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Making God Laugh

An interview with Dr. Vijai Shankar
by Simeon Alev


Dr. Vijai

In this, our fourth and final interview exploring the mysterious Singular Absolute world of Advaita Vedanta, or teachings of absolute nondualism, we are pleased to present an electrifying, ultimately challenging and thoroughly provocative interview with the truly outrageous Dr. Vijai Shankar. Who is Dr. Shankar? Well, true to his teaching of Advaita, he refused to speak about his past (he even made sure to tell his publicist that whatever details we did manage to squeeze out of her, he wanted it to be absolutely clear that they had not come from him!). Why? Because, as Dr. Shankar unselfconsciously and boldly declares, he does not exist! Neither do any of us, for that matter.

Advaita simply tells us that the only reality, the one truth of existence, is that there is only one Self Absolute—beyond name, beyond form, beyond concept—the realization of which will utterly and finally release any man or woman from the nightmare of embodied temporal existence. It is Dr. Shankar's unwavering adherence to his realization of his absolute nature that makes him such a remarkable example of this uncompromising teaching. As a matter of fact, it is due to his thoroughly uncompromising adherence to the nondual perspective of Advaita philosophy that one could even say he is a fundamentalist! And it is precisely because of his absolute unwillingness to admit even the slightest trace of reality to anything other than that nondual Absolute that we were interested in having an encounter with him—our own SELF?—for this issue of WIE: "What is enlightenment? Does anybody know what they're talking about?"

You see, the most interesting and provocative question for us in relationship to this whole question of nonduality is precisely this: What is nonduality in relationship to enlightenment, exactly? Does it, as classical interpretations of Advaita would tell us, completely exclude temporal existence? Or does it, as some more modern interpretations would tell us, include this world of time and space? Is that which is Absolute exclusive or inclusive—or both? Dr. Shankar's unrelenting insistence on the unreality of temporal existence automatically presents some pretty challenging questions about the very nature, meaning and purpose of embodied existence, and of the enlightened perspective itself. If, as Dr. Shankar so passionately declares, we do not exist, a Pandora's box of undeniably relevant questions automatically appear. For example, what is the right relationship to embodied existence if, in fact, it does not exist? What is the wrong relationship to embodied existence if, in fact, it does not exist? And finally, what is no relationship to embodied existence? After all—how can you have a relationship with something that doesn't exist?

It seems to us that Advaita's insistence on the unreality of the world presents an impossible paradox—an impossible paradox because the very reality of embodied existence always presents very real questions that the perspective of "unreality" in and of itself can never answer.

We've all been inspired by the Doctor's powerful and unwavering passion in his unequivocal insistence on the unreality of anything other than THAT. For example, he boldly declared that this interview was futile, asserting that the plain white paper that it would be printed on—free from words, concepts and opinions—would be of more value to the sincere seeker than the interview itself. And yet, at the same time, we couldn't reconcile the perplexing incongruity of his insistence after the interview was over that he be able to review all of our copy! Dare we ask the inevitable question: Who wants to know? And there was the remarkably challenging ordeal of negotiating with his at times overzealous "Director of Information," who was horrified to discover that we don't print contact information at the end of our interviews, and therefore asked in annoyed tones, "Well, what's in it for us?" Seeing as, once again, neither Dr. Shankar nor his representatives, nor ourselves for that matter, actually exist, what difference could it possibly make whether we printed their contact information or not? And in any case, we had reiterated to her that we always diligently forward inquiries that we receive about our contributors.

It is because of these and other similar, always intriguing and ultimately unavoidable questions about the absolute nature of enlightenment and its relationship to embodied existence that we are pleased to present this provocative interview with the remarkable Dr. Vijai Shankar. There is no doubt that he's for real, but the question is: Does what he's saying make sense? And for that matter, is Advaita a viable teaching? Which means: Does it answer the ultimate question but still leave too many other questions unanswered? Or does finding the answer to the ultimate question instantly remove all other questions once and for all and forever? You decide.

By the way, even though it's irrelevant information as far as he's concerned, we thought that you might be interested to know that Dr. Shankar works as a research scientist, and lives and teaches in a garage apartment-cum-ashram called Kaivalya Shivalaya ("Abode of the Absolute"), in Galveston, Texas. 

Our courageous and independently-thinking editor, Simeon Alev, took the plunge with Dr. Shankar by phone at the end of June.


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