It was dusk and a weary foot traveler made his way to the center of town for a much needed drink at the well. A few feet from the circular opening his eyes caught sight of a cobra ready to strike. His body became rigid like stone. A few moments passed and then a kind voice shared, “it’s OK friend, you can relax, that’s not a snake by your feet but a rope to draw water from the well.”
In the light of day we see only a rope (truth). In the veiling of night, neither rope nor snake are seen (ignorance). But in the twilight, we take the rope for a snake (super-imposition). Mistaking the unreal for the real, is the challenge every seeker of truth faces.
With so many teachings and teachers, how can one know which path will lead to water and which to more, hot desert sand?
The embodied soul (jiva) comes into this life with a natural governor called ignorance. Like the man who believes the rope is a snake, this un-realized jiva or samsari, lives under the spell of super-imposition, chasing happiness in objects and experience, not realizing that the only cup of water that can really quench his thirst, lies within.
In the mind of the self-realized jiva there is both truth and ignorance. This jiva knows there is more to life than meets the eye but identification with one’s sensations, emotions and thoughts remain strong. This is the stage where liberation is desired but the objects of security, pleasure, and virtue still hold the promise of a freedom that is only temporary. Prarabdha karma (that portion of karma meant to play out in this lifetime) and its associated vasanas (likes and dislikes) still remain binding.
In the shining light of truth, the self-actualized jiva rests in the self as awareness. Ignorance has been dissolved and only the knowledge of true self remains. This jiva mukta knows he or she is awareness and that no appearance of an object or experience can sully the limitless, non-dual, awareness of self. Like with the self-realized jiva, prarabdha karma and its associated vasanas still play out but they are not binding, leading the jiva mukta to take action in alignment with both personal and collective dharma.
In this journey from ignorance to truth, while still wandering in the twilight, a valid means of knowledge and qualified teacher are so very important. Just as the mountaineer who wishes to summit Everest requires the right equipment, a proven path and experienced guides. In time, when knowledge is firm, no teacher or teaching is required because the forever shining light of true self has been realized.
As a valid means of knowledge, Vedanta has an outstanding sampradaya (lineage), revealed through the sattvic (pure) minds of tens of thousands of sages. While many paths offer the experiential enlightenment and/or the shaktipat of a teacher as their means, traditional Vedanta as taught by Ted Schmidt and James Swartz in the lineage of Dayananda and Chinmayananda back to Adi Shankara, offers a methodology that dissolves ignorance and reveals knowledge.
Yes, of course there are other valid means and qualified teachers but I can only speak of the path I walk. I did spend over ten years in the neo-advaita, experiential enlightenment camp, only to witness its limitations. While posing the question “Who Am I?” may work for a very ripe soul like Ramana, with my quotient of ignorance, I have required a more thorough approach.
The spiritual market place is rife with snake oil. With any teaching or teacher one should always ask, do I feel more happy and free, the more I participate? Is the teacher walking their talk behind closed doors and living a life in alignment with dharma? I wouldn’t consider owning a fleet of luxury cars, copy-writing a spiritual methodology or having intimate relations with a student as dharmic behavior. Does the teacher offer a time tested, valid means of knowledge or just reflections on their experiential awakening? Are they kind and compassionate? Is the cost of their process reasonable? Do they treat me as an equal?
One of the primary qualifications for enlightenment, and there are many, is the discrimination between mithya (false) and satya (truth). Your discriminating mind should be active when deciding on a teacher or practice. Once the process has passed your scrutiny, then offer provisional trust, setting aside you pre-conceived notions, pending the results of your participation and leaning. After a time has passed, re-ask yourself the questions in the previous paragraph again.
The reason I use the word experiential is that per Vedanta, objects are not real. They exist apparently but are not real in the sense that they do not last and are bound by time and space. The only not-thing that is real is awareness which is beyond the limitations of time and space, is non-dual, unchanging and ever-present.
Experiences which are states, however enlightening they may be, fall into the category of objects. While satori “Lightening Flash,” samadhi, nirvana and epiphanies occur with regularity in the twilight where truth and ignorance coexist, they often do little to unbind the ropes of past karma. So when these enlightened states pass and the ego/identity/doer resets after one minute or three years, our unresolved and binding vasanas (fears and desires) remain.
For those who don’t presently have a path or a teacher, there is another qualification that is essential – a burning desire for the truth. This qualification provides the shakti (power) that sustains all other qualifications. This qualification is communicated to the dharmic field and Isvara (the creative universal force) will provide a teaching and teacher when the student is ready.
In gratitude, Eaden Shantay