Intelligent people are such that the conception of a personal God does not always suit them. A personal God, in their view, is limited, and the stories that are made up about Him in time seem very naïve or even wild. Intelligent people are not able to accept such things also because the higher the population’s common level of knowledge and education, the less popularity gods enjoy who have a long history and hence are perceived as certain personalities. Then the stories begin about World Reason, Existence, Universal Consciousness and the long well-known Absolute. It is easier for intelligent people to deal with a certain abstraction, because it fits better into their complex sense of the world and does not require fulfilling ritual actions in its honor. And since intelligent people have existed in all times, then the idea, too, of the impersonal Highest Being, which even so, had to be called something, appeared here and there. It can be said with full confidence that the apogee of rejection of the personal God became atheism, also conceived not by fools, but that was already the complete finale of the development of philosophical thought, after which is had nowhere to go. Atheism closed off philosophy, since all remaining questions of human existence automatically began to be resolved by various sections of science – from biology and chemistry to sociology and psychology – although the latter was never able to become a science.
The idea of an impersonal God without any qualities expressed in human language is good as an idea, but does not help much in practice. You can somehow think about such a God and still somehow imagine him for yourself but it is fundamentally impossible to interact with Him. The idea from which any teaching begins predetermines possible methods. In Advaita, the negation of all forms of reality except the reality of the Brahman led to negation on its own becoming virtually the main method, enabling liberation from illusions. At least, it is this negation that is at the foundation of the messages and preachings of all modern teachers of Advaita.
Jnana-yoga also employs negation as one of the chief methods of achievement. Besides the standard demands to purify the mind, internal renunciation of the world and a pious lifestyle, the practice neti-neti known to many is offered, for example. Or in English translation, “not this, not this.” The practice consists of disidentification with everything that is not your true nature (the highest I, the jiva and so on) through asking yourself questions like: “Am I this body?,” “Am I these thoughts?”, and the answer to them, as you understand, is always negative.
Theoretically, this practice should lead the yogi, having separated himself from everything that is not him, to obtaining the experience of the divine part of his being and coming to enlightenment and awareness that he and God are one. In practice, it is rather difficult to come to this, because the mind, to which, moreover, the correct answer is given in advance, is involved in the work. Furthermore, the state to which the seeker must come is described in advance, and therefore to imitate its achievement is not a very difficult task for the human mind. And no matter what the teachers of Advaita have said about the state of non-duality seemingly being indescribable, all of them from morning until night are occupied with describing it, creating an ever greater temptation for the minds of their followers to fall into a dangerous self-deception. Let us suppose that you ask yourself the question, “Am I this body?” The answer is obvious – of course you are more than a body. At that moment, your attention supposedly should be aimed at that very “I,” but the very posing of the task – in the form of questioning – leaves your attention in the field of the mind. Alright, you constantly hold within yourself these questions, turning questioning into something like a Zen koan with an answer known in advance. You increasingly and for a longer time delve into the fact that you are not a body, nor a mind, nor feelings. This becomes a new program in the mind; you seem to look on yourself as if not on yourself, but this hardly guarantees you a breakthrough to the experience of something greater than these thoughts. You may even begin to speak about yourself in the third person, as Jiddu Krishnamurti did occasionally, but will this lead you to the desired experience? Experience shows that the mind rapidly grows accustomed to any similar practice, and it turns into a mechanical repetition, without any energy within it for any breakthrough internally, toward authentic experience. It is possible that in the past, people’s minds were not so trained to acquiring habits and to turning into stereotypical reactions all with which the mind works. But now the years of teaching in middle school train the human mind exactly in that fashion.
There exists a practice that is nearly the same, but expressed positively. This is also the fairly famous technique of self-questioning, which Ramana Maharshi gave to all who wished. In it, a person must ask himself, “Who am I?,” discarding all replies as predictably untrue. The result also should be a breakthrough and insight, but the problems are still the same – the trained, modern mind and the state known in advance toward which one must come. Any Master will tell you that if you inform students in advance what they should get from a practice, many will imagine to themselves the necessary result and hypnotize themselves to that degree in order to clearly sense it. Moreover, I have seen quite a few “enlightened ones” who have attained “liberation” precisely by that means. Among the modern Advaita teachers, let us say frankly, there are quite a few of such “attainers.”
The practice, “Who am I?” can work only when a person is obsessed with it in a good way. That is when this question is not brought from outside, but is his present, vitally-important question, and no external answers will help in quenching the thirst for an answer. But a person with such a thirst is blessed, and of course he will receive an answer in the form of an experience, although this will also not happen very quickly. Spiritual thirst will bring the seeker to where he will be satisfied – to the experiences and insights that he seeks. It is not a fact, however, that they will be like the Advaitists predict, foreshadow or describe. Because philosophy is good for debates and books, but life, God and the Way (which the Advaitists, as they should, deny) is broader and deeper than any philosophical constructions.