Saturday, December 10, 2011

vedanta class recap 2

This was the fourth class where we were still being tested on our understanding of what is real vs unreal.

The real being the constant and the
unreal being the ever changing and fluctuating. The key is to identify what is real and what
is unreal and always associate with the real the constant that which is the

The students, one by one shared
their understanding of what they understood by what was real and what was
unreal. One student shared how her understanding and discernment of real vs
unreal had a rather beneficial effect on her and how she could step back and
become the witness to her life. Instead of reacting and seeing herself as the
victim, she could now step back and evaluate the situation and not allow the
situation to get bigger than her.

Another shared that she had always convinced
herself about her inability to give up smoking by believing that she was not smoking
in access so it was acceptable, moderation being the key! But as she was doing
the exercise she realized that these were all stories that she had made up to
convince herself about not giving up smoking.

Once she could identify that it
was her ego and the unreal part doing the convincing she realized that she was
doing it because it was more comfortable to stay with the habit rather than
make a change. According to her, the
real vs unreal exercise helped her to understand what emotions were real. She
shared that what is real is the inner calm that stays despite what happens on
the outside. If you can become the observer of your actions you can then
practice more awareness. When she used her discernment she could easily drop
the habit. However she did elaborate that it was not as simple as it sounds to
just stop smoking. She is still coming to terms with the situation as for very
long she had convinced herself that as long as she was not addicted, it was OK.
After all it was all about having a balanced life.

The next student shared how it is
our perceptions that distort our reality. It is our own perceptions and
opinions that colour our outlook, so when we see the world we see it according
to our own pre conceived ideas. She inquired as to how one can reach that place
of inner calm. It is of course very easy
to intellectualize and discuss these things in class but how does one really
reach that point when we can be calm and practice discernment?

Mala Ji, responded by saying that
as we progress and grow in our path of understanding the subtle differences
between what is real and what is not we will automatically be able to make
better choices. Our responses to the situation will change according to the
changes in us, elucidating that if in the past we reacted to a situation in a
certain way; that was because we were not aware of a different way, but with
the new understanding, our reaction to the same situation will be different.

She then went on to elaborate
that in a landscape of flux where the outside situation is changing and so is
our inner condition, what then is real? The student responded by saying that
what appears real in that situation is change. So the constant here is change.
The question then arose, can change be constant and can that be the truth? But
that which changes cannot be the truth, so what really is the truth. We know
that the truth exists and it does not exist in the change. So what is the
changeless principal?

Without the changeless principal
we cannot understand the truth. If the reality was flux, it would not appear as
flux to us. The only reason we are aware of the flux is because the truth of us
is changeless, implying that my inner condition is not the truth and the outer
condition is not the truth because they both change. We have chosen to identify ourselves with our
mind and our body and that is why the truth seems veiled to us. For example,
when we are in a dream the dream appears real and in deep sleep neither the
dream is real nor is the waking state real, so what is real?

We were asked to ponder on the
ambiguity that if waking world is not constant and neither is the sleep world
the constant then what is the constant?

The question we should all be
asking is what is constant in my life? What is that which never changes?

Our mind changes and so does the
outer situation so what really is constant? We do know that there has to be a
constant because without the constant change cannot be perceived

The problem we all face is that
our identification with what is real is flawed. We all have identified
ourselves with our bodies and our mind and we look for happiness in all the
wrong places.

Mala ji used the analogy of the
story of an old man who loses his house keys and is searching for them under a
lamppost. Soon a small crowd gathers around him in his search for the keys. After a futile search one person asks the old
man as to where did he lose the keys. The old man replies that he lost them in
the house. When asked, why then is he searching for them outside the house
under a lamp post, he responds by saying that the light here is better J

The message of the story being
that often we look for what we have lost ‘in most cases happiness, peace of
mind and the real meaning of truth ‘in the wrong place. How can we ever hope to find what we have lost
inside on the outside?

The question then went back to
what really is real? Is awareness real? Is awareness of a situation real?

Mala ji clarified that Awareness
per se is real but awareness of something is not real. When we say that we are
aware it does not mean the same as we are aware of? She went on to elaborate that it was similar
to meditation. When we are in a meditative state we are in awareness, but
meditation is not something we do. It’s not an activity it’s a way of being.

The conversation then moved to
another topic.

The question that was asked by
one of the students was how when one sees or notices a negative behavior/aspect
in another person and gets affected by it, is that a reflection of the same
behavior in one’s own self? The fact that we notice that particular behavior,
does that mean that we need to fix that in our own selves? Another person
interjected and said that the fact that a particular behavior upsets you may
mean that you have a memory of a similar negative behavior that affected you in
the past and that memory had been rekindled.

Mala, ji gave a wonderful example
to explain the behavior. She said that when our arm is hurt and someone comes
along and leans on it we will surely feel the pain but if our arm is not
wounded or hurt and someone leans on it we won’t feel the pain, implying that
only when we are sensitive towards a particular issue can we feel the pain due
to another person’s behavior. We only react when we are in pain because of a
previous injury. She further elaborated
that instead of confronting the antagonist, the better strategy would be to
heal the pain that is within us.

Going back to the example of the
hurting arm, she said would it not be better to apply ointment to our own
hurting arm instead of applying it on to the person who leans on us?

But this does not mean that every
time someone does something that upsets us, it is only to do with us. Yes it
may mean that we need to look into ourselves and identify what has triggered
that pain, but self-flagellation is not the answer either. Every time someone
does something to hurt us we cannot just go into a victim mode and say to
ourselves that there is something wrong in me that I need to fix.

Mala ji shared with us the
example of how India’s inward looking policy at times led to more harm than
good. For example, India never ever initiated an attack on any country and was
always subjected to attacks and subjugation by invading forces. India’s
inwardness in a way led to its constant subjugation.

At times it may be required of us
to stand back and fight. India should
have taken practical action, but it failed to do so.

Self-preservation demands that we
acknowledge and identify the right response/practical action to a particular

Practical action definition- acting spontaneously in the moment to what
the situation requires without a personal agenda)

Going back to the question of
what one should do if we perceive that another person has hurt us or is harming
us in some way.

Practical action requires us to
first look at what in us is causing the pain, next step is to forgive and get
the ego (the i-ness and my-ness) out of the way. The final step would then be
to engage in the right response.

In the previous lesson we were
made aware of the distinction between an emotional person who tends to be
reactive vs an intelligent person who makes a decision based on the knowledge
of the situation. We have learnt that the person who is causing us pain and
hurt is only doing so to alleviate some sort of pain and hurt in
himself/herself. Once we know this basic
fact we are then in a position to exercise discernment in our response. If the
practical action then requires us to confront, we may then do so with the full
awareness that it may or may not lead to the conclusion that we desire.

The right response will only come via the
right education and right education is that which is rooted in the correct
knowledge and has stood the test of time (in this case the study of Vedanta).

Taking ownership of our feelings
and our action and taking full responsibility of our own lives is the first
step towards spiritual growth and healing.
We need to give up the blame mentality and acknowledge that we are in
some way or another creating our life circumstances.

The discussion still stayed on
the topic of how to get over the pain and hurt caused by another. One student
shared that it was easy for her to forgive the person who caused the pain but
how could she get over the hurt and pain herself? How can she just forget the
pain and pretend that nothing had happened?

To this Mala ji responded by
going back to the same analogy of the hurting arm saying that pain only occurs
when there is a wound. If there was no wound, there would be no pain. Our main
focus therefore should be not on figuring out what caused the wound but how to
heal the wound. In order for emotional healing to take place we need to
consider very carefully what is the right thought, the right speech and the right
action? She suggested self-awareness
exercises, meditation and going to retreats in order for us to help heal the
mind, body and spirit.

The key message of the above
discussion was to understand that only a person coming from pain and misery
will cause pain. A person who is happy and satisfied will have no interest in
hurting another so anytime we feel wronged or hurt by another, instead of
passing judgment we need to understand that the person’s behavior is driven by
pain and deserves our compassion and not our wrath.

Although at times it may be
difficult for us to show compassion and kindness towards the person who we perceive
to be responsible for our pain, our main objective must be to heal our own
wounds. At times this may require a lot of soul searching and brutal honesty
towards the self in identifying what the real cause of our pain is. It may have
been something in our past or present, but that does not mean that we go into self-pity
and keep crying over old wounds. The whole idea behind personal spiritual
growth is for us to move to the next level of understanding and discernment.

We need to move away from the
blame mentality and take 100% responsibility of our own state of being and our
happiness. We are also not responsible
for someone else’s happiness. Often we feel extremely burdened by the
responsibility of ensuring another person’s happiness. Mala’ji reminded us that
there is no way that we can be responsible for someone else’s happiness. The
fact that they look towards us to for their happiness means that something in
their life is missing and they are looking on the outside for what they should
be finding inside.

This of course opened a can of
worms on the topic of responsibility and duty. One student shared her frustration
at her inability to really distinguish where her responsibility ended and her
own inner happiness took precedence.

Malaji asked the student to sit
in silence for 5 minutes every three hours if she really was serious about
knowing the answer.

This was a reminder to all of us
to look within our own heart and mind to find the answers to the most
perplexing questions, for what we search for on the outside actually is on the

vedanta class recap

For the last couple of years year I have been attending Vedanta Classes with My teacher Mala Daswani ( who was a student of Swami Chinmayanada) The classes have brought great insight into my understanding of the meaning of life.
Instead of just keeping the teachings to myself, I will try and share it with those of you who may be interested. Please bear in mind that this is my understanding of the class and is not a transcript of the class. Having said that, I feel that the knowledge gained through the interaction of the students with the teacher in invaluable and no reading can compare to actual attendance. But I will still post my recap.
As this is not from the first class, some may find the reading a bit disjointed. I apologise for any confusion.

The class started with a Recap of what is real and what is
unreal and then veered towards the power of belief.

Malaji shared with us the story of an aboriginal male who
was believed to be a 150 years old. He
came in contact with a skeptical American who could not believe that the man
was actually 150 years. According to conventional wisdom he should be dead, so
the American urged and convinced him to travel to the US to undertake some

The tests proved conclusive but the skeptism and the
disbelief of the doctors and the scientists somehow managed to permeate the
aboriginal male subject who eventually died because he was made to believe that
it was abnormal for him to be alive as it defied convention.

The point of the story was how our beliefs actually become
our reality. Till the man did not know that he was not supposed to be living
upto the age of 150 he was living healthily, but the moment he was made to
believe that he was a freak and was not supposed to be alive, he died within a
year of his exposure to the outside world and its beliefs.

The discussion then briefly touched the theory of parallel
universes and quantum physics. Parallel
universes theory suggests that there is no one reality and that at any time we
can choose to create our own reality by the thoughts we choose. I shared the story of Burt Goldman who has been
propounding the theory of parallel universes where he talks about how at any
one time there are more than one you existing in different planes and you can
take a quantum jump to meet your double who has the life of your dreams and
bring it into your current reality.

The discussion then led to the question of choice. How every
time we make a choice, there is an opposite choice that we do not make. So for
every decision that we make, there could have been an opposite decision.

Malaji, then spoke about the power of mantra and how the
right intention accompanied with the right act can bring about the desired
result. She shared with us how when some childless couples chant certain
mantras along with the body preparation have been successful in having children.
Mantras are sound vibration with intent and once we set intent in motion we can
reap the desired manifestation. She enunciated that manifestation only occurs
when we are in complete alignment with our intention and the action undertaken.
Knowing about a thing is not enough. For example, reading about surgery does not
make one a surgeon. Doing the act is what brings about the change.

The second session started with the homework about real and

I shared my observation about how at times I felt that there
was a part of me that I did not like. My seemingly dark and bright sides which
although I knew to be unreal yet appeared as real as possible and how I was
coming to accept both sides of my personality.
The key to accepting oneself was to embrace the whole in totality. (I
was however quickly told that this was not the homework and I still had to
decipher what was real and what was unreal in my personal experience.J)

Other people then went about sharing their observation and
understanding of what is real and what is unreal. One person mentioned how she
had managed to share with her daughter the concept of real and unreal and
managed to alleviate her anxiety about an issue that had been bothering her.

Mala ji commended the person on her ability and
understanding of what is real and unreal and how because of her awareness she
had managed to share that knowledge with her daughter.

We were reminded that real is that which is constant and
unreal is that which is fluctuating. Unreal is here today and gone tomorrow, there
is no constancy in it so why do we give it so much reality. The key is to
understand the subtle difference and act from the understanding of what is real
and what is unreal.

The next person shared her experience of a rather unpleasant
overseas visit where she was subjected to lot of discomfort and distress due to
the attitude and actions of third parties. She shared about the state of her
mind which became very agitated due to the outside forces. However her
understanding of what is real vs unreal is what made it easier for her to cope
with the difficulties she was faced with.

Malaji, reminded us that it is our sense of inner peace and
equanimity more than anything else that determines the outcome of our issues.
If we do things from an agitated mind the outcome will reflect the agitation
and if we look within ourselves to find a place of calmness and inner poise
that is what will be reflected in our outer dealings.

She reminded us that our desire to control stems from
insecurity and once we find within ourselves the true security of what is real
we can then allow the desire to control fall by the wayside. The whole issue of
wanting to control the outcome is a sign of insecurity and fear.

The key to knowing the difference between the real and
unreal is in getting the right education and being able to discern between what
really is propelling us towards growth
and what is pushing us back into darkness. The right knowledge is therefore
extremely important.

Often when we are put in uncomfortable situations that is
the time when maximum learning takes place. We gain wisdom and intelligence if
we are able to step back and look at the situation in a calm and detached manner.
A calm reflection is a result of practiced intelligence. An agitated mind is
not an intelligent mind, it is a reactive mind. A reactive person is not an
intelligent person, he/she is an emotional person and an emotional person is
incapable of making rational decisions.

We were reminded that people who cause us the most agitation
are also the ones who allow us to grow the most and instead of getting upset
with them we should thank them for giving us an opportunity for spiritual
growth. Because of their actions we have been made aware of a different
perspective and now we can look at a situation from a different angle. The
outside situation is always a reflection of what we need to see within

Another person shared how for her the knowledge of Vedanta
had made her reflect upon her life and introspect on the choices she had made
in the past and how having this knowledge she was today in a better position to
understand her own behavior and the associated insecurities.

Mala ji commended the person and told her that she should
applaud herself for making a choice whereby she was choosing to walk this path
where she was being propelled to look into her own behavior and make the
necessary modifications for her to lead a more fulfilling life.

We were reminded of our imperfections and our fallibility
and our desire to be perfect and how that becomes an impediment in our growth. Because we want to be liked and valued we
aspire for perfection. We believe that perfection equates to being valued,
loved and accepted. However the desire for perfection and the desire to
exercise control is what leads to more and more dis satisfaction.

The acceptance of being imperfect is actually much more
powerful and that is why the strong are quiet and the weak are loud. The less
secure one is the louder he/she is. The strong feel confident in themselves and
do not feel the need to be heard. The
essence of the discussion was to embrace ourselves in entirety – faults and
achievements, good and bad, and the bright and the dark side of our

Another person shared about how she believes that world is
largely a construct of ideas and that nothing really is real or unreal. She
explained that in her view it was easier to accept things as unreal and
therefore it was easier for her to cope with life when it did not go according
to her wish.

Malaji, went on to explain that sometimes we hide behind
language and our understanding to confirm our beliefs which may or may not be
correct. She asked us to re- visit what
we really understood by what was real and what was unreal.

The next person shared her dilemma at her understanding of
real and unreal in the context of a recent news article where a 13 year old boy
had been kept in a cage for over a year and how his sister was asked to beat
him and how he eventually died. This opened up a big debate on how we judge
others and how our understanding of good and bad is a product of our belief.

Although the actions of the father were considered
despicable, we were reminded to exercise control and discernment before
labeling a person as being bad and evil. Mala, ji reminded us to not pass
judgment based on what we are made to understand via the media. Also how do we
come to the conclusion that a certain behavior is bad and the other is
good? In no way does this imply that we
condone the bad actions or turn a blind eye towards inappropriate behavior. We
need to hone our discerning faculties and be compassionate to make better

She told us that in order for us to become compassionate we
have to open heart and practice forgiveness.

Someone then asked how does one feel compassionate towards a
person who has committed such a heinous crime as killing his own child? Malaji
asked us if none of us had committed an act that we were ashamed of. Most
replied in the affirmative but then went on to debate how one act was worse
than another.

According to Mala ji; the degree of the pain determines the degree
of atrocities we commit. How are we to know what drove the boy’s father to
commit such an atrocity. We do not know the circumstances that led to this
behavior. We are only seeing the act without knowing the motivation behind it.
Instead of anger we need to show compassion.

She shared with us that swami ji used to say that “If we all
truly lived the way are supposed to live all our hospitals, all our prisons
would be empty”.

It is the society that makes criminals. She elaborated that if the 13 year old boy who
had died had lived, may have become a
criminal. He may have grown up to become
a serial killer who in every kill may see himself killing his father who had
caused him so much pain. The society would then have judged him to be a
criminal and would want him punished. But if we really looked deeper we would
realize that all that the boy was doing was trying to appease his own pain by
trying to take revenge on his father.

She urged us to practice compassion and forgiveness instead
of anger and judgment.

Reject nothing in life, embrace it. This does not mean you
condone it.

In conclusion, we talked about opening ourselves to love and
allowing ourselves to experience the plethora of emotions. Instead of closing
ourselves down for fear of being hurt she advised us to open ourselves to the
possibility of being hurt and in the bargain gaining an opportunity to grow.

Love is the only answer and when it is backed by the power
of prayer we open ourselves and the world around us to umpteen possibilities of

As humans our potential to expand and grow is
immeasurable. How can we ever aspire to
reach God if we cannot even bring ourselves to forgive the people of this
world? Our job is to practice love and
forgiveness and open ourselves to experiencing and sharing love. It is not our job to pass judgment and
indulge in debates on what is right and what is wrong. We need to embrace it
all. We need to pray for peace of heart and mind of those we choose to condemn.
The moment we choose to condemn another
we are in effect condemning ourselves.
Therefore instead of damnation and condemning let’s all practice love,
peace and forgiveness. It is not our job
to worry about saving the world. Our job is about saving ourselves, because we
all are a part of that whole and once we raise our own consciousness, in effect
we raise the consciousness of the planet.