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A person who has not carefully examined life will conclude that experience is for the sake of experience itself. But experience does not stand alone. It serves a higher master – the knower. Every experience we have is for the sake of the self, the knower, alone. When ignorance operates, the knower, awareness, thinks it is an experiencer, chases experience and comes to grief.
It does not have to be this way. A very long time ago a teaching that revealed the fact that the knower is free of experience appeared. Because this teaching worked it became a tradition. We do not know when it began. Suffice it to say thousands of years ago. Over time the teaching – you are the non-witnessing knower and not the experiencing entity that appears in you – was never compromised, because it is the truth. Only the truth endures and Vedanta has endured as the most effective teaching the world has ever known. It will endure forever.
Those who do not understand Vedanta think that it is just one of many spiritual paths. All roads lead to Rome they say. But Vedanta is a path like none other. It is a pathless path. It is the knowledge behind all the paths. Knowledge is. It is always present because the knower is always present. It should be obvious that “I am the knower, the observer, of the experience” but ignorance covers this simple fact. Ignorance of the knower – the self – is the same for everyone. Ignorance is very clever, unlike experience, which is very dumb. It is dumb because it doesn’t remove itself but has to be removed by something else. The knower can figure out worldly things on its own using the means of knowledge supplied by God, perception and inference. But concerning the topic of the knower – who am I? – the only tool is knowledge, self-knowledge to be specific.
The interesting thing about the self is this: it is virtually impossible that the experiencer understand that it is actually the knower in a meaningful way on the basis of knowledge it gains from its experiences. It can gain indirect self-knowledge by experience but it cannot gain direct knowledge – without help. Direct knowledge is “I am the non-experiencing witness, not the experiencer.” Vedanta reveals this fact. Even those who know this fact intellectually do not actually have confidence to live as the knower. And they need more than an epiphany or two to convince them. They need to be convinced by understanding the logic of their own experience, a logic that escapes everyone owing to the amazing power of ignorance to conceal the truth.
The most important fact we need to know about Vedanta is that it is not philosophy with various schools of thought. It is a very simple teaching methodology. Many people claim to teach Vedanta but treat it as a philosophy or some kind of spiritual path. It loses its effectiveness when it is presented in this way. There is also nothing “spiritual” or mystical about it. Just as you need eyes to see forms you need an eye to see awareness. The eye for awareness is Vedanta. Those of us who really understand the teaching tradition call it a pramana, a simple means of knowledge.
You cannot study Vedanta and expect to be set free of experience. Many people study Vedanta because they think it is a philosophy. They usually end up lost in the means, like people who get stuck in the world of cars can easily forget that cars are meant to move people from one place to another. Vedanta needs to be taught. A teacher of Vedanta has a very limited job description: to wield the means of knowledge effectively and reveal the fact that the student is limitless awareness, not the limited experiencer. Vedanta reveals this fact by showing to the experiencer the unexamined logic of its experience.
Vedanta Is the Teacher
To teach Vedanta you have to understand that the teaching has nothing to do with what you think and feel, with what you experience. It is purely a method for removing ignorance. Understanding this and actually practicing the method on self-ignorant people are two different things. The best way to learn to teach is to be taught by someone who knows how to teach. This is how I learned. Although I was with my teacher every day for about two years there was no personal instruction on teaching. It was not necessary because the teaching was going on all the time. Slowly, by observing how he taught and practicing on inquirers in the sanga, I learned how to teach. I made mistakes.
To teach Vedanta you have to have the utmost respect for the sampradaya, the teaching tradition. You will know that you have been selected to join the ranks of the great teachers of Vedanta when the teaching flows effortlessly from your mind, when it does not feel as if “you” are teaching. Generally, this does not happen all at once but comes with constant practice.
Teaching is not lecturing, telling someone what to think or do or getting them to believe in themselves. It is communicating from heart to heart. Teaching is dangerous spiritually because there is power in it. People want to know and they will surrender to you. There is always a temptation to take credit for the teaching and use your position to fulfill your personal needs. If you are a mature person and respect the tradition you will not become corrupted. Your sense of satisfaction will depend on the fullness that you are and your appreciation of the beauty of Vedanta as an effective means of self-knowledge, not on the adulation that comes from helping people. The joy that lights the eyes of the student when you see the knowledge working in them should be satisfaction enough.
A teacher of Vedanta is a karma yogi, leaving the results of the teaching to the self. It is an offering, an act of worship and service, to the self, in the form of inquiring minds. If the teacher has this attitude the teaching will flow. If there is a fear of failure the teaching will not work. Of course you care if the student understands but you cannot be disappointed if he or she doesn’t. Of course you want to do your best but you are not discouraged when you don’t. Teaching is a skill like any other, and it takes time to get the hang of it. If you are doing it for the right reasons you cannot fail because you have the blessing of the whole lineage.
The Self Is the Teacher
A Vedanta teacher understands that he or she is the self teaching the self, not an ego teaching an ego. It is the self that hears the teaching and responds. To teach an ego is to become an ego and assume the burden of doership. It never works. You will find yourself caught up in the lives of your students and suffer sleepless nights. A Vedanta teacher does not tell you what to do but is free to make suggestions based on the logic of the teaching. Finally, a student of Vedanta has every right to expect the teacher to live a righteous life. The proof of self-knowledge is a dharmic life.
There is more to say on the topic of teaching but I will leave the rest to my darling wife Sundari who has done a fine job explaining the qualifications of a teacher elsewhere in this newsletter.
It seems that many people are waking up and realizing who they are outside the tradition of Vedanta. It is very good. Enlightenment makes happy people but it does not in any way make a teacher of enlightenment or a teaching. Vedanta is such a powerful, impersonal teaching that a person who knows the method and knows how to teach can reveal the knowledge that sets you free even though he or she has not been set free by the knowledge!
It so happens that in the last few years quite a few people have realized who they are through Vedanta as taught by me. Some understand the beauty of the tradition and want to share what they know. I cannot prevent anyone from teaching but I can support individuals who I feel would make good teachers. I can also withdraw my support if I feel that someone is not teaching properly. In general, I always encourage people to share what they know with others in a spirit of sacrifice and service. I discourage those who have unexamined psychological issues. If someone teaches in my name and misuses the teaching it will come to my attention and I will no longer endorse them.
As mentioned, teaching is dangerous because it builds ego. It is dangerous in Vedanta because people who are attracted to Vedanta are usually very intelligent. Intelligent people, particularly those with low self-esteem, almost invariably entertain a sense of arrogance and entitlement. It is easy to forget that all wonderful qualities belong to the self, not to individuals. You will perhaps find this hard to believe but sometimes people who realize who they are suddenly feel superior to the person who taught them. This has happened three times to me in the last few years with people who I considered friends. I am not better or worse than anyone but when I find this attitude developing I can no longer support that person. Respect for the lineage is the lineage.
Although Vedanta is Vedanta there are basically two ways to teach. One is the style of Swami Dayananda, my teaching guru. It is the traditional style. I endorse it completely. You learn Sanskrit and you hear the texts one by one over time. Gradually the big picture, the vision of non-duality, is established in your mind and you are set free. This style worked very well in the old days and it works beautifully now for sanyassi types who have time on their hands and can spend two or three years in a gurukulam and/or who have the resources to follow the teacher. For this approach to work you cannot be Sanskrit-averse or Hinduism-averse. This approach does not work very well with non-Indians, except ex-patriots. It is a conservative style and has certain advantages.
Although I cut no corners with the teaching and strictly follow the methodology of Vedanta I teach in a way that has proven effective with Westerners who do not have Hindu samskaras. Knowledge is not culture-specific. I unfold the big picture all at once in a matter of days. The advantage of this style is that very quickly the inquirer finds out what enlightenment is and isn’t. This is important because it eliminates the possibility that one will get sidetracked in one of the many experiential paths. And it immediately gives the inquirer proven tools with which to inquire. The other style takes more time, assuming the same level of eligibility.
My style works very well for highly-qualified inquirers – even householders – who are discriminating, dispassionate and highly motivated. A highly-motivated individual is self-disciplined and can discriminate the self from the objects in all circumstances. The old style of teaching works well for individuals who are not as highly qualified because it involves a lifestyle that supports the teaching, qualifying the individual as he or she goes. I doubt that I would have had students who suddenly felt superior to me when they realized the self had I had the karma to teach in an ashram supported by a trust in the traditional manner because they would have gained the requisite maturity. If you have unfulfilled desires and you realize the self without the constant presence of the teacher and an ashram environment you can easily insult Vedanta by letting your ego co-opt the teaching.
My style works less well for entry-level people whose commitment to moksa is weak or middling and whose qualifications are not up to the mark because such people usually need the benefit of an institution and the ever-present watchful eye of the teacher to progress.
In any case, the basic condition for an endorsement is that the teacher teach discrimination according to the logic unfolded in my book How to Attain Enlightenment – because it works. I wish well those who have been set free by Vedanta but will not endorse those who teach according to their pre-Vedanta sadhanas. Nearly everyone who is set free by Vedanta has a long history of seeking and, while the practices and ideas that served at one time were useful for them, I do not endorse the teachings of any of the Buddhist schools, yoga schools or the so-called “teachings” of realized souls who teach their own experience, like Krishnamurti, Osho, Papaji and the shallow offerings of the Neos. In the event that a particular statement of an enlightened person corresponds with Vedanta we accept it, but only then. This is not to disparage any individual teacher nor is it an attempt to shake your faith in a teacher or teaching that has brought you to Vedanta.
Finally, teaching is a labor of love. It is not an occupation. To teach under the aegis of ShiningWorld the teacher must have an independent income. He or she should not charge for the teachings but is free to accept donations. If I hear that a teacher is soliciting or “suggesting” donations I will withdraw my support.