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Be the Self and Worship the Self
Sundari: Namaste, Martha. I am a little surprised that you only replied to a few of the topics I discussed in the last email. Is that because you accepted my statements or because you disagreed with them?
It seems you have certain ideas about what realised people look like, talk like and how they behave. In the Gita Arjuna asks Krishna about the behaviour of a realised person and Krishna does not answer in terms of behaviour but in terms of the realised person’s attitude and understanding. This is because you cannot tell a realised person by his or her behaviour.
I think you have the idea that a self-realised person is a saint and perhaps you want to be a saint. It seems you have placed the idea of being self-realised in such a rarefied, supremely elevated place, making it quite impossible for you to reach. It also seems that you are projecting this idea outwards and thinking that a self-realised person should fit your idea of what they should be.
This is a tendency of some people who have been in the “spiritual world” so long, especially bhaktas. It seems you are in love with the idea of being holy, which creates a feeling of love and devotion and gives you a spiritual, comforting and blissful feeling. There is nothing wrong with this, it’s beautiful. Perhaps you should drop the pursuit of moksa and stay with bhakti; it is the right path for you at the moment.
I also feel that your interest in the saintliness of others is somewhat misguided. What does it matter if James is “fully” enlightened or not? It does not matter to him or me. I think it should only matter whether you are living up to your ideal. How pure and saintly and holy are you? Dharma is much more important than moksa.
If it is your dharma to be a saint, you will be a saint. If not, not. You will become a saint quickly if you understand the teachings of Vedanta because Vedanta will make you SANE, meaning you will see that you already are pure and holy because you are the self. Only the self is completely pure and holy. When you understand this you will relieve yourself of the pressure of living up to an ideal that you can never achieve. Trying to be something you aren’t is painful.
Vedanta says James is the self, I am the self, you are the self. The only question is whether you understand what it means to be the self. James and I do, so we are not trying to be holy and pure. We are holy and pure – as the self. The holy people you experience are of course exceptional beings, no one could deny that or not feel their love and peace. It does not necessarily mean they know they are the self and it does not matter either way, because they are the self and everything that seems to belong to them actually belongs to Isvara. Awareness is the most ordinary thing there is and the ONLY thing that is always present and never changes.
I feel I should point out that James does not have a teaching. He teaches Vedanta. It is not his teaching. He is the most powerful teacher of Vedanta in the West and has great effect in India as well, not because of James, but because of the amazing power of Vedanta sampradaya. My suggestion to you is, if you really want to do jnana yoga, that you study your motivations for doing so and then make sure you know what the qualifications necessary for moksa are.
One of the most important qualifications is svadharma. It means two things. It means doing your own dharma before you do the dharma of others. Krishna mentions this qualification several times in the Gita. Doing your own dharma means accepting yourself as you are, not tying to be something that you aren’t. If you are a saint, you are a saint. If not, not. You cannot become a saint by doing something. However, if you understand that you are awareness and not the Martha-person, your actions and thoughts and feelings will be compassionate and loving. If you take yourself to be a flawed human being, you will always be flawed because everything in maya is flawed. If you actually lived with these people you idolise, on a daily basis, you would find many things that do not fit with your definition of sainthood. All our gods have feet of clay.
You are doing fine on your path of devotion, it is beautiful and you are at home there. There is no right or wrong about what you do or don’t do, the self does not mind. It is the one thing you cannot lose, even if you do not know it as your true nature. But you should know that there is no conflict between devotion to Isvara and self-knowledge. It is Isvara’s will that all sentient beings get self-knowledge. What is the point of devotion if Isvara remains hidden from you, remains separate from you? Devotion to Isvara leads to knowledge of Isvara.
I told James about your miracle and he says you are very lucky to have the blessings of a great saint like Shiva Shakti Amma, but he also said that if you have non-dual vision you will see that everything large and small, good and bad, is miraculous. Or as A Course in Miracles says, there is “no order of difference in miracles.” Every moment is an epiphany.
With regard to the miracle, God is all of it. You, Shakti Amma, the man who brought the wallet, your anxiety, your relief, etc. everything, is God. Martha is not God. You are not Martha. You are awareness. You, as awareness, are “beyond” God. God, Isvara, needs you as awareness to be God and do what it does. Without you, awareness, there would be no creation.
I also read to James your statements about realised people and prayer. James said that his whole life is a prayer. Everything he does is dedicated to God. He does not show off in front of others by praying, but he does it inwardly so people do not think he is a saint and get the wrong idea. It is called upamsu bhakti. We are upamsu bhaktas. It is mentioned in the Narada Bhakti Sutras.
Many people in the spiritual world only see themselves through the eyes of others, so they want others to think they are pure and virtuous. They are concerned with the appearance of things, not the essence of things. There are many people who cover up bad thoughts with holy behaviour. But it does not work. You cannot hide the stink of the vasanas. Incidentally, vasana means “fragrance.” I am sure you know the Ramanayana if you are a bhakta. It is one of the classic texts of bhakti marga. Ravana is a good example. He did bhakti for Shiva for fifty-thousand years. He knew all the Vedas. Shiva gave him an important boon for his devotion. If you saw him you would think he was the holiest person ever. Yet he was a real demon inside.
Incidentally, if you are really serious about bhakti yoga I think you should take up a serious study of the literature of the bhaktas, the Srimad Bhagavatam, the Narada Bhakti Sutras, as many Puranas as you can read. You will see that all the issues that you are confronting now are resolved in those texts. In the eighties James practised bhakti with the greatest bhakta in India of the last half of the century, Abhadananda Maharaj, and led many kirtans at the mahatma’s feet. He went on many padayatras. James began his spiritual search as a Krishna bhakti and still worships Krishna every minute. You just cannot see it, because you are fooled by his human-being act. He is so confident in his devotion that he need not display it for others. But those with discrimination can see it. Because reality is non-dual, there is absolutely no conflict between love and knowledge.
Tiruvannamalai (like many “spiritual” places, especially in India) is full of people running away from their lives, with unresolved emotional/psychological issues. They are there under the guise of a spiritual search, but really they are hoping to find something that will make them feel less afraid, flawed and lost. They think that there is something wrong with them. It is sad because there never is. It is only their thinking that is flawed because they do not know that their true nature is awareness.
I keep an altar and I worship at it every day with great feeling. But I have a mind too, and Vedanta is a great blessing for my mind. Isvara, out of love for us, gave us Vedanta. Many people who are attracted to the path of bhakti are troubled people. They have impurities that cause them to suffer. And they believe that if they just devote themselves to some saint all their problems will go away. At the same time they become contemptuous of Vedanta because they think it is just “intellectual.” They feel superior to inquirers. And they stop thinking. They stop investigating the cause of their sufferings and rely on hope that the guru will take them away. But the problems do not go away. Nobody else can take it away, because it stands in their karmic account, not the guru’s or the saint’s. So they develop an identity as a devotee that acts like a mask that hides their unhealthy vasanas.
In reply to your problem with saying “me” when you refer to awareness, James and I have direct knowledge (aparokshajnana) of the self, so it is appropriate for us to say “me” when referring to it. But if your knowledge is indirect (paroksha) then you feel it is not true to say you are the self. The whole point of Vedanta is to convert indirect knowledge, which is good, to direct knowledge, which is better. In this way you get to be it and to worship it. So please, Martha, don’t give in to the duality of bhakti and jnana. You can practise both. There is no confict.
We have great love for you, Martha, but we are not trying to convert you to Vedanta. James does not want devotees. There are many people who think they are devoted to James, but he always says that they are devoted to Isvara and only teaches them that it is only the self that is worthy of worship. He says there is no reason why you cannot be devoted to your saints AND be open to the teachings of Vedanta.
~ Om and prem, Sundari