In the following essays I plan to highlight certain qualities that help the seeker on his or her journey. They also support those who already know who they truly are to dissolve persistent automatic thinking and feeling patterns.
Some people are courageous by nature, but rarely in all areas of life. Even those who have no problem with bungee-jumping or expeditions to the North Pole may loose courage if they are challenged to radically change their lives, get involved in a love relationship or publish their biography. And even those who are courageous in these areas, may not be courageous enough to embark on the search for truth, whatever that may involve.
Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.
Ambrose Red Moon
Courage is based on one’s decision-making power. Now there are people who constantly decide things, but then also constantly change their minds. These are not the kind of decisions that I want to speak about. What is helpful on the spiritual journey is determination paired with (flexible follow through – this is the decision-making power that helps the seeker.
It is a function of the buddhi, the higher mind, to analyse and discriminate. I have written about the extraordinary value of the buddhi on the path of knowledge before.
The buddhi enables the seeker to distinguish essential from inessential. This is useful in everyday life because it saves time and releases energy for essentials. But for the seeker of truth more is at stake: the truly essential is being sought, i.e. the seeker wants to know the nature of all things. He has heard that the nature of all things is identical to his own true nature, meaning that he is not separate from all things – even though this is how it would seem to him (and most others). And it would seem like that to him because he cannot yet distinguish between the essential and the inessential.
Whoever cannot distinguish the truly essential from the inessential will not be able to distinguish the true Self from the notion of a separate self. And whoever cannot clearly tell the difference between the two will opt for things in his life that do not help him to know his true Self. However, for the seeker of truth this, above all, is what it is all about.
What is the truly essential? Vedanta defines the essential, the intrinsic nature of all things, as being free from ‘the three-fold limitation’. This, on the one hand, means that the truly essential is free from the limitations of space and time, i.e. it is infinite and eternal. However, it also is free from the so-called object limitation, i.e.unlike the table that is limited by not being a chair, there is no thing it is not, it has no second, it is all-pervasive: the true nature of all things is avaita (not two)
Moreover, the truly essential is the same as one’s true Self: this conclusion can be arrived at through logic. What we truly are is infinite, eternal and the only thing there is. Now, this does not exactly correspond to the idea most people hold about themselves. They rather feel subject to the limitations of space and time, consider themselves as limited in form and possibilities and, on top of it all, as mortal. By no means do they regard themselves as the only being there is, but instead as surrounded by an immense number of other things, living beings and elements. Result: The normal person takes himself to be a limited ‘I’.
If emotional impulses and identifications determine our lives (instead of the buddhi) it does not even occur to us that we could be something else than a limited ‘I’. Only to the extent that the buddhi evolves, do we develop the ability to question this erroneous self-definition and do what helps us to abandon it. If, for example, a person believes that life is a fight (for living space, for time, for quality of life), his decisions will need to meet much more complicated criteria than those of the person who assumes that what he truly is is not subject to any limitations anyway.
One can practice strengthening one’s decision-making power, and it is worthwhile to practice it because it simply is a useful thing. One reason is that the spiritual search needs time, and those who have difficulties deciding, waste time. Secondly there is, particularly in today’s Western society, an overabundance of offers to self-express, to self-develop, to find spiritual fulfilment, to find the truth etc. If one is unable to decide between the options, one will constantly jump to and fro or, if overwhelmed by the choice of products, not even set off on the journey.
What is my difficulty to make sustainable decisions based on?
Below I will enumerate seven attitudes that can stop one from making positive, clear, powerful decisions. Those who find it difficult to decide in one or several areas of life will find one or several attitudes in the list that are responsible for it – and the insight that is necessary to go beyond them.
1. Wanting to leave all doors open and/or hoping for a miracle results in the inability to make any viable decisions.
The insight required: I stop waiting for a miracle. I face the fact that I must do the first step and then the second and then the third – till such time as I can claim to have things and myself down pat.
2. Wanting absolute security and constantly worrying about an unknown future severely obstructs one’s ability to make decisions.
The insight required: Above all I focus onto the present.
3. Wanting to suit everybody means one can only decide short-term and will take back one’s decisions easily.
The insight required: I stick to my gut feeling.
4. Not setting priorities interferes with one’s ability to make final decisions.
The insight required: I recognise what is most important to me.
5. Attempting to mentally work out everything in advance means that decisions take too long or it even means missing opportunities.
The insight required: I implement my ideas now.
6. Always resigning to the status quo means lacking verve to decide in favour of new things.
The insight required: I set my sights on something better.
7. Ignoring the interrelationship with one’s surroundings gives rise to the avoidance of decisions if they do not seem to be of immediate use to oneself.
The insight required: I expand my horizon. I pay attention to what happens around me.
8. Compulsively seeking harmony leads to an inefficacy to make clear cut decisions in disharmonious situations.
The insight required: I switch on my mind.
Recognizing your own preferential pattern in one of the eight points above, you may want to note down the corresponding insight on slips of paper which you distribute around the place – in your pockets, behind the mirror, on the computer, over the bed etc. – and then focus on the insight over and over again. Even better, concentrate steadily on it for at least 10 minutes, reading it again and again. Mind you, it has to be the insight belonging to your particular impediment otherwise it will not work. Also it is best to stick to one pair at a time, in case you recognize several.
In order for it to start to automatically rule one’s actions, one has to muster all willpower to back up this insight. This requires practise and consistency and one has to stay on the ball for a while, but it is worth it. Try it at least for one week.
Who is equipped with all eight insights will walk through life courageously and is very well prepared for the search for truth.
Courage on the spiritual journey
Decision-making power and courage are intimately connected. Why is courage so important on the spiritual journey? In the Sanskrit Vedanta scriptures the enlightened ones are also called vira, courageous, strong, powerful. Why? Because only those who seek truth with unswerving determination have a chance to recognise it. There are not only many stumbling blocks on the way, but also in our Western society the spiritual seeker moves outside approved nexuses It requires courage to adhere to one’s own truth which, for a start, simply consists in seeking something other than most other people here.
If, in addition, I have no problems with the standards of the people in my environment, it requires courage to abandon my very own mind programmes. The Bhagavad Gita, an important holy scripture of Hinduism, tells the story of Arjuna breaking down on the battlefield because, as son of a king, it is his duty to wage a war to protect the kingdom against his own relatives. Arjuna’s heart, familiar with them from earliest childhood, is set on them, even though they have had no problem with humiliating Arjuna and his people, or stealing their land and attempting to murder them while they slept. In a dramatic setting on the battle-field Krishna, Arjuna’s wise friend, persuades him, that he must break free from the bonds to his relatives and kill them. Finally Arjuna courageously goes to battle and wins it.
Arjuna’s ‘dear relatives’ represent his (and our) mind programmes. What kind of mind programmes? Basically all ideas that attach us to what stands in the way to fully understanding our true nature. The many ways in which those ideas get in the way have been described in other essays on this site. Also what we can do to break away from well-worn mental, emotional and behavioural habits has often been the subject here.
Vedanta holds that basically there is no way to directly break free from mind programs. Nevertheless, a karma yoga life-style will create bit by bit more clarity and centring and thereby allow us to continue our spiritual journey more freely and more relaxed. That is, the identification with a separate ‘I’ decreases. The less this identification is, the more we see what we truly are: non-separate, timeless and boundless.
Karma yoga means
1. Any action points to the knowledge of the highest truth.
2. Actions are ethical and
3. One acts in the knowledge that the result of one’s actions depends only to a very restricted extent on one’s own efforts, and accepts this fact.
For Western seekers it is often difficult to build solely on karma yoga. These difficulties largely relate to the first and third of these characteristics..
Point 1 is particularly difficult when there is no teacher who keeps one on the task. On the one hand the seeker is flooded with the above-mentioned abundance of esoteric, spiritual and pseudo-spiritual concepts. This means that the temptation is high to constantly try out new methods, ways of thinking and/or presentations of worlds of ideas. This can become an end in itself and the real aim (the highest freedom, moksha) disappears from sight. Secondly it is not necessarily obvious to the seeker if something else hides behind his original aim of moksha, for example a more pleasant life. (Nothing wrong with a pleasant life. Yet the wish for a pleasant life is utterly unrelated to the wish for moksha.)
Point 3 entirely contradicts the Western way of thinking if not explained properly. The surrender that is called for here rather evokes mistrust and defence.
All this means that the Western seeker of truth often needs further support to clear his mind for his spiritual path. Most Western Advaita teachers offer some additional techniques to their followers, for example, psychotherapy, work with the Enneagram, body oriented methods (e.g. forms of yoga) etc. Even I am working with such a method. Indeed, there is a certain danger that the use of such a method becomes an end in itself for the seeker. The use of techniques is an action. Actions again can prepare the seeker and also support his search, but they cannot lead to enlightenment. The highest freedom is nothing that one can produce, but is a discovery of something that is already the case.
How does one who has discovered this highest freedom make decisions? In short, not at all. The one who knows who he/she is, knows that he/she is non-separate. Hence, there can be no decisions – which always require at least two factors. If to all others it seems as if the awakened/enlightened one makes decisions, he/she just follows what obviously needs to happen. His intelligence does not function apart from the intelligence of the whole any longer. It is not based any more on personal interests, hence, it also does not make a difference, to what extent it serves those personal interests. With this, of course, not only all decisive difficulties cease to exist, but all decisions all together.
For others it may look as if the enlightened one is courageous, vira. He himself just fulfils the role that is slated for him in the play of the All.