Search & Read
Student: Dearest James and Sundari, I hope you are both enjoying some relaxation and good health in South Africa and feeling better physically after India’s ravages. India is such a combination of agony and ecstasy.
Writing to you is finally happening after a bout of vasana-unwinding that began as soon as I landed back in the U.S. I will fill you in, not because it’s at all interesting but because as your student I want to let you know what I am learning and to thank you for helping me to understand what is happening.
The retreat was utterly beautiful in so many ways. Thank you, James, for your hugely generous giving of the precious teachings, despite feeling so sick and crappy. You are an example of not identifying with the body and its ills, and we all need that example especially as the body ages! The structure of the teachings was beautifully crafted by you to take us from karma yoga (can’t get enough of that teaching!) through Panchadasi and the revelation of our true identity, and finally to bhakti. From knowledge to love and then back to knowledge as the two become one. I could not have felt more blessed than to sit at your feet day after day absorbing the truth of Vedanta. You gave us everything, and Krishna accompanied us on the delightful journey. Seeking and questions have disappeared and all that remains as a jiva is serious and constant nididhysana! You spoke about – and demonstrated – accepting ourselves “warts and all.” You shamelessly expose yourself, warts and all, knowing it all to be mithya. Sometimes it is shocking, but as jivas we are so masked by false identity that shocks are necessary. Accepting those “warts” has been the issue on the table.
I returned to U.S. in bliss and slammed into my jiva and her low self-esteem identity that has been a core issue and continues to project itself from time to time. It was painful to watch and to force myself to remember who I am and why this was happening in the wake of such beauty and bliss. Mrs. Ego says, “Moksa – not so fast!!” The jiva claims this false identity like a spoilt child with a toy, and I must wrestle it back to the self. Thankfully, I knew it would pass and that I was going to be able to see it more objectively than I had ever done before – and how tamasic it is!! Now I have a deeper and humbler appreciation of the destructive force of tamas.
I am reading a book about the life of Chinmayananda, and I came across a beautiful quote of a letter he wrote to a relative – it helped me:
“A true devotee of the Lord learns to feel great consolation: ‘Oh, my sweet Lord, in Thy Grace I am going doubly fast through the results of past actions and thoughts, with each sigh and tear I am getting so much nearer to Thee!’”
This apparent storm passed and I am simply happy to enjoy life, study Vedanta and to feel gratitude for the Grace that brought me to you. Thank you for a beautiful retreat!
~ From the self to the self with so much love
Sundari: Thank you for your beautiful email, lovely to hear from you, as always. It is true that our vasanas are much more powerful in our home environment, where the vasanas have, well, a vasana for outpicturing in a familiar environment! In a sattvic environment like Tiruvannamalai, with none of the usual triggers and so much positive sensory input from different sources, listening to James, being with like-minded friends, the devotional power and pull of India and especially Arunachala. But the rubber must meet the road, and that is where the knowledge really counts.
From what I have understood observing you, your self-esteem issue is related to shame. Shame about anything and its handmaiden, guilt, is tamas at its worst. It could be shame about something we have done or not done, shame about habits we keep hidden from others, shame about our background (for example, if we were poor or came from a disadvantaged, dysfunctional background), shame about life karma – like sexual abuse, alcoholic parents, adoption, neglect or lack of love, etc. or shame caused by low self-esteem. There are many reasons why we feel ashamed and all of them are destructive to peace of mind. Religion plays a big part in using shame to manipulate and control – that we are born “flawed” and unworthy.
Even if we were never indoctrinated by religion, shame finds its way into the psyche of most people; it seems to be part of the human condition. Many parents use shame and blame (blame is rajas – projection) to control their children. It causes an ugly, dark and thoroughly negative psychological condition because shame attaches itself like a parasite to everything good about life or about who we think we are. Unknown to us it becomes the filter through which we experience life. It whispers constantly in our ear with the “voices of diminishment,” sucking us dry of confidence, of trust in ourselves and life, of goodness, of joy, like a leech. It so often goes undetected because it is very good at masking itself, either through self-aggrandizement or its opposite, self-debasement. When shame is the root cause of a samskara it is very difficult to eradicate by transforming it into devotion for the self, but it can be done with self-knowledge. Because shame is such an ugly, hidden secret, self-knowledge will not work until we see it for what it is and love ourselves anyway.
It is very likely that you have a shame samskara in common with the other “Cohen” people, which is why you feel such a bond with them – remember I called it “woundology”? No doubt, Andrew Cohen embodied this samskara for all of you.
This may help you with regards to very persistent thoughts, based on very deep samskaras:
Observing the mind and how the vasanas play out in the light of self-knowledge is the main step towards rendering the vasanas non-binding. What this entails is to track the mind and see what the trigger was for the disturbance, whatever it is, what guna was in play and what value underpinned the guna. Ignorance works the same way every time, so it should not be difficult to track. Sometimes though, when it comes to deeply entrenched samskaras like shame, it can take repeated observation and determination to render them non-binding because they are so hidden, but all-pervasive. There is not a single thing in our lives that deep samskaras do not affect – like bacteria, they creep in everywhere, causing inflammation and dis-ease in the psyche – and in the body, which is an extension of the mind.
Thus samskaras will take time to go away. They will fade more quickly when they are fully understood. Applying the opposite thought works because it objectifies the anxiety – if one can remember to think the opposite thought when you are stressed. Karma yoga works when worry is there; it is perfectly designed to destroy samskaras. However, the nature of rajas is such that the tamas (denial, blindness) that accompanies it causes one to feel that one does not have “time” to deconstruct the desire/fear on the spot! The doer forgets that it is now an inquirer and that it is supposed to free the mind of worry through self-knowledge, not to get the object in the world. It thinks that the results of the action will free the mind, which they will temporarily, leaving the samskara carefully concealed and intact, however. The doer acts to correct the situation instead of turning around and correcting the thinking behind it.
To ameliorate the effect of a samskara it is very effective to dismiss the present thought by taking the line of reasoning it represents to its logical conclusion, thus defusing the power of the samskara in the moment. The key to most samskaras is the word “time.” Time represents the pressure of the samskara. When it is operating, the thought/word “time” is meant to refer to something real, something substantial. But all it refers to is “I want.” We know what is behind that: “I am insecure, I am afraid, I am incomplete,” etc.
But then the doer/ego will immediately try to prevent this alternative because doing is the key to the maintenance of its identity as someone in control of his or her destiny. See the fear – again, rajas. This is the problem with relationships too. If one really surrenders to the relationship, you lose control.
But renunciation of karma causes another problem for the doer. It presents the scenario it was trying to avoid in the first place: no control, which is fear-based too. If the doer actually analyzed the root thought the whole problem would go away instantly.
But if the samskara is doing the thinking, that is the worst alternative. “What if?” and off it goes worrying. Fear is meant to be very smart. At some point in the life of the doer, worry is self-validating. It equals love for the doer. It means I care about myself. But as you know, it is a purely samsaric value.
If one encounters a terrible fear of any kind, dismiss it immediately. Reaffirm the opposite thought: “No bad result, I am awareness.”
Fear is hard to love.
Samskaras are never about what they purport to be about. An unnamed fear lurks behind them all. No matter what you do or don’t do, it is there attaching itself to an action. One needs to be sick and tired of the mind it creates. Yes, one can walk away from various situations relatively easily; but walking away from the belief that worldly results are necessary for peace of mind is the real renunciation because it amounts to renunciation of the doer itself.
The best mantra is “Nothing can go wrong.” Nothing ever went “wrong,” because life is not about me getting what I think I want. It is about the me that does not want. The only cure for a bad attitude is a good attitude.
There are so many good thoughts available to remove the stress in any situation, but attachment to the doer make them all unpalatable. The renunciation-thought is particularly difficult for the doer because it indicates a failure to get what it wants the way it wants it when it wants it. It can’t stand that thought, because the “I am the self” thought does not actually sustain it when it is faced with various everyday situations that involve loss or the fear of loss.
Prarabdha karma plays out the way it plays out, and Isvara gives us the karma we need to see what we need to resolve when it is time to heal. The psyche has a drive for wholeness because it knows it is the self and suffering is not natural. But the effects of ignorance have been there for a long “time” and mostly do not dissolve overnight. Karma yoga and jnana yoga are the only solution. The final stage of self-inquiry, nididhysana, often takes the longest. The essence of nididhysana is resolving all our conditioning through contemplation, assimilation of the knowledge and transformation of its habitual patterns (vasanas/samskaras/pratibandikas) through self-knowledge.
We have a brilliant course, available free at ShiningWorld, Christian Leeby’s 5 Step Formula to Mastering Mind Control. I recommend it. I have taken the liberty to adjust and flesh out this simple guideline for managing the mind below.
Seven-Step Formula to Mind Effective Mind Management
1. Own your mind as your primary instrument.
2. Clarify your highest values by conducting a fearless moral inventory.
3. Take responsibility for every experience you have, it comes from your thoughts, not the world.
4. Your thoughts/emotions don’t come from you; they come from the three gunas. Make sure you understand what they are.
5. Monitor your every thought and the emotion it produces, see the guna behind it.
6. Discriminate the habitual emotional thought patterns that compel you to act against your highest values creating pain and suffering.
7. Evaluate your daily actions to discover those that do not support your highest values.
8. Change those thoughts and the actions they produce by conditioning new chosen thoughts into your primary instrument. Apply karma yoga to every thought, word and deed.
7. Relax, stop worrying, as your primary instrument automatically serves your highest values in your day-to-day life, no matter what unfolds.
I know it sounds easier than it is, but if we want to be free of suffering, there is no other way. Vedanta offers you the complete knowledge of reality along with moksa. It may not be a magic pill for the ego, because it does not inoculate the jiva from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, but it does free us from identification with the suffering jiva, which makes all the difference in the world. You are on the Vedanta bus, trust it to take you where you need to go, remembering that the steps to get “there” are the qualities of being there, and there is no there to get to.
~ Much love to you, Sundari