Namaskaar. We conclude this wonderful 4-part series titled “Vedanta is a Means of Knowledge” by Ted Schmidt.
I am sure you all must have enjoyed reading this well written article. So much to learn from it. I hope to be able to put up some more of Ted’s writings here because his teachings are so practical and communicated in simple words.
Please do take a moment to visit Ted’s excellently maintained website http://www.nevernotpresent.com You may write to Ted directly for any queries or leave them in the comments box below.
The Difference between Indirect and Direct Knowledge
As we have seen, perception and inference are the only means of knowledge under the control of the individual. The problem, however, is that these means only work with reference to objects. We either have to perceive fire directly, for instance, or infer the existence of fire through its association with the smoke that we are presently seeing. Because the self is limitless, attributeless awareness and thus cannot be objectified, these means of knowledge are incapable of granting us knowledge of the self.
While the existence of the self can be inferred, inference is indirect knowledge. Because the world appears, and some life force animates its sentient aspects, including myself, I can infer that there must be a self or “higher power.” Thus, inference reveals the existence of a self, but doesn’t reveal that I am the self—in a universal sense, that is, rather than an individual sense. Moreover, because the recognition of a “higher power,” comforting as it may be, is inherently dualistic in nature and therefore leaves you fundamentally beholden to some “other” entity or power, such indirect knowledge does not emancipate you.
Only direct knowledge will set you free.
Consider the circumstance of a man who arrives at a party intending to meet a woman named Julia with whom he has been set up on a blind date. The man has heard much about Julia, but has never actually seen her. While standing at the bar, he strikes up a conversation with a woman next to him who, later in the exchange, is revealed to be Julia herself. While the man seeking Julia was in fact talking with Julia all along, he did not know the identity of the woman he was conversing with until he was told. This anecdote serves to illustrate that point that it is not experience that removes ignorance, but knowledge.
Moreover, in the case of our female love interest, Julia, what was revealed by words was readily available for direct perception. Therefore, the words gave direct knowledge. Though the self is not an object, it is self-evident, ever present, and thus always ready to be known. And since the self is always so readily available, words can give direct self-knowledge. As was the case with the man at the party, however, we need an introduction to the self we wish to know. Vedanta, or self-inquiry, is that introduction. Ultimately, the proper assimilation of its teachings takes one from indirect knowledge of the self to the direct understanding that “I am the self.”
The Nature of Direct Self-Knowledge
Because the nature of the “object” of self-knowledge is unlike that of any other discrete object that might be directly known, the nature of the knowledge itself is unique. Several characteristics of direct self-knowledge make it altogether different from the relative direct perception of objects.
First, it is impersonal. The ego cannot be involved. Self-inquiry is not something that can be undertaken independently. The teachings of Vedanta need to be worked on one by a qualified teacher. Because we are ignorant—not stupid, but simply uncertain about our true identity—we will invariably interpret the words of scripture and comments based on them according to that ignorance, and thus never completely assimilate their intended meaning. Moreover, while there is work to be done in the sense of initially preparing the mind for self-inquiry and later applying the knowledge to one’s daily life, there is nothing a doer can do to remove ignorance, for all doing is defined by the fundamental subject-object dichotomy that is inimical to self-knowledge. Once the vision of non-duality is complete and its truth recognized, all false notions automatically drop away. No egoic doer will have to do anything.
Second, it does not depend on perception. Despite the mania for spiritual epiphanies, transcendental states, and mystical visions so common among spiritual seekers, the fact of the matter is that we do not literally see or otherwise experience awareness and then interpret it. As mentioned, any so-called perception of the self is rooted in the subject-object dichotomy and thus serves to maintain that dualistic orientation. The fact of the matter is that you, the “seer” who “sees” all objective phenomena, including the relative seer (i.e., the apparent person you take yourself to be), is awareness itself, so no interpretation or memory is involved. Perhaps the most profound implication of this fact is that, once it is dropped, ignorance will not return. You can forget something that is not present, but you cannot forget the self because it is you. And you are never not present.
Third, it destroys all sense of being a perceiver and along with it, all sense of duality. Self-inquiry unequivocally reveals the fact that you are the fundamental substratum of perceiver-perception-perceived trinity of experience, for all three are only objects in you, awareness. Indeed, without you supporting them, all three would instantaneously evaporate. While they depend on you, however, you are free of them. Even when no objects are present, such as during deep sleep or in thought-free meditative states, you abide as the awareness in which no objects presently obtain. It is the knowledge that you are thus free of duality that constitutes the destruction of duality. Contrary to another unexamined expectation harbored by many a spiritual seeker, the world does not suddenly go up in a puff of smoke, but rather “disappears” in the wake of the understanding that its true nature is non-dual awareness.
Fourth, it does not add anything to the perceiver, or apparent person, you think you are. You, the apparent person, will not get knowledge. You will neither be left with a cache of information to remember nor be established in some permanent transcendental state that renders you a “bliss zombie.” Rather, you will simply understand that the perceiver, feeler, and thinker are not real, and this knowledge will cancel the apparent individual in the sense that it will cancel your identification with the apparent individual. The apparent individual perceiver will still appear, but you will know your true identity as the “light” in which all things are perceived.
Why Self-Inquiry Is Necessary
Throughout history, there have certainly many paths and practices people have used to gain liberation. In all likelihood, more people have become enlightened through methods other than the systematic self-inquiry that constitutes traditional Vedanta. Nevertheless, no matter how seekers may have attained enlightenment, the “attainment” is essentially a matter of assimilating self-knowledge. For this reason, we can say that while traditional Vedanta is not the only way to gain moksha, the revealed knowledge that is the basis of Vedanta is the only means.
The virtue of traditional Vedanta is that its systematic presentation of the teachings renders the obtainment of self-knowledge, which is tantamount to liberation, a virtual certainty for any qualified student. Moreover, due to the innate ignorance we are blessed with as human beings, a student almost invariably needs a teacher in order to gain self-knowledge. And while individual teachers may fall anywhere within a broad spectrum of capability with regard to their ability to reveal the truth, the thoroughly vetted, time-tested, and systematic teaching methodology that has been passed down from teacher to student since time immemorial makes Vedanta infallible in delivering self-knowledge.
It is our inborn ignorance that renders us incapable of cracking the code of self-realization on our own. The apparent person trying to figure it out is a product of and conditioned by the very ignorance that needs be eradicated in order for him or her to understand the truth. Ironically, having apparently fallen under the deluding spell of its own inherent power of maya, or ignorance, the self has identified with the upadhi, or limiting adjunct, of the mind-body-sense complex. Therefore, the self sees and processes experience from that limited perspective. Because the limiting power of ignorance is so strong, the apparently deluded self will not even consider the possibility of being something other than the mind-body-sense complex.
While the word commonly denotes stupidity, the ignorance we are talking about is remarkably intelligent. It protects itself by aggressively projecting the entire universe, filling the mind with desire and turning the senses and mind outward. The world that we take to be so tangibly real is actually more like a cosmic three-dimensional, hi-definition, kaleidoscopic, holographic video game. The projection is so lifelike and fascinating, however, that it fools everyone.
Due to the highly convincing nature of maya’s spell, one picks up a score of erroneous notions about oneself and one’s identity. These notions will not be permanently displaced by experiences because experiences do not last—not to mention the fact that experience is not the problem in the first place. Only the knowledge gained through self-inquiry will permanently replace erroneous thoughts with valid ones, and thus only the knowledge gained through self-inquiry can set one free.
I am grateful to Ted Schmidt for this article which has so much discussion matter. Someday I hope that we all can have a Skype call with him and learn much more from this wise man.
Pranaam from Kamal Kothari