Neo-advaita and the highest ‘teachings’ of Advaita Vedanta (ajata vada) – are they the same?

In Advaita Vedanta it is said that the Ultimate Truth is that Maya never existed, and that there never was a world (Jagat), individual person (Jiva), or a God (Isvara). This is known as Ajata Vada – see here for an example of this teaching. Here in Guru Vachaka Kovai we have Sri Muruganar stating the same:

‘…I have known that in truth there is never in the least any attainment of bondage, liberation, and so on, which are fabricated when one imagines one is separate from reality’ Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 1241

Someone recently made a comment to me that this sounds remarkably like Neo-Advaita, to which my response was as follows:

They sound remarkably similar because on the verbal level both traditional and neo-Advaita talk about Ajata Vada (the view that there is no maya, no objects truly exist, and therefore no true meaning, no seeker, no teaching, no teacher, etc) as being the ultimate truth, but traditional advaita also talks about teachings from vivarta vada (world is a projected illusion) and shristi dristi vada (world is real) viewpoints and prescribes self-enquiry as a (paradoxically) valid method for this to be realised on these latter 2 levels for those who cannot fathom ajata vada. Upon this realisation it is ‘realised’ there was never a seeker and no real realisation either. Sri Ramana Maharshi explains it more fully here if you are interested.

Also see:

Advaita Vedanta: Gaudapada’s Method (Mandukya Upanishad Karika)

Ramana Maharshi – three theories of reality of the world (shristi-dristi vada, dristi-shristi vada/vivarta vada, ajata vada)

The Ultimate or Highest Truth according to the Upanishads

The evolution of Tony Parsons 2 – Was Tony reading Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj? | Neo-Advaita | Radical Non-duality| Traditional Advaita Vedanta

‘I am that. I am the source of all that is, and so are you’

Tony Parsons, from Invitation to Awaken, page 117.

Generally speaking I do not comment much on other teachers as everyone has their own path and different teachings can be helpful at different times (apparently!). If you have found a teaching or communication useful, who am I to say otherwise? I am not interested in trying to take you away from something you resonate with, enjoy or agree with – quite the contrary in fact. However occasionally I find myself writing posts such as these in order to shine some light and clarity on aspects of certain teachings (or ‘non-teachings’!) and give my view for those who are interested.

Last year I wrote a post called ‘The evolution of Tony Parsons’ in which I noted how Tony’s expression has changed over time, becoming more and more radical or ‘neo-advaitic’ and less traditional as the years have progressed. Conversely, in previous years gone by his expression was much more in line with the traditional type teachings that he now states are dualistic, confusing and misleading. I also noted how in my view some important absences in the teaching limit its effectiveness, and how the evolution of his teaching is actually in line with the teaching methodology of traditional Advaita.

Nowadays all references to ‘I am That’ or ‘awaken to your true nature’ and references to awareness are all dismissed as being ‘dualistic’ and ‘for the me’ by Tony Parsons, but several years ago he was speaking in this very way that he now says is dualistic.

Since writing ‘The Evolution of Tony Parsons’, I was encouraged to read another another book of Tony Parsons published in 2004, which is no longer on sale, called ‘Invitation to Awaken’. As his first book ‘The Open Secret’ was published in 1995, this represents at least the first 9 years of him sharing these teachings. I obtained a copy about six months ago but for some reason today I was moved to actually pick it up, take a look at it, and write this post. Having flicked through it, I can only presume that it is no longer on sale as it contains teachings which now Tony Parsons says are dualistic and inaccurate. In fact I would guess that most of the following quotes would now likely be thought of as being dualistic by those who advocate radical non-duality (or neo-advaita) style communications. The subheading ‘Embracing Our Natural State of Presence’ is exactly the type of teaching language that is now refuted by so-called radical non-duality, so it is particularly interesting that this was the phrase chosen to be put on to the book cover:

In this book called ‘Invitation to Awaken’, what I would call the savikalpa aspect of the traditional teaching is unfolded by Tony Parsons in a manner very similar to Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj’s teachings. This savikalpa (literally meaning ‘with objects’ or with arising phenomena present) teaching illumines the oneness between all arising phenomena and the space-like consciousness that we are, but by itself rarely leads to permanent end of (apparent) duality and suffering.

However, unlike Nisargadatta Maharaj’s teachings, in Tony’s teachings the nirvikalpa aspect of the Vedanta teaching is notably absent. This nirvikalpa (literally, without objects or arising phenomena) aspect of the teachings, in which one naturally turns away from objective phenomena towards the Subject/Self, is the actual part of the teaching which is liberating. It is this aspect of the teaching that many never take up, for the ego doesn’t want to go there, and it is this part of the teaching that (for most) leads to liberation. It is this nirvikalpa aspect of the teaching which removes the habitual energetic tendency (vasana) to identify with the body-mind. eg. Nisargadatta Maharaj teaches the method of staying with the ‘I AM’, which leads one to this liberating nirvikalpa aspect of the teaching, but Tony Parsons advocates no such thing – in fact he even detracts from this kind of sadhana/practice, so allowing the ego-mind and duality to remain intact.

Please note that most of the quotes below are probably now refuted by those who have an affinity with radical non-duality, including Tony Parsons himself. Please also note that I have selectively taken quotes to highlight the similarity with more traditional vedanta expositions, at least the savikalpa aspect of the teachings. In the book there are still many neo-advaita style teachings present.

Please also note that I am not trying to criticise any teachings or teachers/speakers but my interest is only to share how these teachings may have evolved into their present form and I hope this article is useful to those seekers who are faced with an abundance of teachings and are trying to find their way through it all.

‘A meeting with Tony Parsons can be an invitation to rediscover your true nature. Reading a book like this may help you recognize your own doubts, hope and questions until they no longer come to the surface’

Quote from back cover of ‘Invitation to Awaken’ by Tony Parsons

‘Totally radical and uncompromising expression of absolute Non-dualism’

The preface to the 2004 book ‘Invitatation to Awaken’ by Tony Parsons states that:

‘this book is a totally radical and uncompromising expression of absolute Non-dualism’.

Tony Parsons also states in the same preface:

‘I am surprised at the number of teachings that are presented or thought of as nondualistic or Advaita teachings when they are anything but. As far as I can see, the radical, clear, and uncompromising expression of absoute nonduaism is still very rarely communicated’

Let us see some of these ‘totally radical and uncompromising expressions’ in this post.

Awareness and Consciousness

When reading this book, there are several phrases that seem reminiscent of the language used in Nisargadatta Maharaj’s book ‘I am That’. Tony here even speaks of the distinction between ‘awareness’ and ‘consciousness’, which is a fairly peculiar distinction made in the specific Advaita Vedanta teaching lineage from which Nisargadatta Maharaj comes from. In fact I have never heard of this kind of distinction made by anyone else in quite this way:

‘Anger, sadness and thoughts can still be present, but they all arise in what I am, which is awareness.’

Tony Parsons, from Invitation to Awaken, page 3

Awareness is the source of all. As the matrix of everything, it is completely still, silent and impersonal. It has no relationship with anything; it’s the singularity from which everything emanates. Consciousness for me is the soup, which contains everything that apparently happens, including the sense of separation….Awareness simply is and requires nothing; consciousness can only arise in awareness.’

Tony Parsons, from Invitation to Awaken, page 3

‘…you are That. That is it – simple awareness. Just know this awareness, which is watching the game of consciousness. You have always been That.’

Tony Parsons, from Invitation to Awaken, page 4

You are simply awareness, seeing whatever arises. It’s absolutely simple, and it’s absolutely what you are. Just let awareness see what arises. ‘

Tony Parsons, from Invitation to Awaken, page 21

Tony Parsons and Nisargadatta Maharaj

So when I read the above on the first few pages, I thought that this must have been a time during which Tony was reading Nisargadatta Maharaj. The influence of Nisargadatta seems to be fairly strong. But was Tony even aware of Nisargadatta Maharaj? I would find it difficult to believe that this distinction between ‘awareness’ and ‘consciousness’ would arise otherwise, as practically no other teacher uses this terminological difference as far as I am aware. Well, I found my answer on page 37 when Tony mentions Nisargadatta by name:

‘When Nisargadatta said ‘Nothing is happening’, this’s what he meant. Actually, nothing ever happens’

Tony Parsons, from Invitation to Awaken, page 37

Here we have Tony Parsons interpreting Nisargadatta Maharaj! For those familiar with radical non-duality/ neo-advaita as well as more traditional expositions, perhaps there is some humour in this!

Love and wisdom

Nisargadatta famously said in I Am That:

‘Love says ‘I am everything.’ Wisdom says ‘I am nothing.’ Between the two, my life flows.’

Nisargadatta Maharaj, I Am That

Here we have Tony saying something very similar on page 43:

‘Deep wisdom is knowing ‘I am awareness, I am nothing’, but unconditional love is knowing that ‘I am everything’.

Tony Parsons, from Invitation to Awaken, page 43

Later in the book Tony quotes Nisargadatta Maharaj, seemingly approving of this style of expression:

‘In the words of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, while absolute wisdom sees that ‘I am nothing’, absolute love sees that ‘I am everything’. Everything is generated from unconditional love’

Tony Parsons, from Invitation to Awaken, page 60

‘Neo-Advaita’

Contrast this with what Tony says nowadays, namely that the notion of awareness is itself dualistic and perpetuates the ego. The following quotes are taken from This Freedom by Tony Parsons, published in 2015:

‘Awareness is the fuel of separation…Awareness is that which helps to construct a subject-object world. It is the accomplice of separation. A subject is aware of an object.’

Tony Parsons, This Freedom, page 48

‘But awareness is a function that needs something apart for it to be aware of.’

Tony Parsons, This Freedom, page 9

‘Awareness simply feeds separation, and a state of detachment can arise and be mistaken for enlightenment.’

Tony Parsons, This Freedom, page 9

‘Consciousness, knowing and awareness are similar apparent functions within wholeness. Awareness is the function through which the apparently contracted energy of a separate identity arises. The function of awareness re-establishes and maintains the illusory sense of a self’

Tony Parsons, This Freedom, page 50

However, previously Tony said something quite different, namely he emphasised the subject, similar to traditional vedanta and Nisargadatta Maharaj’s teachings:

‘Some people teach that awakening is seeing that there is no ‘doer’, that consciousness is all there is. But there’s something that knows that consciousness is all there is. It is the lover, the ultimate, what you are.’

Tony Parsons, from Invitation to Awaken, page 61

I am that

Let us see again how Tony used to talk about non-dualty – all italics are present in the original text:

‘I am that. I am the source of all that is, and so are you’

Tony Parsons, from Invitation to Awaken, page 117.

‘You are That’

Tony Parsons, from Invitation to Awaken, page 111.

‘I don’t need to still my mind because I am stillness itself…I am the stillness, and the mind arises within it’

Tony Parsons, from Invitation to Awaken, page 122.

‘You are absolute awareness, and without absolute awareness nothing can be’

Tony Parsons, from Invitation to Awaken, page 94.

‘[talking about the Buddha] he ultimately gave it up and saw ‘I am That”

Tony Parsons, from Invitation to Awaken, page 96.

‘…the nearest I can get to is is absolute Being. When the state of unconditional love is total, it leads to the fnial realisation ‘I am absolute Being’ or ‘There’s just absolute Being.’

Tony Parsons, from Invitation to Awaken, page 43

‘While your perception of ‘I am That, I am the absolute, I am awareness, I am the light just as everyone else is’ remains constant, in certain circumstances you can still contract back into identification. This means that at times you can still be in relationship…’

Tony Parsons, from Invitation to Awaken, page 49

‘Let’s close our eyes and be open to the possibility that there’s no one there, that there’s simply awareness – silent, still, impersonal awareness – and whatever seem to be happening is arising in that. Just be the watcher…you are the stillness; you are the silence in which everything arises. Embrace that which never moves and is totally still’

Tony Parsons, from Invitation to Awaken, page 53

The ‘I Am’

Another phrase Nisargadatta Maharaj uses is ‘the I Am’. Here in this same book we have Tony using the same phrase:

‘You are the I Am, and so am I’

Tony Parsons, from Invitation to Awaken, page 58

The Subject

These days Tony states there is no subject, the subject being an illusion that perpetuates duality. Here is an example of this:

‘Question: But is there a perception of ‘what is’?

Tony: No, there is just ‘what is’…there is no perceiver that is real’

Tony Parsons, This Freedom, page 49

However previously Tony emphasised the subject – italics in the following quotes are not added by myself but are present in the book. The first quote is presumable referring to Ramesh Balsekar who used to teach the ‘no doer, all is consciousness’ teaching at that time:

‘Some people teach that awakening is seeing that there is no ‘doer’, that consciousness is all there is. But there’s something that knows that consciusness is all there is. It is the lover, the ultimate, what you are.’

Tony Parsons, from Invitation to Awaken, page 61

Here is another example of Tony emphasing the subject, again italics are present in the original text:

‘Question: How does one drop it [the veil], then?

Tony: One doesn’t drop it. It’s dropped by seeing that there is no individual, but only space in which things apparently happen. You get a sense of moving ‘behind’ the person that’s always been at the forefront of things. Just behind that apparent person is the one that knows the person standing there looking at me’

Tony Parsons, from Invitation to Awaken, page 64.

Integration after awakening

Imagine my suprise to hear Tony discussing the need for integration after awakening! Here is what he says:

‘After awakening, people need to integrate what’s happened to them. Very often they rush out and say ‘I’m giving Satsang on Friday’, even though there’s been no integration.’

Tony Parsons, from Invitation to Awaken, page 70

‘Although I experienced great clarity walking across the park, it took some time to integrate the vast seeing that ‘this is all there is’…a lot of people start teaching thinking that they can help others attain what they have, but if they haven’t integrated their awakening, their teachings may create some confusion.’

Tony Parsons, from Invitation to Awaken, page 71

Perhaps it is these kinds of statements which explains why this book is no longer being published?

Is this just linguistics or semantics?

But isn’t this just linguistics? The ‘old Tony’ and the ‘new Tony’ – are they not just saying the same thing using different words? I don’t think so. Our true nature, consciousness, is often traditionally said to know itself, just like Nisargadatta Maharaj’s teachings. Here is a questioner trying to get to this point, taken from the 2015 publication This Freedom, page 51:

Questioner: But surely the no thing that is and isn’t, knows itself?

Tony: It’s doesn’t need to know it is and is not. It is an illusion that consciousness knows consciousness…Where would it go to stand apart and know itself?

Questioner: I am not talking about a consciousness that is apart, I am talking about a consciousness that is in it.

Tony: So consciousness is another word for knowing or awareness, and these are all transient functions…they are in movement. They are actions that apparently happen within wholeness. Consciousness of a tree, consciousness of self, knowing the sky, knowing I am, awareness of a thought; it is wholeness appearing to be a separate knower.’

Tony Parsons, This Freedom, page 51

And again on page 52:

‘So as consciousness is an inconstant function within the everything, how can it be the everything?’

On page 61:

‘Awareness is the accomplice of separation. Awareness is a function which requires something for it to be aware of. When awareness arises there is a subject aware of an object. That is awareness.’

However, what did Tony say back in 2004?

‘…you are That. That is it – simple awareness. Just know this awareness, which is watching the game of consciousness. You have always been That.’

Tony Parsons, from Invitation to Awaken, page 4

‘I am that. I am the source of all that is, and so are you’

Tony Parsons, from Invitation to Awaken, page 117.

OK, that’s all from me on this for now. I hope you enjoyed reading the above and found it interesting and perhaps even useful. Again, the idea of this post is not to criticise or condemn, but to share and give insight into how such teachings can change and evolve over (apparent) time. Please feel free to check out Tony Parsons’s current teachings on YouTube and see what you think for yourself!

Namaste

Tom

What’s wrong with ‘neo- advaita’? Why is it so fiercely attacked and mocked by traditional Advaita followers?

For the most part we can define ‘neo-advaita’ (or radical non-duality) as those teachings/communications that state all is already one/whole and there is no separate individual self, and as there is no separate self, there can be no useful practice as all practices reinforce the notion of an individual self that is carrying out the practice; therefore, according to neo-advaita, there is no path to liberation, no practice that can help one attain liberation, and no separate self to be liberated, and to say the contrary is fine but inaccurate.

This is in contrast to traditional-type Advaita teachings that for the most part acknowledge all is already one, but often state there is some kind of process or path that one can engage with and engaging with this teaching and path will in some way help ‘you attain direct realisation/liberation’ of the oneness/Self that is already present. Sri Ramana Maharshi explains this more fully here.

Which view is correct?

I think most seekers that have explored this can see the potential benefits of both approaches, but most neo-advaita types reject the practice/progress orientated paths, and vice versa.

My own view is that the neo-advaita types for the most part have only a very superficial realisation and they also do not usually point to suffering ending (unlike traditionally orientated paths), but that does not make neo-advaita entirely worthless of course, as different things resonate at different times in our journey.

I have written several posts on this which may be of interest to you, best wishes:

False enlightenment

Are spiritual teachings prescriptions or descriptions? Sudden vs. gradual teachings. Is a practice required?

Who or what does Self-Enquiry? Why still the mind? Isn’t this more mind? More beliefs? Neo-advaita | Radical non-duality vs Traditional teachings and practices

The evolution of Tony Parsons | Radical non-duality | Neo-Advaita | Advaita Vedanta

The problem with radical non-duality or neo-advaita

Ramana Maharshi on Neo-Advaita | Radical Non-duality | Are practices really required?

Neo-advaita myth: The ‘me’ is an energetic contraction

Who or what does Self-Enquiry? Why still the mind? Isn’t this more mind? More beliefs? Neo-advaita | Radical non-duality vs Traditional teachings and practices

water oceanic

Question: There’s no one to purify the mind. Believing there’s a practice to attain a purified mind is just more mind…Considering you speak from the position of a teacher, come forward and explain who or what would do the practice you propose, who needs or benefits from a still mind, why does a mind need to be stilled and who or what (in time) initiates or ends the practice? We might find your answers are also beliefs.

Tom: ok, challenge accepted 🙂

First of all what I say cannot be proved by words alone, but it can be known through direct experience. So on the face of it, what I write below could seem to be just an elaborate set of beliefs. Hence I do not usually try to convince people what I say is correct, as most people will not accept what I share unless they themselves have had certain experiences/insights or are otherwise drawn to the teaching. What I say also doesn’t necessarily seem to make sense to the mind, at least not initially, but when it is put into practice, then it starts to make sense as one has a direct insight/seeing into the teachings and how they work.

As one more and more puts the teachings into practice, one starts to see the truth in the teachings for oneself, and so one’s faith in the teachings increases. This encourages the practice with greater zeal which eventually yields results (ie. ending of suffering, also called direct realisation) – suffering falls away and faith is no longer required.

Who or what practices Self-Enquiry?

To answer your questions: basically, the teachings are heard by and put into practice/ initiated by the ego-mind in most cases, although it can happen spontaneously too. This is true of any teaching or practice (or non-teaching) by the way. The ego-mind is actually a fictitious entity, but due to ignorance, it is taken to be ‘me’, and it is this fictitious ego-mind (that is taken to be real) that usually engages with the teaching and practice (or any teaching or practice). More on this below.

Maya

The true Self that you are is ever-realised, ever at peace and needs no teaching, but this is apparently not realised due to Maya. Maya is a mysterious projection of mind-ignorance that creates the illusion of multiplicity and of limitation, usually in the form of the belief ‘I am the body-mind’ and ‘I live in a real separate world that contains other things and other people’. This ignorance-belief or ego-mind creates suffering as the ‘me’ believes it is limited, vulnerable and so subject to birth, death, illness, etc, and that other people such as family and loved ones are also subject to the same. This inevitably causes repeated cycles of stress and suffering.

Suffering and its continuance

For most, as long as attention is directed to objects such as mind, body, world, thoughts, feelings, sensations, this sense of individuality or ‘me’ is perpetuated, and suffering and confusion keep on coming back despite perhaps having had insights into non-duality or other similar insights.

The remedy

The teaching proposes a remedy – in this teaching it is called self-enquiry. This teaching is the only remedy I know of that works, although it may go by other names. All other teachings/non-teachings/etc may give rise to temporary insights (for the mind) or temporary feeling states (for the body-mind), but the habitual egotism-ignorance tends to arise again and with it confusion and suffering also arise, leading to further cycles of dissatisfaction and further seeking. The essential teaching I share has remained unchanged for several thousand years, is recorded in the Upanishads and is the essence of all true spiritual teachings that lead to realisation/end of suffering. I think the reason it has stuck around for so long is because it actually works! The teaching may also arise spontaneously, as the entire teaching is actually inscribed upon each of our hearts, so to speak.

So Self Enquiry is usually initiated by the mind, but actually, because the mind turns in on itself during the practice, the mind disappears and what is left is True Self only. Over time, the ego-ignorance-mind is undercut and eventually withers and dies.

Ramana Maharshi states in Day by Day with Bhagavan: ‘The mind turned inwards is the Self; turned outwards, it becomes the ego and all the world’.

The traditional Advaita text Yoga Vasishta states: ‘Consciousness, which is undivided, imagines to itself desirable objects and runs after them. It is then known as the mind.’

Why bother?

You asked why this practice-teaching should be engaged with. The reason this is done is to end suffering – everyone naturally wants to be happy and without suffering, and my experience is that for most people, without this teaching-practice, or something very similar, suffering, confusions and egotism continue. Of course, it follows that if you are not suffering, then you don’t need the remedy, the teaching-practice.

Doesn’t this just perpetuate the mind?

A common objection is that any activity of the ego-mind will simply continue the ego-mind. Whist this is often true, it is not always true, and it is not true in Self-enquiry. Ie. the notion that any activity of the ego/mind will always lead to more ego/mind activity is actually an ideological belief that is not rooted in evidence or direct experience. This is because mind is actually a fiction, so when it is turned to attend to the true self, it disappears. This can be fairly easily experienced for oneself with a little practice and guidance.

A teaching that actually works!

Again, all this above could all just be an elaborate theory, a convoluted belief system, and unless one is genuinely open to the teaching, it may remain just that – another theory amongst other theories. But when put into practice, my contention, and that of many others over several centuries, is that it actually works.

Eventually it is seen that the teaching is also more illusion, as is the idea of a teacher or teaching or seeker, but the teaching is an illusion that leads one out of illusion. How so? A metaphor is given of someone who dreams of a lion, and the roar of the lion wakes him from the dream – the lion (the teacher-teaching-practice) was also a fiction/illusion but it led to ‘waking up’ or realisation. I hope this answers helps you understand what I share.

If you are interested, the path is explained in full here: The Entire Path Explained: the Path of Sri Ramana

It is also explained in brief here: IN BRIEF: HOW TO ATTAIN LIBERATION (MOKSHA)

Q. Why turn within? Nonduality as I have experienced it is the actual disappearance of what is considered within and without, one seamless blending

meditation moon prayer

Also see: IN BRIEF: HOW TO ATTAIN LIBERATION (MOKSHA)

Q. Why turn within at all? Nonduality as I have experienced it is the actual disappearance of what is considered within and without. One seamless blending.

Tom: It’s fairly easy for many to realise there is no real within or without, ie. that what we consider inner, such as the mind and thoughts, are non-separate from the supposed outer world. It is all one movement. But it is usually the mind that realises this, in combination with some kind of a genuine seeing.

However these teachings I share here are to end suffering. Most people interested in non-duality do realise on some level the false dividing line between self and other (ie. inner and outer), but suffering still continues due to the habitual egoic tendencies (vasanas).

Basically, the false identity as the ego-mind entity remains intact at a deeper level, and the essential notion of individuality still survives and is believed in despite the ego-mind saying ‘all is one’ or ‘this is it’ or ‘there is already no ego’ or ‘there is already no duality’.

Without turning inward first, it ends up being the ego-mind proclaiming ‘there is no inner/outer’ or ‘all is one’, etc.

After turning inwards, it is then eventually seen that there is no inner/outer, but it is not the ego that sees this and co-opts this, but it is merely the absence of the ego which is itself the illusion of separation. 

It is for this reason practice is almost always required – to end duality at its root and not just on a superficial level. Otherwise the ego-mind, and suffering, both continue.

For a more in-depth understanding of the path to liberation/moksha, please see here: The Path of Sri Ramana

Q. Doesn’t the notion of ‘turning within’ to find yourself create an artificial duality? All is already one! | Self-Enquiry | Atma Vichara

funny face perfect person

Q. Don’t these traditional Vedanta teachings create an artificial duality where there actually is none? Why turn away from the world towards an apparent ‘True Self’? Why create this duality in the first place? All is already one!

Tom: For most, the ego-mind keeps on habitually coming back, causing suffering and perpetuating the illusion of duality until one finally turns to Self-Enquiry and Abides as the Self. You can say ‘all is one’, or ‘this is it already’, or ‘there is no duality’, but usually it is just the ego-mind saying that (ie. it is only on the level of concepts and belief) and so suffering and the illusion of duality continue. The infinite-love-bliss of the Self is not ‘experienced’ or ‘known’.

How to remove the illusion of separation, so it, and the resultant suffering never returns? The only way I know is to abide as the pure consciousness within. This is the teaching of the Vedanta scriptures and of all effective and true spiritual teachings that I have come across.

For most, unless this is done, suffering and peace alternate, which is itself suffering.

The purpose of Satsang/teachers/teachings is only for you to turn within and Be what You already Are. Other than that, no teacher or teaching is required.

‘The seat of Realisation is within and the seeker cannot find it as an object outside him. That seat is bliss and is the core of all beings. Hence it is called the Heart. The only useful purpose of the present birth is to turn within and realise it. There is nothing else to do.’

Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talk no. 219

Turn Within? Really? Isn’t this dualistic and doesn’t this just strengthen the ego? | Self-Enquiry | Atma Vichara | Awareness Watching Awareness

om1

The symbol Om represents the Self, the eternal Truth Within

Also see: 

IN BRIEF: HOW TO ATTAIN LIBERATION (MOKSHA)

HOW TO END EGO-SUFFERING (and why other spiritual paths tend not to ultimately work)

Some people, when they hear of the true teachings of Self-Enquiry, they attend to it straight away and realise the Self, the eternal happiness and bliss that is devoid of misery and suffering, the Kingdom of Heaven that is found within.

Others spend time roaming and suffering in the arid desert of other ways (or ‘non-ways’) and teachings first, teachings that pertain to gross and subtle objects (ie body, mind and world, thoughts, feelings, experiences, knowledge, etc). Only later do they realise that despite all their knowledge and insights and experiences, despite their proclamations of oneness, etc, their suffering still continues, and maybe they then find the motivation to try something else and turn within.

OBJECTION: WHY TURN WITHIN? ISN’T THAT DUALISTIC?

Q .But if all is one or non-dual, why turn within at all? Is this not creating an artificial duality between the inner and the outer, and do not all practices strengthen the ego?

A. Because only then is suffering removed and the bliss of the self realised. Without this practice of turning within, suffering continues. See this for yourself in your own experience – has your suffering ended? If not, turn within and abide as the Self. Suffering is the hallmark of ego/ignorance.

WHY IS THIS THE CASE?

Q.Why is it so?

A. Because without this specific practice, objects are continually attended to, and this nurtures the notion ‘I am a body-mind entity living in a world’. Or rather it doesn’t attack or destroy this ignorance, which is deep rooted, habitual and strong (seemingly). The habitual ignorance ‘I am the separate body-mind entity’ continues to intermittently rise and cause suffering. Out of habit, ignorance continues, and with it suffering too.

‘The ego-thief pretends to be the policeman who catches the thief’.

Without this practice of attending to the Self or pure consciousness within, ignorance and suffering both continue, in spite of superficial proclamations such as ‘all is one’ or ‘nothing needs to change’. Similarly, other practices which involve attending to gross or subtle objects also do not sever this ignorance, although they may weaken it (or strengthen it).

OBJECTION: DOES THIS PRACTICE NOT STRENGTHEN THE EGO?

A. This is the only practice that does not strengthen the ego. All practices, except Self-Enquiry or Self-Attention, need the identity ‘I am the body-mind’, ie. the ego, to practice them. In Self-Enquiry it is not accepted that you are the body-mind from the outset.

The mind, when attending to gross and subtle objects, is called the mind. When this same mind attends to the Subject, itself, it is no longer the mind but is simply Consciousness or Awareness Being Consciousness or Awareness, ie. Self Being Self. (Ramana Maharshi states In Day by Day with Bhagavan: ‘The mind turned inwards is the Self; turned outwards, it becomes the ego and all the world’. The traditional Advaita text Yoga Vasishta states: ‘Consciousness, which is undivided, imagines to itself desirable objects and runs after them. It is then known as the mind.’ )

This practice, unlike all others, is not a doing (ie. not an act by the body-mind entity), but BEING SELF.

It is only through BEING SELF and not through attending to various gross and subtle objects that the egoic vasanas/ignorance can be rooted out and suffering ended at its source. See for yourself how suffering continues otherwise, how without this practice the ego continues itself.

A TRUE TEACHING

This is why Sri Ramana Maharshi taught this teaching. This is why Shankara taught this teaching. This is why Buddha taught this teaching. This is why Krishna and Vasishta taught this teaching. This is why Shiva taught this teaching. Why else has this teaching been taught for millennia?

Hence this is the true teaching of Vedanta that has been handed down, generation to generation, for millennia, and it is the true teaching of all genuine and effective spiritual paths.

My gratitude to Sri Ramana Maharshi for revitalising this ancient teaching, purifying it of all dross and superstition and making it easily accessible for all.

DO NOT ALLOW THOUGHT/THE EGO TO PHILOSOPHISE THIS TEACHING AWAY

Discover this yourself, not with intellectualising or philosophising, but by trying and seeing for yourself. Do not reject this teaching saying – ‘all is already one’, or ‘what is needed to be yourself?’ or ‘This is It, already – what practice is required and for who?’. This is the ego’s way of avoiding its own destruction. You will know this is the case as suffering is the sign of the ego. Are you still suffering? If so, attend to the Self, the pure consciousness, the subject, within. If you do not, suffering will continue until you do.

Sri Ramana Maharshi states:

‘The seat of Realisation is within and the seeker cannot find it as an object outside him. That seat is bliss and is the core of all beings. Hence it is called the Heart. The only useful purpose of the present birth is to turn within and realise it. There is nothing else to do.’ (Talks 219)

JUST A LITTLE PRACTICE MAKES A DIFFERENCE

Whilst practice gradually increases over time an infiltrates into your entire being and all of the three states (waking, dreaming, deep sleep), even a small amount of practice, even when NOT performed with great skill, leads to immense reduction in suffering and egotism. What may take years through mental philosophising is cut through quickly with devoted practice. This will build your faith in the teachings and take you home.

So start small and allow the momentum to gradually build, like a snowflake becoming an avalanche.

THE METHOD

Also see: IN BRIEF: HOW TO ATTAIN LIBERATION (MOKSHA)

Another quote from Sri Ramana Maharshi, this time from the Sri Ramana Gita, a small text that outlines the entire teaching of Ramana in concise form:

Q. What in brief is the means to know one’s own real nature? What is the effort that can bring about the sublime inner vision?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Strenuously withdrawing all thoughts from sense objects, one should remain fixed in steady, non-objective [ie. subjective] enquiry. This, in brief, is the means of knowing one’s own real nature; this effort alone bring about the sublime inner vision.

Sri Ramana Gita, Chapter 3, verses 4-6

Here are some other quotes for you:

Nisargadatta focus on your Self

Shankara meditates on that which never changes

Vasistha the supreme meditation

 

🕉Om Guru Ramana 🕉

🙏🙏🙏

The evolution of Tony Parsons | Radical non-duality | Neo-Advaita | Advaita Vedanta

Update: see here for The evolution of Tony Parsons 2

Tony Parsons has a relatively unique expression of non-duality. His uncompromising message (which I’m sure he would point out is not his), has influenced many and now there are numerous other people who speak in a way very similar to him – apparently (the word ‘apparently’ is one of Tony’s hallmarks).

However his expression has changed significantly over the years, and for me this is quite interesting, and I hope my comments will be of benefit to the seeker who is trying to plough through all the teachers and teachings now on offer. He has now revised his oldest writings, so the extent of the change may not be apparent to those reading his older works now, but I found both an older and newer version of his first book, The Open Secret, and present some of the differences below. For those of you more familiar with Tony’s current expression, you may be surprised to read the following, which I presume he no longer agrees with:

If, however inadequately, enlightenment could be described in terms of qualities, I see them as unconditional love, compassion, stillness, and joy without cause.’

Tony Parsons, from an earlier edition of The Open Secret (this text has now removed from newer editions)

There are many more quotes like this later on in the post. Please note that my intention here is not to criticise or condemn, but to discuss how Tony’s expression has changed and offer my view on this, whilst also acknowledging that this is speculation on my part. My hope is that this may be interesting to seekers who are trying to find their way through all the various teachings and communications on offer.

Radical Non-Duality/ Neo-Advaita

Tony shares what his proponents refer to as Radical Non-Duality: in short, there is no acceptance of the reality of a separate individual seeker, a teaching, a path or an enlightened person, all of which are dualistic concepts that keep the apparent ‘me’ ensnared – apparently. There is no need to cultivate anything such as awareness or presence, there is no need to discover who you really are or be kinder, more compassionate, more loving, etc, etc, these all being dualistic illusions in the egoic game of becoming. In Tony’s own words from his website:

‘This is a communication which illuminates the paradoxical nature of non-duality and exposes the deluded idea that it is something that can be acquired and experienced….Life is not a task. There is absolutely nothing to attain except the realisation that there is absolutely nothing to attain.’

This same communication is also referred to as Neo-Advaita, a derogatory term used by his detractors. Tony says he is not a teacher, for that implies duality and separation – the teacher and the taught – and there is no duality or separation. For the same reason there is no teaching – but Tony suggests this could be spoken of as a ‘communication’ for want of a better word.

The evolution of Tony Parsons’ mode of expression

I understand from people that have met him and know him that he is open about the fact that his expression and language has changed over the years. I understand he now openly admits that when he first started to share this non-dual communication there was actually a bit of ‘me’ (ego/separation) left, and that has now since completely dissolved away, apparently.

A couple of years ago I bought Tony’s first book, The Open Secret, after having some conversations with some people who had met him. On the front cover I noted that it was first published in 1995, but that it had been revised multiple times in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2005 and 2011. At the time I thought it would be interesting to see how the teaching expression had changed over the years, but at that time I couldn’t really be bothered and this was just an interesting thought that did not spur on any action.

For some reason today, I find myself writing this post. I found an earlier version of The Open Secret and compared it to my newer version and noticed that many of the older teachings have now been removed, and also in both versions there are many aspects of the teachings that are somewhat different from how he expresses himself now.

I have also looked at another book of Tony’s called ‘All There Is’ published in 2003. So, as The Open Secret was first published in 1995, the quotes below span at least the first 8 years of ‘him communicating’ this message, if not more.

Summary of my analysis

I have decided to place my summary at the start but I recommend you read the quotes below and come to your own conclusions. Is what I am surmising correct? There are also many quotes of Tony’s that I have not included as this post is already quite long, but if you are not familiar with him, just by listening to 10-20 minutes of one of his YouTube videos you will get a flavour of what he is stating.

For me, when I read how Tony’s expression has changed over the years, it seems to fit in very nicely – almost too nicely – with the classical progression of teachings in Advaita (non-dual) Vedanta. In fact, the gradual change in Tony’s expression that occurs over many years can be even found within single texts, such as Shankara’s Vivekachudamani. This is some ways is quite shocking, but in other ways is a testament to a teaching tradition which has centuries of experience underlying its teachings.

In Vedanta the teachings start off coarse and dualistic and then become increasingly more subtle and less dualistic, the idea being this will gradually but surely and effectively lead one to liberation with the least amount of suffering along the way. (This can sometimes be in direct contrast to the neo-advaita teachings which can often trigger anxiety and confusion and even worse – I have met many people like this who have come to my meetings over the years who are often very confused and anxious as their sense of self is falling away, like the rug being pulled out from under their feet. Of course, there are many advantages of the more radical expression too – see the next section in the post for links where I write about these.)

We see a similar progression with Tony’s mode of expression, with his earlier teachings being much more dualistic and a gradual progression to being less dualistic over many years. This is so strongly the case that we can see how it mirrors teachings found in single Advaita Vedanta texts. It is as if he is updating his teaching expression as his own ‘understanding’ progresses, and it is interesting how closely this mirrors the traditional progression of the teachings. I present some evidence below. Here is the basic step-wise progression that I infer from Tony’s writings.

(Of course, this is just my own theory, my speculation. I understand that Tony maintains that none of the spiritual-type activities he underwent himself had anything to do with an apparent liberation).

Step (1) Traditional spirituality, emotional healing and good works based on the notion ‘I am the body-mind’:

At the start of the Vedanta teachings, the teaching is highly dualistic – there is talk about the need for more traditional forms of Religion/Spirituality such as devotion and surrender to God and performing good works in society to purify coarser emotional and behavioural disturbances and this allows the mind to become open and receptive to higher less dualistic teachings, and also means when the rug of egotism is pull out from under you, there is much less anxiety and confusion. Tony writes in The Open secret about how he himself went through all of this, although he later says that this had nothing to do with liberation which happened later (apparently – as liberation itself is not real – we will see that the Vedanta teachings also state this, eg. at the end of Shankara’s Vivekachudamani).

Tony’s earlier writings also occasionally describe the use of ‘letting go’, something that was removed from later edits.

This stage is characterised by identification with the body-mind and practice done for the apparent body-mind.

Step (2): You are the Absolute

Now we come to what Vedanta calls Jnana Yoga or the teachings on Self-Knowledge. They state that your true nature is not that of the body-mind, but that you are sat-chit-ananda (see my section below on this) which is unchanging, eternal, ever-present, the nature of awareness and bliss. The emphasis now is on your identity – this is not something you need to acquire or attain – it is ever-attained and is already your true nature – you just have to realise this.

We can see this teaching very clearly in Tony’s earlier writings. This sat-chit-ananda is not an object – it is no-particular-thing – or ‘no thing’ as Tony refers to it – and it is also one with everything and the source of everything – again all ideas that Tony used to ‘teach’. Tony also emphasises that this awareness is who we really are, that it is the only constant and that it never changes. He goes on to say this awareness is the source of all manifestation.

It should be noted that this is still a dualistic teaching, although this duality is more subtle than in the previous step. Even though relative and absolute are One, they are also expressed as being two, with the emphasis on the absolute in this part of the teaching. Also there is still a ‘me’ entity, albeit one that is now primarily identified with the absolute.

This step is characterised by identification with the absolute as opposed to the body-mind-world.

Step (3): The relative is the absolute

In this step there is no duality whatsoever – you could say there is no relative or absolute. Again we see this progression in both Tony’s verbal expression and also in texts such as Vivekachudamani and other ‘more advanced’ Advaita texts such as the Ribhu Gita and Ashtavakra Gita. Now there is no emphasis on the absolute as there was in Step 2, the relative is the absolute, beyond ideas of oneness or two-ness or any other conceptual formulation.

eg. Vivekachudamani verse 467:

Verse 467: There is only Brahman, the One without a second, which is neither to be shunned nor taken up nor accepted, and which is without any support, there is no duality whatsoever in It.

Verse 469: There is only Brahman, the One without a second, whose real nature is incomprehensible…

Before the emphasis was on knowledge – knowing your true nature – now it is stated that this is beyond all comprehension, from Vivekachudamani:

481. My mind has vanished…I do not know either this or not-this; nor what or how much the boundless Bliss (of Samadhi) is

484 …what is to be shunned and what accepted, what is other (than oneself) and what different?

485. I neither see nor hear nor know anything in this…

Traditionally texts such as the Ashtavakra Gita, Ribhu Gita and Avadhuta Gita are to be read at this point in the teaching, and you will see the same trend in these scriptures, with the latter verses removing concepts that were used in earlier verses. Even strongly help Vedantic concepts such as Brahman are also negated in the ‘final analysis’.

This stage is characterised by lack of identification. We can see that step (2) – identification with a (dualistic) concept of the absolute – is there to remove the idenfitication with the body-mind found in step (1). Both are for the ‘me’

This is now Tony’s predominant mode of expression, but he has retrospectively gone back and removed some of the modes of expression from step (1) and (2) from his earliest work, as we shall see.

Step (4): There is no liberation, no teaching, no seeker

Again, we see the same progression in Tony’s expression and in Vivekachudamani. Previously Vivekachudamani spoke of liberation and how to attain it, now it speaks of these as being illusions (Maya), fantasies for the mind:

eg. in the later verses of Vivekachudamani:

Verse 569: Bondage and Liberation, which are conjured up by Maya, do not really exist in the Atman, one’s Reality…

Verse 573: Hence this bondage and Liberation are created by Maya, and are not in the Atman [ie. reality]. How can there be any idea of limitation with regard to the Supreme Truth…?

Verse 574: There is neither death nor birth, neither a bound nor a struggling soul, neither a seeker after Liberation nor a liberated one [ie. no seeker or guru]…

This  step (4) goes hand in hand with step (3) and is not really a separate step, but I have just separated it out to make the above point.

The illusion of a spiritual path in Traditional Advaita Vedanta

I just wanted to make a note that whilst traditional Advaita Vedanta states there is a path to liberation, it is also clear that this path is actually an illusion, as per Step (4) above. To put it into neo-advaita style language, we could say there is an apparent path.

One of the most authoritative texts in Advaita Vedanta is the commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad written 1500-1600 years ago by Sri Gaudapada, the Guru of Shankara’s Guru. In this text Gaudapada outlines the path to liberation – you can find a summary of the method he outlines here, but he also makes it clear that this spiritual path is actually an illusion, this fact being seen only upon liberation. Liberation is also an illusion, as liberation is the removal of ignorance and suffering, and when this happens, it is realised that there never was any ignorance or Maya (illusion), and so there is no need for liberation or any such conception.This is what he writes in Chapter 4, verse 90:

IV 90. One should be conversant, at the very outset, with four things. These are as follows: the things to be avoided, the goal to be realised, the disciplines to be cultivated and the tendencies to be rendered ineffective. Of these four, all except the goal to be realised ie. the Supreme Reality, exist only as products of the imagination.

Essentially Gaudapada is saying there appears to be a spiritual path with a seeker and a goal and things to do and things to not do, but actually all there is is Reality. The spiritual path is an illusion.

He makes this clearer in this famous oft quoted verse from Chapter 2 verse 32:

II 32. There is neither dissolution nor creation, none in bondage and none practicing disciplines. There is none seeking Liberation and none liberated. This is the absolute truth.

The pros and cons of radical Non-duality/Neo-Advaita

I will not go into this too much here, but as with all modes of expression, there are both advantages and disadvantages. I have nothing against these types of more radical expression, and yes, they certainly do have advantages, but I offer my view on them in these articles (links below):

Are spiritual teachings prescriptions or descriptions? Sudden vs. gradual teachings.

3 stories of awakening: no path vs sudden path vs gradual paths to enlightenment

Ramana Maharshi on Neo-Advaita

The problem with radical non-duality or neo-advaita

Essential teachings for liberation | The ‘two wings’ of the teaching

What is lacking from Radical Non-duality/neo-advaita and Tony Parson’s ‘teaching’

There are two main aspects of the traditional vedanta style teachings that are lacking from radical non-duality, and these two omissions account for why whilst these types of ‘radical’ teachings can feel so liberating in the moment, the sense of separation and suffering keep on returning.

Firstly there is a notable absence of any meditation or stillness type teachings in Tony Parsons’ expression, which of course is one of the hallmarks of ‘neo-advaita’. Traditionally, without this deep stillness happening, either through deliberate practice or through spontaneous occurrence, eg. after insights or ‘awakening’, then the ananda (blissful) aspect of liberation-reality (sat-chit-ananda) and the morality aspect of the teaching (which happens when addiction/attachment to sense objects goes) will not manifest fully, and suffering will continue accordingly.

Therefore I would expect this radical non-duality style of teaching/communication to be more attractive to those with rajasic (ie. active, outgoing, passionate) mindsets. People who have predominantly tamasic (dull, low energy, low self-esteem, depressive) mental energy may also be attracted to the teaching but they will find it to have little benefit. (See here for more on these energies and how an understanding of this can be helpful for liberation).

Similarly, the nirvikapla aspect of the teaching is also absent. This is a huge ommission, as traditionally it is this aspect of the teaching that leads directly to liberation. For most, without prolonged deep stillness (abidance as the Self), in which one turns away from objective phenomena, whilst one may have frequent (apparent) awakenings and glimpses into non-duality, the sense of separation returns, and with it the suffering also returns. This is why these radical non-dual teachings can initially at least feel so liberating, especially when one is at the meetings, but then leave one in confusion, apparent separation and suffering.

Quotes from Tony Parsons’ Older Works

Love, Compassion, Stillness, Joy and Presence

In the earlier version of The Open Secret, there is an entire chapter called ‘Presence’, which was completely removed from the later versions of the book. Interestingly it is one of the longer chapters of this relatively short book. For that reason I thought it would be interesting to quote extensively from it. As I said, these quote are no longer present in the newer revised version of The Open Secret:

If, however inadequately, enlightenment could be described in terms of qualities, I see them as unconditional love, compassion, stillness, and joy without cause.’

This kind of expression is quite interesting and is notably absent from Tony’s current (apparent) expression. In fact he is openly dismissive now of these kinds of sentiments, eg. Tony states in All There Is page 175 he states ‘The idea that an enlightened person walks around in something which is totally blissful is complete bullshit. It comes from either a deep ignorance or a wish to manipulate.’ and on page 21 of the same he states ‘In the old conditioned idea of enlightenment we all wanted to believe, enlightenment happens and there is no character there at all – there’s just total bliss and utter goodness. It is nonsense born out of the ignorance of the mind. Awakening has nothing to do with goodness or bliss…

Here are some more quotes (bold type added by myself). We will see how the concept of there being a true self which has to be known, which here is called presence, is still there, in the expression at least, and there is also a subtle teaching of letting go, another subtlely dualistic practice for a separate ‘me’. There is also the notion that presence is the source of the manifestation. This, again, is typical of aspects of more traditional teachings.

Whilst I do not know who I am, I am bereft.’

‘Enlightenment, however, has another quality, which is the bridge between the timeless and my illusory sense of separation. That quality is presence. Presence is our constant nature but most of the time we are interrupting it by living in a state of expectation, motivation or interpretation. We are hardly ever at home. In order to rediscover our freedom we need to let go of these projections and allow the possibility of presence.’

Here above we have the notion of an ever-existing presence which we seem to interrupt, so the solution naturally is to let go or stop this interruption. Ramana Maharshi says something quite similar: ‘Peace is our true nature. We spoil it. What is required is we cease to spoil it’. Again, this is something that Tony would later criticise as a subtle form of duality. Here are some more quotes from the same chapter ‘Presence’:

‘To live passionately is to let go of everything for the wonder of timeless presence. When we are courageous enough to allow this we suddenly rediscover that we are the sole source of all and everything.’

‘At first it is enough to allow dedicated awareness to what is. Letting go of the one who is aware can easily follow, but it can never be a task.’

I cannot ‘do’ presence, simply because I am presence. So there is no process to learn because I cannot learn or achieve something that I already am.’

‘Presence is totally effortless and is nearer to me than breathing. Presence can only be allowed and recognised. What I tend to do most of the time is sidestep it or interrupt it.’

‘Existence would not be if it were not for presence. I am presence and you are presence. If we were not present, existence would not be.’

‘Presence emanates from the source of all and everything known or unknown. And that is what we are. We are the sole source of our own unique creation.’

One moment of presence brings more light to the world than a thousand years of “good works”. In presence all action is uncluttered and unsullied. It is spontaneity born from stillness.’

‘When there is presence there is awareness and this is the light that enters the darkness. The light enters the darkness and dissipates those illusions that appear to interrupt oneness. Awareness does not divide or suppress and thereby give energy to the unreal. It simply sees what is and brings the light which allows that which is illusory to evaporate.’

‘When there is presence there is total intimacy and the senses are heightened to a degree previously unrecognised … I see and touch in innocence, I taste and smell for the first time, and hear a new sound that is vital, fresh and unknown.’

You are That!

Here we have Tony proclaiming ‘You are That!’, one of the great sayings of traditional Advaita Vedanta, and clearly from Step (2) in my proposed schema above. This is from page 90 of ‘All There Is’. You can see that he is quite confident and sure in the way that he expresses himself, abruptly cutting off the questioner mid-sentence:

Tony: Awareness simply is, and you are that. It has nothing to do with great depth or great sacrifice or great intelligence. You are already that.
Questioner: Theoretically, yes, but.. .
Tony: No, you are already that. You know that you are the one that sees, that you are joy without cause.

Tony even stated above that ‘you are the one that sees’, ie. the seer or the Self, and ‘you are joy without a cause’, ie. ananda in Sanskrit.

From ‘All There Is’ page 45:

‘And there is nothing out there that says, ‘You will be enlightened’, because there is no one who will ever be enlightened. You are enlightenment – you are that.’

From ‘All There Is’ page 67:

‘So how can anyone tell you to meditate or sing mantras or be serious or be honest or any of those things? How can anyone tell you that, when already you are that? All that’s going on here is that I’m telling you it’s already like that; you already are oneness; you are already that. That’s the difference. And there are a handful of people in the world who are talking like that’

From page 97:

Q. Could you say we’re the screen on which the film is projected?

Tony: You are the light that allows the film to be. And if you see it all from another point of view, you begin to open up to the possibility of dropping the idea of a journey towards somewhere that you’ll never get to. You’ll never get there – you already are there. And so in a way, the film is sacred. It’s telling you that you are that. I want to get you out of the idea – or rather I don’t, but something wants to get you out of the idea that you’re on a journey. When there is simply presence, all meaning ends. Meaning is always attached to a story – ‘We are going somewhere’.

In the earlier version of The Open Secret we find the following from the Chapter called ‘The Park’. This was subsequently removed from the later editions:

‘It is my birthright. It is my home. It is already that which I am.’

Sat-Chit-Ananda

Here is this excerpt from All There Is, page 87, we can see that Tony is essentially talking about Sat (Tony calls this ‘presence’) Chit (Tony calls this ‘awareness’) Ananda (Tony calls this ‘joy without a cause’), Sat-Chit-Ananda being a traditional way of speaking of liberation and the absolute. This Sat-Chit-Ananda is our true nature (‘what you already are’ according to Tony) and is not a thing or a person or an object (‘no thing…) but is the Source of all manifestation (…out of which everything arises’). It is not something to attain, for it already is, as per the traditional teachings. This is very much a step (2) teaching in my stages above. See if you agree with my analysis:

Q. Tony, when you talk about the presence, is that an illusion too? There isn’t a presence?

Tony: Well, there is only no thing, out of which everything arises. When there is no one and there is only presence, then you can come and tell me that it certainly wasn’t illusory, it isn’t illusory.

The joy without cause is the only thing that isn’t illusory. It’s the only constant. Awareness is the only constant, presence is the only constant. Everything else arises out of that. Without presence, there can be nothing.

Q. What about recognition? The word ‘recognition’ came to my mind you recognise the presence.

Tony: Yes, you remember, there is a recognition of what you already are. That’s it. It’s directly behind you now – it’s just back there, watching you watching me. You are the one that sees that looking at this.

You can see in the above the questioner is asking if the notion of Presence is actually itself an illusion. Tony states that this is not the case, that presence and awareness are the only constants.

Self-Knowledge

One feature of how the teaching expression has changed is that in the earlier days there was a teaching reminiscent of Vedanta-style self-knowledge teachings, things such as ‘knowing who you really are’ or ‘what you really are’. These notions are now often criticised by Tony, and he openly dismisses many traditional Advaita and Buddhist teachings. This is from an earlier version of The Open Secret, from the chapter ‘Context’:

‘Part of that realisation was that enlightenment is absolutely beyond my effort to change the way I live, or even of changing life at all. It has to do with a total shift in the realisation of who it is that lives. For I am already that which I seek.

We can see here that Tony is using the language of identity, knowing who you are or being that which is sought. In a later version of The Open Secret the same passage reads:

‘…It has to do with a total shift in the realisation of what it is that lives.’

You can see this is a subtle change, implying that our true nature is not personal but impersonal. Of course later Tony would go on to say that there is no true nature at all, but back in the 1990s and early 2000s he spoke differently. Here is another example from the same Chapter called Context:

‘For the sake of clarity, the terms enlightenment, liberation, fulfilment, freedom, oneness, and so on, are all seen here as being the same as the absolute realisation by anyone of what they really are.

Again, the language of self-identity and self-knowledge is being used, ie. the notion of knowing what you really are. In the later version of The Open Secret this passage now reads:

‘For the sake of clarity, the terms enlightenment, liberation, fulfilment, freedom, oneness, and so on, are all seen here as being the same as what I call liberation.

We can see that the emphasis on self-knowledge has been removed entirely in the later edit. Here is a quote from the chapter called ‘The Park’, which was later removed from later versions:

‘It is my birthright. It is my home. It is already that which I am.’

From the Chapter called ‘Fear’:

‘Until I recognise who I really am, my life can be largely driven by that which I fear.’

From the Chapter called ‘Relationships’:

‘When I have rediscovered who I am, however, there is no longer any question of relationships. In this open and welcoming presence there is no need for memory or repetition, comparison or expectation. No place for one part meeting another. There is no distance between the two and therefore nothing needs to relate.’

Letting Go

Letting go could be thought of being a Step (1) type teaching according to my schema above, in that it is dualistic and equates the person to be the body-mind rather than presence-awareness (which is step (2)). The last chapter in both the earlier and later versions of The Open Secret is called ‘Seen and Unseen’. Here is an excerpt from the earlier version:

This is a book declaring that enlightenment is a sudden, direct and energetic illumination that is continuously available to anyone who is ready to let go and allow it. It is the open secret which reveals itself in every part of our lives. No effort, path of purification, process or teaching of any kind can take us there. For the open secret is not about our effort to change the way we live. It is about the rediscovery of who it is that lives.

In the later version of The Open Secret the notion of needing ‘to let go and allow’ has been removed and the in last line the word ‘who’ has been changed to ‘what’.

Neti Neti

In the Chapter entitled ‘I Am Not…’, Tony write the following:

I am not …

. . . my life story, the mind, the body, feelings, experiences of pain or pleasure, struggle, success or failure. I am not loneliness, stillness, frustration or compassion. I am not even what I think is my purpose, the seeking, the finding, or anything which is called a spiritual experience.

When I don’t know what I am I sanctify these experiences, take ownership of them and give them great significance. I believe they mean something which, once understood, will give me answers and provide formulas. But these experiences are only consciousness concealing and revealing itself in order to be recognised. When I know what I am I discover that I am not existence, I am the presence which allows existence to be. Existence either blossoms in that presence or reflects back my sense of separation.

We can see here a typical traditional ‘neti neti’ style in which various phenomena are pointed out as being ‘not me’. Interestingly at the end we can see that Tony has used several concepts, one of presence which seems to allows another concept, existence, to be. I’m not sure exactly what he is referring to but now this kind of expression is no longer used by Tony.

You are Divine

Tony: You are that, you are divine, and so what is there to find?

Q. Fine. I know that. We are all divine.

Tony: But knowing this intellectually is nothing. You believe you are Bill who is trying to find something. Be ready to be adventurous. Be ready to chop off all the heads that you have looking at you over the fence telling you how you should be. Be ready to drop all of it.

You know traditions talk about freedom, but this is the freedom – not something written on paper. Forget Buddha – chop Buddha’s head off.

Q.They say, if you find Buddha on the road, kill him.

Tony: Absolutely. And Buddha – or Buddhism – is apparently on the road telling you that you need to meditate, you need to have right mindfulness, wise action. Chop off its head and rest in the arms of the beloved.

Realisation

In The Open Secret, Tony also speaks of a realisation of some kind at times. This is from the Chapter called ‘No Achievement’, which has not been changed in subsequent edits:

‘There is absolutely nothing to attain except the realisation that there is absolutely nothing to attain.’

This sounds remarkably similar to many Zen Buddhist texts and also to Sri Ramana Maharshi who said ‘Realisation is nothing to be gained afresh; it is already there.’ (Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talk number 245).

From the same Chapter ‘No Achievement’ in The Open Secret:

‘All that is needed is a leap in perception, a different seeing, already inherent but unrecognised.

This last quote, which was completely removed from the later edits, admits there is some kind of recognition, some kind of different seeing – you can see this is Step (2) in my analysis above. This will become clearer in later quotes below. In the next quote we also see that Tony is almost giving credence to conceptual understanding and also uses a concept of Stillness which is implied as being our true nature, rather like the vedanta concept of being-consciousness (sat-chit):

‘No amount of thinking will tell me who I am, but understanding can take me to the river’s edge. Stillness is not brought about by not thinking. Stillness is absolutely beyond the presence or absence of thought. I cannot make myself still, but when that which appears not to be still is seen, then that seeing emanates from stillness.’

Presence-Awareness-Stillness

From Tony’s book ‘All there is’, published in 2003 we can read the following on page 49:

‘What we’re talking about here is something that actually already is the case. What we’re talking about here is something that has never come and never goes away It is presence, it is stillness . . . The words don’t express it, but it’s not a state and it’s not something that is here and then isn’t here. It is actually all there is.

Again, Tony is expressing something very similar to traditional Advaita teachings, pointing out the unchanging eternal presence in which all occurs and which is all there is. We see the same kinds of teachings from page 10 of the same book. Tony even uses the phrase ‘I-thought’, which is often used in traditional Advaita:

‘When separation takes place, the ‘I’ thought comes along and, like a cuckoo bird, lands in the nest and sits on present awareness. From then on, ‘me’ thinks that it is the entirety of the universe, and everything that arises is apparently seen from ‘me’.
So when we see a tree, we think ‘me’ is seeing a tree over there, whereas the tree is arising in present awareness. That which you have always thought of as ‘me’ is, in reality, present awareness. It never went away but was only misidentified. This is the one and only constant, and everything else is transient – including the cuckoo bird.’

We can see this is a typical Advaita style teaching, in which the ever-present presence-awareness  (sat-chit), our ‘true self’ is being mis-identified as a small separate ‘me’ (jiva). We see the same idea on page 1 of ‘All There Is’:

‘And in some way or other, the mind – the ‘I’ thought, the identity, the idea that ‘I am a person’ – takes over the energy of being and identifies it as Bill or Mary or whatever. It takes over being and gives it a name. Words begin, labels begin, and the whole idea of ‘me’ becomes the main investment of living.’

From page 4 of ‘All There Is’, Tony is subtly stating that our true nature is Being-Stillness which is the source (‘from which that comes’) of the appearance of duality:

‘Awakening has absolutely nothing to do with you. You are just a character in a play. Tony Parsons is simply a set of characteristics – that’s what is sitting here, a set of characteristics and a body/mind. But what you are is the being, the stillness, from which that comes. All that’s actually sitting there is stillness, being, present awareness – call it what you like.’

On Page 6 Tony responds to a question, firstly stating that ‘no one sees’ but then states that this ‘no-one’ is in fact ‘present awareness:

Q. So is it the mind that wakes up to see that you are that? Is it the mind that sees it? Tony: No, it is no one who sees it; it is present awareness that sees it.

On page 16 of All There Is Tony talks about being ‘established in presence’, again, very Advaita style language:

Q. OK, there was a recognition that at that moment there was no one but after that the ‘me’ comes back?

Tony: Not necessarily – there can be an immediate establishment in presence. But for most people it’s a flip-flop in and out at first.

Here is more of an awareness-style teaching in which Tony appears to be describing innate consciousness or awareness. Specifically Tony states it is always present, always seeing whatever is happening, it is what we are, it is all that is, and it is what he means by the word ‘being’, taken from ‘All There Is’ p.93:

All it is is a seeing. It’s a seeing that’s beyond you looking at me. All it is is sensing that which watches you looking at me . . . in this. In this there is that which knows what is happening. All your lifetime there has always been that which knows what is happening, which sees what’s happening. And always that is there. You know that’s there; you know that there is something watching you sitting there watching me. It is what you are – it is what is – it is all that is – it is being.

The Law of Attraction

From the Chapter called ‘My World’, we have notions of attraction and things being perfectly right in terms of a spiritual journey, together with the notion of self-knowledge or knowing who/what I really am. This is all part of Step (1) in my proposed schema above:

‘When I look back at my life as openly as possible, I see how I have attracted to me the people, the events and the patterns that have been perfectly appropriate to the kinds of influences and images that my particular belief systems have been broadcasting.

Many people have become very excited about this concept and have suggested and taught that if we can change our thought patterns and our belief systems, then we can change the way we experience life. It seems this could be so, but they also entirely miss the point. For who we really are is beyond the limitation of experience and belief.

Until I have rediscovered who I am, what kind of existence am I trying to create?’

A new chapter – ‘Nothing being everything’

In the later version of The Open Secret, a new chapter called ‘Nothing Being Everything’ has been inserted which was not present before. It, being a later addition, contains many inherent criticisms and clarifications of the mode of expression found throughout the earlier version of The Open Secret. This is now step (3) in my proposed schema. In it Tony writes:

‘That which the seeker longs for cannot be known as a something and so cannot be described. Putting a word to it turns it into an object and the seeking energy will then inevitably try to find, grasp, attain or become worthy of what it believes is a something that it can possess.’

This indeed is a very useful clarification, and help the reader understand why Tony moved away from using words such as presence and awareness. Throughout the earlier version of The Open Secret, Tony has referred to the importance of knowing who you truly are, that you are really presence and awareness, but here in the newer version he writes that this has no connection to discovering my true nature:

‘However, what is referred to here has no connection to the current popular ideas of ‘being here now or ‘living in the moment’ or ‘everything being consciousness’ or ‘discovering my true nature’ and so on.

Tony’s Spiritual Journey has all the classic hallmarks of a Modern Spiritual Journey

In The Open Secret Tony write about his seeking journey. It appears he passed through all the classic stages of formal religion, meditation, self-help, psychological development, etc, ie. Step (1):

I decided to try to become a Christian. Considering the information I had at the time, it seemed that this approach was appropriate….I felt I was doing my best with what at the time I understood and sanctified, and what I anticipated and expected would give meaning to my spiritual life…

…I involved myself in the deepest and most illuminating meditations, consumed the most recent and significant books, and of course threw myself with much enthusiasm into the latest therapies. They burst out of the ground like new fruits, to be sucked and digested, or tasted and thrown away…this breathing method, that affirmation, this integration, that special and significant energy…all had a fascination for me in those early days.

I spent a year doing an intensive residential course experiencing many key contemporary therapies mixed with eastern meditations.

After a while I settled on those therapies or methods I felt suited me and brought me most benefit.

I experienced considerable movement of previously held inhibitions, and came to recognise belief systems and patterns that had strongly influenced much of my early behaviour.

Jiddu Krishnamurti Influence

As I read through the above material, another thing I noticed, more in the earlier writings of Tony’s, was a similarity of expression in some ways at some times to that of J. Krishnamurti. For anyone who has read J Krishnamurti (JK) extensively, as I have, it is very easy to see when people have been influenced by him. J Krishnamurti had a very unusual and distinct style that many others have copied and adopted, knowingly or unknowingly.

Because J Krishnamurti’s use of words is so distinctive, those familiar with it can often see when others are using similar language. Phrases in a spiritual context such as ‘what is’, ‘becoming’, and ‘choiceless awareness’ are a few key Krishnamurti phrases. I am not sure if Tony read J Krishnamurti or not, but I do know Tony was into Osho for a while, and Osho’s used to attend J Krishnamurti’s talks and the influence of J Krishnamurti can be strongly seen in the way Osho writes, with Osho often using the same phrases as J Krishnamurti.

In The Open Secret Tony narrates a story that was told frequently by J Krishnamurti, and as far as I know J Krishnamurti was the first person to tell this story. Here is Tony’s version. Click here to read J Krishnamurti’s version, as he said it way back in 1911:

I like the story of God and the Devil watching man as he discovered something beautiful in a desert. “Aha” said God to the Devil, “now that man has found truth you will have nothing to do”. “On the contrary” replied the Devil, “I am going to help him organise it”.

Here Tony uses the phrase ‘The first and last step’. This was a very famous phrase that J Krishnamurti used to use. Here is Tony in The Open Secret:

‘There is a subtle feeling of risk and serenity in presence. It is the first and last step. It moves beyond time and self-identity and provides the ground in which the discovery of what I am is made immediately and directly available.’

We have other phrasings which are also similar to JK’s: eg. what Tony writes here from The Open Secret could easily be a JK statement:

‘For life is its own purpose and doesn’t need a reason to be. That is its beauty.’

Even Tony’s use of the phrase ‘what is‘ is a phrase that, as far as I am aware, was coined by J Krishnamurti in the spiritual context. Same with the use of the word ‘becoming’ in a spiritual context. Here is a typical quote from JK demonstrating both of the above, taken from ‘The First and Last Freedom’:

‘But the real is near, you do not have to seek it; and a man who seeks truth will never find it. Truth is in what is – and that is the beauty of it. But the moment you conceive it, the moment you seek it, you begin to struggle; and a man who struggles cannot understand.’

Other Krishnamurti style language used includes the phrase ‘beyond measure’. From Tony’s Website (theopensecret.com) you can find the following:

‘Never found, never lost, never knowable, being is the consummate absence that is beyond measure.’

Here is a passage from J Krishnamurti, again from ‘The First and Last Freedom’:

‘Surely knowledge is always of the known; and with the known we are trying to understand the unknown, something which is beyond measure

In some ways there are other similarities between these two (there are many differences too!). One similarity is that earlier on in their ‘teaching careers’ both used much more traditional language in expressing themselves. Both had encountered various traditional teachings and expressed themselves in this traditional language. Later on, they both have developed very distinct styles, which has been imitated widely by others around them.


Concluding remarks

Anyway, this is what I have written so far. There is more I could write, as it seems there have been more changes in his expression in the last 10 years or so that may also be interesting to explore, but I would have to do more digging around for that, and they are pretty much among the same themes we have already mentioned of the teachings becoming progressively less dualistic in their expression.

Please note that none of this is meant to be a criticism of Tony Parsons or anyone else, just some commentary and observations, which I hope are of help to the seeker trying to find their way through all of this. Perhaps you found the above interesting, perhaps not! To read what Tony Parsons currently states please see his website and read his essays there. You will also find many clips of him on YouTube – I recommend you have a listen. And feel free to let me know your thoughts…

Namaste.

Ramana Maharshi on Neo-Advaita | Radical Non-duality | Are practices really required?

Also see:
False enlightenment
Are spiritual teachings prescriptions or descriptions? Sudden vs. gradual teachings
3 stories of awakening: no path vs sudden path vs gradual paths to enlightenment
-The problem with radical non-duality or neo-advaita 

Neo-Advaita (or ‘new advaita’), itself a modern-day term, is used to refer to teachings or communications that do not accept the existence of separation or duality in any way shape or form: there is no seeker, no separation, and therefore no need for a teaching or practice or communication even.

The term ‘neo-advaita’ is often used pejoratively by more traditional Advaita Vedantins, who do advocate teachings and practices, in order to discredit the neo-style ‘communications’. I use the word ‘communications’ when describing neo-advaita rather than teachings as often neo-advaita ‘speakers’ do not like to refer to themselves as teachers or as having teachings, as ‘teaching’ can imply a separation between a seeker who needs to be taught and a teacher who knows something and is teaching something to someone.

Below is a wonderfully instructive excerpt from Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi that addresses the apparent conflict between the two types of teaching in talk number 57. It is well worth reading. See if you can see some of the parallels and issues that are raised. This excerpt also explains in brief the method of Advaita Vedanta but is also heavily littered with Sanskrit words which may obstruct the understanding for some. I therefore have added some comments in italicised red which I hope are helpful in fully explaining the text’s meaning:

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Ramana Maharshi: Some people think that there are different stages in jnana. The Self is nitya aparoksha, i.e., ever-realised, knowingly or unknowingly. Sravana [hearing the teachings], they argue, should therefore be aparoksha jnana (directly experienced) and not paroksha jnana (indirect knowledge). But jnana should result in duhkha nivriti (loss of misery) whereas sravana alone does not bring it about. Therefore they say, though aparoksha, it is not unshaken; the rising of vasanas is the cause of its being weak (not unchanging); when the vasanas are removed, jnana becomes unshaken and bears fruit.

In the first sentence of the above paragraph Ramana hints that there are no stages in Jnana. He then goes on to state that The Self is ever-realised. Sometimes the mind ‘knows’ this, sometimes it doesn’t. Either way the Self is ever-realised as it is what we are, already and always.

The argument that is therefore proposed by some is that because we are already the Self – limitless, whole and complete –  just by hearing the teachings that point this out to us (sravana in Sanskrit), we will now knowingly ‘be the Self’ and have a direct experiential understanding of this (aparoksha jnana: ‘direct knowledge’ aparoksha means umediated or direct; jnana means knowledge or understanding and in a spiritual context means liberation or self-realisation), ie. through hearing the teachings alone self-realisation will result. This view is essentially stating that practices such as meditation and contemplation are not required for liberation as we are already fully realised and so no progressive path is required. Only direct pointing out alone is required and all else is illusion.

Ramana then points out the flaw in this argument. He states that the problem with this teaching is that liberation must lead to the cessation of suffering (duhkha nivriti in Sanskrit: duhkha means hurt or pain or suffering; nivriti in this context means cessation) and merely listening to teachings alone does not yield this result. Essentially, whilst mere sravana or listening to the direct teachings can yield direct insight (aparoksha jnana), this insight is weak and not stable, and therefore suffering does not end and the ananda (blissful) aspect of the Self does not materialise, so seeking (which is fuelled by suffering) continues.

This is also my experience with seekers who have been exposed to these teachings. Whilst the can be direct and profound and trigger a realisation of sorts, the effects are often short lived and do not end suffering. This can, in some cases, lead to flip-flopping, in which the sense of liberation seems to come and go, alternating with confusion, seeking and suffering. In many it can also lead to an over-emphasis on concepts, although I am sure this is not the intent.

Ramana explains that the reason why insight is weak is due to the vasanas. Vasanas is a Sanskrit word that I often use in my teachings. It refers to habitual egoic tendencies that, through the force and momentum of ingrained habit, cause us to seemingly re-identify and re-immerse ourselves back into egotism, separation, illusion and suffering. It is the energy and momentum of the egoic vasanas that prevent liberation from appearing to be stable and lasting, even though liberation or the Self is all there is already and always.

Lastly, Ramana states that once the vasanas are removed, then realisation becomes stable and bears the fruit of cessation of suffering, or Ananda (bliss). This is the point of spiritual practices – not to bring liberation about – as that is all there is already and ‘we are That’ – but to remove the habitual wrong notions/beliefs or vasanas that create suffering.

Ramana continues:

Others say sravana is only paroksha jnana [ie. hearing the teachings, sravana, leads only to indirect or intellectual knowledge, paroksha jnana]. By manana (reflection) it becomes aparoksha [direct knowledge] spasmodically. The obstruction to its continuity is the vasanas: they rise up with reinforced vigour after manana. They must be held in check. Such vigilance consists in remembering = “I am not the body” and adhering to the aparoksha anubhava (direct experience) which has been had in course of manana (reflection).

Such practice is called nididhyasana and eradicates the vasanas. Then dawns the sahaja state. That is jnana, sure.

Ramana here explains an alternative theory which in practical terms is a the same argument I explained above as the vasanas have to be removed, but with some technical differences. Here Ramana explains that another view is that listening to the direct teachings (sravana) leads only to intellectual understanding (indirect understanding or paroksha jnana). In order to have a direct understanding or genuine experiential understanding (aparoksha jnana), one has then to reflect on the conceptual teachings (manana) and see the truth of them for oneself in one’s own direct experience. This then leads to spasmodic direct realisation which comes and goes. 

We can see that the only difference between this second theory and the first one is that the first theory states that listening to the teachings (sravana) alone leads to direct realisation where as this second theory adds in another stage in which sravana leads to indirect or mere intellectual understanding and this intellectual understanding is converted into direct experiential understanding through reflection (manana). In both cases what results from sravana or sravana-manana is spasmodic unstable direct realisation which comes and goes and alternates with confusion and suffering.

Ramana proceeds to point out that once we have attained a genuine direct insight, the egoic suffering-causing vasanas rise up with a newfound vigor and so the realisation we ‘attained’ is quickly dispelled.

How to dispel the suffering-causing vasanas? Through Nididhyasana, the 3rd stage of the traditional teaching in Advaita Vedanta (the first two stages are Sravana and Manana). The literal translation of Nididhyasana is ‘meditation’ and there are different forms and aspects of this part of the teaching. Here Ramana explains two aspects of Nididhyasana, firstly a conceptual aspect: knowing ‘I am not the body’ or ‘I am not the body-mind’. The second aspect is to remember the experiential insight or direct realisation-experience that was obtained from sravana-manana and remain there.

What then results is removal of the wrong notion ‘I am the limited body-mind’ and removal of the associated habitual tendencies (vasanas) that obstruct suffering. This then results in what is usually termed Samadhi (the 4th and last stage of the traditional Advaita Vedanta teachings), and the culmination of Samadhi is Sahaja Samadhi, what Ramana here calls the Sahaja state. Sahaja means ‘easy’ or ‘natural’ in Sanskrit, so this is the Easy State or Natural State, a synonym for Liberation itself (ie. ‘Jnana sure’ in the text).

I have written several more posts on this and done a few videos that go into this in more detail, so feel free to take a look:

You are innate divine power
How to recognise false or incomplete spiritual teachings
Ramana Maharshi summarises the entire spiritual path in his Introduction to Shankara’s Vivekachudamani (Crest Jewel of Discrimination)
Essential teachings for liberation: we need a ‘double teaching’ as we suffer from ‘double ignorance’| The ‘two wings’ of the teaching | Buddhism | Vedanta