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Dissolving the Frozen Habits of the Past
Sundari: Hello, Priya. My apologies for taking so long to get back to you; we have been so busy lately. I have replied to your questions below.
Priya: Hello, Sundari. How are you? I am very happy that I have been to the weekend with James; thank you for recommending.
I asked Hilbrand for a meeting with James before the seminar but James didn’t have time. On the first night of the weekend that I heard James’ talk, it almost directly cut out the personal aspect, in large part.
James mentioned that he was pretty busy during the talks, so I didn’t ask for a meeting anymore because it’s not my nature too take time from anyone who is already busy. But lucky enough I had a little chat with James during a break on the last day. Very grateful for that. He is very friendly and loving, and what a enormous passion he has to teach Vedanta.
Sundari: I am very well, thank you, Priya, and I am so glad that you managed to have a chat with James – Isvara must have made sure that you did!
Priya: There are a few questions that are with me since the seminar, and I hope you have the time to maybe answer them.
Is karma yoga about dissolving, little by little, the kind of feeling/energetic-body deep inside (it’s a kind of disturbing-body), a kind of body where old memories are frozen, waiting for them to release when you put them in your light, so it releases? And when you are in this process, that you become like you are more and more space if you look inside? Or is this totally something else?
Sundari: Yes, karma yoga dissolves the frozen habits of your conditioning, and it feels like this leaves more space for you, awareness. Actually, awareness is the knower of the space, but the main point of karma yoga is that it neutralises the one identified with their life story, the doer. It feels good because holding on to the conditioning is painful for the mind, and the belief in doership is the main cause of existential suffering and exhaustion. Also, the essence of karma yoga is relinquishing attachment to results, which is a great relief because you know that they are not up to you but to the field of existence, or Isvara.
Here is a teaching on karma yoga:
Karma yoga means responding appropriately to what life asks of you on a moment-to-moment basis. It also means consecrating every thought, word and deed BEFORE you think, speak or act on a moment-to-moment basis to Isvara. In performing one’s duty, cultivating the right attitude toward life, one is conforming to the pattern and harmony of creation and thus one becomes alive to the beauty of the cosmic order. When the mind becomes clear, one is able to see the order. In the beginning of our spiritual practice, duty is an attitude but eventually it becomes natural.
The right attitude is not a path. It is a commitment. Karma yoga is not a path, it is just knowledge of how the dharma field really operates. It is a life committed to performing action as yoga. What makes karma a yoga? It takes skill to perform action with the right attitude. The right attitude is doing what is to be done, whether you like it or not. Thus likes and dislikes – how I feel about the situation – do not come into play. Your likes and dislikes (vasanas) often prompt you to perform an action which is not proper, so a karma yogi refrains from performing it, because it is not proper. So performing actions in harmony with the natural order (dharmic actions) and avoiding actions that disturb the order (adharmic actions) is karma yoga. This is called dharma, appropriate response. If the individual responds properly to what Isvara wants, it will be in harmony with Isvara, the creation, meaning its environment. But if the jiva is living in its own world and gets a request from Isvara but responds according to its fears and desires, likes and dislikes, it is quite possible that it will run afoul of Isvara – meaning its circumstances – and therefore suffer. The skill the Gita speaks about is mindfulness, keeping one’s attention on the motivation behind one’s actions and adjusting one’s attitude when it is found to be vasana-producing. This also requires a fearless moral inventory, as what we value is what underpins our likes and dislikes. When rajas is strong, the mind cannot observe itself. It is caught up in the future, the thought that things need to be different, so the mind acts to correct the situation (usually in negative ways) instead of correcting its thinking.
Sameness of mind (towards success and failure) with respect to action is another definition of yoga. When a result is looked upon as a success, attachment arises, and when it is looked upon as failure, aversion arises. In fact, there is no such thing as success and failure. Every result is in accordance with the laws of action. These laws are not made by me, they are made by the dharma field, so they can never go wrong. Every result is a right result. The more you appreciate the laws, the more you are in harmony with the things around and you can find your place in the scheme of things.
Rajasic individuals are generally obsessed with success. Expressed in terms of tamas, they are afraid of failing. Hence they are continually stressed and hopelessly active. In our societies stress is almost a badge of honour, indicating a commitment to the value of success either in terms of wealth, power, recognition or pleasure.
Another definition of karma yoga is an attitude of gratitude, a loving consecration of one’s actions based on the understanding that life is a great gift that requires reciprocation and that the results of any action are not up to you, they are up to the dharma field, or Isvara.
The results of action also depend on the nature of the action and not necessarily on the state of mind of the doer. This is because it is possible to get a negative result from a positive action and vice versa. The nature of the action will also depend on the doer’s value system. Karma yoga does not mean renouncing action, it means renouncing the notion of doership. It is an attitude one takes towards action. Action can never fail us, it only produces result. A given expectation may be said to have failed but the one with the expectation has not failed. That “I have failed” or that the action has failed is the wrong conclusion – only the expectation is the problem. So nobody fails. It is only a matter of wrong judgment because we are not omniscient and we cannot have the knowledge of all the factors that shape the results of the actions.
We must remember that we have freedom in choosing and performing an action and whatever result comes is in accordance with the laws governing the action. This attitude of taking the result as it is, maintaining equanimity of the mind both in success and failure, is yoga. Action in and of itself is not conscious. No action taken by a limited entity will produce a limitless result, meaning liberation from bondage to objects. Although self-inquiry is also an action, because the result of self-inquiry is self-knowledge and self-knowledge removes ignorance, self-inquiry does lead to a limitless result. But it is important to remember that it is self-knowledge that removes ignorance, not the doer.
Failure to appreciate the truth of karma yoga often results in low self-esteem, the feeling that “I am a failure.” The solution to low self-esteem is the understanding that one’s knowledge of all the variables in the field that produce results is and always will be limited. Therefore the results of one’s actions can never be known.
Action can produce likes and dislikes (vasanas) only if the result is looked upon as a success or failure. When the result is looked upon as a function of the invariable laws of action, or what is even better, if it is looked upon as the grace of the dharma field, no new likes and dislikes are created. The existing likes and dislikes will, no doubt, create desires and produce actions but new likes and dislikes are avoided. With this attitude towards the result, actions born of likes and dislikes become the means of eliminating the very likes and dislikes themselves. The mind becomes free from the agitations of elation (rajas) and depression (tamas). Such a mind is tranquil and contemplative.
Contemplation is not something you do. It is the nature of sattva. When the mind is sattvic, you automatically think dispassionately about things. Karma yoga produces a sattvic mind. A person who has been on the spiritual path for a long time but whose mind is still rajasic does not understand the value of karma yoga. As Krishna says, a little karma yoga removes a lot of agitation.
You cannot give up doership because the one who decides to give up the doership is the doer of the renunciation. There is only one self and it is free from action. Either you know this or you don’t. This is called vidvat sannyasa. If you think you are a renunciant, you are not a renunciant because you still have doership. The self is the only renunciant. A karma yogi becomes a sannyasi by self-knowledge. And that is the way it is. That is the whole point of the Bhagavad Gita.
There is no karma for the self, but there is karma for the doer: When you see yourself as a doer, you cannot escape the results of your actions because the results of actions accrue to the karmic account of the doer.
When you see yourself as the self, your karmas are nullified because your karmic account is closed with the renunciation of the doer through self-knowledge. The karma appears but it is like burnt rope. It no longer binds. Once one is established in awareness as awareness, karma yoga for the jivanmukta (the self no longer under the spell of ignorance) is just knowledge, and he or she will automatically follow dharma because one understands the nature of Isvara and the nature of jiva to be awareness.
Priya: What I like about Vedanta is that it goes further, not just “you are awareness” but it feels like “you are awareness, do something with it, use awareness to resolve the ignorance.” Or do I see this wrongly?
Sundari: No, essentially this is correct. Self-knowledge is only useful if it translates into the life of the person. This is why we make a big point about the difference between self-realisation and self-actualisation. It is helpful to know about awareness; this is called indirect knowledge. But unless indirect knowledge becomes direct knowledge, which is the knowledge “I am awareness,” suffering still continues.
Priya: In the movie Arunachala Shiva James speaks about leading a sattvic lifestyle; for example, coffee or sugar when you drink it the energy is first rajas (up) and after maybe an hour it has a tamasic (down) influence on the body. And, for example, a cucumber or water is stable… no up and no down. Maybe loving my children is sattvic but getting angry at them makes me more rajasic, and after that I have to deal with tamas. Is this to investigate in my life to become a kind of stable and undisturbed? So I can get out the plus and not the minus? Or am I seeing this wrongly?
~ Thank you very much, with all my love, Priya
Sundari: Self-actualisation is where all the work takes place if self-knowledge and freedom from suffering is your aim. You need to understand your conditioning in the light of self-knowledge, not in the light of your life story.
This means that you need an understanding of the forces that operate the dharma field, which are the gunas, and you need to understand the identity between the jiva (person) and Isvara (the dharma field).
I think I asked you this before, but have you read James’ book How to Attain Enlightenment? If not, that would be very helpful. Also, watch as many videos of James’ teaching as possible (there are some new ones for free on YouTube) and also read the e-satsangs.
I have attached an article I wrote on the jiva-Isvara identity and the gunas.
~ Much love to you too, Priya, Sundari