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Getting Clear About Enlightenment

Not Just a Book Review of Arjuna Ardagh's
The Translucent Revolution
by Tom Huston

Tom Huston


“Work, family, busy schedules, relationships: all seemed to sabotage simplicity. . . . The situation was the same everywhere. The realization was incredibly easy; living it was the challenge.”
The Translucent Revolution, pp. 3-4

These days, we're all used to seeing Deepak Chopra's winning smile peeking out at us from the checkout lane of our local Stop & Shop. Neale Donald Walsch's Conversations with God and James Redfield's Celestine Prophecy seem to be pretty ubiquitous too—archetypes of spiritual-but-not-religious Americana. Still, despite their omnipresence, and despite whatever degree of spiritual merit they actually do possess, they can't quite prepare one for encountering a treatise about authentic “nondual” enlightenment for sale right next to the Twinkies and the Ho-Hos.

I'm referring to The Power of Now. Published a few years ago, but just recently released in paperback, German mystic Eckhart Tolle's lucid and accessible exegesis on the highest of spiritual attainments has sold over two million copies (sales that were due, in no small part, to Oprah Winfrey's 2002 televised endorsement of the book as one she has read eight times and keeps on her bedside table). The endless popularity of New Age and self-help books notwithstanding, these figures are surprising because Tolle's mystical manifesto is popularizing and conveying a level of spiritual depth that has typically remained inaccessible to all but a chosen few. In fact, with its constant emphasis on transcending the “egoic mind” and powerful transmission of the awakened state of timeless presence, The Power of Now is like pop spirituality on steroids. Yet it is also merely the most visible book in a genre that over the past decade, has been working harder than ever to bring enlightenment down from the mountaintop of esoteric traditions like Zen and Sufism and cast it free into the secular mainstream.

Discarding the dogma of the past, stripping mysticism of its religious and ritualistic trappings, the authors of these new books about enlightenment—people like Byron Katie, Satyam Nadeen, and Gangaji—stand united in their claim that the true nature of reality is an “open secret,” available to anyone bold enough to take a good look at the world beyond the alluring sheen of the conceptual mind, right here and right now. And if we do look, what will we see? Why, they say, nothing other than reality as it actually is: a vast oneness—or, more properly, a nonduality—that has been variously called God, Spirit, the Self, the Absolute, Nirvana, Consciousness, Emptiness, or the Ground of Being.

Seeing themselves at the lead of this primarily Western mystical reformation are the assorted men and women known, loosely, as the Neo-Advaitins. A nonsectarian derivation of the ancient Hindu sect of Advaita (“nondual”) Vedanta, the Neo-Advaitins are a strange breed, transcending time and place, ritual and tradition, class and creed. A Neo-Advaitin could be your neighbor, your gardener, or your favorite bartender, peacefully going about his or her business while remaining half-submerged in the primordial Ground of Being, and you'd never be the wiser. Indeed, the ability of Neo-Advaitins to blend seamlessly into everyday life is one of their most distinguishing features. While it's true that some have chosen to stand out from the crowd by taking on the role of spiritual teacher, adopting the name of a Hindu god or an Indian river, or spending years sitting on the same park bench every day, the majority clearly prefer to lead nondescript, ordinary lives, just like you and me. There's only one crucial difference: the Neo-Advaitins act fully in accord with the one enlightened truth—the experiential recognition that God is all there is—while the rest of us go about our business in a disconnected daze.

At least, that's the ideal.

With the recent publication of The Translucent Revolution: How People Just Like You Are Waking Up and Changing the World, by Arjuna Ardagh, the hard truth about Neo-Advaita may finally have been revealed.


“When I took a good look at my relationship with my own family, with my friends, and with the earth, I had to admit I . . . saw a schism between the depth of realization and the quality of my life.”

The Translucent Revolution, p. 4

Arjuna Ardagh was a successful Seattle-based hypnotherapist before becoming a popular teacher of the Neo-Advaitin way. In 1991, after two decades of spiritual seeking—including many years as a student of the controversial guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (a.k.a. Osho)—he experienced a “radical awakening” to his true, nondual Self with the aid of his second Indian guru, the Advaita Vedanta master H.W.L. Poonja. Returning to the West Coast of America after spending a year in the company of his teacher, Ardagh started offering satsang, or “communion in the truth,” to roomfuls of spiritual seekers multiple times a week. But over the next few years, he began to realize that merely experiencing the truth of Neo-Advaita wasn't necessarily sufficient to transform a person's life in any fundamental way at all—including his own.

“I found myself and my friends in an interesting predicament,” he writes in his 1998 manual of personal transformation, Relaxing into Clear Seeing. “Having seen the perfection underlying all apparent imperfection, there is no turning back. You cannot unsee what has been seen. . . . Yet for almost everyone I know there has appeared to be some coming and going, some deep, invisible mechanism that pulls consciousness back into separation, desire, suffering, and time.” Along with the apparent instability of their spiritual attainments, Ardagh and some of his fellow Neo-Advaitins began to confess that their conscience had been pricked by certain aspects of their outer lives that didn't reflect their inner realizations of universal oneness. “I was fortunate to have many deep and honest friends who also played the role of 'spiritual teacher,'” he writes in The Translucent Revolution. “These teachers were respected, successful, and of immense service to many people. Yet, like their students, they were challenged by the gap between the teaching and its embodiment in their daily lives.”

So, faced with such a predicament, staring squarely at the disturbing divide between one's spiritual understanding and one's actions in everyday life, what is a good Neo-Advaitin to do?

In As It Is: The Open Secret to Living an Awakened Life, Neo-Advaitin Tony Parsons writes: “A great deal of confusion has been generated . . . concerning the need to overcome the ego, the mind, thoughts, etc., and none of it is relevant. . . . If any of these things are active, then they will be active regardless of the idea that you can have any influence on their manifestation. When awakening happens, then everything is seen as absolutely fine just the way it is.” And Neo-Advaitin Steven Harrison explains in Getting to Where You Are: “There is no inner and outer. There is no engaged spirituality. . . . There is nothing to engage that is outside the movement of our own conceptualization. And there is no place to stand from which to engage this constant flow of interpretation. Thought has divided the world. Conveniently the problem is out there, or in there, but not here, now.”

In other words, the Neo-Advaitin solution to the question of a gap between one's knowledge and one's actions is essentially: Don't worry, be happy! For the Neo-Advaitin is never puzzled, troubled, or at a loss for words. Holding steadfast to a vision of reality that transcends the “flow of interpretation” generated by the rational, thinking mind, the Neo-Advaitin sees all things clearly, and all is understood. The thoughts and actions of the “human monkey,” whatever they may be, are enjoyed with a smile and a wink—as nothing but the empty dance of the one infinite Consciousness that alone is real. Any ideas about a separation between one's words and deeds, any gnawing sense that one is living in a state of deepening hypocrisy, are seen merely as dualistic thoughts and feelings—and therefore perfectly irrelevant in light of the nondual truth. “Once awakening happens,” Parsons assures us, “it is seen that there is no such thing as right or wrong.”

But Arjuna Ardagh doesn't buy it anymore. Not all of it, at least. Breaking ranks with the Neo-Advaitin army of thought-free wisdom, Ardagh, through his Living Essence Foundation, is pioneering a new kind of spirituality—one that strives to integrate the revelation of nondual simplicity with all of the natural complexities and challenges of our very human lives. And if the 170 similarly minded teachers and theorists interviewed for his 500-page Translucent Revolution are any indication, he is by no means alone in this quest.

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