I was going to write about this for some time, but have hesitated because I know that this will be controversial. Reading a commentary on "Neo-Advaita " this morning however convinced me that this is the time.
All, or most of us in the non-dual spiritual community have heard of and respect Ramana Maharshi. He was a great teacher. He had a great smile and a great story. But he is not the "where all and be all " of non-duality. In a "Hindu " context, he follows the teaching of Advaita as they are laid out in the ancient texts, and by Shankara. This is traditional Advaita. But there is much more to non-duality than Advaita.
Advaita follows Hindu traditions of "samsara ", "maya ", "jiva " and re-birth. These are ideas and concepts that have some, but little relevance to Western ideas and concepts. The Western traditions of "sin ", "redempton " and "heaven " have little to do with Advaita, but are symbolic in Christianity and other Western traditions. To imagine one more "real " or "better " than the other is stepping onto a slippery slope.
One of the characteristics of fundamentalist Christianity is the view that Christ is the only hope of "salvation ", and the Bible is the only truth. When we indicate that Ramana is the arbiter of truth, and compare anyone's statement to his teaching for judgment, we are doing the exact same thing. To insist that only by understanding the concepts of "samsara ", "maya ", "jiva " and all the rest of it, is the only way to liberation is simply fundamentalism. To think that non-dualism requires an understanding of Hindu philosophy or cosmology is absurd.
Christians engage in lots of "missionary " work; work teaching and "converting " the non-Christian. This has been, and continues to be, justified by the idea that only those who "know " Christ will be "saved ". I fail to see how that is different from insisting that only those who are in line with the concepts of Ramana and traditional Advaita can be realized. Now, I know that this will be denied. Just as the fundamentalist Christian will say that "God loves everyone", I am sure the fundamentalist Advaitan will be open to other teachings, as long as they do not conflict with tradition, Shankara, or Ramana Maharshi.
People go to India, particularly Arunachala, and worship the place. Ramana Maharshi has been turned into a point of worship and prayer. He has become deified like Christ. His words are spoken with the same reverence by his devotees as those of Christ by fundamentalist Christians. Christ and Ramana are stories. There are lots of stories. Some in the modern West.
We see many teachers emerging in the West. Many come from a variety of traditions. Some have contact and experience in Eastern traditions, and they bring that to their teaching. The Eastern traditions often open up our experience in the Western traditions, but that does not mean that we have to "swap " one for the other. After finding the teachings of Nisargadatta Maharaj, it took me ten years to integrate these concepts into my own tradition. Truth is not the exclusive property of any one tradition, but can be seen in many.
I have written of how I have seen "gurus " among the developmentally disabled. I have seen them sleeping under cardboard in the slums, and in psychiatric hospitals. Had Ramana Maharshi been in the West; this man of silence who spoke to monkeys and cows, and wore a diaper, might very well have found himself in one of these situations. The West and the East are very different in culture and outlook. It is only reasonable to expect that the teachers will be different, and the expression unique.
When we judge another's teaching or spirituality based on the placement of one or two individuals being the "acme " of non-duality, we miss what is before us now. This is duality, and worship of personality. The article on Neo-Advaita I reference at the beginning refers to "both of the Great Self Realized Sages, Adi Shankara and Ramana Maharshi ", as if there were no other "Great Self Realized Sages" , either before, in between, or after. This is absurd on it's face, and is no different than holding Christ or the Buddha as the arbiter of all things spiritual.
As long as we compare modern, Western teachers by the standards set by Shankara, or Ramana, we are involved in fundamentalism. If one comes from a Western life, a Western tradition, it is "parroting" at it's most absurd to use Eastern thought, concepts and words to describe something that is experiential in a Western context. If I need to add to my "knowledge " to understand spirituality it is not "reality ", but more concepts.
I, for one, applaud the Jeff Fosters, Bentinho Massaros and Scott Kilobys, who along with others, are bringing non-duality to the West without the parroting of Eastern Teachers or using their words. These and others are finding a "new " tradition, one that resonates with those who find it. We in the West have our non-duality too. It may not look the same as that of the East, but it is neither inferior or "psudo".