An Interview with Vijay Kapoor
Sri Vijay Kapoor took Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati as his guru at a family camp the very first year Swamiji came to the US. Later, Sri Kapoor was one of the pioneers to establish the three-year course taught by Pujya Swamiji in Piercy, California, started in 1979. To attend this course, he left his job as a Marketing Manager for the Hewlett-Packard Company and moved his entire family to live in Piercy. Pujya Swamiji asked Sri Kapoor to be the Secretary for the Arsha Vidya Pitham at its inception, and he is still serving in that capacity today.
After his graduation from the Piercy course in 1982, Sri Kapoor resumed his work at HP, and also started teaching Vedanta in the San Francisco Bay Area. He took early retirement in the year 2000 to devote his time to the study and teaching of Vedanta and Sanskrit. Sri Kapoor established the Arsha Vidya Center (AVC), whose goal is to promote Pujya Swamiji's teachings in the local area. Toward that goal, both Swami Viditatmananda and Swami Tattvavidananda have been visiting the Bay Area regularly for talks, classes and retreats. Sri Kapoor currently teaches two Vedanta classes per week to about 50 students, two Sanskrit classes per week and has established four Gita Home Study groups in the area.
For more details about Sri Kapoor's work and teaching schedule, visit the Arsha Vidya Center website.
Q. I would like to get back to the basics of the teaching � what is Advaita Vedanta from your point view?
What we experience in our lives is diversity. And some of the diversity is unpleasant, and all of it is limiting. For example, one finds a sense of unease in differences amongst people � ideas, concepts, competition, and so on.
So what I find myself facing in life is diversity and some of it bothers me. If diversity were all agreeable and nice then it wouldn�t bother me. But it is not always like that. One is born with a sense of isolation, and always one tends to remove it. So really speaking, one wants to have peace of mind, when there is no diversity, when one is just with oneself.
Take a feeling of love, for example. Supposing there are two people who are in a marriage; if the husband and wife are fighting with each other � it�s a very unpleasant thing because there is duality. They look upon the other person as something different from themselves.
If you are able to bridge that difference through love, it�s not just the physical embrace of two people coming together but the fact that there is a lack of duality. This is very comforting, that you love somebody. So you don�t have a sense of separation through any duality.
Having said that, what I find is that I cannot get rid of duality because the very nature of life is diversity. So what we have is a very interesting conundrum because we love not having duality but we are faced with duality all the time. The answer to this is that diversity doesn�t need to be eliminated. It needs to be transcended, by understanding.
Q. So the teaching of Advaita is not that the diversity doesn�t exist, but to transcend it by understanding, so that it is no longer limiting.
Precisely. So the real meaning of nonduality is in spite of duality. Not the absence of duality.
For example, take a wave on the ocean; if it were conscious, surely it would be in sorrow. If asked for the reason for its unhappiness, the wave is likely to say that there are all these other waves that are trying to compete with me and I�m not going to live for very long because I�m going to disappear and I don�t like it. I wish I were a bigger wave that can be there for long and dominate others.
Now a guru wave comes along and says, wait, there is a problem in your thinking. You have a notion of isolation and it is not correct. The wave says, I don�t understand, what�s wrong with my thinking? Can�t you see that I am a small wave buffeted by all these other waves around me and then I am going to disappear?
The guru wave says, no I don�t see it that way. Why? Because you are putting the �I� in the wrong place. When you say �I�, you are putting the �I� in the particular shape and form of the wave. Instead, you should put it in the very content, the very reality of yourself, which is water. That is you.
That is indeed you; it is not the shape of you that defines you. The shape is incidentally you. But what is intrinsically you is the very water itself; in fact, it is the same water for the whole ocean. It takes a while for the wave to understand. But soon, it says, I see!
Now if I look at diversity this way, it is suddenly not biting. It is not fundamentally threatening to the very existence of me. Once you understand that there is water that transcends the individual forms of the waves, then there is an underlying nonduality in spite of duality.
That is our goal; that is what we need to understand. Advaita Vedanta strives to show us through this teaching that within the entire universe there is one underlying, nondual content, which is 'I', the limitless consciousness.
Q. Is there a reason why it is set up this way, to be tinged with problems and a sense of isolation?
This is a very good question. I am just going to tell you the way it is. It turns out that in reality there is only one being in this creation, which is Ishvara, God. Only one being. Not many, separate beings but only one being. And that being was never born, he or she was always there, never not there and has no competitor because it is infinite, totally infinite. And so it cannot change or disappear.
It�s kind of like an ocean, a huge infinite ocean, with no depth whosoever. Now the question is, how do you create diversity in that one, nondual being? How do you create a play in that being? The only way that you can do that is to pretend that you are not the only being. So, like a painter uses colour as the basic ingredient for painting, Ishvara uses ignorance as the basis of the whole creation because if the ignorance was not there, if the play of ignorance is not there, you cannot have diversity.
And so really the only way to have diversity is to pretend there is diversity. This is very much like the individualistic dream that we have. You know, in the beginning of the dream there is one person who is me � I lie down, and I dream. And now some interesting things happen � I create multiple characters and I am each and every one of them. I am the person who is afflicted, I am also the tiger who is frightening me, or the snake that is trying to bite me, I am also somebody else who is trying to save me. I am creating all of this seeming diversity.
Q. In the beginning, when someone embarks on a spiritual path, it is usually precipitated by some form of crisis, a distaste, a disgust for the world, a sense that one cannot take it anymore, for whatever reason. The world is rejected. And yet you are suggesting the complete opposite � the way out of the situation is actually embracing the world and learning to enjoy it.
Yes, this sense of utter isolation and rejection of the unpleasant experiences of life is just a subjective viewpoint. It is ultimately a distorted view of what actually is. It is very understandable but the avoidance of the world is not necessary. It turns out that merely a relook at the situation makes the engagement with the world totally different and life itself becomes very pleasant. In fact this is the very theme of the Bhagavad Gita.
Q. Living in the world, being a householder �
Right. When Krishna explained the Self to Arjuna, Arjuna says yes, this is good, I like this. And then Krishna says, there is no diversity, and Arjuna also says, yes, this is wonderful. Because of this Arjuna says, I do not want to fight, I prefer to retire to a quiet place and meditate on it! Krishna says, not so fast. Arjuna, you cannot escape the fight, you have to face it. You see, you have to engage with the world to see that the world doesn�t bite � to retest your old ideas of what bites and what doesn�t in light of the new teaching. If a person mistakes a rope for a snake, then the best thing for someone to point that out is to take the person near the rope and show that it is not a snake; if one escapes from the scene, no words are really comforting.
Q. I have certainly noticed in my own experience that I can subtly manipulate the teaching for my own purposes to justify avoidance or non-engagement. But what�s really going on is there can be, say, fear arising in a given situation, so I detach myself, when in fact it would warrant a facing the thing that is provoking the feeling of fear.
Yes. This is a repudiation of the yogic principle of saying I am just going to quieten my mind and not think about anything; any thought is not a good thought� but it doesn�t work. It just means that the thought world is still too real to me. The trick is to see the non-reality of it.
It�s like saying in order for me to experience the water of the ocean, I want all the waves to subside.
The real enlightenment is to see that whether the waves are there or not, whether they are dancing, prancing, making noise, it is the reality behind them that really matters and that requires thinking, work, and dedication. Even though the principles behind them may be instantaneous, in order for me to gain clarity, I have to do the work.
Q. The Neo Advaita argument that states you don�t exist, you are already it, feels like an excuse to avoid any kind of work, any kind of discipline, any kind of practice. Indeed, the word �practice� has become a dirty word. People will say, oh you don�t believe in all that traditional claptrap do you? You�re already free! And yet I still have the experience of being caught up in the illusion and not tasting absolute freedom � how can that experience be dismissed or denied?
�I� the self has no problems but �I� the individual appears to have a problem so I have to see the distinction between I the individual and the notions that I cover myself with.
Just by saying I am the awareness by itself is not enough; if I don�t see the truth in all of its manifestations, I am fooling myself.
Q. So may I ask you about your own tradition? If I come to you in a state of madness and chaos, what would you advise me to do? What can you offer me? How can you help me? What would you say to me in order to set me free?
I think the first thing that I would do is to reassure you that I have the answers that can help you. Even though I have not given the answers yet, you need to have confidence in my ability.
I start a new class every year. It�s very interesting to see the worried looks on people�s faces. They are all sitting there thinking, who is this guy, how is he going to help me and so on?
I invariably tell them something that catches their attention. I say, you know I have never met any of you before, this is the first time I have seen you today in the class but you�ll be surprised by what I am going to tell you. I actually know you better than you know yourselves. They say, really, how? And I say, because I know myself to a certain extent and the one that I know is the same as you.
What I say is I have to reassure them that I know the answers so stick with me for a while. Be patient. It takes time. This is called shraddhA.
Q. So what would you prescribe for the ailment?
Listening to the right teacher, that is the only way. There are two aspects � one is to find the right person who knows what he/she is talking about. There�s so much gobbledygook that goes on, oh my God!
But this is where Ishvara�s grace comes in. Initially, you do not know enough to test whether the person is right or not. So a certain amount of serendipity, your past karmas if you will, get you to the right teacher.
And the other is not to let go when you begin to sense the truth of what the guru is saying, and to hold on to his/her tail tight. This happened to me. Once I met Swami Dayanandaji, within about half an hour I could sense he is the right teacher for me; at that point I knew I would never leave him.
Q. So what is Swami Dayananda�s quality?
His knowledge, his impeccable logic. There was no question of mine that he could not answer. And by the time I had met him, I had been enquiring quite a bit so I had some reasonably intelligent questions to ask him.
This is one thing we have in our sampradAya � unlike some mahatma that may be �self-realised� but doesn�t have the ability to teach you - we don�t consider that to be a very useful person.
You know, you approach a well-known mahatma and you are inspired and think, wow, he is very peaceful and so on. When I was in his presence, I felt so good. And then you go out on the street and there�s traffic and horns and so on and the whole feeling is gone. What difference does that encounter make in your life?
So we have a saying in the Mundaka Upanishad (1.2.12):
pariikShya lokaan karmacitaan braahmaNaH
nirvedamaayaad naastyakRRitaH kRRitena.
tadviGYaanaartham sa gurumevaabhigacChet
samitpaaNiH shrotriyam brahmaniShTham.
Examining the experiences gained by doing actions and meditation, make the discriminative person discover dispassion. mokSha, which is not created, cannot be gained through action. Therefore, to gain the knowledge of Brahman, he must go with sacrificial twigs in hand to a teacher who is well versed in scriptures and who has clear knowledge about Brahman.
There are two words used here: brahmaniSTha means clarity of the vision and shrotriya means that the teacher must know the method of showing the clarity to a student.
This is where Swami Dayanandaji has become such an important person - he has taught thousands of people, out of which I think there are about two hundred teachers or so who themselves have become teachers with that ability. And I can see just by teaching how slowly we all improve. My own life is getting slowly but surely better. There is no guesswork; it works!
Q. Ramana Maharshi talks about how a true teacher inspires the teacher within you.
This is what is called kRRipA, which means blessing. There are different kinds of kRRipA. There is shAstra kRRipA, there is guru kRRipA and there is Atma kRRipA. First the blessing of the teaching from the shAstra � it has to be full and complete, it has to be with the blessing of the teacher because this is a very subtle subject. So just by reading chapter one, chapter two, chapter three�, and be done with it, it doesn�t happen that way. My doubts are so damaging to me that I have to find someone that I can trust; this is called guru kRRipA.
Finally, what Ramana Maharshi was talking about is Atma kRRipA, that is should be my knowledge, my experience, my thinking, my clarity. Part of that comes from the fact I am so used to putting myself down, thinking I am no good, how am I going to be able to do this.
Swamiji says forget about this. Just don�t have any doubts about it, have a clean slate and live the fresh life everyday. And then the teaching becomes clear.
Q. So is it therefore vital in your opinion that a student needs a living teacher?
Yes, very much.
Q. It can�t just be an intellectual study, no matter how sincere?
No. This is the real meaning of the word sampradAya. It is almost like, for example, when you want to be a violin virtuoso. You can learn some of the basic tones by reading a book and by practising on your own but if you want to be a Yehudi Menuhin, with some subtle qualities, you have to be sitting next to a live teacher. You need someone to show you how to do it. That kind of interplay between two real people is imperative. In all of our teaching, it is said that it cannot be done on one�s own. We all try to prove it wrong � oh no, I�m different, I�m smart � but then you�ll live the whole life and say what have I done? Finding a real teacher is absolutely crucial. It cannot be done on one�s own.
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