The Advaita Trap 1: Absolute and Relative Confusion – The Cartoon

This little animated dialogue, created by contemporary spiritual teacher Jeff Foster, lampoons a particular brand of spiritual authoritarianism that, at times, adherents of Neo-Advaita are guilty of. [Quick FYI: Neo-Advaita takes from the ancient Hindu school of philosophy and religious practice known as Advaita Vedanta–also known in the West as nondualism, that revolves around the essential insight that there is no separation between people, things, all of reality.]

The first bear–the one on the left–launches the exchange with a seemingly innocuous comment about the beauty of a nearby tree. This becomes an invitation for the second bear to launch into a diatribe that demonstrates an annoyingly doctrinaire interpretation of nondual philosophy.

First Bear: “Can I be honest with you? Since you’ve, well, in your own words, recognized your true nature, all the joy seems to have gone out of you. I’m sure you’ve found some clarity in one way or another, but it’s almost like you’ve lost the ability to relate as a human being to me. … It’s like you always need to play the teacher. You’re trying to teach me and I don’t need to be taught. You’re playing the guru and it’s getting tiresome. … I’m trying to talk to you in a down to earth, ordinary, human way; not asking for help but sharing. … You’re no fun anymore. … Nobody enjoys being around an angry preacher. And even worse, one that denies that they are angry and that they are preaching.”

Second Bear: “Ah, your feelings are hurt. Poor little hurt ego. A sure sign that you are stuck in ignorance.”

The first bear’s way of combating the didacticism of the nondualist “preacher” bear is to invoke simplicity and innocence and the human desire to connect. This then provokes the obnoxious (postmodern) rejoinder that these too are reifications of a self and are ultimately illusion. While she acknowledges the absolute reality of no tree, no beauty, and ultimately no self to make these distinctions, she refuses to allow her heart-felt sense-impression that the tree is beautiful to be negated. But, important here is that her words – You’re no fun anymore, we used to be light-hearted, there was an innocence – these things reveal the metamodern desire to be allowed to be small and human.

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