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Criticism versus Discrimination
Ian: Dear James and Sundari, thank you for answering my questions, and thanks again for the book which I continue to read, How to Attain Enlightenment.
Sundari: My apologies for taking so long to reply to you, we have been in transit for weeks. I am in South Africa, James is in Switzerland, out of communication. I will pass this on to him when he returns. If he needs to add anything he will do so. I have replied below.
Ian: One thing I find confusing is when spiritual teachers point out failings of other teachers/teachings or just “negative” (for lack of a better word) behaviour in others. Of course not only teachers, but just about everyone does this, and for some people it is their main method of communication.
Sundari: James is sometimes criticised for being critical, and the people who do usually do not see the irony. James does not criticise people, because he sees everyone as non-separate from him. To criticise them is to criticise himself. He is a teacher of Vedanta, a tradition that applies irrefutable logic to everything and which requires critical thinking. He criticises bad ideas, wrong or harmful thinking, using the irrefutable logic of Vedanta as the measure, for no other reason than that they keep people trapped in suffering. Vedanta is not his teaching or his opinion and it is not based on his experience, although it verifies the views he expresses when he teaches. James simply wields the knowledge like the expert he is. Because he knows who he is and is highly trained and accomplished in the logic of Vedanta, he can spot ignorance and its effects a mile away. He knows precisely how to apply Vedanta to it.
Some teachers or people use criticism or negativity towards other teachers, teachings or people as a way of belittling them and making themselves feel more powerful. Or perhaps they feel intellectually inadequate and criticising others makes them seem smarter. People who are extremely negative in their attitude towards themselves or others are tamasic (see below).
Ian: What confuses me is how this also fits in with the idea that the world is a mirror. If I see someone acting in a way that I find to be very unconscious and negative, then tell my friend that that’s not the way to live, I also think that negative behaviour I see is really talking about me, not that other person, so I’m the one who’s got the problem. There seems to be a fine line between catching myself criticising someone, then finding whatever I’m criticising in myself and just catching myself criticising someone and just thinking of it in terms of subject/object, that the behaviour is watchable and therefore not me, so not a problem. Is there a way to understand this better?
Sundari: There is a fine line in this and that line is: who do take yourself to be? Are you Ian or are you awareness? That you are aware of yourself observing the behaviour and that you know it is not a problem means that you are seeing it from the self’s perspective. If you are bothered by criticism it means you are seeing it as Ian, the reflected self, and take yourself to be a doer. From this perspective, it is a different story. Doers see the world as a dangerous place in which they have to protect themselves and use their wits. In this world, i.e. samsara, nothing is safe or secure, as everything is constantly in a state of flux and change. It is a fear-based “reality” in which everyone is judging everyone as a matter of survival. Fear is thought to be smart. The best you can do as a samsari is come to the realisation that everyone is in the same boat as you are and what you judge judges you. Usually the most judgmental people are the ones who are most afraid to see themselves objectively or do not have the ability to do so. At least if they were able to do that they would understand their own projections. From the standpoint of the doer/samsari it is often the case that what you judge or criticise is an unconscious projection or a denial.
This is not always true though, and one would be wise not to throw common sense out the window. There is a difference between a neutral and astute observation and a value-based criticism or judgment. By the same token, one has to use one’s judgment to make value calls on life situations. On what would you base discrimination otherwise? It has to be based on what you value, so do a fearless moral inventory. What do you value most? Discrimination is one of the important qualifications for moksa. Check your motivations at all times, make sure you know what the qualifications are and track Ian’s thinking. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance!
From the point of view of awareness, nothing ever happened. It’s all a play, a lila. Even if it were possible for awareness to be limited and to find fault or judge, what would there be to criticise or judge? There is nothing outside of awareness.
Maya, which is a power that exists in awareness gives rise to samsara, the belief in duality. Maya has two powers inherent in it: the power to project (vikshepa shakti) and the power to conceal (avarana shakti). Maya “consists” of three gunas: sattva, rajas and tamas. Rajas projects, is totally extroverted and desire-based; tamas conceals, denies and is fear-based. The third guna, sattva, is your spiritual nature: joy, truth, peace, bliss. The gunas run everything in the apparent reality and govern the creation of all the vasanas. Understanding how the gunas work is the only way to understand the nature of maya and to end the folly of doership.
No one is ever doing anything; the gunas are running the show. The gunas are another name for Isvara. Typically, judgement and criticism would be the result of rajas (projection), and negativity the result of tamas. Usually, these two work together (I call them the terrible twins), and either one will predominate at any given time. Rajas projects (can be anything), and tamas denies. They work the same way in everyone 24/7, and are really not hard to see in operation once you are aware of them.
The solution to this is self-inquiry, as it is the only way to remove ignorance of your true nature and attain freedom. Self-inquiry is discriminating between self and not-self, which permanently negates the doer. For this you need knowledge. This is the only way to end existential suffering. The most important spiritual practice is jnana yoga, self-inquiry. Nothing purifies the mind like self-knowledge. The practice of karma yoga and bhakti yoga, which are antidotes to the doer, are absolutely essential as well. Just as importantly, practice the guna teaching. Learn what the gunas are and how they condition the subtle body. James and I have both written extensively on this topic. Look up relevant e-satsangs at the website for more information on this.
Ian: I also can’t seem to find enough relief in daily life. I have my ups and downs, as everyone does in samsara, but it seems that life could be a lot more carefree than it seems to be now. I seem to wake up every morning worrying about my financial situation, amongst other things. It feels like something just isn’t clicking in my mind to allow me to be relieved of this worry. I can disassociate from the worry to some extent, but it always seems to return.
Sundari: Who is talking here? Ian, the doer, is, and even though Ian manages to “disassociate” from the worry, it always comes back. When you own the behaviour as the doer you will not escape it for long. The gunas are always present and Ian’s vasanas are formed by them, so if he has a vasana for worry it will not be rendered non-binding until he understands the gunas. Once self-knowledge has removed the ignorance of your true nature as awareness, samsara (which is just a notion in the mind) will no longer exist for you. It’s all known to be you, awareness, apparently under the spell of ignorance.
Ian: “I am not worried about money, because the worry about money comes and goes and therefore is not real. The worry about money can’t exist without my awareness of it. My awareness comes prior to any worry.” This type of thinking can be comforting, but doesn’t seem to fix the worry enough. I’m praying for lasting relief from this worry.
Sundari: You are correct that awareness is prior to worry. Awareness is prior to everything, especially prior to Ian, the one who is identified with the worry and the worrier. If the worry is still there the doer is still there and you will continue suffering. You cannot escape it; fear and worry/anxiety are tamas and rajas; they are built into the nature of reality. They will run you as long as you think you are Ian, the person who worries.
The gunas do not belong to you, they belong to Isvara, just like “your” worry is not Ian’s. It belongs to the gunas. Identify the gunas and then dis-identify with them because they have nothing to do with you, awareness. That is the only way to permanently end the worry. Once you see this, the tendency to “go unconscious” will likely still persist, just as the blades of a fan will still turn after the fan is switched off. But if you keep up the yogas diligently and continue your self-inquiry, you will catch Ian identifying with the gunas and be able to disassociate from them. Then you will see that you can let them run as they have nothing to do with you, awareness.
There is an upside to the gunas as well. Without rajas, which is the mode of passion or action, you would not get out of bed in the morning. Without tamas, you would have no staying power or endurance and never sleep. Sattva is your true spiritual nature, bliss, peace, clarity, etc. People get stuck in too much sattva as well, the experiential-bliss seekers. “Enlightenment disease” is also common among spiritual seekers who are not finders. You can use rajas to get out of tamas, and vice versa. For moksa, you need to aim for a sattvic, peaceful mind, so manage the gunas by cleaning up your lifestyle: what you eat, what activities you do for work and pleasure, where and how you live, the people you associate with, how you manage money and resources, etc. Meditation and prayer is also very helpful in calming the mind and preparing it for self-inquiry. Start a practice of devotion on a daily basis, even if only for a few moments each day. Choose a prakriya to work with, like pressing “pause” every time Ian says, “I,” and ask yourself, who is speaking here? Or ask yourself in any endeavour that Ian is involved in or object he has contact with: “Does this change, is it real?” Vedanta’s definition of “real” is “that which does not change.” You have to do the work. ☺
Once the knowledge is firm that your true nature is awareness and Ian is an object in you, the gunas still operate but they will no longer condition the subtle body. Isvara’s creation, maya, still obtains, but it will have nothing to do with you, awareness. Prarabdha karma will still work itself out, but you will not identify with it, so it will not be a problem. You will know that for you, awareness, there is no karma, because you are not the doer.
The more you practise this, the faster the knowledge will be there until one day the worry will be gone because the doer will be gone. As awareness you will observe Ian going through his routines and not take Ian too seriously. If Ian still finds himself worrying, he will be the knower of the one who is worrying and immediately “disown” it, knowing it as the play of the gunas. This is not to say that Ian will throw common sense away. Ian will still operate “in the world” even though he knows that the world is in him.
However, you cannot impose satya on mithya, which is to say that even though the world is not real, it does have an apparent existence which functions a certain way. If you don’t look where you are going, for instance, and step in front of a fast-moving bus, you will still get flattened, whether or not you know that you are awareness. Discrimination is still very important. If Ian wants to enjoy his life, he will evaluate situations correctly and take appropriate action knowing he is not the doer. This means that Ian will cause no harm to himself or others, as he knows no “otherness,” although he will be free of all objects. As Ian, you cannot not act in mithya. It is owning the action, or identifying with the gunas, that brings the suffering. Therefore applying discrimination to people and situations will greatly assist you in having a wonderful life. After all, moksa is for the jiva, Ian. The self is already free. Ian has an apparent existence in mithya, so he better play by the rules in mithya if he wants to be happy and enjoy being free.
I hope this helps!
~ Namaste, Sundari
Ian: Thanks for any help regarding these things.
Sundari: It is a great pleasure.