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Is Self-Knowledge Gradual?
Sundari: Hello, Arjuna. Ram has passed your correspondence on to me as he is no longer replying to most e-satsangs and I am doing so on his behalf. I will reply to you as he would with reference to the scripture and Vedanta.
Please see my replies below.
Arjuna: Pranam, Gurudev. I reflected on what you said below. I believe in scriptures and you. Here again I am at your feet for gaining knowledge. I am blessed to have your guidance. Please guide me further. Here is what I have to say:
You said that the teachings of Vedanta will prove reality by removing ignorance until the knowledge becomes firm in me. By ignorance I am assuming that it is self-ignorance. Right now I do not always consider myself to be the limitless, non-dual, ordinary consciousness. This is my ignorance. Yes, even though at the theoretical level it is clear to me that in reality I have to be pure consciousness, but in spite of that ignorance is still present. So I thought to investigate further into why there is self-ignorance. What is the reason behind it? My reflections on it are mentioned below.
Sundari: Yes, it is ignorance of the self, your true nature, ignorance is the nature of maya, or the dharma field; it is beginningless but it is not endless in that it can be removed by self-knowledge. There is no answer to why there is ignorance and thus no reason for it. Awareness in the role of Creator (Isvara) wielding maya gives rise to the apparent reality, or “the world.” The jiva is the self under the spell of ignorance, with a subtle body, and the world of objects is the effects of ignorance, or mithya. Maya deludes the self into believing it is small and limited. However, the self also evolved self-knowledge, or Vedanta, as the means to remove ignorance, which is why Vedanta is called the vision of non-duality.
The apparent reality is a play, a lila. It is not real in that it does not last and is always changing, although it does have an apparent existence that depends on you, awareness. Awareness depends on nothing and is the only thing that is eternal, always present and unchanging. It is unmodified by anything and modifies to nothing. The apparent individual’s ignorance is called avidya; the macrocosmic ignorance is called maya. When the personal ignorance of your true nature is removed by self-knowledge, maya still remains and operates as before but it no longer exists for you, the self.
Arjuna: 1. Normally I consider myself to be body-mind complex, although body is also perceived just like any other object in the outside world, but there is a difference. There is a correspondence between my inner experience and body. This correspondence is absent for other objects in the world. For example, if somebody pinches my skin, not only do I see the act of pinching my body but I also get to know the inner experience of pain, which does not happen with other objects/bodies.
Sundari: This is correct; as the body-mind-intellect, ego, apparent individual, or subtle body identified with the five sheaths, it appears very much like what it experiences is unique to it and real. You need to ask yourself here, who is the “I” that sees itself getting pinched and feeling pain? The body-mind-intellect is inert; it is an object known to you and is therefore not capable of feeling anything. It is only by virtue of the fact that the light of consciousness shines on it that it can apparently feel pain or anything else. Although all apparent individuals appear to have discrete experiences, there really is only one jiva, subtle body, or mind.
However, even when you have discriminated the self from all the objects, the apparent individual continues to experience only the objects it has contact with. It cannot suddenly know what everyone else is thinking or feeling. Self-knowledge does not mean knowledge of all things or that the individual, or jiva, suddenly becomes omniscient. Enlightenment means that the jiva knows the essence of everything, which is awareness. Moksa means that the doer has been negated but the jiva is still subject to the dharma field, or Isvara. It does not have control over what happens in the apparent reality, enlightened or not. This is the purpose of karma yoga: to understand that the results of the individual’s thoughts and feelings are not up to the jiva but to the total mind; Isvara’s creation continues even when you have realised the self.
Arjuna: 2. Not only the correspondence between my inner experience and body is, but I also get the feeling of “it is I who am undergoing the experience,” “it is I who am acting.” Not only do I just know the inner experiences but I also conclude that it is I who am acting and it is I who am undergoing the inner experience and it affects me, because of which I feel either happy or sad.
Sundari: Which I is speaking here? What is the inner experience? Who concludes that it knows the “inner” experience and who acts and who is affected and therefore feels happy or sad? It is the self under the spell of ignorance, identified with the subtle body, the doer, who appears to be acting, thinking, feeling.
Arjuna: 3. Sometimes, because of the external or internal stimuli, a strong desire or aversion, both of which are forms of compulsion, gets developed within me and I helplessly try to fulfil it. Because of this I feel like I should do something or I should avoid something, etc.
Sundari: These compulsions are the vasanas which are created by the gunas: sattva, rajas and tamas; they are what make up the dharma field, ignorance, or maya. Everyone who is identified with being a person or the body-mind-intellect has binding vasanas, which run them like an automaton. They are convinced that they are the doer. This is the basis for self-inquiry, to learn to discriminate what is self from what is not-self, i.e. awareness from the objects appearing in it, which is everything other than you, awareness.
Arjuna: It is only during meditation that I do not involve in such things. But if I look into my experience throughout the day then I must say that I am involved with above kind of notions. Or at least I am not consciously trying to identify myself with pure consciousness throughout the day.
Sundari: Meditation is purely a tool for quietening the mind in preparation for moksa; it has no power over ignorance, as it is not opposed to it. As soon as one comes out of meditation, the vasanas are still there, ignorance is still there. The gunas, rajas and tamas, will be conditioning the subtle body as before the meditation. The desire for moksa has to be stronger than any other desire. It requires total commitment to self- inquiry, exposing the mind to self-knowledge on a 24/7 basis, so that ignorance of the true nature of reality can be removed by self-knowledge.
It is the ego, or the apparent self, that is speaking here again and of course as the ego you will be subject to the vasanas; ignorance prevails until such time as self-knowledge removes it. It does not just magically “happen”; this is why moksa appeals to so few people. It requires work that is less than fabulous and is not appealing to the ego at all. It takes great dedication to self-inquiry to train the mind to think differently. It is like a spoilt child, used to getting its own way. This is the work, your sadhana, or spiritual practice.
Arjuna: If I consider the condition for moksa as that condition in which self-knowledge is firm, then currently I see only one method to make self-knowledge firm and that is to be always be aware of the state of my mind, especially regarding identification, to continuously go on affirming that I am not body-mind complex and I am pure consciousness.
Sundari: This is correct, it is indeed important to constantly observe the mind; applying any one of the many prakriyas, such as affirming the opposite thought, is also effective. But you will have to do more than this. You have to constantly expose the mind to self-knowledge for it to remove ignorance. You cannot do this without the help of the scripture and a qualified teacher who can wield the knowledge for you. If you try to do this alone, the vasanas will interpret self-knowledge according to ignorance and self-knowledge will not take place.
You have to come to Vedanta empty, knowing that Arjuna and everything about him is just a story, not real, “real” being defined by “that which lasts and never changes.” Drop everything you knew or thought you knew. Your true nature is unchanging and limitless, which means it is not modified by anything and always present. In order to achieve moksa, which is the full assimilation of this fact, ignorance has to be removed by self-knowledge.
Arjuna: Now, here I have questions:
1. Is self-knowledge the same as moksa? What is the condition for moksa? Removal of vasanas? Is moksa sudden or gradual?
Sundari: See above. The qualifications for moksa are well laid out in Ram’s book How to Attain Enlightenment. It is essential that you read this and take in every word. Start at the beginning and do not skip until you have fully understood what is being said. You have to sign up with the logic and stick to it. For self-knowledge to take place you need a sadhana and you need to be very clear what your motivations are, that is, your values and what it is you desire most. Unless you have an overriding desire for moksa, meaning that it is more important than anything else, the conditions for self-knowledge will not be firm enough.
Moksa is freedom from the individual, or body-mind-intellect (meaning Arjuna), not FOR the individual. As I said above, moksa is the discrimination between what is the self and what are the objects that appear in it, i.e. that which is not-self. It requires negating all objects and rendering the binding vasanas non-binding, i.e. understanding the dharma field, or the gunas (Isvara, or the Total mind), and in so doing negating the doer.
Arjuna: 2. Is self-knowledge sudden or gradual? What is the process for making self- knowledge firm?
Sundari: Self-knowledge and the removal of ignorance takes as long as it takes. There is no set rule about this; it depends on the individual and the karma given to it by Isvara. Even with all the qualifications and years of self-inquiry it is still up to the grace of Isvara to grant moksa. For some people, adhikaris (highly-qualified people), it can be very quick. It is not something anyone has control of, because it has nothing to do with the person. I have copied an email below that I wrote recently to an inquirer who asked how to practise self-knowledge. There really is no set formula as such, although this email provides essential guidelines that cannot be ignored.
~ Om and prem, Sundari