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Dharma, Bhakti and Discrimination
Simon: Thank you so much for your reply.
I wanted to answer earlier, but my mind has been very tamasic because of illness.
I guess this question about dharma came out of hearing James speaking about how you can’t get to moksa if you don’t follow dharma.
And I interpreted that as meaning following your destiny. And there has always been this thought in the back of my mind that moving back to my parents is somehow my destiny (not in a feel-good way) because of tradition (that place has been inherited for a lot of generations), my father being sentimental and missing me, guilt. Sometimes also I miss my family.
And I could live there doing my regular job since it’s not technically a farm being used as a farm, just a lot of property to take care of, which doesn’t really feel like my thing.
But when I am there for longer periods it feels so good to go back to MY city afterwards. Actually, if moksa is my priority like I said it was, living where I do now, far away from relatives, is more beneficial to self-inquiry for me, I guess.
I have a good lifestyle. I have a job I love, but I work part-time. I live alone. I have a few good friends, but I try to hang out more and more with myself. I also live in a city I love. Life is not very busy and I have time to study Vedanta. So is dharma is mainly about doing what feels right for me in the moment, responding to situations in a way that feels natural for me?
Then I shouldn’t really have to worry about maybe one day having to make a choice to live somewhere else. I don’t have to right now, so I should focus on karma and knowledge yoga.
I guess this fear is silly and doesn’t make much sense, but is something like “if I am free and let go of the sense of doership, I’m afraid the body will just follow its vasanas and might move there because of guilt or habit or whatever, and will be unhappy because of that.” I know, it makes zero sense.
I’m sorry to go on about this. But like I said, I must have a relatively peaceful life if a thought like this is my biggest concern in life. And it’s not even a concern that has to be bothered about right now!
Sundari: I understand your dilemma. It’s strange how Isvara works things out, a beautiful place in the country is many people’s idea of heaven, yet it is given to you, who do not want it! ☺ See the humour and the play – none of it is real, remember.
I think you have answered your own question about this situation. Right now you do not have to make a decision, so practice karma yoga on the “should I/shouldn’t I move to the country?” thought and leave the results up to Isvara. When the time comes to make a decision, trust that you will know what to do because Isvara will make it clear to you. Remember, you are not the doer, so the results are not up to you. You have an ideal lifestyle to practice self-inquiry, so focus on that. The negative thoughts about the situation do not help anyone – so whenever the guilt-thoughts pop into the mind, practise the opposite thought. Start taking a stand in awareness as awareness and say to yourself something like this: “I am non-dual, limitless, unchanging awareness; Simon is an object known to me and, as he is me, he exists everywhere and nowhere. Where his body is housed is only important to the jiva because wherever I am is home. Simon’s parents are me too and I offer them pure and unconditional love, without guilt. Their bodies will one day be gone, but I will never be gone and neither will they, because they are me.” You can make up your own version of this, even make it into a song and sing it accompanied by your guitar.
Dharma it is not the same as “destiny,” although as a concept destiny often coincides with what Isvara has in mind for the jiva. But destiny is not set in stone and is subject to many factors.
Dharma is a very difficult topic and impossible for one person to tell another what their personal dharma is. Ultimately, the highest dharma is to commit to self-inquiry into your true nature, using the scripture as your means of knowledge. There is no other purpose to life than to know who you are and so live not as someone identified with being a person or someone who knows about the self – but AS the self.
The universal laws, or dharmas, are built into the nature of the Field of Existence and cannot be avoided or contravened without consequence. The results of all actions, whether through appropriate action (dharma) or inappropriate action (adharma) are called karmas. On a macrocosmic level gravity and electricity are examples of universal dharmas. No matter what religious or non-religious views one enjoys, these laws, or dharmas, operate the same way for everyone. On a personal, or microcosmic, level this applies to the laws, or dharmas, of proper conduct, the law of non-injury, for instance, the highest human value. This is an expectation we all hold and if it is contravened we feel unpleasant effects, as do others. It is our experience that “as you sow, so shall you will reap.”
Whether or not we abide by these laws or know what they are, they are built into the very fabric of our being. Even though how dharma plays out is different for everyone, the fundamental laws apply to everyone.
Although dharma is one because reality is non-dual, it can be understood in three ways.
1: Samanya dharma, or universal values, are (1) moral laws governing the Field of Existence that apply to everyone personally, like non-injury, honesty, fairness, etc. and (2) the macrocosmic laws of physics, like gravity and thermodynamics, etc.
2: Visesa dharma is how the individual interprets the universal rules and applies them to their lives in the apparent reality with regards to everything: lifestyle, diet, money, work, family, sex, marriage, how one relates to people and the environment one lives in, etc.
3: Svadharma with a small “s” is an individual’s conditioning. This is the nature and the predisposition with which each person is born. To be happy the individual needs to act in accordance with his or her inborn nature or he or she will not be following dharma. For instance, if it is an individual’s nature to live their own life in a city, it will not work for him or her to take up farming.
All dharmas are based on common sense and logic. Our personal svadharma of course also includes our conditioning: our vasana load, which will be governing how we see and act on all levels. The binding vasanas must be seen and dissolved for peace of mind to be experienced. Still, we will have a particular kind of nature that we need to be in harmony with, so unless one understands what our dharma is we can make decisions that cause great agitation, suffering and discomfort to the mind and body, making peace of mind impossible.
It is possible that on the personal level in order to be true to our svadharma we must sometimes take actions that cause agitation and distress to ourselves or “others.” For instance, in your situation because you are afraid to hurt your parents and feel duty-bound to them, you could decide to give them what they want, knowing it does not support who you are. There is no hard and fast rule here. If you do decide to go against your nature, then do so with a clear mind and good heart, committing yourself to fulfilling your duty to your parents without complaint, with the karma yoga attitude. But the if jiva cannot be happy doing this and it causes great agitation or dullness in the mind, then your duty is to do what is right for the jiva and that is conducive to self-inquiry. Either way it sounds like you would have a peaceful life with lots of time for self-inquiry.
These are tough decisions, and you have to decide what your dharma is according to the nature Isvara gave you. You did not make yourself like you are. Our lives have to conform to the truth or we will not have peace of mind, so if we are in a situation like this and faced with such choices, following the truth will always work out for the best even though it may turn your life upside down. It may take time, but it will work out. It is far more damaging to all concerned to make choices that contradict dharma because we are afraid to face the consequences of making the choices that are right for us.
If on the other hand we our duty-bound and cannot change our circumstance, then we have to accept that this is prarabdha karma playing out and we attend to it as best we can with the karma yoga attitude. You know the beautiful prayer: “Lord give me the courage to change what needs to be changed, the strength to accept what cannot be changed and the wisdom to know the difference between the two.”
The nagging voice in your head is guilt, and not self-knowledge. I call it the voice of diminishment, and it is not your friend. You would be well served to recognise the role-playing demanded by samsara and dismiss that voice. All the same, if we are not feeling good about ourselves 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.
Many spiritual seekers believe that self-knowledge is going to fix their lives and fix them. It will not because Vedanta assumes that the mind is qualified and purified to receive self-knowledge. If the mind is not purified then, yes, you have some work to do on the psychological level to clean up Simon’s stuff. Our “stuff” may not be ours, but it sticks like you know what until we resolve it by dissolving it in self-knowledge.
Vedanta, or self-realisation, may not fix your life but it can give you the tools to help you deal with it, which is karma yoga. Karma yoga, when practised properly, is really dharma yoga because every action you take is dedicated to Isvara; it is a consecration. It is understood that peace of mind only comes with the realisation that you are not in control of the dharma field, yet in taking the appropriate steps to act according to dharma and then relinquishing the results, peace of mind is produced. If you are not experiencing peace of mind by relinquishing results you are not relinquishing results. It’s that simple – the doer is still there, afraid and small, still wanting a particular result, frustrated and afraid because it believes it needs the result to be safe or whole and it is not getting what it wants.
Also, don’t confuse peace of mind with always feeling blissful. This is another enlightenment myth. What moksa gives you is the bliss of self-knowledge, which is very different from experiential bliss. When moksa has obtained in the mind one may and usually does feel experiential bliss regularly, but one does not depend on it, because you know you are the bliss. Experiential bliss is an object known to you and you are always blissful, whether or not experiential bliss is present. In fact you could be sick, in pain and half-dead, broke, jobless or stuck in a situation you do not enjoy but cannot change – and be totally blissful because who you are is not influenced by what is or is not going on around you.
Life in samsara is a zero-sum game. It is often brutal. We need to be able to be true and faithful to ourselves no matter what, even if in doing so we are called faithless, cruel, indifferent, uncaring – among many things. The world does not like it when we change the status quo or refuse to go with what is expected of us. Ignorance rears up and strikes even harder and will try to bring us down. People around you who do not have self-knowledge will make you wrong if you go against the flow of what makes them comfortable. Fear runs deep and its roots entangle us all until we have self-knowledge.
Everything we ever need to know about any situation is always present, but unless the mind is sattvic we will not be able to see clearly, because rajas and tamas will be obscuring the truth. It is a hit-and-miss situation making choices without self-knowledge, usually it is a miss. Some people believe that their intuition will guide them; but intuition is based on your conditioning and not constant, so it cannot be trusted.
In all situations and choices (other than when one is after moksa) when strong likes and dislikes are pushing for a particular result, there are only ever two valid questions to ask yourself: (1.) “Who wants what it wants the way it wants it, and why?” (2.) “If I am really awareness, will it make any difference to me if I get the result I want or not?” The answer to the first question will be always be the doer wants what it wants because it believes it is incomplete and the solution to its problem is in the object; awareness has no wants. The second answer will always be no for the same reason. The answer to both questions if it is moksa we are seeking depends on who is asking because in truth as awareness you are already free. Moksa only makes a difference to the jiva.
Simon: Well, anyway, yes, devotion feels like something I want more of, like a year ago I had a really personal relationship with my God. I walked around surrounded by God’s grace. I really felt protected and loved, sang to God and talked to him, even though I pictured him in my heart and sometimes it was always a matter of seeing him as an object. Now reading Vedanta I have felt more and more love towards Ganesh and Krishna; before it was Jesus, although I have never been a Christian.
I have a hard time understanding how to worship God as myself. Maybe I need more knowledge yoga to understand how God and I are one. And for that I might need more karma yoga to get a quieter mind.
Sundari: Yes, self-inquiry is the answer and a devotional practice is essential. See the detailed answer to this below.
Simon: Sometimes I see life as a movie in front of me and everything being done and then I usually don’t remember to dedicate my actions since I don’t feel like a doer, I guess. (Well, I also have a really bad memory, so remembering it is hard also in normal circumstances.)
Sundari: When you are one with the knowledge and the sense of doership is absent then you are seeing as the self, so memory is not required. This is non-dual vision. Karma yoga at this point is just knowledge, not a practice. Self-knowledge is not a function of memory, it is who you are, and you cannot forget it once the knowledge “I am whole and complete, non-dual awareness and not the jiva” is firm.
Simon: Is more knowledge of myself and God the way to being able to worship God as myself?
Sundari: Yes, see answer below.
Simon: And also, I read the article on devotion. Thank you for that. Do you have any tips on traditional rituals for worshiping Ganesh or Krishna? I don’t think I would have any problem with it culture-wise. Right now I mostly sing and play guitar, sing Hare Krishna and things like that.
Sundari: You have the right idea about worship and devotion and you do not need any “special” rituals. In fact singing and playing your guitar is ideal. Krishna plays the flute which represents the subtle body, with nine holes that represent the nine orifices in the body. See your guitar that way too, playing the song of the self. I have attached a photo of a sculpture I made of Krishna that you can print and put on your altar. It carries a lot of bhakti.
Here are the different stages of bhakti yoga, based on the Narada Bhakti Sutra teachings, which you can download for free from transcriptions at the ShiningWorld website.
The tradition says there are two kinds of bhakti, or worship, and it is compulsory for moksa to go through all of them, except Stage 1 of the first kind. I have broken down the two stages to four stages for ease of assimilation. The first stage is dvaita, or dualistic, bhakti and it has three parts to it. The fourth stage is advaita – jnanum, or knowledge, non-dual bhakti. All three stages are steppingstones for the next stage, with the fourth stage being the end of the line, i.e. moksa. Many people who come to self-inquiry have a lot of negativity towards the idea of the religious God and hate the idea of God. It is essential that you understand the importance of worship.
Dvaita (Dualistic) Bhakti
Stage 1: (Not essential, but it is a steppingstone to stage 2).
Note: Stage 1 and 2 corresponds to Chapters I to VI of the Bhagavad Gita.
This is informal, or undisciplined, worship. It is totally subjective and emotional, “heart”-based. It is where all religions originate, where most samsaris worship a personal deity or god, seeing it as a HE usually, a big daddy who takes care of them and listens to their problems. It is worshiping God as a person. It is childlike or childish devotion. It’s about supplicating God in order to get results, getting what you want and avoiding what you don’t want. This is where all religious fanaticism and dogmatism originate; it leads to sectarianism and fundamentalism. It makes people feel self-righteous, that they have “God on their side” and can act out whatever they believe “in His name,” that they are better than others and their way is the only way. It gives rise to all religious wars. It also makes ordinary people feel safe, providing guidelines that help sort out relationship and life issues. This is for people who are totally identified with being people and the world of objects.
Stage 2: This part is compulsory for self-inquiry if moksa is the aim.
This stage is emotional and intellectual. Here you start to practise karma yoga – surrendering the results of actions to Isvara with an attitude of consecration and gratitude because you have realised that the results of actions are not up to you. This is to help neutralize the idea of doership.
You also practise the five pancha yagna (sacrifices or activities):
1. Worship of your deity however you see it (Krishna or Ganesh are perfect);
2. Worship of your parents or ancestors;
3. Worship of your teacher and teaching;
4. Worship of society and people in general;
5. Worship of the environment (i.e. Isvara).
Stage 3: Upasana (meditation), and is also compulsory for moksa.
Note: This stage corresponds to Chapters VII to XII of the Bhagavad Gita.
This is where worship of Isvara/God is objective: purely impersonal or intellectual. Knowledge of Isvara and the creation start to crystallise. There is still duality and you see Isvara in special forms (like icons or beauty), but gradually as knowledge becomes firm this progresses into seeing and worshiping Isvara in all forms, the good and the bad.
All three stages of dvaita bhakti involve free will and the jiva, the person, which is why these stages are called dualistic worship. The purpose of these stages of worship, or bhakti, is that these practices reduce subjectivity and neutralize vasanas – likes and dislikes, as well negate the doer. It takes care of the childish ego.
Stage 4: Advaita, or non-dual, bhakti: jnanum
Note: Corresponds to Chapters XIII to XVIII of the Bhagavad Gita.
This is the final stage of bhakti, it is advaita – non-dual jnanum, or self-knowledge. It is impersonal, beyond subjectivity and objectivity, i.e. moksa. This is non-dual vision where you see everything as the self first and second as the jiva, never confusing the two again. You still live as the jiva and so follow dharma, your own and universal dharma, which requires following the rules of the field of existence, or Isvara, automatically. And you continue with dvaita bhakti except it is no longer dualistic in that you know that everything is you, awareness – i.e. you have permanently discriminated between satya and mithya.
Discriminating Satya from Mithya
With the appearance of maya, the apparent reality comes into existence. If moksa is your aim, the only way you will be free of the apparent reality (duality) has everything to do with understanding God/Isvara by whatever name and the identity between the jiva and Isvara. Freedom is only for the jiva who lives in the apparent reality; as the self you are already free. The jiva, although its true essence is awareness, as the jiva never leaves the apparent reality. Freedom is freedom from the jiva and for it. To be free of bondage to the apparent reality or objects, the jiva has to understand what the jiva is and what Isvara is – what they have in common and what makes them different. Without this understanding there is no possibility of discriminating satya (that which is always present and unchanging)from mithya (that which is not always present and always changing), which is the essence of moksa. A very important stage of self-inquiry is God-worship, upasana, before you get to non-dual, or jnanum. I have explained the different kinds of worship above.
Isvara (or God) and jiva are essentially the same because their true nature is awareness, and together they make up or comprise the apparent reality. But they are also different because jiva depends upon Isvara whereas Isvara does not depend upon jiva. Isvara is omniscient and creates and sustains the whole universe; jiva only knows the objects it has contact with and creates nothing other than its subjective reality. And they are different because their uphadis are different. An uphadi is a limiting adjunct: that which makes something look other than it is. Isvara’s uphadi is maya – it makes pure awareness look like a creator. Jiva’s uphadi is the five koshas, or sheaths (body/mind/intellect/prana/bliss sheaths), which make the jiva look like a doer. Each uphadi is unique to the jiva, which is why one person cannot know what another is thinking and vice versa.
Whether you are enlightened or not, the person continues to live in the apparent reality and is subject to the laws that run it, which are the universal dharmas and the jiva’s personal dharma laws.
Simon: Thank you, and much love!
Sundari: You are welcome.
~ Love, Sundari