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Seeker: Hi, James. I trust you're whistling a happy tune and smiling. I've been engaged in a YouTube dialogue with a woman who teaches Vivekananda-school Vedanta on the subject of experience-based versus knowledge-based language. She has offered a quote by Swami Sivananda in which he is speaking in experience-based terms. He says something about when you reach the spiritual center in the brain you become one with the non-dual Brahman. So my question is, when did the distinction between the two different languages arise? Did Sivananda really talk like that to his students? Is this distinction something you and Dayananda arrived at? That figurative, poetic language descriptive of experience got me NOWHERE in my youth. So when did this distinction become a topic of conversation? Is it new or ancient?
James: The distinction between experience and knowledge is as old as the hills. It goes right back to the Upanishads. Sivananda spoke the language of yoga, a journey metaphor aimed at a doer seeking some kind of oneness experience. I am sure Sivananda spoke in this way to his students. The language of identity or knowledge – Vedanta – does use experiential language, the Bhagavad Gita, for instance, owing to the immaturity of Arjuna, the seeker. Vedantins call yoga a “leading error” insofar as it is an unskillful teaching for moksa but through meditation an experience-hungry yogi may convert his or her desire to experience the self into a desire to know the self. So yoga will get you in the ballpark, so to speak, but it will not close the sale, to mix metaphors. The distinction between the two languages and the two approaches comes from an understanding of the Vedas, insofar as these are the two topics discussed in them. Unqualified people are attracted by yoga. They think they are doers and that they can do their way to freedom. In the process, if they are lucky, they discover that you cannot do something to get what you already have, and give up this approach. Usually, however, they just keep bumping up against the experiential wall over and over. Yoga is best used for resolving psychological stuff – purifying vasanas. Vedanta recommends it for that purpose. Vivekananda, who had the biggest impact on the Vedanta world and who influenced Sivananda, was never taught the tradition properly, so he did not understand non-duality properly. How can you contact or reach something that you already have? You are awareness even before you are a you. It is your nature whether you know it or not. So enlightenment is only a matter of recognition, appreciation of who you are. This appreciation is only brought about by knowledge.
~ Love, James