There Is No Other Freedom

Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting Paul, my good friend and guru-brother.  While staying with him he showed me a book of Swami Dayananda’s transcribed talks and pointed out one titled, “Freedom – Absence of Self-Judgement.” While I’ve read a fair amount of Swami Dayananda’s voluminous body of work (all of it high-quality), this piece immediately became my favorite.  Why? First, while brevity and directness are not always Vedanta’s strong-suit, this talk had both in spades.  Second, and most importantly, it dealt with the most pertinent topic of Vedanta, freedom, an issue that every student of Vedanta finds perplexing at one point or another in their study.

One of the reasons for the confusion regarding the nature of freedom is the close association—and subsequent mixing up—of yoga, meditation and Vedanta.  Despite the fact that yoga and meditation are excellent practices (practices that Vedanta advocates), their ideas of freedom are usually different from Vedanta.  While yoga and meditation often aim to fully change, control or stop the mind, Vedanta does not.  Why?  Because Vedanta recognizes a simple fact:  While the mind can (and should) be disciplined, it can never be fully changed, controlled or stopped.  This means that freedom, as commonly defined in yoga and meditation is impossible.  Since freedom is desirable, that seems to present a major problem.  However, Vedanta says not to worry.  The condition of the mind is not an insurmountable obstacle to freedom because you, the self, are always free from the condition of the mind.    

The idea that freedom depends on a certain condition of your mind is by far the most common, persistent and harmful misconceptions about freedom.  Because Swami Dayananda clearly pointed out the error of this idea in his talk, I’ve re-printed the transcript below, taking the liberty of italicizing the parts I thought were of particular interest.  May it help you make your goal crystal clear.    

-Vishnudeva

P.S. – I am always hesitant to quote teachers owing to the possibility that I may misrepresent them in some way.  I have a lot of respect for Swami Dayananda so if I have misrepresented him in any way, the fault is mine. 

FREEDOM – ABSENCE OF SELF-JUDGEMENT

To judge oneself, at any time, on the basis of the obtaining condition of one’s mind is an error.  The present condition of the mind may be sorrow, depression, frustration, regret, disappointment, or just a response to failure.  As long as you judge yourself based on the condition of your mind, you are a samsari (one enmeshed in the relative world of beginnings and endings.)  When you refuse to judge yourself from the condition of your mind, you are a mumuksu (one who seeks freedom from all apparent limitation) and a jignasu (one who seeks freedom through knowledge). And when you cease to judge yourself based on the obtaining condition of the mind, you are free.  This is the only freedom there is—the freedom from the error of self-judgement that is based on the condition of the mind. 

The error is evident.  The nature of the mind is to keep changing all the time.  In the morning you judge yourself in one way, and in the evening in a different way.  When the judgement is harbored, the harbored judgement, stored in memory, creates a “personality” out of a person.  The personality is purely psychological.  It is against the vision of the self that Vedanta is unfolded in the teaching of Vedanta.  And if the knowledge of the self that Vedanta unfolds does not work for you, it does not work only because of this judgement.  When you refuse to judge yourself on the basis of your mind then you are serious in seeking clarity in the vision of the truth of the self. 

This does not mean that you have to always have a particular type of mind.  Mind does and will change, unless you anesthetize yourself psychologically, which is unnatural.  Thoughts do not “dry up” because the source of thoughts, perception and memory, is always there. 

The student says, “I seem to understand the vision, but then why am I still bothered by a jumble of thoughts?”  Because of a condition of the mind, the student doubts the vision, the very knowledge.  The doubt is an obstacle to gaining the knowledge.  Knowledge is not an obtaining condition of the mind, not a state of mind.  Knowledge is recognition of the fact that I am thought-free.  This recognition is different from a state of mind that is thought-free.  The difference between recognizing my fundamental nature as thought-free and aiming for a thought-free mind is the difference between knowledge and ignorance. 

Refuse to judge yourself on the basis of the obtaining condition of the mind.  Then you are serious in the pursuit of freedom.  Then there is freedom.  There is no other freedom

Swami Dayananda – Piercy, CA March 1983

 

 

Erroneous Goals

J:  I was thinking about the goal of Vedanta and how the desire for moksha appears erroneous since the fervent desire for freedom can become binding. The goal of knowledge appears to be the way since once we have assimilated knowledge we know we are free, because we have never been not free. This desire for knowledge seem better than some desire to be free.

V:  Hi J.  Here’s the short answer: 

I understand what you’re saying and in essence you’re correct insofar as there’s no need to desire freedom when you already are, and always have been, free.  So if it’s helpful for you to think of the goal of Vedanta as knowledge rather than freedom, go for it.  I don’t see any harm in that.  If that’s a sufficient answer for you, then read no further. 

But just in case…here’s my picky, possibly pedantic answer:         

Really, you can’t separate moksha and knowledge—specifically, self-knowledge—because in Vedanta the two words are synonymous.  While moksha does technically mean “freedom,” that freedom isn’t something different from self-knowledge because self-knowledge is the clear understanding, “I am free.”  Like you said, it’s true that it doesn’t make sense to have freedom be your goal when you’re already free, but that only applies after you get the knowledge that you’re already free.  Before that, freedom is a perfectly sensible goal, assuming it’s sensible to you.  If not, call the goal knowledge.  It doesn’t really matter. 

To be a real stickler—as crotchety Vedantins are prone to do—following your logic regarding freedom as a goal, I could argue that the goal of knowledge is also erroneous because at the dawn of self-knowledge you see that you weren’t ignorant in the first place.  Nor have you attained knowledge because knowing and knowledge are seen to be properties of the mind alone.  And as the non-dual, ever-free brahman you are not the knowing mind.  To illustrate, here is a verse from the Astavakra Samhita, one that I’ve been looking for an excuse to quote.  So thank you for that.    

2-15:  Knowledge, knower and the knowable—these three do not actually exist.  They merely appear in me, the stainless self, through ignorance.  

Also, I could say that the desire for freedom can be just as binding as the desire for knowledge.  But to repeat, whether you want to make moksha your goal or knowledge your goal, either way is fine.  You’ll end up at the same destination regardless.  I only added the second answer in case my first answer happened to cause another doubt.  And if I didn’t this would’ve been a really short satsang 🙂  Thanks for bearing with me.      

J: Loved the explanation you gave directly above (the crotchety Vedantic one).  

This whole process reminds me of an expedition into the wilderness.  First there is the journey by air to your first destination, then the over land journey in a convoy of 4×4’s.  Then transfer to river boats, before the final leg on foot.  On reaching the destination there is just the Self.

V:  I think that’s a good metaphor.  The different modes of transportation (plane, automobile, boat) are a necessary means to get to where you’re going, but once you’re there, they become irrelevant.  Similarly, the teaching method of Vedanta is a means to understand what you really are.  Once that’s known, the teaching itself, and whatever terminology or concepts it uses (like freedom, knowledge, etc.) become irrelevant.  They’re just tools–or more specifically, pointers–and once the job is ‘done’ there is no need for them anymore.  But as I said, we can only argue that they are unnecessary after they actually become unnecessary. Before that, they do have relative value, same as a car has relative value before you get to where you’re going. 

All my best – Vishnudeva

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The Teacher Question

THE QUESTIONS

Dear Vishnudeva,

Here’s a three-parter:  1) Do I need a teacher?  2) If so, why?  3) And if so, will you teach me? 

THE SHORT ANSWERS

1) Yes. 2) Because if you didn’t, you wouldn’t be asking this question.  3) See below. 

THE LONG ANSWERS

Since this is such a common question I’m going to answer it using more detail than you are probably asking for, in order to benefit other people.  Sorry if some of this answer doesn’t apply to you directly. 

In general, I feel like the “Teacher Question” comes from two kinds of people.  The first kind is someone who’s heard that having a teacher is important and they’re concerned because they don’t have a teacher themselves.  The second kind is someone who’s heard it’s not important to have a teacher, they don’t want a teacher anyway, and they’re looking for someone to justify their position (ironically, a teacher).  Sorry for the sarcasm, it’s just one of those days 🙂

If you’re the second type of person that doesn’t want a teacher, then I doubt anything I say will change your mind.  So the solution is simple:  don’t have a teacher.  I mean that wholeheartedly with no hint of my previous sarcasm and this is why:  because everyone is free to choose their own path and whatever path you choose, I’m confident it will take you exactly where you need to go.  I’ve expressed my opinion that you need a teacher but I fully believe that you should do what feels right to you. Go with god, young Jedi, and may the Force be with you.      

If you’re the first type of person I’ll say don’t worry if you don’t have a teacher.  I’ve been in that situation and trust me, you’ll be fine.  Everything will work out.  “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” While this saying is hackneyed, it is nonetheless completely true.  But in order for it to come to fruition, it’s important to know what constitutes being ready.  To prepare for finding a teacher, you need to sincerely dedicate yourself to spiritual practice so you can get your mind focused and uncluttered.  If it isn’t, having a teacher won’t help a bit.  Additionally, you need to be absolutely clear about your goal, meaning you should want moksha–peace of mind and inner freedom—more than anything.  If your mind and goal are clear, everything will fall in to place.  Does that mean you should passively wait around for a teacher to appear?  Not at all.  Get out there and read books, go to classes and scour the internet.  Leave no stone unturned.  Just don’t be discouraged if you don’t immediately find a teacher.  If you are properly prepared, you won’t be.

You might say, “Well, I am prepared and I have been looking for a teacher.  I scoured the dark corners of the internet, turned over a rock and found YOU.  Now I’m asking you to teach me.  Are you avoiding my question?”  The answer is yes, but only until I discuss the next topic, which is what a teacher actually is and what they are supposed to do (or not do). 

First, a teacher is supposed to help guide your inquiry.  This is why a teacher is needed, because if you were able to guide your own inquiry then you’d be free and you wouldn’t be looking for a teacher in the first place.  But does that mean you have to become dependent on the teacher?  NO!  Because the teacher is supposed to help you become independent.  If you had to remain dependent on the teacher forever, you wouldn’t be free.  So the teacher may guide you through the methodology of the teaching and how it works but only with the aim of empowering you to do it yourself.  At that point, the teacher stands on the sidelines while you do your own inquiry, only stepping in when you get stuck or have a question you can’t resolve yourself.  They are not there to hold your hand because a teaching situation is not a support group.

And while a teacher may be friendly, they are not there to be your friend. This doesn’t mean a teacher never becomes your friend.  Several of my former students are now my good friends but only because they took the teaching, put in the work to understand its meaning for themselves, and didn’t need to be taught anymore.  At that point, they were no longer students and I was no longer a teacher.  We were on equal footing.  They were free to go their own way and never speak to me again if they wanted.  But a few stuck around and we became buddies.  And that illustrates my last point on this topic.  If a teacher is doing their job properly, they should always negate their own role.  At first there is a student and a teacher.  In the end there should just be two people, equals, both knowing they are one and the same reality. 

But I’m getting ahead of myself here.  The question was, “Will you teach me?”  Assuming you are ready (meaning mentally prepared, dedicated and serious), yes.  I’ll do what I can to help you understand the teaching methodology so you can use it for yourself.  And then I’ll answer your questions as needed.  If at any time you want to end this arrangement, feel free to do so.  There is no obligation.  Full disclosure:  If I see that you aren’t serious, then I am also free to end this arrangement.  I’m not a hard taskmaster, I simply do not have time to teach people if they are not willing to put in the work. 

All my best,

Vishnudeva      

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