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Narrow and Expansive Focus
Mia: Dear Sundari, thank you for sending your article on System 1 and 2. I remember reading that, but I’m glad you brought it forward again to my attention. It’s helpful to see the subtle and causal bodies defined so simply and clearly. The learning curve in the application of Vedanta to life experience can seem overwhelming at times. You wrote: “Don’t feel that you have to study the scriptures.” This is good to know.
Sundari: I am glad the article helped, Mia. The desire to study the scriptures is very natural and not to be discouraged. Rather it is to be encouraged with the proviso that one understands that Vedanta is not theory in practice. You will not be served by studying the scriptures, quoting from them verbatim or even understanding Sanskrit – unless one understands that the subject matter is you and the scripture translates into the life of the jiva. We know of many very scholarly people, some of them very famous and even seen as authorities on the scripture, who have not developed the ability to discriminate between satya and mithya: the real and the apparently real. I have attached a brilliant discourse between Ted Schmidt and one such author for you to read highlighting this scenario.
Mia: I did feel I had to study the scriptures, and this brings up another issue I would like to ask you about. It concerns what I will call “narrow and expansive focus.” It has been a lifelong habit of this jiva to “try to be very thorough” whenever learning, doing or studying anything, especially as a seeker, and this was done happily. Concentration and narrow focus was effortless and could be sustained very easily for long periods of time (for study, reading, any creative work, etc.).
Sundari: This is an essential attribute and necessary qualification of all true enquirers, as it takes total dedication to one’s sadhana and a burning desire for moksa for self-knowledge to obtain in the mind.
Mia: Several years ago I noticed a significant change in that I began to experience much more effort in concentrating on a task or project and maintaining the focus to complete it. An analogy for this would be a “funnel shape”… the narrow tip is toward a task, but now my attention flows more toward the wide expansive end. I can see the duality being set up here… so I’d like to ask you:
Is this related to the gunas? Is not wanting so much to “do things” a sign of being too tamasic?
Sundari: Yes, the duality is there, and of course the question to ask is who is working so hard to maintain focus on doing?
Doing never stops for the jiva; we will be doing or not doing (same thing) until the day we die. As Vishnudeva says, the whole point of karma yoga is not to destroy the doer or in some cases even its sense of doership. Karma yoga is meant to clear the mind of enough likes and dislikes until it becomes composed enough to do sustained inquiry. Only inquiry removes the problem of doership because it shows that you, the self, cannot be the ego (doer) that is known to you. When that is clear, the doer can appear in you, even with a trace of doership, but you do not identify with it. This is called karma jnana sanyass: negating the notion of doership, not doing or not doing per se.
The gunas govern the conditioning we are born with, so in order to render one’s likes or dislikes (vasanas) non-binding, one has to understand these three forces and how they condition the mind. When one does understand the gunas, you see that everything playing out in one’s environment is a product of the gunas and one takes appropriate action (or inaction as the case may be) in order to maintain peace of mind, which is the primary objective. Sattva is the guna springboard for moksa; without it, self-inquiry and the application of self-knowledge is very difficult, if not impossible, to maintain.
Whatever situation presents itself to you, ask yourself: Am I responding to this as the jiva identified with being a person (doer), am I responding as the jiva that knows about awareness – or am I responding as the jiva that knows it IS awareness? In all three cases, you might have a different answer as to how to respond to a given situation. The jiva identified with being a jiva will react without thinking and strive to change the situation, not to adjust its thinking; the jiva that knows about awareness but is not firm in the knowledge that it is awareness will be uncertain how to respond because it lacks self-confidence, second-guess itself, re-identify with the doer and so respond incorrectly; the jiva that knows it is awareness will follow dharma automatically and very simply choose peace of mind every time, without doubt or lack of confidence. Such a mind accepts with total calmness that whatever is going on in the mind has nothing to do with it, awareness, observes it all with dispassion knowing it will pass. That is because the self-aware self knows it is beyond the gunas and beyond Isvara – and as long as it appears a jiva, it desires peace of mind above all. To achieve this, the jivanmukta (the jiva that is firm in the knowledge that it is really the self) always responds appropriately to Isvara.
If we are not feeling good about ourselves, uncertain or lacking in confidence about action or inaction, it is because we are most likely contravening dharma on some level – either by what we do or don’t do – because ignorance is present in the mind, i.e. rajas and tamas are at play. Or there is a temporary re-identification with the doer, resulting in the self-doubt you are experiencing, a result of tamas.
Even though as a jiva one cannot not take action (no action is an action), karma yoga is an attitude towards action/inaction or reduced action. Karma yoga is performing one’s duty, cultivating the right attitude toward life, thus one is conforming to the pattern and harmony of creation and one becomes alive to the beauty of the cosmic order. If one fails to do one’s duty in whatever way, self-doubt creeps in.
It is very possible that expectations you have of the jiva who is accustomed to being a high achiever, such as doing things perfectly or at least very well, is what is causing the tamas, self-doubt. Very often the ego survives moksa, and deeper samskaras take time to surface. I had a similar samskara to dispatch! I was accustomed to bringing excellence into everything the jiva did – and “doing” it in record time. I was also accustomed to working very hard. This can be a serious impediment to implementing karma yoga and thus to moksa of course.
This is why I sent you the article on System 1 and System 2: Isvara and jiva. To live free, how we relate to our environment must be from the point of view of the subtle body, not from the causal body, i.e. Isvara, or the gunas. It is only through the subtle body that self-knowledge can purify the mind which then thinks and acts in accordance with the values that belong to the self. If this does not take place, one can mistakenly believe that Isvara is in charge – which is true up to a point. The jiva is part and parcel of its environment and so subject to Isvara’s laws. But the jiva is really jivatman, so free of Isvara. There has to be a cognitive shift in your understanding (i.e. in the subtle body) and actions need to flow from that shift to establish a new pattern in the causal body to allow Isvara to flow through that pattern. It takes a great of discipline and determination. Binding vasanas, or patterns, are not going to go away by saying that they “belong to Isvara.”
These deep samskaras need to seen and understood in the light of self-knowledge to be dissolved and rendered non-binding. The problem is one cannot work directly on samskaras, because they “belong” to the causal body. Samskaras will take time to go away – they will fade more quickly when they are fully understood in the light of self-knowledge. When it comes to deeply-entrenched samskaras it can take repeated observation and determination to render them non-binding because very often they are hidden. Prarabdha karma plays out the way it plays out and Isvara gives us what we need to see when we need to see it. The effects of ignorance have been there for a long “time” and mostly do not dissolve overnight.
When satya (which is the true nature of the mind) dominates in the mind, it becomes clear and one is able to see the natural order of creation. The right attitude is not a path. It is a commitment. Karma yoga is not a path. It is a life committed to performing action as yoga, and it takes skill to perform action with the right attitude, which is doing what is to be done whether you like it or not. Thus likes and dislikes – how I feel about the situation – do not come into play. Your likes and dislikes often prompt you to perform an action which is not conducive to peace of mind, so a karma yogi refrains from performing it because it is not proper for them. So performing actions in harmony with the natural order (dharmic actions) and avoiding actions that disturb the order (adharmic actions) is karma yoga.
It sounds to me like you do not have a problem with appropriate action; rather the ego is just a little concerned that it is either missing out on something or not doing something it is supposed to be doing. Sattvic tamas is very positive; James loves it and he has a saying: “Obey your tamas.” It is only when tamas is, well, very tamasic (out of balance) that it becomes a negative and destructive force. Unlike too much rajas whose effects are usually immediate, the effects of too much tamas take longer to manifest. Often tamas is the effect of too much rajas.
Mia: My life is pretty simple, the “seeking” has ended, I do my work as an artist (my source of income), I enjoy simple things, but I don’t feel a “passion for life” and I don’t want to engage in much social activity. I’m content to let a lot go by, but there’s a nagging doubt and confusion where the jiva is concerned. There’s even a fear of being deceived by tamoguna about this “narrow/expansive focus” issue, which relates to everything in a day, including Vedanta.
Sundari: You make perfect sense. Most inquirers go through a similar process when self-knowledge starts to become firm. The world loses its allure because one knows there is nothing to gain from it. There can be a disturbing feeling of disconnection, almost disassociation going on in the mind as the pressure of the vasanas diminishes. It is an unsettling time for the ego not quite on board with its new identity as awareness. The practice of karma yoga, which becomes just knowledge and not so much a practice any more at this stage of self-inquiry, is keeping one’s attention on the motivation behind one’s actions and adjusting one’s attitude when it is found to be vasana-producing. As stated above, with your level of self-knowledge it seems to me that the most likely case is that your motivation towards all action is very refined and your only problem perhaps is a remaining fear/vasana originating from being a high achiever, which creates ill ease in the mind. This is quite typical of rajasic/sattvic minds when sattva starts predominating. So much dispassion can feel like tamas to such a mind, and it feels uneasy because it has a sneaking suspicion that it needs to be doing “more/better or different.” The ego takes time to get used to the idea that it is free of limitation. Assimilating the knowledge that it is really limitless, unchanging, ever-present awareness can seem way too much for the little ego to handle! This should pass with the continued application of self-knowledge and karma yoga.
Remind yourself that if the mind gets caught up in a rajasic/tamasic fog, it cannot observe itself. It is caught up in the future, the thought that things need to be different, so the mind acts to correct the situation, usually in negative ways; it does not act to correct itself. When tamas predominates, the mind is too dull to discriminate; it is prone to denial and avoidance. Rajas and tamas always work together. Where you find projection (rajas) you will find denial (tamas). If self-doubt rears its head and you know that you are responding appropriately to life, meeting its demands and following dharma, ignore the tamas. Let the mind chatter on and observe it. It is just ignorance, nothing to do with you.
Whatever you do or do not do, sameness of mind towards success and failure with respect to action or inaction is another definition of yoga. When a result is looked upon as a success, attachment arises, and when it is looked upon as failure, aversion arises. In fact there is no such thing as success and failure. Every result is in accordance with the laws of action. Laws are not made by anybody; they are made by the dharma field, or Isvara, so they can never go wrong. Every result is a right result. The more you appreciate the laws, the more you are in harmony with the things around and you can find your place in the scheme of things. Action never really fails; it only produces results.
A given expectation may be said to have failed (i.e. “I should be doing more/better/different”), but the one with the expectation has not failed. That I have failed or that the action/inaction has failed is the wrong conclusion; only the expectation is the problem. So nobody fails. It is only a matter of wrong judgment.
In truth, the answer to your questions, “Is this related to the gunas? Is not wanting so much to ‘do things’ a sign of being too tamasic?” is yes – and possibly no. It depends who you think you are. Very often when the mind is still clouded by ignorance, it interprets Isvara incorrectly according to its conditioning. Remember that Isvara is karma phala datta: the one in charge of all results. These include dharma and adharma. Isvara is impersonal and has no preferences, because Isvara is taking care of the total, not individuals. How the “individual” mind responds to objects (any experience) is of no importance in the grand scheme of things for Isvara. The dharma field, or Total Mind (Isvara), remains unchanged if one is “enlightened” or not, which means prarabdha karma will play out according to the laws of the dharma field – and those law are impersonal. Prarabdha karma is the momentum of past actions that fructify as “your” life experiences in this life, but this does not make them personal, because they are not.
How one responds (i.e. action or inaction) produces likes and dislikes (vasanas) only if the result is looked upon as a success or failure. When the result is looked upon as a function of the invariable laws of action or what is even better if it is looked upon as the grace of the dharma field, no new likes and dislikes are created. The existing likes and dislikes will no doubt create desires and produce actions, but new likes and dislikes are avoided. With this attitude toward results actions born of likes and dislikes become the means of eliminating the very likes and dislikes. The mind becomes free from the agitations of elation (rajas) and depression (tamas).
Such a mind is tranquil and contemplative, irrespective of action or inaction. Contemplation is not something you do. It is the nature of sattva. It is not that the mind “becomes” sattvic; it is that self-knowledge removes the excess rajas and tamas which cause the agitation which prevents you from experiencing your true nature. When the mind is sattvic, you automatically think dispassionately about things and discrimination comes naturally from such a mind. Karma yoga produces a sattvic mind.
Mia: I hope I’ve made sense. I would appreciate any thoughts you have, and please let me know if you would rather I send questions to one of your endorsed teachers. I assume you receive many letters!
~ With much gratitude, Mia
Sundari: You make total sense, as always, and I really do not believe you have a problem. I included the teachings on karma yoga because they are so central to negating any residual sense of doership or duality. I see the agitation or doubt as a leftover from the “old” Mia who is getting used to be the “new” and free Mia – i.e. awareness! Well done to you for your dedication. Remind yourself that freedom is not about perfecting Mia; she is fine the way she is. Freedom is only about understanding the conditioning that limits Mia in the light of self-knowledge. This is where the “work” involved in self-inquiry takes place: discriminating you, awareness, from the objects that appear in you 24/7. Even though Mia as a jiva will always be limited – the essence of Mia being atman is ever free.
Much love to you too, Mia, always a pleasure to hear from you.