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Not Fully Satisfied
Shanti: Dear James, thank you for writing back. I appreciate your having considered what I said, and for the change already reflected on the website. Respectfully, may I take the discussion a bit further, since I am not fully satisfied with what you have said?
I have seen in your teaching videos that you acknowledge your guru, and his lineage. I also see that your shishyas acknowledge you, and many live by the dharma of the disciple and the devotee. Devotion and gratitude are intrinsic to antakarana shuddhi, and essential elements in the preparation for self-realization, and for self-actualization. One’s head is bowed.
Vedanta is a whole and does not work in the way that it is intended to without each piece being in its place, with precision. Only then does the unfolding take place, and hold, in all its grandeur, simplicity and beauty.
The teaching has to be true to the original. Simplification or expansion is acceptable, but adjustment and modification is not. This you too have taught.
As you say, many beginners may not be sophisticated enough to separate the knowledge from the means until they have been properly taught. Indeed, a different cultural context may be initially difficult to relate to. However, for people who have challenged themselves enough to learn how to discriminate between the self and not-self, surely discriminating between the essence and the culture of Vedanta would not be too difficult. Your words carry great weight, James. Why then would it not be possible for you to ensure that for your shishyas there is a correct understanding of the tradition, the lineage, the origins, for those who came before you and from whom your knowledge, and theirs, flows. Why would dress or accent get in the way of an offering of humility and gratitude? Particularly for those whose intellect is discriminating and sophisticated enough to not only be self-realized but also to teach it, especially if they have been taught by as good a teacher as you.
One must give credit where credit is due, and honour and acknowledge the givers of the great gifts of Vedanta. Not only one’s guru, but the guru’s parampara.
India and Hinduism cannot be discounted, James. And one would hope that this would be an intrinsic part of the teachings, as they are transmitted by those who teach with your blessings.
Vedanta did not “just happen” by some accident to be from India that is Bharat. It was nurtured there, and is the very essence of Hinduism. Vedanta, Hinduism and India are intertwined – and acknowledging this does not require anyone to wear beads or perform rituals. Nor does it stand in the way of keeping the teachings simple. In the long term, how can any good come of cutting away the roots of Vedanta to feed modern prejudices. We will end up with a toolkit, not the great system of knowledge that is Vedanta.
I do not say this out of bhakti for India, but from a discomfort with the tradition being discounted, and an untruth being perpetuated. This is more than about your personal respect and gratitude to the tradition. As you yourself have said in your videos, the tradition is greater than the individual teacher.
Do you see what I am saying, James? Please do know that no disrespect is meant to you, or to anyone you have taught. I am keen to hear what you have to say.
~ Respectfully, Shanti
James: Dear Shanti, I always enjoy your thoughtful letters. I agree with everything you have to say about the tradition but not necessarily the implied meaning of your words. I hope I can give you satisfaction but obviously it is in the hands of Isvara. You say, “Why then, would it not be possible for you to ensure that for your shishyas there is a correct understanding of the tradition, the lineage, the origins, for those who came before you and from whom your knowledge, and theirs, flows?”
Your question assumes incorrectly two things: (1) that I have shishyas, and (2) that I can ensure a correct understanding of anyone. I don’t know what it means to you when you say I have shishyas. I certainly don’t think of anyone as my shishya. I see all beings the same – no guru, no shishya. If there are shishyas they are Isvara’s shishyas. I just share what I know with whomever Isvara sends to me. The teachings only really work when the teacher lives by this understanding, not that I am even a “teacher,” although it does seem that way from a certain perspective.
I suppose by “shishyas” you mean the people endorsed on the website? Even then, I can’t read every last satsang they write, although I try to. When you pointed out Sundari’s satsang we had a chat, and she changed the satsang. I will send your comments and my replies to Annette shortly. But even the people who have been set free by “my” teaching are free to say what they want on the website as long as it is in harmony with sruti.
Strictly speaking, this is not an issue that is directly related to the transmission of self-knowledge. I know you know this but it bears repeating: the knowledge belongs to consciousness alone. And when a “rishi” sees, a precondition of that seeing is that he or she is not a person in that moment, interpreting what is seen or heard. He or she is just a clean mirror for the self to shine in. The time, place and circumstances where the revelation occurred are meaningless.
Actually, Vedanta did “just happen” in Bharat. If it didn’t happen there, it would have happened somewhere else. Consciousness did not think, “Oh, there’s a rishi sitting in his cave in India; I think I will give him a revelation of non-duality because I don’t like Chinese people or Norwegian people, and I want India to have a reputation as a spiritual superpower.” People, wherever they are, are just consciousness and consciousness speaks to them directly. There are rishis receiving and speaking Upanishads as we speak. Having said that, what you say is true. It did happen in a certain geographical area and the people who lived there appreciated the vision and cultivated it. God bless them.
Between the original revelations of non-duality enshrined in the Upanishads and the culmination of the means of knowledge into a complete sophisticated teaching in the 8th century with Shankara, the development of the tradition has been purely Indian. Hinduism is a difficult concept, however. I like Sanatana Dharma better because it sets the knowledge above the culture of which it is the source. A lot of people can’t see the forest for the trees. Many who think of themselves as Hindus don’t have a clue about the Vedas and especially Vedanta.
In any case, your suggestion that I downplay the Indian origins of Vedanta to pander to the “predjuices” of Westerners is not correct. My fundamental concern is centered around unfolding the knowledge and when I see an obstacle that can be avoided, I avoid it. Nobody’s moksa or sadhana actually hinges on acknowledgement of India as the source of Vedanta. It hinges on their mumukshutva, viveka and viragya. Mind you, Shanti, I don’t disagree with one of your sentiments although it seems that you are complaining? Maybe the real issue has to do with endorsing others. I know that the people I teach are not as good teachers as I am, but I believe that it is important for them to express themselves and develop their ability to communicate non-duality à la Vedanta. I feel this is one of my strengths, not a weakness and it does not imply diminishment of the tradition. My gurus always encouraged me to speak up knowing full well that some of what I was going to say would not be perfect Vedanta. Swami Chinmaya made me give talks to people when I was totally wet behind the ears. I often embarrassed myself.
In any case, to further extend this discussion and address the issues you raise, even if I accept the idea that I am a guru and that I have disciples, there is no way that I can “ensure” the understanding of anyone on any topic. I do my best to point out the distinction between the knowledge and the means and nobody who comes in contact with me doubts that I have a great love of India and Vedanta. People understand according to what knowledge and ignorance is operating in them at the time, something over which I have no control. I am continually surprised that someone I think understands does not understand, and someone who I think does not understand understands. Whether someone understands or not is in Isvara’s hands, not mine.
My tragedy is that I am following the instructions of my guru to teach in America. If I had stayed in India we would not be having this conversation. As a number of my Indian friends say I am more Indian than the Indians. However, when in Rome…
To reiterate: some Western people who have purva janma samskaras for India understand India and Vedanta and who I am and what I do. Others have no way to understand. They only want moksa and don’t care where it comes from. Can I deny them the knowledge because they don’t have bhakti for India or because they are put off by orange clothing and rudraksha malas? The object most worthy of reverence and gratitude is the self, although it is quite fine to respect the means. Generally, if a person is led to me he or she has bhakti for the self. Once they see that the means works, they get respect for it – or not – but I cannot ensure their respect.
Speaking as a teacher, I am traditional but not a traditionalist. I understand that some traditionalists think I am a bit of a heretic, but it is fine. Vedanta works whether you call it Vedanta or not, whether you use Sanskrit or not. It is just a simple logical method for removing ignorance. Swami told me to teach here and to use my discretion as to how I go about it, and this is how it evolved. So people who have Hindu samskaras are encouraged by me. Two people in Swami Dayananda’s present three-year course went on my recommendation. There have been about 10 others over the years. Many people that hear me go to India and do sadhana there. I am going to teach there again in January to make a short film of Indian bhakti because people have been bugging me to do so for the last two years even though my health is not the best.
At the same time, people who are put off by the religious aspect of Vedanta are not encouraged by me to go to India and take up Hinduism. As Krishna says, “In whatever way you worship me I reveal myself to you to make your faith strong.” So I encourage whatever bhakti they have and get on with the teaching.
~ Om and prem, James