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Twelve-Step AA Program
Riana: Just a bit of background – I have been “studying” Vedanta via YouTube and the ShiningWorld website for about two years now. I have read all of James’ books and listened to the recordings at least once, but the Panchadasi and Vivekachoodamani are my favorites, and I have listened to that series at least twice, and many of the individual teachings several times. Radical, they are! I have read about 2,000 satsangs on your website. From the first audio interview I heard of James, I recognized that he was revealing through his teachings the powerful Truth of existence, and I was hooked. It took me 18 years of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA, 12-step work) and becoming a kundalini yoga teacher to be ready for James’ teachings. My daily practice of meditation and kundalini yoga keep my mind sattvic so that I can take a stand in awareness as aswareness through life’s tribulations.
As an anesthesiologist and scientist, I have been interested in consciousness and the mind, and when I first heard James say that consciousness was the substrate and that it did not evolve from matter, I recognized Truth, and I have been studying Vedanta for 15 to 20 hours a week since. In the meantime, I am working daily at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in the Warrior Clinic with wounded soldiers with PTSD and addiction, and I incorporate the principles of Vedanta and yoga, along with acupuncture.
Sundari: It sounds like you have done the work, Riana! Well done to you. Usually, by the time we have the good fortune to come to Vedanta (and more so, to find James as a teacher), we have all been through the mill of duality and suffered a great deal. You have clearly found your svadharma and are doing something noble with your knowledge, along with what is true to your nature.
Riana: AA’s 12 steps are a group of principles, that when practiced as a way of life, enable the sufferer to be happily and usefully whole. So say the AA texts. The searching and fearless moral inventory of AA’s fourth and fifth steps dispel the ignorance that drives so many of our human behaviors, and this is quite useful for Vedanta. The helping others (AA’s 12 steps) refers not to “do-goodism,” as James labels it, rather to karma yoga. In the 2011 Vivekachoodamani tapes, James is critical of AA, unfairly so, in my opinion.
Sundari: Strangely enough, we are both are for the 12-step program, as it has its place and is very useful as a means to resolve addiction as a result of difficult karma or conditioning, which clearly does help to prepare the mind for self-inquiry. Vedanta requires a qualified and purified mind for self-knowledge to obtain and is not designed to help heal one’s psychology, even though it offers the best teachings to do just this, karma yoga and the teaching on the gunas. The AA program is not a means of knowledge and is not intended to fulfil the role of self-inquiry, as it does not have an independent scriptural teaching, in particular karma yoga and the gunas. It cannot explain or dissolve duality or the doer, it is a method designed to help doers in duality. Perhaps you misunderstood what James meant to convey – sometimes he comes across as a bit abrasive. You can rest your mind that both of us understand the program and see its value.
Riana: Perhaps it took all those years in AA, with its “searching and fearless moral inventory” and its tenets of principled living, and working with others to prepare my mind for Vedanta. And then kundalini yoga with its beautiful chants and symbols of the self, discovered through pranayamas and asanas in the presence of a devoted yogi, to help the mind know the bliss of sattva. In any case, I want to say thank you for your and James’ service, and if I can do anything, let me know. Once I heard James’ first talk, I recognized the Truth and there was an immense sense of peace and joy… and love for the one and only self.
Sundari: Thank you for your appreciation. I have no doubt that the all you went through has prepared you for Vedanta, which is the end of the road for seekers. Once you are on the Vedanta bus, you are no longer a seeker. You are home. And living and sharing the knowledge in appropriate ways is the dharma of a jnani. We are so happy for you that you have found your calling and the truth of who you are.
Yoga does not take the place of self-inquiry, which clearly you know, but as with the 12-step program, it definitely helps to purify the mind and keep it focused on the self. The danger in the yoga world is the experiential idea that one can do something to improve the person so that they “can experience the bliss of sattva” or be fit for enlightenment, which is a special state achieved only by the few. A notion Vedanta dispels with the teaching, that as your nature is sattva, you are already whole and complete as the self. Your only problem is ignorance – a lack of knowledge – of this fact.
You do not need a special experience to experience the self, because that is all you ever experience. And there is nothing you can do to attain it, because you already are it. The doer is the problem, not the solution. No action taken by a limited entity can produce a limitless result, moksa. But you can do something about preparing the mind for self-knowledge to obtain – self-inquiry – which, while also an action, leads to self-knowledge, which is limitless.
There is also the danger in yoga that sattva confers a superior spiritual status, which can get one stuck in “the golden cage” of sattva, as we call it. It can also produce spiritual pride. The belief that you can only experience the bliss of the self when the mind is sattvic is false. The truth is, even if the mind is rajasic or tamasic and not blissful, you are still experiencing the self because the self is beyond all three gunas and all experiential bliss, which are all objects known to it. You are the bliss of knowledge, which is not a feeling or dependent on feeling.
And though one can more or less maintain a sattvic state of mind through guna management, the gunas are always changing because only Isvara controls them. To be fully and permanently liberated requires (1) that we understand that Isvara is in charge of the results of action, (2) how the gunas function and how they govern everything in creation, including “our” conditioning, and do not identify with them. This is the only way we can completely render our vasanas non-binding and negate the doer; no other way works permanently.
Enjoying any experiential or devotional practice is beautiful for the mind when practised with karma yoga. We encourage and promote bhakti yoga because it is an essential means to negate the childish ego, and also very helpful to people not yet qualified for self-inquiry due to psychological problems, such as the people with addiction problems you coach through the 12-step program. We are both busy with books on the gunas which explain the doctrine in depth, but also how the teaching on the gunas can be used in therapy to assist non-qualified people resolve their emotional problems. I imagine this could be very useful to you too in your work.
~ Love and blessings from both of us, Sundari