The Christian concept of original sin has taken up residence in the psyche of Western culture and by default we often feel ashamed, unworthy and incomplete. Some people are aware of this programing, in others it runs subconsciously. In reaction to this conditioning, we then try to prove our worth through being successful, performing charitable acts, or by filling the hole in our soul with objects and experiences. But are we really damaged goods?
The ancient teachings of traditional Vedanta, dating back 5,000 plus years, offer a different perspective. The primary scriptures of Vedanta which include the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Brahma Sutras, share that the problem lies, not in our inherent defects but rather in our ignorance of who we are. Using the process of self-inquiry (viveka), our essential nature as whole, complete and good is revealed.
This is not to say that the Jiva (mind/body/soul vehicle) does not have karma or conditioning to work through, we do but karma (action) and the results of our karma, in the form of sensations, emotions, thoughts and experiences, does not define who we are.
How would our lives be different if we lived from wholeness, completeness and goodness? Would we still chase objects and experiences to gain a sense of completeness? How would we spend time if we knew beyond the shadow of doubt that there was nothing we could do to be more of who we are?
Vedanta does not seek to explain why we are here. There are many theories offered but nobody knows why awareness, which is object-less, desire-less and complete in all ways, would need to manifest a realm of duality with ever changing subjects and objects. For now, let’s just say, within awareness lies all potentiality, including the conditioning agent called Maya, which allows for the creator and the creation to apparently exist.
While Vedanta does not explain the why, it certainly defines the how. It’s a time-tested path of knowledge that removes ignorance, revealing the self as free, whole and good. Vedanta describes who we are, who we are not, how creation (the dharmic field) works and our relationship as jivas in creation to awareness.
Vedanta uses a method of self-inquiry (viveka) whereby a seeker, discriminates between the real (satya) and the apparently real (mithya). When we identify with satya, the truth, we feel freedom and joy because the self is unlimited. When we identify with mithya, the apparent creation and all the objects in creation, we suffer. Ignorance is taking mithya as satya, the not-real for the real. What is real? That which never changes – awareness.
Consider the analogy of clouds passing through a blue sky. The clouds represent mithya, the realm of apparent objects and experiences which obscure the sky (awareness) but have no impact upon it. We suffer when we identify with the inner clouds of sensation, emotion and thought, thinking they are real and when we believe that external objects and experiences (outer clouds) can complete or fulfill us.
When you see the statue of the laughing buddha, his big belly is a metaphor for the completeness of self as awareness, what some call ananda or bliss. When we realize our true nature as awareness, separate from and unaffected by objects and experience, freedom and contentment result.
A beneficial mantra and prayer to repeat throughout the day:
“I am awareness.”
“Great Spirit, Creator, remove my ignorance and reveal the truth of who I am.”
Self-inquiry to support this process of dis-identifying from objects and experience: Whatever I become aware of is an object and not me, the subject. I am the awareness within which all objects and experiences arise. When I feel anger, shame, fear or sadness, I realize that these emotions are not me but have arisen within me (awareness).
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Join Eaden Shantay Wednesday evenings 7pm for Evening Satsang (by donation) and 1st and 3rd Thursdays, noon, for Dharma Talk, A Vedanta Study Group (free), both at True Nature Healing Arts in Carbondale, CO. A great resource for the traditional Vedanta is James Swartz, author of The Essence of Enlightenment or visit his website at www.shiningworld.com.