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The Means of Knowledge
Simon: Right now, the teachings on the three gunas has really caught my attention. As usual, it’s not been easy when something becomes clear for the first time. It’s painful to see the truth and to fight old habits so change can take place. I see on your website something about the three gunas. How do I get hold of this talk? Is it only in a computer format or can I get it in paper format? I am a bit old-school when it comes to technology. Is it a video of James teaching?
Sundari: Hi, Simon, I wondered what happened, as you never replied to my last email. I am glad the teachings are working for you, and yes, Vedanta is counter-intuitive and difficult for the ego to assimilate. Ignorance is hardwired and very tenacious. The guna talks are on video only in the ShiningWorld shop, but we will soon be releasing two books on the topic. In the meantime, you can read up on the gunas both James’ books, How to Attain Enlightenment and The Essence of Enlightenment. I recommend the latter, as we have it on the website in the form of a 12-month course, with question and answers.
Simon: I have been watching James on YouTube, reading his two books, reading the information you sent to me as well as looking at the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita. One thing I heard James say was that you should fit your life into the teachings and not the teachings into your life. With this in mind, I was wondering if I need to have a more structured approach so I don’t just look at the things that I like and miss out on the more difficult or not so attractive parts. I wonder if this is easily done when I am not with a teacher. Also, you once mentioned a teacher in London, I think. Can you remember the person, and is there a place I can go to study? This is just a thought. I suppose coming from the Buddhist background I am used to being around a teacher and other people doing the same thing.
Sundari: I am sure we discussed this in our emails and I explained to you that it is ESSENTIAL that you start at the beginning. You need to sign on to the logic and go slowly, without skipping or chasing results.
If you have read our contact page, you will see that we have some requirements for inquirers to follow before we reply to questions. Have you read them and followed them? We recommend that everyone read James’ book The Essence of Enlightenment, which is available on the website as a 12-month teaching course, with all the correct questions and answers accompanying each chapter. We also ask that inquirers watch as many of James’ videos as possible and read the e-satsang section on the ShiningWorld website, which covers every question you ask in your email and any you could come up with, in many ways. There are thousands of pages of the highest-level Vedanta possible, freely available.
Like you, most inquirers who come to Vedanta have a ton of indoctrination from other teachings to work through. It’s not that there is anything wrong with other teachings, such as Buddhism, but most other teachings are unclear about what the self is, nor are they able to explain the apparent reality, other than through their own experiences or beliefs. There is no other teaching available that has a completely independent and valid means of knowledge capable of revealing the self and what the world is by removing duality, ignorance. Some of them, like Buddhism or Neo-Advaita and even most religions, have aspects of non-duality, but ignorance is woven fine with knowledge.
Vedanta is the knowledge that ends the quest for knowledge. Once you are on board with self-inquiry, you can no longer call yourself a seeker. But without all the necessary qualifications present in the mind, the mind, or ego, will be suspicious of the teachings or confused, as it will not have the requisite faith in them to put aside its own opinions, biases and beliefs. Non-duality is not theory in practise, it is not a philosophy nor is it based on the teachings of a prophet or mystic, as in the Buddha, Jesus or Abraham. Vedanta is called a “brahma vidya,” which means “the science of consciousness.” It is an objective and scientific analysis of the true nature of reality – and your experience, based on the facts. Like any other science, it is not personal and it has a methodology – which, if followed with great dedication and commitment, will provide irrefutable knowledge that is moksa, if the student is qualified. Vedanta is simply the truth about you. Not your truth or my truth or anyone’s truth: the Truth. Vedanta predates all known religious or philosophical paths because it is the pathless path that underpins all other paths. It is an independent teaching, or sruti, which means “that which is heard.” It is also called self-knowledge.
Self-knowledge, unlike object knowledge, stands on its own and is always true because it is true to the self, meaning it cannot be dismissed or negated by any other knowledge. Self-knowledge is different from knowledge of objects, which is object-based, not subject-based. Knowledge of objects is not knowledge unless it is true to the object. If I am looking at a dog and my eyes and mind are functional, I will not see a cat. If it is “my” knowledge, then it is my interpretation of an object (pratibasika), which is not necessarily knowledge. Ignorance (or my point of view) causes me to see or experience objects in a certain way because of “my” conditioning. People believe that ignorance is knowledge because they believe that what they experience is knowledge. It may be knowledge, but it may not be. Self-knowledge is neither confirmed or negated by anyone’s opinions or experience.
Vedanta is revealed to the mind of man, not thought up by man nor the result of any action on anyone’s part, therefore you can trust it. So what do we mean by revealed? Don’t all religions claim this? What Vedanta means by revealed is simple. A good example of revealed knowledge is Einstein’s “discovery” of the law of relativity and gravity or Thomas Edison’s applications of electricity. To discover the means to uncover something that was there but previously unknown. Relativity, gravity and electricity describe how the world works according to the laws of physics, not according to Einstein or Edison. Gravity, relativity and electricity do not care if you believe in them. They operate the same way whether you understand what they are or not.
It is the same with awareness. Awareness does not care if you have realized your true nature or not, because it is unaffected by knowledge or ignorance. Liberation from ignorance is for the apparent person who lives in the apparent reality. As awareness, you have always been free, which is why moksa, or freedom, is discriminating you, awareness, from the objects that appear in you, in other words, dis-identifying with the person as your primary identity – AND knowing what that means so that self-knowledge translates into all areas of life. Vedanta is freedom from the person and for the person.
Although not all the qualifications need to be present, they need to be understood and developed. So both qualifications and a qualified teacher are not negotiable, assuming moksa is the aim. There is a very good reason why Vedanta stresses the importance the qualifications and of a qualified teacher. Ignorance, or the non-apprehension of the true nature of reality as non-dual, is hardwired and very tenacious. As the mind is conditioned to think a certain way and because non-duality is counter-intuitive, unless the mind is guided in its exposure to Vedanta it will interpret Vedanta according to its conditioning, or vasanas, and self-knowledge will not obtain. There are apparent contradictions within the teachings, which are not real contradictions and need to be resolved by a qualified teacher. Teachings and teachers abound who teach according to their methods and experience but this is always flawed and limited. Unless a teaching is independent of the teacher, it will be contaminated by his or her beliefs, opinions and experiences, no matter how lofty or “enlightened” they claim to be.
Although it is beneficial to be in the presence of a qualified teacher, there is no real boundary between you and the guru, because a guru literally means “one who dispels the darkness,” and in doing so reveals that the self is the only guru because this is a non-dual reality. Whether we are physically with you or connecting via technology, the knowledge is wielded in the same way by us because we are qualified teachers of Vedanta. We see you as the self, as non-different. Vedanta is a teaching tradition based on friendship and equality. If the mind is prepared and qualified and you are firmly dedicated to self-inquiry, self-knowledge will do “the work” of removing ignorance. We are all here to help you with any questions that arise. James has taught thousands of people around the world and helped many of them find moksa, most of whom he never met.
BUT – we cannot do “the work” of self-inquiry for you. You must follow the instructions and “do the work,” which is subjecting the mind faithfully to the teachings. It takes a burning desire for freedom to commit to self-inquiry. As James is fond of saying, Vedanta is the court of last appeal for those fortunate souls whose karma prepares them for moksa, freedom.
There is a good teacher in London, one of Dayananda’s disciples: Swamini Atmaprakashanda <http://www.arshavidya.org.uk/atmaprakasha.php>.
~ Love, Sundari