Denying the Real: Advaita and Affirming the Real: The Navajo

It should be a surprise to no one that Advaita nonduality developed in India. Few countries in the world have experienced the scale of human suffering than has India. People in India have suffered from famine, despotism (often in the form of organized religion through the cruel caste system), disease, urban poverty, and many other physical and cultural ills. It is the perfect place to create and nurture a philosophy that negates everything in this world as “mere appearance”.

In a world of incredible suffering and hopeless, a spiritual philosophy that claims that it is all just a dream, just a projection could take hold among people powerless to change the nature and quality of their lives. Instead of horrendous suffering, we now have, voila, perfection. And, perhaps the cruelest injunction of all is that if you don’t experience this perfection of being, then you are unawakened.

Contrast this with the life philosophy of the Navajo, a group I know well because I have worked with traditional healers there for quite a few years. It is, essentially, the exact opposite of Advaita. In the Navajo world, the earth is sacred. Everything we take from it, we must make amends and return in kind. We thank the plants and animals that make our lives possible. We acknowledge the beauty of rain and sun. We celebrate our children as sacred beings; unique and beautiful in their own, distinct way. This world is the only reality and we are fully connected through the web of its being. I have never heard a healer talk about the ground of being that negates phenomenon as just passing, incidental appearance. It is just the opposite, the world of appearance is everything and we are responsible for our actions that effect it.

The denial of life, as a direct consequence of human suffering, is found throughout history. Religion has served the needs of the hopeless to offer people a way out of their misery. So it often speaks of the unreal as our salvation. We can abandon this life, because Heaven awaits us. We can claim victory over our enemies, since they will be going to hell. Thus religion serves the desperate and powerless. Advaita is little different.

Today, with all of our wealth and technology, we are living at a time of unprecedented numbers of clinical depression, a rapid decline in the earth’s capacity to sustain environmental diversity, and we are seeing the enormous disruption of the earth’s atmosphere through global warming. We can escape the challenge of living in such a world through recently esoteric teachings such as advaita. That is the easy choice. It makes logical sense and anyone can do it in the glow and privacy of their own home computers.

The much more difficult choice is to organize with others and demand changes from our political and corporate leader and to make sacrifices in our life styles to reduce pollution. This is a lot more difficult than just believing it all away through denying its existence.

This life is a puzzle. Frankly, the Navajos do not have it figured out. Many of them believe that this life phase is soon coming to an end. To me, that sounds like another hope built on desperation. The most courageous step is finding your own voice. Finding out what is real. Being less concerned with bliss than finding out what is true without depending on any belief system. The best definition of a neurotic is a person who places their well being on good feelings. That is the shakiest of foundations. Feelings, like everything else change and we have little to no control over them. But we can be free to find out what is real and what is true to the best of our abilities. That, I suggest, is the challenge of this life


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  1. #1 by Jean on June 21, 2009 - 7:12 am

    you just dont get it do you? you are speaking in a dualistic way so how is it possible for you to understand advaita?

  2. #2 by Jean on June 21, 2009 - 7:27 am

    Finding out what is true is definitely a step in the right direction. Truth leads to the stilling of the mind, which brings bliss. Sat-Chit-Ananda – truth, consciousness, bliss.
    Bliss comes naturally and I know that I didnt go looking for bliss, it found me when I found my true self.
    The problem is, we read the Vedas etc, and it seems like a system, but it isnt. In the end, the words only lead us in a direction, and the rest is up to us.
    To find peace within all the things you have spoken of in this post, is the challenge. The problem is, everything you say is from within the duality, as well as everything I say. Words just dont cut it.

    • #3 by Eric on June 21, 2009 - 8:44 am

      I’m sorry that you feel that “I don’t get it”. Could you be more specific? What is it I don’t get.
      Often when people speak the way you do, it gives the impression that a nerve has been struck. Anytime a nerve is struck, it suggests the possibility that a belief system has been threatened, because it sounds like you are defending something.
      Your comments implies that you are enlightened, yet in Advaita no person is ever enlightened. There is only this moment. So my blog is just an appearance on the ground of being. Is that not so? So, where is the problem?
      Warmest regards,

  3. #4 by Jean on July 1, 2009 - 8:16 am

    I am sure that the Navajo people are wonderful, but their philosophy is of the Earth, which is beautiful. Tell me, what do you think of Buddhism, and in particular, Tibetan Buddhism?
    Obviously Advaita struck a nerve with you!

  4. #5 by Jean on July 1, 2009 - 8:25 am

    Sorry I meant to add at the end of my last post – how can an experience on a deep level be a lie? I dont take drugs or alcohol, and my experience happened in a pretty ordinary environment. I am a down to earth sort of person. The experiences happened when I didnt know a thing about Advaita. When I spoke of my experiences to someone, they told me they had read something similar in this ancient Indian philosophy. What struck a small nerve was that you are saying that my deep spiritual experience is a lie, when it was very real.
    Have you seen a particle? Yet you know it is there because the physicists say it is there. One day you may know that this is real. It is just that you dont get it…. yet.

    • #6 by Eric on July 1, 2009 - 10:01 am

      Dear Jean,

      No one “gets it” including you and if you were truly awakened from fear, you would know that. You speak about yourself as if you were a thing. This is, exactly what we see through when we experience awakening to our authentic being. I suggest that you take a look at my recent posts at:


  5. #7 by Jean on July 3, 2009 - 4:06 am

    Yes I know what you mean, Eric. It seems that I talk about myself as if I was a thing. Words are useless sometimes.
    Do you feel that awakening is a gradual thing?

    • #8 by Eric on July 3, 2009 - 9:46 am

      Yes I believe that awakening is a gradual process. It takes many years learning and absorbing what is false and it can take a life-time unlearning and discovering the false.

      What is true is what is always present and until we clear out the haze of falseness, what is present will only come out in brief glimmers. But don’t allow the ever-greedy mind turn that into a goal or as a life position. Each of us has a role to play in this world. The purpose is NOT to transcend, but to follow our calling.

      Also, please know that this site will soon cease to exist. Please go to my new blog, which is

      Thanks – Eric

  6. #9 by Jean on July 4, 2009 - 11:08 pm

    Hello again Eric,
    I know that it takes years. It is so gradual, yes that feels right. My thoughts are with just what you wrote at the end of the last reply – how to bring it all back here. To manifest on the Earth. So many people I know just want to leave here, but we are here for a reason. It is not just all about getting out of here.
    Seeing the way as a path, there has to be always those who walk in front and those behind. Then also those who sometimes walk with us.
    I am enjoying our chat! Thank you Eric.

    • #10 by Eric on July 6, 2009 - 1:00 pm

      Dear Jean,
      Thank you for writing! I think you are emphasizing a very important point; that of transcendence. Nearly all spiritual philosophies that arose after the agricultural revolution and the emergence of cities focused on the need to transcend THIS life. There was a reason for this.

      When people left their free life as hunters and gatherers, the life of economic slavery began. The dawn of this epoch is symbolized in the story of Adam and Eve. After eating from the Tree of Knowledge, Adam is condemned to a life of labor. The Tree of Knowledge is a symbol for the development of technology, which made cities and civilization possible.

      People now labored day and night for their rulers. Children were born to produce more laborers and soldiers, so it became necessary to develop philosophies designed to transcend the pain and suffering of this hard life. Philosophies of transcendence continue to the present time, for the enslavement has never ended.

      But as long as we struggle to transcend, we can depend on the obvious fact that life will rise up and bite us in the ass and wake us up from our desperate dreams of transcendence. Life pulls us into the now. We can resist all we want, but it won’t work. All we will succeed in doing is resisting. But that’s what nearly all religions, including much, but not all, of Buddhism seek to do. They replace the projected pain and struggle of actual reality with a religious fantasy.

      The life of fantasy is one of hide and seek. You can hide all you want, but life will find you. Then what will you do? So where will you hide?

      We hide in all of our false personalities. They appear safe, but they aren’t. They appear dependable, but they aren’t. But we will struggle to find the right one, the right fit until the day we die.

      So we can just bag the whole game and walk out into the light of awareness and do our dance as our love and sense of limitless connection suggests in this moment, this now.

    • #11 by Eric on July 6, 2009 - 4:26 pm

      Also … this blog is all but defunct. My new blog is: I can’t promise you that I will repond to your comments unless they appear at my new blog. Thanks for your understanding.

  7. #12 by flash on July 6, 2009 - 8:15 pm

    Great post!

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