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Mike: Dear Sundari, hello.
In the past you have helped me quite a bit with unfolding the teaching. When I first contacted you, the nature of my inquiry was that of the oneness blessing and what it is. I’m sure you’ll remember me very well due to the rajasic implication due to how I write. I’ll do my best to not throw a jumbled mess at you. Thank you for taking your time to read this and hopefully respond.
I may not have come to the right place, since I don’t have a question about Vedanta per se. Although I was hoping that you could help me or at least educate me on a certain subject. Starting about three weeks ago I seem to have picked myself up some kind of imaginary friend/enemy/benevolent spirit. It is constantly changing identities and purpose. It claims to be anybody from Ram or Sundari to other people I’ve known from my past. At times the mood is light and humorous, dark and disturbing or argumentative. Sometimes it rains down the truth/Vedanta and wants me to worship it as my guru in a number of different identities. The other main themes would be an extreme dissatisfaction with my sense indulgences and making the claim that I have a wide array of mental disabilities. It seems as though it knows the ins and outs of my mind and psyche, and can almost move my own body without my permission.
As I write this email it quiets down to almost silent. It claims to be myself and my own mind, and makes it very obvious that I shouldn’t send this message, and that I should be embarrassed while it still appears to remain subtle. To say the least, it shoves unrighteous actions and memories in my face and tries to impose the thought onto me that I’m the only unenlightened person in the world and that everyone is watching me. I don’t have any mental disabilities that I know of nor any peculiar symptoms that would point to a disability other than the last three weeks.
As I proceed to send this message it goes away for a moment and appears to be nothing but samsara and then back to some identity other than my own pointing at mental disability. Should I question the conclusion that it’s someone other than me? I can’t see how it would be a false inference, since I am familiar enough with the combination of gunas in my own subconscious to mix it up with or take it to be another. Also, the subjectivity that they create is imposed on my own about a wide matter of subjects. Please help if you can.
~ Love, Mike
Sundari: You have objectified these entities and identified with them, so you take them to be real. Your discrimination fails you because you cannot see that you are always the knower of these entities, so they cannot have any real power over you, unless you give them power, of course which you have. They are no more than an externalization of your fear-thoughts. Vedanta is unambiguous about the subjective reality, ghosts, angels, demons and so-called “psychic” phenomena. The apparent reality is all a dream within a dream; none of it is real.
“Psychic phenomena” of whatever ilk are subjective psychological (thought/emotional) projections in pratibasika, your subjective reality. How can they have a real existence when nothing in mithya (the apparent reality) is real? Do you understand what Vedanta means by “real”? Real is that which is “always present and never changes,” the knower of all objects, subtle or gross, meaning the Self, the non-experiencing witness of the mind and all that appears in it. Thus Self-knowledge resolves all pratibasika issues irrefutably.
Some people see ghosts or seemingly embodied beings and take them to be real because these entities are jivas too, of a subtle kind. They have a subtle body and are still attached to the world of gross objects, just like embodied jivas are. It is desire that keeps them attached, so they are driven by their vasanas. But vasanas cannot be directly seen, whereas the subtle body can be seen, even if it is not seemingly attached to a gross object, like a physical body. Much of what people experience from their subjective realities is the result of neurotic projections based on misguided fears and beliefs. The New Age fad of “channelling” supposedly superior beings is open ground for fools and phoneys. Some of it has some value from the mithya level, but the problem is of course that if it is taken to real, which it usually is, it keeps you stuck in duality. The ability to see or hear disembodied entities is just the ability to tune in to a different bandwidth, so to speak, much like tuning into a different TV or radio channel. It’s no big deal. The magical-thinking types who abound in the spiritual marketplace use this subjective knowledge and present it as though it is truth – and of course you need to give your power over to them because they know what the truth is for you.
The psychic world of spirits has no valid or objective teaching, and therefore it is all ignorance, but it does have some minor benefit in that it can give one the understanding that there is something outside of the information available through the normal organs of perception. The insights available in such cases are much like the insights a drug-induced high or an epiphany can provide. The problem comes in when more import is given to these insights than they actually hold. Like all subjective experiences, experiencing dis-embodied beings is of little use unless it delivers Self-knowledge, and the knowledge is understood and assimilated.
The knowledge this kind of subjective information is supposed to give is that YOU are the knower of what appears in the mind. If you see it as coming from some magical or evil place outside of and beyond you, you are trapped in duality once again, bound to objects and subjugated by them. It is spiritual materialism, no different from any other materialism – but perhaps more dangerous in terms of giving your power and self-confidence (not to mention common sense!) as the Self away.
For knowledge to qualify as knowledge it must be true to the object and not the subject; therefore subjective knowledge may or may not contain truth, whereas Self-knowledge is not dependent on the object; it is self-revealing. Vedanta calls the subjective realm of experience “pratibasika,” meaning apparently real, and the information obtained from this is dependent on interpretation. Everyone will experience this realm differently, through the filters of their conditioning, meaning their vasanas.
Vyavaharika refers to the realm of empirical reality, such as Newton’s world of billiard balls and clocks. This realm is apparently predictable and relatively stable. If we are both looking at a mountain, we will probably both agree that it is a mountain. But I might find it a scary mountain, and you might find it a peaceful mountain, which will be a result of our subjective view of the mountain. Lastly one has the realm of the paramarthika – the perspective of awareness. This is non-dual vision, where everything is seen as awareness, that which is real.
I am sure you are quite serious about this, but do you not see that you are playing games with your own mind, since everything we experience originates from our thoughts? You are even using guna knowledge to give credibility to these projections. There is no such thing as an “outside” entity other than the impersonal understanding of who and what Isvara is – what the gunas are, how they operate and govern our seemingly personal vasanas, and the laws that run the Creation, or dharma field. We need to act in accordance with what Isvara requires of us or we suffer. There is no other “external” force that can subjugate us other than ignorance of Isvara, i.e. the belief that duality is real.
There is a teaching on these realms, or lokas, in Vedanta. If you have read Panchadasi (James has made this advanced scripture much more accessible in his book Inquiry into Existence), you will know that Creation is a “cosmic egg.” It is born out of a “black hole,” or macrocosmic tamas – the densest form of matter – so dense even light cannot escape it. In this egg, there are 14 (some say 17) levels or fields of existence and experience. Three types or levels of sentient beings inhabit these worlds, in various gradations, “up or down,” meaning all of them are determined by punya or papa (good or bad) karma. Of course there is no real up or down, because none of it is real, but we use the terms for teaching purposes.
The first realms are the lower realms, which are predominantly tamasic, then the middle realms, which are predominantly tamasic-rajasic with different levels of sattva, and the higher or celestial realms, which are predominantly sattvic. All levels are “below the line,” meaning in mithya and known to you, awareness. None of them are more real or have more meaning than any other, as much as the New Age magical world of spiritual materialism would like to make it so.
The first and lower, predominantly tamasic-level viswas – or jivas (waking-state entities) include animals, reptiles, birds, insects, micro-organisms, plants and the demonic embodied or disembodied spiritual realm. Embodied demonic entities are totally tamasic, meaning ignorant of the self, and are mostly psychopaths but could also be sociopaths, what Vedanta calls rakshasas – demons.
These are living people that want to harm others and take pleasure in doing so. They do not feel for others at all (cannot feel compassion or empathy) and do not suffer guilt or regret. They do not suffer existential anxiety, nor do they worry or feel separate and alone. They are cold-hearted and have no feeling for Isvara’s law of non-injury – it is not built in, like it is for most humans. Unlike animals, they do have an intellect and can think – but their thinking is controlled purely by tamas. They can be very intelligent (sattva), but it is intelligence solely in the service of tamas, “evil.” Like animals, they do not make themselves this way; they are a program and they cannot help their nature.
The disembodied demonic beings in this realm are the same as the embodied ones, but as I said above, they do not have a physical body, they only have a subtle body. As they still have great attachment to the world of gross objects just like embodied demonic jivas do, their intention is also to harm. Susceptible people experience these entities or psychic vampires in various ways, in dreams, in people and situations – they can even appear “embodied” in what looks like physical form. They are dark and extremely malevolent entities that can ONLY take form through fear-thoughts, just like their opposite, the angelic realm, can appear through thoughts of love and compassion. But they are no more real than a thought. They have no real ability to harm other than how they influence our thinking.
The lower realm also includes animals, insect, micro-organisms and plant jivas. Having no intellect (or only very rudimentary intellects), these jivas are also totally tamasic, ignorant of the Self. You could say they are totally bound or you could say they are totally free, one with the Self. Animals are not conditioned by the gunas, so they do not have vasanas nor can they or do they deliberately want to harm. Animals are not plagued by the usual thought/emotional patterns that limit humans: guilt, shame, regret, lack of self-esteem, to name a few. So animals do not have existential problems, they are happy and do not worry. Animals have no power to analyze or think other than in terms of their desires.
Animals do not interpret their environment; they do not evaluate the things that happen to them, in them and around them. Being ignorant and not capable of self-reflection, there is no karma for animals. Animals act purely on “instinct,” meaning in accordance with Isvara. They are programs and have no choice in the matter, whereas humans do have the power to choose. We have free will. Well, we can question how free it really is, because the gunas are behind everything, but essentially, we can seemingly choose one thing over another. Animals do not feel incomplete or separate, so do not chase objects to complete them. Animals don’t worry, because they accept reality as it is. Animals don’t need scripture or enlightenment, because they are not bound by the gunas.
But the downside is, to achieve moksa, a jiva must develop the ability to assimilate the meaning of experience. First-level jivas do not have much merit, because they cannot assimilate the meaning of experience, so are not able to achieve moksa. However, whether demonic (embodied or not), animal or plant, they have the ability, given by Isvara of course, to evolve upwards. When the momentum of past actions (prarabdha karma) of a demonic or animal/insect/organism or plant jiva is exhausted, they can be reborn into higher realms or levels within their realm, progressing upwards (so to speak) in this dream reality. But please do remember, it is only a dream, nothing more!
The middle level of Creation contains embodied human waking-state entities, or viswas, who are predominantly rajasic/tamasic but with different levels of sattva. The middle-level disembodied beings, such as benevolent spirits or ghosts, are jivas too with a subtle body, and again, like the lower-level demonic spiritual realm, they still have great attachment to the world of gross objects, just like embodied jivas do. But disembodied jivas in these middle realms are benign or neutral. They are no different to embodied jivas stuck in bondage to their desires – i.e. in ignorance.
Most beings in this realm have some merit (punya) and some demerit (papa), even the ones who are mostly sattvic, being the ones qualified for Self-inquiry but not yet free of samsara. They are in the twilight zone with half knowledge (spirit) and half ignorance (matter), and are bound by the gunas, as having free will and an intellect capable of doubt, this realm can make choices not conducive to peace of mind, creating “bad” (papa) karma. The most evolved souls in this realm have attained moksa, are free of the gunas and, being the Self, are free of karma. Although seemingly “good and bad” things still play out for the jiva, they are no longer identified with the jiva.
Karma itself is value-neutral. It is just action and its results. It only becomes meaningful when we evaluate it. We either like it or don’t like it or are indifferent to it. Only in the minds of bound and ignorant human beings does action become “karma.” Karma is either meritorious or deleterious based on how pure or impure it renders the subtle body, because a pure subtle body is the instrument for attaining moksa.
Humans and spirits in the middle realm of the field of experience (mithya) can evolve upwards or downwards, depending on the predominance of merit and demerit that their actions produce. The upside of having a human subtle body is that it can analyze and do inquiry, and because of this, ignorance can be removed from the mind by Self-knowledge. Therefore a human subtle body is better than any other body because it is capable of moksa, whereas no other subtle body is. A human subtle body is also better than a spirit or celestial subtle body, and I will explain why.
The “higher” levels of Creation contain celestials, such as angels. Celestials are totally sattvic and do not suffer worry or dissatisfaction. They do not have vasanas, and like animals they are happy because they too are not bound by the gunas. But there is a downside in the “celestial” realm as there is everywhere in mithya, namely it is still in mithya. And celestials must become human jivas when the momentum of their good karma is exhausted, bringing them back to earth, samsara – the wheel of karma, where they must work on another round of human karma before final liberation, moksa, is actualized through Self-knowledge.
Moksa can only be achieved in a human subtle body which is attached to a gross physical body, through self-knowledge. Disembodied beings, no matter how pure, cannot achieve moksa. So it is pointless making a big deal of these realms as somehow superior to the human plane of experience. They are not. Nothing in mithya is real.
As I said above, all three levels of existence are mithya – only apparently real. The teaching on these levels has no real importance for Self-inquiry other than to help us discriminate between satya and mithya. Making an identity out of any of these levels is duality, ignorance. When Self-knowledge has removed all ignorance, we are trigunaatita, beyond the gunas, and beyond the influence of the world and everything in it. But to be free as a jiva and live free as the Self, we need to understand the gunas and how they condition the jiva – in other words, how the gunas generate “our” seemingly personal vasanas, fears and desires – which is another way of saying we need to understand Isvara and the Field of Existence. I don’t think you do or at least you are confused because your ability to discriminate between satya (that which is real) and mithya (that which is apparently real) is faulty. You are attaching meaning according to your filters of perception, which are dualistic.
Ramji was married to a woman many years ago who lost her mind – and he watched the process unfold. She was a beautiful soul, but these very deep fear-thoughts took over her mind and materialized externally as seemingly real entities – and she was so invested in them even he could see them because they manifested through her. He had Self-knowledge, so he never bought into them and dismissed them, but if your knowledge is not strong, these thought forms can take over. Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. He had a recurring nightmare around that time. He was taking part in a basketball match with a team of very tall, menacing black players who chased him and wanted to smash his skull with the ball. Instead of running away from them, he decided to embrace them as the Self, and they disappeared. We live in a thought universe, none of it is real – it is just a movie. These entities you see are not real. If you cannot dismiss them, love them. Take them as prasad. Embrace them. Love is your nature and it conquers all. Nothing can withstand love’s transformative power.
A happy life for the jiva is all about thought and emotion management. The mind is our primary instrument for knowing anything. It is so powerful, it has the unique capacity to convert heaven into hell and hell into heaven. A person with every convenience, coming from a good karmic life, can feel miserable and tortured, and another person weighed down with so many problems can feel totally happy and peaceful. The quality of our life is dependent on this powerful organ, the mind. Isvara has given us an exquisite instrument with which to experience life, but it has a serious drawback inherent in its nature which prevents most of us from experiencing the joy of our true nature as awareness.
The serious drawback of the mind is that without our permission, the mind generates continuous involuntary thoughts we have no control over. With or without our involvement, the mind, which is supposed to be our instrument – we are the owner— acts on its own, of its own volition. The mind is supposed to, and can, produce deliberate thoughts of our own choosing, but unless we understand it and know how to manage it, its nature is to produce and churn out thoughts continuously. It is simply a machine, and this is how it is made. As I said above, if fear thoughts dominate the mind, they will come at you in every form and the mind will just keep churning them out. The more you invest in them, the more entrenched they become. The mind is so powerful it can externalize them into psychic entities that can appear very real indeed. They are like squatters in the mind, and they refuse to leave. They come from an unknown and unknowable place, the unconscious – the causal body, or macrocosmic ignorance.
If you are truly committed to Self-inquiry, don’t worry about them. The knowledge will take care of them in due course. Reclaim the power and real estate of the mind by giving it a project – noble work. Don’t give these projections any credence whatsoever. Keep the mind focused on the scripture, on the Self. If you don’t have an altar, create one. Practise devotion daily. Chant the names of the Lord, read the Song of the Self out loud that I attached for you, especially when these seemingly real thought entities appear. Take a stand in awareness as awareness, practise the opposite thought with courage. You, the Self, are lord of the manor, owner of the mind. Those imposter thoughts will play out as long as they play out, and one day they will be gone. No trace of their existence will remain.
You are one of the lucky ones who have, by good grace that is not your doing, stumbled upon the manual, Vedanta. This manual contains not only all the operating instructions, it also explains the nature of the mind, what it is and the forces that run it, the gunas. The mind run by the gunas is a very serious problem for the jiva, with many adverse consequences. When involuntary thoughts kidnap the mind, it means the mind is not available for our use in Self-inquiry or for much else. We do actions without thinking, as an absent-minded or mindless person, “living in absentia.”
Managing the mind means managing the gunas – and vice versa, not according to your understanding or interpretation of the gunas. Trust only the teachings, not your mind. There’s no magic to Vedanta. Vedanta shows us that the mind is our primary instrument for experiencing, realizing and actualizing ourselves in this world. It all boils down to owning your mind as your primary instrument and repeatedly and consistently reconditioning it with thoughts that are true – in other words, that produce peace of mind. Any seeming failure to realize or actualize Self-knowledge or to have a peaceful life is only due to lack of knowledge and incorrect thoughts that dominate the mind/emotions/intellect. The simple solution is reconditioning the mind with chosen thoughts that are aligned with the truth and based in Self-knowledge. This is called volitional, deliberate, thinking.
When skilfully managed, the mind will produce peace of mind and allow us to express and enjoy the beauty that we are in our day-to-day life, no matter what life dishes out to us. When you feel bad, for any reason, you can convert your emotional distress/fear and mental agitation into gratitude and peace through managing the gunas with volitional thinking. This entails watching out with hawk’s eyes for the habitual emotional thought patterns dominating your mind and creating your negative state of mind and suffering – and transforming those thought patterns into new thoughts of your own choosing.
~ Much love, Sundari