Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Vedanta - Part 5

VEDĀNTA the solution to our fundamental problem
D. Venugopal

D. Venugopal is a student of Swami Paramarthananda and a direct disciple of Pujya Swami Dayananda. He has successfully completed the long-term residential course in Vedanta and Sanskrit conducted from May 2002 to July 2005 at the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, Anaikatti.




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VII - The usual alternative solutions do not solve our problem

Some of us realize that we cannot achieve everything that we want and try to come to terms with our situation through positive thinking. While it provides some relief to us, it does not solve our problem. For instance, a person who had a very poor self-image and was quite unhappy sought the help of a counselor. The counselor listened to him patiently and then advised him:  “Let us look at your situation in this way. You are healthy and active; so many are weak and cannot strain themselves; you are quick to understand; many cannot properly grasp even uncomplicated things. So, you are fully fit, physically and mentally. In addition, you have professional qualification, are employed and have a flat of your own. Thus, you are quite secure. In fact, you are better placed than most others. The fact of life is that no one gets all that he desires. But you look only at the negative side of your situation, think low of yourself and become unhappy. Instead, you can look at the bright side and be happy. So, be positive in your outlook and work hard. You will be a very happy man enjoying your life”. The person was convinced that he had really nothing to complain about and became self-assured. Even as he was returning home on his two-wheeler, he saw his old schoolmate driving past in a Mercedes Benz car. As he watched him cruise in his car, most of his positive feeling vanished. Whereas his boyhood friend possessed the Mercedes Benz, he did not have even a Maruti!  If positive thinking is based on material facts, so is negative thinking. As such, we will be reminded of what we dislike about ourselves. Positive thinking cannot erase the conclusion, “I am not happy with myself”. It can only dilute our dissatisfaction and bring some badly needed hope and cheer to get on with life.


Several persons seek the solution by leading the life prescribed by the çästra [14] to accumulate merit so that they may reach, after death, the location that is free from sorrow and is blissful. This method postpones the solution to life after death. It does not also provide a permanent answer, as çästra points out that the duration of our stay in the higher world is determined by the amount of merit accumulated by us. [15] It is like earning money in sultry Chennai to relax in cool comfort at a hill station but having to return to Chennai as soon as it is spent. Similarly, the person who has gone to the higher world will be reborn in this world or even a lower one, as soon as his merit is exhausted.


Some of us impulsively react to our life situation and shun the world by becoming a sannyäsé. This does not also solve our problem since mere renunciation and retiring to the Himalayas will not make us feel complete, secure and happy. Even in the new surroundings, we will continue to judge ourselves and would continue to be unhappy in a different dress and location. Our basic problem of self-judgement based on self-ignorance would persist until the latter is specifically solved.


We are thus usually in the unenviable situation of not having found a proper solution to our problem.



I - The basic defect is in our thinking


In our no-win situation, what is defective is our thinking. We seek security through the insecure and fullness through the limited. For gaining enduring security, we constantly seek money. Money can give us such security only if it were itself secure. The very currency, bonds and shares often lose their value. Currency and jewels can also be the source of insecurity, as we can be robbed of them. Our property can be misappropriated. Similarly, we usually seek lasting support through other persons who themselves undergo change. We spare no effort to bring up our children well so that we can depend on them in our old age. But after getting educated, they shift to the place where the job suitable for them is obtainable and become physically unavailable. When they get married and have children, they are preoccupied with them and become mentally unavailable. We have again been seeking enduring security through a changing entity. If we likewise examine every means that we adopt, we will come to know that none of them is free from defect.


Our expectation to gain total fulfillment through our actions is also illogical. Action cannot produce a result that is not inherent therein. Any action done is limited both in its content and duration. Limited action can produce only a restricted result. What we desire is that which cannot be improved upon. If there is any scope for betterment of what we have, we are not happy with it. We also desire almost everything. What cannot be enhanced and what does not fail to include anything is only the unlimited fullness or wholeness. This is called pürëam. In effect, it is the pürëam that we want to become so that nothing can limit us. But through actions, we can make only limited additions to the limited that we have. Incremental growth, which is finite by nature, can never produce the infinite whole. For instance, any number added to any other number, any number of times would not produce infinity. Thus, through our actions, which can bring about only gradual change, we cannot ever achieve fullness [16]. But, we overlook this basic fact since we do not realize that what we are actually in need for abiding happiness is not relative improvement in our condition but fullness.


II - We convert situations into personal problems


We may also now look into the manner in which we convert various situations into personal problems. In this example, the simple need of water to quench the thirst is converted into a mental problem. A couple was traveling by train during a hot summer day. The lady was in distress and said to her husband: “I an awfully thirsty and we have no water to drink. When will the next station come and when can I get water? ”


Her husband assured her: “Just wait for a while; the station is due to come and I will get you water ”.


Some time passed and there was no sign of the station. The lady was distraught and she complained: “I had told you repeatedly that the water that we are carrying with us would not be enough. You did not listen. Now, we have no water and my throat is totally parched.”


Her husband tried to free her from anxiety by saying: “Don’t worry. In five more minutes, we would reach the station and I will get you water.”


The lady continued to be troubled and expressed her anxiety: “But this is summer and water fit for drinking may be exhausted by now.”


Her husband reassured her: “In the station, they always keep enough water for drinking. If it is not available, I will get you a soft drink. ”


The lady continued to be very distressed and raised the doubt: “Will the stall be open?”


The husband kept quiet. As expected, the train reached the station. He got enough water and her thirst was fully quenched. He also filled all the water bottles that they had. But the lady was uneasy and started saying: ”Look! I was so thirsty, I was so thirsty. You cannot imagine how thirsty I was. You never heed my words. We were fortunate today but if it happens again, I may even die of thirst.”


The problem of the person is not merely the physical thirst that can be taken care of physically and forgotten. When she is thirsty, she makes thirst her present mental problem. When her thirst was quenched, she makes her past thirst her present mental problem. When she imagines that unquenched thirst in future will have disastrous consequences, she makes her future thirst her present mental problem. She thus converts the temporary physical thirst, which can easily be tackled, into her permanent personal mental problem.

14. Human actions produce both seen (dåñta) and unseen (adåñta) results (phalam). The unseen results fall in two categories of puëya (merit) and päpa (demerit). Acting in accordance with the universal commonsense values (sämänya dharma) and following the scriptural injunctions produce puëya.  Båhadäraëyaka Upaniñad, 1.4.6, refers to five duties called the pañca-mähä-yajñas. They are dealt with in detail in Chapter 6. There are also rituals like jyotiñöoma, agniñtoma and specific meditations whose proper performance will take the person after death to the higher world called as svarga or to the highest world called as brahmaloka.
15. Muëḍaka Upaniñad, 1.2.10 says näkasya påñthe te sukåte’nubhütvemaà lokaà hénataraà vä viçanti, that is,having, on the heights of heaven, enjoyed their reward gained by good works, they again enter this world or a lower one.
16. Muëḍaka Upaniñad  1.2.12 says, na asti akåtaù kåtena, that (completeness) which cannot be produced cannot be the result of action. Kaöha Upaniñad 1.2.10 says na hyadruvaiù präpyate hi dhruvaà tat, the permanent one (infinite whole) cannot be attained through the impermanent means (action).

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Page last updated: 26-Feb-2014