Vedanta is a three stage process. You have to go through all three stages if you want to be radiantly happy. If you skip a step or only partially assimilate its knowledge, Isvara will send you back to the previous level until you work it out. The three steps are hearing (sravana), reasoning (manana) and Self actualizing or assimilating (nididyasana).
Stage 1 involves several steps which roughly conform to the Chapters in Essence of Enlightenment. The first step of Stage 1 is assimilating the knowledge that life is a zero-sum duality. It involves the realization that nothing you can do in this world will solve the problem of suffering.
When the full impact of this realization hits, disillusionment is inevitable, a ‘dark night of the soul,’ that may last a year or two. It is particularly difficult if you are prone to epiphanies, glimpses of the reality beyond the world, because they give you hope and dash it at the same time. The second step of the first stage involves anther particularly galling fact: enlightenment—liberation from the world—is not a special kind of experience. Until you understand that it isn’t you are basically condemned to the same frustrating merry-go-round that you experienced at step 1. Your experience of the Self, which you imagine is out of time, comes and goes, because it is not out of time at all.
This realization also produces disillusionment and frustration. The rare realization that happens in the third step of Stage 1 involves accepting the idea that you have an ignorance problem, not an experience problem, and the forth step of Stage 1 involves accepting a valid means of knowledge i.e. Vedanta. Each step is increasing more difficult than the preceding step. Consequently, a burning desire for freedom and a lot of good karma is required to work your way through the steps of understanding. To help you we present the three stages in the form of the 5/10/15 rule.
The 5/10/15 Rule
A lot of people think that the end of seeking caused by firm Self knowledge…otherwise known as direct knowledge (“I am limitless ordinary unborn ever-present awareness”) is the end of the jiva’s spiritual work. It is, but only if the jiva is perfectly satisfied with itself when Self knowledge is firm. This state is extremely rare.
However, it is commonly believed that Self-knowledge or Self-realization, if you prefer, is the end of seeking, inquiring, ego, doing, teaching, etc. On the basis of this unexamined notion…which is grist for the mill of the next stage, nididyasana, most Self realized people declare themselves ‘finished,’ ‘cooked,’ or ‘enlightened’ and set themselves up as authorities on the topic of liberation.
The stage after firm direct knowledge is called nididyasana. Vedanta is very clear about the importance of this stage as it removes residual desire (rajas) and fear (tamas).
We see many young people who gain direct knowledge infected with the seemingly benign desire to teach others. Usually, their spiritual tendencies (vasanas) kept them away from deep commitments to the world…careers and families…and they just got by doing odd jobs, living off family money or the dole and/or taking up short term relationships for emotional satisfaction and abandoning them when they proved difficult, etc.
Sometimes they complete stage 1, hearing, and Stage 2, removal of doubt, and gain direct knowledge, but ignore stage 3, Self actualization or assimilation, usually because they have not done proper inquiry on the idea “I am free.”
The Self will never make this statement. It only means something to a jiva. If the idea ‘I am enlightened’ has not been removed and the jiva has been led to self inquiry without having properly succeeded or failed in the world, the temptation to achieve worldly success behind the idea “I am enlightened’ often arises, which shows that the doer has survived Self realization.
If a seeker is properly qualified when firm Self realization happens, the doer is negated. Negation means that the doer’s unresolved issues are laid to rest once and for all. They do not remain and subliminally influence its decisions going forward. Self realization presents a particularly difficult problem for the Self realized doer who does not appreciate the importance of the third stage, Self actualization, because it has the capacity to use the teachings of Vedanta to suit its purposes. Unfortunately, it wants the same things all jivas want: security, pleasure, power, status, etc. Nididyasana addresses this issue and prevents this phenomenon.
These three stages are meant to be presided over by a living guru because the jiva has a built in tendency for self deception i.e. denial (tamas). Along with the “I am enlightened” idea comes the belief that I am an authority in my own right and therefore I don’t need a guru any more. So we see that a Self realized ego with unfulfilled ambitions is happy to get rid of his or her guru when it is convenient. Usually it is convenient when the guru doesn’t give you what you want or tells you something that you don’t want to hear. It is particularly difficult to hear that you are not finished with your spiritual work when you realize the Self.
I don’t write and teach for my benefit. Writing and teaching are topical responses to situations that occur daily in my relationship with people that come into my life. In the last few years I have supported the teaching tendencies of several young (ish) people in spite of the danger of enlightenment sickness and withdrew my support when I felt that I had somehow lost their respect.
In our tradition, we don’t want to monitor the lives of our students. We try to present the purity of the tradition and comport ourselves in such a way that they don’t lose sight of the nobility of the teaching and consequently consider all their actions in light of the tradition itself. I don’t claim to be a saint…far from it…but the respect that I feel for Vedanta has been transferred to thousands of people over forty-seven years of teaching. There are many humble people worldwide quietly propagating the teachings according to their innate tendencies and taking care of themselves financially without reference to the teaching. So the few instances where I was called on by my association with my office as a senior lineage holder to rap an occasional disciple on the knuckles does not in any way mitigate against the purity of my motives, nor does it change in any way the love I feel for them. Parents, for instance, don’t cease to love children who misbehave.
This satsang was occasioned because I recently withdrew my support from a young man who said I was his guru but didn’t maintain the proper relationship with me. Perhaps I bear some responsibility, but the only way forward when so many are teaching Vedanta is to trust the discrimination of my disciples. It was very clear that he did not gladly accept my withdrawal of support, which would have been the appropriate response if he was a proper karma yogi and if I was actually his teacher. Why should the gratitude that he expressed over the years suddenly evaporate, considering the fact that at the behest of my wife, Sundari, I have supported him as a teacher for several years.
Teacher is an office filled by Isvara, so whatever comes from the teacher comes from Isvara, not from a fickle ego. So for love of Isvara a proper disciple takes his or her disappointments with grace and dignity as they are opportunities for growth.
One of my gurus, Swami Dayananda, kicked me out of his Vedanta class a long time ago and I love him and Isvara for it. It was the best thing that could have happened to me at the time. I recently taught a group of 70 in Spain with his picture on the altar. Removal of dualistic guru bhakti is a sign of spiritual maturity and another important purpose for nididyasana.
This incident also confirmed what I already knew; that he did not appreciate the value of the nididyasana stage, probably owing to the sympathy, respect and support he was receiving from the people with whom he was communicating the teachings, which indicates the value of Vedanta in the first place and his skill as a communicator secondly. Teaching is a skill that builds ego like nothing else, in so far as people hate ignorance of every sort and respect people who can remove it. If you allow yourself to get stuck in enlightenment, enjoy the fame and think of Vedanta as career, you deny yourself the opportunity to become a truly noble soul. It doesn’t take an exceptional person to achieve success in the modern spiritual world, only a clever ambitious one.
If doership survives direct realization, the doer needs to practice nididyasana, which removes the part of the Self that is subject to ambition (rajas), boredom and depression (tamas). Residual emotional dissatisfactions should be removed if you love the sampradaya and if have compassion for your jiva.
Vedanta’s basic formula is encapsulated in the 5/10/15 rule. Of course, it varies from individual to individual but thirty years is not too long to commit yourself to Vedanta. 5 years for sravana…hearing the complete teaching with an open mind and appreciating the logic of each step. 10 years for resolving doubts (manana) created by the teaching and 15 for getting rid of jivahood, i.e. the sense of doership. The goal of Vedanta is tripti, compete jiva satisfaction. An apparent jiva remains but it has no desire whatsoever for things to be different, inwardly or outwardly, from what they are at any moment. It is called Isvara pranidanam, surrender to Isvara, or non-dual devotion (bhakti). Of course it is quite possible to dismiss your ambitions as non-existent because you are the Self, but you are fooling nobody but yourself.
Non-dual devotion means that you put the needs of others, in this case your guru, ahead of your own needs. My number one need is to protect the purity of the teaching tradition. Showing verbal guru bhakti to your disciples to convince them that they should be devoted to you and failing to consult your guru when you involve yourself financially with your disciples is not guru bhakti as it creates dependence, which is the antithesis of Vedanta’s purpose. Even if your need is legitimate, it is absolutely necessary to protect Vedanta from even the appearance of impropriety in these excessively materialist times, particularly if your disciples exist in cyberspace. In the old days, you had physical access to your guru so you could see where the donations went. If you are a proper teacher, you will not have to solicit money because people whose lives have been transformed by your teaching generously support you unasked.
If my disciple had taken time to really understand the purity of my commitment to the tradition, he would not have solicited donations in the name of ShiningWorld. Consequently, I will no longer endorse a Self realized teacher unless he or she has an independent means of support.
Tamas presents another Self actualization problem that usually affects older Self realized people who have have had families and/or careers. Jobs and families solve the problem of financial and emotional security but they don’t take care of the doer problem, so the tendency to act has no place to go when you realize the zero-sum nature of life, except into a depression, because you cannot in good faith distract your doer with mindless samsaric pursuits i.e. jobs, entertainment and endless family events.
I didn’t suffer that phase because I went from firm Self knowledge directly to perfect doer satisfaction because I was totally qualified when Self knowledge was firm, owing to the intense sadhana with my guru and intense sadhana on my own the three years prior to it. I never had a career or a family or any interest in worldly things after age 25. At the same time, I kept my rajasic doer hard at work studying scripture, writing commentaries and teaching Vedanta, which is the best dharma there is for a doer. To support myself I did hard physical labor for minimum wage until I was nearly seventy. Because I was successful in both love and money before I took to Vedanta it was impossible to misuse it, once Self knowledge took place. I sincerely hope that Vedanta students who want to teach will take these words to heart. Teaching is not a career. It is a sacred duty for whose values stands in direct proportion to the sacrifices you are willing to make on its behalf. It owes you nothing because it gives you everything.
Swami Paramarthananda, a guru bother, calls nididyasana ‘requalifying.’ You never know when, during the manana phase, firm Self-knowledge will take place and you never know how long nididyasana will take. In fact, if Self knowledge makes you a perfect spontaneous karma yogi, it doesn’t matter because time doesn’t exist for you. So if you don’t experience perfect jiva satisfaction when Self knowledge is unshakable, you need to remain humble and keep up the practices that qualified you for understanding as they will eventually remove the obstacles to limitless bliss.
Enlightened or not, the human mind needs to be committed to something other than the doer and its projections. It needs noble work until its dying day. Serving the world should fill the gap that serving the doer formerly filled. If you want to know more about the nature of non-dual devotion and the stages of spiritual development explained by Vedanta, please read The Yoga of Love, as it makes clear what a non-dual devotee is and the reasons for keeping up one’s sadhana once Self-knowledge is firm.