Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Interview with Dhanya (part 2)

conducted by Paula Marvelly

Read Part 1 of this interview.

 Can you talk a little more about deep sleep and turiya, which you mentioned in the avastha traya sakshi prakriya?

DM. Deep sleep is a mental state where the body and mind resolve; that’s something that is happening to the upadhi, to the body and the mind, to the individual. But the Self, shines through all states of experience, waking, dream and deep sleep; and is not dependent upon any of them. The Self is ever-present, so the difference is that while the mind is resolved in deep sleep, the Self—which in that prakirya is called turiya—is constantly present.

The Self is Brahman; the Self is atman. Recognizing the Self as distinct from anything else, from any changing experience, is the first part of the teaching. It is what the teaching is trying to get you to do, to have this discrimination, this viveka. It is the recognition of the difference between the real—the satyam—and the relatively real—the mithya—between that which is ever-present and the changing states of experience.

The Self isn’t on the same order of reality as waking, dreaming and deep sleep. Those three exist on a relative level, but the Self doesn’t change; it never modifies, it is ever-present to what’s happening. It is what is ultimately real.

 The point I am trying to make is that in deep sleep, there is unconsciousness because there is no self-knowledge – you only know you have been in deep sleep when you retrospectively look back and know that you have been asleep. Whereas when one is fully awake, there is self-consciousness, even when the mind isn’t operating.

DM.That’s not actually true but that’s what some people think. I used to be very confused by that too. It depends on what you are using the word ‘consciousness’ to mean. This is another problem with words; usually, we think of the word consciousness to mean ‘I am conscious of this or that thing’, or ‘my mind is awake, conscious, and experiencing the world.’

The way the word ‘Consciousness’ is used in Vedanta is not talking about a state of mind; it is the reality that is ever-present, and that reality is present in deep sleep.

It is the Self. It is atman. It is Brahman. Deep sleep itself is illumined by Consciousness; it is not illumined by the mind.

Consciousness is different from the mind; Consciousness is the baseline reality of who you are. Consciousness doesn’t change; it isn’t dependent on anything. It is Self-existent.

 But if I am alive, why don’t I have knowledge of myself in deep sleep?

DM. Your mind doesn’t have knowledge of yourself in deep sleep because your mind doesn’t have any thoughts in deep sleep. Your mind is resolved in deep sleep, and therefore it doesn’t make comments while you are sleeping.

You said that you don’t have knowledge of yourself in deep sleep. If that’s the case, how do you even know you were asleep? You know it because the Self is there illumining a mind that is resolved and without thoughts. 

You, the Self, are still there, entirely present, and the reason you know you are still there is that when you wake up, you can say, 'That was really nice, I enjoyed that. I had a great sleep. There were no thoughts. I was out like a light, and boy was that wonderful.' You can say all of that because the Self was there illumining the resolved mind and the entire deep sleep experience.

 But I can be awake without my mind functioning. 

DM. No. How could you be awake without your mind functioning? That’s what being awake is; the mind is awake. It is functioning. It has thoughts consistent with being in the waking state.

 What I am trying to say is some people say that enlightenment is a state of no-mind, or no-thought. 

DM. Enlightenment is not a state of no-mind. That’s absolutely not true.

I would recommend reading The Teaching Tradition of Advaita Vedanta by Swami Dayananda; it’s very short, and in it, Swamiji talks about the no-thought confusion. The Self exists prior to any thought, the Self lights up all thought. The recognition of the Self as existing distinct, separate, and free from the mind is what enlightenment is.

The confusion is that because the Self exists prior to thought and because the nature of the Self is thought free, people then think that enlightenment is a state of no thought, and this is not true. The Self is ever existent whether there are thoughts in the mind, or whether the mind is resolved as in the deep sleep state. 

The way enlightenment takes place, technically, is as a thought in the mind, which in Vedanta is called the akhanda akara vritti. Akhanda means ‘not divided’; vritti means ‘thought form’; akara means ‘in the form of’. 

The Self is always present, illumining the mind and all its thoughts; the Self is the actual content of every thought, plus whatever name and form is being objectified at the time. When the mind becomes very subtle and still, and when for that instant, there is no other content in the mind but the Self, this vritti may arise in a fraction of a second. Then the mind says, ‘Aha! That’s what my teacher was talking about.’ The mind has recognized the ever-present Self, as existing distinct from everything else, and from then on the mind always knows the Self regardless of what thoughts are taking place. So enlightenment actually takes place in the mind in the form of a thought, which is called the akhanda akara vritti, which means ‘the thought form in the form of the formless.’

 I could say that I know the Self illumines everything, but I wouldn’t say I am enlightened. What’s the difference between somebody like me who can say I know that to be true, and yet I don’t feel that I am enlightened, as compared to someone who is a great swami, for example, who also acknowledges that to be true but is apparently enlightened? 

DM. You can know it in the sense that you can repeat it and say I know that is what the teaching says. But it is not your own direct experience because you have not had that recognition. Your mind has not recognized the Self as existing completely, separately, and independently from the mind; that’s what the difference is.

It’s really a basic recognition that takes place. Once it takes place, you never lose it; you always know it.

However even for someone who has had that recognition, there have been lifetimes and lifetimes of thinking that I am a body, mind, sense organs individual, so that can have a residual effect.

The modern non-traditional advaitins (whom some call the Neos) may make it sound as if there is a switch that gets flipped and you go in one minute from being a total mess, to the next minute of being some kind of god, who is always happy. But that’s not true; it’s not the way it works, unless the person who recognizes the Self already has a mind that is very peaceful and tranquil prior to that, and who has worked through any psychological baggage that person may have.

For most of us, however, it isn’t like that. There’s the recognition of the Self, and then there’s more work to be done. The work is to gain the stability in what one has recognized to be true. So the work is to constantly bring one’s knowledge back in, to highlight it as it were, until it’s really obvious that one’s actual happiness has nothing to do with anything other than the Self.

 Are there recognized stages of enlightenment after this point in the Traditional teachings, until a final point is reached? 

DM. I don’t think there are, although there is what is called jnana nistha, or firmly rooted unshakable Self-knowledge. From my understanding Self-knowledge can be almost a two-part process in a way, and furthermore there is a gradual gain of clarity and stability in that knowledge.

The initial recognition of the Self, as the atman, existing completely independently of anything else can come first; and then the recognition that everything that you see, perceive, and experience actually has that same Self for its being can follow.

For some people, it may be very clear right off the bat that my Self is the actual reality of everything. And then there may be others, who have what is known as pratibandhaka jnanam, Self-knowledge with obstructions. 
 That person may have had some really intense experiences in his or her life – traumas, unhealed child parts, all of the psychological difficulties, which are rife in our world these days.

Those with unhealed child parts are not ready yet for Self-knowledge to be total and complete; those child parts need their own particular problem solved before the total problem is solved. And that’s where the psychological work comes in, which can now take place in light of the recognition of the stability of my being which is atman/Brahman.

 My problem with the Traditional Advaita Vedanta approach is how incredibly technical it is, how incredibly structured it is, and I think to myself, the truth cannot be this complicated. 

DM. Yes, you’re right. The truth is not that complicated; the essence of the teaching isn’t complicated; it’s very simple. 

Interestingly enough – and I’ve found things often work out this way – we just studied the following verse from the Bhagavad Gita in class this week: ‘This is the king of all knowledge, the king of secrets, the greatest purifier, not opposed to dharma, easy to accomplish and imperishable’ (IX,ii). 

So you see even Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita says it’s easy.

The teaching is basically the use of the four prakriyas, along with the clarification of any doubts that arise in the mind of the student. What makes it appear to be complicated is Self-ignorance. Self-knowledge is really very simple. 

But Self-ignorance is thoroughly woven into, and colors, our entire view of everything. And these incorrect views of the way things truly are will come up and manifest as doubts in the mind. So all of those doubts need to be addressed. Therefore the teachings may appear to be complicated, but they really are not. It is the doubts that may be complex.

When the modern non-traditional advaitins say, 'There’s nothing to do, nowhere to go, be here now,' that’s actually the truth about the Self. The Self doesn’t do, it doesn’t go anywhere, it’s here now; it’s very simple. There’s nothing you can do to be the Self because you are the Self. How can you do something to make yourself what you already are?

Swamiji says, 'If you ask me to put a head on your shoulders, I can’t do that. You have already got one.' You are already the Self, but you don’t know it right now, so there are some things to be done, undertaken, in order to recognize that. And really the bottom line of what’s to be done is to listen to the teachings from a really good teacher with whom you have a personal resonance and ask questions to get your doubts cleared. That’s all you have to do.

You have to expose your mind to the methodology, to the prakriyas; you need to have your doubts cleared through asking questions, and you have to want to recognize what the teachings are pointing out.

Maybe you have to do some sadhanas, because you need to get the mind into a certain condition of peacefulness for the teachings to work so that you can follow what they are pointing out; it’s like if you had a broken arm and your arm was giving you a lot of pain and then you went to a Vedanta class, you are not going to hear the teacher because the pain is going to be what’s foremost in your mind.

So the mind needs to get quiet, to calm down and become peaceful. Then all you have to do is bring your mind to the teaching with an attitude of sincerity, and the initial trust that the teacher knows what he or she is talking about and that the teachings work. Most of all you have to find the right teacher who knows how to teach.

 So you are saying you need a teacher? 

DM. Absolutely, you need a teacher. And furthermore I would say you need a teacher who has a methodology. I was with some wonderful people. I have no doubt they knew what they were talking about, but as I far as I can tell looking back in retrospect, what they didn’t have was an effective methodology. If the student doesn’t know who he or she really is their mind needs to be guided to gain the recognition, to help that akhanda akara vritti take place in the mind.

Reading on your own, as far as I know, will not make it happen because right now, all your mind knows is duality. This is what you take as real and because of that, it’s like you are in a box and there’s no way to get out of the box, because everything that your mind is going to bring to you is in the box world, is part of the box; you don’t know anything outside of the box. 

So you need to be guided to recognize something and once you see it, it’s like, ‘Oh wow, I was never in this box!’ But you think you are, and you need somebody to help you get out of it. A teacher is not doing any hocus pocus to you; he or she is simply showing you something. You have to be guided to have that recognition because I do not think a person can help themselves recognize it.

I was confused for a really long time until I had a teacher who had a teaching methodology, with whom I had a resonance and who could be a guide. If the guide doesn’t know the path, if the guide doesn’t know how to get you out of the box you believe you are in, how’s that going to help you?

There’s a saying in Vedanta; we call someone who is enlightened but does not have a methodology a mystic. A mystic may inspire you but a mystic cannot make another mystic because they don’t have a path, a methodology, a means to guide you out of your confusion. They can sit there and say a lot of things, which sound really good, and the truth is they may even know what they are talking about; however, they don’t have a way to lead another to gain that same recognition.

 So how would one go about it then? Let’s take someone off the street, who wants to know themselves, who doesn’t really know much about Advaita Vedanta.

DM. This entire manifest world, we call ‘duality,’ or ‘Ishvara.’ The word Ishvara can be translated as God. ‘God’ not a great word to use, in my opinion, because it comes already loaded with prior concepts in our minds. What the word Ishvara indicates is that there’s an intelligence that manifests this entire world of duality. All of duality is a display of infinite intelligence and order. The intelligence is totally woven into the manifestation and we can see it in the way things work. One example of the intelligent order is the law of gravity. It’s not an idea, it’s the way things work. It’s a display of intelligence.

There’s nothing that’s separate from that intelligence. Your mind is part of that intelligent display of order; my mind is part of that intelligent display. The entire manifestation of duality is ‘intelligently put together,’ as Swamiji says, nothing is left out

What the Vedas tells us is that when the manifestation of duality springs forth from nonduality, when it gets projected, then included as part of the order, as part of the program, is that when a person gets to the point in their life, when they really need to know what the heck on is going on, when they need to know that more than they need water to drink, air to breathe, when their hair is on fire, and they’ve realized that there is not one thing that they have tried or can experience within this world of change that is able to give them what they want, because they don’t just want to be happy sometimes, they want to be happy all of the time; and they are fed up with this whole thing. They’ve recognized its limitations, and they can’t take it anymore. It’s like a point of despair.

When a person gets to that point then the desire for liberation can arise. The desire for liberation itself is considered to be a qualification for liberation. So this brings us back to the four pursuits available for human beings which we discussed in the beginning. The understanding is that when a person has that desire, and really needs to find a way out, Vedanta says it will come to you in the form of a teaching and a teacher, with whom you have a resonance. And that teaching in the hands of a qualified teacher will guide you out of the problem you are in.

So what should a person do? Pray. This is another word that is negatively loaded but the person should just say with all sincerity. 'Please help me. I really need this.'

I can tell you that in my own life, when both Jean Klein and then Ranjit Maharaj died, I remember sitting on my bed and thinking now what? They are gone and I know that I don’t know, and I really need a teacher. And very shortly thereafter, I met my Vedanta teacher who lives only twenty minutes away from my house. She has lived there for the entire thirty years I have been in the Bay Area, but I had never heard of her.

Also, there is the karmic aspect to it and the coming together of a student and teacher, owing to lifetimes and lifetimes of punya, merit, or good karma, coming to fruition. The promise of Ishvara is that as true as there is a law of gravity, there is also the fulfillment of the desire for liberation – that is a law of the creation.

 What is the point of having Self-knowledge? Of what ultimate value is it? 

DM. Self-knowledge is the clear and certain recognition that you are whole and complete as you are. You don’t need to go anywhere or do anything to feel okay, because you already are entirely okay. Rather than searching for happiness and love in changing circumstances, you recognize that your being is happiness and love.

Resting in that recognition, you are at peace, you are satisfied, and then whatever experiences duality brings your way, be they negative or positive, you have a stable base from which to operate. You are not being tossed around by the waves anymore. You have been placed on the shore.

 Finally, then, who am I? 

DM. You are Brahman. Everything comes from you, is sustained by you, and resolves into you. You are the Self of the whole. 

And as my teacher somewhat jokingly adds, ‘Go in peace my child.’ Because do such simple words, although true, actually help? They don’t until you understand what those words mean. So that’s where Vedanta comes in.

Page last updated: 21-Mar-2015