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Harry: To your question: it is possible that James’ books or YouTube videos will be viewed by people searching, and since James, being from the West, may appeal to the Western seeker, many of whom will have had exposure to the Abrahamic religions and material science. As Vedanta is neither a religion, a philosophy nor a material science, reference to those systems in James’ talks may be helpful for seekers coming across Vedanta. James did use some of the ideas spoken of by Daniel Kahneman to help link the teaching of Vedanta with some of the ideas of Western psychology.
Sundari: James is successful because he has made Vedanta accessible to the West. But I hear what you are saying. We do want to make it accessible to as many people as possible. However, people who are drawn to Vedanta and actually become inquirers are those who have developed some of the qualifications or they go elsewhere. It is not our brief to try to teach people who are not qualified.
Vedanta has no problem with religion; karma yoga is a religious teaching really (thy will, not mine, be done), as it teaches worship of Isvara. My lifestyle books are aimed at a broader audience of both inquirer and non-inquirer, as they look at the reasons for suffering in mithya in general. The main impetus is to get non-inquirers to understand that the only permanent solution to mithya problems/suffering is self-inquiry.
Harry: This was what I thought when I shared that video. On further reflection, as to why I sent that link, I’m wondering if there was more to it. I’ve held the idea that many think karma as being the idea that the jiva has free will to act but has no control over the results. I think this is only partially true, at least from the mithya perspective. But since I’ve been studying Vedanta, I think that much of what I do as a jiva is actually being “done” to it. Not only are the results of action not up to it (Harry jiva), but it is appearing that even the experiences (thoughts and actions) and situations are being presented to me, the subtle body, from somewhere else.
Sundari: No one is doing anything, ever. I attached a satsang on the topic of free will. It’s always a question of perspective: duality or non-duality?
Harry: Could it be the causal body, Isvara? I understand that vasanas drive action, but is not Isvara the essence behind all this, the apparent world?
Sundari: Isvara is “behind everything,” but impersonally so because Isvara is not a person. That does not mean that everything that gets presented to us we need to act on or is a good idea.
Harry: In the meantime, another concern has come up. I spend quite a bit of time reading and rereading James’ books, particularly Inquiry into Existence, in part because I love studying the teaching and also to make the knowledge firm. Now, in this process questions come up based on what is written and I ponder what does not seem clear or seems to be an apparent contradiction. My wife says I am too into the head and suggests I should practise “the Tolle approach” of focusing on the silence between the thoughts. I had been doing that prior to reading James, but it did not provide me the understanding and peace that James has offered. James talks about Vedanta not requiring one to stop thoughts, to empty the mind, to sit in the place between thoughts, to kill the ego, etc. so I think a lot about what is being written.
Sundari: It is true, one can get caught up in thinking too much or “overthinking.” But essential in the second stage of self-inquiry is manana, contemplating the scriptures, meditating upon them and stilling the mind through meditation or silence. Any technique that works for you to do this is good. Highly intellectual types sometimes have more difficulty assimilating the teachings because they are often egoically attached to their ability to think. It becomes tricky when the doer gets involved “trying hard” to understand because the ego cannot “get” Self-knowledge. Self-knowledge obtains when the intellect is refined enough by exposure to the scriptures, by Isvara, not before. It does not matter now clever you are; in fact that can often be an obstacle if you are invested in your cleverness.
No matter how accomplished you are in the world or how many degrees behind your name, this means very little when you come to Vedanta. It is a great leveller because the mind must be trained to think completely differently. We are all beginners when we come to Vedanta, full of ideas and beliefs that are mostly ignorance, mixed in with some knowledge. We need to be “debriefed” by Isvara so that the mind can assimilate the teachings of Vedanta, which are the reverse of everything we thought we knew.
Understanding every detail of the doctrine is not necessary for moksa. If you can discriminate satya from mithya at all times, and that translates into your life, that is moksa. If it is purely intellectual knowledge and does not translate into your life, self-actualization has not taken place. That is why the last stage of inquiry, nididhyasana, is the longest for most inquirers. Having said that, if you have the kind of mind that needs to process each aspect of the teaching to assimilate its essence, then studying the scripture with great dedication is important, bearing in mind what I said above about the ego trying to “get it.” And if you want to teach Vedanta, it is imperative that you understand the teachings and every aspect of the doctrine to teach it. But don’t fool yourself that studying the scripture will necessarily produce moksa, very often it is the reason people get stuck. What is most important is that you do the work of translating the teachings into your life to be free of the jiva.
So as always, karma yoga is the only way to anything, especially contemplation of the scriptures. Surrender any frustration of the mind if it does not understand something and trust Isvara to reveal it to the intellect in due course. All the answers to any doubt are always found in the scripture. We say that self-inquiry is hard work because it is, for the intellect. It must stretch and grow to understand concepts much subtler than it, not an easy thing for most.
Harry: Questions that come up from reading are, for example, is not the essence of space, awareness/consciousness and accommodation being the only property or quality of space? Is accommodation a property of space or is it the nature of space?
Sundari: Consciousness is the essence or nature of everything. It has no attributes/properties. Accommodation is the property of space, which as an object known to consciousness. Accommodation is intrinsic to or essential to space; if you remove accommodation from space, it is no longer space.
Harry: Does nature of space mean the same as essence of space?
Sundari: Yes. You asked me this question before. The nature (essence) of something is different from the attributes/property of something. People often confuse the two. The nature is the essential essence, something that is intrinsic to or inherent in something and cannot be removed, without which a thing could not be a thing. An attribute is a property, which may or may not be essential to the nature of a thing. The nature of something is the non-negotiable or unchanging variable, whereas a property/attribute is usually a changing variable, like the nature of sugar is sweetness. If you take sweetness away, sugar is no longer sugar. Or the nature fire is heat; if you take heat away, fire is no longer fire. The nature of the Self, consciousness, is sat chit ananda, consciousness, existence, bliss.
Harry: What is the difference between vikshepa and rajoguna, as well as difference between avaranna shakti and tamoguna?
Sundari: There is no difference. Vikshepa is the projecting power, rajas. Avaranna is the power to delude, tamas. The power to reveal is sattvaguna.
Harry: Now, I learned that James recommended a friend to focus on the space between the thoughts, a method that Tolle teaches. I find the study of Vedanta is what I like to do, but are these questions that I ask that important when seen in context of the importance of discriminating satya from mithya? From your own experience, do you think my intellectual/questioning approach is helpful or distracting? Your thoughts?
Sundari: I answered this above. You have a nitpicky mind, that is the way it functions. It can become a distraction and an impediment to self-inquiry if the ego falls in love with its tendency to pull things apart and becomes identified with its doubting faculty, i.e. falls in love with its own doubts. Doubting is essential to learning and to discrimination, but it can become an obstacle. As I said above, what is important is that the teachings translate into your life, not your ability to intellectualize them.
Harry: After writing this, more questions and seeming contradictions arise which hinder the clear knowledge I’m seeking, and it was those questions that I was drafting when the draft got accidently sent. To complete what I was asking:
Regarding tamas, on page 111 of Inquiry into Existence, it says at the bottom, “Deep sleep is the presence of pure tamas,” and on page 229, verses 35-36, it says, “Inanimate objects are awareness, but don’t reveal it, because they are pure tamas… they absorb, not reflect, awareness.” Now, I understand deep sleep to be the absence of all objects except (a) subtle vrittis, but how can it be understood that this deep-sleep state is the presence of pure tamas?
Sundari: Because pure tamas is pure ignorance. When we sleep, we are completely ignorant of the Self even though we experience the bliss of no objects, thus sleep is the presence of tamoguna alone. Rajas and sattva are dormant. Inanimate objects are pure tamas because they have no knowledge of the Self either, so they too are pure tamas; they cannot be said to be rajasic or sattvic, even though all three gunas are always present in all material and subtle matter.
Harry: These are some of the type of questions that arise for me. There are more but suffice to ask, will clarifying them make my knowledge of being whole, partless, actionless, limitless and ordinary any firmer? Will they make any difference in me practising discriminating satya from mithya? Thank you for your time and patience with me, Sundari.
Sundari: You are welcome, Harry. I think you are very dedicated to your sadhana, you just need to apply karma yoga to it more efficiently, to apply the teachings to your life. Consecrate it to Isvara and trust Self-knowledge to do the “work,” not the ego/doer. As you must know by now, the teaching is set up in such a way that it will create doubts and questions. It is supposed to do that because ignorance is so wily and tenacious, and Self-knowledge is so counter-intuitive. So when a doubt arises or you think you have found a paradox, safely assume that the error is in your understanding and not the teachings, because all seeming paradoxes dissolve as Self-knowledge scours out the ignorance in your mind.
Harry: Sundari, where can I read more about the jivatma? I see it spoken of in Inquiry into Existence on pages 94-95 and 111, but little elsewhere. Nothing shows up when I google jivatma.
Sundari: You have asked this before too. The jivatma is the Self, pure consciousness appearing as the subtle body. It is one but has three parts: original pure consciousness, plus the subtle body, or Eternal Jiva (reflecting medium), plus the reflection, the non-eternal, or “personal,” jiva. There is only one Eternal Jiva appearing as many apparently unique individuals, or non-eternal (personal) jivas. Although it seems like the personal jiva lives but for a moment in time, in truth it is indestructible because the non-eternal jiva is awareness too and is always present, just not always appearing as a subtle body, or person. And as a subtle body, it is an eternal principle in awareness, either unmanifest or manifest whenever Maya manifests. Isvara and the universal Eternal Jiva are never annihilated; they are both eternal principles (or concepts) in awareness, which manifest whenever Maya manifests, which is also an eternal principle or power in awareness. Neither the Eternal Jiva or non-eternal jiva are real with reference to awareness.
Harry: A question: on page 95 in bold, it reads “The cause of the body is awareness operating Maya in the form of karma.” Since when does awareness do anything? Also, on the same page at the top, it says that Isvara does not provide the karma, because Isvara is not a doer or an enjoyer, but I thought that Isvara, as awareness plus Maya, is the doer, the creator, sustainer and destroyer of the world. Is it maybe because Isvara is a principle or mechanism, not a big jiva? But then it is also conscious, so how is Creation not considered a doing? In addition, at bottom of page 94, it says, “…the doer-enjoyer, which is the subtle body, survives permanently because it is eternal Isvara…”
Sundari: Awareness never does anything. We must use certain words and phrases in different ways for teaching purposes. The answers are always both/and, not either/or. Again, it depends on how you look at it: duality or non-duality? Awareness is the causeless cause of everything because if it could act, it would not be non-dual. But there would be no Creation without awareness. Isvara is not a person and cannot be a doer either, because Isvara is pure consciousness too. The gunas govern the creation of subtle and gross matter, but they are also not doing anything. Nothing is happening. There is no real doer. When Maya appears, awareness in the role of Creator manifests the Creation, sustains and destroys it, apparently. But we know there is no real Creation, not so? Moksa is the ability to see action in inaction and inaction in action.
Harry: Another question: Is Maya matter, prakriti, which appears to be the case when on page 110, under Creation, it reads, “The first stage involves only Isvara. Isvara is a mixture of consciousness/awareness and Maya, matter (prakriti).” But then it says, “In the presence of the light of awareness, Maya creates infinite gross and subtle bodies,” both being matter.
Sundari: You have asked this before, and I answered it at length.
First and always, there is pure consciousness. Secondly, Maya (pure macrocosmic sattva) appears and consciousness plus Maya “become” Isvara, awareness in the role of Creator. Lastly, matter appears, but macrocosmic sattvic prakriti is present before matter appears. Prakriti is the clear mirror of consciousness, prior to the emergence of rajas and tamas.
The “seed state” is prakriti, which is the subtle nature and cause of matter and energy, matter in seed form. It seems conscious because it borrows its light from consciousness. It is the blueprint of all forms, existing eternally within Maya.
The world and all external objects, whether gross matter or subtle matter, are comprised of prakriti. Prakriti has three qualities, the three gunas, which reflect the Self and seem to, but do not really, conceal the Self, because nothing can conceal it.
Pure macrocosmic sattvic prakriti is like a bright, clear mirror, capable of reflecting awareness (pratibimba chaitanya). Macrocosmic sattva is the blueprint for all forms, the entire Creation: the eternal truths, forces, laws, jivas, karma, three gunas and five elements. It knows everything. It is not yet mixed with rajas and tamas, it is pure knowledge. It is consciousness appearing as the knower. It is an object known to consciousness and contains all objects, including energy and space. When rajas and tamas arise and pure sattva is contaminated, the mirror shatters into innumerable shards. Maya becomes avidya, multifaceted, diverse, pluralistic, creating all objects sentient and insentient, containing the essence of awareness, consciousness, conditioned by rajas and tamas.
Prakriti does not exist without Maya. There is no point in talking about the difference between them, because prakriti does not mean anything without Maya. They are the same, but they are not. Isvara associated with Maya is independent of prakriti because Isvara is trigunaatita, beyond the gunas. Prakriti depends on Isvara, not the other way around. And Isvara as pure consciousness gives rise to Creation, but is always free of the Creation.
~ Much love, Sundari