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Where Are the Gods?
Christina: Dear James, recently I’ve been totally absorbed by your Vedanta retreat videos on YouTube. I couldn’t stop listening till I heard all 16 of them. Everything you say is so true, I can’t argue with you about anything. It confirms much of what I already “knew” by intuition and experience. But I am also confused now, about some things that seemed to be so important to me, before I knew these teachings.
James: I am not surprised, Christina. The teachings of Vedanta are the truth but, sad to say, the truth is counterintuitive in the sense that everything we picked up in samsara, the apparent reality, is based on ignorance of the truth. So when we hear it, we are disoriented. It is quite natural to feel this way. But it is very hard to question, and discard beliefs and opinions that don’t stack up with the truth.
Christina: I’m a shamanic practitioner and a neo-pagan priestess – I have followed a pagan spiritual path for the past 20 years – but Hinduism and the Bhagavad Gita have always been a great source of inspiration for me. My life is devoted to the Goddess – the Lady with 10,000 names – and to some more personal gods.
Over the years I have had experiences with many different levels of (natural, no drugs) trance states and have gone through quite some “adventures” in “the other realms.” The gods and spirits are almost just as (un)real to me as human beings.
James: Yes, all “beings” are only apparently real. They exist but they are not real.
Christina: Some days ago I started my daily ritual in front the altar of the Goddess and I thought, “I’m worshipping myself here!” I put down the incense holder and sat down. All of a sudden it all seemed so silly.
James: Good for you! It is silly. There is only one self and you are it. Go ahead and worship your gods and goddesses, and know that you are worshipping your self.
Christina: Luckily I had already ordered Swami Dayananda’s booklet Isvara in One’s Life, and it arrived two days after this. It gave me some clarity. I do understand that Isvara expresses Itself in the Goddess and in different gods, as in everything else. I also found many of Swami Dayananda’s PDF files about the importance of prayer and ritual. So I’m okay with the Goddess again.
James: Good. In whatever way you worship your self, in that way the self blesses you.
Christina: But I still don’t understand why the divine is showing itself in so many different forms that can all be just as personal as human beings, and how this relates to the “grand scheme of maya.” I’m sorry I don’t really know how to put this into words, not even in my native language, I do hope you understand what I mean to say.
My question is: Where, on what level in maya, are the many gods? And the spirits? And the ancestors?
James: There are three orders of the one non-dual reality, consciousness (paramartika satyam). It is non-dual, pure non-dual consciousness. No gods or humans there. This is your self, the non-experiencing witness/knower of objects, subtle and gross.
There is the empirical reality (vyvaharika satyam), the material world, the world of laws (dharmas). This is objective reality, the world of animate and inanimate objects that we all agree exist. Science deals with this reality, both physical science and the science of the mind. No gods here, just humans, plants and animals.
Finally, there is the subjective reality (pratibhasika satyam). This is the subjective reality, the world of the mind, the psyche. This is where the gods “live.” They are eternal archetypes that individuals invest with meaning according to their innate tendencies. They are not real either. They are only “real” for you when you are experiencing them. They mean what you want them to mean.
Christina: And another question is: What kind of state is the trance state in which I can communicate with gods, spirits and certain humans? To me it seems to be something in between the awake and the dream, or a combination of both.
James: It is the waking aspect of the dream state. Your mind is quite sensitive, sattvic, we call it. It gives you access to the hidden worlds. The point, however, is that you will not find satisfaction there. These beings and experiences exist but they are impermanent. If you think there is something magical or mystical or spiritual in them, you are barking up the wrong tree.
Christina: My apologies for this lengthy email. I do hope you, or one of the other teachers, will find time to help me understand.
Thank you so much for making these teachings available! It is turning my life upside down at the moment, but I know that is only a good thing.
Goddess willing, I will be at your satsang in Amsterdam. I’m very much looking forward to it. Thank you so much for your incredibly fast response!
James: You are welcome, Christina.
Christina: It gives me a lot of food for thought. I’ve looked up different definitions of pratibhasika satyam and at this moment I can’t agree with you about the nature of the gods.
James: It is not really a matter of agreeing with me, it is how these experiences fit into the big picture, i.e. how they are evaluated from consciousness’ point of view.
Christina: Of course, it is all brahman and part of Isvara and myself, and in that sense an illusion, but I do have to find a way to deal with this dual “reality” as long as I occupy this body. So at this moment we just disagree about the nature of events in duality…
James: The idea of Vedanta is to deal with duality from the point of non-duality, your real self. The idea is that although these experiences are generated by Isvara, they are interpreted by the jiva according to its conditioning. It seems to me the fact that you said you were confused indicates that it is not clear to you what they mean with reference to Christina. Many people have them and dismiss them as dreams. Others take them quite seriously and live in the dimension of reality where they exist, taking them to be real. Vedanta’s idea is that because they are experiences they are not real, only apparently real. Apparently real doesn’t mean they don’t exist, or that there is anything right or wrong with them. It just means that they are only real when you are in the pratibhasika state and not otherwise. When you are in the empirical reality they don’t work. I had a friend once who was in the subjective dimension quite frequently, and one day we were talking and she saw a rishi standing next to a tree. I was not in that state so I didn’t see the rishi. She thought I was pretending not to see the rishi because it was very real to her. I have had as many pratibhasika experiences as any shaman but I don’t put much stock in them because they don’t take care of my business in the empirical reality. The empirical reality, the everyday world, is just as unreal as the subjective reality. So Vedanta’s idea is only that you understand these two realities with reference to who you really are – consciousness.
Christina: But I will study Chapter XI of the Bhagavad Gita again and the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. And I will also try to find some relevant commentaries and study those before I will even think about wasting your time arguing about it.
James: Good for you. Anyway, I don’t argue. It is a complete waste of time. You are certainly free to think what you want. It doesn’t matter to me. If I can share something of Vedanta with you, it is fine. If not, it is also fine. I have no agenda. I am not trying to teach you or convince you. Vedanta is something that you either see or you don’t see. There is never an argument about it.
Christina: You really got me going now. ☺ For many years I’ve been trying to find ways to distinguish between subjective and objective experiences. When I started my shamanic training, I thought I was losing my mind and I didn’t want to become one of those “fluffy bunnies” who would just believe anything. (I just bumped into my teacher; I wasn’t looking for one.) I succeeded sometimes (together with others, doing blind tests) to establish some proof that I was not the only one who was seeing or feeling things at certain places (like burial mounds and dolmens). I also got some empirical proof of mutual dreaming. These are long stories, I won’t bore you with them. But if you’re interested…
James: I love stories, but forget them quickly. Only the story behind the story, Isvara, interests me. It is always in me, known by me, meaning awareness. Even James, who should interest me, doesn’t. I know his story too well. I see Isvara and I see James, and know there is nothing to do, nothing to long for. If there is confusion, I see it. If there is clarity, I see it. Whatever is known, I illlumine. I am not a story.
Christina: The following thought/image popped up in my mind this morning: We are all actors in a huge theatre play. Isvara is the theatre itself, and the director. Humans are the actors on stage. The ancestors have done it all before; they are in the prompter’s box.
But every theatre has a backstage; this is where costumes and decors are changed, different lights are switched on or off, and sometimes even the script is modified. This is the place of the gods. They function in the building and under the authority of Isvara, but they have the ability and power to change the whole scene.
And I am playing the role of the pagan priestess who is desperately trying to figure out if she should continue with what she was doing before or leave it all behind and ask Isvara to provide the means to leave for India to study Sanskrit and Vedanta.
I’ve known for a long time that life is just playacting on a certain level. Watching your videos made me realize that it is not just a theory, it is happening right here and now, all the time.
A few days ago I nearly got hit by a scooter and all I thought was, “Ah, she is playing the part of the annoying girl on the scooter now,” and I couldn’t stop smiling. I do hope I will be able to hang on to this state of mind because it’s real fun.
Thank you for responding to my mails; it really helps me to get through this “aaaarrrrgggghhhh” stage.
James: If you dedicate yourself to Vedanta, this state of mind will become a permanent state. It is a state born of self knowledge. You are a good observer, a good writer – clear.
Christina: Thank you, James! “There is nothing to do, nothing to long for”: These were the words I needed to hear again. I was directing all my rajasic energy at the goal of gaining understanding. But it doesn’t matter; there is nothing to gain and there is no real choice. I can only respond to what Isvara puts in front of me.
This is what I realized tonight.
This morning I found an invitation in my mail to join a study group here in Amsterdam, studying Swami Dayananda’s Bhagavad Gita Home Study Course. And against all odds (I had given up trying), this weekend I received a generous offer that makes it possible to organize the Goddess procession in Amsterdam for the fifth time this year. So apparently this has to happen too.
Ha ha ha ha, resistance is futile. ☺ Isn’t life wonderful! I will just go with the flow and enjoy the ride… Thank you again, and see you in June!
~ Love, Christina