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Is ShiningWorld a Cult?
Claudemir: Hi again, Arlindo.
I have been reading some things about James Swartz on the internet and also on ShiningWorld.com. Is ShiningWorld a cult? I have been looking at how some of the members communicate with one another on his website, and it does have the vibe of a cult.
Arlindo: Hello, Claudemir. I am not sure of what you read at the ShiningWorld website that gave you the impression of a cult! Do you mean in the forum? The ideas expressed in the forum are not necessarily endorsed by James Swartz. They are discussions about our favorite subject, called self-knowledge, and the comments are made by different people at different levels of understanding. Of course everyone there has one thing in common: the appreciation and trust in the scriptures as well in James as the teacher. And I will tell you one thing, there is nothing like Vedanta in the spiritual world. If we would put together all the hundreds or thousands of the so-called “modern advaita teachers,” still the value of all what they call “knowledge or wisdom” would not come to even 10% of the knowledge and wisdom of the scriptures. I know it may sound like we are fanatics or absolutists, but actually it is a fact, a shocking fact, I know.
Claudemir: I know this is not a Vedanta-related question, but I’m wondering if you had any doubts about it too. Any advice would be appreciated because I don’t really want to get drawn into some insider-versus-outsider stuff. To be honest, since reading some of the reports about James Swartz it’s made me think a bit about it.
Arlindo: Thank you for your honesty, Claudemir. My advice is that you put aside your doubt and suspicion for some time, and keep exposing your mind to the teachings revealed in the scriptures and as presented by James Swartz and ShiningWorld. There is nothing even close to it, provided the student is qualified for direct knowledge. Later on, once you have understood what is knowledge and what is ignorance, you can pick up all your doubts and suspicions and check them out. You will be surprised!
To answer your question, I myself did not have any doubt when I came in contact with James and Vedanta. In my case, self-realization took place before – in 2011. By mid-2012, we had a small sangha where I offered satsangs in Washington, USA, when unexpectedly James’ book How to Attain Enlightenment found its way into my hands.
To give you an idea, after a few months into Vedanta, I stopped offering satsangs, deleted all my hundreds of satsang video clips in the YouTube channel and began my education in Vedanta. In a way, Vedanta finished my career as a Neo-Advaita guru, and I thank James and Isvara for that, otherwise I would be another modern guru trying to sell “my teaching” in a highly competitive spiritual marketplace filled with all kinds of deceptive teachings and teachers. It is a business like any other business! Most, but really, “most” of the spirituality available in the market is “ignorance” masquerading as wisdom.
Claudemir: In addition, the thought has just come to me that I have taken a lot of advice from people on the internet who talk about spirituality and psychology, and am to be very suspicious of people who tell you that they have the absolute truth.
Arlindo: Vedanta (the texts on the non-dual nature of the self found at the end of each of the four Vedas, also known as the Upanishads) did not come from any people. It was revealed to people. It may sound strange, but it was not originated by man or woman. Vedanta is knowledge of the absolute truth: YOU – the pure, universal, non-dual consciousness – pervading, sustaining and operating your intellect and the entire creation.
Claudemir: Again, reading some of the posts on ShiningWorld.com, I saw some unhealthy discussion regarding negating most of what else is taught out there, it’s all “false” and only this little subsection of Vedanta is correct (Chinmaya, etc.). What’s the deal here? Any clues? I know you’re a Vedanta teacher yourself, but have you not wondered about the states of mind that these “absolutist” teachings put people in?
Arlindo: It is true. Most of what we find in the spiritual marketplace is knowledge mixed up with ignorance, and many so-called gurus are deluded people, charlatans – fakes – big business – but unless you learn what knowledge is and what ignorance is, you will not be able to distinguish one from the other. You will go to these gurus and you will end up confused because you will swallow ignorance, believing it to be knowledge. If you are ready for Vedanta, give everything to it and you will never regret it.
Claudemir: I remember James saying that non-duality is just an “alternative perspective at which to look at life.” I think he was talking about the “third eye” concept and that the original true meaning of third eye is the Upanishads. This sort of statement was more to my taste; he seemed to be suggesting that non-duality is a take-it-or-leave-it philosophy, a perspective. Self-realization is only one way in which to look at the world. Yet there are other statements about the Upanishads being the absolute truth. But there is no absolute truth, because Vedanta allows for all truths to be as they are. There is confusion in my mind about this part of the teaching.
Arlindo: I understand your confusion. At the beginning, it is a little difficult for the mind to trust the teacher and the scriptures. The mind will doubt it because Vedanta is totally contradictory to our direct experience of life, which says reality equals duality.
On the other hand, it does not matter if Vedanta is the absolute truth or just another perspective to look into reality. What counts is that Vedanta is against suffering and that it has a methodology consisting of teachings (concepts and ideas) which for millennia has proved to remove jivas’ suffering to produce a life filled with confidence, love, contentment and a sense of limitlessness and freedom. It is pure magic! You don’t need to be convinced that Vedanta is the ultimate, or absolute, truth. You only need to trust that it has the body of knowledge that, if assimilated and applied properly, will cancel one’s own knowledge that produces suffering (ignorance).
Claudemir: I must admit I probably have misunderstood the lectures or maybe I’m being too perfectionistic and should understand that there is no reason for these questions.
Arlindo: Yes, it is very easy to misinterpret the words of the teacher/scriptures, therefore the student should always exercise their right to ask sincere questions regarding the scriptures, just like you do.
Claudemir: I can see already how interpretations between jivas can vary. I mean look at the massive difference between my recent interpretation of ShiningWorld.com and your version of it. It’s like day and night. If interpretation is fluid, what makes you so sure of what you are seeing? How can you say such things, like the spiritual world is full of cons and scams and deluded people, IF all you have, all any of us have, is our interpretations?
Arlindo: It takes knowledge and wisdom to have the unshakable confidence to say what I said (James says it all the time) about the spiritual world. Again, one needs to know what is knowledge and what is ignorance, and the receipt for knowledge is to be found in the scriptures of Vedanta. Why so? Because every time mature jivas submit their mind to the scriptures their ignorance is canceled/removed, which is a clear indication that the scriptures are filled with knowledge. We Vedanta people do not care for what people will think of us. We are not here to recruit people, to get donations, to start an ashram, etc. We do not look for students. Most gurus will only say what will not conflict with their agendas (becoming famous, rich, powerful, etc.).
Self-knowledge is the greatest purifier of the mind, and once mind is clear and sattvic it will interpret experience from the standpoint of self-knowledge rather than self-ignorance. Therefore the clarity, wisdom and confidence of the jnani is unshakable, although he can at times also make mistaken interpretations. His/her confidence comes mainly from the fact that they know that he/she is the limitless, universal consciousness, and there is no need for any worries and concerns about anything. Generally speaking, a jnani is much wiser than most jivas, and that is due to the fact that self-knowledge neutralizes rajas and tamas (desires and fears), rendering the mind much clearer and sharper due to the increased influence of sattva guna.
Claudemir: My mind is taking this truth to the extreme at the moment; it’s telling me that a cow might as well be a coffee table. Who decided what a cow was? I was told that a cow was called a cow, but that’s just what I’ve been told. Who really knows what it is? Is it really there? Yes, Isvara made cows, sure, but as a jiva what am I now responsible for? Because I see cows, I just don’t know how I should be interpreting them! Are they nice cows? Or bad cows?
Arlindo: Human jivas have intellect, with the ability to attribute names to forms. Depending on the language of the people, the names will be different, but once there is a consensus that a “cow” should be called a “cow,” so be it! There we have a cow-knowledge. But if you get confused and you see a cow and you say that it is a “cat,” there we have what we call “ignorance” (the misapprehension of the nature of a certain object based on the consensus that a cow is to be called a “cow” and not a “cat”). I’m going to sleep now. I hope this helps.
~ Much love, Arlindo