Shining World

Maya’s First Aid Kit is Vedanta

Peter: I write as someone who has been actively studying and applying Advaita knowledge for a few years with another teacher, though James was my introduction to Advaita. His videos changed the direction of my life. I am grateful for his work and dedication. I identify my true self as awareness/consciousness. At most times during the day, this means acknowledging the constant demands of the ahamkara and ‘turning to’ or remembering the Self as much as possible. Whether in conversation, driving, or being with my partner. I have come to appreciate the power of Advaita, practice karma yoga, and live my life in accordance with absorbing Advaita teachings. I have become a happier and more relaxed person. When adversity strikes, however, I am drawn away from what I know. My integration of the teachings is not firm…and I kinda knew that.

Sundari: Assimilating Self-knowledge takes time; it is far from easy.  Even though we are the Self, until Self-knowledge fully assimilates it seems to flicker on and off. You cannot forget you are the Self once you know because Self-knowledge is not a function of memory, it is who you are. But it will seem like you ‘forget’ who you are when knowledge of the Self is indirect, especially when adversity strikes, or anything disturbs the mind, for that matter. Indirect knowledge is intellectually knowing you are the Self, without yet having assimilated what that means. The small day to day grind of our repeating patterns derail us and are just as much of challenge to self-inquiry as the big events in our lives.  It is inevitable that ignorance will not give up without a fight, it is hardwired and very tenacious. If we are realistic as inquirers, we expect this battle with the ego to take place and are somewhat prepared. We even have compassion for the ego because it is not its fault that it is programmed the way it is, Isvara made it that way. In addition, nonduality is highly counterintuitive.

If you can you see the forgetting as an apparent forgetting and stick to your sadhana, this struggle with the ego will gradually diminish as Self-knowledge purifies the mind. There is nothing wrong with the ego, it is just a function of the subtle body wrongly programmed by duality, which reverses the truth and superimposes duality onto nonduality.  The ego then believes it is a doer and must gain or avoid things in the world to survive and be happy. Vedanta is not about busting the ego but understanding how it functions so that it can be managed for peace of mind. The primary function of Vedanta is to correct the reversal (duality) that Maya imposes on the ego, no easy task.

 You are right that most of the ‘work’ of self-inquiry is about managing the jiva (i.e., ego) and its hardwired tendencies. ‘Turning to or remembering the Self’ requires taking a stand in Awareness as Awareness and thinking the opposite thought. Though an inquirer is exhorted to always remember and keep their mind on the Self, essentially, we cannot remember or turn to the Self because we are the Self.  Who is doing the turning and remembering? If the Self cannot forget itself, it must be the ego. Self-knowledge does not give you the Self, it simply removes the ignorance standing in the way of your full and permanent appreciation of the fact that you are the Self. In other words, Self-knowledge is freedom from the jiva as your permanent identity, and permanent freedom as the Self while appearing as a jiva.  You don’t stop being the jiva when you know you are the Self, you are just no longer bound to its likes and dislikes, to the idea of doership, to gain and loss. 

To take a stand in Awareness as Awareness in every situation requires karma yoga and mind-management, knowledge of what conditions the mind, the gunas.  I presume as you are committed to Vedanta, you are aware of the stages of self-inquiry, and what they entail? If not, I can send you some satsangs on this important topic. I also advise that you read James Swartz’s book, the Yoga of the Three Energies.

Peter: Recently, my dog died. I realized that this beautiful animal was my chosen gateway to experience the deepest love and profound connection to Isvara. It was not the first time I had experienced the loss of a pet. The substance of my current grief is mixed with reliving the dog’s suffering just prior to his death. The situation led me to doubt that I did all that could be done. A psychologist would probably say I am traumatized.

The number of ‘I’s in the description of the above shows an obvious identification to my ego, past experience, and attachment to objects. The situation also highlights the false assumption that we are in control and responsible for whatever happens to us. My question is a practical one: what to do with my mind being drawn (yes, something karmic no doubt) to the dog’s screams. I have been meditating daily for years, but the memory of my dog only returns to his screams.

I am confused about responding to what has happened. Here are some responses:

1.     accept and feel the pain of those screams as something ultimately unreal and get on with it. (yes, a bit neo-Advaita).

2.     identify and examine the fears (thoughts) that arise in relation to the dog’s death and allow them through. These fears include the fear that I will only be able to remember the dog’s screams, and not as a being who gave me love.

3.     leave the situation to itself: prarabdha karma in action

I am aware that this forum is not meant to be Advaita First Aid, but I would some clarity about what I may be overlooking in all this. Thank you.

Sundari: There really is no first aid kit for Maya other than Self-knowledge, Vedanta, because it explains what is going on with the jiva and what it experiences. Mind-management is managing all thoughts and the emotions attached to them as they arise in the mind, with karma yoga and guna knowledge, as I said above. This is not easy when thoughts/emotions are deeply disturbing, even if Self-knowledge has obtained. To smile in the face of the suffering may be a tough call for most of us, and this is not meant to demean suffering. Even as a free being, (jivanmukta), Self-knowledge is not a magic pill for the ego.  It does not make us immune to the slings and arrows of life as the jiva, even though we know they are not real because we are the Self and not the jiva. We still need to process difficult emotions like grief. What changes with Self-knowledge is our relationship to experience, good or bad.  It makes it possible to take the dispassionate, big picture view to make peace with the way this world works. If we believe we are a person, we are at odds with the world, and loss, lots of it, are inevitable.

Isvara gave you the dog to love, and Isvara took the dog away. Is your dog really gone? What does the dog symbolize, if not the Self? Isvara is not a person, doling out ‘good’ or ‘bad’ karma for any life form.  Isvara is Consciousness wielding Maya, the impersonal giver of karma, unaffected by Maya (the gunas), The gunas create the Field of Existence, which is a lawful universe provided for all jivas (human or otherwise) to live out their karma.  Karma itself is value-neutral.  It is just action and its results.  It only becomes meaningful when we evaluate it.  We either like it or don’t like it or are indifferent to it. Only in the minds of human beings does any action become ‘karma.’ Animals do not have karma because they do not evaluate what happens to them.

When Vedanta says the world is perfect as it is, we mean that it cannot be anything other than what it is.  If the world could be different, assuming Maya ‘thought’ that it was not serving Awareness, it would make the world a different place.  But it never does.  So, it must be that there is a good reason for suffering.  And indeed, there is – it motivates a quest for understanding and self-inquiry.  In your case, it is motivating a deeper assessment of where you ‘stand’ in your understanding of the teachings of Vedanta.

It is often impossible to know why bad things happen from the jiva perspective. As the teachings say, ‘on the subject of karma, even the sages are perplexed’.  Why did your beloved dog have to suffer so before it died? There is no answer to that. The jiva can only look at what takes place in the apparent reality from within the framework of the apparent reality.  This perspective will always be limited.  The apparent reality will always be limited.  The only solution is to see it from the point of view of Awareness, though that is clearly not working for you.

Isvara seems cruel, but because it is not a person and is constrained by the law of karma, it takes care of the needs of the total, which is the ultimate compassion. Every sentient beings’ ultimate aim (even you dog), knowingly or unknowingly, is living out its karma to realize the Self. Isvara does not and cannot care about our personal likes and dislikes because if it did, the whole show would grind to a halt. Yet, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, Isvara gives all sentient beings everything they need, though that may not be what they want.  It seems so unnecessary that your dog had to suffer. The short-sighted view of how the field plays out seems brutal and uncaring but in the big picture, it never is.  If Isvara did not keep the game going for us, how would we work out our karma?

So, there is something in this experience you need to understand and grow from. Your feelings of love and loss are not about your dog, they relate to deeper issues, probably associated with something in your past. The way forward is not necessarily to delve into your past, but to sacrifice the painful thoughts on the altar of karma yoga. Just offer them to Isvara, you don’t have to carry them. The compulsive thoughts about your dog’s last moments will eventually subside back into the Causal body, from where they arise. Remember that your dog was the Self apparently in the form of a dog. Though as a dog it suffered towards the end of its life, it knew your love, and as the Self, nothing ever happened.  Your love for your dog is not lost because love is the nature of the Self, of you.  You loved your dog for the sake of the Self, for you, not for the dog.  Though it seems like you do and did love the dog deeply, we never love any object other than for the sake of the Self because there is no other option in a nondual universe.

You and your dog are eternal, unborn, and undying.  Take refuge in that thought. Suffering for the dog’s suffering serves no purpose whatsoever, not for the dog or you; you are only punishing yourself. The love is real, the suffering is not because it is caused by the belief that you and your dog are separate and have been separated by death.

As you point out, though you are committed to self-inquiry, Self-knowledge is not firm. You know about the Self, but self-inquiry is applying the teachings to your life in every moment of every day until one day, there is no need to apply the knowledge because you are the knowledge. The ‘applier’ has been negated and there is only the Self.

Until then, this is where the rubber hits the road as James likes to say, because loss of a loved one is our greatest challenge when it comes to binding attachments. A helpful suggestion is to put something of your dog, a picture, or any sentimental item, on your altar where you renounce all thoughts and feelings to the field in an attitude of consecration and gratitude. Make this a daily practice as it will assist you greatly in overcoming the traumatic feelings and surrendering the ego to Isvara.  If you don’t have an altar, now is the time to start a devotional practice as it is an essential aid to self-inquiry. An altar is a focal point for our attention, anything we put on it is a symbol of the Self/Isvara because all things point to the Self in a nondual universe. We do not worship the objects but their essence, the Self. The gratitude we bring to our consecration/karma yoga is a gift we give to the jiva, because Isvara does not need our gratitude. 



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