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Sainthood or Self-Knowledge?
Michael: Can improvement to anatma help one to attain the state of total happiness?
Arlindo: The purification of reflected awareness (jivatman) is a phenomenon occurring in mithya. Satya is pure, original awareness, the subtraction of mithya, and yet not subject to improvement or any sort of change. Awareness’s upadhis are in a constant flux of change. The positive changes occurring to the upadhi called jivatman produces what is commonly known as improvement or purification of mind, whereas awareness always remains unaltered.
Awareness is non-dual, and therefore changeless and all-pervasive. But jivatman, being a result of maya/ignorance, requires a very purified mind in order to contemplate the teachings presented by the scriptures, remove its ignorance and understand its limitless, changeless and all-pervasive nature.
The most fundamental (basic) goal for a jivatman in pursuit of moksa is the pursuit of betterment and purification of mind because in order for self-knowledge to be fully assimilated and become firm purification is necessary – but only to a certain degree.
As Paramarthananda said, there is no such thing as 100% purification, and furthermore, you can be a saintly jiva (highly purified) and yet not self-realized. On the other hand, there are some self-realized jivas who could use some more purification before self-proclaiming their enlightenment and offering guidance to others.
If one could choose, I would say choose self-knowledge rather than a highly purified (sattvic) mind. Scriptures says, and my experience confirms, that there is no better purifier than self-knowledge. Once self-knowledge grows roots in the causal body, and provided the jivamukta is in constant contact with their guru/scriptures, the process of further purification becomes effortless and natural, just like breathing in and out.
Michael: What if it isn’t possible to be in constant contact with the guru? And doesn’t Vedanta want us to become our own gurus? Could polishing the mind and actualizing the knowledge not be achieved just as well by continuing with the scriptures and a simple discriminating life, turning the mind naturally back to the self? Thank you, Arlindo.
Arlindo: Hello, Michael Price, the word guru means “that which removes darkness” (ignorance of the true nature of reality). Darkness can only be removed with light (the knowledge presented by the scriptures.) To be with the guru means to be in contact with the knowledge of the scriptures. One does not need to be in physical proximity with a teacher/guru, but mentally and emotionally actively connected.
But it is important to acknowledge that, by oneself, without the help of a qualified teacher, the scriptures may easily be misinterpreted by the student, not to say that the apparent contradictions, which inevitably surface, will produce doubts, and therefore lack of shraddha unless they are constantly resolved with the help of someone with firm self-knowledge, who was properly taught and capable of unfolding the subtle meanings of the teachings.
The teachers in our tradition do not suggest dependence on any guru. Furthermore, the guru can only help resolving doubts and questions. But it is the knowledge of the scriptures, combined with the open, pure and clear mind of the student that will remove their own ignorance and stabilize the student in their true identity as pure awareness.
Objection from another person: You mean to say that moksa is obtained only through self-knowledge? Can jnana come only through knowledge of the scriptures? What about an illiterate person with a golden heart? Swami Paramarthananda says in his discourse on the Bhagavad Gita in analysis of Chapter XII, verse 12, that Sri Krishna played mischief by lowering the status of jnana wrt karma phala tyaga. So the verse can be ignored?
Arlindo: Basically, there are only two “paths” to moksa, or liberation: (1) self-inquiry (Vedanta) and devotion (love, bhakti). One kind of leads to the other. Both will purify the mind to a large degree and make it fit for self-knowledge. If one has a bhakti temperament (a big heart) he/she will naturally be attracted to the devotional relationship towards God.
If one has a sharp intellect, he/she will feel attracted to the “path” of understanding through knowledge. For self-inquiry to work, one does not need to be genius. All that is needed is a well-balanced mind under the influence of sattva and moderate portions of rajas and tamas. Such a mind, freed from unnecessary extroversion and indolence, will be capable of contemplating and assimilating the teachings.
One may have a simple mind and yet a pure mind with the ability to meditate and contemplate the teachings, as presented by the scriptures on self-knowledge (Vedanta). On the other hand, one may have a very sophisticated mind, filled with all kinds of objective knowledge and yet not fit for self-contemplation due to the imbalance of the three energies.
As far as the path of love goes, the bhakta may develop much purity of heart. He/she may even come to the extent of “seeing” (in his/her heart) God in everything and everywhere, but unless he/she understands that God is an object appearing in consciousness and that he/she is but pure consciousness, the bhakta will remain stuck in a dualistic devotional lifestyle in which he/she sees God as something other than himself/herself.
Self-knowledge is the liberating knowledge “I am pure, limitless, non-dual, ever-present, all-pervasive, ordinary, pure awareness, and as such I am free from all phenomenal experiences occurring in my consciousness. I depend on ‘nothing,’ yet all depends on me alone.” Ramana Maharshi, addressing the great bhaktas around him, once said, “By knowledge alone the self can be realized.”
Objection: All levels of spiritual development are an obsession for keeping oneself busy with seeking. Reality is always there in us, through us, everywhere.
Arlindo: We are dealing with two orders of reality in the one, non-dual reality: satya and mithya. Satya is the substratum of the apparent reality we call the universe. Mithya is not “really” real, the same way the wave is not the ultimate reality of the ocean, but only an apparent one. But we cannot say that mithya does not exist, in the same way we cannot deny existence to the waves, because our simple knowledge of it proves its apparent existence.
For the sake of moksa, we cannot deny mithya altogether unless the individual mind, which is a phenomenon appearing in mithya, is purified and developed after having passed by countless “mithya levels” of sadhanas, understanding and development. For that purpose, Krishna presents the teachings on karma yoga and bhakti to Arjuna – for the sake of preparing the mind for the final understanding of the limitless, non-dual nature of reality as no other than the individual self.