The Unchanging Essence of Oneself
Vedanta reveals that the unchanging essence of oneself is immediate, direct, ever-present, formless, changeless, limitless, self-existent, self-evident, self-revealing, indestructible consciousness, in whose presence all modifications of the mind are illumined. The unchanging essence that is one’s essential self is independent of all that is illumined in its presence, and thus free of the psychological self. One does not cognize the nature of oneself to be thus, and therefore one takes oneself to be an ever-wanting psychological and physical self.
Truly when one recognizes the immediacy, freedom and fullness that is the changeless self, one is free of the need for self-esteem. One stops rating oneself. One unconditionally accepts the psychological self with all its issues and one actually gains psychological health as one becomes more or less free of making demands on oneself, on others or on life in general.
The Psychological Self
As a human being one is identified with the body-mind-sense complex. By the very nature of that identification, one also identifies with the limitations of the body-mind-complex and one’s life experiences and the result is that one views one’s self as wanting and consequently there arises emotional neediness.
This emotional neediness leads to emotional suffering. Emotional neediness manifests as DEMAND. So one makes demands on oneself, on others and on life in general. These demands can also be understood as our MUST statements about life. Typical MUST statements that everybody has are :-
I MUST do well and get approval otherwise I am no good à Demand on Oneself
This demand causes anxiety, depression, and lack of assertiveness.
You MUST treat we lovingly, kindly, with respect, understanding me, otherwise you are no good à Demand on Others
This "must" leads to resentment, hostility, and violence.
Life must be fair, easy, free of disturbances or else it is awful. à Demand on situations.
This thinking leads to hopelessness, depression, procrastination, and addictions.
These MUST statements that we subscribe to are not in keeping with the empirical reality as it is – in the language of cognitive therapy, they are irrational. They set one up for the emotional suffering of anxiety, depression, guilt, anger. This emotional suffering in Vedanta is called as mala – impurity. The inner instrument of the mind is rendered impure. With this kind of impurity it is not possible to be discriminative, an essential qualification for Vedanta. Recognition of one’s unchanging essence to be utter freedom is possible only in a mind that is relatively peaceful, relatively free of emotional suffering.
Cognitive Therapy psychologists point out that that the only way you can ever remain disturbed about adversity is by vigorously and persistently agreeing with one of these three "musts" or demands.
So these MUST statements must be disputed, challenged and replaced by more effective reality-based thinking or more OBJECTIVITY which in turn results in new milder feelings, which makes it possible for us to enjoy life inspite of all its limitations. This helps in clearing the psyche of some level of impurity.
Effective reality-based thinking, or OBJECTIVITY in the context of Vedanta would involve understanding of reality as understood in Vedanta.
Three Levels of Reality In Vedanta
The unchanging essence of oneself is the ABSOLUTE REALITY or PARAMARTHIKAM SATYAM - because it never changes and is independent of the other two levels of reality, even though they it is the basis for the other two..
Vedanta points out that the universe we face which includes the body-mind-sense complex that we are born with and identified is a changing reality – one which is characterised by constant change – that it has an existence and is changing is objectified by us and therefore it is a dependent reality, dependent for proving its existence on the one who objectifies it. This is the EMPIRICAL REALITY or VYAVAHARIKAM SATYAM. This reality is governed by different levels of laws such as physical laws, physiological laws, biological laws, psychological laws, cognitive principles, the law of karma etc. There is intelligence and knowledge involved in the making of laws – and so these laws come from the law-giver called as Ishwara, who is the same ABSOLUTE CONSCIOUSNESS, identified with its own power of all-knowledge. The laws are not separate from Ishwara. Nor is the physical universe separate from Ishwara, who is both the maker and material of the universe. The universe is an apparent manifestation of this ONE CONSCIOUSNESS. It is one consciousness appearing in a different garbs – as universes, galaxies, stars, planets and their different life forms, earth and all the life forms on earth, with interconnections at many different levels of existence. This reality is also called as Ishvara Srshti – creation of Ishvara in which there is interdependence in an interconnected world. The vyvaharikam satyam is totally dependent on paramarthikam satyam even as wave is dependent on its truth, water.
It is in vyavaharika satyam that we live and to lead an effective reality-based life relatively free of our MUSTS we would have to acknowledge both its laws and the Giver of the laws – Ishvara. An important law in the vyvaharika satyam is the law of karma. Understanding of the law of karma can help us to let go our musts and adopt healthier ways of thinking based on reality.
The Sanskrit word ‘karma’ means action – but only those actions we do intentionally. While reading this your heart is pumping blood throughout your body and your stomach is digesting its last meal. These actions however are not done by you intentionally. If you choose to stop reading now you would be choosing to do so intentionally or willingly. The law of karma teaches us that all actions that we do intentionally or willingly will cause effects for us.
Like in eg of bat and ball, the kind of effect which our action causes will depend on the kind of actions that we perform.
The actions we do include the thoughts that we think, the words that we speak and all that we do with our body. Each act is a cause and each act produces an effect for us, because it was voluntarily done by us.How can our thoughts produce effects ?
If our thoughts are always full of fear and doubt we will never grow up brave and courageous. We will always be afraid and full of worry. Our characters are formed by the thoughts that we regularly think.
Similarly our words which is born in also produce effects. An unkind word may produce pain for others, but it also has an effect on the thinker. If we repeatedly think unkind thoughts and speak unkind words we develop a cruel character and are more likely to do a cruel act. If we frequently steal from others we are more likely to be doing so. On the other hand the more we help others … the more we will want to continue doing good action. The Brhad Aranyaka Up teaches us that as one acts and behaves, so one becomes. The one who acts good becomes good and the one who does evil becomes evil. One becomes righteous by righteous action and unrighteous by unrighteous action.
What kind of effects do our thoughts, words and bodily action produce?
These depend as we have already seen on the type of action that we perform.
In others words if we make others happy by pleasant words and loving actions we also cause happiness and peace for ourselves. If students are helpful and courteous to others in school, they will make many good friends. IF you cause pain and unhappiness to others because of insulting words and ill treatment, we also cause greater unhappiness and suffering for ourselves. An uncaring and unfriendly student will not have many good friends. The law of karma teaches therefore that we must be very careful and responsible in all of our actions since they cause effects for others as well as for ourselves. We can make ourselves happy or unhappy by our actions.
v After death, the body is reduced to dust or ashes
v Does this mean extinction of the person you knew?
Many of you have experienced the death of person close to you – a relative or a friend. You feel sad because you miss the person’s presence, words, and the joyful things that you did together. If you had the opportunity to attend the funeral services for your relatives or friends, you know how the body is cremated or buried at the end of the services. At such times you wonder what has becomes of the person The body is reduced to ashes and dust. Does this mean the extinction of the person you knew? Or does the person live after the body is destroyed.
In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna gives to Arjuna a wonderful example to help him understand what happens when a person dies. Let us think about Krishna’s example. Just as a person changes used clothing and puts on new ones, so the one who lives in the body, leaves the used body and takes on a new one.
After you have worn a suit of clothing for a long time you sometimes decide to get rid of it. You could give it to someone else or if it is really worn out, you throw it away and buy a new outfit. When you get rid of the clothing, you are not getting rid of yourself.
Why? You are not the same as your clothing. You wear the clothing but you are different from the clothing you wear. You may change many suits of clothing a day, but you are same boy or girl. Even like you are not the same as your clothes, Lord Krishna is telling you that you are not the same as your body. Your body is very much like a suit of clothing that you wear.
When you prepare to go to bed at night, you usually change your clothing which you have worn all day and put on your pyjamas. In the same way, at the time of death a person changes the body which he or she has been using during his life and is born into another one. The body is reduced to ashes or dust but the one who has lived in it continues to live in a new body. Moving from one body to another is referred ti in Sanskrt as ‘samsaara’.
After the death of the physical body, the true you with the subtle body gets connected to a new physical body. It is as if you put on a new woollen sweater. Is the new body you get after death a matter of chance? Or is there some reason why a particular person gets a particular body?
Hinduism teaches that the new body that we receive and some of the exp. that we will have in our new life is the result of the karma that we have done in our earlier lives.
Every human being carries an accumulated karma which maybe thought of as the store-house of the effects of all voluntary actions which we have performed in past lives. This is referred to in Sanskrit as ‘sanchita karma’. In each life we experience only some of the results of actions which we have done in earlier life. These results are referred to in Sanskrt as ‘prarabdha karma’. While we are experiencing the results of past action however, we are also making new choices, and performing new actions. These will produce results for us in this life or a future one. These results are referrec to as ‘AAgami karma’.
We are never completely controlled by our past action. If we have not prepared for an examination in mathematics for example, we are likely to get a poor grade which we cannot change. However, we can always work harder and improve our grade in a later examination. Some of the exp’s that we have in this life may be the consequences of new decisions we are making in this moment.
Thus through the Law of Karma, Hinduism teaches that
v One cannot get away with improper and wrong action
v One will be rewarded for proper actions
v This connection between one’s action and the unseen result called punya or paapa.
Coming back to our topic ....
The third level of reality is our own subjective thinking, which is where our MUSTS, our demands come from. It is called as PRATIBHASIKA SRSHTI (our imaginary world) or JIVA SRSHTI. Jiva srshti is the impurity we talked about earlier. There is lack of knowledge, lack of discrimination here between absolutely real, relatively real and imagined. This in turn leads to not seeing things as they are – instead one projects one’s own interpretations /meanings unto situations often leading up to much emotional suffering.
Growing as an individual involves much correction of one’s irrational thinking and realigning of one’s values and priorities. One of the goals of emotional growth in Vedanta is to convert our MUSTS into preferences on the basis of our understanding of the three orders of reality.
Let us look at the first demand – which is a demand on oneself that ‘I must do well and get approval otherwise I am no good’.
This pattern of thinking does not cognize the unchanging truth of oneself to be consciousness that is full and free. Here we see clearly a lack of discrimination between I and the psychological sense of I. I-Consciousness cannot be objectified – so where is the question of getting approval. Nor does I-consciousness do anything – so where is the question of doing well. I is consciousness that cannot be objectified, nor does anything. And there is no other I. This is the truth.
However this truth is not cognized. So now let us accept for the time-being that ‘I’ means the psychological sense of I. So here ‘I’ is taken as a body with a mind and senses. Then also there is lack of understanding. When I say, ‘I am not doing well in business, so I am miserable. I feel worthless’ – then my business is not doing well. How can I equate my business to I?
There are two kind of problems here – one is a practical problem and the other is an emotional problem – a problem centered on ‘I’. Why should the problem with the business give the feeling of worthlessness? Because I am rating myself on the basis of the health of the business.
How to gain some level of objectivity here?
First acknowledge that as a human being you are fallible – not perfect just like everybody else. That does not prove your worthlessness.
However for many people they feel worthless and so they think they must be worthless – meaning they subscribe to the feeling of worthlessness.
The problem here is of self-rating. If you rate yourself as worthy and feel good because of your success in whatever you are doing, then you are bound to rate yourself as unworthy and feel miserable when you do not gain success in whatever you are doing.
When there is success with whatever we are doing, often we do not take into consideration the countless number of factors other than our own efforts that made the success possible. And similarly when there is failure in what we are doing we again fail to count the unknown factors that stand against our efforts succeeding. Understanding of the law of karma truly helps let go of rating one’s self.
So rating our SELF on basis of what we do is a trap designed to make us miserable when things do not go our way.
Would it not be better to NEVER RATE OUR SELF and stick to only evaluating specific behaviours taking into account the law of karma as well? Thus when ones efforts result in success one can still feel happy and content by feeling great about ones accomplishments acknowledging all the factors that went into it, without dragging one’s total self into it. Again when one is not successful in ones effort’s, one would be ready to learn from it without being miserable.
Now let us dispute the thinking that ‘if I do not do well in my business, I am no-good’.
For disputing any MUST, ask yourself how does it make me NO GOOD if I do not do well in business?
Think effectively now, in keeping with reality.
“No law of the universe states that I MUST make a lot of money by doing well in business. This is Ishvara srshti. Ishvara srshti does not depend on my views of it. So I might as well accept that there are many unknown factors which are responsible for the business not doing well, along with my own limitations. Even if I lose all my money, I don’t magically turn into a worm. It’s not my disappointing business, but my own irrational thinking about it, that makes me feel depressed. So too, success by itself does not make a worthy person – it is only my perspective that does it. My essence does not change because of the business doing well, nor does it change because of the business not doing well. Failure does not make it into a no-good person. My goal in life is to be happy and at peace with myself, not to prove myself.’
When this kind of thinking is taken to heart, one feelings of unworthiness, anxiety and depression give way to concern, determination and a certain lightness of heart.
So you can evaluate how well your efforts are doing without rating your total self. Your body-mind-sense complex being a part of Ishvara srshti is very much in ORDER. You can accept yourself no matter what – whether your efforts culminate in success or not, or whether you don’t do anything at all. You have the choice always to never judge yourself and put raise yourself or lower yourself.
In the words of Dr.Micheal Edelstein “If you rate yourself as good or bad, you tend to suppose that this is your unchanging essence, that if you did badly yesterday, you’re likely to do badly today or tomorrow. You tend to become frozen in your own self-rating. Everyone has a great many good and bad traits; we’re all imperfect yet capable of improvement. But self-rating causes us to fasten on a few traits and then make an over-simple judgment about ourselves.
A low self-rating makes you feel miserable, and a high self-rating sets you up for a poor self-rating whenever things go wrong. High and low self-ratings are not symmetrical—there’s an inherent tendency for self-raters to move toward a low self-rating. Most human intentions don’t work out quite as planned, and there’s a natural tendency to focus on disappointments and shortcomings.
Self-rating leads you to compare yourself pointlessly to other people. Feelings of superiority and inferiority then get in the way of pursuing your aims.’
When we have a strong need of approval of another significant person to feel good about ourself, it is usually in the form of a MUST statement that ‘ I MUST get the approval of x otherwise I am no-good’. This would result in our doing something for the sake of the other person’s approval and we would be miserable if we are criticized by the person.
The emotional consequence of this that one becomes emotionally dependent on the other –meaning one sets oneself up for an emotional yo-yo that is dependent on the n the approval or disapproval of the significant other. One happiness is no longer in one’s own hands.
It’s important to challenge this emotional dependence for the sake of one’s own growth. A more effective way of thinking is to acknowledge that it is okay to have limitations – after all one is a human being and therefore one will act in limited ways sometimes. In case one does act imperfectly, the other person’s negative opinion DOES NOT magically turn one into somebody who is no-good. One is always what one is, NOT what the other person thinks of one. The other person isn’t perfect either—nobody is. One is never less of a person no matter how badly one does and no matter who disapproves.
So one can fully accept oneself even with ones limitations. In fact such situations provide a golden opportunity to practice working on accepting oneself unconditionally. Even though some limitations may be there, they are not awful, terrible, or horrible.
We will seeing more about gaining objectivity in other blogs.
Om Tat Sat