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Can Vedanta Be Improved?
Tom: Dear James, thank you for you detailed comments.
Since you clarified that there has not been much misunderstanding among your students because of agreed-upon terminology, I have to assume that the people who I interacted with didn’t get things clarified with you. And I don’t want to appear like a pest by arguing about this topic further. Sorry for all the trouble.
James: Vedanta only works if the words are properly defined, so we teach Tattva
Bodh first. People who are not aware of the importance of the qualifications are often lazy and arrogant; they think they can interpret the words on their own. They usually have preconceived ideas about enlightenment and self-realization, and are not interesting in hearing more. But those who are committed throw out all the ideas they picked up trolling around in the spiritual world and start over; they progress quickly. Of those who “gain” moksa, about half have no previous “spiritual” history. They are easiest to teach and grow quickly.
Tom: But I need a clarification on a question that I raised:
“I know that scriptures do not use the words ‘enlightenment’ or ‘self-realization.’ But you are talking about two different things which happens one after another. So I was interested to know if it is described in such a way in scriptures. As I said in a previous mail, in my own life there was a sudden moment of realization in 2004 and there was a gradual process of intense assimilation in 2014, and I don’t really see a problem with it as such. I was only interested to know if any scriptural reference to it... If you say ‘no’ and that is your own contribution, thats okay... I don’t really see a problem with that. I am always glad about any improvement that is done to teaching method, the only thing that I don’t like is the opposite statement that is sometimes made ‘there is no improvement needed in the teaching method at all’... I believe there is a room for improvement for everything in the world except self, which can neither be diminished nor be improved.”
I thought that your distinction of the initial awakening (self-realization) and moksa (enlightenment) was an improvement that you made in the teaching for further clarity. If it is not an improvement, then I am interested to know how exactly this distinction is made in the scriptures. It is not to argue further with you, but it will help me to understand the teaching model in Vedanta.
James: It wasn’t an improvement exactly; it was a way to distinguish the experiential view from the knowledge view, which is essential for moksa, particularly for those people who have had epiphanies, meditators, yogis, etc. who are stuck in the experiential view.
Once a person becomes very well-qualified and understands the prakriyas I abandon these rudimentary distinctions and teach the seven stages of enlightenment, which is much more precise and helpful.
If you are really interested in Vedanta and want to communicate with me, you need to read my books carefully, as you will get a clear idea of the complete means of knowledge. If your motivation is to help people, you will succeed if you know Vedanta. It is not fair to others that I explain things from the beginning for you when it is all laid out from A to Z in good, clear, modern English. I am a very busy person and have quite a few very advanced students who get my attention first.
Since you are quite advanced spiritually, I have attached a digital copy of Inquiry into Existence, which is Vidyaranya’s Panchadasi, which presupposes Tattva Bodh and the Bhagavad Gita. In it the seven stages are carefully explained. But you should study it carefully from the beginning, not just leaf to the chapter that explains the steps as I suspect you will do. I think you may be what we call a “bee” sadhu, someone who flits from flower to flower according to your fancy extracting bits of nectar here and there, then flying home to make honey on your own. Once you have read it, things will be more clear Vedanta-wise. I understand that you are not seeking moksa, so there is nothing to teach you on that level. But you are very spiritual, intelligent and seem to want to help people, and I like Tamils, so I have taken time to write you. Moksa is not the end of it; it is simply the removal of ignorance. You still have a jiva appearing in front of you and it will be there till the day the body drops, so it has to do something and if it is teaching then you might as well do it right. You might as well save yourself a lot of trouble going it alone. The wheel was invented a long time ago and it has not been improved upon.
Tom: Based on what I found to be useful, I think mindfulness in daily activities can be taught along with manana. By mindfulness, I mean observing the thoughts, emotions and mental states as a witness. With the light of the Vedantic concepts, I think such a practice of mindfulness may speed up the process because it did it for me.
Also, the classic way karma yoga as explained (surrender the fruits of action to Isvara and just do your work) didn’t give me much of an idea of how to practise it in the right way. And I am sure thousands of people in India are familiar with this explanation of karma yoga, but still, they don’t get it fully.
But when I am mindful of my actions, thoughts and the doer as I do an action, it is actually karma yoga. Because when I did my actions this way, I was able to focus on the action itself instead of worrying about the fruits and I could surrender the idea of doer (instructions in the book The Power of Now can actually be a true guide to karma yoga).
So if we adopt the teaching of mindfulness during activities within Vedanta, it may be more helpful. I think this may be already taught by many teachers of Vedanta today, I’m not sure. This practice was really very powerful for me.
I have heard the term “shakshi bhav” used in many places along with Vedantic teaching. Shakshi bhav is the attitude one should have when practising mindfulness. So I also suspect that mindfulness may be already instructed in Vedantic scriptures itself, but I am not sure.
James: Self-inquiry is mindfulness. Karma yoga doesn’t work unless you keep the idea of Isvara in mind, because rajas and tamas obstruct it. But karma yoga is much more than mindfulness. It is knowledge of the relationship between the individual, the doer, and the total, Isvara. And it involves an emotional or religious component – bhakti for Isvara. It is “right action” and “right attitude.” It produces sattva, which is mindfulness. Sakshi bhav is love of Isvara, the non-experiencing witness in the form of Isvara jagat karananam and karma phala datta.
Tom: It is based on things like this, I think the teaching method can be even improved by taking some practice aids from other traditions, just my humble opinion based on my experience.
James: The teaching can’t be improved, because Vedanta is a means of knowledge, not a spiritual path. But yes, in the mithya dimension where the doer operates, we are quite happy with any methods that purify the antakarana. We have no quarrel with Yoga, Buddhism, science, religion, etc. As Krishna says in the Gita, “In whatever was you worship me, I give results to make your faith strong.”