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I Cannot Prove I Am a Qualified Teacher of Vedanta
James: I agree that suspicion about spiritual teachers is totally warranted. The answer to your question is no. Swami Chinmayananda authorized me to teach. Assuming that I am looking for someone to teach, which I’m not, unfortunately there is no way for you to verify my statement insofar as I am going to say I’m not self-appointed if I am. So the best way to solve this problem is to study Vedanta as Isvara teaches through me and see if it makes sense. Of course there is a problem with this approach too insofar as you actually need a teacher to help you interpret the teachings according to the tradition. But if you trust my answer, I suggest you read The Essence of Enlightenment. It lays out the whole Vedanta teaching with great clarity.
As far as the question of jnana and bhakti, here is an excerpt from an article I wrote, based on an essay written by the late Swami Dayananda Saraswati, another of my teachers, entitled What Is Advaita Vedanta? It will be very helpful, I think. I attached the whole article to this email for your edification.
The idea that Self-knowledge can be gained in four different ways is a corruption that took place in India long before Vedanta was exported to the West. According to this idea, each path is called a yoga and is different from the other three. Each was meant for a different type of person. The path of devotion was meant to serve the needs of predominately emotional persons. The path of action was intended for extroverted, action-oriented people, and the path of knowledge was designed for those with an intellectual orientation. And raja yoga, the eightfold path, was for a person who was anyone who was not one of the other types.
That one can gain Self-knowledge through action is an obvious absurdity, because knowledge requires a means and action is not a valid means of knowledge. In fact action to gain something someone already has is motivated by ignorance. Rather than erase one’s ignorance of oneself, it will only serve to reinforce the ill-considered belief in oneself as a doer of “selfless” action, a devotee of God, or a knower of truth – all egoic identities.
The Vedas actually only prescribe two lifestyles relevant to the quest for liberation: that of the householder and that of the renunciant. The renunciant pursues Self-knowledge exclusively and has no obligatory duties. The householder is enjoined to perform action in a certain spirit to prepare his or her mind for Self-knowledge.
If someone thinks of his or herself as a devotee exclusively, this identity is not warranted, because devotional practices like pujas, chanting and meditation/prayer are all karmas, activities. So in fact this person is just a karma yogi, a doer of ritualistic actions. Additionally, devotion is not a quality unique to any individual or path but is found in anyone pursuing a spiritual goal. One does not pursue Self-knowledge or self-experience without devotion, for example. So the idea of devotion as a particular path is not found in the Vedas.
Although not found in the Vedas proper, the idea of integral yoga became associated with Vedanta in the last century primarily through the writings of Sri Aurobindo. According to this view, because the subtle body has three inner centres, the mind (emotions/feelings), intellect and ego, which are often in conflict, three “techniques” are necessary to fuse it into an instrument capable of knowing the Self and retaining that knowledge permanently. Devotional practice is meant to be useful in transforming gross emotions into devotion for God, who is non-separate from the Self. Action yoga is helpful in identifying ego and wearing away its concept of itself as a doer. And the practice of knowledge trains the mind to think from the Self’s point of view, rather than the ego’s, eventually harmonizing the individual with the natural order of things, thus reducing stress and conflict. At best this view is helpful in preparing the mind for Self-knowledge but it does not, for the reasons mentioned above, qualify as a valid means of Self-knowledge.
~ Om and prem, James