The six philosophies of India go back thousands of years and are the same now as they were then. These philosophies express eternal truths, whereas Western philosophies regularly supercede themselves. In the West, a new scientific discovery brings the demise of a philosophy or someone comes along and refutes a former philosophy. If Western philosophy deals with Truth, why do the philosophies change so often? In contrast, all of the Indian philosophies accept Yogic practice and, in fact, say that Yogic practice is necessary. These Indian philosophies are not counter to each other. They all complement one another and each one serves a purpose.
NYAYA – the First Darshana
Nyaya is the first of the six Darshanas of India. If you go to the Tibetan lama college in Llasa, you spend four years studying Nyaya, a science of logical inquiry into the nature of the Real. Nyaya means, literally, “going into a subject” through the use of reason. For this reason, Nyaya is not viewed as an “other worldly” philosophy. Nyaya teachers believe that everything you need to know for release, moksha, is right here before us in our every day existence – if you can train your mind to see it. When one understands the true nature of things, then all desire, the basis for action, ceases. Complete understanding of the Real leads to cessation of desire and, without desire, there’s no motivation for action – the basis of karma. However, with its talk of salvation or moksha, Nyaya is, in a sense, otherworldly also. The Nyaya teachers are interested in giving an effective method of inquiry to arrive at true knowledge of the soul and realization of the destiny of man. Practitioners of Nyaya, and the Darshana that follows it (Vaisheshika), believe that everything we need to know for release (or moksha-salvation) is right here before us in our every day existence.
The founder of Nyaya was Gautama, who lived about 500 years before Gautama Buddha, and sometimes his name is spelled the same way. (Note that Buddhism is not included as one of the basic Indian philosophies.) Nyaya’s founder, Gautama, was known for his long periods of penance, or tapas. Gautama lived about 550 B.C., and he had a wife. (In fact many of the wise men of India, the Rshi, and others, had wives. There are descendants today who trace their lineage back to them.)
As discussed earlier, Nyaya means literally “going into a subject” through the use of reason in order to understand the Real. Once the Real is understood, desire ceases, thereby eliminating motivation for action. There are four subjects studied in Nyaya:
1.) Things to be avoided;
2.) Things (desire and ignorance) which are the cause of pain;
3.) The way to avoid that which causes desire and ignorance;
4.) The means to carry out such avoidance.
That which is going to cause desire in you and lead to pain must be understood so that you can avoid it. You must know the true from the false. Nyaya is a science of truth, and it is a science of truth that believes in the evaluation of evidence. It is methodological. The product of your activity – through karma – produces your future. That product is the fruit. Rebirth is what they mean by fruit. Nyaya says the pursuit of pleasure is also the pursuit of pain. (If you’ve ever known hedonists, and I’ve known many in my lifetime, their sole goal in life is to spend their time in pleasure. They very often end up committing suicide.)
The study of philosophy, according to Nyaya, is the preparation for the practice of Yoga. Tibetan Buddhists study Nyaya as the preliminary to yogic practices. The Buddhist Sage, Ashtanga, introduced these Nyaya principles to Buddhism. Nyaya is a system of logic, which gives you the methods to successfully determine the Real from the unreal.
VAISHESHIKA – the Second Darshana
The second Indian philosophy is Vaisheshika, founded by Kanada. Vaisheshika means in Sanskrit, “the characteristics that distinguish a thing.” Knowledge of Reality comes from knowing the essence, or essential differences, that distinguish the nine eternal Realities called dravyas: earth, water, fire, air, ether/akasha, time, space, soul, and mind.
Earth, water, fire, and air are seen as the ultimate elements or undividables. They cannot be divided since otherwise, they’d have no characteristics. They’re called paramanus. They are beyond the range of the senses whereas the other five eternal realities can be distinguished by the senses.
An example of distinguishing something and arriving at truth comes from the old story about the person who walks home at night and mistakes a stick for a snake. The terror the person feels from this misperception leads to gooseflesh, maybe a heart attack. But when we have knowledge of Reality, of what is Real, the objects of perception will no longer arouse attraction or aversion. Those of you who study Buddhism remember the very famous poem about “Following the way is easy – just cease to like and dislike.” Buddhists usually translate it as “Cease to pick and choose.” In ceasing to pick and choose, objects of perception will no longer arouse attraction or aversion, the sources of misery.
Kanada’s masterpiece writing, the Vaisheshika Sutra, teaches the doctrine of liberation or moksha, which will lead one to a true vision of the Self. (I’m not talking about the “little self.”) Vaisheshika is considered to be the philosophy of liberation. Kanada said that, even after successful discrimination of the Real from the unreal through Self-cultivation, one must go on to the practice of Yoga to do away with samskaras, the tendencies that may be left after the habit energies (vasanas) have been destroyed. Yoga will then neutralize the still-remaining tendency to pick and choose. However, you are not ready for the practice of Yoga until you have mastered Nyaya and Vaisheshika. Obviously, this philosophy is not otherworldly, nor is it speculative. Vaisheshika accepts the universe as it is. The criterion of truth is correspondence between the subjective world of thought (“I am a worthless person”) and the objective world of form (the earth is a sphere whether people believe it or not.) The practitioners of Vaisheshika use samskaras as a way to salvation.
SAMKHYA – the Third Darshana
The third Indian philosophy is the most important: Samkhya, founded by Kapala. It’s a very complicated cosmology, yet nobody in India goes against it in any way. What is the purpose of Samkhya? Samkhya seeks to remove suffering, which it believes is caused by three things:
1.) Intrinsic causes of body and mind;
2.) Extrinsic causes such as animals, objects, and things that do harm to you;
3.) Supernatural causes (adhidaivika).
It is believed that the untarnished soul is free of suffering. The removal of tarnishes or blotches from the soul is the aim of Samkhya. It is not an otherworldly philosophy. It is empirical not transcendental. What the Samkhyans try to realize is within this cosmos. They ask, “How did all this come about?” Samkhya is the most important of the Indian philosophies because all the other philosophies make use of it. In India sages say, “There is no knowledge like Samkhya and no power like Yoga.”
Samkhya sees Reality divided between Purusha (spirit) and Prakriti (cosmic substance). Purusha is unevolved and does not evolve. In other words, it does not have a beginning or an ending. Purusha and Prakriti are the two realities from which everything comes. Prakriti is often translated as nature, but Samkhyans see it as cosmic substance, unevolved and unable to evolve, uncaused.
Prakriti is made up of the three gunas: sattva, rajas, and tamas. These gunas are the three characteristics of everything in the universe and account for the universe. Most Indians feel that the universe is made up of these three characteristics in various arrangements. They’re not in balance. Originally, the three gunas are in equilibrium, dissolved or latent, in Prakriti (primal matter). When they begin to move (through force of karma) they become unbalanced and it’s this dynamic imbalance that gives rise to the creation. The nature of sattva is to illuminate; the nature of rajas is to activate; and the nature of tamas is to obscure. Tamas is lethargy. For example, a stone has great tamas. The three gunas illuminate happiness, activate happiness, and obscure happiness. Sattva is the illuminated mind; rajas is the active mind; tamas is the obscured mind. We can also call these three characteristics indifference (the non- attachment of the enlightened man), temptation, and illusion.
Samkhya says it is important to disentangle Purusha from Prakriti. Many of the systems of meditation, such as Samkhya’s, consider Purusha (spirit and transcendental) and Prakriti (insentient nature) to be the two fundamental principles of reality. From these evolve cosmic or divine intelligence. The individuating principle then evolves from this intelligence. The individuating principle and Cosmic Mind give rise to the sense powers (tongue, ears, etc.) and to the subtle elements – the tanmatras (taste, sound, etc.) Sense powers lead to cognition throughout the senses. Subtle elements lead to action.
Samkhya sees the senses as being made up of five subtle elements called tanmatras from which all things are made:
1.) The essence of sound (shabda);
2.) The essence of touch (sparsha);
3.) The essence of form (rupa);
4.) The essence of flavor (rasa);
5.) The essence of odor (gandha).
These are the five subtle elements, which are the basis of the senses. From these five subtle elements come the Cosmic Mind made up of the abstract knowing senses and the abstract working senses. One might ask, “What’s the difference between the knowing sense and the working sense?”
To illustrate the difference we can look at the Yogi who practices Raja Yoga, the kingly yoga. One of the eight steps in Raja Yoga is pratyahara, withdrawing the senses from the field of the senses. The yogi who practices pratyahara and is successful in it can have his teeth drilled and he won’t feel it. Or you could burn him and he won’t feel it. This is the difference between the abstract working senses and the sense particulars.
Questioner: You mentioned we had subtle elements under that action and you mentioned the essence of sound, the essence of touch. Is this sound that I do not hear through my senses?
Justin: No. The tanmatras are what you are speaking about. It is not sound. In order for you to hear a sound, there must be sound to be heard, which was originally vibration. That has an essential being, the sound. According to the teaching, it is eternal. The sound itself fades away but the essence of sound is always there – in the same way that a sculptor may feel he’s got a block of granite but, within that granite, is imprisoned a figure. All he has to do is carve it out. If it weren’t the essence of sound as opposed to the sound itself, we wouldn’t be able to have the pratyahara, where we withdraw the senses from the field of the senses.
YOGA – the Fourth Darshana
Yoga is the next Darshana, and it is basically a science. It, as well as Samkhya, can be seen as either atheistic or agnostic. God does not enter into the philosophy at all. Yoga is a Sanskrit word that comes from the root yuj meaning “to yoke” or “to join.” What is the purpose of Yoga? It has the same purpose as all the Indian philosophies: To free man from suffering by nonattachment to (not isolation from) the world.
Yoga is the restraint of mental modifications (some would say the erasing of mental modifications.) Patanjali, the man who classified Yoga, said that all Yoga comes down to the restraint of mind thereby not creating vasanas and samskaras. You are the product of the habit energies you have built. You are their product. Where mind is restrained, you are not making these mental modifications called vrittis.
Nonattachment to the world and restraint of mental modifications are the practices of Yoga. Ramana Maharshi says, “Go back the way you came.” Most people are very puzzled by that. What he’s saying is erase that which you have built up. Undoing causes, the effects disappear. If I do away with the roots of the flower, there will be no more flowers. Hence, the return to the Original State.
A Story: Sacré Torts
I’m going to tell you a story that will illustrate what nonattachment to the world means. There was a woman, Lynette, living in Santa Fe, who was one of the most advanced people I’ve ever known. When she lived in Los Angeles, she had some guests from out of town and decided to take them to lunch up in Laurel Canyon to a nice little restaurant. We had lunch and then decided to order sacré torts. The owner was Viennese so he made excellent sacré torts. They’re so good you seldom can stop at eating just one! So we had sacré torts brought to the table. Everybody looked at them. I had just lifted my fork when Lynette turned to me and said, “Can we do without this?” I said, “Sure,” and put my fork down and pushed the sacré tort away. She put her fork down and pushed the plate away. Of course, everybody was salivating. When she saw me push it away she said, “Well, in that case, we might as well eat it!” And we took it and ate it. The other guests were all puzzled. Lynette gave us a wonderful lesson. She was a real teacher. If something (in this case, eating the tort) doesn’t make any difference to you, you’re not going to be captivated by it. You might as well eat it if you want to eat it. Just cease to pick and choose.
People feel that money is so terrible or that success is terrible because money and success are things of the world. If you’re not attached to success or money, they don’t have any power over you. Some of the most spiritual people I’ve ever known have been economically very successful; some of the least spiritual have been unsuccessful. But if you’re attached to the fruits, that’s another matter!
Yoga’s View of Time: A Mountain & A Cloth Yoga’s view of time is measured in kalpas, which are in turn divided into four yugas. We are living in the Kali Yuga, the Iron Age, the fourth yuga of a kalpa. (A kalpa is an inconceivably long period of time.) When that is over, according to all Indian philosophies, then the world and all worlds retreat to where they’re just potential, contained in the bindu (a point without extension.) There’s a great conflagration resulting in the end of the world, but the tendencies go on. Karma goes on and that causes the emergence of a new cosmos, which will last for a kalpa.
I’ll tell you how long a kalpa is with an East Indian story. The Indians have great talent for exaggeration. Here we have a giant mountain made up of the toughest stone. A heavenly creature descends to it once every hundred years with the finest cloth or material and lightly brushes the top of this mountain of stone. When the mountain of stone finally wears away, the kalpa ends. It’s mind-boggling and that’s what the story is meant to do.
vasanas or Habit Energies
Now that we’ve talked about the periods of time, I’m going to talk about vasanas (habit energies) and samskaras (prolonged habit energies) that may become tendencies that carry over into subsequent lives.
Habit Energies: A Story about a Chair
Here is an example of what habit energy means: One time I stayed in Los Angeles at a place called the Kipling House. I stayed there because it was cheap and I didn’t have very much money. It was a place for older people, and over the desk was a sign that said, “Habit is the enemy of old age.” I said, “Right on! That’s great!”
I’m an early riser, so the next morning I was the first one down to the dining room and I went in. I was about to get my breakfast. There were about 150 seats and I was the only one there. I chose a seat. Then I noticed a little old lady standing at my shoulder. I said, “Oh, won’t you join me?” She said, “You’re sitting in my chair.” I looked around. Her name wasn’t on it. There were 149 other chairs there. I said, “Be my guest,” and gave her the chair. She couldn’t eat breakfast unless she sat in that same chair. You might say it’s inconceivable but it happens. This is an example of what we want to erase by going back the way we came.
Expansion & Contraction of Time
Yoga believes that life is nothing new. It is an expansion of what has always been. What we see, what there is, has been before. That means that time is a circle, not linear with a beginning and an end. This notion is difficult for us to imagine. Life is nothing new; it is an expansion of what it has always been. My experience in meditation was that there are two things going on: expansion and contraction, yin and yang, heat and cold, etc.
The contraction is the cosmos retreating into just potentiality, and the expansion is the cosmos manifesting itself in activity. Man sees only the present stage. He does not take notice of the past and the future. This is true. We always talk about what is at present. The true teacher, however, isn’t like that. The true teacher looks at you and can see into your past and therefore knows what the future will be. Cause makes effect. Without awareness of cause and effect, man sees only the present stage.
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The individual is the result of a stress in universal consciousness. That’s a little hard to accept. Ramana Maharshi said, “Individual life is a mistake.” The individual is the result of unaccountable stress in universal consciousness. Individual spirit, the jiva, comes from the root jiv meaning “to live.” Jiva is one who lives. Jivatman is the realized man, the one who has attained salvation while he is alive. In universal terms, the Paratman, “beyond the Atman,” is the universal. Here we have the para, the universal; here we have the jiva, the individual. Only in quantity do they differ. They are the same. One of the bases of Indian thought is the expression Atman is Brahman and Brahman is Atman.
If you really want to know Yoga, the Yoga Sutras should be read. Patanjali, the father of Yoga, wrote the Yoga Sutras. He defines Yoga as “restraint of mental modifications.” Mental modifications are called vrittis in Sanskrit. Yoga also talks about mind, chitta. And from mind comes name and form. And finally comes buddhi, which is the seat of intelligence. First comes mind, then name and form, and then intelligence.
The Yoga Sutras say, “Then comes ahamkara,” which is the ego, the sense of “I,” which all Indian philosophies feel is false. And Yoga, like Samkhya, also talks about the tanmatras that is the essence of sound (shabda or nada in Sanskrit), touch, form, flavor, and odor. So you can see Yoga has much in common with Samkhya. None of these systems is opposed to one another. However when we get down to Vedanta, Vedanta does disagree with some of the other philosophies.
A foray into Vrittis, Samskaras, & vasanas – with questions from the audience
Questioner: You have mentioned mental modifications. Can you clarify that a bit for me?
Justin: Yes. It is really the purpose of meditation. What did I mean by mental modifications, which technically are vrittis? When you have a thought, when you have an emission of energy, when you take an action, it makes a very slight imprint on the brain. This is called a vritti, which is erased immediately just as we’ll be erasing this. However, if you keep making the same imprint on the brain, then the vritti grows into a vasana, a habit energy. If the vasana goes on and on and is not curbed, it will become a samskara (a tendency) and will go on for life after life. Man comes into this life and becomes a drinker. He doesn’t know why he drinks. I had one heavy drinker tell me he didn’t like the taste of alcohol but if he could get through the first drink, then he could continue drinking. Obviously this is a samskara, a tendency that had come down. How do we go from a vritti, a mental modification, to a habit energy such as this woman had who couldn’t have breakfast unless she sat in that chair? Let’s say that walking home from school I take a short cut through the fields. As I walk through, I press back the weeds. As soon as I come through, the weeds reform back together again. And tomorrow I go through the same way because it’s shorter. Gradually the weeds tend to open and pretty soon a path is made. That path will correspond to the vasana, the habit energy. And eventually, maybe, they will build a thoroughfare through there and it’ll be permanent…all because I walked through this shortcut.
Mental modification is the effect of an emission of energy, any emission of energy, on the brain. Let’s say that I drive along and I see sights, but they don’t register on the brain. Then there is really no emission of energy unless they can be recalled by hypnosis. Later, there was a slight emission of energy. This is the basis of what we are. When I look at you, aside from seeing chi in various stages, we’re saying the
same thing. It is the emission of energy. This is why, in spirituality, the motive is more important than the action. The Buddha once said to somebody, “Well, you were thinking of killing that insect. You might as well go ahead and do it!” He said this because the energy had been emitted. Motivation…intention. Anything that you say or somebody else says and it registers on the mind makes a vritti, a mental
modification, which becomes a habit energy. And then I say, “Well, gee, I really enjoyed the taste of that ice cream but, boy, I couldn’t stand the spinach.” Now we have the likes and the dislikes. From the likes and the dislikes come the attachments and the aversions, which, according to Vaisheshika, is the making of suffering. If we erase these habit energies…we go backwards the way we came…then that which causes suffering is erased. Finally the slate is clean. The Buddha said then, “You have done that which has to be done. You are back in the state of purity.” The Chinese call this state the “Uncarved Block.”
Questioner: Justin, when you were talking about habit energy moving into tendency you said something about “And then likes and dislikes come in.” How do they fit into that picture? I’m not sure what you were saying.
Justin: Something stirs your mind. Some activity. There is sexual activity. There is a taste or something. First comes the vritti. It registers. It registers pretty strongly. And as soon as it registers there, the vritti, you say to yourself, “Boy that was great, I want to do that again!” So you repeat it. This is how we live our lives on a pleasure-pain continuum. Stay away from pain and search for pleasure. We do an activity again and again and then it becomes a vasana, a habit energy. Once it becomes a vasana, a habit energy, we have embedded in stone what we like and what we don’t like. I have a friend in New York who has never traveled. She was a magazine editor. We correspond and talk. Wonderful person. Very intelligent. She has the most decided opinions I’ve ever heard of anybody I’ve known. She has opinions about places and things she knows nothing about. She’s never been there. That’s all nonsense. She calls herself a born-again atheist. A born-again atheist! Well, why protest so much? She says it over and over. Okay! She’s a born-again atheist! She was born Catholic and then she switched from Catholicism and now she’s a born-again atheist. She hasn’t changed her life at all. But these likes and these dislikes are so pronounced that there’s no openness of mind and I don’t think she’s a very happy person.
Once we begin to get habit energies, these habit energies cause us to like and dislike, don’t they? Every morning I have the same breakfast. I like that particular breakfast. What happens if I go to someone’s house to stay and they don’t have that breakfast? Then I am very much upset. These straightjackets, as you know them, can get tighter and tighter. As people become older, they become more and more the playthings of their habit energies. After a while, people live solely by habit. We all do it. One asks, “Did I shave this morning? I can’t remember.” Or, “How did I drive from that place to this one I don’t remember driving here at all.” Habit drove you there. We live our lives that way. We live most of our lives that way. And we don’t like to be shaken up.
A Story: When Our Habits are Challenged
I gave a “Heightened Awareness” session in Minnesota to a very fine group of people. They were very attentive the first night. We got through the lecture and I was quite pleased with it. Afterwards Jeannie Carlson came up to me and said, “Did you notice that woman sitting in front in the sweater?”
I said, “Yeah, she seemed to really be engrossed in this.” “She wants to leave the class.”
“What do you mean, she wants to leave?”
“She’s not coming back any more,” continued Jeannie.
“I thought she was getting so much out of it,” I responded.
“She was. She was getting too much out of it. It caused her to take a good look at herself. It shook her up a little. And she doesn’t want to look at her life.”
I said, “Do you mean she wants to go back into the womb?”
And Jeannie replied, “That’s exactly it! She wants to go back into the womb!”
Another Story: “Tea Ceremony Stinks”
Paul Reps was the greatest one I’ve ever known for challenging people’s habit energies. He’d do anything, the worst nonsense, in order to cause people to get out of that little habit.
When he arrived in Japan the first time (and they knew him through his poems and pictures), he got off the ship. The newspaperman came up to him immediately and said, “Well, now you’re in Japan. What do you think?”
He said, “Tea Ceremony stinks!”
I don’t know how you translate that into Japanese. Paul lived there for eight years and knew only three words in Japanese.” Tea Ceremony stinks!” I’ll tell you what the three were: itai (pain), subarashii (wonderful), sanpo (to stroll). (laughter)
But he shook up the Japanese with his first steps on dry land.
I’ve seen him shake up other people, too. I would ask in surprise, “Paul, am I hearing right?” Of course he was having fun in doing it, but in addition to that, he teaches as he goes. The more set somebody is in a belief, then the more that person needs shaking up. It’s very good if you can do it.
This is what happens. As soon as you get habit energies, it means there are things you like and things you dislike. You have aversion and attraction. That’s how we lead our lives, isn’t it? Only to an exceptionally spiritual person does it really not matter. My friend Ch’ang Chung-yuan, who wrote a wonderful book called Creativity and Taoism, told me that he lived with D.T. Suzuki in Japan for two years, and they once went to Hawaii together for an international religious conference. They were put up at the Royal Hawaiian, a very fancy hotel. I said to Professor Ch’ang, “What did Suzuki-san think of the Royal Hawaiian?” He answered, “I don’t think he even saw it. It wouldn’t have made any difference if he’d slept on the floor in a little hut or in this luxury at the Royal Hawaiian. I just don’t think he noticed it one way or another.”
That sort of indifference is very hard to come by. When I first got ready to go to India from Japan, I visited the Indian consul, whom I knew in Kobe before I got on the ship. He and two Japanese men took me down to the ship and he said, “Oh, you will be just immersed in India when you get there.” He continued, “You’ll love this and that ” And I said, “Well, well, I really don’t care what I see there.” He said, “I know you don’t have any desires.” I looked at him in astonishment. I said, “You’d be surprised how many desires I have.” Percival, who wrote a wonderful book, said there is a desire body, a subtle body. You can’t be without desire because the desire to be without desire is a desire. This is why, at the end of the 179 negations, you have to have negation of negation.
Back to the Darshanas….
MIMAMSA – the Fifth Darshana
Mimamsa is a precursor of Vedanta (the sixth Darshana.) Mimamsa means “to examine.” There are really two founders of Mimamsa: Jaimini and the Prabakara. Mimamsa is based on the Vedas, the most ancient scriptures in the world and the basis of Indian life. Even now, two teachers in India, Sai Baba and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, have set up communities to bring the youth of India back to the Vedas, the Vedic teachings.
Thus, Mimamsa is based on the Vedas; Mimamsa is the interpretation of the Vedas. Jaimini, who is usually called the founder, organized it but didn’t originate it because these things go back so far that nobody knows who started them. Mimamsa’s purpose is to inquire into right action. That inquiry and philosophy is different from any of the other Darshanas. What is right action? Some say right action is duty, dharma, why you are here and what your duty is. Mimamsa examines “duty.” What is the duty? What should you do in this life? What dharma should you follow?
In Mimamsa they talk a good deal about the word. In the Bible it says, “In the beginning was the word and the word….” The Sanskrit word shabda, or “the sound,” exists before pronunciation. Pronunciation of the word dies away, so it’s not eternal. However, the meaning of the word is eternal. An example of this is found in Seijaku, the advanced form of T’ai Chi Chih. When we do the toning with movement, we continue to hear the sound after we’ve stopped producing it in our throats. We’re really trying to recapture something, which is always there. This concept is something I’ve never heard outside of India. The vibration of sound is eternal; the spoken word disappears.
In Hindu philosophy, there are two important points:
1.) The bindu: If everything were contracted it would come to one point that has no extension. It would have location but no extension. You’d almost have to be a philosophy student to know what I meant by extension. But it’s a point without any dimensions at all. This is what everything can be reduced to.
2.) The sound from which comes creation: The sound that is the vibration before the sound.
VEDANTA – the Sixth Darshana
Vedanta has impressed the West more than any other philosophy in India. What does Vedanta mean? Anta, or the English word “anterior” means “after,” “the end of.” Vedanta means “the end of the Vedas” or even “beyond the Vedas.” It is interesting that many feel Vedanta is disguised Buddhism and that Shankara was the greatest philosopher that India has ever known. One time I asked a Zen teacher in Japan, “Do you really feel there is any difference between the Truth that you apprehend and the Truth that Shankara apprehends?” She said, “Everybody knows that Shankara was a Buddhist.” I teased back, “Well, if you’re going to get sectarian….” She was giving an answer, of course, in that respect.
Now we come to a concept totally different from the others: Brahman. Don’t confuse Brahman with Brahmin. A Brahmin is a high caste Indian and Brahman is the universal spirit. The purpose of Vedanta is to know Brahman, to realize the relationship between Brahman, the universal, and the Atman or individual, where they are basically the same.
The founder of Vedanta is Badarayana. Most people thought the founder was Shankara, but Badarayana wrote the Vedanta Sutra, which has had countless commentaries on it. Shankara, however, is the one who made the biggest noise so the founding of Vedanta is credited to him. It is often thought that there were three pillars in India a thousand years apart: the Buddha (563 – 483 B.C.E), Shankara and Ramakrishna. Ironically, nobody in India knows when Shankara existed, even though he was one of the greatest and wisest men who ever lived. Indians have a complete disregard of time. I have seen that Shankara lived during 200 B.C. E. and I have seen that he lived in 700 A.D. This is very strange. We know all about Shankara’s life but we don’t know when he lived. My guess would be that he lived not too long after the Buddha and that he was very much influenced by him.
Badarayana wrote the Vedanta Sutra, which is sort of the Bible of Vedanta. He might be the same man who is referred to as Vyasa. If Vyasa did all the things that are ascribed to him, I would say he is the greatest genius in history. He is said to have arranged the Vedas, written the Mahabharata (one small part of which is the Bhagavad Gita), and written the Puranas, which describe ideal conduct in India based on one’s caste. The Bhagavad Gita is his. I don’t know of anybody who’s ever done that. However, the word vyasa really means collector. So maybe the authors of this vast collection are many. We don’t know whether Vyasa was Badarayana and what difference does it make? (When Mark Twain was asked, “Do you think that Shakespeare really wrote his plays?” he said, “Well, either Shakespeare did or somebody else by the same name!”)
The central theme that Vedanta teaches from the Upanishads, regarding the nature of God, the world, and soul, is neither dualistic nor atheistic. What is the nature of God, the nature of the world, and the nature of soul? Every philosopher in the East will tell you when you (as the individual soul) arise, God and the world arise with you. You can’t have one without the other. The individual, Atman, and the universal soul, Brahman, basically are the same.
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Tenrikyo: Joyous Life!
The same truth will vary according to the individual. Vedanta says we do not have to suffer now to enjoy bliss later. I’m glad to hear that. Those who are lashing themselves on the back, they’re fooling themselves. When I lived with the Tenrikyo people in Japan, their slogan was “Joyous Life!” It is not that you should try to be joyous. It is your duty to be Joyous. You have no right to spread negative vibrations. They also teach that the body is a loan from God. It is not your body. It will be reclaimed someday, therefore you have no reason to mistreat it. You must take good care of it.
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In Vedanta, the human intellect can never fathom Reality, but this Reality can be experienced. What this statement reduces to is that Reality can never be put into words. You can’t think it because you can’t put it into words. Those of you who have had spiritual experiences know that this is true. “Something wonderful happened!” “What happened?” “Well, I know how I felt but there is no way to talk about it.” Reality can be experienced only through intuition or true teaching.
The Fourfold Discipline of Vedanta:
First Discipline: VIVEKA
First of the four is right discrimination of the real and unreal. “Right discrimination” is viveka in Sanskrit. Cintamani is Shankara’s great word for the same concept. Cintamani is about right discrimination. Shankara, the really great man of Vedanta, when asked, “Is the world real?” responded, “Yes, it is real, but it is apprehended incorrectly.” What we discern as the world is not really the world.
I would put it a different way. I would say no two people see the same world. One person might say, “Oh this wonderful world, beautiful morning, isn’t it wonderful.” Somebody else would say, “This world is a hell.” It’s the same world apparently, just perceived differently. Another example might be when the rain comes down. The farmer says, “That blessed rain.” The man going on a picnic says, “That damn rain ruined my picnic.” How we view the world is a matter of individual perspective.
One of the favorite expressions in India is “neti, neti” or “not this, not that.” “Is this real? No, not this; no, not that.” One must discriminate between the Real and the unreal. (In Buddhism, China, and Japan, the deepest form of Buddhism, Kegon in Japanese, has a hundred and seventy some-odd negations, the last of which is the negation of negation. You have to wipe out the negation, too. Kegon was so deep that it has disappeared in China and Japan. There really is no Kegon anymore in Japan, but it has left its mark on the other Buddhisms.)
Second Discipline: VAIRAGYA
Vairagya is the second of the fourfold disciplines of Vedanta. Vairagya is dispassion, non-attachment, indifference to the transitory. How many of us are indifferent to the transitory? To me, most suffering comes from clinging to that which is impermanent, yet we cling to it as though it is permanent. For example, “I have a wonderful business and a beautiful home and a beautiful wife and lovely, obedient children. They’ll always be lovely and obedient. She will always be beautiful, my business will always be good.” Is life like that? Vairagya or indifference to the transitory (in other words, non-attachment) is the second discipline.
Third Discipline: SAMATHA – SAMPATTI
Right Conduct (with six parts)
The third discipline is right conduct. Right conduct is divided into six parts. (Indians are great for sub-divisions.) If you are really serious about your spiritual practice, these will help you. Right conduct is made up of the following parts:
1.) Tranquility. The control of your thought processes;
2.) Self-restraint of the senses;
And this is so difficult for most people:
3.) Tolerance. The renunciation of sectarianism; renunciation of the view “My church is the only right church!” What a strange coincidence. We’re the only ones who have the truth and we’re willing to fight for it. In the name of Jesus we are willing to kill other people. In the name of Allah, we’re going to kill other people. In the name of the difference in two words, we’re willing to kill. That view is the opposite of renouncing sectarianism;
4.) Endurance and Non-complaint. How many would qualify under that? I remember one time, when four of us had a reservation at a tennis court to play doubles, and then we found they’d given the court to somebody else, I screamed in frustration! This other guy, apparently a little wiser than I am, said “Look,” (forgive me if I use a colloquialism but it’s how he said it) he said, “I’m only going to bitch if it’s going to do me some good!” So he obviously was wiser than I was ;
6.) Freedom from Laziness and Carelessness; And I would add another one:
7.) Boredom. If you are bored, it is not the speaker’s fault; it is not the movie’s fault; it is not life’s fault. You are the guilty party. Anybody disagree with that? If you are bored, it means you are bored with yourself.
Fourth Discipline: MUMUKSHA
Right Desire to Know the Ultimate Principle and, therefore, Liberation
Finally we come to the fourth discipline. So far, we have Right Discrimination, Non-Attachment and Right Conduct with its six sub- categories. The fourth is Right Desire to Know the Ultimate Principle and, therefore, Liberation. How many in life are seeking Truth? Someone who has not progressed at all may say to himself, “What good does seeking truth do? Let’s go out and get drunk and have a good time.” Strangely enough, going out, getting drunk and having a good time is not very satisfying as life goes on.
Coming to grips with death, understanding death… that is satisfying, what the pleasure-seeker is saying isn’t true: that seeking pleasure is the ultimate satisfaction in life. Three kinds of pupils are driven to the right desire to know the ultimate principle in that conflagration. See if you fit one of these categories:
1.) Those who perform good acts: Karma Yogis;
2.) Those with zeal and faith: Bhakti Yogis;
3.) Those continually immersed in meditation: Jnana Yogis.
Theoretically, you could be immersed in meditation, perform good acts and have zeal and faith…all three!
Pralaya – Universal Dissolution at the End of a Kalpa
Vedanta emphasizes pralaya, universal dissolution that happens at the end of a kalpa, an unbelievably long period of time. The Buddha made it very plain to his followers that a Buddha could, if he wanted, stay in his body to the end of the kalpa. To the man who finished dusting off the whole mountain with the cloth, that’s mind-boggling. We’re talking about millions of years! Maybe millions of centuries! But the Buddha said that he could do it. Interestingly, nobody asked him, “Why don’t you want to continue here to do your work?”
Pralaya is the absorption of everything into just the potential. And Vedanta (it gets this from Buddhism) talks a good deal about Sat, which is “Being,” and Asat or A-sat, which is “non-being.” In Buddhism, non-being is as important as being.
The Ultimate Principle
Talking about the Ultimate Principle is quite different from talking about everyday affairs. The Ultimate Principle has two qualities: saguna (matter) and nirguna (without qualities.) Some may be familiar with Saguna-samadhi: awakening with some leftover tendencies. And then there is Nirguna-samadhi, which is awakening where all tendencies, everything, has disappeared and all teachers talk about it. There are two qualities: Matter and that which is without qualities. Ultimately, man and God are the same. It is one of degree. Brahman is Atman, Atman is Brahman. The space inside the cup is the same as the space outside the cup. The water in the bottle is the same as the ocean water and so forth.
Maya – Illusion
Vedanta goes a great deal into illusion, which is called maya. First, we have Prakriti, nature in equilibrium, but there is some disturbance. (Vedanta doesn’t try to determine why there is disturbance.) From that disturbance comes maya, this world of illusion, the world incorrectly seen. We are hoping through these practices to see it. It is very possible that once the illusion is dispelled, the world disappears. Can you picture that at all? It is told that Paul Brunton, the author of Secret Journeys in India, came back from India and said he was disillusioned because Ramana Maharshi didn’t care about the world. To that I would ask, “What makes him think that Ramana Maharshi sees the world?” If Ramana Maharshi was immersed in total spirit, the Purusha, and if the world is the result of a disturbance, maybe by dispelling the disturbance, by dispelling this imbalance, then there is no world.
Man and God are the same; it’s a matter of degree. Many of you have heard me say, “Find out who and what you are.” This is also what Vedanta is trying to tell you. New Thought Church suggests this as well in their phrase, “Be still and know that you are God.” Maya only comes after there is disturbance. Of course, the end of the disturbance comes with these practices. Vedanta has told you one of three kinds of practitioners can reach this state, and it’s telling the different things that must be seen. It is leading you from the unreal to the Real, trying to give you true knowledge. Vedanta today is the most popular in India. There are Vedanta temples all over the world.
Devotion & Non-duality:
What can we be devoted to if there is only one?
Devotion is non-dual. How can you practice devotion if there is only one thing, to what can you be devoted? However, different religions teach things dualistically since all ask for devotion to their individual systems of thought. What dismays me a little is that these temples all over the world teach almost anything in the name of Vedanta. Likewise, churches teach almost anything in the name of Christianity. Temples teach almost anything in the name of Buddhism. Years ago, some people in a Buddhist temple asked me if I could get my friend Paul Reps to write some answers to their questions. (He’s the one who wrote Zen Flesh, Zen Bones.) I told them Paul wouldn’t write an article. They said, “Well, would he answer some questions?”
The question they decided to ask him was, “What do you believe in?” Paul (I knew they wouldn’t be able to print his answer) wrote back and said, “Nothing. If I believed in anything, there would be two.” Can you grasp that? They didn’t print it. That wasn’t what they wanted to hear at all. They wanted to hear some holy words or something and Paul is the kind of guy who will say exactly what people don’t want to hear and use a little colorful language in doing it!
Listening & the Listener: Justin Challenges His Audience
Justin: Let me ask you for a truthful appraisal. How many of you find this interesting? Anybody not find it interesting? It would take a lot of guts for you to put your hand up (laughter) but I know people who will.
After I gave a very deep course at Monterey Peninsula College, it asked for an evaluation, which I’m very much against, and everybody in the course put down a very favorable evaluation except one guy. This man was a very strange fellow who came to the course always wearing a blue pin stripe suit with a tie. People don’t typically dress that way on the Monterey Peninsula. Anyway, the man suddenly burst out, after saying a few nice things. It was a hopeless diatribe. What he was referring to, I don’t know. Similarly, it is very possible somebody here in this audience would say, “Look, this is a lot of nonsense. What I’m interested in is who’s going to win the game this Saturday!”
We are at the very beginning of the material in the lecture series, yet you can see how we could sit here and debate any of these points and clarify them and go over them and over them. The farther you get, the deeper you will get because some of this material is very provocative, wouldn’t you say?