Is the End of Suffering a Sufficient Goal?

This is a continuation of a previous discussion.  Read it HERE.

L: Much, much thanks.  This is all extremely helpful.  Your knowledge is deep, teacher.

V:  You’re welcome.  

L: I like these realization statements (from the previous email) quite a lot and my mind has been processing them every day.  I feel that the gears are turning and I’m getting traction.  Your additional statement is very useful.  Thank you.  I’ve added a few different angles and permutations.  I have this feeling that I’m connecting all these different elements (my true nature, the universe, all living beings, my body and mind, infinite conscious awareness) with threads of relationships and equivalences, and knitting them all closer and closer together until they merge and I’m basically just left with the thought, “There is just one consciousness,” or something like that.  They are really all kind of the same statement.   

I understand what you’re describing with the necessity of the empirical viewpoint and the value of the absolute viewpoint.  The things I’ve read describe the goal of Vedanta as the end of suffering.  I see how this is important but every time I read this, I wonder if that alone is sufficient as an end goal. 

V: Perhaps it is, perhaps it isn’t.  Being enlightened doesn’t mean you cease having goals or aspirations in your day to day life.  But if we’re talking strictly about Vedanta, the only goal is the end of suffering, specifically mental suffering.  Vedanta doesn’t have any other goals. 

L:  I have these two other thoughts that I’m trying to fit into the context of Vedanta: living wide open as love, and having impeccability of purpose.  These are empiric-perspective concerns. 

V: Yes, they are.  And they are worthy concerns.  But from a Vedanta perspective, here is the problem:  you can’t live wide open as love (or any other way for that matter) if you aren’t really a person, and you can’t have impeccability of purpose if you are not the doer, the illusory body/mind complex.  As I said, the empirical viewpoint must always be respected.  So in that regard if you want to live wide open as love etc., go for it.  But you MUST clearly understand that you are not really living that way or doing anything to be free from suffering. Why?  Because suffering only accrues to the doer, the body/mind.  So you must get it clear that you aren’t the body/mind, and then it can be as it is.   

L:  In a way, neither of these goals can be possible if one is suffering, and I suppose minding one’s immediate suffering must take first priority, like putting the airplane oxygen mask on yourself first before helping others.  Attempting to live open as love has the pitfall of self-deceptive do-goodery, and to be this way genuinely I think one must first know that all living beings are within one consciousness.

V:  It’s only a problem if you identify with the do-gooder.  I’m just trying to be clear, not downplay the seriousness of the issue, because false-identification is the root issue of Vedanta and the cause of suffering.   

L:  Having impeccability of purpose perhaps can only be possible with the clarity and detachment of examining one’s life from the absolute viewpoint. 

V:  The absolute viewpoint gives you objectivity, and objectivity helps in anything you ‘do.’  But you’ll have to explain to me what exactly you mean by impeccability of purpose.  I don’t want to assume I know what you’re talking about. 

L:  These are just early thoughts I’ve been having.  Would you say that the end of suffering is a goal that encompasses these other aspects? 

V:  To be clear, “the end of suffering” doesn’t mean perfect peace of mind and perpetual happiness.  The body/mind is the sufferer and it will always suffer in one way or another.  This means that the end of suffering is simply the end of identifying with the sufferer.  The body/mind suffers.  But if you aren’t the body/mind, then you don’t suffer.  Problem solved. 

That being said, knowing you aren’t the one suffering gives you the objectivity I previously mentioned.  And objectivity helps in whatever it is you choose to ‘do.’

Another aspect of knowledge is clearly understanding that, despite appearances to the contrary, everything is one, brahman, you.  When everything is known to be yourself, it makes accepting and loving the world much easier. 

L:  Are there teachings to apply Vedanta knowledge to these empiric perspective goals as well?

V:  Sort of.  As I just said, the implications of non-duality can certainly help the way you view the world.  As far as impeccability of purpose, I can’t say until you explain it to me a little more.  If you mean acting in the correct manner with the appropriate motivation, Vedanta is useless, because it negates the false idea that you do anything in the first place. 

However, at the initial stages of the teaching, Vedanta advocates yoga, specifically karma yoga, in order to show one how to act appropriately in the world.  It also advocates devotion or religious practice in order to purify the mind and heart.   

L:  I’ve been having a strong inclination to take some time and go into nature for a while, and fast and meditate.  My instinct is to corral together the “I-ness” to package it up.  I see your teaching that the I-ness can never be completely packaged or dropped, only through knowledge can it be put in proper perspective. 

V:  I honestly think you should do what you are inclined to do.  Taking a retreat to contemplate and meditate is never a bad thing. 

I’ll add this:  regardless of what you do, always remember that the way Vedanta ‘packages’ the “I” is strictly cognitive.  It teaches you how to objectify the apparent person and see him for what he is:  a transient illusion.  One way to do that is to always be aware of using the word “I.”  Every time you say it or think it, ask yourself, “What ‘I’ am I referring to?”  If you say, “I am sad” ask yourself if the word “I” is referring to you, the self, or to the mind.  Or if you say, “I am hungry, fat, thin, etc.” ask if the word “I” is referring to the body or to you, the self.  You can apply this to everything you think and in this way you continually ‘package’ the body/mind by recognizing it as the transient object that it is.  Then you bring your attention back to what you really are, that which knows the illusory, transient object known as L.  That is the real “I.” This practice can, and should, be done at all times until you have broken the identification with the body/mind i.e. L.  And it can be done in everyday life as well as in a retreat.    

L:   But, as you have said, the experience wouldn’t hurt, either. 

V:  Yep.  Even though you aren’t L, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be as happy, fulfilled or satisfied as possible.

L:  I have Ted Schmidt’s book Self Knowledge and it looks very useful.  Is there a Vedanta community? 

V:  Yes but it will vary depending on where you are.  Arsha Vidya and Chinmaya Mission are worldwide, as well as being first rate Vedanta organizations.  I personally prefer Arsha Vidya and their lineage of teachers.  The possible drawback for you is that both of those organizations are very Hindu, and they intermix Indian culture along with the teachings, Arsha Vidya less so than Chinmaya Mission.  I personally don’t have a problem with that except for the fact that the religious and cultural aspects can sometimes obscure the Vedanta part of the teaching. There are Westernized Vedanta groups but none that I can confidently recommend.  

All in all, it can be good to have a group of people to do inquiry with but it can be more trouble than it’s worth because you have to deal with their issues and egos in the process.  Further, if they don’t know what they’re talking about, how can they be of any assistance to you?  Besides, in the end, inquiry is a solitary path that you must travel mostly by yourself.  That’s what I did.  However, do with that what you will.  I am a very solitary person by nature but I know that doesn’t work for everyone.       

L:  It has been extremely helpful to hear from you, instead of just reading books.  I really appreciate it. 

V: I’m glad to hear that.  You’re welcome.