Search & Read
Vedanta Is Not up for Interpretation
Manesh: Namaste, Sundari. Please accept my thanks for your time to provide such a detailed reply!
Sundari: It is a pleasure, I am glad you enjoyed it.
With regards to the confusion created by some writings with reference to Vedanta, you must remember that many teachers, some of them well-known and very knowledgeable in their own way, still do not fully comprehend the discrimination between the language of experience and the language of knowledge. Many of these teachers have a background in yoga and try to weave this into their interpretation of Vedanta. While this kind of teaching does contain truth and it is helpful in purifying the mind and preparing it for moksa, it is not suitable FOR moksa. There are also many people that present themselves as teachers of Vedanta and are not qualified to do so and what they teach is nothing more than an interpretation of Vedanta and even worse, a misinterpretation of Vedanta.
This kind of “teaching” is based on (or worded in) personal experience, opinion or belief and is thus not a valid means of knowledge. If you keep trying to find validation for these sources within Vedanta, you will get more confused.
What you need to understand is that there is a big difference between sruti and srmti. Sruti is the revealed word of God or scripture, unrelated to any person’s or persons’ opinion or experience. It does not come from the human mind. Unlike most religions and philosophies, its basis is irrefutable and irreducible logic. Srmti is based on memory or the personal experience of a person or persons, i.e. interpreted knowledge, opinions or beliefs.
This is why Vedanta is so insistent upon the correct terminology used to teach it; it is not up for interpretation by anyone. This is because Vedanta is a proven consciousness-based means of knowledge, totally independent of any person’s or persons’ experience or opinion. Only such a means of knowledge can remove ignorance. If you are a seeker and are content to “explore” the spiritual “path” then moksa is not what you are looking for. You are looking for experience. There is nothing wrong with this but unfortunately experience seekers do not become finders until they understand that it is knowledge, not experience, which removes ignorance, i.e. sets you free of the experiencer, or jiva.
If you want moksa, drop everything other than Vedantic texts, as well as your opinions and beliefs. Commit yourself to the study of scripture as taught by qualified Vedanta teachers exclusively. Do not waste time trying to compare it to other teachings; this is futile and will not work. One cannot make Vedanta fit into one’s own understanding of truth because this will always be flawed knowledge filtered through “your” vasanas. It will not be capable of removing ignorance because it itself is based in ignorance. The most fundamental qualification for self-inquiry to work is faith in the scripture, shraddha. It is not blind faith, but faith pending the outcome of your own investigation.
You have to make very sure that you understand the terminology that is used in Vedanta and how it is applied to unfold the meaning of the teaching. James is very clear about this in his book How to Attain Enlightenment. If you have not read it, I strongly suggest that you do. Start at the beginning and read slowly, do not skip or continue until you have understood every word. Every word in that book is power-packed, high-potency Vedanta, so sign on with the logic and stick to it. Dayananda is likewise totally clear and a brilliant Vedanta teacher; his Bhagavad Gita Home Study Course is excellent. So is Paramarthananda brilliant. Read the e-satsangs posted at the ShiningWorld website; they are all pure scriptural responses to almost every question you could think of.
Anubhavanda is a qualified teacher of Vedanta; you understood his reference to the subtle body correctly. He exhorts people to make sure that they understand the real meaning of the word “soul” and he describes it perfectly as non-dual awareness. He is a good teacher. However, perhaps because he is Indian and has a different understanding of the English words and he is teaching Westerners, some of his terminology is confusing. For instance, he refers to self-knowledge as philosophy, which it definitely is not. Philosophy is the thought or system of thought that is developed by a person or persons, describing their interpretation of the higher purpose of reality.
Vedanta is no such thing; it is a valid means of knowledge for the very reason that it is not the opinion or opinions of any one person or persons. It is an independent means of knowledge, meaning that when you take any of its precepts and follow them to their conclusion, they are irrefutable. This is never true of philosophy because it is dependent on opinion or belief. In the Svetesvatara Upanishad and on more than one occasion Anubhavanda describes self-knowledge as “beyond logic, reason, cause and effect,” which is correct if he is describing the self. But then he describes self-knowledge as “intuitive,” which is very misleading. Self-knowledge is not intuition, because intuition changes all the time and as such is not a reliable source of knowledge.
Self-knowledge is the realisation of your true nature as whole and complete, non-dual, limitless, unchanging awareness, and it is only arrived at when ignorance of your true nature is removed by self-knowledge. Although self-knowledge seems to grow with self-inquiry and exposing the mind to the scripture, it is just that ignorance is removed incrementally, revealing the self, which is unchanging. So even with some qualified Vedanta teachers one has to learn to be discriminating. It cannot be overstressed how important it is to make sure that you understand the correct Vedantic terminology. Choose your teachers wisely.
I have replied in point form below.
Manesh: Please accept my thanks for your time to provide such a detailed reply! Quote from Sundari: “You are right; he is implying that there is no subtle body “inside” the physical body.”
There are some writings available on internet that are creating some confusion regarding jivatma living inside physical body. Please allow me to cite a couple of examples:
“The soul is eternal, living encased in three bodies: the causal (or level of deep thought), the astral or energy, and the physical body.” This is mentioned at Ananda.org/ask/533/what-happens-to-the-soul-at-death?/. Kindly notice the word “encased.”
Sundari: With all due respect, I read the reply that this woman Andandi gave to this inquiry and she is spouting New Age mumbo jumbo. She is most definitely not teaching Vedanta, and if you insist on reading people like her you can be certain you will be confused. Nothing she says is correct from the perspective of Vedanta and it can all be discarded.
Manesh: The Web page ZeroPoint.ca/heartIV4science.htm says, “The seat of the individual soul is in the heart. The jivatma is likened to an infinitesimal poppy seed, which has no form or colour. This atomic or indivisible entity is said to be embodied in a hollow the size of a small thumb in the heart (p. 36).” Kathopnishad also mentions the heart and thumb size.
Sundari: The self, the one principle, or awareness, does not have a size nor does it have a specific location. The term used in the Upanishad is purely metaphorical. The self has no relation to time or space either; these are both concepts and both arise out of awareness and have no existence without it. Awareness is the uncaused cause of everything. Although he is referring to the self, his reference is the body, hence his terminology. The language in this document is experience-based and confusing. The subtle body is inert, like any other object. Why bother to make all these connections to it? It is merely the counter over which experience is transacted; it is not real. It has an apparent existence in the apparent reality, which is totally dependent on awareness, the self, or what he is referring to as the “soul.” He does not make it clear that the way he uses the term soul means “the essence of,” or “within the scope of,” awareness.
The reference to the soul is a term the Indian swamis picked up from Christianity, and they use it to mean the subtle body, or jivatman (meaning awareness plus a subtle body), which is the apparent entity, or the self under the spell of ignorance, which is brought about by maya.
Manesh: Do you think it should be the “spiritual heart” and not the “physical heart” where jivatma resides most of the time?…
~ Kind regards, Kumal
Sundari: Yes, you are correct, it is the “spiritual heart,” not a physical heart (because the body is inert), that he is referring to as the awareness that jivatman “resides in.” It is a misleading term used to mean the self, or paramatman. Look at your terminology here. Remember that there is no such thing as “inside or outside” awareness, because everything is made up of awareness. What do you mean by “resides most of the time”? Firstly, what do you mean by time? Time is simply a construct used to measure change (in other words, experience), it is not real. Secondly, awareness is all there is, there is only one self and all objects have an apparent existence in the apparent reality as reflections of the self. Moksa, or liberation, is discriminating what is the self from the not-self, in other words, awareness from the objects arising in it. But awareness, the self, or what these people refer to as “the soul,” and you refer to as the “spiritual heart,” is always free of all objects.
I am very fortunate that Ramji is my teacher, there is no one better than he, in my view, and he has taught me how to wield the knowledge correctly. As you know, Vedanta is not his teaching nor mine or anyone else’s. We are qualified teachers in that we can wield the knowledge correctly and teach in the method as laid down thousands of years ago by the sampradaya, the great tradition of Vedanta, and more recently and specifically in the last 800 years by of Shankaracharya.
Kumal: Dear Sundariji, you continue to amaze me with your painstaking replies.
I have understood that I am awareness. But from what I have grasped from Ramji’s teachings is that my understanding is just to the point of calling myself reflected awareness. Is it possible for you to tell me how do I take my understanding further from “I am reflected awareness” to “I am pure awareness”? Alternatively, if you can just point me to the URL where this issue in addressed at the ShiningWorld website, I can go through it.
Sundari: What you are asking is how to make indirect knowledge direct knowledge. This is the whole basis of self-inquiry. There is no short answer to this, so I have copied in an answer I gave recently to someone with a similar question. There is no one place at ShiningWorld that I can point you to; all the e-satsangs are about this same issue, which is the discrimination of the self from the objects arising in it, i.e. from the not-self. All the e-satsangs and all genuine Vedantic literature come at this issue from different angles but essentially all point to the same thing. There is no set formula as to how to go about self-inquiry. However, there definitely are things one has to have mastered; this is all laid out very carefully in the email below. You have to do the work; there is no shortcut, unfortunately. If your desire for moksa is burning, there is nothing else that will be more important to you. I hope the email helps; let me know how you come along.
~ Om and prem, Sundari