Steady Wisdom: Day 100

Steady Wisdom: 108 Verses On Changing My Thinking

DAY 100

I have realized my own self, which is bliss and peace.  Even though living in this world I am never bound in any way or under any circumstances.
-Dhyanasvarupam V.10
Meditation

I am the self.  I am “bliss” because I am free from the limitations of the illusory body-mind.  I am “peace” because I am never disturbed by the state of the illusory body-mind.  Even when the illusory body-mind continues to live in the equally illusory world, I am never affected in any way or under any circumstances.  “Bliss” and “peace” are my very nature.  OM.

Read Series Introduction

The Difference Between the ‘Enlightened’ & ‘Unenlightend’

THE QUESTION

Shelly:  I’ve been studying Vedanta for over a year.  My mind is more peaceful but I feel like there is more to be done.  I can intellectually understand that I am the self but am not living the truth that I am awareness.  What’s next? 

THE ANSWER

Vishnudeva:  “She who considers herself free is free indeed and she who considers herself bound remains bound. ‘As one thinks so one becomes,’ is a popular saying in this world and it is quite true.” -Astavakra Samhita 1:11

The only difference between a so-called ‘unenlightened’ person and an ‘enlightened’ person is that the ‘enlightened’ person not only knows they are the self but completely accepts it.  They take the self to be their primary identity and let the implications of that identity start changing the way they think, meaning they let the knowledge, “I am always just fine no matter what” start reducing the frequency and severity of their emotional disturbances. 

So the next step for you is to keep dwelling on the teaching with the aim of recognizing that there is no gap between what you know and who you are.  If you know the self is free, then you should know that you are free.  Fully own that knowledge and start living accordingly.  That is “living the truth” because you are living in harmony with how things really are.  If at first it feels strange to live your life from the vantage point of self-knowledge, don’t be concerned.  After all, it is a perspective that is radically different from the one you’ve had your whole life.  But keep practicing.  Over time your confidence will grow and your peace of mind will increase.* “As one thinks, so one becomes.”  People try to make self-knowledge too complicated when it really is as simple as that.      

That being said, I’d like to make one more point.  Having a peaceful mind is an excellent thing but peace of mind is only the secondary objective of Vedanta.  How so?  Because the primary point of Vedanta is to show very clearly that you are not the mind.  Why is not being the mind better than having a peaceful mind?  Because the mind can never be fully controlled, which means that even if it’s primarily peaceful, there will be times when it is angry, agitated, sad etc.  So when the mind is less than peaceful, having the knowledge, “I am not the mind” let’s you know that regardless of the condition of the mind, you are still okay.  And that is real peace of mind.     

All my best – Vishnudeva

*A note to others: I highly recommend that people practice living from the perspective of the self—meaning taking the self to be their primary identity—even when they don’t yet fully understand how they can be the self.  This may seem disingenuous but it isn’t.  Why?  Because regardless of whether you understand that you are the self or not, it’s still true.  Owing to that fact, “faking it until you make it” is a productive practice on the path to knowledge because self-knowledge is a matter of identity.  Therefore practicing taking the standpoint of your true identity is very helpful as you do your inquiry.  And when inquiry yields doubt-free self-knowledge, you’ve already laid the groundwork for improved peace of mind because you’ve already practiced viewing yourself as the limitless, eternal reality that you are. 

How do you do this?  Every time you come across a statement about the self, put it in first person.  For instance, if you read, “The self is existence-consciousness-bliss” say to yourself, “I am existence-consciousness-bliss.”  This breaks down the idea that the self is something somewhere ‘out there’ that you need to attain and makes it clear that it is none other than who you are.   

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Vedanta Is Not The Answer

S: My goal is to reach a continuous peace of mind. I think that knowing and controlling my mind/thoughts is the key to reach it. Self-mastery!

V: That’s a good goal, assuming continuous peace of mind is even possible. Since the mind changes constantly how could you keep it one way alone? You might try to slow down or temporarily stop the changes in the mind by using techniques to control it but the changes themselves are often caused or influenced by a factor you can’t control at all: the external world. Since you can’t predict what the world is going to do you never know how your mind is going to react to it. It’s true that you can—and should—work on lessening your reactions to external situations. But the hitch is that your reactions to external situations are often dictated by the subconscious and unconscious mind, two things you can barely access, let alone control.

Because of the external world and the subconscious/unconscious you can never be sure what your mind will do next, regardless of how much you try to keep it in check. That’s why you can make the mind more peaceful but it’s impossible to make it continuously peaceful. There’s no harm in trying but it’s very frustrating when it doesn’t work. And ironically, that frustration further robs you of peace of mind.

That’s why Vedanta is different than science, psychology and other kinds of spirituality. While those things treat you as if you are the mind, Vedanta says that you aren’t the mind. Therefore Vedanta asks, “How can mastering the mind be self-mastery if the mind isn’t the self”?
This a radical difference, and if understood, the benefit is that you can work on your mind with total objectivity, never taking the condition of the mind personally. When the mind is angry you don’t think “I’m angry” and then get even more emotionally disturbed thinking, “I shouldn’t be angry!”
The mind is something that ‘belongs’ to you. It’s merely an instrument, the same as your car. The difference is—despite the fact that both the mind and the car are objects known to you—that you don’t identify with your car. When your car is running poorly you don’t take it personally saying, “Oh no, my fuel injectors are malfunctioning! I feel terrible about myself because they shouldn’t be doing that!” This doesn’t happen because you know clearly that the car isn’t you. So you’re able to look at the situation objectively, free from emotional disturbance or guilt, and deal with it. You get to work on the car. If the car can be fixed you don’t say, “Hurray, I fixed myself!” Nor if the car can’t be fixed do you say, “Woe is me, I’m broken!”

Do you understand the value of what Vedanta is offering here? It’s saying that if you want to work on the mind, great, but working on the mind is much easier and more effective when you do it objectively, with the clear understand that you aren’t the mind. Furthermore, when you understand that you aren’t the mind, the mind’s problems become a lot less important because you know they don’t belong to you or affect you, the same as the problems of your car.

S: I’m struggling to figure out how my mind works through Adavaita Vedanta.

V: I want to save you the trouble of struggling by saying that Advaita Vedanta won’t help you figure out how your mind works. It doesn’t even really try. Its goals are to 1) Show you that the mind isn’t real and 2) Show you that you aren’t the mind. That’s it.
If you’re trying to understand how your mind works, psychology is the way to go. If you want to go the ‘spiritual’ route, then yoga and meditation is the way. Meditation has taught me A LOT about my mind. It’s an excellent practice. But to be clear, Vedanta is not the answer.

It’s true that Vedanta is sometimes presented as a means to self-mastery but that comes from teachers co-mingling yoga/meditation with Vedanta. Vedanta isn’t against yoga/meditation in any way—in fact it encourages it as a preliminary step—but their goals are totally different. Yoga/meditation is for manipulating the mind, Vedanta is for transcending the mind altogether. And by “transcend” I mean the full understanding, “I am not the mind nor does it affect me.”

S: I’m continuously looking for practical tools to improve my being.

V: That’s why it’s so helpful to know that your true being, pure consciousness-existence, can’t be improved. It’s perfect, which means YOU’RE perfect. Knowing that, you can take the condition of the mind in stride and work on it much more objectively and effectively, always understanding that has nothing to do with you.

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      

HAVE QUESTIONS? Contact me.

 

Vedanta, Buddhism, Criticism

THE QUESTION

M: I’m studying Vedanta and I’m also a practicing Buddhist.  I feel like the Buddhist teaching of compassion really helps me.  Is this a problem?  The reason I ask is because Vedantins are usually very critical of Buddhism.  It seems to me that the Buddhist teaching is the same as Vedanta.

THE ANSWER

M:  I’m studying Vedanta and I’m also a practicing Buddhist.  I feel like the Buddhist teaching of compassion really helps me.  Is this a problem?

V:  The shortest answer is: it’s only a problem if it’s a problem.  If it helps you to practice Buddhism along with your Vedantic studies, then go for it.  If, over time, you feel like the two start to conflict then re-examine the situation.  If not, then don’t worry about it.  As my friend Paul says (incessantly), “It’s about peace of mind”.  In other words, if there’s no problem, there’s no need to create one.

You can honestly leave it at that.  I’m going to add some further remarks just because it’s a topic that interests me.

M: The reason I ask is because Vedantins are usually very critical of Buddhism.  

V:  Yeah, that’s true.  There’s a strong current of criticism directed at Buddhism by the teachers and commentators of Vedanta.  This is evident in the writings of Shankara, Vedanta’s most revered teacher.  Maybe that’s why (some) modern teachers of Vedanta do the same thing.  Monkey see, monkey do, as the saying goes.

In fairness, in Shankara’s time and well beyond, it was the norm for different Indian religious and philosophical traditions to be critical of each other.  The antagonism between Vedanta and Buddhism was actually mutual, with teachers from both sides writing criticisms and counter-criticisms against each other for centuries.  So criticism isn’t limited to Vedanta alone.

Criticism in and of itself isn’t necessarily wrong if it’s done with the genuine intention of helping a student.  Say there’s a spiritual seeker looking for answers.  She hears one thing from Teacher A and another thing from Teacher B that contradict each other.  A doubt arises.  To resolve the doubt both viewpoints need to be evaluated. On the one hand, the teachers can offer positive support for their own viewpoint.  On the other, they may also need to point out the flaws of the opposing viewpoint.  In this case criticism can be a helpful teaching tool.

But I suspect that a lot of the time, criticism aimed at other viewpoints is simply done for the very base reason of establishing the superiority of one’s own viewpoint, school, tradition or position.  In that case it’s worthless and petty.  If a teacher offers a criticism of an opposing viewpoint in order to help a student, then good.  If a teacher goes out of their way to attack an opposing viewpoint for any other reason, not so good.

M:  It seems to me that the Buddhist teaching is the same as Vedanta. 

V:  The only way someone could verify that statement is if they studied both Vedanta and Buddhism deeply, practiced them both diligently for a very long time and then realized the respective truths of each teaching for themselves.  Only in that case could it be determined if Vedanta and Buddhism are the same. To my knowledge, no one has ever done that.

This exposes the inherent problem of criticism.  How can someone accurately criticize a teaching if they don’t truly understand it?  At best they’re merely criticizing their own understanding of that teaching.  If their understanding of that teaching is limited, or outright incorrect, then their criticism with have the same defects.  I can attest to that fact by saying that many of the criticisms aimed at Vedanta are invalid simply because they are based on the critic’s inaccurate understanding of Vedanta.  In other words, most critics are criticizing what they think Vedanta says rather than what it actually says.  If I’m being objective, then I have to admit that this can go the other way too.  Perhaps Vedanta’s criticisms of Buddhism are based on what Vedantins think Buddhism says, rather than what it actually says.

Chandradhar Sharma, in his book “Indian Philosophy:  A Critical Survey” points this out beautifully.  Sharma, whose personal viewpoint is obviously a Vedantic one, remains sympathetic to Buddhism.  He makes a very good case for the fact that Shankara didn’t fully understand Buddhism or that he misunderstood parts of it entirely.  Therefore, because Shankara’s understanding was incomplete or inaccurate, by extension some of his criticisms were incomplete or inaccurate.  I have a lot of respect for Shankara and it’s obvious in the book that Sharma does too.  But I find Sharma’s viewpoint to be completely reasonable and feasible.

Where does that leave us on the topic of criticism?  As I said, I think criticism has value in the case of removing a student’s doubt because in that situation the doubt is the student’s own subjective understanding.  It doesn’t necessarily correspond to an objective teaching outside of the student, so the doubt can be legitimately criticized.  The teaching that the doubt supposedly comes from can be left aside and the student’s problem can be dealt with directly, using whatever reasoning or logic a particular teacher employs.  Anything beyond that is useless because in the end it doesn’t matter if Vedanta is right and Buddhism is wrong or vice versa.  It isn’t anyone’s job to establish the superiority of one over the other.  The point is to remove suffering and gain peace of mind.  If a particular teaching does that for you, then how could anyone criticize that?  Why would anyone criticize that?  Unless of course it’s their business to rob people of peace of mind.

To put it in the vernacular, “Just do you, forget about the haters.”

P.S. – Full disclosure, when I was younger this was not my viewpoint.  Growing up Christian, I thought that Christianity was right and everything else was wrong.  I later carried that attitude forward into Vedanta.  But pain is a great teacher and even someone like me can eventually mature and learn.  I finally saw that my attitude was causing conflict and this conflict hurt me and others as well.  It robbed me and them of peace of mind which was completely counter to the purpose of Vedanta.  So I gave that immature, unhelpful attitude up.  Or at least I’m trying reeeealllly hard to 🙂

P.P.S – Be wary when someone starts a criticism of other viewpoints with this very common statement:  “Well, I’m no expert on (fill in the blank).  But this is what (fill in the blank) is saying and why it’s wrong.”  If someone isn’t an expert on a particular subject—and in the case of spirituality, a longtime practitioner—then they have no business criticizing it.

P.P.P.S. – If the “Vedanta Police” come knocking, looking to pick a fight about my slightly unorthodox view, know that I will not answer the door.  Don’t waste your breath.  This is my opinion, take it or leave it.

-Vishnudeva

HAVE QUESTIONS? Contact me HERE.