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The Subjective Reality (Pratibhasika Satyam)
Mary: Dear Ramji, I have one issue I feel I need support on, Ramji. And I know it sounds rather absurd and not very logical but it is my experience right now and I want to understand what is happening. Otherwise, how can I extract knowledge from it?
We just went through the teaching on the illusory nature of the world, and I somehow I “took on” the content of the chapter. What I mean is I dropped from a high sattvic six-hour daily learning state into total confusion, and my whole outer life turned 180 degrees. I cannot listen to the teaching anymore, because nothing makes sense. And also I cannot sleep properly, my eating is disturbed, I developed a painful chronic cough, my whole behaviour is contracted, insecure and fearful.
Is this how Vedanta is supposed to work? It feels like the ultimate mindfuck. Please excuse my direct words. Before, I had a good daily connection with the teacher, but this relationship changed too and I don’t know how to relate to her any more. Even though I am observing my painful confused state of mind, I am still caught in the experience.
It feels like I am being “manipulated” by the scripture and words of the teacher, like what she says in class suddenly appears/manifests in my experience! I feel she is reading my mind and talking to me indirectly through stories. I thought Vedanta is a word mirror and supposed to show me my true nature. But the reflection is totally reversed and I find myself suddenly playing the role of a person.
By now I am so confused that I cannot discriminate anymore. I can only say the whole waking state experience feels like Maya. BUT I don’t find the exit, because I feel disconnected/manipulated by the teacher and the teaching in a reverse/negative way.
James: I think you are just exhausted from doing too much sadhana, Mary. Intense Vedanta sadhana over a long period is pretty unnatural. It generates a lot of sattva, which coupled with the prolonged concentration definitely makes sleep very difficult, which in turn has generated sufficient tamas to keep your intellect from discriminating satya from mithya. You are taking what’s unreal to be real, mithya to be satya. It’s not the fault of Vedanta. It’s a guna-management problem, not enough upasana yoga, control of the mind. Tamas is a fear-based energy; it conceals things. It makes you paranoid because you can’t understand what is going on. This is why you are doubting the teacher and the teaching.
However, when a person actually understands the meaning of mithya, he or she often gets depressed. All Vedanta teachings reverse your orientation. It is called viparaya. The Gita says, “What’s day for a samsari is night for a jnani,” meaning everything that is meaningful from a samsaric point of view is lost when you get Self-knowledge. The samsaric part of the mind often can’t handle it. The world seems meaningless and empty, which it is unless your understanding of the Self is firm, but it’s not the kiss of death. I think you should take some time off and let your mind go back to normal. You are being too conscientious. The best thing is to take this experience as prasad and do some normal things until your mind relaxes and your good nature asserts itself. But don’t give up Vedanta. Just take a break.
Mary: I restrained the urge to immediately write back, and instead followed your advice to take a break to clear my mind. Now I am calm and steady but my doubts remain. I really hope you can help me understand what happened. It was too intense to let go. I’m pretty sure only a Self-realized person like you can help me here. Is it possible to transmit a thought between teacher and student without speaking it? I definitely heard her say, “You better leave it now,” but when I checked my recording, it was not there. A few days before she said to externalize my negative feelings. When I heard that, my sattvic state collapsed into complete painful confusion and I felt that she stole my energy. I confronted her, but she said, “What is wrong with you? I can’t help you,” and ignored me from then on. She doesn’t answer my emails, and I lost interest in Vedanta and sleep a lot. Before I loved her a lot, now not much at all.
Can you make sense out of all that? What “happened”? Would a teacher really harm me or “steal my energy” or let me fall down or suddenly stop supporting me or misuse me by making an example of me?
OR did somehow these things appear/manifest in the “outside” because I got that fear that something bad was happening to me. So all what she said manifested spontaneously in the lectures without her intending to say it due to my mindset?
James: Option 2: “Or did somehow these things appear/manifest in the ‘outside’ because I got that fear that something bad was happening to me. So all what he said manifested spontaneously in the lectures without him intending it to say due to my mindset?”
Your mind changed from sattva to tamas and projected a bunch of negative thoughts relating to Vedanta, the guru, etc. The cause of the shift, I believe, is probably due to too much attachment to the guru. I don’t let people get attached to me. I sniff it out and help them transfer it to the teaching. Tamas is fear. If your mind had been establish in sattva, you would not have reacted the way you did. Sattva is like an early warning system that allows you to catch projections before they morph into negative emotions. Probably you have been working too hard on Self-inquiry. Intense concentration on anything generates tamasic karma, which sets the mind up to misunderstand. Tamas is avarana shakti, Maya’s concealing power. You are right that Vedanta is the best path for moksa, but as Swami Chinmaya used to say, hasten slowly, meaning take it easy.
I don’t think you understand the teachings about the three orders of reality: paramartika satyam, vyavaharika satyam and pratibhasika satyam. Pratibhasika satyam is the subjective reality. It is like a dream state. When you are in it you don’t know you are in it so you take what happens in it to be real. The projections are so real they seem to be coming from outside, i.e. vyavaharika satyam, the transactional reality.
I think what she meant by telling you to “externalize negative feelings” was to see them as objects, not to identify with them. From analyzing your account of the moment your mind changed, I think the subtler problem is related to your idea of moksa. Moksa is not a state of mind. It is freedom from the jiva/mind. I have no doubt that you were sattvic at the time and that things were going on very nicely in the apparent reality, but unless you are an accomplished upasana yogi (upasana yoga is refining, focusing and controlling the mind; it is the second stage of Vedanta sadhana after karma yoga, which requires objectifying the mind), you will change when the gunas change, not because the real you, the Self, changes, but because Maya has caused you to identify with the subtle body, the antakarana, which is controlled by the gunas, which are unconscious factors. Most seekers believe that moksa is experiential, a special state of mind, i.e. pure sattva. You need to read the first and second chapters of my book The Essence of Enlightenment carefully, and once you are clear about it, then please read The Yoga of the Three Energies, which explains the actions the gunas and how to manage them.
Mary: Thank you for your swift reply, which indeed sheds light onto what happened. Yes, you are definitely right. I am too much attached to my teacher. Thank you for the most important bit of information: I (jiva) change when the gunas change.
James: As I pointed out, you, awareness, don’t change but you seem to change when you are identified with the subtle body. In this case Isvara produced tamas, whose signature emotion is fear, and you identified it as a real experience, which caused the suffering. In the microcosm, tamas becomes a guna, a rope that binds. In the macrocosm, it is just one of Isvara’s qualities, or energies.
Mary: Yet I can see that I have a deep-rooted samskara, the fear of being betrayed or harmed by people I totally open up to. And I am not really sure if this is a personal one or on a collective level because I was so psychologicaly harmed many times in my life by loved ones, friends, family, partners, that one more time wouldn’t look so tragic or surprising to me.
James: It’s collective, but becomes personal when you identify with the subtle body. If you took the results – the hurt – as prasad, it would have been neutralized by now. Prasad means looking for the upside. The mind is a zero-sum instrument; every downside has an upside, the contemplation of which neutralizes the downside. As Krishna says, “There are no unwanted results for karma yogis.”
Tamoguna is always accompanied by rajoguna, projection, so the jiva thinks the object, the person, caused the pain. It doesn’t realize that there are no objects on which to project, because reality is non-dual. There is only you. However, sorting out non-duality is tricky because people, i.e. teachers, often do project negativity, which is not always a reason to leave them, only to develop viragya, which grows quickly when you understand the zero-sum nature of samsara and the universal mechanism of projection and denial.
Mary: I had a similar experience two years ago, which even caused me to leave my teacher. This is why I really need to “work through” that. Yet I am not sure how to root it out or eliminate it. Even if it is clearly seen, in that moment when it comes up I totally lose discrimination of what is real and what is unreal and am unable than to trust my experience. I am aware that I am suddenly caught in a “wrong movie,” yet the projections in the outer world are so real and getting so strange that my mind gets convinced that this cannot be all a coincidence. Something is off here; TRUST in my own perception, thoughts, feelings, interpretations, basically anything is lost.
James: Not exactly. When the mind is in pratibhasika satyam, your perception of vyavaharika, the transactional reality, is compromised. The reason you suffer is because the perception is not true to its object. Tamas clouds the mind and obscures knowledge. So you get erroneous knowledge: you see a snake where there is a rope. If the mind is sattvic you won’t make a mistake, because sattva is the revealing power. So knowledge is true to the object. You need to trust knowledge, i.e. scripture’s contention that you are the Self. This is called shraddha, faith pending the result of inquiry, i.e. application of the teachings of Vedanta.
Mary: And then I fall. Last time it took me almost a year to fully recover. This time, as it is the second time, I recovered much faster and am ready to face it. Yet I need to understand it! I want the knowledge about that experience!
James: It will keep happening until you learn to recognize when your mind is in the dream state and when it is in the waking state. You should read my Mandukya Upanishad and Gaudapada’s Karika. It will probably help. It will be a lot easier than wading through the Sanskrit in the traditional manner. Once you understand this mechanism, the real work begins: keeping your attention on the on the Self, which will allow you to dispassionately evaluate the mind’s states.
Mary: I had a spontaneous awakening eight years back, and am kind of doing the spiritual path backwards.
James: It’s very common among Western people. They like the jnana yoga and tend to skip the karma yoga. If you skip, you have to go back. This is an emotional problem. As Krishna says, “Even a little karma yoga removes a lot of fear.” It’s a failure to trust Isvara, who always has your back.
Mary: Until then, I had no teacher and no idea about Eastern spirituality. Yet what I wrote in my notebook is pure non-duality (which I found out years later after returning from India). I know that moksa is not an experience. Still, there is the memory of the months I have been in that “state” (which is not a state), the “feeling” of total connection with everything. I had no knowledge whatsoever, yet I was living and as such “experiencing” it.
James: Well, you don’t really understand what moksa is, Mary. It doesn’t “feel” like anything. It is hard and fast knowledge that you are limitless, non-dual, unconcerned existence/awareness. When you understand this, you are unperturbed by the condition of your jiva, i.e. whether it is “connected” or not. This is why I wanted you to read Chapter II again. Or read the small booklet on the website entitled Experience and Knowledge. You are superimposing satya on mithya or mithya on satya, however you want to look at it. You are a non-experiencing witness, not an experiencing witness. You will have the experience of limitless ananda when the obstacles to your appreciation of your Self are removed. You can, however, get the feeling of “connection” most of the time if you cultivate sattva.
Mary: For me, there is no doubt that there is the SELF and that I am that awareness only. Yet I will not stop unless I am living that again. I am ready to pay any price. Yet sometimes I get a feeling that my desire for absolute freedom and the search itself is the obstacle.
James: Yes, indeed. If you took your negative experiences as prasad consistently, you would notice a steady current of bliss informing your experience, like the sruti note.
Mary: Then, in my news feed pop-up, all this advice to “stop searching,” mainly from the Neos.
James: The Neos have it wrong. “You” can’t stop searching. Searching stops when you assimilate the fact that you are whole and complete, unconcerned, actionless awareness.
Mary: This is why I am so eager now about Mandukya. I just want to be done with all that striving. Whatever Isvara will use me then for, I am fine with it. Still, my mind wants to understand even how Maya works (How do these things manifest? How is that functioning?), and so the quest seems to continue. ☺
James: Well, you have that right. Moksa is knowledge of satya and mithya. Just knowledge of satya is not enough. This is why Neo-Advaita doesn’t work. It dismisses, i.e. denies, mithya. They say is doesn’t exist, but they are wrong. It exists all right. You can’t experience something that doesn’t exist. The very fact that they dismiss it means that it exists. If it didn’t exist, they wouldn’t have to dismiss it. They don’t get that it isn’t real, which is a completely different fact. So, unless you understand your body, mind and emotions, and negate them with understanding, they will always keep you from tripti, perfect satisfaction.
Mary: Thank you, James, especially for teaching in a way that without having to go into all that Sanskrit we can extract the knowledge.
James: You are welcome. There is no actual reason for all the Sanskrit. I’m finding considerably more success with Western people than my teachers and traditionalist swamis because I make it simple. Everybody already vaguely knows who they are because they are and have always been the Self, existence/consciousness. This is why nobody ever told you that you exist or that you are conscious. It is a self-evident fact. All Vedanta needs to do is to remove the belief that you are limited, which is simply brought about by including your body and mind when you say “I.” If you can subtract these upadhis, you are free. You’ll get there in the traditional setting, but it will take a lot longer.