Agony of the soul (?) etc

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vidya at CCO.CALTECH.EDU
Wed Jan 8 17:46:00 CST 1997

On Wed, 8 Jan 1997, Gummuluru Murthy wrote:


> Confining to advaitic thinking only, what would be the answer to my
> original question ? Isn't it the ego that feels the emotions ?

The ego is the result of the identification of the Atman with what is
not the Atman. So long as such identification exists, the jIva feels the
emotions. The minute the identification ends, there is no more agony. For
that matter, there is no more ego and no more individual jIva.

> 2. Do not seek anything (happiness or sadness)
> Shri Vidyasankar interprets my question as due to thamasic laziness rather
> than sattvic nirapeksha. Implicit in this interpretation seems to be the
> belief (seems to be held by Shri Vidyasankar and many others) that one
> cannot have nirapeksha unless one literally takes up sannyasa ashrama.

No, it is the other way round. The Jabala Upanishad says, "yadahareva
virajet, tadahareva pravrajet" - one should renounce, the moment one
attains vairAgya. In other words, go beyond the stage of nirapekshA to the
stage of complete vairAgya and then sannyAsa. It is virtually impossible
to be acting, however desirelessly, and have complete vairAgya at the same
time. Why else did Yajnavalkya, that foremost of Upanishadic r.shis,
renounce his wives and go away to the forest?

In terms of tamas, rajas and sattva, my point was that the advice, "do not
seek anything" is apt to be misunderstood by those who are tAmasic. It was
not my intention to impute it to you personally. A teacher's public
utterances are heard by a vast number of people, of different backgrounds
and levels of understanding. The gurus have to explain themselves and
teach in accordance with the level of their audience. So when some guru
says, "we always seek happiness and avoid sadness", they are addressing
people who are in the midst of attachments; they are not talking to
another sannyAsin who may be beyond seeking.

> I do not subscribe to that thinking. I believe that a person can be
> completely free from all shackles right in the middle of a city,
> surrounded by family. In my view, there is no need of sannyasa ashrama
> for nirapeksha (not seek anything, neither happiness nor sadness).

Try not to feel happy at the birth of a child or sad at the death of a
loved one, when surrounded by family or otherwise. Often, you cannot
avoid feeling sad or feeling happy, even if you are doing your duty in a
spirit of nirapekshA. In other words, whether you are actively seeking
something or not, things like happiness and sadness come seeking you. It
is harder for the family man to have nirapekshA. Meanwhile, the life of
the sannyAsin is not easier either. Just saying that sannyAsa is not
necessary for nirapeksha seems to minimize the importance of the sannyAsa
ASrama as a way of life, while unduly glorifying gr.hasthASrama.

I cannot say much about this beyond a point, for I am neither a gr.hastha
nor a sannyAsin. But please read Sankaracharya's commentary on the
brahmasUtras, the gItA and the br.hadAraNyaka with regard to sannyAsa.


> I argue for: Being a grihastha and doing one's duties without getting
> entwined in the intricacies (a la King Janaka) is possible.
> Shri Vyas argues: Being in samsara leads to sukha and dukha and the only
> way to be away from sukha and dukha is to take literal sannyasa ashrama.
> I argue that a literal sannyasa (sannyasis as we see in India) does not
> mean anything. Manasa sannyasa, exemplified by the grihastha in the above
> example is as superior a state as the literal sannyasa which Shri Vyas
> favours.

If this argument is taken to its logical conclusion, the advaita maThas in
India have to either fold up or admit only old men who have gone through
the gr.hastha stage already, as their Sankaracharyas. On the other hand,
we see that traditionally, young brahmacArins are admitted directly into
sannyAsa and they become Sankaracharyas. This practice of becoming
sannyAsis directly from the brahmacAri stage is not restricted to the
advaita tradition. At least as far as the advaita monks are concerned,
with a very few exceptions, I think they have been more than just literal

> I could not grasp Shri Vidyasankar's view on this point from his posting.

My point is that both stances are admissible for different kinds of
people. There is no point in holding one rigid opinion and applying it
to all people. If someone wants to become a sannyAsin just to be away from
sukha and du:kha, without first losing the bonds of attachment, that is
wrong. For such a person, being a gr.hastha and striving to do nishkAmya
karma is the better way. Indeed, no guru in the advaita tradition will
take such a disciple directly into the sannyAsa ASrama. They will advise
him to regulate his passions while in the gr.hastha stage, try to practise
nishkAmya karma and then become a sannyAsi when the time is right.

However, for someone who has already loosened the bonds of attachment, and
who is already undisturbed by sukha and du:kha, it is traditionally
advised that he should become a sannyAsin when the occassion arises. To
force such a person to enter into the gr.hastha stage, if not already in
it, is wrong. If such a person is already in the gr.hastha stage, he will
have no problem continuing in it till obligations are fulfilled, and he
will have no problem moving on to the sannyAsa stage later in life. It is
difficult to be a Janaka and it is difficult to be a Suka or a Sankara. If
what you are saying is that we don't need more sannyAsis, we need more
king Janakas in India, I agree. But remember that becoming a sannyAsi is
an option open to a king Janaka also. At the same time, it is not right to
force someone like Suka to become someone like king Janaka. Even after
talking with Janaka and learning about detached action, Suka did not enter
into the gr.hastha stage.

I do not wish to enter into the nature of sannyAsis in India, literal or
otherwise. Anyway, sannyAsis belong to different traditions, and they have
different backgrounds both personally and philosophically. Their reasons
for becoming sannyAsins are also varied. For many of them, the questions
of nirapekshA, nishkAmya karma and naishkarmya do not matter in the same
way as they do for advaita.


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