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Vedanta and Kashmir Shaivism
Fred: Dear James, I have been listening again to your talks and reading Dayananda, and my love of Vedanta has been reawakened in a powerful way.
I don’t want to take up your time with too many details about my story, but I did want to tell you that I appreciate your teaching and the time we spent together. If I seemed ungrateful, I am sorry. It appears to me that spiritual life is much like a spiral: we keep revisiting the same points at higher levels, not that the self moves, but our realization becomes clearer as the weight of ignorance falls away. I faced a conundrum, which I tried to resolve by writing a critique of Vedanta and a justification of Kashmir Shaivism.
James: I understand. The problem, however, is that you can’t compare Vedanta with other teachings, because Vedanta stands alone, owing to its teaching of satya and mithya, the knowledge required for moksa. No other teaching makes the relationship between the real and the apparent clear – if in fact it exists in other teachings – which means that all other teachings end up with a confusion between experience and knowledge, a failure to understand which prevents moksa. We are not against any sadhana that prepares the mind to understand and assimilate self-knowledge. Sadhana is for purification and knowledge is for moksa.
Fred: The problem was that I had a strong predilection for Vedanta, but felt singled out by Isvara for a kundalini sadhana. What to do? I went with the shakti. But now it seems plain to me that the conclusion I reached right before I met you is the valid one: shakti is maya – the jagat; it comes and goes in all its variety of forms, including kundalini experiences. Can such experiences eventually propel one beyond the jagat?
James: Nothing propels the jiva beyond the world, because the world is not real (mithya) and the jiva is already the self, so there is nowhere for it to go. So the only solution is to discriminate satya and mithya.
Fred: Muktananda was very powerful – a giver of life-changing experiences – but he never had a teaching, other than to trust the shakti and worship the guru.
James: He was powerful in that he seemed to be able to transmit shakti, but he was not powerful enough to overcome his sex vasana.
Fred: There’s something wanting in this.
James: Absolutely. Isvara is wanting. Without Isvara the whole Siddha Yoga path degenerated into a cult of personality, with predictable results.
Fred: To be fair, he did refer people to the Shiva Sutras and the Pratybhijnahirdayam, but few in Siddha Yoga – or anywhere else – were qualified to study these texts. We have buddhi – intellect – and we want to know what’s what. That’s where Vedanta comes in. The wonderful clarity and confidence that comes from studying and contemplating Vedanta is unmatched by anything else. When you sent me that appreciation of the Vivekachudamani commentary, it led me to reread my own writing and I re-converted myself – or rather Vedanta reignited my love for it. Just wanted to tell you this, for what it’s worth.
James: Thanks for the clarification. I didn’t feel that you were ungrateful. I never expect gratitude anyway. I realized that the experience and knowledge idea had not been completely assimilated. It is completely understandable; it’s the number one obstacle to moksa, hands down. You are right about Muktananda. It was all about having an epiphany and then invoking the shakti to move the devotee on experientially. But as you say, the problem is that Isvara gave us intellect and we need to know what is what. In the framework of Vedanta, epiphanies can be very useful, but without clarity about the nature of moksa, they are often extremely unhelpful. As far as the idea of reading one’s way to enlightenment, we don’t recommend it, because if you are reading for moksa it means you don’t know what moksa is, and therefore the reader will interpret the words according to his or her ignorance. On the topic of moksa, seekers in general take ignorance for knowledge, i.e. that moksa is an event and not the nature of the inquirer.
Basically, for Vedanta to work, you have to realize your utter helplessness, accept that you may be confusing knowledge and ignorance, and expose your mind to the teaching by a qualified teacher, which means learning the meaning of the words as they are meant to be understood. Even – perhaps especially – highly educated and intelligent people are prone to interpreting. You can’t interpret Vedanta. It is a science, so you have to learn the precise definitions – or the teaching doesn’t work.
In any case, the problem stems from the fact that people don’t realize that knowledge can produce experience. They think it is merely intellectual, which is to say that it is impotent experientially. And since seekers feel experientially challenged – they don’t accept their karma – they want something radical and dramatic and blissful, so they dismiss knowledge, which doesn’t seem sexy and life-saving at all.
Experience flows from what the jiva knows. If it knows that it is the non-experiencing witness and stays with that knowledge while restraining the senses, it will see a gradual and powerful shift in its experience as the direct experience of the self as the self – the ever-experienced “I” – is revealed as the vasanas are attenuated by knowledge-born discrimination and dispassion.
~ Much love, James