Transcript of interview with Swami Sarvapriyananda.
>>Rick: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer. Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of interviews with spiritually awakening people. I’ve done hundreds of them now and if this is new to you and you would like to check out previous ones, please go to batgap.com and look under the past interviews menu. Buddha at the Gas Pump, this show is made possible by the support of appreciative listeners and viewers, so if you appreciate it and feel like supporting it in any amount there are PayPal buttons on every page of the website batgap.com.
My guest today is Swami Sarvapriyananda. He is the minister and spiritual leader of the Vedanta Society of New York, so welcome Swamiji.
>>Swamiji: Thank you for having me.
>>Rick: Yes. You know I often say this at the beginning of interviews. I really enjoyed preparing for this interview. You know, I really enjoyed preparing for this interview, it was so delightful to listen to your talks, you know so clear and eloquent and inspiring and deep and so I highly recommend that anyone who enjoys this interview go to Swami’s YouTube channel and listen to some of his other videos and Vedanta Society also has audio podcast that you can subscribe to, listen to a bunch of things on there. So a little bit more about Swamiji. He joined the Ramakrishna Math and Mission in 1994 and received sannyas which is a monastic vow in 2004. He has served as an Acharya, teacher of the monastic probationers training center at Belur Math. He has served the Ramakrishna Math and Mission in various capacities including being a teacher, being vice-principal, principal, and registrar of various schools run by the Vedanta Society. So just out of curiosity, how old are you now in human years.
>>Swamiji: Yeah, I have to think about that. That is I will be 48 now.
>>Rick: Yeah, you’re well preserved and you seem younger. And I hope that’s not considered an irreverent question, but I was just curious. My wife and I were… actually she was asking me how old you are, and I said really don’t know, seems like he’s in his 30s.
>>Swamiji: Actually, I had read this thing about a rabbi comes to a congregation and he’s very young and the people in the congregation they complained to the chief rabbi that he’s too young to be a rabbi and the chief rabbi writes back saying you’re right youth is a disqualification for a spiritual teacher but give him time he’ll overcome it.
>>Rick: That’s great (Laughter). There was some joke by Ronald Reagan on this account, but I’m not going to try to remember it right now. In any case, I thought we might start with the basics and we’ll go way beyond the basics I’m sure in this interview. I think many people listening to this interview will already be familiar with many of the terms that you’ll be using such as Advaita and Vedanta and so on, Brahman, but let’s get our definitions straight so that we make sure we’re in agreement as to what these things mean. So, first of all, how would you define Vedanta.
>>Swamiji: Vedanta is the philosophy embodied in the Upanishads. Upanishads again are texts found in the core religious texts of the Hindus, the Vedas. So in the Vedas towards the end of them sometimes and sometimes scattered in the middle of those bodies of ancient Sanskrit texts you find these spiritual philosophical texts called the Upanishads. So the Vedanta is a philosophy constructed out of these Upanishads and Vedanta comes in many-many flavors but basically if you were to ask what is the philosophy of Hinduism you would probably say Vedanta today, the particular brand or flavor of Vedanta, which I and our order subscribe to or lean towards is Advaita Vedanta, Non-Dual Vedanta, that would be set up against other varieties of Vedanta like Dualistic Vedanta, Dwaita Vedanta. There are other schools, the
Qualified Monastic Vedanta -Vashisht Advaita. They are all different philosophical positions.
I would say we lean towards Advaita Vedanta because we are not exclusive in that sense, we recognize that there are truths in all of these approaches.
>>Rick: So, my understanding is that the word Vedanta literally means end of the Veda, right?
>>Swamiji: Yes, if you take it literally Anta would mean end and Vedas, of course, the end of the Vedas, but I can imagine my Sanskrit teachers rolling their eyes, you know end, not in the physical sense, here end would mean the highest wisdom of the Vedas or the final conclusions of the Vedas.
>>Rick: Yeah and Veda as I understand it means knowledge, right?
>>Swamiji: Literally again Veda would mean knowledge, but the way the word is used it refers to the collections of ancient spiritual-religious texts of the Hindus.
>>Rick: Right. So then Vedanta would mean the highest knowledge or the end of knowledge or the final knowledge or some such things.
>>Swamiji: Exactly. Exactly.
>>Rick: Okay. Good. And then Advaita means literally not two, right?
>>Swamiji: Not two. Dwaita means two, so Advaita means not two, nondual.
>>Rick: I don’t mean to put words in your mouth, but I’m just making sure we’re on the same page, so this not two refers to is signifying, well you say it. Is signifying what?
>>Swamiji: Yes, that’s an important distinction to make, because sometimes when I address audiences outside India, especially those with a Judeo-Christian background, when you speak about dualism and non-dualism actually it means different things to different people. I think a Christian pastor told me to make it clear that dualism here does not mean the dualism between good and evil rather in an Indian philosophical context, a Vedantic context dualism means that it’s an ontological separation which would mean that the ultimate reality and we sentient beings and this universe we inhabit if you take them as independent realities they’re all separate independent realities that’s dualism. There’s a fundamental difference between, let’s put it this way between you and God for example, so that would be dualism. And nondualism would exactly mean the opposite that means there is no second reality apart from the Absolute or Brahman and you are that Brahman, so the difference which appears to us, we experience difference that difference would only be on the surface so to say and deep within the nature of reality there is one Non-Dual Reality if that helps.
>>Rick: That helps. A few years ago I interviewed a Guru from Gujarat. I forget his name, evades me, but his fundamental philosophy seemed to be that you know you are separate from the creation and you are free and eternal and unbounded and all that but the creation is something other than you and we bantered that back and forth a little bit but I could sort of never get an acknowledgment that perhaps you know more fundamentally there is a complete unity and that which appears separate from you, couldn’t possibly be separate from you, because there can’t be two ultimate realities and so on and so forth, but we never quite resolved it, but what would you say to that.
>>Swamiji: I immediately see where that Guru is coming from, because in a dualistic approach to Vedanta, in the dualistic schools of Vedanta think of it as a triangle with three, the three vertices would be God and the world and you, so if they are separate realities you have dualistic Vedanta. So God is an independent separate reality and you are something separate from God, even ultimately you retain your separateness, and the world is something separate from you, that’s one position. The second position would be a qualified monism which would mean you seem to be separate but you are actually parts of an organic whole of an underlying unity, so the unity would be something like the parts of my body hands and feet and head, they are all separate, different entities, the head is certainly not the feet and feet are not the hands, but they are parts of one body. So in that same way we are all parts of the body of God so to say, that’s one more approach, so that’s not a strict dualism but not strictly non-dualism either. So it’s called Qualified Monism, VishishtAdvaita and there are many who subscribe to that point of view but to distinguish nondualism from all of this, nondualism would insist that there is a radical identity not even a unity, the body, for example, is a unified whole but nondualism says it’s not that you are a part of God, but there is no difference between You and God. The famous equation Tat Tvam Asi, That Thou Art. Now if you really consider that you’ll see how radical it is, that thou art means if I would translate it, it would mean you are none other than God which would mean for example you are not a body, you’re not an individual being, you are none other than God, God being defined as the absolute pure being, pure consciousness, and the reverse too – there is no God apart from you. So I’ve heard one Swami in the Himalayas put it in terms which would be shocking for a conventional Hindu that the Vishnu and Narayan and Shiva, there is no Vishnu and no Shiva and no other God none of the entire pantheon of different forms of God in Hinduism, none of them are real other than you the absolute, so You and God are radical identity, not even a unity, so that’s nondualism.
>>Rick: When I hear you describe these different flavors of Vedanta and so on I find myself able to agree with all of them even though they may appear contradictory because they’re just sort of different, it’s like the old, you know, blind men feeling the elephant thing you know, they’re all right, the elephant is like a snake, it is like a tree, it is like a wall, but there’s the totality of the elephant is more than all those individual perspectives.
>>Swamiji: Absolutely that’s a very Hindu perspective. Yeah, it’s been so in India for thousands of years. There’s this statement in the Rig Veda, ekam sad vipra bahudha vadanti which means the truth is one but the wise speak of it differently. Now this has been a kind of a saving grace for Hinduism for thousands of years. The common Hindu in a village might not be able to quote the Sanskrit back to you but that’s certainly what he or she feels that the ultimate truth is one, but its expressions can be many, you can have different forms of Gods,
different forms of the Absolute which explains the variety of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, different names, different practices, different philosophies, even something that seems to be apparently so contradictory as Dualism and Non-Dualism. You can affirm both, not at the same time, but depending upon your spiritual perspective. Here’s an interesting story about Hanuman, the great devotee of Rama. Rama was an incarnation of God, asks Hanuman what do you think of me, what do you understand about me and Hanuman says when I think of myself as a body, as Hanuman then you are the Master I am thy servant, you are the Lord and I am thy servant. When I think of myself as a sentient being then you are the whole and I am thy part, you’re the whole I’m a part of you. And when I think of myself as pure consciousness then you and I are one and this is my final conclusion, not that one of these three is my final conclusion, but all of them are my final conclusions.
>>Rick: That’s nice. I think in this day and age you know modern physics comes to our rescue because for instance, you know you have a level on which Newtonian laws are perfectly applicable and predictable and so on and then you have a deeper level at which those laws no longer apply and that doesn’t make the Newtonian level wrong, it just means it’s a particular stratum of creation that has its own laws of nature that govern it but there are deeper strata which those laws no longer apply.
>>Swamiji: Absolutely. For example, many people ask you are nondualists, but when we go to your main monastery in India or we come to the Vedanta Society we see quite a lot of practices that seem dualistic. You have pictures, you have songs, and you have often ritualistic worship, but what has to be understood is the fundamental reality being nondualistic does not contradict a dualistic experience. So when you learn physics you realize that the sky is not really blue, there’s no real blue color out there, it’s an effect of optics is scattering of light, but when you look up again after reading all that physics you still see blue, a blue sky and you enjoy it knowing full well it’s not blue in the same way you see this pluralistic universe, men and women and plants and animals and nonliving things in this vast universe apparently pluralistic and you know full well there is an underlying oneness to all of it and you enjoy the plurality of expressions of that oneness, it becomes more beautiful that way.
>>Rick: Apparently Shankara said the intellect imagines duality for the sake of devotion and all the great nondual teachers contemporary and ancient seemed to have been great devotees as well as being you know extremely articulate exponents of Advaita.
>>Swamiji: Absolutely, if you look at Shankara himself, the great teacher of nondualism, he wrote so many beautiful hymns to Vishnu and to Krishna, to the Ganges, and so on that particular verse you are referring to it goes something like this, bodha prak dvaitam mohay, before enlightenment duality or plurality can throw you into delusion, it can create delusion, can bind you in samsara, prapte manishaya, and upon enlightenment, bhakti artham kalpitam dvaitam, the duality conceived for love, for enjoying bhakti, advaitadapi sundaram is more beautiful more sublime than nonduality, then that’s the attitude of a nondual teacher.
>>Rick: That’s nice. My former teacher, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi once said, it’s like if you’re lying in a bathtub and you’re lying still after a while the water doesn’t feel warm anymore but if you slosh around a little bit then you feel the warmth, so it’s sort of the duality kind of stirs up the bliss.
>>Swamiji: That’s a nice way of putting it, yes.
>>Rick: Yeah, on the point we were discussing a few minutes ago about these different schools of Vedanta and whether duality is ultimately one and not, you know if I were speaking to someone who insisted that reality is ultimately not one I might ask well that which is not ultimate what is that made of, you know I mean let’s say he says the world is not the
ultimate, but the world has some kind of intrinsic ultimate reality to it in addition to the absolute itself having an ultimate reality to it. Okay, well what is the world made of and then you have to start boiling it down, as a physicist might do and if you boil it down deep enough it seems to me you get to the same ground, same ultimate reality.
>>Swamiji: True. If you ask a nondualist who insists on the reality of the absolute, pure being or pure consciousness, but if you ask this question it’s an interesting approach you take. Okay leave the absolute aside for the time being, but this world we are experiencing what is it made of? If you ask that question, the answer is very interesting. The preliminary answer is why it’s made of the five elements of sky, air, and fire and water and earth or if you are more modern than, I don’t know how many hundred and fifty or hundred eighteen odd elements in the periodic table then if you ask further what are those five elements made of or those hundred and eighteen odd elements made of and Vedantist would say why they are all reducible to Maya, the inconceivable power of God if you will. What is Maya then? Well ultimately, Maya is nothing different from the absolute who’s powered Maya is and so ultimately the answer would be this seemingly dualistic universe which seems to be as far from God as possible is actually nothing other than God. You would not say that it is God, but it’s nothing other than God. There’s a very interesting distinction. Mary Hale, one of the disciples of Vivekananda in the late 19th century, she wrote in a poem to Vivekananda, you have taught us that all is God and Vivekananda wrote back I have never taught such strange doctrine that all is God. And she said you said it. He said, no, I never said that all is God. God only is, the all is not, which is an important distinction in nondualism.
>>Rick: It is a subtle distinction. I’m not even sure I completely understand the distinction, maybe you could elaborate a little bit well.
>>Swamiji: For example, the best way to understand it is if we take the example of our dreams and in a dream, I might dream that, while I’m sleeping safe and sound in my bed I might dream I’m taking a walk here in Central Park in New York just outside, I can see people and trees and the lake and the sky, so many entities and yet when I wake up when I see that oh it was a dream I realize all those people and the sky and all those living and non-living beings and everything, not one of them was a second independent reality outside my own mind, outside the dreamers mind, exactly in the same way what Advaita wants to say or claims is that there is this underlying pure being, pure consciousness, apart from which none of these
manifestations are real, so all of them are in some way expressions or appearances of the real. They are not a second independent reality.
>>Rick: Yeah, looping back a minute to what we were talking about the elements I think a physicist would say that ultimately all these hundred-and-something elements can be reduced to up quarks, down quarks and electrons, that’s all they are composed of. And some physicists would go deeper and say that underlying those there’s a sort of a unified field or vacuum state or something which hasn’t any manifest distinctions out of which all the manifest distinctions arise, so I just want to throw that in. I’m sure Vedanta would say something very similar.
>>Swamiji: You know Rick it’s interesting to compare Vedanta and the latest discoveries of particle physics for example, but I remember a cautionary word which one of my teachers told me, a very senior Swami in the Ramakrishna order who now happens to be the president of our order. He was teaching us Brihadaranyaka Upanishad and we were novices, and as an aside, he threw this at us and he said look nowadays it’s fashionable to compare latest discoveries of particle physics for example with Advaita Vedanta. I think the safest thing that you could say is that there are remarkable similarities, remarkable parallels, but don’t merge them yet, because I remember one scientist saying that you are trivializing both, so one has to be little careful about saying that they are the same. Another perspective here, another senior teacher of Advaita, traditional teacher, somebody listed to him that maybe if one day the physicists can come up with a final grand unified theory, one thing to explain everything, then wouldn’t that be non-dualism and the Swami said he used a Hindi word Geda dvaita, it would be the non-duality of all insentient things, but all this insentient order appears to consciousness and you would have to integrate all this back to the witnessing consciousness. After all, put it this way very simply, it’s only in the physicists’ understanding, in his or her consciousness that he or she is finally integrating different equations and the understanding comes all of this appearance is one integrated whole. But that still appears to consciousness. And what Advaita would insist it that consciousness is prior to all of this.
>>Rick: And there’s the physicist who say that too and also there are plenty of physicists who tear their hair out when they hear spiritual people trying to co-opt their field, you know to explain spirituality or non-dualism but there are physicists and I’ve interviewed some who conjecture or posit that consciousness is the so-called Unified Field and that those who have taken a spiritual approach to knowing consciousness or knowing that field and those who are taking the approach of physics are just using different tools to try to get out the same thing.
>>Swamiji: In fact, I would interject here that the recent interest in the so-called hard problem of consciousness, David Chalmers who is in fact right here in NYU, he is now proposing an idea called panpsychism which says that the consciousness is fundamental. He says we really cannot solve the hard problem of consciousness by trying to reduce everything to brain states or states of neurons. We may have to admit finally that consciousness is fundamental like space, time, matter-energy, consciousness is a fundamental reality of the universe. Even there that would be very much like Sankhya philosophy. Still is not non-dualism. Sankhya proposes a dualism of consciousness and nature but my point here is David Chalmers in an interview he said if you think long and hard enough about consciousness you either end up being a pansychist, you regard consciousness as fundamental, you see it cannot be solved in any other way or you go into administration.
>>Rick: That’s funny. Now there’s another term similar to panpsychism which is panentheism and some people are talking about evolutionary panentheism and as I understand the term, and I wish I had looked it up before this interview because I didn’t know we were going to talk about, it has to do with the sort of the injection of the idea of intelligence into the whole matter so that consciousness is not some plain vanilla field devoid of intelligence and this gets us into a discussion not only of the sort of fundamental nature of reality but the qualities of that fundamental nature of reality and by extension a discussion about what God may actually be.
>>Swamiji: True. As far as I remember, pantheism that is a closer idea to Advaita Vedanta than pantheism. Pantheism would say that these tables and chairs and rocks and what have you, all of these, this is what God is, but it’s not exactly what Vedanta is saying. Vedanta is saying that these are appearances of the reality which is pure being or pure consciousness. In fact, one of the verses in a text in Dŗg-Dŗśya-Viveka says what is the Universe, and it says the universe is a network of names and forms spread over pure being, pure consciousness, pure bliss, much like the example is very interesting much like foam on the surface of the ocean, so that was very evocative. I had heard a talk by Lawrence Krauss who is some strange person to invoke in a spiritual discussion. He is an out-and-out atheist and he says the latest ideas of physics, for example, they’re talking about the visible universe as quantum foam. I’m sure physics means something very different from what Advaitans mean, but the use of the same term, you know the universe is like foam on the surface of an unseen ocean of being and universe is quantum foam that struck me as very interesting.
>>Rick: Yeah. Atheists are sometimes some of the most interesting people to listen to but they are really smart ones because you know you just want to sort of debate them in your mind as you listen to them and see now where is the chink in their armor. Because there are definitely holes in the logic.
>>Swamiji: I enjoy listening to Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Richard Dawkins, I enjoyed thoroughly. It’s interesting to note Sam Harris in one of his books waking up he’s an out-and-out atheist and I admire his cool logic and his incisive intelligence. In this book, he says that I still don’t believe in most of religion, most of it as I regard it as superstition and it should be dismissed as soon as possible, but he points out two traditions which he has investigated closely, one is the Madhyamaka Buddhism, the philosophy behind Tibetan Buddhism and the other one is Advaita Vedanta and he says I have to admit that both of these contain a core of truth which we cannot easily dismiss and he says they contain the same core of truth. They are pointing towards the same thing which is very interesting.
>>Rick: Yeah, he’s also an ardent spiritual practitioner who’s spent like years in deep spiritual practice and I sometimes think of him like a man who has a foot on the dock and a foot in the boat and the boat starting to slide away, so if he keeps up his practice later it’s going to crack his atheism, but I mean you know and if I were to talk to Sam I would probably say well you know I don’t believe in the same God you don’t believe in, but let’s really define what we mean by God here, because he sets up these strawman arguments about you know that conventional religions definition of God and then shoots those down pretty easily.
>>Swamiji: Yes, I regard Advaita Vedanta as maximally supporting religion. See the difference here is Sam Harris’ approach would be a minimalist approach to religion. Another approach right now is Robert Wright for example, who is right here in Princeton, whose new book “Why Buddhism is True”. I hear it’s flying off the shelves in Barnes & Noble. But that’s a minimalistic approach to religion and good as far as it goes where he says that definitely meditation works, meditation definitely does work and not only that the Buddhist worldview he says it matches very well with a Darwinian worldview in fact, and he puts the two together, he’s an expert in that so he puts the two together in his new book. Now, these are what I would call minimalist approaches to religion where you dismissed with most of religion and try to take a core of religion which can be naturalized so to say. Advaita Vedanta, on the other hand, provides you with a foundation for all of religion, so religion is imagined or is understood as instrumental as a path to ultimate enlightenment so, for example, God in Advaita Vedanta would be this absolute, existence, consciousness, bliss, your own reality but in a cosmic sense in association with Maya.
The technical definition of God in Advaita Vedanta is Brahman, the absolute with Maya is God, Brahman the absolute limited to one body and mind is me or you, but at the foundation, we are one reality.
>>Rick: Let’s continue on the God topic for a minute. I’ve said this on this podcast before but to me, my understanding and to whatever extent my experience of God is that God is hiding in plain sight that and speaking of atheists how they can conceive of the universe as being some kind of random accidental event is incomprehensible, because if you just look closely at it in any way look at your finger and look at a cell in your finger which is about as complex as Tokyo and can repair and replicate itself and you have hundred trillion of them and that’s just you and the whole thing continues on like that. I mean there’s just this immense intelligence that’s permeating and orchestrating everything and you know that’s my concept of God and I think that very clearly experienceable ultimately.
>>Swamiji: True. They do have a tendency to shoot down a strawman. I mean they put up the silliest possible arguments or the most simplistic positions and then they target that. There is an interesting book by a Christian theologian of the Eastern Christian Church I think but this gentleman writes in probably England or USA and the book is God as Being, Consciousness, Bliss. And the names of the chapters are Sat, Chit and Ananda, pure being, pure consciousness, and pure bliss. And he says this concept is obviously he says it’s borrowed from the Vedanta in India, but he says this is the core idea in all the great religious traditions of the world in mystical Christianity, in mystical Islam, and so on. And he says this is what the atheist needs to consider and respond to intelligently, not a sort of laypersons or a folk conception of God.
>>Rick: Yes. It’s too easy a target that’s all, they’re debating and I’ve heard conversations with Deepak Chopra trying to go up against some of these guys and it gets very emotional but they’re like talking past each other because they haven’t really gotten to define their terms what they’re actually arguing about.
>>Swamiji: There’s one thing I would like to mention here is religion comes in two distinct different brands or species if you will permit the term. It’s like this. Some religions or many religions are God-oriented and some immediately Buddhism comes to mind are actually I won’t say self-centered that sounds bad, it’s a self-inquiry based. If you consider the great Vedantic dictum, That Thou Art, Tat Tvam Asi, that stands for the Ultimate Reality or God and thou stands for the Individual Being and the ground of that and the ground of thou your reality and God’s reality are one and the same reality. That’s what Advaita wants to say but if you look at the world of spirituality of religion you will find these two distinct approaches. I have seen spiritual seekers, all my life I have asked them what draws you to this path young men who want to become monks and join the monastery and I get two kinds of answers, one group says I’m searching for God, very good, that’s one group. And the other group says well God is fine but I am really interested in Who am I or What Am I, it’s an inward search, and if you look at the bigger picture, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and many varieties of Hinduism like Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism, they are all God-oriented. They’re searching for a reality behind this entire universe that’s one approach to religion. The other approach is take something like Buddhism or Jainism or in Hinduism, you take approaches like Yoga or Sankhya where the primary inquiry is into the self, what is the reality of the self, they come up with different language and different answers, but primarily it’s inquiry into the self.
Do you want me to go on with this stream of thought, there is interesting observations.
>>Rick: Yes, I am listening carefully, and I am enjoying it, please.
>>Swamiji: I do tend to run on with this because it’s one of my favorite themes.
>>Rick: I tend to run on my questions, so I’ll try to get in with you.
>>Swamiji: Okay. So now both of these approaches, the God-Centered approach, and the Self-Inquiry based approach, both of them, they have advantages and disadvantages. The disadvantage of the God-Centered approach straightaway is that it begins with faith. You are asked to believe and that’s what people struggle with especially today in the 20th century, 21st century, we struggle with the possibility of the existence of a deity. So for example in these religions, in Christianity or in dualistic Hinduism you will find attempts to prove the existence of God. Nobody seriously attempts to prove his or her own existence. What we are is open to question, but we are something that is not open to question. It’s obvious to us. So it’s based on faith and that problem does not apply to the self-inquiry based approaches where obviously you do exist. Now the advantage of the God-Centered approach is God if he, she, or it exists it obviously has no problems, is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, is magnificent if God exists. And on the other hand, I certainly do exist but that doesn’t do me any good because my little existence indubitable existence, certain existence is beset with all sorts of problems and limitations. So I certainly exist but my existence is miserable open to suffering and death whereas God if God exists, a dubitable existence, doubtful existence, but God has no problems at all. Now the beauty of Advaita here is it puts the two together and overcomes the limitations of each one in a very wonderful way, you see if Advaita is at all to be taken seriously then our certain existence is the proof for the existence of God and Gods infinitude removes our limitations. So what Advaita points towards is a certain and infinite existence. So certain infinitude. It helps you to overcome the doubts associated with dualistic religion and overcomes the limitations which we perceive about ourselves because of our identification with body and mind, I am done, so this is this is a very interesting insight.
>>Rick: Yeah, my sense is that people gravitate toward different paths, devotional or belief-based or this or that based upon their inclinations, their makeup, how they’re wired, the stage of development you know and that all paths are valid, they’re not necessarily all equally efficacious I mean you know the Gita says because one can perform at one’s own Dharma, the lesser in merit is better than the Dharma of another, but the key phrase there is because one can perform it. So people are attracted to you know something which resonates with them and maybe, later on, they’re attracted to something different. You probably concur with that.
>>Swamiji: Absolutely, that’s one very important teaching which we stress at the Vedanta Society that all the approaches are valid. Sri Ramakrishna, Vivekananda’s teacher, he said all religions are true and they are all paths to the same realization. It’s not important which particular path you follow, but you must follow a particular path, something you must follow ’till the very end. It does depend on the inclination. If you look at the God-Centered religions, you would find that they generally tend to be devotional. They tend to be about temples or churches or mosques and synagogues and devotional and some sometimes ritualistic oriented towards bhakti, towards worship and love. On the other hand, if you look at the self-inquiry based religions if you look at something like Buddhism or Sankhya they tend to be more introspective, more intellectual, more meditation oriented. Now, this which one is better, as you said it depends on the mental makeup of the seeker. You would find one more acceptable than the other. Yes.
>>Rick: Also like if you live in Iowa and you want to fly to some place in India, let’s say, Kathmandu, which is not in India, but let’s say you want to fly there. You have to get on a plane first from Cedar Rapids to Chicago and then maybe you can take a plane from Chicago to Delhi and then Delhi to somewhere else. No one of those planes is better than the others, it’s just appropriate to each leg of the journey.
>>Swamiji: Absolutely. When we talk about the different practices in Vedanta, Vedanta is primarily the path of knowledge, a path of inquiry-based into what we are, but the practice of devotion, the practice of meditation, the practice of selfless action, the yoga’s, well known four yoga’s of Swami Vivekananda, karma yoga, bhakti yoga, raja yoga, and Gyan yoga, none of them are optional actually. None of them are dispensable. Each plays an important role. In fact, if you look at the teachings of the ancient masters of Vedanta, whether it’s Shankara, whether it’s Ramanuja or Madhva they all taught different varieties of Vedanta if you will, dualistic, non-dualistic, but all of them emphasized the importance of knowledge and devotion and meditation and selfless action, only the order in which they emphasized it and the importance they gave to each one would differ from teacher to teacher. Yeah.
>>Rick: You know how in the Gita Lord Krishna says when adharma flourishes and dharma is in decay I take birth age after age. Do you kind of acknowledge a cyclical nature to knowledge that it’s lost and crumbles down and everything gets pretty bad and then it’s revived and there’s an upsurge and everything gets better and that cycle repeats itself?
>>Swamiji: True. The Hindus are big on cycles. (Laughter!) For example, the entire universe is supposed to go through cycles. So there is creation and there is existence of the universe and it evolves and changes and finally everything is again sucked back into the unmanifest, into the inscrutable power of Ishwara or God, but that’s not the end of the story, because again there is creation and this goes on again and again and again without any end. So within creation, within our universe, things go through cycles. Empires go through cycles and religions go through cycles, ups and downs, and so knowledge, the teachings they are given fresh and powerful and insightful by Masters and then they tend to get overlaid by rituals and dogma and organization and politics and fanaticism until we might call them social reformers or incarnations or great teachers who come and teach the core teachings again in their pristine form. That’s true.
>>Rick: Yeah, there is a story about God and the devil are walking down the road and God sees something on the ground, picks it up puts in his pocket and the devil says, “Hey what is that what you picked up?” and God says, “Oh, it’s the truth” and the devil says, “Oh! give it to me; I’ll organize it for you”.
>>Swamiji: Yes. That’s true. That’s what the devil does. It’s no fault of the teachings themselves or the teachers, it’s a human weakness and we have to admit, we have to be open to it, that these religions we have they are magnificent structures, but they’re old they’re really, really old and they have all kinds of encrustations of history over the centuries. I think in fact three things that we should look to spirituality in the 21st century is, one, the harmony of religions, one thing that is given religion a bad rep, if you will, is the violence and the arrogance if you will, that my path is right and everything else is wrong that has to go, that really has to go, it’s high time that we accept and enjoy the truth of all religions. That’s one. Second, this contradiction with science that has to go, if there are things in our religions which contradict accepted and well-understood teachings of science, discoveries of science then we must be big enough to let those ideas go or relegate them to be symbolic or stories. We don’t have to hold on to them fanatically. And the third thing which religion spirituality must do is to find itself in harmony with modern values. Democracy, gender equality, human rights, and so on. So these values are very central to our modern society and religion must be fully in tune with these.
>>Rick: That’s great. The astronomer Carl Sagan said something like when religious people some of them are confronted with scientific understanding that contradicts their belief many of them protest and in a way they say no, no, my God is a small God and I want to keep it that way. You know, the Earth is 6,000 years old. The universe couldn’t possibly be 13.8 billion years old. God put fossils in the Himalayas to test our faith and you know, things like that. Fish fossils, that is. I have this attitude and this is one of my pet themes, I gave a talk on this a few years ago at the SAND Conference that science and religion both have something very valuable to share with one another and in sharing, each will become more complete. I mean religion provides methods of exploration into deeper realities that are far more sophisticated than any particle accelerator or anything science has been able to devise and science brings the scientific method and even though there is all sorts of pettiness and conflict among scientists, in its pure form at least, the scientific method takes everything somewhat lightly as a hypothesis for exploration rather than as a belief that you need to adhere to and fight over and so you know taking that principle anything that any religion has come up with about God, about angels, about I don’t know anything else, I mean, UFOs, whatever you want to consider, interesting hypothesis, you know, and some hypotheses are much better evidence than others and some are, you know, pretty sketchy but there is still a possibility they may be true. We need to investigate.
>>Swamiji: That’s right, in fact going back to the people who are fundamentalist about their beliefs. I understand their fear. You see, if we depend entirely on a text and then we are being asked to let go of a particular part of the text, a particular story may be about creation then the fear is if this thing is wrong the rest could as well be wrong and then I’m terrified. So the easier option is to be fanatical and hold on to it and shut my eyes to the evidence. So there it’s an emotional reaction, it’s not an intellectual reaction. The answer to that would be the realization that the religion is experience. Religion is realization. Religion is not belief. When Vivekananda came to the West more than 100 years ago in the World Parliament Religions, one big thing he did was he kept on hammering on this point that if God exists then I must be able to experience this God. If I have an immortal soul then I must be able to experience this and know this and realize it and derive benefit from it. It’s not just subscribing to a belief. Now if you deal with religion in that faith then it becomes a strong contender for the truth and you do not always sort of cornered, you feel cornered by science, you feel much more confident about saying, okay, I think evolution is a very good idea and it’s more or less there is tremendous evidence in favor of evolution, so I will accept evolution and all my creation stories are just that, they have got symbolic value maybe. They’ve got literary value, but I will not insist, I wouldn’t be fanatical about that, so that’s what happens. Yeah, I think it was Monier Williams, the first one who wrote an English dictionary for Sanskrit, he said I find that the ancient Hindus were Darwinists, a thousand years before Darwin. So they accepted the possibility of evolution. That was sort of built into Hindu thought.
>>Rick: Those listening to this interview might enjoy my interview with Michael Dowd who started out as a kind of a fundamentalist Christian and now considers, well, he says things very similar to what you’ve just been saying that you know in a way science is the new religion and it gives not exclusively or alone but it brings, enhances our understanding of how great God actually is because it’s showing us such wonders and marvels and it should only increase one’s appreciation for the intelligence which is orchestrating this Universe.
>>Swamiji: You know one question I’ve asked myself why does this conflict arise? What is this whole thing between science and religion? And the answer is quite disturbing. The answer is disturbing because science has truth on its side, you see what science claims is that we proceed by the scientific method, we are quite open to truth in whatever form it comes. We are evidence-based, we are experiment-based.
>>Rick: Based on the principle, it doesn’t always work out. Because some of them are a little bit dogmatic.
>>Swamiji: There is a difference between scientifically proven law or hypothesis which becomes a law which is proven with tremendous evidence and a scientific materialistic worldview that’s a different thing altogether that’s something generated on the basis of whatever scientific knowledge we have and the tendency to reduce everything to matter and energy and that’s the scientific worldview and often the clash is between the scientific worldview and religion. That’s why an experience-based religion, religion where we take our stand on something that is indubitable that’s where I find, for example, Sam Harris when he talks about an indubitable core of truth in Madhyamaka Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta. There you find it’s so obvious that our real nature is consciousness. If you, in fact, make an attempt to understand Advaita Vedanta or even Madhyamaka Buddhism, you begin to see actually that what they are doing is they are not claiming anything, they’re in fact pointing to an evident fact, something that is always available to us, so there, science will have to come around and maybe change their paradigm to incorporate that.
>>Rick: Yes, I think that in a few hundred years the distinction between science and religion or science and spirituality will have disappeared.
>>Swamiji: I think sooner than that.
>>Rick: Yeah maybe so. I mean things are moving at a fast pace, but you know it’ll just be considered we have different tools in this toolbox and some are objective means of gaining knowledge. You know the Large Hadron Collider or whatever and Hubble’s telescope and others are subjective means of gaining knowledge and actually the human nervous system is more sophisticated than any collider or telescope, it’s a marvelous instrument which you know I don’t think science fully recognizes the potential of, but which ancient spiritual traditions have recognized and have made great strides in understanding the nature of reality through its use.
>>Swamiji: I think coming back again to the hard problem of consciousness that is a really promising area, just imagine 25-30 years ago scientists were not seriously interested in consciousness at all and now today consciousness studies is big, it’s a multidisciplinary field, papers are being published, books are being written, conferences being held, and it’s a fierce debate that’s going on all the time. How the hard problem of consciousness goes, how is it resolved, or even if it is not resolved how the scientists make sense of why it is not being resolved that can open up new doors to understanding, because something like Advaita or Madhyamaka Buddhism or even Sankhya they are very consciousness-based. I think they are poised to contribute a lot to this debate at this point and this is going on right now in different universities. New openness to these ancient ways of thinking.
>>Rick: Yeah, and I would suggest that you know it’s not just an academic issue that is interesting to contemplate or speculate upon, but it has tremendous societal implications, because if people in larger numbers begin to realize their true nature and embody that and radiate the effect of that in and through their lives then that is naturally going to change the whole chemistry of society. If we regard the world as it is now with all of its problems as a reflection of the sum total of human consciousness or levels of consciousness then we can imagine a society in which some significant percentage of people have become enlightened or realized their true nature what impact will that have on society, I think it will have a marvelously positive impact.
>>Swamiji: I absolutely agree with you. In fact even scientists, social science researchers or psychologists, they know that religious faith even of the conventional sort has many good effects on the human psyche. It prevents mental illness, it sustains good family life and many-many positive benefits of religion even conventional religious faith that is well documented. Now the challenge there is that the science seems to say or the scientific worldview seems to say, yeah, yeah there are all these benefits but what good are benefits if they’re all derived from a central lie that the God does not exist at all, so a conventional way of putting religion is open to these charges. Now as you said if it changes into a more consciousness-based language, the same religious understanding expressed in a more consciousness-based language as is already available in say Advaita or many Buddhistic approaches in that case we have something which gives all those benefits and is true to boot, it’s also evidently testable and it stands up to a scientific inquiry or scientific investigation and that would have tremendous benefits for society.
>>Rick: I think scientists are justified in being critical of a belief based language or belief-based approach which in many cases has led to very bizarre and unusual beliefs, but if we’re talking here about an experientially-based approach which as you just said the words you used you know verifiable, testable and so on then you know we’re saying you know something which scientists do for a living and brought into the field of consciousness that’s the way they function and they should be able to appreciate that.
>>Swamiji: And advantage of this new interest, newfound interest in consciousness study is even the concept of verifiability and the practices’ verifiability they are now being stretched. They no longer say that it has to be in an instrument but the reports of the individual subjects so they’ll take your views or your experiences and turn it into data and that’s really good. It doesn’t have to be a spike on a particular scanner. It has to be a report of the subject under investigation, the first-person report.
>>Rick: Yes, the instrument. Now the question is you know how can we standardize that instrument because you know if you do a scientific study at the end of the study you list all the instruments you used and how you use them and so on so somebody else can replicate your study and see if you’re right or not, it’s a lot more messy when it comes to spiritual techniques and practices and there’s so much individual variation in our makeups and in what we’re actually practicing and so on, it’s a much more daunting task to standardize.
>>Swamiji: I think the reason it seems messy or daunting is because we are taking instruments procedures designed to deal with the objective world and now we’re trying to apply them to the subject.
>>Rick: I’m also referring to the human nervous system as an instrument and the way in which that is used but techniques that are practiced or the variation in the condition of the instrument from one practitioner to the next, introduces a lot of variable that are hard to control.
>>Swamiji: Complexity is undeniable but the recent trends are very encouraging, for example when they would do studies on meditators, how effective meditation is, instead of taking a general population now they understand that the population of veteran meditators, say like Tibetan Lamas or Himalayan Yogis you need to take a population like that no matter how small to get at the heart of the effects of meditation, you know to see really what meditation does, instead of taking a standard population-wide study. So yes, my point is that because of this interest in the mind and in consciousness even the scientific method itself is adapting itself to a somewhat more subjective approach.
>>Rick: A couple of questions have come in, it’ll probably make us jump around a little bit in our discussion but let’s just ask them, and then we’ll probably get back into a groove of what you and I are doing here. Here’s a question from someone named Dwayne, location not given, Sri Ramakrishna was a practitioner of Tantra as well as Advaita Vedanta. How do the two traditions complement each other if at all, one is psychosomatic practice focused on action, and the other is predicated on using the intellect to get closer to nondual realization.
>>Swamiji: Yes, Sri Ramakrishna and Hinduism in a wider context always recognized that there could be different paths to enlightenment. So say mantra yoga, it uses sound and words, sacred words repetition of that to take you to the breakthrough which gives you enlightenment. Bhakti yoga, it uses emotions, it uses emotions of love and adoration to take you to enlightenment. Raja Yoga, it uses the power of concentration and focus to make the breakthrough. And so, for example, Tantra it uses our own, as he said psychosomatic instrument especially the drives and instincts instead of suppressing them you channelize them and sublimate them in the search for the Divine. So all those energies they work for in your favor in your spiritual quest. Gnana yoga or Advaita Vedanta that uses the intellect to simplify it in an investigative inquiry into what I am. What Ramakrishna found was that all of them finally lead to the same enlightenment, the different forms, different language, different techniques, also he gave his famous Bengali dictum, Yato mat, tato path, which means as many faiths, so many paths. In fact, that’s not even a precise translation, a more precise translation would be, as many opinions, so many paths to God. So, yes, Ramakrishna practiced a wide variety of disciplines, Tantra, Vaishnava path of devotion, paths of meditation, the path of Advaita Vedanta taught to him by the monk Totapuri and so on. Was he the one who actually went through all the different religions and sort of like indulged or dove into it and became a Muslim for a while, and a Christian, he kind of like did the full running on every path. Yeah, he, in fact, practiced Christian mysticism for some time and Islamic mysticism for some time and he found all of them led to the same enlightenment. And when he would do that he was not eclectic. So when he practiced a Muslim way of prayer, he removed all the pictures of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, he dressed like a Muslim and he sort of emptied the bucket as it were and refilled himself with a new way of thinking and acting. And he came to the same conclusion that all these paths lead to the same reality.
>>Rick: Of course, he was already enlightened so it’s easy for him.
>>Swamiji: Right, that’s an important thing, experientially, if it leads you to a breakthrough which is similar through each path though the paths are themselves very different then standing from that point of view you can say that they are all valid, you don’t have to fight and they are paths, religions are not ends in themselves, you don’t have to fight over them. You know, God is like the central Sun around which the planets, orbits, the different religions orbit, so that is the importance. Yeah, he did practice Tantra. That’s true.
>>Rick: Here’s another question from Brad Stephan in Kearney, Nebraska. He asks, “Within the Ramakrishna order is there a formal process for certifying and/or celebrating when a monastic attains Moksha?”
>>Swamiji: No, the answer is no, because in the advaitic tradition it’s problematic if you claim moksha. It’s problematic if you claim enlightenment, except for the great teachers of humanity, the Avatar, the Masters of each path.
>>Rick: Probably they need to say, because it was obvious.
Swamiji Yes, and in general the teacher or the practitioner would be hesitant to claim spiritual enlightenment. I mean for example in our own monastic order I know that if some monk claims that I’m enlightened and they will say, the reaction will be yeah, yeah, but you go and cut the vegetables, you have to go to work in the kitchen anyway. Yeah and that’s I think a healthy attitude, because in the Upanishad for example there is a saying that in the Kena Upanishad, the one who says he knows does not know, the one who says he does not know knows.
>>Rick: Yeah. Or he may not know…
>>Swamiji: There’s a fundamental philosophical problem involved there. Nisargadatta, I am that, the book, he was a great enlightened nondualistic teacher in the 20th century. Somebody said to him that you are a knower of Brahman expecting that he will be pleased and he was a rough man, so he burst out and he said you are insulting me and this other person was shocked. The knower of Brahman is the highest praise you can give in India. I said you’re a knower of Brahman, how is that an insult and Nisargadatta said, I am Brahman, I’m not a knower of Brahman and that’s an important point.
>>Swamiji: I put it this way. It’s from some Christian mystic or a Sufi mystic. The person does not get enlightened. The person does not become free. You become free of the person. For the person to claim enlightenment is therefore in principle wrong somewhere.
>>Rick: And even for someone to say well even though I know my language is limited and so please forgive me but I have become free of the person, I’ve realized my pure essential nature and it’s not I who’ve realized that it has realized itself and you know you go round and round trying to get the words to do justice to it, I suppose it would be sort of considered inappropriate for someone even to proclaim that in your tradition.
>>Swamiji: There seem to be no need actually. The whole point is my realization does not directly help you. I remember there is a nice story I heard from a monk many decades ago in one of our ashrams. There was this gentleman who was a seeker and who devoted his whole life to spiritual seeking and he stayed in the ashram till the end of his life and now he loved going to different monks and finding out about their life stories and about their attainments and he would come back and tell the abbot of the monastery, you know I went and saw this Swami, I went and saw this yogi, and he has got this power and that person has got that vision. One day that Swami, the abbott said to this seeker, he said, my dear boy you know if everybody in the world were to turn into Ramakrishna, an incarnation of God maybe, if everybody were to turn into an incarnation of God tomorrow except you and me, you and I, then at the end of our lives what good it would all that still be to us if at the end of a life we still remain the same you know and everybody else is enlightened. It would be a fantastic world to live in, no doubt about it, but what matters at the end of our lives we are still alone and we go out with our own enlightenment, our own spiritual progress. Yeah.
>>Rick: Was Ramakrishna considered to be an avatar?
>>Swamiji: By some, increasingly after his death, he was considered to be an avatar by some. He was considered to be a great Saint by many in Calcutta, people would go to see him and he was considered to be absolutely crazy by others too.
>>Rick: Yeah, I guess that’s pretty much far for the course, for avatars or great Saints. Here’s another question that came in from Francis Bennett, a friend of mine, does absolute nondualism imply or advocate a passive and apathetic attitude toward all issues in the world like famine, disease, war, etc similar to the Neo Advaita view and I want to talk to you about Neo Advaita. My feeling is that a qualified nondualism would be closer to the truth where it still makes perfect sense to be concerned for the difficult suffering that exists in the world and to do something about it. Could you comment on it?
>>Swamiji: That’s a very good question and the straight answer to that would be no, it does not recommend a passivity. It does not imply being passive to human suffering, but yes and the question is not irrelevant, it has been understood in that way, maybe by Neo Advaita and by very strict monastic Advaitan’s non dualist in ancient India too and it did lead to a kind of passivity regarding society where your society might be a colony under a foreign power, there might be illiteracy and famine and disease and backwardness and superstition and you still might ignore all of that because after all it’s an appearance and the absolute is the reality and you are the absolute after all. Now one must notice that Vivekananda, the source of our order and the source of a lot of modern Vedanta in fact, he was a staunch activist, a very strong activist. When he went back to India, he took with him the message of character building education, of religion. He says I don’t believe in a religion which can’t provide a piece of bread to a hungry man here and cannot wipe the tears of the widow and which promises me heaven afterwards I don’t believe in such a religion. When one of our early monks Akhandananda was criticized by a traditional vedantic scholar, why are you monks going around establishing schools and hospitals, aren’t you supposed to meditate on the Atman and beg for your food. At the most you’re only engagement with society would be to teach Vedanta. The Swami’s reply was fantastic, you know he wrote a fiery letter. He says the very same Atman you talk about that appears to me in the form of the hungry man, it appears to me in the form of the illiterates, the superstitious, the diseased person and I shall not cease to work on their behalf who are my very own Atman and if for that I have to go to hell, I am resigned to going to hell a thousand times and that seems to have really changed the Vedantic view in India itself. You see, now, not just our order but many of the new orders which have come up in the last 100-150 years it’s a kind of renaissance, a new look at Vedanta, they all are socially engaged and today a typical Hindu in India if he goes to an ashram one of the questions he would likely ask is what are you doing for the poor, for the sick, are you doing something for society? Now that’s a big change you know in a hundred and hundred fifty years. Yeah.
>>Rick: That’s nice. There’s a nice article which I just reread recently by my friend Timothy Conway, whom I’ve interviewed a couple of times where it’s about the three kind of simultaneously true yet paradoxical levels of nondual reality. It can be broken down in different ways but he broke it down into three. There’s the obvious conventional level where we have diseases and wars and this and that and all that stuff needs to be dealt with, we need medicines, we need peace treaties or whatever. Then there’s the kind of more Divine level you could say where all is well and wisely put and everything is divinely orchestrated in perfect justice it is and then there’s the absolute level where nothing ever happened and you know you could take refuge in any of those three and deny the others but a more balanced view would be to incorporate all three and to give render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s give each its do in terms of the way you live your life. Nisargadatta whom you just quoted once said that the ability to appreciate paradox and ambiguity is a characteristic of spiritual maturity.
>>Swamiji: Absolutely. If you want it all neat and ordered you know you have to give up the truth. The truth usually is complex. One way of looking at it is the Jeevan Mukta, the enlightened person, it’s interesting that there are three categories of this enlightened person corresponding to the three categories you just spoke about. In one article by Swami Gambhirananda, the eleventh president of our order, he says how does the enlightened person look upon the world and he finds three possibilities by looking at actually enlightened people in the history of religion, one is a complete indifference to the world, so if an enlightened person is completely indifferent to the world we have to say, we have no right to criticize that person, that’s an attitude and it’s a possible attitude and there have been such people and they have been enlightened, we have to admit that that’s a possibility. The second attitude is that person would look upon the world, would not completely ignore it but it would look upon the world as a play of God, both good and evil as manifestations of Maya and such people for example there was a yogi who stayed in the Kali temple of Dakshineshwar when Ramakrishna was there in the late 19th century and Ramakrishna narrates how the yogi would stay in meditation almost all day long, but once in a while would come out and look at the world, sky and the river and the temple and the people and would say how wonderful, how wonderful, and would dance in joy and go back into his meditation, so these are the crazy people of God, the crazy, you know they seem mad to us, they look at the world, but they look upon it as a magic show, and the third category would be those whose hearts melt with love and compassion for the suffering in the world and they would want to show us the way to enlightenment. They would want to remove our sufferings that’s also a very valid way and the great teachers of religion and spirituality have always belonged to the third category.
>>Rick: So maybe it depends on what your Dharma is, which of those categories you end up in you know you have different functions to play.
>>Swamiji: True. If you look at the story of the Buddha after his enlightenment, he wondered whether he should go and teach what he has found and the last temptation I think was you are enlightened, I have no further power over you but then you go into Nirvana and give up the body and merge into bliss and don’t bother about them, they won’t understand what you are saying, but the Buddha luckily decided that some will understand, so I will go and teach them to remove their suffering and so you have all the teachings of Buddhism. That’s the third category those who become masters of humanity.
>>Rick: Yeah here’s a question, this is sort of reminiscent of something we discussed a few minutes ago, you may not want to answer this, but this is from Jaime Rivera in Lakewood, New Jersey. He asks would Swami comment on how he experiences life. Do you experience life as awareness, do you feel as a separate, do you feel yourself to be a separate person.
>>Swamiji: I think the answer would be yes, more and more, the more and more I investigate Vedanta and I stay with this I don’t even see it as a great achievement. I begin to see it more and more as a statement of fact that it’s true for all of us for you and me and every other being on this world that we are this consciousness and we experience ourselves as limited individuals experiencing a world but behind both the individual and the world that individual experiences underneath or the ground of both is this awareness and it’s constantly available to us. You don’t even have to become that, you just have to acknowledge that or own up to it, recognize that. So basically there are two stages, one is when you become more and more alive to the very possibility of such a thing that the absolute is right here, right now, and it is you yourself that stage one and the stage two is what I call the shifting of the I, when I say I it automatically refers to this thing when you become aware of that background awareness then instead of saying it’s a background awareness say I am that looking upon this then the body mind becomes this and then finally the third stage would be to integrate the entire appearance the world itself into this background awareness. The first stage, the possibility of Brahman, the absolute. The second stage that I am that Brahman. And third stages so is everybody and everything else. And this I don’t see it as something to be achieved, something particularly great either, the sooner I do it, the better for me and everybody else.
>>Rick: Yeah. Interesting, those stages you just mentioned because Maharishi used to talk this way too. Well, firstly he would say, okay, meditation you experience Turiya, pure consciousness, and then through repeated exposure to that it eventually gets stabilized and is maintained throughout waking, dreaming, and sleeping and yet the world is seen as different from that. There’s a sort of duality set up in and but then he said, I won’t elaborate too long, but then he said you know eventually the world which is seen as different one begins to appreciate its essential nature as that and so the difference kind of melts into a unity where one sees everything in terms of that in terms of the self, in terms of consciousness.
>>Swamiji: Absolutely, perfect I mean this is exactly the three stages. First, you stumble upon or you discover that it’s real, it’s not something I’ve read about or heard about, it’s real, it’s available to me all the time, always was available, is and will be, and it’s my real nature, it’s Who I am. So that’s the first one. Going to the second stage where the I is shifted now from the body, mind to what you have discovered and finally everything else body, mind and the entire universe is sort of resolved back in your understanding, in the way you look at life into that reality which is your own self which you are. Even the language that myself or that is still distancing. Let’s be bold enough to say I that’s the real meaning of the I.
>>Rick: Yeah and that final stage would seem to really be what Advaita is, because then there’s really not two- I mean one can experience a unified foundation to the universe and yet see the universe as different from that. That’s a duality that’s not Advaita.
>>Swamiji: Exactly. And that relates to what we spoke about at the beginning, about science beginning to discover, you know like a grand unified theory or a unity underlying all this appearance but that still would be duality, because that’s an intellectual understanding appearing to the consciousness of the scientist who formulates that equation or understands that equation. Here it’s a real non-duality where there is no entity apart from you that non dual Brahman.
>>Rick: Yeah and that has become a living reality, not just a concept or an understanding. Yeah, and so speaking of concept and understanding we alluded briefly to Neo-Advaita recently. Have you run into the whole Neo-Advaita phenomenon?
>>Swamiji: That is true. I’ve read some of the books and thanks to the internet I have watched some of the sessions. Yes, it has its roots in, I would say, in Ramana Maharshi and in the 20th century maybe Papaji and Nisargadatta and then a host of other teachers who learned from them and are now teaching all over the world, yes.
>>Rick: Yeah, although I don’t know if Ramana Maharshi and Papaji and Nisargadatta would fully approve of what goes on in the name of nonduality or even in their name since they’re often attributed to be the sources of inspiration for these teachers but you know there are things that people like that say such as you know call off the search, you’re already the self, no need to seek for it, no need to make any efforts or engage in any practices. Practices just reinforce the notion of a practicer and you just realize you’re that, you’re already enlightened and on and on. Personally I don’t resonate with that those kinds of sayings, I think that they can cause a lot of confusion, maybe they’re applicable and useful for a small percentage of people but you know I think, doesn’t matter what I think, what do you think about it.
>>Swamiji: When I see those sessions, well, let me back up and say first of all those sayings that you are already the self, why are you meditating, these sayings are actually not new, even if you call them Neo-Advaita, they go back centuries or millennia, for example the Ashtavakra Gita and the Avadhuta Gita these are texts of a very radical Advaita and they say things like you’re only bondages is that you’re trying to meditate, so things like that, now they are true in a very ultimate sense. The Mundaka Upanishad, Mandukya Karika, Gaudapada, the teacher, Shankaracharya teacher says that the ultimate truth is that there is no one who is bound, there is no one who has been freed, there is no creation and there is no cessation of creation and this is the final truth. Now is it true or not in a philosophical level, in a logical sense, in a strictly nondualistic sense, yes, it is true, but now you come down to the brass tacks, to the practicalities, I have noticed that sometimes it’s not helpful. In some of these sessions, I have noticed the teacher in many cases I sense an opening and an enlightenment there, but when he or she is trying to communicate it to large numbers of people who are sitting looking at the teacher quizzically with yearning, with genuine need for this, two things are happening one is if the teacher has even a little bit of an opening of or grasp of this there is a power to what he or she is saying, so that power is felt by everybody who’s there and they sense a deep truth here but there is no bridge to the truth, so it’s like if I cross over and there is a narrow little bridge which help me to a chasm or a ravine and then I cut the bridge and I say come over you don’t need the bridge this is the truth, but they need the bridge and they need things to do, they need the practices to practice, belief systems to hold on to while at the same time knowing that these are part of the path and they are not the end, so they should not be mistaken for the end or anything absolute. In fact, if you look at the traditional teachers of Advaita, Shankara himself, he strongly recommends selfless action, first of all strongly recommends an ethical life, this is one part of the teaching that’s missing. If I am not ethical, if I tell lies, if I go counter to my own inner sense of values then there itself I have ruined my chances of further progress. If I keep telling myself, if I keep suffering from guilt for example then the calmness of mind, the clarity of mind that’s required for a breakthrough in nonduality that will not come. So an ethical foundation, very important. Selfless action, unselfishness very important. Traditional devotion to a deity, it could be a Christian kind of devotion. Vedanta is very liberal that way. It could be a Muslim kind of devotion or devotion to Krishna or the Divine Mother whatever, but devotion to God, I have heard traditional teachers in the Himalayas tell me this, a nondualist can only benefit from bhakti. One of the reasons is on the path of nondualism understanding is not so difficult, if you persist with this very soon a kind of intellectual clarity comes. Vivekananda himself said this is the direct path he said, the path of knowledge, but many people come to an understanding in this path, few people realize. The reason is our affections and emotions and desires are all directed towards this pluralistic dualistic world. These have to be purified, collected, and focused to on our search and Bhakti is a very powerful way of doing that. It cleanses the heart and focuses our love and our desire Godward and then the path becomes much easier, otherwise what happens is the brain, the intellect agrees yes there is such a thing as pure consciousness and yes in a real sense I am that, but the mind rebels and the body rebels and the emotions rebel. If there is an unpurified body, mind structure which has not gone through rigorous sadhana it will pull in a different direction. So bhakti-yoga is very useful. Meditation , Raja Yoga, extremely useful. Focus is one thing that we are lacking in an increasingly distracted world. So meditation is extremely, I would say almost necessary for knowledge and this is what many – not all -but many Neo Advaita teachers seem to ignore and those who follow them exclusively they do so at their own peril. I think what happens to many of them is, the followers, not the teachers is that after some time they end up in a kind of stagnation. I know all the teachings, I can repeat them and I’m all sort of convinced, but still I am suffering, I’m still in the midst of suffering, so that’s the place they end up in.
>>Rick: Yeah. I think what often happens is that an intellectual understanding is mistaken for realization. In fact, there’s a Tibetan saying that you know don’t mistake understanding for realization. And it can become very convincing and hypnotic when you drill something in your head enough and you can repeat it and everything you think that’s it, I’ve got it. And I think even with the teachers I think in some cases you give them more credit than there do, when you’re sitting up in front of a crowd saying this stuff something lights up inside, you become kind of brighter or more clear than you ordinarily are and so even then you feel like you’re teaching from a kind of an enlightened or awakened state but you know is that really maintained 24/7, does the rubber really hit the road and is your behavior throughout your life consistent with that supposed realization.
>>Swamiji: That actually explains the reluctance in traditional monastic orders to claim enlightenment. It’s much better to say that I am a seeker even if a person has enlightenment if that person says he or she is a seeker all credit to him or to her. The worst case is the opposite. When a person is not enlightened, but wants to claim the status of an enlightened master then the disaster begins to unfold.
>>Rick: Yeah, I mean it’s like a guy running around saying I’m a king, I’m a king, I am a king, convinces himself that he’s a king, he’s still begging on the street, but he’s convinced himself and then there’s no chance of ever becoming a king because he thinks he already is one.
>>Swamiji: Right. One test I have personally is – has a person being able to solve his or her own problems. I say that if you are enlightened then you don’t have a right to complain.
>>Rick: And by solve it’s not to say I mean Ramakrishna and Ramana Maharshi both died of cancer, it’s not to say that they solved that, but they solved it in the sense that they realized themselves as something untouchable by that.
>>Swamiji: They realized themselves as transcendent. There is a reality, really important reality within you which you are which transcends these. These are superficial. These are on the surface. It’s interesting that you would mention Ramakrishna’s cancer. There’s a story how a young man who later became the Swami Turiyananda, he comes when Ramakrishna is suffering from a throat cancer, in great pain and asks him how are you today Sir and Sri Ramakrishna weakly says this hurts, I can’t eat, and this young man – he says, but Sir I see that you are full of bliss and that is a cruel thing to say to a cancer patient and Ramakrishna bursts out laughing and he says, Oh! the rascal has caught me, he has seen through me, which means – it’s very interesting – does that mean that he’s not suffering from the pain, oh, yes he is, just like any other cancer patient, but what he has got which other cancer patients do not have is that he is aware of this deeper dimension to his own being where there is no cancer, no possibility of disease or decay or death and he knows that’s his real identity.
>>Rick: A person named Rohit sent me a question saying – some of the enlightened sages seemed to be active after death, do they get another subtle body after death and you know what I mean by that, I mean you hear all these stories of various Masters like Jesus or Ramana or various others coming to people and you know interceding, in many cases the person has never even heard of that person. I’ve spoken people who had never heard of Ramana and Ramana comes to them and then years later they see a book and has his picture and that’s the guy that I saw, you know, so what’s going on there. Your opinion.
>>Swamiji: I believe that’s possible. The traditional idea in Vedanta, Advaita Vedanta is the moment you are enlightened that’s the end of the game. As long as this body persists, you remain as an enlightened person, Jeevan Mukta, living while free and when this particular body dies you don’t have any more karma which will produce new bodies. Nature basically brings the game to an end as far as you are concerned, because that’s the whole purpose of the game of nature to make you enlightened, but in the less strict versions of Vedanta, I would say the dualistic, more dualistic versions of Vedanta there are any number of stories and teachings about Masters who choose to retain their individuality so that they can go on guiding humanity for centuries to come. And I do believe that. And that does not contradict strict nondualism also, because strict nondualism has these tears of reality. There is absolute paramarthica reality where Brahman alone is real and there is Vyavaharik reality, a relative plane of reality where you admit God, you admit the Saints of God, you admit reincarnation and the possibility of an enlightened Master continuing even after the death of one physical body in subtle bodies for a long period of time and guiding disciples and seekers all over the world. Certainly, I think that’s quite possible.
>>Rick: Yes, apparently someone once said to Ramana Maharshi that he told him about the notion of what is that Buddhist thing, the Bodhisattva vow where you’re gonna keep coming back till all sentient beings are realized and Ramana laughed and he said it’s like someone saying I’m not gonna stop dreaming until everybody else stops dreaming.
>>Swamiji: That’s one perspective, definitely, that’s a very strict nondualistic perspective and yet Ramana Maharishi in other moods you would see was full of compassion, even gave bhakti teachings to some people who he felt that they would benefit from that and as you said Ramana has appeared to others it might not be the individual Ramana because Ramana never thought of himself as an individual once he got enlightenment. So it could be something in the cosmic mind where such names and forms like Jesus or Ramana or Ramakrishna or Krishna are conduits for spiritual wisdom. So the same teaching might appear through these forms to certain seekers. The important thing there would be to take the teaching and practice and become enlightened oneself. That’s the really important thing.
>>Rick: Yeah, so what you said about the cosmic mind. So it may be that there’s actually nothing left of the being we referred to as Ramana when he was in a body but the cosmic mind creates a projection or an image a hologram of someone who really looks like Ramana in order to have a certain teaching effect on the people who see it.
>>Swamiji: Quite possible, and our whole question arises because of a fundamental misconception on our part. When we say Ramana, we mean this person sitting blissfully in a cave, the pictures that we have seen, but that’s not how Ramana sees himself. Ramana completely sees himself as one ocean of existence, consciousness and bliss. So we now have this question, so this person is Ramana, after the death of this body will this person persist, forgetting that this person does not exist even now in that body, it’s difficult for us to grasp. We have the concept of an enlightened person whereas the enlightened person himself or herself would not consider that I am an enlightened individual being, I’m one with Brahman.
>>Rick: Yeah. I guess to pursue it a little bit further, so we say let’s say this person doesn’t exist. Now in Ramana’s case we might say well his body exists in a sort of a nithya kind of way, as a dependent, it’s an appearance, and so even though ultimately it doesn’t exist because nothing ever manifested and all that, but so could it be that even after enlightenment just as the body apparently at least continues to exist there’s some kind of nugget, some kind of essence of individuality which makes that ultimate reality, a living reality, Lesha Vidya concept and that continues to exist in an individuated form as a vehicle through which that enlightened consciousness can continue to function even if the physical body drops off and I realize this is all kind of speculative, but I think..
>>Swamiji: Absolutely. What you are saying it tallies well with traditional Advaitic account of how is an enlightened Master possible, because the moment you are enlightened all your karma is destroyed. I mean backing up a little bit, the idea in Vedanta is these bodies are produced by my past Karma. I’m an individual sentient being right now under ignorance. I don’t know my real nature is Brahman and I have gone through many lives, generated a lot of karma and those Karmas keep producing these bodies. Now enlightenment is supposed to wipe out all these Karmas. If Karmas are wiped out then there’ll be no further bodies, but then the question arises how is Ramana’s body persisting even now after enlightenment. So to answer this question, the lesha vidya, which you mentioned this theory, it’s a kind of speculation, the kind of sort of philosophical back calculation came up.
>>Rick: Define the term, just for people to understand what that term means.
>>Swamiji: Okay. If enlightenment removes ignorance and all Karma is generated from ignorance, so ignorance is gone, you realize you are this infinite ocean of being and consciousness, you have no more karma, no more ignorance then how does one body the one you are existing in, how does that continue that you die immediately, because this body if you remember the background philosophy, this body is fuelled by my past Karma. If all karma, past and future are wiped out then this body should die, but that would be very strange. In that case enlightenment would be a tantamount to suicide. I mean if you are enlightened, you have to die that would not be very attractive at all, not only that what Advaita would say is that it leads to the serious problem that if enlightenment leads to immediate death of the body then all those who are living and not fully enlightened, so no teacher would be a fully enlightened teacher then you would run out of teachers very fast, so to explain all this they said that – the example they used is that all ignorance and all Karmas are destroyed except the one which is already giving results right now and the example they used is, here is the bowman shooting arrows and suddenly he decides not to shoot anymore, so he can throw away all the arrows in the quiver. He can even put down the arrow which he was putting on the bow, but the one which he has released and which is flying towards the target, he can’t do anything about that, so that persists. In the same way, this particular body which has karma activated into this particular life this will continue to give results and the body will live for its natural term and the enlightened person lives on as an enlightened person, he lives on as a Jeevan Mukta, that’s the traditional explanation. It explains how enlightened Gurus are possible and why the body does not die and so on so forth, but Shankaracharya in his text Aparokshanubhuti there he contradicts this flat-out. He says this is an explanation given to us because of our fundamental mistake we see the body and we want an explanation for that, but he says there is no continuation of past Karma. Why? First of all you as Brahman, we were never under the influence of karma, when you become enlightened, you see the general way we understand enlightenment is oh! I was an individual sentient being going through many lives and deaths now I realize I am Brahman, I have no further lives, no further births, this is the idea of enlightenment. Shankaracharya says, it is wrong. This is not what happens. When you wake up to your reality, you realize you had never born, there were no past lives and there will be no further life. There is not even this one life, you are Brahman and everything is a manifestation of Brahman. If that so there is no karma either and so the whole theory of some part of karma living, staying behind to fill the body of the enlightened person that falls down. So what is the explanation. The explanation is that from the point of view of Brahman, all this world including the body of the enlightened person, they are all Maya, they’re all appearances, they were appearances and they continue to be appearances. It’s not that a real body mind exists along with the realization that I am Brahman that would be dualism.
>>Rick: Yeah, so you know from the Shankara’s perspective that you just articulated you know nothing ever happened, there is no universe, there is no body, nothing, it’s just all Brahman and we have again foam on the surface appearing to be something, but it has no substantial reality and as I understand it you know the term mithya kind of relates to this where you have pots and they’re made of clay and you know you could say there’s only clay, there are no pots, and yet in an apparent more conditional, more expressed way you appear to have pots, you can put beans in them or water, use them as drums or you know whatever so and even though that’s not ultimately true it’s kind of relatively true and to just completely dismiss it again seems to be a little bit too much not all-encompassing, too much like taking refuge in one level of reality to the exclusion of the others.
>>Swamiji: You’re right and Shankara does not do that. In fact, Shankara fully admits the importance and the value of a relative reality if I might call it so. In Advaita Vedanta this is fully recognized, at least three tiers of reality. The really real absolute which is Brahman and the relatively real, the transactionally real, the empirically real, which is where you are Rick and I am the Swami and we have the computer and we are talking to each other, here is a world, all this is admitted by Shankara. He says in this world of relative reality we follow morality, follow religion, follow all the codes of conduct and it’s important, because your whole Vedantic quest starts from this level, you don’t start with Brahman. And he talks even of a third level of reality, a lower level of reality which we might call illusion and dream and error which is also experience. When you see a snake in a rope, it’s not a snake but you did see something. When you see a dream, you wake up and say oh it didn’t happen, but you did see the dream even if it’s only a dream. So three levels of reality. Pratibhasika, which literally means illusion or appearance. Vyavaharika, which means transactional or empirical or relative. And paramarthika which means the absolute. So the relative level is fully admitted by the traditional nondual teachers. In fact I’ll cross over to the other side to Mahayana Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, the great Nagarjuna who is at the heart of the madhyamaka philosophy. In one of his verses in the Mulamadhyamakakarika, he says there are two levels of reality and the Buddha have taught two levels of truth. And he says paramarthika and samvriti. Paramarthika means absolute. Samvriti means the empirical or relative. Now, he says samvriti manashrutya paramarthikam na dhikam yete, without taking refuge in the relative truth one cannot realize the absolute truth. So he admits the value of the relative truth.
He would say it’s empty and Shankaracharya would say it is mithya, it is ultimately false, but it has value in use. Like you can store water or milk in a pot, though its clay only.
>>Rick: Yeah, so without taking refuge in the relative truth you cannot realize the absolute truth, you just said, and as you said that the way I interpreted it was that you have to sort of give appropriate attention and care to your relative life and your relative faculties if they’re going to serve you as vehicles for realization of the absolute truth. In other words, if you don’t eat or if you just totally you know do whatever that damages your nervous system and pollutes your mind and so on then and you say to yourself doesn’t matter because it’s all Maya then you’re not going to realize the absolute truth is that the implication of that statement.
>>Swamiji: Absolutely, the relative world we inhabit is extremely valuable for spiritual life, even for nondual spiritual life. As one of our senior Swamis used to say, don’t abuse the horse you can’t dismount from. Don’t abuse any horses anyway, but don’t abuse the one you cannot dismount from, that’s the body, that’s one way of putting it. Another thing is we need to ask ourselves what we are experiencing right now, right now, if I don’t think I’m an enlightened person what am I experiencing right now. The answer from a student of Vedanta might be oh you are experiencing the world. This is the world. Meaning somewhere implicit in the mind of that person is Brahman is something else. That’s not true. What you are experiencing in the right now is the world laced with Brahman, is the world on a foundation of Brahman. You are experiencing world and Brahman together right now. What Vedanta enables you to do is to separate the two in your understanding. In fact, Vedanta says what ignorance does, what Maya does is inside us it hides the reality that we are Atman. We think we are only body, mind. Outside us, it hides the reality that Brahman is everything. We think it’s a world, but both inside and outside us Brahman is there ever-present, ever presented to us, so right now we are seeing world plus Brahman. Don’t dismiss this, if you dismiss this you’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater. In fact, we can put it this way falsity in itself is weak, a lie, or an error or falsity in itself is weak. What is deadly, what is lethal is falsity laced with the truth. What we are experiencing now is Maya on a foundation of Brahman that’s why it seems so real to us.
>>Rick: Yeah kind of sounds like the term disinformation which is often used in political discussions or something there’s falsity laced with the truth which makes it sound credible, but which actually makes it all the more insidious.
>>Swamiji: Right, and dangerous, yes, you must learn to separate the two in your understanding. This experience will still continue even after Enlightenment. If you have a body and a mind you’re going to open your eyes, you’re going to see forms. You’ve got ears, you’re going to hear sounds. If you have mind, you’re going to think. You’ve got a tummy, you’re going to feel hungry. But all of this appears as name-and-form and the background reality is understood to be Brahman. Right now the reality and the name and form are mixed up so that this seems real. This seems real for a very real reason that you the reality are present right here, you are lending it reality.
>>Rick: So, here’s a question from Declan Cooley from Cracow, Poland. He asks would Swami mind saying something on Kashmir Shaivism and its relationship to Advaita Vedanta, as this has been a major influence on me via Rupert Spira and others. Can you recommend good books and authors on Vedanta? Two separate questions there.
>>Swamiji: All right, Kashmir Shaivism is a tradition philosophical, mystical, spiritual tradition from Kashmir which originated about 1200 or 1400 years ago, the central texts of which are most important is the Shiva Sutras, then you have texts like the Spanda Karika, Vigyan Bhairava and it’s a very powerful, it’s a nondualistic system, so in that sense, it’s very similar to Advaita Vedanta. I have seen many nondualist advaitans become very interested in Kashmir Shaivism. In fact, there was a book by professor Candradhara Śarmā on the nondualist traditions of India and there he included Advaita Vedanta, Kashmir Shaivism, Vishistha Advaita Vedanta, the Vigyanvad Buddhism, and the Madhyamika Buddhism. So five traditions he included as nondualistic traditions. Kashmir Shaivism before you plunge into it if you are coming from a nondualistic, from an advaitic background you need to know the differences first before you see the similarities. Straight up most important difference I would say first of all; the world is real in Kashmir Shaivism. Kashmir Shaivism says the ultimate reality is Para Shiva, the absolute Shiva they call, so Shaivism means teaching, for path of Shiva. So the absolute reality is called Shiva and the world is a vibration of the consciousness which is Shiva. So being a vibration of Shiva it’s real, it’s not maya, it’s not an appearance, but it’s a manifestation of Shiva and real manifestation of Shiva. That’s one. And the second thing is Brahman is pure consciousness and existence and bliss in Vedanta. If you can say something you can say this much but it actually goes beyond that into silence, but in Kashmir Shaivism, it is not just pure consciousness, it has the ability to be reflexive. It is aware, it is self-aware, that is I am pure awareness and aware of myself too and that gives it the potential to vibrate and produce the universe. So prakasha, the word prakasha means light and it could be a very good way of defining Advaita Vedanta, Brahman, that you are light itself. Light means not physical light, light of consciousness, whereas in Kashmir Shaivism the term they use is Prakash Vimarsha. Prakasha is consciousness and Vimarsha is a reflexive awareness of itself. So these are some fundamental differences but what is attractive about Kashmir Shaivism is Advaita Vedanta seems to be the path of knowledge par excellence but Kashmir Shaivism says we can start at different levels depending upon the seeker. So they speak about four ways. One way is Anupaya, the no-way way where you are spontaneously awakened, you hear of teachers being spontaneously awakened, something like Ramana Maharshi for example. He really did not go through a particular tradition before he became awakened. So that’s the way, that’s the highest you can spontaneously become awakened, but it’s no use sitting and waiting around for that. So the next one they say is Shambhav Upaya, the way of Shambhoo or Shiva which is very close to Advaita Vedanta, it’s a path of knowledge, where your own nature as consciousness is investigated and pointed out and you are enlightened. The third one is called Shaktopaya, the way of Shakti, where you have the importance of meditation, you have the importance of mantras, the whole science of mantras is developed which really Advaita Vedanta does not go into, so we have the whole science of mantras and then you have the fourth way, which is Ritualistic where you are regarded as an individual being, a very common sense practical approach where all kinds of rituals and practices are recommended so it’s a step-by-step a slower approach to enlightenment, this is very attractive for many seekers where you have a wealth of techniques, for example, the book Vigyan Bhairava, it gives you a hundred and twelve techniques of meditation, many of them are very interesting. You know for example we talked about a pot, imagine a clay pot, now one of the techniques is look into the clay pot and concentrate on the space in the clay pot and then in your mind dismiss the enclosing pot that’s supposed to make your mind free of conceptions. If you do it intensely enough, it removes limitations and the conceptions in your mind, making it conceptionless or transcending thought, like that there are many interesting techniques in Vigyan Bhairava. So that’s my take on Kashmir Shaivism. I could go on and on, as you can see I am not a Kashmir Shaivite, but I’m an enthusiast.
>>Rick: Yeah, actually that leads into something I’d like to discuss in our remaining minutes. We probably won’t really have chance to do justice to it and we’ll have to have another talk one of these days. It seems to me that an emphasis on the world as Maya in a way it doesn’t do justice to the beauty of it and the intricacy of it and the amazing marvelous vast intelligence that seems to be intrinsic to every little bit of it and you know I alluded to that earlier in terms of my understanding of what God is that you know God is hiding in plain sight and everything we see is just such a marvelous play and display of Divine Intelligence that you just dismiss it as total illusion almost seems disrespectful to God and perhaps unrealistic. And it also implies that the creation is just sort of a mistake that you want to get out of as quickly as possible as opposed to sort of a divine play that is profoundly meaningful and purposeful and you know necessary. So that’s enough, I mean that’s not really a question, but I’m sure you can respond to those thoughts and just give your perspective. Right.
>>Swamiji: In fact, Maya doctrine has been often misunderstood. A great teacher said this about the Maya doctrine, it’s a methodology, it’s a methodology, it has two purposes. The first preliminary purpose is to take your mind away from the world and plunge it into the inquiry into what you are really, into the discovery of Brahman that’s the first thing, otherwise, if you’re too entranced with this world of names and forms you’ll never proceed on that inquiry, number one, but the deeper meaning of the doctrine of Maya is very interesting. Maya literally means that this, here, right now this is Brahman. Maya, what does Maya say? Things are not what they seem. This world is an appearance but appearance of what? of Brahman..the snake is an appearance, appearance of what the rope. If the snake is false and the rope is true, let me ask you where is the rope? Right where you see the snake. So where is Brahman? Right where you are seeing people and animals and plants and the world and problems right here, right now this is Brahman. So to say that the world is Maya is also equivalent to saying that the world is Brahman. In fact, if you did not say it is Maya if you say this world is real then you would have to have another real thing called Brahman. Right now the doctrine of Maya actually tells you the presence you are living in that is Brahman. One way it has been put and I think very powerfully where is God most present and the answer was from a teacher, not in Banaras or in Jerusalem or Vrindavan or in Mecca, there God is present, no doubt, powerful presence but more than that God is present here where you are because you are Brahman. When is God most present in heaven after death or on holy days like Shivaratri or Christmas or Eid, yes, those days are holy and you can feel the presence of God more in those times but even more than all of those holy days combined God is most present right now because you are present right now. And in what is God most present? Is it present in the temples or churches or pictures? Yes, God is present there but God is most present in you. So most present in you, most present now, most present here, this is what Maya actually means.
>>Rick: And it seems to me when we think about what we are actually looking at and you know how much science what science has told us about when you’re looking at a flower, the amazing miracle that you’re actually seeing and how a flower operates and all we’re looking at this vast incomprehensible intelligence doing its thing and it seems to me that what that implies is that Brahman quality if as it were of Brahman is vast infinite intelligence. If we equate Brahman with God, with consciousness, all those terms equivalent then we’re saying that you know Brahman isn’t again not some plain vanilla ultimate reality, but it’s just brim full of potentiality and intelligence and creative potential and so on. Maybe I’m getting more into Kashmir Shaivism territory than Vedanta, but that’s the kind of thinking I resonate with.
>>Swamiji: In fact, Advaita Vedanta and its final analysis does not actually dismiss the world. What Advaita does is it makes you limitless. You see in a dualistic form of thinking, there is a limit, a boundary, God and World, Sacred and Secular. If both are real then there must be two separate things. If both are not real, one of them is real, and other is not then what we consider to be the world is pervaded by this one as you said one intelligence one existence consciousness bliss. Now you see, if you look at it in a dualistic way, am I going to be a scientist or a saint? In a dualistic way, you have to be a saint, because after all if you want to be a spiritual seeker that’s the thing to do and the scientist is something different, because it’s a dualistic world, he is of the world and you are of heaven. But if it’s nondualistic, you can be a saintly scientist or a scientific saint. The limits are dissolved.
>>Rick: Good. Well, we’d better wrap it up. You have to eat lunch and get over to Princeton.
>>Swamiji: Yes, thank you, Rick.
>>Rick: I don’t want you to speed or your driver to speed and there’s so much more we can talk about. For instance, you inspired me to read the Ashtavakra Samhita, which I did and took three pages of notes, so we can have another conversation one of these days and go into that and other things.
>>Swamiji: Absolutely, I will look forward to that.
>>Rick: So, let me make a couple of quick wrap-up points, and then we’ll conclude. So those who’ve been watching or listening have been watching or listening to an episode of Buddha at the Gas Pump an ongoing series of conversations with spiritually awakening people. There have been hundreds of them so far and if you dive into our archives you can check all those out and hopefully God willing there will be hundreds more. So stay tuned, come to the website if you like batgap.com, sign up for the email, check out the other menu items and you’ll see what is there to see. So thanks a lot and Swamiji thank you so much, I really enjoyed this conversation.
>>Swamiji: Thank you very much. Thank you. You take care.
>>Rick: You too. Have a good day.
>>Swamiji: Thank you.