teaching methodology?
James: Yes. But I would ask that you not try to show how other traditions – Buddhism, etc. – and Vedanta are all saying the same thing.
Comparing Vedanta to other spiritual “paths” does not fly, first because it is not a path and second because as a path it is the most intelligent, compassionate, comprehensive and humorous path there is. There are two blogs of mine at Advaita Academy on the topic.
The other paths are more or less saying the same thing, but none have retained the original purity of the vision of non-duality like traditional Vedanta. Even in India the corruption has proceeded apace since Vivekananda inspired New Vedanta. You can get moksa through New Vedanta – I did and many did – but there are certain aspects of pure traditional Vedanta that have been distorted and should not be disseminated, basically because of lack of clarity on the knowledge and experience issue. See my article What Is Advaita Vedanta?
Student: I understand that your book effectively lays out the teaching. I suppose I could pattern my own teaching on the structure you use, and thus make my own go of it, so to speak. But I really respect you as a teacher and would be honored if you would help me hone my own teaching style so that it is in alignment with the authentic traditional Vedantic teaching methodology.
James: Okay. But you are right, my book lays out the basic structure very carefully. You need to follow that structure and see to it that the inquirer(s) is signed on to the logic at every step.
Student: Since our correspondence has been minimal up to this point, I understand that you may be uncertain about the solidity of my understanding and therefore question, my qualification to teach. Perhaps we could engage in some mode of regular dialogue that would allow you to gain deeper insight into my knowledge. I am open to any suggestions you might have and I am willing to fully surrender to your guidance.
James: I can tell by the way you write that your understanding is solid and that you have confidence in it. It is good to be conscientious, but you needn’t wait until your understanding of Vedanta is complete before you teach. In fact you learn very quickly by making mistakes. Make it clear from the beginning that scripture, not you, is the font of all wisdom and that you are happy to be wrong. The whole thing is the attitude with which you teach, and it seems yours is correct.
Student: Thank your for considering this matter.
James: You are most welcome.