Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

by Dhanya

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The psychological obstructions to the fruits of knowledge

I'm going to tell you a secret, which I don't think many modern day non-traditional advaita teachers would tell you. Self-knowledge and the fruits thereof take time.

Even the scriptures don't emphasize this. One of my favorite quotes from an Upanishad is Tarati shokam Atmavit (Chandogya.Upanisad. 7.1.3) The knower of the self (atmavit), crosses (tarati), sorrow (shokam)

At first I took this verse to be very inspirational, thinking that all I needed to do was know the self and there would be no more sorrow for me. But it really is not as simple as that.

There are three sAdhana-s for the study of Vedanta: they are (1) shravaNa - listening to the teachings; (2) manana - clearing doubts by asking questions; and (3) nididhyAsana - meditation on what has been recognized as a result of the teaching.

Also I would say (or it seems to me) that self-knowledge takes place in two stages (at least).

The first stage is the recognition of the self as distinct from the body, the mind, the emotions, and all of those things which I previously took to be me.

That first stage takes place through a neti, neti, and positive assertion process. I negate all that I am not, and a simple way to recognize what you are not is that you are not any single thing which changes. And while everything you previously took yourself to be changes, there is something which doesn't, which is present to all of the changes, and that something is you, the self, the Atma, aka brahman.

So that process itself takes time, but the recognition of the Atma as distinct from the body/mind occurs instantaneously, and once it occurs one never loses sight of it again.

Okay, once that recognition has taken place, then we are left with the 'I' and everything else which is not 'I,'; in other words duality. And duality is not what the teachings tell us is true.

So then we go out and analyze all that has been rejected as not I; find out if it really exists at all in the way that we perceive it (as separately existing objects.) Finally, we come to recognize that all that exists is existence, and existence is I am.

That's a synopsis of the process. But what about all of the negative moods, emotions, complexes, problems, etc., which existed in the mind prior to self-knowledge and which caused suffering? Do they magically disappear in a puff of smoke?

I think that many non-traditional advaita teachers would like us to think that they do, because that is the carrot that keeps people coming back to see them.

But the reality as far as I can tell, from my own experience, and from talking with Swami Dayananda and my teacher, and from talking with others in my class, is that these things do not magically disappear overnight.

Once one has recognized the self as distinct from the body/mind, then one has recognized the stable source of all love and happiness, but the mental habit patterns of a life-time (some would say many life-times) are still there, and they need to be attended to.

One now has a different platform from which to view them, and if one has a teacher who is skilled in psychology, one may also have some good guidance in how to deal with these habit patterns of the mind, which 'as though' obstruct the fruits of knowledge.

I'm not sure that this phenomenon is spoken of very widely, but it is something which Swami Dayananda has spoken of at length in a series of interviews. And it seems to me that, especially for westerners with our complex psychological problems, dealing with these mental obstructions becomes the main sAdhana for gaining the fruits of knowledge.

I don't think that conceptual knowledge is the 'booby prize,' at all. I would say it's a start. Conceptual knowledge IMO can never match actual knowledge, but it indicates a willingness and a desire to know the truth. And the desire to know the truth is considered to be the only truly benign desire there is, because its fulfillment ends the habitual and damaging mode of thinking that happiness lies in situations which change.

The recognition that there is in reality only one thing that exists takes a lot of time, a lot of contemplation, teaching and work. The very first step is to try and recognize your unchanging self as distinct from those things which change.

That is the first step, but it isn't the last step, and along the way, the light of the knowledge of the self is seen to shine upon all of those 'problems' which I have.

In moments of despair one can ask oneself, what is more real? Am I more real, or are these problems more real? Always, always, I am more real. Which is preferable, me, or these problems? I am preferable.

So then one can just sit and contemplate one's self, one's true nature, which has been recognized as a result of the teaching. And that contemplation comprises the third sAdhana - nididhyAsana. So, nididhyAsana is very important to help deal with all of the negative psychological effects of self-ignorance which we have carried with us for so long, and which comprise suffering.

But one cannot do nididhyAsana without having first recognized the self as distinct from those things which the mind took the self to be one with. So separating out the self and recognizing it is the first step.

Once that has occurred, the rest will follow, but it may take time.

And what does the phrase 'the one who knows the self crosses sorrow' mean? It means first of all that the self is recognized as never having been sorrowful in the first place, and it also means that eventually the mind itself will cease to be sorrowful in the light of that knowledge.

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012