The Grieving Process and the Neutralization of Vasanas

Thank you, Ted.


I am doing better than a couple weeks ago. Accepting that her “moving on” is all part of this life. Death of the person in this life is really becoming apparent since my ex girlfriends death. I’ve gone through more than a few of deaths with family and friends but something seemed different with hers.





Dear Henry,


I’m glad to hear that you are doing better. The grieving process takes time, and is necessary to go through in order for the heart to heal.


By analogy, it is like the process of neutralizing binding vasanas. Binding vasanas (i.e., likes, dislikes, desires, and fears) are the intense preferences we harbor for objects that we feel are essential for our wellbeing, and that in the absence of which we will not be secure or happy. In other words, binding vasanas are driven by the emotional value we place on certain objects. Our emotional value for what we “love” or are attached to does not just resolve in a flash. In the case of vasanas, we need to see their limitations, the fact that the objects on which they are based are incapable of providing lasting or permanent fulfillment. Once we not only understand this intellectually, but have assimilated it at depth, meaning that we know are wellbeing does not depend on the presence of the object, then our compelling desire for it drops away naturally. We may still have an affinity or a taste for the object, but we are not driven by a need to have it, for we no longer erroneously superimpose qualities upon it that it does not possess, namely a capacity to provide permanent happiness.


For instance, we may have an intense emotional value for money based on our belief that money is the key to security and happiness. This belief may seem reasonable because we see all myriad material comforts that money can provide and we equate being able to achieve and maintain a lifestyle marked by those comforts with security, pleasure, happiness, and general peace of mind. The truth is, however, that money is not responsible for our wellbeing. In fact, while admittedly money does play a role in providing for the basic material necessities that we need for security and pleasure, it does not itself equate with happiness. Were it the case that it did, it would stand to reason that the more money we had, the happier we would be. More than a few lives of the rich and famous, however, attest to the fact that an extravagant abundance of money often carries with it a variety of burdens, ranging from management issues to physical, emotional, and legal troubles brought about by its misuse. In short, money does not buy happiness. Once a person really assimilates this understanding, then the binding desire for money will naturally dissolve. Thereafter, the person will still see the practical value of money in terms of “paying the bills,” but the person will no longer be enslaved by the compulsive drive to accumulate more and more and whatever cost in order to feel okay. The person will have not only revised his intellectual value for money, but also neutralized his emotional value for it.


I don’t mean to sound insensitive by equating the loss of a loved one with the neutralization of a vasana, but there is a similarity in the process of letting go. In terms of our lives as human beings, the hard truth is that no one here gets out alive. It can be extremely difficult to bear this fact if one is fully identified with being the apparent person one seems to be and even more so if one is attached to another apparent person whose presence one feels is vital to one’s happiness.


The bottom line is that these people we believe ourselves to be are nothing more than ephemeral objects. While they come and go–not to mention undergo continuous change within the context of their presence–“I,” the self, does not change. The self is one who is aware of the coming and going and the incessant process of change that characterizes the lifespan of all objects. More precisely, the self is both the “substanceless substance” of which all the objects are made and the “field” of illumination or limitless conscious existence in which the objects are known. Just as waves arise and subside, yet neither enhance nor diminish the essential nature of water, so all the apparent objects arise and subside, yet neither enhance nor diminish the essential nature of awareness, the true self of all.


Once this truth is assimilated, we can grieve the loss of the apparent entity whose presence in our lives we enjoyed (or not), but we are no longer stricken with the debilitating sense that something has gone wrong or that we are not okay. Just as a person’s health does not depend on the clothes he or she is wearing (or even, for that matter, whether he or she is wearing any clothes at all), so the wholeness, completeness, and perfection of the self is not determined by the apparent individuals “in which it is costumed.”


On a final note, perhaps the passing of your ex-girlfriend seems different because you were more attached to her than the others whose passing you mention. Or perhaps it’s because it hit “closer to home,” with regard to age and experience. Or perhaps it’s because your spiritual quest is calling upon you to at last look directly into the eyes of the demon we call death and start coming to terms with it on a deeper level.


In terms of Vedanta, it is great to face our apparent mortality as doing so goes a long way toward impelling us to rearrange our priorities in life. We see the value of time and no longer choose to fritter it away with pursuits that inevitably fail to produce lasting happiness and keep us steeped in ignorance. In this way, the binding nature of our extroverting vasanas is gradually weakened, and our energy can be used for inner contemplation and self-inquiry, the essential means for gaining the self-knowledge that will ultimately free us from all suffering.


My prayers are with you.


Be well,