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Teaching Vedanta: A Complaint
Terry: Namaste, Ram. We met about 10 years ago at Nana Gauru’s ashram in Tiruvannamalai. My first impression when listening to you was of clarity. I got at that time your book Inquiry into the Self and read it. It wasn’t an easy read, partly because of the way you are writing, and partly because of the content which describes in detail why most of us try to avoid seeing truth.
Then over the years we met a few times in Tiru and finally it occurred to me that your teaching is Vedanta. Reading about your favorite subject, experience versus knowledge, confirmed my moment-to-moment awareness, which, after a starting epiphany 20 years ago, has more and more integrated into daily life.
I’m reading the satsang emails at your website and enjoy most of them up to a point, where people try to “overexpress” themselves in proper “Vedanta language,” which most probably has been partly created through your writings. One doubt lingers in my mind, namely, whether those people giving so much effort to correct Vedanta wording in emails really have realized the unspoken truth of no words. Words are just a faint echo of something which cannot be captured by applying correct “Vedanta terms” to it. Of course there can be some mental satisfaction to it by saying over and over “I’m not this body-mind, but awareness watching it” while in fact all this new “knowledge” is not so far away from the “Neo-Vedantins” who mostly mindfuck about their new-won enlightenment.
To make it short, I would like to remind you of making fun of most of the “spiritual” crowd visiting Tiru and now yourself creating a crowd who like to spiritual mindfuck by email with you. Don’t forget, your website is public and there is not so much difference to the “babbling scene” in Tiru.
I know you love to do what you do (to quote Ramiji himself) but how different is the effect on people compared to any other of the many so-called teachings, which are wrong in your eyes? Have you suddenly found so many qualified people, who are willing to take a jump beyond their conditioning and apply Vedanta to all aspects of their life?
Ram: You would have to ask the people who write to get the answer. Vedanta is not my teaching. It requires a certain terminology. If the inquirer and the teacher do not understand the same word in the same way, no communication takes place. I am not sure why you choose to criticize the people who use the Vedanta terminology. It doesn’t seem like the real reason you wrote. All I know is that many people benefit very much from the Vedanta. There is more and more interest from year to year. I see a lot of very happy faces and meet some of the most beautiful people on the planet. I am almost finished with a new book in which I have removed most of the Sanskrit. However, there are certain ideas for which only the Sanskrit words are appropriate.
The tone of the email isn’t very friendly, Terry. It actually sounds like a criticism or a complaint. What would you have me do? I am part of an ancient established Vedanta lineage and I have to be true to my spiritual roots. I love Vedanta and I love Sanskrit. Anyway, if the satsangs bother you, you are free not to read them.
If you know who you are, why are you reading them anyway? I am not about to make any changes. The satsangs are the most popular part of ShiningWorld. Thousands read them. This is the first such letter I have received regarding the satsangs. It is a little suspicious that you are writing me now that I have become somewhat famous, because the satsangs with the Sanskrit terminology have been at the website for over ten years. In fact there is less Sanskrit than before. I am systematically anglicizing the terminology. Why not complain before? I wonder if perhaps you are a little envious of the fame that Bhagavan has sent my way. This is just not a very straightforward letter, Terry. I think you perhaps think it is unspiritual to say what you really feel. In any case, the satsangs are offered in a spirit of love and service. And the people who write are sincere.
Terry: Your quick reply confirmed some sore points in the latest satsang email exchanges at your website. Take Sundari and Carl’s exchange, Some Moksa with Your Protein Shake?, and you can clearly see how far it has deteriorated to psychological advice-giving. What about qualifications to apply Vedanta teachings on himself, not even considering teaching others?
When I had some considerations before sending my first mail to you, they have been nullified by stumbling over so-called “satsangs” like mentioned above. My partner said it’s like that with all these movements which exceed a certain size that can be handled properly. I fully agree with that!
I am in love with Vedanta and the Undescribable, which is my true identity!
Ram: We are compassionate people. When we can help somebody psychologically we do so. Many of these people we know personally and count them as friends. They want our feedback on their lives. It is a very simple, innocent thing. And if you are fair you can see that the psychological advice is always within the context of self-knowledge. There are plenty of satsangs that have no psychological advice, in fact most.
There is something personal in this, Terry. The website is a service. It is very popular. I get thousands of emails every year. It keeps growing. I let other people answer them. This is the first complain of this type. Surely, you have not missed all the testimonials? I find your statements completely without substance, an unhelpful opinion. You are certainly welcome to it, but why tell me? The whole website is Isvara. It is not personal. If you don’t like ShiningWorld don’t read it, Terry. Find something better. It is very strange that you are reading it at all. Are you just looking for something to make you unhappy?
If you are some kind of Vedanta purist – some kind of expert – then make your own website and help people yourself rather than complaining about ShiningWorld. It is really bad manners to complain to me, because I have never showed anything but love and respect to you. Actually, you should be happy that so many people are benefiting from Vedanta. You should be congratulating me instead of complaining. I see this as a kind of spiritual arrogance, Terry, a holier-than-thou attitude. If you want me to reply again you need to change the topic and change your attitude. Perhaps in your present state of mind you will decide that his letter is another example of how corrupt I have become and spoiled the tradition of Vedanta. I know you probably don’t want psychological advice but when you point a finger at someone three of the fingers point at you. I suggest that you ask yourself why this bothers you. It must bother you because you have written a second time. I thought you would have got the message with my first email. This is really something between you and yourself, not you and me. I hear what you are saying but I don’t accept it. I am not going to accept it either because you have nothing better to offer. It is just a complaint.
I actually appreciate your concern, Terry, but what I meant by teaching was that this young man, who is honest and straightforward and who has an excellent understanding but still lacks some confidence, not be afraid to express himself and share what he knows because of some silly idea that he needs to be perfect as a person and needs to know Vedanta backwards and forwards like I do. It is not helpful to compare oneself to me because I have been teaching for over forty years. I am an expert. Each of us has to start at the beginning. I was just encouraging him to do something that is good for him and others. If some mistakes are made, so what? He is a good boy, very kind and dharmic. So there will be no harm to the tradition. He has great respect for it.
Terry: I’m deeply disappointed about something which at this stage I can’t even properly name. It has to do with all these many people writing to you about their realization of their real nature just because they have read your book and/or have watched your videos or have joined one of your lectures. Is it that cheap? Have many of these people not just accepted with their brilliant mind the unfallible logic of Vedanta as presented by you? And it does, first of all, appeal to brilliant minds.
In my life it took more than 20 years of going to India to different teachers, doing all the necessary therapeutical work and was then somehow ready to be graced by a lasting spiritual vision, which was so close to the final truth of being awareness that it “only” had to be “owned” after some years, which finally was confirmed by Vedanta which simply said: “Yes, you are it, every moment, this ordinary awareness, permanently shining through all the hassles of this Terry body-mind.” I remember hearing a voice inside me during the first moments of that revelation 20 years ago saying, “It’s so simple!”
According to my experience, there had to be, after much searching this initial spark followed by extensive self-inquiry, to finally realize this simple truth which I am. Sorry, dear Ram, I’m skeptical about this many testimonials about realization at your website. And I apologize about the language I used in my first mails, with love and respect to your work.
Ram: Thank you for responding nicely. The real issue is qualifications. Everyone is qualified differently. Some people have very easy, quick sadhanas; they realize who they are without much effort. Others with psychological problems struggle for many years, 20 to 30 is not uncommon. Others are in the middle. Vedanta is a very big tent, and I am compassionate. I accept everyone who has the right attitude whether they are advanced souls or beginners. The satsangs are just a record of my spiritual connections with people. The testimonials that you object to are just statements of gratitude from people of all levels. Some are grateful because they finally found Vedanta and they know the end is in sight and they can lay down their burden. Others are grateful for moksa, which they got through Vedanta with my help. There are no rules, no special way it is supposed to be.
Your journey was long and hard and maybe you feel that it should be long and hard for everyone. In my case, it was short and very easy. I did not have psychological problems and I got a great guru right at the beginning of my seeking, and the search was over in less than two years. There are people I have been teaching for over twenty-five years, people who grow a little at a time. The satsang you mentioned was to a young man who is like a son to me. He is emotional but he knows his Vedanta, and it is good for him to bring it into his daily life by sharing it with others. He has served me and Vedanta with faith and devotion.
I don’t think what bothers you has anything to do with the satsangs and the people that write. The object is never the problem. The subconscious of the individual unconsciously needs an opportunity to express some deep dissatisfaction and, because it is difficult to face, projects it outward onto something, like the satsangs. If I consistently got letters from people with the same complaint over time, then I would have to think about whether or not to publish certain satsangs. But I don’t. People love me and they love Vedanta and they want to show their gratitude. So, as I said in the last email, this is between you and yourself, Terry. I think it is some old samksara coming to the surface that is asking for attention. Isvara does not care if you are enlightened. It brings up what it needs to bring up whether we like it or not.
I usually don’t write to anybody unless I am written to, but I was re-reading our exchange of email and there are a few more points that I would like to make. The first is that I can understand your concern about diluting Vedanta teaching by unqualified teachers. I agree with that. The issue of teaching is coming up more and more lately because so many people are realizing who they are through Vedanta and quite a number want to share what they know with others. So perhaps it would be helpful to know what I mean by teaching. Here is a letter I wrote to a person who was a Neo teacher before, wasn’t really satisfied with the understanding he got, came to Vedanta and realized through Vedanta what he had failed to realize with Neo-Advaita. His seeking stopped and he is continually asked to teach because he is so happy and has such a powerful presence. He does not think he is ready to teach and has other karma to attend to anyway. Here is an email I sent to him yesterday that discusses the idea of teaching:
“I really liked your summary of karma yoga. I will put it on the website. About the teaching business, I suppose I should be more specific when I talk about teaching Vedanta. I think generally that people think that teaching means what I do. Yes, I teach and I am good at what I do, but only because I have been doing it for over forty years. So when I suggest that someone ‘teach’ I don’t mean that they should start traveling the world and teaching seminars in a professional manner like I do. I didn’t start out this way. From the beginning of my spiritual life I was interested in communicating what I know to other people. And so I took every opportunity to satsang with people I met who were interested in it. I discovered that what I had to say had an impact and that made them happy and it made me happy.”
When I was with my guru he would chose one of the disciples at random, assign them a topic and make them speak extemporaneously on it in front of the group. The first time I did it I was awful. His idea, and I agree with it, is that you learn by teaching. If you just keep your knowledge to yourself it is okay but the real proof of what you know is how well you can communicate. A lot of spiritual people who know who they are don’t have confidence in themselves to communicate it, so I encourage them to “teach,” i.e. to share with others. The ego is afraid that it will make a “mistake” and embarrass itself or cause injury to others, so it stays silent. This is not good. There are a few people I teach who want to be teachers but I discourage them because they have unconscious things that would cause them to get in trouble as teachers. Sometimes a person sets out on his or her own, irrespective of what I think. It is also good. I have no control of anyone or anything. Sometimes I encourage someone who is not “ready” and he or she makes a mess of it, but so what? It is all good. But most of the people who realize who they are would not misuse the teaching consciously or unconsciously, so I encourage them to teach. All the energy that went into seeking needs to go somewhere and since the topic of enlightenment is dear to them it is good that they focus on it from the point of view of a finder, not a seeker. So when I encouraged X it was not to get him to give satsangs, which you so generously offered to arrange – although I think he would be very good at it – but to help him build his confidence in himself and in the knowledge.
I did promote one person who wanted to teach and was very good at it but soon discovered that she had unconscious stuff to be worked out – a case of enlightenment sickness – and she quit teaching voluntarily, and I took her off the website. The point of teaching is not to make a career but to share what you know with others. The Bhagavad Gita recommends it. And in any case, if Isvara wants it, it will happen no matter what and if not, not.
Which brings me to my next point. You say that I make fun of the spiritual crowd and that is true. But what you fail to understand is that I didn’t create the situation and I did not ask people to come and listen. People come to me and those who stick with Vedanta – and there are many – agree with me that the way people seek is not effective. Every day I get people thanking me for stating the obvious, which is that the Neo-Advaita emperor has no clothes. The modern teachers don’t even have a proper teaching. The arguments against modern teaching and seeking are well laid-out, completely logical and based on common sense. I am not the only one who points this out. Interest in Vedanta is growing quickly, precisely because I show why modern teaching and modern seeking does not work. People like to know where they are making mistakes.
There are certain tamasic people with low self-esteem who are very defensive and who stick to what they are doing whether it works of not and these people react negatively when they hear me take the piss out of some teaching or teacher. There is another type who thinks that criticism is duality and discrimination is intellectual and is so identified with feelings that he or she can’t stand even the idea of conflict because it is not loving. But these are immature people. Intelligent criticism is very spiritual. You can’t even say that these are my criticisms because they are just Vedanta’s cricitisms based on the logic of non-duality and the long history of the teaching tradition. We know very well what works and what doesn’t work for moksa.
You also say that I have created this satsang, but this is not true. I have been doing the same thing for forty-two years, completely unknown, going here and there, teaching people one-on-one and in small groups. I never took money nor did I advertise. All the events listed at the website are by invitation. I was asked by people to teach. The reason is because people realize who they are through Vedanta and they want to share it with others and they know that I am a successful teacher. So my popularity is not mine at all. It is Isvara’s will. All the glory goes to Isvara and Vedanta.
Furthermore, you ask if I have suddenly found so many people who are ready for moksa. The answer is that I did not find anybody. Isvara sends people to Vedanta who are ready for moksa. It has nothing to do with me. I am just the teacher. The fact is that Western people have been seeking since the sixties and many have worked hard on themselves and have tried everything and have become prepared and they are ready for moksa and only need a complete valid means of knowledge and they are getting it. It has nothing to do with me personally. I teach Vedanta and leave the results to Bhagavan, and the results are that quite a lot of people do realize who they are and do stop seeking as a result of the Vedanta.
Here is an email that came in yesterday. I never met this person. Read it with an open mind. Be innocent, not suspicious.
“Hello, Sundari and Sri Ramji. I’m sure you’re very busy but please accept a brief note of appreciation of your work in its role in setting me free. My mind was fairly steady already but I had some burning questions, yet with patience they were always answered within a short time just by reading and listening intently. It was like tuning a radio until the frequency was clear.
“This took a while, as I was one of those who need concentrated repetition due to the subtlety of the teachings. Understanding kind of sneaked up on me in spite of 40 years of preparation (I first heard of Vedanta back in 1972 whilst a psychedelic yogi, then was sidetracked by Buddhism). I now know who I am consistently, no longer conflated with objects. Maybe it’s more like remembering. As a child I knew the self.
“After a really terrible time in hell beginning a little over four years ago, desire for liberation became a red-hot iron ball I’d swallowed. I would have rather been dead than suffer anymore. Now I’m just standing on a bridge watching objects flow by, including the person I had believed was me. There was a brief phase where everything at times appeared too beautiful, if you know what I mean; sometimes I burst into tears out of sheer relief, and was glad when the intensity lessened. Now all is still and peaceful no matter what’s apparently going on, even my own buffoonery. Sattvic states may come and go but I remain unchanged.
“On the relative plane, a love of solitude continues. Unsought encounters with others often concern fear and pain: conflict, abandonment, divorce, infirmity, disease, addiction and death. At first, I had nothing to offer except my obsession at the time with Vedanta. This mostly went in one ear and out the other, so now I try to speak starting from the point of view of the jiva. This approach seems to work a lot better.
“Recently Isvara sent two girlfriends from my youth back onto the stage. They, among others, once appeared to be the source of much heartache but now I simply love them just as they are. I would like to marry one of them, but we’ll see.
“A lifelong fascination with words has flowered into an interest in writing fiction, due in part to using it earlier as a tool to order my disturbed mind. Interestingly, a wise being showed up as a character who seems a lot smarter than me. I’m not aware of a calling as a teacher but perhaps through writing entertaining stories seeds can be planted here and there that might sprout in receptive minds. For now it’s just fun. In fact, everything is enjoyable thanks to self-realization though self-actualization is an ongoing challenge, but one which is relished.
“Thank you again, and belated congratulations on the anniversary of your wedding!”
“Ram: Thanks a lot for this wonderful, well-written letter. It is as perfect a statement of enlightenment as there is. I will make it anonymous and put it on the web. Sundari and I enjoyed it very much. I particularly liked your last statement, that you relished actualizing the knowledge. The house that ignorance built takes a while to dismantle and the dismantling is not an act of will. The knowledge of who you are does the work and, as you say, you stand on the bridge and watch the water flow by. We are happy for you. When you write some fiction with these ideas, send it to me and if I think it appropriate I will put it on the website if you like.”
Finally, Terry, I hesitate to say this but I suspect your original complaint was inspired as much by your partner – I have forgotten her name – as by you. I know very well what she thinks and feels about me, even though she is polite when our paths cross in Tiruvannamalai. It’s fine with me – just Isvara again – but the whole idea that somehow you both are superior to those fools with psychological problems who try to curry favor with me by using Sanskrit is pretty ironic insofar as it seems even enlightened people like you still have some psychological issues that need to see the light of day.
Please don’t take this personally, Terry. I see this whole email exchange as Isvara teaching us. And I think Isvara did a good job because in the third letter you say, “I’m deeply disappointed about something, which at this stage I can’t even properly name.” Obviously, what you did name – your arrogant irritation at the Sanskrit in certain satsangs – was not the real issue. I know what it is but it is none of my business. You will figure it out on your own, which is the way it should be. Even though I have a lot to do, I took the time to help you come to clarity because I love you. It taught me compassion. I could easily have easily have marked the email as spam and not replied because the nastiness and the pettiness is hard to miss, but I could see that you are suffering in some way and I thought maybe I could shed some light on it.
~ Much love to you both, Ram