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First, the (Apparent) Journey of the Soul
Hugh: These aren’t so much questions this time as reflections, and sort of updating you as to what’s going on with Hugh, the jiva. Thank you for your time and for any light you might be able to shed on this.
Shams: Hi, Hugh. It took me more than one week to write this answer because I think that particularly this email needed some time to elaborate a broad and thorough response because it approaches topics that are not directly related to Vedanta (although they are). Vedanta is easy, but the realms of the mind and Isvara are complex and apparently labyrinthine when things are not in their right place.
Hugh: As far as the individual, Hugh, goes, there’s been a large increase in rajas since I’ve moved and started my current job. However, there was a lot of adharma in my previous job which had to be addressed, so it was a dharmic move to start this new position.
Swami Dayananda’s Value of Values is something that I, as jiva, keep in mind. My workmates that I spend a lot of time with now do not adhere to these values the way that I do, so that can be conflicting in my mind. For example, someone will talk really dirty about women although he is married and has a child. A couple of other close workmates seem to laugh about the fact that they’ve cheated on women in the past. There are a lot of opportunities to go out drinking, and I often decline them, sometimes worrying about not “being part of the team.” I do drink, but in line with my relatively sattvic lifestyle, I don’t drink too often. I know I shouldn’t expect people to hold the same viewpoints that I do, but at times it seems a bit too much. I just accommodate their views, knowing that in the future I will deal less with them, being transferred to a different office, probably next year. (Of course there is the possibility of things being the same with different people at the new place though.)
Shams: You are right. When people speak stupid adharmic words, it’s certainly kind of painful for the sattvic mind. And it’s truly bothersome when you know that you’ll have to share many days with them in the future. But I think that there is no real “conflict,” although you used that word. It’s more like when you are walking barefoot on ground covered with sharp stones. It’s not a conflict, it only hurts. And the natural focus of the mind is on avoiding that situation or on learning to accommodate to it. If the mind finds conflict there, then there is an extra situation for you to address.
Hugh: There’s also another interesting development. The workmate I work closest with is always interested in what I’m doing. He watches me closely. If we’re talking, he checks my computer screen to see what I’m doing. He looks at my notes when I write notes. He has often told me that I’m very “centred.” He meditates, but he wonders why I’m more “centred” than he is. It’s easy for me to see that he is quite rajasic. We were talking about meditation, and I told him about vipassana medition, so now he has signed up for a session over winter break. He has talked about things that I used to be interested in, like “the law of attraction” and currently Eckhart Tolle. I basically told him that I’m over those things now, but that they do have good aspects. Before finding out about Vedanta, I was a big Eckhart Tolle fan for years. Now my workmate seems very curious about Tolle and eagerly asks me questions about his books. As I’m not a Tolle fan anymore, it’s kind of interesting. He’s also quite curious that I’m “over” Tolle now. He’s also one of these guys at work that seems to have issues regarding women.
Shams: It’s an interesting story, but it has a special meaning because it’s clear that it activates some emotions. Can you identify which emotions are triggered by this? The important thing is for you to recognize that you have your own process and that he has his own.
Hugh: Despite all of this, things are relatively smooth. I’ve read so much Vedanta, I’ve watched so many videos. It’s in my mind all of the time.
Shams: That is clear. One part of your soul seems to keep letting grow the desire for moksa. Only good karma and the grace of Isvara could let that happen, so you are blessed. The result is always success.
Hugh: I’m planning to visit my hometown for Christmas and stay most of that time with my father and stepmother. My stepmother is somewhat of an evangelical Christian. When I spend time with them, I sort of play along. It doesn’t hurt to say “amen” after grace before eating dinner. It’s usually all right to listen to her religious talk that comes up sometimes. It’s too complicated to tell her that I’m a Vedantin. I think it would be too troubling for her to know about that, and there’s no real reason to bring it up. There is some concern about spending a lot of time with her over Christmas, of all times. Religious talk will definitely come up.
Shams: You are right. There’s almost never a good reason to talk about “being” a Vedantin. Moreover, it’s not a religion and clearly it shouldn’t be an identity. It’s only a word, a label that we put in the act of studying and loving the means of knowledge. But this understanding means that we have no problem with the different symbols of Isvara. For example, when we got married, my wife and I had some concerns. First, we didn’t care about marriage, but we began to see that it was important for our family and society, and it wasn’t an adharmic thing to do. Then, we really wanted to have a ceremony at the feet of Krishna. However, it was clear that our families and friends belonged to a particular culture with particular sets of conceptions about God and how things were. Also, we were raised as Catholics, so there wasn’t really a conflict there. Therefore we organized a Catholic wedding. We didn’t do it to please others, but because it was the natural thing to do – and everyone was pleased. It was all the same, and it was nice to recognize that, for the heart, there wasn’t a real difference between Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism), Islam, Christianity or any other religion. If God doesn’t care, why should we?
It’s also a nice practice to gently accept people’s opinions about Spirit, without trying to change them or showing them our “real” approach. Now, I think that a real approach for someone who was born in the Western world is “being” a Christian. It’s a strange myth if we analyze it, but it has beautiful meanings and it’s deep within our culture. Curiously, it’s possible that, when we want to make a point about Isvara and the self, it’s because our Semitic (Christian and Judaic) heritage and its ways to approach religion, i.e. evangelization and those stories about prophets leading groups of people against other groups. So maybe our impulse to reject Christianity is a Christian impulse! Most of us are naturally Christians, whether we like it or not, so it’s not a lie to say that we love Jesus. It’s in our DNA, and it’s just another name for Isvara. We could say too that the Vedic approach is internal and more inclined to accept other symbols and levels of comprehension. We can learn from this, accepting and integrating the cultural programmation of our jiva, while accommodating the people around us. Why in the world would we want to make a point or convince anyone about anything?
Having said this, let me say that, as the story about your friend, I think that this is not really about the explicit topic. Religion is not the main theme, but the way you relate to your father and his wife. In this relationship, the ego is the one that controls reactions and judgements. How to recognize the ego? Easy: it’s the one that finds internal conflict.
Arjuna didn’t have a problem like this, because his culture was precise about dharma in every aspect. That means that he would never confound his place regarding his family and his society. Among other things, it would never occur to him to correct his mother or his father (or his father’s wife). Then it was impossible to have psychological issues related to the relationship with mother or father, because the order was simple and clear. In our case, the contrary is a kind of law. So we have to learn and integrate this order.
Hugh: There are always concerns in daily life about what I’m doing and the people I’m around. Sometimes I wish I could just escape from it all.
Shams: That is natural in a determined part of the journey of the soul of almost every human being, but you should remember that Vedanta is not the escape gateway. Or at least it’s not the next gateway for a soul in your situation.
If the mind is trying to solve some situations belonging to the level of the soul via the means of knowledge (Vedanta), it won’t get anywhere.
The usual reason for this is that the mind is avoiding dealing with what has to be dealt with while escaping to the intellectual world. But Vedanta wasn’t designed for that. Vedanta only works when you are reasonably happy and free of vasanas.
Fortunately, we have the Bhagavad Gita, which presents a story about a man who wants to receive and apply the means of knowledge without first dealing with his karma. The answer of the Lord to this inconsistency is providential help for all of us: the yogas. Because you are familiar with James’ way of communicating Vedanta, you are well informed about this, but there’s always the unconscious temptation to use Vedanta as an escape tool. I’m not saying that you should stop reading Vedanta, I’m just reminding you that Vedanta won’t work if you don’t first address the other part. Let’s call it the part of the soul, purifying the mind.
Remember that the mind should first develop all the qualifications because Vedanta was made only for the last part of the project. The first part is what is called the journey of the soul.
Hugh: Overall I’m a fairly positive person, but of course sometimes things can get tamasic. I wonder if my life is really God’s will. Sometimes I seem to understand that everything is God’s will. Other times I’m not so sure.
Shams: For a God’s will to exist, we would need a God on one side, and his/her will on the other side. That’s an anthropomorphic or at least dualistic vision of God. As with anything else, “God” is, first of all, a word. We use it to name the sum of all things. As you see, it’s not necessary to have faith about this. If there’s something bigger than the jiva, and something bigger than the bigger, and something that embraces all that (a macrocosmic body), then there’s Isvara. He/She/It doesn’t need will, because it’s everything. So there’s not a God wanting things to be like this or that, because there’s only God. There’s not an “us” and “God.” There’s just Isvara and its apparent parts. So there’s only God – nothing but God – we assume that all the things happening are happening because the total “allows” it to happen. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a totality. It would be a dependent God. So this is not the case. You don’t need faith or intuition, but understanding. If you read this in the texts and in James’ teaching, and there are still doubts, maybe you need to keep focusing on the developing of the qualifications, i.e. going forward in the journey of the soul.
Hugh: Sometimes I think there must be a better way to live life, with more bliss, even though I know bliss is just a subtle sheath.
Shams: Of course you are right. There is a blissful way to live life. Most of the time you have to get there before applying Vedanta because the mind has to experience by itself that bliss doesn’t equal freedom. That’s sattva, and it’s the last rope. You are not it and you don’t need it to complete yourself (as you are already complete), but you have to “be there” in order to test it.
Also, there is a better way to live life and it is legitimate for the individual to seek it. The journey of the soul consists in going through all this levels of experience in the world of objects and the mind, while you gain the knowledge needed to live like that.
One of the most useful things that we can learn is that the pleasure is not in the object, so we start looking towards its unexamined beliefs about the self and the world, instead of keeping projecting everything outside.
Hugh: Today I was doing a last-minute assignment. There were definitely positive things to the day, yet I found myself wondering some of the tamasic thoughts that sometimes come on any other day too.
Shams: You are not defined or limited by the positive or negative things that apparently happen to you. That is the ego. The ego is a part of the subtle body. You are neither the ego nor the subtle body. You are the witness. Before you have the hard and fast knowledge about your true identity, the ego should be tamed. That is one of the natural destinations of the journey of the soul. The ego is a belief (a very strong one) about who we are. The jiva will always have an ego, so there’s no such a thing as ego death. However, the major part of the spiritual path consists in letting the ego mature and recognizing that it’s only an object in you. When you recognize it as an object, you still see its normal reactions, but without identifying with them. When you align your ideas and emotions with dharma, then the ego “heals” its wounds and stops repeating hurtful patterns.
Hugh: Why am I doing this? Why do so many other people seem to live life more smoothly? Why haven’t I found work in life that really resonates with me? Why do my peers have spouses, children, savings, etc. when I’ve been in debt most of my adult life? Why has my life been so nomadic? Etc., etc.
Shams: Maybe the best answer to those questions is “why not?”
Another right answer is “because of karma.”
In the general standards of fortune and good karma, I’m sure that coming to Vedanta is the biggest prize in life. By far, it’s the best thing that could happen to a human being, but a mind that is attached to self-pity would still want to keep looking at what it’s lacking instead of recognizing the value of knowledge and acting upon it. It’s a good sign that you are not completely actively believing this, but another part is yet very actively doing it – it’s just a simple effect of karma, as is everything else, but now it’s your responsibility to do something about it, if you want a change. Remember that it’s easy to change habits, not that easy with emotions, but to change ideas is the hardest thing to do, as the intellect is the subtler part of the subtle body.
Lots of individuals would receive as a gift the characteristics of being a man, Caucasian, cultured, young, kind, raised and living in a developed country, single, religious – should I go on? It’s not my interest to convince you about your luck as a jiva, but to show you that you are not applying a real dispassionate discrimination. That is again the ego ruling the mind, projecting outside what should be recognized inside as part of the journey of the soul.
Roughly, the mechanics of ego strategies are like this:
1. something interpreted as very painful happens to the child
2. the child develops an unconscious strategy to deal with it
3. the strategy becomes a crystallized pattern
4. the pattern is not logical and is not related to present situations, but to the past
5. some events trigger that pattern
6. sometimes (maybe for most people) the pattern becomes the most easy and visited way of responding to the world stimuli
7. therefore, unconsciously, the person tends to seek situations in life that lead to the perpetuation of the pattern.
So your questions are not logical in the present, but belong to a pattern (of feeling inadequate, doomed, etc.) in the past, that could be demolished by the rigorous application of karma yoga.
If I may say, the most useful answer to your questions is “because you made decisions.” And God delivered results. Facts are independent from our thoughts and emotions, but our thoughts and emotions definitely have an impact on how the future is built. There is always an opportunity to make a new statement, away from the known pattern, but you are the only one who can change the direction.
Hugh: I try to apply Vedantic thoughts to these things. The thoughts come back often though.
Shams: But now we know that Vedanta won’t directly give you the solution.
The journey of the soul is now asking for your attention to other regions. Like Arjuna, you have a way to go and a set of tools and several allies that will help you, beginning with Lord Krishna.
As you might note, this “journey” concept is not Vedanta, but can be seen from the structure that takes account of the jiva and the field of life. It’s just a way to express the symbolic way of integration that is waiting for the subtle body. I’ve been repeating it because it’s important for you to have in mind that you cannot skip steps before inquiry.
Recognizing that (as everyone of us individuals) you are (apparently) on a journey of the soul means that you certainly should be moving your soul into a “better place,” which includes discovering that the place is not outside of you.
We talked directly about the soul, as the self is still (apparently) out of reach, and happily Vedantic structure contemplates it. Meditation, karma yoga and bhakti will always be the best time-tested tools. Always under this comprehension, some introspective psychological work could be beneficial when we want to communicate the order of life to our unconscious.