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Yoga, Meditation, Money and Vedanta
Kelly: Hi, Ram and Sundari. My name is Kelly, and I’m from Sydney, Australia, which unfortunately makes the webinar a bit tricky for me time-wise. I wanted to take this opportunity to write to you both and thank you for offering such valuable teachings.
I found out about James through a meditation teacher by the name of Swami Pujan. We first met and became friends a number of years ago on a yoga retreat in Byron Bay. I mentioned to him that I was doing a meditation teaching diploma through Gita International Yoga in Melbourne so that I could teach meditation classes to students at school. I am not a school teacher per se, I work as an administrator doing student services for senior years in a private girls’ school, but I want to break away from my current role and engage with the students and staff on a well-being level, which is why I am so passionate about teaching meditation. I completed my course at the end of last year, and as of next week I will start teaching staff and students who are interested. The course gave me knowledge to teach an introduction course on meditation which includes a variety of techniques from simple breathing awareness to visualisation techniques. The great news is that meditation in Australia is becoming more mainstream, especially in education where students are being taught the benefits of being more mindful, how it can help reduce stress, anxiety, help with sleep and focus. There are a lot of not-for-profit organisations in Australia that also have mobile apps that can be used to support the practice.
On a personal note, I have practised many techniques, but now have a strong interest in the study of Vedanta, hence writing to you. I have been practicing yoga and meditation for a while having studied Buddhism in 2011 for a few years before then deciding that I didn’t need religion to feel spiritually-connected. Last year towards the end of my teaching diploma, to strengthen my own practice I was taught Vedic Meditation (TM) by a teacher who was taught by Thom Knowles, who was a student of Maharishi. Thom Knowles is based in the US, so I am sure you are aware of him.
When I first started increasing my meditations to 20 minutes twice daily, I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t feeling more calm; if anything, I was feeling more overwhelmed and frustrated. It was during that time that Swami Pujan made a visit to Melbourne for the weekend. I contacted him and we caught up again. I explained to him how I was feeling: overwhelmed, I felt a sense of hopelessness, being very critical and hard on myself because I wasn’t feeling better. His simple answer was, “Kelly, right now, in this moment, you are perfect, you don’t need to change anything, you just need the right knowledge to understand this, and I will help you.” It was then that he gave me your name and linked me to your website. That day I ordered James’ first book and a month later I finish reading it while on a volunteer holiday teaching English in Thailand in December/January. I had never read anything like it before, and I have been taught and read a lot of information on the mind/body connection. In that moment I understood what Swami Pujan meant: I had found the answer to everything, I no longer needed to search for anything else to make me happy, I just needed to understand the truth, remove my ignorance and access my pure state of conscious, ordinary, limitless awareness.
When I got back from my trip I continued to meditate daily, but with a deeper understanding of why I was meditating. Because I had paid $1,000 upfront to be taught Vedic Meditation (TM), it meant that I could attend weekly group meditation sessions with my teacher and others for free on Sundays, which I still do and enjoy. Over the last six months I have became a part of small Vedic meditation community; at first this made me so excited, as I felt like I had found teachers that gave similar teachings to you rather than trying to do it on my own. My passion on the subject made me sign up to a six-week course they offered called “Exploring the Vedas,” which meant for a whole weekend, every few months, in a group of around 15 we listen to recordings by Thom Knowles on Vedanta, ask questions of both teachers during the entire weekend to deepen our understanding of Vedic knowledge. The weekend also included doing rounding, which I was taught before the course began. The weekends are not cheap though, costing $600 each time. I remember mentioning this to Swami before originally signing up, that I was concerned about the cost; he told me I shouldn’t pay that much; however, after I had read your book, and Swami Pujan not being in Melbourne, I felt like it was the only way I could continue learning about Vedanta by teachers, even if it was a large amount of money each time.
The reason why I am writing to you is because I am once again finding myself in a position that makes me feel uncomfortable and I remember reading about this in your book regarding finding a teacher that is right for you. I recently bought and read James’ second book; I actually read it and then reread each chapter because I found the information once again so valuable. I also ordered the video recordings of James’ teaching lessons ,which I have yet to watch, but plan on doing so over the next few months. I have printed off the questions on the 12-month course so I can actually go back to each chapter and do what you have suggested to further understand the knowledge in the book. I plan on making a donation in regards to this, as I feel it is very helpful.
Why I am writing is because I find myself in a situation whereby I am starting to question my current Vedic meditation teacher in Melbourne and I wanted some advice, please, if you are able to give some. My current meditation teacher feels I should do the initiator teacher training next year to deepen my knowledge and understanding so that I can become a Vedic meditation teacher because he knows this is what I am passionate about. But to do this course, it is going to cost $17,000!! (two months would be spent in an ashram in India, but I still need to pay for my flights). I wonder if that is a large amount of money for that sort of learning? It feels that way to me and then I think ,why would my teacher, who claims to be living and breathing Vedanta, need or want that much money from one person?
Where I feel lost is that I value having a teacher of Vedanta that I can see in person and ask questions, meditate with and help me deepen my practice so one day I can help others do the same. I also look up to my teacher; he is the co-founder of a non-profit organisation, making meditation more accessible and mainstream, helping a lot of people start meditating as a way to de-stress and access their true nature. There is a part of me that wants to work with him, have him as my mentor, my guru; however, there is the other part of me that questions his ego when it comes to being in the media spotlight, and I feel he is a bit elitist when it comes to his organisation over others. I remember reading about this in the book. Please note that I write all of this in hope that my opinion is kept confidential in the context of this conversation.
I would love to be taught by James; however, America is a bit of a long trip, far away from Sydney. I wanted to know if James runs any courses for students wanting to become teachers in the future. I think Swami mentioned he does one in India at the start of the year. In November this year I will be going to Madurai in India to do my yoga teacher training for one month at Sivananda.org, which I know is linked to James’ teacher, so I am very excited to learn more about Vedanta with a teacher there. I was wondering if you could advise of any teachers that are Melbourne-based that I could continue my study that may have been taught by James’ or by a similar teacher in the lineage.
I just feel torn between my current teacher, who does share a lot of great knowledge and is a wonderful guy, plus I do enjoy being part of meditation community that I can meditate with on Sundays, but the cost involved to learn more is starting to question my gut feeling if it is right for me long-term.
I know that you get a lot of emails all the time, so I just wanted to express my gratitude for taking time to read my words. If you are able to help advise, I would greatly appreciate it.
I hope to one day in the future meet you both in person, as your teachings have been so important to me on my ongoing journey of self-enquiry.
~ Love, Kelly
Sundari: Hello, Kelly. Thank you for your email.It is clear you are a dedicated and serious inquirer, and we admire your determination. It is often so difficult to find one’s way through the quagmire of the spiritual arena to self-knowledge. Certainly, one does not get to Vedanta by any action on the part of the doer; it is grace and grace is earned. There are so many so-called spiritual teachers who are basically good people but who have at best partial knowledge – and teach ignorance right alongside the knowledge. Finding Vedanta is like finding the Holy Grail. As you must have read in James’ books, and it is clear from what you say, Vedanta translated means “the knowledge that ends the quest for knowledge.” It is the end of the line for seekers who are ready to become finders, i.e. who are qualified for moksa.
The ancient tradition of Vedanta is the oldest scriptural tradition on the planet. Vedanta is called a “brahma vidya,” the science of consciousness, because it is the science of life insofar as life is consciousness. It is an objective and scientific analysis of the true nature of reality – and your experience, based on the facts. Like any other science, it is not personal and it has a methodology – which, if followed with great dedication and commitment, will provide irrefutable knowledge that is moksa, if the student is qualified. Vedanta is simply the truth about you.
Vedanta (or self-knowledge, same thing) is not a belief system, a religion or a philosophy as it is often portrayed and thought to be by those who do not understand it. Vedanta is also called apauruseya jnanam, meaning not the philosophy or experience of one person like a prophet or a mystic, as in the Buddha, Allah or Jesus. Vedanta predates all known religious or philosophical paths. It is a valid and independent means of knowledge for awareness.
You are correct that you do not need a religion to be “spiritually connected.” Religion has its place, and Vedanta encourages a religious attitude of devotion to the self, i.e. you. However, what you need is self-knowledge to reveal that you, awareness, are what everything is connected to because everything arises in you and is dependent on you to exist. All beliefs and philosophical ideas are subjective interpretations based on dualistic thinking (ignorance). Self knowledge is not personal truth. It is the truth that consciousness, the Creator, the creation and the individual are one, although they exist in apparently different orders of reality: that of the real (what is always present and never changes) and the apparently real (that which is not always present and always changing, i.e. all objects). Vedanta will set you free if properly taught by a qualified teacher – and, very importantly, if the mind is qualified to assimilate it.
About a teacher: like all spiritual traditions, Vedanta is open to abuse and interpretation by those who have their own agendas or through lack of qualifications teach “their” version of Vedanta. There are very few genuine Vedanta teachers who truly understand and honour the integrity of the sampradaya – the ancient tradition of Vedanta. James is one of the best Vedanta teachers alive on the planet right now. You are blessed to have found him. We cannot advise you what to do with regards to your teacher.
Although it is extremely beneficial to be in the presence of a qualified teacher, it is not essential. If the mind is qualified and you have read James’ books, then you have already engaged in the process of being taught by James. A guru literally means “one who dispels the darkness” and in doing so, reveals that the self is the only guru because this is a non-dual reality. James has taught thousands of people around the world and helped many find moksa, most of whom he never met. James has taught several people (myself included) to teach Vedanta with the same integrity with which he teaches. You will find all their contact details at our website. One of James’ students who realised the self and lives in Australia now runs regular courses. We recommend him as a brilliant and qualified teacher, so feel free to contact him. Ben da Silva and his wife Susan are totally dedicated to Vedanta, and you can trust them without a second thought. Ben’s email address is <firstname.lastname@example.org>. I know they might live a bit far from you, as they live in the Blue Hills, but they can also connect you to other people in Australia who might be closer to you, so that you can start your own study group.
What we suggest to people is that they watch James’ videos as a group, read parts of the book together and discuss it. If you get stuck, book a Skype meeting with James and he can help you and your group directly. All of our ShiningWorld teachers are available to help you. Ben also teaches via Skype, and Vishnudeva teaches only by Skype – and he is absolutely brilliant. What is very important in reading James’ books is that you read them slowly and carefully, signing on to the logic every step of the way. Read them several times, as they offer Vedanta at the highest level you will find. It is very beneficial to corroborate what you read with watching as many teaching videos as possible; there are free downloads at the website as well as YouTube, and you can also purchase more recent video recordings at the website. Also, we cannot stress enough how important it is to read the e-satsangs at our website. There are literally thousands of pages of high-voltage Vedanta, covering every question you could think of. We have a search function so that you can find answers to specific questions. This is part of the required protocol to be taught by us and stated clearly on our contact page. It is very good that you have signed on to the Vedanta Teaching Course. Do whatever it takes; what price freedom?
James is teaching in India in January; check out the ShiningWorld website for more details on all events. We do not run teaching courses per se, although we have cultivated and assisted the people who teach at ShiningWorld because they are qualified and have the svadharma to be Vedanta teachers. It is very rare to find this, as it is one thing to be self-realised and quite another to wield the knowledge correctly.
The money issue: we can tell you that a genuine Vedanta teacher does not charge to pass on the knowledge, because it does not belong to them. How can it belong to anyone, when the subject matter is you, awareness? If there is a charge involved, be very suspicious. James is a respected and respectful lineage-holder in this very ancient tradition. We teach by donation because we need some financial support to keep the show on the road, but we never ask for money. It is always entirely up to the inquirer if they wish to donate, and it makes no difference to us if an inquirer does not have the means to do so.
It sounds absurd to us that you have had to pay such exorbitant fees to have access to knowledge what is your birthright. The fact that you doubt your current meditation teacher and feel frustrated means that something must be amiss. Use your discrimination and common sense. One should always question one’s teacher. It sounds to me that he is not teaching self-knowledge and perhaps not even pretending to do so. He is a meditation teacher, that’s all.
Meditation: as for meditation, Vedanta is all for it. However, meditation practice does not equal self-inquiry. Meditation is a tool to aid self-inquiry; it does not equal self-inquiry. Unless one has realised that one is not the meditator but the one who knows the meditator, meditation can keep one stuck for years trying to have an experience of the self, which many meditators do have, but the problem is the identification with the experiencer/meditator (the doer) is still there. Unless the knowledge that meditation is designed to impart is fully assimilated – i.e., “I am whole and complete non-dual awareness,” and not the meditator – the experience ends because it was just that, an experience. All experience takes place in time and therefore has a beginning and an end. This is also true of any spiritual experience: epiphany, samadhi or kundalini awakening.
As you have found out, the experience of self-realisation that meditation can bring does not necessarily lead to freedom, moksa. It does not necessarily lead to peace of mind either. Stepping up the meditation practice simply compounds the problem (as you know) because the main problem is not addressed. This is why there are so many frustrated meditators or spiritual experiencers around trying to get the experience back. Even if they succeed, they will most likely “lose” the self-realisation once again because the knowledge that they are that which makes all experience possible, i.e. awareness, escapes them. Without self-knowledge and a valid means of knowledge to unfold what it means to be awareness, the benefit of meditation is lost. As soon as the meditation ends, the person is still there – with all their problems, very often even worse off than before because of the feeling of failed expectations, as you have experienced.
Meditation is no different from any other activity done to achieve a specific result; it is truly useful only if it is practiced with the karma yoga attitude. Karma yoga means consecrating every thought word and deed to Isvara (the field of existence) with an attitude of gratitude and taking whatever results that do come as prasad. It sounds to me like you have not applied this knowledge to your meditation, as you are so often disappointed by the results.But the results are not up to you.They are up to Isvara – the creative force that brings about, maintains and destroys everything in the apparent reality.
The knowledge that the meditation points to is that meditation is just another object appearing in you, allowing the reflection of the self to appear in a still mind. However, seeing as no experience can take place without you, awareness, and because as awareness you are actionless, no special experience is required to experience the self. You are always experiencing the self, whether you are meditating or not. You just don’t know this.
About self-inquiry: self-inquiry is not an experience; it is the application of discriminative knowledge. Self-inquiry is thus very different from meditation. Its success depends on the qualifications present in the mind. Self-knowledge reveals that awareness is your true nature and all experience (objects) arise from you and appear in you, but you are free of the objects. The objects are you, but you are not the objects. Keeping this knowledge in mind and continually contemplating on it is self-inquiry. This is why self-inquiry as a practice is different from meditation, because the knowledge is maintained by an act of will, whereas in meditation the knowledge, “I am awareness,” appears (or not) during a particular experience. Generally it does not appear; if it does the meditator usually does not realise the importance of the thought or understand what it means and therefore does not take awareness as his or her identity, so the knowledge is not assimilated.
Therefore self-inquiry is superior to meditation because the doer does not need to maintain a particular state and wait for the knowledge. He or she has the knowledge already and applies it continually. Meditators do not know the value of knowledge, whereas inquirers do. That is why the meditators are meditating. The act of will required for self-inquiry is a burning desire for freedom from limitation born of the knowledge that there is nothing to gain through objects. You cannot really compare self-inquiry with meditation; they are completely different. Self-inquiry involves subjecting the mind with great dedication to a valid and independent means of knowledge, i.e. Vedanta. As stated above, but bears repeating assuming self-inquiry is done correctly, i.e. with the karma yoga attitude, the necessary qualifications are present and you are taught by a qualified teacher, self-knowledge does “the work” of removing ignorance. No action taken by a limited entity can produce a limitless result, so meditation as an action without karma yoga most often results in frustration because it will not remove ignorance. Self-inquiry, on the other hand, although an action, can produce a limitless result because the outcome is self-knowledge, which is limitless and has the power to remove ignorance. Meditators in general are not interested in negating the meditator, they are interested in getting a particular experience for the meditator, so the mediator remains intact, in fact the meditator, or doer, is reinforced by meditation.
Yoga: yoga is designed for people who think they are doers. As for the other people you mention, we have never heard of Thom Knowles or Swami Pujan. Sivananda was once very briefly connected to Chinmayanda, but yoga and Vedanta part company because of the fundamental differences in their guiding principles.
Vedanta states that moksa is viveka, discrimination based on knowledge. Its fundamental principle is that only knowledge, not experience, is capable of removing ignorance. Most Westerners involved in yoga have the idea that vritti/vasana kyshaya – removal of all thoughts and vasanas – constitutes moksa. If you view moksa as yoga, i.e. chitta vritti nirodha, it is not moksa, because the self is free and can be known as one’s self whether or not the chitta vrittis exist. Yoga is good for removing vrittis, and it can successfully be argued that it is highly unlikely that a yogi will discriminate the intellect from the self if the tamasic and rajasic vrittis have not been attenuated by yoga. Vidyaranya Swami says – and we agree – yoga may be a “leading error” insofar as a yogi working on his or her samskaras and achieving various samadhis may after some time convert the desire to experience samadhi into self-inquiry that will lead to viveka, discrimination. But it is the exception rather than the rule because yogis tend to take up yoga with the belief that moksa is samadhi, not discrimination.
We say that Vedanta is superior to yoga in the context of the knowledge/experience debate about the nature of moksa, but not because we have a bone to pick with yoga. Most seekers want to relieve their suffering with some kind of beatific experience and are attracted to yoga for that reason. If they are occasionally successful they usually continue to put more effort to gain subtler and subtler samadhis. They tend to end up frustrated because no jiva can control experience – that’s Isvara’s job. You found this out for yourself. And yogis tend to have big egos because they can more or less achieve high states of mind with willpower, believing they are responsible. The doer is alive and well.
When you have self-knowledge, there is no need any more for meditation, spiritual experiences of whatever ilk or “high states” of being, because as the self you are beyond all states – you are meditation. One no longer chases the experience of awareness, because you know that you are only ever experiencing awareness, no matter what is or is not happening in the mind. There is no need for long beards and flowing robes to make a statement that one is enlightened or “look the part.” You can just be a regular and very ordinary person, living a seemingly ordinary life, knowing full well that you are not the person but awareness, thus unobtrusively experiencing an extraordinary life.
Qualifications: there is no certificate obtainable that will make you qualified as a teacher, seeker or finder or set you free of limitation.
Yes, you are perfect the way you are.You are whole and complete, unlimited, ever-present, unchanging, actionless, ordinary awareness. You cannot do anything to gain something you already have. However, if moksa is what you want more than anything else, for self-knowledge to obtain in the mind qualifications are necessary. One cannot study for these qualifications, but one can develop them through yoga, such as meditation, as a means to purify the mind. You also need a teacher capable of unfolding self-knowledge without interpreting it.
A purified mind is a mind that is dispassionate – unattached to outcome, knowing that there is nothing to gain through objects; a purified mind has discrimination – knowing the difference between you, awareness, and objects that arise in you; a purified mind has faith in the scripture pending the outcome of its investigation; a purified mind has endurance, or commitment, to stick with self-inquiry; a purified mind has control of mind and speech; a purified mind always follows dharma. And most important, a purified mind has a burning desire for liberation from bondage to objects, i.e. the idea that you are a doer.
As is indicated by the information on our contact page, I will publish this email in our e-satsang section, and it will be stripped of any personal references, not to worry. Everything we share and teach is public and belongs to everyone because there is only the self. You are not alone in your experience; it is actually a very common one with genuine seekers.
We wish you well and assure you that we are here to assist you with your self-inquiry.
~ Namaste, Sundari