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Give the Doer Noble Work
Shankar: Hi, James. I hope and trust you are having fun and enlightening many people. I am well here in Tiruvannamalai.
James: Actually, I am having a great time, and yes, a lot of people are benefiting from the teaching. The seminars are full with a lot of smiling faces.
Shankar: I have a question that has been percolating in my mind recently. It has to do with activities, specifically mine, as in my relationship to worldly activities, especially being here in India it is easy to feel pretty at ease about not doing much. If I look in my mind I see that I really have very little worldly ambition, and I think that is authentically true. I also feel this way when I am in the West, which is one reason I like to be here. I am listening to one of your talks from Berlin and you mention, in the talk about the gunas, that tamasic people have no ambition, they are just lazy.
I am not sure if that is why it is so for me. I have the sense that I have pretty much fulfilled all or at least most of my worldly desires and had plenty of experiences and I just am not enticed in that way. But there is this deep conditioning still in my mind, even here where it is not emphasized, to do something, something of some value (not in a grandiose way), but in the way of not just loafing.
I am apparently a bit swayed by this cultural belief since the question has been arising, enough to question its validity in relation to my lifestyle choice. I spend my days listening to your talks, reading and meditating. Although I don’t feel that there is anything more to gain, I apparently feel there is still a bit further to go, if that makes sense. And I really don’t want to fall short of a complete understanding and final liberation.
James: It seems that you are talking about the doer. If you are the self there is nothing to do and nowhere to go. So if you have identified with this thought, your self-knowledge is not firm. If you are referring to the doer, Shankar, then it is important to know that to keep the doer happy it is often very useful to give it some kind of noble work. If it is only concerned with itself, boredom may set in and the mind may start to nag itself. In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna, speaking as the self, says, “Although I do not need to act, I act tirelessly for the sake of the world.”
If you are very sure that you are the self, this feeling may be telling you that you do not need to do any more self-inquiry. But this is a tricky one because it is easy to prematurely give up the search. It is good to be exceptionally diligent, however, because this may be just a bit of well-entrenched and unexamined rajas/tamas.
You seem to have identified this feeling as the result of your birth in a Western culture where it is believed that the idle mind is the Devil’s workshop. I picked up that view from my mother and it took quite a bit of work to get over it. Speaking as the doer, I am very active because I feel driven by Isvara to make a contribution to people. I honestly do not need to do it, but I like to do it. I like to see my self in the form of other people light up when I am able to show them the self. So I do, i.e. teach Vedanta, because I have this attachment to sattva and it keeps my doer, my rajas, my relative nature, satisfied. Although I must say that I may have overdone my doing a bit lately because the doer is starting to long for a bit of non-doing, or to say it in another way, a different kind of doing insofar as on that level doing never stops. I have already set things up so my doer will get what it wants. My house in Spain is now habitable and I will shift my base there and do more writing and have Vedanta class there and run around less. But I will keep the old doer busy. Do you sometimes feel like writing and playing music?
I don’t know, but it seems that Ramana’s doer was pretty active, although it seems that he hastened slowly. He read and wrote scripture, listened to the radio, read the newspaper, took walks, chatted with his friends, cooked, gave darshan – which sometimes was very boring for him, etc. Evidently he was even a bit compulsive about certain things also, which is a kind of transcendental boredom. It is tamas, yes, but it is legitimate tamas because from a certain perspective life is a bit of a bore. My guru had a very rajasic doer and he kept it busy working like a dog. I once told him that he should smell the roses, but he said he liked doing what he was doing and that something had to kill him and it might as well be doing what he loved.
But maybe it is a self-knowledge problem because there is a great joy when you know who you are. It is hard for me to tell only from this letter. If this doubt persists, we can talk about it when I come in December.
Shankar: Another question is about the gunas… I may be a bit vague here, because I’m not sure exactly what the question is. Are vasanas triggered by the gunas? Or is it vice versa? For example, if there is tamas and some low energy, depression or feelings of meaninglessness, something like that, is it the tamasic energy triggering these unresolved vasanas? As I write the question, that seems correct.
James: Yes, this is the way to state it. The vasanas are colored by the gunas. The vasanas are just the tendency to act, think and feel. But since everything in maya is a product of the gunas, the vasanas will be tamasic, sattvic and rajasic in various permutations and combinations.
I do not like to use my x-ray vision, but I could see in your aura that you have a tamasic tendency, probably as a result of your wild musician lifestyle and the fact that the body is aging – which is not the kiss of death. During certain phases of my post-enlightenment life I was quite tamasic and sattvic, and I enjoyed it. Now, speaking as the doer, I am a nice balance of sattva, rajas and tamas, a bit more rajas and sattva, but I keep enough tamas to stay healthy.
Shankar: If so, how to deal with this? Is is simply by viveka that one resolves both the vasana and the guna? This seems to be effective.
James: Yes. I more or less micromanage the gunas, making adjustments to the types of activities I do according to what I want to accomplish. I am not ambitious, but I like to “live large,” as they say, so I am continually adjusting the gunas to give the old doer what it wants. I like my doer and I spoil him a bit.
Shankar: And I am trying to understand better how to manage the gunas overall, which you speak about, but I have not fully grasped the how of it. I am listening to these sections of your talks to get that, as I feel that there is some real power there. I do understand that it is through karma, lifestyle choices, spiritual practices, etc. that the mind becomes more sattvic, which is a long-term way of managing gunas.
James: Yes, indeed.
Shankar: But what about in the moment of the arising energy, which is the short-term, immediate arising of energy? Is there a way that the gunas are managed in the immediacy of experience? I probably know the answer here, and maybe it is simply viveka also, but some clarification would be helpful and appreciated.
James: It is a matter of what your goal is. If you have an idea where you are going, then you select the guna that is appropriate for accomplishing that task. For example, my short-term goal is negative. I want to do less traveling. So I have been turning down quite a few invitations to teach because it is causing too much tamas and I am not managing it well. I am using rajas to overcome it instead of more tamas, i.e. rest. I can do it because I am very healthy and have big energy owing to my tapas, but it is unsustainable. I hope this has been helpful.
~ Much love, James
Shankar: Hi, James. Thanks for your reply, and it resonated very much. In fact over the last week or so since I wrote to you a shift in all of this has happened. I very much see what you mean by giving the doer some noble work. I think it is because I was not so much using my talents that the tamas was setting in. Yes, there very probably was tamas when we met, but that seems to also have shifted, overall. It seems much more balanced now. And because of that my energy is clean and clear. I’m writing music and playing, and it feels very right, also enjoying people very much. And as with you, when I play for people they do light up. My songs are basically satsang and the people I communicate with “get it.”
“If you are very sure that you are the self, this feeling may be telling you that you do not need to do any more self-inquiry.”
I have to say that rings true for me. In fact the idea that I still need inquiry really belittles what is already the case. Maybe that is actually just a habitual movement that is no longer valid, like an old dog with no teeth that lies on the porch and still barks at passersby out of a lifetime spent doing it, but actually doesn’t even know why anymore. That is how it feels to me at this point. But I do not feel that there is anything more to “get,” “attain,” “recognise,” “resolve” or whatever. It seems more like, to be honest, just a further relaxing into life as it is. No problem.
Here is how I have been seeing it very recently. I went from a very worldly view, as does everyone, only shakti and no Shiva. Then I got on the path, and because of a path with a basically advaitic tilt, came to know Shiva and in doing so dismissed shakti, at least as an ideal. But now, coming full circle, I am truly embracing the marriage of the two, and this is really a very blissful and relaxing view. I’m sure you see what I am trying to say with that metaphor. And what you said in your reply seems to support that completely.
Thank you, James, I appreciate your support.