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Doing the Work
Kevin: Dear Sundari, thank you very much for your email. I sincerely appreciate your response and all the time you have given me. You said in your last email: it is so important to have a qualified teacher. I have been confused by this for some time. When listening to Ramji’s lectures (sorry if this is not the proper term) or reading his books, does this not suffice as learning from a qualified teacher? I may be mistaken, but I believe there are teachers in Ramji’s lineage in Saylorsburg, PA, not prohibitively far from where I live. Should I seek to develop a relationship with them and obtain their assistance in my Self-inquiry or is continuing to study Ramji’s material sufficient?
Sundari: No, I meant you need to continue with a qualified Vedanta teacher, such as Ramji or myself. It helps to have a teacher “in the flesh” but not actually necessary for moksa. Assuming qualifications and if you are committed to Self-inquiry, we can guide you through e-satsangs. Many of our inquirers have Self-realized in this way and progressed to the next and most difficult part, Self-actualization, too.
There is no real boundary between you and the guru, because a guru literally means “one who dispels the darkness” and in doing so reveals that the Self is the only guru because this is a non-dual reality. We are just mouthpieces for Isvara, for the Truth. It is not our truth or based on our experience, although it confirms both.
Whether we are physically with you or connecting via technology, the knowledge is wielded in the same way by us because we are qualified teachers of Vedanta. We see you as the Self, as non-different. Vedanta is a teaching tradition based on friendship and equality. If the mind is prepared and qualified and you are firmly dedicated to Self-inquiry, Self-knowledge will do “the work” of removing ignorance. We are here to help you with any questions that arise, but we cannot remove your ignorance or do “the work” for you.
Kevin: You also said: Who is talking when you refer to “myself”? Is the Self or the jiva? – You are Self. You are not The Self and the jiva, although the jiva is you. So when the jiva program appears, dismiss it through understanding.
Funny. When I was first reading your question, I was actually responding mentally, “I’m the Self AND the jiva!” Then I read the rest of your response. I will continue my inquiry. I unfortunately encountered a lot of stuff out there prior to coming to Vedanta which I think is still (mis-) informing my expectations of where this bus is heading. One thing I’ve tried to wrap my head around is the three-states teaching to help me in this regard. Clearly the “me” I generally think myself to be isn’t there in deep sleep. Whatever “me” is there is clearly not this rajas-tamas combo of buyer’s remorse that wants to obtain its alternating daydreams of security, pleasure, virtue and cosmic orgasm.
Sundari: Yes, most inquirers have a great deal of knowledge mixed with ignorance they need to get rid of, and it’s not easy. The hypnosis of duality is extremely tenacious and resistant to non-duality. Our only means of knowledge as jivas – the senses – thoroughly refute and delude the mind, which is why the qualifications for Self-inquiry are so important. If you are qualified for Vedanta and you understand what it is saying – that there is nothing wrong with you as a jiva, that your true nature is whole and complete, non-dual, actionless, unchanging awareness, plus it gives you the tools to actualize this with irrefutable logic, it just does not compare with any other teaching. There is nothing else like it.
Kevin: I had a dream a night or two ago in which there was a satellite or a spaceship or something which I knew was “out there somewhere” monitoring me. I was momentarily frightened that it was tracking me in order to kill me and was scrambling to find somewhere to hide. I then discovered that it was actually my dad and that he was hoping I’d give him a call in order to catch up. I was delighted that the “spaceship” was friendly to me and even a helpful presence. You could take this a number of ways of course, but reflecting on the previous email I sent you, I think it says a lot about misconceptions I’ve got about Isvara and the Self. But perhaps vasanas for dream interpretation are not germane to Self-inquiry…
Sundari: Dream interpretation can be helpful for understanding what lies in the unconscious, as long as one remembers it’s all mithya. James did a lot of it in the very early days. The studies on dream content indicate that most people’s dreams are based on fear or contain elements of anxiety. Apparently, about one-third of all dream reports contain “misfortunes” of some kind. Up to 80% of men’s dreams and 77% of women’s dreams feature at least one of the “negative elements” of sadness, anger, confusion and apprehension. Only 53% of dreams for men and women have at least one of several positive elements, such as friendly interactions, good fortune, success and happiness. Neuroscientists and other “experts” claim that “it is normal to have anxious dreams.”
The problem is, scientist don’t understand consciousness, Maya or Isvara and take the jiva to be real. If they did understand how this reality functions, they would know that all jivas are born in fear and anxiety because the objects they so desperately believe they need for happiness are not in their control. On top of that, jivas live in the Field of Existence, which is also not in their control and is constantly changing. The fear plays out in many different scenarios in the dream state because it is an extension of the waking state. The only real difference with the waking and dream state is that, when you wake up, you know it was a dream and the fear state in it was “not real.” The doer/ego in the dream is a dream jiva. But in the waking state the doer/ego (jiva) is thought to be real, so it identifies with the doer; the doer is not seen as an object. It is thought to be the subject. Therefore fear in all its permutations conditions the mind. But fear is not real (it stands for False Evidence Appearing Real) and it’s never personal. It comes from macrocosmic ignorance – the causal body. Never own it, just see it for what it is and dismiss it.
See the fear coming through in your dream, when in fact the spaceship was benign and a symbol of love: the Self in the form of Isvara, always there, always observing the frightened jiva, giving it what it needs.
Kevin: You said: When the guilt/shame samskara rears its ugly head, practice karma yoga immediately by giving all the thoughts and feelings to Isvara. Don’t hesitate a moment, hand them over before the mind conditions to tamas. How might you suggest this be performed? Should I simply “will” it? Imagine myself handing a bag of guilt and shame over to an entity I pretend to be Isvara? I’ve used some self-talk when I’ve caught myself getting wrapped up in emotion-provoking thoughts lately: “Stop! This is a situation for Isvara! Please take this off my mind, Isvara! I’m handing it over to you. Now back to our regularly scheduled program (er, deprogramming).” Any further suggestions? Again, my genuine thanks and gratitude…
Sundari: This is good, karma yoga requires retraining the mind. Just remember, it will not work to “do” yourself to freedom, because the doer is the problem. Do you understand karma yoga or mind/guna management? I have attached a teaching that gives the brief version of dharma and karma yoga, make sure you read it. You need to start at the beginning, sign on to the logic and stick with it methodically if you want it to work for you. Just having deep spiritual vasanas is not enough.
What Does Self-Inquiry Entail?
A great deal can be said about this all-important topic, but here is a brief explanation on the basics.
First and most important, your sadhana (Self-inquiry practice) should be the most important part of your day, not incidental to it if you truly want freedom from existential suffering.
Self-inquiry is the application of Self-knowledge to one’s life. For the mind to assimilate Self-knowledge, all stages of inquiry must be completed, methodically and thoroughly, not necessarily in a linear fashion. Most inquirers will weave in and out of the stages as their doubts arise and get dispelled by the teachings. Vedanta is taught in a very specific way for a very good reason – the mind is very conservative and ignorance is hardwired and tenacious.
Vedanta pramana is a valid means of knowledge to discriminate satya from mithya, the real (that which is always present and never changes) from the apparently real (that which is not always present and always changing), which is the essence of moksa. It offers a “toolkit,” as it were, which if applied to your life with utmost dedication will result in permanent peace of mind and freedom from the limitations of the doer, the egoic small-self. For this to take place, your lifestyle (work, money, sex/pleasure, relationships, etc.) MUST be in accordance with the scripture, not the other way around. Everything that is not in line with the teachings must be renounced.
The qualifications for moksa are a prerequisite as well. Although not all the qualifications need to be present to begin with, they must be understood and developed. Additionally, you need to be properly taught because the mind is conditioned to think a certain way. Non-duality is counter-intuitive – it is a provocative teaching designed to give rise to doubts, which it also answers. Unguided, the mind will interpret what it hears or reads according to its conditioning, or vasanas, and Self-knowledge will not obtain. You may “get it” for a while and then you will “unget it” because the mind has not been sufficiently purified, your lifestyle does not conform to the dharma of an inquirer and/or you are not putting into practise the teachings, mainly karma yoga. Also, there are apparent contradictions within the teachings, which are not real contradictions and need to be resolved by a qualified teacher. And there is one more factor to consider: grace. It is only by the grace of Isvara that anything happens – and grace is earned.
The field of psychology does not approach non-duality; all its methods and categorizations are based totally in duality. It has its place in preparation for Self-inquiry in that Vedanta is for mature adults who have dealt with their psychological issues, but no psychological practice offers a valid means of knowledge for freedom from or for the jiva. It is all about “fixing” the damaged or injured mind. Vedanta says there is no need to fix the jiva, only to understand what it is, which will automatically (and indirectly) adjust its behaviour, but not because there is any proscriptive or prescriptive need to do so. One must live according to dharma and live the teachings to attain peace of mind and for Self-knowledge to actualize.
In the spiritual world, teachings and teachers abound who teach according to their methods and experience, but this is invariably misleading, flawed and limited. Unless a teaching is independent of the teacher, it will be contaminated by his or her beliefs, opinions and experiences, no matter how lofty or “enlightened” they claim to be. And without an applicable means of knowledge, the student is left inspired at best and totally confused or misled at worst.
We can definitely teach you, but it takes a burning desire for freedom to commit to Self-inquiry. As James is fond of saying, Vedanta is the court of last appeal for those fortunate souls whose karma prepares them for moksa, freedom.
If all you do is read Vedanta and then go off on your merry way and live life as you always have, clearly Self-inquiry will not bear fruit. Self-inquiry requires an ability to be ruthlessly honest and to have the courage to look at your life objectively and impersonally. If there is a part of you that still thinks there are things to gain in this world and chases experience/objects, you are not ready for Self-inquiry.
If you have not done so, I suggest you read James’ book The Essence of Enlightenment and/or How to Attain Enlightenment. I also suggest you read James’ book on the three gunas and Atma Bodh, which describes the stages of Self-inquiry in much more depth than I have here below.
Stages Necessary in Preparation for Self-inquiry
1. Karma yoga – Karma yoga is dedicating every thought, word and deed to Isvara in an attitude of gratitude and consecration, taking whatever results that come as prasad, a gift. There are two stages to karma yoga – the first is what we call secular karma yoga, which is karma yoga with desire. This is to minimize the pressure of the vasanas, but desire for objects (though they may be more elevated) is still present. The second is for more advanced inquirers, sacred karma yoga, which is karma yoga without desire. At this stage, you have given up needing anything. You are not after “Isvara’s stuff.” You are after Isvara. It’s not that you no longer have desire, but all desire is not contrary to dharma, and directed to the Self. Before committing to Self-inquiry, you must at least have mastered the first stage of karma yoga.
2. Upsana yoga – This entails reflecting on your values, conducting a fearless moral inventory, understanding the qualifications required for Self-inquiry and starting to develop the ones that are lacking. It requires sattvic practices, such as meditation to purify and prepare the mind for Self-inquiry.
The Three Stages of Self-Inquiry
Only when you have sufficiently established the first two stages mentioned will Self-inquiry work for you.
1. Sravanna – listening and hearing the scriptures.
The first stage of Self-inquiry requires that you start at the beginning with the teachings, sign on to the logic and stick with it. As stated above, it is taught in a progressive and methodical way to answer all doubts that arise at each level of understanding. It is very important not to rush seeking instant answers (which is often what spiritual types are after), because that will NOT work.
It requires three of the most important qualifications:
a. that you have understood there is nothing to gain by chasing objects and no longer identify with the body-mind;
b. you are prepared to forego your attachment to other teachings, at least temporarily;
c. you have faith in the scripture, pending the outcome of your own investigation.
If you are too attached to your own ideas, beliefs and opinions acquired and developed from your exposure to multiple teachings, Vedanta is probably not for you. It requires that you admit to yourself that what you think you know has not worked thus far, so there must be something you don’t know, the knowing of which could make all the difference. If you are chasing a life-changing spiritual experience, Vedanta is definitely not for you.
Very importantly, this stage requires that you have established the qualifications required for Self-inquiry, check if they are in place, strengthen the ones that are not, track yourself on them on a moment-to-moment basis. Make and implement necessary lifestyle changes that you stick to.
2. Manana – reasoning, contemplation.
The second stage of Self-inquiry requires thinking about what the scripture is saying, examining the unexamined logic of your own experience and starting to apply the teachings to your life. At this point, you look at your beliefs and opinions in the light of what the scripture says, NOT the other way around. If you have not developed the qualifications for Self-inquiry and are not dedicated to it or find yourself making excuses for the way you live because you are in denial about binding vasanas, you will not progress. Even if Self-realization does occur, it will not stick. You will not actualize Self-knowledge unless you surrender to the teachings and address every aspect of the jiva’s life.
Even though this stage is about contemplating the scriptures, it overlaps with the last and final stage, so karma yoga and guna management are vital. Karma yoga will eventually destroy the notion of “doership”’ if properly understood and faithfully adhered to in every thought, word and deed. In the manana stage, it is meant to clear the mind of enough likes and dislikes until it becomes composed enough for sustained Self-inquiry.
Guna management (also called jnana yoga) is understanding the forces/gunas that run the Field of Existence and everything in it (including, of course, “your” body-mind), how they work and generate vasanas and why the mind modifies to them. It is essential for managing thoughts and feelings that dominate the mind. Jnana yoga is also understanding Isvara, the ordainer of the Field, and the identity between the jiva and Isvara, why they are the same and what is different. Without this understanding it is impossible to negate the jiva/doer and all its fear/desire programs, so you will not progress to the last and final stage of inquiry. Many people do realize the Self at this stage, but that is really where the “work” of Self-inquiry BEGINS. To progress to the final stage requires full and complete faith in and compliance with the scripture – it alone is the boss of your life, not the jiva, and it requires the final stage of karma yoga, nididhyasana.
3. Self-actualization, nididhyasana.
Self-realization is not Self-actualization. Nididhyasana is the final “stage,” which comes after all the previous stages mentioned so far and is the hardest. It usually takes the longest. The knowledge that you are the Self has obtained, but complete freedom from the jiva program has not; there are still some binding mental/emotional patterns to purify. For most people who have realized the Self but not actualized it, this stage in a way is like “requalifying” – re-examining qualifications and strengthening those that are still weak. It requires the final negation of the idea of yourself as an individual, a jiva. Karma yoga is a preliminary form of nididhyasana. Up to now, karma yoga went from relinquishing results of actions to Isvara and taking given results as prasad, a gift, to the next level, karma jnana sannyas – renunciation of the idea of doership and of desire.
But here in the last stage of Self-inquiry, karma yoga becomes a different kind of mind management – it is the transformation of our remaining binding mental/emotional conditioning into devotion to the Self, along with the final renunciation: renouncing the idea of seeking moksa because you ARE moksa. As the Self, you have never been bound.
Nididhyasana is managing the mind’s involuntary, habitual thoughts and feeling patterns, which are bedrock duality and often survive Self-realization. These patterns can still hijack the mind without a moment’s notice, denying it access to the Self in the form of Self-knowledge, so you are still bound to the jiva program. There is nothing inherently wrong with involuntary thoughts, but they tend to immediately morph into actions that are liable to create unwanted karma in the form of obscuring thoughts and emotions. Therefore guna/mind management continues. Until this stage is complete, Self-actualization has not taken place and discrimination can be lost, if not permanently, at least temporarily. You are not free, because limiting thoughts/feelings like fear, smallness, need, shame, confusion, low self-esteem, etc. can still strike, destroying peace of mind.
To be fully Self-actualized means:
1. That you have fully discriminated the Self (consciousness/awareness) from the objects appearing in you (all objects, meaning all gross objects as well as one’s conditioning, thoughts and feelings – all experience) and do so spontaneously, 24/7.
2. Self-knowledge has (a) rendered the binding vasanas non-binding and (b) negated your sense of doership, completely. In other words, the jiva program is understood and fully negated. The jiva still exists with its inborn nature and operates in the world, but it is like a burnt rope – it no longer has the power to bind. It is as good as non-existent and rests in the fullness of the Self. The world neither attracts or repels it. There is nothing left to identify with other than your Self.
Therefore, once Self-knowledge is permanent, you never think of yourself as a person again, your primary identity is fully established as the Self. And you are totally fine with the apparent person as they are and their role in the world. All desires from here will be not opposed to dharma, they are preferences, no longer binding. Karma yoga is no longer a practice as such, it is just knowledge. It can be said that nididhyasana never ends even when Self-actualization has taken place, because the jiva, although no longer binding, is a constantly changing entity due to the gunas and lives in the Field, which is also always constantly changing because of the gunas. Thus, though the mind may no longer condition to the gunas, mind management continues, but Self-knowledge works spontaneously and instantly to nullify any effects.
There is no karma for the Self and no rules for it either. Adharma is no longer possible once Self-knowledge has actualized, because as the Self you know there is nothing to gain in the world and it is all you.
~ Love, Sundari