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Difficult Family Members – an Obstacle to Moksa?
Michael: I am sure I experienced some kind of moksa before I was married. I used to practice ashtanga yoga and meditation, and remember saying to my wife, who was my girlfriend at the time (16 years ago), that she was not who she thought she was – it was so clear to me that people weren’t people or who they thought they were. Chatting with my cousin recently about that period of our lives, he commented to me that he thought I was “holy.” I know I felt a sense a detachment from the bullshit of life and a deep sense of despair for people’s suffering and ignorance.
But I didn’t understand it at all, what was going on, it was experiential – and then it all faded as I got caught up in samsara and maybe I was left with some of the remnants in me – which is where I am today and why Vedanta seems to make so much sense to me, especially thinking back to that time.
Rory: To even have an interest in spirituality, especially at a younger age, is a sign of punya (good) karma. Krishna says in the Gita that no effort is ever wasted, because even if we don’t “graduate” in one incarnation, the fruits of our progress travel with us to the next.
In our culture, we have no appreciation of spiritual knowledge and moksa. Samsara is pretty much hardwired into the system itself, so it’s no wonder that it devours people. Sometimes as seekers we need a few more rounds of samsara just to grasp with the entirety of our being that mithya really is a zero-sum game.
It’s fantastic that those spiritual vasanas have again sprouted. You found Vedanta at just the right time, because you’re ready for it.
Michael: Agreed, a great deal seemed to click and started making sense, especially the way James presents Vedanta, his experience and the way he understands all the pitfalls of his audience in advance really gives me confidence.
Rory: Ramji is truly one of the greatest teachers alive, and the way he makes the teaching accessible to Westerners while retaining its integrity and purity is unique and a true gift.
Michael: I have been letting go of certain past behaviours and actions (gym exercise, drinking, excessive eating out, etc.) and trying to stay on track in terms of the qualifications, practising karma yoga. However, I sometimes feel stuck and then start to beat myself up if I make mistakes along the way. Maybe I’m a bit too keen to move forward too quickly, but I am committed daily to do as much as I can and am really enjoying the learning, and try to stay sattvic and enquire as much as possible.
Rory: You’ve got the right attitude and your dedication is clear. It’s wonderful that you are making the appropriate lifestyle modifications. Being clear on values is absolutely key here.
Michael: Thank you, I am learning this in private, i.e. I am not sharing this with family or friends, as they would probably think I was nuts!
Rory: Ha ha, I’ve always been careful who I talk Vedanta with. Unless there’s genuine interest and openness, people really don’t know how to respond to it and you just end up with awkward stares and silences. In fact the Gita states that the wise should not disturb the minds of the ignorant. It can be hard though because when you develop a real passion for Vedanta and self-knowledge, you naturally want to share your enthusiasm with others.
Michael: I am having some practical issues at the moment – in the process of learning, I am having to rethink and redefine relationships. I understand why I have let go of many friendships over the years, as they were only concerned with money and status, pleasure, etc. I thought it was just me or a negative thing in me, that I was a bad friend. I couldn’t really give them an answer to why I had backed away – but it’s clearer now.
Rory: It’s great how committed you are to keeping the mind qualified, and making the necessary lifestyle and social adjustments. This can be very hard for some people. They want to hold onto their old lives, their old social circles, etc. But the thing is, the more sattvic the mind gets, the more sensitive the mind becomes, and you find you can no longer stand to be around excessively rajasic and tamasic people and situations. You see how it disturbs the mind, and you naturally want to minimise that.
I live a somewhat sannyasi lifestyle, so to a great extent I can choose who I want to spend time with. I’ve seen a lot of old friends just drift away. Rajasic and tamasic people don’t always have a high value for sattvic people! But that’s no bad thing. However, sometimes people don’t want to let you go and they actually get annoyed when they find you’re not relating to them in the same old ways as before. This can create conflict.
Michael: However, in my extended family life (my in-laws, who I can’t escape from) there is an expectation on me to speak and act in a certain way – i.e. talk about worldly stuff (money/work/pleasure/gossip, etc.), but I have always preferred not to overly engage in this type of talk, as it seems empty and futile. But recently I am maybe less communicative, in particular my mother-in-law thinks there is something wrong me, that I am upset. I tell her I am okay.
She keeps on fussing over me, badgering me and trying to get me to open up, engage in chat. This is creating an anger, hatred and tension in me – feelings of being trapped and cornered. I am trying to practise forbearance, and maybe this is why I reverted back to previous medtiation to try to get rid of these feelings. But I think in doing so I lost touch with the teachings, giving my jiva prominence to deal with this and a feeling inside that her existence in my life is keeping me in a loop and preventing me from progressing.
Rory: I sympathise with the situation regarding your mother-in-law. The only solution is to apply karma yoga big-style. The greater the challenge the greater the breakthrough will be in terms of cultivating mental/emotional equipoise. In that way, the people that challenge us the most are in fact our greatest teachers. Try to see it that in some roundabout way she’s helping you develop spiritually, helping you cultivate your mind and install what Swami Paramarthananda calls “shock absorbers.”
When you’re with her, do something that I often do: subtract the name and form, and just be aware of her as the self. You don’t even entirely need to listen to what she’s saying, just smile, nod and keep holding the awareness of her divinity. See if you notice any changes. Deep down all people ever really want is for you to acknowledge their light, their presence, and you can do that while largely disregarding whatever nonsense is coming out their mouth. ☺
Experiment with that! See this as just a little challenge, but don’t give it more importance than it deserves. Sometimes the determination to stay sattvic is actually rajas creeping in. Let go of any resistance you might be feeling with her and see if you can just relax into stillness even when she’s mouthing off about stupid crap.
Let me know how this goes.
Michael: However, there are times when I take a stand in awareness, I am clear and able to observe her as an object in awareness, her words and actions are mithya. I don’t get drawn in and she has no impact on me. I see the upside of this that Isvara has put me in this situation and this suffering is a catalyst to strengthen my self-knowledge.
Rory: Absolutely! You got it. Meditate on that often, and let that absorb into your mind. Satya is never contaminated by mithya in any way – it’s like space, things happen within it, but nothing touches it, nothing sticks. Holding the satya/mithya knowing in mind is the key out of many a tricky situation – and anything in experience is mithya, so that applies for literally everything in this world!
Michael: Thank you. I really appreciate your time and this line of communication and hope I will be in a position to help others in the future.
Rory: You’re very welcome. You’re on the right track, demonstrating the commitment and dedication necessary and practising discrimination and inquiry. There are days when it all seems pretty easy and other days when the mind gets agitated and things seem to go to pot. Persistence is the great key, however. You’re reconditioning the mind and that takes time and effort. Remember that as a householder, karma yoga is your greatest friend and the mind’s protector. Keep on going, consistency is key, and go easy on yourself too. ☺