This is the Introduction to a new article by Abbot George Burke entitled “Fool’s Parade–A Study of False Advaita”. Read the entire study here.
“All that glitters is not gold,” is a maxim that can prevent a great deal of mistaken action and thought, including acceptance of ideas that on the surface appear truthful, but if examined prove utterly foolish. Many people love high-flown and seemingly spiritual–and even cosmic–statements that if accepted unquestioningly can appear to be supreme truths throughout one’s life, yet really be foolish or harmful untruths.
When I first read the teachings of the great Nath Yogi master, Sri Gajanana Maharaj of Nashik, I was struck by the way in which without rancor or negativity he spoke of false gurus and false yogas. Further, he insisted that the true yogi–who of necessity must be practicing true yoga–was fearless and unafraid of examining anything and anyone and coming to a conclusion that might be contrary to that of everyone else around him. When I began to practice Soham Yoga sadhana (see Soham Yoga: The Yoga of the Self and Light of Soham), almost immediately the anxiety and concern about my practice that I had to some degree kept with me through decades of association with false gurus and false yoga practices, simply evaporated and I knew I had found the true yogic path.
The courage to be objective
The evidence was that I became completely unafraid of looking squarely at what I had never before dared to look at with perfect honesty and application of my intelligence. As a result I came to realize that nearly all “gurus” and “masters” I had bowed before (and some I had even worshipped) were purveyors and respositories of ignorance, superstition and falsehood–all harmful and not just silly (which most were, as well). And the yogas they advocated where like themselves: false, misleading and ultimately detrimental–spiritual blindfolds and spiritual “fool’s gold.”
Without careful and informed scrutiny they appeared to be the real thing, but when examined with full intent and simple good sense they were revealed to be iron, just like fool’s gold (iron pyrite). I well remember one American “guru” who visited me several times with a disciple who was a chief source of his money. Finally I got a letter from “guruji” saying, “I won’t be coming there anymore, because N. is beginning to ask questions and I don’t think I can survive.”
I recently read an article by an Indian Brahmin who had investigated quite a number of false gurus during his travels in India. One thing he observed over and over was that whenever a fake guru’s teachings broke down on the face of common sense, or the stirring of common sense in his disciples, in panic he would resort to what the author called “Advaita clichés.” And all reason would subside, for who would dare to contradict these sublime platitudes accepted for centuries as the highest truth?
But actually, anyone with an operative brain ought to examine and contradict them. And we should do so right now.
Pyrite in the Vivekachudamani
We are going to examine the first fifty-six verses Vivekachudamani–The Crest-Jewel of Discrimination–a book on Advaita Vedanta by Sri Adi Shankaracharya, the greatest Advaita philosopher of India. I believe they are not authentic, but false additions to the original text, for all the subsequent verses are marvels of pure Advaita. So please understand that I am not criticizing The Vivekachudamani itself–just the illegitimate additions.
A Brief Sanskrit Glossary defines viveka as “Discrimination between the Real and the unreal, between the Self and the non-Self, between the permanent and the impermanent; right intuitive discrimination.” For the yogi aspiring to higher awareness viveka is an absolute essential, for “When he has no lust, no hatred, a man walks safely among the things of lust and hatred” (Bhagavad Gita 2:64). So let us walk safely in the jungle of delusion, illusion and deception–no matter what it may be called.
The translation I will be using is that of Swami Madhavananda which was published by Advaita Ashram in Kolkatta, and which I read over fifty years ago and swallowed whole without a single question. But not without a shadow of doubt, which has after all this time proved to be a glimmer of truth.
I will be commenting only on the first fifty-six absurd verses, that are, like most false Advaitic texts, a mixture of truth, half-truths and outright falsehoods. I truly believe they were inserted into the real Vivekachudamani sometime after the lifetime of Sri Shankara. The other, genuine verses truly are a crest-jewel of profound knowledge.
Swami Nirmalananda Giri