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You Are Not Gay, You Are Not Old
Syd: Dear James, this is my first time writing to you. If you can find time in your busy life to respond I would appreciate it.
Sundari: Hello, Syd. Thank you for this lovely email. James I and enjoyed its clarity, dispassion and humility very much. We are so glad that we have finally been able to get through to you, as it troubles us when we cannot reply to people who write to us. I am replying on behalf of James, and have done so point by point below.
Syd: I found ShiningWorld a little over a year ago. Since then I have read your new book at least five times, watched the videos almost daily and read many of the satsangs. Also, recently I read several excellent books by Swami Chinmayananda and Swami Dayananda Saraswati. I have had the sense that I was “progressing” well. Each time I had a question I would find the answer to whatever I was looking for and keep going on my own. I have been doing a lot of reading, listening, reflection and contemplation in the past year.
Sundari: This is great, Syd, you seem already committed to and established in a sadhana, which is very important. The thing with Vedanta is that it needs to be taught unless one is an adhikari, which is highly-qualified person. The reason for is that unless Vedanta is properly unfolded by a qualified teacher the mind will interpret the teachings according to its vasanas, which means according to ignorance. It will try to fit Vedanta into what it thinks or believes instead of the other way around. You are very blessed to have found James.
Syd: I observe my mind as rajasic most of the time, with more sattva coming on. I was in a tamasic mood when I decided to write this. I was up against a wall vis-à-vis understanding, looking for an “experience” of liberation while at the same time knowing better and just feeling bad. The idea that “I am whole, complete, eternal, actionless awareness” seemed like it had lost its meaning. I have ridden through similar experiences but this time I decided to write, or to reframe it, “deciding and writing happened.”
Sundari: Who is it that observes “your” mind? It is good that you know that you are observing the gunas, but remember that both the mind and the gunas are impersonal. You, awareness, the one who is observing both, is never sattvic, rajasic or tamasic. Rajas, tamas and sattva are what make up the dharma field and are always operating, underpinning the vasanas that seem to be particular to an individual but actually belong to Isvara. The gunas are what condition the subtle body as long as it is identified with being a person. The most important part of understanding the gunas is being able to identify them and the predictable thoughts and feelings that arise with them, and then to disidentify with them as having anything to do with you, awareness. Managing the gunas is making peace of mind the goal and then adjusting behaviours and lifestyle accordingly, in the light of self-knowledge.
You say that you were “up against a wall,” etc. Who was up against a wall and what is the wall? Syd is a name that refers to the self under the spell of ignorance, the reflected self, and has no reality of its own. Syd is an object known to you and is as unreal and as inert as all the other objects that you have so far negated. The wall Syd that was up against is maya, or ignorance, in the form of “Syd’s” vasanas. It is the apparent self, or Syd, who is looking for an experience, feeling bad (tamas) because he was not getting what he wants, and to whom it appeared as if the idea that he is whole and complete, non-dual awareness had lost its meaning. To the reflected self it will seem like it is just an idea that its true nature is unchanging, whole and complete, limitless awareness, whereas in truth this is the only reality and upon which the ego’s very existence depends but which itself depends on nothing.
It is again the reflected self, the self under the spell of ignorance, who has ridden through similar experiences and decided to write this time. Self inquiry requires a lot of repetition and dedication to go the distance, which really does not appeal to the ego, which is after distraction because it is so full of desire (rajas). The main thrust of self-inquiry is to discriminate the self from the not-self. The most difficult object to see as just another object is the ego/mind/apparent individual, meaning Syd.
Syd: Although I got a high score (in the 80s, I think) on the enlightenment test at ShiningWorld about a year ago, I believe my weak points, as far as qualifications go, are low masculine temperament and low confidence. I’m 75 years old and have had an unusual life, and I’m not sure that in that regard whether I can solidly identify with the knowledge that is liberation. It’s like I’m gaining a lot of understanding but the identity shift hasn’t solidly happened.
Sundari: A low masculine temperament means that you are less inclined to be proactive (rajas) and logical (sattva) and more inclined to be emotional and scattered or inconsistent (tamas). It has nothing to do with gender as such, which explains your low confidence (tamas). This is why the qualifications are so important. It appears to be pretty clear to me that you are ready for Vedanta or you would not be so dispassionate and would not be writing this email with such clarity in the first place. The “identity shift” that you speak of is the shift from thinking you are the experiencing entity (Syd) to the knowledge that you are the one that knows the experiencing entity. It is not a switch in identity, it is a 180-degree turn from the ego trying to experience the self to the other way around, the self who knows it is not the ego, apparently experiencing the ego.
As I have said above, this is what self-inquiry is all about, the discrimination between self and not-self. You are very nicely on track, so just stay with it. As you keep exposing the mind to self-knowledge, it does the work of removing the ignorance. This is what makes Vedanta so powerful and so different from other spiritual paths: it is both a means of knowledge – a pathless path – and a path of action, meaning that it provides tools and the instructions how to use them which when applied rigorously and with dedication will remove ignorance and its effects. It will set you free but you have to “do the work,” meaning commit yourself above and before anything else to moksa, freedom from the person, Syd. This is how you develop the qualifications. It is really self-knowledge itself that does the work of removing ignorance, not any action per se that the apparent self takes. It is thus very important to understand that this does not mean one has to set about perfecting the person.
It means negating the doer by fully understanding the conditioning that is operating the person in the light of self-knowledge. Self-inquiry involves making the choice for peace of mind by moderating behaviours that generate excessive rajas and tamas, which are the basis of all ignorance, as well as initiating behaviours that are conducive to peace of mind. In this way the mind is purified and self-knowledge can then remove the ignorance. There is no shortcut to this, only the long cut, which is constant application of the knowledge. This requires without fail facing everything that challenges your good opinion of yourself. It is less than glamorous or exciting work but the only worthwhile occupation there is!
Syd: Also, other than just common-sense stuff, I’m not sure what my dharma is. The way my mind formulates it is to go for liberation and live out my days with dignity and independence. I have been practicing karma yoga along those lines. I’m in good health, have most of my marbles and had long-lived parents, so I could have another 10 or 20 years with this body-mind… who knows?
Sundari: Dharma is a difficult concept for the mind to grasp. Isvara operating maya, i.e. ignorance, has dharma built into the creation. This is Svadharma, with a big “S.” These are the natural laws that operate in the apparent reality and are impersonal. This is called samanya dharma, and these laws operate the same way for everyone. Then there is visesa dharma, which is how the individual interprets the universal laws and applies them to their apparent life. Lastly, there is svadharma, with a small “s,” which is the nature and conditioning given to you by Isvara which you incarnate with. Svadharma with a big “S” is the perspective of the self, and svadharma with a small “s” is the perspective of the apparent self, which means following your given nature as a jiva. Your strongest desire is moksa, then your dharma is to do what it takes to achieve moksa: establish a sadhana, sticking to it, doing whatever it takes to purify the mind and achieve a sattvic mind. Your dharma is also making sure that what you do in the world is in keeping with your nature and is in keeping with ahimsa, non-injury. Following dharma is always what is most conducive to peace of mind. Any activity that agitates the mind (rajas) or dulls it (tamas) is most likely causing suffering.
Syd: As for biography, I was born in the Midwest of the United States. My father was a successful business plutocrat; he did not spare the rod, and I was terrified of him in childhood, distant thereafter. I trusted my mother more, though she was quite dominated by my father. I have a younger sister and brother with whom I get along okay.
I left home at 18 to go off to college on a naval scholarship. Then I had a three-year tour as a US Navy officer. Then graduated from medical school, did an internship and a three-year residency in psychiatry. I practiced psychiatry for 35 years and retired about 10 years ago. I moved back to my home town and helped take care of my mother during an eight-year illness from which she recently died at 98. In those 10 years I have read avidly on such things as history, politics, economics, money, health with much curiosity and satisfaction. Politically, I made a 180-degree shift, which has been a stress point with my sister, her family and for that matter most people I know in this area (although it’s mostly unspoken).
Sundari: You have a good story. It appears to all of us that our life story is unique, but there really is only one story and we all share it: the story of ignorance, or maya, and the “journey” of the apparent self towards itself through self-knowledge. Isvara controls the dharma field impersonally, and although we all appear to have conditioning that is specific to the person, it too is impersonal and created by the gunas. This is why understanding the gunas is so important and we are emphasising it so much in our teachings. Our personal story is only important insofar as we can assimilate its meaning and see that all of it has been instrumental in the search for freedom from the person, the experiencing entity.
Syd: Throughout my life I have been a spiritual “seeker” but in hindsight I was naive and had my ladders on the wrong walls. Vedanta, where were you? I had been to innumerable seminars, read widely, etc. I had an intense epiphany about eight years ago and some minor epiphanies in the past year. When I read your book, it was like for the first time in my life something made sense. Although (to my amazement) none of my fellow seeker friends were interested, I have been intensely focused on Vedanta on my own.
Sundari: Most people fall down many a rabbit hole before the mind is ready for self-knowledge. ☺ Vedanta comes to those who are ready for it and not before, it is that simple. The fact that Vedanta has come to you must mean that you are finished with being a seeker and are ready to become a finder. It is also not at all surprising that the people around you will not be interested and could even be downright hostile. Krishna says in the Gita, “Let not the wise unsettle the minds of the ignorant,” See them all as the self firmly under the spell of ignorance and don’t waste your time trying to get their interest. You will most often not succeed. Karma yoga again!
Syd: Relationship-wise, I had a 16-year relationship with a guy. We were close, had lots of great experiences and traveled the world together. At about age 50, I fell in love with a much younger guy. He came with serious baggage (including alcoholism). This commenced a tumultuous 16-year relationship, with me basically struggling with his addiction and my addiction to him. I immersed myself in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) plus continued seeking liberation (so I thought), etc. We split up about eight years ago; he’s sober, has a good job, a new relationship and is an AA sponsor. I still love him, more like I would think a father would love a son. But as far as live-in relationships, I feel I have “been there, done that.” I am quite content to live alone, in fact prefer it, and am fully aware that happiness does not reside in objects. I am very grateful to Vedanta that I have spontaneously reframed my life history in a way that I had never had thought of before. I have much less resentment, much more love and acceptance, more sense of humor, spontaneity, etc., etc.
Sundari: What is important here is that you have resolved the love issue and negated the need for the “other” to complete you. This is why Vedanta is so clear about this issue of relationships: moksa is freedom from dependence on objects, so if you are chasing relationships, forget about moksa. We have many self-realised people who are stuck here because they have not resolved this issue and still long for the mythical and non-existent “other” to complete them. Again, this is not only such important aspect for the preparation of the foundation for Vedanta, i.e. the qualifications and understanding what they are and why they are necessary as well as the motivations, it is also vital for actualising the self. As a former mental health therapist you would understand the necessity for cleaning up the sewer of the subconscious. The difference with Vedanta and any other teaching, be it medical or spiritual, is the unfolding of the gunas and how they form the conditioning of the apparent individual. This teaching is like no other in that it allows the person to discriminate between the self and not-self by depersonalising the life experiences and thus to permanently and unequivocally put an end to all psychological problems. No other system can do this as only self-knowledge has the power to remove ignorance, which is the root of all problems.
Syd: At this point I have money enough to live another five years or so at my present rather modest standard of living, with which I am quite content. My intention is to generate enough money to live within my means, which I am capable of doing, and not draw on my reserves. However, I have been grappling with finding the motivation to do so. But I have always “felt” I didn’t have enough money, whether or not I did. That’s one thing that has persisted, as well as not being clear as to what my dharma should be.
Sundari: Syd, the self under the spell of ignorance, has always felt that he has not enough security, just like most other samaris do. This is because there is no such thing as security in the apparent reality or the world, with its hypnosis of materialism. The apparent reality is forever changing and therefore by its very nature unpredictable and untrustworthy. It is designed to disappoint and to cause suffering. Almost no one feels that they have enough money or security, no matter how much or how little they have. I don’t get that this is the real issue with you though; is it perhaps just the lack of motivation to do something to gain money that produces fear? This is a common one and many Vedantins struggle with this, because the desire for things is just not strong enough. Just observe the fear when it arises; all fears are simply “False Evidence Appearing Real.” This shows dispassion and assimilation of the knowledge. Krishna again: “With a heart that knows no otherness, fix your mind on me alone and I will take care of your getting and your keeping.” This trust is vital, so do whatever you need to do make sure your needs are met with a karma yoga attitude and leave the rest to Isvara.
Syd: I notice most of the people who write to you are much younger than I and have more conventional “samsaric” strivings than I have had. I don’t know if I am fooling myself to be immersing myself in Vedanta at my age and whether it’s possible for me to obtain enlightenment, given my baggage. I don’t have any benchmarks to go by. I’m wondering if there’s anything I can do at this point to avoid unnecessary pioneering. I do believe through understanding that my mind and ego have matured a great deal in the past year. I really didn’t realize how immature I was and how much in denial I have been, even with all the work I have done on myself over the years.
Sundari: I am not sure what you mean by “most people who write to us have more conventional ‘samsaric’ strivings.” Most people who write to us are much like you, people of all ages, sexual orientations and samsaric achievements who are tired of samsara, tired of suffering and are ready to commit themselves to moksa. We have two people we have endorsed to reply to emails at ShiningWorld that are under 30. Most Vedantins are grey-hairs though, 50 and upwards. Age is irrelevant, except that typically young people are not that interested because they still believe that there is something to gain in “the world.” It takes maturity and much suffering to convince the ego this is false and futile – samsara (which is simply the belief in duality) is a zero-sum game. As for baggage, well, my goodness, everyone has tons of that! Yours is not that different from anyone else’s and anyone who has been alive for more than five minutes has lots of it.
You clearly do have maturity as well as dispassion and have already done much of the work. There are no shortcuts to freedom, unfortunately, and no way to escape doing the work. Even if one has done all the work, it is still up to the grace of Isvara to grant moksa. As for pioneering, well, even if Vedanta does take you across unchartered territory, which it will, is it not worth it? Vedanta is about you, what could be more important than this? It seems to me though that your pioneering days are behind you and you are well on your way. Don’t get hung up thinking that there is anything more or less special about your story as a jiva; there isn’t. There is really only one jiva, which is the self identified with objects, under the spell of ignorance, or maya.
Syd: Do you have any ideas or anything you might recommend? Books? Should I physically attend one of your satsangs? (I don’t relish travel the way I used to but would definitely consider it). I would say I have read about half of the satsangs at ShiningWorld; are there any I might have missed about people with situations similar to mine? I don’t see anything about 75-year-olds or gay people. Of course the basic knowledge from all the satsangs has been most important.
Sundari: Continue your sadhana as you have been doing: moksa takes total commitment and dedication, 24/7. Your age and sexual orientation have no bearing on anything. Who cares? They are just false identities and are only a problem if you are identified with them. Remember that as the self you have no age, gender, sexual orientation or anything else. The e-satsangs at ShiningWorld are very important and a valuable resource, so are the videos and audio material. Moksa has to be more important to you than anything else, and anyway, self-inquiry is the only worthwhile game in town. What else is there? You have already negated most of the objects, so continue until you have negated who you think you are, which is Syd. Moksha is freedom from the apparent self/ego/mind, not for it. And equally important, moksa is for the jiva, who lives in the apparent reality.
The self, you, is self-aware and always has been free. Self-actualisation comes after self- realisation, because unless you understand what it means to be self-realised in the apparent reality, freedom is not that free. If you have not already done so, James recommends studying Dayananda’s Bhagavad Gita Home Study Course, it is excellent, but if you can physically attend one of James’ seminars, that is the best. There is nothing like being in the presence of the tradition as it is embodied by a mahatma such as James.
Syd: I admire how you “wield the knowledge” and am most grateful for your work. I have also benefited greatly from Sundari, especially her focus on the gunas.
Sundari: James says to thank you for the compliment, and I thank you as well. I am glad that you benefitted from the guna teaching. It cannot be overstated how important getting that right is. Unless one understands the gunas one will never understand Isvara and thus the discrimination of the self from the not-self is virtually impossible.
Syd: I hope you can make some sense out of this and that it’s not too long. Any comments or suggestions would be appreciated.
~ Sincerely, Syd
Sundari: It all makes perfect sense, Syd, and I hope that my comments will be helpful. You just need a little bit of confidence, as you are on the right track, very clear about who Syd is and most of the teachings. Keep up the self-inquiry, it can only increase your already existent peace of mind. We have great confidence in you!
~ Namaste, Sundari