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The Deluding Power of Sattva
Charles: For more than a month now my mind has become quiet. I mean that there is almost no more chattering. The mind does not wander anymore. A few times a day a thought appears, I inquire into it and usually discard it. I call, so to speak, and use the mind for the resolution of daily stuff or talking about the Self with others.
Where am I with this?
Is it a sign of progress?
Do I just keep inquiring?
Do I need the presence of a teacher?
Sundari: It is a good sign that you are objectifying the mind and discriminating the thoughts that arise in it, from you, awareness, if that is what you are doing. I am not sure who you mean by “I” but hopefully you mean you as awareness. Sattva is the guna springboard for moksa, but it is not moksa. Sattva, like all the gunas, is an object known to you, the Self, and has no impact on you whatsoever. Sattva is a happy state of mind for the jiva that comes about when the mind and body are in harmony with each other and with the environment. Any thought or feeling that brings peace to the mind is sattva. A predominantly sattvic mind is a sign that purification is taking place, but sattva alone will not free the mind, because it is not in opposition to ignorance, tamas.
You can have a totally sattvic mind and be absolutely ignorant of your nature as the Self. A sattvic mind, which is very valuable and enjoyable, offers a mind that is more prepared to hear and assimilate the valid and independent means of knowledge for awareness, Vedanta, assuming, of course, that all the other qualifications for Self-inquiry are present and you are being taught by a qualified teacher. Just because the mind is sattvic definitely does not mean that you no longer need a teacher or Self-inquiry. You do not need to be in the presence of the teacher, though if that is ever possible, it helps. Apart from the qualifications, you need to be dedicated to Self-inquiry above all else and you need to be properly taught because it is impossible to do Self-inquiry on your own. The mind will almost certainly interpret the meaning of the teachings according to its own ideas. A common occurrence among spiritual seekers is to make sattva their goal and then get stuck identifying with it because it feels very good. But dependence on sattva is dependence on an object for happiness, which is the opposite of freedom. You are the Self regardless of whether the mind is sattvic, tamasic or rajasic.
All three gunas are always present to a greater or lesser degree – and all three gunas are necessary to maintain balance for the jiva. When any one of the three gunas is out of balance, it means its negative qualities tend to manifest – and along with them, the negative qualities of the other two gunas tend to manifest as well. Sattva has a negative side, as do rajas and tamas have a positive side. Mind management is about managing the relative proportions of all three gunas so that they do not control the mind. This can only be done with knowledge of what the gunas are and how they work to condition the mind.
What also tends to happen a lot in the spiritual world is that the downside of sattva produces spiritual arrogance and vanity, like thinking one is more special, more “pure, holy or virtuous” than others because you have had some kind of transcendental spiritual experience. Too often this leads some misguided seekers to believe that they have more knowledge and believe they are duty-bound (or have special powers) to teach. Or to save less fortunate “others,” the “Messiah” complex, for instance. The façade here is the need for recognition and power (rajas) under the guise of “teacher/saviour” (rajas). And many sincere but tamasic minds get sucked into the control of these egomaniacal and highly manipulative people who very successfully employ sattva in the service of ignorance to ensnare their victims.
Other deluded inquirers who are what we call “lifestyle inquirers” fall into the trap of believing they are making progress or even done with Self-inquiry because their minds are sattvic. They may believe they are superior because they have walked away from or made big changes in their “worldly” lives, creating “spiritual” lives instead. There are innumerable ways for the ego to co-opt the teachings under the disguise of spirituality. But in reality, this kind of “renunciation” is actually escapism. They are swapping worldly materialism for spiritual materialism (rajas and tamas). This kind of mind tends to build a “spiritual” identity as a way to feel less small and afraid. Here the main drive behind being “spiritual,” or aiming for sattva, is fear – rajas and tamas. Being “spiritual” becomes a lifestyle – a subterfuge, a self-deception or façade for an ego that feels inadequate, less than, powerless (all tamas). These are the kinds of inquirers who though they find their way to Vedanta, want the teacher to be gentle and kind, to “spare their feelings.” Their unconscious aim is to protect their attachment to their jiva identity and find a safe haven for it.
Such spiritual seekers often embark on Self-inquiry to cope with and avoid their unresolved psychological issues or as a balm to salve their emotional wounds. Most have very low self-esteem and have come from abusive backgrounds and/or teachers. Sattva can provide a kind of armour for seekers who are actually invested in maintaining their victim identities though they are apparently committed to Self-inquiry. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, as all inquirers must progress at their own pace. There is no blame, though it may leave them ultimately unqualified for Self-inquiry and moksa. Vedanta is a radical and ruthless teaching; it takes no prisoners. There is no small print to freedom from and for the jiva. You either are or you are not. The point of the teaching and the job of a qualified teacher is not to help the inquirer to protect the jiva construct but to negate it, especially if it is tamas masquerading as sattva. Nonetheless, freeing the damaged or wounded jiva, even a very sattvic jiva, of its identification with a victim ego that brings it comfort in a threatening world can be very hard for sensitive types. But liberation, moksa, is not for the faint of heart or for those who cling to the jiva identity knowingly or unknowingly. Some inquirers are never able to get past this stage of attachment to sattva to protect the jiva.
Another common manifestation of the negative side of sattva is what we call getting stuck in the “golden cage” of experiential bliss, thinking happiness is the Holy Grail and that you are quite special because your mind and lifestyle are sattvic. Many wrongly identify with the feeling of sattva, believing that without it they (and nobody else) can qualify as being “spiritual” or “enlightened.” Sat, awareness (of which sattva is the most subtle manifestation), is actually the true nature of the mind. As such it is not a quality that you can really gain more of – but it can be obscured by the downside of sattva and by rajas and tamas out of balance with sattva. Sattva is a state of mind that is purely experiential, and therefore does not last. It certainly will not free the person from dependence on objects or end the subtle existential suffering that comes with it.
The problem arises with the misapprehension of what moksa really is, as well as the different meanings 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 unchanging – is not an experience, because it is your true nature, anantum. Awareness is present whether or not ananda is present. The bliss of Self-knowledge (anantum), however, can be experienced as a feeling, 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 experienced as limitless satisfaction.
The nature of the Self, awareness, is parama prema svarupa. Parama means “limitless”; svarupa means “nature”; and prema is “the love the makes love possible.” In its presence even spiritual love comes alive; however, spiritual love, no matter how pure, is dualistic. It is a transaction between a subject and an object, a feeling of love, for example. When I know I am awareness, I am prema, limitless love. This love is knowledge because awareness is intelligent. Prema is only known when the doer has been negated by Self-knowledge.
Because of the nature of the gunas, which make up and govern the creation of everything, the nature of the Field of Existence is constantly changing. Having a peaceful (sattvic) mind is not something anyone can hold onto indefinitely. One needs to gain the knowledge that you are always fine no matter what is going on in the mind, even though one aims for peace of mind at all times. Making sure one’s life conforms to dharma in every way is of great importance if peace of mind is the main aim. A highly rajasic or tamasic life is definitely not conducive to peace of mind and will make Self-inquiry impossible or, at best, very difficult.
What living a dharmic life gives you is an experienceable peaceful mind capable of inquiry, such as you say you have. But what moksa gives you is the bliss of Self-knowledge, which is very different from experiential bliss. When moksa has obtained in the mind, one may and usually does feel experiential bliss regularly, but one does not depend on it, because you know you are the bliss. In fact you could be sick, in pain and half-dead, broke, jobless or stuck in a situation you do not enjoy but cannot change, and feel blissful regardless of what is going on in the mind or around it. That is not to say that experiential bliss disappears when Self-knowledge is firm. It just does not matter whether the experience of bliss is present or not, because the bliss of Self-knowledge is always present and known to be your true nature, keeping the mind steady, dispassionate and confident.
So keep up the inquiry and make sure that when you use the word “I” it refers to you, awareness, at all times. Press “pause” every time you use the word to keep the mind focused on what that word really refers to. Ask yourself: Who is talking here?
~ Om shanti, Sundari