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How Are You Feeling?
If you’re into Vedanta, it’s because Vedanta makes you feel good. That’s obvious and it’s right, but it can also lead you astray.
Remember when you started to really get into Vedanta? Remember the feeling? Of course you do. It’s a huge deal to find that which will answer your ultimate question, and the feeling is amazing: a happy ball of levity, relief, excitement, interest, hope, anticipation – all wrapped up in an essence of perfect peace. Totally excellent!
That feeling is an appropriate reference point in the very beginning. There you are, searching and searching and searching, maybe for your whole life. And then you find something that actually makes sense and gives you fleeting moments of knowing. At this point, the feeling is a very important reference point. It’s saying, “Stay with this, it looks like this might actually be able to deliver.”
So because of that excellent feeling, you do stay with Vedanta, which means you start getting into self-inquiry. You have good days, you have bad days, just like always. But now you’re doing self-inquiry which makes the good days quite nice and consistently helps alleviate the bad feelings on the bad days.
Awesome. Vedanta is working! You’re psyched.
If you’ve gotten to this point with Vedanta, two things are happening. You’re working with understanding that you are the simple, obvious, everyday awareness that witnesses this person who’s very psyched to have found Vedanta, and doubts are arising.
As soon as that’s true for you, it’s time to completely re-evaluate what you use as a reference point for your Vedanta practice. Specifically, you have to see the excellent feeling for what it really is, just another thing (object) known to you, pure awareness.
Originally that feeling was the impetus to stay with Vedanta. Now that you are into the teachings and assimilating them, it’s time to grow up and see that in fact that feeling and the person who has that feeling are nothing more than objects, things, that are known to you, pure awareness.
Makes sense, right? Yes, of course – until your doubts arise, which will always happen when you’re inquiry is working.
Once you start chipping away at the misperception that you are a limited person who will die when the body goes, all the remaining vasanas (beliefs) start dumping their doubts. It’s much like cleansing the body. You start feeling fresh in the first couple of days, then you go through some hard days of detoxifying, and finally it all clears up.
That’s all as it should be, just the way it goes for most folks. The problem arises when one very sneaky and convincing doubt has its way with you: “I’ve been feeling depressed/anxious for weeks now. My self-inquiry is not working like it used to. I can’t get that excellent feeling back.”
It’s just a doubt. Nothing more. But it seems so true because you placed such a high value on that excellent feeling and you’re still identified with the person (who always just wants to feel good).
This is what my buddy Lon calls “blackbelt inquiry,” meaning you’ve got to be on top of your game to catch that doubt and dispatch it.
If you believe the doubt, it will disempower your inquiry, bind you to the person who suffers and you’ll feel like crap. If you see that doubt for what it is, simply a vasana arising, then you’ve stood your ground as pure awareness and can polish that vasana off, right here and right now.
Maturing in self-inquiry means discriminating between the person who is always going for experiences of happiness and the real you that is nothing but pure knowledge. Look squarely at the vasana that says, “The person should feel good all of the time.” Disregard it for the meaningless magical thinking that it is and get back to what’s important – that you are the knower of that ridiculous thought.
Remind yourself, over and over and over, that the way the person feels doesn’t matter. It has nothing to do with you. Be confident that it is totally okay to feel not very good for long periods of time when you’re doing your inquiry. It’s common, makes sense and will absolutely work out if you keep catching the doubt and returning to the Vedanta.
When you see yourself sinking to the thought that your self inquiry is not working anymore, first try direct inquiry: “I am the knower of that thought.” Work it out. If you can’t shake the funk then go to karma yoga: “I am not the controller. That which organizes all things is the controller. I’m actually given everything by that organizing principle. I let go of thinking I know what should be happening and instead I feel the gratitude of being given all of this, all the time.” Or you can use a simple reasoning like “Damn, the vasanas are really hard on the person right now. Not much good feeling in the person for a while.”
Enlightened people have not magically transformed into bliss machines. They don’t have that excellent feeling all of the time. What they have is the knowledge that whatever feeling the person experiences is of no interest because they are the pure, peaceful, content, obvious, everyday awareness that is the source and knower of that person and whatever feeling happens to be there.
If your reference point regarding your Vedanta practice revolves around how you feel, see that for the problem it is and fix it now. Doing inquiry consistently and knowing it is logically making sense to you are the ONLY reference points you ever need.
As long as you can say that you are consistently doing inquiry and that your inquiry logically makes sense to you, then stand firm in the knowledge that your Vedanta practice is perfect and keep it up, giving no value at all to the apparent feeling of the apparent person.