Counterfeit Hinduism: Neo-Vedanta and Neo-Advaita
Neo-Vedanta in India
In the late 19th century, several Hindu intellectuals re-envisioned the various religious traditions that comprise Hinduism in order to present a consolidated Hindu identity to the world. The foremost leader in this movement was Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902). He simplified Hinduism by teaching that one school of thought, Advaita, has always been the essence of the religion. Advaita postulates absolute monism: that the universe is an illusion and that enlightenment consists in realizing that the innermost self/soul is already the totality of the supreme God. A stream of Advaitins – including Vivekananda's guru Ramakrishna, and others such as Maharishi, Lahiri, Yukteswar, Yoganada (who popularized Hinduism in the West), Aurobindo, Sivananda, Poonja, Maharaj, and Krishnananda – convinced everyone to believe that Advaita is the essence of Hinduism. This has become a very popular notion in Hinduism amongst the uneducated masses and is believed by almost everyone in the West except scholars.
The Six Sub-Schools of Vedanta
Advaita is only one of the six sub-schools of Vedanta. The others are Dvaitadvaita (dual-non-dualism), Shuddhadvaita (pure non-dualism), Vishishtadvaita (non-dualism with uniqueness/qualifications), Acintya Bheda Abheda (inconceivable difference and non-difference), and Dvaita (dualism). All of these schools are opposed to Advaita. For descriptions of these schools go to The Six Sub-Schools of Vedanta page.
Neo-Advaita in the West
The so-called Advaitin “essence” of Hinduism was believed by many Westerners in the 19th century to be a perennial spirituality (it is consistently regarded as such, especially after Alduous Huxley wrote his influential book Perennial Philosophy) that may be transferred outside of Hinduism and practiced in a non-religious context. This gave rise to the Neo-Advaita movement, also known as the "satsang movement," which has its own non-Hindu American “gurus,” such as Mooji, Gangaji, Andrew Cohen, Adyashanti, Eckhart Tolle, etc. who charge money to enter their meetings (this should raise eyebrows!). They teach a spirituality that only consists in recognizing that the human being is no self besides the self that is already the absolute God. To simply realize this with the mind is considered the ultimate enlightenment and nothing more needs to be done. There is minimal spiritual work involved. Indeed, the West has always wanted easy religion/spirituality that is based on merely believing things. But the Indians, who have been practicing the spiritual path for thousands of more years than Americans (and the rest of the West), have a much more profound understanding of enlightenment. The Advaita school in Hinduism teaches that the realization must be deeply interiorized over the course of many years of sexual abstinence, studying the scriptures, intense ascetical discipline, and the practice of traditional yoga methods under the guidance of a guru.