Moksha Check

Hi Vishnudeva,

I wanted to get some clarity on an experience I had recently.

Upon awakening a few mornings ago the experience was of an awareness of a shift of perception from that of Gary having awareness to that of me containing Gary. The quality of awareness didn’t change. It was the same awareness as always. The experience was awareness moving out of Gary and realizing itself as me—not Gary—and that I’ve always been this same awareness. I just “thought” I was Gary. There was the thought that nothing has really changed, and yet there was this interesting shift. The perspective of the experience was definitely from me, awareness, and yet there was the experience and thoughts defining it. I guess it’s the subtle body that needs to understand the experience and to clarify?

I’m just me, as always.

Much Love,

Gary

Hi Gary,

It’s nice to hear from you and I’m glad to find out that you’ve stuck with Vedanta. It seems like your hard work is paying off because it sounds to me like your knowledge is very clear, assuming two absolutely crucial conditions are met. Now, I’m not saying that they aren’t, or that you don’t already know the things I’m going to talk about. But you reached out to me, so I have to put on my teaching hat and perform some due diligence. One thing I will say first is that it is never my duty (or anyone else’s duty for that matter) to determine whether someone else is enlightened or not. Enlightenment is an understanding. Understanding is in the mind, and one person can never fully know the mind of another. So all I can do here is evaluate what you’ve said to me and then give you some guidelines so you can check your own understanding. Because as Ashtavakra says, “If you believe you are free, you are free. If you believe you are bound, you are bound.” You are not free because I say so (or anyone other person for that matter). You are free because freedom if your true nature. It’s up to you to figure out if you really know this to be true, or not.

Here goes:   

1. The first condition for moksha is that the knowledge is doubt-free, meaning completely clear. But, being clear that you are atma is not the whole enchilada, so to speak. You cannot stop at the conclusion that you are consciousness with Gary appearing in you. The apparent relationship between the consciousness and Gary, as well as their ultimate non-difference, must be understood. Otherwise, you are left with the fundamental duality of consciousness and Gary.  And that is not moksha because the pesky problem of objects—either your dependence upon them or fear of them—has not been resolved. Even if you do not fear objects or feel like you depend on them, it still doesn’t solve the problem. Why?  Because you cannot have moksha—freedom—if something other than you exists. If objects are real and something fundamentally different than you, then wherever they are, you are not. Hence, their mere existence limits you. (This is the fundamental flaw of Yoga/Sankhya, but that is a technical point and I digress).  

So, the clear, doubt-free knowledge of moksha is: I am atma—limitless, unchanging consciousness. Taking the apparent appearance of objects into account, I am the knower of all objects. Since I am the knower of the objects, I can never be an object. Therefore I am not subject to the suffering caused by the limited, ever-changing nature of objects. Nor am I dependent on objects to be the limitless consciousness that I am. While objects depend on me to exist—for what object can be said to exist without consciousness—I am ever the same, in their presence or absence.  Therefore, while I previously believed I depended on objects to be what I am, I now know that objects are completely dependent on me and I am free of them.    

But while I am never an object and I never depend on objects, they are not separate from me.  Since I cannot find any objects apart from consciousness, I can only conclude that objects are nothing but myself. Since the objects are me, there is no reason to fear them. And since the objects are me, and I am already myself, there is no reason to chase them.    

And ultimately, any talk of objects is relative. From the point of view of my non-dual nature, there are no objects.  There is only me, limitless consciousness, with Self-ignorant people believing me to be otherwise.  Every person, place, thing, experience, even God itself, is nothing other than me. I am non-dual. 

Summary: Moksha is having your knowledge completely clear, from both the everyday empirical perspective (vyavaharika) as well as from the ‘perspective’ of the non-dual nature of reality (paramarthika).

Vyavaharika perspective: I am the consciousness that knows all objects. I am never an object but they are always me.  While they depend upon me for existence, I exist independently. I am never affected by the objects that appear in me.

Paramarthika perspective:  In truth there are no objects. There is only me, limitless, non-dual consciousness.

There is no contradiction in the two perspectives. No one can deny the experience of objects but neither can one assert their reality. Thus, the vyavaharika perspective is conditionally true, while the paramarthika view is unconditionally true. Since objects do not disappear at the advent of moksha, the vyavaharika view is used to function in the apparent world (because you can’t go to the grocery store in a non-dual reality). But, keeping the paramarthika view in mind, nothing that happens from the vyavaharika perspective is taken too seriously, because it is known to be unreal.  This is a big benefit in everyday life.     

2.  The second thing is that the aforementioned knowledge is completely firm. So, if on another morning you wake up and this knowledge is gone, it’s back to inquiry for you 🙂

At the end of your e-mail, you said: “The perspective of the experience was definitely from me, awareness, and yet there was the experience and thoughts defining it. I guess it’s the subtle body that needs to understand the experience and to clarify?”

You are correct. The knowledge is, “I am the consciousness that knows the subtle body and all its experiences.”  This means that the person you thought you were—the subtle body—is dethroned from its place of prominence. It flops around trying to make sense of the whole issue. And to make matters worse, because it is an object oriented experiencing entity, it causes itself much agitation by attempting the impossible task of experiencing consciousness as an object. 

I think this situation is completely normal. The mind experiences such a radical shift in perspective that it reels at the implications and tries to struggle against them. But eventually, like a good dog trained by its master, the mind lays down at the feet of knowledge. The mind, which was previously conditioned to seek fulfillment in objects, realizes the freedom of being able to rely on the ever-present, unchanging Self for fulfillment, instead of transient objects and situations.     

Well, a tip of my teaching hat to you, my good sir. It sounds like you are doing very well. Remember, as Ashtavakra says, “If you think you are free, you are free. If you think you are bound, you are bound.” So if your firm conviction is, “I am the Self, I am free” then my feedback here is superfluous. And only you can be the judge of your own convictions.

But I will offer advice: Even if your Self-knowledge is clear and doubt-free, it is prudent to continue your inquiry and spiritual practice diligently. Because Self-knowledge does not magically destroy all of the mind’s ignorant, dualistic and deviant inclinations that it developed during it’s long stay in Self-ignorance. So while it may eventually lay down like an obedient dog, for the time being it will continue to run around the neighborhood of the world trying to find trouble. Therefore, I suggest you train it to be good with continued sadhana

Much love to you and your wife,

Vishnudeva

Working Out Your Karma

I have been in a very unhappy marriage for the last 10 years. There’s no affection, no sex, no kindness, no warmth, no communication. My wife has given me the silent treatment for the last 2 years. I am slowly going insane.

I realize that she is I and that I am she. There is only Self. So my question is the following: Would you stay in such a marriage if it drives you insane (literally) just to work out past karma? Or, would you leave? I remember the Buddha left his wife and children behind. Very confusing because he must have realized all was Self and that any action like leaving a wife and children behind was thus futile (there is no such thing as divorce; Self always is).

Not sure if you are married but you are a realized person so I wanted to ask your opinion. Sorry for the deep question.

Thank you,
A

V:  I’m sorry to hear that you’re unhappy but I’m a Vedanta teacher, not a marriage counselor. So I am not qualified to answer your question about marriage.  

But I can address your understanding of self and karma.  Realizing the non-duality of the self does not have anything to do with passively accepting one’s circumstances on the basis that they’re just an illusory appearance of one’s own self.  Sameness only applies at the absolute level of the self.  It does not apply to everyday circumstances.  In other words, not everything in life is equal, just because it’s all the self.  Some things are, relatively speaking, better, healthier and more constructive than others. 
 
Further, working out karma doesn’t mean accepting suffering and unhappiness.  Sure, everyone will have some degree of suffering and unhappiness in their karma.  But karma is not fate.  The point of the theory of karma is to put you in the driver’s seat. It says your current circumstances are the product of your past choices and actions.  The implication is that your future circumstances can be influenced by your current choices and actions.  

So once again, I am not qualified to give you relationship advice.  Nor am I interested in doing so because my purpose here is to teach Vedanta.  But I hate to hear that you’re unhappy.  So I wanted to say that Vedanta, non-duality and karma all allow for positive change in one’s “personal” well-being.  They are not in conflict with you doing what you feel is best for your happiness.  The point of this teaching is peace of mind.
 
All my best,
Vishnudeva    

A: Your answer is incredible and I quote only partially: “But I can address your understanding of self and karma.  Realizing the non-duality of the self does not have anything to do with passively accepting one’s circumstances on the basis that they’re just an illusory appearance of one’s own self.”

I was stuck with this question for so many years and you understood it and gave the answer I was looking for so I will re-read it because it is so very very valuable.

Thank you very much,
A

I Am Not This

I am both the existent and the non-existent;
And yet I am neither. 

I am the ineffable Vishnu
Best described as, “Not this, not this1.” 

I am both the conscious and the non-conscious;
And yet I am neither.

I am the ineffable Vishnu
Best described as, “Not this, not this.”

I am both the limitless and the limited;
And yet I am neither. 

I am the ineffable Vishnu
Best described as, “Not this, not this.”

I am not this

Not this

  1. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.3.6. – “Now therefore the description (of brahman, one’s true nature): ‘Not this, not this.’ Because there is no other more appropriate description than, ‘Not this, not this.’

Emotional Zombie

Hi Vishnu,
In your reply to a recent questioner who was asking about the role of joy and indeed other emotions obtaining in the mind after self knowledge, you said that ‘over time the mind slowly becomes less happy, sad, angry or otherwise emotionally disturbed’.

Now, I don’t believe you are advocating becoming an emotional zombie here. I believe what you meant was what the Buddhists call ‘equanimity’, a preponderance to less and less emotional extremes. This is actually required before self knowledge, but it continues to bed in after self knowledge.

However this doesn’t mean you are never emotional, relatively speaking, but you are less prone to veering from extreme to extreme? Having no emotional responses would be pretty useless, not to say impossible anyway, but that’s not what you’re saying. 

Vishnu:  Correct. 

D: One way I thought about it is if feeling/emotions are a tone, then equanimity is in the mid range, it becomes your home setting, and while it fluctuates up and down from there, the mid range becomes the centre around which it revolves, rather than veering all over the place. Or another way is to think of it as a volume control, set to mid volume: it can, and does, go up and down from there but in a moderate way, rather than as if some madman was spinning the dial wildly one way or another!

Vishnu:  These are great metaphors.   

D: Of course, there will always be times when it does veer to extremes, that’s part of the human condition and will happen forever. But over time should occur with less frequency.

V: Yes, extremes will surely still occur.  They may occur less frequently or they may not; extremes may go away for a long time only to unexpectedly come back.  It all just depends on the person’s mind.  Since 1) The mind is not totally under our control and 2) We are not the mind, this is of no ultimate consequence. 

 D: Vishnu, would you agree that we are *always* feeling something, because emotions are generated by thoughts, (even when we’re feeling numb, that’s actually still an emotion/feeling tone: we’re ‘feeling’ numb), so ‘transcending’ emotion is not about not having emotions, which is actually impossible anyway, but about realising they don’t affect your true nature?

Vishnu:  Exactly.  The relative person has a modicum of control over how their mind feels.  But in the end, the mind is going to do what it’s going to do.  People who continue to try to make their minds a particular way in order to prove to themselves or others that they’re enlightened clearly have missed the point that enlightenment is about knowing that they are not the mind, or to me more accurate, that they are not affected by the mind.  

That means having an agitated mind does not make you any less the self; or relatively speaking, less enlightened.  Having a peaceful mind doesn’t make you any more the self; or relatively speaking, more enlightened.  You are the self either way:  that’s just a fact.  Recognizing that fact, relatively speaking, is “real” enlightenment, not trying to make the relative person think, act or feel a particular way, which is the textbook definition of samsara.      

Don’t get me wrong: Having a peaceful mind is a good thing. And striving to be the best person you can be is a constructive and worthy undertaking. But it’s not enlightenment, which clearly shows you that you are not a person, or more accurately, that you are not affected by the person in any way whatsoever, good or bad.   

D: I’m always reminded of the story of Ramana, who, after watching a travelling stage play about a heroic quest of some saint or other, turned around to his followers in floods of tears! They were all shaking their heads, saying ‘how can Ramana be affected by such aspects of dualism!’ But Ramana simply responded by saying ‘how can one not be moved by such tales of heroism and self sacrifice!’

I always find that funny, as he was just acknowledging the human aspect of his nature, which was perfectly ok, whereas his followers, clearly showing incomplete understanding, just didn’t get it, just like many a neo-advaita teacher today, many of whom seem keen to portray him as some remote, absolutist godlike figure, which is more of a caricature than anything else.

Vishnu:  As you’ve pointed out, this kind of misunderstanding is common in the so-called spiritual world. This is because self-realization is internal and its outward manifestation as certain behavior depends entirely on the previous conditioning of the self-realized person’s mind. For the self-realized person who knows directly that they’re not actually a person, this is not a problem; they let the apparent person be how it is, knowing it doesn’t reflect on their true self in any way. They witness the apparent person naturally responding to its environment, without judgement.

But for those still seeking self-knowledge, this can be confusing. Through no fault of their own, they’re forced to evaluate a self-realized person based on their preconceived notion of enlightenment, which is inevitably linked to their idea of what an enlightened person’s behavior or temperament should be like. And no amount of explanation can dispel this confusion: It can only be resolved by following self-inquiry to its logical end, which is the direct intuition of the fact, “I am the limitless self. I am not defined or affected by the condition of the body and mind.” When that is known the question of performing certain actions or abstaining from particular emotions become moot. In his Dhyanasvaruam, Swami Teyomayananda illustrates this point nicely with the following quote from Jivanmuktananda Lahari:

“One whose ignorance has been destroyed by knowledge given by the guru never gets deluded as he goes around roaming the city, seeing and enjoying the beautiful sights, men and women dressed and decorated, as he knows that he is the witness of all. He is silent with the maunis, wise amongst the wise, scholary amongst the scholarly, sympathetic to the miserable, rejoices with the happy, enjoys when he gets pleasurable objects, acts ignorant among the ignorant people, youthful with the young, displays great oratory skill in the company or orators and is a total renunciate amongst the reununciates. Blessed is the one who has conquered the three worlds.”

All my best – Vishnu 

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