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QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS - PART 5

84,000 WAYS OF LIBERATION...

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question You have mentioned Tendai in Part 2; how does your form of Buddhism explain the tenets of Shingon Buddhism?

answer Shingon is a Buddhist religion rich in esoteric symbols and ritual. Advayavada Buddhism is a radical non-dual and life-affirming philosophy and way of life of the 'what you see is what you get' kind. In Advayavada Buddhism, the individual person is considered, albeit a very small one, an integral part of the whole, and there is no other duality than that of the part and the whole, than that of the numerator and the denominator so to say. In Shingon Buddhism you have the individual and you have Vairochana; these are obviously experienced in Shingon as really two, though it is not clear to us whether this is to the point that Shingon must be considered an 'other power' religion like the several Amidisms.

question Do you also believe, like some sects do, that the whole world is contained in a mustard seed?

answer Our position is that a mustard seed is no more than a negligible part of the perfect whole; its mysterious potential lies, indeed like man's, in the as yet undisclosed future.

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question One of the key Nagarjunian insights is the transcendence from 'emptiness versus interdependence' to 'emptiness inseparable from interdependence'. My own big project is to somehow bring this insight, and the rich fruits it yields, to the so-called Science Wars and indeed to the global crisis. I view general sentient experience as the foundation for human experience, and human and scientific experience as building on that. I do not see the basic scientific facts of life as being the foundation for human life. At the level of philosophy of science these two differing points of view manifest as the 'Science Wars' - either scientific facts correspond to the actual objects and relations existing in the world, or they are just arbitrarily made up and enforced by back-room politics. But the point is that scientific facts are inseparably enmeshed in the causal structure of our way of life - indeed, the verifiability of our scientific theories does not prove their absolute universal validity, it proves their interdependence with the verification procedures! Clearly, the emptiness of scientific facts is inseparable from their interdependence! It is the understanding of this inseparability of emptiness and interdependence that brings liberation - can our poor suffering species somehow wake up to claim what is already ours?

answer According to Advayavada Buddhism the objective of Buddhism is the reconciliation of the individual with the whole of existence 'as it truly is beyond our commonly limited and biased personal experience of it', which we believe is essentially the same as the correlation of 'general sentient' and 'human' experience you speak of. Important in all this is indeed to fully understand our subjective place and role in the overall interdependence of all things or pratityasamupada.

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question There are something like 84.000 different ways to work toward liberation. Oftentimes a way will include some sort of idea about itself. For example, one might reflect "This way has been blessed by the Buddhas, has been passed down an unbroken chain of realized Masters from Shakyamuni to the present day. This is a reliable way to practise that will lead me to enlightenment." And a spiritual path can have a relatively stable identity maintained by various social communication practises. One way this has been done in Buddhism over the millenia is by debate. Rituals reinforce boundaries and names for various schools also support identities.

Problems arise, however, when we get carried away by these distinct identities. Things are actually quite fluid. We try to achieve security by grasping at things, but they are not so solid as we make them out to be, and when they crumble we get upset and grasp even harder, setting off all sort of vicious cycles.

Yet, it can be very practical to work in a sort of relaxed way with notions of identity, provided one accepts the limited conventional nature of such identity. It is quite handy in a loose way to think about, for example, Buddhism and Christianity as distinct paths. One could say that Buddhism is atheistic and Christianity theistic. On the other hand, there seems to be some useful mileage to be gotten by reflecting on parallels such as that of the Mahayana Trikaya with the Christian Trinity.

I wonder how one can effectively work with the distinct identities of spiritual paths without creating suffering for ourselves by grasping at such distinctions as if they were ultimately valid.

answer Advayavada Buddhism is, if you wish, one of those 84.000 ways to liberation you speak of. Its aim is to provide a solid framework for the pursuit of truth. We also say: Believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it. But we do believe that when the goal is, not merely academic, but one's own liberation, we must at some time pick a suitable route and try to adhere to it faithfully afterwards. To follow the Advayavada path you are asked, yes, to accept a) the preeminence of wondrous overall existence over mankind, and b) that the objective of the Buddha's teaching is to reconnect and reconcile us with wondrous overall existence. The validity and the enormous implications of these two basic tenets are, indeed, the main discussion matter on these pages. Please understand, however, that for us as followers of this particular path, their conventional validity is no longer the principal issue, but, on the other hand, for the same reason, the more so their implications.

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question What is the position of Advayavada Buddhism in the Dorje Shugden controversy?

answer There are people who say that it is an evil spirit and there are people who say that it is a beneficial spirit. We try to tell people, as many others do, that there are no spirits, that such things as spirits do not exist at all.

question Why did you give your sect a different name?

answer We gave it a different name because it is quite wrong to give people the impression, as many Buddhists unfortunately do, that he or she is speaking for all of Buddhism, thereby fueling the inhibiting popular misunderstanding in the uninformed West that the one Buddhism they are now hearing about is the only one. We always stress that Advayavada Buddhism is a basic, essentially secular and non-devotional form of Buddhism derived from Madhyamaka Buddhism, and but one of the numerous legitimate forms of Buddhism in the world, which range all the way from puritanical and annihilationist to life-affirming and liberal, and from esoteric and devotional to materialist and scientific. It is not our intention to add further to the 'tale of heresies' which the History of Buddhism is said to be.

question Bhikkhu Bodhi, of Sri Lanka, says that the teaching of the Buddha as found in the Pali Canon does not endorse explicitly or implicitly any variety of non-dualist philosophy and that from the Theravada point of view the Mahayana claim that there is no ultimate difference between Samsara and Nirvana 'borders on the outrageous'. What is the difference between Theravada and Advayavada?

answer Basically using the same tools, Theravada Buddhism is 'a Way of Liberation from the sorrows of human existence' and Advayavada Buddhism is 'a Way of Reconciliation with the wonders of overall existence'. While the statement in the Samyutta-nikaya that 'the stopping of becoming is Nirvana' has become a popular Theravada adage, one of our own slogans indeed expresses instead that 'Nirvana is pure, unblemished becoming'. An inconsistency in Theravada Buddhism is in our view the fact that while at the beginning of the quest it fixes the adepts' attention 'unflinchingly' on what is to be considered good or bad, this requirement no longer plays any role in their particular experience of Nibbana, in which all conditioned existence is said to be 'irreversibly relinquished'. This is an unhealthy alienation from the wondrous overall existence he or she inextricably forms part of and we believe that this cannot have been the intention of the Buddha.

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question What is the difference between Advayavada Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta?

answer Without going into too much detail, according to the Advaita-Vedanta religion, we each of us have a surviving soul and this soul forms part of an unchanging overall godhead called Brahman. Also, the world as we know it, is 'maya', an illusion of the nescient mind 'like a mirage in the desert'. Advayavada Buddhism is, instead, a non-dual and life-affirming philosophy and way of life which adheres faithfully to the fundamental anatman or no-soul doctrine of Buddhism, and which sees life as one of the many very real manifestations of existence and existence itself as a constant flux of ever-changing events with no known beginning or necessary end. As for the human life process specifically, the planet earth is obviously, to loosely quote Alan Watts, 'peopling' most wondrously at this particular time in its history; its purpose, or lack of it, is, of course, beyond man's ultimate understanding.

question Inspired by their contact with Advaita Vedanta, Buddhist teachers like Howie Cohn, Anna Douglas, and Kate Wheeler practice and teach meditation not as a progressive path to self-improvement but as an opportunity to reconnect directly with our timeless nature. "On the Vipassana retreats I offer," says Cohn, "people often find that the effort of becoming starts to dissolve, the seeking mind exhausts itself, and the recognition dawns that they are already complete just as they are." [Stephan Bodian, in Tricycle]

answer That is not our position. We do not understand our nature as being static and timeless. Our position is, on the contrary, that the objective of the Buddha's Middle Way is to reconnect and reconcile us dynamically with wondrous overall existence moving forwards over time. In Advayavada Buddhism, Nirvana is our perfect attunement with all-comprising existence advancing over time.

question You say that in Advayavada Buddhism the Buddha's Eightfold Path is "dynamic and strictly non-dual and non-comparative"; what exactly do you mean?

answer In most other forms of Buddhism, the Noble Eightfold Path is made up of eight largely unrelated and prescriptive factors. For Advayavada Buddhism, however, it is clear that the objective of the Middle Way devoid of extremes, the madhyama-pratipad, being the correct existential attitude expounded by the Buddha, is the abandonment of all fixed views and to reconnect and reconcile us with wondrous overall existence as it truly is beyond our commonly limited and biased personal experience of it - the Eightfold Path is therefore understood dynamically as an ongoing reflexion at the level of our personal lives of existence as a whole becoming over time, as an ongoing reflexion in human terms of pratityasamutpada. It is for this reason, that the eight steps of the Noble Eightfold Path, as advocated by Advayavada Buddhism, do depend sequentially on each other, are to be followed repeatedly step by step one step at the time, are free of any conventional criteria set beforehand by others or ourselves that one is supposed to conform to, and are fully 'actual' in the sense that they are not done for a further purpose or motive which is not in the step itself - the only thing one has to consider is whether our realisation of this next step is to our knowledge at this very moment (acquired through texts, teachers and thought) the best possible one under the everchanging circumstances.

note "[According to Zhuangzi] perfected people respond to the people and things that come before them, but the appropriate response does not include inciting, challeging, pursuing, or retaining things. This is why Zhuangzi [Chuang-tzu] says that perfected persons 'go after nothing, welcome nothing'. Like mirrors, they do not pursue things, but they are responsive to things. Additionally, just as mirrors do not store or retain the images that pass before them, perfected persons do not retain or hold on to their previous activities or responses. They 'respond without storing', that is, they respond to each situation naturally, one at the time, without allowing the previous situation to interfere in the current one." (Erin M. Cline, in Philosophy East and West)

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question I think I understand the basic principle of the Buddha's Middle Way. The Eightfold Path is similar to the Christian Ten Commandments and is an example of how best to develop your life. But am I right in believing that the Middle Way is also an acceptance of destiny, whilst trying to live life as it is now as best as you can?

answer The Noble Eightfold Path is indeed frequently seen in the West as a sort of Buddhist version of the Ten Commandments. In popular Buddhism, however, people generally identify themselves as being Buddhist by periodically reciting publicly, not the Eightfold Path, with which they are often not very familiar, but the Threefold Refuge (in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha) and the Five Precepts (not to kill, steal, misbehave sexually, lie or become intoxicated). In Advayavada Buddhism, the Noble Eightfold Path is interpreted dynamically as an autonomous process of progressive insight and an ongoing reflexion at the human level and in human terms of wondrous overall existence progressing over time: the Eightfold Path allows us "to do as Totality does", or "to fall into step with Totality", Totality, that is, as it is beyond our commonly limited and biased personal experience of it.

question In one of your talks in Dutch, you describe Advayavada as an 'enkelvoudigheidsleer', which simply means 'nonduality teaching' in English.

answer A well-known saying in Zen goes something like this: "The land where it is never hot or cold, is where in the summer I sweat and in the winter I shiver". What it means is that it is hot anywhere only if you compare it with the thought of cold in our minds, and vice-versa. We are comparing a temperature with our recollection or idea of another. We are in fact comparing something real with something unreal. It is this dualism of what is and is not, of what is so and is not so, that we, as in Zen, seek to transcend first in Advayavada Buddhism. It is important to understand how our mind works in this respect. This is what professor Murti means by the intellect being infected by an "inveterate tendency to view Reality as identity or difference, permanent or momentary, one or many etc." This is where it all starts. We are constantly creating images in our mind of what is not there in order to determine what is. We must become very aware of this mechanism of our mind if we are to proceed at all effectively along the Middle Way. You have, for instance, not got very far yet when you still see as true the image of a wicked world which you yourself have conjured up to contrast your own so-called achievements with, when you still require the conception of an evil world to be good, an enemy to feel strong.

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question I'm curious about why you chose Advayavada Buddhism. Zen seems to be the most direct path to enlightenment without all the esoteric spiritual baggage. Isn't awakening the only worthwhile point?

answer Zen as usually practised is self-centered and inward-looking, and the purpose of Advayavada Buddhism is, on the contrary, to become a true and active part of the dynamic whole by means of the Noble Eightfold Path as taught in our form of Buddhism.

question The Buddha said that he taught the Way that leads to the cessation of suffering. One of the categorical techniques he prescribed was skilful means. In my opinion, scientific medicine is one skilful means that should be used wherever appropriate. Should a Buddhist seek treatment, including medicinal drugs, to deal with mental and emotional problems?

answer Yes, of course. If he or she has tried other means, such as meditation and lifestyle changes without gaining relief, then the person should additionally seek help from all the proven treatment modalities that modern medicine has to offer.

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question Joe Ordinary Smith, the real recipient of the Buddha's teachings, especially in this day and age of depravity, could never and will never embrace your teachings. They are too highly theoretical and Buddhism is profound in its simplicity. You have missed the mark. As Nichiren said: It is better to be a leper who chants 'namu myoho renge-kyo' than the high priest of the Tientai sect.

answer You will find it very difficult to study a straightforward non-dual and life-affirming philosophy and way of life like Advayavada Buddhism objectively, being, as you seem to be, so uncompromisingly committed to a religious teaching and its escapist cant. Many people denigrate humanity to cover up their own shortcomings. In this perplexingly cynical day and age, Advayavada Buddhism, with its clear and simple message of reconciliation, is therefore a particularly exciting and rewarding standpoint and we regret that so few seem to have the moral courage and determination to embrace its invaluable principles.

question According to Shingon esoterism, matter and spirit are one, and therefore a sixth element, consciousness, has been added to the traditional five elements. On the front face of a stupa you will find the seed syllables for earth, water, fire, air and ether, which form the mantra of Vairochana, and on the back face there is the syllable Bam, for consciousness. By extension the human body is comparable to a stupa. The main metaphysical sutras studied in Shingon are the Prajñaparamita, the Saddharmapundarika and the Avatamsaka sutras, and the main tantric scriptures are the Mahavairochana, the Sambhodi and the Vajra sutras. The practice of Shingon devotion together with the study of these sutras gives one the ability to realize buddhahood in this life.

answer In Advayavada Buddhism thought, consciousness (to know) is seen as a function, a biological process, which is an event, and not as a thing, whilst in Shingon esoterism, as you kindly explain, consciousness is considered an element, as earth, water, fire, etc, i.e. a thing, which implies that it has corporeality, a proposition we cannot share.

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question In one of your previous answers you say the following: "Due to ignorance we may, however, misinterpret reality and see the conventional relative truth of for example work and play as ultimate truth. When we are unaware of or choose to disregard the existence of the underlying field of experience, when we are blind or oblivious to its wonders, we become enmeshed in Samsara or, to use more familiar Western imagery, we become the carriers of 'original sin'. But to experience existence at the level of absolute emptiness is nothing less than Nirvana - this is what the Advayavadin endeavours to achieve". What is, may I ask, your interpretation of 'original sin'?

Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden

answer In the fanciful Garden of Eden parable, God forbids man to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and later prevents him, when man is seen to have disobeyed, to eat from the tree of everlasting life. It transpires at this point that God's reason for the initial ban had been that upon eating that fruit (usually misrepresented as an apple) man would want to "become as one of us" (Genesis 3:22) and be entitled to appraise life according to his own standards of right and wrong. Now, earlier on, it says quite clearly that God had seen that everything he had made "was very good" (Genesis 1:31), and it is therefore because of man's hubristic reluctance to accept God's creation in toto unconditionally, cornily symbolized in the story by his being ashamed of his natural nakedness, why he is banished from the Garden. Contemporary carriers of 'original sin' can, indeed, often be easily recognized from afar by their silly obsessive clothing habits!

question What, if anything, has this to do with Buddhism?

answer It means that the knowledge beyond conventional human understanding ascribed to God in Judeo-Christian mythology is qualitatively very much the same as the higher truth of Madhyamaka.

question What is your position in the so-called burqa debate?

answer In principle it makes no difference to us whether people are naked or clothed. We do however strongly oppose for reasons of security the use of clothes which hide the face such as niqabs or burkas.

question Lately I came across the term Brilliant Sanity, also called Basic Wisdom. It is described in Core Process Psychotherapy as "the presence of that which is already free, ubiquitous, limitless and inherent"; it "arises in the moment, creates the bigger picture of it all and holds meaning"; it is "also known as Buddha Nature or Tathagatagarbha, and who we truly are", and as "intrinsic health, characterized by spaciousness, clarity and warmth, inherent in us, existing in all beings, and unconditional"; it is further "our inherent wakefulness that can be pointed to, recognized and encouraged through psychological work", and "because the goal is a way of being in the present, and the impulse towards that goal is the goal itself, Brilliant Sanity is the impulse towards Brilliant Sanity". The concept immediately reminded me of your Fourth Sign of Being.

answer We are not conversant with Core Process Psychotherapy, but Brilliant Sanity or Basic Wisdom, as described, certainly seems to be the same force immanent in the whole of existence which we call the Fourth Sign of Being, when entertained psychologically. The concept of Brilliant Sanity points to a deep trust in the way things truly are beyond our often distorted personal view of them. In Advayavada Buddhism, the Buddha is understood to have been first and foremost a healer, a healer of duhkha, of existential suffering, angst, and regret - the teaching of the Buddha is understood in Advayavada Buddhism as a Way of Reconciliation with existence as a whole just right as it is, i.e. as it truly is beyond our commonly limited and biased, and often deluded and incomplete personal experience of it. It would seem that Core Process Psychotherapy seeks to assist us in achieving this same reconciliation, when our conventional efforts to do so are found wanting.

question Zen Master Dogen said that as soon as we become conscious that we have hit the mark, we have already viewed it from our personal point of view as a yardstick, and that letting go and throwing down our personal point of view as a yardstick is actualized only beyond our consciousness.

answer When you understand that there is no self and that your idea of having a self is caused by your fixed relation to the objects of the mind, by your identification with some belief about things, then it is only a matter of making the way you look at things flexible and fluid, for instance by following the Eightfold Path dynamically and proactively as a process of progressive insight as Advayavada Buddhism teaches, to start seeing things as they really are. The Path is, under all circumstances, the sure road to enlightenment.

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question In your answers you often refer to the Tao and its force Te - what are the main differences between Taoism and Advayavada Buddhism?

Lao-tzu going West!

answer Clearly not doing any justice at all to the profundity of Lao-Chuang [Lao-Zhuang] thought, we might nevertheless say that whilst the Taoist seeks to follow the Tao, the Way of the universe and of man, particularly by balancing the yin and yang aspects of Nature in his own life, the Advayavadin, like the Zen practitioner, does not stop here, but goes on to transcend this polarity in his thinking and way of life - the Advayavadin achieves all this by following in his or her daily life the Noble Eightfold Path 'with no preconceived goal or preconception of what is proper'. [John Willemsens a.k.a. Advayavadananda, is the author of De weg van Lao-tse, Bres, Amsterdam 1990, a Dutch version of the Tao Te Ching.]

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question I am unsure how you are using the term time-being. Are you saying that time and being are the same? In meditation periodically we enter into a state where time is no longer a factor. You enter and then you leave. You have no recollection of any time passage nor events. If time and being are the same, where is time a part of this experience?

answer During your form of meditation time does not seem to you to be a factor only because you are personally unaware of the innumerable events that however do continue to go on all around you during its duration.

question I have been practicing breath meditation for a few months now and I am wondering whether what I am experiencing is not merely something that my mind is creating on the basis of things I have read about Buddhism.

answer We urge you to practice touch-and-go meditation as a training in awareness of the here-and-now unfolding of non-dual existence, in order to understand the underlying purpose of the Buddha's teaching.

question How do unmanifest potentials fit in with your view of the 'whole of infinite Reality'? Is the 'whole of infinite Reality' only contained in the phenomenal world?

answer There is no other reality than the phenomenal world and the phenomenal world exists only in the present. It is spontaneously brought about in the present by the interdependent origination or conditioned co-arising or universal relativity of all phenomena, called pratityasamutpada in Sanskrit, which is the immanent incessant dynamic principle of existence. This means that the ingredients of what you call an 'unmanifest potential' must be sought amongst present phenomena and that your idea of it is merely a herenow mental deduction or extrapolation. A pre-cognition of unmanifest potentials would imply that they already exist in the future, which is an impossibility.

question As our awareness gets sharper, the momentariness of all phenomena becomes more and more clear to us. We begin to see that all phenomena are made up of tiny little segments, just like watching a row of ants. We begin to see that thoughts, feelings, images, and all the sensations are momentary. They are arising and vanishing, arising and vanishing. This insight should uproot and remove all conceit in us. How can we think "I am this" or "I am that", "I have attained this" or "I have done that" when each of these thoughts is but a bubble in the mind, simply arising and vanishing in an instant, with no ground and no power?

answer One problem with such an extreme 'momentariness view', is, for example, how memories (including knowledge) and the effects of past deeds might then be carried forward over time - in Vijñanavada Buddhism this difficulty led to the atman-like idea of a 'storehouse consciousness'. But we believe that, to begin with, all phenomena, or dharmas, must not be placed on equal footing. Things and events are not the same. Things have conventional corporeality and building blocks. Events, as thoughts and feelings, however, certainly occur, but they do not exist, and it is wrong to reify them in any way. So, as far as the impermanence of the traditional five or so skandhas is concerned, there is, in fact, only the physical rupa skandha to worry about: the non-physical arupa skandhas are merely clusters of events that simply cease to occur at death. We say that a rupa skandha survives only for as long as its building blocks are all there and in good working order, and that we owe the cohesion and activity of the rupa skandha (of the human rupa skandha for about 4,000 weeks at present) to the spontaneous dynamic principle of existence: the interdependent and conditioned co-arising or interdependent origination or immanent incessant universal dynamic relativity of all phenomena, called pratityasamutpada in Sanskrit, and which is the same as Emptiness, and, more importantly in the present context, the same as Buddha-nature and karma, which is pratityasamutpada or the becoming of reality at the level of sentient beings. Modern science must still disclose how exactly things like the human body come to self-organize and cooperate internally. Recent developments in stem cell research are quite fascinating in this respect.

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question The school of Buddhism that leads to true and indestructible happiness is that of Nichiren Buddhism. By chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, which means 'Veneration to the Sutra of the Lotus of the Good Law', you shall be able to tap the Buddhahood that exists at the most fundamental level of all life and attain Buddhahood yourself. When you chant to the Gohonzon, the mandala that represents Nichiren Daishonin's enlightened life, which is no different from the enlightened potential within all ordinary people when tapped through the power of each person's faith and practice, you shall be able to become one with the Good Law and to draw from it inexhaustible strength, wisdom, joy and hope. Chanting also helps you to summon courage, strength and confidence to overcome whatever difficulties may arise.

answer Thank you for your very elucidating description of Nichiren Buddhism. In Advayavada Buddhism the teaching of the Buddha is similarly understood as a way of reconciliation with wondrous overall existence as it truly is beyond our commonly limited and biased experience of it. As explained before, in Advayavada Buddhism the Noble Eightfold Path is understood as an ongoing reflexion at the level of our personal lives of existence as a whole moving forwards over time in its manifest direction - Nirvana is seen as the ultimate reconciliation with reality becoming achievable by man. The Path is seen, in other words, as the sure road to enlightenment for all.

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question Our wars and industry dump more and more waste into our collective livingroom. Is this culturally or spiritually appropriate in any of our traditions or belief systems? "We keep dragging our children, kicking and screaming, into our burning houses of ideology in the name of salvation, enlightenment and truth."

answer We are very sure that most of us in the Advayavada Network sincerely share your deep concern. Humanity's behaviour is indeed increasingly contrary to progress as defined in Advayavada Buddhism as that which is in agreement with wondrous overall existence advancing over time. At present humanity simply lacks the intellectual capacity and moral fibre necessary to govern itself and the world properly. The warning signs of a possible planetary ecological and socio-economic disaster are being ignored (the production of biofuels and increased meat consumption will, for instance, bring about large scale famine in the world, destroying Nature in the process) and the current infatuation with neo-liberal globalization and the strong revival of nonrational monotheism in many parts of the world are seriously delaying the development and introduction of the necessary imaginative new paradigms (e.g. the equalization [gelijkstelling] of labour [time] and capital [money] investments).

Islamism (Islamic extremism, jihadism) is, however, the gravest single danger our weary planet faces at this time - we find their declared aim, i.e. the imposition, by force if necessary, of their backward, fundamentalist Islamic principles very repugnant. No cause or grievance can justify the terrible deeds of the Islamist terrorists in all parts of the world. Though the crude and ill-advised Anglo-American invasion and occupation of Iraq has only helped to exacerbate the situation further, the unremitting sectarian violence in that country is emblematic of the entire region's underlying challenges.

question Would the current definition of Advayavada Buddhism not benefit from being more explicit as to its socio-political standpoint, perhaps in some small way such as by adding the words 'engaged' or 'socially engaged'?

answer Though no doubt a considerable number of individual members of the Advayavada Network are involved in socially engaged activities, the Advayavada Foundation (of which this Information Center is the mouthpiece) does not actively support specific socially engaged activities, apart from promoting better interfaith and other human relations through common ground conflict prevention and resolution.

Our common ground activities seek a) to increase awareness in society at large of the secular, non-religious nature of the vast common ground shared by all people without exception everywhere, and b) to promote the implementation of the following universal Common Ground Negotiation Formula: "In the case of tension and the threat of conflict, to immediately lower our concern and attention to the level of the values we already share and to restart the negotiations from that point onwards as often as necessary." This common ground negotiation formula, which is universally applicable particularly early on 'in the case of tension and the threat of conflict' is not merely one more naïve and uncritical formula for pacifism and appeasement: an essential prerequisite is that all parties be willing to seek a just and peaceful settlement of their differences and to do so in terms of their common ground, which is a difficult proposition for the adherents of, particularly, militant and borderline ideologies.

Our common ground is not a metaphysical concept nor a particular set of values. It is, as we use the expression, the simple experience of our shared humanity, i.e. our shared humanity including what most religions and beliefs (including many forms of Buddhism) hubristically appropriate themselves of as if it were somehow the result of their own doing. The common ground shared by all 'isms' is secular or non-religious - whether they admit to it or not, all religions and beliefs contain and share a very large secular, nonmetaphysical component. This shared component is from the bottom up our common ground.

A borderline ideology is, as we understand it, an ideology which by its very nature is stretched to the limit and cannot be developed further without it ceasing to be what it is and mutating into something else: patriotism is a borderline ideology which can easily become bigotry, nationalism and xenophobia. This is also true for many other human activities, including sports.

question In every age the greater part of the earth's population has been caught up in the crossfire of extremism, and our age is certainly no different. I am endeavouring to break through my ignorance and complacency, to find the common ground, and to walk the Middle Way.

answer Though often far from visible and requiring, as it were, much turning of the spade, our common ground is nonetheless a given, a fortunate permanent feature of the human condition. And the Noble Eightfold Path is indeed a supreme example of how one might best proceed along that ground. Therefore the purpose of the aforementioned common ground activities sponsored by us is not to investigate and debate the differences and similarities of the philosophical or religious superstructures, but instead to uncover and develop for the common good this underlying neutral, secular, non-philosophical and non-religious substratum that all people without exception everywhere do share, whether they realize it or not. Abundant uncontaminated and fertile common ground (guaranteed and protected by the secular state) is essential for real, non-confrontational multiculturalism to succeed.

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question What are the similarities between Advayavada Buddhism and Advaitayana Buddhism?

answer There are no similarities whatsoever. We came across the following explanation of Advaitayana 'Buddhism' on the internet: "The other schools of Buddhism [sic] make no presumption about a Divine Being and focus on the elimination of desire through effort. Advaitayana is based on presumption of a Divine Being (the "Self" of Advaita Vedanta) who can be located through the Grace of a Spiritual Master. Desire is transcended not by self-effort, but Gracefully, by being distracted by Communing with the Divine Person." None of these strange suppositions are shared by Advayavada Buddhism.

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From abroad: Please use the handy PayPal 'make a donation' link or instruct your bank to transfer your donation to the Advayavada Stichting, account NL83ABNA0814472079 at the ABN-AMRO Bank, Singel 548, 1017 AZ Amsterdam (BIC: ABNANL2A). All amounts welcome. Thank you very much!

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(last modified 31 January 2016)

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