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The Cave of the Heart
Shaun: Hi, Sundari, my name is Shaun. I’m a 24-year-old male living in Montana. I was curious if you (or James) had any advice regarding my current situation.
About six months ago, I had a rather intense mystical experience in which I became aware of the spiritual Heart-center. Ramana Maharshi refers to it as the seat of the Self, located on the right side of the chest.
Sundari: Yoga calls the heart the hridaya. Although we like to think that it is located physically in the human heart, it is really not located anywhere. It appears in the “heart cave,” “located” in the causal body. It is not the “seat of the Self,” because the Self is all-pervasive. It means the essence, or “that without which a thing is not a thing,” like sweetness is the essence of sugar. Sugar cannot be sugar without sweetness, i.e. the true essence of everything is consciousness, the Self, YOU.
Shaun: Ever since then I haven’t bothered with any kind of traditional meditation. The general “sadhana” seems to be that I close my eyes and feel my sense of self descend from the mind to the Heart. However, I’m confronted by particularly painful energies, which I’ve interpreted to be deep-rooted vasanas. My sense of self then “shoots” back up to my mind, where the vasana-energies are expressed and worked out in a more tangible, actualized form.
Sundari: As I mentioned above, there is nowhere that the Self is not, so it never “descends” or “ascends” anywhere. The Cave of the Heart is not a location but that within which everything is located, meaning, as the Self, everything is “in” you, not the other way around. It is not, strictly speaking, correct to use the word “in,” because that implies that there is something “out” of the Self. We prefer to say “within the scope of” Self. The Self cannot shoot back into your mind therefore. The “painful energies” you feel are most likely deeply rooted unconscious samskaras resistant to exposure. When those energies become conscious, the pressure lessens.
Vedanta holds that some intense mystical experiences are caused when the filter between the microcosmic unconscious mind and the macrocosmic (causal body) temporarily lifts, affording a glimpse of Isvara. If the control is damaged, too much information floods through and serious mental health, such as schizophrenia and madness, can result. Our brains cannot cope with that much input. Our normal workaday consciousness is a slim and selective vision of reality, and it must be this way, but this is very limiting of course. Nobody likes to be limited, because we all know we are the limitless Self. So, without Self-knowledge, we seek freedom by whatever means. The literature of religious experience abounds in references to the pains and terrors overwhelming those who have come, too suddenly, face to face with some manifestation of the Divine, however it is perceived.
Shaun: This general process feels much more intense when there is an element of devotion involved. I sometimes invoke the form/name of Arunachala, but this seems to happen spontaneously and not necessarily of my own “will.”
Sundari: Devotional practice does intensify the Self-experience, especially if it is done consciously. But who is experiencing? The Self is the non-experiencing witness of the experiencing entity, the jiva. Yet it makes all experience possible. The Self is seemingly experiencing the bliss of its Self. But as you are only ever experiencing the Self because there is no other option, this being a non-dual reality, no special experience is required to do so.
Self-knowledge is not feeling-dependent. The bliss of Self-knowledge is based on unshakeable knowledge. The problem lies in the misunderstanding of the word “bliss.” There are two kinds of bliss: ananda, which is experiential bliss; and anantum, which is the bliss of the Self. The bliss of the Self, that which is always present, unlimited and non-changing is not an experience, because it is your true nature, anantum.
The bliss of Self-knowledge can be experienced as a feeling though, such as the bliss of deep sleep, which is inferred when you wake up, or as parabhakti, where love is known to be you, your true nature, meaning consciousness, the Self. Parabhakti is having all you could ever want and knowing that it will never leave you. It is love loving itself. It is limitless satisfaction, parama sukka, or tripti, are words used in the texts.
Shaun: I generally keep to myself regarding these things, but this seems to be an esoteric aspect of sadhana that I don’t find discussed at all in the scriptures. It just seems strange because I haven’t experienced any kind of samadhi or “fireworks” at all since this revelation of the Heart. I feel as if I’m trudging along, working out these vasanas, with no end in sight.
Sundari: We have many teachings on epiphanies and spiritual experiences, especially in our satsang section. James’ autobiography, Mystic by Default, explains this in depth. The point of having these kinds of experiences is to assimilate the knowledge they impart, not the experience itself. They are supposed to help us work out our subjective reality, and if you are using them for this, they serve their purpose.
Shaun: I do feel content and nearly desireless, but there is also a sense that I haven’t realized the Self yet.
Sundari: The Self is saying it has not realized the Self yet! There is still some duality in the mind, which externalizes Self-knowledge. You are clearly dedicated to Self-inquiry, but your Self-knowledge is still indirect. You know about the Self but are still not clear what it means to be the Self. Be patient, as the steps to “get there” (freedom from and for the jiva) are the qualities of “being there.” It seems like a journey, but it’s not, though there are steps that must be followed. The Vedanta pramana is a carefully crafted methodology designed to take you through each step methodically. Have you followed our instructions on our website for Self-inquiry? Please do so if you have not, as it will help you a great deal.
I have attached a satsang on the stages of Self-inquiry for you to read.
Shaun: I figured I would contact you and/or James about this because your teachings are some of the few that I actually respect in the world of spirituality. More specifically, I appreciate real Vedanta.
Sundari: Thank you, you are most fortunate to have Vedanta, as it works to remove ignorance, if the qualifications for moksa are present and your dedication to Self-inquiry is the most important factor in your life.
Feel free to write to us anytime.
~ Much love, Sundari