Part VI – Problem Definition
We mentioned in the last part that all human pursuits reduce to
1. longing for inexhaustible happiness,
2. longing for eternal existence and
3. longing for knowledge absolute.
How a person pursues to achieve these will depend on one’s likes and dislikes, but the bottom line is the same. In the bRRihadAraNyaka Upanishad, Yagnavalkya teaches his wife Maitreyi:“a husband does not love his wife for wife’s sake; what he loves is only the happy state of mind that she brings, and he loves her as long as she is the source of that happiness. Similarly a wife does not love her husband for the husband’s sake, what she loves is only her happy state of mind that he brings and she loves him as long as he is the source of that happiness”. The relationship can become sour when they do not gain any more happiness from each other and the intense love can even become intense hatred for each other.
In fact, no body loves any object for the object’s sake but only loves the happy state of mind that the object brings. Thus, longing for happiness becomes the bottom line for all desires and desire prompted actions. While these three fundamental pursuits form the basis for all life activities as well as inactivity, Vedanta observes that no one can achieve what they are longing for through any pursuits. Any pursuit, by definition, is finite and the result necessarily will be finite. Even if the finite results give a glimpse of happiness, a series of finite results cannot add up to the infinite happiness that we are longing for. If and when one recognizes this, Vedanta advises him to approach a competent teacher, with a proper attitude of learning to gain the knowledge that is required to solve the problem. A competent teacher is one who himself was a sincere student who, having recognized this fundamental human problem through the process of retrospection and analysis, approached a teacher who was competent enough to teach. Thus Vedanta is taught from a teacher to the taught and is a perennial philosophy that is passed on from generation to generation starting, as Krishna says in Gita, from the original teacher himself. The obligation of every student, who learned from his teacher, is to pass this knowledge on to the next worthy student, so that the light of the torch is handed over to the next. This obligation to the teacher is called in Sanskrit as ‘AchArya RRiNa or RRiShi RRiNa’ [RRiNa means ‘obligation, duty or debt’].
‘Why do we need a teacher and why can’t we just study Vedanta ourselves in the library?’ are the questions generally people ask. These are valid questions. When Swami Chinmayananda-ji was asked that question, he answered, “Ask that question to the library”. After a long pause, he then answered - There as several reasons why one should study Vedanta under the guidance of ‘Live’ guru. The first reason is that Vedanta is not an objective science, but about the subject, about ‘oneself’. Hence it cannot be objectified or quantified or described. In principle, words that are finite fail to describe that which is infinite. However, ‘words’ become proper tools in the hands of a competent teacher who can uplift his student’s mind, which has been properly trained in the contemplative thinking, to leap forward beyond the words in the direction indicated by the words. Thus words are only pointers and pointers are different from that which is pointed to.
In order to leap forward (actually it is a quantum leap into the PRESENT, as we will see later), one has to have a proper frame of mind, which Shankara described as the four-fold qualifications required to study Vedanta. Most important, as was outlined earlier, is the shraddhA or full faith in the words of Vedanta as interpreted by his teacher. One’s mind should be ‘in-tune’ with that of the teacher for teaching to be fruitful. The second reason is that the study of Vedantic scriptures without a proper guide is like entering the forest without a proper guide. One can get lost completely without a way out. The problem gets compounded if the teacher himself does not have clear understanding of the import of the scriptures. Hence, the emphasis is on the competent teacher. How does one know a priori ‘Who is a competent teacher?’ Here is a Catch 22 situation. For that, Vedanta says: one is lead to a proper teacher when one is ready or, in a more polite way, it can be said that only by the grace of God one is lead to a proper teacher. In the avadhUta gIta, Bhagavan Dattatreya says that only by the grace of God will one have an inclination to Advaita Vedanta
(IsvArnugrahAt eva pumsAm advaita vAsanA). As Swami Chinmayanandaji says: ‘One does not need to go and hunt for a teacher. An appropriate teacher will come when one is ready; just as a flower need not go in search of a bee - all it has to do is to bloom itself to its full glory and a bee shall come wherever the flower is’. The way to bloom is through karma yoga and with constant company of the good so that the mind will slowly bloom to recognize the higher values. Satsang or company of the good is emphasized throughout by Shankara.
Proceed to the next essay.