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The Highs and Lows of the Path
Juliet: It seems my desire to keep writing about Vedanta keeps on nagging me, so I do write for the sake of writing.
Rory: Writing is actually a wonderful form of nididhyasana. I confess that the large part of my spiritual journey has been myself sitting alone with a notepad and pen, working everything through on paper – not only the teachings, elaborating everything in my own words until I fully grasped every nuance of the teaching, but also working through the many pockets of ignorance and erroneous thinking patterns that had kept the mind in bondage. Any actual writing output has only been the tip of a very large iceberg, yet I believe every single word was necessary. Writing is definitely a sadhana that not many teachers speak about, but which I wholeheartedly recommend.
Juliet: I must confess that the very striking experience/clarity/lucidity that I enjoyed just after my return from the seminar disappeared after a few days. I have supposed that being in the presence of an awakened being, you get sort of taken into his level of awareness.
Rory: That is one of the great powers of satsang, and spending time in the presence of a jnani. Not only that, but the presence of like-minded inquirers and the shakti that builds from keeping the mind fixed on the self for hours upon end is wonderful, purifying and invigorating. You can see how many people get hooked on the satsang scene.
The first time I met Ramji was a seminar of about seven or eight days in the Andalucian mountains. The day of my return, I shared a taxi to the airport with a couple of friends. My flight was much later than theirs, and while I spent the whole day alone in Malaga, I kept my mind absolutely immersed in the teaching, specifically the thought “I am awareness.” I remember watching the clear blue sky outside the airport and feeling that my awareness was the endless sky and the airplanes streaking past were like the vrittis, the thoughts and vasanas arising and subsiding in my mind. My mind became hooked on knowledge of just awareness and objects arising and subsiding in it.
I pretty much floated home and was in a spiritually high state for probably a good week or two. Awareness had gone from being a background phenomemon to the very foreground, and the jiva was relegated from a front and centre “starring role” to more of a glorified extra.
Of course this changed by the time the old vasanas started to rear their heads. I was getting over a fairly brutal break-up and had yet to fully process all the feelings and karma. I recently found my journal from that time. After pages and pages of Upanishadic exhorations about my blissful nature as the Self, the vasanas started creeping back in. At first they were just seen as objects arising in me, until they got stronger and stronger, like someone banging at the door, desperate to get in. Then one entry simply reads, “Oh shit – I feel like a jiva again.”
Such a “fall” (which is really just the mind overtaken by unwanted vrittis) can be very painful – identifying as limitless awareness and enjoying the bliss inherent in that nature, only to be again subsumed by the limitations and sufferings of the jiva’s psychological structure.
Yet such epiphanies are wonderful for bolstering one’s mumukshutvam, desire for liberation, a key qualification. It’s not the “high state” we are seeking of course, but simply the bliss of apprehending our own nature as free from all taint and limitation.
Isvara uses both the carrot and the stick. Unfortunately, it’s very often the stick, but when it is the carrot – man, it can be tasty.
Juliet: The test is when you find yourself again alone in your usual environment. How is it then? It seems you find yourself at your own specific level of consciousness and have to deal with whatever still has to be seen/assimilated/gone through from these samskaras that are waiting in the queue for expression.
Rory: Exactly. There are no shortcuts. Prarabdha karma (the karma apportioned for this lifetime) is there until it isn’t. It’s like turning on a tap – there’s already water sitting in the pipes that you have to get through in order to the enjoy the fresh water.
Juliet: This is my experience, and it can be a bit frustrating when having come to a certain level of pure vision you suddenly fall back down into lower states where total identification with such feelings happens.
Rory: Frustrating is the polite word for it. ☺
Just keep the karma yoga attitude, as I’m sure you are, and take the good with the bad.
There’s often no accounting for the murky stuff that spills out of the causal body. I’m thinking of writing an article about “vasana-busting” and the techniques and tools I’ve amassed in my arsenal.
The key to cut short the pain is to develop a super strong satya-mithya discrimination vasana. The ability to negate the vasanas and the corresponding emotional disturbances as mithya truly takes the wind out of their sails.
Even the body-mind of a jnani is still subject to the gunas, but they see anything objectifable as mithya – which Shakespeare might as well as have been describing when he used the words “…full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Juliet: Well, these too have passed, fortunately, until the next wave arises, who knows! This also is a good reminder that the work of listening/questioning/assimilating/contemplating the teachings can never cease. What I learnt from the last fall is that next time it happens, I have to accept its appearance fully and unconditionally without any reservation.
Rory: Yes, absolutely. This attitude is so helpful. Resistance just creates further pain and reinforces the whole problem.
The ability to differentiate between satya and mithya, between atma and anatma, self and not-self, is the key – but this is also a false duality of course. It’s a necessary duality for the sake of freeing the mind – like taking a thorn to dislodge another thorn. But then both can be thrown away. Ultimately we realise that mithya is actually nothing but satya. Everything is the self – good feelings and bad: sublime thoughts of truth and shitty self-limiting thoughts alike. Love it all.
Juliet: It’s definitely not a path for the faint of heart, that is for sure. Self-awareness is a blessing that many people don’t really have, but it also necessitates quite a degree of courage, as one must face the aspects of the psyche and causal body which aren’t so pretty.
Only in the case of people who were eligible to become monks or priests would it be a full-time teaching, and living together with other students called and willing to live a life of renunciation of worldly matters. But we live in Kali Yuga, according to Hindu philosophy. We can only do the best we can in a world that is pretty anti-spiritual and when even spirituality becomes a business like another and scandals around teachers abound.
Rory: Well said, Juliet: all astute observances.
The good thing about Vedanta is that when you have the scriptures and a good teacher, the heavy lifting is done for us. Our primary challenge is just keeping the mind qualified, which is often the real stickler, especially given the conditioning influence of our not always dharmic culture and times. Just keep the mind on the teaching, do everything as karma yoga and let Isvara carry you across the lake, whether it’s calm or choppy.
Your approach to dealing with the subtle-body disturbances is mature, dispassionate and wise. Diligence and vigilance are a winning combination. As the self, we are ever free, but in order for the jiva to be happy, we gotta face our “stuff” and work through it. Many of us, particularly in the West, grow up to endure a great deal of psychological wounding, and the willingness to heal through this is a true act of self-love and compassion.