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