NDM: When you say: “Who and what for does one set these standards? Are the standards not highly contextual, local, artificial and subjective? Does qualifying anything – vAsanA-s or actions – based on such purely judgmental aspects have any holiness? A society’s imposition of rules and regulations, howsoever high may be the value and whatsoever may be the morality and nobility, does not have Absoluteness. They may have a societal sanction but lack intrinsic Sanctity. Who to say right or wrong or good or bad? Things just exist. Nothing is positive or negative until a ‘thought’ interferes.”
But what about dharma? The natural laws of the universe or God as some would call it. Some vAsanA-s violate dharma, others do not. Such as a vAsanA for smoking cigarettes like Nisargadatta had, is an unhealthy vAsanA but it’s only going to injure his lungs at most. Someone like the American guru Adi Da had extreme vAsanA-s such as having sexual relationships with his students, physically and psychologically exploiting and abusing them. How does dharma play into this equation?
Ramesam Vemuri: ‘Dharma’ to me in the context of Advaita is synonymous to brahman, undefinable, ungraspable. The Sanskrit word for the “Natural Laws of the Universe or God” is ‘niyati.’ Thus these two words are not the same for me.
Dharma being whatever “Is”, and there being no second, there is no question of some other ‘thing’ violating It. The natural laws being inexorable and inviolable there is no question of violating them either. (These Laws are said to be embedded in the very first thought that kicks off (imagines) ‘creation’ of an “I” and a visible (manifested) world.)
Tendency for addictions (smoking etc.) and promiscuity do appear to have some genetic basis as biology tells us. These, therefore, may qualify to be termed as vAsanA-s in the light of the analogy discussed earlier.
Now the question is what relation does Dharma have with the vAsanA-s?
Genes, world and all objects (perceivables) are a creation of I-consciousness. I-consciousness originates when brahman (abidance in or being brahman) is ignored. In other words ‘ignore-ance’, as Peter puts it so beautifully, engenders “I.” Subsequent thoughts of claiming some perceivables as “me or mine” and some others as not “me or mine” consolidates the entity “I” and co-creates an “other” which is the world. So the relation of Dharma and vAsanA-s is that of brahman and the world.
NDM: How does one measure these vAsanA-s or draw the line?
Ramesam Vemuri: Any “measure” whether of vAsanA-s or any other thing has only a relative value. One can sit down and evolve measures like we have traffic rules to move about on roads. I do not need them in my house, however.
NDM: Would they all not get burned out? Why would some remain over others?
Ramesam Vemuri: This is a very interesting question. I would like to cite the famous illustration from Vedanta. The rope seemingly appears to be a snake because we forgot that it was a rope. The realization that ‘it is actually a rope and not a snake’ does not happen in steps – first the tail, then the wiggly body and finally the hood. The whole snake disappears at one go.
So also on the realization of brahman, the Non-dual Oneness dawns at one go. But scriptural evidence and experience of many individuals suggest that firm unwavering abidance in brahman is obtained only after some back and forth swings. If one falters here, he may continue to retain a “memory” of seeing the rope at one time (i.e. realization) and exhibit an intellectual understanding of it. But he may have practically slipped back again into the phantasm of the mind’s creation (world) and indulge himself in the worldly temptations. Scriptures warn a seeker to observe utmost care and vigilance to avoid such a fall when once realization dawns.
Why should such a time gap be there between the first realization and complete abidance as brahman? Watch here the tricky mind playing once again its cunning role! It is looking for a cause outside itself. So in order to provide an explanation to the mind, a reason is invented using the artifacts of vAsanA-s. We say some vAsanA-s are hard to burn, they take time, long habits die hard and so on. Just a bunch of explanations. Actually what is happening is, the mind keeps popping back even after the first realization.
The Sevenfold Path to Realization described by some Sages says that the first realization happens at the fourth step. (The first step is Intense yearning for Enlightenment). They spell out the characteristics and tendencies of a seeker at each stage. The seekers at different stages are even christened as “Knower of brahman; Better knower of brahman; Master Knower of brahman; and Excellent Knower of brahman.”
An important caveat, though. These gradations and stages are not for ornamentation as titles. They are purely meant to help the seeker in one’s own self-assessment and self-guidance and not for judgment. The Sevenfold Path too thus indicates the existence of time delay between the first realization and the final stage.
When we discuss a Jivanmukta, we usually talk with reference to the one at the Sixth or Seventh stage.
Some of the Jivanmuktas may sometimes let a few habits of their body to linger. They ignore those habits totally unable to draw themselves from “being brahman” towards their body to rid it of its residual habit. Maharaj’s smoking could be of this type.
(To Continue … Part – 4/12)