Self-inquiry for busy people

Ava: If I don’t know the self, how can I become established in its point of view?  

Vishnu: By being taught scripture. It tells you about the nature of self (which is just your true nature), it tells you the self’s ‘point of view’ (which is really just your true point of view) and then shows you how to think from that point of view until you directly realize that it’s already your own point of view (and always has been).  

The scripture tells you that you, the self, are the limitless, non-dual, ever-present, eternal, unchanging ‘witness’ of everything. You lack nothing and aren’t affected by anything. In other words, you are completely okay at all times and in all circumstances.

Taking into account what the scripture says about your true nature, examine your fears and desires. If you lacking nothing, are your unnecessary desires warranted? If you are unchanging is there any reason to hang on to unreasonable fears? This is one way to take the ‘point of view’ of the self.

Another way is to remember the scripture’s assertion that you are the unchanging, ever-present reality in which all objects appear, objects being any aspect of external experience (people, places, things) or internal experience (thoughts, emotions, memories). Since you are that in which the objects appear, like a movie screen in which images appear, you cannot be the objects that appear in you, the same way that a movie screen is never the images projected onto it. 

Since you are unchanging, you cannot be an ever-changing object. Since you are ever-present, you cannot be a transient object. Applying this logic to your everyday experience on a moment-to-moment basis is another way of taking the ‘point of view’ of the self. It is called the discrimination (viveka) between the self (atma) and the ‘not-self’ (anatma), or atma anatma viveka. It is continuously distinguishing oneself—unchanging ‘witnessing’ consciousness—from objects. 

Ava: How can I be in the self when I’m surrounded by friends, family, work etc. and not just when I’m by myself?  

Vishnu: It just takes practice. It’s like learning to ride a bike. First you have to have a strong desire.  Otherwise you won’t have the will to get back on the bike when you fall off. Then you simply get on the bike, fall off, get back on and fall off again and again until you develop the ability remain perfectly balanced and ride. After a while, it becomes so second nature to ride the bike that it doesn’t require as much effort. You may even be able to take your hands off of the handlebars!

With Vedanta, you also need a strong desire, specifically the unyielding desire (mumukshutva) for liberation (moksha). Without this, it’s difficult to muster up the effort required to bring the mind back to the point of view of the self when it gets distracted. You simply have to try, get distracted, try and get distracted again and again until the mind remains firmly established in the point of view of the self.

Although thinking from this point of view starts to become second nature, unlike the bike example, don’t be tempted to take your hands off the handlebars of inquiry, so to speak. Self-ignorance is persistent and tricky so if you stop paying attention to it before it’s fully rooted out, it will come right back.

Finally, looking at your initial question from the point of view of the self, ask yourself this: If I am already the self, how you can I ever not be in the self?

Ava: This isn’t coming naturally for me.  It takes effort and concentration which hard to do when I’m busy non-stop and don’t have time to reflect on it.

V: Again, it takes no effort to be in the self because you are the self. It is the most natural thing there is. The hard part is to see that this is true.  When it’s not clear that you already are the self, a lot of effort is required to conduct dedicated self-inquiry, and no, this does not come naturally. It just takes hard work, plain and simple.

Still, it helps to take an objective look at your life and find out if there are people or activities that are needlessly taking up your time (and thus distracting you from inquiry). You might be surprised. Keep only what is essential, get rid of the rest. Whatever is essential, do with a positive attitude.  And do it for it’s own sake, not getting overly concerned with the result.  

Ava: Can people really get self-knowledge when they don’t have a peaceful environment to do self-inquiry?  

V: Absolutely, assuming you are properly qualified—meaning mentally prepared—because self-inquiry is meant to go on at all times and in all situations. It is equally important in times of quiet contemplation as it is in times of stress. In the scriptures there are many examples of enlightened people who had families and busy lives.

So, in no uncertain terms, let me repeat that moksha is possible for any qualified person irrespective of their life circumstances.

And not to put too fine a point on it, saying “I’m too busy for self-inquiry” only means, “I’m not serious about self-inquiry.”  Why?  Because people always make time for what is most important to them.  

Sincerely,
Vishnudeva

Have a Question?

Belief in God

Don:  Hi Vishnu, I read your articles regarding God and atheism in Vedanta with interest.  I read in one of your posts that Isvara, (the apparent, manifest brahman) is a matter of speculation.  Now I’m assuming by this you mean Isvara as some kind of personalized deity?  I may be wrong here, but I always thought that the Vedantic interpretation of Isvara meant the bundle of laws that govern the apparent manifestation (of the universe), not a being as such.  Isn’t it the case that Vedanta IS essentially atheistic anyway in the ‘anthropomorphic man in the sky’ sense?

I think the assertion of Isvara as the manifest order is self-evident. We can be fairly confident that the laws which govern the apparent universe serve to benefit the Whole and keep things ticking over in an orderly fashion, just as karma yoga suggests, not least because we can see for ourselves that the universe has been around for 13.8 billion years or so, so it clearly operates in a self-regulating manner which ultimately serves to support the Whole.

Furthermore, the related concept of karma seems reasonable since if we accept the non-dual nature of existence, then whatever you (the apparent you) do to someone or something else, you are essentially doing to yourself, and so at some point the results of that will be experienced.

Swami Dayananda talks about the implicit order we can observe in everything, which is supported by science. So we can observe a psychological order, a physical order etc.  And this collective bundle of order is essentially what we mean by Isvara

Any thoughts you have on this are appreciated!

Vishnu: My thought on the matter is this:  I respect your viewpoint even if I don’t agree because I think people are free to believe whatever they want regarding the workings of Isvara, God or the any other aspect of the apparent reality (especially considering that’s what they do anyway).  So if you believe that Isvara is a self-evident truth, good.  I have no reason to try to convince you otherwise.  I write my articles with the idea that people can take or leave whatever they wish.  I’m no ultimate authority on matters of belief because belief is purely a personal decision. 

I hope that helps. 

Otherwise, all of the answers to your questions are contained in the satsangs “Who Knows?” “A Progressive Vedanta” and “Drop the Boat.”  If you agree with what I say, that’s fine. If not, that’s also fine.  Your peace of mind is the point, not conformity to a certain viewpoint, mine or anyone else’s. 

Now I have a question:  Is what I’m saying about Isvara causing you some kind of doubt?  Is it affecting your self-inquiry?  If so, what is that doubt? Please let me know.

Don: I did like your “Drop the Boat” post. It reminded me of an article from a Zen guy, can’t remember who now, but he came to the same conclusion as you, that the last thing he had to let go of was Zen itself! As it was such a beautiful teaching he didn’t want to let go of it, but ultimately, as you found, he realized he had to “drop the boat” so that he could get on and enjoy his life. And of course the teaching wasn’t going anywhere so he could still love it—He just wasn’t attached to it. 

Vishnu: That perfectly summarizes what I said! 

Don: I think what’s been fueling my original inquiry (rehashed here) is a latent attachment to the concept of god. Upon analyzing this, I think it stems from the concern that the world will be less wonderful or awe-inspiring without.  In others words, I’m worried that dropping (belief in) god would lessen my enjoyment of life.

V:  In a way I think it can, especially if someone has a generally positive notion of God.  In that case, as you said, it may take a bit of awe out of their life.  Luckily for those kinds of people, Vedanta never really asks anyone to give up their belief in God.  They’re only asked to analyze their belief that they’re fundamentally different from God, whether their idea of God is the stereotypical Man In The Sky or the Collective Bundle Of Order (Isvara) that’s beloved by intellectual leaning Vedantins.   

In the relative world, if the Man In The Sky exists, he depends on existence itself to exist.  If a Collective Bundle Of Order exists, it depends on existence itself to exist.  If an individual person exists, they depend on existence itself to exist.  As existence itself (brahman), all three are fundamentally the same.  Recognizing that you are brahman and everything you experience is brahman is the point of Vedanta, not getting rid of belief in God.  For those who don’t see any reason to give up their belief in God, consider this verse by Shankara: 

“Even when I am no longer duality’s slave, O Lord, the truth is that I am yours and you are not mine.  The waves may belong to the ocean but the ocean never belongs to the waves.”

– Six Verses to Vishnu V. 3

Shankara recognizes that as pure existence (brahman), he is non-different from the MITS/CBOO.  He has non-dual vision.  And yet, because the illusion of the world remains, he acknowledges that on the illusory level the difference between the individual person and the totality of the cosmos still obtains. While Shankara fully understands that he’s reality itself, on the level of the apparent individual he still stands in awe of the wonderful and mysterious total.  To use a metaphor, a wave (the individual person) is never the ocean (MITS/CBOO) but despite that, both are the same as water (brahman). 

Now, I’m not saying what you should or should not believe regarding God.  Rather, I’m trying to demonstrate that Vedanta has different options for different people.  In other words, this is not a black-and-white one-size-fits all situation.  People are free to view the workings of the apparent reality (which includes God) in whatever way makes the most sense to them.  After all, the apparent reality is an illusion—How could we come to a definite conclusion about something that isn’t real in the first place? 

Don: However, upon further reflection I don’t think that (dropping belief in god) lessens enjoyment of life because the replacement knowledge is even more amazing. What could be more awesome, amazing and beautiful than the knowledge that everything is me?  While also being clear that I’m free of it (the apparent world), it’s the very thing that allows me to be free to enjoy it.

Vishnu:  Exactly!  Understand that you’re brahman.  Think of God in whatever way seems most reasonable to you.  And most importantly, be happy.  If your current belief in God makes you happy, keep it.  If not, drop it and find something that does.      

All my best – Vishnudeva

Ask a Question

What is moksha?

Q: What is moksha and how can this state be described? 

A:  From the perspective of Advaita Vedanta, moksha is the direct realization of the fact that 1) You and the universe/God are non-separate from one another and 2) You and the universe/God are fundamentally identical as brahman, the one true reality. To use a common Vedanta metaphor, this realization is like a wave first understanding that it is non-separate from the ocean and then realizing that it is fundamentally identical with the ocean as water.  Here, the wave represents you, the ocean is the universe/God and water is brahman.   

So moksha is realizing “I am brahman” (Brihadaranyaka Upanisad 1.4.10). Since brahman is “defined” for instance, as “that which has no sin, no decrepitude, no death, no sorrow, no hunger, no thirst…” (Chandogya Upanisad 8.7.1) then realizing that you are—and always have been—brahman means that YOU are free from birth, death and suffering. This is moksha i.e. freedom (moksha literally means “liberation” or “freedom” in Sanskrit) and it is synonymous with enlightenment (self-knowledge) in Advaita Vedanta.

Enlightenment in this sense refers solely to the direct realization that you are the ever-free brahman.  Since you are brahman and always have been brahman, this is just the recognition of an already existent fact, not the attainment of a particular state.  By extension, this also means enlightenment is not becoming brahman or merging into brahman.  Why? Because you can’t become or merge into the brahman you already are, similar to the way that water can’t become or merge into the water it already is.  You can only recognize that you already are brahman and that you’re already free.      

All my best – Vishnudeva

Have A Question?

The Practical Application of Vedanta

Q: What is the practical application of Advaita Vedanta in everyday life?

A:  The conclusion of Advaita Vedanta is: Brahman alone is real; the individual person you think you are is illusory; the essence (true nature) of the illusory person is brahman; therefore, you are brahman.

What is brahman?  Immortal, unchanging, limitless, self-existent consciousness. As such, it does not suffer when the body and mind suffer.

So what is the practical application of knowing that you’re brahman?  Well, when you’ve realized the truth of Vedanta for yourself (that you are brahman), the illusory world doesn’t suddenly disappear. It continues on just as before.

But the difference is that instead of going about your life riddled with the anxiety caused by believing that you’re the body-mind, you can live your life knowing that no matter what happens to the body-mind, you are always completely okay (because you are really brahman, not the body-mind). When this is clear, you no longer have to rely on the state of the body-mind (or it’s external circumstances) for security and peace of mind. You understand that as brahman, security and peace are your very nature (insofar as you are ever-present, unchanging and undisturbed by the world).  Bringing this knowledge to the forefront of your mind when you’re presented with life’s difficulties is the practical “application” of the self-knowledge gained from Advaita Vedanta.

All my best – Vishnudeva

 

What is samsara in Hinduism?

Q:  What does the term “samsara’ mean in Hinduism? 

A:  Hinduism is very diverse, with numerous different religious sects and philosophical schools.  So you’re going to get different answers depending on who you ask.  To be clear, I am answering from the perspective of Advaita Vedanta, particularly Advaita Vedanta as taught by Shankara, Swami Dayananda and Dayananda’s students.

Swami Dayananda defines samsara as “the life of becoming.” In other words, it is 1) Identifying with the body and mind, thinking it is who you are and 2) Subsequently believing that the mortality and suffering of the body and mind belong to you. Further, you believe that the qualities and character of the body and mind define who you are.

Because of this you are always trying to become something other than what you are.  Perhaps you want to be happier, perhaps you want to become immortal to escape death. Or perhaps you want something more mundane like a slimmer waistline and a more respectable position at work. Either way, feeling like you need to be something other than what you are, that you’re not good enough as you are, or that you’re somehow lacking is a painful cycle: this is samsara.

This painful cycle of thinking that you’re the body-mind continues (perhaps over lifetimes if the theory of reincarnation is true) until you see directly realize that instead of being the flawed, mortal, ever-changing and limited body-mind, that you’re the immortal, changeless, limitless brahman (the very essence of the entire universe) that is always perfect just as it is.

But you asked “What is samsara?” not “how do I end it?” so I’m getting ahead of myself.  That’s an answer for another day. 

All my best – Vishnudeva