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No Easy Way Out
Allen: Existential dilemma: I would like to thank you for all your hard work answering people’s questions and their response through the ShiningWorld website. Anyway, I would like to talk to you about mostly some of my personal experiences in this dream world. I know you mostly deal with Vedanta, but as someone with much more life experiences through the ups/downs of maya, I would like to know if you can relate to me. I am answering from the point of view of the jiva.
Sundari: Hello, Allen, good to meet you. It is good that you are clear about the perspective from which you are asking questions; that helps you and helps me to help you. It is all very well to understand that you are the self, pure consciousness, but it is quite another to understand what this means for the jiva, who lives in – and never leaves – maya, the world, or apparent reality. As the self, you are the knower of maya and all objects, so you are never in maya, but for the jiva to be free, ignorance of its true nature (duality) must be removed by self-knowledge or it is in the grip of maya. This is where most of the teachings of Vedanta apply. There are no teachings for the self, only for the jiva, because our means of knowledge (perception and inference) are too gross to understand the self, which is subtler than the objects. The effect (the person, or jiva) cannot understand the cause (the self) without a valid means of knowledge, because the self is not an object of perception. It is that which makes perception and inference possible.
We can tell you that you are the self but that will not help you if you cannot translate the knowledge into your own experience through correct knowledge. Therefore the teaching on who and what the jiva is, how it relates to its environment (Isvara, or God) and why it shares the same identity as Isvara (the self, consciousness) is of utmost importance. Vedanta is the logic of existence, it is not theory in practise.
Allen: 1. Sometimes I wish I could reach out to people, especially my family members, and talk to them about “life” in general to find a source of deeper connection with them, but I know that they won’t be receptive, because they don’t care about questions concerning the nature of reality, it’s just been their nature. I’ve tried in the past, but now I really don’t see the point. I love them to death, however, and they’ve always taken care of me very well throughout life. I know they are mostly samsaris motivated by constant work, acquisition, attachments and they are always on the go, never expecting to question the transience of life. But they’ve also found me strange and perplexed by my inability to adopt their values and would automatically close themselves whenever I mention questions concerning the purpose of life. It’s just the way Isvara made them, I guess, little do they know that I seem to have a temperament of a sannyasi.
Sundari: This is common for many people who are ready for Vedanta; most come from families or backgrounds where the people in their lives are not qualified for self-inquiry and do not understand them. It was the same for Ram and me. There is nothing to be done about this, as you say, it is up to Isvara alone. Nobody makes themselves the way they are and nobody makes themselves ready for Vedanta either. It is grace, and grace is earned. As Krishna says to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, “Let not the wise unsettle the minds of the ignorant.” See your family as the self under the spell of ignorance and don’t be disturbed by them or try to change them. Keep your own counsel. If a mind is not qualified (i.e. under the hypnosis of duality) it will not understand a word you say about non-duality.
Allen: I found an almost automatic absolute liking towards James/Ramji’s teachings on YouTube. I guess I’ve been worn out at a very young age, I’ve always been very sattvic, detached, isolated, disinterested in material/status and acquisitions, much like an old soul. I never really fitted in or found interests in most activities, people’s or society’s interests or goals. It’s very difficult even though I spend most of my days living a relaxing, carefree attitude just browsing the internet reading spirituality. I feel like I could be a senior, even though I’m only 25 years of age, I meditate on my death constantly, I probably want to spend the rest of my days living, teaching and working in a spiritual community. Perhaps by the grace of Isvara and through the constant practice of karma yoga I’ll burn off most of my karma, pay off my debts, and that will lead out of current mismatched environment where I can finally find a place to belong one day.
Sundari: You sound like you are describing me at your age and younger! :-) If you are ready for Vedanta, it is hard not to warm to James. Not only is he one of the best Vedanta teachers alive, he is funny, kind, humble and brilliant. He is that rare thing, the “real deal.” You are indeed blessed to have found him and Vedanta so young. All the ShiningWorld teachers are taught by him, which is why we are qualified to help you. It is a tremendous relief to most inquirers to find out that what ails them is not unique, it is not personal – and there is a logical, valid means of knowledge to end suffering.
It is also a relief to know that there is no death for the self, only for the body. As the self, you were never born and you never die. If you are under the spell of duality, or ignorance, and think you are a person with a body, then yes, that “you” dies. But you are not a person. You are pure consciousness.
It does sound like you are an “old soul,” although that is such a worn-out New Age term. There really is no such thing, because there is only one soul. All the same, as a jiva, you must have come in with good karma to have built-in dispassion for the world and discrimination of objects – and of course to have found Vedanta. It is grace, and grace is earned. You have the right attitude towards your karma, clean it up and keep it on a short leash, right in front of you. Don’t leave anything unresolved, finish each day with a clean slate. If you keep at it, Isvara will lead you to the right environment that suits your svadharma, or inborn nature – but in the meantime, accept your life with karma yoga, trust Isvara and accept everything as prasad. Wanting things to be different because you are dissatisfied or because it is not the right time to change them causes much agitation and suffering. Strive always for peace of mind by following dharma, your own and situational dharma.
Allen: 2. The play of maya will continue existing indefinitely, but even then I don’t see the point of it. Is there a way to escape this constant cycle of reincarnation?
Sundari: Yes, maya is called beginningless ignorance because it is a power in awareness and awareness is beginningless. However, personal ignorance, called avidya, is not endless, because self-knowledge removes it, if the mind is qualified. There is no point to maya, because it’s not real.
As you correctly understand, the creation exists for the jiva to work out its karma and to realize its oneness with all as the self. There is no answer to the “why” question, because maya is impossible to understand from within mithya, the apparent reality. We must step out of maya with self-knowledge to understand the play – and when we do we see that it is not real, so there is no need (or possibility) of changing it. We stop wanting things to be different because we see that it is all perfect and it is all the self, both the real (what is always present and never changes) and the apparently real (that which is not always present and always changing).
All the same, the suffering in the world is a difficult thing to come to terms with and understand. If the self is another word for love and love is all there is, how is it possible that suffering exists? When maya appears, Isvara in the form of the Creator appears and the creation manifests. The creation consists of and originates from all three gunas, the impersonal forces that shape the way duality (samsara) plays out – sattva, tamas and rajas. (If you don’t know what the gunas are, read Chapter X of James’ book The Essence of Enlightenment). From the perspective of the person identified as a person, how we see the world and what happens to us – and it – will be interpreted by how the mind is conditioned by the gunas, i.e. the vasanas, which are also generated and coloured by the gunas.
“Evil” or “good and bad” is rajas and tamas working together. These polar opposites will always be present in creation because the apparent reality is a duality and one thing cannot exist unless its opposite also exits. If we had to remove evil, good would also not be possible, because the show would end. For the gunas to work to bring about a creation and to keep it going, they must have the potential to express from one end of the spectrum to the other – thus we (apparently) have good and evil.
Isvara’s creation is playing out as it must – we cannot see the big picture, because as a person we are not omniscient. As I said above, karma is impossible to understand from the person’s perspective, because the person can only look at what takes place in the apparent reality from within the framework of the apparent reality – and that is subject to the influence of their subjective reality. Without self-knowledge, this perspective will always be limited, as it is seen through the filter of duality, ignorance. The only solution is to see everything from the point of view of awareness, satya.
You have come to the right place if you want to put an end to your suffering and free yourself from bondage to identification to objects, freedom from limitation. To start off with, self-inquiry requires us to negate all objects as not-self so that we can discriminate the self (satya) from what it not always present and always changing (mithya). This is the essence of enlightenment. Later, the teachings reveal that all objects are the self, but the self is not the objects, i.e. all objects depend on awareness but awareness depends on nothing.
The teaching on reincarnation is an important teaching, not for the reasons many think it is, as some way to prolong (or shorten) the life of the ego. The subtle body is also referred to as “the traveller” because it is only the psychology (vasana load) of the jiva that “transmigrates,” not the personality (ego). The personality or ego ends with the death of the body. All vasanas are universal and impersonal. This teaching is important to negate the personal jiva and to discriminate satya from mithya. A free jiva, the jnani, or jivanmukta, is the self, what does it matter if the subtle body of a jnani returns after death or not? There is nothing to gain by being here or not being here, for the self. There is no karma for a jnani, the self, incarnated or not. If the subtle body of a jivanmukta should return, it would be born to circumstances that correspond to its lack of karma, perhaps just to contribute to the whole. It is impossible to know. Isvara is karma phala datta, the deliverer of karma, and only Isvara knows. But if a jivanmukta should incarnate, it would be here as the self, and would not suffer, because there is no samsara for a jnani – meaning no duality, or ignorance.
Isvara’s creation does exist because we can experience it, but that does not make it real, and it continues unchanged “before” or “after” moksa. Isvara (in the role of Creator, or “God”) is also not real, but with reference to the personal jiva it is relatively real because it is relatively permanent. But Isvara and the creation are not real with reference to the self, who is permanent and unchanging. The creation is withdrawn at the end of the creation cycle, only to appear again when or where maya manifests, which is why we say that maya is beginningless, an eternal power (shakti) in awareness because awareness is eternal, meaning always existent. The jiva does not and cannot impact Isvara, even though as the self it is “beyond” Isvara. The jiva can only impact Isvara indirectly through self-knowledge, by managing the gunas, negating the doer and rendering the vasanas non-binding, which affects its own experience, but never changes macrocosmic ignorance. This does change the jiva’s life because it no longer projects its subjective reality onto Isvara and is free of the whip of its fears and desires – likes and dislikes.
If as the jiva you project your subjective reality onto Isvara, it causes suffering for you, but it has no effect on Isvara. There is a mistaken belief in the spiritual world that we can make a difference or change the world by becoming a “better person,” improving the world and the person. Vedanta cuts straight to the core of the ignorance and says that as neither the person or the apparent reality is real, how can either be improved or changed? All moksa does is end existential suffering for the jiva so that it can live free of the jiva as the self, while still (apparently) “in” physical form.
Allen: Is Vedanta the best way, just through moksa and karma yoga? I know as awareness we are all bound to a jiva that we must work out, but is there a way not to? I know that it’s impersonal, but it’s painful living here, if I could individualize myself as awareness and reincarnate as a sattvic celestial being, remain in the deep sleep indefinitely or dream a pleasurable dream for the rest of eternity, I would do everything in my power to go there, perhaps to not even exist at all.
Sundari: Nice thought, but self-knowledge is the only way, Allen. No short cuts, I’m afraid to say. It is not possible to not exist, because you are the self, existence. And for you to not exist there would have to be a knower of your non-existence, not so? Otherwise, how would you know that you don’t exist, and what would be the point? What you say above is the ego talking, the one who is suffering because it is identified with the doer, the ego. You can only free yourself from the thoughts in your mind that cause so much suffering if you are qualified and can assimilate the teachings of Vedanta.
It is very painful to live here without self-knowledge – quite frankly, I don’t know how anyone manages it! If you want to be free of the jiva and negate the doer, you must understand its conditioning in the light of self-knowledge (Vedanta), not in light of your own experience, beliefs or opinions. There is no other way to permanently DISMISS THE JIVA, not try to perfect it. You are not the self AND the jiva, even though the jiva is the self. The jiva depends on the self (consciousness/awareness) to exist, but you, the self, depend on nothing. You are whole and complete, non-dual, ever-present, unchanging, limitless awareness, the knower of the jiva.
Without self-knowledge, the jiva is the self apparently under the spell of ignorance. It is identified with the subtle body, which is made a certain way by Isvara, with a particular vasana bundle. It thinks it is limited and incomplete, so chases objects to complete itself – and suffers.
Unmanaged, the mind keeps generating unconscious thoughts which come from an unknown and unknowable place, the unconscious – causal body – Isvara. But now that you have self-knowledge, you are protected and the thoughts/feelings, those awful imposters, cannot take over the mind anymore. They are known for what they are: only apparently real.
So don’t worry about the negative, sad or heavy thoughts that appear in the mind. Self-knowledge will take care of them at the right time if you subject your mind to the scripture with total dedication to freedom. Reclaim the power and real estate of the mind by giving it a project – noble work. Keep it focused on the scripture, on the self. If you don’t have an altar, create one. Practise devotion daily. Chant the names of the Lord, read the Song of the Self aloud. You, the self, are lord of the manor, owner of the mind. Those imposter thoughts will play out as long as they play out, and one day they will be gone. No trace of their existence will remain.
And Allen will be Allen, but he will no longer be burdened with Allen. Say thank you to Isvara, accept what appears, with gratitude. Count your blessings instead of complaining about your situation. It sounds like you are fortunate and have the freedom to concentrate on your spiritual development. Feel the bliss of self-knowledge, always present, witnessing. It does not feel like anything. It is you, existence.
And as always, practise karma yoga on those thoughts/vasanas. Consecrate them to Isvara and practise the opposite thought no matter how ugly the thoughts/feelings. Even if you can’t chase them all off your land, you can ignore them. Trust the knowledge to be the bad cop that’s going to get rid of them permanently, all in good time. Once you are on the Vedanta bus, you don’t have to worry about where you are going or why you are here, because it will take you to where you have always been, to your self. Self-inquiry may seem like a journey from one point to another, but as consciousness is all-pervasive and beyond time and space, there is nowhere you are not. There is nothing to find or gain. There is only something to lose: ignorance of your true nature. You no longer need to chase the deluded idea that you can elude mithya through some transcendental escapist state or fantasy dream world.
When you know who you are, this world is beautiful because you are the beauty that makes beauty beautiful. Existential suffering ends – even though the jiva still goes through its ups and downs. As you do not take yourself to be the jiva, you observe everything going on with dispassion. Everything makes sense, there is nothing you do not understand. You know you are love – you don’t have to wait until “one day, in the end” to understand what love is, what the point of life is. You understand HERE AND NOW, and you never lose it. Nothing can give this to you or take it away, because you are it.
Allen: 3. I know that this is all just a dream, awareness had to manifest multiple forms of itself through maya just because it’s limitless.
Sundari: Wrong, Allen. The self did not have to manifest multiple forms of itself, because it is limitless – IT HAS NO FORM, it has no parts. It is the substrate of everything because that is all there is. Awareness knows itself with or without objects, the self is self-effulgent. When the creation (name and form) appears, the self “becomes” a knower (Isvara – the Creator, or awareness in association with maya) because there are (apparently) objects for it to know.
Awareness has all powers in it, therefore it has the power of maya, the power to delude itself, or it could not be limitless. Maya makes it appear that there are many forms because it creates the illusion of duality – but duality is merely a superimposition onto non-duality. All forms are the self, but the self is not the forms. They are reflections in the mirror of consciousness, which creates a dream creation, like a movie on a screen. Isvara is the projector and projectionist. Maya does not cover awareness, it is an object known to it.
Allen: But it feels scary sometimes. I know that this jiva needs to work out its karma, accept its part in the play and learn the nature of universal non-dual love in the end, but I can’t help but feel like maybe I’m God (I’m it) and I dreamt this entire adventure up with all these scenes, actors, extras, individuals and beings so I won’t feel alone and forgot who I really am, for the fun of it. Hopefully, that isn’t the case, i.e. every being is simply God-consciousness dreaming up their own lives and adventures; it would be incredibly lonely for it to be so.
Sundari: Without self-knowledge, everyone is afraid and feels alone, incomplete, limited. That is why they chase objects to complete them and make them feel “safe.” But nothing achieves this, because no jiva is in control of the objects or the environment. Only Isvara is in control – hence the importance of karma yoga. Everyone does dream up their own subjective reality until self-knowledge removes the hypnosis of duality. There are as many subjective worlds as there are people. How you see the world is how you experience it. Awareness cannot feel alone, because it is ALL ONE. We are always alone. Loneliness is the absence of the “other.” Aloneness is the presence of the self. There is only awareness, we are all it, we are the fullness that knows the scariness. You, the self, are your only security. There is no other. The mithya/maya world is totally unpredictable and always changing. It is a zero-sum game. You cannot win, because you win as much as you lose. When people realize this, they are ready for Vedanta. It is the court of last appeal for jivas. Fortunate are the ones that find it. Once you find Vedanta and you are “on the bus” you can no longer call yourself a seeker, because you are home. You are now a finder.
As the self, you may “be it/God,” but God is not you. God/Isvara is an object known to you, as is the jiva. As the jiva, you are one with God/Isvara in that your common identity is awareness, but there are big differences between jiva-you and Isvara (see email attached on why Isvara and jiva are the same but different). We can claim that we are God, or Isvara, if we know what it means to be the self and are free of limitation. Until then, it is just the ego talking, claiming that it is greater than God. It is not. Even when self-knowledge has obtained in the mind, the jivamukta, or free jiva, never leaves the apparent reality. Isvara’s creation (the empirical as opposed to subjective personal reality of the jiva) is a lawful universe, run by natural laws which we ignore at our peril, enlightened or not. Isvara is both the intelligent cause, that which shapes the materials into form (without ever losing or modifying its own nature), and the material substance, meaning the effect from which the forms are created, like the spider spins its web from its own body but is not the web, although the web is the spider. If Isvara had to become one with the apparent reality, there would be no possibility of ending ignorance, because it would be real, meaning permanent.
You never experience an Isvara/God apart from the thought of them. They are objects known to you, so they cannot be you. You are never what you know. The whole problem starts with the identification with the body, which makes it look like the world is out there, that you are dependent on it and that whatever is in charge of it is controlling you, which it is – until self-knowledge obtains in the mind. But it never controls you as the self. It only (apparently) controls the self under the spell of maya, ignorance = the jiva, or person.
Once ignorance is removed, devotion to Isvara as the Field of Existence in which the jiva lives continues. But it is devotion to Isvara in the form of the self, not to an external object, an extra-cosmic deity or set of beliefs. It is the devotion of knowledge, called jnana bhakti (see attached satsang). The jivanmukta (free person) follows dharma unfailingly, not because it is trying to be a “good” person, but because it values peace of mind above all else.
It does matter and is extremely important that we surrender the jiva, “our” lives and actions, to Isvara through karma yoga. It is the only way to end limitation and negate the childish doer, or ego, the one who owns experience and interprets reality according to its subjective reality or vasanas. We encourage devotion to Isvara for this purpose. The other satsang I attached also deals with this issue, called Who or What Is God?
Allen: I’m only stating this because of my personal experience discriminating the self from the non-self, going with the flow/ease. I’ve been getting a lot of déjà vu, I keep ending up in places where I know I’ve probably been and done already. Is this jiva just replaying the same life over and over in a state of eternal recurrence once it lets go into the hands of Isvara? Because my life has been like a movie recently and it seems like I’m supposed to be the “main star” conspiring at the end of the play, even though in the end I hopefully wish my prarabdha karma will not make it so.
Sundari: We cannot “get into the hands of Isvara,” we (the jiva) are a product of the three gunas – which are Isvara – and we are only here because Isvara created the subtle body so that we can experience the world, objects. It’s all Isvara, this maya world. We are all the “main stars” in the play of life – and yes, there is only one play playing out, although it seems like there are many individual plays. But it’s a both/and, not an either/or. It depends on which perspective we are looking at the jiva. From the self’s point of view, there is no play, because there is only the self. From the jiva’s point of view, there are many plays and they all seem different and real, thanks to maya’s power to delude.
The jiva and its conditioning seem personal, but there is actually only one Eternal Universal Impersonal Jiva appearing as many. But there are two “types” of jiva: the eternal Jiva, Jivatman, and the non-eternal jiva, the ego, “I” sense, doer, or ahamkara. The eternal jiva has no qualities, because it is really awareness. It is free. The non-eternal jiva has qualities (sattva, rajas and tamas), as it is part of the reflecting medium, the Field of Existence, the dharma field, or Isvara – creation. It is not free because it is bound by the gunas. The non-eternal jiva appears in the Field as a thought. It is not real. Since all thoughts originate from Isvara/maya/the causal body, and appear in the reflecting medium, all thoughts have gunas, or qualities. If I am identified with the thoughts, I think I am my thoughts and feelings. The identification is caused by avarana, confusion (tamas), also called dravya shakti (inertia), which produces moha (delusion), seeing something as other than it is. Projecting qualities onto the “I” is adhyasa, superimposition, which is why we need self-knowledge to remove ignorance.
Allen: I know these questions are mostly unrelated to the teachings and you probably don’t even have the answers to them, but I just want someone who can relate to this in this apparent reality. Perhaps Ramji would know or maybe Ted. Whatever the case, I’m glad Vedanta appeared in my dream, hopefully it’s also not another conspiracy within the play and it will quickly deliver me to the calm, stable, spiritual life with the individuals I wish to be with at the end of my life. This sounds too bizarre to be posted on the satsang page; perhaps it’s best to answer this email privately.
Sundari: Your questions are totally related to the teachings, are asked by most inquirers and we definitely do indeed have the answers to all of them, and any other questions you could come up with. There is nothing unique about your questions at all and there is nothing we cannot explain with self-knowledge. Your voice is the voice of the self under the spell of ignorance, with some knowledge but not enough to remove ignorance. You need proper teaching, to start at the beginning, sign on to the logic and surrender to the teachings. There is no magical process by which you can bypass what you came here to do: negate the doer, understand and dissolve its conditioning in the light of self-knowledge (Vedanta) and live free as the self. You are indeed blessed that Isvara came to you in a dream and you found ShiningWorld.
Man up, face your fears and do the work! You have been given the tools you need, the only tools on the planet that have the power to remove ignorance.
The problem is that most people think they can do it out on their own. But no one can, because without a qualified teacher and an independent teaching, you will interpret everything you read according to the filters of your own experience, beliefs and opinions. I have attached a satsang on this issue for you to read as well as the nine steps of self-inquiry that I wrote up as an FAQ. You need to follow the instructions we give to inquirers on our contact page before writing to us. Please make sure you read it and follow it if you truly want us to help you. You must help yourself first.
As for posting your satsang, we post all satsangs on the website anonymously because they benefit other students – just as the ones you read benefited you. You are welcome to write to Ted or me; James does not take on many students anymore. Please chose who you wish to write to, as we do not encourage people to write to more than one teacher. We are all extremely busy, and if you want a dedicated teacher, then pick one and stick with them. We are all qualified teachers of Vedanta – but although we can teach you, we are not capable of removing your ignorance or doubts. Only Isvara can remove ignorance IF YOU ARE QUALIFIED AND IF YOU DO THE WORK!
Rest assured, if you are truly dedicated to freedom from suffering above all else and moksa is a burning desire, Vedanta works to remove suffering by ending ignorance. But please make sure you read the e-satsangs, read the books, watch the videos before you write to us. Read this email very carefully, work through every idea. I have taken a great deal of time to reply to you. Only when you are truly stuck write to us. Don’t try to take the easy way out and get us to explain everything to you. There is no shortcut, Allen, if freedom is truly what you are after. It will not come to you on a platter.
~ Love, Sundari