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Alex: Hi, James. It was great to see you and Sundari. As you both have got it together, it is nice to see you both happy together.
Though I thought of addressing the following topic before, I never wrote to you about it, because I thought it superfluous. As the self would have it, I was just reflecting on the subject of opinions this morning as I literally chanced upon Love to Hate from your last satsang collection (May 17, 2012). As coincidence was nudging things a little strongly, I thought it opportune to write you.
You say, “It is never them we hate, but what they stand for.” Far from me from wanting a war on words, but “they” and “what they stand for” are pretty much one in the same for me, namely, ideas.
James: I don’t think so. There is the self and the ideas appearing in it. They are one, but they are not the same. The ideas are the self, but the self is free of the ideas. When ignorance is operating the self says dumb stuff. We respect the self, but not ignorance.
Alex: Opinions are funny things. I’ll admit that two aspects initially attracted me to you as a teacher. The first was what I perceived as a no-nonsense approach to teaching; this expressed through your personal manner and opinions. The second was Vedanta. (I swiftly found out that self-knowledge through Vedanta was all that really mattered.) What I liked was how you stripped the stereotypical spiritual heroes of their usual clichés.
I still like that about James; he’s a great guy. We obviously don’t meet eye-to-eye on everything, and that is the reason for this email. I don’t care that we don’t agree on everything. To be more precise, ultimately, I don’t really care about my own opinions. The reason is that any person’s opinions are both fickle and incomplete (like anything else in mithya). I may think one thing in 2007 and quite the contrary in 2012. There are a variety of subjective reasons behind this, but much also has to do with available information. Not only is the apparent me constantly changing, so is the information on any given subject. The greatest factor is that nobody can possibly have the pretension that they know everything about anything. There are so many factors and variables at stake in any topic of discussion that to think that one has the truth on any one subject is tomfoolery. It is not humility, it is common sense. So who gives a damn what anyone thinks?
I’m writing these opinions to see what your take is on this issue. This may be a little trivial, but as you noticed at the last moment of your talks on Sunday afternoon in Toronto, some people have problems with your approach… as you yourself stated. There is of course the case of the Neos, where I think you are completely justified in pointing out their faulty thinking. But I’m writing this email since I thought it might be an occasion to more greatly explain your thinking on the question of opinions. In this manner you might clarify some of the uncertainties some seekers might have about you (and unfortunately, draw even more seekers to the fold).
James: Yes, it was lovely to see you. Thanks for the well wishes and the compliment.
There is a verse in the Bhakti Sutra that says that jnanis have well-considered opinions. My criticisms are always backed by logic. If a person is so lacking in dispassion and so identified with a particular teacher or teaching that he or she cannot discriminate, what use is it to teach them Vedanta? It is for mature people. My guru had a number of qualities and views that I did not share at all. But I understood the value of the teaching and the way he taught it. It set me free in spite of his opinions on various topics and some of his dislikes. I don’t agree with Swami Dayananda on some “issues,” but he has my complete respect and has been a tremendous influence on my understanding of the means of knowledge and the way it is most effectively communicated.
You need to consider the source of these complaints. That person in the front who had a problem with my criticism of the now teachings had a completely dull mind. Absolutely nothing went in. I was amazed that she attended the whole teaching. Maybe something did go in, probably the energy of the satsang. She thinks Eckhart Tolle is a kind of god, I suppose, maybe because he is the guru du jour or maybe because she got some help from him – which is good. Eckhart is good, but he is not a teacher of moksa. The knowledge is indirect and there is no proper sadhana. This may sound like jealousy or a complaint, but in light of the eternal proven teachings of Vedanta it is a completely justified fact. It is not even an opinion.
I really don’t care if more people come. I have nothing to gain, nothing to prove. I am complete satisfied on every level. They will come because the teaching works. Or not. But I am not going to grovel or pander to the public and its New-Agey sentimental idea of non-duality. Non-duality does not mean that we have to surrender our discrimination. It is not good to criticize others, but this is not a criticism of people. It is a criticism of bad ideas, ideas that cause harm – as they help. Some people represent ideas in the mind of the public.
I don’t need to be liked. I like myself enough to be myself, and being myself means that I feel like exposing ignorance when it is appropriate. And to be quite frank, I am very well-liked by many discriminating people. One fellow in a recent satsang who had been a devotee of Osho came up to me after one of my Osho rants – I feel that he did more harm than good to the spiritual world – and he hugged me and said that he would give up on Vedanta and me if I stopped criticizing bad teachings. The tendency in people to glorify and deify spiritual teachers is unspiritual. If I had no teaching or if I was just babbling my experience or making silly vague statements about consciousness like most of the Neos, then you can say I am insecure and jealous and small-minded and need to put others down to put myself up. But look at my teaching. Nobody out there, apart from Swami Dayananda and Swami Paramarthananda and their disciples (and the swamis of the Chinmaya Mission), is even close to offering a valid means of enlightenment. And even these teachers do not express it in English as well as I do. So if you are going to make an issue of this, look at the big picture and the issue will become a non-issue.
This is not a criticism of you, Alex. You know who you are. Your self-knowledge is firm and you are a great guy with an amazing presence, but since you got off the cigarettes and alcohol I have noticed quite a bit of tamas in your mind. It tends to wander and lose sight of the point. It is natural. When the habits that support a rajasic lifestyle no longer operate, and one’s rajas does not keep one excited and busy, the repressed tamas comes to the fore and affects discrimination.
~ Much love, James