Vedanta – A Valid Means of Knowledge
1) Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
- “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” Shunryu Suzuki
- When beginning the path of Vedanta, it is recommended that we set aside our previous notions of the spiritual journey.
- With and open mind and heart, we immerse into the teachings, with provisional faith (shraddha), pending the results of our investigation.
- Once the teachings have been fully received, then compare what we have learned with what we knew prior and determine if what we knew prior still holds water.
2) The Fundamental Problem
When we identify as the body, mind, sense complex, we feel a sense of limitation and inadequacy. Because the body, mind, sense complex, by its very nature is limited. This sense of limitation is the fundamental problem.
3) What Do You Want? We all want freedom from limitation and inadequacy.
- The Four Pursuits (Purusharthas) or human goals – security (artha), pleasure (kama), virtue (dharma) and freedom (moksha).
- The first three pursuits are really iterations of a fourth pursuit – the desire for freedom (moksha) from limitation. With security, I am seeking freedom from insecurity, with pleasure I am seeking freedom from feelings of lack or boredom, and with virtue, I wish to be free of feelings of unworthiness, shame and guilt.
- What we want is freedom from the limitation we feel that comes when we are identified with the body, which then leads to seeking happiness in objects and experiences.
4) Happiness is Not in Objects
- Definition of an object: Anything but me, as awareness. Anything perceived.
- Objects include experiences and have a beginning and an end.
- As the subject (awareness), if I can be aware of an object, it’s not me.
- Objects can be external such as a bottle or chair, or internal such as sensations, emotions and thoughts.
- Why can’t limited objects provide lasting happiness? Because objects are always changing, my desires are always changing and my sensory faculties are always changing. This creation (jagat) caused by Maya, is a realm of change.
- Happiness is not in objects, it is my nature as awareness. The more I chase joy outside myself in objects and experiences, the more I obscure it.
- If happiness were in objects, the same object would provide the same happiness to anyone who obtained it but it doesn’t. My son loves high top basketball shoes but my mother doesn’t.
- As soon as I obtain the object of my desire, I then desire another object or experience. If happiness were in objects, then as long as I had an object of my desire, I would be happy but this is not the case.
- When I obtain the object of my desire, and desire is relinquished, like a shutter on a camera, opening for a moment in time, I am flooded with the fulness of my true self. In the absence of desire, I feel content, I feel free.
5) Life is a Zero Sum Game: In Maya, the realm of duality (subject and object), for every loss there is a gain.
- I am lonely so I seek an intimate relationship but once I am in the relationship, I have less independence, more anxiety and need to work to keep the relationship healthy.
- I want a better job but once I get it, it requires more responsibility and effort.
- I want to buy an object and I am happy when I get it but I now have less money and need to care for it.
- I want a bigger house and lots of things but once I get them, I have to spend more time, talent and treasure maintaining them.
6) Non-Dual Nature of Reality
- Location of objects teaching – the object is apparently out there but I experience it within my mind, my primary instrument of expereience. My senses connect with an object and then my mind takes the shape of the object. So how far is the chair from my mind and how far is my mind from awareness?
- There is actually no separation between the subject and the object, even though it’s contrary to experience. How can I separate the object from my experience of it?
- The deeper I go into objects, the more they break down into smaller and smaller parts, eventually resolving into space. Space is the subtlest of the five elements and is pervaded by consciousness.
7) Experience vs. Knowledge
- Experience tells me the two lines below are different lengths, knowledge (a tape measure) tells me they are the same. Knowledge is that which is true and lasting. Experience is by its nature constantly changing.
- The snake and the rope metaphor (see picture at top of this page). In the twilight, the realm of light/knowledge and darkness/ignornace, I mistake the well rope for a snake and feel afraid. This metaphor shares the concept of superimposition (adhyasa), where a false attribute is overlaid upon that which is real.
- Satya (the truth) & Mithya (the apparent reality). Satya is that which never changes – existence consciousness. Mithya (Maya) is the realm objects and experiences which are in a constant state of change. By superimposition, we take Maya, the realm of objects and experience to be real but it’s overlaying and dependent upon existence consciousness.
8) Action (Karma) Can’t Set You Free, only knowledge, which removes ignorance, can.
- When we first realize there is something more to this life than meets the eye and begin to walk on the spiritual path, we mistakenly use the same methodology for obtaining things in conventional life, to obtain freedom.
- Karma or action can’t lead to moksha (freedom), because we are already free. How can we do something to get something we already have or already are as in the case of the limitless Self.
- The more we chase freedom through action, the more we obscure it.
- Since we already are that which we seek, Vedanta teaches that we don’t have an action problem, we have a knowledge or ignorance problem.
- Only knowledge can remove ignorance or not knowing. The jiva (body-mind-sense complex), the actions of the jiva, and the object or experience obtained are all limited. So how can a limited entity, taking a limited action, obtaining a limited experience, lead to limitlessness? It can’t. Only knowledge can remove ignorance and reveal what was always present – the Self, limitless existence consciousness.
- We can convert the desire for objects (experience) into the desire for freedom which greatly serves understanding.
- We can use action in the form of karma yoga and upasana yoga to prepare the mind for jnana or knowledge yoga.
9) A Valid Means of Knowledge – Vedanta
- We can’t sense or perceive Self because we don’t have adequate tools of perception. Our organs of perception, were designed to interface with the five elements of maya, and
- The Self isn’t an object or an experience that can be perceived, it’s formless.
- However, we can experience the reflection of the Self in a sattvic (pure) mind, as witness consciousness (sakshi chaitanyam).
- The mind (subtle body) can be purified through certain actions: Karma Yoga and Upasana Yoga, both driven by Bhakti or devotion for something higher.
- This purification prepares the mid to assimilate the knowledge of Self.
- I am already whole, complete and good, though my conditioning binds me to the world of objects and experiences, which apparently covers my essential nature.
- Only knowledge removes the ignorance (not knowing) and reveals the Self.
- Vedanta is a time tested valid means of knowledge distilled through the ages by countless sages. It does what it purports to do, providing a means of knowledge that removes ignorance, revealing the Self that was always present.
10) I am…
- limitless, timeless, spaceless, who, all pervasive, content, free, part-less, object-less, consciousness, existence, Brahman, paramatma, awareness.
11) Are You Qualified for Moksha (Freedom)?
- If you are still identified as a Jiva (ego/do-er) versus identified as the self, and still have binding likes and dislike, desires and fears, and…
- You are unable to assimilate the knowledge that you are whole, complete and good, or that you are limitless, conscious existence, then…
- You need to qualify (prepare) the jiva for moksha. It simply won’t happen until you have adequately purified the subtle body – mind (emotions), intellect and ego.
- If you can’t assimilate the knowledge, it does not mean there is something wrong with your teacher or the teaching (though it can), it most often means you are not yet qualified.
- If you wanted to be a brain surgeon, you would need to be qualified. If you wanted to pilot an airplane, you would need to be qualified.
12) Qualifications for Enlightenment
- Discrimination: between what’s real and unchanging (satya – the self) and what changes, all the objects that appear in the self (mithya).
- Dispassion: Indifference to the results of my actions. It’s all up to the dharmic field.
- Control of the Mind: Not controlling thought but observing the mind from the place of awareness. We can’t control thought as it is born from past karma but we can control our relationship and response to thought.
- Control of the Senses: Right action including speech. Aligning our action with dharma.
- Svadharma: My duty to myself and the field of dharma. “It is better to do a third rate job with your own dharma than a first rate job with someone else’s.” Krishna in Bhagavad Gita. Stop trying to change the world and other people. Let go of wanting to be like someone else. Love and accept yourself.
- Forbearance: There will be challenges along the way, meet them head on with courage, confidence and acceptance. Learn from the challenges.
- Ability to Concentrate: Keeping an eye on the prize, the knowledge which leads to freedom.
- Faith: In the teachings and a teacher pending the results of my investigation. As experiences confirms the teachings, faith is converted to confidence in the knowledge.
- Burning Desire for Liberation: A vital qualification. The ignorance of Maya is all pervasive and requires great dedication and effort.
- Once Isvara (the creative force and the dharmic field) sees that you are qualified through your actions, a teacher and teaching will appear and work its magic. You don’t need to seek a guru, the guru will find you.
13) A Qualified Teacher is one who:
- Has studied Vedanta in the lineage which provides a systematic methodology.
- Understands the methodology and can communicate it.
- Has direct knowledge of the Self.
- Acts in accordance with dharma.
- Treats you as an equal.
- Does not want anything back from his or her students – money, fame, power,…
There are jivas who are Self realized but do not understand the methodology. While they may be very dynamic, powerful and inspirational, they would not be considered a qualified teacher without the Vedantic methodology.
14) Yoga – Neutralizes Vasanas & Reduces Emotional Disturbance, which prepares the subtle body for Moksha.
- Karma Yoga: The first and most powerful practice for neutralizing binding desires and fears and preparing the mind for Self knowledge. With an attitude of gratitude, the jiva takes the best possible action in each moment. Knowing he or she does not control the results of actions. Each act is offered to field as a gift. Results are then received as a gift from Bhagavan/Isvara, the creator. The good is enjoyed, the bad is learned from.
- Upasana Yoga: the second practice, meditations and mantras which help the mind learn to focus the energy. Upasana means to sit near, near Isvara, near the Self.
- Jnana Yoga: the practice of self inquiry (atma vichara). 1) Shravanam – immersion in the teachings – the Upanishad, Bhagavad Gita, and subsidiary texts, 2) Mananam – offering up one’s doubts/questions to a qualified teacher, and 3) Nididhyasanam – applying the teachings to every facet of one’s life. Employing the qualifications, taking a stand in awareness.
- Tri-Guna Vibhava reveals a sattvic (clear) mind by regulating the three gunas (qualities of consciousness) – rajas (projection/creation), tamas (denial/covering) and sattva (clarity/purity). Inquiring into which actions led to which results. Taking those actions which reduce rajas and tamas, revealing sattva.
- Bhakti (devotion) love. Converting emotional energy to devotion for Isvara, knowledge and freedom. Bhakti is not considered a separate yoga but is the energy we infuse into Karma, Upasana and Jnana Yogas.
15) The Value of Values
- Values are rarely mentioned in the spiritual world, yet they are vital for moksha.
- Think of values as our inherent dharma.
- Values like Qualifications, can be used as spiritual practices to purify the body, mind, sense complex and prepare the mind to assimilate the knowledge of self.
- Some examples include: Absence of Conceit, Absence of Self-Importance, Non-Injury, Accommodation, and Commitment to Self-Knowledge to name a few.
- Explore the article The Value of Values, posted here on this site. Or read the book Value of Values by Swami Dayayananda.
16) Enlightenment – It’s Just the Beginning
- Knowledge reveals who I am, who I have been and will always be.
- Our vasanas (likes/dislikes, desires/fears) are still present but are rendered non-binding, they become preferences that can be taken or left.
- Knowledge is still applied to daily life and life is lived in alignment with dharma, as there is no reason to ever take a short cut.
- What we do on a daily basis, may or may not change but we now have understanding of what is real (sattya) and what is apparently real (mithya) and we realize that our happiness is not dependent on objects or experiences (dispassion), it’s our essential nature as non-dual love.
- We are free to live our dharma and enjoy this apparent reality.
“Next to good manners (dharma), enlightenment is the next best thing.”
Deep gratitude to the teachings and lineage of traditional Vedanta.