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Paul: I haven’t been in touch since last March. My life got very busy and complicated shortly thereafter, and I haven’t had time to continue to focus on Vedanta. I was just rereading some of our correspondance, and am annoyed by the degree to which it is all Greek to me now. I think I will reread How to Attain Enlightenment to get back up to speed.
I had a major surgery in September, and immediately thereafter my mother fractured her pelvis. She is 92, and at that age fractures invariably lead to one complication after another. I had to decide whether to continue to care for her or place her in a care facility. Ultimately, I kept her at home. It has been a rocky road since then. I finally have her stabilized and comfortable now, but she is not the person she was four months ago.
I bring all this up because living with someone who is declining fast physically and mentally is difficult, but also a kind of gift. It forces one to confront mortality on a daily basis, which puts things in perspective. Her mind is confused, and she often mixes up different times and places in her life, which illustrates to what a degree our apparent reality is a mental construct. It can be frightening to watch everything slip away from her; in fact I am watching her very personhood dissolve into nothing. Seeing that, I reflect on how the identity I take for granted is no more than a tissue of illusions. It ceases to be scary though when I detach from my ego and identify with the unconditioned awareness behind it.
At other times I feel guilty for “devaluing” her – and my – individuality in that way. It feels traitorous, if you see what I mean. As a Westerner, it is difficult to get past a kind of moral imperative to value the “soul” above all. I understand the position of Vedanta toward all this intellectually, but it isn’t in my “gut” yet. I still react emotionally according to the precepts of my culture.
James: The “soul” is the self, so why devalue it? Non-duality means everything is of equal value, so everything is worthy of love. You have the wrong idea of Vedanta, I think.
Paul: Which brings me to another, more trivial, matter. I feel an aversion whenever I see Westerners adopting the language and cultural gestures of India. It always feels so phony to me. I have this image of pretentious yuppies trying on the latest cultural fashion.
James: I agree.
Paul: Frankly, it even bugs me that you are being referred to as “Ram.”
James: So for people with Hindu samskaras I am Ram, and for people who find it precious or pretentious like you, I am James. Take your pick. It is all the same to me.
Paul: You talk a lot in your book about the ridiculous enlightenment industry of India, that caters to – exploits – gullible Westerners. I can’t stomach that. Is that a reasonable feeling or am I just being a cultural snob?
James: People exploit people in every walk of life. It is par for the course. Why have a problem with it? I can’t say that I feel very strongly about it one way or the other.
Paul: I am also bothered when you say that one requirement for enlightenment is “trust in the scriptures.” That sounds uncomfortably like the Western idea of “revealed truth,” which is just a fancy way of saying: “It’s true because I say so.” I can’t accept that.
James: Trust pending the results of investigation. Vedanta gives you a method to check the veracity of scripture concerning its contention that you are limitless. I think you need to reread my book. It sounds like you aren’t feeling all that well these days, Paul. It is understandable what with what you have been through.
Maybe you would benefit from reading the satsangs at the website – particularly the new satsangs posted in the last year. The testimonials are pretty impressive.
Vedanta works. Or maybe you would enjoy watching the video series. There are 110 hours of teaching on a USB stick for $200 – the deal of the century! They are excellent, very popular. I think you need some uplifting thoughts and clear guidance on how to discriminate. Watch one every day or two. The first series – Self Inquiry – goes hand in hand with the book. Then you can tackle the Bhagavad Gita.
Your karma yoga needs a bit of work, I think.
Paul: I still have trouble with the concept of the self being “actionless.” If the self is all-in-all, and the world is full of action, how can the self be actionless? I suspect you will say that the world of action is only an apparent reality, i.e. maya. But that is only to say the world is nothing but thoughts of the self, isn’t it? And aren’t thoughts actions?
James: Yes, indeed. But the one that knows the thoughts is unchanging. You are missing the essential factor, that part of you that does not change.
Paul: I know this is disjointed and poorly thought out. But I’m afraid it is the best I can do right now.
James: It’s okay. You are right. It’s time to start over. You are not happy. I think the videos would be best. It is less hard to misunderstand. Just think of me as James to keep your dander down. ☺
Paul: Congratulations on your marriage.
James: Thanks. I love marriage. I have a fabulous wife. We get along like two peas in a pod. Take care of yourself.
~ Love, James