Thus I heard. On one occasion the Blessed One was living at Benares, in the Deer Park at Isipatana (the Resort of Seers). There he addressed the bhikkhus of the group of five: “Bhikkhus.” — “Venerable sir,” they replied. The Blessed One said this.
“Bhikkhus, form is not-self. Were form self, then this form would not lead to affliction, and one could have it of form: ‘Let my form be thus, let my form be not thus.’ And since form is not-self, so it leads to affliction, and none can have it of form: ‘Let my form be thus, let my form be not thus.’
“Bhikkhus, feeling is not-self…
“Bhikkhus, perception is not-self…
“Bhikkhus, determinations are not-self…
“Bhikkhus, consciousness is not self. Were consciousness self, then this consciousness would not lead to affliction, and one could have it of consciousness: ‘Let my consciousness be thus, let my consciousness be not thus.’ And since consciousness is not-self, so it leads to affliction, and none can have it of consciousness: ‘Let my consciousness be thus, let my consciousness be not thus.’
“Bhikkhus, how do you conceive it: is form permanent or impermanent?” — “Impermanent, venerable Sir.” — “Now is what is impermanent painful or pleasant?” — “Painful, venerable Sir.” — “Now is what is impermanent, what is painful since subject to change, fit to be regarded thus: ‘This is mine, this is I, this is my self'”? — “No, venerable sir.”
“Is feeling permanent or impermanent?…
“Is perception permanent or impermanent?…
“Are determinations permanent or impermanent?…
“Is consciousness permanent or impermanent?” — “Impermanent, venerable sir.” — “Now is what is impermanent pleasant or painful?” — “Painful, venerable sir.” — “Now is what is impermanent, what is painful since subject to change, fit to be regarded thus: ‘This is mine, this is I, this is my self'”? — “No, venerable sir.”
“So, bhikkhus any kind of form whatever, whether past, future or presently arisen, whether gross or subtle, whether in oneself or external, whether inferior or superior, whether far or near, must with right understanding how it is, be regarded thus: ‘This is not mine, this is not I, this is not myself.’
“Any kind of feeling whatever…
“Any kind of perception whatever…
“Any kind of determination whatever…
“Any kind of consciousness whatever, whether past, future or presently arisen, whether gross or subtle, whether in oneself or external, whether inferior or superior, whether far or near must, with right understanding how it is, be regarded thus: ‘This is not mine, this is not I, this is not my self.’
“Bhikkhus, when a noble follower who has heard (the truth) sees thus, he finds estrangement in form, he finds estrangement in feeling, he finds estrangement in perception, he finds estrangement in determinations, he finds estrangement in consciousness.
“When he finds estrangement, passion fades out. With the fading of passion, he is liberated. When liberated, there is knowledge that he is liberated. He understands: ‘Birth is exhausted, the holy life has been lived out, what can be done is done, of this there is no more beyond.'”
That is what the Blessed One said. The bhikkhus were glad, and they approved his words.
Now during this utterance, the hearts of the bhikkhus of the group of five were liberated from taints through clinging no more.
How can we know that the spiritual teachings we are interested in learning are genuine or will lead us off some beaten track?
Firstly, the goal of the teaching, the book, or the guru/teacher has to be the same goal you have in mind.Without a goal, we are groping in the dark and can end up absolutely anywhere.
Really reflect on why you want to take up a spiritual practice. Here are some reasons I have come across:
Simply following the advice of friends, family, co-workers, or authority figures based on a social and cultural contexts. (For example, “Jnana, you have to try mindfulness practice because it’s given me so many benefits!” or “Say your prayers or you’re going to Hell”)
Out of sheer curiosity
Egoic necessity: collecting knowledge to impress others or oneself, the accumulation of merit/wealth/relationships/etc. by reciting “special mantras”, doing “special meditations” or performing magic
Recognising an inner longing for what the material cannot provide and thus searching for it, whether that be God or otherwise
Liberation from the wheel of birth and death (suffering) and/or the wish that others also be free from birth and death
Collecting interesting experiences and states of mind; consciousness expansion
Learning, personal growth, and self-help
Or, you’re a journalist who just wants an interesting story…
So, with the goal in mind, investigate if the end goal of your chosen teaching matches your goal. This might sound silly, but it’s absolutely crucial.
Secondly, recognise reaching your goal is a process and is not figured out overnight. Yes, there are spontaneously awakened beings who did not have to do anything or “simply got it” one day with minimal effort, but if you are still seeking, then you are still in the process. As we know from our own lives, reaching goals can take weeks, months, and years to achieve.
As with any goal, including spiritual goals, there will be setbacks. Let’s apply this most obviously to losing 10 kilos of fat. The first setback is that it doesn’t happen instantly. “It takes months?! WHAT?!” The second setback is cheating on your diet or missing a day at the gym. Another setback could be giving up completely or changing course so that you gain 10 kilos instead of lose them. Because we’re not perfect and we are still learning and growing during the process of figuring out how to reach our goal, we will have setbacks and challenges. Guaranteed.
So be wary of any teacher or teaching that makes it absolutely simple and easy.Because it’s not. Losing 10 kilos if you’ve never done it befire or relaxing into meditation if you’re over-stressed is absolutely difficult and challenging — nevermind figuring out all the secrets of the universe or becoming 100% liberated from suffering forever! Spiritual liberation is, well… the most ambitious and arduous pursuit on the face of the earth. I can’t stress this enough!
So we have created our goal and now have a way to get there that we trust. What next?
There must be some evidence that it works from your own experience.Attaining spiritual wisdom is unlike any other form of learning that we know of. It is trans-rational and goes against the grain of logic and the world. A good rule of thumb is that experience means that it does not come from memory or recollection; it is not an abstraction/concept and is not imaginary; and it is not based on general knowledge or anothers’ supposed experience whatsoever.
A good example of experience is, “I can see the sun.” It is experienced by you, directly, without memory/recollection, abstract conceptions, and nobody else has to show or tell you that. However, don’t confuse knowledge with experience. They are two separate entities. I will demonstrate this here:
A baby cannot add 1+1 together and has no recollection that the answer is 2. If that child is left not knowing anything about math, then 1+1=2 is never knowledge. Even if the child does learn that 1+1=2, it is still an abstract concept coming from the imagination. “But,” you might say, “it’s true and I can experience it because I know it. It’s a fact!”. Yes, it is a logical fact, but it does not come from your own experience. If you’re not a mathemetician, you have no idea how or why 1+1=2. “It just does.” And spiritual experience is not concerned with abstract verifications, claims, imaginations, or blindly trusting others’ claims.
The accumulation of knowledge in the form of information and abstraction that the brain mechanically spews back out is not and never was the goal of any true spiritual tradition anywhere in the world.
The mind is just a tool that recalls and learns, and healthy people can use it in similar ways. You want to learn Yoga Asanas? Okay, many people can do that. You want to learn quantum physics? Okay, less people do that, but it is still in the realm of possibility for those with healthy minds. Therefore, identification with the mind’s concepts will not lead to spiritual liberation: just because a teacher showed you Yoga Asanas does not mean you will experience the full impact of the purpose of Yoga.
The bottom line is if you’re experiencing what the teacher or teachings are said you are supposed to experience — then you are on the right track!
Why, then, do we have mind-centred/mind-made paths and teachings that lead us to the trans-rational?
Because most human beings are used to it. Since childhood, we have been conditioned by other ignorant human beings about whoand how we are supposed to be but were never taught who we really are. So we are not clear yet. Teachings are like feather-dusters to show us the truth about our own mental scope: our emotions, fears, beliefs, goals, thoughts, and general viewpoint of our own conscious experience and the world — then, when we are honest about all of this, we human beings can begin to experience the trans-rational.
Giving without getting anything in return is trans-rational. How is it logical that you would give away your thing, if it belongs to you, for no good reason? It’s not. It’s other-worldly. We have to learn this, and we will struggle and fail many times in our own psychological mind when we have this basic conception of me and my thing. This is precisely why there is a path and there are teachings: to bring us back on the good boat.
The authentic and original teachings of the Buddha make it absolutely clear about the number one goal, the trials and tribulations on reaching it, and that experience is the most important so that you can verify for yourself and not just blindly believe. He was against Vedic rituals, for example, when they did not produce results and pointed this out in debates with Brahmans many times.
He also admitted the 8-fold path is a fabrication!
The Buddha, too, admits every single word uttered from his mouth is only “a raft” to be abandoned when we no longer need it. We do this all the time with: when we change jobs, for example, the skills from previous jobs are abandoned because we no longer need them.
Just for fun, I’ll leave you with this real-life analogy on how spiritual teachings function:
The Buddhist path is akin to building a beautiful mansion from scratch: first, we have to imagine the mansion (our goal) and then start to build it. The first step is Right View, which is like making the blueprints from the awareness that we want to end up with a mansion. Then we have Right Intention, knowing that we will be there physically, mentally, and emotionally to build it. Next, we lay concrete and put up scaffolding so the structure starts to take shape: Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, & Right Effort. In the final stages, the structure becomes more complex, nuanced, and beautiful. We paint, furnish, add lighting, artworks, and decorations: Right Mindfulness & Right Concentration. Finally, we have the goal: the mansion or Liberation.
is his full name: it means “He Who Sets Dharma In Motion”. For the past 40+ years, Sri Acharya has been a sincere transmittor of peace and authentic Vedic spirituality. Though he has an unimaginable list of academic qualifications, he is no armchair philosopher – he is an everyday activist and regularly speaks to large groups and officially teaches Sanatana Dharma to students. He left the academic life to pursue the spiritual path of Sanatana Dharma, specifically, and to share his wisdom and knowledge with others.
In our first episode together, we touch on a few fundamental questions that should begin every spiritual conversation. Here is a brief synopsis of what we cover.
1. Are all spiritual paths the same, eventually leading everyone to the same goal, since we are all in Samsara, after all?
We can take many angles with this question, depending from the standpoint – Jewish, Vedantan, or Buddhist, etc – but is everyone going in the same direction, regardless of the spiritual path or lack thereof? Sri Acharyaji goes on to explain this in a logical fashion, which leads into our next question:
2. How and why can we know that Vedic scriptures are more valid sources than other spiritual scriptures? What’s the difference?
I ask, because almost all holy books I’ve come across have a claim of transcendent nature. This is why, when devoutly religious people are asked challenging questions about the nature of life and reality, they usually revert to two tactics: instead of making up their own mind from experience, they go into the scriptures and quote the answer, as they are believed to be transcendent. Secondly, if the answer is not found in the scriptures for one reason or another, then they say “that’s the way it is, because God is mysterious” or “only God knows the answer, and I trust God”. When we want answers, though, what good is it to give our power of intellect, emotion, and mind to a source when we are not sure how accurate that source is? (I have talked previously about the pitfalls of trusting in outside, authoritative, sources in my post, here, with Greg Lawrence.) So, we either have to experience for ourselves (find out if the fire is hot by touching it) or we have to make sure the source is trustworthy. However we approach a source, it should lead us back into our own experience for validation. From here, I ask Sri Acharya:
3. As in Buddhism, which relies heavily on experience and experimentation, how does experience play into Sanatana Dharma and knowing Krishna as the absolute?
I picked this quote out of our interview, because it is extremely telling. Acharyaji says:
“If we think we are our own guru, then we have a fool for a disciple”.
What does this mean? It means that, before we can teach or even learn, we need to have a clear goal and also have a clear and true answer that either comes from ourself or our guru/master – that is, a guru who is not lying and has cleared his way, such as the Buddha and other awakened beings walking this earth. (See footnote below on the subject of the authentic guru.¹) Many aspects of ourself can get in the way – this is called “ego” and consists of our biases, past experiences as individual bodies/minds, and feelings or emotional tendencies that may actually be leading us astray. So, experience is essential, but weeding out the true from the false experience is also a skill we must learn as spiritual beings.
4. Why do we have this material body? Did we choose this before coming into existence?
Karma is a hefty subject in both Vedic and Buddhist teachings, but the simple answer is because of our karma. We will do another episode on karma, so don’t worry about the nitty-gritty details just yet. Acharyaji gives a brief synopsis of how karma functions.
5. What is this whole ‘unconditional love’ business about, and why does God need it?
Does God need anything? Why does the pendulum swing towards love and not another facet of our being? I’ve always wondered this. It is in my understanding, thus far, that the Supreme does not need anything but if there is a truth regarding this question, then there must be an answer. And as beings who experience a whole range of emotions and sensations that continually change, then we must whittle it down to the base perception and what that actually is. Could it be unconditional love?
6. What role does intuition or the personal intuitive factor play in Sanatana Dharma?
As above, since we all are independent agents (or at least think that we are) and have a broad range of feelings and emotions, we must be able to tell a true feeling from an untrue feeling. Some people have better intuition than others and this guides their experience in a harmonious direction; yet, all of us have a degree of intuition, or we wouldn’t be able to function. Should I walk left or right? Should I duck down if that bird is flying my way? Should I give my money to that person or not? These all rely on some ‘sense’ we have, and that sense can be honed – we may not even realise when we are using our intutitive force! Acharyaji talks about intuitive recognition in Sanatana Dharma from here.
I hope you enjoy our episode, and please drop me a line at email@example.com or see Sri Acharya’s contact at www.dharmacentral.com.
Peace to you, however you are and whatever stage of life you are in! May you and everyone you know be happy and free from all forms of suffering!
¹ A teacher, guru, or rishi, one has to undertake many years of training to earn this sort of title – “Acharya”, “Swami/Swamini”, etc.
In Vedanta (of which there are many, many schools) and Sanatana Dharma, the role of the guru is regarded as of utmost necessity on the path, because they have done the work of cleaning up their own act and their own mind to be a true transmittor. Too often in our world, whether in politics or business or in spiritual circles, leaders abuse their power, because they have hidden motives and this is due, really, to the unclean mind of grasping and ignorance. I recommend two videos by Sri Acharya that touch on this subject: How to Recognize an Authentic Guru and The Age of Anti-Guru.
Meditation is such a vast topic, but Eric and I whittle it down to what it means to him. Firstly, before undertaking a spiritual path, Eric was deeply addicted and involved with various substances. Meditation helped him break away from his afflictive behaviour. Listen above to hear about both our meditation journeys and pick up some advice! Here is a brief article on my views on meditation:
“Mantric meditation or meditation on the Vedic mantras with concentration,
Visual meditation or meditation on a particular deity with illumined thought,
Absorption in mind and heart or meditation on illumined insight residing in the mind and the heart.”
And, in the Upanishads, which are much more explicit philosophically and revelatorally, we have the additional mention of:
“Samadhi or the experience of the ecstatic state of Brahman was the fourth state of Brahman, which is not mentioned in the Rigveda but described in the Mandukya Upanishad as the Fourth state (turiya)..”
On from this, we have the mention of the terms “Dharana” and “Dhyana” in both Jaina texts and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. According to Pantanjali in his eight limbs of yoga, Dharana precedes Dhyana as a means of reaching Samadhi. Dharana is one-pointed concentration on an object/idea with inevitable associative thoughts on the object. In Dharana, if one is meditating on a cup, one might think of the concept of morning or what the cup could be filled with or the shop the cup came from; the personal ego is still there. In Dhyana, the cup is the cup without associations and the meditator is not aware of him/herself as a personal ego associated with the cup; they become one. Dharana is becoming aware of the thoughts and Dhyana is uninterrupted flow with no sway by the thoughts. Samadhi is the highest form of meditation where the meditator and the cup become one and the same with a state of bliss, because there is no separation and concentration is complete.
Historically, we can see that meditation can encompass spiritual reflection, oral or silent mantra recitation, concentration, Tantra, and Samadhi — which all lead to bliss and peace eventually. This is when the Buddha steps into the picture and gives new additions to meditation: mainly Mindfulness, which can be found in the Satipatthana Sutta, and the Jhanas. Beautifully, the Buddha came to enlightenment through intense reflection under the Bodhi Tree, re-thinking his patterns, behaviour, and life decisions. All styles are valuable.
Living in Vedic society and undertaking at least six years of aescetic practices, the Buddha was quite adept at knowing Vedic philosophy and regularly debated with Brahmans. Thus, some instructions are quite similar and have roots in ancient Dharma.
His meditation instructions range from practices in concentration, to mindfulness, to the Jhanas, to Samadhi, and various instructions in between. Mindfulness, as it is known in popular culture, is not simply paying attention to the present moment nor the breath – though those are the basic foundations. The Sutta includes meditations on the five elements, what are called the cemetery contemplations, the repulsiveness of the body (which is recommended if one is naturally inclined towards worshipping the body as the self), mindfulness on bodily postures, and generally paying attention to the activity one is engaged in.
Meditation is like a rung of the ladder on the Buddha’s 8-fold path to reach this ultimate goal. In both the Vedic and Buddhist Dharma, ‘equanimity of mind’ has to be cultivated first by most people until it is permanent. Whether Buddhist or Vedic, meditation’s ultimate goal is either Moksha (Vedic) or Liberation (Buddhist sense). Liberation/Moksha comes after Samadhi and is the end of the suffering mind
First and foremost, as in Vedic history also, the Buddha instructed concentration practices, because he found the mind is prone to wandering and has a life of its own; it does not yet contain peace. As we go along in Buddhist meditative practices, concentration is not so important. What is important is realising self as non-existent, as it is wrong identification that binds us. The more a person meditates, the more spacious one becomes, until the lines of conditioned reality are blurred and separation between self and other – including inanimate objects – disappears.
Most of our lives consist of empty space.
For context, Dzogchen, Advaita, and Vedanta all aim to incorporate practices that are open and spacious in nature. When space is created in the mind, one can begin to see that mind contains everything — including the contracted self or form we have taken to be ourselves all along. Then the mind can be transcended altogether.
What do I mean by this?
Take the body, for instance. We sincerely believe, and this is true for every human being, that we are a body which has had things happen to it in a continuum of time and space. Sometimes we were the doer, and sometimes things just happened to us out of our control. Every human being has to experience this point of view for survival reasons. We think we are the one looking out of our eyes in case there’s danger up ahead or there is some delicious food to eat within our sight. The mind’s job is to keep the body alive by searching, strategising, and planning. With more sophistication of the human species, however, especially as people have evolved into civilisations and societies that are relatively peaceful, survival is no longer such a struggle in the jungle.
In modern and even Vedantic societies (and most likely many societies before them) we are not so desperate to watch our backs all the time. Even so, the ways of the mind are ancient! We still have it in us that we need to struggle to feed our close relatives, make a living, be tribal and form exclusive groups, and worry about the future. This keeps us locked in the body/mind duality… unless there comes an interest spiritual progress.
The body and the mind never cease to function until death, yet, the body and mind believe wrongly that they are in control and thus, they try to prolong life or avoid death. This simply cannot happen – at least not the death part. Human beings can stay stuck in one mental system for an entire lifetime; conversely they can try everything in their creative power to change and manipulate the earth or their own and others’ circumstances – but this is not an antidote for death.
Meditation helps a person see, first-hand, that they are not the workings of the body nor mind, regardless of how fixed or fickle. It helps unlock the door to the vast, empty space that is “another part” of our being. In this space, our body and mind are contained. So, we are much larger than we think! The body and mind are limited, so when they are identified with, this creates a limited experience. This limitation is called a “person” with past, present, future, and innumerable assumptions based on the body/mind already knows or assumes.
Space creates insight. It cannot be any other way. Meditation is a key to putting a stop to Samsaric existence – also known as “the universe’s biggest status quo”.
How can we know what we don’t know, which cannot be answered by the mind?
Why am I here? What is my purpose? Who am I? How do I know God? Are there other beings, such as gods, goddesses, devas, ghosts, and intelligent life forms with material bodies in other places? What happens after death? Are people reborn? Where does consciousness come from?
These are all questions the mind cannot answer. Those who have written books about it or talked about it were either lying (I have to say this for logical conclusion) or have had their own answers through insight. True knowledge is obtained through experience and not reliance on others’ thoughts and feelings without experimentation. We know the sun exists, because we see and feel it everyday – we don’t have to read it in a book, though there are many books about it. So meditation instructions are there to gain insight and make real progress – not to gather what we commonly call “knowledge” in the Western sense. Real knowledge is called “Jnana”, based on our “Buddhi”. “Buddhi” is our wisdom faculty. It is the clear mind, cultivated through meditation and loving-kindness and compassion.
Some beings have the good fortune of coming into existence with a degree of these faculties already in place. For example, this would be a being who is already and naturally kind and non-discriminative towards others. Then there are those who may need to purposefully cultivate the qualities they wish to emanate, and this can be done through knowing the inner mind and reflection. For ideas, these qualities can be: the elimination of fear, consideration of others and their well- being, flexibility of personality, cooperation with circumstances especially out of one’s control, patience, awe, curiosity, wonder, not putting self or other down, humour, energy as opposed to laziness or sloth, and appreciation or gratitude.
Once the mind is looked into for its patterns (karma) and pitfalls, they can be overcome. Meditation is transcendental and trans-rational. Because we are in Samsara, our faculties are not yet used to their full potential. Their full potential is omnipotence and unlimitedness – when this discovery is made, then the body/mind can express its full potential and truest nature. And this is the point of meditation!
Devananda runs the Essence of Dharma podcast: a show which unites the Vedic and Buddhist Dhamma, for all seekers and finders of the truth. He also runs a fascinating Youtube channel with tons of Dharmic content.
In our episode, we have a free-flowing conversation about, well… Reality!
There is an underlying reality beyond what we normally see, hear, taste, touch, and smell. It is that which allows these five senses to function at all, except we wrongly identify with what is in the “front” of us.
But, it is like a screen. Did you ever watch a fire burning on television? Yes, this is like the ego, which pretends to be fiery-hot, but it’s absolutely cool in reality. The fire on the screen is like the consciousness of the five senses. It seems so ridiculously real, and it has been this way since time immemorial, put down to us by our parents (and their parents) who have been conditioned since time immemorial — and thus, we seem stuck in Samsara.
The wheel of Samsara can be counteracted by setting the wheel of Dhamma in motion!
Whether Buddhist, Dharmi, or otherwise… enjoy the episode and come closer to our essential nature.
Om, Om, AUM. May all beings be happy, free, and peaceful.