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Seeker: Dear Ram, this is crucial for me right now: finding a way to be consistent with what I know to be true… especially in the context of being a teacher and practitioner of psychotherapy. I certainly think that contributions to the development of a “quiet” mind is valuable… but like you say, why not just be straightforward? I suppose I think that the knowledge of the self is, paradoxically, arrived at through the ego being dissatisfied with itself. Psychoanalysis is much better at this than a lot of psychotherapies in that they do not want to provide gratification within the relationship and consider that harmful. They want the patient to realize there is no “inner child” or whatever, and no “unmet needs” that you must have met. I intend to integrate what I know with what I do in a way that is dharmic. But how “clear,” “peaceful,” does someone have to be to successfully inquire into the nature of the self? I guess that the reality is that people in great turmoil can “get it,” but others imagine they “need” an inner peacefulness, so it is a good idea to respond to this for a while.
Ram: A successful inquiry is a long process. Ignorance takes many subtle forms and one needs to keep working on it patiently. For it to proceed properly, there needs to be a conviction that “the world” – meaning relationships, situations, objects, etc. – is definitely incapable of giving lasting satisfaction. As long as the person holds onto the belief that he or she is just a victim of bad luck, that when Jupiter passes through the sixth house his or her ship will appear on the horizon, he or she will keep giving in to samsaric thinking – and this will cause a fair amount of emotional distress and compromise his or her ability to actually resist samsaric fantasies and delusions. In Vedic spiritual culture such a person is said to be discriminating and dispassionate. The dispassion arises out the discrimination that relationship with the world will not do the trick. The kind of insight that comes from “great turmoil” is very useful in getting one to analyze one’s priorities and set one on the path of inquiry, but unless it is supported by a rigorous sadhana in a conducive environment (which is the only thing that will bring abiding peace), the person will usually become an experience junkie and live in such an intense way that he or she gets regular epiphanies. As a consequence the whole samsaric attitude, the belief that something outside (a “spiritual” experience) is needed to make one happy, will survive the transition from a worldly to a spiritual lifestyle – and make it virtually impossible to maintain an inquiring mind. In fact these people actively resist inquiry. They usually condemn it as “intellectual” and dismiss it out of hand.
I’m meeting quite a few people lately who came into the spiritual world many years ago because an intense trauma led to an “awakening” and who quite innocently defined enlightenment as the ultimate experience, one that would be gained by living a certain way (following a yogic path, for example, like “kundalini” which promises mind-blowing, transcendental experiences) but who after many years realized that the core personality is still the same as it was before they took up a spiritual path and that the “permanent transcendental state of infinite bliss” was as elusive as ever. After a period of disillusionment these people are usually quite peaceful and mature and tend to accept themselves in a way that allows them to actually practice inquiry. I think that one place a therapist can be useful is in helping the person convert his or her dissatisfaction into inquiry by illumining the thought process that underlies the sense of dissatisfaction. People are not happy because they see themselves and the world incorrectly. They think there is something wrong with them and they believe that “change” can make it all better. But in reality the determination that something is wrong needs to be examined. This is where an inquiry into childhood can be useful because it is in childhood that one gets quite innocently gets saddled with a limited self-concept, sadly at the hands of those who are meant to love and care for them. Anyway, when one discovers that what is actually “wrong” is the way one thinks about his or herself and the world. So “change” is not about changing who one is, but how one thinks.
The people who are chasing peace need to be encouraged. They will usually end up quite happy and complacent. It is very rare for a person to see the limitation of peace because it feels so good compared to the experience of life in emotional turmoil. This is probably about the limit of therapy. And if at this point there is still a subtle dissatisfaction or boredom, the idea “is this all?” – like a grain of sand in one’s shoe – disturbs the mind, the person is ready for a guru because the problem now is that the person thinks he or she is a person, albeit a happy one – which is nonetheless an unacceptable limitation. At this point the inquiry should take the form of into the nature of the “I.” Is the “I” limited or unlimited? Is it complete or incomplete? Is it separate from its experience or is it non-separate?, etc. But if it doesn’t, it isn’t the kiss of death. Peaceful is good. Happy is good.
~ Love, Ram