Neo-vedantic Advice versus Vedic Advice

The following is a Vedic advisor’s comments on a neo-Vedantist Guru’s advice to one of his students.  The Vedic advisor’s comments appear after each paragraph of the Guru’s letter to his student.

Neo-Vedantic student:

Dear Guruji!

Our communication is so light I am drowning in the light so I want to meet you in person.   The understanding (that I am the Self) is quite clear for me.   Because one is what one is, IT can’t be an experience.  I think that knowing who I am is too easy.  I think it cannot be so easy.  It must be a felt experience.   Somehow I am missing the full conviction that every thought and feeling unfolding in consciousness is just the mind.   I somehow think they belong to me, the one who believes in thoughts and feelings.  It feels to me that if the full conviction were there I would not indulge my thoughts any more. 

Guru:  That’s right.  So why isn’t the conviction there?  Perhaps the problem is that the believer in the thoughts and feelings has not realized that the pursuit of certain experiences and/or the cultivation of certain thoughts and feelings will not bring lasting happiness. 

Guru (continuing): I would say that he needs to come to a point where it is completely clear that there is nothing anywhere, inwardly or outwardly, that can either add or subtract happiness from him.

Vedic Advisor: The living self (Jivatman) needs to realize that its real self (Atman) is always whole, always complete.  This realization takes place in the mind.

Guru (continuing): In Vedanta this is called viragya, dispassion and is based on viveka, discrimination.  Such a person has lived enough life to know that whatever experience brings is limited and will therefore not set one free. 

Vedic Advisor: One realizes that ones images (ideas in the mind) are essenceless.  The process of realization is a process of discerning what is real from what is imaginary, and this discerning process is called Viveka (discrimination).  When the realization is made (when the discrimination is complete), viragya (dispassion) ensues.

Guru (continuing): So this type of person stops chasing experience in any form…including the so-called spiritual experiences.  Even if you have a powerful spiritual experience, it always fades, leaving you feeling limited and incomplete once more. 

Vedic Advisor: This feeling of incompleteness is a mental feeling; it is NOT the ‘feeling’ or bhavana of the Self.  What you refer to as a ‘powerful spiritual experience’ is simply the impression (samskara) and associated memory of the experience recorded in the CHIT (mind-stuff). In fact, we ARE the experience (the Self), and the reflection of what we are takes place in the mind.  Naturally, the reflection will fade, but the ‘experience of Eternity’ (which is the Self) is eternal and unbroken (indivisible). In other words, the ‘experience of Eternity’ would not be the experience of Eternity if the experience were not eternal.

When it is said that “I had the experience of Eternity,” it simply refers to the impression of the experience in the mind.

Guru (continuing): In Vivekachoodamani and elsewhere Shankara says that viragya is one of the most important qualifications of enlightenment.  It means you do not care one way or the other what experience brings.  You are happy when you feel good and you are happy when you feel bad.  It does not matter what you feel because feelings always change on their own.  You are not in control of them.

Vedic Advisor: It is true that during the higher stage of spiritual development, when one has surrendered to the Cosmic Forces, one is “not in control of them,” that is, one is unaffected by the favorable and unfavorable waves of the mind.  

Guru (continuing): To accept the impersonality of the mind is a great blessing because it sets you free and allows you to change your relationship to the mind, not the mind itself. 

Vedic Advisor: Actually, you ARE changing the mind itself. You are doing so by removing ignorance and ego from the mind. When the mind is clear, the mind’s relationship with the past, present, and future is altered.

Guru (continuing): When you have shifted from someone who is dissatisfied with the mind and who wants to change it to a whole hearted acceptance of the mind as it is, you feel confident to deal with the experiences it generates and your reactions to them. 

Vedic Advisor: The ‘shift’ takes place in the focal length of our perception.  The ‘focal length’ is determined by what ‘we have in mind.’ If the mind is filled with the wisdom of consciousness, our perception is vast and we understand things in the context of Eternity and not from the point of view of our small self.  In other words, we perceive our mind/body/ego self as an infinitesimal speck in the Ocean of Consciousness, even as we perceive the little Earth planet as a minute speck in the Universe.

We do not “accept the mind as it is,” but rather, we make the mind a Sage, a Rishi, by shaping (reforming) it with divine wisdom.

You say “you feel confident to deal with the experiences it generates and your reactions to them.”  Who is ‘dealing’ with the experiences? By whose authority are the mind’s experiences generated? Who reacts to these experiences?

We (the living self) train the mind to deal with the experiences that are generated by our own inherent power (prana) in conjunction with the power of the Universe (infused into it by the Supreme Self). It is the living self (Jivatman) that either reacts or responds to the impulses and experiences of its own mind.

Guru (continuing): It [the mind] is no longer an enemy. You don’t move toward anything, nor do you run away from anything.  

Vedic Advisor: Very true. The mind that is made into a Sage is the best friend of the living self. The mind that is stabilized with wisdom is no longer caught up in duality. There is nowhere to go and nowhere to hide.

Guru (continuing): I think the absence of this feeling of confidence is what you mean when you suggest that the ‘full conviction’ is not there.  If this is so, then on the other side of the mind there is a belief that something might happen in this world that would make you supremely happy or set you free.  So you keep hoping, paying attention to what’s happening in your life looking for the magic to appear.

Vedic Advisor: Indeed, these feelings, beliefs, and longings reside in the mind only, and are evidence of the fact that the mind is still not fully purified with the wisdom of Consciousness.

The “feeling of confidence” that you refer to is a mental feeling only, and is not the feeling of the Self. You have rightly indicated this in your second sentence with “on the other side of the mind…”  So, on one side of the mind we have the feeling of confidence or the lack thereof, and on the other side of the mind we have the ‘belief in’ and ‘hoping for’ some kind of magic that will make us truly enlightened.  However, you have rightly indicated (elsewhere) that only Wisdom will remove ignorance (from the mind) and reveal the Eternal Truth (to the mind).  

Guru (continuing): When dispassion happens understanding is possible.  But until it is there, the unfulfilled part of you will not be able to accept the fact that you are whole and complete. 

Vedic Advisor: Understanding precedes dispassion. When understanding is clear and focused, dispassion arises naturally. When the dispassion is constant the ‘knowing’ that one is whole and complete is not interrupted by anything.

Guru (continuing): Vedanta is not saying that you will ‘become’ whole and complete.  It says that you are whole and complete already, even when you think you aren’t, and that all is required is to remove the belief that you are limited and incomplete. 

Vedic Advisor: We are always whole and complete as ATMAN, pure consciousness devoid of all the adjuncts of ego, intellect, mind, senses and body.  However, as the embodied soul (Jivatman), we are only whole when our mind is completely purified.  To purify the mind, wisdom is required, which, when followed up with practical application (daily living) creates confidence in one’s soul (atam vishwas), cultivates dispassion (viragya), and dispels one’s superstitions and false beliefs (mithya gyaan).

Guru (continuing): This is why it often says in the scriptures that enlightenment is very easy.   But it also says that it is very difficult…if you have not developed this dispassion.  

Let’s look at it another way on a more subtle level.  You say “I would not indulge anymore in any thoughts.”  Why?  What power do the thoughts have to compromise your happiness?  The thoughts don’t think you.  You are the thinker of the thoughts.  So they depend on you, not you on them.  Therefore you are free of them.  

Vedic Advisor: Certainly the thoughts have no power to compromise our happiness, because our real happiness is beyond the mind. The enlightened Self is NOT the thinker of the thoughts. The ‘thinker of the thoughts’ and the ‘thoughts’ are one and same mind. Mind is simply the conglomeration of thoughts. The thinker and the thought are mutually dependent.  The Self is independent of the mind.  That independence is only manifested in the mind that is free of images.  In other words, the freedom of the Self is manifested in the purified mind. The mind filled with pure thoughts is the mind that has become a Sage.

Guru (continuing): If you feel that you need to be free of the thoughts before you will be happy, I think the only way you are going to attain that state is to physically die. 

Vedic Advisor: As you know, we (the Self) are always free of thoughts and we are beyond the duality of happiness and sadness. The mind, however, is not free of thoughts since in essence, the mind IS the power of thought. When the ‘power of thought’ is restrained the mind is said to be under control of the Self, and this is called YOGA.  When the mind is under the influence of ego it is outward bound, which means it is in bondage of duality, chasing after the things of the world which it enjoys, and running away or hiding from those things it fears or hates. This ego MUST die (in the mind) before the mind is completely restrained.

Guru (continuing): I’ve met more than one hundred enlightened people in my life and I never met one who didn’t think.  The Self, the I, is the watcher of the thoughts. 

Vedic Advisor: The watcher of the thoughts is the ego (more accurately, the living self, Jivatman, in the form of ego, i.e., expressing ego).  The Self is the Witness but not the watcher.  The Self sees but does not look.  The Self hears (the noises of the mind) but does not listen. 

Guru (continuing): You cannot be what you see, at least on the relative plane.  So there is a built in gap between you and the thoughts.  You can journey across it from your side and identify with the thought if you wish, but no thought ever made the journey across the gap to visit you. 

Vedic Advisor: This is noted or spoken of the ego only, and not the Self.

Guru (continuing): If you inquire in this way you will see that you are already free.

Vedic Advisor: If you inquire in this way (only) you will become skilled in accommodating your ego, but you will definitely not realize the freedom of the Self. To realize the freedom of the Self the mind must be controlled, and for the mind to be fully controlled the ego must be removed.

Guru (continuing): Finally, let’s look at the idea of enlightenment as ‘a felt experience.’  The reason it needn’t be ‘a felt experience is that you already have all the Self experience you need.  If this is a non-dual universe made up of nothing but Consciousness…you…then everything you are experiencing every minute is the Self: the food you eat, the air, your wife and kids, the thoughts and feelings in your mind…literally every thing and the experience of everything. 

Vedic Advisor: Reality is certainly non-dual, which only means there is but one Reality.  The nature of that Reality is that we (the innumerable souls) are eternal, the Supreme Self is eternal, and Prakriti (the unconscious primordial substance) is eternal. The interplay of these three noumenon is manifested as the Universe, inhabited by countless conscious, embodied entities (Jivatmans), and presided over and pervaded by a supreme power and intelligence which we call GOD (the living souls’ conception of the Supreme Self).

Guru (continuing): Perhaps you believe that enlightenment puts you in some special ‘state’ where you no longer see the world around and have to deal with it?  But if you are enlightened you would continue to experience the same things you are experiencing now.  You have to feed the dog, love your wife and kids and pay the bills. 

Vedic Advisor: This is certainly true.

Guru (continuing): But…and this is the important part…because you know that it is all you, you are not dissatisfied with it. 

Vedic Advisor: It is NOT all you. This is the error of neo-vedanta and neo-advaita, which do not recognize or acknowledge the distinction between the eternal Self and the eternal Prakriti, and between the Self and the Supreme Self.

The truth is that enlightened souls do perceive Consciousness everywhere pervading everything, but this does NOT negate the existence of ‘everything.’ Consciousness cannot pervade that which does not exist. That which exists (Prakriti) always exists, which is why we can assert that Consciousness (which is Eternal) eternally pervades it (Prakriti). The Universe is a cyclic occurrence (appearance).

Student to Guru:  I need help in this area.  I feel ashamed to show some "missing links" when on the other side everything is so clear.

Guru:  Well, it is to your credit that you can discuss your ‘missing links.’  How are they going to get resolved unless you can see them differently…from the Self’s perspective?  You are the Self.  This is a fact.  But the mind does not seem to want to be it.  So the understanding that lies behind the mind has to be changed.   One’s ideas that are not in harmony with the truth of oneself need to be changed.

Vedic Advisor: Ideas are images and “changing one’s ideas” simply means changing one images and replacing them with other images (like neo-vedanta and neo-advaita images).  The ego does not want to drop these images (ideas) because these images are the crutches which support it.  We don’t need to change our self-image.  We need to drop it, and this only happens when one is blessed to come in contact with a Satguru.

Guru (continuing): The ideas that are simply incorrect need to be dropped.  It is only the incorrect notions one has about oneself and the world that create dissatisfaction with what is.   The guru is just someone who helps you get your thinking straight.   He or she is the Self and knows it, so his or her mind ‘thinks from the Self.”   By communicating with such a person you learn how to think about yourself correctly. 

Vedic Advisor: I agree with much of this, except the last sentence, because simply learning “how to think about yourself correctly” is not enough.  It MUST be followed up with a change in your life, your habits, your actions and interactions with others, and how you face and work through the challenges of human existence.

Guru (continuing): You learn to identify erroneous beliefs and opinions and, most importantly you learn that you can live happily without them.  You see in front of you someone who thinks clearly and hangs on to nothing.  So you get confidence, the full conviction, that you can also do this. 

Vedic Advisor: Again, there is too much emphasis here on the cerebral aspect and not attention given to practical application.

Guru (continuing): It is generally more difficult the longer one has been in the spiritual world because one picks up a lot of ‘spiritual’ ideas that seem to be much more useful than the worldly ideas.  So the person develops a kind of ‘spiritual’ identity.  But this identity is just an overlay, another ‘better’ ego on top of the existing ego.  The Buddha’s Diamond Sutra was addressed to monks who had been on the path for a long time and who had picked up a lot of erroneous notions.   The ‘diamond’ was the teachings meant to cut through these spiritual myths.

Vedic Advisor: The disciple IS THE DIAMOND, and the Guru is the jeweler.  The student must cut through the Ignorance of the mind by learning and applying the precepts of the preceptor.  The precepts of Wisdom are the prescription (the antidote) which will nullify the disease of Ignorance, but only if the prescription is ingested and digested. If the student is in his ego, he will not ingest the prescription. If he does not put the wisdom into practice, the wisdom will not be digested (assimilated).

Guru (continuing): To examine one’s erroneous notions takes an open mind…which you seem to have.  Many years ago I had an ashram in San Francisco and there was a young boy who was eight at the time who used to come in for the chants and the meditations and who listened to my talks very carefully.  He was a very nice kid, very bright and innocent as boys and girls of that age can be.  And one day, it was a Saturday afternoon, I was sitting in the back yard reading the paper and he came over (he lived next door) and sat down.  So I asked him what was happening and he said, “Now tell about this Self.  I want to know what it is.”  And so I spoke for about five minutes and he woke up.   The reason he got it…and he still had it fifteen years later when I last saw him…was because he was the Self and he didn’t have any idea that he wasn’t the Self…unlike most adults who have built up this false identity over many years and who don’t feel comfortable without it.  It made perfect sense to him because my words directed his mind to something that was right there…something had always been there in his experience and something that would always be there.  So he didn’t forget.

Vedic Advisor: This is a beautiful story, but probably fiction. Anyway, the lesson is a good one: if we begin without any preconceived notions (images) it is easy to be our Self. When we imagine that we are something that we are not, it becomes our habit to hold on to ideas that uphold our self-image. We become an imaginary, mythical being (person) imprisoned in our mind that has become a cage of images.  When someone opens up the door of our mind (by breaking our images with Wisdom), we want to stay in our head and keep singing the tune of ego (‘me,’ ‘my,’ ‘mine’).  It is only when this ego is removed from the mind that we go beyond our mind and realize the vastness of Consciousness.      

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