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You Have to Do It Vedanta’s Way, Not Your Way
Ken: Hi, Rory. Thank you for your reply.
But the gist of all this is an opinion of mine that can be summed up as this: I think it is a huge assumption to say realizing your true self puts an end to the cycle of births and deaths. As everyone admits, the reason for maya cannot be explained and it is beginningless. I see no basis to assume it will end.
Rory: Maya is an eternal principle, but samsara does have an end for the jiva. This is experienced first-hand when Self-knowledge is assimilated – and the changes are manifold: some subtle, others profound, some immediate, others more long-term. Ultimately it comes down to seeing through the jiva’s false sense of doership and ownership. When you realise that, as the Self, you are actionless and that all the doing is done by Isvara, it negates and nullifies the sense of being a jiva, a separate person. This notion of personhood is the glue keeping the subtle body reincarnating in order to scratch the itch of its vasanas. When that is neutralised with knowledge, when you realise that jiva is just a concept and you were never actually born in the first place, how can you be reborn?
Ken: It is a bold assumption to say it can end. I don’t think figuring it out makes any difference. I was one with my true self prior to maya and yet I got bounded. I know there is no “prior to” maya, because maya is the cause-and-effect system, but still, it will always be active regardless of realization of the true self.
Rory: There’s no possibility of ever not being “one” with your true Self, because if there is it’s not your true Self. Bondage is only notional, based on ignorance, on taking appearance to be reality. Ignorance is a funny thing because it’s beginningless – there’s never a point in time when you “become” ignorant of something – but it does have an end, and it ends with knowledge.
Ken: I know Advaita [Vedanta] teaches differently, but I do not see it as valid.
Rory: That’s a problem then. You don’t accept Vedanta as a valid means of knowledge and you place more stock in your own opinions. Vedanta can’t work in that case. Faith in the teaching and an open mind are essential qualifications. Vedanta isn’t the product of a human mind but is revealed knowledge – something that must be initially taken on faith until you can gradually verify its truth for yourself. The first stage, sravana, is simply listening to the teaching, and this can take years (Swami Paramarthananda suggests five years as a guideline). A teacher is necessary and the teaching has to be unfolded from beginning to end in its entirety. Self-study and dipping in and out don’t work. The second stage, manana, involves reasoning through it all and working through any doubts. I feel that perhaps you have skipped to premature manana. You’re trying to figure it out with your mind before you’ve even digested what’s being taught, and that just leads to confusion and frustration.
Ken: I have a hard problem picturing a state of true self, with completely depleted karma. It is the same as non-experience, and non-experience cannot be experienced, so something has to experience at all times. I mean experience as subject-object relation.
Rory: I think this is because you’re finding it hard to see beyond the jiva. This is understandable because identification with mind, body and ego is hardwired into us. If you repeatedly listen to the teaching, however, particularly subject-object and satya-mithya discrimination, you come realise that these are objects appearing in you, in awareness. This ability to objectify what was previously considered the subject is absolutely key. That’s why Vedanta is often called the yoga of objectivity.
Your problem in “picturing” the Self is that the Self is subtler than the mind. Your mind won’t “get” the Self, because it can’t get the Self. A means of knowledge is specific to that knowledge. For example, the senses can relay sight, sound, taste, touch. The mind, being subtler than the senses, pertains to thought and emotion. The intellect, subtler than the mind, can put thought and emotion into context and make decisions. None of these instruments are wired to perceive the Self, because the Self is the subtlest of all. The Upanishads wax lyrical about this. The Kena Upanishad states:
“The Self is the ear of the ear, the eye of the eye, the mind of the mind… It (the Self) our eyes cannot see, nor words express; It cannot be grasped even by the mind.”
“That which makes the mind think but which cannot be thought by the mind, that is the Self. This Self is not other than you.”
You cannot think your way to the Self, because the Self cannot be contained by the mind. That’s why the only real descriptors we can use for it are negative ones: without limit, without division, without form, without time or change, etc. The mind is not a means of knowledge for the Self. Fortunately, Vedanta is a means of knowledge for the Self and it works by a similarly negative process; it removes the ignorance we have about that Self.
Contrary to what you said, the Self is not a state, because all states are temporary and subject to change. It is certainly not the same as “non-experience” either. The Self is self-revealing and self-experiencing; it is the sentience that allows all experience to happen.
Ken: I can accept all other teachings of Vedanta, but when it talks about knowledge ending the cycle, thats where I lose it.
Rory: Vedanta is a complete teaching. It only works if you work it the way it specifies, and not the way you specify. In other words, you need to read the instructions on the packet and follow them to the letter.
Just because you don’t “get” this yet, doesn’t mean Vedanta hasn’t “got” it. The first order of business is to get the mind qualified. I think you have a good mind, and it’s excellent you are exercising discrimination. However, one of the most important qualifications is the ability to channel this correctly by sticking with the teaching for an extended period and to keep the mind on it until each stage, each point becomes clear. This must be done sequentially, with no skipping ahead. A house must be built on solid foundations. The first two stages of Vedanta, hearing and reasoning, may take years. It certainly doesn’t happen overnight unless the mind is exceptionally pure and primed.
When I discovered Vedanta, I suddenly realised just how little I knew. This was maybe a little depressing, but also very humbling and an enormous relief. I realised I didn’t have to figure it all out myself, which is impossible anyway, because the mind is by nature limited; it will only ever have limited knowledge and limited vision. Fortunately, the answers were already there. I just needed to sit down, keep my mind as qualified as possible, and take it all in. And then, of course, ask questions when I got stuck on anything.
Believe me, when you read some of the commentaries and texts written by Shankaracharya and others over the years, there is no part of Vedanta that hasn’t been questioned, scrutinised, debated and then resolved. These teachers, who were some of the most brilliant minds that ever lived, would create the most elaborate arguments and criticisms against Vedanta just so they could create counterarguments. It’s like extreme sport for jnanis!
Just because it doesn’t entirely make sense to you right now doesn’t mean that it doesn’t or won’t. Again, and I can’t emphasise this enough, you just need to keep the mind qualified (i.e. predominantly sattvic; clear, open and able to focus for extended periods) and stick with it. Vedanta does all the heavy lifting for you. I think your doubts are because you’ve skipped to premature manana (reasoning) without grasping enough of the teaching yet. That will come, it just takes some time and persistence. And also faith – faith in the validity of the teaching is necessary to give you the motivation and impetus to continue. Without that, you’ll never develop the proper value for it and your attention will just be drawn elsewhere.
Ken: To me moksa after death of this jiva is the same as atheists expect to happen after death, nothingness. It may be something but it cannot be experienced.
Rory: No. I think I addressed that above. This comes from over-identification with the name and form, i.e. the jiva instrument. It’s like a wave lamenting the end of its existence as it reaches the shore. A form is dissolving, but nothing is really going anywhere, and it’s certainly not a nothingness when the wave folds back into the ocean. It’s more an everythingness.
This is especially hard for the Westerner to grasp, I think, because outside of conventional religion we have no conception of Brahman (the Self) at all. In India, symbols of the Self are everywhere – it’s deeply embedded in the fabric of the society (when I was in India I saw a septic tank van with a Ganesha statue and garlands around it – even the shit is sacred ☺). So when Vedanta says atma is Brahman, the individual self is the universal Self, that doesn’t mean anything to most people, because we never had an understanding of any self outside of the ego. It takes time to change that. That’s why karma yoga and upasana yoga (meditating on Isvara) are meant to precede Vedanta. They build the foundations. When the foundations are lacking, everything gets wobbly, and we simply have to go back and deal with that.
Ken: You’d think reincarnation would be the hardest concept to grasp, but it’s actually end of reincarnation that I don’t see.
Rory: You have pieces of the puzzle missing at present, such as a clear understanding of the Self, the jiva and Isvara and the “relationship” between them. It’s good you are at least aware of this. Again, rather than assuming that Vedanta is at fault, you need to seriously consider that it’s actually your understanding that’s at fault. And that can be remedied. You just need to stick with Vedanta and do it Vedanta’s way, not your way. The ego doesn’t like to hear this. It likes to be the one in the driver’s seat, but really it’s not, and even were that the case, the mind/ego is conditioned by ignorance, so it won’t drive you to any destination you ultimately want to be. You need to be very objective and dispassionate about this. If you already had all the answers you would never have come to Vedanta in the first place – in fact you would seek for nothing.
Basically you need to treat Vedanta like a lady (or indeed a gentleman), which is to say with respect, commitment, patience, trust and by giving it the loving attention it requires. Do that, and I’m pretty sure you’ll find it works for you, as bit by bit the pieces fall into place. Be aware of the rajasic streak in your intellect that seeks immediate and full understanding/results and which causes your eye to wander.
Ken: What do you think about Kashmir Shaivism? I recently discovered it and it is more up to my view, to be honest.
Rory: As a Siva bhakta I was quite drawn to it. Both Vedanta and Kashmir Saivism are pointing to the same essential truth. I think where they slightly differ is their analysis of maya. I can’t quite remember the difference, but Vedanta’s approach sits better with me, but that’s apples and oranges really.
I wouldn’t recommend Kashmir Saivism to anyone, however, not because I’m being sectarian or anything, but because I believe it would be hard to find a qualified and skilled teacher. That is essential. Vedanta has a wealth of brilliant teachers past and present, and incredible riches in terms of the material, scriptures, texts and commentaries. We now have access to the teaching and teachers like never before in the history of the planet and we are truly blessed that way. If you find elements of Vedanta confusing, I fear Kashmir Saivism would only add to that, and I don’t know any qualified teachers that could set you straight. I also don’t think it has the satya-mithya teaching, which is fundamental to Vedanta and which may indeed may be the most important understanding of all.
Obviously the interest and inclination must be there. By now you have a good idea what Vedanta is and you said it makes perfect sense to you except for a couple of areas you struggle with. I’m not actually saying it will take you many years to grasp everything. What I’d just emphasise is the willingness to slow down and stick with it for a while, work your way through it with the aid of a teacher and take it easy. What you find with Vedanta is that, when things are unfolded sequentially, questions tend to resolve themselves because the teaching is set up in a precise way. The questions are actually anticipated and then dealt with accordingly.
Ken: Studying Vedanta with a teacher sounds tempting, but like you said, it takes years to fully grasp everything. Couldn’t I get convinced of every religion, including Scientology, if I were to study it for years? Or if not, couldn’t I be wasting years with Vedanta only to find out I don’t accept it?
Rory: I don’t think the comparison with Scientology holds. This isn’t indoctrination. It’s just having the patience to absorb it as it is laid out, and working through the logic of each step. Vedanta doesn’t dull the intellect. Quite the contrary, I’ve found it sharpens it immensely, as it’s all about discrimination.
I don’t think the question of not accepting it would come up for you, because you’ve said you get the basic truth of it already. There’s just a little confusion regarding the details. It’s unlikely time spent with Vedanta could ever be considered time wasted. There are a million and one ways to waste time in this world, but Vedanta isn’t one of them. It’s about nothing more than recognising the beauty and wholeness of our own nature and ending the bondage of strictly object-based happiness. I don’t think there’s a nobler pursuit for the human mind.