Agony of the soul (?) etc

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vidya at CCO.CALTECH.EDU
Mon Jan 6 23:30:09 CST 1997

> Now, my question is "Is it the soul that feels the agony or suffering or
> joy or happiness ?  I think it is the ego that feels the suffering or
> happiness and not the soul. The soul is a witness to the feelings and
> does not participate in these emotions.

Let us remember that when religious leaders say "soul", they mean
different things, depending upon their backgrounds and philosophies. Thus,
when a dvaitin acharya says soul, he means something different from what
an advaitin acharya means. The Religion correspondent of The Hindu may not
make that very clear, after he/she is mainly a journalist.

Secondly, even in the Sastras, the word "Atman" is used with many
different meanings, in different contexts. In one place, Atman can mean
the physical body, although the first teaching of Vedanta is that the body
is not the Atman. In another place, Atman is interpreted as mind, and in
yet another place as the anta.hkaraNa. In a similar vein, the word "soul"
need not always stand for the one Atman. It could mean the jIva, or the
ahamkAra or the anta.hkaraNa, depending on context.

> 2. Seeking happiness and sadness
> In some books [Shri Ramanaashram letters, Nisargadatta Maharaj's I AM
> THAT, Shri Chandrasekhara Saraswathi of Kanchi Peetham] it is stated
> that we seek happiness and avoid everything that is sad. My question is:
> Why should we seek anything ? What is happiness and sadness anyway ?
> Do not seek anything. Then one can take things in stride as that
> pre-ordained to us.

Seeking something presupposes ignorance. Even so, the state of
non-seeking cannot be attained easily. If it were easy to not seek
anything, people would have all attained moksha by now. Besides, telling
someone not to seek anything can promote laziness and lethargy, which are
characteristics of tamas. The traditional teaching, and this is across
various schools of thought, is that one must get rid of tamas by means of
rajas, which carries with it vigorous activity. Only after one tires of
rajas, but does not give way to tamas, does one seek that which is
predominantly sattva. It is not advisable to fall into tamas and mistake
the sloth of tamas for non-action in sattva. Given this framework,
teachers talk of seeking happiness and avoiding sadness. In my opinion,
the question "why should we seek anything?" is in one sense misplaced.
Aren't we all, by our very nature, seeking something or the other? Whether
it be education, or a job, or a home, or money, every man and woman is
always seeking something, and it usually motivated by a desire to be
happy or satisfied. The advice of the gurus attempts to use this
tendency to seek to useful advantage. Their message is that rather than
seek happiness in ephemeral things, one must turn one's mind inwards, and
seek the natural Ananda of the Atman. Just as one diamond cuts another,
one can use one's avidyA-driven desire to seek happiness in order to
remove that very avidyA.

> 3. Concept of re-birth and carry-over of karma
> My understanding of Advaita concepts is that there is no creation and
> hence the concept of re-birth does not even arise. The concept of karma
> is not there at the highest level of understanding of Advaita.
> Then, how are the fruits of action (good or bad) carried forward in the
> Advaitic thinking ?

These questions are best answered by asking the following questions.

1. Is there an entity that seeks liberation?
2. If so, what is that entity, and what is its nature, i.e. eternal or
non-eternal?, born once only or reborn many times or never born?
3. What is the nature of liberation?

The general answer of advaita has been this: So long as avidyA exists, the
jIva is reborn and continues to be reborn till the highest level is
reached. The jIva seeks liberation, but its character as a jIva is in
reality dependent upon the omnipresent, eternal brahman. So long as the
jIva does not know brahman, i.e. continues in avidyA, it continues to be
reborn. Whose is this avidyA? It belongs to him who sees it. Meanwhile,
the fruits of action are mediated by brahman Itself as ISvara. Desireless
action (nishkAmya karma) does not mean that the fruits of action will not
affect you. However, it ensures that ISvara, as the final arbiter of
karma-phala, grants you a station in life that is conducive to acquiring
jnAna. The nature of liberation is to know brahman, and to know brahman
truly is to *be* brahman. It is only when this state is reached that one
can really appreciate the highest level of paramArtha. Till then, there is
no point if confounding the paramArtha with the vyAvahArika. The Atman is
never born and never dies (paramArtha), but the atman is born and dies
again and again (vyAvahAra). There never was any creation (paramArtha),
but creation is bondage (vyAvahAra). If that sounds contradictory, this is
the basic problem of all human life.

> 4. Shri Nageswara Rao, one of the List members, wants me to put the
> following question to the Group, as presently his computer is
> unavailable.
> We all know the ithihaasic story of Jaya and Vijaya, the gatekeepers at
> Vaikuntha, Lord Vishnu's abode. Once, they were cursed by the sages
> Sanaka and Sananda to live their lives on the Earth. Lord Vishnu took
> pity on the gatekeepers and gave them a choice "Do you want to be my
> enemies and come back to Vaikuntha after three lives or do you want to
> be my devotees and come back to Vaikuntha after ten lives ?" Of course,
> they chose to be enemies for three lives and returned back to Vaikuntha.
> Now, Shri Nageswara rao's question is "Why does it take shorter time to
> reach God by being an enemy than by being a devotee ? Is there any inner
> meaning in this ? "

Did Jaya and Vijaya ask Vishnu how long they would live in each life? The
same Puranas also tell us that after being born as Asuras, they did
penance for thousands of years in order to defeat the gods. Maybe they did
spend a longer time in three lives as enemies of Vishnu. Who knows, if
they had chosen ten births as devotees, they might have lived short lives
each time and returned to Vaikuntha quicker!

This might appear frivolous, but it is with a reason that I say this. In
general, stories in Puranas are meant to illustrate truths in allegorical
and metaphorical ways. To take these stories literally, and then search
for inner meanings is misplaced. One can only search for inner meanings if
the literal is given up in favor of the metaphorical. Jaya and Vijaya were
arrogant, which led to their being cursed, which illustrates the law of
karma, and teaches the listener that arrogance is a vice. Even so, man is
given free will, as seen by the alternatives given to Jaya and Vijaya.
Finally, even if man is given free choice, his births are dictated by past
karma, but Vishnu uses both to act in ways characteristic of His nature,
which is that of the preserver and the compassionate judge. He used the
situation to work for a larger good. If Jaya and Vijaya had chosen to be
devotees, Vishnu would not have had to incarnate at all. He could have
just chosen to bless his devotees from afar, rather than take human form.
There is a deeper design that is hidden behind the story, in the light of
which, the question "why is it easier to reach God quicker as an enemy?"
is seen to be improperly posed.

S. Vidyasankar
>From ADVAITA-L at TAMU.EDU Tue Jan  7 01:52:21 1997
Message-Id: <TUE.7.JAN.1997.015221.0500.ADVAITAL at TAMU.EDU>
Date: Tue, 7 Jan 1997 01:52:21 -0500
Reply-To: "Advaita (non-duality) with reverence" <ADVAITA-L at TAMU.EDU>
To: "Advaita (non-duality) with reverence" <ADVAITA-L at TAMU.EDU>
From: "Jaldhar H. Vyas" <jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM>
Subject: Re: Agony of the soul (?) etc
Comments: To: "Advaita (non-duality) with reverence" <ADVAITA-L at TAMU.EDU>
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> From: sadananda <sada at ANVIL.NRL.NAVY.MIL>
> To: Multiple recipients of list ADVAITA-L <ADVAITA-L at TAMU.EDU>
> Subject: Re: Agony of the soul (?) etc
> Date: Monday, January 06, 1997 2:02 PM
> Sri Gummuluru Murthy wrote:
> >> I clearly remember and try to practice Shri Chinmayananda's
> >> (which might have followed Shri Ramana's teachings). Every argument is
> >> correct at the level of understanding of the person who makes it.
> you are right about that!
> Sri Jaldhar H. Vyas responded:
> >This is something I've always found fascinating about the so-called
> >neo-vedantins (i.e. Vivekananda, Chinmayananda etc.)  Apparently in
> >philosophy one just stumbles through life waiting for some vague,
> >undefined thing to magically happen.  This is supposedly the path to
> >but I don't see how any kind of peace could result from something so
> >unstable.
> I see Sri Jaldhar H. Vyas's interpretation of what the two greate swamis
> have said.  In my twelve years of vedantic study and anlysis, I have not
> found any disagreement between what Bhagavan Sankara worte and what Swami
> Chinmayaananda interpreted. Now I am baffled who is the neo-vedantin
> and which is that unstble path that the two swamis philosophized!
> Stability and unstability is the state of mind, I am that which supports
> both. Both swamis taught us to renounce the mind that goes through stable
> and unstable states and discover oneself as that substratum, that peace
> that passeth understanding!

It's all this passeth beyond understanding stuff which prompted me to make
my comment.  Being baffled by this and mystified by that.  Without
understanding one always remains a sitting duck for the doubt and delusion
which are the cause of instability.  After twelve years of study you should
have learnt enough that very little baffles you.

Whether this kind of behavior is the teaching of the people mentioned above
or its just their follows trying to avoid the truth I don't know but
wherever or whoever it comes from, soft-headedness has nothing to do with

Jaldhar H. Vyas [jaldhar at]   And the men .-_|\ who hold
Consolidated Braincells Inc.                          /     \ -)~~~~~~~~  Perth->*.--._/  o-
"Witty quote" - Dead Guy   /\/\/\ _ _ ___ _  _ Amboy       v      McQ!

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