Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

by James Swartz

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Part II

A Disciplined Observant Mind

Successful Self Inquiry depends on many factors, not the least of which is a clear, still mind. Two basic sources of agitation hinder inquiry: the desire for a particular result and the depressed or angry reaction of the mind to unwanted results. It is impossible to withstand your desires without Self understanding. They come from an unconscious source and enter the door of the conscious mind without permission. Control lies in your relationship to them. An immature person does not consider whether or not acting out a desire is desirable. He or she simply takes the desire or fear as a command and sets out to pursue or avoid the relevant object.

A disciplined mind is not a controlling mind. Just as you cannot directly control your desires, you cannot directly control your thoughts. A disciplined mind is an observing mind because observation produces understanding and knowledge is power. Thoughts have no intrinsic value, but the value added to the thoughts by a mind that does not know the truth may very well be a problem.

If you like somebody and ask them out and they reject your invitation, you feel hurt, although no hurt was intended; it was simply what reality had to offer at the time. But because it was an unsuitable result, you added the hurt. If you are not observant, you will blame the person or feel bad about yourself and miss an opportunity to discover the source of the pain. This will set you up to experience it again. Had you traced the hurt back to its source and discovered that it was connected to your identification with your desires, you would have lessened the likelihood of hurting yourself the next time. To strip your projections from the thoughts and see them as they are is the purpose of disciplined observation. A mind freed of its projections is capable of Self Inquiry.

Observation is not only useful to remove projections, it is also helpful for analysis of the content of thoughts. What you think about yourself and the world represents your knowledge or ignorance. Because the purpose of Self Inquiry is the removal of ignorance, it is important to know what you actually think and why you think what you think. A person caught up in samsara is more or less one with his or her thoughts. How can such a person evaluate his or her thinking, if the thoughts are not known?

Mental discipline implies restraint with reference to one�s desires and fears. It is not always wise to act on every desire, even if it were possible. For instance, very rich and powerful people often destroy their lives because they have the wherewithal to satisfy all their desires, no matter how frivolous or inappropriate. To gain a mind capable of Self realization, it is important to develop the habit of evaluating desires with reference to priorities. I want to lose weight and my neighbor brings over a big cheesecake. Desire arises and I want to eat it. Is it appropriate to satisfy this desire? Giving up gratuitous desires as they arise, with reference to the goal of achieving a quiet mind, is a necessary qualification for Self realization. If you do not go with gratuitous desires eventually they will no longer disturb you.

Loose lips sink ships. Mental discipline also implies control of the senses. If you find that certain impulses cannot be released at the mental level, through observation and evaluation with reference to your priorities, the last line of defense is the sense organ level. For example, you have a distinct dislike of someone in your office. Every time you are in this person�s presence, you have a big urge to express yourself. Perhaps you call it �being honest.� As long as the feeling stays in your mind, you are OK karma wise. If you are particularly egoistic and feel that you need to be �honest� with the person, there will be consequences. Perhaps he or she is tight with the boss. A month later you are out of a job. If you are out of a job, you cannot pay the mortgage. The bank forecloses and your wife takes up with the rich guy down the block. Your kids hate you for messing up their lives. If you thought your mind was unhappy before all this happened, think how it is going to feel once it happens. One�s whole life can unravel from a very small incident. Karma has no sympathy. It does not care what you think. Think what you like, but it is wise to be careful what you do. Even if there are no obvious results in terms of your situation, you will feel agitated because injury in thought and word is also a violation of dharma.

Simply refusing to give in to the urge to project the mind into objects is the negative half of mental discipline. The positive half is turning the attention back to the Self. Projections like anger, blame and criticism are never about the object. They are opportunities for Self realization. Just as in a dream where all the co-workers in your dream office are your own dream mind, in non-dual reality all others are actually your Self. So when you are angry, you are angry with yourself for a reason you do not understand. Convert the emotion into Self Inquiry. Ask yourself why you are angry with the object and if it is really true that the object is the problem. Ask why it matters that so and so is a jerk. Understand that if so and so is a jerk, you are the real jerk, because so and so is only in your mind.

In fact you have no control of the anger. Try to get angry when you are happy. Anger comes from an unconscious reservoir of unexamined beliefs and opinions. The object triggers something already in you. Once you have owned the anger, it is necessary to resolve it through continued inquiry into its source. The source of negative emotion is always the belief that you are small, separate, inadequate and incomplete. Ask yourself if it is true. The true you is never angry. Let the mind rest in this knowledge and the anger will disappear. Positive projections on objects should also be analyzed and traced back to the Self. In this way positive and negative projections are resolved and the mind becomes objective and non-judgmental. When the mind has been cleared of most of its binding projections, it reflects awareness faithfully and the Self is revealed in it.

Self Duty

Good fences make good neighbors. Need is a fact of life. If you do not see that your needs are met in accordance with your self-duty, your mind will be agitated. Many people, particularly women, have been conditioned to take care of other�s needs before they take care of their own. No particular virtue accrues to the one who takes care of other�s needs, although much is made of it by society and religion. In fact, indiscriminate looking after other�s needs, or your idea of their needs, not only hinders your growth, it hinders the recipient�s growth because it keeps him or her from developing self reliance. If you have children, you have a duty to see that your obligations are fulfilled up to a point. If you have sullen and lazy adult children living in your home, eating your food and not paying rent, you have boundary issues and need to change the way you see yourself with reference to others.

One of the most egregious violations of this principle is envy, wanting to be like someone else, because it prevents you from appreciating yourself as you are. It is impossible to inquire successfully if you want to be different from what you are. You owe it to yourself to love yourself warts and all. One day a piston and a bolt were having a conversation. The piston was carrying on about its glamorous, dynamic life and deriding the bolt for its insignificance. 'I make it all happen while you just sit there unnoticed, doing nothing,' it said. 'That�s true,' said the lowly bolt, 'but if I don�t do my job, you and this engine come off the chassis, and you will be out of a job.'

To gain Self realization, you need to respond appropriately to whatever life brings. Appropriate response to life is your duty to yourself. To ignore your duty to yourself poisons the mind with resentment and causes low self esteem. A resentful mind is not qualified for Self knowledge.

A Patient Forbearing Mind

A mature mind is a patient forbearing mind. Life often presents unpleasant and relatively intractable situations that will not resolve immediately. Your mother-in-law comes to visit and overstays her welcome. Your wife is particularly attached to her. Irritating the mother-in-law will cause problems with your wife, which can bring on further problems. So you patiently endure the situation, until she goes away. A forbearing mind is endowed with the capacity to tolerate sufferings and disappointments without struggling for redress or revenge. A mind that strives to right wrongs is constantly agitated. A mind that feels deprived or victimized is not qualified for Self Inquiry.

A Balanced Mind

Equanimity is the peaceful state that ensues when the mind meditates consistently on the Self and detaches itself over and over from sense stimuli, feelings and thoughts, as a result of a continuous examination of their defects.

A Motivated Mind

A mature mind is a motivated mind. Everyone wants to be free, but not everyone has the burning desire that will generate the perseverance and determination required to overcome the surfeit of obstacles encountered on the path.

In fact, liberation is usually only one of several priorities for seekers. Most are satisfied with the idea of belonging to a community of like-minded souls and are realistic about their chances for enlightenment. One need not be the sharpest knife in the drawer to see that out of many seekers only a miniscule fraction of them realize who they are. The problem is further compounded by the fact that most of those claiming to be enlightened are so obviously controlled by their desires for love, fame, wealth, virtue and power that they give enlightenment a bad name.

If the teachers still pander to their desires, why should I subject myself to the discipline of Self Inquiry to get what I want? Why not just pursue samsaric ends directly? In fact, seekers are seekers because they are burdened with desires for security, pleasure and virtue. Finally, most teachers tout experiential enlightenment, because it does not require qualifications, not even burning desire. Somehow, one is meant to just hang out with an enlightened person and it will supposedly happen effortlessly by some kind of mystic osmosis. Were it made known what it actually takes for Self realization, the spiritual world would shrink to the size of a pea overnight.

Furthermore, when spirituality becomes a middle class phenomenon, it takes on middle class characteristics. A middle class person is middling in his or her approach to life. He or she is afraid to test the limits and plumb the depths. Middle class life is essentially a virtuous life; the rules are followed and merit accrues. Merit is rewarded with security, a certain degree of comfort and a sense of virtue. Life may not be terribly fulfilling for the middle classes but the suffering is not terribly painful either, so the sacrifices required for freedom are usually not forthcoming.

Enlightenment, the realization that I am eternally free, is the culmination of human evolution. Everything is working against it. The one who pursues it with single pointed devotion is a salmon swimming upstream in the powerful river of life. The true seeker is someone who has actually lived to the fullest, tested every limit and realized without a shadow of a doubt that nothing here can satisfy the intense craving of the heart for freedom. The desire for freedom of one who takes to spirituality out of hurt, disappointment, the need for community or the romance of an alternative lifestyle will always be insufficient, although it can be cultivated by associating with realized souls.

When you near the end of your evolutionary journey, a raging desire to be free consumes you. It is not actually your personal desire; it is impersonal Consciousness about to disabuse itself of the notion that it is something other than what it is. This burning desire, which is invariably uninformed�if you knew who you were you would not desire to be free�almost invariably formulates itself as a desire for experiential freedom. It will generate many intense and amazing epiphanies but for it to bear fruit it needs to be converted into a desire for knowledge, because only knowledge will extinguish it. And although you will not realize who you are without it, it needs to be accompanied in some measure by the qualities enumerated in this chapter.

A Believing Mind

A mature mind is a believing mind. Knowledge requires a means and since perception and inference cannot reveal awareness, scripture and a teacher are required to reveal it. Inference and perception are operated by the ego, but the ego cannot operate scripture. Scripture needs to be operated by a skilled teacher until the knowledge takes root. Just reading scripture and interpreting its words with your own understanding�or lack thereof� is not helpful. In fact the ego needs to be temporarily suspended for Self knowledge to take place. This suspension is accomplished by faith in the teaching. Up to this point faith is placed in the ego to solve the existential riddle, but now it is transferred to the teaching and the teacher. When the teaching works, you either discover that the ego is like a shadow, wholly dependent on you, in which case it is not a problem, or the ego assimilates the vision of non-duality and stands alone with the Self as the Self; or both.

Self Inquiry requires faith, but not blind faith. If it did, there would be no need for an open mind, discrimination, dispassion and the other qualities listed above. You understand that if you could have set yourself free, you would have done so long ago and you temporarily agree that Self knowledge can do the job. You accept scripture�s contention that you are whole and complete actionless awareness and not the body mind entity, even though you do not necessarily experience yourself as such. With this in mind at all times, you manage your mind accordingly, destroying any and all beliefs to the contrary, until such time as you realize the truth.

Part III

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012