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The Person Remains
Jim: Dear James, the central question that had been bugging me was what exactly happens to the individual being when concepts like a Universal Self are advanced. It is actually confusing.
James: When you see Vedanta as a philosophy you get this kind of confusion. As I mentioned, it is not a philosophy or a body of ideas from which “the average man” is meant to pick and choose according to his proclivities. It is only for qualified individuals seeking freedom who need a means of knowledge. The average man is looking for solutions in the world to make the world work. He or she takes himself or herself to be real and the world to be real. No blame. He or she has an agenda with reference to the world. Occasionally, someone’s goal is to become a better person and he or she takes to psychology or spirituality to accomplish that goal. Vedanta is for neither of these people. It is for someone who has seen that life is a zero-sum game and that, as constituted, he or she will never be completely acceptable to himself or herself. From this realization a great dispassion arises and at that time Vedanta appears in this person’s life because it offers another way out. You once said to me that only ten people in the world might understand what I am talking about and you are right. For every ten million ordinary people fixated on developing their egos and making the world work, there are one or two that are suited for Vedanta.
Some of these people have a piddling desire to be free of their personal selves, some have a middling desire and some have a burning desire. Only those with a burning desire succeed, assuming the presence of other factors. Those with a piddling desire – they still have a faint hope that something in the world will happen to make their lives better or make them feel adequate – drop out after they realize that self-inquiry requires rigor, discipline. The middling people make progress in fits and starts but, again, they are burdened with worldly vasanas that keep them from dedicating their minds to inquiry.
So the answer to your question depends on the eligibility of the person. And your question implies that Vedanta is like a religion and is interested in “advancing” concepts to people. It is not. It is not intended for those people. It does not come to people. People come to it when they are qualified. If you think Kevin is real and you want to keep him distracted from deeper concerns with a frantic schedule of activities, change him in some way or pleasure him, Vedanta can’t help you.
It will transform Kevin, the individual, but not in the way you might imagine. It will not add a few clever ideas to Kevin’s already extensive repertoire of ideas, spiritual or otherwise, to round him out and spruce up his Renaissance Man resumé. Assuming he is qualified – which he isn’t because he has another goal altogether, i.e. to be a well-rounded “generalist” – it will reveal to him a much greater identity and the knowledge of that identity will transform him into Everyman. “Seek to know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
From what you say, it is clear to me that you are quite happy with Kevin and that your efforts are directed to widening his knowledge of various worldly things – mostly cultural and artistic. So Vedanta does not apply to you. You have had almost thirty years to take advantage of my knowledge but you have pursued other ends. I said what I said according to your needs at the time. I knew very well that you did not have the big picture. No blame. I don’t care what you do or want. You are a friend and that is enough for me. Because I am adequate, you are adequate.
The thing you need to know about me and Vedanta is that I love it as I love my own self. It set me free and it is responsible for everything that I am today. I did it right. I subjected my mind to the teaching rigorously under the tutelage of a great mahatma and I hit the jackpot. I have pursued my inquiry diligently for forty-five years. I am a one-trick pony. I know what I am talking about and there are hundreds of, perhaps a few thousand, people out there who understand who I am and what Vedanta is. Vedanta works but it is not for everybody. It is only for the qualified. I sensed a particular arrogance in your last letter – a tone that was not humble, a kind of challenge. It is okay to do dharma combat but you really need to know your stuff before you engage someone like me on this topic or you will definitely lose. I appreciate that you took my reply in a classy way.
I think that your attraction to me is directly related to the fact that I am not just the Jim-person, that Jim’s particular radiance comes from me, awareness. Because you don’t see me, you see Jim, my reflected self. You perhaps think that Jim is a clever, interesting guy and it is true, which shows that enlightenment does not destroy the individual at all. It enhances the individual, which can only be good news. It lifts him or her up, puts a gleam in the eyes and a spring in his or her step. You do not lose Kevin – heaven forbid! – when you realize what it means to be limitless awareness. In your light he is acceptable as he is, warts and all. In your light he is completely universal, “general,” to use your term. Properly taught and properly understood Vedanta sets the individual free of the belief that anything he or she might accomplish subjectively or objectively will make a difference.
~ Much love, Jim