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The Tyranny of Guilt and Shame
Friedrich: Hi, Sundari.
It has been some time since I last wrote to you. In the past year or two, I have flickered in terms of my pursuit of Self-knowledge but find myself resolving doubts and pursuing Self-knowledge more ardently. I find that each time that I sit down with one of Ramji’s books or review the materials on the site or listen to the lectures, I find myself recognizing some distortion I had viewed the teachings through before now falling away and revealing the teaching in a clearer manner. While I was previously frustrated by the whole 5/10/15 rule idea and thought, “Pfft! Who knows if they’ll live long enough to make it till the end?!” I’ve become more confident that the other paths I’ve considered simply will not get me “there.” Rather I’ve become convinced that all other paths I’ve looked at will only develop in me more vasanas and samskaras that will make me identify even more greatly with the jiva and will make certain that I never realize and actualize the Self. It appears clear that the only doing I should be undertaking is the undoing of karma yoga. I am perhaps one of the saddest of jivas in capitulating to this, as I’ve spent nearly the last two decades becoming a psychologist and attempting to fix myself and other jivas – only to discover that there is no fixing life for jivas. Still, Isvara is merciful, even through His cruelty. Ignorance is a real bitch.
Sundari: Good for you, Friedrich, you stuck it out despite how counter-intuitive and challenging Self-knowledge can be. It reverses the reversal – which, to the unqualified mind, feels like it is ripping away everything you thought you knew. If you are conducting Self-inquiry properly, Vedanta is designed to turn things on their head. The good thing is that it is also there to take you through the next steps, which is why it is so important to have a qualified teacher. Just remember that Isvara is not cruel, though how things play out in the mithya world can seem so if you are looking through the lens of duality.
Yes, ignorance is a bitch, no doubt about that. The first thing to understand is that Isvara is not a person, doling out “good” or “bad” karma for any life form. Isvara is consciousness wielding Maya, unaffected by Maya – the gunas. Isvara is karma phala datta – the impersonal giver of karma. The gunas create the Field of Existence, which is a lawful universe provided for all jivas (human or otherwise) to live out their karma. Karma itself is value-neutral. It is just action and its results. It only becomes meaningful when we evaluate it. We either like it or don’t like it or are indifferent to it. Only in the minds of human beings does action become “karma.” Animals do not have karma, because they do not evaluate what happens to them.
Isvara’s Creation is playing out as it must. Karma is impossible to understand from the jiva’s perspective, because the jiva can only look at what takes place in the apparent reality from within the framework of the apparent reality. This perspective will always be limited. The apparent reality will always be limited. When Vedanta says the world is perfect as it is we mean that it cannot be anything other than what it is. If the world could be different, assuming Maya “thought” that it was not serving awareness, it would make the world a different place. But it never does. So it must be that there is a good reason for suffering. And indeed there is – it motivates a quest for understanding and Self-inquiry.
To understand the big picture requires an understanding of how the Field manifests and works. When Maya appears, Isvara in the form of the Creator appears and the Creation apparently manifests. The Creation is made up of and originates from the gunas: rajas, tamas and sattva. They are impersonal forces that shape the way duality (samsara) plays out. This world may not be real, but it exists all the same because you experience it. The gunas are what make the Creation possible – and – there is no way for this reality to manifest or function if the gunas do not have the capacity to play out from one end of the spectrum of good to the other, so-called bad. That is the way it is, no point breaking our hearts over it. If we want a game called “Life” this is the only way it can be. In the world of duality, nothing exists without its opposite. If there was only good, the whole show would end. We want the show to end, not by changing it, but by understanding how it functions so that we can end the way we relate to it that causes suffering.
Karma yoga is the only way to peace of mind. Make sure you understand what it is and practise it in every thought, word and deed. We all want the world to be a better place, but it is what it is. If it could function any other way, for instance, if sattva ruled and suppressed rajas and tamas permanently, the whole game would end. The only way this apparent world of duality can function to deliver everyone’s karma is if all the gunas function the way they do, which is why it is pointless wanting things to be different.
The only way to end existential suffering is to see that the game is not real, which is only possible with the assimilation of Self-knowledge, for which the mind must be prepared and purified to assimilate.
Friedrich: Anyway, I am resigned now to strap myself in on the bus for the long haul. I think, perhaps finally, some of the logic of Vedanta – of really looking at myself in the word-mirror – has helped me see what is really going on in this mélange of matter and emotions and thoughts and identifications I’ve been calling both myself and the world – though it is becoming somewhat apparent to me that it’s all the same, isn’t it? The boundaries we’ve been hypnotized into seeing between all these swirling objects really *aren’t* there!
Sundari: Who is talking when you refer to “myself”? Is it the Self or the jiva? The hypnotizer is Maya, the power in awareness to delude. But, if you can see that everything in the apparent reality owes its existence to EXISTENCE with a capital “E,” i.e. YOU, THE SELF, and that everything you look at is you, that is non-dual vision, moksa. The ability to discriminate between the “mélange of matter,” or mithya – that which is apparently real, defined as “not always present and always changing,” and SATYA – that which is real, meaning “always present and unchanging,” the one constant factor, this is also a definition of moksa, freedom from dependence on objects for your security or happiness.
Friedrich: However, before I get ahead of myself and claim that the truth is setting me free (for certainly the process of getting free has only just begun for me), I must point out a painful binding to the jiva that I am experiencing – the lingering attachment to the (mis-)deeds of my past. It is true what James says – the more you clean yourself up the dirtier you feel!
I will not bother you with the sordid details. Suffice it to say that I have some very large regrets about very particular actions (and also general trajectories I have taken) from the fairly distant past. I lived adharmically. I fucked up. I am truly remorseful but also am practical enough to see that – from where I am today – there’s nothing to be done about any of that old stuff. There are times when tamas whips up fantasies of hell and damnation and all sorts of dreadful outcomes. Guilt turns to anxiety, which turns to sorrow. All the regret seems to do is keep me tethered to the jiva, which is death itself. I am not capable of inquiring when I am immersed in guilt and shame, and I recognize that I must cut the ropes that are attached to those millstones which are pulling me under.
What is the most skillful means of proceeding when faced by this dilemma? I want to stay on the path and keep inquiring. How do I make sure this dynamic doesn’t disrupt my inquiry any further?
~ With genuine thanks, Friedrich
Sundari: You need to apply karma yoga and mind management, guna yoga. Read James’ book on the three gunas. Shame about anything and its handmaiden, guilt, is tamas at its worst. There are many reasons why we feel ashamed, and all of them are destructive to peace of mind originating from and building on the lie that we are “flawed” and unworthy. Even if we were never indoctrinated by religion, shame finds its way into the psyche of most people, it seems to be part of the human condition. It causes an ugly, dark and thoroughly negative psychological condition attaching itself like a parasite to everything good about life or about who we think we are.
Unknown to us it becomes the filter through which we experience life. It whispers constantly in our ear with the “voices of diminishment (VODs),” sucking us dry of confidence, of trust in ourselves and life, of goodness, of joy, gorging itself like a leech on our blood. It so often goes undetected because it is very good at masking itself, either through self-aggrandizement or its opposite, self-debasement.
Though shame is always a lie no matter what caused it, when it is the root cause of a samskara it is very difficult to eradicate by transforming it into devotion for the Self, but it can be done when we have the courage to face it and so allow Self-knowledge to expunge it. Because shame is such an ugly hidden secret, Self-knowledge will not work until we do and love ourselves anyway.
Shame will play out in feelings of intense vulnerability, resentment, moodiness, depression, anger, lack of trust, defensiveness, to name a few. Shame creates a mind that is always suspicious that others are judging it and fears criticism, but is also seeks criticism because it believes it deserves punishment while defending its fear of “being discovered” as unworthy, useless, having no value to anyone. Shame and guilt always hurry towards its complement, punishment. Only there does its satisfaction lie.
When that strong shame/guilt samskara arises, if you get hooked by the turbulent thoughts and emotional patterns inherent in being the small, limited, fucked-up jiva, even in seemingly small day-to-day issues, you will never be free of it. The ever-changing and limited idea of whom you are trying to keep alive as the person is just a memory, a guilt/shame-inspired thought. For the most part, it is a toxic program. Get rid of it; pay it no heed!
The first step is to see the program for what it is, where it originates from (beginningless ignorance/the gunas/Maya) and not your past, however adharmic it was. Everyone is a product of their karma and vasanas, until and unless Self-knowledge obtains. There is no blame. The next step is to say NO! to the VODs. Just do it. There is no law against this, because they do not speak the truth about who you are. Be vigilant and keep doing it, no matter how long it takes. One thought at a time. Never give up. What price freedom?
Satya and mithya is duality if you think the jiva is as real as the Self. Taking a stand as the Self means the jiva is as good as non-existent. 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. It does not require you to change your relationship with anyone, although it helps if we can make some reparation or ask for forgiveness of those we have injured the most. But what it mainly requires is changing your attitude to the attachment to the idea of who you are and to those you injured, and who they are to you. Forgive yourself because if you had known better you would have done better. As you say, you cannot change the past. But you can change how you relate to it. Forgiveness is not about saying what you did was good; it is acknowledging that in truth you never really did anything. We can all be demons without Self-knowledge. Now you have by good grace found the teaching that can unfold how and why everything happens, apply it.
Vedanta is not about perfecting the jiva; it is about understanding what it is, why and how it is conditioned (the gunas/vasanas) and how it relates to the Field of Existence, Isvara. It is for grown-ups who have dealt with their childhood/past issues or at least are willing to. See them for what they are – paper dragons – and give all your guilt and shame to Isvara on the altar of karma yoga. That is what karma yoga is for – it is therapy for the jiva because it takes the pressure of the doer off the doer.
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. Now that you know who the jiva is and do have Self-knowledge, you can and will live differently because you understand the law of dharma and non-injury. You know that everything is you so there is nothing to gain by harming any part of life and a lot to lose. But you did not have that knowledge in your past. Aim for peace of mind, practise mind management by managing the gunas. You will find all that knowledge in our satsangs, books and videos.
Self-inquiry is only helpful if you apply the teachings to your life, so do it.
~ Love, Sundari