It was dusk and a weary foot traveler made his way to the center of town for a much needed drink at the well. A few feet from the circular opening his eyes caught sight of a cobra ready to strike. His body became rigid like stone. A few moments passed and then a kind voice shared, “It’s OK friend, you can relax, that’s not a snake by your feet but a rope to draw water from the well.”
In the light of day we see only a rope (truth). In the veiling of night, neither rope nor snake are seen (ignorance). In the twilight, we take the rope for a snake (superimposition), mistaking the real for the apparently real.
With so many teachings and teachers, how can one know which path will lead to water and which to dry desert sand?
The Three Jivas – Definition of Terms. The way I am using the phrase self-realized below may be different than you are accustomed to. For some of you, self-realized may hold the meaning I am implying when I use self-actualized.
The embodied soul (jiva) comes into this life with a natural governor called ignorance. Like the man who believes the rope is a snake, this unrealized-jiva or samsari, lives under the spell of superimposition, chasing happiness in objects and experience, not knowing that the only cup of water that can really quench his thirst, lies within.
In the mind of the self-realized jiva there is both truth and ignorance. This jiva knows there is more to life than meets the eye but identification with one’s sensations, emotions and thoughts remain strong. This is the stage of development and or ignorance where liberation is desired but the objects of security, pleasure, and virtue still hold the promise of a freedom that is only temporary. Objects and experineces can never create limitless contentment because, by their nature, they are limited. Only the self is limitless. Prarabdha karma, that portion of one’s total karma, plays out as it does for all jivas but it’s associated vasanas (likes and dislikes) are binding, resulting in suffering.
In the shining light of truth, the self-actualized jiva rests in the self as awareness. Ignorance has been dissolved and only the knowledge of true self remains. This jivanmukta knows he or she is awareness and that no appearance of an object or experience can sully the limitless, non-dual, awareness of self. Like with the self-realized jiva, prarabdha karma still plays out but its associated vasanas are non-binding, alleviating suffering and allowing the jivanmukta to take action in alignment with personal and collective dharma.
A Valid Means of Knowledge and A Qualified Teacher
On this journey from ignorance to truth, while still wandering in the twilight, a valid means of knowledge and qualified teacher are essential. Just as the mountaineer who wishes to reach the summit of Everest requires the right equipment, a proven path and experienced guides.
As a valid means of knowledge, Vedanta has an outstanding sampradaya (lineage), revealed through the sattvic (pure) minds of countless of rishis (seers) and sages over thousands of years. While many paths offer experiential enlightenment and or the shaktipat of a teacher as their means, traditional Vedanta as taught by Ted Schmidt and James Swartz in the lineage of Swami Dayananda and Swami Chinmayananda which traces its origins back through Adi Shankara through time immemorial, offers a methodology that dissolves ignorance and reveals knowledge.
Of course there are other means and qualified teachers but I can only speak of the path I walk. I did spend over ten years in the neo-advaita, experiential enlightenment camp, only to witness its limitations. While simply posing the question “Who Am I?” may work for a very ripe soul like Sri Ramana Maharshi, with my quotient of ignorance, I have required a more thorough approach which traditional Vedanta provides.
Experiences which are states, however enlightening they may be, fall into the category of objects which are limited. While satori “lightening flash,” samadhi, nirvana and epiphanies occur with regularity in the twilight where truth and ignorance coexist, they often do little to unbind the ropes of past karma. So when these enlightened states pass and the ego/identity/doer resets after one minute or three years, our unresolved and binding vasanas (fears and desires) remain.
The spiritual market place is rife with snake oil (ignorance). With regard to any teaching or teacher one should always ask, “Do I feel more happy and free, as a result of my exposure to and application of these teachings? Is the teacher walking his/her talk behind closed doors and living a life in alignment with dharma? (Note: I wouldn’t consider owning a fleet of luxury cars, patenting a spiritual practice or having intimate relations with a student as dharmic behavior). Does the teacher offer a time tested, valid means of knowledge or just reflections on his own experiential awakening? Is she kind and compassionate? Is the cost of his resources (i.e., books, audio-video resources, seminars,etc.) reasonable? Does she treat me as an equal?
Of the several qualifications articulated in the scriptures that are necessary in order for a student to effectively engage in self-inquiry and ultimately assimilate the teachings, the most primary is the ability to discriminate between satya (real) and mithya (apparently real). The discriminative intellect should be active when deciding on a teacher and practice. Once the teacher has passed your scrutiny, then you must set aside your aside your per-conceived notions and offer provisional trust in the teacher and the teachings, pending the results of your own analysis of experience and application of the principles. Then, after time has passed, revisit the questions in the previous paragraph.
For those who don’t presently have a path or a teacher, there is another qualification that is essential – a burning desire for the truth. This attribute provides the shakti (power) that sustains all other qualifications. This value is communicated to the dharmic field and Isvara (the creative universal force) will provide a teaching and teacher when the student is ready.
In gratitude, Eaden Shantay
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