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Life Serves the Self, the Self Does Not Serve Life
Kumar: Hi, James. I hope all is well on your side and you are enjoying life in Spain.
I wanted to ask you a question that I am not clear on. I know that the non-experiencing entity (self/brahman) is from where all things arise, including the experiencing entity as the witness. That knowledge is firm and I don’t think it is ever going to go away so that is not the issue.
However, I feel completely disconnected from the world, and I have no experience of the love Vedanta talks about (prema svarupa). One Zen master said that first enlightenment experience was when he saw his face reflected in everyone else’s face, which is probably a metaphor for the love he felt for all his fellow human beings. I am happy with myself but I don’t have any love for my fellow beings in the sense of being compassionate. I don’t want to harm them but I don’t have any desire to help them either.
My wife says that this is very elitist viewpoint and I should make an effort to do some social service and help children/orphans, etc. but honestly, I think it is a waste of time. Not that helping orphans is bad, and I do sponsor orphans abroad through a program, but suffering is an existential condition and whatever I do there will be orphans and unhappy people in the world.
My philosophy these days is “mind your own business and let others mind their own business.”
Is there a process of reintegration before one feels prema svarupa? Honestly, most spiritual people get on my nerves these days, and I have no desire to help anyone.
I hope all is well on your side.
James: Hi, Kumar. Things are quite well here. The seminar was a big success and we are enjoying the lovely fall weather.
Deep dispassion – which it seems you are experiencing – is a sign of self-knowledge, Kumar. It is not opposed to love. Maybe the absence of love is related to the situation with your wife but I don’t think that helping the poor is the correct solution either. Having said that, if the knowledge is solid and you understand what it means to be the self, you should notice a steady current of peace, bliss, love – unless it is hidden behind some unresolved emotional issue. Were you a happy person before you realized who you are? Were you happy as a child? Maybe it is just your nature to be non-attached. The self manifests in many ways. What Vedanta calls love can also be called bliss or peace.
But if things are getting on your nerves, it suggests some obstacle, a pratibandika. It will be unconscious. Perhaps you are attached to some subtle monastic idea? Maybe you are disillusioned with the idea of marriage and worldly love. Maybe you need something new to love, now that you are no longer a seeker and the passion has gone out of your relationship with your wife.
The love is there. It is the nature of the self. If you can’t feel it, start loving something small and feed it. Or just wait for it to reveal itself. I don’t have a crystal ball so I can’t say what is troubling you. You need to give me more information.
~ Love, James
Kumar: Thanks, James, for your answer. I should have clarified a little bit more. I love my kids and my wife, obviously, but desire to help others is gone. I think I might have identified the problem based on today’s meditation at home but I am interested in your thoughts.
I was talking to my wife yesterday about this, and it seems on reflection that my desire to help people came from the need to be appreciated. I was also psychic and very empathetic since I was kid, so a person’s pain automatically drew them to me. I think the story of Katha Upanishad which I read at the age of four and probably influenced my life since I realized after reading that Upanishad that everybody around me is going to die. I understood that I was separate and different from the world around me. In India it was very difficult because everyone around me was suffering, and some days I was so incapacitated that I could not get up from bed. I did not realize until last year that everybody that I dated had a death of a very significant person in their lives. My wife is the only exception, unless you count what the astrologer said about her drowning in her previous birth.
I was always a guy women were attracted to but after moksha I can walk through a mall and feel invisible because nobody looks at me anymore. I am not unhappy about this but it is the weirdest experience; just thought I would mention it to you to give you another data point. My wife is surprised as well but my feeling is that the unconscious energy that I was emitting is gone. I don’t draw people into my life anymore. For a long time I actually thought I could help someone but I realize now that most people don’t want to be helped, all they want is to play their own set of games. I don’t dream about people I meet anymore or people who I will be meeting soon. That is another oddity I remember.
I think I might have found the answer when meditating today and realized this existential separation that I have had since birth is probably related to dread, when the person begins this conscious life, or in Christianity it is called original sin, or in Buddhism it called duhkha, or pervasive unsatisfactoriness of life. In Vajrayana this feeling would be described when empty space (consciousness) takes form. Consciousness becomes concretized. In Vedanta this would be maya, I presume?
How does one deal with this existential crisis, assuming that I interpreted the above correctly? Knowing that I am the self is helpful but this feeling of separation is so visceral that taking a stand in awareness is only moderately useful. When I start focusing on it using Vippassana-type techniques it feels like I am going to have an heart attack.
The only time this separation went away was when I met that shaman in Almora. It was also the only time my wife was surprised to talk to me after 13 years of marriage. She said I came back as a new person, and it was the only time where I felt like there was nothing in the world that I need to be afraid of. I felt no fear in that state and I was in love with all beings in the universe, I could speak to all trees and animals. I felt like I was grounded/stuck to the ground. Of course, I knew better than to chase the shaman down so I never met the shaman again.
So my question is, how does one resolve this existential dread? It seems like probably the last battle I have left. The non-experiencing witness remains and watches the pain but the situation is not resolved with the experiencing entity. The experiencing entity exists even though it is interdependent on other factors and rests in awareness. It is almost like this existential dread is pulling me back into the experiencing entity, fostering its continuity and causing awareness to get attached to objects. It took me enormous effort not to run away and write this email.
I understand that the experiencing entity will not go away despite my efforts since any sort of fight along these lines actually strengthens it. Any ideas that you can share?
James: I understand the situation completely, Kumar. It is quite common for realized people. You may have a hard time with what I am about to say, so please forgive me. There is nothing wrong with you but Kumar is depressed. I think he is depressed because his life situation is not in harmony with who he has realized himself to be. Being awareness means that you are free, and when you are free the love that is the nature of awareness is always present. It is not a dramatic, aggressive love, an orgasmic love. It is just a deep sense of peace and satisfaction.
Kumar’s description of the feeling of duhkha, non-specific existential suffering, is eloquent and very accurate. If you are the self you will not identify with it. It will be seen as only an object and it will lose its power to trouble you. This suffering has been with Kumar since the day he arrived on earth, as is so with everyone. Not knowing that it was driving you, speaking of Kumar, it created a whole life for you, a life that had meaning because it seemingly kept you distracted. The education, the job, the wife, the kids were all created through your desire to escape this feeling. At the same time the self was strong in you, knowing that you were living a lie. Happy people don’t seek. Seeking began at the very beginning along with this ignorance. Isvara made you listen to the Katha Upanishad at age four. You kept seeking and recently you discovered who you actually are. The feeling of invisibility is an excellent description of the self as it appears here in the form of a realized person. I have felt this way for forty-five years. Sundari feels this way. Every enlightened person feels this way or he or she is not enlightened. But being invisible is not acceptable for a jiva. Jivas want to be known, to be noticed, to be valid in the eyes of the world. This fundamental conflict (rajas) is causing the depression (tamas).
Life serves the self. The self does not serve life. This is just a fact. An inconvenient one for jivas, to be sure, but a fact nonetheless. I was lucky because when I discovered who I am I was young and did not have a “life” in the conventional sense. I was a leaf in the breeze. I liked it that way because, like a rolling stone, I gathered no moss. My outer life mirrored the freedom I felt as awareness. It still does today but there is a gradual diminishment of the physical freedom that I once enjoyed. It is okay because nothing can be done about it. You are an intelligent person so you will have already seen where this satsang is heading. If the scriptures told us how difficult it is squaring our lives with the truth, we would never seek. Somehow we want the self to fit into our lives and lift them up. But this is not how it is. The self does not compromise.
I wish I could say “do this” or “do that.” But this is not how it is either. But there is no easy doing or clever spiritual trick to justify your life. Sundari says there is no essential right or wrong but if you are depressed it is a sure sign that your life is not congruent with who you are. She calls making your life congruent “facing down Isvara.”
The first step is for you to think about this and see if you can take it on board. If you seek a “spiritual” solution because the idea of changing your life is too painful you will not succeed. There is nothing more to know about who you are. There is no longer a “spiritual” fix. If this is too abstract it may help to think back to a time when you were really happy and free – as a child, perhaps – and capture that feeling and set the ship of your life on a course directly to that point. The bliss is present. The love is present. It is only hidden by a tired life.
I hope this is helpful.
~ Love, James