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Silence Is Not the Self
Kurt: Thank you for the ShiningWorld updates. I hope you and James are doing well.
You had asked me to write you once I had attended the teaching by Swami Tadatmananda to let you know how it was. It was a good experience, and I benefitted from having attended. While there, during one of the meditation sessions, I realized that the silence was not an object appearing to me, but myself, which resulted in a change in my general outlook and approach to what was appearing internally. So I felt it was worth the long drive to attend. This was a question that I had previously written to you concerning, and was blessed with an answer during a meditation while at the Gurukulam.
The swami was an excellent teacher, and obviously an extremely intelligent person, but there were some mannerisms and aspects to his presentation that did not resonate with me. There were a lot of people there from his ashram in New Jersey who, as you would imagine, were very devoted, but I was not really able to join in. The text unfolded was Drk-Drysya-Viveka, and the pacing seemed not quite at the level that would have benefitted me optimally. I guess there were some people not too experienced with Vedanta attending, which required him to slow the pace, which was sometimes annoying for me.
Please don’t get the wrong idea, it was a good experience, and I’m glad I attended, but I don’t think I would be attending or seeking him out in the future.
Ted’s book has been great, as I took it along on my trip and read it while there. I’m looking forward to getting your book as well.
All the best to you both.
Sundari: Lovely to hear from you, thank you for your feedback. We have heard very good things about Swami T, but once you have heard James teach, it is hard to adjust to the Indian method. Some people say he is the Indian equivalent of James, but I don’t know about this. Still, any access to the teachings is a good thing, and you clearly got something important from them. Isvara has many voices and speaks to us in the way we need to hear.
Your realisation that you are the silence is an important from the jiva perspective, but as silence is known to you, it cannot be you. The same applies to space. Both space and silence are good metaphors for consciousness because they are containers for objects. But they fall short because neither space nor silence is conscious. They do not know you, so they cannot be you, meaning consciousness.
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 subtlest manifestation of sat, awareness), which is the true nature of the mind when it is clear and uncontaminated by rajas and tamas; however, as silence is not conscious, it cannot be conflated with awareness, because it is mithya, and awareness is satya.
Kurt: Thank you for your reply. I must admit to some confusion, due to my understanding that the silence of the sattvic mind was a reflection of consciousness. What would be the purpose of “locking into the silence,” as James recommends in his book, if there is no value?
Sundari: The reflection of consciousness is not conscious. It is a reflection and known to you. The true nature of the mind is sattva, obscured from us when rajas and tamas dominate the mind. Aiming for peace of mind entails bringing rajas and tamas into balance with sattva – managing the gunas. Sattva, like silence, is an object known to you, but it is the guna springboard for moksa. Self-knowledge will not obtain in a noisy, extroverted or dull mind dominated by rajas and tamas. So the benefit of “locking onto the silence” (meaning sattva) is enormous for the inquirer.
However, remember that moksa is the ability to discriminate awareness, you, from the objects that appear in you, 24/7. The definition of an object is anything other than you. How do you know silence or sattva? If you know something, it cannot be you, as stated previously. You are the knower of silence and sattva. Sattva is a property of a silent mind but the self has no properties. It is trigunaatita – beyond the gunas – and therefore beyond silence.
Kurt: Why then is this realization important from the perspective of the jiva?
Sundari: As mentioned above, aiming for a sattvic mind requires purifying the mind of excess rajas and tamas. When it does, the reflection of the self is experienced in a pure, peaceful mind. However, as important as it is to aim for sattva and lock onto silence, it is important to remember that the self is experienced all the time (it’s all we ever experience) regardless of what is going on in the mind or in its environment. The danger here is thinking that you can only experience the self if you are in silence, which is definitely not true. It helps the mind to be in silence but self-knowledge does not depend on it. As I said previously, silence is not opposed to ignorance. It will not free it from its conditioning, only help it to see and understand it.
Everything in existence requires a thought to prove its existence, except pure existence. It is the self-evident consciousness which is experientially available during silence. But the self is self-revealing. Perception is not required to prove that you are conscious or that you exist. You, the self, are self-evident consciousness and you operate perception, so are prior to and independent of it. You illumine the presence and absence of any object, silence included. Because the self is always present and self-revealing, it can be known whether the mind is inactive and silent or noisy and active. It is the witness of the silent, empty or busy and active mind. You do not need a dead or silent mind for moksa. All that is necessary is a means of knowledge capable of removing ignorance.
Kurt: Thank you, Sundari. I’m happy to have some questions to ask you!