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Terry: Dear James, I have a question about actionlessness in action. Bhagavad Gita, 4.18: “A sage abides as pure awareness associated with a human form.”
When he performs action, is his attention fixed on the pure awareness he is while doing action, witnessing the action? For example, when you reply to an email, is your attention on analysing the question and typing the reply? Or is your attention divided between abidance as witnessing awareness and also thinking and typing?
James: I think we need to go back to the drawing board; you have more assimilating to do. Why would I divide my attention? I am witnessing awareness. When somebody writes to witnessing awareness, witnessing awareness reads the question, tries to figure out the doubt and formulates a response that is in harmony with scripture. I am not a sage, Terry. It is just another limited identity. Even if I am a normal samsari, I would not divide my attention. How could I answer the question if my mind isn’t completely absorbed in the object? See the duality you are creating! Duality is bad enough, but here you are dividing your attention – as a practice. That is not what is meant by discrimination. Discrimination does not imply action. It is just knowledge.
Terry: A sannyasin-sage, because of his renunciation, is freed from duties and abides as pure awareness continuously. That is the privilege of being a sannyasin. He has nothing else to do: “Kritakrityasca, Bharata.” Bhagavad Gita, 15.20.
James: See the duality, Terry! The sage “abides.” Witnessing awareness is the “sage.” If you are witnessing awareness there is no renunciation for you, because all objects are mithya. Knowing this takes care of your relationship to them, not that there is a relationship in the first place – you are free of them already. Renunciation is a psychological stance, a state of mind. In what way do duties stand in the way of the self? The sannyasi-sage, as you call it, is awareness. There is no “abiding.” I think you are seduced by language. “The privilege of being a sannyasi”? This sounds like enlightenment sickness. Sannyas is the natural state of mind of someone who is awareness. It is not a status.
Terry: A householder-sage has household matters to attend to. How does he abide as pure awareness plus attend to his duties? In the midst of his action, is his attention divided?
James: Jesus, Terry! Duties are mithya, Terry. What do duties have to do with it? You do your duties – or not. What does it matter – if you are the self? If you are a person who thinks he is the self, then you need to do your duties or there will be a lot of conflict. And in any case, what do you have to lose by doing your duties? And conversely, what do you have to gain by abandoning them? You are not thinking clearly.
By the way, I’m taking the words “householder-sage” to refer to Terry.
Terry: I tried this out. When a client is in consultation with me, I found paying attention to the patient plus abiding as witnessing awareness not practical.
James: Are you going round the bend, Terry? ☺ Can’t you see the duality in your thinking? I have a hard time believing you are actually writing this email. It seems your self-knowledge has deserted you.
Terry: My attention to the client was reduced, which is not good. I found it better to give my full attention to the patient and then after the consultation to rest again as awareness. But with other activities which are not critical, e.g. at home or in the garden, I could abide as witnessing awareness and do the action.
James: I don’t agree. How can you rest as awareness if you are awareness already? You are what Terry “rests in.” Even if you think you are Terry, you should not divide your attention at all. What is in front of you is Isvara, so you pay attention to it. If your wife wants something, that is Isvara wanting something, so you need to pay attention to her and give her what she needs. That is service to Isvara. It is appropriate behavior.
If you put your attention on “witnessing awareness,” who is doing it? This statement shows that you think you are a jiva abiding as a jiva. You can’t study Vedanta. You are over-thinking it, making a mess of it. Some pratibhandaka is operating that is covering your knowledge. It has to be acknowledged and resolved or you can’t go further. I don’t know and it is none of my business, but I suspect it has to do with your relationship with your wife. You can’t hide out in enlightenment/sannyas/Vedanta – whatever – and ignore your karma.
Abiding as awareness means that the teaching on satya/mithya has been assimilated. It is just knowledge. Knowledge does the work. There is no doing involved, no renunciation, etc. Until that time, the jiva needs to do karma yoga and upasana yoga and jnana yoga, i.e. take a stand as awareness. If you are awareness – obviously you don’t think you are or if you do you have the wrong idea what it means to be awareness – or if you are taking a stand as awareness, the commitment is lacking, because you have these doubts.
Terry: Krishna was right in the Bhagavad Gita, 4.18: “Even sages are confused about action.” Ha, ha!
James: Terry is confused, that is all. In that verse Vyasa is using the word “sage” to refer to spiritual people who think they are sagelike but who are not actually sages. It is an ironical, almost sarcastic, comment. It actually means samsaris. A self-actualized person has no question about karma, because he does not take himself to be a doer and knows that karma is mithya. This whole letter is mithya. There is no satya in it. The ideas are mithya but you don’t seem to know it. The person with the questions is mithya but you seem to take him to be real. I guess we have to start over at the beginning. I am beginning to think that maybe you are nurturing a case of enlightenment sickness.
Terry: Thanks, Ramji. Yes, back to square one. Satyam and mithya. Thinking about your reply. Will reply.
James: I love your humility, Terry. It is your saving grace. Blessed are the meek. Most people who have so much invested in their spirituality would not accept what I said.
The lesson is that you have to take care of your life, you can’t retreat into Vedanta. Vedanta should run in the background, be an aid to life, not the focus. This is the message Krishna gives Arjuna in the beginning of the Gita when Arjuna is thinking of taking off to a cave in the Himalayas. There is some very old deep samskara that has never been addressed and you can’t progress unless it is uncovered and integrated into your self-knowledge. It’s not going to be easy, because it is buried so deeply. It is childhood stuff, a responding pattern that developed to take care of some kind of emotional pain. This can only be the explanation because you have the knowledge, but it gets covered. When you were here both Sundari and I noticed what I call “transcendental avoidance,” popularly known as the “advaita shuffle.” We had the feeling that you felt that you thought you were too spiritual to actually participate in the interactions that were going on in our “samsara.” Our lives are very ordinary – you could say samsaric – but our minds are not samsaric at all. Mind you, knowing what I know and being who I am I could make huge spiritual show of things instead of bumbling along as I do, but ordinary life is so extraordinary that what spiritual types imagine is glorious is actually a kind of contrived romantic banality. The Vedas say, “What you worship there is what you see here.” This is That; there is no duality.
We hover in the background, in the knowledge, and play our samsaric roles very nicely. We enjoy the world. And why wouldn’t we? It is all us. Isvara is very beautiful in all its forms. That is the message in the eleventh chapter of the Gita, where Arjuna asks Krishna to remove the cosmic vision because it is too uncomfortable. It is the same problem with Yoga and Neo-Advaita. They want to transcend the world and live in some kind of spiritual bubble divorced from the world. But all this does is strengthen the belief that the world is real. As Swamiji once said to me, “You are what you are rebelling against.” I suppose you have developed a fondness for monastic culture – it (falsely) promises relief from the world – but the fact is that you are not a sannyasi. You are a worldly person, a financial consultant and a husband with duties, so you have to accept your dharma completely. Avoidance of dharma is tamasic and it never works. Isvara will keep creating problems for you until you face it.
~ Love, Ramji