In the eighth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, there are several verses that articulate the essential values that characterize a seeker of self-knowledge. In fact, these values are themselves referred to as jnana, or knowledge. Used in this context, however, knowledge does not mean self-knowledge per se, but the collection of psychological qualities that must be present in sufficient measure in order to facilitate the assimilation of self-knowledge and, moreover, in the absence of which self-knowledge does not take place.
Essentially, the values that prepare the mind for the assimilation of self-knowledge are certain universal ethical attitudes, which are referred to in Sanskrit as dharmas. In this context, dharma is a standard of conduct that is based on mutual expectation. In other words, the ethical norm is derived from the way in which I want to be treated by others. Though virtually every religion and spiritual path has a fundamental code of ethics, the behavioral dharmas associated with Vedanta are quite pragmatic and based on common sense rather than scriptural mandate. What I want others to do becomes my standard for what is dharmic – i.e. “right” or “good.” What I do not want others to do becomes my standard for what is adharmic – i.e. “wrong” or “bad.” Thus, ethical values are not simply arbitrary man-made rules of conduct that supposedly define virtue, but rather stem from an inherent, common regard for my own security and pleasure.
Ethical Values are Universal in Content and Relative in Application
While such basic ethical values as non-injury, truthfulness, humility, and charity, are universally accepted, the way in which they are interpreted and applied within the context of various cultures and, more specifically, with regard to specific situations is not absolute. In other words, dharma and adharma are both relative. There are situations in which what is normally considered unethical may be the appropriate action to take, and conversely there are situations in which what is normally considered ethical may not be so. For instance, though killing another person is generally considered immoral, if someone were to break into my home and threaten the life of my family and/or myself, is it wrong to kill the person in self-defense? Such a suspension of my value for non-injury does not affect my basic value for non-injury. Thus, ethical values based on universal human consensus are always subject to interpretation.
In technical terms, there are two levels of dharma. Universal ethical values are referred to in Sanskrit as samanya dharma. The individual’s personal interpretation and situational application of those universal principles is referred to as vishesha dharma. Simply put, my values are universal in content, but relative in application.
More precisely, although my standards for ethical attitudes and behaviors are not subjective, my interpretation and application of these values within the context of various circumstances will be filtered through my particular guna make-up and vasana load. For example, I am likely to apply a value for truthfulness very consistently to the words of others, but much less consistently to my own words. Hence, not only is there much grey area regarding the appropriate interpretation and application of values within the context of daily life, but constant vigilance and fearless integrity are called for in order to determine the appropriate response to any given circumstance.
Though acting in accord with my guna-determined svadharma, or personal nature, is important, my behavior should not be driven by my vasanas, or personal preferences, which are often gratuitous, essentially self-serving, and worst of all almost invariably perpetuate mental agitation and attachment to objects. For this reason, I cannot disregard values. Only an acknowledged and properly assimilated code of ethics can serve as a higher court of appeals, so to speak, that can adjudicate any conflict or clear up any confusion I may suffer concerning what is to be done in any given situation.
Because values basically govern life within the context of the apparent reality, I can neither dismiss them nor defy them without consequence. Failure to act in accord with what I know is “right” or appropriate puts me in conflict with myself. When I execute an action that I know is adharmic, I plant a seed of guilt within myself, which will sooner or later sprout as fear, anger, low self-esteem, and even sleeplessness. Even small ethical transgressions, such as lying about my age, are symptomatic of self non-acceptance and sustain inner conflict.
Values and Conflict
Conflict is not a desirable condition of mind. Moreover, it is antithetical to self-inquiry. A mind riddled with conflict will not be able to disengage from the drama playing out within it and rest in its innate quietude.
Conflicts arise when I am unable to resist the binding vasanas, or compelling desires, that drive me to transgress an ethical value that either consciously or unconsciously I accept. When I cannot live up to my values, I find myself in conflict with myself and suffer from a sense of guilt and diminished self-respect.
How Values Cause Conflict
When I have a value system or ethical code that I follow and expect others to follow as well, my values cause me no conflict. When I want others to behave in a certain manner, however, but for personal reasons I am unable or unwilling to behave accordingly, I have a problem. When I have a value and something interferes with my adherence to and enactment of that value, I find myself in immediate conflict with myself.
Most often, it is my individual situational interpretation and application of a particular value linked with some highly desired personal end that interferes with my expression of a universal value. This happens when the universal value has not yet become a fully assimilated personal value for me. In other words, I am willing to contravene the universal value because I have not yet fully understood its value in terms of my own person.
A good example of a universal truth that is quite frequently not fully assimilated is the universal value for speaking truthfully or being honest. Certainly, I want everyone to speak the truth to me. Moreover, I am commanded to speak the truth by various authorities, such as my parents, the society, and my religion. Speaking the truth is, thus, part of my values system.
When it comes to assimilating the value of truthfulness with reference to others, I can readily see the value of others’ truthfulness. I know that others’ dishonesty can cause me discomfort and even damage. Thus, the personal value to me of others’ truthfulness is well assimilated.
With reference to myself, however, the value of my own truthfulness is not immediately clear to me. I do not readily see the payoff in personal terms of my always being forthcoming and honest. Nevertheless, I am aware that I am expected to speak the truth by my parents, friends, colleagues, society, and religion.
The disconnection between what I expect others to do and what I do results in my harboring a “split value,” a value that is half personal and half obligatory. The immediate consequence of “split values” is psychological conflict, which if never resolved can eventually lead to complete personal upheaval.
“Split Values” Upset the Mind
When a universal value is split – one half being a personal value regarding what I expect from others, the other being an obligatory value regarding what I know is expected of me and, thus, have assumed as an expectation of myself – the context is set for inevitable conflict. While a personal value is naturally observed, an obligatory value is subject to compromise if it obstructs a highly desired individual end. When a universal “split value” loses the battle to its subjective situational counterpart, it does not simply slink off never to be heard from again. Rather, it lingers in the heart and causes chronic irritation. This is true even in the case of the habitual offender who seems totally insensitive to universal ethical values. No matter how many times the decision is made to transgress dharma, the voice of the universal “split value” is never entirely silenced.
For example, most people have a fully-assimilated personal value for money. With regard to the universal ethical principle of speaking the truth, on the other hand, our value is often obligatory in nature and, thus, a “split value.” Such being the case, a conflict between the value for money and the value for honesty can easily arise. Suppose someone offers to pay me the same amount of money for an item that I had originally paid for it. Even though I had paid a thousand dollars, say, I can easily tell the person that I paid fifteen hundred dollars. As a result of telling this small lie, I can thus gain an extra five hundred dollars, which will afford me the power to purchase other comforts that have captured my interest. I therefore know very well what benefit the money can bring me. On the flip side of the coin, however, I am not entirely clear about what the personal benefit of speaking the truth in this situation would be. Hence, very likely the subjective situational value will win my allegiance. Yet, at the same time, a small voice within my heart continuously intones the mantra, “Speak the truth; speak the truth.”
I may lie, but I will not be comfortable. I may even get what I want, but I will not experience peace of mind. I will not be able to avoid the inevitable psychological consequence of transgressing dharma by not telling the truth. First will come conflict, next will come guilt. And while I can ignore guilt – at least temporarily – I cannot avoid it because I cannot escape the “split value” for truth that yet obtains in my heart. Hence, fulfilling an immediate end at the expense of upholding a universal value may produce some passing comfort, but in the long run it only adds to my discomfort by increasing the accumulation of guilt that plagues my mind.
The Knower-Doer Split
Not only do I saddle myself with a guilty conscience when I transgress universal ethical values, but I also create a “knower-doer” split in my psyche. For instance, when I lie I assume the role of a speaker, and since speaking is an action I become a doer. At the same time, I am aware of what I am saying and, thus, know that what I am saying contradicts the truth. Therefore, I as a knower assume one position in relation to what is taking place, while I as a doer assume another. By means of my lie, I create a split or division between the knower-I and the doer-I. Because these two roles or perspectives are not on the same page, so to speak, with regard to the circumstances, I suffer from a sense of internal conflict. Essentially, I have created a mild case of schizophrenia. I am not integrated.
I have divided myself into an ideal knower who values one course of action and an actual doer who does something else. Such a dichotomous condition renders me incapable of accomplishing anything in life. Even small efforts are sabotaged. The knower decides to awaken early and meditate; the doer turns off the alarm and sleeps in late. The knower tries to eat a more nutritious diet; the doer indulges in junk food. In consequently, I begin condemning myself. I tell myself that I am useless, undisciplined, weak, and inadequate. I develop a deep dislike for myself and feel that I am not the person I want to be.
When I am “split” I cannot fully enjoy anything, for despite the high-regard modern society affords the ability to multi-task no event or encounter can really be relished, no task really performed proficiently unless one attends to it with complete focus. Simply put, the quality of my life always takes a hit when I become “split.”
The Source of a Situational Value’s Value
As has been pointed out, the source of universal ethical values is the natural desire that people treat me a certain way, which then by extension obliges me to treat them in a similar manner.
The source of a situational value, however, requires a bit more analysis in order to adequately uncover.
An investigation into the dynamics influencing our value for money will serve to reveal the fundamental impetus of all situational values.
With regard to our earlier example, what gives money so much value that I may be willing to tell a lie to obtain it? What do I gain – or believe I will gain – that makes the lie worthwhile?
I cannot eat money, admire its beauty, talk to it, or use it for shelter. Money itself, therefore, cannot be the attraction. With money, however, I can purchase things to eat, admire, and otherwise use. I may also be able to attract a romantic partner by means of my wealth. Thus, though money itself is not valuable, its purchasing power is.
If I were stranded on a desert island, however, the purchasing power of money would do me no good whatsoever. Therefore, perhaps it is the objects that can be purchased with money that make money valuable, rather than the purchasing power itself.
But what makes an object valuable to me? If we reflect on our consideration of the fundamental human pursuits with which we launched our inquiry into the self, we realize that objects are deemed valuable in accordance with the degree of security and comfort we believe they can provide us.
While my security can be understood in terms of my having the basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter, what defines my comfort is a bit more complex. Is it the circumstance of my enjoyment of various objective phenomena that is valuable, or is it the condition of my feeling pleased and at ease?
Though these two alternatives might at first glance seem interdependent, there is a difference between them. It might very well be the case, for instance, that my stomach is full, my body warm, my clothing comfortable, my entertainment source interesting, my money secure, and my primary relationship sound, yet I may not be comfortable with myself. Conversely, it may be the case – and so it is for many people in the world – that I enjoy few material comforts beyond the bare necessities I need for survival, but rest content in my own sense of self-worth. Hence, what I really value is not outer material comfort, but inner peace and happiness. Because I do not understand that I am the true source of the comfort I seek, however, I cling to the belief that the material comforts that money can buy will provide me with a lasting sense of wellbeing and, thus, make me more comfortable with my person. Hence, I procure material comforts not for the sake of the objects, but rather for the sake of myself.
More precisely, then, when I ignore my obligatory value for truthfulness and tell a lie to gain money, it is because I have concluded that the money will contribute to my sense of inner comfort and fail to see, in the given instance, how being honest might do so. In fact, the quest for inner comfort is the basis of all my subjective situational values. Every choice I make in any given circumstance is motivated by my belief that there is a connection between whatever object I am attempting to obtain and my sense of inner peace and happiness. Thus, the source of any subjective situational value is the expectation that I will feel good as a result of acting in accordance with that value.
Personal Values Are Not Subject to Choice
When I clearly see that a particular choice will inevitably make me suffer, I do not make that choice. Thus, my choice becomes choiceless. Just so, if I am thoroughly convinced that violating a universal value will cause me to suffer, then my compliance with that value becomes compulsory. For instance, if I wholeheartedly believe that transgressing the universal value of truthfulness will result in my suffering, then I essentially have no choice but to speak the truth. Consequently, honesty becomes a personally assimilated value for me, and thereafter speaking the truth becomes for me a spontaneous, rather than simply obligatory, action within the context of any given circumstance.
In this regard, any personally assimilated value becomes choiceless for me. In other words, I no longer have to think about whether or not I should act in accordance with it. The behavior mandated by a personal value is spontaneous and requires no reflection. Hence, I suffer no conflict concerning my conformance with such values.
Seeing the Value of a Value
Whether universal or situational, any value only becomes my personal value when I see the value of the value as valuable for me. I fail to follow a universal value only when I do not clearly recognize its value to me.
Further consideration of our analogy of the informal business transaction in which I chose to tell a lie in order to turn a profit will shed valuable light on this issue. Regarding this situation, the central question is whether or not the money I gained through the transgression of the universal value of truthfulness was worth the inevitable consequences of the deceit it took to get it? Though I can now afford to purchase various additional creature comforts, my mind is nevertheless agitated to a greater or lesser degree due to my having performed what I know down deep was an adharmic action. Thus, I have created a “split” in myself between the knower-I, who understands very well which actions are ethical and which are not, and the doer-I, who has ignored the counsel of the knower-I and acted out of accordance with what he knows is right. Guilt is the natural and unavoidable consequence of this “split,” and pangs of guilt prevent me from feeling comfortable with myself. Moreover, the sense of guilt resulting from my unethical action undermines my enjoyment of the very comforts I was only able to obtain as a result of that action. In terms of both lasting peace and temporary happiness, therefore, I have lost far more than I have gained.
In order to enjoy comforts, I must be present to enjoy them. When I am “split” with guilt, however, I am either riddled with anxieties about the future or absorbed in regrets over the past. Failing to recognize the real source of the problem, I seek to acquire more comforts to ease the discomfort in my mind, or I find some alternative method of numbing this internal ache. Ironically, however, when by means of transgressing universal ethical values I gain the comforts I seek, I find that the obtainment of these comforts only fortifies my discomfort. Simply put, the “split” and consequent guilt I feel as a result of having made a conflicting choice disallows me from enjoying the comfort that was my goal. Only when I clearly see this fact will I see the value of adhering to universal ethical values. And only then will the universal ethical values to which I had formerly afforded only half-value become my own fully assimilated personal values.
For the person whose personal values correspond to dharma, or universal ethical law, life becomes a proverbial magic carpet ride. No conflicts cloud his or her mind. Moreover, when such an unsullied mind is exposed to the teachings of Vedanta, it is like the meeting of gas and fire. Self-knowledge ignites in a flash.
Twenty Values of an Enlightened Mind
In response to Arjuna’s question concerning the necessary to prepare the mind for the assimilation of self-knowledge, Lord Krishna enumerates twenty qualities of the mind, which he refers to as jnana, or knowledge. As previously mentioned, “knowledge” in this context does not mean knowledge of the self, but rather indicates those qualities that prepare the mind for the assimilation of self-knowledge.
As has been shown, in order for values to be personally valuable, their value must be discovered through a thoughtful analysis of one’s own experience and not forced upon a person. The list of values set forth by Lord Krishna constitute a group of interrelated qualities that define a harmonious frame of mind in which self-knowledge can take place. Each of the qualities highlights a certain attitude whose value must be personally assimilated in order that it becomes a natural aspect of the seeker’s mind.
The following qualities are those declared by Lord Krishna to be knowledge. And, by implication, any qualities standing in opposition to these constitute ignorance.
Absence of Conceit
Self-respect and self-esteem are positive qualities that are very helpful to one’s spiritual growth. A problem arises only when self-respect is exaggerated and develops into conceit, arrogance, or haughtiness. When this happens, not only does it have an undesirable effect on my attitude toward myself, but it also places a burdensome demand upon others to show me the respect I feel I deserve. Such a demand, moreover, boomerangs back to me and disturbs my already unsettled mind even more. Most often, the respect I demand from others will not be visited upon me. Either the person upon whom I make such a demand will not respond, or he or she may have an exaggerated opinion of him or herself that compels him or her to respond with hostility or demand even greater respect from me. In all cases, the result involves mutual hurt, interpersonal friction, and mental-emotional agitation.
Though it would seem that the cause of my demand for respect from others is wholly based on a universal ethical value, this is only partly the case. On a more fundamental level, the cause of my expectation lies in my deep-seeded sense of incompleteness and inadequacy. When I am certain that I am whole, complete, and competent, I do not need respect from others. The demand I place upon others for recognition is a clear indication that I need external support in order to feel that I am worthwhile or valuable. This neediness is rooted in my inner sense of emptiness, my inability to accept myself as I am because I fear that I am not good enough.
Ironically, the sense of inadequacy and incompleteness is often covered up by an attitude of conceit. Although I assert what I deem to be the assets of my personal character, however, I am all too aware of my limitations. I am afraid to acknowledge my shortcomings and constantly worried that others will discover them. I want others to see only my strengths and not my weaknesses. Moreover, I want others to esteem my strong points as highly as I do, and for this reason I put on an air of superiority, hoping others will pick up my cue and, seeing me as I wish to appear, respond accordingly. Thus, I become dependent on others for my sense of self worth, and if or when I do not receive the positive acknowledgement I seek I feel hurt. And since a wounded ego essentially amounts to an agitated mind, I lack the inner tranquility it takes to practice effective self-inquiry and assimilate self-knowledge.
Though I would not admit it, conceit has become a value for me because I erroneously believe that by receiving respect from others my sense of inadequacy and incompleteness will dissipate and I will feel good about myself. My value for conceit will, therefore, only abate when I clearly see that invalidity of this notion and that no amount of respect from others will ever provide me with an inviolable sense of self worth, imperturbable peace of mind, and lasting happiness.
As we have seen, there are several reasons why a demand for respect from others does not work. Fundamentally, of course, no object is capable of providing us with a sense of wholeness or instilling us with permanent peace and happiness. More specifically, not everyone will value the particular qualities I possess, not everyone will offer me respect because their own sense of pride may inhibit their doing so, and moreover it is not always easy to discern another person’s true feelings from his or her manner. Hence, if I take the time to analyze the factors involved, I will clearly see that demanding respect from others will not visit upon me the sense of adequacy and lasting satisfaction I seek.
In addition to the insights already gleaned from my analysis, an even more profound understanding of the absurdity of demanding respect from others results from an examination of the basis of the particular qualities in which I take so much pride. Conceit only occurs because I do not take into account the true source of all accomplishments. I am proud of my attributes and achievements because I consider myself the maker of my characteristics, the creator of my skills, the author of my acts. A thoughtful analysis of the factors involved in my make-up and maneuverings, however, readily destroys this fallacious deduction. If I consider my physical body, I have to admit that I did not create it. Even if I believe in reincarnation and consider this body to be the result of my previous actions, I still cannot claim knowledge of or control over all of the factors and forces that contributed to its formation. Moreover, I cannot trace this body back to some original body from which, through a cause-and-effect chain of bodies, this one initially sprung. And even if I could, I cannot claim responsibility for the vasanas that formed as a result of its first experiences and thereafter impelled the karma that eventually manifested as my present body. Indeed, the subtle body apparently housed within the physical body and taken to be me is actually as beginingless as the creation of which it is a part.
Furthermore, since I am not the author of creation, whatever abilities and opportunities I enjoy have simply been provided for me. I may exploit them, but I did not create them. Even my achievements are not simply a matter of my personal effort, but manifested as a result of the intricate conjunction of myriad factors. Hence, when I examine the facts, the unavoidable conclusion I must reach is that any achievement for which I take credit was not due to my will or skill alone, but is the result of possibilities that were provided me. When I thus see the overwhelming complexity of any particular accomplishment, I realize there is no place for conceit.
If I assume the perspective of a dispassionate observer, recognize the feeling of conceit every time it arises, and analyze it carefully until I understand its inherent foolishness, it will soon disappear from my mind. In order for this practice to be effective, however, I must make my analysis without self-condemnation or regret. When someone fails to respond to me in the way I want, I simply observe my reaction without further reaction. Only such an objective approach will afford me the “distance” I need to see the senselessness of my expectation. In addition I will see that I do not desire respect from others for its own sake but because I hope that such affirmation will make me feel more comfortable about myself. Thus, I see that my real problem is my fundamental feeling of incompleteness and inadequacy, which is ironically made worse, not better, by harboring conceit. In this way, when I clearly see its inherent foolishness and fully understand that it serves no purpose, conceit will naturally drop off. Hence, in the light of knowledge, I will enjoy humility or the absence of conceit, a quality of mind conducive to self-realization.
Absence of Pretense
Pretense is an attitude quite similar to conceit and manifests as self-glorification. The foundation for its expression, however, differs from the exaggerated self-opinion that characterizes conceit. While conceit is based on real achievements and abilities, the self-aggrandizement characterizing pretense stems from fabricated accomplishments and skills. It is pretence when I deliberately attempt to give the impression that I am somebody more important, distinguished, noteworthy, wealthy, etc., than I am.
My motivation for pretentiousness is my belief that by means of my fabrications I will impress others who will then respond to me in a way that will make me feel good. Hence, my pretentious behavior is based on an underlying sense of inadequacy, on the fact that I do not feel good about myself, the fact that I do not accept as I am, the fact that I want to be different. Because I do not find myself acceptable, I present myself as I would like to be or in a way that I think will impress others.
Just as a conceited demand for respect from others is a foolish attitude, so also is pretence. There is no way to compel others to respond favorably to my accomplishments, whether those accomplishments are real or fabricated. Moreover, in the case of pretense, it is obvious that I am not the author of the accomplishments to which I lay claim. Also, pretence is particularly absurd because it brings even less comfort than conceit due to the fact that it produces the added stress of having to guard against the exposure of my fraud.
Though I always tend to present myself as being better than I feel I am, this attitude is not conducive to the frame of mind that is receptive to the teachings of Vedanta, for any degree of pretense is a commitment to falsehood. A mind committed to falsehood, however, is invariably an agitated mind that is unavailable for concentrated contemplation and the assimilation of knowledge. When I suffer from pretentiousness it is because I do not accept myself as I am and instead commit myself to an image that I know is false. If I reject myself as I am, however, I will have a very difficult time accepting and assimilating the knowledge of the fundamental truth that I am whole, complete, and thus lack nothing. Vedanta reveals that the multiplicity of creation is only apparent and that non-dual consciousness alone is real. In other words, it shows me that all my assumed limitations are only appearances while my true nature is limitless awareness. Ironically, in order to be prepared for this revelation, I must enjoy a peaceful mind that accepts me as I am, complete with all my apparent limitations.
To be qualified for self-inquiry, I should be able to accept myself warts and all and be willing to present myself without shame or self-condemnation. I should like myself as I am while at the same time harboring a strong desire for moksha, or ultimate inner freedom, for liberation from the limitations that seem to bind me.
The principle of non-injury reflects the inherent desire of everyone to life free of hurt, pain, or threat of any sort. Thus, the ideal of non-injury encompasses both physical and mental-emotional pain and, moreover, means not causing harm to either others or oneself by any means, neither by thoughts nor words nor deeds.
The value of non-injury is, as all universal ethical values are, based on the principle of mutual expectation. I should not hurt other beings because I do not want to be hurt. Common sense dictates that I should not do to another what I do not want done to me.
Non-injury is, thus, a simple dharma rooted in common sense. Nevertheless, it is subject to interpretation. If an injurious act benefits another, such as the cut of a surgeon’s knife or the “tough love” of a parent, such an act is not a transgression of this value. Moreover, in a relative world where life feeds on life, absolute non-injury is impossible. The value of non-injury, therefore, requires appropriate understanding and application.
The value for non-injury requires alertness and sensitivity in all areas of my life, for it is a value for not damaging or destroying any part of creation, myself included. I do not casually kill either plants or animals. And with regard to my fellow human beings, I temper those thoughts, words, and deeds that might be hurtful. A finer appreciation for the feelings of others forces me to see beyond my own needs and take into account the needs of those around me. I treat all beings with sensitivity and appreciate their common existence with me.
By means of such an attitude I become an alert, observant, sensitive, and insightful person whose mind is ready to imbibe and appreciate the non-dual truth of reality and, thus, assimilate self-knowledge.
Rather than painful forbearance, willful endurance, or resigned sufferance, accommodation is best understood as glad acceptance. Essentially, it boils down to what we might call the karma yoga attitude. In other words, I cheerfully and calmly accept those circumstances, attitudes, and behaviors that I cannot change and, moreover, give up the expectation that other people or situations should change in order to conform to what is pleasing to me. In other words, I adjust as necessary – and in accordance with dharma – to accommodate the needs of others and/or the mandates of the circumstance.
Accommodation is founded upon an understanding of the nature of people. No one person is going to possess all the qualities I like or dislike. Each and every person is a grab bag of qualities, some of which are appealing and some of which are not. Of course, this is true of me as well. No one is going to find me completely likeable or dislikeable. When I realize these facts, I come to understand that every relationship requires some accommodation, some compromise.
In particular, relationships in which I strongly dislike certain aspects of the other person require accommodation from me. If I can change the person or avoid any more than necessary contact with him or her, then my problem is easy to solve. If I cannot, then I simply must accommodate the person and accept him or her as he or she is – if I expect to cultivate peace of mind. Though I can certainly attempt to convince the person of the desirability of or need for change, if my appeals do not work I am left with no viable alternative but to accommodate him or her. Essentially, however, it is folly to think that I can compel the world or other people to change in order to conform to my ideas about how things should be and what would make me happy.
Moreover, as far as my expectations are concerned, I should accommodate people in the same way that I accommodate inert objects – without expectation. I should accept them as they are without the hope that they will or belief that they should change either immediately or eventually. Not only does such expectation agitate my mind, it is entirely gratuitous. As we well know at this point in our inquiry, we have little to no control over our actions. Our thoughts, words, and deeds are basically controlled by the vasanas, which are in turn, determined by the gunas. Thus, what we take to be our free will is in large part simply the manifestation of our “programming.” And so it is with others as well. Even if another person does want to change, often he or she cannot. His or her apparently independent volition is simply not strong enough to overcome the influence of the unconscious desires and fears compelling their actions. There is nothing we can do in such a case except accommodate the person.
In order to discover within myself the ability to be accommodative, it is helpful to acknowledge the person behind the act that is pushing my buttons. If I simply focus on the person’s behavior, I most likely will find it difficult to be accommodative. When I try to understand the impetus of the action, however, I am more likely to be able to see the situation from the other person’s perspective and respond to the person rather than the behavior. Even if I cannot see the reason for a particular behavior, I can at least bear in mind that many factors unknown to me have played a part in compelling the action. With this frame of mind, I find it natural to be calm and accommodative.
In order to respond to the person rather than the action, I must be free of habitual reactions. Rather than impulsively reacting to another’s behavior, I must choose my attitude and deliberately respond in accord with it. A habitual, impulsive reaction is a conditioned response borrowed from previous experiences. It is a non-deliberate behavior that I have not measured against the value system that I am attempting to assimilate. Sometimes my reaction may be an action that I would choose to execute or an attitude I would choose to hold after thoughtful consideration. At other times, my reaction may be completely contrary to the actions and attitudes that due reflection would recommend.
Until I have personally assimilated universal ethical values, which serve as a ground out of which right attitudes and actions spontaneously sprout, I must remain alert and avoid all impulsive reactions. Only after careful consideration of their essential merit in terms of producing peace of mind should I choose my attitudes and actions. When I avoid impulsive reactions, I am free to choose my attitudes and actions and, thus, can choose to be accommodative in my thoughts, words, and deeds.
Rectitude refers to conduct in accordance with one’s ethical standards and, moreover, to the alignment of thought, word, and deed. Such alignment allows for no division within my psyche, no “split” between the knower and the doer. When I think one thing and say another or when I say one thing and do another or when I think one thing, say another, and do something else entirely, my psyche or subtle body is out of alignment. In order for rectitude to obtain, my actions must be true to my words and my words must be true to my thoughts.
By non-alignment, I become disintegrated. When my thoughts, words, and deeds do not agree I suffer a destructive split in my mind. If there is a conflict between the knower-I, the thinker-I, and the doer-I, the result will be a restless mind that is riddled with guilt and incapable of the quietude necessary for engaging in effective self-inquiry and assimilating the teachings of Vedanta.
Service to the Teacher
Rather than some form of subservient groveling or “selfless service” offered to the teacher or the teacher’s organization, service to the teacher means incessantly meditating upon and applying within the context of one’s daily life the teachings that the teacher represents and for which he or she acts as a vehicle.
Service and surrender to the teacher requires certain discrimination in its exercise. One must take care to discern the nature of the teacher to whom one is choosing to surrender and serve, for if the character of the teacher is not impeccable and the expression of this value is interpreted as personal depreciation in relation to the teacher and the execution of suggested actions intended to win the grace of the guru, or secure the favor of the teacher, the student can easily be exploited.
Service to the teacher implies a willingness to surrender or subordinate one’s personal ego, one’s gratuitous likes and dislikes, beliefs and opinions, projections and expectations, to the truth revealed through the teachings. In general, it is an attitude of respect and devotion that does manifest in one of its aspects as surrender to the guidance of the person who is serving as the vehicle for the teachings. This kind of surrender to another person, however, should be made only to a person who has no need for the surrender, no need for the service, no need of anything from another. Only such a person will have no underlying agenda and no desire for affection that might interfere with his or her ability to honestly and effectively wield the teachings without pandering to any of the erroneous egoic ideals in which the student has invested and/or adolescent reactions that the student might display when such ideals are challenged and debunked through the logic of self-inquiry. The teacher at whose “feet” the student surrenders – the feet being a symbol of understanding since feet are what “stand under” one – must be a person whose freedom from the need for service renders the student the sole beneficiary of surrender.
Service to the teacher is essentially based on faith in the teachings. Since I have thus far been unable to gain self-knowledge through my own efforts, perhaps it is worth my while to provisionally extend my confidence in a thoroughly vetted teacher who can serve as a proper vehicle for unfolding the time-tested teachings of Vedanta. When the teacher is a person of integrity and the true nature of service is understood, surrender to the teacher is an attitude of great benefit to the student, for it makes his or her mind receptive to the teachings and thus facilitates the assimilation of self-knowledge.
Inner and Outer Purity
Inner and outer purity refers to cleanliness of the body and the mind. Though the term “purity” carries the implication of perfection and saintliness, such extremity is not its intended meaning. Nothing in the realm of the apparent dualistic reality can be completely pure, for everything in the entire manifestation is comprised of a combination of the three gunas. Hence, purity in this context refers to the effective management of the relative degree of rajas and tamas coloring both one’s external environment, including one’s own physical body, and one’s internal environment, or subtle body, in order to cultivate a predominately sattvic state of mind.
It is easy to see the benefit of external cleanliness. A clean body, clean clothes, and a clean living environment make life more pleasant. Moreover, the daily discipline of maintaining cleanliness in these areas helps to cultivate a mind that is attentive and alert.
Too often, however, cleanliness of mind goes unattended. Linked to my likes and dislikes, the dirt of envy, anger, hatred, fear, selfishness, self-condemnation, guilt, pride, possessiveness, and other such self-abasing qualities stain my mind.
Just as each day until I die I must maintain the cleanliness of my body, so each day until self-knowledge removes my false identification with the mind-body-sense complex I must attend to the cleanliness of my mind.
One of the most powerful and effective means of cleaning the mind is pratipaksha-bhavana, which means a state of mind with the opposite point view. The practice of pratipaksha-bhavana consists of deliberately taking the contrary point of view to any unclean, impure, or self-abasing thought. In other words, whenever thoughts of incompleteness, inadequacy, limitation, or self-condemnation arise in the mind, I immediately adopt the opposite thought and willfully act – think, speak, and do – in accordance with it. Even if I feel that I have been treated unjustly treated, I should learn to accept the situation as prasad, as a gift from Isvara that is allowing me an opportunity to grow spiritually. For instance, someone may insult or injure me by means of an adharmic, or inappropriate, action. Though the resentment I feel in response may be justified, the feeling nonetheless serves little purpose beyond agitating my mind. If I allow it to remain, the resentment can swell into hatred, which is an even more painful and disturbing mental state. When, through inquiry, I see the personal consequence of allowing room for resentment in my mind, I become willing to change my attitude toward the object of my resentment. Thereafter, when resentment toward the object arises in my mind, I deliberately use my will to apply positive thoughts that oppose and eventually render impotent the negative ones that initially came to mind.
When subjected to careful analysis, every mental impurity is the result of a desire or a fear. In other words, every psychological agitation, every negative attitude, is caused by either an unfulfilled desire for some object, subtle or gross, that I feel I need to complete me or a deep-seeded fear that I either lack or will lose something without which I will be incomplete. When, through exposure to the teachings of Vedanta and the practice of self-inquiry, I see that my conditioned assumptions regarding my perceived limitations are false, it becomes easier to adopt a psychological stance that opposes these erroneous beliefs. Though such deep-rooted notions may not be immediately removed, through continuous application of the opposite thought they will little by little lose their foothold in my mind.
Any attitude that is opposed to such universal ethical values as equanimity, accommodation, non-injury, humility, etc., can be neutralized by deliberately choosing to entertain and affirm the opposite point of view. And just as the body should be bathed daily, so through the practice of pratipaksha-bhavana should the mind. Initially, the application of the opposite thought may have a ring of falsity to it. Through continuous contemplation of the teachings of Vedanta and consistent application of thoughts that accord with the true nature of my being as revealed by the teachings, however, these opposite thoughts will become fully assimilated and spontaneous. A mind purified and managed in this manner will be quiet, alert, and comfortable with itself. Such a mind is qualified for self-inquiry.
Steadfastness refers to constancy, perseverance, steady effort on my part toward whatever goals I have committed to achieve or whatever duties my responsibilities impose upon me to uphold. It is a dedication that does not yield to laziness or allow itself to be derailed by distraction.
In the context of self-inquiry, steadfastness refers to a firm commitment to gaining self-knowledge. When my commitment is to know the true nature of reality and my own essential identity, I need to maintain a steady focus on the means of knowledge through which the truth is revealed. I must apply myself steadily to the secondary qualifications, such as cultivating particular psychological attitudes, practicing the various yogas that harmonize the subtle body, studying the scriptures, and similar pursuits, which prepare my mind for self-knowledge.
Self-knowledge is not a relative knowledge. It is not like the knowledge of a given discipline, but rather is the knowledge of the essential reality underlying all relative objects. As such, it is the knowledge that once known renders all relative knowledge as good as known. In order to achieve this goal, the goal in which all other goals resolve, total commitment and indefatigable steadfastness is required.
Mastery Over the Mind
Mastery over the mind means “restraint” or “curbing,” rather than “coercion” or “repression.” It is not a matter of willful suppression or denial of the subtle phenomena – thoughts and emotions – that arise in the mind. Rather it is mastery over my way of thinking. As is the case with all universal values, the value for monitoring and manipulating my thought patterns will not be personally assimilated until I see the benefit of doing so within the context of my own experience.
The mind is a kaleidoscope of fanciful subtle phenomena that arise, abide, and subside within the ambit of awareness. Capricious and inconstant, the mind is whimsical by nature. I, the thinker, however, need not be a slave to its incessant desires and demands. While its forms and fancies are endless, I am the sanctioning authority who fortifies or enfeebles their influence.
The mind is not a definable independent entity, but rather an incessantly shifting collage of ideas shaped by my ways of thinking. In general, my ways of thinking are of three types. Impulsive thought patterns are dominated by unexamined instinctive thoughts. Mechanical thought patterns are dictated by prior conditioning. Deliberate thought patterns are directed by buddhi, the intellect, wherein the evaluating function of mind consciously examines the thoughts arising within it and accepts or dismisses them in accordance with my values.
There is a fourth way of thinking. Spontaneous thought patterns derive without deliberation from personally assimilated universal values. Spontaneous thinking of this kind manifests only in one who has self-knowledge, for only self-knowledge can completely destroy the binding influence of the vasanas, the compelling force of my likes and dislikes, that condition my ways of thinking. Essentially, such spontaneous thinking reflects complete mastery over the mind. When universal values have become fully assimilated personal values, I no longer have to think about how I am thinking. As a preparation for self-knowledge, however, I initially need to achieve conscious mastery over my ways of thinking.
Conscious mastery over my mind is relative in nature. Complete mastery is characterized by spontaneity. If I think and act impulsively or at the behest of my conditioning, I am not a master. If I monitor my thoughts and measure their merit and my impetus to act in light of my values, I am still not a complete master. By being deliberate, however, I can cultivate relative mastery. I have relative mastery over my ways of thinking when I can rationally examine my thoughts and either consciously accept or dismiss them. Relative mastery, thus, means both rationally scrutinizing all impulses and deliberately breaking the habit of lapsing into mechanical, conditioned behavior.
Mastery of the mind is a matter of alertness and awareness. If I am vigilant and cognizant of the content of my mind, I always have a choice concerning my ways of thinking. I can, therefore, deliberately align my deeds with my understanding, learn from any mistakes I might make, and hold fast to my commitment to the practice of self-inquiry and the goal of self-knowledge in the face of any and all distractions.
Dispassion Towards Sense Objects
Dispassion towards sense objects refers to the absence of a compelling drive for worldly pleasures and possessions. In this regard, we are talking about desires that are more than simply fancies or preferences. The desires to which we are here referring are binding vasanas, cravings that compel us to execute whatever actions are most likely to fulfill them – even if such actions are adharmic, or violations of universal ethical values.
Dispassion is not suppression of desire. Rather, it is a serene state of mind characterized by total objectivity toward sense objects based on the assimilated understanding of their inherent incapacity to produce permanent peace and lasting happiness. In fact, dispassion and self-suppression are contradictory states of mind. Self-suppression is predicated on the presence of passion that is deemed necessary to overpower. When one is dispassionate, there is no compelling desire that needs be suppressed.
Basically, a human being finds him or herself to be a wanting person. All my binding vasanas, or compelling desires, are based on my fundamental sense of incompleteness and inadequacy and consequent sense of want. Seeing myself as incomplete, unfulfilled, inadequate, and insecure, I try to remedy this existential circumstance by seeking security, pursuing pleasure, and attempting to acquire objects.
As long as I feel both inadequate and incomplete and buy into the erroneous belief that objective securities and pleasures will provide the solution to my problem, there will be no end to my longing for and pursuit of security and pleasure, and I will therefore not be able to develop dispassion for sense objects.
In order to gain freedom from the tyranny of desire for security and pleasure, I must make a logical analysis and properly discern the pitfalls of these pursuits. No number of things will ever make me totally secure and no amount of pleasure will fill my sense of emptiness. No accumulation of wealth is enough to silence my inner anxiety and no degree of pleasure is sufficient to effect lasting fulfillment.
A lasting sense of security is never achieved through the acquisition of any kind of wealth, for no gain is ever absolute. Every gain also involves a concomitant loss, a loss through the expenditure of time and effort it requires; a loss through the added responsibility that I must now assume; a loss through the abandonment of another alternative.
The pursuit of pleasure likewise fails me in my effort to find completeness and contentment. Like all other human beings, I live in a subjective world in which I see certain objects as desirable, others as undesirable, and still others as neutral. When I observe reflectively, I discover that the objects of my desires are not desired by me at all times and in all places, nor is what I desire necessarily desired by others. Moreover, what I desire, what brings me pleasure, is subject to constant change. Moments of pleasure require the simultaneous availability of the object of pleasure, the appropriate and effective instrument with which to enjoy the object, and the proper frame of mind to enjoy the object. Being dependent on these ever-changing factors, moments of pleasure are transitory and intermittent. Objects and instruments are bound by time, and the mind is whimsical, subject to mood swings, and forever finding monotony in what was formerly desirable.
My passionate desire for possessions and pleasure is based on my conviction that through my procurement of them my sense of want will end. However, pleasure proves to be temporary and capricious while possessions do not equate with security. When I clearly see the limitations inherent in the pursuit of security and pleasure, I am ready to discover in myself the state of dispassion, not by means of self-denial but as a result of understanding. The realization that no degree of objective security or amount of objective pleasure will give me what I truly seek naturally releases me from the tight hold they previously had on me. Now I see that while objects are undoubtedly useful, none can give me what I really want.
When I do not seek to derive my sense of security, adequacy, and wellbeing from these pursuits, I become more objective towards them. I am able to assess them objectively for what they are rather than subjectively in terms of what I expect to get from them. As simple objects rather than the answers to my deepest needs, they thus assume their proper role in my life. I no longer imbue them with a value that, in reality, they do not have. I see money as money, not as a guarantee against insecurity. I see a house as a house, not as a source of happiness. In short, I enjoy objects, but no longer seek to get joy from them. Thus, I become dispassionate toward sense objects.
Because dispassion is such an important value, it must be understood correctly. So much nonsense has been associated with dispassion that the concept is more often than not misunderstood even by serious spiritual aspirants. In fact, dispassion is a state of mind that results from understanding, not one compelled by a commitment to self-denial or deprivation. It is not born out of fear or willful effort. It is knowledge derived by means of vigilant observation, diligent inquiry, and intelligent analysis. I should constantly monitor my mind and question what I desire, why I desire it, and what I ultimately achieve by fulfilling my desire. The understanding born of this analysis releases me from the trap of my own subjective interpretations, the snare of my binding likes and dislikes.
It is my subjective interpretation of the value of any object that transforms it into an item of special distinction, makes it particularly important to me, and compels me to seek it at all costs. Such objects are said to bind me. Truly speaking, however, it is not the object that binds me, but my subjective value for the object that does the trick, a subjective value that is moreover invariably based on a failure to understand the inherent incapacity of objects to fulfill me, to produce permanent peace and lasting happiness. When this understanding eventually dawns, I see things as they are and thereafter harbor a dispassionate attitude toward sense objects that affords me the ability to withdraw from their extroverting influence, turn my attention “within” and undertake the practice of self-inquiry.
Absence of Self-Importance
Absence of self-importance refers to freedom from the sense of being a separate, individual, volitional entity, an individualized “I.” The ego is not the independent entity that it is often taken to be, but rather the concept of one’s own individuality, the I-notion that is expressed through such phrases as “I do,” “I own,” “I enjoy,” and so on. In other words, the ego is essentially the sense of being the doer and the enjoyer/experiencer. It is this notion that binds me to the world of objects. It is this notion that compels me to identify with the mind-body-sense complex and claim ownership of the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that arise within its ambit. It is this notion that causes me to see the apparently sentient and insentient phenomena surrounding me as something other than myself. It is this notion that needs be invalidated and disempowered if I am to realize my true identity as limitless, non-dual awareness.
Total destruction of the ego only occurs as a consequence of self-realization. Only the one who knows the true nature of the self is free of the fundamental sense of individuality that results from identification with the mind-body-sense complex. Though self-knowledge alone affects the absolute absence of self-importance, however, the relative absence of ego plays an important role in preparing the mind for the assimilation of self-knowledge.
The relative absence of self-importance is brought about by understanding what causes the presence of the ego in the first place, knowing that the presence of ego is the result of sheer ignorance. Ego gains and maintains its status only because I never think of examining is reality. When subjected to logical analysis, however, none of the ego’s claims, whether to knowledge, ignorance, power, possession, or accomplishment, hold up. Ignorance is not a phenomenon for which the ego is responsible, but rather is simply the conditioning agent that yields the sense of being a limited, separate entity. Neither is knowledge something for which the ego is responsible, but rather is simply the understanding that obtains when ignorance, which is the fundamental character of the ego, is removed. Although I have a modicum of free will that allows me to choose my actions, I have no power over the results of those actions. The result of any act of mine occurs both as the product of materials that I have not created as well as the outcome of many circumstances, past and present, known and unknown, which had to operate in concert in order for that particular result to manifest. Thus, any prideful sense of doership becomes so silly that humility, or the absence of self-importance, can hardly be considered a virtue. The absence of self-importance is simply the natural result of understanding the perfunctory functioning of the world, including myself, since I am simply one small component in the grand mechanism of the total manifestation. When I see things as they are, I will be neither conceited nor self-condemning, which based as it is upon a sense of individuality is also an expression of ego.
When I see that personal credit for anything, whether “good” or “bad,” is irrelevant and cannot be substantiated, I simply enjoy the world as a field for the discovery of knowledge, without pride or egotism. Moreover, this absence of personal importance and investment affords me the psychological quietude necessary in order to conduct successful self-inquiry and thereby gain the ultimate knowledge of the self.
Reflection on the Limitation of Birth, Death, Old Age, Sickness, and Pain
Reflection on the limitation of birth, death, old age, sickness, and pain essentially boils down to cultivating a rigorously objective attitude toward life characterized by a dispassionate understanding that everything that is born or created inevitably dies or is destroyed and that within its lifespan will inevitably experience various discomforts characteristic of dualistic existence. There is no birth that does not ultimately culminate in death; everything that begins, ends. In between these two existential markers, there obtain other stages such as youth, maturity, old age, and disease along with its associated discomfort. Though the invalidity that to a greater or lesser degree characterizes old age is characteristic of only a certain stage of life, disease can strike at any time, in any place. Similarly, pain in its various forms, physical and mental, large and small, from the bite of a mosquito to the grief over the loss of a loved one, is a life-long companion and cannot be avoided.
Pain essentially comes from three sources. Pain coming from within (adhyatimika duhkha) comprises the aches, anguish, and agony of my individualized person, such as regret over having spoken harsh words, beating up on myself for having made a mistake, lamenting a broken relationship, or grieving the death of a loved one. Pain coming from the outside (adhibhautika duhkha) is made up of the problems in the world around me, such as a flat tire, the noise of my neighbors’ radio, a broken furnace, or a frozen computer. Pain coming from what is often referred to as an “act of God” (adhidaivika duhkha) is the result of an event over which there is no control whatsoever, such as a tsunami, an earthquake, or a volcanic eruption.
That life is fraught with limitations of all kinds is readily apparent. And along with these limitations comes a certain amount of pain. I cannot escape this fact. It is wise, therefore, that I bear in mind the nature of life. It is uncertain, painful, and swiftly moving toward old age and death. The purpose of such reflection is not to wallow in misery, but to see the importance of keeping my mind on my purpose in life. I should remember that time is the devourer of the world and not fritter away what precious time I have been allotted engaging in mindless entertainments and hollow pursuits. Rather, I should use my time consciously to seek the self.
Absence of a Sense of Ownership
Absence of a sense of ownership refers to the understanding that nothing belongs exclusively to me. While possession is factual, ownership is purely notional. I will certainly find that certain objects, such as material items, states of mind, and even people, as in the case of children or the elderly, may require my custodial attention, I should avoid through understanding any clinging attachment to things.
Analysis reveals the illegitimacy of all claims of ownership. Nothing is really mine. I cannot claim exclusive, permanent title to anything. When I examine my relationship to anything I think I own, I find that there is in fact nothing to own but rather only something to possess. For example, consider the house to which I have legal title and in which I live. That I possess this house is a fact. Physically I inhabit the residence and make use of the property. My so-called ownership of the abode, however, depends not upon my physical presence but upon a consensus of notions – those, for instance, of the bankers, the government officials, my neighbors, and so on – about my relationship to the particular property.
Moreover, as we have seen before, I cannot claim to be the sole author of anything. I did not create the land on which my house stands. I did not make the materials that comprise the structure. The five elements that are the house’s most essential existential ingredients were not sourced by my individual person. The work of many other people, such as masons, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and so on, contributed to the building of the house. Engineering in conformity with certain physical laws, which were not my creation, made possible the assurance that the walls will stand. Thus, my house, which is made up of materials derived from an already existent creation and built by and in accordance with the knowledge of a host of human beings, is simply a structure available for my temporary possession, utilization, and custodianship.
While such analysis clearly demonstrates the fallacy of ownership with regard to external objects, I cannot even lay claim to ownership with regard to my own body. I did not create the elements of which it is composed. I neither conceived nor carried nor birthed nor nurtured myself. I am not solely responsible for the food, clothing, shelter, hygienic conditions, and medical resources that contribute to the maintenance of the body. I am not the orchestrator of the society that provides a context in which the body can function.
The list of people, creatures, materials, and substances that can claim rights to this body is seemingly endless: my mother, father, spouse, children, relatives, employer, the government, the elements, animals, plants, earth, sun, worms, bugs, bacteria, and so on. Hence, even with regard to my own body, I am only a managing trustee. The body is my possession and, thus, is subject to my custodianship. In a certain limited sense, therefore, I can refer to the body as “mine.” Only in terms of possession, however, and not in terms of ownership is this statement valid.
An attitude of possession puts my relationship with objects in a factual rather than notional perspective that promotes dispassion and objectivity. The non-exclusivity and impermanence of the relationship are recognized along with the fact that the object in my possession is to be properly maintained and appropriately enjoyed. This is the most beneficial attitude to have with reference to my mind, my health, my wealth, to the people around me, and to any objects in my possession. To all of these I relate without clinging attachment. Such dispassion toward worldly objects allows my mind to turn within and seek the self, the limitless awareness, that is the true “owner” of all yet remains ever free of all things appearing within its scope.
Absence of Obsession with Family
Absence of obsession with family refers to the absence of excessive attachment for those people or things that are generally considered very dear to me. Essentially, it means dispassionate caring. This value does not suggest that I abandon my affection for my family, but rather than I remain objective in the expression of that affection, that I remain dispassionate in the way I care for them. As is the case with regard to all objective phenomena, I do not own the members of my family – even my children – but rather have a custodial responsibility to them. I should, therefore, do my best to provide for their needs, but temper my wishes regarding their wellbeing with the understanding that the results of my actions and intentions are not up to me and that Isvara, or the dharma-field, will provide for them in whatever way ultimately best suits the interests of the total manifestation and, hence, since they are part of the total, ultimately best suits their own interests as well, regardless of how it may appear within the immediate context.
Such dispassion allows me to maintain the quietude of mind necessary in order to properly discriminate between the real and the apparent and, thus, to focus my attention on the eternal underlying reality that is the substratum of all ephemeral surface appearances.
Constant Equanimity Towards Desirable and Undesirable Results
Constant equanimity towards desirable and undesirable results means that we accept with “sameness of mind” the result we like as well as the result we do not like. It means that I should not be elated over getting what I want nor be dejected when I get what I do not want. I should welcome whatever results manifest with glad acceptance. This value, of course, is rooted in the understanding that Isvara is looking after or the dharma-field is functioning in the best interests of the whole creation.
View all situations, as they occur, objectively, with a mind unshaken by emotional intensity and unperturbed by clinging attachment, a mind that is able to calmly decide what is to be done and directs the doing of it. If an accident happens, calmly assess the situation and do what is required. If some venture fails, coolly analyze the facts, learn from them, and take appropriate action to rectify the circumstance or circumvent similar mishaps in the future.
On the flip side, when something happens that you like, do not get elated. A mind that becomes ecstatic when it gets what it wants will also succumb to despair when it does not. Equanimity is a state of mind that does not swing between elation and depression, but remains equanimous regardless of the situation.
The fact is that there are pleasant facts and unpleasant facts. Moreover, the facts keep changing all the time, now pleasant, now unpleasant, the weather is too hot, the weather is too cold, I feel like a million bucks, I feel like I just got hit by a truck. Each day ushers in a varied crowd of facts. My job is to greet all facts with sameness of mind. I accept and enjoy the comfortable facts. I accept and endure the uncomfortable facts. In either case, I simply do what the situation demands. If I can make an uncomfortable fact more comfortable, I do so. If I cannot, I accept the fact for what it is and do what is required.
When I strip the facts of my subjective projections, my mind will remain equanimous, for objects and events, situations and circumstances, encounters and interactions, are all value neutral. It is not the fact itself but my projected interpretation of the fact that agitates my mind and causes it to react. By objectively assessing situations without projecting my emotional reactions upon them, my mind assumes a poise that makes it easier to see things as they are. It is for this reason that a relatively poised or equanimous mind – one not roiled by projections and external circumstances – is necessary to appreciate the vision of Vedanta.
Vedanta reveals the facts of the objective world to be mithya, or only apparent. In order for me to see the essential insubstantiality of objects, however, I must reduce my projected interpretations with reference to their objective reality. When I project my own subjective reality, my own preferences and opinions, upon the facts of the seemingly objective world, I cloud my vision of the truth as revealed by the teachings of Vedanta.
A mind that is ready to undertake self-inquiry is a mind that sees facts objectively and does not impose subjective interpretations upon them. Such a mind is not bound by the spell of what appears to be, but is able to realize the limitless awareness that is its underlying reality.
Unwavering Devotion to the Self
Unwavering devotion to the self refers to the value of steadfast devotion to the Lord characterized by non-separateness from Him. Though the word “devotion” implicitly suggests a dualistic subject-object relationship, the essential meaning of unwavering devotion to the self is that I have recognized my non-separateness from the self and now stand with firm and unshakable conviction in my true identity as pure, limitless, non-dual awareness.
Non-separateness from the Lord can be seen in two ways. First, it can be taken to mean that the Lord is literally not separate from me. This view comes as a result of understanding the fundamental identity of the Lord, the manifestation, and myself. This knowledge allows me to see that the Lord is never away from me. He is I, and thus I am non-separate from Him. Second, non-separateness can be viewed dualistically in terms of seeing the Lord as my refuge. Thus, the Lord is my security, the source of my inspiration, and the giver of the fruits of all my actions.
Devotion based on the second way of looking the Lord is very helpful in preparing my mind for the assimilation of self-knowledge, which will ultimately afford me the understanding of my total non-separateness from the Lord, my indivisible identity with Him, my all-pervasive nature as pure awareness.
This type of devotion is the basis for the practice of karma yoga, which is the foundational spiritual practice upon which all other spiritual practices are built. In fact, without the karma yoga attitude in place, I stand no chance of assimilating self-knowledge, for I will continue to be controlled by my likes and dislikes and compelled to act at their behest, each action thereby serving only to sustain the my identification with the mind-body-sense mechanism and erroneous assumption that I am the apparent individual person I appear to be.
Being human, my behavior is not dictated by my instincts. I have been graced with freedom of choice with regard to my actions. The results of my actions, however, are not something that I can choose. The results of my actions are determined by the Lord, Isvara or the dharma-field. I can choose to act, but once I have acted I have no further choice. I can neither determine a particular result nor prevent the inevitable result of my action, which may or may not be the result I expected or intended, from occurring.
The result of any action is invariably appropriate to the action. In other words, the result is always in accordance with the laws operating the dharma-field, which are personified or deified and referred to variously as the Lord, God, Isvara, or Bhagavan. Many laws – known and unknown, visible and invisible – influence the result of my action, far too many for me ever to have complete knowledge of or control over. Nevertheless, the result is always taken care of by the interplay of all the natural laws governing the manifested universe. Thus, all results really come from Isvara, God-the-Creator, the Lord.
When I view the results of all actions, whether my own or those of others, as coming from the Lord, it is easier for me to adopt an equanimous attitude toward those results. Whatever happens I will take as prasad, a blessing, a gift from God. Because the operation of His laws never fail to produce a result that maintains the harmony and wellbeing of the whole, I have an attitude of grateful acceptance toward whatever comes to me form the Lord. Hence, I suffer no regret, sense of failure, sorrow, depression, or elation. My attitude is simply grateful acceptance and, thus, the condition of my mind remains equanimous.
This kind of devotion frees me from any kind of reaction, whether negative or positive. I simply see things as they are, as objective facts. Facts become problems only when I refuse to accept them, and I refuse to accept facts only when I want them to be different. If and when the facts manifest, however, I gratefully accept the result as a gift from God, I will harbor no desire for the result to be other than what it is. Thus, there will be no problem, no mental disturbance, no distraction from my natural peace.
A mind graced by devotion that sees the Lord as the giver of the results of action will have few impulsive and painful reactions to the circumstance of life because it knows that while free will affords human beings the opportunity to choose their actions, it does not enable them to choose the results. These are determined by the Lord in accordance with His laws. Moreover, because results issue from the Lord, there is never a wrong or bad result. Thus, such a mind cheerfully accepts with equanimity whatever results manifest.
Such a mind is quiet and receptive. It remains untroubled by agitating emotions. Objective and serene, such a mind is ready to assimilate the understanding of its essential non-separateness from the Lord and the manifested world.
Preference for Seclusion
A preference for seclusion refers to having love for a quiet place, a value for resorting to a quiet place. It is not the isolation of the place that is the basis of this value, but rather the quality mind that is happy in such a place. A mind that is quiet, calm, content, and appreciates solitude is a mind that has enjoys being with itself. This is a beautiful attitude that is very rare in our society. We are a society bent on escaping from ourselves. Because we are not satisfied with ourselves, we occupy the mind as much as possible with errands and entertainments so there is no time, place, or even inner quietude in which we can be with ourselves.
We keep the body busy traveling in the name of needing a break from the stress of our daily lives. At home, amusement parks, movies, television, sporting events, magazines, newspapers, computer games, social networks, and parties become the means for diversion and escape. There is nothing inherently wrong with such activities, mind you, but the motivation behind them is what needs be called into question. The deeper issue at hand is the need for escape that underlies our incessant need for activity, socializing, sensory stimulation, and noise. For some the avenue of escape may be drinking, drugs, gambling, or indiscrete sexual activity. For others it may be exercise, catering to whims of family members or friends, or working long hours in order to provide for one’s dependents or procure the most toys. Whether harmful or seemingly benign, however, the need to escape betrays reluctance on one’s part to face oneself.
No given activity by itself is intrinsically a vehicle of escape. The reason behind the activity is what determines whether it is an escape mechanism or not. You can tell that an activity has become an escape for you if you feel lost, sad, or incomplete when you are unable to engage in it.
A person who enjoys being with him or herself in quietude is neither sad nor an outcast, but rather serene and contemplative. To be contemplative means that you are able to face yourself happily. If you cannot face yourself happily, the mind will always demand an escape. An escape is a diversion that engages the attention of the mid so that it does not have to be with itself.
Though initially it may be uncomfortable, I learn to be with myself by willingly moving to a quiet place where I can take stock of myself and cultivate love and acceptance for who I am as I am. By developing the habit of repairing to a quiet place, you are learning to be with yourself. When you have learned to be with yourself, you have come to terms with yourself. And it is only when you have come to terms with yourself that your true nature can be known.
Absence of Craving for Social Interaction
Absence of craving for social interaction refers to dispassion with regard to company, a lack of craving for company, not reveling in company, not courting company. In essence, it means that you do not need the company of others in order to be happy.
This value does not call for hatred of or distaste for company. The company of others is not bad. It is not that one should dislike being around people. You simply know that you do not require the company or even approval of others in order to feel content.
Love of quietude and the absence of craving for company are companion values. It is not that a secluded place is intrinsically something good, or that the presence of other people is something bad. The bottom line regarding both of these values is the quality of mind they cultivate and reflect. Both values advocate the cultivation of a calm mind that is content being with itself and not hell bent on escape. Imbued with these values, I will never need to seek escape from being with myself nor will I be disturbed by the presence or absence of others. I will have composure whether I am with or without people.
It is important to see the underlying value of each of these values. The absence of craving for the company of others is not a value for avoiding people. Neither is a preference for seclusion the consequence of distaste for others. Someone who seeks seclusion because he or she hates other people is not expressing these values. Such a person is simply afraid of people. Along the same line, constantly courting the company of other people in order to escape from oneself is not a valid reflection of these values.
The proper attitude is not hatred of people but rather a simple love of quietude because I so enjoy being with myself that I do not need to seek the company of others. This attitude reflects a contemplative mind, a mind that is ready to engage in effective self-inquiry. A preference for quietude and the absence of a need for company are attitudes that help to establish a contemplative mind, a mind ready to undertake self-inquiry and ultimately assimilate self-knowledge.
Commitment to Self-Knowledge
Commitment to self-knowledge refers to constantly keeping in view the purpose of the knowledge of the truth. The basic knowledge to be discovered in life is the knowledge of what is real, what is true, what is fundamental. What is sought is the knowledge of the truth, or the fundamental nature of the manifestation, the maker, and myself. In fact, the basic knowledge of the truth can also be called self-knowledge because inquiry reveals the irreducible reality of oneself to be identical with the irreducible reality of God and the creation. Simply put, this value can be defined as not losing sight of self-knowledge as one’s primary goal. Moreover, a burning desire for this goal is of vital importance in order that it not become eclipsed by other goals but remains ever in one’s mind as the primary purpose of life, the recognized end behind all other ends.
Though we pursue many ends in life under the auspices of security, pleasure, and virtue, we eventually realize that none of these pursuits is capable of completely eradicating our sense of inadequacy and incompleteness. Moreover, all these pursuits are object-oriented, but no object, bound as all objects are by the limitations of time and space, has the capacity to ultimately provide us with permanent peace and lasting happiness. Only moksha, or liberation from dependence on object-oriented happiness, is able to entirely alleviate our suffering, eliminate our sense of limitation and lack, and allow us to recognize and revel in the causeless joy that is our intrinsic nature.
Self-knowledge serves the purpose of moksha, and therefore the value of making a commitment to self-knowledge means constantly keeping in sight the goal of liberation, which is complete freedom from the sense of limitation, incompleteness, and inadequacy. One with such a value never loses sight of the freedom he or she seeks, nor does he or she compromise or settle for anything less. Like a salmon swimming out of the ocean, reentering the river from which it came, and against all odds battling the current in a single-pointed effort to reach it place of origin, so the true seeker of freedom maintains his or her focus on the goal despite all the worldly distractions with which he or she is faced.
Though this search can lead a seeker over a lot of ground, from yoga to therapy, from magical thinking to meditation, from this ego-busting guru to that energy-transmitting avatar, in a process of negation and natural selection, ultimately the goal of moksha gains definition and knowledge, not experience, stands revealed as the sole means to it.
Knowledge is the only means to freedom because the freedom sought is limitlessness itself. Limitlessness is not something that can be created or produced. Rather, if limitlessness exists, it must be an ever-existent fact to be discovered. Limitlessness, by definition, can never be the end product of a process of becoming. Even an endless series of limited actions and experiences will not constitute limitlessness. Simply put, limited means cannot produce limitlessness. Limitlessness either is or is not.
If my essential nature is limited, therefore, I cannot attain limitlessness. There can be no moksha for me. I can never be absolutely liberated. Though most of the time I do judge myself to be bound, limited, inadequate, and incomplete, there nevertheless obtains within me a love and longing for freedom that is the underlying motivation of all my actions, and moreover occasional moments in which I experience intimations that freedom may be my true nature. Hence, I am led to search for the essential truth of my being. If the freedom I seek is an accomplished fact, then my failure to appreciate that fact can only be due to ignorance. And if my problem is ignorance, then my quest for freedom is becomes a quest for knowledge, for only knowledge can remove ignorance. I must gain the knowledge that will dispel the ignorance that conceals my true nature, projects an illusion of limitation, and thus keeps me from knowing myself as the limitless being I am.
One becomes an informed seeker of freedom by examining one’s own previously unexamined or erroneously interpreted experiences and seeing that all such experiences as well as any efforts that may have induced them, being inherently limited, are incapable of producing permanent freedom, and by the realization that it is through knowledge alone that one can gain lasting liberation. It is thus the desire for freedom that has matured into a desire for knowledge that indicates a state of mind that is qualified for self-inquiry.
Constancy in Knowledge Centered on the Self
As has been thoroughly demonstrated, the teachings of Vedanta are a valid means of knowledge. Knowledge does not come to someone simply because he or she wishes for it and sits quietly awaiting its arrival. There must be a valid, effective, and appropriate means of knowledge available in order to facilitate one’s assimilation of whatever one wants to know.
Self-knowledge is the subject matter of the teaching tradition referred to as Vedanta. The scriptures at the end of the Vedas, where this teaching is found, are called the Upanishads. Thus, knowledge centered on the self indicates the teaching and the books containing the teaching whose subject matter is the truth of oneself, the world, and the Lord. Constancy in knowledge centered on the self, therefore, refers to a value for consistent and committed study of the scriptures known as the Upanishads and other texts of Vedanta under the guidance of a qualified teacher and through the means of listening, reflection, and contemplation/application until self-knowledge has been assimilated beyond a shadow of a doubt.