Search & Read
Sitting in Silence
Vivek: Hi. I just wanted to drop you and Mr. Swartz this note to say how much I liked the book How to Attain Enlightenment. I have been a student of Vedanta for a few years now, along with my family, and I am a big follower of late Swami Dayananda Saraswati. In fact we run many of the organisations associated with Swamiji.
I’ve read many of Swamiji’s books and have had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with him, and your words in this book are very much the same but in a way that younger people can understand it (I’m 41).
Anyway, just wanted to say that the book was very well written and it has helped me progress in my journey.
Sundari: Thank you for this lovely email, much appreciated. I have forwarded your email to James, and he will reply to you as well. Although Chinmayananda was his guru, he was deeply affected by Dayanananda’s departure from New Vedanta with the correction of the teaching on experience and knowledge. Although James adheres strictly to the traditional doctrine of the Great Tradition of the sampradaya and considers Dayananda his guru too, he has removed much of the Sanskrit that is not necessary for moksa. He has also streamlined the teachings in a start-to-finish methodology which makes them more accessible, especially for Westerners, and increasingly for Easterners like yourself.
Vivek: I would also love to hear your thoughts and suggestions on how to explore the silence.
Sundari: Start off by asking yourself a few simple questions: Who is the silence known to? Who is it that wants to “explore the silence”? What is there to explore in silence – and what do you mean by “the silence”? If you are using silence as a metaphor for you, awareness, it has limitations and so must be correctly unfolded.
Vivek: I used to get very excited about “experiencing” the stillness but have gradually learnt to accept it. I am trying just to be in that stillness.
Sundari: Once again, who gets very excited about and is “trying to be in the silence and learning to accept it”? What is there to accept? As awareness, all things are in you, including “the silence.”
Swami Dayananda gave a very clear teaching on silence – which is: silence is not opposed to ignorance; it has nothing to teach you and will never remove ignorance of your true nature. While “the silence” is a good way to describe sattva (the most subtle manifestation of sat, awareness), which is the true nature of the mind when it is clear and uncontaminated by rajas and tamas, however, silence is not conscious and so is an object known to you, awareness. It cannot be conflated with awareness, because it is mithya and awareness is satya.
The true nature of reality is non-dual, as you must know; however, there are two orders of reality: that of the real – satya, or that which is always present and unchanging, and mithya, that which is not always present and always changing. Mithya (the subtle body and all objects, subtle and gross) arises from and depend on satya to exist, but satya is prior to everything and depends on nothing to exist.
We encourage inquirers to make time for contemplation and silence because it is an aid to self-inquiry, but neither silence nor meditation replaces self-inquiry. “Experiencing” the silence is experiencing the reflection of the self in a still mind – but the reflection (the object) is not the same as the cause (the subject). The reflection is the self, but the self is not the reflection. The object can never know the subject, but the subject is that which knows all objects. Does your reflection in the mirror know you? You know that the reflection in the mirror is you, but you are not it. If you know something, it can’t be you, can it? Moksa (freedom from identification with objects) is the ability to discriminate you, awareness, from the objects that appear in you, at all times – and silence appears in you, so you cannot be “in” silence. Silence is in you. The mind, or subtle body, can be sattvic, and so experience silence as its true nature, but as stated above, you are the knower of the mind, so therefore you are also the knower of the state the mind is in. Awareness is not a state but the knower of all states. And whether or not the mind is “in” silence, you, as awareness, are unmodified by silence – or the lack of it.
Swami Dayananda was teaching New Vedanta until he was corrected by Swami Tarananda, who pointed out to him that New Vedanta did not make the proper distinction between experience and knowledge. The jiva, or experiencing entity, is always experiencing and will continue to do so until the body dies. No experience can take place without awareness, but the non-experiencing entity, awareness, never experiences anything. It is always the witness of the experiencing entity. All experiences, such as “experiencing the silence,” take place in time and so will end. When the experience ends, the same person is still there, with all their conditioning. The only way to understand the true nature of the mind to render the binding vasanas non-binding and to negate the doer (discriminate the objects from the subject) is Vedanta. Vedanta is a complete and valid teaching which carefully and methodically destroys the notion of doership and removes ignorance from the mind. Nothing else has the power to do this. Many meditators get stuck believing that silence is the end goal, that it will somehow magically deliver moksa. But it cannot do so. No yoga or action taken by a limited entity will produce a limitless result – not even “being in silence.” Only self-inquiry, or jnana yoga, is capable of producing a limitless result, which is moksa.
Vivek: I guess I’m struggling with the typical “what next?” syndrome. I am the CEO of a company, and am so used to driving and charging that these old habits seem to keep coming back.
Sundari: Until self-knowledge is firm in the mind and it is free of bondage to objects and negated the sense of doership, the next step is always continued investigation into the true nature of reality, with an attitude of devotion (bhakti) and karma yoga. When the mind rests in the self, the “what’s next?” drive is no longer an issue. A mind that is still driven by rajas – always projecting, extroverted outwards towards objects/experience, clouded by tamas (in denial or dull), it will still be chasing or running away from experience. When the self has been actualised as one’s true nature, there is no “next step” thought, because the next step is always what Isvara presents to it on a moment-to-moment basis. Such a mind seeks nothing and needs nothing. It is happy with what is because it knows itself to be the fullness, no matter what is or is not going on for the jiva.
Vivek: I would appreciate any advice on how to find the balance. My kids are young, and I have a duty to my organisation (family business) to help it achieve its potential. I’m struggling to balance my spiritual journey with the need to do my duty as a karma yogi without losing myself in the process.
Sundari: The path of the householder is a difficult one; there is no easy solution to this. It is your dharma as a father/husband and boss to do your duty and take care of your responsibilities. No doubt this does not leave you much time to attend to your sadhana. The only solution is to make your life with all its demands your sadhana. Surrender the results to Isvara, knowing that you have no option but to take care of your karma. If you do not have enough time to devote to spiritual practice or reading the scriptures, surrender the lack of time to Isvara. See everyone in your life (wife, kids, family, employees, colleagues, bosses, etc.) and all their demands as Isvara. Know without any doubt that everything you do is serving the whole, Isvara. See that whatever is in front of you is what Isvara wants of you at this stage in your life; then consecrate each action with an attitude of gratitude and devotion, knowing the results are never up to you. Know that no one is in your life to please you; they are there to work out their karma just as you are there to work out yours.
Vivek: Thanks again.