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Isvara, Devotion and Karma Yoga
Kevin: Dear Sundari, many sincere thanks for your email.
If you or Ramji would be willing to do e-satsangs with me, it would be an incredible gift. What is expected from me if we were to proceed? I understand that you cannot do the work for me. I am willing to do the work. Are you willing to do this or is there another qualified person who might be?
Sundari: We can teach you, but you need to follow the instructions, which are clearly explained the contacts page of ShiningWorld.com. I explained the instructions for Self-inquiry in my last email – start with karma yoga and upsana yoga. You must sign on to the logic and follow it systematically, as I said previously. Write to us only when you get stuck and need something unfolded.
Kevin: I get that a limited entity cannot do an action to receive an unlimited result. I’m not sure what I said that implied that I was pretending to be Isvara. I meant to imagine a symbol for Isvara and to, thereby, communicate with Isvara in a sort of imaginal manner and to receive His assistance, probably not a worthwhile pursuit, from what I take by your response.
Sundari: I must have misread you. Isvara is not a “he” or a “she.” As such, Isvara is everything in your environment, the Field of Existence. Any symbol can work to represent Isvara, choose one that fits you. Last time I attached an explanation of karma yoga and the three kinds of dharma. This time I attached the five karma yoga offerings and a brief explanation on who or what God/Isvara is and the different kinds of devotional practice depending on your level of maturity as an inquirer.
Kevin: I have read The Essence of Enlightenment and most (if not all) of How to Attain Enlightenment, and am rereading Essence currently along with The Yoga of the Three Energies and Meditation. I listen to James’ teachings incessantly: in the car, in the kitchen, in the shower (no lie). I came to the satsang up in Connecticut a couple of years ago when I was fortunate to be able to do so and purchased a thumb drive of the full Vedanta teachings and listened through all that (though it’s probably soon time to return to those, as I had even more misconceptions then than now).
Sundari: Good, keep it up then. Most inquirers do not realize that there is a methodology to Self-inquiry that takes them through all the stages required for moksa. They kind of stumble around. If you are a serious inquirer (which I am sure you are), you need to make sure the foundation for Self-inquiry is firm (karma yoga, upasana yoga, values, qualifications, lifestyle, etc.) or the knowledge will not assimilate, no matter how much you listen to or read the scripture.
Kevin: My understanding is that Isvara and maya make mithya. Anything known is mithya. The jiva is mithya. The field the jiva lives in has dharmic laws that rule over it – moral dimensions that, if not lived with harmoniously, disrupt one’s experience in unhelpful ways, which are apt to delude a jiva ever more greatly due to the accrued karma. I (think I) understand that the gunas propel one’s mind to be affected in various ways, and that if one identifies with the states the gunas are enacting within one’s mind, then one will be likely to err in significant ways, become extroverted and – until sattvic conditions return – will essentially be playing out robotic actions aligned with the vasanas and samskaras already accrued.
Sundari: Well put. Your understanding is pretty good.
Kevin: I am a dense (tamasic) person at times. I am sincere, however. I have put a lot of time into reading, listening and trying to integrate the teachings into my life. I have been cleaning up my life slowly but surely so as to render it cleaner and more capable (qualified) to understand what you guys are teaching. This effort at cleaning up has been at least modestly helpful, and I feel I am understanding more now. In my statement I guess I was trying to talk from the viewpoint of a jiva when his mind is tied up in self-accusation and blame – what to do as a “rescue remedy,” so to speak, at those times. So far, the best responses I have found is simply to wait and to try not to respond to the push-and-pull of the energies until sattva is more present and allows for a return to Self-inquiry.
Sundari: I like your attitude, it is humble and sincere. And you clearly have understood more than I gave you credit for.
Kevin: I have actually been working on developing a karma yoga attitude as regards the fruits of my actions, though I admit I likely don’t fully get what karma yoga is. Thank you for the materials to read. I have read them and will reread them. My best understanding at present is that joy is not in the objects – it is the very nature of the Self, and hence joy is only attained through knowledge of the Self, not action. As this is a field in which I (the jiva) must act while I am here, I should act dharmically but otherwise should do whatever I do with a happy attitude rather than for happiness. As this is the case (with which I am in agreement), I should offer over the fruits of my actions to the Lord and take all results as prasad. Doing the above with commitment will aid in assisting me from reverting the prior mistaken position of seeking happiness in objects/removal of objects, which is a non-starter. So far, that is my best understanding of what karma yoga is. I am embarrassed to say this, as I really have done so much reading and listening and contemplating – but it is as though I have had to power-wash off a million years of filth from my mind simply to accomplish this degree of understanding.
Sundari: Yes, cleaning the mind takes what it takes to remove all the accretions of ignorance! This is a pretty good understanding of basic karma yoga. As the material I sent you points out, the main purpose of karma yoga is to render the binding vasanas non-binding and to negate the doer. The first level of karma yoga is called secular karma yoga – karma yoga with desire (you act appropriately to get what you want and surrender the results to Isvara); it lessens the pressure of the vasanas and the angst of doer. This state is a form of therapy for the jiva, though therapy per se is not karma yoga. As the inquirer matures, karma yoga progresses to karma jnana sannyas – which is negating the idea of doership entirely though there is still some desire. Finally, karma yoga becomes sacred karma yoga (or nididhyasana), the last stage of Self-inquiry, which is karma yoga without desire.
Kevin: A related question: I recently heard Ramji talking with someone in The Yoga of the Three Energies lectures about mantra meditation, as a sort of side conversation, I guess, that he had near the end of one of the classes, sharing that it can do a remarkable job of helping people to clean up their minds. I thought that it sounded interesting and like something I’d be inclined to do. Having a more sattvic mind so I can inquire more fruitfully would be wonderful. Do you think this would be okay for me to engage in as part of my sadhana? I was considering using the Om Sri Rama mantra to help me focus more greatly on the Self. In a moment of excitement at the idea I even purchased some inexpensive mala beads. Otherwise, my sadhana mostly consists of reading, reading, reading, listening, listening, listening, contemplating, contemplating, contemplating…
Sundari: As Vedantins, we chant what are called “identity mantras” – we understand the meaning of the words. We chant mantras because we enjoy the bliss of the Self, but we know that the bliss is who we are. We do not chant or perform any other ritual to gain anything. The purpose of the mantra is to deliver knowledge, not to have a blissful experience, and though it can do that too, it is not the aim.
Any devotional practice is encouraged as part of your sadhana. All the elements were worshipped, deified and given great homage in the Vedic tradition. Have you read James’ book The Yoga of Love? If not, I encourage you to do so. Chanting, pujas and rituals can be helpful for energetic rajasic types who need to be occupied with something worthwhile instead of wasting time in gratuitous egoic pursuits – such as an addiction to social media, for instance, which it does not sound like you have. They are also great for tamasic types to lift tamas into balance with sattva. We love chanting and do so daily.
Rituals as a devotional practice of some kind are also an important way to show appreciation for the great gift of life, as an homage to Isvara, to the Self. They become an obstacle when you think you are a doer doing good deeds for reward or because it makes you more “spiritual” to carry out elaborate rituals or because you see yourself as apart from the ritual. A simple altar in your home with a symbol of the Self, a candle and some incense will do as well as a devotional practice. You do not need to perform elaborate ceremonies.
Knowing the Self, you worship without desire and you can appreciate how dualists with an incomplete Self-knowledge, full of desire for “heavenly” results, delude themselves into thinking that their sacred and secular rituals will produce lasting happiness.
Kevin: I have been seeking to simplify my life so as to enable more time and energy to be freed to pursue Self-knowledge. In the lectures, I’m listening to currently Ramji shares that prior to attaining moksa he sought to become a Vedanta computer and to align all his thinking with the teachings. This resonates, and I have been lately striving to do the same thing. I will work harder toward this end. I will also take whatever advice you have to give as regards sadhana. Thank you.
Sundari: Ha ha! Ramji is still a Vedanta computer – he has been for almost 50 years now, with me following suit. The mind needs noble work or it gets into mischief, and there is nothing nobler than keeping the mind on the Self, or more satisfying, definitely to be encouraged, with one caveat: study the teachings as part of your Self-inquiry but do so only to assist assimilation, NOT to become a Vedanta parrot. It can get tricky here because people don’t realize it’s the ego trying to learn the teachings for its own purposes, not in surrender to Self-knowledge. The ego can and often does co-opt the teachings because there is nothing as powerful, and the number of phoney, so-called spiritual teachers are legion. One finds them even in the Vedanta camp, which is an independent teaching and does not belong to anyone.
Kevin: I accept the logic that there is nothing to gain in this world. I accept that the Self is the only genuine joy that exists, that it alone is real. On the other hand, I find the old conditioning taking hold at times and the “tapes” playing out. For example, I look at my bank account and see that it is low. I become anxious. I think I need to have more money in order to be safe. Then I recognize where “I” am and know that I’m running jiva scripts and conclude wrongly that the “joy is in the objects/removal of objects.” Then, in a moment of Self-remembrance, I recall there is no safety for jivas. I realize I’m tamasic and that I’ve been duped by tamas into having a wall placed between me and ME. Sure, take care of the account in whatever way is possible and responsible (trust the Lord, tether your camel) – but there is no threat to ME. The threat, if such there be, is in mithya for the jiva. My jiva is tamasic. Fear is the doer for this jiva. Like James says, as regards a good mantra, “Obeisances to you, O Fear!” (or something very much like it; I don’t have the book in front of me).
Sundari, thank you so much for writing to me. I very much appreciate your time, thoughtfulness and all the information you shared.
Sundari: This is very good, discrimination at work. What you wrote this time gives me quite a different understanding of where you are at, Kevin. You should give yourself a pat on the back because it sounds like you are totally dedicated to Self-inquiry, are putting it into practice and it is bearing fruit. You are very humble too, which is a sure sign of having the right attitude for Self-knowledge to obtain. It is a pleasure hearing from you and writing to you.
~ Much love, Sundari