Non-Dual Love

Non-Dual Love

by Sundari

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Non-Dual Love Is Who You Are

“Non-dual love” as it relates to relationships is not a common term in the spiritual world. We have been asked if we “invented” it, and in a way we did. I had never heard it used before, nor had James. We coined the term when we came together in love in 2011, in what we called “rising in love.” We did not see our coming together as “falling in love,” which is the common term used to express relationship love, because anything you fall into you will fall out of. There is no falling out of non-dual love, because it is who you are, whether you are in a relationship or not.

Non-dual love is not a modern concept, although most people are undoubtedly unfamiliar with it. The term is a translation of a Sanskrit word, parabhakti. In fact, if everything is awareness as Vedanta proclaims, everything is non-dual love – love that never involves another. It is the self, loving itself, in all forms. When two free people come together in a relationship, whether it is sexual or familial, the love will automatically be non-dual because they will see themselves as non-different from each other. The relationship is in you – love/awareness – you are not in it. It chooses you, you don’t choose it.

Non-dual love is the pinnacle of the expression of love for an individual, a jiva. It is little understood and sought by everyone knowingly or unknowingly because the self knows itself as non-dual love. Ignorance of who we are turns the mind outwards towards objects in a futile attempt to gain love, instead of inwards towards the self. As much as we all want love, to love from a non-dual perspective does not come easy, as ignorance is hardwired. It is not something we can wish into existence. To love freely, we must be free. You cannot jump into a non-dual relationship or “make it happen.” There is no magic bullet or mantra to chant. It comes as a gift of grace when you get to a certain stage of growth.

We Don’t Seek Relationships for Freedom

The impediments to non-dual love, especially in sexual relationships, are many – not the least of which is the belief that if I know I am the self, I am “beyond” desire and love relationships. It is unavoidably true that if I am seeking moksa, which is liberation from dependence on objects for happiness, I will not seek a relationship, because we don’t seek relationships for freedom. We seek them for attachment to another. But knowing that I am ever-free consciousness does not imply that there is anything spiritually wrong with the human part of me that has various needs. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna, appearing in the world as a human being and speaking as the self, says, “I am the desire that is not opposed to dharma.” This is a very interesting statement because it says that desire operating in the dharma field that respects and is not in conflict with the psychological and moral laws operating in the field is awareness. But I, ever-free awareness, am free of desire. 

Freedom and Desire Are Not Incompatible

The implication of this statement is not always appreciated by spiritual and worldly types, who deny love and are often afraid of human love for any number of reasons. It simply means that there is nothing inherently wrong with desire. You get to be the person you are, feel what you feel, do what you do and think what you think, as long as you follow dharma – meaning you are mindful of the non-dual basis of life’s rules and laws. In terms of human love, it means that if I play by the rules of love, I am quite within my rights to love another human being as a human being, as a manifestation of the divine or for any other reason, whether I am “enlightened” or not.

The Desire That Is Opposed to Dharma Is Also Awareness

But then desire that is opposed to dharma is also awareness. It could only be that way if reality is non-dual, which it is. Although we can say that dharma is another word that points to the self, there is no dharma for the self, because the self is not in the world. The world and its laws are in awareness. For the world, or apparent reality, to function, both dharma and adharma must be possible. Dharma only applies to the person living in the world, never to the self. The question is always, what are my main motivations and which serve my highest purpose? If I want peace of mind and a happy life, I need to align my desires with what produces peace of mind and freedom from limitation, therefore my desires must be dharmic. If non-dual love is my goal, I need to resolve what stands in the way of expressing unconditional love, my true nature. What stand in the way are adharmic desires, beliefs and actions when I do not follow my nature or break life’s fundamental laws. In other words, ignorance of my true nature stands in the way – the belief that I am incomplete or lacking in some way and must find the right object to make me whole and complete. When I know what love is, I automatically and unfailingly follow dharma. In the spiritual game, it is often considered a great prize to find a “spiritual mate,” someone who is somehow better than us, on whom we project our idea of perfection. The fallacy of the spiritual seduction is as old as time and a big obstacle to both freedom and non-dual relationships. 

When Non-Dual Love Is Known, We Don’t Seek It

Anyone who says he or she is not interested in love is a liar. Love is the very essence of life and the nature of every being. We pursue it in innumerable ways because the desire to know love is what drives us, whether it is known that the quest for love is behind everything we do or not. When you know what love is, you no longer pursue it. You see it, you enjoy it, you are it. You experience it in everyone and in everything, and you graciously give and receive it. Experiencing non-dual love is always a rediscovery because love is the essence of every experience, and those moments of joy and peace that come frequently – or infrequently, as the case may be – are always moments of self-love.

Thus you can love anyone. And you do. But knowing what love is (who I am) is most uncommon. If you are a full-fledged member of the “love club,” which you will be if you have lived well and learned life’s lessons properly, you will feel that this knowledge can be enhanced if it is shared with someone who also knows, someone who is not constrained by the small, conditional notions of love that bind people hypnotized by duality. And it can and does, assuming both parties are truly free. 

A Free Being Is Always Alone, but Never Lonely

When James and I met, neither of us needed anyone to love us unconditionally, because we loved ourselves unconditionally. It is not lonely being free and alone. Being love means being alone, i.e. all one. Freedom means that there is only one non-dual being that is always alone, by default. Aloneness is the presence of the self, and loneliness is the perceived absence of “the other.” Although James and I were not seeking a relationship, it was our desire to have a partner who knew and who loved unconditionally because they knew who they were. It is very natural for love to want to be understood. Love is understanding, what “stands under” or supports us. In non-dual love, you see things through your eyes and you see through the eyes of the apparent other. In fact non-dual love demands that you see through the eyes of the beloved. You want to love them in the manner that they need to be loved and vice versa. 

Non-Dual Love Is Its Own Reward

Where relationship love is a means to non-dual love, non-dual love is the goal. To say that it is a goal implies that non-dual love is something we can gain, but in truth we cannot gain it. It is its own reward because it is who we are. We appreciate this fact when self-knowledge removes the impediments to the full expression of non-dual love in our lives through self-knowledge and the maturity and self-objectivity that is its required precursor.

If you are a simple person living an ordinary life, working hard to keep yourself afloat in this complicated and demanding existence, the opportunities to meet someone you can love and who can love you are always limited, not just because of any number of external factors, but because unexamined likes and dislikes constrain and limit your ability to love. When self-knowledge has destroyed binding likes and dislikes, and you live large, unlimited by fear, the love that you are is unconstrained and flows into everyone with whom you come in contact, assuming the ability to receive love is not obstructed in the mind of the recipient. 

Non-Dual Love in Relationships

Non-dual love, being the self, is nirguna, meaning “without qualities.” It is not a product of anything and has no set characteristics, but it does have very definite signature attributes as it expresses itself in the apparent reality in the form of non-dual relationships. A non- dual relationship involves mature adults who look to and rely on themselves for everything. The degree to which you are free of your likes and dislikes is the degree to which you can have meaningful relationships. Conversely dualistic relationships are about re-establishing patterns in childhood because likes and dislikes control you. You have not taken care of the inner child and expect others to do so. The basic principles that determine unconditional, free love – as opposed to limited, conditional love – are very simple but indisputable, and very rare. I have listed a few of the most important ones below. 

The Qualities Inherent in Non-Dual Relationships:

1. Freedom to Be My Own Person

Non-dual relationships are consciously entered – after giving careful thought and consideration to the implications of being in relationship, to each other’s karma and, most importantly, to what each partner values – without imposing each person’s likes and dislikes on each other. The highest value held by two people in a non-dual relationship (besides non-injury) is freedom. Each person is always free to think, speak and act in accordance with their nature. They are their own person and respect this in the other. How this looks is like this: no matter what unfolds in the relationship, my duty is primarily to doing my own dharma (svadharma), second to following the dharma of the relationship, which includes taking your needs into consideration. While it is always my aim to be of service and give you what you need, I cannot do this if I neglect my svadharma. If I neglect my svadharma, I threaten the foundation of the relationship. Therefore I act in accordance with my nature and expect you to do the same, without expectation, complication or misunderstandings, such as “you should have done/said this or that.” I trust that you will be true to yourself without abusing the mutual values upheld in our relationship and vice versa because this is the bedrock of our non-dual relationship. Sometimes this will mean that I do not get what I want or cannot give you what you want, but this is easily relinquished in the spirit of freedom and non-duality. And it doesn’t matter, because there is no expectation for you to fulfil my desires or me yours. “No” is always accepted with equanimity and understood to be given for good reason. Non-dual love never asks the other person to solve its problems. You solve them yourself with reference to self-knowledge, nothing else. You are never a burden to anyone and impeccably take care of your own dharma and karma. 

2. Friendship Is the Basis

The healthiest basis for any relationship, whether sexual or not, is friendship. This is because true friendship only happens between equals. Only friends can deal dispassionately with relationship issues. Friendship is a lot closer to real love than sexual/emotional love. Friends will still love you if you fail to satisfy their emotional needs. Friends will not burden each other with unreasonable emotional demands, like “being there” for you all the time, for example. Sex and emotion are a natural part of life, but they need to be contextualized by love, not expected to stand on their own. 

3. Focused on Sameness, Not Differences

As the relationship exists in awareness and not the other way around, the guiding principle is that there is no “other.” You are always transacting only with the self. You don’t see the other person as other than, or different from, yourself. How do you do this? You subtract the body by focusing on the shining being, the light of awareness in the “other,” which is the same self shining in you. As soon as you pay attention to and relate to the differences that obtain in the other person, relating becomes dualistic. Your peculiarities must transact with their peculiarities. Non-dual relationships are focused on oneness, sameness, not on differences in body and mind. Any conflicts or projections that arise from the causal body (the personal level) are instantly dissolved in self-knowledge, leaving no trace and no unresolved karma.

4. Relationship Dhama Is Always Upheld

The relationship itself has its own agreed-upon dharma which must be respected by the people involved. When both parties agree to sublimate their likes and dislikes to the entity called “the relationship,” a higher court of appeal for the good of both people and the health of the relationship comes into play, based on implicit and explicit agreements which are based on eternal, not temporary, values. When there is conflict or an issue of whatever nature, it is taken to the relationship and not given to egos to fight over, which makes it much easier to eliminate conflict. It is the dharma of the relationship to resolves issues. The relationship itself becomes an inbuilt fair, just and wise elder.

This leaves no opportunity for misunderstanding, even though neither partner asks the other to fulfil any conditions. The conditions agreed upon are mutual and healthy for both parties, and for the relationship to thrive.

5. Communicate from Fullness

Most conflict in relationship is a result of faulty and unconscious communication. Non-dual love uses words wisely and consciously with knowledge of the implied meaning of words and how easily they can be misinterpreted. It communicates from completeness, positivity, sufficiency and self-confidence. It never berates, diminishes, judges or criticizes anyone. It has no wish to spread bad feelings by talking negatively or indulging in useless small talk.

It enjoys silence and respects this in others. It listens when others talk, instead of waiting to talk. It pays no heed to rumour and gossip, trying always to see what is good in others.

6. No Expectations or Demands

Non-dual love does not demand love and attention, trying to extract what it wants from others. It is not about needs-fulfilment, expecting another to fulfil you. You feel secure in yourself and you never seek outside of you for fullness, satisfaction or happiness.

Conversely, in dualistic, high-maintenance relationships, it is taken as a given that the other must fulfil your expectations, as your right. Non-dual love has one primary aim, which is its greatest joy, and that is always to contribute, to look for opportunities to satisfy the beloved. Attention is always on a higher purpose, on the welfare of the beloved, not looking for opportunities to satisfy yourself. You don’t have to worry about satisfying yourself, because the other takes care of you. You take care of yourself by taking care of others. You want to see the other grow, you always think of the other first while being true to your own nature. 

7. Physical Presence Is Not Necessary

Although being in the same proximity is savoured and enjoyed without fail, the physical presence of the other is not necessary, because you are never separated. While the other is loved wholly and unconditionally, the need for the other has permanently been removed by self-knowledge, so fear of loss or loneliness is non-existent. Whether you are alone or together, you are both equally happy.

8. Love Is a Devotional Attitude of Service

Non-dual love is love loving itself in the form of the other in an attitude of devotional service, which is natural, uncontrived and second nature to both parties because each sees the other as their symbol of the self. Non-dual love keeps growing; it loves you and through you, as you. You (as the person) are being loved by a greater force, the self, and there are no obstacles to this love.

9. Dispassion Towards Results

Karma yoga, indifference to the results of action, is the natural approach to life on all levels, as it is simply the knowledge of how this reality functions. The non-dual lover always has dispassion about action and its results, and does not overreact emotionally to situations. This does not mean that you are never emotional. It just means that you do not allow emotion to dictate how and why you act. Non-dual love is not about suppressing feelings or denying that they exist. When strong emotions arise, they are taken as prasad and acknowledged for what they are – the relative truth about the jiva in the moment, not the truth about you. Karma yoga requires that we act taking into consideration the needs of the total, but we also take into consideration each other’s personal likes and dislikes. Feelings are not disregarded, nor are they confused with ultimate truth, because they are always changing. 

How to Be Free, but in a Dualistic Relationship

As stated, if you are a free and mature person, you enter relationships not for attachment but for the enjoyment of experiencing love as your nature with an apparent other, who you know to be yourself. This does not mean that you do not enjoy and respect the other’s apparent personality for what it is, even though you know it is not their primary identity, whereas people in dualistic relationships go into to them specifically for attachment, fully identified with each other as people. The whole idea behind most dualistic relationships is that I am half a person without that special “other,” and when I find them, I need to hold onto to them to ensure that I do not “lose” them. Fear and anxiety are signature qualities of dualistic relationships, as is boredom and loss of freedom. As a non-dualist, it may appear to others that you are attached to your partner, which you are and you are not. As the self, you see that there is no other, except in the apparent reality, which you know to be unreal. All the same, you know that, as all objects arise from you and depend on you to exist, you can love all objects as non-different from you. In this way you are attached and simultaneously unattached because you know that you do not gain or lose anything by being in or out of a relationship. Unconditional love takes care of the idea of the other, so love flows easily. If you are qualified and in relationship with a qualified partner, they will love you in the same way, so there is no anxiety, no loss of freedom or fear of loss.

Dualistic relationships are fraught with difficulty because people identified with themselves as people are insecure and usually have low self-esteem, always wanting their partner as a proxy for Mommy or Daddy to fix their problems and give them what they want. If you are qualified and in a relationship with an unqualified partner, complications often arise, so karma yoga is the only way forward. Karma yoga takes care of your relationship with the world, as it converts emotional needs into devotion for the truth. It allows you to act without attachment to results. Any relationship can be devotional and will grow if you can get your personal issues resolved through self-knowledge. In spiritual relationships, you take care of yourself and serve the other person without contradiction because you see the other as yourself.

The problem in unequal relationships is that the other person will often take your karma yoga attitude, your lack of need and dispassion, as disinterest. As a non-dualist, you don’t get upset and you can’t get excited about things, because you see that all problems are fabrications of the mind. They are not real and have no ultimate importance. You will often be accused of having no feelings because you are unemotional in your response to situations that arise. So your partner may think you don’t care about them and will project their bad feelings onto you. They might feel neglected or diminished because they have low self-esteem and need you to make them feel good about themselves. Such a relationship is very difficult because you are not equal.

Need Attracts

The world is full of needy people desperate for love, wanting to be wanted, and who feel happy only when they are wanted, needed. Being needed makes them feel loved and validated. This is dangerous because need and love are two very different things and if you confuse love with need, you will suffer. That is guaranteed. Need attracts initially, but needy people are extremely unattractive in a very short time. It is exhausting trying to fulfil a needy person’s needs, and vice versa, because nothing makes us feel secure other than knowing who we are. Nobody can give this to us. Only we can give this to ourselves through dedicated self-inquiry with a valid means of knowledge capable of removing ignorance. Two needy people trying to get what they want from each other can only end up in disaster with both parties blaming the other for not fulfilling their fantasies or desires.

In a non-dual relationship, you always feel wanted, happy, never needy. You can play-act at being needy, but you never take it seriously. You know it’s a game. Two happy, self- sufficient people create a synergy, what we call a “love bubble,” and it keeps growing. They are never disappointed in the “other,” because they expect nothing, being self-satisfied.

If the other fulfils their needs they are happy, and if not they are also happy, whereas two incomplete people in a dualistic relationship are always anxious because they never know if their needs will be met. They must be careful of what they say because their idea of love is that you satisfy each other’s likes and dislikes. But the problem is that you can’t always know what another’s likes and dislikes are – they are always changing and are often highly unreasonable demands. When one partner cannot satisfy the other, it creates anger and denial because they feel unloved. They believe they can only be satisfied through the other and it is the other’s fault if they are dissatisfied.

Ending Relationships

The only purpose of a non-dual relationship is to enjoy the other as the self in a free association based on mutual values. It is possible, however, that a non-dual relationship no longer serves its purpose and both parties decide to move on, but this is never because the relationship failed to deliver expectations. Perhaps logistics or other outside factors, such as health or practical issues, play a part. Or one partner chooses to live alone. There is never any rancour or blame should this happen, just an amicable and loving parting of the ways.

If you are free and in a dualistic relationship, you can move out of a bad relationship without leaving the relationship, through karma yoga. You do this by putting the needs of the total first – and you subject your personal needs to the relationship, doing this as service and learning from results. It will not be easy to keep a peaceful mind if you are constantly at odds with a partner’s unrealistic demands, but it can be done as a spiritual practice. Don’t be tempted to put fake emotion into it, as that never works. If you truly love your partner and want the relationship to work despite its inequality in understanding, you must accept them as they are and love them as the self, with the knowledge that you cannot make them see life as you see it. It requires patience and understanding, but it is possible to achieve reasonable happiness this way. If you cannot do this and there is constant conflict as a result, it is probably best to part ways as amicably as you can, even if you still love the other person. There is no right or wrong about this, just what works best for both people in the long run.

Advice for Seeking a Good Relationship

It is never advisable to seek a relationship, especially if you are committed to self-inquiry. By seeking one you are saying that you are incomplete and you need an object to complete you, which we know does not work. So change your attitude towards need. See how futile it is to expect another to give you want you want. Get yourself strong, independent and free – leave it to life, to the Field of Existence, to deliver what you need. Take care of yourself – your unresolved karma and psychological issues – first. You need to become a mature adult before you can love properly, with no conditions or demands in your love. Emotions should flow from attention to values, which creates admiration, respect and love for yourself as well as the “other.” Make certain that you are totally honest with yourself and everyone else. When you work on yourself, all your relationships improve. You do not want to be a burden to anyone. When you are asking for something, you are a burden on other people – you like being wanted. They must look after your needs all day long, which nobody can do. In free relationships, there are no obligations, and you want to serve. You pay attention to the other because love is attention. We do not love what we do not pay attention to. If you say you love someone but never pay attention to them, they do not feel loved. If you are in a relationship, make certain that your values on important issues like sex and money concur. Fidelity is about respect and honesty, which supports the basic structure of life. Open relationships are about greed, nothing else. For more on what constitutes successful relationships, read Chapter II, Section 2 of my forthcoming book Enlightened Lifestyles.

Read more: Non-Dual Love

What is Advaita Vedanta

What is Advaita Vedanta?

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Enlightenment through Understanding

Western spirituality in the last one hundred and fifty years has seen many expressions of the impulse to experience and know something higher - from the late Victorian New Thought movements through the recent New Age with its plethora of quasi-spiritual subcultures. About thirty-five years ago during the psychedelic revolution in America when traditional religious and social structures were breaking down a migration of export gurus and lamas from India and Buddhist countries imported a raft of metaphysical concepts intended to provide a generation of questioning adults with answers about the meaning of life.

Predictably none of the ideas and practices that arrived from the East survived the contact with Western culture in their original form, not that the form in which they arrived was particularly 'original, although they seemed quite ancient and authentic to Westerners easily awed by the exotic. Indeed many were hybrids of earlier and purer traditions that had already been corrupted in their native habitats. Two related but separate traditions, Yoga and Vedanta, arrived already corrupted.

Both claim to be liberation philosophies, equally able to free the soul from the suffering that is the hallmark of life in an uncertain world. Both are rooted in the Upanishads, the oldest most authoritative extant texts on the nature the cosmos, the individual, and the Divine.

Yoga promises an experience of oneness of the individual soul with God. To gain this experience certain practices are required which vary depending on the person prescribing them.

Vedanta contends that human beings find themselves limited in many ways and continually strive to rid themselves of limitation. People pursue wealth, pleasure, and merit because they believe it will free them from all manner of physical, temporal and psychological problems. Vedanta presents freedom from limitation as the most desirable goal of human life.

The Upanishads,1 the source of Vedanta,2 say that before this creation was, the self, limitless being, was. It further says that this self continues to exist outside of time and is therefore eternal. And it states that no action one can perform will gain 3 this self, even though it is an ever-present reality... because actions are limited while the self is unlimited. Therefore it is at odds with Yoga on this issue. The discovery that one is the limitless self is presented as liberation or enlightenment by Vedanta.

Experience of the Self is Not Enlightenment

One of the erroneous notions about Vedanta, which came about through a confusion of its teaching with the doctrines of Yoga, is the idea that Vedanta is a way to experience the self. Vedanta contends that ours is a non-dual reality in which everything that exists is the self, including everything that seems to be not me, meaning everything experienceable.

If this is true then any and all experience is already the self. From this standpoint the Yoga doctrine that one needs to engage in certain practices like arresting the thoughts to produce a self experience or enter the state of the self is unnecessary and, in fact, redundant. The problem, according to Vedanta, is not that discrete experiences of oneness are available or unavailable but that the individual does not know that he or she is already the self...and as mentioned, that whatever experience is happening is the self. So the problem can only be solved by knowing what the self is...and knowing that I am it.

Finally, if this is a non-dual reality4 and enlightenment is the experience of oneness with the self, how does one explain the existence of the experiencer since experience requires an experiencer and an object of experience...an obviously dualistic condition? The self is not going to be experiencing itself because it is itself. Or if it is, it does not need an agent, were an agent capable of experiencing it5...which puts paid to the very idea of self experience as an experience unique from any other. The only other candidate for the position is the ego, the individual, and Vedanta says that if it exists it is the self already...so its desire to experience itself is merely the product of ignorance...and can be profitably dismissed.

We cannot dismiss the Yoga view completely because untold millions of truthful persons have experienced the self over tens of thousands of years so we need to look for a reasonable explanation for this phenomenon.

One possible explanation lies in the imprecise use of language. It may be that the experience of the self is actually a shift from the individual s point of view to the self s...in which case it would be more accurate to say that the self experiences the ego, which is how it actually is. Because the shift is so subtle and language evolved in the experiential world, it is ill equipped to describe this shift accurately so it is forced to formulate the new vision in terms of an ego s experience of an object.

Another reasonable explanation for the idea of self experience as liberation is the situation where the ego, the subject, experiences the reflection of the self in a clear mind, the object, and takes the reflection of the self for the self...and declares this experience liberation.6 The problem with the idea of enlightenment as self experience is that experience changes... so there will be no permanent experience. This accounts for the fallen yogi phenomenon where the experience of the self disappears and with it the notion that one is one with the Self. Or, worse...the experience disappears but the notion that one is the self is retained leaving a very unhappy person since the experience of the self is pure pleasure.

Vedanta is not a School of Thought

A second and related misconception is that Vedanta is merely an intellectual appreciation of the Self, not a deep and abiding experience as is promised by the samadhis of Yoga and many modern gurus. According to Vedanta any deep and abiding experience would naturally be the Self but so would a superficial and transitory experience. Why? Because in a non-dual reality...which this certainly is...any and all experience could only be the Self experiencing the Self. When I brush my teeth it is the Self (apparently) brushing the Self. I say, apparent because all experience is apparent, the conspiracy between an apparent subject and an apparent object. It could only be apparent because the Self is non-dual unborn consciousness and everything is it...so there is not actually anything going on at all. Or as Vedanta says, Nothing ever happens. And since Vedanta says that there are not two selves...one ego or lower self and one egoless or higher self, but only one self with apparent ignorance or apparent knowledge of what it is...the idea that an ego, an individual, can somehow experience the non- dual Self as a discrete experience is plainly incorrect.

The misunderstanding here lies in the idea that there are two kinds of knowledge: experiential (no knowledge) and intellectual. But actually, since all knowledge takes place in the intellect, including the absence of knowledge, both knowledge and ignorance are only going to be intellectual. The I is never interested in knowledge or no-knowledge since it is the illuminator of both...and therefore free of both. Furthermore, if the Self were an experience and the problem of Self recognition was due to ignorance of the nature of the Self as Vedanta contends, how could an experience erase the ignorance...except temporarily as happens in various fleeting samadhis and epiphanies? And experience, no matter how non- dual it is (and how long it goes on), does not erase thought patterns...as evidenced by the fact literally millions of people who have experienced non-duality continue to think of themselves as limited beings when the experience wears off. If the experience of non-duality were the solution to the spiritual search no one who had had it would continue to search for permanent or total enlightenment. The spiritual world today is little more than tens of thousands of people who have experienced the Self but who remain locked in their concepts of who they are.

However, analysis of experience, shallow or deep, leading to the discovery that any and all experience is nothing but one s Self, could remove the intellectual notion that experience was superior to knowledge. After all, someone who strives for the experience of oneness does so because he or she holds an intellectual conviction that experience is the only path to enlightenment. If he or she is going to dismiss the very reasonable idea that you can only get what you already have through understanding that you have it, he or she will have to dismiss as merely intellectual the much more unreasonable notion that the Self is only available through a particular non- dual experience.

In fact, Vedanta has no quarrel with experience. Experience is a universal experience. And the experience of non-duality gives a glimpse of the Self which can be an aid to understanding. Vedanta merely says that experience as such is unconscious, incapable of delivering knowledge. For knowledge to happen whether it is based on experience or inference there must be a conscious factor other than experience that recognizes experience for what it is. This is why enlightenment is not a permanent experience of the Self but is instead the experiential (as opposed to theoretical ) understanding that one is the Self.

Another corruption of Vedanta exported to the West is the idea that Vedanta is a philosophy or school of thought. A school of thought is always the ideas of a given person or persons and is therefore subject to dispute. If an idea is to be accepted as a fact, not merely a belief or an opinion, it needs to be verified by a legitimate means of knowledge. But the subject matter of

Vedanta, the Self, is not available by direct perception or inference since it is outside time and space, the field in which the senses and mind operate. And because human beings only have three means of knowledge (perception, inference and testimony) and these can only be used to know objects, how can the Self, the subject (which cannot be objectified) and the one who is wielding the means of knowledge, be known through them? So the subject matter of Vedanta, the Self, cannot be a school of thought.

Vedanta looks like a school of thought, however, because it is comprised of a body of ideas that originated in the Vedas. People to whom the Self had never been revealed through the teachings of Vedanta assumed that it was just another philosophy and attributed differing interpretations to different teachers and so it became several schools of thought...for them. Had these people understood that Vedanta was simply a means for knowing the Self, this misconception would not have arisen.

A means of knowledge is not knowledge. It will not remain once the object to be known is known. So study of its ideas and the retention of them as beliefs or opinions is not appropriate to the actual purpose of Vedanta. Philosophies like existentialism, on the other hand, are subject to modification and remain in the realm of ideas as long as they serve some purpose. Vedanta, a means of knowledge that works, will never be modified because it already performs its function perfectly. Nor will it be forgotten because the human mind forever needs to rid itself of its sense of limitation.

There is no Advaita Vedanta

The words Advaita Vedanta, like the word Hinduism,7 are a misnomer because they imply other Vedantas. The word Advaita means non-dual and implies the concept of duality. Indeed, those who view Vedanta as a school of thought speak of Dwaita Vedanta, dualistic Vedanta, VishistAdvaita Vedanta, qualified non-dualism, and even Bhakti Vedanta, devotional Vedanta. Or they compare it with philosophies or religions that present similar ideas.

The word Advaita is not an adjective meant to modify a particular type of Vedanta but a word that describes the nature of the Self. Keeping in mind that words are always symbols, although non-dual implies dual, it is more appropriate to refer to the Self as non-dual than as one since one is a number that implies two, many, and even zero, nothing. Furthermore, it would be inappropriate to label Vedanta, which is merely a means of knowledge, as non-dual because it is in fact a dualistic device operating in a dualistic situation, one that ironically delivers non-dual knowledge.

The ultimate source of Vedanta s teachings are the Upanishads, documents appended to the concluding portion of each Veda. In fact the word Vedanta is a compound. Veda means knowledge and anta means end. On an exoteric level the term indicates the Upanishads, the texts containing its seed teachings, because they are situated at the end of each Veda. On the esoteric level, it means the non-dual knowledge that ends the belief in oneself as a limited being. Because of the cryptic nature of the Upanishad mantras, the subtle nature of the subject matter, the Self, and the fact that a single Sanskrit word often has many possible meanings, it is possible to interpret the statements of the Upanishad differently. Over the course of time there have been a number of great teachers of Vedanta who interpreted the statements of the Upanishads in different ways. But this does not amount to different schools of thought because all of them accepted Vedanta as a means of Self knowledge.

Although Vedanta is often erroneously accused of being an intellectual discipline, it operates differently from them because it does not leave concepts behind in the mind once it has been handled by a teacher. It uses concepts to destroy false concepts about the nature of the Self. And in the process both the correct idea and the erroneous idea disappear into the vision of oneself as the Self. Since the emphasis is on removal of doubt, any interpretation of a mantra can be applied to remove the doubt, irrespective of other interpretations. For a given person one interpretation may be appropriate while the same interpretation may be inappropriate for another because he or she entertains a different doubt or formulates the doubt in a different way. Irrespective of the interpretation, Vedanta acts as a means of knowledge if it removes one s ignorance of one s limitless nature.

If I want to see an object I need only use my eyes. If my ears do not hear the object while my eyes are seeing it their testimony does not invalidate what my eyes see. If I want to gain the knowledge of my Self I need to dispassionately expose myself to the teachings of Vedanta to see whether or not what it says is true. Because they are concerned with a different reality, perceptions and inferences about things in the world do not in any way invalidate the vision of Vedanta.

You are That

The vision of Vedanta is an equation of the identity between the individual and God. God is defined in Vedanta as everything that is. This vision of non-duality, which Yoga claims to achieve through certain disciplines, is not contradicted by direct perception or by inference. Although it is erroneously believed that the self can be experienced, it cannot. Why? Because the experiencing instrument, the ego/mind, can only know objects. What yogis claim to be a direct perception or experience of the self is the ego seeing the reflection of the Self in a pure mind and not the self, since the Self is subtler than the mind and ego.

Vedanta is not a salvation theology that requires an individual to change. According to it, the soul, the individual is perfect and already free. So the release of the individual from his or her feeling of limitation is the result of understanding that the individual and God share the same nature, limitless awareness. All the other teachings of Vedanta are only meant to prove this equation between man and God. Or, as a great mystic who seemed to have the vision of Vedanta once proclaimed, I and my Father are one. The God Vedanta envisions is not a bearded old man in the heavens.

The heart of Vedanta is a number of teaching methods, called prakriyas, found in the Upanishads and used by the teachers of the tradition to communicate the vision of non-duality. If a system of philosophy is built up out of these teachings it defeats the purpose of Vedanta.

Vedanta does not try to prove that the self exists because the only self evident self existent thing in reality is oneself. Everything that is known is known only because the self, the I, is self-evident awareness. Vedanta concentrates only on removing the ignorance that keeps one from appreciating oneself as self-evident awareness. Self knowledge is the most valuable knowledge one can gain because it shows that while everything depends on you, you depend on nothing. This realization is called liberation.

Cause and Effect

The purpose: to show that the self is limitless and that the world is not separate from it.

In this important teaching God is presented as the cause of the universe, that from which everything comes and that to which it returns to quote the Upanishad. Additionally, God is presented as eternal awareness, what always exists and never changes. The world is seen as an effect of which God is the cause. But the world is of a slightly different order of reality from God. In a famous text, the Vacarambhana Sruti, the universe is not said to exist, nor is it said not to exist. What kind of existence does it enjoy then? According to the scripture it has an apparent and dependent existence. The individual s body and mind are within the creation and therefore enjoy this peculiar status, but the individual itself is eternal awareness, non-separate from God, and therefore the reality of everything.

If the effect is just the cause in a particular form, then the cause and the effect are one. For example, although there are many different ornaments made of gold, from the standpoint of the gold they are all the same. If everything in the universe is fashioned by a single cause, limitless awareness, then everything in the universe is limitless awareness. Therefore if I know the essence of any one thing it is as good as knowing the essence of every other thing. To know salt water I needn t drink the seven seas; I need only take a sip from one. The realization, let s say recognition, I am limitless awareness and the whole universe is not separate from me even though I am separate from it is the result of this teaching. This recognition of myself as the whole removes my view of myself as limited and incomplete and is called liberation from suffering.

The Three States of Experience

The purpose: to point out that the invariable awareness in the three universal states of experience is the self.

Another important teaching employed in Vedanta8 is an analysis of the three states of experience: waking, dream and sleep. In this analysis, which is based on experience, the scripture notes that the waker and waking world is absent in both dream and sleep. The dreamer and the dream world is absent in both waking and sleep. In sleep the dreamer and the waker and their respective worlds are absent. Then it reasons that If the I, the self, is real, meaning eternally existent, it cannot relinquish its status at any time.

Yet, experience shows that these three I s appear and disappear. That most of us consider ourselves to be the entities that experience the waking state and dream states and that we consider ourselves to be real is incorrect according to this analysis because as wakers, dreamers, and sleepers we continually relinquish our existential status.

Furthermore, what is intrinsic to an object should be present in the object as long as the object exists. If it is not present, then it is an incidental attribute. For example, in the case of a crystal assuming the color of a nearby object, the color is incidental. If it were inherent in the crystal it would not disappear when the nearby object is removed.

If perception, which is a waking and dream state attribute, were native to the self it would exist in the deep sleep state. But the subject-object relationship necessary for perception is absent in deep sleep, yet the self does not cease to exist.

If the self has no attributes is it non-existent? It cannot be non- existent because non-existence is a concept requiring a subject, someone who knows. Investigation of the knower leads us to conclude that the knower is the self. And the self s nature is awareness, a view supported by the scripture.

Awareness is present in all states of experience, although ego consciousness, is absent in the deep sleep state. When scripture describes the self as attribute-free it means that the nature of the self is awareness because awareness is the only thing free of attributes. Attributes, such as a sense of doership and enjoyership, are incidental because they depend on the state in which one finds oneself.

Is there a world without someone to see it? No, if that someone is the ego, a non-essential attribute of the self. The existence of the objective world does not depend on the existence of any individual but on impersonal awareness. It cannot be said to exist if it is not known to exist. To say that it exists independently of awareness is meaningless. Because the self is awareness it is limitless and the world, which depends on the subject-object relationship, is only an apparent reality, neither completely existent, nor completely non-existent.

The Five Sheaths

The purpose: to point out the universal errors in self understanding that occur at each of the five levels of experience.

The non-apprehension of the self as oneself gives rise to five misconceptions about its nature. These misconceptions are called sheaths because they apparently hide the self and need to be removed if the self is to be apprehended as it is.

The most obvious misunderstanding we entertain about ourselves is that we are our gross bodies. The notions that I am mortal, I am fat, I am male/female indicate an association of the I with the physical.

Association of the I with the physiological systems causes one to say, I am hungry, I am thirsty, when in fact the I, awareness, does not suffer these sensations. The universal statements, I am happy, I am sad, show that the I is taken to be the emotional body. When the intellect entertains the idea I am a doer, I am a knower it reinforces the belief in oneself as the body or mind. This idea is untrue because the self is non-dual actionless awareness. Finally, the I is commonly associated with enjoyment, the state of feeling good, which motivates endless activities. The self is not a feel good state. It needn t feel good because it is good, in the sense of what is always auspicious. So the sense of enjoyership is also illegitimate.

The application of this teaching follows a certain type of logic. First the self is introduced as the gross body, a common belief. Then it is shown that there is another subtler body, the feelings and emotions, which also are considered to be oneself. When one s feelings are hurt one will instinctively say, I was hurt by what she said. This self negates the previous self because for a self to be a self it cannot be two, modern theories of multiple personalities notwithstanding. The word self means essence, that which is not made up of parts. Once the belief in oneself as the physical body is dropped and one accepts oneself as the emotional body, the teaching brings in the intellect self which shows up in experience as the concept I am the doer ...which is meant to remove the notion that one is only the feelings and emotions. When one can see that he or she thinks of his or herself as a doer and understands the limitation inherent in that concept, the idea of the bliss body is introduced. The bliss body is responsible for pleasure and its companion concept I am an enjoyer. The doer will give way to the enjoyer in every case because doing is for the sake of enjoying but enjoying is not for the sake of doing. Finally, the self is introduced as the source of bliss. Thus by tracing the I concept from the gross to the subtle one is led to the self, the fundamental I . The realization of the whole and complete I negates all the lesser selves, meaning one lets go of one s belief in oneself as them and embraces the unlimited identity.

The teaching works when it becomes clear that the association of the I with these five basic but conflicting concepts is absurd, since we know experientially that we are only one being, a view supported by scripture. In fact one need not rigidly employ this model when inquiring into the self because discovery of the association in one s mind of the I with many conflicting ideas should be enough to encourage one to abandon all self concepts. The renunciation of limiting self concepts is tantamount to gaining or realizing the self exists in the absence of all concepts.

One corruption of Vedanta related to this teaching is the idea that the sheaths actually cover the self and therefore a transcendental technique such as stopping the mind to experientially gain access to the self is required. Even if such techniques work, one would only enjoy an experience. And we know from experience that experience is by nature temporary...so no lasting solution to the problem of limitation would result. In fact, because experience is temporary, experience of the self as distinct from everyday experience just produces frustration in the experiencer, the ego. To gain a permanent experience of the self, one need only see that all experience is the self. If experience is gained by knowledge one need not suffer the anxiety of trying to maintain it, a common concern of meditators following the path of Yoga.

Is Experience Out There?

One of the problems with the experiential view of life, as opposed to the analytical view, is that experience always seems to be separate from the experiencer. But is it? If a thousand people experience one man giving a lecture in a large auditorium and they experienced him at the point at which he was standing, all the minds hovering around experiencing would interfere with each other's experience and nobody would experience the man as he was. But experience is completely subjective. Stimuli from the man enter the senses and drop into the mind, causing the mind to take the form of the stimuli and this is where our man is located.

So how far is the self from experience? Is there a gap, perhaps a tunnel down which the self must travel from its world to the world of experience? There is not. In fact experience is the self taking form like the ocean takes the form of waves. If I m looking for the self as an object, a transcendental experience, for example, or taking the experience of the self as an object, I am deluded because whatever experience I m having is nothing but me. This, however, does not mean that experience in anyway invalidates or validates me because it depends on me but I do not depend on it.

Importance of a Teacher

If Vedanta were a philosophical school of thought all that would be required to grasp it would be that one memorize the concepts. Whatever ignorance about the nature of oneself was in place before one s study began would remain...with a new layer of ideas sitting on top of it. But because it is a means of knowledge it needs a teacher, someone abiding 9 as the Self who can skillfully wield the teachings according to the traditional methods. And, like advanced studies in worldly subjects, the person on whom the teachings are wielded needs to be qualified or prepared to receive the teachings.10. If the teacher does not know who he or she is, or his or her enlightenment 11 is formulated in terms of experience, then all he or she can do is present the Self as an object to be attained and recommend certain practices which he or she believes will give the student access to the self. Because it is a means of knowledge Vedanta is not a practice that will bring about experience of the self, nor is it a theory about the existence of transcendental state. It s subject matter is awareness and because awareness is the content or essence of every experience, Vedanta need only reveal the self to grant one permanent self experience...since there is nothing more permanent than oneself. Discrete experiences come and go but the I, the self, precedes, pervades and succeeds every experience. The access to the self that Vedanta provides is in terms of the removal of ignorance and not in terms of a mechanical technique like arresting the mind.

You can lead a horse to water but you can t make it drink. While a teacher is necessary because one cannot apply the prakriyas on oneself merely by studying the ancient texts, the teacher cannot willy-nilly grant enlightenment to any qualified aspirant simply by unfolding the teachings. Because ignorance is tenacious the student needs to practice knowledge. The coming down or falling back that one suffers on experiential paths like Yoga also occurs in Vedanta. Understanding the teaching and seeing how the teacher wields it allows the self inquirer to apply the appropriate teaching to the mind as needed outside the teaching situation, until every last vestige of ignorance is destroyed.

The Self as Bliss Confusion

Because life in this world without the understanding of oneself as limitless awareness involves considerable suffering, human beings universally want to feel good. This craving has created the belief that there is an experienceable state of permanent bliss, ananda, that is available through certain practices. This belief stems from an incorrect understanding of the word ananta, which is used by the Upanishad to describe the self. Ananta is invariably mistranslated as bliss when the actual meaning is limitlessness. Anta means end and a is a negative meaning not so the word means what doesn t end. So the actual meaning of the word is the self, awareness.

The light knows the darkness but the darkness does not know the light. Like all experience, bliss, which is produced when the mind is temporarily free of fear and craving, is unconscious. It does not know the self. But it is known and experienced because the self, awareness, illumines it. The best one can do with the word bliss is to see it as a symbol of the self, a statement that the self is full, a partless whole. When someone who has been suffering the changes in the body mind initially wakes up to the self, the self seems to feel very good. But the feeling, which is an interpretation by the mind, is not the presence of a positive self state but simply the appreciation of the absence of change. As one abides as the self over time and the memory of suffering diminishes, the feeling of bliss gradually dissolves into non-dual partless wholeness. As the self I have no need to feel good because I am good, meaning I am the essence of every experience.

When self realization is touted as the experience of limitless bliss it is usually believed that this self bliss is infinitely superior to the transitory blisses one encounters in daily life. But the scripture says that any experience of bliss, whether it is born of sensory experience, the discovery of some unknown object, or spiritual practices such as Yoga, it is just the fullness and limitlessness of the self reflecting in the body/mind. The recognition of this fact removes the belief in oneself as unhappy, limited and mortal.

Knowledge/Realization Confusion

Another ill-considered belief enjoying considerable currency in the modern spiritual world is the idea that self knowledge is intellectual and that self realization is experiential. Because of this confusion it is thought that the study of the scripture is merely for knowledge while other practices, like the samadhis of Yoga, are for practical, experiential enlightenment.

This confusion between knowledge and experiential realization is caused by not recognizing the invariable presence of the self in all situations. If the self is always present and available, the scripture wielded by the self in the form of a teacher is the most direct way of experiencing the self because it reveals the nature of the self. And if only knowledge sets one free because ignorance is the problem, a technique that is meant to give experience of the self would in fact be indirect realization since the experience would have to be converted into knowledge for it to last. The absurdity of the experiential view is apparent when we consider that whatever experience one is having at any time is the self...but the self is not an experience.

Knowledge is only direct or indirect. Direct knowledge arises simultaneously with perception. Indirect knowledge is inference. I see smoke and infer fire. The derogatory adjective intellectual is completely unwarranted unless there are other kinds of knowledge like physical, emotional, intuitive, etc. In fact all knowledge is intellectual because the intellect is the only instrument capable of knowing. Because it is the product of unconscious impersonal forces, a feeling or an intuition is not self-knowing. It becomes known because the self illumines the intellect in which feelings and thoughts arise.

Usage shows that what is actually meant by the word intellectual is knowledge not backed by experience. A person can intellectually know what love is without ever having been in love. But the self is not an experience like love. If I exist I am the self so I am not short of self experience. Therefore the need to experience myself is illegitimate and I need another way, knowledge, to gain the experience that I already have. The many seekers of self experience that eventually become disillusioned because they are unable to obtain a permanent experience of the self need to convert their quest for experience into a quest for understanding if they wish to free themselves from bondage to their attachment to experience...which prevents them from enlightenment.

Multi-path Confusion

The idea that self knowledge can be gained in four different ways is a corruption that took place in India long before Vedanta was exported to the West. According to this idea, each path is called a yoga and is different from the other three. Each was meant for a different type of person. The path of devotion was meant to serve the needs of predominately emotional persons. The path of action was intended for extroverted action-oriented people, and the path of knowledge was designed for those with an intellectual orientation. And Raja Yoga, the eightfold path, was for a person who was anyone who was not one of the other types.

That one can gain self knowledge through action is an obvious absurdity because knowledge requires a means and action is not a valid means of knowledge. In fact action to gain something someone already has is motivated by ignorance. Rather than erase one s ignorance of oneself, it will only serve to reinforce the ill-considered belief in oneself as a doer of selfless action, a devotee of God, or a knower of truth...all egoic identities.

The Vedas actually only prescribe two lifestyles relevant to the quest for liberation; that of the householder and that of the renunciate. The renunciate pursues self knowledge exclusively and has no obligatory duties. The householder is enjoined to perform action in a certain spirit to prepare his or her mind for self knowledge.

If someone thinks of his or herself as a devotee exclusively, this identity is not warranted because devotional practices like pujas, chanting, and meditation/prayer are all karmas, activities. So, in fact this person is just a karma yogi, a doer of ritualistic actions. Additionally, devotion is not a quality unique to any individual or path but is found in anyone pursuing a spiritual goal. One does not pursue self knowledge or self experience without devotion, for example. So the idea of devotion as a particular path is not found in the Vedas.

Although not found in the Vedas proper, the idea of integral yoga became associated with Vedanta in the last century primarily through the writings of Sri Aurobindo. According to this view, because the subtle body has three inner centers, the mind (emotions/feelings), intellect, and ego which are often in conflict, three techniques are necessary to fuse it into an instrument capable of knowing the self and retaining that knowledge permanently. Devotional practice is meant to be useful in transforming gross emotions into devotion for God who is non-separate from the self. Action yoga is helpful in identifying ego and wearing away its concept of itself as a doer. And the practice of knowledge trains the mind to think from the Self s point of view, rather than the ego s, eventually harmonizing the individual with the natural order of things, thus reducing stress and conflict. At best this view is helpful in preparing the mind for self knowledge but it does not, for the reasons mentioned above, qualify as a valid means of self knowledge.

Liberation is a Thought-Free Mind?

One of the most popular and misguided views at the heart of Yoga doctrine12 that became associated with Vedanta is the idea that liberation is the elimination of all thoughts in the mind. This idea came about because the scripture describes the self as thought free and because experientially many epiphanies occur when the mind is temporarily arrested in the waking state. But if a thought-free mind was liberation everyone would already be enlightened...because who has not slept? Even between two thoughts there is a tiny gap, an absence of thought. If absence of thought for a split second is not enlightenment, absence of thought for an hour or two is not going to amount to the liberating knowledge I am limitless awareness. Realistically, the idea that no thought is enlightenment means that there is no such thing as enlightenment. Finally, if one is enlightened only when the mind is thought-free, what happens to enlightenment when the mind begins to think? The mind is not going to free itself of thought because it is not capable of knowing that thought is a problem. So someone else would have to do it. The only someone capable of removing the thoughts would be the self but the self is already free of thoughts so there would be no reason for it to destroy the mind. From its non-dual point of view although the mind is a lesser order of reality it is still the self and therefore not a threat.

Because enlightenment is the nature of the self the idea that no mind is enlightenment implies a duality between the self and thought. That the self does not exist when the mind exists means that the self and the mind enjoy the same order of reality like a table and a chair. But this is untrue. If one exists only in the absence of the other they enjoy the same order of reality, like illness and health. But does the existence of thought deny the existence of oneself? Is there thought without you? In fact thoughts come out of you but you are not just a thought. They depend on you but you do not depend on them. So whether they are present or absent you, the ever- free ever-present self, can always be directly known.

Elimination of Unconscious Tendencies is Enlightenment?

The thoughts and feelings in the mind are not self-generating but are the effects of subtle causes called vasanas, sub or unconscious tendencies accumulated from past experience. The sum total of these tendencies is often said to be the individual. And since they are the cause of all the individual s habits they are prior to the individual and therefore bind the individual to a repetitive cycle of experience. To free oneself of this bondage it is believed that the vasanas must be completely exhausted. Since there are no longer any tendencies to constitute an individual or to keep the individual together it is believed that the individual dissolves and the self, which is what remains, is realized by default. But if the individual is gone who is there to realize the self? The self obviously does not need to realize anything because it is already realized.

A second problem with this theory is that nobody knows how many vasanas are stored in the unconscious, perhaps billions or more, so it might take millions of lifetimes to exhaust them. A third is that in a non-dual reality there are not two separate principles, the self and the vasanas. If the self alone exists as scripture says, and the vasanas exist, they would only exist as the self. In other words they would be dependent for their reality on the self, just as a clay pot is dependent on clay for its reality. Anything that depends on something else for its existence is not real. Experienciable, yes, but not real, meaning unchanging. If vasanas are the self but the self is not the vasanas, it is already free of them and no work needs to be done to gain the self.

But if enlightenment is the knowledge I am the self, limitless awareness, this knowledge would necessarily take place in the mind. Furthermore, if the mind were excessively disturbed by thoughts and feelings in the form of likes and dislikes and these likes and dislikes, fears and desires, were conscious effects of which the vasanas were the cause, as scripture states, then the mind could be brought to a clear, calm state, by exhausting the vasanas disturbing it...making it fit for knowledge. Therefore, vasana exhaustion is useful to prepare the mind for self knowledge but is not tantamount to enlightenment.

Stages of Enlightenment

If the problem is ignorance and enlightenment is the understanding backed by experience that I am limitless, to say that there are stages ofenlightenment is like saying that a woman is a little bit pregnant. Contrary to popular belief no enlightened person13 is more or less enlightened than any other because the self is one unchanging awareness.

Then how does one account for the apparent differences in understanding and experience that one sees from one enlightened being to another? There is no question of enlightenment from the self s point of view because there is no ignorance. And because the self is non-dual there is no experience in it. But the self is capable of creating the appearance of duality. Just as a spider is both the substance of its web and the intelligence that shapes it, the self appears as the world and shapes the individual entities in it. What is called experience is the self functioning through the various entities (plant, animal and human) just as electricity functions through various appliances. Expressing through a bulb it produces light, through a heater heat, and through a radio sound. Though the manifestations are superficially different all are just electricity transformed by its contact with the appliance.

There are no enlightened beings because there is only one formless self. So when knowledge destroys a person s sense of individuality, the individual becomes the self by default. The becoming is not a physical change or the experiential removal of the individual. It is a change in understanding. Just as knowledge of the nature of a mirage will prevent one from taking it to be water, the knowledge that I am the self allows one to understand that the experiencer, the individual, is only an apparent, not a real self.

An enlightened being is just the self functioning through a mind whose self ignorance has been removed. But the removal of self ignorance does not automatically remove the vasanas in the mind although it eventually renders them non-binding since they bind only because of ignorance. Since from the self s point of view all the vasanas are known to be only the self, it has no preferences as to the type of vasana it illumines. Therefore it works through the existing vasanas. Because the vasanas are the cause of the mind s energy, attitudes and opinions, ignorance and knowledge and every mind has unique and varied experiences, the self seems to be unique and varied. This seeming is caused by lack of discrimination, the power to separate the real from the experiential, so that an indiscriminate person will wrongly assume that there are many types of enlightened beings and many stages of enlightenment.

The Stages of Enlightenment

(1) Endarkenment

Nonetheless, from the individual s point of view there are three stages of enlightenment. The first stage might well be called endarkenment. We come into this life experiencing our limitlessness and oneness with everything but, because the intellect has yet to develop, we do not understand what we are experiencing. When the intellect does develop it is trained to think of the self as a limited, incomplete, inadequate creature and encouraged to solve the problem of inadequacy by picking up experience in life. At a certain point, the individual comes to realize that no matter how much experience he or she can garner, the experienced objects and activities do not do the job. This is usually an unpleasant realization, often resulting in a profound disillusionment with life and is frequently referred to as the dark night of the soul in religious literature or hitting bottom in popular culture.

Most react to this existential crisis by sinking into distracting habits, mind numbing substances and/or frivolous entertainments, but for unknown reasons a few begin to enjoy a variety of peculiar and invariably confusing religious or spiritual experiences that lead them to the idea of God or some sort of inner light or higher state. And at some point during this period the person becomes convinced that he or she can find happiness within or in some relationship with God.

(2) Self Realization/Self Inquiry

The second stage might be termed the seeking or questing phase and usually heads off in two apparently separate directions. The religious road leads to the development of a personal relationship with God who is conceived as a pure and perfect someone other than one s self. The idea of the self as inadequate, incomplete, and separate is retained and often conceived of as corrupted by sin. Salvation is meant to lie in invoking the grace of God through prayer and the study of scripture and working hard here on earth for a place in the promised land, a heaven far from this veil of tears which can only be accessed by relinquishing the physical body. The religious life offers a positive alternative to the belief in the world as a source of meaning.

The other branch of the road leads in a less doctrinal and belief-laden direction into the experience of the inner world and an investigation of the self. In its worldly form it may incline one to the study of psychology but in its spiritual form the person experiences epiphanies, fleeting samadhis, satoris14 and the like that give rise to the conviction that the the truth dwells within as the higher or inner self or as some transcendental state of consciousness.15 He or she will probably characterize the changes during this phase as an awakening. Although the experience of the inner self/truth/state is invariably uplifting and intensifies one s quest, it is always confusing because the information one gathers challenges the habitual view of oneself as a needy, incomplete, inadequate, separate creature. Many of these experiences can truthfully be described as the experience of oneness with all things, limitlessness, and of transcendent bliss.

During this stage which might be also called the meditation stage, the mind, formerly riveted on happenings in the outer world turns inward and fixes itself on the self, the light within, and at some point, usually after intense investigation, realizes the self, since the self is the source of all experience. This realization is always in the form of an experience and is thought by many to be the end of the search...and the ultimate state. But Vedanta says that while this is a welcome and enjoyable state it is not the end because there is still a sense of separation between the experiencer and the object of experience, the self. When there is separation there is doubt and the doubt is always that this state, like all states will end, plunging the experiencer back into darkness...which invariably happens because what is actually happening is that the experience is actually not the experience of the self but a reflection of the self in a still mind and since both the experiencer, the ego, and the mind are in time they are subject to change.

This doubt is due to the failure of the experiencer to understand that what is being experienced is just his own self...in which case it could never be lost. The failure to convert the experience to knowledge is usually caused by the belief in the experiencer that knowledge is merely intellectual and that there is such a thing as a permanent experience. So when the experience happens the intellect gets submerged in the bliss, peace, and radiance and switches off, as it does in most intense sensuous experiences, and stops inquiring.

To enter the final stage, which is not a stage, inquiry must continue during the experience of the self. In ordinary perception a thought wave arises in the mind that corresponds to the nature of the perceived object. You see a tree and you know it is a tree because the self, awareness illumines the thought of tree as it arises in the intellect. Similarly when the ego experiences the reflection of the self in a pure mind a thought corresponding to the nature of the self, called an akandakara vritti, an unbroken I thought arises, and this thought needs to be owned. When it is taken as one s own, it is this I thought, backed by experience, that destroys the notion in the ego/mind that it is limited, incomplete and separate.

(3) Enlightenment

At this point everything stops and there is a subtle shift in awareness in which the foreground becomes the background and the background the foreground. The ego/mind, the subject, meditating on the self, the object, becomes the subject and the subject, formerly the object, becomes the subject. And this never changes because it was obtained through the knowledge that what I experience is me but I am not what I experience. In other words, one becomes the Self. Unlike an experience, the self can never be lost because it is me, the basis of everything...and there is nothing other than it to lose it.

Enlightenment as Energy?

A major misconception brought on by human being s fascination with and craving for experience is the belief that enlightened beings have a special kind of energy and that that energy is a consequence of their enlightenment. But experience confirms and scripture states that the self is energyless, so if I am the self I have no energy. Then how does it appear as if it were energy?

The self does not appear as energy until it illumines a given mind. The mind is just the vasanas of a given individual entity. These vasanas are subtle matter. Matter is inert. But when it is illumined by the self it becomes dynamic, just as a seed will remain dormant until it gets water and sunlight. The vasanas are conditioned by three types of energy: sattvic, rajasic, and tamasic.

Tamasic energy16 is a heavy,dull, sleepy energy, as if the mind were under a cloud. Rajas17 is a projecting energy, a passionate, dynamic, outgoing unsettling energy. And sattva18 is the state when the mind is luminous, clear, still, and aware. When the self illumines the tamasic vasanas the person appears to be ignorant and sleepy and lack motivation. When the self illumines rajasic vasanas, the person is exceptionally dynamic and powerful, often highly motivated. When the self illumines sattva the person is clear and bright, very knowledgeable and loving.

Most beings, because of their sense of incompleteness, chase tamasic objects (physical things and sensual pleasure) with rajasic passion. Therefore their vasanas are predominately tamasic and rajasic. So if a person who has tamasic vasanas somehow wakes up and discovers that he or she is actually the self, his or her energy will be predominately tamasic and rajasic even if the knowledge is firm...unless work is done to transform the vasanas. A small class of people realize that tamasic and rajasic vasanas produce the unpleasant experiences of craving and aversion and evolve methods to rid themselves of them. If and when they realize the self, they will be exceptionally luminous, because the mind is so still it accurately reflects the radiance of the self.

There is one more so-called spiritual phenomenon, the shaktipat guru, a person with exceptionally powerful and radiant energy, energy that is capable of creating intense experiences in proximate minds. It is often assumed that such gurus are enlightened. They may be if they have the firm knowledge that I am limitless awareness and the mind is particularly sattvic, but there is another way to account for this phenomenon that has nothing to do with enlightenment.

There is a group of scientific yogic practices handed down from antiquity that accumulate energy. The practice of accumulating energy is called tapas or heat producing. The idea behind tapas is that energy flows from the subtlest layer of reality, the unconscious mind, into the conscious mind, and out through the senses into the world at large. The source of this energy, the self (which is not energy) is limitless so the energy is limitless. This is why the universe, which is just energy, is limitless.

In any case, if the energy is blocked at the sense level, not allowed to flow into objects (activities that dissipate it), it will accumulate in the mind which is also limitless because it is just the self in a particular form of energy called chitta. The practice involves considerable will power because the vasanas are dynamic and need to express themselves so when they are frustrated they remain in the mind in the form of heat. When enough energy accumulates in the mind it produces light. This kind of mind energy is like water behind a dam. It appears still and luminous but it has a tremendous potential. So when it is allowed to escape from the mind it flows into less dynamic minds and lifts them up, just as water flowing fills a hole in the ground.

The primary purpose of this practice is to incinerate vasanas for the purpose of gaining the kind of pure mind necessary for enlightenment.

When the mind accumulates energy in this way, the energy can activate latent tendencies in the chitta and certain miraculous supernatural powers may appear including the power to spiritually awaken others. In fact, there is nothing particularly spiritual about the experience ( spiritual awakenings happen in every conceivable worldly circumstance more often than they do in apparently spiritual settings)19 except the association with such a person in a spiritual setting. If the aspirant is unclear about the goal, enlightenment, he or she may be tempted to capitalize on this situation to impress an ever-gullible sensation-seeking public who has no idea of the true nature of enlightenment. And, because the goal has not been reached, the yogi often assumes that the experience of intense energy is the goal and propagates the belief that enlightenment is a particular kind of experience. The New Age culture and the recent satsang gurus are especially guilty of spreading this frustrating20 belief.

But because a person has extraordinary energy does not mean that he or she is not enlightened. Indeed, if the person has purified the mind before enlightenment, he or she will have energy and enlightenment. If the enlightenment came in spite of the condition of the mind, the mind can be quickly purified from the self s position, rendering the person energetic and wise.

Very often an unenlightened person with a particular gift attracts many people. Being the focus of many minds increases the energy in his or her mind and that energy flows back into the surrounding minds producing a range of experiences from sublime to demonic...depending on the condition of the mind channeling and the minds receiving the energy. This person, like the shakti-pat yogi, is often considered enlightened because he or she seems to be very powerful. Because the mind has not been properly purified it is incapable of functioning normally at high states of vibration and it becomes unstable. Then the person loses his or her discrimination and makes foolish decisions that effectively ruin his or her life and the lives of those who associate with them. Recent spiritual history is replete with tales of this sad phenomenon.

It is quite possible, and indeed the rule rather than the exception, that a regular person with a normal state of mind wakes up and goes on to attain 21 enlightenment. In this case the person, who is actually the self and knows it, operates through a very ordinary life, and anyone coming into contact with him or her would have no idea of his or her state. 22

The Problem of Language

Two languages obtain in the spiritual world. The most popular and most imprecise is the language of experience which has been propagated by the yogic tradition. The least popular and most precise is the language of identity or knowledge employed by Vedanta. In the best of all possible worlds there should be no cross-pollination. Each has its value and is specific to its view of enlightenment.

Because the yogic view of enlightenment is experiential it employs a dualistic language because experience is dualistic, the relationship between a subject and an object. According to this view enlightenment is a unique, permanent experience of the Self. The problem with this view is that the Upanishads, the ultimate authority on the nature enlightenment, describe the self, which is everything that exists, in the language of identity as a non- dual reality and enlightenment as the knowledge I am the limitless self 23 based on the discovery24 of oneself as such.

The usual progression in understanding takes one from the language of experience to the language of identity. There are many people in the spiritual world who have had considerable experience of the reflection of the self in the mind when the mind was in a sattvic condition and who would be classified as self realized according to the stages of enlightenment mentioned above. But, rightly, these people are not satisfied and continue to entertain doubts about their state. Usually the doubt has to do with making the state permanent, which is impossible since the person and his pure mind is still in the realm of time. In other words there is always the realistic fear that the experience will not last. And even though they are so close to enlightenment experientially, it still eludes them. And the reason? Because they are prisoners of the language of experience.

The language we use indicates the way we think. And at this stage, when the experience is more or less continually available, the only barrier to converting the experience to a permanent state, not that enlightenment is a state, is the way one thinks. What needs to happen at this point is that the individual needs to convert the language of experience to the language of identity. The language of identity states that the experiencer and what is being experienced are not two separate things, that they are in fact the same.

When any object is experienced the knowledge of that object arises simultaneously in the intellect. And if the mind in which the reflection of the self is pure, the knowledge of the self will arise with it in the intellect. This knowledge is in the form of a thought, an akandakara vritti, an unbroken idea that I am the whole and complete actionless awareness that I am experiencing. If the person is accustomed to thinking of the self as an object, he or she will be reluctant to surrender the experiencer, and the self will continue to remain as an experienced object. The surrender is in terms of letting go of the idea of oneself as an experiencer and embracing one s limitless identity.

Were the person to be trained in the language of identity, this problem would not arise. In fact the person would immediately recognize the content of the experience as I and that would finish the work. The whole of Vedanta can be reduced to one simple equation found in the Upanishads You are that where that is the self and you is the self in the form of the experiencer and the verb are is indicates the identity between the two.

***

Although Vedanta is in the public domain many of these ideas were culled from an obscure pamphlet written by Swami Dayananda Saraswati, perhaps India s foremost teacher of Vedanta, entitled The Teaching Tradition of Advaita Vedanta. It was written for persons well versed in both Sanskrit and Vedanta, perhaps his many students, and would not be considered an easy read for anyone unfamiliar with traditional Vedanta. The need for a return to traditional Vedanta arose because of the hybridization of Vedanta and Yoga over the last one hundred years which has produced considerable confusion about the nature of enlightenment.

This mixture is no more evident than in the teachings of my guru, Swami Chinmayanda, an extraordinary personality and one of the most famous and effective teachers of the last century who spearheaded a renaissance of Vedanta in post-colonial India. The Swami, who was a national figure, promoted himself as a modern Swami and his teachings came to be known as modern Vedanta, perhaps to widen their appeal in a backward country struggling to enter the modern era.

Swami Dayananda, who served the Chinmaya Mission for many years and was groomed to head the mission when Chinmayananda died but later separated from it and went on to teach Vedanta independently, begins his pamphlet with the sentence I call myself a traditional teacher of Vedanta and goes on to analyze many of the contentions of modern Vedanta in light of the traditional teachings.

And while Chinmayandana was my guru and his teachings are responsible for my enlightenment, after many years of reflection I find myself in complete agreement with Swami Dayanada about the need to purge Vedanta of the ideas that invariably keep creeping into it, particularly the idea of enlightenment as a transcendental experience or an experience of the self. If the traditional teachings are not maintained, in a few generations Vedanta will no longer be an effective means of self knowledge.

Traditional Vedanta means that none of the ideas belong to any individual but can be traced back to the Upanishads, Brahma Sutras, and the Bhagavad Gita and that enlightenment is ultimately a problem of understanding, not experience. Swami Dayananda is a brilliant teacher of Vedanta skilled in the traditional teaching methods and it would be impossible to find fault with his presentation of Vedanta.

Because it was responsible for my enlightenment, for more than ten years I did not question Chinmaya s modern Vedanta and propagated it with zeal. But as I cooled down and the self illumined the farthest reaches of my mind I re-entered the ancient texts I began to understand that at the highest level of spiritual evolution Yoga and Vedanta need to part company. So when I came across Swami Dayananda s pamphlet it confirmed my own thinking.

I used the structure of the pamphlet, was faithful to Dayananda s logic, translated much of the Sanskrit into English, shamelessly used and improved some of his language, and fattened the text by bringing in a number of ideas relating to popular misunderstandings about the nature of enlightenment. I believe it is important to stand up for Vedanta nowadays because it has been co-opted by Europeans and Americans and mightily corrupted. Rarely do Westerners take the time to learn any ancient tradition as a whole from the inside as it is, preferring instead to pick and choose only the easy ideas that appeal to them. Once they have plundered what they want they tend to mix them with popular ideas drawn from disparate sources to create weak and laughable hybrids.

It is important to keep Vedanta pure because it is a time-tested means of enlightenment. And when it becomes corrupted it can no longer do its job...erasing the ignorance of the limitless nature of the self.

Footnotes

1 The Upanishads are the portion of the Vedas that contain the ideas relating to self knowledge. ^

2 Vedanta, the knowledge that ends the quest for knowledge, is a means of self knowledge sourced in the Upanishads, Brahma Sutras, and the Bhagavad Gita.^

3 The gain is not an experiential gain, like getting a new state of consciousness, but the gain of a limitless identity due to the loss of one s identity as an individual.^

4 This is the Upanishad s fundamental contention.^

5 An agent, the ego/individual would not be able to experience the self because it is a gross manifestation of a much subter self. The subtle can experience the gross but the gross cannot experience the subtle.^

6 This experience of the self is the second and necessary stage on the path to enlightement. A discussion of the three stages appears later in this article.^

7 The terms Hindu came from the Greeks who described the people living in the Indus Valley as Hindus. The ideas and practices that are commonly thought to comprise Hinduism are actually Sanatana Dharma, the Eternal Dharma, which are based on the Vedas.^

8 This analysis is found in the Mandukya Upanishad.^

9 In fact enlightenment is not an abidance in the self since abidance implies a subject and object and enlightenment is the knowledge, backed by experience, that I am the Self. ^

10 These qualitfications are: discrimintation, dispassion, calm mind, buring desire for liberation, faith, devotion, and perserverance.^

11 Enlightenment formulated in terms of experience is not enlightenment. It is a preliminary stage usually called self-realization. A discussion of the stages of enlightenment can be found at the end of this document.^

12 A famous scripture, the Patanjali Yoga Sutras, is the basis of this view.^

13 The concept enlightened person is not strictly correct, unless the self is thought of as a person. In fact in some scriptures the self is referred to as the universal person but this does not mean that the Self is a person as we understand it. Impersonal or a state are perhaps more accurate words to describe the self but certain minds have trouble with abstract concepts so, to make it understandable to this kind of mind it is sometimes called a supreme person, or God. The word person is used because people are the most conscious objects in the creation and the self is consciousness. Enlightenment is the loss of the sense of limitation that characterizes a person, so it is not correct to think of the person as an individual any more. The loss of the person s sense of limitation is the appreciation of oneself as everything that is.^

14 Terms from different traditions that indicate an experiential glimpse of God, the Void, the inner self, etc.^

15 Often persons who have had out of body or near death experiences see the self in this way.^

16 Avarana shakti^

17 Vikeshepa shakti^

18 Jnana shakti^

19 The author s spiritual awakening happened in the Post Office at Waikiki Beach, Hawaii.^

20 The belief is frustrating because the experience of the self invariably ends and the person is returned to his or her previous state . Because the experience was uplifting it causes the person to court it again and again so that in the spiritual world you find a class of people who could only be described as spiritual junkies, continually craving what they have just lost.^

21 Enlightenment is not attained as an experience or an object is attained. If it is an attainment at all it is the gaining of the hard and fast understanding I am the self. ^

22 In fact enlightenment is not a state. A state by definition changes and the self does not change. Because the mind is in duality it is subject to change and can therefore entertain many different states.^

23 Aham Brahmasmi^

24 Actually enlightenment is always a redicovery because the self is never new.^

Read more: What is Advaita Vedanta

A Means of Self Knowledge

Love, Self Esteem, Self Knowledge and Vedanta

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Love is Awareness Directed to an Object

Everyone wants to be loved but an emotionally needy person does not know why. He or she accepts the commands of the longing and lonely self and sets out to seek the approval and appreciation of others. This is why we value other’s opinions, get upset when they criticize us, argue, ignore or gossip about us behind our backs.

We are emotionally needy because we are not valuable in our own eyes. We are not valuable because we do not know who we actually are. Emotions are part and parcel of the of the universal psychological order and are invariably the basic content of an individual’s life. Emotions motivate us to accomplish things. At the same time they may easily overwhelm us mind and subject us to a sense of confusion, failure and depression. When emotions rule, life is complicated and we are susceptible to feelings of unworthiness and despair.

As children we have no choice but to trust our parents. Failure to trust would compromise our survival. Trust implies trustworthiness. But parents are not infallible; they are subject to every human limitation and easily make mistakes. Because a child’s knowledge is limited it feels incapable and inadequate. It is the duty of parents to ameliorate this sense of smallness and inadequacy. They should shower the child with love and affection, making it feel that it is as good as they are, that it is capable of meeting challenges happily.

But if parents do not receive a sense of confidence from their parents, or if they lose it because they are unable to accomplish their goals, they cannot instill in in their offspring. If they feel small and helpless in face of the oceanic complexity and rapid pace of modern society…as they often do…they may need to make themselves feel big by putting the child down. Although they think they love the child and verbally affirm their love, parents with low self esteem end up reinforcing the child’s innate sense of inadequacy with criticisms, complaints and unreasonable expectations.

Even reasonably healthy parents are often stressed by the enormity of the task of child rearing. No other creature takes as long to wean as a human. Some never individuate and remain firmly tethered long after the parents are physically dead and gone. Today, when child rearing is so expensive, the parents are often too busy taking care of the family’s physical needs…and/or too immature emotionally…to see that the child is self accepting and self confident.

Awareness, your true self, shines on your mind and you think. It shines on your heart and you feel. No choice is involved. If you were in control of your emotions you would know what you were going to feel at a particular time and you would carefully select the emotion appropriate to the situation. But that is not how it is. The emotion is in you, it is triggered by some event and out it comes. You may not necessarily be aware of what you are feeling, but you always feel something. Life is love and love is just awareness directed to an object. When awareness illumines the heart, it transforms into the emotion that is arising there at the time. If the heart is pure, awareness shines as unconditional devotion and compassion flows into the world. If the heart is disturbed love becomes anger or jealousy. A depressed mind morphs pure love into sadness and self pity. And when self ignorance covers the mind, self esteem, feeling good or bad about one’s self, is our number one issue.

Symptoms of Low Self Esteem – A Painful Analysis

Loneliness, Excessive Activity

When I lack self love, it is painful to be alone. Moments of silence are uncomfortable. So I develop a lifestyle that keeps me continually on the go. I need distractions. I come home tired at the end of the day but I do not sit on the sofa by the window with a cup of tea and happily think my thoughts. It is dangerous to be alone because I am faced with a sense of worthlessness and failure. To deal with it I get on the internet, play distracting music, watch TV, read a romance novel, even…heaven forbid!...clean the flat to keep myself busy. I drown myself in duties. I concoct hopelessly long ‘to do’ lists. When I tick off one item from the top two more appear at the bottom. I can never rest. Every day is spoken for by trivial activities too numerous to mention, but that is the point; I do not want to face myself.

Can’t Receive Love

If I do not love myself properly, it is difficult to receive love from others even if it is lavished on me. I need the capacity to accept love. I simply cannot believe someone else sees me as a beautiful person. I think he or she is lying, deluded or smitten by too many hormones. I do not realize that love is blind to my faults. It sees the whole me and does not criticize. It does not expect me to be other than what I am. It sympathizes, empathizes and identifies. It is not personal at all. Would that I could see myself in this way.

Comparison

When you do not esteem yourself properly, it is not a problem if you are the only person alive. With whom will you compare yourself? But if there are others who are kinder, smarter, richer, more evolved or in any way different, you may develop a complex. You may become jealous, envious, resentful and angry. The inverse of this complex, arrogance, also reveals a lack of self esteem. An inflated person feels much bigger than he should by continual comparison with those who have less of what he values. He might think he is very generous because he put a dollar in the collection plate when the worshipper sitting next to him contributed a quarter. But whether you have an inflated or a deflated notion of yourself, you are never happy because your sense of self worth depends on what others think, what you imagine them to be or what they have that you lack. And since your situation and the situations of others are always changing, you continually have to adjust your self image. It is not fun.

Because reality is non-dual awareness, there is only one conscious being shining out from behind the senses and the mind, even though it seems as if I am only one among many. Were this fact known it would destroy the basis for comparison and the ever-present possibility of unflattering self judgments.

Manipulation and Control

When you see yourself as separate from everything you can easily become a controlling person. You do not believe that the world will take care of you, even though you have survived, perhaps thrived, in it for many years. There seems to be good reason to distrust: the world is in a state of constant flux and what will happen is not known. You act, but you do not know what the result of your actions will bring.

Parental love is often largely about control. Parents bring us into life and they know how long they are going to have to look out for us and how difficult it is, so they need us to do what they want to facilitate their task. If they are unfulfilled in love, they push us into careers or activities that will give them the validation they are unable to give themselves. They will ask us what we want to be when we grow up. It is a natural question, considering their desire to help us stand on two feet, but it is entirely possible to misinterpret their words. It is possible to assume that what they mean is that we are not OK now, that who we are is not good enough. Thus we may pick up a complex that can follow us through life like a needy little dog.

If parents do not esteem themselves the child may easily become an extension of their inadequacies. They want it to succeed where they failed, bring glory on an otherwise unrecognized family. And because we model our parents, when we are ready for our own love relationships, we see love as control, getting our beloved to do the things we want, making sure that he or she is paying attention to us all the time. We need the attention of others because we are not paying attention to ourselves. This kind of insecurity leads to jealousy, envy, anger and even hatred…if the object of our affections does not get with our program.

Judgment and Criticism

If you are a controlling person, you continually judge and criticize others. You think your value system is superior to theirs: you are more pure and just and honest and compassionate than they are. You are vegetarian and they eat meat. You work hard and they live on the dole. You are right and they are wrong. You can judge them because you think you are better than they are. You get angry when they misbehave according to your lights. These projections are just distractions; they keep you from facing your own sense of inadequacy, your failure to love yourself. And although you are very adept at judging and criticizing others, you have a very thin skin: you cannot stand to be criticized and judged because it reminds you of your own unflattering self opinion.

Unfair Self Criticism, Idealism

A person who loves himself has an objective view of himself. He knows his good and bad points. But if you do not love yourself you will become unfairly self critical. Self criticism usually means that you believe you have to live up some ideal, that if you were truly enlightened you would be a very different person. It may be that enlightenment has a saintly effect on some personalities, but you will never be enlightened until you esteem yourself enough to accept what you actually are in this life…warts and all.

One obvious sign of this kind of control is the desire to have the person you love be different from what he or she is. You thought he or she was wonderful enough when you fell in love, but when the bloom came off the rose you suddenly discovered that your beloved ‘changed.’ He or she did not change. The rose colored specs just fell off and you started to see what is.

We are not self created. Life lives us. At the behest of a mysterious force we grow out life’s matrix like weeds in a field. Things happen and unconscious tendencies cause us to respond and these responses become our character. If conditioning turned you into a critical controlling judgmental person, you should not blame yourself and add another problem to the mix. You innocently appeared here one fine day and life made of you what it would. If self esteem was not modeled by your parents or your teachers, if they were critical and controlling, how would you know how to properly esteem yourself?

Dithering

When self critical thinking born of lack of self knowledge becomes deeply entrenched, you may become prone to endless dithering for fear of making the ‘wrong’ decision, one that will result in suffering. Even the most insignificant choices may seem gargantuan to you. Should I paint my room beige or brown? Should I cut my hair short or let it grow? In a state of high anxiety you phone your friends…what should I do? I need to know! You visit the astrologer, the Tarot reader, the psychic down the block. Maybe the stars know what is going to happen. You do not want to make a mistake.

Emotional Neediness

You may become so love starved that you become an expert at small talk. You may go up to complete strangers on the street asking for directions, making comments about their dress or their pets…what kind of dog is that?...offering bits of homespun wisdom. You think you are contacting them because you just want to know something or have something very important for them to know, but actually you are giving them love so that they will pay attention to you…which counts for love in your book. In this way you make friends everywhere. Each time you can get them to engage, you feel that you are a good person. Somebody loves me! It is not terribly difficult to get love this way because everyone loves to be loved. At the end of the day, you have a lot of pleasant experiences to contemplate, all of which tell you that you are OK.

At the same time, however, digging love out of people is hard work. And sometimes you do not get the validation you seek. They rudely blow you off or politely listen to you run on, thinking their own thoughts. The constant contact wears you out. It would be much easier to stay home and just love yourself, but you do not know how. Life is not here to validate us. We should not be bothered by its little pinpricks. Life is here for the sake of love, not the other way around. I validate life because I am love.

The point of this tale of emotional tragedy and woe is that you cannot afford to be ignorant of what love is if you want to be happy. And this means that you cannot afford not to know who you are…because your nature is love. When we say that you are awareness, it means that you are love. Love is the attention you pay to yourself and others, the energy you put into everything around you.

Everything I Do is for Self Love

If you look at the structure of the psyche of any human being…its dharma…you will find that it has four parts. There is the rational, cognitive function (the intellect), the self image (the ego), the emotional body (the heart) and the unconscious, one’s tendencies born of conditioning. It is always best to act from the intellect, with hard and fast knowledge. Sometimes situations are very complex and require a lot of actions to be done in a particular way. Knowledge is power; it helps you get what you want. And, at the end of the day, you want what you want because you want to feel good about yourself. You want to be a success. If you are successful you believe you will be able to love yourself. And conversely, if you are unsuccessful, it confirms your belief that you are an inadequate person, a failure. So whatever you do is for self love.

It is very important to understand this. You never do what you do for the ostensible reason. You do it for the feeling of self love it brings. The anxiety that separates you from the ocean of love that is your nature disappears when you get what you want and love floods your quiet mind and you are pleased with yourself. At the same time it never occurs to you to define success as self love. If you love yourself, you are free to do anything…but you need do nothing to be happy.

At the same time that you have an intellect, you also have desires. Desire is awareness after it passes through ignorance. If you know who you are, you know that you need not dig love out of every situation. You are content and you do not stress yourself looking for love…because you see that you are whole and complete by nature. You need not do anything to make yourself feel this way.

If self ignorance is very deep, you will have many strong desires. And strong desires means that you will have strong emotions, particularly negative emotions. You will have negative emotions because life basically does not care what you want. It does not know that you feel inadequate and incomplete. It delivers your experiences on the basis of the needs of the total. It sees everything equally and does not play favorites. It values the microbes in your gut as much as it values you. So very often it delivers results that you do not want and you become emotional. The frequency, degree and duration of your emotion is inversely proportional to your sense of self love. The less you love yourself the more intense, frequent and long lasting will be your emotional episodes.

Overly Sensitive

Memory is another force operating in the psyche. It can be a blessing or a curse. It is a blessing because, if you are essentially a rational cognitive person, you can carefully gather and evaluate knowledge and thus increase the likelihood that you will get what you want. But if you are driven by your emotions, it may be a curse because you can remember all the disappointments you suffered in life. Even at sixty you can recall a slight that your best friend gave you in grammar school, or a rejection that a love interest delivered when you requested a date in high school. You collect these disappointments and inadvertently allow them to become a reservoir of dissatisfaction that is so painful you may sink into a depressing funk and blame yourself if you are an introvert. If you are an extrovert you will project it just to get it off your chest. And when you do, you will actually believe that something outside is responsible for your bad feelings.

This usually pollutes your relationship with others. If you are a refined person, you will do your best not to show your displeasure when others do not behave the way you need them to behave or when they exhibit a character trait of which you do not approve. But you cannot hide from yourself. Because you know better, your dislikes make you feel guilty

Guilt

There is invariably a connection between guilt and low self esteem. In reality, all ‘others’ are just thoughts in your mind, so when you dislike someone, you are just disliking your own mind. And since your mind is you, you are really disliking yourself, but you cannot see it. You think ‘they’ are responsible. This is meant to justify your anger, make it respectable. It may even garner some sympathy: everyone loves a victim. It is a very unpleasant cycle. You can only get out of it by understanding how it works and why. When you see the underlying reason…lack of self love…you can begin to correct it.

How to Develop Self Confidence

It is actually not difficult to develop self confidence. First, pay attention to yourself. Second, do the things that you know are right for you. There is a small voice inside that has your best interests at heart, a voice that is accustomed to being ignored. Listen to it. Give love to yourself by simply refusing to abuse your body and emotions with endless rounds of doings. You may be so conditioned to feeling bad that you actually feel bad when you do the right thing…which is to recreate, waste a bit of time doing nothing…or to do exactly what you want, not what your neurotic mind says you are ‘supposed to’ do.

Once you have treated yourself to the luxury of time, and quit taking the ‘shoulds’ and ‘supposed tos’ seriously, your sense of self acceptance will grow. You may argue that you cannot accept yourself if you are not what you think you should be. Of course, your thinking is the problem but it will not change overnight just because you want it to change it. In the first place, you actually believe that how you feel about yourself is true to who you are: “I feel bad about myself because I am bad. If I was good, I would feel good.” There is no actual evidence that this is true, but it feels true and I believe that what I feel is real, so I accept it.

Do I love you or do I love the way you make me feel?

The first thing I need to sort out when I start to get a handle on my problem is: what do I actually love when I love somebody or something? I always love something. I have no choice about it. I direct awareness…love…through my ego to various objects. I love my cat, my house, my mom and pop. But do I love the object for its own sake or do I love the way the object makes me feel? I love the way the object makes me feel. If the object makes me feel bad, I will not love it. I follow the rule of love: I chase objects that make me feel good and I run from objects that make me feel bad. As soon as my significant other stops delivering happiness and delivers unhappiness, I quit loving. Yes, in the best of all possible worlds it would not be that way. But this is not the best of all possible worlds. This is reality and reality is not an ideal. In the best of all possible worlds I would continue to love the object when it made me miserable, but I do not. I get rid of the offending object and look for one that makes me feel good.

People are rational. They are in it for themselves. Even if you protest and say that you love everyone, no matter how they make you feel, you only do so because it pleases you to do so. If it did not please you to love this way, you would not do it. Conditional and unconditional love are for one’s own self, not that there is actually another self. Even when you think you love someone else, it is actually the self in them that you love. The self is the only love object because there is only one self and its nature is love. You really only love love…which is to say yourself.

It is a pity that we cannot just instantly become something other than what we are. So there has to be another step before we can accept ourselves: self understanding. Self understanding means that when I think clearly about the unacceptable person that I think I am, I realize that I got to be this way by no fault of my own. I took everything I was told on good faith and assumed it was true and correct. I did not try to deceive myself. I came to every conclusion about myself and the world honestly using the information I was given at the time. Even if I misinterpreted the information I received, I did not consciously misinterpret it. I did not have sufficient knowledge to interpret correctly at the time. My intentions were good also. I did not set out to make myself feel bad about myself. I really thought that I was doing the best thing for myself. So I cannot be to blame for this situation. Love comes when there is an understanding that things cannot be other than what they are.

Therefore, if lack of self love is the cause of my low self esteem and lack of self love is caused by faulty self knowledge, it stands to reason that I need self knowledge. This is why Vedanta is very useful.

Who am I?

When I look at my experience objectively, I see that sometimes I am pleased with my self and sometimes I am displeased with my self. One day I say, “I am happy.” The next day I say, “I am sad.” Does this mean that there are two selves, one pleased and one displeased? If there are two, which one am I? I cannot be real if I am one thing one day and another one the next. Two contradictory things cannot coexist. There is no such thing as cold fire or dry water. Fire is always hot and water is always wet. If this is so, how can the self be both happy and sad? Why do I feel agitated most of the time and only occasionally feel peaceful? Is it possible that the happy self is what I am and the unhappy self only appears when I do not know who I am?

Before we talk more about which self we are, it is useful to look at a few notions about happiness and see if they correspond with common sense and reason. The first notion is that happiness happens when you fulfill a desire. It is the feeling that comes between fulfillment of a desire and the advent of the next desire. It is true that I am happy when I get what I want, but what kind of happiness is it if it goes away when the next want comes up? So this kind of happiness is not particularly useful in so far as the interval between desires is usually very short, sometimes seconds. It is also not true because sometimes you get what you want and it causes pain. You can also be happy without fulfilling a desire. You hear a good joke and you are instantly happy even though you wanted nothing and nothing objective changed in your life to make you happier.

The next notion that needs inquiry is the idea that happiness resides in certain objects. We know that this is not true also because the same object can make one person happy and another unhappy. If happiness is intrinsic to an object, the same object would make everyone happy.

And it is clear that happiness is not an object either. There are many gross and subtle objects in the creation but not one that can be called happiness. It is not an attribute of an object either; you can have a big or small house, but you can never find happiness sticking to your house…or any other object.

Is there a particular time when you are happy? No, you can be happy any time. Is there a particular place where happiness resides? No, a bar can make an alcoholic happy and a teetotaler miserable. Is it within? Before you determine that, you need to determine your reference points; within what? Within your heart? You can grind a heart to bits and not find one unit of happiness. Is it in the mind? If that is true, there is no mind when you are sad, but we know very well that the mind thinks like crazy when it is sad.

If I look at the way I behave toward myself when I am happy and when I am sad, it will reveal which self is the real me. Unhappiness is not acceptable to me. As soon as something agitates me, I set out to rid myself of it. I do this because I love myself only when I am happy.

Additionally, when I am happy I do not try to make myself unhappy. I cling to my happiness tooth and nail. This shows that happiness is natural to me and that unhappiness is unnatural. Natural means that it is my nature. It is something I cannot change. If fire tries to be cold, it is ignorant. If I try to be unhappy when I am happy, I cannot do it. I may become unhappy when I am happy, but this is not because I want to be unhappy or because I suddenly became another self. It is because ignorance of my nature suddenly started operating. If happiness is my nature and ignorance of my nature is responsible for unhappiness, it stands to reason that I would want to get rid of my ignorance. If I can see that self ignorance is my problem, there is hope. This is where Vedanta is useful.

It is generally true that I am unhappy more than I am happy. There are moments of happiness, no doubt, but they are the exception, not the rule. This is why I conclude that I am basically an unhappy person. This is why I do not feel good about myself and why I pursue happiness in objects, activities and relationships. When I say that I am an unhappy person it does not necessarily mean that I am a completely dysfunctional person, ranting and raving day in and day out. It does not mean that I sit for months in a dark room in a depressing funk, although anger and depression are both symptoms of unhappiness. It means that I always want something. It means that I am dissatisfied. Look back over your life and see if you can find an extended period…more than a few minutes or hours maybe…when you did not want something. If you were happy, you would not want anything, the reason being that when you see yourself as the whole and complete being you are… which translates as the experience of happiness…you do not want anything. The only whole and complete thing there is, not that it is a ‘thing,’ is your self.

At this point it is probably wise to abandon the happiness word because it has certain experiential connotations that make it difficult to understand the nature of the self. It makes it seem as if the self is an experience when in fact it is free of all experiences…including happiness and unhappiness. So we will formulate the issue differently, although in the end it more or less amounts to the same thing. We will say that happiness is freedom from dependence on objects, freedom from want and fear, freedom from the need to become something other than what you are, freedom from limitation. This sense of freedom is only possible when you are full. It is not possible if you are incomplete. And it so happens that there is only one self and it is whole and complete. And it is you.

Perspective

What if my experience of myself as small and limited is not actually true? What if I experience my self as a wanting needy creature adrift in a tyrannical uncertain world does not correspond to the true nature of my experience, but is the result of my point of view?

Experience does not always produce true knowledge. For example, standing on the equator I might conclude that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. But if I am standing on the North Pole at a certain time of year, I would conclude that the sun goes around in a circle. And if I was sitting on the sun, the sun would not seem to be going around anything. I would conclude that the sun is stationary and its solar system is moving…until I had a look from beyond the galaxies, in which case the sun and its solar system would be moving together away from everything else because it is just a tiny fly speck in an ocean of galaxies that are speeding from some catastrophic event that happened trillions of years ago, the ‘big bang.’

A Rolex watch is a marvel of engineering, made of hundreds of tiny parts. If one part is sitting on a table all alone, it means nothing to me. I may not even recognize it as a watch part. But when I see it in its proper place in relationship to all the other parts that constitute the watch, it definitely makes sense. It is no longer isolated and alone. It happily performs a useful function. If you think that you are small, incomplete, inadequate, limited and separate, it means that you are not looking at yourself from the right point of view. What if you are actually the whole? If you are the whole, your sense of smallness…which is the basis of your sense of low self esteem and inadequacy in face of what seems to be a mysterious gargantuan existence…no longer obtains. If you find yourself incredulous when you hear that you are the whole, do not stop reading. Have a little faith until Vedanta can prove to you…based on your own unassimilated experience…that you are the whole.

Experience and Knowledge

It is possible to experience something and not know what the experience means. If there is something that includes everything we can call it ‘the whole.’ If there is such a thing as the whole, does it include or exclude you? It cannot exclude you or it would not be the whole. When you experience happiness you experience the whole. When you have touched your partner in love you are happy. You do not feel limited or separate or incomplete because you are not separate from the whole. When your home team wins the World Series your sense of limitation dissolves because you are in touch with the whole. ‘In touch’ is not the right term because it conveys a sense of duality. It is more accurate to say that in those moments you recognize yourself as whole. You do not disappear, the small incomplete you that you imagine yourself to be disappears into the limitless whole you. Nobody lacks the experience of completeness, limitlessness, wholeness because everyone has been happy at some time. Is the total into which you dissolve you or is it something else? Is there a total without you? Is there an individual without you?

When you are too unhappy you cannot think clearly. You may be completely dull, your mind covered with the dense clouds of sloth and inadvertence. Or you may be so distracted by an agitated mind that you cannot keep more than one or two thoughts in your mind for more than one or two seconds. If this is the case, Vedanta is not for you. As you will notice, there is a logical progression to this teaching. It starts at A and ends at Z. Only when the whole teaching is understood, do the individual parts make sense. Vedanta is a set-up. It poses certain fundamental questions and helps you discover the answers in yourself. So it is important to sign on to the arguments at each stage. If you fail to understand the teaching at stage two, for example, you will not be able to understand stage three. It is a complete teaching because reality is a whole. There is a cosmology, a psychology, a ‘theology’ and teachings on the nature of pure consciousness. It discusses action and its results, yoga and its results, the means of knowledge and the practice of knowledge. It shows how reality is structured, how each aspect dovetails into each other aspect. It starts at the beginning and leads you right through to the end. It leaves no stone unturned and answers all questions.

A Quick Summary

So far this is the logic: we do not feel good about ourselves because we do not esteem…read love…our selves properly. We discussed the psychology of low self esteem above. Then we said that our lack of self esteem was caused by our ignorance of the nature of the self. If the self is known for what it is, it is impossible not to esteem it. This led to the idea that we need to investigate the self to discover its nature. Our investigation led to the conclusion that the nature of the self is happiness, which we defined as freedom from limitation. Then we introduced the notion that you are not a part of the whole, you are the whole. Finally, we showed how the knowledge that we gain from experience can be very misleading and suggested that the idea that I am a small wanting creature does not jibe with the idea that I am the whole. The logic continues.

To say that I am the whole is to say that I am consciousness because consciousness is all there is. When you say ‘I’ without understanding the nature of the ‘I,’ you think it is limited. Yes, if the ‘I’ is the body, you are limited. You end where your skin touches the world. If the ‘I’ is your feelings and thoughts, you are definitely limited because all subjective phenomena begin and end rather quickly. But the ‘I’ is not limited. First of all, this means there is only one ‘I.’ Of course, this is not how we see it. We think there are a lot of different ‘I’s. But when you analyze it, experience shows that in this world there are only two things: me, the subject, and a variety of objects. The subject is consciousness and everything else is an object. If it is the same for everybody, is there any difference between the ‘I’s? The objects are obviously different, but what about the ‘I?’

You, consciousness, see the body. It is an object to you. Even if you close your eyes, you know your body. If a bug bites you when your eyes are closed, you know it. In this case your skin is your means of knowledge; it transmits information. Even when all of your senses are shut down and no objects are appearing, as is the case in deep sleep, you are conscious of yourself. You are not conscious of the person you think you are in the waking state because that ‘person’ is not real. If it was real it would be there in the deep sleep state…but it is not there. In the absence of that person and the objects of the world you just experience yourself and it feels very good. If you are not there you cannot experience anything because you can only experience something if you exist. Experience requires a subject and an object. In deep sleep you are the subject and you are the object.

If there is an object, it only exists for you because it is known by you. You cannot say that it exists unless it is known to exist. Your means of knowledge…the eyes, for example…objectify whatever is in front of them. In this way objects are known. The eyes are the subject and whatever is in front of them is the object. When you say “I see X” you are taking the standpoint of your eyes, your means of knowledge. This is fine as far as it goes, but it does not go very far because the eyes are not conscious. Remove the eyes from the body and they see nothing. They are just material instruments. They only work because consciousness is behind them. Consciousness is looking out at the objects through the eyes. So to say that I am seeing can only mean that consciousness, not the eyes, is seeing. Even the statement “I am blind” is not true because blindness is known to me. It is an object and I am the subject, consciousness.

If you wish to argue that the eyes are just a part of the body and that the body is the seer, we need to point out that the body has the same order of reality as the eyes. It is just matter. It cannot experience anything. Of course, you will object because this is not how it seems to you. It seems as if you are the body and everything else is an object. But if you think about it, you can only conclude that the body, like the eyes, is a known object. It is there because you have the means to see it. Without your means of knowledge, you will not see it.

So what is the means of knowledge for your body? It is your mind. So your mind is you and the body is not you? The body is not me, to be sure, but the mind is not me either for the same reason that the body is not me. In addition to the fact that it is not conscious, it is an object that appears in me, in consciousness. I know what I think and I know what I feel. I know what I know and I know what I do not know. The subject cannot be the object.

To say ‘I am sad,’ for example, is to draw a conclusion that is not warranted. Sadness is a condition that sometimes happens to the mind, but if you are sadness, you cease to exist when you are happy. This is not true because experience shows that I do not cease to exist when sadness turns to happiness. The most simple, innocent and yet vexing existential problem is this: I confuse the ‘I,’ which does not change, with something that does change. So I think I change. To be a changing entity would not necessarily be all bad if the entity could determine when it wanted to change and when it didn’t…and/or if it could choose what it wanted to be and what it did not want to be. But anything that changes is not in control of its changes. Change happens to all objects according to the laws of change. And, the laws of change are impersonal; they are not under the control of the entities that apparently change.

Because you have an intellect, you draw conclusions from what happens to you. If your intellect confuses the self with the objects appearing in it, it can come to an incorrect conclusion about the nature of the self. You have the experience of sadness and you conclude that you are sad. Or you conclude that you are sad and then you experience sadness. It does not matter which way it is. Both are conclusions born out of ignorance of the nature of reality.

If the self can be different things depending on the point of view from which one draws one’s conclusions, it can be anything because there are infinite standpoints from which to view it. If you view the self from the point of view of your dislikes, who will you become when your likes are operating? If you see yourself as a wise with reference to a particular topic, who will you be when you are confronted with a topic of which you know nothing? If you see it from the body’s point of view, then the self is short or tall, depending on the nature of your body. If you see yourself as a mother, who are you when you think of your mother?

Knowledge does not know itself. It is known by something. When you experience something you experience the knowledge of the object in your mind. And knowledge implies the existence of consciousness. If you look at your own experience you will see that there is never a time when consciousness is not present. Furthermore, it is common knowledge that no object is present all the time. Even the three states that the mind goes through are variable. One is there for a while, then another, then a third. Sometimes you remember and sometimes you forget. So remembering and forgetting are objects also. In reality there are only two things: consciousness and the objects appearing in it.

When you say ‘I am,’ the ‘I’ is always present and consciousness is always present. Although the words ‘I’ and ‘consciousness’ seem to refer to two different objects, they are synonymous. Both never change. Objects and situations vary, but consciousness, the ‘I’, never changes. When you say ‘I’ or ‘I am” you are saying that you are consciousness. If the ‘I’ is consciousness and it is always present, there is nothing that cancels it. There is no opposite principle that can negate it. So when I understand myself to be consciousness I get around the problem that comes when I identify with objects. If I am an object, like an emotion or a thought, I am cancelled when a new emotion or thought appears. If I am emotion or thought I am cancelled when I go to sleep. All objects are negatable. But since I am not an object, I cannot be negated.

This is all logic so far. If I have signed on to it, I now know that I am consciousness. But what does it mean to say that I am consciousness? Will I suddenly leap tall buildings with a single bound like Superman? Will everyone love me? Will my bank balance never dip into the red? What good is it to know this?

Before we consider implications of the knowledge of myself as consciousness, we need to resolve a common doubt. We mentioned that reality is composed of two things: consciousness and the objects appearing in it. Does this mean that the objects are different from consciousness? It would seem to imply that consciousness, which we can’t perceive, and objects, which we can, are two different things, like God and the Devil. If so, does the presence of one, negate the presence of the other? If I am sick, I cannot be healthy. They negate each other. If I am tall, I cannot be short. If I am rich, I am not poor.

The Apparent Reality

You cannot separate an object from the material of which it is made. Can you have a shirt unless you have fabric? Any quality that the shirt enjoys is inherent in the fabric. If the fabric is wool, you have a scratchy shirt. If it is silk, you have a smooth shirt. The word ‘shirt’ does not actually refer to anything substantial. At best it is an idea. And the idea does not give the shirt its texture. In fact, although the shirt does exist, it does not exist on its own. It borrows its existence from the wool. We cannot say that the shirt is non-existent because it fulfills a useful function. We can, however, say that in essence the shirt is just wool. We cannot say that wool is shirt because wool can be fashioned into many other things.

So what status can we give the shirt? We can say that it is the same as the wool, but it is not actually the same, because a skein of wool is not a shirt. We can say that it depends on the shirt because without wool there is no shirt. It is a form of wool. Wool is the substance and the shirt is its form. The shirt is not an illusion because it has a form and a function. You cannot wear an illusion.

Please follow the logic. If wool is the substance, can we say that shirtness is an attribute of wool? We cannot because shirtness is not intrinsic to wool. Each time you think of wool you do not think of shirts. Wool can become any number of things. You can have dozens of different kinds of wool shirts but if you know them as wool, you might as well know them all. Wool is the substance, the substrate, and the shirt is wool in a certain form. So there is no contradiction between them because they do not have the same degree of reality. The wool is real and the shirt is apparently real. It borrows whatever reality it has from the wool. So, they are one, but they are not equal. The wool has no form and function. It is free of them. And the shirt is only form and function.

It is important to understand the distinction between what is real and what is apparent when we analyze our own experience because reality operates experientially as an apparent duality of subject and object. The subject is consciousness and consciousness assuming various forms are the objects. This means that I am real and what I experience is apparently real. We cannot say life is unreal or non-existent or an illusion. It certainly exists because I experience it. But whatever reality it enjoys, it borrows from me, from consciousness. It is experienced in my mind and my mind is made out consciousness, so experience is consciousness, but consciousness is not experience. I am always free of experience. And there is no distance between consciousness and the objects appearing in it, just like there is no distance between wool and the shirts fashioned out of it. The shirt is wool but the wool is free of the shirt.

It remains to speak a little more about my nature. Because I have no form or parts, I have no size. I am not big, nor am I small. I am not far away from anything, nor am I near anything. I am free of space and time so I do not change.

When you think of the past or the future, you think of them now. You cannot think of the past or the future in the past or the future. The reality of time is nowness. When you analyze nowness, or ‘the now’ if you prefer, does it stretch into the future or protrude back into the past? No, because any unit of time is subject to further divisions. If you keep dividing, time disappears. So what is time? Time is simply a thought appearing in consciousness. The content of any thought is consciousness and consciousness is free of time and space. Time and space are constructs, ways of measuring things in the apparent reality, but they have no reality of their own. You can think your body’s relationship to another object in terms of time or space. Saying that San Francisco is ten minutes is saying that it is ten miles, assuming you are travelling at 60 miles an hour. Time and space are just ideas in consciousness. Consciousness is limitless. If you are limitless, how can you have a self esteem problem?

How the Teaching works

Often the self is called bliss, a word that needs to be looked into. Usually, this word is used to denote a happy kind of feeling. But the self is not a feeling. You cannot induce the self in someone else because they are already the self and they are experiencing it all the time. You can only talk about it. The teaching tradition’s biggest criticism about the modern non-duality teachings apart from their obvious vagueness is that they only talk about the self. Talking about the self is not teaching the self. Teaching the self is removing ignorance about the self because the self is already experienced. Self ignorance is not a simple matter. It is very intelligent in so far as the one who takes it for knowledge is very clever at justifying and defending it. It is deeply entrenched, the foundation of the ego’s life. A few vague statements about consciousness and the misguided belief that ignorance can be transcended, or discarded at will does not constitute a teaching. To remove self ignorance you need a sophisticated methodology. Vedanta is a proven method. It is a valid means of self knowledge. It analyzes a problem with which you can identify, like low self esteem, and then removes the problem with experience based logical teachings. When the problem is destroyed, you see that you are the self. The mind just dissolves into awareness because the mind is just the problem occurring at any given moment.

When the modern teachers tell you that they can transmit enlightenment into you in some mystic way they are just talking through their hats. All a guru can do is communicate his or her vision of non-duality. To do so, he or she needs to use carefully chosen words in a certain way. Vedanta is a set-up. It creates a situation that makes it impossible for you not to get the vision, assuming you are qualified and paying attention. For example if you wish to point out a heavenly body that is apparently indistinguishable from thousands of others, you cannot just point directly at it. There are too many other stars nearby with which it can be confused. So we ask you to look at certain tree. Then we lead your attention up the trunk to a main branch going left, then to the third small branch from the fork that leans right, and so on until we get to the tip. Then we tell you that the star that is touching the tip is the star you are meant to see.

In the case of Vedanta, the subject matter is you, so the teaching creates a problem that you can relate to and then using the logic of your own experience, it dissolves the problem into you. You see that you are quite fine without the problem. You need to listen to the teaching over and over and retain the knowledge of the inquiry that removed your problem so that if the problem resurfaces you can remove it again. And you need to stick with Vedanta long enough until it has covered all the fundamental problems. Then you are home free. This is only one of the many methods that Vedanta uses to destroy your ignorance and establish the vision of non-duality in your mind.

Perhaps our biggest problem is that we think we are the body. This identification limits us with reference to time, space and objects. If you feel low self esteem, it is often because you take limitations that belong to the body to be yours. In fact the body has no problems. It is just an assemblage of moving parts like an automobile. It changes according to certain laws. If I think that I am fat, I have a problem because the ‘I’ has no shape or form, no characteristics. So the fatness does not apply to me. Even the mind does not have any problems. The mind is just a subtle instrument, a bunch of functions operating in consciousness. Where do the problems come from, then? Simply from identifying with ignorant thoughts. But since the average person thinks his or her ignorance is knowledge…even wisdom…he or she needs to be taught what ignorance is, especially the ignorance masquerading as the teachings of the modern non-duality world. Nobody wants to remain ignorant once they realize they are ignorant. So once the teaching shows you why your vision is defective, you are free to correct it.

The belief that reality is a duality is due to one simple fact: I take the body to be the self. When you look at perception from the point of view of consciousness…which Vedanta can show you how to do…your belief in duality disappears.

In any case this essay is an example of the way that Vedanta works. Vedanta is self inquiry. Self inquiry means looking at reality both from the point of view of its substrate, consciousness, and from the point of view of the individual conscious beings appearing in it. Using various methods it, removes what at first glance seems to be many different existential paradoxes: how can I believe that I am separate from the whole when I am the whole? How can I feel bound when I am always free? How can I fear death when I am immortal? How can I act when I am actionless? How can I crave love when I am love?

Read more: A Means of Self Knowledge

Pray for Enlightenment

Pray for Enlightenment

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Unless you are very clear that a life spent pursuing worldly goals will not remove the feeling of incompleteness and limitation that bedevils most humans, there is little hope for happiness. It is natural to try to secure oneself by obtaining various things, but until you realize that the desire for lasting freedom lurks behind each of your pursuits, you will not be happy. Even an individual who is indifferent to worldly pursuits and tries with psychological means to improve his or herself is actually motivated by a desire for freedom from suffering. A religious person’s desire for heaven or salvation is similarly motivated. It is also true that even healthy morally upright individuals who have secured themselves in worldly ways still feel limited, inadequate and incomplete.

You can count yourself as a spiritual person if you understand that the only choice that is available to you is the direct pursuit of freedom. It is true that when you obtain a worldly goal you feel free, but temporary freedom is nearly as unacceptable as no freedom at all. If by ‘accident’ or God’s grace…which amounts to the same thing…you come to hear that freedom from limitation can be adequately resolved through self knowledge born of self inquiry, consider yourself lucky.

Vedanta equates freedom with self knowledge. If you feel that you are weak, small, inadequate, incomplete and separate, your understanding of your self needs to be corrected because the self is whole and complete and therefore always free. This is not an idea that is easily assimilated owing to the propensity to think otherwise. Ordinarily, spiritual people feel that this tendency can only be eliminated by some kind of epiphany. But experiences of oneness, wholeness and non-separation do not permanently alter the way one sees oneself. Once the experience wears off, the old orientation reappears and the individual is again bedeviled by a stifling sense of limitation.

So to attack the tendency to think incorrectly about oneself, one needs to learn to think differently about the nature of the self. But what is the nature of the self? If I have the wrong notion, what is the right notion? The right notion is that there is only one self, that it is whole and complete, limitless and always free of the objects that seem to limit it. The source of this knowledge, apart from individual insights and epiphanies, is the scriptures that make up the science of self knowledge, or Vedanta. The teachings of Vedanta, whose sole subject matter is the nature of reality, are a means for the realization of the non-dual self.

It is virtually impossible to understand the meaning of the words of scripture and apply the knowledge without the help of a qualified teacher because these teachings are difficult to

understand owing to the apparently paradoxical nature of reality and the tendency of the human mind to prefer beliefs and opinions to facts. If they are interpreted by someone who has not realized the nature of the self, the person’s ignorance will skew the meaning, rendering the teachings useless. They will then be assimilated only as beliefs or opinions.

In the Indian tradition the purity of the meaning of the words has been preserved by a system called sampradaya that passes on the vision of the non-dual nature of the self in an unbroken line from teacher to student. Unless the knowledge is preserved as it was originally revealed it will not transform one’s vision.

In these democratic times it is often difficult to accept that certain conditions are required for enlightenment. Assuming a pure scripture and the grace of God, both the teacher and the student need to be qualified. The teacher needs to have realized the truth of the teaching, be a living example of the teaching and have a command of a means of self knowledge. The student needs the kind of mind that can assimilate the meaning of the teachings. Only a discriminating, dispassionate mind that can focus on one idea for a considerable period of time works. If the student’s mind is excessively active or dull it cannot realize the import of the words. When agitation and dullness are removed, the mind is capable of self realization, assuming a burning desire for it.

There are several methods…yogas…that prepare the mind for self inquiry. The base yoga, without which spiritual progress is impossible, is called karma yoga. Karma yoga is an attitude that arises from a clear understanding that an individual’s will is only a contributing, not the determining, factor in the production of the results of action.

What is the determining factor? An analysis of action leads to the following conclusions. Any action takes place in a certain context, the ‘field of action.’ Let’s call it our environment. An action is offered into the field and a result is awaited. When the action is performed it is never clear what the result will be. Sometimes you get what you want, sometimes you get what you don’t want. Sometimes you get nothing. Sometimes you get something that you neither want or do not want. It is anybody’s guess what will happen.

Because the result is not under the control of the doer of action, the determining role of the field…life, to keep it simple…should be appreciated. For want of a better term the field of action is called Isvara in Vedanta or God, if you prefer a more familiar term. Vedanta does not posit a God sitting far away in some transcendental heaven, a being quite separate from its creation. It says that because reality is non-dual, the spiritual principle, consciousness, is both the creator and the laws that comprise the creation.

To understand God is to understand the nature of the field and to understand the nature of the field is to understand the nature of God. It is important to do so because human beings are completely dependent on the field for the results of their actions. When I take a breath I am pleased to discover that existence has supplied oxygen. When I feel hungry I should be grateful that I am not an inhabitant of the moon. When I want results from my actions I should appreciate the role of the field as the giver of the results of my actions.

Doership

If I take full responsibility for the results of my actions, my mind will be continually agitated. I will be anxious about the result. I will be upset when I do not get the result I want. I will be excited when I do. I will be confused or surprised when the result is unexpected. And because my life is nothing more than the continuous results of actions I have done previously as they work their way through the field and come back to me, my mind will be continually disturbed and unable to concentrate consistently on the object of inquiry, the self.

Karma Yoga

The antidote to a grumbling complaining mind disturbed by obsession with results is called karma yoga. Because I am not the ultimate determiner of the results and because the field is, it pays to understand the factors involved in the field and act in accordance with them. The factors involved in the field are the myriad laws governing the behavior of objects in the field, the physical, psychological and moral forces operating there. And because I am not the controller of the results it is obvious that any mental/emotional disturbance concerning what has happened, is happening or will happen is a waste of energy.

If I have the karma yoga attitude, which is simply a glad acceptance of what the field offers (the ‘Grace of God’ if you prefer religious terminology), the energy I put into dealing with my illegitimate emotional reactions to what is going on in my life can be profitably invested in self inquiry, assuming I have a working knowledge of the teachings that are required for a successful inquiry. Without this attitude the mind will never become settled.

Karma yoga asks the individual to see his or her actions as worship. It is logical to feel gratitude to existence because it has given us everything we possess, our bodies and minds and the world in which we are privileged to live. So, instead of devoting my actions to the satisfaction of my ego’s desires and fears, I offer them unreservedly to God. In this way action becomes a means of mental and emotional purification.

Therefore, without an appreciation of the nature of the field and the appropriate attitude, the mind will not gain self knowledge. Everything that happens is governed by God’s laws, including so-called ‘evil’ actions, because nobody exists outside the field of action. A human being is not self-created. It is only a product of innumerable forces and factors. Or if you prefer religious terminology again, we are ‘cast in the image of God.’ We are made out of consciousness and are non-separate from it. The field is consciousness and I am conscious. So there is a basic identity between me and my world.

Consciousness is not personal. Because the universe, the field of action, is impersonal does not mean that it is not consciousness. If it is not consciousness, it could not respond to actions occurring in it. In so far as the field supplies everything I need, it would be useful to develop a good relationship with it.

Although the field, the world in which I act, seems to be outside me, it is actually in me, in consciousness. It seems to be outside because I am conditioned to think of myself as the physical body. So when I invoke the field for a particular result through some kind of action or intention I am actually invoking my consciousness, my self. And when the result comes, even if it seems to come from the outside, it is only experienced in me, in my consciousness, not ‘out there’ in the physical world. If I think an angry thought my consciousness becomes agitated, irrespective of whether or not I act on it. If I think a positive prayerful thought my consciousness becomes composed.

Meditation is a settled mind focused on the reflection of the self as it shines on the mind or it is contemplation on a symbol of the self. Such a mind becomes a vehicle for liberation because self knowledge, like any kind of knowledge, is true to the object. It is only self knowledge that sets the inquirer free because the inquirer is actually the self and the self is always free. Any experiences that happen when the mind is in meditation…lightness, brightness, stillness and expansion…cannot be the self because they are witnessed by the self. What I witness is not me.

If you introduce a positive symbol into the mind and contemplate on it, the mind becomes settled. And if I invoke the symbol for a particular result, the self works through the symbol to give me what I want, in this case knowledge of who I am. It can do this because it is the knower of my thoughts and the giver of the fruits of my actions.

The most common symbol of the giver of the results of my actions is God, the field and the creator of the field. How God is personified by the mind of the individual is less important than the attitude that the individual entertains toward it. Most religions provide God symbols that are suitable for meditation, even those, like Buddhism, that ostensibly claim not to. Even a vague feeling that there is a benign deity is sufficient. Because a symbol is not conscious, it does not care what attitude you have toward it. Many hate God for the perceived injustices he or she has inflicted on them, not realizing that they are actually hating themselves.

And consciousness is equally unaffected by the emotions playing in it. But I am affected by my feelings and emotions, so it pays to cultivate those that are conducive to happiness and eschew that aren’t. Loving feelings purify the mind and unloving feelings disturb it. And because the mind is the vehicle for liberation and liberation is synonymous with self knowledge, it pays to love God if I want to know who I am.

Worship of God as the giver of results is very useful because it removes the stress the ego suffers when it ignorantly assumes that it should be the giver. Because they come from God, I can divine the lesson in negative results. I can connect with the bad values that motivated them and renounce those values.

Worship…simple appreciation of the nature of existence…is superior to prayer in so far as only highly evolved souls are capable of it. But prayer…invoking the self for a specific purpose…is extremely helpful for enlightenment. Prayer involves focusing the mind on a single object for a length of time. First one needs to have the ability to concentrate. For concentration any object will suffice, presumably an activity that one enjoys. Concentration develops mental discipline only. The second stage is concentrating on one’s chosen symbol of God or the teachings of Vedanta. When the mind becomes peaceful it can contemplate on the light of awareness as it reflects in the composed mind. Holding the mind on the self is called inquiry and leads to the realization that the meditator is the self…which is liberation, because the self is free of everything.

To gain a contemplative mind one needs to first accept Vedanta’s contention that one’s own consciousness is not separate from the consciousness in all sentient beings. This means that one needs to know what consciousness is. To get clarity with reference to consciousness, one’s self, Vedanta is a proven means in so far as its teachings, properly assimilated, have set countless individuals free over thousands of years. To get clarity the individual needs to expose his or her mind to the teachings as they are unfolded by a teacher who has been set free by them. Although there are certain benefits to lonely self study of the texts, it is only in the presence of the teacher that the meanings of the scripture become alive and set in motion the purifying power of the knowledge. Exposing one’s mind to the teachings is called faith in Vedanta. It is not blind, however, but faith pending the results of one’s own active contemplation on the meanings of the words of scripture. And, because the result of one’s inquiry, like every other result in existence, is ordained by God, it is wise to worship the Giver and pray for liberation. Liberation is quite possible because the self always present and already free. The teachings of scripture simply remove the beliefs and opinions that stand in the way of one’s appreciation of one’s wholeness and completeness.

Read more: Pray for Enlightenment

Love, Self Esteem, Self Knowledge and Vedanta

Love, Self Esteem, Self Knowledge and Vedanta

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Love is Awareness Directed to an Object

Everyone wants to be loved but an emotionally needy person does not know why. He or she accepts the commands of the longing and lonely self and sets out to seek the approval and appreciation of others. This is why we value other’s opinions, get upset when they criticize us, argue, ignore or gossip about us behind our backs.

We are emotionally needy because we are not valuable in our own eyes. We are not valuable because we do not know who we actually are. Emotions are part and parcel of the of the universal psychological order and are invariably the basic content of an individual’s life. Emotions motivate us to accomplish things. At the same time they may easily overwhelm us mind and subject us to a sense of confusion, failure and depression. When emotions rule, life is complicated and we are susceptible to feelings of unworthiness and despair.

As children we have no choice but to trust our parents. Failure to trust would compromise our survival. Trust implies trustworthiness. But parents are not infallible; they are subject to every human limitation and easily make mistakes. Because a child’s knowledge is limited it feels incapable and inadequate. It is the duty of parents to ameliorate this sense of smallness and inadequacy. They should shower the child with love and affection, making it feel that it is as good as they are, that it is capable of meeting challenges happily.

But if parents do not receive a sense of confidence from their parents, or if they lose it because they are unable to accomplish their goals, they cannot instill in in their offspring. If they feel small and helpless in face of the oceanic complexity and rapid pace of modern society…as they often do…they may need to make themselves feel big by putting the child down. Although they think they love the child and verbally affirm their love, parents with low self esteem end up reinforcing the child’s innate sense of inadequacy with criticisms, complaints and unreasonable expectations.

Even reasonably healthy parents are often stressed by the enormity of the task of child rearing. No other creature takes as long to wean as a human. Some never individuate and remain firmly tethered long after the parents are physically dead and gone. Today, when child rearing is so expensive, the parents are often too busy taking care of the family’s physical needs…and/or too immature emotionally…to see that the child is self accepting and self confident.

Awareness, your true self, shines on your mind and you think. It shines on your heart and you feel. No choice is involved. If you were in control of your emotions you would know what you were going to feel at a particular time and you would carefully select the emotion appropriate to the situation. But that is not how it is. The emotion is in you, it is triggered by some event and out it comes. You may not necessarily be aware of what you are feeling, but you always feel something. Life is love and love is just awareness directed to an object. When awareness illumines the heart, it transforms into the emotion that is arising there at the time. If the heart is pure, awareness shines as unconditional devotion and compassion flows into the world. If the heart is disturbed love becomes anger or jealousy. A depressed mind morphs pure love into sadness and self pity. And when self ignorance covers the mind, self esteem, feeling good or bad about one’s self, is our number one issue.

Symptoms of Low Self Esteem – A Painful Analysis

Loneliness, Excessive Activity

When I lack self love, it is painful to be alone. Moments of silence are uncomfortable. So I develop a lifestyle that keeps me continually on the go. I need distractions. I come home tired at the end of the day but I do not sit on the sofa by the window with a cup of tea and happily think my thoughts. It is dangerous to be alone because I am faced with a sense of worthlessness and failure. To deal with it I get on the internet, play distracting music, watch TV, read a romance novel, even…heaven forbid!...clean the flat to keep myself busy. I drown myself in duties. I concoct hopelessly long ‘to do’ lists. When I tick off one item from the top two more appear at the bottom. I can never rest. Every day is spoken for by trivial activities too numerous to mention, but that is the point; I do not want to face myself.

Can’t Receive Love

If I do not love myself properly, it is difficult to receive love from others even if it is lavished on me. I need the capacity to accept love. I simply cannot believe someone else sees me as a beautiful person. I think he or she is lying, deluded or smitten by too many hormones. I do not realize that love is blind to my faults. It sees the whole me and does not criticize. It does not expect me to be other than what I am. It sympathizes, empathizes and identifies. It is not personal at all. Would that I could see myself in this way.

Comparison

When you do not esteem yourself properly, it is not a problem if you are the only person alive. With whom will you compare yourself? But if there are others who are kinder, smarter, richer, more evolved or in any way different, you may develop a complex. You may become jealous, envious, resentful and angry. The inverse of this complex, arrogance, also reveals a lack of self esteem. An inflated person feels much bigger than he should by continual comparison with those who have less of what he values. He might think he is very generous because he put a dollar in the collection plate when the worshipper sitting next to him contributed a quarter. But whether you have an inflated or a deflated notion of yourself, you are never happy because your sense of self worth depends on what others think, what you imagine them to be or what they have that you lack. And since your situation and the situations of others are always changing, you continually have to adjust your self image. It is not fun.

Because reality is non-dual awareness, there is only one conscious being shining out from behind the senses and the mind, even though it seems as if I am only one among many. Were this fact known it would destroy the basis for comparison and the ever-present possibility of unflattering self judgments.

Manipulation and Control

When you see yourself as separate from everything you can easily become a controlling person. You do not believe that the world will take care of you, even though you have survived, perhaps thrived, in it for many years. There seems to be good reason to distrust: the world is in a state of constant flux and what will happen is not known. You act, but you do not know what the result of your actions will bring.

Parental love is often largely about control. Parents bring us into life and they know how long they are going to have to look out for us and how difficult it is, so they need us to do what they want to facilitate their task. If they are unfulfilled in love, they push us into careers or activities that will give them the validation they are unable to give themselves. They will ask us what we want to be when we grow up. It is a natural question, considering their desire to help us stand on two feet, but it is entirely possible to misinterpret their words. It is possible to assume that what they mean is that we are not OK now, that who we are is not good enough. Thus we may pick up a complex that can follow us through life like a needy little dog.

If parents do not esteem themselves the child may easily become an extension of their inadequacies. They want it to succeed where they failed, bring glory on an otherwise unrecognized family. And because we model our parents, when we are ready for our own love relationships, we see love as control, getting our beloved to do the things we want, making sure that he or she is paying attention to us all the time. We need the attention of others because we are not paying attention to ourselves. This kind of insecurity leads to jealousy, envy, anger and even hatred…if the object of our affections does not get with our program.

Judgment and Criticism

If you are a controlling person, you continually judge and criticize others. You think your value system is superior to theirs: you are more pure and just and honest and compassionate than they are. You are vegetarian and they eat meat. You work hard and they live on the dole. You are right and they are wrong. You can judge them because you think you are better than they are. You get angry when they misbehave according to your lights. These projections are just distractions; they keep you from facing your own sense of inadequacy, your failure to love yourself. And although you are very adept at judging and criticizing others, you have a very thin skin: you cannot stand to be criticized and judged because it reminds you of your own unflattering self opinion.

Unfair Self Criticism, Idealism

A person who loves himself has an objective view of himself. He knows his good and bad points. But if you do not love yourself you will become unfairly self critical. Self criticism usually means that you believe you have to live up some ideal, that if you were truly enlightened you would be a very different person. It may be that enlightenment has a saintly effect on some personalities, but you will never be enlightened until you esteem yourself enough to accept what you actually are in this life…warts and all.

One obvious sign of this kind of control is the desire to have the person you love be different from what he or she is. You thought he or she was wonderful enough when you fell in love, but when the bloom came off the rose you suddenly discovered that your beloved ‘changed.’ He or she did not change. The rose colored specs just fell off and you started to see what is.

We are not self created. Life lives us. At the behest of a mysterious force we grow out life’s matrix like weeds in a field. Things happen and unconscious tendencies cause us to respond and these responses become our character. If conditioning turned you into a critical controlling judgmental person, you should not blame yourself and add another problem to the mix. You innocently appeared here one fine day and life made of you what it would. If self esteem was not modeled by your parents or your teachers, if they were critical and controlling, how would you know how to properly esteem yourself?

Dithering

When self critical thinking born of lack of self knowledge becomes deeply entrenched, you may become prone to endless dithering for fear of making the ‘wrong’ decision, one that will result in suffering. Even the most insignificant choices may seem gargantuan to you. Should I paint my room beige or brown? Should I cut my hair short or let it grow? In a state of high anxiety you phone your friends…what should I do? I need to know! You visit the astrologer, the Tarot reader, the psychic down the block. Maybe the stars know what is going to happen. You do not want to make a mistake.

Emotional Neediness

You may become so love starved that you become an expert at small talk. You may go up to complete strangers on the street asking for directions, making comments about their dress or their pets…what kind of dog is that?...offering bits of homespun wisdom. You think you are contacting them because you just want to know something or have something very important for them to know, but actually you are giving them love so that they will pay attention to you…which counts for love in your book. In this way you make friends everywhere. Each time you can get them to engage, you feel that you are a good person. Somebody loves me! It is not terribly difficult to get love this way because everyone loves to be loved. At the end of the day, you have a lot of pleasant experiences to contemplate, all of which tell you that you are OK.

At the same time, however, digging love out of people is hard work. And sometimes you do not get the validation you seek. They rudely blow you off or politely listen to you run on, thinking their own thoughts. The constant contact wears you out. It would be much easier to stay home and just love yourself, but you do not know how. Life is not here to validate us. We should not be bothered by its little pinpricks. Life is here for the sake of love, not the other way around. I validate life because I am love.

The point of this tale of emotional tragedy and woe is that you cannot afford to be ignorant of what love is if you want to be happy. And this means that you cannot afford not to know who you are…because your nature is love. When we say that you are awareness, it means that you are love. Love is the attention you pay to yourself and others, the energy you put into everything around you.

Everything I Do is for Self Love

If you look at the structure of the psyche of any human being…its dharma…you will find that it has four parts. There is the rational, cognitive function (the intellect), the self image (the ego), the emotional body (the heart) and the unconscious, one’s tendencies born of conditioning. It is always best to act from the intellect, with hard and fast knowledge. Sometimes situations are very complex and require a lot of actions to be done in a particular way. Knowledge is power; it helps you get what you want. And, at the end of the day, you want what you want because you want to feel good about yourself. You want to be a success. If you are successful you believe you will be able to love yourself. And conversely, if you are unsuccessful, it confirms your belief that you are an inadequate person, a failure. So whatever you do is for self love.

It is very important to understand this. You never do what you do for the ostensible reason. You do it for the feeling of self love it brings. The anxiety that separates you from the ocean of love that is your nature disappears when you get what you want and love floods your quiet mind and you are pleased with yourself. At the same time it never occurs to you to define success as self love. If you love yourself, you are free to do anything…but you need do nothing to be happy.

At the same time that you have an intellect, you also have desires. Desire is awareness after it passes through ignorance. If you know who you are, you know that you need not dig love out of every situation. You are content and you do not stress yourself looking for love…because you see that you are whole and complete by nature. You need not do anything to make yourself feel this way.

If self ignorance is very deep, you will have many strong desires. And strong desires means that you will have strong emotions, particularly negative emotions. You will have negative emotions because life basically does not care what you want. It does not know that you feel inadequate and incomplete. It delivers your experiences on the basis of the needs of the total. It sees everything equally and does not play favorites. It values the microbes in your gut as much as it values you. So very often it delivers results that you do not want and you become emotional. The frequency, degree and duration of your emotion is inversely proportional to your sense of self love. The less you love yourself the more intense, frequent and long lasting will be your emotional episodes.

Overly Sensitive

Memory is another force operating in the psyche. It can be a blessing or a curse. It is a blessing because, if you are essentially a rational cognitive person, you can carefully gather and evaluate knowledge and thus increase the likelihood that you will get what you want. But if you are driven by your emotions, it may be a curse because you can remember all the disappointments you suffered in life. Even at sixty you can recall a slight that your best friend gave you in grammar school, or a rejection that a love interest delivered when you requested a date in high school. You collect these disappointments and inadvertently allow them to become a reservoir of dissatisfaction that is so painful you may sink into a depressing funk and blame yourself if you are an introvert. If you are an extrovert you will project it just to get it off your chest. And when you do, you will actually believe that something outside is responsible for your bad feelings.

This usually pollutes your relationship with others. If you are a refined person, you will do your best not to show your displeasure when others do not behave the way you need them to behave or when they exhibit a character trait of which you do not approve. But you cannot hide from yourself. Because you know better, your dislikes make you feel guilty

Guilt

There is invariably a connection between guilt and low self esteem. In reality, all ‘others’ are just thoughts in your mind, so when you dislike someone, you are just disliking your own mind. And since your mind is you, you are really disliking yourself, but you cannot see it. You think ‘they’ are responsible. This is meant to justify your anger, make it respectable. It may even garner some sympathy: everyone loves a victim. It is a very unpleasant cycle. You can only get out of it by understanding how it works and why. When you see the underlying reason…lack of self love…you can begin to correct it.

How to Develop Self Confidence

It is actually not difficult to develop self confidence. First, pay attention to yourself. Second, do the things that you know are right for you. There is a small voice inside that has your best interests at heart, a voice that is accustomed to being ignored. Listen to it. Give love to yourself by simply refusing to abuse your body and emotions with endless rounds of doings. You may be so conditioned to feeling bad that you actually feel bad when you do the right thing…which is to recreate, waste a bit of time doing nothing…or to do exactly what you want, not what your neurotic mind says you are ‘supposed to’ do.

Once you have treated yourself to the luxury of time, and quit taking the ‘shoulds’ and ‘supposed tos’ seriously, your sense of self acceptance will grow. You may argue that you cannot accept yourself if you are not what you think you should be. Of course, your thinking is the problem but it will not change overnight just because you want it to change it. In the first place, you actually believe that how you feel about yourself is true to who you are: “I feel bad about myself because I am bad. If I was good, I would feel good.” There is no actual evidence that this is true, but it feels true and I believe that what I feel is real, so I accept it.

Do I love you or do I love the way you make me feel?

The first thing I need to sort out when I start to get a handle on my problem is: what do I actually love when I love somebody or something? I always love something. I have no choice about it. I direct awareness…love…through my ego to various objects. I love my cat, my house, my mom and pop. But do I love the object for its own sake or do I love the way the object makes me feel? I love the way the object makes me feel. If the object makes me feel bad, I will not love it. I follow the rule of love: I chase objects that make me feel good and I run from objects that make me feel bad. As soon as my significant other stops delivering happiness and delivers unhappiness, I quit loving. Yes, in the best of all possible worlds it would not be that way. But this is not the best of all possible worlds. This is reality and reality is not an ideal. In the best of all possible worlds I would continue to love the object when it made me miserable, but I do not. I get rid of the offending object and look for one that makes me feel good.

People are rational. They are in it for themselves. Even if you protest and say that you love everyone, no matter how they make you feel, you only do so because it pleases you to do so. If it did not please you to love this way, you would not do it. Conditional and unconditional love are for one’s own self, not that there is actually another self. Even when you think you love someone else, it is actually the self in them that you love. The self is the only love object because there is only one self and its nature is love. You really only love love…which is to say yourself.

It is a pity that we cannot just instantly become something other than what we are. So there has to be another step before we can accept ourselves: self understanding. Self understanding means that when I think clearly about the unacceptable person that I think I am, I realize that I got to be this way by no fault of my own. I took everything I was told on good faith and assumed it was true and correct. I did not try to deceive myself. I came to every conclusion about myself and the world honestly using the information I was given at the time. Even if I misinterpreted the information I received, I did not consciously misinterpret it. I did not have sufficient knowledge to interpret correctly at the time. My intentions were good also. I did not set out to make myself feel bad about myself. I really thought that I was doing the best thing for myself. So I cannot be to blame for this situation. Love comes when there is an understanding that things cannot be other than what they are.

Therefore, if lack of self love is the cause of my low self esteem and lack of self love is caused by faulty self knowledge, it stands to reason that I need self knowledge. This is why Vedanta is very useful.

Who am I?

When I look at my experience objectively, I see that sometimes I am pleased with my self and sometimes I am displeased with my self. One day I say, “I am happy.” The next day I say, “I am sad.” Does this mean that there are two selves, one pleased and one displeased? If there are two, which one am I? I cannot be real if I am one thing one day and another one the next. Two contradictory things cannot coexist. There is no such thing as cold fire or dry water. Fire is always hot and water is always wet. If this is so, how can the self be both happy and sad? Why do I feel agitated most of the time and only occasionally feel peaceful? Is it possible that the happy self is what I am and the unhappy self only appears when I do not know who I am?

Before we talk more about which self we are, it is useful to look at a few notions about happiness and see if they correspond with common sense and reason. The first notion is that happiness happens when you fulfill a desire. It is the feeling that comes between fulfillment of a desire and the advent of the next desire. It is true that I am happy when I get what I want, but what kind of happiness is it if it goes away when the next want comes up? So this kind of happiness is not particularly useful in so far as the interval between desires is usually very short, sometimes seconds. It is also not true because sometimes you get what you want and it causes pain. You can also be happy without fulfilling a desire. You hear a good joke and you are instantly happy even though you wanted nothing and nothing objective changed in your life to make you happier.

The next notion that needs inquiry is the idea that happiness resides in certain objects. We know that this is not true also because the same object can make one person happy and another unhappy. If happiness is intrinsic to an object, the same object would make everyone happy.

And it is clear that happiness is not an object either. There are many gross and subtle objects in the creation but not one that can be called happiness. It is not an attribute of an object either; you can have a big or small house, but you can never find happiness sticking to your house…or any other object.

Is there a particular time when you are happy? No, you can be happy any time. Is there a particular place where happiness resides? No, a bar can make an alcoholic happy and a teetotaler miserable. Is it within? Before you determine that, you need to determine your reference points; within what? Within your heart? You can grind a heart to bits and not find one unit of happiness. Is it in the mind? If that is true, there is no mind when you are sad, but we know very well that the mind thinks like crazy when it is sad.

If I look at the way I behave toward myself when I am happy and when I am sad, it will reveal which self is the real me. Unhappiness is not acceptable to me. As soon as something agitates me, I set out to rid myself of it. I do this because I love myself only when I am happy.

Additionally, when I am happy I do not try to make myself unhappy. I cling to my happiness tooth and nail. This shows that happiness is natural to me and that unhappiness is unnatural. Natural means that it is my nature. It is something I cannot change. If fire tries to be cold, it is ignorant. If I try to be unhappy when I am happy, I cannot do it. I may become unhappy when I am happy, but this is not because I want to be unhappy or because I suddenly became another self. It is because ignorance of my nature suddenly started operating. If happiness is my nature and ignorance of my nature is responsible for unhappiness, it stands to reason that I would want to get rid of my ignorance. If I can see that self ignorance is my problem, there is hope. This is where Vedanta is useful.

It is generally true that I am unhappy more than I am happy. There are moments of happiness, no doubt, but they are the exception, not the rule. This is why I conclude that I am basically an unhappy person. This is why I do not feel good about myself and why I pursue happiness in objects, activities and relationships. When I say that I am an unhappy person it does not necessarily mean that I am a completely dysfunctional person, ranting and raving day in and day out. It does not mean that I sit for months in a dark room in a depressing funk, although anger and depression are both symptoms of unhappiness. It means that I always want something. It means that I am dissatisfied. Look back over your life and see if you can find an extended period…more than a few minutes or hours maybe…when you did not want something. If you were happy, you would not want anything, the reason being that when you see yourself as the whole and complete being you are… which translates as the experience of happiness…you do not want anything. The only whole and complete thing there is, not that it is a ‘thing,’ is your self.

At this point it is probably wise to abandon the happiness word because it has certain experiential connotations that make it difficult to understand the nature of the self. It makes it seem as if the self is an experience when in fact it is free of all experiences…including happiness and unhappiness. So we will formulate the issue differently, although in the end it more or less amounts to the same thing. We will say that happiness is freedom from dependence on objects, freedom from want and fear, freedom from the need to become something other than what you are, freedom from limitation. This sense of freedom is only possible when you are full. It is not possible if you are incomplete. And it so happens that there is only one self and it is whole and complete. And it is you.

Perspective

What if my experience of myself as small and limited is not actually true? What if I experience my self as a wanting needy creature adrift in a tyrannical uncertain world does not correspond to the true nature of my experience, but is the result of my point of view?

Experience does not always produce true knowledge. For example, standing on the equator I might conclude that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. But if I am standing on the North Pole at a certain time of year, I would conclude that the sun goes around in a circle. And if I was sitting on the sun, the sun would not seem to be going around anything. I would conclude that the sun is stationary and its solar system is moving…until I had a look from beyond the galaxies, in which case the sun and its solar system would be moving together away from everything else because it is just a tiny fly speck in an ocean of galaxies that are speeding from some catastrophic event that happened trillions of years ago, the ‘big bang.’

A Rolex watch is a marvel of engineering, made of hundreds of tiny parts. If one part is sitting on a table all alone, it means nothing to me. I may not even recognize it as a watch part. But when I see it in its proper place in relationship to all the other parts that constitute the watch, it definitely makes sense. It is no longer isolated and alone. It happily performs a useful function. If you think that you are small, incomplete, inadequate, limited and separate, it means that you are not looking at yourself from the right point of view. What if you are actually the whole? If you are the whole, your sense of smallness…which is the basis of your sense of low self esteem and inadequacy in face of what seems to be a mysterious gargantuan existence…no longer obtains. If you find yourself incredulous when you hear that you are the whole, do not stop reading. Have a little faith until Vedanta can prove to you…based on your own unassimilated experience…that you are the whole.

Experience and Knowledge

It is possible to experience something and not know what the experience means. If there is something that includes everything we can call it ‘the whole.’ If there is such a thing as the whole, does it include or exclude you? It cannot exclude you or it would not be the whole. When you experience happiness you experience the whole. When you have touched your partner in love you are happy. You do not feel limited or separate or incomplete because you are not separate from the whole. When your home team wins the World Series your sense of limitation dissolves because you are in touch with the whole. ‘In touch’ is not the right term because it conveys a sense of duality. It is more accurate to say that in those moments you recognize yourself as whole. You do not disappear, the small incomplete you that you imagine yourself to be disappears into the limitless whole you. Nobody lacks the experience of completeness, limitlessness, wholeness because everyone has been happy at some time. Is the total into which you dissolve you or is it something else? Is there a total without you? Is there an individual without you?

When you are too unhappy you cannot think clearly. You may be completely dull, your mind covered with the dense clouds of sloth and inadvertence. Or you may be so distracted by an agitated mind that you cannot keep more than one or two thoughts in your mind for more than one or two seconds. If this is the case, Vedanta is not for you. As you will notice, there is a logical progression to this teaching. It starts at A and ends at Z. Only when the whole teaching is understood, do the individual parts make sense. Vedanta is a set-up. It poses certain fundamental questions and helps you discover the answers in yourself. So it is important to sign on to the arguments at each stage. If you fail to understand the teaching at stage two, for example, you will not be able to understand stage three. It is a complete teaching because reality is a whole. There is a cosmology, a psychology, a ‘theology’ and teachings on the nature of pure consciousness. It discusses action and its results, yoga and its results, the means of knowledge and the practice of knowledge. It shows how reality is structured, how each aspect dovetails into each other aspect. It starts at the beginning and leads you right through to the end. It leaves no stone unturned and answers all questions.

A Quick Summary

So far this is the logic: we do not feel good about ourselves because we do not esteem…read love…our selves properly. We discussed the psychology of low self esteem above. Then we said that our lack of self esteem was caused by our ignorance of the nature of the self. If the self is known for what it is, it is impossible not to esteem it. This led to the idea that we need to investigate the self to discover its nature. Our investigation led to the conclusion that the nature of the self is happiness, which we defined as freedom from limitation. Then we introduced the notion that you are not a part of the whole, you are the whole. Finally, we showed how the knowledge that we gain from experience can be very misleading and suggested that the idea that I am a small wanting creature does not jibe with the idea that I am the whole. The logic continues.

To say that I am the whole is to say that I am consciousness because consciousness is all there is. When you say ‘I’ without understanding the nature of the ‘I,’ you think it is limited. Yes, if the ‘I’ is the body, you are limited. You end where your skin touches the world. If the ‘I’ is your feelings and thoughts, you are definitely limited because all subjective phenomena begin and end rather quickly. But the ‘I’ is not limited. First of all, this means there is only one ‘I.’ Of course, this is not how we see it. We think there are a lot of different ‘I’s. But when you analyze it, experience shows that in this world there are only two things: me, the subject, and a variety of objects. The subject is consciousness and everything else is an object. If it is the same for everybody, is there any difference between the ‘I’s? The objects are obviously different, but what about the ‘I?’

You, consciousness, see the body. It is an object to you. Even if you close your eyes, you know your body. If a bug bites you when your eyes are closed, you know it. In this case your skin is your means of knowledge; it transmits information. Even when all of your senses are shut down and no objects are appearing, as is the case in deep sleep, you are conscious of yourself. You are not conscious of the person you think you are in the waking state because that ‘person’ is not real. If it was real it would be there in the deep sleep state…but it is not there. In the absence of that person and the objects of the world you just experience yourself and it feels very good. If you are not there you cannot experience anything because you can only experience something if you exist. Experience requires a subject and an object. In deep sleep you are the subject and you are the object.

If there is an object, it only exists for you because it is known by you. You cannot say that it exists unless it is known to exist. Your means of knowledge…the eyes, for example…objectify whatever is in front of them. In this way objects are known. The eyes are the subject and whatever is in front of them is the object. When you say “I see X” you are taking the standpoint of your eyes, your means of knowledge. This is fine as far as it goes, but it does not go very far because the eyes are not conscious. Remove the eyes from the body and they see nothing. They are just material instruments. They only work because consciousness is behind them. Consciousness is looking out at the objects through the eyes. So to say that I am seeing can only mean that consciousness, not the eyes, is seeing. Even the statement “I am blind” is not true because blindness is known to me. It is an object and I am the subject, consciousness.

If you wish to argue that the eyes are just a part of the body and that the body is the seer, we need to point out that the body has the same order of reality as the eyes. It is just matter. It cannot experience anything. Of course, you will object because this is not how it seems to you. It seems as if you are the body and everything else is an object. But if you think about it, you can only conclude that the body, like the eyes, is a known object. It is there because you have the means to see it. Without your means of knowledge, you will not see it.

So what is the means of knowledge for your body? It is your mind. So your mind is you and the body is not you? The body is not me, to be sure, but the mind is not me either for the same reason that the body is not me. In addition to the fact that it is not conscious, it is an object that appears in me, in consciousness. I know what I think and I know what I feel. I know what I know and I know what I do not know. The subject cannot be the object.

To say ‘I am sad,’ for example, is to draw a conclusion that is not warranted. Sadness is a condition that sometimes happens to the mind, but if you are sadness, you cease to exist when you are happy. This is not true because experience shows that I do not cease to exist when sadness turns to happiness. The most simple, innocent and yet vexing existential problem is this: I confuse the ‘I,’ which does not change, with something that does change. So I think I change. To be a changing entity would not necessarily be all bad if the entity could determine when it wanted to change and when it didn’t…and/or if it could choose what it wanted to be and what it did not want to be. But anything that changes is not in control of its changes. Change happens to all objects according to the laws of change. And, the laws of change are impersonal; they are not under the control of the entities that apparently change.

Because you have an intellect, you draw conclusions from what happens to you. If your intellect confuses the self with the objects appearing in it, it can come to an incorrect conclusion about the nature of the self. You have the experience of sadness and you conclude that you are sad. Or you conclude that you are sad and then you experience sadness. It does not matter which way it is. Both are conclusions born out of ignorance of the nature of reality.

If the self can be different things depending on the point of view from which one draws one’s conclusions, it can be anything because there are infinite standpoints from which to view it. If you view the self from the point of view of your dislikes, who will you become when your likes are operating? If you see yourself as a wise with reference to a particular topic, who will you be when you are confronted with a topic of which you know nothing? If you see it from the body’s point of view, then the self is short or tall, depending on the nature of your body. If you see yourself as a mother, who are you when you think of your mother?

Knowledge does not know itself. It is known by something. When you experience something you experience the knowledge of the object in your mind. And knowledge implies the existence of consciousness. If you look at your own experience you will see that there is never a time when consciousness is not present. Furthermore, it is common knowledge that no object is present all the time. Even the three states that the mind goes through are variable. One is there for a while, then another, then a third. Sometimes you remember and sometimes you forget. So remembering and forgetting are objects also. In reality there are only two things: consciousness and the objects appearing in it.

When you say ‘I am,’ the ‘I’ is always present and consciousness is always present. Although the words ‘I’ and ‘consciousness’ seem to refer to two different objects, they are synonymous. Both never change. Objects and situations vary, but consciousness, the ‘I’, never changes. When you say ‘I’ or ‘I am” you are saying that you are consciousness. If the ‘I’ is consciousness and it is always present, there is nothing that cancels it. There is no opposite principle that can negate it. So when I understand myself to be consciousness I get around the problem that comes when I identify with objects. If I am an object, like an emotion or a thought, I am cancelled when a new emotion or thought appears. If I am emotion or thought I am cancelled when I go to sleep. All objects are negatable. But since I am not an object, I cannot be negated.

This is all logic so far. If I have signed on to it, I now know that I am consciousness. But what does it mean to say that I am consciousness? Will I suddenly leap tall buildings with a single bound like Superman? Will everyone love me? Will my bank balance never dip into the red? What good is it to know this?

Before we consider implications of the knowledge of myself as consciousness, we need to resolve a common doubt. We mentioned that reality is composed of two things: consciousness and the objects appearing in it. Does this mean that the objects are different from consciousness? It would seem to imply that consciousness, which we can’t perceive, and objects, which we can, are two different things, like God and the Devil. If so, does the presence of one, negate the presence of the other? If I am sick, I cannot be healthy. They negate each other. If I am tall, I cannot be short. If I am rich, I am not poor.

The Apparent Reality

You cannot separate an object from the material of which it is made. Can you have a shirt unless you have fabric? Any quality that the shirt enjoys is inherent in the fabric. If the fabric is wool, you have a scratchy shirt. If it is silk, you have a smooth shirt. The word ‘shirt’ does not actually refer to anything substantial. At best it is an idea. And the idea does not give the shirt its texture. In fact, although the shirt does exist, it does not exist on its own. It borrows its existence from the wool. We cannot say that the shirt is non-existent because it fulfills a useful function. We can, however, say that in essence the shirt is just wool. We cannot say that wool is shirt because wool can be fashioned into many other things.

So what status can we give the shirt? We can say that it is the same as the wool, but it is not actually the same, because a skein of wool is not a shirt. We can say that it depends on the shirt because without wool there is no shirt. It is a form of wool. Wool is the substance and the shirt is its form. The shirt is not an illusion because it has a form and a function. You cannot wear an illusion.

Please follow the logic. If wool is the substance, can we say that shirtness is an attribute of wool? We cannot because shirtness is not intrinsic to wool. Each time you think of wool you do not think of shirts. Wool can become any number of things. You can have dozens of different kinds of wool shirts but if you know them as wool, you might as well know them all. Wool is the substance, the substrate, and the shirt is wool in a certain form. So there is no contradiction between them because they do not have the same degree of reality. The wool is real and the shirt is apparently real. It borrows whatever reality it has from the wool. So, they are one, but they are not equal. The wool has no form and function. It is free of them. And the shirt is only form and function.

It is important to understand the distinction between what is real and what is apparent when we analyze our own experience because reality operates experientially as an apparent duality of subject and object. The subject is consciousness and consciousness assuming various forms are the objects. This means that I am real and what I experience is apparently real. We cannot say life is unreal or non-existent or an illusion. It certainly exists because I experience it. But whatever reality it enjoys, it borrows from me, from consciousness. It is experienced in my mind and my mind is made out consciousness, so experience is consciousness, but consciousness is not experience. I am always free of experience. And there is no distance between consciousness and the objects appearing in it, just like there is no distance between wool and the shirts fashioned out of it. The shirt is wool but the wool is free of the shirt.

It remains to speak a little more about my nature. Because I have no form or parts, I have no size. I am not big, nor am I small. I am not far away from anything, nor am I near anything. I am free of space and time so I do not change.

When you think of the past or the future, you think of them now. You cannot think of the past or the future in the past or the future. The reality of time is nowness. When you analyze nowness, or ‘the now’ if you prefer, does it stretch into the future or protrude back into the past? No, because any unit of time is subject to further divisions. If you keep dividing, time disappears. So what is time? Time is simply a thought appearing in consciousness. The content of any thought is consciousness and consciousness is free of time and space. Time and space are constructs, ways of measuring things in the apparent reality, but they have no reality of their own. You can think your body’s relationship to another object in terms of time or space. Saying that San Francisco is ten minutes is saying that it is ten miles, assuming you are travelling at 60 miles an hour. Time and space are just ideas in consciousness. Consciousness is limitless. If you are limitless, how can you have a self esteem problem?

How the Teaching works

Often the self is called bliss, a word that needs to be looked into. Usually, this word is used to denote a happy kind of feeling. But the self is not a feeling. You cannot induce the self in someone else because they are already the self and they are experiencing it all the time. You can only talk about it. The teaching tradition’s biggest criticism about the modern non-duality teachings apart from their obvious vagueness is that they only talk about the self. Talking about the self is not teaching the self. Teaching the self is removing ignorance about the self because the self is already experienced. Self ignorance is not a simple matter. It is very intelligent in so far as the one who takes it for knowledge is very clever at justifying and defending it. It is deeply entrenched, the foundation of the ego’s life. A few vague statements about consciousness and the misguided belief that ignorance can be transcended, or discarded at will does not constitute a teaching. To remove self ignorance you need a sophisticated methodology. Vedanta is a proven method. It is a valid means of self knowledge. It analyzes a problem with which you can identify, like low self esteem, and then removes the problem with experience based logical teachings. When the problem is destroyed, you see that you are the self. The mind just dissolves into awareness because the mind is just the problem occurring at any given moment.

When the modern teachers tell you that they can transmit enlightenment into you in some mystic way they are just talking through their hats. All a guru can do is communicate his or her vision of non-duality. To do so, he or she needs to use carefully chosen words in a certain way. Vedanta is a set-up. It creates a situation that makes it impossible for you not to get the vision, assuming you are qualified and paying attention. For example if you wish to point out a heavenly body that is apparently indistinguishable from thousands of others, you cannot just point directly at it. There are too many other stars nearby with which it can be confused. So we ask you to look at certain tree. Then we lead your attention up the trunk to a main branch going left, then to the third small branch from the fork that leans right, and so on until we get to the tip. Then we tell you that the star that is touching the tip is the star you are meant to see.

In the case of Vedanta, the subject matter is you, so the teaching creates a problem that you can relate to and then using the logic of your own experience, it dissolves the problem into you. You see that you are quite fine without the problem. You need to listen to the teaching over and over and retain the knowledge of the inquiry that removed your problem so that if the problem resurfaces you can remove it again. And you need to stick with Vedanta long enough until it has covered all the fundamental problems. Then you are home free. This is only one of the many methods that Vedanta uses to destroy your ignorance and establish the vision of non-duality in your mind.

Perhaps our biggest problem is that we think we are the body. This identification limits us with reference to time, space and objects. If you feel low self esteem, it is often because you take limitations that belong to the body to be yours. In fact the body has no problems. It is just an assemblage of moving parts like an automobile. It changes according to certain laws. If I think that I am fat, I have a problem because the ‘I’ has no shape or form, no characteristics. So the fatness does not apply to me. Even the mind does not have any problems. The mind is just a subtle instrument, a bunch of functions operating in consciousness. Where do the problems come from, then? Simply from identifying with ignorant thoughts. But since the average person thinks his or her ignorance is knowledge…even wisdom…he or she needs to be taught what ignorance is, especially the ignorance masquerading as the teachings of the modern non-duality world. Nobody wants to remain ignorant once they realize they are ignorant. So once the teaching shows you why your vision is defective, you are free to correct it.

The belief that reality is a duality is due to one simple fact: I take the body to be the self. When you look at perception from the point of view of consciousness…which Vedanta can show you how to do…your belief in duality disappears.

In any case this essay is an example of the way that Vedanta works. Vedanta is self inquiry. Self inquiry means looking at reality both from the point of view of its substrate, consciousness, and from the point of view of the individual conscious beings appearing in it. Using various methods it, removes what at first glance seems to be many different existential paradoxes: how can I believe that I am separate from the whole when I am the whole? How can I feel bound when I am always free? How can I fear death when I am immortal? How can I act when I am actionless? How can I crave love when I am love?

Read more: Love, Self Esteem, Self Knowledge and Vedanta