Q.468 Roles versus Witness

Q: I have been reading Vedanta for a few years and have a question. We are always playing some form of role such as Employee, Worker, Husband, Son etc. My understanding is that Advaita tells us to let the role do its own work but you remain who you are which is the ‘Absolute witness’.

How do we practice this in our daily life?   It seems difficult to have the same kind of energy when you are in that state.

A: What you are speaking of is karma yoga as preparation for j~nAna yoga. The aim in daily life is to respond appropriately to whatever is in front of you, perform the task with attention and do not be attached to the results. This is all a part of the process of acquiring discrimination, mental discipline and detachment. You need these in order to study Advaita (by listening to a qualified teacher explain the scriptures). It is not the purpose of any of this to acquire ‘good energy’ (whatever that means).

Q: ‘Good energy’ means having the same enthusiastic way of doing things. Also, can you refer me to any write up/ or link for more detailed study of this topic?

A: I don’t have any Advaita reference because this sort of thing is not directly relevant to Advaita. Advaita is about Self-knowledge, which is gained through shravaNa, manana, nididhyAsana. In order to be able to do this, one needs a degree of mental purification. Any method of achieving this is fine. Shankara writes about sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti in tattva bodha and vivekachUDAmaNi (and elsewhere) so this constitutes the traditional method.

Probably the best source is in Yoga shAstra. I could recommend Swami Satchidananda’s commentary on ‘The Yoga sutras of Patanjali’ ISBN 0-932040-38-1. This is very good and easy to read.

There is actually a two-volume hardback ‘yogasUtrbhAShyavivaraNa of shaMkara’ by T. S. Rukmani (although Shankara’s authorship of this is disputed) but I haven’t actually read this. (Vol. 1 is ISBN 978-81-215-0908-4) so cannot comment. It looks fairly academic and contains all the Devanagari. It seems to be a literal translation of the sutras, vyAsa’s commentary and “Shankara’s” commentary on both. (In fact, the author concludes that it cannot have been Adi Shankara who wrote this.)

But you should remember that Yoga is not Advaita. Yoga is a dualistic philosophy. Also, Advaita does not recognize samAdhi as being anything other than an ‘experience’; i.e. it has nothing to do with ‘enlightenment’. So just concentrate on the mental and sensory disciplines and separately cultivate viveka and vairAgya. Meditation is also extremely helpful to cultivate the sort of detachment you speak of regarding performance of actions.

Then seek out a qualified (traditional) teacher!