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Michael: Dear James, wonderful to see you both at Facebook and being so active in the world. I feel moved to clear something and ask a few questions if I may. Because you brought Vedanta to me, and in a way that was so perfect for my mind (direct, no-nonsense, human, logical and humorous) there is a natural respect, immense gratitude and love.
As you know I have 100% no issue about your marriage and in fact by the looks of things this has been a great gift for you both – you are both looking radiant. My concern lies more with some of the verbal criticisms in your published email satsangs and articles that seem to flip from patient support to extreme language and very harsh attacking tones. You appear to be super-discerning about teachers and will openly “denounce” a teacher or teaching that you feel doesn’t meet the right requirements to teach this work credibly. I also felt a responsibility to be cautious about referring people to you until I was clear about this. I’ve also always been skeptical of teachers and teachings on the whole – until Vedanta.
However, despite this cautiousness I ended up referring people to you and your resources anyway (some of my students are reading your book and are on your email lists). I figured people are big enough to make their own minds up.
That all being said, I’d like your input on what looks like a contradiction here, and one that I also face sometimes. You list a Vedanta qualification as “a disciplined and observant mind” and specifically talk about the “loose lips sink ships” idea of not controlling feelings and “being honest” in a way that causes harm. I have seen this reflected in scripture too. Is your sometimes brutal honesty something like this or something else? I’d like to clear this up as your student. I had an incident recently when a former student of mine set herself up as a spiritual teacher, proclaimed herself to be an avatar and used my name to promote herself! I didn’t say anything, but mentioned she was deranged to a few students, who were not happy me. It seems the trick is to get a balance between a righteous fiery sword of truth and just plain uncontrolled anger, verbal nuclear fall-out. Could you comment please about your own sense of this when you get fiery, and offer me a Vedanta view that I can work on for myself?
Otherwise, the knowledge remains firm and deepens still. Deep transcendent love arises strongly. Mind is quieter and quieter. Desires drop like flies (hard to find many these days). A childlike freshness brings a real beauty to everything. There is even freedom now from my relationships – no more hooks. Work happens, simplicity delights. Everything feels like God. Ordinary is fresh.
Interestingly, my acute intuitive skills have changed entirely. This concerned me for a while because this has always been a lifelong reliable compass. Instead of clear definite “feelings” of being directed this way or that by a “flow,” there is just emptiness and the body-mind seems to be operating without needing a compass anymore. Instead of regular clear inner voice of wisdom, now silence.
I’m getting used to this unexpected mind-body change.
Despite your telling me not to teach, teaching is my nature, and I have a small spiritual group. It stays very human, equal-to, friendly and I am doing my best to be true to Vedanta and serve my students. Most have your book and the Gita, and a few seem to have grasped it well and are changed. My previous body of teaching work seems to support and weave in nicely too without any contradictions.
I am diligently still studying Vedanta so that I can teach in integrity.
I experimented with just teaching the “concepts” without the structure of Vedanta and this wasn’t as effective. I also noticed that pure theory of Vedanta without love and humanness was too dry. A balance seems to be surfacing. My most recent class was too intense, I felt; some minds were a bit shocked (new students), so I am focusing now on how to throttle the intensity. More love seems to be the key to take the edge off the blade of truth.
I like Vedanta’s emphasis on the need to strengthen the intellect. I listened to a teacher who is not self-realised, and this showed up as holes in his teaching. I also challenged him on a few interpretations and was grateful for your sound teaching so that I could see the missing pieces. For example, he referred to self as a “state” that the individual would ultimately “merge” with. I challenged him and he then agreed with me.
Sorry, this email went longer than intended. Thank you for listening. No hurry.
My love to to Sundari.
James: Dear Michael, lovely to hear from you. I am so glad that Vedanta is working for you. Everything that you observe happening is happening because you have assimilated the knowledge of the self. It is quite amazing how many people these days assimilate these teachings and find their lives transformed. I am also glad that you are teaching and learning how to teach. Good for you. The only reason I was hesitant to recommend that you teach was because of your reliance on an intuitional compass. Knowledge is not subject-dependent. It is object-dependent. It has nothing to do with how one feels. It is the light in which feelings, subtle and gross, are known and evaluated. Intuition may be useful to confirm knowledge, but it is subject to error when used to reveal knowledge. It does not matter to me whether anyone recommends me or not. A few people do not like my criticisms of various teachings, but actually a large fraction of the many people who listen to me are quite pleased with the criticisms, as I just say what many are afraid to say for fear of being thought judgmental or lacking in compassion.
And I notice that ShiningWorld is growing by leaps and bounds, so this can’t be a very important issue. People are a lot more sophisticated that you might imagine.
Vedanta is for mature adults who can usually discriminate the teachings from the teacher. All teachers have feet of clay. As you know, these teachings work.
Nonetheless, I am getting a bit more gentle in my old age – marriage helps – and I address this issue in every teaching, making it clear that the attacks are never aimed at the people with whom certain bad ideas about moksa are associated, but at the teachings themselves. There is always impeccable logic behind the criticisms. People deserve more than the meager offerings available. They need to be encouraged to walk away from incomplete and irrational teachings, assuming you can offer them something better, which Vedanta does. In fact criticism is a fundamental part of the grand Vedanta sampradaya. The most insidious form of ignorance is spiritual ignorance masquerading as knowledge, a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing.
As far as the bad feelings that came up about my marriage are concerned, you have to consider the source. All were women and they comprised only a tiny fraction of the women I have been teaching. Most either did not mention it or congratulated me. Two women of character who had been in love with me congratulated me. No man had an issue. I got over one hundred congratulations from both men and women. All who got emotional misunderstood the teaching on relationships, even though I made it crystal-clear that if you are not seeking moksa, relationships are fine, and if you are, you should do them as karma yoga.
The point I make over and over – and no reasonable person can argue with – is that you do not go into a relationship for freedom. Other motivations are operating. I could not very well take another position and call myself a Vedanta teacher. Also, I am not a seeker of truth and “Vedanta teacher” is not my identity. I am the self masquerading as a human being and I am free to live as I see fit.
It is fine if you refer people to Vedanta and it is fine if you refer them to me, but only if you feel comfortable doing it. If you refer them to me tell them that I have a bit of an edge and that they may hear some things that they don’t like, but that otherwise I am a very decent guy. And the point is that I always treated you with great respect. I admire the forthright way you have pursued the truth.
It is quite interesting that to date I have not had more than five flaming emails or unpleasant verbal encounters with anyone who was supposedly attacked by me in the last ten years. There are probably more who think I am a jerk and are too polite to tell me so, but I don’t worry about such things. The handful of complaints I did get were about my attacks on third parties, i.e. basically ideas (or teachers who represented ideas) that the person was attached to. Once or twice a year a man imagines that I am his authoritarian father and goes at me. Women have stopped falling in love with me now that I am married, so I do not have to deal with that. Actually, I welcome attacks – nothing like a good fight to clear the air – but only once or twice a year do I get a feeble argument and then after my reply the person usually apologizes for misunderstanding what I was saying.
People project like crazy. In any case, how you respond to stupidity and untruth depends on your nature. The only caveat here is frequency. If you find yourself in controversy continually, there is something wrong with you. If you are a public figure and it happens occasionally there is something wrong with the public. You have to realize that seekers are not very happy people. In the case you mentioned, you followed your nature, but I would have crucified the guy. That is a violation of dharma and needs to be met with righteous anger and truth.
Anyway, I will soon be in California and would love to see you again.
~ Love, James