Wherein Sarlo Expounds
Further on the Categories
The average rating of those in the Fringe category is by far the lowest. This reflects more than just a prejudice against systems going beyond my version of traditional wisdom. That is there, to be sure, in the form of a relative conservatism about what works, but the main thing is the focus of fringies outside the self. As the union of the self and "other" is the end of all seeking, and the enquiry into the self the basic activity, focussing on some outside other (aside from the special case of devotion, where the object is specifically and verifiably dissolution into the master) seems at best particularly roundabout, but more likely a stream leading into the desert, never to reach the sea.
The Devotion category has the next-lowest average rating, but not because of any opinion about its intrinsic worth, moral or otherwise. The main consideration here is utility. Is it going to work, ie do the job of bringing the seeker to dissolution? The answer is, it depends very much on the seeker, and in my estimation, the kind of seeker that can benefit from this approach does not, at this stage of the evolution of our species, represent a large proportion of the population. So it goes, eh? The modern/postmodern age has created a population far more stressed and mind-oriented than any in the past; the simpler, heart-oriented seeker of bygone days is no more, at least among those with the tools to be reading this.
The plain fact is that these devotional masters may find suitable disciples, that is ones they can help, but they won't be finding them on the internet, and if you are looking here for a master, the devotional types will not likely be able to help you that much. Not because they are worth any less than other types, but because of you.
There is also one inherent drawback worth mentioning of this group: all groups in fact contain their share of bogi, but the ones in this category are perhaps the ones most likely to abuse and really damage those in their charge. Seekers attracted to a bogus of another category will in most cases soon see through it and move on but devotional types can cling for years to a manipulative, exploitive master.
Between Advaita and the Middle Path there is not much to choose, average-ratingwise. Perhaps it could be said that there is less spread among non-dualists, they are more consistent with each other. They are similar philosophically, support each other, offer similar advice, etc, and with the relative flood of recent graduates from the Papaji and Nisargadatta streams, there is not a lot to say about their differences, especially considering that most are a little wet behind the ears and have not yet shown their effectiveness over a period of time. But the number of people attaining their "drive-through" enlightenment (see also The Advaita Disease) gives one pause: so many of these folks have since recanted that one must wonder if this path is particularly prone to delusion.
The towering figure in Advaita in this century has been Ramana Maharshi. He remains almost universally loved and respected, and his line, through Papaji, continues to live and flourish. The limiting features of Advaita are its dryness and the relative difficulty of getting any traction, that is, the featureless non-dual landscape offers little in the way of practical help. While apparently highly effective for certain types of people, the principal method of Advaita a self-enquiry that discards successive answers to"Who am I?" until no persona is left is so devoid of connection to the material and emotional world and the lives of ordinary people that few are benefitted. Ramana's recognition of the efficacy of the Devotional path made it possible for him to go beyond this and help a wide range of people. Still he was relatively dualistic about this, if i may be so bold, in that he recognised the ends of the spectrum but not much in between.
Seeing the limitations of the Devotional and Advaita paths, Middle Path masters have made conscious choices to explore more accessible and above all, practical alternatives. They have invented a myriad of idiosyncratic methods to engage our minds and energies while we carry on the search. The best of them come to meet us where we are, rather than where we should be.
As a class, Middle Path groups have engendered streams of enlightenment spanning many centuries, the best known being in the Sufi, Zen and Tibetan traditions. Methods have included all manner of practices whose efficacy varies tremendously but, at least in the ideal, they are tailored to meet our individual needs. It might be said of a master in this class that he/she guides us to be more in tune with ourselves so that eventually we can be our own inner guides. Thus he/she also in the end frees us from the dependence that so often arises in the master-disciple relationship.