I continue to do all I can to read and listen to Vedanta as much and as often as I can…
Ted: That’s great, Carlton. One of the chief qualifications for a student is uparatti, the withdrawal of the senses. Though such a description almost sounds like a directive for the student to forego all worldly pleasures and live the life of a hermit in some Himalayan cave, this is not what it means. It is wise to practice moderation with regard to one’s indulgence in sense pleasures (and pains, for that matter) in order to curb the mind’s tendency to focus on all the enticing (or irritating) objects in the surrounding world and to cultivate a quiet mind that is capable of introspection, for such a sattvic (i.e., pure in the sense of being sufficiently peaceful) mind is necessary for self-inquiry and the assimilation of self-knowledge.
Still, simply decreasing one’s sensory indulgences, social interactions, and worldly obligations is only half the picture. The point of this withdrawal is to afford the student the time to immerse himself in self-inquiry and scriptural study under the guidance of a qualified teacher. Ideally, you are taking time each day to expose yourself to the teachings, and are continuously contemplating what you have heard throughout the course of the day.
What uparatti boils down to is not flight from the world—which is actually not advisable except for the very, very, very few who are extraordinarily spiritually ripe, for vasanas don’t vanish through denial or repression, but only through the understanding of the limitations of objects to provide permanent joy, which only comes through the understanding gleaned from one’s own experience of this fact.
What uparatti boils down to is making self-inquiry and the goal of moksha, liberation from dependence on objects, both gross (items, relationships, circumstances, etc.) and subtle (psycho-emotional states) for happiness, your top priority in life. Certainly, this is centered upon taking the time to listen to and contemplate the teachings. Perhaps the most significant ramification of this prioritization of freedom, however, is that peace of mind and inner freedom become your chief goal in any situation rather than satisfying your desires (i.e. obtaining or indulging in what you like and avoiding what you dislike).
And given the challenging nature of life in the ever-changing dualistic apparent reality coupled with the pressure exerted upon the mind by the vasanas, one’s conditioning or deeply ingrained preferences and habitual responses to stimuli, the only way to develop the quality of uparatti and keep one’s eye on the prize, so to speak, is to practice karma yoga and fortify one’s efforts through prayer, both of which we’ve previously discussed.
Carlton: Lately it has become so apparent to me that even though intellectually I grasp this teaching I can’t seem to let go of the ego/mind digging in and affirming it’s reality if you will?
Ted: That’s how the process works. Despite the inspiring stories of instantaneous transformation, self-realization—which is a matter of the full assimilation of self-knowledge—does not happen overnight. Freedom is hard earned through diligent inquiry and unflagging application of the teachings to one’s experience (i.e., shifting one’s perspective on experience to see it through the lens of the self, so to speak, to see experience in terms of the non-dual vision of Vedanta). It takes the mind awhile to get the hang of this new discriminative skill.
Carlton: I then question the teaching and somehow attempt to disprove what is presented in the teaching…
Ted: Good luck with that one. All six schools of Indian philosophy ultimately succumbed to the infallible logic offered by Adi Shankara in their attempt to do so. Still, Vedanta is nothing to be merely believed. In fact, the tradition discourages blind belief, for belief doesn’t resolve doubt and unless doubt is entirely laid to rest there will be no peace of mind and, thus, no freedom. So, doubt away, my friend. Let the mind drum up every challenge it can offer. Once these doubts have been allayed, all the erroneous notions you currently hold about yourself will simply drop off of their own accord and you will have no choice but to recognize your own true nature as limitless awareness.
Carlton: And then at moments I have brief flashes of the “self” that I am….and for the briefest of moments it’s an ahhh yes! Not even sure I am making sense since it is very difficult for me to articulate?
Ted: You are making sense. You’re in what we call the “firefly” stage. You catch momentary glimpses of the reflection of your true nature in the mirror of your mind when it is calm enough to accurately reflect the unmodified nature of your being. These glimpses will become more and more frequent until eventually one day you will fully assimilate their meaning. Keep in mind that the glimpses themselves are only reflections of your true nature. Once you stand with full conviction in your true identity as limitless awareness, the unmodified nature of which these glimpses are but a reflection, you will know who you are no matter how many or of what quality are the objects that might appear within the scope of your being. Just as once the water recognizes its true nature as water it won’t be distracted or disturbed by the ripples or waves arising within it, so once you recognize your true nature as pure awareness you will no longer be distracted from this understanding by the thoughts, emotions, and sensations (i.e., the objects of experience) arising within the scope of your being.
Carlton: This teaching is not like anything I have ever been exposed too yet I seem to put up a wall or a block preventing me from fully realizing this knowledge of who I really am….
Ted: This is because ignorance is not simply a matter of passive non-cognition. Maya, the macrocosmic power of ignorance that causes avidya, the microcosmic ignorance that afflicts the individual and, thus, blinds one to one’s true nature, is an active agent that utilizes two powers to delude the mind: avaruna shakti and vikshepa shakti.
Avaruna shakti is the concealing power that renders one ignorant of one’s true nature. Vikshepa shakti is the projecting power by means of which the mind-body-sense complex, along with the rest of the world, is made manifest and is consequently taken to be real and assumed as one’s identity.
Through its systematic revelation of the self, Vedanta removes the veil of avaruna shakti and arrests the credibility of the projections of vikshepa shakti. Thus, while the world doesn’t cease to exist upon the assimilation of self-knowledge, one no longer takes it to be real.
Carlton: I seem to be spinning my wheels in trying to put this into words Ted??? An example of how entrenched I get in the apparent life of this form is we have had major Well issues at our home due to faulty workmanship and the end result to this point is we are out nearly $7,000 and still have not had our issue resolved or repaired! On top of that several other things around our home surfaced which has required more funds to repair or replace…. (when it rains it pours it seems) Bottom line is I just get all stressed, frustrated and short with my family 🙁 I also play the poor me card with anyone who will listen! Yet I see it’s the person I believe myself to be in this play and yet I can’t do Karma Yoga and discriminate this experience and be dispassionate with the outcome…. I am fully invested in the stress and frustration and also fixed on the costly repairs!!!!
Ted: This is the challenge that one faces. Take heart, however, because the ability to remain dispassionate toward worldly matters grows stronger in direct proportion to one’s ability to see the ultimate incapacity of limited objects to solve our fundamental problem of the sense of incompleteness and inadequacy and provide permanent fulfillment. A mind capable of assimilating this understanding is cultivated through the practice of karma yoga, but the knowledge itself is the fruit of constant contemplation of the defects and deficiencies of objects with regard to providing any lasting sense of satisfaction. Consider every situation that bothers you as a trigger for self-inquiry, as an opportunity to analyze what you are truly seeking through the fulfillment of whatever desire is arising in your mind. As you see time and time again that the object is incapable of delivering what you hope to gain from it, you will gradually less and less driven to pursue such objects. Ultimately, you will understand that the joy or peace or satisfaction you hope to gain through obtaining the object already obtains as your true nature. Subsequently, you will be able to pursue objects for the relative security and pleasure they might offer, but you will no longer be driven by the erroneous notion that any object can enhance or diminish your true nature in any essential way. Hence, your mind will no longer be held hostage by the fear of not getting what you want and you will no longer be troubled by the sense of anger and/or sadness that had previously always been ensuent to either the threat or actuality of not getting what you want.
Carlton: I hate that I take the position of this body/mind and get totally absorbed in the story of Carlton! Yet in the very depth of my being I remind myself in the midst of all the craziness of this apparent life, the real truth of the self and yet I can’t let go of the form in all of its apparent drama…. Ugh:-( So I’m not sure what I want to ask other than I want the knowledge that I know this teaching is offering yet why am I stuck when I want it so very badly?
Ted: It just takes time. There are two things, however, that you might consider.
First, the whole hang-up about not getting caught up in the drama of life and trying to “get” the teaching is the ego fast at work trying to co-opt your “enlightenment.” The ego would love nothing better than to be able to say that Carlton realized the self and that Carlton is an enlightened being. But the truth is that you are not Carlton. The truth is that you are awareness. And you, awareness, are never caught up in the drama of Carlton’s life. Just as water is water whether it is wavy or still, so you are awareness no matter how much drama seems to be wreaking havoc in the life of the apparent person or how many thoughts and emotions are arising within his mind. True, it takes a sufficiently still mind to catch a glimpse of one’s true nature, but the still mind is not the self. The self is not an object. Once you assimilate the fact of your true nature, you will see that even in the midst of the drama you, awareness, are not getting caught up in the drama. The mind is simply doing its dance, while you are the “stage” on which (or, perhaps more appropriately put, the theater in which) it is dancing.
Second, the fact that you are not actually “caught up” in the drama is evidenced by your ability to stand apart from it and see Carlton’s reaction to it. In other words, if you know your caught up in the drama, are you really caught up in the drama? Yes, you are not yet fully convinced that you are not Carlton, so you still take Carlton’s perspective to be real and are troubled to a greater or lesser extent by it. With repeated exposure to, meditation on, and application of the teachings, however, your dis-identification with Carlton will grow stronger and ultimately you will see Carlton his concerns as a source of melodramatic theater rather than matters of any real consequence. This understanding doesn’t give you a ticket to shirk your worldly responsibilities or transgress dharma, universal values, with impunity, but it will afford you perspective concerning your circumstances and challenges. As I mentioned in a previous email, you will tune in to the Carlton Channel when you seek entertainment, education, or opportunity for service (i.e., making your unique contribution to the whole), but will tune into the Self Channel for infallible support and ultimate inner freedom. In other words, you will no longer look for Carlton and his circumstances to provide any lasting sense of fulfillment or satisfaction, for you will know that you already are whole and complete as the limitless awareness in which all the objects that have ever been, are now (including Carlton), and will ever be arise and subside endlessly.
Carlton: Thank you Ted you have truly been the answer to my prayers and I am not ever turning away from this teaching…. just looking to you for some direction.
Thank you and blessings Ted!
All the best to you, my friend.