Question and Answers – Vedanta (Part 1)
Well, have you ever thought, that why is it, you cannot see our own face! In order to see our own face, we need to have a mirror. Just imagine, without a mirror, or without any of the polished surface, we cannot see our own face. Even with a mirror, what we see is only a reflection. It is not our face? It is only an image. Think, it is only a copy, a double. It is not our face. ‘Vedanta’, when we use for ‘self-inquiry’~ to know us, realize ‘who am I’ like a mirror, becomes that mirror, which allows us to see our real face. With the power and the wisdom of Vedanta, we come to know who we truly are. We become aware of our ‘Atman’ ~ realise our see our face and come to know, “Who am I”?In my attempt to take you all across through the essence of Vedanta, I am being directed and guided to refer to great statements and contents, from the ancient texts and the references of which were made by great Spiritual Masters of the ancient as well as of the current time. As well as by the Masters and Sages, who ruled the world of ‘Spirituality’ of a time, at least 5000 years from now. The reflections through me are guided and none of the quotes are from me. Some realizations are and majority are from our ancient Sage Shankaracharya ~ about 1500 years ago from this day. The meanings of which have been brought to us of current time, by the teachings of Swami Vivekananda and other Masters. To start with I am quoting a narration made by Swami Sarvapriyananda at The Harvard, Divinity School, USA, a few months ago and I find it to be very appropriate for all those who have taken up their journey ~ on the paths of understanding the wisdom of ‘Vedanta’. Swami Sarvapriyananda says, I quote “Friends, I read somewhere that the famous physicist Niels Bohr, had said that if you are not shocked by quantum mechanics, you have not understood quantum mechanics. An acquaintance and friend of mine, Ankur Barua, who teaches Indian philosophy at Cambridge university, the other Cambridge across the pond. He begins his Advaita Vedanta class, his handout begins with ‘if you are not shocked by Advaita Vedanta, you have not understood it. I’m going to speak about a school of Vedanta. I’m going to speak about another school of Advaita Vedanta, the non-dual Vedanta.”
Swami Sarvapriyananda was introduced to Harvard Divinity School, in this talk by, Francis Xavier Clooney, a member of the faculty, at Harvard, Francis Xavier was introducing Swami to address the audience, to the topic, “Vedanta in The 21st Century”. Have you reflected dear Devotees of Babaji, realised to bring in the importance of Vedanta, in our heart, in our consciousness, that it is being taught and intensely discussed about in Harvard, USA? We, the Indians, whereas, know so little about and most of us, do not wish to, either. In fact, the Vedanta classes are, for many, a very nice doze for ‘sleep’, isn’t it?
Listen to an American Scholar, a professor of Harvard, Francis Xavier’s voice , “In some ways, it’s perhaps symptomatic of the very challenge of our topic tonight that we talk about Vedanta in the 21st century, not Vedanta in the first century, the 10th century, the 19th century, but the 21st century, not as we wish it would be, but as it is. A world in which there are many dangers, many confusions, people moving around, violence, ecological degradation, all kinds of problems around us and this coronavirus perhaps is a symptom, a symbol for us of how frail and fragile our life is. And I think to be able to say given the problems of our generation, in the world in which we live, how important it is to be able to go back and to learn from the great traditions to which we belong. And how appropriate it is now to be able to say Vedanta, such an ancient tradition, such a beautiful tradition, rooted in the Upanishads, rooted in the Veda, rooted in texts like the Bhagavad-Gita, Panchadashi and thousands of years of lineages of teachers teaching us how to put our life in balance; how to seek the path; how to travel the path of learning and of Education. How to teach and to be students of generations to come, passing on the wisdom, and how to envision societies that have the wonderful mix of detachment and engagement in the world”.
Now, what is it that’s so unique and strange and remarkable and even shocking about Advaita Vedanta? ~ Shravanam ~ Mananam ~ Nidhidhasanam. These are the essence of Advaita Vedanta. It is spoken over thousands of years, that if you have been connected to Vedanta, you must have done great amount of ‘Punya’ in your past lives, which is coming back to us as the awareness of Vedanta.
In “YOGA” ~ if the world is distracting you, you are asked to get away from the world. Go to uninhabited places, mountain caves, stay away from people and be silent ~ be meditative. If your mind is filled with disturbing thoughts, filled with junk, with hatred, jealousy, greed ~ you are asked in Yoga ~ to empty your mind and make it blank ~ vacuum. In Yoga, you are asked to switch off the TV, if the TV is disturbing you? Come to think of it, it is in the television alone you are watching King Kong destroying The Empire State Building ~ but no one is frightened? In fact, you might go ahead and award an ‘Oscar’? Why because you know that it is not true? It is only on the screen. In Vedanta, you are asked to be ‘the witness’, despite being in terror, you are, yet, enjoying the terror.
What I have to do now, is to run through some of the basics of Vedanta and why and how do we merge Kriya yoga. But that would come along a little later! In your earnest, your questions are about the entire journey, which we have undertaken so far. However, it is going to be of great help for all, to others too having it in print ~provided of course, some one is ready to read through? Be that as it may, it has taken me some time to place it in writing and please forgive me for the gap in time taken. I shall first discuss a bit of the question, which came to you as question number Five (5)?
Q 5 >>> Can we interpret Vedanta without attaining Brahman state?
To understand the essence of Vedanta, just like a Zip file, we have to unpack the questions and the understandings. Firstly, while unpacking, I find there are several questions placed together, even though, the appearances are of only two questions?
Each one, is conflicting with the core and of the essence of ‘Vedanta’ and also couples with the understandings of Vedanta. These questions, Rajeev, which you have asked are very genuine, nice questions indeed, and yet bordering ‘divergences’, engagements and create clashes of uncertainty, in your own mind, because, we need to get back to the fundamentals. It is certainly better to ask those and clarify the doubts, at this point itself, instead of allowing it to linger in the mind.
What Shankaracharya means by Raja yoga here is Advaita Vedanta~ the path of knowledge~ Gyana yoga. Now another term, again easily misunderstood~ hatha yoga. What Shankaracharya here means is~ do you recall when we studied the fifteen steps of Vedantic meditation? Do you recall he used yogic terms? Asana which literally means sitting. But of course for Shankaracharya all of them meant Brahman. Breathing~ pranayama which means breath control. Fifteen terms he used. All of them, taken from yoga. Those are taken mostly from Patanjali yoga and from other disciplines associated with yoga. The lower form of yoga~ the more physical form~ that is what he’s calling hatha yoga and if you look at the way he taught at that time it seemed he was sort of playing down hatha yoga. Do you remember when he says breathing~ hatha yoga consists of pranayama. Breathing in- holding the breath- letting go of the breath. Shankaracharya defined it as letting go of the breath and focus on the fact that this world is an appearance. When you breathe in, focus on the fact that I am Brahman. That is real pranayama. Now, does it mean that he is denigrating the practices of what he calls hatha yoga, Patanjali yoga and the other physical yogas? No, he’s not denigrating it. He is saying ultimately you must come here for knowledge, for realization, for enlightenment. But then what about those? Are they useless? He says absolutely not! He says for those whose minds are partially purified, the impurities~ lust and greed and anger and pride and jealousy. Those which have not been completely eliminated from the mind. Those who have not yet got the four-fold qualifications of Vedanta. For them those practices are absolutely necessary. So, here, at the end of the book he reconciles with the lower yoga which he calls hatha yoga. In fact, I would say practically speaking, we need a good dose of that. Before being steady in Brahman, one must first sit steadily. People are so restless. Sit steadily. Before being the silence of Brahman, first practice physical silence. Talking too much.
I remember one Swami, a very senior Swami, very dynamic one. He has led many big Ashrams as a good administrator. Done a lot of work. He says for ordinary seekers like us, we need the external struggle. Advanced Yogis can deal with the problems of the mind. At the level of the mind~ anger, resentment, greed, restlessness, lust~ all of them, when they come up and advanced yogi can see it in the seed form and nip it in the bud. If we try to do that, what happens is that we just sit quietly. How do we deal with it? We require an external challenge. Best challenge is dealing with difficult people. To keep your mind cool in difficult circumstances, dealing with difficult people, with health problems, financial problems, working under pressure, standing up to ethical challenges, all of the challenges that one faces in day-to-day life. They are very useful for spiritual development. Part of that is the hatha yoga practices which are external but really useful.
What is the nature of the realization? ~ I am the absolute ~ that is the nature. Now this realization is of a direct, intuitive nature. It’s not something that you just read in the text and hear it and file it away as nice information. Not even getting a general idea, a good understanding, a grasp of what has been said. What do I mean by intuitive realization?
You remember the story I sometimes tell of the 10 friends who cross the river and then they thought that one of them had drowned, they counted, they found only nine and the wise person pointed out that you are not counting yourself. The moment he realized ~ one-two-three-four -five-six-seven-eight-nine and I am the tenth. Now think of that person’s mind, he was looking for the tenth, because of his error, he couldn’t find the tenth. The moment he finds the tenth it’s not information, it’s a whole paradigm shift in the mind of the person. Imagine making a mistake about a rope and thinking it’s a snake. The moment you see it’s a rope not a snake~ upshift. It’s not quite somebody coming and telling you it’s a rope not a snake and you think all right that’s interesting information. No, when you actually see! Like the veils fall a fall away, the scales drop from your eyes there is a shift, a paradigm shift. Like your world is turned upside down, when you realize that. So that is Aparokshanubhuti. This understanding deepens into that.
The Sanskrit term also is interesting. One term is Pratyaksha~ that which is available to your senses. So what you are seeing now is Pratyaksha~ sense knowledge. What you’re hearing is sense knowledge. Literally the word means that which is presented to your eyes. But not just the eyes. Eyes, ears, nose, touch, taste ~ that which is directly revealed to our senses~ that is Pratyaksha. Now we also know lots of things beyond the senses. We know it by studying, we know it from science, we gather data and we understand many things about the cosmos of the world, of the very large galaxies, of the extremely tiny microbes and even protons and neutrons, and so on. So all of that we don’t see but we know through knowledge, we gain it through study, through science and if you have another kind of knowledge based on faith, religious knowledge that there is God, heaven. All of those beliefs. So all of that is called Paroksha. Paroksha means beyond senses. Right now you cannot see it, so beyond our senses there is a world of knowledge that also is knowledge.
But why are we saying that? To distinguish those two~ Pratyaksha and Paroksha ~ sense knowledge and beyond senses from Aparokshanubhuti. This is not sense knowledge that I am Brahman. You cannot see it or hear it or smell it or touch it. It’s also not book knowledge. That I read about it so I am Brahman. People keep asking. There’s a chance of making a mistake that this Jyanayoga is intellectual knowledge. Intellectual knowledge is important in this. But that’s not what we are talking about. When you say that the tenth person is there, that’s intellectual knowledge. When that person realizes~ oh I am the tenth one~ that shift which takes place in the mind, that is Aparokshanubhuti~ direct knowledge. It’s revealed to you, so that is what is meant by Aparokshanubhuti. That is what we are aiming at. We must come to the direct, unmistakable, unshakeable realization I am Brahman.
The discussion of the four-fold qualifications of a vedantic student. Do you remember? Viveka? What is Viveka? The discrimination between the real and the unreal. The eternal and the temporary. Then second~ Vairagya- dispassion. That which I know to be temporary, fleeting, transient. I have dispassion for that. That which I know to be eternal, Brahman, God~ whatever you call it. I want that, I want that realization~ that is Vairagya. Then the six-four disciplines. What are the disciplines? They are called shat-sampatti. The six-fold treasure. So what is the treasure for a seeker? Shama ~ quietude of mind, control of mind. Dama~ control of the senses. Then Uparati~ withdrawal from engagement. Too much external enjoyment. It’s kind of a moderation, stepping back. Then Samadana~ concentrating the mind which has been so withdrawn. Then Titiksha ~a spiritual fortitude, toughness. People often ask, why is it so difficult? I want to be a multi-millionaire. Nobody really asked. They know it’s difficult and they may also grumble once in a while but that didn’t stop them from putting forth all effort to be a multi-millionaire. So you have to want it badly. Titiksha is putting up with all sorts of troubles, worldly problems, physical problems, all sorts of problem, health problems all of them which will keep coming and going in the world but I shall pursue my spiritual seeking. Often spirituality is the first sacrifice. The first thing that you give up when you are under pressure and in trouble. It should be the other way around. The first thing you catch hold of is spirituality, when you are in trouble especially. Then Shraddha~ a working faith in the teachings of the texts and the teacher that what they are saying is right. I don’t get it yet but let me perceive, I’ll get it. Not blind faith, not a belief system but a working faith that what the teacher and the texts are saying are true.
And then the fourth of the four-fold qualification is Mumukshwatam ~ an intense desire to be free. One thing you remember about it ~ they are causally linked. One leads to the other. So Viveka leads to Vairagya, Vivek and Vairagya together lead to the strengthening of the six-fold treasure and when you have all of them, more and more, then the yearning for spiritual realization grows. So causality. If you find a deficiency in the effect, strengthen the cause. I don’t have dispassion for the world, what do I do? Don’t struggle with the world. Go back and strengthen Viveka. When you strengthen that, automatically dispassion for the transient will come. That’s how it works.
How will I get it? What is the method of Vedanta? The method is inquiry. Method is getting knowledge. How will you get knowledge? By enquiry. That enquiry~ the process of inquiry. How do you enquire? It will be taught. So the process of inquiry is called Vichara. Inquiry into what? Inquiry into the world. What is this world? Inquiry into the nature of God~ Ishwara. But most important of all, inquiry into self-~ Atma. Who am I? What am I? What is self and what is not self? So these three inquiries. All of them will lead to the central truth ~ realization, I am Brahman.
The two step process. First you must distinguish Atma from Anatama~ self from not-self. Why? Because the whole point is to know I am Brahman. Why can’t I know that directly? Because we already have a wrong idea about what the self is. That has to be resolved first, that has to be clarified first. What is the wrong idea? What is wrong in what I know? You have an idea about yourself which is at present, a mixture of Atma and anatman. At present what we think about ourselves before starting Vedanta, what we think about ourselves~ this guy, this person here, it’s not just a body, its mixture of Atma-anatma. All together, without giving it any thought, I say I, but what I refer to by ‘I’ is a mixture of Atma and Anatma. Ultimately you are going to say I am Brahman that I must be clarified, purified, the result of your enquiry~ the Atman itself. The Atman is Brahman. But this mixture, body-mind mixture is not Brahman ultimately. Ultimately you have to see the real Brahman is Atman. So you have to differentiate between Atman and Anatman. How do you differentiate? You cannot differentiate physically. It can be differentiated by understanding. By understanding what is Atma and Anatma? What I am and what I am NOT~ that is to be understood. So this is the first step in Advaita Vedanta.
But it’s not the end. This is the first step. Once you have got the result of this process, the result will be~ I am consciousness. I am the witness. I am the unchanging, immortal spirit, not body and mind. This will be the result. Now take this result. Step two will come. Now you have separated consciousness from matter and energy. Now, the second step has to come where everything that you have separated is again merged back into consciousness to be realized that everything is consciousness or everything is Brahman. Then only Advaita is complete~ I am Brahman. Otherwise, right now you think, you are a bundle of flesh and blood. This person, this thing, separated from everybody else. Even after completing the first step, you are still separated from everybody else. I am as the witness of everything else. That’s not Advaita and that’s not the end of the process. Sankhya philosophy stops there but Advaita goes one step forward. Ask the question. Alright you are consciousness but all those things you are conscious of, all those things which are not Atma. What is the relationship between the non-conscious and the conscious? What is the relationship between Anatma and Aatma. Are they one and the same or are they different? The result of that next step will be~ they’re one and the same. It is the Atma alone which appears as Anatma. It is Brahman alone which appears as Jeeva, You and Ishwara. So that will be the final conclusion. Brahman alone is real. That’s the end of the conclusion of Advaita~ non-duality is established.
Shankaracharya gives 15 practices to make you steady in this knowledge. To make it deep and permanent. So the 15 practices are Yama (Ahimsa, Satya, Aparigraha, Ashteya, Brahmachariya) and Niyama (Saucha, Santosha, Tapas, Swadhaya, Ishwara Pranidhana)~ the moral prerequisites, then Tyaga~ renunciation, then Mauna~ silence, Desha ~ auspicious place, Kala~ auspicious time, Asana~how to sit, Mulabandha~ the yogic locks, Dehasamyam~ the posture of the body, Drik Sthithi~ where to keep your eyes, Pranayama~ control of the breath, Pratyahara~ withdrawal of the senses, Dharana ~ focus, Dhyanam~ meditation and Samadhi~ the final absorption.
First in the effect see the cause, then dismiss the effect, then the causality of the cause is lost. So what remains Brahman itself. No he says you remain. So this is the conclusion of Vedanta and then he encourages us to seriously practice it continuously. Verse 142-144 Urging us to practice continuously and concludes by saying do not neglect the other practices. The lower yoga is very useful, devotion to God, devotion to guru are extremely important. Those who have that will progress and find it easy to realize all of this in this very life.
Now these questions on Vedanta, coupling with, merging with Kriya Yoga, might need some clarity for some of our ‘loving devotees’. They may forget about their doubts, because the questions, tend to take us to some of those areas of knowledge of Vedanta, we are not noticeably clear and know very little about? Most others, barring the very few gifted and blessed one too, have realized the truth truly little. But that is the journey? The issues become complicated and the doubts remain in the darkness of the recesses of mind, ‘not understanding’ and then we tend to, we choose to follow a previously set procedure? For example, (do not get bugged with this statement, if you notice ~ being a trainer yourself) ~ mechanically, just doing ~ ‘Hong Sau, Omkar meditation and Kriya Yoga’? These are for those starting for, may be the initial five or six years? You have gone well past that status and need to now study, reflect, meditate, and find ~ what is the ‘Truth’? Instead, like most, on this Earth ~ following a way of doing and practicing things, just out of faith, ‘have to do’ belief. We need not just belief, not just have faith but ‘become aware, realize the essence of Vedanta’.