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Cultural and Religious Traditions

There are many cultural and religious institutions concerned with the same types of questions as those invariably encountered on a journey to Self-Realization. Indeed, the principle purpose of religion is really Self-Realization — though it would most often be appropriate to consider religion a long, scenic route rather than a direct route. Nevertheless, some traditions have a tendency to be symbolically more concise than others.

No Self or One Self?

Superficially, it is easy for scholars of Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta to misinterpret the teachings of these two wisdom traditions. The deepest teaching of Buddhism is the doctrine of No Self – sometimes called Emptiness, voidness or Śānyatā (pronounced shoon-ya-ta). Meanwhile the essential message of Advaita Vedanta (Non-duality) is that there is only one reality, or Self – effectively that the Self is God (or Brahman).

In English, the use of the terms No Self and Self-Realization mislead many well-intentioned practitioner or follower to consider these two ideas as opposites. In reality, they are actually references to the same ontological facet of reality — the Truth. The confusion occurs in part because the term ‘no self’ refers to personal self, and indeed to the unreality of all supposedly independent identities. Moreover, the term Self-Realization can seem to suggest that there is something, when in reality the logical and experiential reality of the teaching of non-duality is in fact, emptiness.

Unfortunately, the Truth represented by these terms is so marred in superstition and misunderstanding that it is not until you have discovered the Truth for yourself, beyond the conceptual mind, that the equivalence becomes obvious.

Ignorance or Sin?

The Christian concept of Sin seems very different, at least academically, from the concept of Ignorance within the wisdom traditions of Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta. Christianity seems to equate Sin with conduct that contradicts the edicts of a God-given morality; indeed the concept has been woven into the heart of the modern Christian narrative of Jesus and the crucifixion. Meanwhile both Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta use the term Ignorance to refer to the idea of action that is premised upon ignorance of the Truth – the underlying Emptiness nature of reality. In Superficially these definitions appear to have little correspondence.

Yet from the perspective of Truth, however, God and Self are experienced and known to be one. Then it becomes obvious that “conduct contradictory to the edicts of a God-given morality”, is simply conduct arising from ignorance of the Truth. Both result in suffering; both are the opposite of true pragmatism; both are driven by fear, not wisdom. No doubt the Christian mystics understood this. I will leave it to others far better read than myself to analyse the important implications for the interpretation of contemporary and traditional Christian mythology.

The Eightfold Path or Self Inquiry?

Buddhism provides the Eightfold Path as a strategy for a kind of Transcendental Pragmatism – studying and walking the path is the way to spiritual liberation. Meanwhile, Advaita Vedanta and other similar traditions of Self-Realization, recommend various traditional practices of Self Inquiry (Who am I?) as the way to spiritual liberation. Which path is correct?

Actually the only contradiction occurs within the conceptual mind, which is intrinsically built upon duality – a this or that mentality. Both the Eightfold Path and Self Inquiry (Who am I?) are valid means of reaching the same somewhat mysterious goal. Self Inquiry tends to focus explicitly upon the Right View facet of the Eightfold Path, on the basis that with sufficient clarity on the Truth, the other facets of the same will become self-evident and second-nature. One path is perhaps superficially more succinct than the other; though it really depends upon the individual practitioner. All teachings of Self-Realization are simply variations around a common unspeakable subject. Some will resonate more than others with the unique idiosyncrasies of the individual psyche.