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Iron Bars Do Not a Prison Make
[Editor: The email below was directed to James and Sundari.]
First, thank you so much for all the knowledge of Vedanta that you make so easily available with magnificent clarity, devotion and simplicity. I am so grateful. I wish to share with you the principal lines of my journey, and to know if you have any advice or comments. It is a long email, and I hope it is not too much.
As a child a part of my understanding of God was that God is the love in me and in everybody and that the world was not what it seems to be. I couldn’t tell why or what was. It appeared to me as impressions, some pictures and feelings that told me this world is like a lie or a trap. I easily visualize pictures and sense energies. I never questioned God, because it seemed so natural for me. But it was confusing because there was nobody to talk to about it. But at times my confidence in God was there. Now I have a life with few activities and enjoy the alone time. I read scripture, write, sing and paint.
When I was young my parents divorced and I became quite introverted and still, living mostly in my head. I didn’t like people very much and didn’t let them get close. This gave me the opportunity to live in my inner world and taught me how to inquire and trust the answers that came instead of the ideas of others. I was sometimes right and sometimes wrong, but I couldn’t get knowledge in any other way. So very early on I developed a relaxed, objective view of life, maybe a bit too objective, but it was perfect for Vedanta which would come later. I was quite confident in the world too. I lived on the streets, ran from the police, used a lot of drugs… dangerous stuff… and wasn’t interested in school, which I found boring and a waste of time.
But I got into very much trouble with the “system” and at 17 ended in a psychiatric hospital on strong psychotropic medications. I came out of the hospital at the age of 35. I will omit all the details about the drama there, but the nuthouse was a good ashram because it brought a deeper understanding, and I never complain about it. After many years there full-time, I was really forced to surrender to Isvara. But before I did, I tried to commit suicide and got my first powerful epiphany, a near-death experience. It was an opportunity to get closer to an understanding about who or what I really was.
When it was happening it was impossible for the jiva to discriminate, because there was no body-mind-senses complex available, but there was an enormous light that filled the whole universe. A part of mind must have been there to remember this. It was a sense of fullness and completeness, lightness, bliss and peace. Before the experience, the body and mind were very concrete and practical, and the jiva was the body-mind, but after it the thinking and feeling process was like clouds just passing in the sk,y and the faraway body appeared as an instrument, just the five elements. I experienced (at this time without Vedantic knowledge) no difference between my body and other bodies. After this experience, the feeling/belief/sensation that I am the owner of the body just disappeared. After this realization the staff in the hospital noticed the shift too, but of course nobody knew what it was.
After that it took 10 years to really establish the knowledge, and then with you and Vedanta the Grande Finale! This understanding of Vedanta you deliver so skillfully gave me a real opportunity to fit everything I knew into the big picture. Without it, such a strong experience would not be understood for what it is. That was really important for my mind. Crucial! It’s love.
God bless you both.
I think the reason it was so important to understand this experience was because I had never been a spiritual seeker and had no idea that there was such a thing as seeking to know who I am. The first time I heard about inquiry was from a video satsang with you, and then from some Neo-Advaita stuff. So I came directly to the traditional teaching of Vedanta. Such a Grace! It is beyond words.
At this time I was 30 years old and a psychiatric patient for 13 years doped on psychotropic drugs, living in a hospital with a very strong God-love relationship. My God was not a judge or a punisher. It was the thing that lives in the heart of all, something that bestows grace on us. I knew that I am God and my body was a vehicle to serve life’s purpose. But I couldn’t explain WHY it was like that. I understood that I was taken care of no matter what type of theater seemed to be going on in the world around. So I started to deeply trust my God-knowledge.
Psychiatry or not, I was free (at this time more as a person). I use this statement often as a provocative way to deal with the hard hospital conditions, like when I was in bed with my limbs restrained. I would scream at the hospital staff: “I am free, nobody can take this freedom away from me, because it is my nature, I am freedom!” They all thought I was mad because I had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and bipolar, to name a few. I was talking to God, yes, but I was talking to myself. Talking to God is very wrong for psychiatrists; you have to be mentally ill to do that!
One year later, still in the hospital, I experienced a second epiphany. It came out of the blue. This one seem to be totally controlled by some Force, and I had no chance to avoid it. My body was controlled by this Force, like you describe in your your epiphany at the post office. My understanding of who I was was not clear yet, so this epiphany was a bit strange. To the doctors it looked like a deep depression or a deep sleep, but for me I knew it was most likely a preparation for the next chapter for the journey. My body was totally unable to get out of bed, eat or speak for three months. Nurses came into the room to give me water, that is all.
After three months, a Voice arose from the spinal core of the body-instrument. It was not human, but almost like a blending of the five senses: smell, speech, sound, touch and seeing. It delivered wisdom. It started from behind the navel and arose upward and passed through the top of the head and projected its teaching as if on a 360-degree screen. The body wasn’t affected at all; it was unable to move. It allowed me to see the body from another angle, as if from the body of another person. I was within and without the body simultaneously. I was never scared, because it was very natural, and I knew I was being taken care of.
The Voice was the beginning of self-inquiry; it was Vedanta. It gave me an understanding of the empirical reality, the world of material objects. It showed me what moves and what doesn’t. It showed me that I, as awareness, never moves and that awareness is my natural presence and always free. It taught me that there are no real objects out there, but just the mind that reflects awareness and projects itself as many different forms of objects with many different names and aspects. I understood that when going from A to B in a car, for example, it isn’t me that moves, but it is the mind taking different forms as the body passes objects that creates a feeling that I am moving. It taught me that objects arise and die in me, awareness.
And this knowledge gave me an initial, not a complete, understanding of myself, of freedom. I knew firmly from this point on that it doesn’t matter if I lived locked in the prison section of the hospital ward, where I had been living without external freedom for so many years. It was very difficult for my jiva to be in this situation before this knowledge, because my diagnosis was false but now, seven years later, I understand that I was actually there for spiritual growth and self-knowledge. But with this knowledge I felt that it was great to rest in peace in the hospital as an old man, in prison as freedom. Beautiful. It was not a give-up attitude, like when I tried to commit suicide, but a surrendering one.
It seems Isvara had to teach me through epiphanies because no other option was available in hospital. No books, no internet, no information and no physical teacher. All the teachings came from me and returned to me. The blessing of a physical teacher came later, with you.
Your formulation of the teaching was the key to getting really free as a person and clear about the knowledge of who I really am and my relationships to the objects that appear in me. The way you define and present the words produced great clarity. What an amazing knowledge it is! I could never have harvested enough from the epiphanies to get to the end of this journey with such ease.
One year ago I was guided to Vedanta by a friend. I read your book The Essence of Enlightenment, and it set my mind free. Beautiful! I am so grateful. So I decided to live a dedicated life with Vedanta as my teacher. It is important for me, for health and for the whole life. I went through the whole course: Tattva Bodha, Bhagavad Gita, Atma Bodha, Vivekachoodamadi, Aparokshanubhuti, Upanishads, Pachandasi, bhakti and the Bhagavad Gita Home Study Course with Swami Dayananda Saraswati. I love it. I bought other books from Swami Dayananda and enjoy the reading and listening to them. And Vedanta clarified the place of epiphanies in the spiritual quest.
The last epiphany wasn’t mind-blowing sensation of bliss and light, but it was natural feeling that I was in an amazing state of peace and bliss, a deep sense of grace and thankfulness and humility that I had never touched before. And after it my life turned upside down; I was released from the hospital and today I live drug-free in a flat out in nature. I just enjoy life.
When I was released from the hospital six years ago, I sued the government for my imprisonment because I was never actually sick. I was just a very lost and confused youth. The case has taken on a life of its own. I don’t have to pay for it. I don’t really care if I win or lose, but I have questioned whether it is right to sue. I trust Isvara will deliver a result that is good for everyone. With the help of the Bhagavad Gita I think it is right because of the adharmic way psychiatry treats and understands human beings.
It doesn’t seem right to prescribe psychotropic drugs, which are very detrimental to the body and mind, without right understanding, as they slow down the whole process of self-knowledge. They make the mind tamasic and rajasic, like a ping-pong ball that never is in peace. Psychiatry uses drugs that get the mind tamasic but they think it makes the mind sattvic because a seemingly “quiet” – but actually dull – patient is so much easier to deal with. So I am dedicated to the dissemination of self-knowledge, in psychiatry too, not for saving the world, but with an attitude of humility, self-confidence and love. I will take the result as prasad.
Now the hospital staff, at the behest of the director or the hospital, wants me to share more of my self. Is this part of the self-actualization process? Because I am clear about who I am and who I’m not, thanks to you, I made a sincere commitment to do what is important in life, to serve Isvara in the form of humanity. I never had much to do with others, but at times it will be great to have some people to share with.
Love is the glue that “makes” the world non-dual; everything arises and dies in me and I am the Love, the Awareness, that allows creation, sustenance and destruction in this universe. Without me, no universe, no world. My jiva can be very emotional when it experiences mercy, love, grace and joy.
Sometimes people want me to share my patient history – and I can share a little bit of it – but I say no. It is dramatic, full of pain and weird things that just pollute people’s minds. It is trendy now to share these weird psychological experiences to help psychiatry learn to do things in a better way. But I have forgotten most of my story now, so it is difficult to share. And I see it as a blessing, so there is nothing weird about it.
I have been blessed with a great ease of communication, but I am interested in communicating words of knowledge, not just personal stories and meanings. For the personal side, I paint and sing.
But I can share what I learned from my life, which is what Vedanta is all about. Vedanta is so natural and easy for me to understand. With constant practice it has become a lifestyle and doesn’t require effort anymore.
Could you please tell me as far as possible if my attitude, understanding and qualifications are in accord with the teaching? And could you please help me to get it more clarity if you see some shaky understandings or formulations?
Thank you so much to both of you for taking time to read these words. Your guidance is always appreciated. For me, both of You are the perfect symbol of what the Self is. And Vedanta is my Guru. I am my own Guru – with a little help from you until my understanding is clear as still water reflecting the Truth.