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You Are Conscious, Everything Else Is Not
Sundari: Hello, John. I have been slow on the draw here, my apologies! We have had so much going on lately, as we have been looking for a base in Spain and taking care of ShiningWorld that grows by the day! We are at it full-time and James is busy with an intense teaching schedule in Europe, seven seminars back-to-back in five weeks, lots of travelling and little time.
I have replied point by point below.
John: Thanks for what you said about devotion/gratitude and more generally about neutralizing the doer, rending the vasanas non-binding and making firm the knowledge.
Sundari: I am glad that helped.
John: This morning I listened to a Swami Paramarthananda lecture on Panchadasi 1.54 that was very timely for me, talking about nididhyasana and making the knowledge firm. The thing I related to that he said was a remark comparing nididhyasana to sadhana catustaya sampannah, the qualifications to receive the knowledge in the first place.
Sundari: Yes, it all leads back to the qualifications, that is so true. The steps to “getting there” are the same as the qualities of “being there.” How could it be any other way? There is nowhere to get to, as you are what you seek. I have attached a brilliant article written for ShiningWorld by Edwin, our former editor, who is a brilliant writer, on the topic of nididhysana. I could not say it better and think you will enjoy it.
John: What is happening for me is just that shakiness he describes, though the shakiness (measured by the duration and intensity of reaction to certain types of situations that recur in my life) is lessening significantly.
Sundari: This is how your last sentence would read if you were talking as the self: “What is ‘happening’ for John is the shakiness he experiences, though measured by the duration and intensity of reaction to certain types of situations that recur in his life etc.…” John would be objectified and your secondary identity. The way you worded it shows the doer talking, vacillating between direct and indirect knowledge. As the knowledge firms up, all that one can “do” is to take a stand in awareness, as awareness.
John: Certain kinds of Vedantic thoughts consistently help me in certain recurring outer situations. Ram calls this “answering by the opposite thought,” I think (“I don’t have to figure out this situation, Isvara is taking care of all of it,” “This is not my problem to work out, I just need to do the actions that are called for by the situation (karma yoga)”…
Sundari: Vedanta has at least twelve prakriyas, or teachings, that are designed to negate the ego and help in making the knowledge firm. Any of them is good and all of them work. Applying the opposite thought (pratipaksha bhavana) is a very good one and works very well in taking a stand in awareness. Just declare yourself to be awareness and press “pause” every time the opposite thought comes up. Another one that really helps is to hit the “pause” button every time you hear John say “I” and ask: “Who is speaking here? Is it the jiva identified with the jiva, the jiva who knows the self or the jiva that knows it IS the self?” I find this one particularly powerful.
Everything that comes up will be guna-based and therefore a vasana or samskara. So look at it with the acute monocular vision of the self and ask: “What are the facts? Is it true? What would I be without this thought/feeling?” The thought or feeling will always dissolve in the light of self-knowledge because it is never based on facts. All thoughts and feelings are the result of “our” subjective conditioning, i.e. the gunas, or Isvara.
John: “All of this, all of these situations, disappear entirely in deep sleep and dream; where did they go then? They are not really real now either,” “This seems real and solid now, but I have already seen numerous times that this same situation and associated set of feelings is not solid and real,” “I am whole, unbroken and complete already, there is nothing in this person or situation that can complete me more or threaten that completeness.”
Sundari: Yes, indeed the gross body disappears in the dream state and the subtle body is still there, so the gunas/vasanas still operate. However, they do not condition the subtle body, because they are not creating karma as there is no actual doer. The ego is just a symbol, and it is out-picturing as an existing vasana. This is why it is so helpful to self-inquiry to dissect dreams; in the dream it is very easy to see the ego as an object appearing in you, awareness.
The subtle body disappears in deep sleep state, so does the microcosmic causal body (personal subconscious), which belongs to the jiva. The deep sleep state (defined as “no mental activity”) is the same for everyone, because everyone’s personal subconscious, or microcosmic causal body, is subsumed into Isvara, the macrocosmic causal body, during deep sleep. Prajna is awareness operating as the jiva experiencing the macrocosmic causal body, i.e. the deep sleep state, or the bliss of awareness minus the knowledge, which is ignorance. The gunas are still there in the macrocosmic causal body but they have no effect because the subtle body of the individual is not there to be conditioned.
The macrocosmic causal body remains in deep sleep because it is the deep sleep state. Although the nature of both the jiva and the causal body (or Isvara) is awareness, both the jiva and Isvara are inconstant factors. Jiva is inconstant because self-knowledge removes the notion that it is limited, revealing its true nature to be pure awareness. The causal body is inconstant because (so the scripture tells us) its role as Creator is only relatively eternal in that it ends at the end of the kalpa.
You have reasoned it all out in the light of the scripture (manana), examining the unexamined logic of your own experience in the waking state and seen that it concurs with scripture. It can only be so.
John: Pancha-kosha viveka, especially manomayakosha and vignanamaya kosha, is another track I follow. I identify the feeling the comes up, exploring it as a feeling and identifying the corresponding sensations in the body until I am able to make a Polaroid snapshot of the feeling, of sorts. Then I essentially drop the snapshot on the table, knowing that I am the one that sees that snapshot, that object. If I can name the feeling, then I can find the opposite thought to apply also; naming the feeling and finding the opposite thought is also getting easier and easier.
Sundari: I love the analogy of the photo. Identifying and negating the sheaths is a brilliant prakriya as well. If you (who?) can name the feeling, then you can identify the guna that gave rise to it. As you probably know, all thoughts and feelings belong to the gunas and it is very helpful to identify the guna operating and then disidentify with it as awareness. When you understand the gunas and how they function, you go straight for the guna. The gunas are always operating for the jiva (except in deep sleep and nirvilkalpa samadhi) and give rise to everything in the dharma field. You know that you as the self are trigunaatita, beyond the gunas, so negation is logical. If one can do this there really is not much need to dissect one’s thoughts and feelings, find the origin, what triggered it, analyse it, etc., etc. As the self no longer under the spell of ignorance, you see it impersonally for what it is: simply rajas and tamas.
In this way making sattva your goal becomes the primary objective for the jiva. As you know, moksa is for the jiva, who never leaves the apparent reality, and actualising self-realisation means understanding what it means to be awareness in the apparent reality. This means understanding Isvara srsti, the dharma field. It does not work to superimpose satya on mithya, the real on the apparent. Duality does not disappear when non-duality is realised, as it is not opposed to it. Duality is only a problem if you don’t know what it is.
John: I also (with a slightly different sort of effort and attention) separate the “I-thought” (which is thinking about things) from thoughts about objects, and make that I-thought the object. I find the overall sense of “me” in that moment, and look at that “me,” putting some distance between the witness and that me-object. I have recently been experimenting with exploring that space that separates the witness from the I-thought, “trying it on for size” (the space). Swami Abhuvananada has a great way of suggesting to “play” being space.
Sundari: Making the “I” thought the object depends on who the “I” is. Is it the ego trying to experience the self or the self (apparently) experiencing the ego? Most experience-based “spiritual” teachings objectify the self as something grand, trancendental and only to be attained by the exceptional few. I know you are not prone to this, but this conditioning is more insidious than most seekers realise. Why bother trying to find the “space between the witness and the object” or “playing with space?” Why not see that you are the knower of the space? Space is known to awareness, so it is just another object. There is no space between you, awareness, and the “I” thought, because all thoughts are made up of you, awareness, and arises out of you, awareness.
Who is the I that is talking here – the one who is looking at the “overall sense of me” – what is the “overall sense of me” and who is the me? The self does not feel like anything, it is the non-experiencing witness and is self-knowing. This sounds very much like the doer using “effort” to achieve a desired result.
With all due respect, I do enjoy Anubhavanda, and he is a good teacher. However, perhaps because he is Indian and he is teaching Westerners, some of his terminology is confusing. He refers to Vedanta as a philosophy, for one. We know that philosophy is the thought or system of thought that is developed by a person or persons, describing their interpretation of the higher purpose of reality. Vedanta is no such thing. It is a proven consciousness- based means of knowledge and thus a valid means of knowledge, for the very reason that it is totally independent of any person or person’s experience or opinion. This is never true of philosophy because it is subjective and therefore dependent on opinion or belief.
This is why Vedanta is so insistent upon the correct terminology used to teach it, which is why it is strange that Anubhavanda gets his terms confused in this way. One would think he would be very clear about this. Also, on more than one occasion he describes self-knowledge as “intuitive,” which is very misleading. Self-knowledge is not intuition, because intuition changes all the time and as such is not a reliable source of knowledge.
John: It is helpful to hear from you about this and helpful for me to write this all down. I am not looking for a big-wow enlightenment experience, I am comfortable with the distinction between doing/experience and knowing/knowledge. It is the discrimination between myself and subtle or not-so-subtle objects that trips me up a little right now.
Sundari: Moksa is nothing other than the discrimination between the self and the not-self, knowledge and experience, satya and mithya, or the real and the apparent, which are different ways of saying the same thing. If you want to discriminate yourself from the objects, subtle or not, here is a famous Ramji one-liner: “You are conscious, everything else is not. This is it; this is the name of the game.”
If I may make a suggestion. You say that you are clear on the teachings on the vasanas, gunas and Isvara. If you are stuck, it very likely means that you have not fully understood Isvara/gunas. This is the distinction between pure awareness (paramatman), awareness in the role of the Creator wielding maya (Isvara), awareness appearing as the subtle body (jiva), awareness appearing as the creation (jagat). This is the Isvara-jiva-jagat aikyam, or identity, and is the most subtle of all teachings. Panchadasi is a great text for this, particularly James’ most recent rendition of it in Tiruvannamalai this year. If you do not have it, I strongly suggest you order a copy. He goes into detail on this topic in this teaching, unfolding the common factors in each order of reality and then negating them all, leaving only pure awareness. It is what James is busy teaching at the moment here in Berlin and is such a powerful text. Most people who are adhikaris like yourself still have a few grey areas when it comes to this teaching, particularly the gunas: what they are, how they function and how they make up the dharma field. If you have confusion, this is probably it. I could be wrong here and you have this teaching locked down, but if I am right I am quite happy to go into a discussion with you about this.
John: But again, that “discriminative challenge” itself is reducing a lot. My wife noticed it the morning I stepped in the dog poop in the dark by the kitchen in my bare feet and essentially went, “Ho-hum.” This was not the way I would have reacted a few months ago. ☺
Sundari: Impressive! If you have graduated past the barefoot-in-the-dog-poop test, pat yourself on the back! I think even the great Ramji would have a heart attack if Isvara presented him with this one. It is one of his (very few) weaknesses! ☺
John: So thank you, Sundari, it is very helpful to be able to write to someone truly knowledgeable and get a helpful response.
Sundari: Om and prem.