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Advaita in the West

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This text is based on an interview that Jaya Diva Never, journalist from Cologne, conducted.

Source: advaitaJournal Vol. 4, Spring/Summer 2001, p. 6, German magazine, available online at advaitaMedia

In this interview OM C. Parkin, spiritual teacher from Hamburg gives answers to questions about "East meets West - West meets East". Advaita, the truth of non-duality, from whose realization OM holds Satsang in Western Europe, says: Everything is one consciousness. However, the West is extremely oriented towards the mind, which moves exclusively in duality, that is, in polarities. As a Satsang teacher, OM follows the spontaneous manifestation of Advaita that happened to the Indian sage Ramana Maharshi and continues through Poonjaji and Gangaji, in whose Satsang he finally realized his true nature. At the same time he is psychotherapeutically experienced and as a long-time Enneagram teacher extraordinarily well acquainted with the functioning of the Western mind.

Q: Advaita is the essence of any spiritual path. This truth, recognized early in India, that there are "not two", has been increasingly spreading to us in the West since the beginning of the nineties. However, there are no Eastern teachers who give Satsang or Darshan with us, but Americans, Englishmen, Germans, i.e. teachers who grew up in the West. Does this give Advaita a new, Western face?

OM: The flavor of this teaching will naturally be different in the West, and the teaching that chooses OM as its mouthpiece, for example, will naturally use the experience and knowledge gained through this body-mind mechanism. Before I was thrust directly into Advaita through the experience of a massive shock (a serious car accident with a near-fatal outcome. Ed.) and before I then began to give Satsang, I was already interested in psychology and had done self-enquiry, albeit to a limited extent from today's point of view. And this "small self-exploration", as I call it - made possible by Western esoteric, psychological knowledge, can very well serve Satsang and Advaita.

For example, I have also studied the Enneagram, and knowledge of the non-self as reflected through the Enneagram is of great value. Ultimately, also for the "great self-enquiry" as transmitted through Advaita, through Ramana Maharshi.

The Western mind is simply more analytical, in some ways more complex in terms of its content, and therefore it first needs a "concept mirror" that can reflect that content.

Q: Therefore, is not a Western teacher more effective for the spiritual seekers from the West than an Eastern teacher can be?

OM: It would certainly be too easy to give a blanket answer to this question. What is certain is that a person who has grown up in the Western collective knows the temptations of the Western mind much better than a person who has grown up in the Eastern environment. And the Western mind is extraordinarily different from the Eastern mind.

If you use the psychological term of neurosis, you could say that the Western mind is much more neurotic than the Eastern mind and mostly needs a different kind of inner analytical work. After all, in the Western emphasis on so-called personality development, individual ego-strengthening is much more in the foreground than, for example, in India or Japan. In our culture it is necessary to develop a pronounced ego, and a pronounced ego is considered a successful ego in the West. And the neuroses I just spoke about are precisely the shadow side of this supposedly successful ego, which is nourished and built up by Western values.

Q: Where a strong ego-I is taught as a reality, yes, as the reality, every reality must also start from this ego-idea. I - and you, I - and my parents, I - and my career. I, I, I. Where there is I, there are two.

Here in the West, only duality is taught: in the family home, at school, at university, in the media, even the church teaches I and God. And a whole army of psychotherapists is assigned by society to nurture this ego-I. What explosives does the encounter of the Advaita teaching with the Western therapy society contain?

OM: Well, one of the explosives is that Advaita is the end of any esoteric or psychological teaching, that Advaita ultimately makes psychology as a salvation teaching of the ego superfluous and thus also the activity of psychologists, therapists, leaders of esoteric workshops, etc. This has become quite an extensive profession here in the West, a profession that has taken over the role that priests played when the Christian religion still had much more power in our culture.

However, if the teaching of non-duality is recognized as the end of the quest, the temporary concepts and explanatory models of psychology and esotericism ultimately serve Advaita and thus their own dissolution.

The teaching of duality may be most extreme among us in the West, yet people do not even live in conscious duality, or rather, they are not really aware of the dualisms that the mind creates. Therefore, the first thing needed is a conscious disentanglement, a conscious divisiveness, so that from a disentangled duality of I and you real self-exploration can happen.

First of all, "my" affairs must be separated from "your" affairs. This is a condition that prevails in very few people. They tend to impose their own mental constructs on everything or everyone, overshadowing reality. When everything is taken back and thus these subject-object relationships are disentangled, a state is reached that I call accountability. And in this taking on responsibility for suffering, inner suffering, the desire for freedom can awaken, and this drives self-exploration deeper and deeper within.

Q: How can this desire for freedom arise at all in a society that has reached such a high degree of self-alienation?

OM: Certainly there is a connection between the extremely high degree of self-alienation we have reached here in the West, the awareness of suffering, and thus the receptivity to receive the truth of stillness. Unfortunately, the thinking mind is always receptive only when it has to admit that the attempts to find happiness in the outer or inner world have failed. That is the moment when it is receptive. Before that, as long as it is apparently successful with its strategies, there is usually no interest in truth. Of course, here in the West, the gross sufferings of humanity, i.e. struggle for survival, hunger, homelessness are essentially contained. And for this reason many people have become very comfortable and arrogant, but this comfort, the well-being of this comfort has its limits.

In Germany in particular, there is a relatively great receptivity because, first, the abuse, the atrocities of the world wars have brought the consciousness of suffering to the fore, and second, to some extent, the burden of ancient collective spiritual identity has been destroyed or at least broken open. The destruction and annihilation left behind by the world wars is usually seen in exclusively traumatic terms. My point is that the destruction that has happened in the collective thinking mind is very valuable. As a result, the Christian religion, especially its institution, the church, has also lost more and more power, and in this atheistic vacuum in which society finds itself, an openness to new ideas is revealed at the same time. The old has been left behind and destroyed. This is a moment when there is a readiness to experience something new.

Q: What might this new worldview look like? Do you have a vision of what the future might look like when Advaita meets the West?

OM: Advaita does not have a vision. The mind wants predictability. There is no such predictability, because wherever the flower of truth begins to bloom, what happens is completely unpredictable.  And precisely because it is so unpredictable, it is so fresh, so alive. It does not follow a fixed vision.

Ultimately, the beauty of the natural human condition is the same everywhere. In this state, Western capabilities or achievements, such as technological developments, do not appear destructive in their essence.

In the harmonious, natural state, in the state of knowledge of the SELF, a natural balance between things arises again. This equilibrium is derailed by the misdirections of this mind, which does not know itself, by its greed, its desire for power, its insatiability, its exploiter mentality: exploitation of the earth, exploitation of society, exploitation of other people, exploitation of all living beings.

Most of the social growth and prosperity of the Western world is based on exploitation. And this exploitation will sooner or later show its great destructive shadow sides. Strictly speaking, we are already in the middle of it: Whether we look at climate catastrophes, overpopulation, AIDS, destruction of nature in many places or the running out of resources makes no difference.

All of this is a consequence of ignorance. This ignorance needs a teaching of reality. Which western person has still any idea of reality?

Q: Yet there is a collective level of ignorance. Germany is considered one of those countries with the strongest fixation in thinking. Many in this country consider it impossible to realize enlightenment at all as a German. Is it necessary for the majority of spiritual seekers to experience India, the "spiritual motherland" with its special atmosphere? Or is it better to stay here in the West and deal with the Western fixation of thinking here?

OM: The solution happens where the fixation is strong: in the middle of unbearable doubts, self-righteous mental arrogance and in the scientific sobriety of a Western mind. And this healing happens through self-enquiry in alertness. When someone is willing to really get to the core of this thinking machine, long repressed pain emerges underneath. This pain must become accessible again to the rationalist. And if someone is then further willing to penetrate to the core of this pain, an even deeper despair emerges in this pain. And in the core of this despair, stillness itself opens up in a miraculous way. Stillness is at the center of this thinking restlessness, at the center of this thinking machine that apparently knows no stillness.

Some spiritual seekers flee to India to escape this massivity of the thinking mind in the West. "There are only head people in this country", this is particularly unpleasant for every meditator who seeks inner stillness. India holds the sweet fruits of bliss, as well as the bittersweet temptation of spiritual romance and held narcotic God rapture. Many who have been to India with a master end up in this, mistaking states of rapture, entrancement and bliss for God-realization. Later, when their master has left the body and they return to Germany, they continue to worship their deceased master and exalt distant India above the supposed ordinariness and sobriety of everyday Western experience. This form of attachment is a variety of ignorance. Ultimately, it is a question of seriousness, of the truthfulness of the traveler.

India must not be abused as a place for temporary blissful experiences that the mind uses only as a drug. The German mind must be confronted where it is most powerful, and that is here in Germany, in the West. If the seeker is truthful with himself, he can travel anywhere, and his discernment and non-attachment will be strong enough to distinguish truth of heart from falsehood. India is a country full of false saints, madmen and gurus who adulate themselves.

But all this is only one side. India is the pure source, the motherland, the origin of religions. Every spiritual path started there. The alienation, the separation of spirituality from social life is not as strong in India as it is in the materialistic West, especially in Germany. Visiting this motherland has an inestimable value. Especially and particularly for Germans, who get a panic fear when their small-minded structures of order, with which they believe to be able to "regulate" life, collapse. In India, chaos reigns. But this essentially applies to the material level. On the spiritual level, India is an incomparably more developed culture than Germany or other Western countries. The purest, most highly developed teachings are taught in India. Germany is a spiritual developing country.

Q: In January of this year, you gave a Satsang retreat in India for the first time. How did it come about?

OM: My return to India in the role of Satsang teacher was a journey of respect, reverence and gratitude for the country of origin, which has brought forth the greatest Advaita teachers of all time. When the virtues of Western and Eastern self-enquiry meet, this holds a great gift for the seeker. Since I have been teaching in the West, I have come to appreciate more and more the Western virtues as well. When they are used in the service of Satsang, they fulfill their real purpose, which is not an end in itself.

What modern psychology has brought forth is a disclosure of the subconscious, as well as a clearing of the mental thicket, and in this clearing can arise the transparency that ultimately simply dissolves any mental concept. Earlier I called India the motherland of all spirituality, which also means that in India the natural closeness to the SELF is much more present and therefore the natural happiness, the natural peace as well. For me, India is always a journey through love.

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