Relationships & Non-Duality

S: What is the relation of the Self to the body/mind?

V: Relation is only possible between two different things. But the self alone exists. So there is no relationship between the self and the body/mind because there is no actual body/mind. There is only the self appearing to be a body/mind. The appearance of the body/mind is none other than you. All you have to remember is that appearing as a body/mind does not affect your true nature in any way.

S: I am aware of the sensations of the body, and thoughts of the mind appear to me like other perceptions from the world. But I am not aware of pain in another’s body or mind. In that sense, it is different from other objects. What is the special/additional relationship I have with the body?

V: Again, there is no special relationship. You’re looking at this issue from the perspective of the mind, not the self. 

Where does S.’s body/mind appear? In awareness. Where does Vishnu’s body/mind appear? In awareness. Does this mean there is more than one awareness or that awareness has a special relationship to either of our body/mind’s? No. Just as one sun illuminates all objects on earth, there is only one awareness in which all body/minds appear. Awareness is aware of your body/mind in the exact same way it’s aware of mine. 

When you say, “I don’t know your thoughts” what you are saying is, “My mind doesn’t know your thoughts.” And this is correct because the mind is a limited instrument with a limited range of perception.  It will not experience what another mind is experiencing.  But awareness illuminates both your mind and my mind equally.  To the self, there is not even a “my mind” or “your mind.” There are just minds appearing. So while your mind may not be able to read my thoughts, as the self, you “know” (illuminate) my mind the exact same way that you “know” S.’s mind. 

S: Also, terms like ‘act as an embodied spirit’ or ‘play the role of a son/friend, etc.’ also suggests hypocrisy and artificialness. How do I cope?

V: Yes, it can be strange to know that you’re the self while other people don’t. But that’s just how it goes. When you radically change your thinking, it takes time to adjust. And most people will never understand what you know. It can be disorienting at first, but you just get used to it over time. 

So just be S., all the while knowing you aren’t S. There’s nothing artificial about it because it’s true. Act normal. Live your life. Friends and family are good. Enjoy them. Your relationships with people aren’t fake just because you know you’re the self. In fact, they are much more real because you can relate to people in a more open, loving way. Why? Because you know you don’t have to be compelled to act from the selfish standpoint of the ego.

So self-knowledge isn’t intended to interfere with your personal relationships. It simply helps you approach those relationships with more understanding, objectivity and compassion. You can actually care about people on a deeper level when you know they are none other than yourself. Your relationships can become more authentic because your thinking is in alignment with the truth. The only inauthentic way to relate to people is from the false standpoint of the ego. Let me know if that helps. 

All my best – V

Breaking Body Identification

Hello Vishnu, I hope you are doing well. 

V: Hi S.  I am doing well. Thank you. 

S: I can report that I am making slow but sure progress in my understanding of Advaita. I have a doubt about letting go of body identification. I am convinced that as the limited body I will continue to be affected by problems from which there is no escape. Consciousness on the other hand is infinite and unaffected by anything.

V: You are correct. The limited body, because it is part of the unreal world, will continue to be affected by problems: Sickness, fatigue, old age, death etc. This is the case for both the enlightened and the unenlightened. 

S: How do I shed my body identity and start seeing myself as consciousness?

V: Up until this point you have spent your whole life thinking you’re the body. In other words, identifying yourself with the body is a long standing habit. That means it will take a long time to break that habit. And how do you break an old habit? By starting a new one. In this case, you practice thinking of yourself as the Self until it replaces your old habit of thinking of yourself as the body. Here’s one way to do it: 

Constantly monitor what you think and say. Whenever you say or think the word “I”, ask yourself, “What ‘I’ am I talking about?” 

Here’s an example. Say you didn’t sleep very well. You go to work and a friend asks, “How are you today?” You reply, “I’m tired.”  At that moment you ask yourself, “What ‘I’ am I talking about?” What ‘I’ is tired? In this case the ‘I’ is the body. You remind yourself that only the body is tired. Draw your attention to the fact that you are the consciousness that illumines the tired body, and you, consciousness (the self), are never tired. 

Do this anytime you make a statement or think a thought like this. “I am hungry”, “I am sad”, “I am sick”, “I am happy” etc. Remind yourself that the “I” you are talking about in these statements is just the unreal body. Then draw your attention back to the fact that you are the Self that knows the body and mind, the Self that is never hungry, sad, sick, happy etc. 

This is one way that I found to be very helpful in regards to breaking body identification. The bottom line is that when you see identification with the body appear in the mind, you simply draw your attention back to who you really are. If it’s a stubborn identification, go back to the basics and use the logic you already know: “I know the hunger, so I cannot be hungry. The hunger was not previously present. I was. The hunger will go away. I won’t. The hunger is a transient state and therefore unreal. I am the real Self that knows the hunger and I am unaffected by it.”

Alternately, you can spend time affirming who you really are using descriptions of your Self in the scriptures. For instance, you know that you, the Self, are ananda, limitless. So say this to yourself and think about it. “I am the limitless Self.” Ask yourself, “Is there anything that limits me?” Think about the body, the mind. Are they real? Are they always present? Do you change when they change? No. You are ever present and unaffected by them. 
In this way, not only do you affirm the limitlessness of your true nature, but you also walk your mind through the logic that proves this is true. The mind has spent its whole life thinking of itself as a limited being. But over time, doing this practice retrains the mind to think of itself as what it really is: the limitless Self. 

This is nididhyasana, the process of retraining yourself to identify with who you really are, the Self, rather than the body and mind.

You can use what I’ve suggested as a guideline but also feel free to modify the practice in whatever way works best for you. The point is to diligently watch for identification with the body and mind in your thoughts and then gently remind yourself that you are really the Self. 

I say “gently” because this is an ongoing process. Don’t obsess about it or beat yourself up if you continue to see body/mind identification in your mind. Just stick with it lovingly and patiently. Over time, the identification will continue to appear in your mind. After all, it’s completely normal to say things like, “‘I’m tired”, “I’m hungry”, “I’m sick”, etc. The difference is that, after practice, hen those thoughts or words appear, they no longer cause you as much distress. Or no distress at all. 

And here’s the kicker: The Self neither identifies with the body/mind NOR doesn’t identify with the body/mind. Identification only happens at the level of the MIND. So when the mind identifies with the Self rather than the body/mind, then great. But you, the Self, are not identifying with anything. The identification is known to you and it doesn’t affect you. 

 Likewise, when the mind identifies with the body/mind rather than the Self, it’s no real problem. You, the Self, are not identifying with anything. The identification is known to you and it doesn’t affect you. 

In other words, identification with either the body/mind or the Self are states of the mind that are known to you, the Self. Yes, the mind identifying with the Self as much as possible is a good thing because it leads to peace and happiness. But peace and happiness are simply states of the mind that don’t actually affect you, the Self. Likewise, sorrow caused by identifying with the body/mind are also states of the mind that don’t affect you. So work on identifying with the Self as much as possible. But don’t get upset when you catch your mind identifying with the body/mind. It’s just a passing mental state that doesn’t affect you.

Always remember this while doing this practice because changing your mind is an incidental benefit to the practice of discrimination. But the real point is know that no matter what the mind is thinking, you are always the unaffected Self. You are not the mind, no matter what it thinks. And THAT is true knowledge. Good luck S. Just let me know if you need help. 

All my best – Vishnudeva

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 108

Steady Wisdom: 108 Verses On Changing My Thinking

DAY 108

There is no need to meditate or hold any thought in my mind.  I am the ever-free self.  How could meditation change that? 
-Ashtavakra Samhita 15:20
Meditation

The act of meditation cannot merge me with the self or transform me into the self because I already am the self.  Concentration of the mind (or lack thereof) can never change that. 

Doing nididhyasana, therefore, can only concentrate the mind on the truth of who I already am.  If this mental process succeeds, I am the ever-free self.  If this mental process fails, I am the ever-free self.  This is the true nididhyasana.  OM. 

But…

O great one, spend your time seeing yourself in all situations everywhere, recognizing yourself as the non-dual self and enjoying the ananada that is your very nature. 
-Vivekachudamani

All things considered equal, as long as the body is alive, the mind will dwell on one thing or another.  Why not let it dwell on its true nature as the self, which is ever-present and full, rather than the illusory objects of the world, which are transient and empty of inherent value?