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Priya: I am Priya, a 21-year-old law student from India. Unfortunately or fortunately, I had to plunge into the vast spiritual world at the age of 13, as I felt extremely uncomfortable in my own skin and had a deep restlessness in me to figure things out. I needed answers and I needed them fast. I knew the way my personality was geared, it was prone to being miserable. I realized the temporariness of material joy at a pretty early age and it was quite a shock. I started with Osho, Eckhart Tolle, etc. and finally ended up with qualified Vedanta teachers such as those at ShiningWorld, and also read works by Swami Dayananda Saraswati.
After a year of studying all sorts of scriptures and texts on discrimination, I stopped them all because I didn’t feel any of it materializing in my everyday, little-me, miserable existence. They remained brilliant words on paper. I realized that I have no qualifications whatsoever, as I had caught myself into a web of bad karma, compulsive behaviours, immaturity, trauma and negative streams of thinking from an early young age, which I am still trying to get out of.
I am quite sensitive as a person as well, but letting it all go and finally jumping on the bhakti wagon was such a joy. I started many bhakti practices. I constantly chant Lord Ram’s name, sing to my favourite deities Hanuman and a sadhu called Neem Karoli Baba. Looking back, I feel like it has helped me resolve a great many things. To know and sometimes experience that I am not the doer was a great relief, as it freed a lot of guilt, but scary at the same time because I have never ever felt myself to be in control of my life. Also, from a very young age, I have felt detached from the fruits of my actions, which might be a good thing, but the attitude of serving my deity with gratitude is nil, as I am used to, by strong habit, serving my ego instead, for a few moments of joy.
This brings me to my question. I think the reason why I have been so detached from the fruits of my action probably comes from a very nihilistic, negative place, i.e. the conviction that the world owes me nothing. While that is quite true, the source of the feeling is something that has always made me dread. And gratitude seems to be difficult in such a scenario.
Being born in a country with such a high population and people running after desires and security, people being selfishly devoted to their families, struggling to adhere to their value systems, believing in their own stories and belief systems and so on, shakes my faith in Vedanta/Isvara/Self to the core, as I feel like yet another insignificant speck travelling in a metro crammed full of people going to work only to be stuck there until night. And so life goes on. All for what?
It feels like such a cold, senseless world. It feels like Vedanta is yet another elaborate thought construct I find myself believing in. U.G. Krishnamurti used to say that there is no self and it is merely a thought construct. I wonder if it is true. The world doesn’t care about dharma or Isvara or what you try to live by. It is so difficult and often impractical to live dharmically and still be happy, as living dharmically is bound to attract trouble, especially as a lawyer. How does it matter when everything is going south anyway? I feel like my faith hasn’t been rewarded at all. Sometimes, bhakti feels so difficult, desperate and also a cry for help with neither an answer nor a few brief moments of relief. There is no strong feeling of conviction in my devotion on most days.
I am just quietly sick of it all inside, the whole play, or lila. I can’t even see it as a play. It seems like a weird, cruel joke, being thrust into this world to take care of yourself only to live in misery and die in misery.
I do not see a way out of this thinking. Could you please help me?
PS: What I think I have is an existential crisis. Maybe if I google the word, it might show a different meaning. What I mean by it is I just don’t see the point in living and it all seems so absurd, not that I’m suicidal. I’m just very weary of it all. We grew up learning all about achieving goals and this and that, and it doesn’t seem to make any sense to me now, besides being some cultural BS about how you’re not good enough as you are. Samsara is so ridiculous. I see the temporariness of everything, the difficulty and impracticability of living dharmically, as I might give myself to ways of the world as a lawyer to take care of myself. People say follow your dreams without taking any of the realities into account. Money seems to be extremely important, especially in cities that are out to grab a handful of notes at every opportunity. Maybe they’ll tax oxygen one day too. Also, I see very clearly the hypocrisy of my own personality and my so-called devotion to Isvara. Sorry for the long details. Namaskar. I love you.
Sundari: Hang in there, Priya. What you are experiencing is an existential crisis, and that is par for the course if you think this world can bring you lasting satisfaction. It cannot, because it is a zero-sum game, no point in looking for happiness where it cannot be found. Maya, the power of awareness to delude and seemingly limit itself, is very seductive, but it is just a lila, a mirage on the desert floor, remember that. You are always the knower of the dissatisfied, disgruntled and disillusioned mind, it never touches you, just like your reflection in the mirror is you but not you and can never affect you or know you, because it is inert. Be thankful for this crisis because its gift is that it has driven you where you do need to look – inwards to yourself, the ever-present, ever-full and limitless Self you truly are. This period of emptiness and depression is pretty normal for the ego when it really gets it that there is nothing to gain “out there.” It will pass. Instead of buying it, turn it around. Are you your ego? What is the ego anyway? It is that part of you wrongly associated with objects, who believes it is limited and has chased objects/experience in vain to feel validated, secure, safe. It never works, sadly, because the joy is not out there. It is in you. You are what you are looking for, always have been. Nobody and nothing adds to that or can take it away.
So you are in the right place and standing right before you is the Vedanta bus. Get on board, put your heavy suitcase down and commit to Self-inquiry with complete dedication – if you truly want freedom from suffering, that is. You can trust Vedanta 100% because it is the logic of existence, of you. The only thing we ask you to “believe in” right off the bat is that you are perfect the way you are, there is nothing wrong with you as the jiva, person. It is not who you are, it is programmed with wrong thinking and some bad habits due to ignorance of your true nature. You do not need to manhandle your psyche to perfect it, all you need is to understand what the mind is and how the mind is programmed; then only can you truly manage the mind because Self-knowledge removes ignorance just like an alkali neutralizes acid.
Drop all other teachings methods and “paths” for now. You can always take them back if you like them better. But for Self-inquiry to work for you, that is, to produce the fruit of Self-inquiry, which is freedom from identification with the small, limited self, you need qualifications. The first one is faith in the scripture – not blind faith, mind you, faith pending the outcome of your investigation. If you insist on comparing Vedanta to your own ideas, beliefs or other teachings, forget about it working for you, and I cannot help you. You will waste my time and yours. We are qualified teachers of Vedanta and we can help you with your Self-inquiry because we can wield the teachings correctly, but you need to do your part. We cannot “do” Self-inquiry for you.
I need to know if you have followed our instructions on the contacts page of our website. If not, get going. We have a 12-month free course which covers the material in James’ book, The Essence of Enlightenment, and it addresses every doubt and the answer to it that could come up for you. We have literally thousands of pages of highest level Q&A in our satsangs page. Do the work; what price freedom? Quit moaning and throw a party because you have had the good grace to find Vedanta and ShiningWorld. James is without a doubt one of the best teachers of Vedanta alive today, along with his Indian guru brothers like Dayananda and Paramarthananda. Many people don’t have such good karma – they must wait until they have many grey hairs, usually. If you truly stick with it, you can crack the code and have a fabulous life, in the world, enjoying the world for what it is but free of it and all its sexy, juicy but empty promises, full of the ever-present, unchanging bliss of YOURSELF.
I have attached a couple of things for you to read to kick things off.
~ Love, Sundari