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Not Much Interested in Vedanta
Don: Hi, James.
Every year or every few years I write you an email because I get stuck and don’t know which direction I should choose.
A few years ago, I had a very very strong kundalini epiphany. It showed me that there is only one self, no space, no time, nothing to ask for, perfect how it is. I dropped hard back to maya with a lot of confusion but a lot of Vedanta work after that; it helps me to organize that.
In the last two years I am not much interested in Vedanta and live my life, do yoga and solve some reborn, maya, jiva questions for me.
I am sure that there is only one and that everything is the Self or is pervaded through the Self. But it seems that my mind is flipping between the Self and the “I.” For example, sometimes the wish for any epiphany comes back, and then “I” explain to “myself” that it is only temporary and that there is nothing separated from me. After that the stillness comes and the wish disappears for a longer time, but it comes back.
I am sure that I am the Self, like everything else but there is this flipping from time to time with this inner discussion.
Do you have an idea what I could do to stabilize this?
James: Hi, Don.
Yes, I have a good idea. You need to do nididhyasana. Your statement, “In the last two years I am not much interested in Vedanta and live my life, do yoga and solve some reborn, maya, jiva questions for me,” shows that you have a misunderstanding about liberation and the value of Vedanta. Perhaps you think it is just an intellectual path. Liberation is not an experience that comes and goes, something you can gain or lose. It is your nature. Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. I have attached an important satsang that will give you clarity. Please read it. If you have my book The Essence of Enlightenment, please also read the second chapter. Then get back to me, if you have questions. You can Skype me also. The details are at the end of the following satsang.
~ Love, James
The Process of Vedanta
Vedanta is a three-stage process. You have to go through all three stages if you want to be radiantly happy. If you skip a step or only partially assimilate its knowledge, Isvara will send you back to the previous level until you work it out. The three steps are hearing (sravana), reasoning (manana) and Self-actualizing, or assimilating (nididhyasana).
Stage 1 involves several steps which roughly conform to the chapters in The Essence of Enlightenment. The first step of stage 1 is assimilating the knowledge that life is a zero-sum duality. It involves the realization that nothing you can do in this world will solve the problem of suffering.
When the full impact of this realization hits, disillusionment is inevitable, which is usually followed by a “dark night of the soul,” an existential depression that may last a year or two. It is particularly difficult if you are prone to epiphanies, glimpses of the reality beyond the world, because they give you hope and dash it at the same time. The second step of the first stage involves anther particularly galling fact: enlightenment – liberation from the world – is not a special kind of experience. Until you understand that it isn’t, you are basically condemned to the same frustrating merry-go-round that you experienced at step 1. Your experience of the Self, which you imagine is out of time, comes and goes because it is not out of time at all.
This realization also produces disillusionment and frustration. The rare realization that happens in the third step of stage 1 involves accepting the idea that you have an ignorance problem, not an experience problem, and the fourth step of stage 1 involves accepting a valid means of knowledge, i.e. Vedanta. Each step is increasing more difficult than the preceding step. Consequently, a burning desire for freedom and a lot of good karma is required to work your way through the steps of understanding. To help you, we present the three stages in the form of the 5/10/15 rule.
The 5/10/15 Rule
Inquiry is the nature of the jiva. Seeking, however, is different from inquiry. Seeking ends with firm Self-knowledge, but inquiry lasts till the day you die.
A lot of people think that the end of seeking caused by firm Self-knowledge – otherwise known as direct knowledge (“I am limitless, ordinary, unborn awareness”) – is the end of the jiva’s spiritual work. It is, but only if the jiva is perfectly satisfied with itself when Self-knowledge is firm. This state is extremely rare.
However, it is commonly believed that Self-knowledge, or Self-realization if you prefer, is the end of seeking, inquiring, ego, doing, teaching, etc. On the basis of this unexamined notion – which is grist for the mill of the next stage, nididhyasana, most Self-realized people declare themselves “finished,” “cooked,” or “enlightened” and set themselves up as authorities on the topic of liberation.
The stage after firm direct knowledge is called nididhyasana. Vedanta is very clear about the importance of this stage, as it removes residual desire (rajas) and fear (tamas).
We see many young people who gain direct knowledge infected with the seemingly benign desire to teach others. Usually, their spiritual tendencies (vasanas) kept them away from deep commitments to the world – jobs and families – and they just got by doing odd jobs, living off family money or the dole and/or taking up short-term relationships and abandoning them when they proved difficult, etc. When I was young these people were called “drop-outs.” Sometimes they complete stage 1, hearing, and stage 2, removal of doubt, and gain direct knowledge, but ignore stage 3, Self-actualization, or assimilation, usually because they have not done proper inquiry into the idea “I am free.”
The Self will never make this statement. It only means something to a jiva. If the idea “I am enlightened” has not been removed and the jiva has been led to Self-inquiry without having succeeded in the world, the temptation to achieve worldly success behind the idea “I am enlightened” often arises, which shows that the doer has survived Self-realization. If a seeker is properly qualified when firm Self-realization happens, the doer will be negated. Negation means that the doer’s unresolved issues are laid to rest once and for all. They do not remain and subliminally influence its decisions going forward. Self-realization presents a particularly difficult problem for the Self-realized doer who does not appreciate the importance of the third stage, Self-actualization, because it has the capacity to use the teachings of Vedanta to suit its purposes. Unfortunately, it wants the same things all jivas want: security, pleasure, power, status, etc. Nididhyasana addresses this issue and prevents this phenomenon.
These three stages are meant to be presided over by a living guru because the jiva has a built-in tendency for self-deception, i.e. denial (tamas). Along with the “I am enlightened” idea comes the belief that “I am an authority in my own right and therefore I don’t need a guru anymore.” So we see that a Self-realized ego with unfulfilled ambitions is happy to get rid of his or her guru when it is convenient. Usually it is convenient when the guru doesn’t give you what you want or tells you something that you don’t want to hear. It is particularly difficult to hear that you are not “cooked” when you realize the Self.
I don’t write and teach for my benefit. Writing and teaching are topical responses to situations that occur daily in my relationship with people that I teach. In the last few years I have supported the teaching vasanas of several young(ish) people in spite of the danger of enlightenment sickness and withdrew my support when I felt that I had somehow lost their respect.
In our tradition, we don’t want to monitor the lives of our students. We try to present the purity of the tradition and comport ourselves in such a way that they don’t lose sight of the nobility of the teaching and consequently consider all their actions in light of the tradition itself. I don’t claim to be a saint – far from it – but the respect that I feel for Vedanta has been transferred to thousands of people over the last forty-seven years of teaching. There are many humble people worldwide quietly propagating the teachings according to their innate tendencies on their own dime, so the few instances where I was called on by my association with my office as a senior lineage-holder to rap an occasional disciple on the knuckles does not in any way mitigate the purity of my motives, nor does it change in any way the love I feel for them. Parents, for instance, don’t cease to love children who misbehave.
This satsang was occasioned because I recently withdrew my support from a young man who said I was his guru but didn’t maintain the proper relationship with me. Perhaps I bear some responsibility, but the only way forward when so many are teaching Vedanta is to trust the discrimination of my disciples. It was very clear that he did not gladly accept my withdrawal of support, which would have been the appropriate response if he was a proper karma yogi, and if I was actually his teacher.
“Teacher” is an office filled by Isvara, so whatever comes from the teacher comes from Isvara, not from a fickle ego. So for love of Isvara you take your lumps like a man. One of my gurus, Swami Dayananda, kicked me out of his Vedanta class a long time ago, and I love him and Isvara for it. It was the best thing that could have happened to me at the time. I recently taught a group of 70 in Spain with his picture on the altar. Removal of dualistic guru bhakti is another important reason for nididhyasana.
This incident also confirmed what I already knew: that he did not appreciate the value of the nididhyasana stage, probably owing to the sympathy, respect and support he was receiving from the people with whom he was communicating the teachings, which indicates the value of Vedanta in the first place and his skill as a communicator secondly. Teaching is a skill that builds ego like nothing else, insofar as people hate ignorance of every sort and respect people who can remove it. If you allow yourself to get stuck in enlightenment and think of Vedanta as career, you deny yourself the opportunity to become a truly noble soul.
If doership survives direct realization, the doer needs to practice nididhyasana, which removes the part of the Self that is subject to ambition (rajas), boredom and depression (tamas). Residual emotional dissatisfactions should be removed if you love the sampradaya and if have compassion for your jiva.
Vedanta’s basic formula is encapsulated in the 5/10/15 rule. Of course it varies from individual to individual, but thirty years is not too long to commit yourself to Vedanta. Five years for sravana – hearing the the complete teaching with an open mind and appreciating the logic of each step. Ten years for resolving doubts (manana) created by the teaching and fifteen for getting rid of jiva-hood, i.e. the sense of doership. The goal of Vedanta is tripti, compete satisfaction. An apparent jiva remains but it has no desire whatsoever for things to be different inwardly or outwardly from what they are at any moment. It is called Isvara pranidanam, surrender to Isvara, or non-dual devotion (bhakti).
Non-dual devotion means that you put the needs of others, in this case your guru, ahead of your own needs. My number-one need is to protect the purity of the teaching tradition. Showing verbal guru bhakti to your disciples to convince them that they should be devoted to you and failing to consult your guru when you involve yourself financially with your disciples is not guru bhakti, as it creates dependence, which is the antithesis of Vedanta’s purpose. Even if your need is legitimate, it is absolutely necessary to protect Vedanta from even the appearance of impropriety in these excessively materialist times, particularly if your disciples exist in cyberspace. In the old days, you had physical access to your guru so you could see where the donations went. If you are a proper teacher, you will not have to solicit money, because people whose lives have been transformed by your teaching generously support you unasked.
If my disciple had taken the time to really understand the purity of my commitment to the tradition, he would not have solicited donations in the name of ShiningWorld. Consequently, I will no longer endorse a Self-realized teacher unless he or she has an independent means of support.
Tamas presents another Self-actualization problem that usually affects older Self-realized people who have have had families and/or careers. Jobs and families solve the problem of financial and emotional security, but they don’t take care of the doer problem, so the tendency to act has no place to go when you realize the zero-sum nature of life, except into a depression, because you cannot in good faith distract your doer with mindless samsaric pursuits, i.e. jobs, entertainment and endless family events.
I didn’t suffer that phase, because I went from firm Self-knowledge directly to perfect doer satisfaction because I was totally qualified when Self-knowledge was firm, owing to the intense sadhana with my guru and intense sadhana on my own the three years prior to it. I never had a career or a family or any interest in worldly things after age 25. At the same time, I kept my rajasic doer hard at work studying scripture, writing commentaries and teaching Vedanta, which is the best dharma there is for a doer. To support myself I did hard physical labor for minimum wage until I was nearly seventy. Because I was successful in both love and money before I took to Vedanta, it was impossible to misuse it, once Self-knowledge took place. I sincerely hope that Vedanta students who want to teach will take these words to heart. Teaching is not a career. It is a sacred duty for which you need to make sacrifices.
Swami Paramarthananda, a guru bother, calls nididhyasana “requalifying.” You never know when, during the manana phase, firm Self-knowledge will take place, and you never know how long nididhyasana will take. In fact, if Self-knowledge makes you a perfectly spontaneous karma yogi, it doesn’t matter, because time doesn’t exist for you.
Enlightened or not, the human mind needs to be committed to something other than the doer and its projections. It needs noble work until its dying day. Serving the world should fill the gap that serving the doer formerly filled. If you want to know more about the nature of non-dual devotion and the stages of spiritual development explained by Vedanta, please read The Yoga of Love, as it makes clear what a non-dual devotee is and the reasons for keeping up one’s sadhana once Self-knowledge is firm.
Skype Satsang with James or Sundari
Vedanta doesn’t work properly without the help of a qualified teacher. While qualified inquirers will definitely benefit from the books, videos, website and seminars, occasionally questions arise that can only be resolved by personal contact with the teacher. Now that we are settled in Spain, ShiningWorld is pleased to offer donation-based Skype satsangs with James/Ramji and Sundari.
“You don’t have problems; you are the problem.” – Swami Chinmayananda
If you are new to Vedanta, you need to know that Vedanta only works for mature people who know that fixing the ego’s problems is not a solution. Only when an individual entertains the right self-concept are psychological problems resolved. We are happy to briefly hear your story to get an idea of your qualifications but only offer suggestions in keeping with the teaching itself.
Keeping in mind that we are situated in Spain (European Standard Time), we are available between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm and from 8:00 to 10:00 pm most days. To schedule, contact Sundari at firstname.lastname@example.org or James/Ramji at email@example.com. Once we agree on a date, make a donation at the website.