Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Vedanta - Part 6

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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III - We center our problems on our I-sense and become unhappy

If we feel sorry for the person that she is highly subjective towards a need and converts it into a matter of personal anxiety, then we should be equally be concerned about all of us since we are essentially not any different from her. We also convert the world and ourselves into sources of unending mental burden. This requires to be explained.


The world is not divided into persons and things that are desirable and undesirable. It is we who impose such distinction on them. For example, when we are healthy and enjoy ice-cream, we consider it to be an object of pleasure. But when we have a sore throat and avoid it, we consider it as an object of pain. Thus, we project ‘joy’ on it at one time and ‘pain’ on it at another, even though the ice-cream has not in any way changed its nature. Owing to our personal predilections, we make similar subjective assessment of the nature of things, persons and situations all the time. We do not usually take them as they are without any personal judgement.


As for ourselves, our body, sense organs and mind function as well as they can. They automatically adjust to circumstances, naturally heal themselves and function as well as they can. They do not complain. The eyes do not keep shedding tears that they are not bright and sparkling. The skin does not feel bad about its color and makes no effort to change its hue. The body has no complex about becoming fat and stores flesh in all possible places. The mind has no complaints about its sharpness. But we not only judge them but also transfer our judgement about them to ourselves and feel that “My eyes are not bright and sparkling”, “I am not fair but dark”, “I am fat”, “I am not sharp” leading to the conclusion that “I am not good enough”. When the knee-joint is painful, we transfer the pain from the knee to ourselves and say, “I am undergoing great pain”. Again, when we are in a situation that requires getting help from others, we consider that “I am dependent”. When we are not up to meeting difficult situations, without tackling or putting up with it, we bemoan, “I am helpless”. Our understanding is similarly distorted in respect of our conclusions like, “I am not understood”, “I am not wanted”, “I am not loved” and “I am being held down by others”.


Animals also experience pleasure and pain. But they do not seem to feel, “I am happy” or “I am unhappy”. We, on the other hand, are either happy or unhappy. This is because we are aware of ourselves as a distinct person, who is the I, and in that I-sense, we see the state of being happy or of being unhappy. We center all our self-assessment and problems arising out of it on that personal I-sense. In that I-sense, we locate the resultant sense of insecurity and unhappiness and become the source of sorrow to ourselves. Thus, we are ourselves essentially responsible for the mental condition in which we are. [17]

IV - We do not know what exactly we are

Our concern is naturally about the solution to this problem. Since we are ourselves the problem, we have to first examine as to whether the basis for our self-judgement is correct. Prima facie, it appears that we are right in taking the physical body to be the self. We do not exist, for example, in the space between our fingers. But we do not feel separated from the hurt in our toe. Our awareness also extends only up to our body and not beyond. It is also natural for us to take the vital breath (präëa), the senses, the mind and the intellect to be the self, since they are all conscious like the body and we are intimately aware of them. As for our self-judgment of being incomplete, when we look at ourselves as consisting of the body, the senses and the mind, there is scope for improvement in all of them. Also, everyone feels the same way about himself as we do about ourselves. Thus, our self-judgment appears to be reasonable.


The question, however, arises as to how every one of us is quite happy some times, in spite of being dissatisfied with ourselves. When we are happy, we do not want anything to be different in the circumstances of those moments. Everything seems to fall in place. In fact, only these happy interludes give us the basis for our constant endeavour to be happy at all times. In the present context, this happiness, even though it is occasional, renders our self-assessment questionable since the sense of want that we entertain invariably and the feeling of completeness that we feel in moments of joy cannot co-exist in the mind. Logically, it is impossible for us to be happy even for a moment, as we always consider ourselves to be wanting.


We also find another anomaly. Our understanding is that only if we gain what we desire, or become free from what we dislike, we would be happy. But, without any of these happening, we are happy when we hear a joke. In fact, the person who has a complex about his protruding teeth laughs fully exposing those very teeth. But, all of us soon revert to our original unpleased state and the person referred to is quick to cover his teeth. The plausible explanation for our pleasurable experience is that it is possible for us to be happy when in some situations the notion, “I am wanting” is not there and we cease to be the seekers of some change in us or in the circumstances. In fact, our society uses many ingenious methods of accomplishing these to lift our spirits. With this explanation about our occasional state of joyousness, our self-judgement seems to be right.


But, there is a fact, which is not in accord with our assessment. If being limited were our true nature, we would be comfortable with it and we would not complain about it. We accept whatever is natural. When we become hungry at regular intervals, we do not consider that we have a health problem and consult a doctor since it is normal for us to feel hungry. We know that all that is necessary is to eat. Similarly, if being limited, insecure and unhappy were our true nature, we would not make it our life’s mission not to be so. Also, what our system tries to throw out is that which is alien to it and having done so, it is quite at peace with itself. If we want to get rid of sorrow and the sense of smallness somehow or the other, then they should be foreign to our system like the particle of sand in our eye. These would indicate that being incomplete, insecure and unhappy is not natural to us and that we should be really be what we want to become. However, we cannot rush to that conclusion, since if that were so, the question arises as to why we are generally insecure and unhappy.


Let us also examine happiness. We do not find any object that can be called as happiness. No object can also be considered as the source of happiness since no object delights any of us, at all times. In fact, like the ice-cream, we like it some times and dislike it at another. We cannot also say that a particular place or time invariably provides joy. It means that the whole world, which consists of objects, places and time, is not the cause of happiness. If the world is not the source, then we are left with only ourselves as the source of joy. But immediately the question comes up as to how we can be ourselves the source of happiness when we are happy only occasionally. The possible explanation is what we have already given before, namely that happiness manifests when we are not seeking anything and are in a state of fullness as when we hear a joke or see a smiling baby. But again, the question arises as to why our own joy should be subject to any condition for it to be experienced by us.


Our enquiry thus remains inconclusive. What is evident is that we lack some crucial knowledge about ourselves, which alone will bring consistency among the facts that now appear to disagree with each other. It could well be that we are actually what we are seeking to become and that only some impediment is preventing us from recognizing it. But we can be definite only when we know what exactly we are and as to why we are in the present condition. This knowledge should be like the astronomical knowledge by which we understand as to why we experience the rising and setting of the sun even though it never rises and sets. Fortunately, we gather from our casual reading[18] and the pursuit of some of our elders[19] that such self-knowledge, which solves our problem, is available. Therefore, our next step in our effort to become free from the fundamental problem of insecurity and unhappiness is to gain the correct and comprehensive knowledge of the self[20].


17. See Swami Dayananda, The Problem is You, The Solution is You.
18. Knowledge so gained is called äpätata-jñänam.
19. This is called våiddha vyavahära.
20. The desire for knowledge (jñätum icchä) is called jijñäsä. The seeker of knowledge is called jijñäsu.

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Page last updated: 03-Apr-2014