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The Problem with Feelings
Cynthia: Dear Ram, you are a gift to my soul. I’m not able to put into words what I feel and what it means to me having met you, having the possibility to discuss with you. I very much appreciate the way you write, your explanations and your presentations. You take care of words and their meanings in ways that are always quite important from my point of view, especially concerning the subject of non-dual reality.
I want to begin with your question, if I have had non-dual experiences. To be honest, I’m not sure! I had experiences which weren’t common. I will relate some of them and then we’ll see what you think about it.
I had some quite melting experiences in nature, as if I was an orchestra: wind, trees, colours, odours, sounds, body, feelings – all had become one, no difference at all, like being the centre of all, as if I was completely full but also empty and peace – fully satisfied, like a baby being nourished at the highest level.
Ram: I would definitely classify this as an experience of non-duality.
Cynthia: Or sometimes, for example, I run down the stairs or sit at the table with a cup of coffee or lie in bed in the morning… there is a little explosion of delight or bliss and a shout of joy coming out of my mouth. I don’t know where it comes from and it’s always very surprising and without any reason.
Ram: Happiness for which there is no reason is also the experience of the non-dual nature of the self.
Cynthia: And with my son there’s sometimes such an overwhelming love, tears running down my cheeks, connected to strong bodily feelings like heat radiating from head to toes… or a vast expansion.
Ram: Again, these are certainly experiences generated by the self to get your attention. Unconditional love without desire is a self-experience. Brahman, one of the most common words for the self, means “vast” and “expansive.”
Cynthia: Situations are quite different: in the midst of a big mess or if I could have murdered him a minute before or when he’s asleep and I have a look on him before I go to bed or even if he isn’t present in the very moment. Or dreams of the night: I sometimes dream what’s going to happen later.
Ram: I asked because one’s epiphanies should be seen as an experiential confirmation of the non-dual principle. They should build up one’s confidence to explore the inner world more carefully. Of course if your culture is dismissive of such experiences it can create doubt about your sanity rather than act as a confirmation of a greater spiritual force operating in your mind.
Cynthia: You also asked whether I’m still open to the non-dual approach. Yes, I am completely open because it is definitely the first time I’ve got the opportunity to work with it in a practical way and I’m very glad about this. In fact I now need to find out whether this approach works or not. So I will give it a try and test the theory, but the first hurdle I’ve to overcome may be the highest for me, and is – CONFIDENCE.
Ram: Well, confidence comes from putting one’s ideas into practice. Up until now there has probably not been an opportunity to find out how to apply the non-dual idea in a practical way, but this is not the kiss of death. First one needs to understand what living from the non-dual perspective means and then you set out to correct the mind/ego when it tries to steer you onto the dualistic path… which is its tendency.
Cynthia: Suspiciousness is a very well-trained muscle in my life.
Ram: This is a good example of dualistic (fear-based) thinking. It is understandable, considering the betrayal you experienced at the hands of a selfish and greedy husband, but the roots of it go deeper – right back to maya. To address this issue effectively a person needs to analyze the creation and see if is actually a threat or if it is fundamentally benign. If you can see that ours is a cosmos, not an uncertain and hostile chaos, this will go a long way to getting the mind to let go of its suspicions. Unfortunately, the society believes that fear is smart and it ceaselessly pounds this message into the collective mind with great diligence.
On the other hand, a certain amount of skepticism is definitely justified because maya has the bad habit of playing tricks – causing things to seem to be what they aren’t.
Cynthia: But as you said, I didn’t yet find a deeply satisfying way for life in psychological approaches, so we’ll see if I succeed in having confidence, for I’m aware of the importance of being confident.
Ram: From a spiritual point of view psychology suffers from the lack of an adequate definition of a healthy mind. It seems to be basically concerned with eliminating pathology without knowledge of the ultimate spiritual reason the obscuring of the self by maya. Additionally, I believe that it takes the ego to be the only self – which is a crippling limitation. As far as I know it seems to be completely uncritical about the problem of gratuitous desire, which in Western countries is responsible for so much psychological dysfunction. But I am not an expert on the topic and you are, so you are free to correct me if you wish.
Ram (from the previous email): The self, you, are the absolute value. You are what puts value in everything.
Cynthia: Do I understand correctly, saying everything that appears to Cynthia is a reflection of Cynthia’s values, and then being aware of them in terms of dharmic/adharmic effects I have little possibility of influencing them? But what if my ultimate values were murder, destruction, corruption, abuse, hatred and so on?
Ram: This is not what I meant. I meant that you, awareness, are the ultimate value. It is because you exist that life exists; without you it has no meaning. Seeing this is the fast track to confidence because it does not rely on successfully achieving one’s goals.
But if you take yourself to be Cynthia, you can change your values – when you see that they prevent you from happiness. Even though I grew up in a very good family with excellent values I was so greedy for things that I started violating dharma at a very early age. I was expelled from two schools and had several brushes with the law, and by the time I was twenty-five I had some very adharmic vasanas. Even if I had not awakened to my true nature I would have changed my values because they produced so much pain. This is what I mean when I say that even the negative things in life serve the self. I cleaned up my act – went back to the values instilled by my parents – and this made it possible for me to cultivate the kind of mind that could see the value of the non-dual vision.
Cynthia: But what if my ultimate values were murder, destruction, corruption, abuse, hatred and so on? They seem to be quite distant from any basic goodness, like Buddhism describes the self. And as you said in your letter before, those values serve the self as well because to the self each value (behaviour) is as valuable as anyone else to the self, anything is fundamentally equal, for each value takes place in the light of awareness.
If I take this seriously I think one shouldn’t discuss the topic of self-realisation in connection to behavior, value, ethical issues, lifestyle, at all. (I’m still in trouble with this question.)
Ram: Fortunately, you do not value murder, abuse, etc., so it is not a practical issue for you. I think you did not understand what I meant when I said that the bad values serve the self. Reread the second paragraph in my last reply above when I talked about my bad values.
It is certainly legitimate to link self-realization with values and behavior. The self is the source dharma. Because it is non-dual, all good values flow from it. For example, if I see you as somebody else I may be inclined to injure you – as your husband did. But if I see you as my self I will only have good intentions toward you. So there is definitely a link, but one can’t be too strict and moralistic in applying the non-dual idea to behavior – because behavior is in maya and is often not what it seems at all. Sometimes people come to me who do not have the highest moral standards, and in order to help them I sometimes have to get involved with them in such a way that from the outside one might think my behavior was morally questionable. But my intention to help neutralizes whatever negative karma might flow from my association with them – and almost invariably they are lifted up in some way and brought into the light of awareness.
Cynthia: But why is it discussed in most of the religious traditions? I’d say because if not it would open all doors of abysses in people’s mind. But if we look to people’s mind and behaviour we live in this abyss. I assume there’s nothing that doesn’t exist in maya, good or bad, and there seems to be no chance and may be no need to try to prevent anything. If everything fundamentally has the same value I mustn’t care at all what I do, what I say, in which way I behave, because it’s not me, the person Cynthia, but the self acting, speaking, behaving through all people. Right?
Ram: Good thinking, Cynthia. Right – up to a point. But let’s refine this idea a little bit. Life, good and evil, is the self functioning through the person’s vasanas. The self has no choice about it. It has to function through what is there. If the person has good values the self apparently causes saintly actions. If the person has criminal vasanas the self apparently causes criminal actions. But the self is not responsible for the specific acts – only for the power to act – because it did not create the vehicles through which it functions – maya (ignorance of the self) did.
Cynthia: I can only trust the self being okay; there’s no need to reflect on anything I’ve done or I’ve said. Right?
Ram: As the self, right. But the self is not a doer, so it is only indirectly responsible for action. However, as Cynthia it is always good to reflect because you, Cynthia, have some control over your values and if they are not the highest you can change them. For example, suspicion is a pretty unhealthy value. Do you want the self to be forced to (apparently) manifest this kind of duality through you?
Cynthia: Because I’m not a person, there’s no need to take any responsibility, because the self takes responsibility and works out everything, nothing to do for Cynthia or any other person. Is this the way of acceptance Vedanta is asking?
Ram: Yes. Pretty good thinking, Cynthia, but for the self the whole question of responsibility is a non-issue. It is either responsible for everything or for nothing – depending on how you see it. If it is responsible for everything and there is a Cynthia apart from the self then Cynthia doesn’t need to worry about it, as you reasoned. She should just follow her nature freely and let the self run the whole universe – as it does anyway without Cynthia’s permission. Maya is going to be what it is regardless of our feelings and judgments about it. It is really pointless to be concerned with what is wrong with maya. Yes, because of maya there is plenty of wickedness in the world, but allowing your judgment of this to poison your mind is not wise – since there is nothing you can do about it – except work patiently to remove the maya in your own mind through self/Self understanding.
If you are the self and the self alone, responsibility and value issues are non-issues. Why? Because from the self’s point of view maya is fundamentally empty – which means that both dharma and adharma are unreal.
Cynthia: And can you tell me how I can bear all those terrible things, like parents letting their child die of hunger and thirst right here to my neighbourhood? I can’t prevent crying immediately when I remember that. And there are thousands of incredible cruelties and dreadful things happening every minute all over the world. I’m not capable of listening to the news every day. I can’t stand it.
Ram: Compassion is a sign of non-dual vision. Your feelings are completely justified. But since you have no control over beginningless ignorance (Original Sin), you should not let compassion make you bitter or angry or depressed or fearful. This only adds to the collective misery. At some point, irrational and unjust as it seems, you will have to come to peace with maya in all its beauty and ugliness.
And then there is the question of what exactly you are weeping for. I call attention to the second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita. In it Arjuna sees the evils of war, gets emotional and refuses to do his duty as the commander-in-chief of the army. What Krishna says (Krishna represents the point of view of the self) is quite shocking, but nonetheless true. He says, “You grieve for those who deserve no grief and yet you speak words of wisdom. The wise grieve neither for the dead nor for the living.”
Then he goes on to tell why. “Never did I not exist nor you nor these rulers of men; nor will any one of us ever hereafter cease to be. As in this body infancy and youth and old age come to the embodied self so does the acquisition of another body; a sensible man is not deceived about this. The contacts of the senses with their respective objects which produce cold and heat, pleasure and pain are not permanent, they endlessly come and go. The sensible person who understands this is ready for immortality (self-realization).”
He continues: “There is no existence for that which is unreal (maya); there is no non- existence for that which is real (the self). And the (correct) understanding of both (maya and the self) is known to those who perceive the truth.
“Know that (the self) to be indestructible which pervades all this; no one can destroy the self. The three bodies which pertain to the indestructible, eternal and indefinable self are perishable. Therefore stand up and fight!
“The person who thinks the self is a killer or that the self can be killed knows nothing. It kills not nor is it killed. It is not born nor does it ever die nor, having existed, does it exist no more. Unborn, everlasting, unchangeable and primeval, it is not killed when the body is killed. How can someone who knows the self for what it is cause death?
“As a man casts off old clothes and puts on new ones, so the embodied self casts off old bodies and takes up new ones. Weapons cannot cut it into pieces; fire does not burn it, waters do not wet it and the wind does not dry it out. It is everlasting, all-pervading, stable, firm and eternal. Therefore knowing it as it is you ought not to grieve.
“But even if you think that it is constantly born and constantly dies, still you ought not to grieve. For to one that is born death is certain and to one that dies birth is certain. Therefore about what is unavoidable you ought not to grieve.”
Not surprisingly, Arjuna did not get it right away. It is always difficult for people to understand this. Nonetheless, after he received the teachings of Vedanta he realized the self, saw that this was true, took up his weapons and went to war.
It is quite natural to get emotional about the evils of the world, but it is basically useless. One should always ask what the tears are for. Are they really for the world or are they only tears of self-pity?
Ram (from the previous email): If you do not know that you are the ultimate value, you allow the vasanas to project value onto objects and then you foolishly run toward or away from those objects.
Cynthia: To make this more clear to me, let’s take an example of my life. My ex-husband, a so-called spiritual teacher, had developed a love affair with a client and he denied it for months. There were indications that our relationship was changing and I had a clear dream about his affair a year before he told me. After it had become sexual he told me that it was true.
He said that never before he felt so deeply loved in his life. So I said, “Okay, let us divorce, you are free.” We got separated and two months later the wonderful loving young lady married another man and my husband found himself in bed with another client. Two months later our son should be integrated into that new family (the new girlfriend also has a son). There were a lot more of those (to me) very strange and surprising activities coming from him. I didn’t get to know this side of him in all the 16 years we were living together. In the end I blamed him for destroying our whole relationship and told him I lost respect for him for leaving me completely alone because I was not interested in any kind of friendship as he wished to have.
Being separated from him wasn’t difficult to accept. It was quite surprising how many positive effects turned out for me. It was the behaviour I had problems with: lying and denying for months, abuse of trust, sexual abuse of clients he worked with for years, an incredible chaos of money affairs – it felt like a stab in the back to me.
So what does this mean to me in terms of your sentence above?
I did a lot of foolish things when I was young. I hurt people, men and women; I guess there’s no need to go into detail. Is this the reflection of what I’ve done when I was young, effects of karma? And how can I apply the Vedantic theory on this happening?
Ram: This is how one behaves when one does not know who he or she is. No one is responsible for this. Everyone gets caught in the trap of self-ignorance, suffers and causes suffering for others. There is no blame. People honestly come to the conclusions about who they are and what life is. Nobody starts out in life thinking, “I think I’ll completely delude myself about who I am and what the nature of the world is so that I can make a mess out of my life and suffer.” The ignorance is built-in. It is absorbed by osmosis; it is everywhere, and you swallow the whole thing without thinking.
Cynthia: Do you want to tell me that I probably needed much more frustration, as I already had to find the way out of maya or to be inspired enough to seek for the self?
Ram: It seems you’ve had enough frustration. I’m sure there is a connection between your interest in non-dual thought and the misery, so it has served some useful function.
Cynthia: You probably won’t believe me, but it’s easier for me to think in terms of there’s no maya than there’s maya and the self. But what is the conflict then? I guess the conflict is a lack of confidence. I sometimes admire people who are able to say all is lying in the hands of the Lord. And they are completely convinced of what they say. They just don’t think about it and seem to be free or at least it enables them not to suffer too much.
Ram: Yes, seeing it only as the self is the best way. Faith is confidence. Even if you don’t accept it one hundred percent you should act as if you do. In Vedanta we say, If you can’t make it, fake it, meaning that because this is actually non-dual reality your belief in it is justified. And with faith you act differently. You take chances that you would not normally take; you cause things to happen that experientially validate your belief. And in this way your faith is strengthened. Ramana said that surrender to the Lord was equal to self-inquiry as a spiritual path.
Cynthia: What is confidence? It could be a quite positive identification in case you had the luck of having parents who give you an impact of confidence by their education, by nourishing your needs and helping you to develop a firm ego. But having confidence in something that is not describable, without a name, unseen and not felt, means that in the end you have confidence in nothingness!?
And this again seem to be a bit easier than to believe in the self as being LOVE… for nothingness doesn’t have so many connotations that do not fit in everyday life.
Ram: So you are saying that you don’t exist, that you are nothing? We are not talking about faith in nothingness. We are talking about faith in you. In a way mine is a ridiculous statement because you can’t have faith in you. Why? Because you are you. When you see that you exist and you sit with it a while you see that you are non-dual. Translating your non-dual nature into maya equals love. Love is just the recognition that there is no separation between you and the objects that appear in your awareness.
Ram (from the previous email): If there is no maya then all this is the self. And if it is the self, then where are the problems? The problems only come because you see things dualistically, as a maya and a self.
Cynthia: I’m sorry, I can’t see the logic. Why presume that problems only come by seeing things dualistically? I clearly see that I’m stupid and clever, I’m a prostitute and a saint, I’m a man and a woman, I’m clear and I’m dull… always I find parts of this and parts of that, obviously, not at the same time, but who knows? I’m both and it depends on I don’t know what if I experience one side or the other. But to me this is reality, being one and the other, being polar. Nonetheless, there is a problem in acceptance. Today I can accept what I can’t accept tomorrow. That’s strange, isn’t it? I feel like a pennant in the wind. Emotions are the wind.
Ram: If you are the self (and in a non-dual reality you could only be the self), everything has equal value to everything else. To quote the Yoga Shastra, “A yogi in samadhi (seeing from the self as the self) sees no difference between the excreta of a cow and a lump of gold.” Problems come from differences. The big problem is that there is an “I” and then there is the world. And the “I” seems to be quite different from the world. So the transactions between the “I” and the world are subject to all kinds of errors and corrections. Another big problem is that the “I” is taken to be limited when it is in fact limitless. This is a dualistic issue. Your confidence issue is directly related to the belief that you are limited, separate and inadequate.
But never mind whether this is a non-dual reality or a dual reality or a multiplicity or a plurality or anything else, you have to take it as it is if you are going to be happy. Or as you say, you have to accept it. Acceptance is the same as confidence. When you have confidence in yourself it is easy to accept reality, dual or non-dual. So the key to confidence is to get the right idea of who you are. And we are working on this.
Ram (from a previous email): The important conclusion to come to is that you understand that the self has the whole situation under control and that you are free to do what is right for you. It is a big trap to worry about the big picture. If you take care of your own little piece of the puzzle, everything is fine.
Cynthia: I’m going to bathe in these three sentences for the rest of my life, what a relaxation!!!!
Ram: Good for you!
Cynthia: Hopefully, I won’t forget it! But where do you know it from? How come you know and I don’t know, to be exact, didn’t know, until now. Do I have to believe you at first again or can you give some explanation for your statement?
Ram: To me it is obvious. I didn’t create myself. I didn’t make the world. I appeared here through no will of my own and by observation I realized that life is a fully conscious, fully functioning organism that has been going on for billions of years before I came and will continue on for billions of years after I leave. What does it have to do with me? I see it. It appears on the screen of my awareness, plays a short time like a movie and then disappears. What do I have to do with it?
If you want to believe me, believe me. But if belief doesn’t work, have a look for yourself.
And if you forget it, I’ll remind you. And if you forget too much, I’ll come all the way across the ocean and give you a good spanking.
Most people are burdened with an inflated sense of self-importance. They think they are responsible for the whole damn world. It is a kind of narcissism. They want to think of themselves as saintly, concerned people, candidates for heaven. They try to mess with everything (to “make a difference,” as we say in the States) but it is just vanity; they want to impress themselves and the world with their incredible compassion. But what do we actually have to do with any of it? Take your son, for example. How much of him is yours? You gave an egg and that useless ex-husband of yours gave a wiggly little sperm – wow, what a contribution! True, you carried him around in your body for nine months, but the self did all the hard work – turning those two microscopic little bits of matter into a fully functioning organism and then sustaining the body-mind complex for seventeen years. The whole thing – life/maya – is an amazing miracle. Did you know that the ruby-throated hummingbird spends summers in Canada and winters in South America ? Where does such a tiny little bird get the energy and the confidence to do that for twenty years? And how much do you have to do with any of it – apart from illumining it with awareness?
Anyway, I feel a big long satsang coming on and I don’t want to scare you away with a veritable tsunami of eloquent words, so I’ll pack it in on this idea and let you think about it a bit.
Ram (from a previous email): If you realize that you are the self, the negative tendencies are neutralized automatically. This is not to say that they won’t arise, but that they have no effect. They are non-binding, meaning you won’t act them out.
Cynthia: Does this mean that I can recognize in a spiritual teacher’s behaviour whether he or she is self-realised or not? Same old question!!
I’d actually answer no, looking at our discussing above, but looking at your formulation here, the conclusion seem to be yes.
Ram: You’re right. It’s both yes and no, depending on the way you look at it. The best thing is not to worry too much about others’ behavior – just about one’s own.
Cynthia: The self-knowledge idea seems to be helpful in dealing with my feelings. I’m sad one minute and happy the next. One shouldn’t be too serious about feelings. I guess it won’t change even if the self is realised, but probably easy to accept anything that appears.
Is it like that, Ram?
Ram: Yes, it is like that. The problem is not the feelings, it’s the value you place on feelings. Why put so much value on feelings? In the good old days people didn’t make such a fuss about what they “felt” and the world was better for it, I’d say. Today it is the fashion to have “feelings” and to make a big identity out of them. Feelings are notoriously fickle; you can’t count on them. As you point out, one minute you’re happy and the next minute you’re sad – when you identify with them. They are this way when the ideas behind them are contradictory. Vedanta will smooth out your feelings and make them very stable and reliable – because they will be based on a clear understanding of reality – not on conditioned beliefs and opinions.
Enough already! I hope your find this useful. As always, I am yours in love.