You (Self) Are Not (Your) Thoughts: A Dialogue

Contents

  1. Introduction
    1. Psychological Becoming As a Cause of Conflict
    2. The Purusharthas (Aims of Human Life) and Psychological Becoming
    3. Difference Between Dharma (Virtue/Righteous Conduct) and Adhyatma (Spirituality)
    4. Dharma as a Means of Psychological Becoming
    5. Stages in Self Inquiry
    6. Krishnamurti and Choiceless Awareness of “What Is”
    7. Psychological Becoming and the Division of the Thinker and Thought in the Teachings of Krishnamurti
    8. Difference Between Krishnamurti and Advaita as a Solution to Ending of Suffering
  2. The Dialogue
    1. Student’s Question
    2. My Response
      1. Five Sheaths Model
      2. Stages of Evolution in Self Inquiry

Introduction

Pyschological Becoming as Cause of Conflict

One of the causes of suffering is conflict. Self inquiry is about examining the root cause of conflict. Unfortunately our society instead of helping us examine, discover and uproot the cause of conflict, actually conditions and promotes conflict through myriad ways. While the ways are myriad, self inquiry can trace all these various proliferating ways of conflict to a single source: psychological becoming. I wrote an article on this What is psychological becoming and how it causes suffering?

The Purusharthas (Aims of Human Life) and Psychological Becoming

In Advaita, one comes to know that there are four purusharthas or four aims of human life: dharma (virtue/duty), artha (wealth/security), kama (pleasure) and moksha (liberation from suffering). A normal person in society pursues exclusively the first three aims to varying degrees. The fulfilment of the first three aims necessarily involves the pursuit of objects which are temporary and transient in nature. Not only that, invariably a person’s desires involves him in the net of objects which are often contradictory to each other. Because of these reasons, the mind of a person locked in following the first three aims is always in a state of frustrations, contradictions and confusions. Of, such a mind, that is involved only in the aims of dharma, artha and kama, to the exclusion of moksha the Bhagavad Gita says,

Verse 2.41: With reference to this moksha, Arjuna, the descendant of Kurus! There is a single, well ascertained understanding. The notions of those who lack discrimination are many branched and innumerable indeed.

Effectively, the Bhagavad Gita is trying to say that till a person has not made moksha as an aim, his mind is “many branched” or proliferating in all directions, whereas, a person who has made moksha as an aim has a focused mind with a “single and well ascertained understanding”. Why is it so? Because moksha is not about the pursuit of transient objects. It is about “attaining” that which is beyond all forms.

Difference Between Dharma (Virtue/Righteous Conduct) and Adhyatma (Spirituality)

The most interesting thing to note above is that even dharma (righteous actions, duties, good deeds) are actually a part of psychological becoming and therefore a seed of conflict, if not pursued along with moksha. And it is precisely for this point that I have endeavoured with such a long introduction. Most people conflate spirituality with dharma. In Indian philosophy, spirituality is given another name called adhyatma. Adhyatma is a compound sanskrit word made of adhi (concerning) and atma (soul). So adhyatma means concerning the soul. Adhyatma is also the discipline of knowledge that leads to spiritual wisdom and eventually to moksha or liberation. It is considered to be the best kind of knowledge. This knowledge, adhyatma, pertains to the Self, and deals with the discernment between the Self and the non-Self. Adhyatma is the knowledge concerning Atman and the path to be adopted in order to attain the knowledge of Atman. This knowledge is considered to be eternal. Adhyatma also refers to the exposition or explanation about the nature of the supreme reality, Brahman. One’s leanings towards the study of scriptures and one’s effort to understand one’s true nature, Atman, is also called adhyatma.

Dharma as a Means of Psychological Becoming

Thus, dharma could be a step to adhyatma but it is not adhyatma. In fact the unbridled pursuit of dharma can actually become a hindrance to adhyatma. Gita makes no bones about this fact, as we can see in the following verses.

Verses 2.42&43: Partha! The non-discriminating people, who remain engrossed in karma enjoined by the Veda and its results, who argue that there is nothing other than this, who are full of desires with heaven as their highest goal, utter these flowery words that talk of many special rituals meant for the attainment of pleasures and power and of results in the form of better births.

Verse 2.45: The subject matter of the Vedas are related to the three variable qualities (of material nature). Arjuna! Be one who is free from the hold of these three-fold qualities, from the sorrow of pairs of opposites; be one who is ever established in truth, who is free from the anxieties of acquiring and protecting, and who is situated in self.

The “karma enjoined by the vedas” in verse 2.42 can be interpreted, both, as rituals to be performed to get better birth in next life, or in a more contemporary way to mean, doing moral acts in the hope of accruing good karma for the future/future birth. Thus, it is talking of doing moral acts (dharma) for securing a better future. The verse 2.43 states in Advaitic terminology that the subject matter of the Vedas (referring only to the Karma Kanda portion of the Vedas or the portion of Vedas which deals only with the science of actions/rituals and their results) deals only with “three variable qualities of material nature”. This means that the Karma Kanda part of the Vedas deals only with the three gunas (sattva, tamas and rajas) or three constituents that make up material nature. Thus, dharma oriented action deals only with material nature which is ever-changing and transient. Whereas adhyatma deals not with transient and ever-changing nature but the knowledge of eternal Self. From this difference one can easily fathom that dharma leads only to psychological becoming whereas adhyatma leads to eternal knowledge which is the end of all psychological becoming. The Bhagavad Gita nails it when it says:

Verse 2.50: One who is endowed with the sameness of mind, gives up both punya (virtue) and papa (vice) here, in this world.

Verse 2.53: When your mind is no longer distracted by the Vedas which present various means and ends to be gained, it will remain steady, firmly established in the self. Then you will gain self-knowledge.

Thus, Self Inquiry is not about gaining any object including dharma/virtue which involves one in any form of psychological becoming but the attainment of Self Knowledge which is beyond all forms and their duality. I have written about this in greater detail in my article A life of meditation.

Stages in Self Inquiry

When a person begins inquiry, he moves from the outer to the inner. All the ancient spiritual also started from addressing the outer levels of consciousness and then gradually moved through the inner levels till one reaches the ultimate datum beyond which no movement is possible. For example in Advaita one first does Karma Yoga (in any of its forms – Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga, Tantra Yoga etc.) and then when the seeker’s mind is sufficiently mature, one shifts to Jnana Yoga. A similar movement is seen in other paths too. For instance Buddhism talks about – sila (morality), samadhi (calming of mind) and prajna (transcendental insight) and Patanjali’s Yoga school talks about asthanga yoga or eight limbed yoga – yama and niyama (rules of conduct) asana, pranayama (body purification), pratyahara (withdrawing mind from senses) and dhyana, dharana, samadhi (concentration, meditation and final dissolution of mind). As illustrated in the previous paragraph, we can see that in all paths, virtue is the means to the ultimate end rather than being the end in itself.

However, the path which I teach starts directly from Jnana Yoga. This may not be suitable to all personality types. Thus, a seeker has to make a choice for himself whether he/she can follow the path of direct Jnana Yoga that I teach. A detailed description of my path is given in the page Stages of Self Inquiry. In this path, one does not begin with cultivating virtue since it is only a provisional requirement.

Krishnamurti and Choiceless Awareness of “What Is”

J Krishnamurti, whose teachings I follow for the first part of my self inquiry, in my opinion, came up with an unprecedented form of psychological Jnana Yoga, not taught by anyone before him. He delivered his teachings in deceptively simple and plain layman’s English without the usage of any technical terms and concepts. This engenders a feeling in a seeker that self inquiry is not something out of this world or an impenetrable mountain. The crux of his teachings is that one must be choicelessly aware of ‘”what is”. Which means that in order to know one’s mind, one must not condemn, justify, control or modify thought. This was the simple one line teaching that he unfolded for sixty years of his teaching life.

Psychological Becoming and the Division of the Thinker and Thought in the Teachings of Krishnamurti

Through his penetrating analysis of human thought and psychology Krishnamurti showed that the ultimate root of conflict in humans is the conflict between the thinker and the thought. Thought, as he said, played a mischief by splitting itself into the thinker and thought. The thinker becomes a stable centre for impermanent thought – directing it, controlling it and modifying it according to it’s conditioning. As one plumbs into the depths of his teachings the seeker understands that ultimately it is the division between the thinker and the thought that fuels psychological becoming. One identifies oneself with the thinker and considers thought to be something other than oneself. Once this division is made the machinery of conflict is set running. The thinker is the entity that wants to become something psychologically – rich, famous, virtuous, knowledgeable or enlightened. I have talked about the various psychological movements in my article Unmasking Ourselves. Because of desire, the thinker is always controlling thought. This control of desire, our society calls virtue.

But one can easily see that control is not freedom. It is like a dam that is holding a large volume of water that can and does leak any time or even burst. All virtue, as we have already seen in the previous paragraphs, is based on a desire for a happy future, in this life or the next. And wherever there is desire there is also fear. So the division between thinker and thought is actually a creation or manifestation of fear/desire. Till the time we address the root of this fear/desire, there can be no freedom. Virtue/control as we have seen, is not the solution. Rather, it is actually an effect of a deeper problem of fear/desire. In Freedom there is no need for any control or effort. It has to be effortless. As the Ashtavakara Gita remarks with great subtlety:

“Verse 18.52: The conduct of the wise man, which is unrestricted by motive, shines being free from pretence, but not the affected calmness of the deluded person whose mind is attached.”

Difference Between Krishnamurti and Advaita as a Solution to Ending of Suffering

I talked in my article Difficulties in Finding the True Method of Advaita Vedanta of Shankaracharya – Part 1 about how there are several paths in the world who offer different methodologies and different versions of truth. So while Krishnamurti and Advaita have a lot in common, they differ in their ultimate solution to suffering and their methodology. In creating my own teaching methodology I have kept the common points between Krishnamurti and Advaita and left out those which conflict with each other. This borrowing from different schools is accepted and endorsed by Shankara himself to the extent that the borrowed stuff does not contradict the shrutis/scriptures (Upanishads) of Advaita.

For Krishnamurti, the solution to ending of suffering is the ending of all psychological thought, what is technically called manonasha (ending of psychological mind) and vasanakshaya (ending of all binding desires) in the Yoga school. Though Krishnamurti would detest his teachings being classified according to any tradition, I can firmly contend that his teachings fall under a school I term Yoga-Advaita. A very good description of the methodology of these schools can be found in two Advaita textbooks – Vivekachudamani and Jivanmuktiviveka. As the name suggests this school combines the teachings of Advaita and Yoga.

The difference between Advaita and Yoga-Advaita is that In Yoga, the ending of mind is considered to be enlightenment because the mind is considered to be real. Only a real thing has to be ended in order to end it’s binding. An apparently real thing does not need to be ended in order to end it’s binding. Only knowledge about it’s apparently real nature ends all binding. Consider the example of a man misperceiving a snake (which is only apparently real) on a rope. In Advaita, one does not have to kill the snake on the rope, one just needs to get knowledge that the snake was just an apparent superimposition on it. In Yoga, one has to kill the snake or kill the mind to reach liberation because it considers them to be real. Yoga Advaita is a school that accepts Advaita in the sense that it considers Self Knowledge to be the cause of liberation, but then adds the Yoga program to Self Knowledge, stating that mind and desires too must be ended, if one wants liberation in this very life. Otherwise, the remaining vasanas can cause future births. Shankara has refuted this view in his commentaries. I have written about this here: Shankara’s Refutation of Yoga View – Ending of Mind as a Means to Liberation

So in Advaita it is not about ending the mind but knowing Self that is the solution to suffering. I follow Krishnamurti in the first stage (psycho-philosophical stage) of self inquiry (Jnana Yoga) and then shift the student to Advaita (metaphysical stage) when I discern ripeness in his/her mind to begin comprehending the dialectics of Advaita.

The Dialogue

The purpose of the very long introduction was to actually lay the groundwork for answering the questions asked by a student of self inquiry to me. Since I could not have included all the concepts within the dialogue, I wrote them as part of the introduction, which I can refer to in my dialogue. Of course, there will still be other concepts which I shall need to discuss within the dialogue itself.

Student’s Question

Student : Sir, I have a few doubts right now, actually one 3-part doubt.

  1. I felt the familiar rush of excitement and probably some subtle egotism thinking ‘oh, I’m so blessed that an enlightened being accepted to teach me Advaita!’.
  2. Such thoughts are something I’m kind of struggling with and haven’t found an answer yet apart of trying to stop those thoughts. With remnants of OCD there, it complicates a bit. For example, suppose someone in my family says “You’re a great writer, beta!” Immediately I’ll feel the human pleasure. Then I’ll thank God. In between that, there’ll be a war. The war starts when something in the back of my mind (an automated thought that is the remnant of OCD but also my own samskaras I suppose) will say “Oh you’re so great. Oh I’m so great. Oh look so few kids like to write science fiction. You are such a great writer.” I counter immediately (also automated) with “There are kids my age running companies while I can’t even wake up at 5 am. What the heck gives me the right to call myself…God blessed me, God blessed everyone.” Ego fighting ego with egoistic anger, I suppose. Then there’s another thought. Automatic doubtful thought about the Truth. Then I feel fear. Remember stories how God silences the “pride” of people harshly. By then, my ego seems to have convinced me I have a big so called pride problem. So to counter the fear I start apologizing and pray to “destroy my pride”. It doesn’t end until I suddenly smile and sort of realize that “mind is an expression of Iswara. Iswara is playing this entire leela inside my mind.” Then it stops, only to restart again after a few days or hours.
  3. I have a hard time staying peaceful with the above sort of thoughts, because when it’s happening I’m unable to stop it by saying “It’s okay just let go!” because my mind convinces me it’ll be a egotistical move if I do that. And when it’s over, it feels like I’m too excited about Brahman to stop thinking good thoughts.
  4. Right before I wrote this, I was feeling a bit sad because I was at my uncle’s home and having fun, and had to come back abruptly. Now that’s why I suddenly started writing this, so is this a kind of spiritual bypassing I’m doing?

My Response

Anurag: I am sure you would have gone through the introduction before reading my response. If not, please do so because without going through it, you may not understand many things I shall be mentioning in my response.

Regarding your first point of feeling blessed by being accepted as a student of an enlightened teacher, I have the following observations to make

  • Getting a good teacher is a real blessing. It is a result of good past karma. It is said in Vedanta that whenever the student is ready, the teacher arrives. Whether the relationship continues or not depends upon the sincerity with which you seek your goal and the clarity of your goal. Advaita is about knowledge, not seeking blissful experiences, like in other dualistic paths. In Advaita all experiences, including the highest ones are seen as illusion. Bliss, in Advaita, is actually similar to sleep – a non-experience and comes after a very long time as all vasanas exhaust. This is an important point to bear for anyone who wishes to follow Advaita
  • Being enlightened may seem as some trophy to you now but for an enlightened being it is something that is perfectly simple and natural. If you are suffering from a disease and then you recover from it and become healthy, you do not celebrate or show around this fact. Similarly, a Jnani knows that in their essential nature everyone and everything is enlightened/Brahman. A Jnani is not special in any way. There is a verse in Gita which says:”Verse 5.18. Wise people are indeed those who see the same (Brahman) in a brahmana, who is endowed with knowledge and humility, in a cow, in an elephant, in a dog, and even in a dog eater.”
  • So don’t worry, you cannot get to enlightenment till you see through all delusions of measurement and comparison which happen only in the phenomenal world of three gunas or the world of becoming. In Self/Awareness there is no form and hence no comparison. It is eternal being (Refer to B.G verse 2.45 I have mentioned in the introduction)

Your points three and four are nothing but the conflict created between the thinker and the thought as I have mentioned in the Introduction. In your case, it is the thinker trying to become virtuous because it may have equated virtue with enlightenment or it may be pure unexamined conditioning. My Introduction would have helped you appreciate the following points.

  • Enlightenment is not about acquiring dharma (virtue), which is a feature of the phenomenal world of the three gunas, but about adhyatma – knowing the eternal reality beyond the three gunas. You can never make the transient phenomenal world eternal or convert the dualistic samsara into non-dual Brahman/Self. Spirituality is about knowing the transcendent eternal Self rather than purifying the phenomenal self (which is psychological becoming). There is a verse from Avdhuta Gita which brings this out beautifully, “Verse 1.48: The Self certainly does not become pure through the practice of six limbed yoga. It certainly is not purified by the destruction of the mind. It certainly is not made pure by the instructions of the teacher. It is itself the truth. It is itself the illumined one.
  • Even though the eternal reality is ever present, it is clouded by ignorance. To penetrate this ignorance one needs to follow a path with definite stages as I have mentioned in the introduction. The first stage of the path is to acquire a sattvic intellect.
  • In Advaita, what is required, is not exactly a dharmic mind but a sattvic mind. Though dharma and sattva usually seem to be conflated by people, I treat them separately. For me dharma is a social reality whereas sattva is an individual psychological reality. In fact dharma often comes in the way of self inquiry. For instance, I may want to pursue self inquiry but my parents would want me to land a good paying corporate job. So this leads to conflict. As I have mentioned in the Introduction, Bhagavad Gita verses 2.41, 2.42 and 2.43, a mind that has moksha as its aim is automatically resolved (focused). Whereas a mind which has dharma and karma as its aim is “many branched” (dissipated). Therefore, if moksha is your strongest desire, you already have a sattvic mind which will collaborate with you in self inquiry.

After the above points are clear to you, I am providing you with gist of how I deal with the conflict between the thinker and the thought for the seekers. This happens in two stages.

First Stage: Psycho-Philosophical InquiryUnderstanding the Conditionings of the Thinker through Choiceless Awareness of “What Is” – This is a fairly long stage. For me it took about seventeen years. This is by no means the standard amount of time. All depends upon your karma load. I mentioned it to show that the preparation time is much longer than the second stage where one enters into the insight stage of penetrating the conflict between the thinker and the thought. This is the stage where one is learning to shift from being a Thinker trying to analyse and solve problems to being a silent Observer passively observing the movements of mind rather than trying to solve them. It is the stage where one learns to shift from all forms of psychological becoming to being.

The processes of this stage are facilitated by reading the teachings of Krishnamurti, reflecting upon them, having dialogue about them with a teacher and starting your practice of choiceless awareness of ‘what is’. All three practices have to be undertaken together. These practices are what Jnana Yoga (Yoga of Knowledge) all about

  • Reading
  • Reflection/Dialogue/Journal Writing
  • Contemplation/Choiceless Awareness of ‘What Is’

These are actually the practices of Advaita which I have lifted and applied to the teachings of J Krishnamurti as they work absolutely fine with his teachings too. The NEEV Psycho-Philosophy Facebook Group which I run and of which you are a part is the place where all these processes take place.

Second Stage: Advaitic Inquiry – You (Self/Awareness) Are Not The Thinker and the Thoughts – After I discern that you have gained sufficient maturity of mind, in the sense that you have seen through all forms of psychological becoming and have become an Observer rather than a Thinker then I shall shift you to Advaitic inquiry. Not that Advaita does not require the thinker: it does, but in a very definite way. In my article Shabda Pramana: Enlightenment through Words in Advaita Vedanta: Presenting a Dialogue I have provided the actual method of how the teaching of Advaita engenders enlightenment in the student. It is not any reasoning that can help you get the liberating insight of Advaita but only the reasoning in line with the scriptures, wielded by a teacher who is a knower of Brahman, that can help you with the final liberating insight that frees you from being a thinker/doer/observer/experiencer to being Self/Awareness/Witness. I have described how this shift happened to me in my article: Self inquiry and insight into one’s true nature/Self in Advaita. All these processes are facilitated in the second Facebook group that I run: NEEV Advaita Study Group. The same methods of Reading, Refelection/Dialogue and Contemplation are followed here but this time with Advaita literature.

A detailed description of both the above mentioned stages is provided in my page: Stages of Self Inquiry

I end my response with a very brief pictorial representation of how you are Self and not the thinker and the thoughts. This is just for your preliminary knowledge. The in-depth understanding of this model requires an elaborate unfolding of the teachings of Advaita

The Five Sheaths Model

The five-sheath model is one of the tools employed by Advaita to help a seeker get liberation. The pic above shows the five sheaths that are ‘superimposed’ on Self. Advaita helps a seeker to discriminate between the five sheaths and Self/Witness of the five sheaths. So Advaita resolves the conflict between the thinker and thought by showing that both the thinker (Intellect Sheath/Vijnanamaya Kosha) and the thought (Mental Sheath/Manomaya Kosha) are objects to You/Self/Witness/Awareness rather than You being them. In your true nature as Self, you are free from the thinker and thoughts so there is no point bothering about them. Just like the smoke never dirties the space, no thoughts or actions ever taint You/ Self.

The last lines I wrote above refers to Seer-Seen Discrimination in Advaita

Stages of Evolution in Self Inquiry

Lastly I am reproducing an interesting table of the journey of psychological maturity acquired by a seeker through different stages of his evolution based on the five sheaths model.

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