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Love, Meaning and the Divine Absurdity of Life
Lisa: When you come to learn more about Vedanta, you realize the emptiness of the world: every form, every thought, feeling, person is seen as impermanent, having no lasting existence, here one day, gone the next.
Rory: This is true from a certain standpoint. In the initial stages of our inquiry, we discriminate the world as anatama, not-Self, and therefore mithya. It exists, but it isn’t real; it’s fleeting and has no independent existence of its own. However, as we progress with our inquiry, we come to see that, from another standpoint, everything in the world is Isvara, which is nirguna brahman, the Self with form. When you see everything as Isvara, you come to see a wonderful fullness to the world of changing forms, a fullness that can never be lost.
Lisa: The individuality is also seen as lasting one lifetime after another but without continuity as an individual, since the only reality is the impersonal, non-individual Self, having no connection to the world and its numerous jivas. This can lead to a feeling of human life appearing absurd and without intrinsic meaning, since it leads the individual nowhere to go except perhaps enjoy its temporary existence, not akin to the worldview of Albert Camus and its philosophical desperation. This may happen especially if one finds oneself in a situation with no loving human ties, making life arid unless and until one has fully realized the Self and know/experience the Love one is.
Rory: I can certainly understand this perspective. This outlook can occur when there’s an incomplete understanding of Isvara. This is a great pitfall of the Neo-Advaita teachings, which seem to leave Isvara out of the equation completely.
The cultivation of bhakti and a devotional mindset is the antidote to this feeling of disconnection and absurdism. Instead of seeing life as absurd, it all becomes divine (and yes, quite often, divinely absurd). ☺
By seeing everything as Isvara, as God, every blade of grass, every flower, every person, every sunset, every drop of water and bite of food, life can become incredibly full and rich. By cultivating this mindset (and it may take some work), a deep sense of gratitude for everything arises. Even if life has its failures and sadness, and things don’t work out as we might have intended, to have this “God-vision” creates a great sense of fulfilment and fullness because we are seeing God everywhere, all the time.
Lisa: In reference to the book by Elisabeth Haich, whether her contemporary life as a Hungarian woman or the life of an Egyptian queen/initiate, there is the description of a loving bond between the members of her family, friends as well as during the time of ancient Egypt, souls that she finds and recognizes from past lives in her modern-day life. There is a deep love between the princess and her father and uncle who is the great priest, which seems to play an important role in her spiritual journey. This love factor does not appear strongly in the teachings of Vedanta so far, probably because in traditional Indian culture children receive much love from their parents and do not know the issue of self-worth or lack of love that many of us in the West encounter.
The question: Has our personal individual being (and its relationship to other beings) really no meaning except as a temporary garment or tool only to be finally dissolved into the one imperishable Self?
Rory: On the mithya level, the question of meaning and purpose is resolved by understanding the nature of dharma. I think of dharma as the inbuilt code of the universe. This purpose/meaning is built into the fabric of the Creation and into every single being as its innermost essence. Actualising this means following our nature according to our svadharma and thereby contributing to the Creation. It’s also helpful to understand that dharma is Isvara running the show. Aligning with dharma is aligning with Isvara. As jivas, that’s all we really have to worry about. If we do our part, Isvara takes care of the rest. Therefore whatever is in front of us, whatever our dharma calls us to do, is our meaning and purpose.
If your question relates to the meaning of the Creation itself, that’s something that is harder to answer. It’s not easy (or even possible?) to figure out the purpose/meaning of a dream while within the dream. Why does the mind dream? Why does Isvara, as a power in awareness, apparently create this world of form? The only answer I can offer is, why not? It is the nature of the mind to dream and the nature of Isvara to create.
The scriptures do state that the ultimate purpose of life is liberation through Self-realisation. So, for the inquirer, the purpose of life is to wake up from the dream of separation and to know ourselves in actuality: as the one all-pervading consciousness in which the worlds appear and disappear like thoughts in the mind.
Lisa: I am one of these Westerners affected by my own family conditioning, the wound of which made me search first the Love that had been missing. Ramji says that the need for love and to be loved is an obstacle to finding the truth; in the worldview of Haich, this seems not to be entirely the case: seeming contradictions or the result of the wounding of individual souls?
Rory: I believe Elisabeth Haich was a yoga teacher, and yoga does have a very different emphasis to Vedanta. While Vedanta recognizes the use of yoga, yoga is action/experience-based and propagates the notion of experiential enlightenment (back to the state of “no-thought” doctrine again), whereas Vedanta unequivocally states that knowledge alone liberates.
This can be a common misconception, but Vedanta isn’t against love at all. On the contrary, Vedanta reveals that love is actually everything – love is the nature of the Self. If you haven’t already read it, I think you’d love James’s book The Yoga of Love and also Sundari’s new book The Yoga of Relationships, which I’ve only just started to read. Both are brilliant and very insightful.
With regard to love, Ramji is talking about the emotionally-dependent kind of love, the need to have others provide love, validation, affection, etc. While this is an inbuilt biological drive to a certain extent, it’s our sense of lack of wholeness in ourselves that compels us to keep seeking love outside of ourselves in the mithya world.
Vedanta leads us to the understanding that the love we’ve sought outside of ourselves, in objects, people, relationships, etc. is actually within us. As it says in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, it’s not for the sake of others that we love, it’s for the sake of the Self. Object-love provides a mirror, reflecting the love of our own Self back to us.
I remember once seeing a couple in a restaurant, and they were clearly in the early stages of the relationship because they were so attentive to each other, and had a light in their eyes as they were talking to each other. If one of them told a joke, the other laughed heartily, and I realised what was actually happening. Each of them was mirroring the beauty of the other back to them. Owing to maya’s concealing power, we can’t see the beauty of our own Self, so we rely on others to mirror that beauty, that love, back to us.
The real love is the love of the Self, and the Self is always there, the most intimate and precious of all things to us. Until that realization is attained and internalized, we keep seeking objects that we believe will “bring” us that love, and we keep getting disappointed and hurt again and again because nothing is stable or lasting in mithya.
The reason seeking love from others is an obstacle to knowledge is because it keeps the mind bound to its desires and aversions. This in turn drives our karma, agitates/extroverts the mind and robs us of the contemplative disposition necessary for the assimilation of Self-knowledge.
Moksa is freedom from emotional dependence on objects for our happiness. When we know that the love is actually within our own Self – and that it is a limitless supply because the Self is limitless – the need to seek it in other people, objects or relationships gradually disappears.
We shift from emotional dependence on objects to emotional independence from objects. Our love and happiness then depend only upon our Self – and the good news is that Self is always there. When the dependence is gone and we no longer seek love from others, we are free to give love, and keep giving it because there is nothing but love.
So Vedanta isn’t trying to take love away, it’s just providing a redefinition of love and helping us see that the love is never not there, even if the people around us don’t happen to be mirroring it back to us. Some people simply don’t have the capacity to serve as mirrors, which is tragic, but as in your case, this sense of lack can lead to inquiry and, ultimately, freedom. Then we see that love doesn’t depend upon anything in mithya. Love is our nature, and it is inexhaustible.