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Vedanta and Yoga
Self-Inquiry Is the Application of Knowledge
Sundari: Hello, Austen. Lovely to hear from you and I am so happy to hear that self-inquiry is well under way and working for you!
With regards to your inquiry about Vedanta and yoga:
Vedanta has no quarrel with yoga at all; in fact it encourages meditation as a means to purify the mind, but only with the karma yoga attitude. The problem arises in the typical yogic mindset in that it is experience-oriented. Vedanta is knowledge-oriented although it is not against experience, obviously. The bottom line is that if you are meditating in order to gain something, you are meditating for the wrong reason because there is a doer involved, although it is possible that self-knowledge will still take place if it is understood and assimilated. Very often though, meditators are experience-hungry and knowledge does not take place. It often escapes meditators that seeing as there is only one self, or awareness: they are what they are seeking to experience. We know many yogis who were hooked on meditating for years, sometimes decades, without any increase in freedom.
Meditation is a tool to aid self-inquiry but it does not equal self-inquiry. Unless one has realised that one is not the meditator but the one who knows the meditator, meditation can keep one stuck for years trying to have an experience of the self, which many meditators do. The problem is that the identification with the experiencer/meditator is still there. Unless the knowledge that the meditation is designed to impart is fully assimilated, i.e. “I am whole and complete, non-dual, awareness and not the meditator, the experience ends because it was just that – an experience. All experiences happen in time and so they are subject to change. Only self-knowledge will permanently set one free of the meditator/experiencer because you – awareness – are already free.
In this way the experience of self-realization does not necessarily lead to freedom, moksa. This is why there are so many frustrated meditators around, trying to get the experience back. Even if they succeed, they will most likely “lose” the self-realisation once again because the knowledge that they are that which makes all experience possible, i.e. awareness, escapes them. Meditation is no different from any other activity done to achieve a specific result unless it is practised with karma yoga, which negates the doer.
The knowledge that the meditation points to is that you are the knower of the one who meditates, the one who thinks it is the doer/meditator. Meditation is just another object appearing in you, allowing the reflection of the self to appear in a still mind. However, seeing as no experience can take place without you, awareness, and because as awareness you are actionless, no special experience is required to experience the self. You are always experiencing the self, whether you are meditating or not. And no action the doer takes can produce self-knowledge. This is because as the doer you are limited and no action taken by a limited being can produce a limitless result, i.e. freedom.
Although we can have an experience of the reflection of the self in a pure, sattvic mind (such as in meditation) this is not enough to set us free of the doer. For this we need to expose the mind to self-inquiry and allow self-knowledge to remove our ignorance (avidya). Although self-inquiry is also an action, the result of self-inquiry is self-knowledge, which can produce a limitless result, meaning freedom from identification with the doer, or person.
The akankandakara vritti is the knowledge “I am whole and complete, non-dual awareness.” This knowledge sets you free of the identification with the doer as it appears only in a purified mind. Self-inquiry is the application of knowledge. Self-inquiry states that awareness is our true nature and both knowledge and ignorance are objects appearing in you, awareness. Keeping this knowledge in mind and continually contemplating on it is self-inquiry. This is why self-inquiry is different from meditation because the knowledge is maintained by an act of will whereas in meditation the knowledge appears during a particular experience, which ends.
Self-inquiry is superior to meditation because the doer does not need to maintain a particular state and wait for the knowledge. He or she has the knowledge already and applies it continually. Meditators do not know the value of knowledge whereas inquirers do. That is why most meditators meditate. Knowledge may arise in meditation or it may not. If it does, we say meditation is a “leading error.” But even if meditation does lead to knowledge of the “unbroken I-thought” (akandakara vritti) the knowledge does not always stick, as I point out above.
This is where self-inquiry into the true nature of reality comes in, which means learning to discriminate between you, awareness, and the objects appearing in you. Self-inquiry is the analysis of your own experience in the light of self-knowledge. Meditation, which is helpful to calm the mind, does not equal self-inquiry.
Experiencing the self in meditation is well and good, but if the knowledge that “I am whole and complete fullness” does not take place, self-inquiry must continue until self-knowledge removes the ignorance that is blocking it. One is only free when one has discriminated the self from the objects appearing in it, rendered the binding vasanas non-binding and negated the doer. One can meditate all one wants to but unless these criteria are present, freedom does not take place.
Self-inquiry needs to take place in full consciousness with meditation as an aid, not the aim. And then the knowledge has to be practiced in the fray of life, not sitting in meditation.
The other significant difference between Vedanta and yoga is the yogic understanding of the ego, which is dualistic and gives rise to the belief that there are two selves: the small self, or “I,” and the big self, or “I,” which, of course, there are not. There is only one principle in reality and it is awareness; everything arises out of it, like the spider’s web emerges from the spider’s body and is made from the spider’s body. The distinction here is although there is only one self, when maya is operating awareness appears as a jiva, or individual entity, and identifies with the subtle body, the body-mind-ego. This is awareness under the spell of ignorance who then believes that enlightenment is something to be gained. This is why many meditators meditate, in the vain hope that through meditation they can gain mastery over their thoughts by stilling the mind and overcoming the ego. However, awareness has no problem with the ego or the thoughts that arise in it. It is identification with both that cause suffering. And even though one may find peace in meditation temporarily, once one comes out of meditation the doer is still there and so are the vasanas.
~ Om and prem, Sundari