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Regarding Meditation, Dharma and Svadharma
Kate: Dear Daniel, I just want to start out by saying that I’m extremely grateful for the time and effort that is invested by everyone at ShiningWorld.com and for the sincerity, integrity and compassion with which the teaching is presented.
Daniel: Appreciation is always appreciated. ☺
Kate: I have been thinking about Vedanta for quite some time now (almost close to two years). Although that might seem like a short period, not a day goes by without me thinking about Vedanta and freedom from dependence on objects.
Daniel: Of course you can’t stop thinking about Vedanta, because Vedanta’s just a mirror reflecting your perfect self!
Spot on – freedom from dependence on objects is the essence of moksa. You, awareness, are always free from the objects that appear to/in you, your action figure (jiva) too just being an object known to you, awareness.
That’s why we say that freedom’s both for and FROM the person. In other words, moksa is freedom from the person called “Kate.”
Kate: I have read several satsangs on the website and seen many of Ram’s videos on YouTube, including the Practicing Vedanta Westerwald 2014 series.
There are some doubts which I hope you can help me resolve. I’m aware that you have several things that might need your attention, so I’ll try my best to present them as concisely as possible.
I’d to like to start with certain issues regarding the practice of meditation and the role of dharma.
I’ve read on the website ( ShiningWorld.com) that “meditation isn’t necessary for enlightenment,” and I didn’t agree with it for the following reasons.
Daniel: That satsang was most likely intended for an inquirer who was hooked on meditation or some yogic practice, and was confusing experiential enlightenment with self-knowledge. It’s not uncommon for seekers to get lost in a game of experiential hunting, and thus out of compassion sometimes the teacher needs to reset the seeker’s ambitions.
It’s true that meditation can’t offer enlightenment, but it definitely offers a prime tool to aid in self-inquiry – which is the means to enlightenment. So one could say it’s an indirect means.
Kate: The qualifications mentioned in Vedanta talk about a calm mind, the ability to concentrate on an object consistently and the capacity to exercise some degree of control over thoughts as necessary for the assimilation of knowledge.
Kate: Meditation as a practice helps one develop a calm mind over time by enhancing the capacity to concentrate and to view thoughts dispassionately as they arise in the mind.
Kate: The apparent benefits of meditation are in developing important qualifications as well as its long-term benefits for the brain (and such), so why is it that its practice isn’t encouraged in Vedanta?
Daniel: Its practise is definitely encouraged in Vedanta.
What’s discouraged is when the meditator confuses experiential enlightenment with knowledge-based enlightenment, a common issue if the meditator does not understand what medication can offer (i.e. certain qualifications) and what it can not (i.e. freedom).
Another issue that can arise is the reinforcing of the identification with the experiencer (i.e meditator). In other words, a split (duality) between subject-object remains.
When understood for what it is, meditation is a very valuable tool.
Kate: I am aware that meditation isn’t going to guarantee freedom, since the self is already free and no action can produce a limitless result, but it indeed must be essential to developing essential qualities from a jiva’s perspective. What do you think?
Daniel: I totally agree with you, Kate.
But let’s tweak your sentence a little: “I am aware that meditation isn’t going to guarantee freedom, since I, the self, am already free and no action can produce my already limitless result.”
Kate: About dharma: I have heard Ram say that one should follow his/her nature to do what comes naturally, and not try to be different.
Daniel: Ram’s basically trying to teach the inquirer to accept his/her “little self,” warts and all. Because only by fully accepting one’s limited jiva can he/her then make changes if need be.
His intention is also to relieve the seeker of the false notion of needing to be a saint or perfect being in order to attain enlightenment. The spiritual world’s full of limited ideas and whacky notions, which tend to result in an unnecessary weight for the seeker, so Ramji highlights the importance of accepting one’s relative nature – knowing very well that Vedanta will eventually clean up and make the necessary changes.
It’s a set-up. ☺
Kate: But surely there are times when it is appropriate and beneficial to change one’s nature, such as when one is engaged in impulsive and compulsive behavior or in order to adopt healthier lifestyles when it comes naturally to someone to be lazy.
Daniel: You’re correct. Again, it’s more about not obsessing trying be someone that you’re not.
Kate: Moreover, isn’t the process of developing certain qualifications, if one lacks in them, a process of fundamentally changing one’s nature?
Daniel: Yes and no. But because Vedantic qualifications are just dharmic qualities – i.e. what’s natural – it’s basically just a process of resetting the the jiva to think logically and in line with reality. Every (mentally sane) person has these qualities because every person is just the self.
Kate: So what does it really mean to follow one’s dharma, and why is it necessary at all if there are situations that demand that one change their ways, such as, for instance, the lazy, obese corporate guy who would clearly benefit from adopting a healthier lifestyle but justifies his plight by appealing to the nature of his excessive emotionality or inherent laziness?
Daniel: Dharma really just refers to good manners: it means appreciating the natural laws and contributing to needs of the Total with a glad heart.
I understand your point. And following one’s svadharma is definitely not a free ticket to break the universal rules or justify remaining a lazy and obese emotional wreck.
But the point is not to try live a program that one’s jiva may just not be cut out for. Here’s an image to illustrate the point.
Kate: Thanks for the prompt response.
As for the dharma issue, although it’s now clear what is meant by dharma, there is still some confusion surrounding svadharma.
Although I understand the value of accepting oneself warts and all, I think sometimes that is construed to mean that one should simply resign oneself to accepting things the way they are, whether that relates to a behavioral pattern, family situation, job situation or other life situation, without attempting to make the necessary changes that might improve the “thing” in question.
Also, who decides whether someone isn’t cut out for a particular program? Surely each individual decides.
For example, although not everybody can be a Steve Jobs or a Mike Tyson, one can surely learn from them and adopt or develop certain qualities that allows them to be behave differently and achieve significant growth in their respective fields.
If Mohammed Ali thought that he wasn’t cut out to be a boxer, the world wouldn’t have witnessed one of the greatest boxers to ever live.
Certainly there is a place for inspiration, aspiration and achieving the impossible, which, however, would not be possible if one resigned oneself to think that one is not cut out for something.
As you said, “Vedantic qualifications are just dharmic qualities – i.e. what’s natural…” Surely these qualities are not natural to everyone and they’re honed over time with effort. I think it’s the same with any pursuit, although I understand freedom in the ultimate sense is not a pursuit, since “I,” the self, am already free.
I don’t mean to obfuscate the issue or argue, I’m just having some difficulty wrapping my mind around the concept of svadharma and whether it’s even valid.
~ Namaste, Shining Self
Daniel: The topic of svadharma is problematic for Westerners because our lifestyle is based on fulfiling our desires rather than doing our duty. You can assume that your svadharma is the role you are currently playing, unless you know deep down that what you are doing really does not jibe with who you are, which in this case means the personality of the apparent individual you seem to be.
James makes this statement because so many people are driven by a sense of being something different from what they are. For instance, an artist foregoes his love for painting and takes a job in the business world because he fears he will not make enough money to be comfortable.
It’s not about not aspiring to be a better or improved person, but simply accepting the fact that one has a unique role to play in the drama of life and stepping up to the apparent role.
The purpose of observing svadharma is to cultivate a quiet mind. If the mind is continuously agitated because one feels one is doing the wrong thing (against its jiva program), then it will never be calm and focused enough to engage in effective self-inquiry.
The concept of svadharma is rooted in the Vedic culture, where there existed clearly defined responsibilities to uphold with regard to ashrama dharma, one’s stage in life (i.e. brahmacharya, student; grihastha, householder; vanaprastha, retiree; sannyasa, renunciant) and varna dharma, one’s place in society (i.e. brahmin, priest; kshatriya, ruler-administrator-warrior; vaishya, artisan-merchant-tradesman-farmer; shudra, labourer). One naturally evolved through the stages of life and one was naturally inclined due to one’s disposition to a particular duty or role in society. Though the caste system became corrupted over the centuries, one’s role in Vedic society was not originally a matter solely determined by the family into which one was born. Rather it was determined by one’s guna make-up, which manifested as one’s personality, proclivities and aptitudes. At any rate, there was a much clearer picture of what one’s role in society was by these parameters. So it was much easier to know what one was to do.
The purpose of upholding svadharma in terms of self-inquiry is that provides a litmus test for the dharmic nature or integrity of one’s actions. Rather than allowing one’s vasanas to determine what one should do, one gives precedence to one’s duty. This can get a little complex because we play many different roles depending on our life circumstances (e.g. child, parent, spouse, friend, lover, employee, boss) and sometimes the duties required by each seem to conflict. But generally it is pretty easy to identify what we should do in any given circumstance. We are all hardwired with a sense of universal ethical norms that clearly indicate what is right and wrong (e.g. we know we shouldn’t kill or rob or betray others). If we let our conscience be our guide and use common sense, we usually pretty safe. The only thing that muddies the waters is our binding vasanas, those compelling desires that are difficult – seemingly impossible in some cases – to resist. If we stick to our duty rather than succumbing to the influence of these desires, however, then over time we are able to weaken their hold over us and eventually get free of them. And it is only when we are free of binding vasanas that we will gain moksa.
Kate: Hi Daniel,
Sorry for the delayed response, been busy with some home stuff that needed my attention.
I have been reflecting on your response and will email you within the next 48 hours with my thoughts.
Also, I'm not a westerner although I understand why you might have assumed that I belong to the western paradigm of fulfilling desire over duty.
My jiva is a 28-year-old man from Punjab, India who is currently trying to find a meaningful way to earn the green stuff (aka benjamins) while staying true to its perceptions and insights about life. I guess this is where the Svadharma issue comes in.
Thank you again for your time and dedication to imparting this beautiful Teaching.
Daniel: Hey Kate,
I did not assume that you were a Westerner, but only mentioned it in order to highlight the reasons why James and other teachers are needing to make certain statements regarding the complex topic of svadharma.
I totally understand the need to attain the green benjamins! But know that---when done appropriately/dharmically---that it is of no conflict to living a spiritual or genuine life.
There’s nothing ‘’unspiritual’’ about enjoying business or making money. It just needs to be understood for what it is, and where it lies in relation to both your jiva and to your primary identity as awareness.
A mind with self-knowledge can happily take part in the business game whilst simultaneously understanding that fullness is already attained.
In other words, your jiva happily attends to its business-duty...making them green benjamins in a karma yoga spirit whilst knowing very well that nothing can be added or subtracted from who you already are: i.e. actionless awareness.
The point is not to confuse the apparent reality (mithya) with reality (satya). Once discrimination (viveka) between the two is firm, then there’s no issue. This is the 101 key in living a liberated life.
I suggest going through the nondoodle.com site as these topics are discussed in detail. And if you’ve not yet read Ram’s book ‘’How to attain enlightenment’’ then that definitely should be your next move! It covers everything in logical order and will be sure to clarify your doubts.
All my love,