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Article VI: Common Questions in Vedanta

How can we focus on our self-improvement while keeping from neglecting others around us? Truly meditating and taking care of oneself (the God inside) removes us from truly selflessly taking care of others (the God in others). What is the response to the criticism that the Hindu point of life is selfish?

Enlightened people come in various forms. They can be hermits in the Himalayas, swamijis who actively teach others, or even regular people with jobs and families, who have been able to find true peace.

Sometimes people criticize the ascetics who literally renounce the world to find enlightenment. However, it is believed that those hermits who approach or reach enlightenment actually benefit humanity because of the essential interconnectedness and unity of the individual soul (jivatma) with the universal soul (paramatma). In the same way, each person's aspiration for enlightenment helps the people around them in a practical way. It is often said that surrounding oneself with seekers of Truth, helps one find Truth. There is certainly thought to be a synergistic effect for people seeking moksha.

Each person's vasanas (or tendencies) may lead a person toward a different path, perhaps literally renouncing the world or perhaps only figuratively renouncing the world. By acting selflessly and being detached from one's actions, people from all walks of life can figuratively renounce the world and find peace. What truly needs to be renounced is the attachment to the world that gives you transient joy and suffering. By doing this, one can transcend beyond transient joy and experience eternal bliss.

I would go on to say that only by seeking moksha for oneself, can one truly help others to reach moksha. It is difficult for the blind to lead the blind. I also feel that when one approaches moksha, the people around that person can observe, better understand, and even emulate the essence of that search for moksha. It may be an individual's search for moksha, but that individual's selflessness and detachment can benefit all individuals. Furthermore, if we are all the same Divinity, in essence, then helping oneself is helping everyone.

How can, once you are moving away from moksha, get back on track? For example, how does a cockroach makes steps towards moksha?

An action can bring you closer to moksha, away from moksha, or at the same distance from moksha. Perhaps, performing actions that bring you closer to moksha makes you more likely to perform MORE actions of that sort. Likewise, performing actions that take you further away from moksha makes you more likely to perform MORE actions of that sort. But despite your past actions, a desire and search for moksha, at present, will allow you to perform the actions that will bring you closer to moksha. People with positive or negative karma (or more specifically, samskaras) can tap into their inner Truth and strive to perform actions that will lead them toward enlightenment.

With respect to animals, the issues become complicated because of potential differences from humans in the mind, intellect, potential for enlightenment, etc. However, for any human in any situation with any kind of samskaras, the potential exists to orient toward the Divine. The potential simply needs to be discovered and encouraged. Also, it is not as nebulous as it may sound. Any person is able to determine whether an action brings them peace and can continue to perform actions that give them peace. The difficulties lie in those actions which have ambiguous results over longer periods of time. Nonetheless, simply by performing more actions of the type that give you peace, you can get back on the path to peace.

"How does one go about validating certain beliefs before accepting them?"

Although bhakti, or devotion, is a beautiful and valid path, faith is not entirely necessary. From a more contemplative, jnana approach, the concepts of Vedanta can be accepted, subject to verification. You can treat it like a scientific endeavor, where the Vedantic concepts are the hypotheses, and your actions are the experiments performed to accept or reject the hypotheses. Although faith in a traditional sense is not necessary, some sort of faith is required. You must have faith, or accept, that the Vedantic beliefs are potentially correct. Then you can follow those beliefs and determine if they are correct and if they lead you toward moksha as they claim. If you follow the Vedantic beliefs and do not experience an ascent toward peace, then you can reject those beliefs. However, it is believed that numerous great sages and rishis have verified these approaches by trial and error over thousands of years, and they have ultimately come to experience the same peace. Also, even a taste of Divinity can propel your passion to seek ultimate Truth. The approach to moksha is often described in three steps: sravanam, mananam, and nidhidhyasanam. First you must hear (sravanam) or be exposed to Truth. Then you must think about (mananam) and perhaps discuss it with others. And finally, you must absorb Truth by meditation (nidhidhyasanam). Hopefully, you can aspire to do work on all three aspects, which need not be addressed in that order.

"Is a guru required?"

RESPONSE #4: The question of a guru can be complex. It is thought that the guru will find you when you are ready. A guru is absolutely helpful, but not necessary in terms of a one-on-one relationship and instruction. It is believed that there are many people who became enlightened, who had no guru, and even had no exposure to Vedanta. In these cases, perhaps the guru was internal and the karma marga (path of action) was intuitive. The author of each book you read can be a guru. Anyone who helps you better understand yourself and your approach to peace can also be a guru.

"[How I can I better understand schools of Vedanta] so that I can choose which I would like to follow (if I decide I would want to do that)."

To put it briefly, Advaita is non-dualistic and asserts that EVERYTHING is truly Brahman, but the world, as we experience it, is concealed by maya. In Advaita, removal of maya allows one to become Brahman. Dvaita is dualistic and asserts that there is an essential difference between Brahman and the world. In Dvaita, removal of maya allows you to absorb yourself in Brahman, but you are still somewhat separate. I would say that Advaita can be more contemplative while Dvaita can be more devotional, however, bhakti or jnana can apply to both of them. If either Advaita or Dvaita is more true than the other, it does not necessarily have to affect the path to Truth. It just means that the contemplative person might ultimately find a personal God to reach enlightenment (Dvaita), or that the devotional person might ultimately find that they are actually God to reach enlightenment (Advaita). Visishtadvaita, qualified non-dualism, is between Advaita and Dvaita, and posits that God is somewhat separate only during certain parts of the cosmic cycle. Spiritual Heritage of India By Swami Prabhavananda has an excellent section on the three schools of Vedanta: Advaita, Dvaita, and Visishtadvaita.

East-West Counseling & Meditation -- Modern Psychiatry Integration -- Himalayan Philosophy -- Penn & Stanford Medicine
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