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The Ego Trying to Enlighten the Ego
Mike: At first glance, it seems from the Hindu perspective that the array of gods is somewhat out there and dismissed. Hence my moving forward with my studies of many other religions, etc. My Taoist perspective and shamanistic tendencies have sustained me for the time. But somehow, I’m not even sure how, this suddenly became lucid for me. It was I believe in an altered state of mind that it suddenly came to me and made sense. It can be difficult with all the conditioning and passed-on belief systems to break free.
Sundari: The many gods of the Hindu religion, while pretty wild from a Western perspective, are very important to those who understand their symbolism; they all point to the one Self. They are a focal point for devotional practice, which is an essential part of Self-inquiry and a path on its own for those who are not inquirers but have a devotional sadhana (bhaktas). However, it is not essential to have devotion to a particular god; any symbol will do because everything points to the Self.
Vedanta is not based on Hinduism or any other religion, even though it originated in India. What Vedanta points to is the universal Truth, found everywhere, and is everyone’s true nature. The subject Vedanta teaches, the Self, is neither Eastern nor Western, neither Hindu nor Christian, etc.
The word Vedanta has two meanings: (1) the knowledge that ends the quest for knowledge and (2) the means whereby that knowledge is gained. The first meaning is limitless consciousness, which is obviously not associated with any cultural group. The second, the means of knowledge, is definitely associated with India, although India per se is not mentioned in the source texts. It is known as Bharat, the “Land of Light,” i.e. consciousness, which again is a spiritual, not a physical, location. And in fact what is known as Hinduism is actually the Sanatana Dharma or Purna Vidya, which appeared before India was India.
Mike: I have perused many different Vedanta and Advaita teachers, and it can be a bit trying to differentiate between it all. I am currently reading James’ (Ramji, not sure if I should him as such) original book. I read his second book to begin with. His style of writing is interesting. I normally read two to four books on average daily; his writing was involved and at times I wasn’t sure of the flow. Alan Watts is excellent, but he too has this way of making me repeat reading passages (his verbiage is also somewhat chess-like).
Sundari: Ramji or James, it makes no difference. As the Self he does not have a name. You sound like a speed reader, which while impressive does not work with Vedanta. No matter how intelligent and well-read you are, the teachings are counter-intuitive, and unless you are highly qualified (very rare indeed) they will – they should – challenge the mind. The mind tends to interpret according to its own ideas. But for Vedanta to work to remove ignorance, the mind must sign on to the logic without trying to “get it.” It must put all its own ideas, beliefs and opinions on the back burner. If you try to make Vedanta fit into what you think you know, it will not work for you. The ego must step down. You, as the jiva/ego, are not going to “get” anything. Self-knowledge alone can remove ignorance, and aside from the requisite qualifications being present and dedication to self-inquiry, it is not up to you but to the grace of Isvara.
Mike: I will reread Chapter II. Qualifications? Are we not all qualified but under the impression that we are in pre-school. ☺
Sundari: We are all the Self, that is not up for debate. But we are not all qualified for Self-inquiry, no debate there either. It seems you have not assimilated the meaning of Chapter II and need to read it slowly, not speed-read it!
Mike: It is difficult to accept who we really are. For me, who am I to comprehend that I may be atman? I am to suffer and learn continually in order to make progress or is it that I bring these upon my small self, not realizing my true Self?
Sundari: Yes, it is unfortunately very difficult to accept that we are not the small limited self but the unchanging, ever-present limitless Self. You are trying to figure this out as the doer/ego; it cannot be done. Therein lie all the teachings. Without Self-knowledge, you will suffer continually, maybe learn a thing or two, but you will be stuck trying to work it out as a limited small self in the limited apparent reality, where your only means of knowledge are perception and inference. Neither work to reveal the Self, because the Self, consciousness, is that which makes both perception and inference possible.
The object cannot understand the subject, because the subject is subtler than the object. For that, you need a valid means of knowledge for consciousness capable of removing ignorance, Vedanta, and a qualified teacher to unfold it, not the ego. Vedanta does not deny the existence of the small self nor apparent reality; it provides the only bridge there is out of it: Self-knowledge. When you step out of Maya through Self-knowledge, then all is understood in light of the Self. The small self is seen for what it is and not taken too seriously.
The essence of moksa – freedom from limitation and suffering – is the ability to discriminate the Self, that which is real, always present and unchanging, the non-experiencing witness, from the objects that arise in you. That is everything other than you, meaning that which is always changing, not always present and only apparently real, the experiencing entity, or small self.
Mike: Ah, the ego. That constant whatever that gets in the way. ☺ I might consider teaching as a means to give back, to assist and help others.
Sundari: Indeed. Yet the ego is not the problem. Only identification with the ego produces suffering. The ego is just an idea in you, it is not real. It is ignorance masquerading as knowledge, as truth. Teaching Vedanta is not like teaching anything else. It is best not to be ambitious to teach Vedanta, because if so, invariably the ego is involved.
If it is your dharma to become a qualified teacher of Vedanta, you must have fully assimilated the means of knowledge and at the very least realize (if not actualize) the Self. One can develop the skill to wield the knowledge by teaching, but one must at the least understand the whole methodology of the teaching from beginning to end. If, on the other hand, you simply want to be able to clearly enunciate the basic message of Vedanta in an accessible way to people who ask to hear it, you must only fully understand and be able to intelligently verbalize one of the many prakriyas in the teachings because all of them say the same thing: you are whole and complete, non-dual, actionless, unconcerned, ever-present, unlimited, ordinary awareness.
Mike: Honestly, I would like to get off the repetition. Enough already! I don’t want to come back for many lives, and my intent was to find this “secret,” so to speak, to get off the wheel. With Master Wang, students will sit in study (internal, with Wang Shifu’s guidance) and in PAIN as Wang Shifu does his power thing whereby he utilizes the combined qi of the whole group, etc. to lessen what he calls “reincarnation qi” innate in all of us. In many traditions there are techniques for getting off the karmic wheel.
Sundari: Even if the conditioning that makes up the person called Mike does reincarnate, Mike will not be Mike the next time around and will have no memory of ever having been Mike. So what difference does it make? Whether reincarnation happens or not has no bearing on Mike’s present life. And as the Self, you never incarnated in the first place, because you are unborn and undying, so what’s the fuss? The only thing you need to fix the mind on is self-inquiry so that Self-knowledge can do the work of removing ignorance so that you can live as the Self while still appearing as Mike, an apparent person.
Moksa is not about “escaping the wheel of karma.” It is about understanding that for you, the Self, there never was any karma to begin with. There never was a Creation or “wheel.” Nothing ever happened. There is, and was ever, only you, the actionless witness. Once you understand that, you live free embracing life and death, unconcerned about either, because time, space and causality are meaningless concepts to you as the Self.
Each apparent incarnation is just a playing out of the gunas, the three forces or energies which make up the apparent reality. They govern the creation of all vasanas, which create a story with a name and an address. The story is not real, no more than a movie playing out on the movie screen is real. Although the story of the jiva/person may seem personal and repeated in “past” or “future” lives, as there is really only one Self, or awareness, for whom there is no time, there is really only one mind, or subtle body, seemingly appearing as the many; so there is only one eternal story. It is the story of ignorance and knowledge, of duality and non-duality. If you understand the difference between non-duality and duality, you will not be concerned with so-called “past or future” lives.
Mike: So besides the powers (I have had my hand burned from a distance like a laser beam and my skin to taste like sugar, etc. from masters who have true powers), the goal is to not come back. There are many who get stuck on the powers for monetary gain and for their egos.
Sundari: While it is true that many great teachers through the ages (especially in India) displayed remarkable and seemingly “extraordinary” powers, this does not make them SUPER conscious or “enlightened,” for that matter. Mostly, it’s all experiential “oh wow!” phenomena with absolutely no teaching at all. Invariably these kinds of people are identified with their powers and think they are special because of them. They are not. The idea that siddhis are special or important is a common misconception in the spiritual world. Most so-called “spiritual” thinking is based on the idea that you need a special experience to know the Self. Or that enlightenment is something to gain. Siddhis usually cause or accompany a particular experience, but they will fade as the impact of the experience fades over time. All experience takes place in time, and therefore ends.
These “powers” do not have the power to remove ignorance, but they may inspire the seeker affected by the experience of the siddhis to begin self-inquiry. In this case, we call them a “leading error.” Siddhis or spiritual experiences of whatever kind do point to awareness, but only if the knowledge they are meant to impart is understood and assimilated.
Often though the experiences created by these siddhis becomes an impediment to Self-inquiry because seekers misunderstand them unless they are explained within the context of Self-knowledge. The truth that all experience is pointing to is that all powers in the apparent reality belong to Isvara, not the jiva, even though Isvara and the jiva share the same identity as awareness/Self. And they point to the knowledge that you, consciousness, or the Self, are the knower of the experience. You are not the experiencing entity.
Siddhis do not take the place of Self-knowledge. There is no greater siddhi than Self-knowledge. Awareness is not exalted. It is ordinary; and it has no “powers”! All powers are part of the apparent reality, they are not real, meaning they do not last.
Mike: I’m not sure if Ramji takes on personal students, but I would be interested if found acceptable. As there are many branches and the rise of the confusing at times array of Advaita teachers, it would be interesting to hear James’ complete history.
Sundari: I handle most e-satsangs now because James is very busy. But I will ask him if he is willing to teach you.
Regarding Vivekananda, James points out the downfalls of his interpretation of “New Vedanta.” It is not personal, Vedanta is a critical tradition and criticizes bad ideas, not people.
Mike: Thank you for taking the time to respond to me and I wish you both continued strength and good health.
Sundari: You are welcome, Mike.