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Vedanta - Where’s the Compassion?
Marlene: Dear James, thank you so much for replying back to me so quickly. I have come to the same conclusion about spiritual people in general not being well. I had a good chuckle over that. We seem to wash up on the spiritual shore from some shipwreck and try to find our way.
I read that you need to have a guru to help you find your way along the path to enlightenment, but finding someone who is honest and not full of desire or has a huge ego is very difficult. I like how truthful you are and I find you to be genuine because of that.
I am enjoying your book very much, you say so much in just a sentence or two that I find I reread a paragraph over because it has so much in it. You write in a way that is very clear and right on target.
I do have a question though, even though I am only on page 52 of your book. I come from the Shambhala lineage (Chögyam Trungpa), and one thing Trungpa said was that a true teacher will talk about compassion and not just all the flashy Tantra or Vajrayana stuff. I have read some of your articles at your website (which is an excellent site, by the way) and also the first part of your book How to Attain Enlightentment, but I have not seen much written about compassion.
I find I am being drawn to the Vedanta and want to follow this path. I feel, for me anyway, I have gone as far as I can on the Tibetan Buddhist path. But on the Tibetan path they stress putting others before yourself and compassion. I am not seeing this so far in what I have read of the Vedanta. I also think you have to start with yourself and then once you know how to reach enlightenment, then you can help others, but if you are still messed up with desires and aggression, what help will you be to others? So I am wondering your view on this.
On another note, I was told by a tulku friend of mine that I need to be in my body more, that I am in my head too much. That being in the body will help me be in the present moment more. He said to stand and just feel my feet on the ground, feel my knees, hips, etc., feel being in the body. I am thinking this will get me to think I am this body, and how will that help me become enlightened? What do you think about the practice of being in your body? He says the body holds past trauma and that being in the body helps you to let go of these things.
Thank you again for your note, and it is so wonderful to meet you and be able to ask you a question. As I read more of your wonderful book I am sure I will have a question or two. I do realize I am limitless awareness/conscisousness, just not all the time… it comes and goes. I still get sucked into the rat race and my thoughts/feelings, but the more I practice resting in the deep, calm ocean of what I truly am the more I am able to do it when I am active doing things and interacting with others. I just need to realize it with conviction. I can be in the world, just not of the world.
~ Warmest best wishes, Marlene
James: Dear Marlene, very nice to hear from you again. I am very happy that you appreciate the teachings of Vedanta. I will avoid small talk and cut to the chase.
Vedanta starts with the premise that reality is non-dual, so we do not see any “others” to be compassionate towards. There is only one self, and if you know that you are it all your thoughts, words and deeds will automatically demonstrate compassion – towards yourself and the seeming “others.”
The nature of the self is parama prema svarupa, meaning “unconditional love.” If you do not know this and you try to “practice compassion” it will have some beneficial effects. It may make you a “better” person, but it will not set you free – which is the purpose of Vedanta. Vedanta assumes that you are a loving, compassionate person already. When you practice anything you tend to get tied to the practice and the one who is doing the practice. We call it “the doer.” It is okay to get attached to inquiry because it will dissolve the practioner if it is practiced consistently and according to scripture.
Practicing compassion is a good preparation for self-inquiry, but all the practices that Vedanta recommends, like karma yoga and meditation, are acts of compassion. We do not see compassion as a separate path or practice. Everything you do is to please yourself, including helping others. Why would try to please yourself or others unless you loved yourself? So compassion is behind all spiritual pursuits.
This is why Vedanta emphasizes self-realization, self-knowledge. In fact the pursuit of self-knowledge is the highest act of compassion because it results in effortless, non-dual compassion, which you cannot create though any action and which does not need to be practiced. If a person takes himself or herself to be a doer, a limited entity, his or her love will be limited and conditional. If he or she is ignorant of his or her true nature, what kind of compassion will he or she exhibit? It will be conditioned by his or her beliefs, opinions and ideas, most of which will have been born out of ignorance of his or her nature as limitless love.
There is nothing wrong with practicing compassion according to your own understanding – it is certainly better than practicing non-compassion – but there will always be a sense of duality. And eventually the practice will become a binding vasana – which is not the kiss of death – but it is very limiting because it will make you feel guilty when other emotions need to be expressed. You will get down on yourself when you exhibit greed or anger or fear and miss the opportunity to inquire into the source. The source of suffering is not lack of compassion. It is lack of understanding that your nature is compassion.
It is not always unspiritual to express negative emotions, anger, for example. Sometimes it is absolutely the right thing to do – if it is in harmony with your relative nature and the situation calls for it. If you believe that you are only okay spiritually when you express compassion, you will find yourself in conflict. Compassion is not an ideal, something one should strive to achieve. It is something that is with you all the time and only needs to be recognized. You very often encounter people in the spiritual world “being compassionate” because they believe they are supposed to, when in fact they feel quite differently. This creates a split inside that can’t be healed by trying to be more compassionate.
I cannot see how being in your body is going to solve any problem. In fact you can never be in your body, because your body is in you, meaning that it is within the scope of your awareness. So this teaching is based on an incorrect understanding of the self and its relationship to the body. However, it is important to be very practical. You need to look after your karma in this world in the right spirit if you are going to grow spiritually. You need to pay the rent and show up for your appointments on time and clean your room and do all the everyday, ordinary things that life requires. A lot of spiritual types think mundane things are not “spiritual,” and so they avoid them and feel a certain sense of virtue on account of it. This is not wise. We are not trying to get away from karma. We need to embrace karma, follow dharma and be happy to serve the world. Most spiritual teachings are dualistic. They are aimed at the doer and try to get the doer to “do” something instead of think about what is going on and what is the nature of the doer. If you could get into your body and you had determined that it was a good thing to do, you would have done it. But how are you going to do it? You were made by God the way you are and if you are a bit light in the loafers, you can teach yourself to pay more attention to the world and participate in it gladly.
I hope this has been helpful.
~ Love, James
Marlene: Thank you so much, you have made things much clearer for me. Myself, I never saw the benefit of practicing being in the body, because I am not my body or mind, I am, as you say, limitless awareness. Sometimes when I am having an attack of emotions going into the body helps to relieve the suffering until it has passed. Sometimes I am the watcher, I can rest in limitless awareness, watch the experience, watch the thoughts, but other times I totally get sucked into samsara. I guess I am at the “enlightened 500 times” stage. With practice and more conviction that I am complete as I am, that no experience will bring me lasting happiness and I am the watcher, maybe I will become enlightened.
Ram: You are welcome, Marlene. Appreciation is always appreciated. Yes, conviction is the key and the way to get it is to contemplate your wholeness and on the defects in samsara.
Marlene: I loved what you said about compassion. I agree totally. Learning to love yourself and in turn realizing what your true self is, you will be compassionate without all the extra layers of dualism with its concepts and egoic thoughts placed on top of it. It will be pure love and not from ego’s point of view, but from your true self that is complete as is.
Ram, I feel I have found my spiritual guide in you. Thank you so much for your reply and for posting the notes under satsang at your website. You have really opened my mind and I feel I am on the right path. The Vedanta teachings are amazing!
I am really enjoying your book How to Attain Englightenment. I hope and pray one day that we can meet. If you would ever want to come to Nova Scotia for a holiday, please contact me and I would love to show you around beautiful Nova Scotia, Canada. Summer and fall are beautiful here. I live in a small town, so it is peaceful and there is lots of nature around but not far to go to the city or to the ocean. If you wanted to give a teaching, there is a large spiritual community in Halifax, NS, so I am sure you would get lots of interest, but just to come and relax and see Nova Scotia would be wonderful. So I give you an open invitation to come and visit anytime.
Ram: Thank you for the invitation, Marlene. It is most kind. I will definitely keep it in mind. I visited the Magdalen Islands last year and I loved that part of the world. Maybe God will make it happen one day.
Thank you again for being so honest and for your reply.
~ Much love, Ram