A Clean Mirror

A Clean Mirror


This email was submitted anonymously by a person from the ShiningWorld community

Cleaning the mirror of the Subtle Body is knowing myself, placing responsibility where it is due and stopping internal projections.

I am awareness associated with a human form consisting of a Causal Body, a Subtle Body and a Gross Body. I permeate these bodies and make them appear to be alive, much like a ventriloquist makes his inert puppet look alive. The Subtle Body is a reflective medium because it is made from the finest of awareness’ manifest substances, sattva guna. The Gross Body, because it evolves from gross matter, tamoguna, does not reflect anything. I, awareness, shine on the Subtle Body and make it known. When it is illumined it reflects my awareness outwards towards life, the Dharma Field. It also reflects awareness back toward me.

As a human being, my default at birth is ignorance: I do not know who I am. Because of it my Subtle Body is mainly agitated (rajasic) and dull (tamasic) and sometimes clear (sattvic). With yoga, I remove the agitation and dullness and rendering it mostly sattvic. It becomes a clean mirror brightly reflecting awareness through my senses and causing righteous (dharmic) actions.

Although you can’t see a pure mind physically, a person with a purified Subtle Body usually has a charismatic bright aura and others are attracted to them. A sattvic Subtle Body is helpful, but it is not the goal of self inquiry. The goal is to gain the firm knowledge ‘I am pure awareness.’ This recognition informs, guides and empowers my life, here and now. By contrast, a rajasic Subtle Body extroverts awareness and makes a person agitated, restless and confused. A tamasic Subtle Body is so dull that it absorbs rather than reflects awareness; such a person appears to be dull, blank, morose, stupid and lazy. Both of these energies do not attract people.

Because of ignorance and an extroverted attention, I awareness, identify myself with my Gross and Subtle bodies (upadhis) and take the qualities playing in them to be mine. I think I am a human being. If the Subtle Body is disturbed I think I am disturbed. If it is dull, I think I am dull. If it is extroverted, I become fascinated and obsessed with gross and subtle objects. I anxiously seek them to make myself feel complete. I fall into an endless trap, a bottomless pit, a whirlpool called samsara.

My life experience with objects shows me that peace and happiness are not inherent in objects themselves. Through hard knocks, I gain some wisdom and begin to look for peace and happiness within myself. I purify my Subtle Body and thus it is able to reflect awareness…my self…back to myself. This is a metaphorical way of saying I gain knowledge about myself. A sattvic Subtle Body reflects awareness without rajasic distortions. If the Subtle Body is tamasic, I cannot experience the bliss of myself.

Seeing myself in the clean mirror of my mind I become fascinated the awareness that I am... pure presence of being, unconditioned awareness, absolute peace and happiness and lovingness. No wonder I am fascinated and thrilled. I am the best thing going, the ultimate satisfaction! Actually I am the only thing going! There is nothing better than me!! I see myself reflected in a clean mirror. Other than me everything is inert.... the Gross Body, the Subtle Body with its Mind and Intellect and Ego, the Causal Body i.e. my conditioning and even the person I used to think I was. They cannot do anything by themselves now because they are not conscious. They are mere instruments for me to use.

The Intellect is the instrument for discriminating and making decisions; it is influenced by past conditioning (vasanas) which lie dormant in the Causal Body and manifest in the Subtle Body as thought and emotions, as likes and dislikes. The Mind is the instrument for integrating perception from the senses, for doubting and raising emotions. The Ego is the instrument for directing actions through the Gross Body and for receiving and experiencing the results of actions; it is like a manager, organiser or executive but it does not own anything. The Gross Body is the tangible instrument through which experience and action occur.

All these instruments are inert but appear to be alive only when I, awareness, permeate and activate them. They are passive robotic tools powered by me. Put together they are a personality, a jiva person. The individual, the jiva,is a composite made of thoughts about the instruments I use to live, the roles I play, my relationships, work, possessions, circumstances, etc. But ultimately, the jiva person is a only a thought appearing in me. When I am ignorant of myself I think I am my roles and instruments and I think the world is real. I think I am a jiva. But jiva is not me. It is an object known to me, limitless awareness.

When I, awareness, identify with the waking state, I see myself as a waking person. In Sanskrit this person is called viswa. When I identify with the dream state, I define myself as a dreamer (taijasa), just another thought. When I identify with the sleep state, I see myself as a sleeper. I am none of these. They are merely roles I assume.


The Ego does not have a sense of itself; it cannot self-reflect since it is inert. The phrases ‘Ego-sense’ or ‘egotistical attitude’ are inaccurate and are misnomers, the result of confusion brought about by a fusion of Vedic science with modern psychology. Modern psychology considers the Ego as the self and and a healthy individuated Ego as the holy grail. It does not know that I, awareness, am the only self.

Unfortunately, in spiritual circles, the Ego has become a scapegoat and blamed for positive and negative experiences, for good and bad karma, but it is not to blame. It is just an inert passive tool. If anyone is to blame it is me under the spell of ignorance. When this condition obtains, I feel bad about myself and blindly perform actions to gain pleasant experiences. When positive results come, I take pride in myself. When negative results arise from negative thoughts, words or deeds, I blame the Ego. “The Ego did it!” What a convenient projection!

Blaming and punishing the inert Ego idea is not the way to spiritual maturity. I need to withdraw my projection from the Ego and take responsibility for my mistaken thoughts, words and deeds. When I am booked for speeding the cop gives me the ticket, not my vehicle.

My Subtle Body is a vehicle given to me by Me in the form of the creator of the field of life, Iswara. As long as I think of myself as a jiva, the law of karma, cause and effect, applies to me. But when I am firmly convinced that I am awareness, karma belongs to Isvara acting through the vasanas that I once thought were mine. I merely witness the play of the samsaric cycle of vasana – kama – karma (tendency – desire – action) and am free of it. Samsara has nothing to do with me! This is absolute freedom!

I Don’t Need a Subtle Body As long as I think I am a jiva person, I need a Subtle Body to reflect my nature as awareness. When I am firm in the knowledge of who I am, I do not need a Subtle Body to see myself, however purified it may be. I know and appreciate myself directly, immediately, without the aid of instruments.

I needn’t discard my Subtle Body because it does not affect me but I use it to interact with myself in the form of the Dharma Field. With it, I make appropriate and timely responses to what happens.

The shift from the jiva to me, awareness, is much more than a cognitive shift, an event happening only in the intellect. It is a ‘supra-cognitive’ shift, an ultimate paradigm identity shift. I am no longer situated in the physical or Subtle Body. I have ‘moved’ and ‘become’ what I always was. This movement has a beneficial ‘downstream’ effect on the Subtle Body and it cognitions. The rajas and tamas dissipate over time and the mind reflects my glory in glorious thoughts, feelings and actions. Whereas, before I asked the world for its blessings I now bless the world.

Here is my prayer of gratitude: “Thank you, Subtle Body. At the appropriate time, you will be returned to Ishvara. Thank you for the loan, Ishvara.

When the loan is paid I will continue as I always am…pure awareness, absolute peace, unconditioned presence.

Did God Make a Mistake?

Did God Make a Mistake?


There is an image offered us in the Katha Upanishad as an aid to understanding the nature of desire. We are told that God made a mistake: he fashioned human beings with our senses pointing outward. But a wise man corrected the mistake by focusing his attention inward, and there, he discovered his true self. 

To say that God made a mistake is to acknowledge that nature, uncorrected by wisdom, will lead us astray. Our attention will be drawn in the wrong direction, where objects appear like mirage water in the desert. We begin our trek toward the seeming oasis, but we never reach it. The closer we get, the more it recedes.

The wise man in the Upanishad recognizes that he is looking for satisfaction where it can never be found. He turns his attention away from the world. He stops chasing objects that appear to be the source of happiness and begins to wonder, “Who is this being who wants to be happy? Why do I feel unhappy to begin with?” We can do the same. 

When we initially turn inward, we first acknowledge that we are here, in this perplexing world, where nothing is as it seems. Now, it seems that we are a body. It seems that there are objects outside of our body – other people and things – that can give us pleasure or pain. We then set about pursuing the sources of pleasure and avoiding the sources of pain. There is no freedom in this, but mere reaction. And we want freedom for it is our nature. We can only have it when we stop reacting to the stimuli of external objects, like iron filings being pulled toward a magnet. 

In our body, our animal nature, we have no freedom. Hunger, lust, pain and pleasure are the events in the life of the body. And the mind? There is no mind, really, but only thoughts. The word “mind” signifies the notion of a knowing entity in which thoughts arise. But if any such entity exists, it must be separate from the thoughts. What is mind separated from thoughts?

When we speak of the mind, we are referring to a power, not an entity. This power pictures the world of objects according to the qualities of our senses and the coordinating faculty of our brain. The result is a thought, an image. We take these images to be real. That is, we believe that these images exist independently of the thought that is their only shape and substance. This is how objects are conceived. Once we have given birth to them, they become our world. Why is it not a happy world?

Because some of the images that appear in our awareness arouse what is called desire: we want to possess them. But if the image is in our awareness, we already possess it. What we usually mean by possession is some form of bodily union with an object: I want to sit in my house, drive in my car, count my money, have sex with my partner, etc. From among all the images that appear to us we select certain ones that we call “mine,” and others that we want to call “mine’ but which as yet elude our grasp. We believe that if we can collect all the objects we want for our own, we will be happy. But we are never happy so long as we are engaged in this collection of objects.

First, we can never have all the things we want for the simple reason that our capacity to form desires is endless. It is not as though there are, say, 52 things I need to complete myself and then I’m done. There are 52 million things, and that’s just the beginning. Desire is a bottomless barrel. We can never fill it, and most of us will die trying. 

Second, as the objects of desire are essentially thoughts, they have no abiding substance. What we take to be objects is existence seen through the filter of the senses and the qualities of the mind. We don’t see existence, which is unchanging; we see the thoughts, which are ever changing. And we attribute the reality of existence to the ephemeral thought, to the object. Trying to possess the object is like hugging the air: we end up with an armful of nothing.

Third, as thoughts are not separate from our awareness, we cannot own them: we are them. Perhaps, it is better to say that they are us, for we are not contained in a thought, but all thoughts are contained in us. What we really long for when we chase objects is our own self. We want to possess that which we already are. What we need to do to be happy is to know what we are. If we project our self into thought, into an object, we will want the object because all we ever want is our self. And our body, and every thought, is a projection of our self into an object. 

Maya is largely misunderstood to mean that we should deny the evidence of our senses; that the world we experience is not real. This is why many Westerners reject Vedanta as a mental construct it is impossible to believe in. But Maya is not the world we see. It is rather the world as we misunderstand it. As Goethe expressed it, it is not the senses that deceive, but the judgment. 

The world is a manifestation of God, or Ishwara – whichever you prefer. As we are part of that world, we are also a manifestation of God, or Ishwara. We are individuals, yet our individuality is dependent on God, in whom we live and move and have our being, as St. Paul expressed it. When we realize that we have no being independent of God, we will stop trying to be God. Original sin is often understood as the primal calamity that came about from an individual trying to be God.

We are one in the indivisible being, the supreme reality, but we act in this world as individuals with a particular destiny. We did not create the world. To say that we are the supreme reality is a dangerous statement because it is both true and false, depending upon the level from which we understand it. Being/awareness is ultimately indivisible, so in that sense we are God. But being/awareness expresses itself in the empirical world as individuals, so in another sense we are not God. The human ego, the limited self that identifies with the body and mind, does not determine the course of the world and the laws that limit it. This must be clearly understood. 

The love that we mistakenly pursue in objects is really the love we have projected into the world. We are trying to take back that which we have unknowingly given away. And we try to take it back by assuming the power of God and trying to arrange the world so that we can possess all those things to which we have attached our love. But the ego is not God, and when it tries to usurp God’s prerogatives, it makes itself unhappy and frustrated. Despite the many grand pronouncements one encounters in modern spiritual teachings, we do not create the world or our own reality. We live as individuals in the world and our reality is the embodiment of a myriad of factors the mind cannot comprehend or control. 

If we are to have any hope of happiness in the here and now, it must rest on something the contemporary world finds difficult to accept: humility. We have to acknowledge the limitations of the human instrument that is the vehicle for the limitless being/awareness in which it rests. It may have become a hackneyed expression, but it is nevertheless true that we must “Let go and let God.”

The mention of God is sure to arouse resistance in many. One appeal of Vedanta and Buddhism for many Westerners is that it seems to avoid the theism of Judaism and Christianity. But the fact is we are not self-created individuals, and it is as individuals that we are presently living in the world. A great deal of confusion arises from loose language about our nature as pure being/consciousness or brahman. For some people, these words become ideas that they use to deny the reality of ordinary experience. But we can only begin where we find ourselves. And we can only take one step at a time. To try to pole-vault our way to pure being/awareness, as though the body/mind need not be taken into consideration, is not possible. We can break our metaphysical necks trying to do it. 

The simplest approach is always the best. Taking a step back from abstract notions, no matter how lofty and appealing, and looking at who we are and where we are as individuals is the place where we must start. 

We know that we want love and we try to find it in objects and in other people (considered as objects). We also know this doesn’t work. The only way to find the love we long for is to realize that we are not the ego, but an expression of God or Ishwara, an expression of love. And this love, although expressed as our individuality, is ever rooted in the love that transcends it. When we turn to our source and realize that we are grounded in love, we will no longer try to wrest it from others. But the ego must bow to Ishwara if we are to know our true Self.

With humility comes love. With love comes the only happiness that is possible to us in this vale of tears. The world does not need to be fixed. It can never make us happy no matter how it may be arranged. When we stop trying to be God, the weight of the world will lift from our shoulders. Then, we can accept whatever comes our way. The world is no longer a problem to be solved. Our individuality is no longer something to be cast off or thought away. It, too, is a gift of love, for as long as it lasts. 

Edwin Faust 

The Process of Vedanta

The Process of Vedanta


Vedanta is a three stage process. You have to go through all three stages if you want to be radiantly happy. If you skip a step or only partially assimilate its knowledge, Isvara will send you back to the previous level until you work it out. The three steps are hearing (sravana), reasoning (manana) and Self actualizing or assimilating (nididyasana).

Stage 1 involves several steps which roughly conform to the Chapters in Essence of Enlightenment. The first step of Stage 1 is assimilating the knowledge that life is a zero-sum duality. It involves the realization that nothing you can do in this world will solve the problem of suffering.

When the full impact of this realization hits, disillusionment is inevitable, a ‘dark night of the soul,’ that may last a year or two. It is particularly difficult if you are prone to epiphanies, glimpses of the reality beyond the world, because they give you hope and dash it at the same time. The second step of the first stage involves anther particularly galling fact: enlightenment—liberation from the world—is not a special kind of experience. Until you understand that it isn’t you are basically condemned to the same frustrating merry-go-round that you experienced at step 1. Your experience of the Self, which you imagine is out of time, comes and goes, because it is not out of time at all.

This realization also produces disillusionment and frustration. The rare realization that happens in the third step of Stage 1 involves accepting the idea that you have an ignorance problem, not an experience problem, and the forth step of Stage 1 involves accepting a valid means of knowledge i.e. Vedanta. Each step is increasing more difficult than the preceding step. Consequently, a burning desire for freedom and a lot of good karma is required to work your way through the steps of understanding. To help you we present the three stages in the form of the 5/10/15 rule.

The 5/10/15 Rule

A lot of people think that the end of seeking caused by firm Self knowledge...otherwise known as direct knowledge (“I am limitless ordinary unborn ever-present awareness”) is the end of the jiva’s spiritual work. It is, but only if the jiva is perfectly satisfied with itself when Self knowledge is firm. This state is extremely rare.

However, it is commonly believed that Self-knowledge or Self-realization, if you prefer, is the end of seeking, inquiring, ego, doing, teaching, etc. On the basis of this unexamined notion...which is grist for the mill of the next stage, nididyasana, most Self realized people declare themselves ‘finished,’ ‘cooked,’ or ‘enlightened’ and set themselves up as authorities on the topic of liberation.

The stage after firm direct knowledge is called nididyasana. Vedanta is very clear about the importance of this stage as it removes residual desire (rajas) and fear (tamas).

We see many young people who gain direct knowledge infected with the seemingly benign desire to teach others. Usually, their spiritual tendencies (vasanas) kept them away from deep commitments to the world...careers and families...and they just got by doing odd jobs, living off family money or the dole and/or taking up short term relationships for emotional satisfaction and abandoning them when they proved difficult, etc.

Sometimes they complete stage 1, hearing, and Stage 2, removal of doubt, and gain direct knowledge, but ignore stage 3, Self actualization or assimilation, usually because they have not done proper inquiry on the idea “I am free.”

The Self will never make this statement. It only means something to a jiva. If the idea ‘I am enlightened’ has not been removed and the jiva has been led to self inquiry without having properly succeeded or failed in the world, the temptation to achieve worldly success behind the idea “I am enlightened’ often arises, which shows that the doer has survived Self realization.

If a seeker is properly qualified when firm Self realization happens, the doer is negated. Negation means that the doer’s unresolved issues are laid to rest once and for all. They do not remain and subliminally influence its decisions going forward. Self realization presents a particularly difficult problem for the Self realized doer who does not appreciate the importance of the third stage, Self actualization, because it has the capacity to use the teachings of Vedanta to suit its purposes. Unfortunately, it wants the same things all jivas want: security, pleasure, power, status, etc. Nididyasana addresses this issue and prevents this phenomenon.

These three stages are meant to be presided over by a living guru because the jiva has a built in tendency for self deception i.e. denial (tamas). Along with the “I am enlightened” idea comes the belief that I am an authority in my own right and therefore I don’t need a guru any more. So we see that a Self realized ego with unfulfilled ambitions is happy to get rid of his or her guru when it is convenient. Usually it is convenient when the guru doesn’t give you what you want or tells you something that you don’t want to hear. It is particularly difficult to hear that you are not finished with your spiritual work when you realize the Self.

I don’t write and teach for my benefit. Writing and teaching are topical responses to situations that occur daily in my relationship with people that come into my life. In the last few years I have supported the teaching tendencies of several young (ish) people in spite of the danger of enlightenment sickness and withdrew my support when I felt that I had somehow lost their respect.

In our tradition, we don’t want to monitor the lives of our students. We try to present the purity of the tradition and comport ourselves in such a way that they don’t lose sight of the nobility of the teaching and consequently consider all their actions in light of the tradition itself. I don’t claim to be a saint...far from it...but the respect that I feel for Vedanta has been transferred to thousands of people over forty-seven years of teaching. There are many humble people worldwide quietly propagating the teachings according to their innate tendencies and taking care of themselves financially without reference to the teaching. So the few instances where I was called on by my association with my office as a senior lineage holder to rap an occasional disciple on the knuckles does not in any way mitigate against the purity of my motives, nor does it change in any way the love I feel for them. Parents, for instance, don’t cease to love children who misbehave.

This satsang was occasioned because I recently withdrew my support from a young man who said I was his guru but didn’t maintain the proper relationship with me. Perhaps I bear some responsibility, but the only way forward when so many are teaching Vedanta is to trust the discrimination of my disciples. It was very clear that he did not gladly accept my withdrawal of support, which would have been the appropriate response if he was a proper karma yogi and if I was actually his teacher. Why should the gratitude that he expressed over the years suddenly evaporate, considering the fact that at the behest of my wife, Sundari, I have supported him as a teacher for several years.

Teacher is an office filled by Isvara, so whatever comes from the teacher comes from Isvara, not from a fickle ego. So for love of Isvara a proper disciple takes his or her disappointments with grace and dignity as they are opportunities for growth.

One of my gurus, Swami Dayananda, kicked me out of his Vedanta class a long time ago and I love him and Isvara for it. It was the best thing that could have happened to me at the time. I recently taught a group of 70 in Spain with his picture on the altar. Removal of dualistic guru bhakti is a sign of spiritual maturity and another important purpose for nididyasana.

This incident also confirmed what I already knew; that he did not appreciate the value of the nididyasana stage, probably owing to the sympathy, respect and support he was receiving from the people with whom he was communicating the teachings, which indicates the value of Vedanta in the first place and his skill as a communicator secondly. Teaching is a skill that builds ego like nothing else, in so far as people hate ignorance of every sort and respect people who can remove it. If you allow yourself to get stuck in enlightenment, enjoy the fame and think of Vedanta as career, you deny yourself the opportunity to become a truly noble soul. It doesn’t take an exceptional person to achieve success in the modern spiritual world, only a clever ambitious one.

If doership survives direct realization, the doer needs to practice nididyasana, which removes the part of the Self that is subject to ambition (rajas), boredom and depression (tamas). Residual emotional dissatisfactions should be removed if you love the sampradaya and if have compassion for your jiva.

Vedanta’s basic formula is encapsulated in the 5/10/15 rule. Of course, it varies from individual to individual but thirty years is not too long to commit yourself to Vedanta. 5 years for sravana...hearing the complete teaching with an open mind and appreciating the logic of each step. 10 years for resolving doubts (manana) created by the teaching and 15 for getting rid of jivahood, i.e. the sense of doership. The goal of Vedanta is tripti, compete jiva satisfaction. An apparent jiva remains but it has no desire whatsoever for things to be different, inwardly or outwardly, from what they are at any moment. It is called Isvara pranidanam, surrender to Isvara, or non-dual devotion (bhakti). Of course it is quite possible to dismiss your ambitions as non-existent because you are the Self, but you are fooling nobody but yourself.

Non-dual devotion means that you put the needs of others, in this case your guru, ahead of your own needs. My number one need is to protect the purity of the teaching tradition. Showing verbal guru bhakti to your disciples to convince them that they should be devoted to you and failing to consult your guru when you involve yourself financially with your disciples is not guru bhakti as it creates dependence, which is the antithesis of Vedanta’s purpose. Even if your need is legitimate, it is absolutely necessary to protect Vedanta from even the appearance of impropriety in these excessively materialist times, particularly if your disciples exist in cyberspace. In the old days, you had physical access to your guru so you could see where the donations went. If you are a proper teacher, you will not have to solicit money because people whose lives have been transformed by your teaching generously support you unasked.

If my disciple had taken time to really understand the purity of my commitment to the tradition, he would not have solicited donations in the name of ShiningWorld. Consequently, I will no longer endorse a Self realized teacher unless he or she has an independent means of support.

Tamas presents another Self actualization problem that usually affects older Self realized people who have have had families and/or careers. Jobs and families solve the problem of financial and emotional security but they don't take care of the doer problem, so the tendency to act has no place to go when you realize the zero-sum nature of life, except into a depression, because you cannot in good faith distract your doer with mindless samsaric pursuits i.e. jobs, entertainment and endless family events.

I didn't suffer that phase because I went from firm Self knowledge directly to perfect doer satisfaction because I was totally qualified when Self knowledge was firm, owing to the intense sadhana with my guru and intense sadhana on my own the three years prior to it. I never had a career or a family or any interest in worldly things after age 25. At the same time, I kept my rajasic doer hard at work studying scripture, writing commentaries and teaching Vedanta, which is the best dharma there is for a doer. To support myself I did hard physical labor for minimum wage until I was nearly seventy. Because I was successful in both love and money before I took to Vedanta it was impossible to misuse it, once Self knowledge took place. I sincerely hope that Vedanta students who want to teach will take these words to heart. Teaching is not a career. It is a sacred duty for whose values stands in direct proportion to the sacrifices you are willing to make on its behalf. It owes you nothing because it gives you everything.

Swami Paramarthananda, a guru bother, calls nididyasana 'requalifying.' You never know when, during the manana phase, firm Self-knowledge will take place and you never know how long nididyasana will take. In fact, if Self knowledge makes you a perfect spontaneous karma yogi, it doesn’t matter because time doesn’t exist for you. So if you don’t experience perfect jiva satisfaction when Self knowledge is unshakable, you need to remain humble and keep up the practices that qualified you for understanding as they will eventually remove the obstacles to limitless bliss.

Enlightened or not, the human mind needs to be committed to something other than the doer and its projections. It needs noble work until its dying day. Serving the world should fill the gap that serving the doer formerly filled. If you want to know more about the nature of non-dual devotion and the stages of spiritual development explained by Vedanta, please read The Yoga of Love, as it makes clear what a non-dual devotee is and the reasons for keeping up one's sadhana once Self-knowledge is firm.

Traditional or Non-Traditional Vedanta

Traditional or Non-Traditional Vedanta


We all have reasons to justify our likes and dislikes. Some Vedantins criticize me because of a peculiar duality: traditional vs. non-traditional. Obviously the Truth is beyond tradition. Many years ago Swami Dayananda wrote a small pamphlet to explain why he no longer felt comfortable teaching with Swami Chinmayanada. His first statement is, “I call myself a teacher of traditional Vedanta.” Much later Swami Paramarathananda, Dayananda’s foremost disciple, explained the difference between mystic and non-mystic non-dualists, which I summarized in a recent satsang posted on ShiningWorld, although he did not refer to Chinmaya or Dayananda. It is an important issue that highlights the relationship between experience and knowledge, which is the signature issue of Dayanada’s pamphlet. It is also summarized in an article entitled ‘What is Advaita Vedanta,’ posted in the publications section of ShiningWorld.

Almost fifty years ago I realized that I was the Self at the feet of Swami Chinmaya who was a mystic non-dualist and for several years I taught his style of Vedanta, which was called ‘modern Vedanta’. One day I read the pamphlet mentioned above, when I realized the limitations of mystic non-dualism. Mind you, Isvara sends the teacher you need. If you are qualified and the teacher is skillful you will be set free, irrespective of the style of teaching.

Keep in mind that both mystic and non-mystic non-dualists teach non-duality. One style is easier for experience-oriented people and the other for knowledge oriented people, although both have downsides. The downside for experience-oriented individuals is the tendency to think of liberation as a discrete experience and the downside for knowledge-oriented people is the tendency to expect some kind of non-dual experience to confirm the knowledge. So, in an extremely important contribution to the Vedanta sampradaya, Swami Dayananda made the distinction clear, coming down heavily on the side of knowledge. However, gaining and retaining knowledge is also experiential so you can’t dismiss experience either. You can only know the difference. And you can’t dismiss the experience-oriented approach because epiphanies very often kick-start inquiry which leads to understanding the value of knowledge. Having said that, he was not the first teacher to make this distinction as it is built into the fundamental premise of the Upanishads. If reality is non-dual consciousness, everything is non-dual consciousness, including me and my experience, which means that I am always experiencing the Self which, in turn means that my fundamental problem is ignorance if I don’t enjoy the bliss of Self knowledge.

It is understandable but sad that some Vedanta people who did not know both Chinmaya and Dayanada allowed their views of Dayananda’s teaching to prejudice them against mystic non-dualism. A number of these people look down on me because I got Self knowledge from Chinmaya, even though I have been passionately teaching Dayanada’s non-mystic style for the last 40 years. But when you are a partisan, it is often difficult to see the forest for the trees. There are many Western people who are not just fascinated with Vedanta but with the Indian culture that nourished it. They have the idea that Vedanta is only ‘real’ Vedanta if it comes in a certain package...India, orange clothing, Sanskrit, etc. Recently one of my admirers went off to India to study with one of Swami Dayananda’s disciples because he assumed that study with an Indian in an Indian ashram was required because that was what happened to me. A year later he returned free of that idea. In Atma Bodh Shankara said that circumstances are necessary auxiliaries but only knowledge ‘cooks the food.’ The truth is beyond all forms. Chinmaya wanted me to become a sanyassi but Isvara had other ideas. I am an American and when in Rome I do what the Roman’s do. It is only sensible. Once my path was clear he supported me one hundred percent.

Most people do not know what a mahatma really is. Both Swami Dayananda and Swami Chinmaya were mahatmas. It is important for Dayananda devotees to know that Swami Dayananda served Chinmaya for many years and it was due to Chinmaya’s love for him that he became so well known so early in his life. They simply had different ideas about how to teach Vedanta based on their own svadharama and the needs of the total during their lifetimes. But the point is that Vedanta stands above the teacher. The teacher is glorious because of the teaching. Yes, if a teacher is glorious, he or she will be a great advertisement for Vedanta, but that is all. As long as you use the traditional/non-traditional duality to make yourself feel special, there is still work to do.

It is often the case that people come to me and become inspired about Vedanta and I teach them as best I can. But when I tell them something they don’t want to hear or if I behave like a normal person they lose interest in me and, having heard about Swami Dayananda and some of his disciples, they think that they will get the ‘real’ teaching from a ‘real’ mahatma. So they write me off on some pretext, which is fine for me, but not fine for them because it means that they have confused the name and form with the truth and kept duality alive in their minds.

Your enlightenment is not special because, like mine, it has the smell of India. It is quite lovely if it does, but Isvara stands above concepts like East and West, traditional and non-traditional, my guru and your guru. I make a big point in every seminar that ‘guru’ is just a hat that I put on when I am invited to teach. It is not a career or a lifestyle. When I step down from the podium I am just a regular guy. How can this small person co-opt Isvara’s glory?

Rules for Vedanta Teachers

It so happens that ShiningWorld has become a successful voice for non-dual Vedanta because it is a powerful tool for transforming one’s life in harmony with the Truth. We appreciate the need of those who have received this precious teaching to communicate it to others and lend support to them, assuming they don’t mix Vedanta with other liberation, quasi liberation, or dualistic teachings...Christianity, Buddhism, Neo-Advaita, Yoga, etc. and that they they don’t monetize the teachings. At the same time there are certain expenses associated with the dissemination of the teachings which can be defrayed by the concept of ‘donations.’

Donations fall under the category of visesa dharma, situational ethics. They are adharmic or dharmic depending on the state of mind of both the giver and the receiver. Only you know if your gift is conditional or unconditional and only you know if the gift you receive is used for the intended purpose so there is room for problems. The rules for charity are discussed in the 17th Chapter of the Bhagavad Gita. It is not wrong if a teacher who has given value uses your donation to support him or herself, although financial insecurity often tests a teacher’s integrity, as do other factors, desire for recognition, power, etc. So those individuals whom we support need to be very clear concerning their motivations for teaching.

As one of the senior lineage holders in the Vedanta sampradaya, it is my duty, along with my wife, Sundari, to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, so we expect people who represent it to stick to the spirit and the letter of the rules. At the same time, we can't monitor the behavior of the people we endorse...Vedanta should never be thought of as a career. It is a sacrifice. Swamiji’s teaching was called The Sacrifice of Knowledge, Gita gyana yagna.

Apart from the teaching itself, ShiningWorld is successful because we have not monetized the teaching. I have occasionally solicited donations for a particular publishing project but never for personal financial reasons, as I have a small inheritance and friends who contribute to our living expenses. We finance the website, books and videos and our travel expenses...which are considerable...from donations for the teaching. The books and videos, which involve considerable work and expense, make virtually no profit. However, we continue because the purpose of ShiningWorld is to disseminate Vedanta. ShiningWorld is not a business, although I pay taxes on donations and the sale of books and videos.

We have been extremely generous with the young men we endorsed over the years and they have benefitted by their association with ShiningWorld...We have helped them establish themselves as Vedanta teachers and we know they have people who benefit from their teaching who can support them if they see fit. We encourage anyone who has benefitted from their teachings to continue doing so.

We will continue to encourage and assist people who want to teach, who have assimilated the teachings and have the right attitude, but we will not promote anyone henceforth who does not have an independent means of support and does not adhere strictly to the spirit of the teaching. It is very difficult teaching Vedanta in the West because materialism has infected every institution in society.  People actually often tell us that we are fools for teaching on a donation basis. But this is a sacred holy teaching and we cannot stand to see it contaminated by even the appearance of worldliness.


Ram and Sundari