Who Says 'That Thou Art?'

by Robert Wolfe on March 13th, 2011

The teachings of nondualism have been with us at least as long as perhaps the earliest written language. The Vedas (of India), recorded before 1500 B.C., were an oral tradition before then. (“Veda” is Sanskrit for “to know”, Truth being the implied knowledge.) The celebrated Upanishads (“secret doctrine” or teachings) were one part of the Vedic literature.

The subject of these writings is the ultimate, universal and single underlying reality which is termed Absolute. Such wisdom teachings are referred to as Vedanta, which means “the end of knowledge”; that is, complete ultimate clarity regarding the nature of the Absolute. The Sanskrit word used to convey this sense, or “knowledge”, of the presence (“always already here”) is advaita, which means “not two”: non-dual.

The earliest teacher of advaita, of pronounced historical importance, was Shankara (788-820 A.D.). His yoga (“yoke”, or way) was jnana, “self-knowledge” or Self-awareness: being aware of one’s true nature, or identity. (An enlightened person is known, in Sanskrit, as jnani: an unawakened person as ajnani—a being “not”.) Shankara’s teaching (in Sanskrit) was “tat tvam asi”: That thou art.

The Vedanta advaita teachings of Shankara were basically not different than those of Siddhartha Gautama (563-483 B.C.), the Buddha (Sanskrit for “the awakened”). After six years of ascetic disciplines, the former prince surrendered to “not knowing” and was enlightened at 35, without recourse to a teacher (guru: “who points the way”).

Meanwhile, the teachings of the Tao (“way”, or path) were exemplified in the Tao Te Ching, reputedly written by Lao-Tsu, whose birth is given as around 600 B.C. Taoist emphasis on surrender to “what is” is relevant to the non-separative enlightenment of advaita. China’s teaching successor to Lao-Tsu was considered to be Chuang-Tzu.

When Bodhidharma brought Buddha’s teachings to China in the 5th century A.D., it wedded with the Tao as what we know today as Zen. A major figure in Chinese Zen was Hui-neng (638-713 A.D.), an illiterate woodcutter. He was followed by a lineage of Zen masters, as Zen migrated to Japan in the 14th Century, such as Hakuin. The writings of D.T. Suzuki and Alan Watts have been primary in introducing Zen to the West.

Padmasambhava was the patriarch of Buddhism in Tibet, in the 8th Century. The nondual teachings of Tibetan Buddhism are embodied as Dzochen (zo-chen); also spelled Dzogchen.

Meanwhile, the most enigmatic of Eastern teachers of the nondual presence (who may have been influenced by the earlier, historic teachings), Jesus lived and died. His perspective was at least understood by the German monk Meister Eckhart (1260-1327 A.D.), whose sermons have rarely been translated accurately. The Church regards him as a “mystic”—enlightenment being a forbidden term.

In Islam, the nondual teachings are most readily found in the poetry of Rumi and Hafiz (Persia: 1207-73 A.D. and 1325-90 A.D.); and are categorized as Sufi (rather than Muslim).

The late 1800’s saw the birth of several sages of nondualism of whose words (and existence) we can be confident; such has even been preserved in film and on tape.

Krishnamurti may be the most perplexing of these, but probably none has ever reached a wider audience.

Shankara’s true successor has been Ramana Maharshi. He is primarily the fountainhead of today’s panel of teachers in the West. He is also probably the most direct, due to the profound depth of his awakening.

Among his “lineage” are H.W.L. Poonja, who died in India recently; his American “disciple”, the woman known as Gangaji; and her follower here in Ojai, John Sherman.

A contemporary of Ramana, Nisargadatta lived in India; his primary disciple has been Ramesh Balsekar (also of India).

Today, there are a number of teachers here in the U.S. which are sharing a common message of nonduality, such as: Francis Lucille, Satyam Nadeen, Steven Harrison, Eckhart Tolle, Adyashanti, and Toni Packer (and in England, Tony Parsons)—to name a few.

The sources—old and new—are readily available…plentifully!

Posted in Living Nonduality, Monograph, Nondual Teachers    Tagged with Shankara, Tao, Buddha, Siddhartha, Lao-Tsu, Dzogchen, Jesus, Rumi, Hafiz, Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta, Tolle, Adyashanti, John Sherman, nondual teachers


Trula - December 22nd, 2012 at 11:21 AM
Thank you, your essay on the long history of nondual teachers and Advaita was particularly concise, nicely worded, and just complete enough. Always glad to see Yeshua included since he seems equally or more so a Master teacher of That which is the Truth of who we Are. Especially in Gospel of Thomas, this is so clear. What a pleasure to discover your blog today!

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