Since childhood I had the feeling that there must be more to life. I watched my parents, who survived the Second World War, and who were happy to work hard to fulfill their dream of having material wealth and a roof over their heads.
I was born in Germany in the 50s at a time that was dominated by what the Germans called “Wiederaufbau.” Translation: Built it again! Material wealth came back and the whole country was striving to get ahead. I remember once I saw an advertising from a bank that read “Work till 65 and then live!” They were pointing to the retirement age, apparently the time to start living. But what about now? My spiritual search began at this point.
What is the meaning of my life? Does life even have a meaning? Is there a God or is everything just by chance? How to live and to love in a meaningful way? The questioning went on and on and after being involved as a protestant, the religion of my birth, I soon looked for answers in eastern religions.
At this time I was studying psychology, and up to this point I only knew what neurotic behavior was and how to approach it. In my studies I did not come across an explanation of what a “healthy human being” was. Eastern Philosophy pointed to a realization of Oneness that they called enlightenment, referring to a permanent freedom and a solid, grounded happiness. Yes, this is what I want!
If you understand what I’m describing, this book is for you. It took me nearly 25 years of being a “seeker” to finally arrive at Advaita Vedanta. I am not saying that Vedanta is the only way, but once you have certain qualifications to understand the basic underlining truth, you will be able to realize your true nature. And then, most likely, burst out laughing because the truth is so obvious, once you know it.
Why is this book for “ordinary” people?
With the word “ordinary” I want to point out that the truth is simple and ordinary. You don’t need to be “special.” The Truth (the Self) is difficult to perceive and understand when your mind is confused and drawn to either very esoteric explanations or very emotional justifications. The truth of who you are is right here, but we are so busy looking elsewhere.
We are hoping that a teacher can “give us” the truth. Or some drugs can reveal the truth for us. These substances can perhaps help sometimes, but are we able to understand what is happening to us? Sometimes, just being in a special place can help us to forget our worries. That brings me to my second point: this is not a self-help book. Self-help is a self-guided improvement. It can be economical, intellectual or emotional. It often has a substantial psychological basis. However Vedanta is not based on psychology, even though psychology and Vedanta have similarities.
In the last few years the gap between these two practices of inquiry has become smaller, but considerable differences still exist. When I was first introduced to Advaita Vedanta, I had already searched for many, many years. The “spiritual market place” was well known to me.
My search began with Osho in India. His teachings were exactly what I needed at that time. Not serious spiritual discourses, but a party-like atmosphere, with psychological and religious influences. It opened me up to a different world and I became a more receptive and sensitive being. He introduced me to meditation, and later I was pulled into a more Buddhist-based meditative practice. When he died in 1990 I was without a spiritual guide, and so I looked for alternatives.
My journey was similar to many of Osho’s followers: I went to Lucknow, India to sit with a teacher by the name of Papaji. He had no teaching, but yet to sit in his presence was divine. However this was not enough for me! I was hungry for a teaching that was more than a “feel good” feeling. So I kept on searching.
Through Papaji I opened myself to Advaita teachers like Robert Adams and Nisargadatta Maharaj. Both were pointing in the right direction, but how do I get there? Both were talking from their own experience so it was difficult for me to find practical instructions that I could actually follow.
My search ended when I found my teacher James Swartz - or Ramji, as we call him. Finally I found logic in the search. I’ve had enough of suggestions like I should “just let go” or to “open my heart” or to “just be” or even to “be here now.” This did not make any sense to me and left me even more confused.
It was the teaching of the Upanishads that explained what is real (Satya) and what is apparently real (Mithya). Just understanding this discrimination was the beginning of a whole new world to me. Suddenly this whole spiritual search became not only an emotional journey, but it also became unemotionally, clear and real.
Now Vedanta is much more in fashion and teachers are throwing Vedantic concepts around and mixing them with their own ideas. Where I live, on a tropical Thai island, there are teachers who claim that tantra and Vedanta are interchangeable, and many more unclear versions of it.
There is also confusion with Hatha Yoga.
I have taught yoga teacher trainings for over 14 years. My challenge is to introduce yoga philosophy subtly into the program. A standard form of philosophy teaching is the Patanjali Yoga Sutras. These sutras are highly specific, difficult to follow, and are based on Samkhya, a dualistic yoga path.
Very often the non-dual path of Advaita Vedanta is thrown into the mix by teachers who cannot differentiate the traditions. Therefore the knowledge of Advaita Vedanta is not understood correctly. When Ramji wrote “The Essence of Enlightenment ” I thought that it was a book that explained Advaita Vedanta methodically, and that everybody would understand it. As a teacher, I realized that there is room for an easier version of Advaita Vedanta.
It is not simple to write about something complex and highly technical in an “easy to digest” format. In this process I had to drop a few important Vedantic concepts, like the role of Maya and Ishvara for example. Sometimes my choice of words are not correct interpretations of Advaita, but this was the compromise I had to take in order to make this teaching more accessible. I used repetition as a necessary tool to deepen these complex teachings. Hearing these concepts again and again will help you.
The difficulty in using words in Advaita Vedanta is that words, by their very nature, are dual. Hot does not make any sense if you don’t know cold. Advaita Vedanta is non-dual, there is no “other.” When we talk from Mithya, the apparent reality, then words make sense. When we try to explain the unchanging, uncreated and limitless reality of the Self, then words can be misleading.
I want to make it very clear from the beginning that I don’t claim to be a Vedanta scholar. What is written in this book contains my own limited understanding. If this creates confusion in you, it will be my own inability to explain the teaching correctly, not the flaw of the teaching.
If you have any questions or feedback, please get in touch with me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your Swami Pujan
"An unexamined life is not worth living. Everyone suffers a sometimes crippling sense of limitation as they wend their way through this uncertain world, but it need not be that way. This introduction to Vedanta by Stephan Kahlert, presents a proven solution to suffering in a simple straightforward way that anyone who is sincerely committed to answering the perennial existential question, “Who am I really?” can understand. Stephan’s whole adult life has been devoted to the quest for freedom and, with the help of Vedanta, has laid to rest this fundamental doubt."
(Teacher of Advaita Vedanta and Swami Pujan's beloved teacher since many years)
Advaita Vedanta - For Ordinary People
My Book has arrived - By Swami Pujan
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