Bliss of Brahman

Vishnudeva,

I have two questions:

1.You’ve said that during meditation we can observe our thoughts pass by and deduce that we are not our minds. But at other times we identify with our thoughts and our actions are led by the mind mostly. Why is this so? Is having a constant reminder that we are not our thoughts the only way to break this identity?

Vishnu:  Yes, you are correct. You learn not to identify with your thoughts through practice.  Normally we are so wrapped up in our day to day affairs that we don’t notice that there’s a “gap” between ourselves and our thoughts.  We’re too distracted to notice that we aren’t actually affected by our thoughts.  Meditation helps to get rid of the distraction long enough to draw our attention to this fact.  Once we practice long enough, we can bring that perspective gained from the meditation seat into our day to day lives.     

2. My second question is a speculative one. It is about the bliss of brahman.  As false and temporary it may be, we are all aware of the pleasures of the mind. On the other hand, identification with the atman seems a bland affair (from the perspective of the mind). Sure, we will be freed from the problems of the body and mind, but where is the positive joy in it? Can you please clarify on this?

Vishnu:  What more could the mind want than to be free from problems?  That’s all it’s seeking through trying to get what it wants (positive joy) in the world anyway.

Trying to describe what it’s like to know you’re not the body and mind is impossible without experiencing it yourself.  For instance, I can tell you in painstaking detail about the town I grew up in.  You’ll then naturally form some idea of it in your mind.  But until you actually see the town for yourself, it will be just that, an idea.  And some of the ideas you form in your mind will inevitably be distorted or incorrect.  Until you actually go there, you’ll never know what my hometown is really like no matter how much I describe it.  

The best I can say is this:  Imagine having a terrible toothache.  It causes you great distress and pain.  You go to the dentist who says the tooth must be extracted.  The process of extraction takes work and even more pain.  But when when it’s over do you feel a positive sense of joy?  Not really.  The offending pain is simply removed and you return to your normal state.  If anything, all you feel is relief.    

Similarly, when you have the terrible toothache of Body-Mind Identification, you go to the Vedanta Dentist who recommends extracting the Body-Mind Identification with self-knowledge.  This extraction takes much effort and is coupled with the additional pain of giving up the idea if yourself as an individual person, an idea which the ego cherishes so dearly.  When the process is over, your mind is not flooded with positive joy.  It merely returns to its natural state of peace, which is really just your true nature as brahman.  And brahman is naturally unperturbed by the state of the body-mind.  

This doesn’t mean your mind will never be happy, sad, angry or otherwise disturbed.  But when it happens, you know it has absolutely nothing to do with you.  And the longer your mind dwells on that knowledge, it slowly becomes less happy, sad, angry or otherwise disturbed.  

Truth be told, if one wishes to have more positive joy in their mind, self-inquiry is not necessarily the way to go.  Instead, they should vigorously root out all conflict in their personal relationships and strive to be content with a simple lifestyle.  They should impeccably follow their personal dharma as well as the dharma of the society/country they live in.  They should root out unnecessary desires and attachments.  They should practice yoga and meditate regularly. Granted, in order to prepare one’s mind for self-knowledge, one should be doing all of these things anyway.  Joy will follow.  But then through self-inquiry one goes beyond even joy (and sorrow) with self-knowledge.   

I say this because Vedanta approaches the situation of joy from an entirely different angle than other paths.  It entirely destroys your identification with the entity (the mind) which experiences positive joy.  So the question of experiencing positive joy becomes irrelevant in light of knowing that you’re the self.  This doesn’t mean the mind won’t continue experiencing periodic bouts of positive joy, just like it did before self-knowledge.  But you don’t get wrapped up in the joy or attached to it, feeling like you need the joy to be okay.  And the flipside of the coin is that you don’t get wrapped up in sorrow or feel the same kind of aversion to suffering when it enters the mind because you know without a doubt that it isn’t affecting you in any way whatsoever.    

All my best – Vishnudeva          

 

 

Doubt About Advaita

S: Dear sir, greetings from India. I am a student of Advaita Vedanta and I’ve attended a few classes of Swami Paramarthananda in Chennai.

Vishnudeva:  Greetings from America.

S: I have a doubt regarding the Sankhya philosophy.  My basic question is this: What are drawbacks of moksha of Sankhya?  I feel the dualism / non-dualism difference is only nominal. What does it matter, if I get absolute peace following either “system”?

Vishnudeva:  If you get absolute peace it doesn’t matter what “system” you follow, whether it be dualism or non-dualism.  There’s no drawbacks to the moksha of Sankhya if you attain it and it truly makes you feel free.

S: My understanding is that the separation of purusha and prakriti in Sankhya is similar to the separation of the atma (self) from the anatma (not-self) in Vedanta.

Vishnudeva:  Yes, it’s similar.  But Vedanta never says that anatma (not-self) is an independent, material entity like the prakriti of Sankhya. 

S: It would be much easier to stop there (at the separation of purusha from prakriti). We would be free from the mortality and suffering of the body.  What is the need to prove the illusory nature of the world?

Vishnudeva:  The only way to find out is to try it for yourself.  If you feel drawn to Sankhya, apply yourself to it fully and use its teachings to separate purusha from prakriti.  See for yourself if it gives you the freedom from suffering that you’re seeking.  If it does, then you can stop there without proving the illusory nature of the world.

If it doesn’t, you can move on to Advaita Vedanta if you choose.

S: What are the benefits of accepting only one brahman as opposed to an infinite number of purushas?

Vishnudeva:  There’s only a benefit if there’s a benefit to you.  If realizing that you’re one of an infinite number of purushas gives you peace, then you won’t need to accept one brahman.  Although I would add that Vedanta isn’t about accepting brahman as one.  It’s about investigating the nature of brahman (which is just your true nature) and seeing what it is for yourself.  No acceptance is required when you see something firsthand, just like no acceptance is required when you walk outside and see the sun with your own two eyes.  In that case, it just is what it is and no acceptance or denial is possible.

If you wish, I can give you all of the technical, philosophical answers for why I think that Advaita is a more tenable position than the dualism of Sankhya.  But establishing that a particular position is logically tenable doesn’t always equate with peace of mind (which is the real point of the spiritual journey). 

Besides, Advaita isn’t looking for converts so there’s no reason to try to convince anyone of anything.  So you should follow the path that appeals to you most, the one that seems the most reasonable.  Otherwise, you won’t be able to properly commit to it.

If you happen to decide that the path for you is Advaita Vedanta, then I am here to help you in whatever way I can.

S: Thank you so much for your detailed reply. It helped clear many of my doubts. I really didn’t expect a thorough reply in a short time. Your mail was much appreciated.

Advaita Vedanta is the path I have chosen to follow. The doubts in Sankhya arose because of its seeming similarity to Vedanta. Now they are put to rest. (I am particularly reassured when you say we can “see” the truth for ourselves and don’t have to accept anyone else’s idea.)

Vishnudeva:  Yes.  This is a big advantage of Advaita Vedanta.  It makes claims about your true nature but then it gives you the tools to understand your true nature for yourself.

S: I am guessing the many questions I have will get sorted as I walk along the path. I shall surely approach you if I am stuck with any doubt. Meanwhile, what advice do you have for someone starting on the path?

Vishnudeva:  Yes, your questions will be sorted if you stay fully dedicated to the path.

In general, the most important thing is to make sure that your mind is calm and focused.  Otherwise, you won’t be able to properly listen to the teaching, contemplate its meaning or meditate.

There are many, many practices to promote a calm, focused mind.  So many in fact that it will be impossible to discuss them all here.  But two key practices are karma yoga and meditation.

Karma Yoga

Many people make karma yoga sound very complicated but it isn’t.  It’s simply a positive attitude you take towards action that prevents you from being overly concerned with the results of action.

Karma yoga is very much like performing a regular action.  You decide what you’re going to do, you plan out how you’re going to do it, and then you do it.  Afterwards, you wait and see what the result of the action will be.

The difference is that with karma yoga, you choose to not worry about whether or not you’ll get the result that you desired in the first place.  Why?  Because once you perform the action, you understand that you’ve done what you can and that the result is out of your hands.  At that point, there’s absolutely no logical reason to worry because there’s nothing else for you to do.  Worry disturbs the mind and directs it outward to the world so it’s useless, especially when trying to go “inward” to investigate your true nature. 

So say I want a new job.  I find the job I want, brush up my CV and turn it in to management.  Because I’m practicing karma yoga, I don’t worry whether I’ll get called for an interview or not.  I did my part in the process so I am at peace.  I wait patiently for the result.

Management calls me for an interview.  Because I’m practicing karma yoga, I do my best to prepare for the interview.  Once I’ve done that appropriately, I know that worrying won’t help anything.  I am at peace and I patiently await the interview. 

I do very well at the interview.  Management tells me that they’ll call to tell me their decision.  Because I’m practicing karma yoga, I know that I did what I could at the interview and that worry will not change the results in any way whatsoever.  I am at peace and I wait patiently.

Management calls and tells me I didn’t get the job.  Because I am practicing karma yoga, I don’t feel angry or sad.  I know that I did what I could and I am at peace about that.  I take the attitude that what was supposed to happen happened. I learn what I need to from the situation, view it as a chance for personal growth, and move on.

If I am religiously inclined, I view all of my actions as an offering to Isvara (the entire universe and all of its inhabitants) and the results of my actions as a gift from Isvara, a gift that is exactly what I need at the time, whether I know it or not.  And because of that I am thankful.

The result of taking this approach to action is peace of mind, which is essential to self-inquiry (Vedanta).

Meditation

This topic is too big to even summarize.

But in general, establish a regular meditation routine.  It’s best to do it at the same time and same place each day.  When the mind is stilled in meditation, it is the perfect platform for doing Vedantic self-inquiry. 

Also, meditation is where you take what you’re told from the teaching and experience it directly.  For instance, if Vedanta says, “You’re not the body” or “You’re not your thoughts” you can see that for yourself while meditating.  Then you take that understanding with you from the meditation seat to your regular everyday life.

Listening and contemplating

Listen to Vedanta teachings daily.  Of course I’ll recommend Swami Paramarthanada but you should choose the teacher that appeals to you the most.  Listen with an open mind and be willing to set your current beliefs and opinions about yourself aside.

After listening to a teaching, contemplate it’s meaning during your day.  This contemplation is to be done during regular activities as well as during meditation.

I hope this serves as an overview and helps get you started.  Let me know if you have further questions.

All my best – Vishnudeva

Steady Wisdom: Day 107

Steady Wisdom: 108 Verses On Changing My Thinking

DAY 107

I am brahman.
-Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.10
Meditation

I am that brahman which revealed itself to the rishis.  I am that brahman described by their words in the Upanishads.  I am that brahman expounded on by the venerable acharyas of the Vedanta lineage.  I am that brahman revered by the great saints and mystics. 

Impelled by the rishis, informed by the instruction of the acharyas, and inspired by the devotion of the saints and mystics, I previously sought to find brahman.  How odd!  I am brahman and I was brahman all along. OM.    

Read Series Introduction     

Steady Wisdom: Day 106

Steady Wisdom: 108 Verses On Changing My Thinking

DAY 106

In these words I’ve proclaimed the vision of the highest reality, the supreme conclusion of Vedanta.  If a man becomes convinced of it, he is liberated.  Like space, he is no longer tainted by activity in this world.
-Shankara (Upadesha Sahasri 10:14, Metrical)
Meditation

I have seen the vision of the highest reality and it is, “I am brahman.”  Now that this is clear, I understand that I have always been free and I will always be free.  The illusory body-mind and its activities in the equally illusory world appear in me like objects appearing in space.  Similar to the way that space is never tainted, divided or changed in any way by the objects that appear in it, I am never tainted, divided or changed in any way when the body-mind and the world appear in me.  OM.

Read Series Introduction

Self Inquiry For Tough Times

When life is going smoothly, it’s easy to do self-inquiry and say, “I’m not the body.”  But what about when the going gets tough?  Am I able to maintain my poise and distinguish between myself and the body when it really counts? 

It’s clear that at some point in time the body will die.  That’s as guaranteed as the sunrise and sunset so there’s not much point in being overly concerned about it.      

Besides, if I’m consistently dedicated to self-inquiry then it should also be clear that while the body will surely die, I will not.  I am the eternal, ever-present, unchanging self.  I was never born so I will never die. 

So instead of obsessing over the news, dwelling on political nonsense or indulging in fearful speculation, I bring my mind back to the knowledge that I am the self over and over again.  I remind myself that what will happen in the world will happen, regardless of whether I obsess over it or fear it.  But no matter what happens, I am always completely fine.  So while I’ll surely take the necessary precautions to protect my illusory body, I do it with with peace of mind, always remembering who I really am.  OM.