Advaita Vedanta is the path of knowledge – the Buddhi as the most valuable function of the mind is utilized to find out who or what I really am. But what about love and devotion? Somehow something seems to be missing in bare understanding, dry knowledge.
This is right and at the same time not right.
Those who think that knowledge is dry embark upon a very active search. All paths by which one wants to attain the highest truth by action, however, are dualistic because I make the assumption that I am here and the highest truth/highest freedom/self realization is somewhere else. Naturally I must act to get there. The offers are varied: I can meditate, pray, affirm, chant mantras, dance, practise yoga, have tantric sex, go on pilgrimages, live an ethically flawless life, breath into the heart etc. etc.
Such actions may change me; by and by they can turn me into a better, more capable, more affectionate, more balanced person. So they will provide me with new qualities and thereby may ensure that my life will change. If this is all I want, then a dualistic path is the right choice for me.
But if I want to be free, i.e. completely independent of all life circumstances, unaffected by my patterns of thought and feelings, free from my usual identity, then I will not be satisfied by just altering this identity. Then a dualistic path is not the right choice, because with it most probably I will remain on the path till eternity – the destination will continue to be somewhere else forever.
I can finish the spiritual journey only if I assume that I am already what I search for. This is the starting assumption of non dualistic paths. This premise alone will eventually enable me to realize the highest truth: the aim is not somewhere else, the aim is something I have overlooked till now, although it had been there all the time. I just have to learn to look closely. This is what is taught by Advaita Vedanta, and this is why the discriminating power of the Buddhi plays such an important role here.
The Buddhi makes distinctions and learns. Through it we can determine what is true and what isn’t, what is relevant on the journey and what isn’t. In this way we are able to eliminate everything irrelevant that has obstructed our view of the relevant up till now. What remains is our true self, the true recognition of our authentic nature.
Now surrender comes into play. Without the ability to surrender ourselves we will not be able to let go of our identity, to give it up, surrender it and without reservation let ourselves go into what we have realized as our true nature.
This last surrender is not an activity, but the opposite of it. One cannot bring it about. It is natural surrender to what is.
But one can practice something that prepares us for surrender: Bhakti, devotion, is a necessary component on the path of Vedanta. Bhakti starts off dualistic. But to the degree that knowledge of Truth becomes more evident, so Bhakti rises beyond duality. The more I recognise that what I really am is identical with what I devote myself to, the more transparent the play of duality becomes. This play is played because it is so beautiful to open up, to love and to devote oneself.
For many of those who are interested in Advaita, devotion gets a bad press because it starts out dualistic: the assumption being that it binds the seeker within duality. There is a possibility for this to happen, if the seeker does not have someone who opens up the path of knowledge to him. Devotion, Bhakti, is a necessary aspect of Advaita Vedanta, because it lifts the seeker beyond the habitual boundaries of his identity. Even though they are not going to dissolve i this way – that can happen only through understanding – as one opens up to something bigger, the identification with ones usual identity decreases.
In Advaita Vedanta this bigger thing is the totality of all natural laws and orders of the universe and their seemless interlocking. Whoever can devote himself to that, stops fighting with life. Also slowly, slowly, it will dawn on him that what he at first perceived as two – I and life – cannot really be two. Since who is outside the cosmic order? It ist hat which flows through and sustains all of us.
To devote myself it is wonderful. This is the first Stepp. At the same time, the work on one’s own understanding has to go on: Buddhi’s discrimating ability has to be sharpened, otherwise I will not recognise that I am the same as this bigger something: the cosmic order itself. I leave the reins to something bigger.
Still, even this is not the final answer, the work on one’s understanding must go on. Only when I know that I am that which goes beyond life and death, that which is in and through both, while remaining untouched by both, only then I have realized my true Self.
This last knowledge amounts to absolute surrender.