Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

The Assimilation of Experience
by James Swartz

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Part II

Part I

Unresolved experience, however, subliminally drains attention. Difficulty focusing on what needs to be done, and avoidance of what should or should not be done is a sign that the mind is excessively rajasic. Two holy men were walking along the Ganges when they heard cries for help from a bather who had been swept away by the current. One of them dove in, rescued the naked woman and carried her to the shore in his arms. They continued on for several hours and eventually stopped to rest. The one who had observed his friend rescue the woman was agitated and said, 'What kind of a holy man are you? You violated your vows never to touch a woman. You carried her naked out of the water and left her on the river bank!' The other sadhu said, 'What you say is true, but I left her there. You seem to have carried her for the last three hours.'

As unresolved experience accumulates, the individual suffers uncomfortable existential constipation. He or she feels overwhelmed, stressed and unable to keep up with life's demands. Growth rarely comes through the easy attainment of desires, but an extroverted person is also denied the growth enhancing benefits of assimilated unwanted experiences.

Tamas, the veiling power, inhibits the assimilation of experience as efficiently as rajas, but for different reasons. Under its influence, the subtle body, though seemingly quiet, is actually dull. Efficient evaluation of experience requires mental clarity, but when a torpid veil covers the subtle body, perception is distorted and assimilation is compromised. When the intellect is dull, it has difficulty connecting the results of its actions with the thoughts motivating them, causing uncertainty with respect to what has to be done and what should not be done. When the subtle body is predominately dull, you are negotiating the ocean of samsara in a rudderless ship. 'Where should I go? What should I do? What's going on? I don't know. I do not want to know' are some signature thoughts.

A tamasic mind is a lazy mind; it prefers to run off conditioned patterns. Unlike rajas, it hates the new. Because creative thinking takes so much energy, the tamasic mind does not value inquiry. Therefore, it cannot gain control of events and is forced to continually re-visit negative situations. Consequently, tamas is responsible for the feelings of helplessness that cause deep and lasting depressions. Tamas solves problems by denying them. When unwanted karma happens, it teams up with rajas to lay the blame elsewhere.

When it is balanced by appropriate amounts of sattva and rajas, tamas helps the psyche function smoothly. It clings to what is good and provides the patience necessary to ground ideas in reality. Finally, it is responsible for sleep. Insufficient tamas results in sleep deprivation, a major source of suffering, because the body and mind need rest.

The undigested experiential backlog caused by a tamasic mind, causes the ego to dither and procrastinate. If you have a rajasic lifestyle and find yourself feeling constantly exhausted, know that rajas is causing tamas. When tamas is particularly heavy, even small daily duties, like brushing teeth, combing hair or taking out the garbage seem like gargantuan undertakings. Neglect is tamasic and is responsible in large part for the rampant emotional dysfunction seen in materialistic societies. Parents become so caught up in their own lives that children are neglected. Unloved children quickly develop low self esteem and are unable to properly fulfill their roles in society.

Rajas projects and tamas obscures, but sattva reveals things as they are. When sattva is present, the intellect is clear and experience is seen for what it is. Unlike rajas and tamas, sattva is an indirect means of enlightenment, because it reveals the Self.

In the diagram above, the Self, awareness, shines on each of the three energies in the causal body. Its light, reflected on the subtle body, produces three distinct conditions. If I desire to experience the Self and the subtle body is the instrument of experience, it stands to reason that I would want to have a sattvic causal body. In fact the chitta, the substance of the causal body, is Consciousness and reflects Consciousness accurately. But if it is burdened with tamasic and rajasic tendencies the reflection will be distorted and inquiry will not bear fruit. If the causal body is dominated by rajasic tendencies, the Self appears as dynamic energy, not radiant light. If the causal body is tamasic, I will have no idea of the Self whatsoever. The conclusion is obvious: if I want to experience the Self as it is, I should cultivate a sattvic mind. Experience of the Self is not enlightenment, but it can lead to enlightenment if the intellect can assimilate the knowledge''I am awareness''that arises when the attention is turned within and the mind is sattvic.

Irrespective of its value for enlightenment, a predominately sattvic mind is a happy creative mind. Unenlightened but happy worldly people owe their happiness to sattva, which they evolved unconsciously, because they impeccably follow dharma.

Because reality is non-dual Consciousness, the mind is Consciousness. To gain a predominately sattvic mind, one capable of discrimination and the easy assimilation of experience, the proportions of rajas and tamas relative to sattva need to be manipulated. Enough rajas needs to be retained for motivational purposes and enough tamas kept to ground one's ideas in reality. But the lion's share of the mind should be sattvic. A predominately sattvic mind will gain success in any field, worldly or spiritual, because it can discriminate properly. Faulty discrimination causes unskillful and inappropriate actions.

When rajas dominates the mind, desire interprets experience. When tamas dominates, fear interprets experience. Both obscure the truth. When sattva dominates, truth interprets experience.

Finally, these three energies are called gunas or ropes because they bind the soul, the indweller in the body, to habitual thoughts, feelings and actions. Each binds in a different way. Rajas binds by longing and attachment. Craving for things and attachment to things pressures you to become a doer and ties you up with karma. Furthermore, desire makes rule breaking tempting. If you push against the rules, the rules push back. Continual reaction to events is bondage.

Tamas binds by ignorance and its effects. When you are dull you cannot think clearly, so you are uncertain about what needs to be done and you tend to opt not to do what you should do or to do what you should not do. In the best of all possible worlds you would not be penalized for not doing something, however life is not the best of all possible worlds. If you do not respond to life appropriately, you are blessed with suffering. Try not paying taxes or the mortgage and see what happens. Furthermore, when you are lazy you are prone to cutting corners, which does not make you a friend of dharma.

Although sattva is a necessary stepping stone to Self realization, it binds through attachment to pleasure and happiness. When the mind is sattvic, you feel good. When you feel good, there is a strong tendency to identify with the feeling. Actually, there is only one 'I' and it does not feel good or bad, but when it is apparently ignorant of its nature, it thinks it is an enjoyer. The pleasure that one feels is always associated with an object and objects are experienced in the mind, so when rajas or tamas takes over, the pleasure disappears. By identifying with happiness, you are asking for unhappiness.

Sattva also binds by attachment to knowledge. Because sattva is responsible for knowledge and because knowledge is necessary for survival, it is easy to become attached to what you know or do not know. It so happens that the 'I''Consciousness'is not a knower. It illumines the knower, knowledge and the objects of knowledge. It illumines the absence of knowledge. Therefore, attachment to sattva, not sattva itself, stands in the way of Self knowledge.

We believe that we consciously interpret our experiences, but actually rajasic, tamasic and sattvic values do the interpreting. For a worldly person, someone who takes the dream of experience to be real and pursues happiness in it, a sattvic mind is a guarantor of success, such as it is. This is so because only true knowledge bears the desired fruit, assuming a conducive field of action. The war in Iraq, for example, was based on faulty information brought about by the tamasic fears of America's dull-witted leaders.

A sattvic mind is an inquiring, open mind. Every mind is controlled by a secular or sacred belief system. Imprinting starts in childhood when the intellect begins to function. By the time the individual realizes that he or she could have just as well been conditioned to a different view of reality, it is almost too late to change, the power of the vasanas being what they are. When rajas and/or tamas dominate the mind, epiphanies and scripture are interpreted according to conditioned beliefs, opinions, prejudices, fears, desires and fantasies. Misunderstood and misapplied knowledge causes suffering. Only when the mind is clear can it grasp the import of the teachings.

No one is experience free. Life is experience and experience is fickle. One moment it is conducive to happiness and the next it is not. Freedom, the conscious or unconscious goal of everyone, is freedom from attachment to uniformed interpretation of experience, not experience itself' although the quality of experience can be altered by manipulating the gunas/vasanas with knowledge. When Self knowledge dawns in a sattvic mind, it is a perfect means to evaluate and process experience. Unexamined experience no longer accumulates, because it is processed on the spot, allowing the mind to remain unmodified and bask in the light shining on it from within. Self knowledge removes doubt about the nature of the world because it reveals things as they are. When things are known as they are, the desire to have them be different subsides, freeing the mind from its need to have experience conform to its likes and dislikes, eliminating emotional suffering. Self knowledge is the knowledge that you are what you seek. It ultimately destroys desire, because it is clear that the bliss you seek in objects, you already have as the Self. It also eliminates fear, because the vision of non-duality means that there is no other.

If we go back to the example of the woman with the alcoholic father, we see how failure to resolve her childhood experience resulted in a lifetime of suffering. Of course, it is not possible for a child to see what is actually happening as it unfolds, and to have the wisdom to lay it to rest. Even as an adult' she is not actually an adult because she has not grown out of her childhood pattern'she is incapable of understanding the reasons for her suffering. Her hatred has kept her narrowly focused on her ego and she has not been able to develop a realistic view of the complex impersonal factors involved in her situation. What would be a realistic view and how would it lead to resolution and forgiveness?

People would not be who they are if they could help it; we would all be the gods and goddesses we want to be. We are victims of our ignorance of the truth. When you do not understand that you are one with everyone and everything, a profound fear suffuses your being. No one is immune to this existential fear, except the enlightened. It hides the Self, stealing your intelligence and compassion. Fear is reactive, not responsive. If you are walking along a street at night and suddenly there is a power outage, your first emotion is fear. You are in the dark and confused. You do not know what to do. This causes you to imagine dangers that are not present. Your heart races and you want to be free of the dark. To respond with compassion you need to be free of fear.

Nobody is born wise. Everyone who comes to earth is in the dark about who they are. Consequently, fear and desire run their lives. When you are motivated by negative impulses, dysfunctional behavior is the norm. If we look dispassionately at the lives of the woman's parents, we inevitably discover that their parents and their parent's parents were also governed by fear and desire. The chain of dysfunction goes right back to the day the big bang blew out the lights and plunged humankind into darkness.

Christian doctrine calls this blackout original sin. In Vedic culture it is called maya, the non-apprehension of reality and the subsequent misapprehensions that arise from it. It is original in the sense that it precedes the existence of all beings. When you are fearful you want to protect yourself, so you lash out at real and imagined threats. You abuse yourself and others, like the father in the previous story. Or you hide and neglect yourself and your duties like the mother. Had the woman been informed that her psychology was a replica of her parent's psychology, she would deny it. In her mind she sees herself a blameless victim, which, in a sense, she is. She may be a victim'who is not?... but it does no good to see yourself as one. To take this stance is to deny your true nature. When projection and denial operate, delusion is not far behind.

It is not a secret that psychological dysfunction is carefully handed down from generation to generation. Conditioning means that you do not have any choice. It happens when you are not aware. If this is true, how reasonable is it to blame your parents, your teachers, religion, society or the government for your problems? Everyone is in the same boat; we all suffer the seemingly incurable disease of ignorance. How logical is it to take what happens personally? This does not make abuse or other bad actions right, but right and wrong have nothing to do with it. Right action, thought and speech are not possible when fear and desire control your life.

How we think about a problem may be only part of the problem, or it may be the whole problem. To successfully resolve conditioned patterns, it is very helpful to depersonalize them. It is virtually impossible for materialists to develop an impersonal view of suffering, because materialists are dualists. They see the ego as the only self and take it to be incomplete and inadequate. They believe that everyone is unique and is therefore special. For them, everything that happens is personal. 'Us and them' is a dualist mentality. Dualists need enemies to define themselves. They think it is a dog-eat-dog world and the sooner we realize it, the better. Tolerance, compassion, dispassion, accommodation and forgiveness are seen by them to be weak, unrealistic and foolish values.

This orientation is unhelpful for solving problems. Projected into society, it begets culture wars; into politics, gridlock; into religion, the Crusades and the Inquisition; into international relations, war. Because her orientation was dualistic, the woman in our example reacted with anger, resentment and hatred. She cast herself as a victim and her father as a victimizer, a typical dualistic concept. As long as she accepts a personal world view, her suffering will persist.

There is perhaps no more eloquent example of non-dual vision than Christ's statement under torture on the cross, 'Forgive them; they know not what they do.' There are no evil people, only ignorant people. Ignorance causes unhealthy behavior. Another of Christ's pronouncements speaks to this issue, 'Hate the sin, not the sinner.' The sinner is just the Self under the spell of self ignorance. He or she is worthy of love.

The vision of non-duality is built into the sattvic mind because it is non-separate from the Self. The self is not unique. It is the same in everyone. It binds everything into one whole. Any problematic experience can be quickly laid to rest when this vision is applied. Therefore, cultivate sattva in the form of inquiry into the nature of reality.

How Can I Get a Pure Mind?

Radiant, charismatic, unalloyed happiness is Consciousness reflecting in the clear lake of a pure mind. The auras depicted around the heads of saints symbolize this kind of mind. Although the light of Consciousness falls on a dull mind as well, it produces virtually no happiness because it is absorbed by dense tamasic clouds, which prevent it from reaching the soul. The passionate mind is illumined too, but it derives little benefit. Its incessant cascade of tightly packed thoughts creates an opaque moving screen that prevents the light from illuming the soul. Cut off from its radiant source, it slowly suffers death by animation. Unfortunately, there is no easy fix when the mind is dominated by these two unhelpful energies. But it is possible to create a predominately sattvic mind, one that delivers the more or less constant experience of radiant happiness, one that can efficiently process experience.

First, pay close attention to the mind and recognize the energy in play at the moment. Rajas and tamas, by their very nature, are inimical to Self study. Rajas diverts attention into the world, when it should be focused within. Tamas conceals the intellect behind a dark cloud, making observation difficult. To further complicate matters, the ego resists every effort at Self study because it is attached to the way it sees things. It thinks that its life is like the famous Chinese ball puzzle: remove one piece and the whole thing falls apart. Often it is helpful for the ego to hit bottom, but it will do anything to avoid this possibility.

Life is not a Chinese ball puzzle. What you have and what you do does not make you who you are. Granted, certain minimal possessions and activities are necessary to sustain life, but a significant fraction of our things and doings are completely gratuitous. Less is more on the path of self inquiry. A simple lifestyle is necessary if inquiry is going to work. Nobody is holding a gun to my head and insisting that I stay up till two am watching my fifty four inch hi-definition TV. No one forces me to buy a big house with a three car garage on credit, eat in fancy restaurants and send my kids to Ivy League schools. No law compels me to vacation in Europe or to smoke cigarettes.

It is not easy to accept the fact that I am living a life that is not what my heart wants, that I have cleverly convinced myself that bondage is superior to freedom. It is painful to listen to my mind intone a steady rajasic chant of 'have tos,' 'supposed tos', 'shoulds' and 'musts.' It is dispiriting to listen to its continuous tamasic dirge: 'I can't, I won't, I don't want' and 'I'm not good enough.'

Inquiry begins when we look into the excuses we make, to avoid simplifying our lives. There is never a good reason not to do what is right for your happiness. Ask what your life would look like if you do the right thing. Tamas will try to scare you, 'Could be dangerous. The planets are not favorable. No new projects till Mars transits Aires in 2010!' Or rajas will say, 'I've got to finish this project right now, but I'll get to the spiritual stuff in the spring.' Or it will convince you that your present problem is much bigger than it is and suggest you ask God for help. You pray in earnest, but your prayers go unanswered because you do not realize that God is that part of you that revealed the problem in the first place and encouraged you to get to work. If God is not your cup of tea, you might visit a therapist. It is not clear what a therapist is going to say that you do not already know. Perhaps he or she will sidetrack you, give the ego clever justifications for its resistance: your mother did this, your father did that. Poor me! Maybe you are inclined to visit a psychic or have a Tarot reading, in which case you will learn that you are being tested. But wait! The Ace of Cups says you will come out of it a stronger better person. Spiritual as it seems, magical thinking is delusional. You are not special and the universe is not eagerly sitting around waiting to deliver a much-needed miracle. If you are looking for outside help or a sign from the cosmos, know that your mind is firmly in the grip of delusion. Resistance to change is tamasic. There are few things worse than the feeling of helplessness and low self esteem that comes from not doing what you know is right for your liberation.

Assuming that you have overcome your resistance and are actually ready to begin transforming your mind, how should you proceed? On the surface it seems as if you have no control over the three energies. One minute you feel good, but some little thing does not go your way and suddenly you feel angry. 'Gotcha!' says rajas. Or you are having a very bland day, definitely nothing to write home about, and suddenly you feel very happy for no apparent reason. Sattva snuck up on you when you were not looking. Perhaps you were feeling fine when someone said that your candidate for president was three points behind in the polls. Instantly you become depressed'tamas hard at work. You cannot predict your next thought. You set out to get something in the kitchen, but by the time you reach the kitchen door you have forgotten what you wanted, because a more important thought has entered your mind. Our subjective life is controlled by the causal body, the unconscious, which dictates our moods. Our moods motivate our behavior.

It does not have to be like this. Rajas and tamas are unconscious energies, viruses that thrive in the dark. They survive because they fly beneath the radar of attention and replicate themselves secretly as we act. To expose them, we need to connect our actions and their results. This seems obvious, but it is not as easy as you might imagine. For example, you go out for a night on the town. You have a big meal with your significant other and hit the dance floor. The music tickles your fancy. You and your partner are very much in tune, so you dance till the wee hours, knocking back stiff drinks between the numbers. Rajas feels fantastic; you are excited. Whee! Great Party. You are effusive, romantic and silly. The milk of human kindness flows generously in your veins. You over tip and hug the waiter, as if he was a long lost relative. When the taxi drops you off at home, you strip off your clothes as you make a beeline for the bedroom. Your wife's aunt in the guest room downstairs cannot sleep because of the all the commotion going on overhead. It is going to be a bit tense in the morning at the breakfast table. Finally, you run out of steam. The last thought before you drift off is, 'Wow! This is great!! If this is life, give me more.'

And the truth? It is great - until it isn't. The following morning you wake up late. It is a new day. The sun is shining and you have the day off. You will take care of some projects: mow the lawn, fix the sink in the guest bathroom, haul some rubbish to the dump, take your kids to the zoo and get to bed early. A typical happy Saturday in suburbia.

But tamas has arrived....

Part III

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012