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Words and Vedanta
Margot: Dear Sundari, you are very, very, very sweet!! Thank you so much for your kind and thorough email. I am very appreciative of all the time you took to write to me and to explain things. Sundari, what you call the self, I know IT already.
Sundari: I know you know it. That does not mean you know what it means to be awareness. Knowing about awareness is indirect knowledge; this is called self-realisation. It is a very good start; it is where the “work” of self-inquiry begins. For direct knowledge to obtain in the mind, what we call self-actualisation, means (1) that one has fully discriminated the self (consciousness) from the objects appearing in it (all objects, meaning all gross objects as well as one’s conditioning, thoughts and feelings – all experience) and (2) that that knowledge has (a) rendered the binding vasanas non-binding and (b) negated one’s sense of doership.
Once the knowledge is firm, one sees everything from the point of view of awareness first, second as the jiva (person), and one never confuses the two again. This is discriminating the self, you (satya), from the objects that appear in you (mithya), at all times regardless of how the person is feeling. Self-actualisation is the consistent, total application of self-knowledge to one’s life.
Unless self-knowledge translates fully into the life of the person it cannot be said that self-actualisation has taken place, because the person will still be identified with certain aspects of being a person – or a doer. In other words, binding vasanas and the sense of doership, or egoic belief in separation, will still be causing agitation in the mind. In order for existential suffering to end and for awareness to be one’s primary identity, the person needs to be free of the idea of being a person in order to live free as the self. What is the point of self-realisation if the mind is still under the tyranny of its likes and dislikes (vasanas)?
One can only fully actualise self-knowledge when one has understood the identity between awareness, Isvara and the jiva. This is where most people get stuck (or come un-stuck) in their self-inquiry and it is why many self-realised people do not self-actualise. Understanding Isvara is the key. This is probably one of the most important teachings in Vedanta, and Vedanta is the only teaching that definitively and irrefutably explains this.
Margot: I realized from your response that my terminology is different from the one you use. Therefore you took my words to mean something different from what I had meant. This is the problem with words – particularly when talking about this subject when different traditions come together and different words are used. What one specific word might mean to one person may mean something completely different to another person.
Sundari: Language is indeed a tricky aspect in self-inquiry – perhaps one of the most important to establish off the bat. We need to be very careful with how we use words because so far our own scientific and spiritual traditions have come up woefully short as far as self-knowledge and intelligent living are concerned. Vedanta offers direct knowledge using the implied meaning of words when they are unfolded through a specific methodology, which is the tradition of Vedanta. This methodology offers a valid means of knowledge, a toolkit, as it were, with which to unpack one’s life in the light of self-knowledge, not in the light of one’s own (or anyone else’s) opinions or beliefs. For people who are new to Vedanta and unfamiliar with its terminology, the way they use words often poses a problem for them. Ignorance is unconsciously woven into the way we use words.
The thing to bear in mind when we talk about words in any language is that all language is dualistic by its very nature. It cannot be otherwise, because words originate from and remain in the apparent reality. Even “awareness” implies “unawareness,” “pure” implies “impure,” “conscious” implies “unconscious” – and so on. All words are open to interpretation and have implied meanings as well as ostensible meanings. Two people can use the same words and mean two different things, as you point out. Most problems arise because of the way one interprets words, which will be according to the way the mind is conditioned by the vasanas. All words are thus limited and can only point to awareness.No words can adequately describe that which is without qualities, has no parts, never changes and is always present. Awareness is “above the line,” so to speak, meaning in the order of reality that is unchanging and always present; the apparent reality is “below the line,” metaphorically speaking (the order of reality that is not always present and always changing). The apparent reality reflects awareness and would not exist without it, but it does not exist in the same order of reality as “pure” awareness. The discrimination of the real from the apparently real, or awareness from the objects that arise in awareness, is the basis of moksa and non-dual vision.
Vedanta scripture (sruti) agrees on the fact that it is not describable by words, but not with the conclusion that it is impossible to gain direct knowledge using words. Vedanta scripture states that awareness cannot be described by words; however, Vedanta can give you direct knowledge by the implied meaning of words when they are unfolded through a specific methodology as laid out by the sampradaya, the great tradition of Vedanta.
We can refute this statement by objecting that something that cannot be described cannot be known. The taste of “sweet” cannot be communicated by words, therefore it is indescribable. If somebody does not know what sweetness is, no words will be able to describe it. However, it is very easy to know sweetness because it can be objectified. If you eat it a sugar cube and taste sweetness, you will know sweetness. The problem is that for self-knowledge this will not work, because awareness is the ultimate subject and cannot be objectified. So how do we teach the self? It is beyond the only means we have at our disposal to know anything: perception and inference. We need a means of knowledge capable of revealing it, which is self-knowledge, or Vedanta.
Scripture uses only words of truth, knowledge and limitlessness combined. They are all needed to precisely imply and point to the true nature of reality, which is that it is non-dual.Since Vedanta as a teaching is pointing to you, awareness, and you actually already know yourself, but because of maya you have a superimposed notion about yourself as body-mind, scripture is able to give you direct knowledge of yourself by implication.
It is not just the terminology you used that I based my reply on. I based my replies to you on statements you made and the kind of question you asked. If you truly understood what it means to be awareness and were not identified with the person (mind/body/intellect), you would not have had a doubt about how to “function in the world as a woman.” The self, you, awareness – whatever you want to call, have no gender.
Margot: When the self (your term) first made itself known in my life, I had no idea what was happening. I was not a spiritual seeker nor had I heard that enlightenment existed. The only thing I could say at the time (and still now) about it is that the self (your term) was/is no-thingness/allness (my term). The words that came to me at the time to describe to myself what was happening were “emptiness, hollowness, void, nothingness, no-self.” Where “Margot” once had been, and the “Margot” that was so full of “Margot” before, now only emptiness, or no-thingness, was there, along with immense peace, quiet, clarity, stillness and aliveness.
Sundari: First of all, I don’t have any personal terminology. The word “self” is not my term. As a qualified teacher of Vedanta, I use words very carefully and deliberately as taught to me by my teacher, James – and as taught to him by his teacher, who was taught by his teacher, right on up the line as far as the lineage goes. Vedanta has evolved over thousands of years, predating any other teaching, but actually it always existed because it is simply the truth about you. This is not our teaching, we are merely mouthpieces for the truth about you.
One has to use words to express oneself, and in Vedanta, as explained above, we use words as carefully and as accurately as possible, knowing that they are the finger pointing at the moon, they are not the moon. Non-dual vision, or Vedanta, is not open to interpretation; it is not based on opinion or belief and does not belong to anyone. It is called the science of consciousness because it is the very foundation of life itself. It is the knowledge that underpins all other knowledge. Vedanta is called apaurusheya jnanam, meaning beyond or independent of the mind of man and revealed to the mind – not thought up by the mind of man, not as religions claim to be the word of God, but the same way knowledge of anything has been uncovered: like Edison supposedly “discovering” electricity or Einstein’s discovery that energy and matter are the same thing. These great minds along with all great minds throughout “time” never invented or created anything. The knowledge of what they uncovered was revealed to the mind.
However, the knowledge of objects is very different to self-knowledge:
Self-knowledge, unlike object-knowledge, is always true because it is true to the self, meaning it cannot be dismissed or negated by any other knowledge. Self-knowledge is different from knowledge of objects, which is object-based, not subject-based. Knowledge of objects is not knowledge unless it is true to the object. If it is “my” knowledge, then it is my interpretation of an object (subjective knowledge), which is not necessarily knowledge. Ignorance (or my point of view) causes me to see or experience objects in a certain way because of “my” conditioning. People believe that ignorance is knowledge because they believe that what they experience is knowledge. It may be knowledge, but it may not be.
Great confusion, misunderstanding and suffering is caused by the way words are used when they are based in duality or ignorance. When moksa is the goal, eternal vigilance is required if one wants to be totally free of ignorance.
Sanskrit evolved as the language of the Vedas and is less susceptible to interpretation if properly used and understood.The problem is it is not properly understood and is difficult to learn for us Westerners. Some terms do not have a good equivalent in any other language, but James has moved away from using Sanskrit unless absolutely necessary because it can be confusing. We stick religiously to the original meanings of all the terms used in Sanskrit though.
Secondly, the words you used to describe your self-realisation and the dissolution of the personal self, as you call it – are not good words for awareness. This is because they all describe the qualities of your experience, they do not describe WHO it is that knows the experiencer and the experience. As awareness, you have no qualities: you are triguna atita, meaning beyond the gunas. You are that which gives rise to all qualities.
Margot: To use the term “self” never occurred to me, because I knew that this emptiness, or no-thingness, not only I was but everyone is. Later, when I had come across some writings and pieced together what was happening (had happened); I felt the word “self” confused people. I knew what the various literatures talked about when they used the word “self.” But I also noticed that people’s egos had claimed the word “self” for itself. There were so many terms circulating in the spiritual marketplace, like Higher Self, Universal Self, God Self, Soul Self, Authentic Self, etc. – with people assuming that there existed a personal self that was higher than their lower egoic self.
Sundari: Precisely. That is why Vedanta is very exacting about the use of words. We deliberately use the word “self” with a small “s” to make it clear that it is ordinary. James emphasises the word “ordinary” with reference to the self for that reason. If you are looking for a valid teaching in most of what is available in the spiritual arena, expect to be confused.Although many people who jump onto the spiritual teaching wagon making claims to teach truth are basically good people, many of them are at best misguided. Most of them will teach ignorance right alongside knowledge because they do not know the difference. They have no idea what it means to be awareness: it is the blind leading the blind. In Vedanta we say ignorance is not a problem, as long as you know what it is. If you take ignorance to be knowledge and stand up on a pedestal of whatever kind to promote your beliefs and opinions, you will mislead, confuse and confound. Vedanta makes it clear from the outset that this teaching is not the opinion, belief or experience of the teacher, although it confirms all of the above. If you find a teacher who is identified with what they teach, don’t walk away – run. There is more BS in the so-called spiritual arena than almost anywhere else.
This is why for Vedanta (self-knowledge) to obtain in the mind, qualifications are absolutely essential. These qualifications are well laid out in James’ books and writings, but as I said in my last email to you, the two main ones are dispassion (indifference to results) and discrimination. If one has not had an experience similar to yours, where one realises that all objects are empty and incapable of producing freedom, one is not qualified for self-knowledge. The mind will still believe that it has something to gain in the world. You are fortunate because you correctly gained this knowledge from your experience. What you did not investigate is who the knower of your experience is.
Margot: That of course is not how it is. There is only one self and that one self is the self of everyone. But the ego cannot fathom how that could possibly work. For this reason, I never liked the word “self” but must admit have not come up with any other or better term. Writing to you just now makes me see that maybe the word “self” is indeed a great term when its actual usage is explained properly.
Sundari: Your discrimination is good; you need to question everything and your BS meter needs to be operating 24/7! We use the word “self” synonymously with awareness/consciousness. In fact any word will do with reference to the self if you know what you are referring to because all words originate in and dissolve in consciousness.
Of course the ego cannot fathom this; self-knowledge is totally counter-intuitive to the little ego, which is basically just a fear-thought appearing in you, awareness. Vedanta is not good news to the ego; expect it to put up a fight.
Margot: Before I put out my initial questions to you, I wanted to respond to you so that you know we have the same basis. I live as self pretty much all the time, except when vasanas (your term), programming (my term), surface and runs without my seeing through it. But vasanas are the self too, since nothing is except the self.
Sundari: Yes, I get that you have correctly assimilated much from your self-realisation experience. Yes, we have the same “basis,” Margot. As there is only awareness and no individual awareness, “your” awareness is the same as mine. You are non-different from me. This is the self talking to itself here. We have different vasana loads, or conditioning, with corresponding life karma which will seemingly be unique to the person. Actually, there is only one self and one story and we all share it.
Again, vasanas is not my term. “Programming” works as an equivalent, as do “tendencies” and “conditioning.” And yes, vasanas are the self, but the self is not “your” vasanas. When I say repeatedly in my last email to you, that unless you understand the conditioning that runs the mind in the light of self-knowledge, I mean that it has to first be identified – then dis-identified with as not-self because it does not belong to the person. “Your” programming, or conditioning, belongs to Isvara – the field of existence. You did not create your conditioning. No one “makes” themselves the way they are. And as long as you are unconscious of what runs the mind, you are under its control. All vasanas are governed by the gunas (a Sanskrit word very hard to replace, but you could use “Isvara’s psychological order”), i.e. they belong to the field of existence, or Isvara, because the “gunas” is another word for Isvara. The gunas is the name that refers to the energies that make up the psychological and physical order of laws (dharmas) that govern the creation. Upon examination one will easily be able to see that one energy or a combination of these three energies is always functioning, as long as the body is alive.
1. Sattva: on the physical level the energy of good health, healthy lifestyle, on the psychological level the energy of satisfaction, clarity, confidence and peace. This is the springboard guna for moksa.
2. Rajas: on the physical level the energy of action, on the psychological level the energy of passion, projection, desire, dissatisfaction.
3. Tamas: on the physical level the energy of dense matter, on the psychological level the energy of endurance, ability to sleep, dullness, depression, denial.
If one does not understand what the gunas are and how they function, one is at their mercy. As the aim of self-inquiry is peace of mind and freedom only comes with rendering the binding vasanas non-binding, unless you understand what they are you will not be able to dissolve the vasanas. This is why Vedanta teaches that there is nothing you can do to remove ignorance. Only self-knowledge is capable of removing ignorance. Action (or yoga, the word means the same thing), like meditation, fasting, practising silence or any number of popular spiritual practices, on their own are not capable of producing freedom.
There are many practices that are conducive to peace of mind – take meditation, for instance. Vedanta is all for it. However, meditation practice (like any other spiritual practice) 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. And as I have explained in detail in my last email, all experience takes place in time and therefore has a beginning and an end. This is also true of any epiphany, samadhi or kundalini awakening.
As you have found out, the experience of self-realisation does not necessarily lead to freedom, moksa. It does not necessarily lead to peace of mind either. Stepping up a spiritual practice simply compounds the problem because the main problem is not addressed – the problem of doership. 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 self-realisation is lost. As soon as the experience ends, the person is still there – with all their conditioning intact and therefore with all their problems, very often even worse off than before because of the feeling of failed expectations.
Any other activity done to achieve a specific result is truly useful only if it is practised 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, knowing you are not in control of the results and taking whatever results that do come as prasad (a gift).
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, regardless of what is going on in the mind.
Margot: I appreciate being able to communicate with you.
~ Warm greetings, Margot
Sundari: You are most welcome, Margot. It is good to meet you.
~ Love, Sundari