This site is dedicated to the teachings of Vedanta. Vedanta is a means of knowledge that employs a tried and true methodology called self-inquiry to remove one’s limiting, false ideas about one’s nature. When this ignorance is removed, the knowledge of oneself as limitless, non-dual awareness arises. This knowledge is called moksha, liberation or “enlightenment.”
The following is an anecdote traditionally employed in the teaching tradition of Vedanta to illustrate our existential predicament and the means of gaining freedom from it:
During the twilight hour, a weary traveler happens upon a well from which he is anxious to draw water to slake his thirst. While making his way toward the well bucket, however, he is stopped dead in his tracks when he spies a cobra rearing up beside it.
Paralyzed with fear the man stands as if rooted in the ground, daring to neither advance nor retreat as even the slightest movement might cause the snake to strike. As fate would have it, just at this moment an old man comes ambling along the road. Noticing the traveler’s widened eyes and trembling body, the old man pauses to ask the traveler what is troubling him. Hardly daring to speak, the traveler, in a loud whisper, warns the old man about the imminent danger presented by the snake and importunes him to get a stick and kill the serpent. After momentarily sizing up the situation, however, the old man breaks into a hearty chuckle and tells the traveler to relax, pointing out that the what he had mistaken for a poisonous snake was in reality simply the well-rope curling up over the side of the bucket to which it was tied. Upon blinking his eyes and taking a closer look, the traveler’s terror immediately abated. Thereafter, the two men shared a cool drink and a congenial laugh.
The implications of this simple story are profound. Just as the traveler’s fear and suffering were the result of an erroneous notion based upon his misapprehension of the true nature of the circumstance before him, so our existential angst and anguish are the result of our ignorance about the true nature of reality and our own identity as whole and complete, limitless, non-dual awareness.
It is important to note that the traveler’s fear was not extinguished by killing the snake. Many spiritual seekers think that the means to enlightenment involves “killing” or leaving the world and running off to some cave in the Himalayas or retreating into some more idyllic life in an ashram or spiritual community and that, in any case, the spiritual path involves the renunciation of worldly possessions and so they give away their stuff and in some cases gift their money to spiritual organizations that promise them either salvation and/or self- realization. Such means, however, despite their romantic association with the spiritual path, are based on a misinterpretation of the true meaning of renunciation and are completely incapable of producing the lasting peace and happiness that are the nature of liberation.
Neither did the traveler have to die. One of the most grievous misconceptions in the spiritual world is that the ego must be slain. Though taking the “I”-thought or ego to be real and consequently mistaking oneself for the individual person one appears to be rather than understanding one’s true nature as limitless awareness is the essential error that causes all one’s suffering, doesn’t mean that the ego needs to be “killed” or completely eradicated. As long as one is embodied, one will appear to be an individual. This apparent person doesn’t need to be dropped, but simply reeducated. The “I”-thought doesn’t need to be removed, but simply reoriented.
Moreover, the traveler’s release was not the result of some cosmic experience of oneness with the snake during which both entities erupted in a blinding white light and merged with the Supreme Source. Almost invariably spiritual seekers believe that “enlightenment” is indicated or characterized by some mystical, mind- blowing epiphany or eternal experience of bliss. Given the fact that all experience takes place in the arena of the apparent reality and is constrained by the parameters of time and space, however, no experience lasts forever. All experiences – no matter how mind- blowing or blissful – eventually end. For this reason, no limited experience can characterize that which is limitless and without attributes.
If you are a person who has been around the spiritual block, so to speak, but have yet to find the freedom you seek, if you have reached the end of your rope, for God’s sake, but are not yet fully convinced it’s not a snake, then I invite you to read on with an open mind. You just might be ready for what you’ll find.