14. RAMESAM VEMURI
Dr. Vemuri's current interests include research in the
border areas of Physics and Metaphysics. He published
several articles in this area. He rendered into English
a few philosophical works. He also authored the book,
Religion Demystified: Understanding Life's Mysteries in
terms of Latest Scientific Findings.
In 28 crisp essays Dr. Vemuri Ramesam covers cutting
edge scientific developments in a wide variety of fields
from Quantum and High Energy Physics to Cell Biology and
Neuroscience, Anthropology etc. in simple terms. He
relates these to our day to day life trying to tease out
the mysticism behind tradition. The book provides a
refreshing look at man and his position in the universe.
Dr. Ramesam defines ‘comfort’ in terms of energy
expended and explains ‘liberation’ as an effortless
“zero mind – active body” state. He argues for a
physiological basis for Nirvana and proposes a testable
model for the idea. The book gives a hope that science
may find a way to attain the ultimate goal of “ A Happy
Individual and A Harmonious Society”, a quest man has
been after for millennia of years.
Many of the contemporary non dual teachings today seem to stem
out of three or four teachers from India: Ramana Maharshi,
Papaji, Atmananda Krishna Menon and Nisargadatta. However, it
appears that none of these Advaita Indian teachers ever charged
any of their western students, who later went on to become quite
successful teachers themselves. Many of these latter teachers
appear to charge others for these same Advaita teachings. They
also advertise their names and claim lineage and so on. What are
your thoughts on this?
Ramesam: The thrust of the question appears to be directed at
the point whether one should charge for imparting Non-dual
Before I talk about it, let me quickly say that there are also a
number of Non-dual teachers who do not claim a lineage like
Peter, Scott, Jeff, Jeannie, Karen and others. (Of course, for
some reason, Karen associates herself with Ramana Ashram and so
does the young one on the block, Bentinho). I know some of the
teachers personally and can say that those with whom I
interacted never placed money upfront above the teaching. They
were very kind and loving in bringing clarity to me without any
charges, whenever I approached them with a question.
The scriptural injunction in general is that a teacher should
not levy a charge; at the same time, the student is asked to pay
back to the teacher in one form or other - in kind, in service,
in gifts and if nothing is possible, take the responsibility to
continue the teaching of the Guru after obtaining permission
from the teacher. The students used to live in the ancient times
in the house of the teacher itself during the studentship. The
student was encouraged to earn money to redeem his indebtedness
to the teacher after he completed his education. However, he was
not expected to have a free ride.
The social structure and cultural milieu being vastly different
today, we cannot insist on following rigidly the ancient Indian
formula. But, at the same time, we have to bear in mind
that the Non-dual teaching cannot be and should not be treated
as a commodity of trade.
More importantly, no Non-dual teaching was given without first
a question by an ardent student deeply gripped by a desire to
seek the ultimate Knowledge. Non-dual Knowledge is not
goods for sale and advertisement. A quick example that comes to
mind on this point is the teaching of Krishna to Arjun – the
famous Bhagavad-Gita. Krishna, considered the Guru of all Gurus,
did not talk about the Self-Knowledge though Arjun was his own
brother-in-law and both of them spent a whole life time together
performing several activities jointly. The teaching was done
only after a specific question was posed by Arjun. At the
time Krishna taught Arjun about Self-Knowledge, both of them
were in their mid-eighties!
Next comes the question about the Guru. Is he really a Guru, a
teacher, himself deeply involved in Non-dualism or merely a
purveyor of information? Scriptures advise that a
dedicated student should approach a teacher who himself has
realized the Non-dual Truth. But again, if one is ceaselessly
lost in Oneness (the ultimate stage of a Jivanmukta), he would
not be able to see any difference between himself and a student.
Obviously, the student cannot expect any teaching from such a
teacher. So he has to approach a teacher who understood
experientially the Advaita Knowledge but his mind keeps bringing
him back to duality out of its sheer habit. Any teacher can
impart teaching only if he sees a separation between him as a
teacher (the Knower) and another as a student (the ignorant one)
– i.e. only in an atmosphere of duality. (The teaching imparted
by avatar-s like Krishna or Sages like Vasishta are, however,
explained in a different way – the duality in such cases is
presumed to be in the mind of the student only, the teacher, the
teaching and the instruction being just the imagination of the
Say, we consider a scale of one to seven, one being the stage
when a strong desire for liberation sprouts in a man and seven
is the stage where he unswervingly abides in Brahman. By about
the fourth stage, he will have a clear and unambiguous
understanding of Brahman. From then on, sure signs of
progress in the understanding of the Self-Knowledge are (i)
diminishing desires and (ii) lessening interest to participate
in the worldly affairs activities and interactions. A man
in the Sixth stage will not even recognize objects perceived by
him nor will he consider anything to be external to himself
(i.e. he would have lost any sense of separation between himself
and any entity including his body). (see: http://beyond-advaita.blogspot.in/2010/12/yoga-based-and-knowledge-based.html).
Unless one is by himself experientially clear without an iota of
doubt in Self-Knowledge, he can hardly be expected to clarify
the innumerable doubts that crop up in the mind of a seeker on
his path to Liberation. If he is so much detached that he does
not even have a sense of body present to him, he can hardly
communicate any teaching.
From the above description, you can see who could best fit the
bill as a teacher.
It is also true that there is the possibility that one may
attain excellent scholarship on scriptures and be highly
intelligent in logical argument that he can answer any question
of a seeker. A student will not know if that man is
speaking from an actual experiential understanding or mere
expertise of textual knowledge. Yogavaasishta calls such people
as “Experts on Truth” as against “Knowers of Truth.” The Experts
on Truth will consider the teaching as any other worldly
profession in order to make a living or to earn wealth, name and
fame. They will still be under the grip of desire and
“detachment” would not have developed within them. They
may feign Self-knowledge but may not have experiential
understanding. A seeker will also become an Expert on
Truth initially, but he will be enveloped with the quality of
detachment. Scriptures tell the stories of many accomplished
Jivanmuktas who live in total incognito in torn clothes,
shriveled hair lying down in any muddy corner, rejecting all
endearments and gifts of utmost value; but they readily teach
True Knowledge with love and compassion when a deserving student
approaches them. If a teacher is too greedy and runs after only
amassing wealth, scriptures advise the seeker to drop such a
Because of the fact that the Western society has no tradition
and culture of supporting a teacher who is on the pursuit of
Self-Knowledge (by sheltering and feeding him), one may not
grudge if the teacher tries to make enough money to support his
body and its immediate needs. He should, after all, not become a
nuisance and burden to others because it will only block his own
progress toward attaining unswerving abidance in Brahman. Hence
if he charges money for his living and teaching tools, that
should be okay.
What are your thoughts on practicing dana or becoming a monk, a
sanyasin, or a renunciate of some kind and taking the
traditional route and taking up the begging bowl, shaving off
the hair and wearing orange clothing? Making a non-dual living
Ramesam: All the scriptures, all the Sages clearly state
that one may give alms (dAna
= donation), take up pilgrimages, holy dips, ritualistic
sacrifices, performance of austerities etc., but none of them
yield true Knowledge. Self-inquiry is the only route to
Restraining the senses from their habit of perceiving the
manifold objective world as “a thing to be experienced” is
necessary in order to be able to obtain the Knowledge of the
Sage Vasishta’s advice in Yogavaasishta (Second part of Chapter
Nirvana, Sarga 163) for a seeker is: “Normally the mind
sees the objects in the world to be separate from the Supreme
Brahman. Hence it considers the objects of the world as
things that are to be experienced. If the mind is able to
take the contrary stand that the objects are non-different from
Brahman, the mind will not consider them to be separate
experience-able entities. Then the mind is not tempted by
any of the worldly objects. Once the mind is not tempted
by the objects, it will not anymore dwell on them. The senses
will then have no work to do. This is the best way to win
over the senses.”
Restrained senses help in the development of a focused mind.
A ‘focused mind on Brahman’ leads to the dissolution of the mind
in the Pure Consciousness which is the substrate for everything.
The twin keys for the development of a one-pointed focused mind
indicated in Bhagavad-Gita are detachment (vairAgya)
and its constant practice (abhyAsa).
Performance of works like ‘dAna’
etc. may help one in the beginning stages to reduce the flux of
vacillations in one’s mind and train the mind in its ability of
focusing which is necessary for an inquiry. A reasonably
educated, intelligent and mature individual in the modern day
would have got such ability already and it is merely a waste of
time to continue such practices. It is better to move on towards
Self-inquiry in a systematic manner.
Having said that, I should also say that the practices like ‘dAna’
come handy at a later stage after Self-Knowledge is fully
understood without an iota of doubt, but the mind, out of sheer
force of its past habit, keeps coming back to its usual old
ways. A mantra or
or practices like
etc. will help in quickly bringing back the mind to focus on
Brahman. Similarly, ‘dAna’
may help in cultivating sustained quality of relinquishment
(ability to ‘give up’) within oneself.
Wearing of orange robes, shaving off the hair on the head,
holding a staff and water pot (daNDa
kamaNDala) are merely symbolical. They may serve the purpose
of announcing to the world who you are, but that is not
As Bhagavad-Gita defines, true
is to give up everything -- even thoughts and intentions. Mere
exhibitionism does not lead one anywhere. Though
externally giving up certain things for symbolical value, a
person may still be wallowing in all sorts of silently
entertained inner desires. Such a one ends up in more misery.
Some traditionalist teachings do hold that one has to pass
through the four phases of life –
vAnaprastha (secluded life in a forest) and
(renunciate) to be eligible to obtain liberation. The
traditionalists opine that opening up the simple and
straightforward message of Advaita to one and all may lead the
unprepared astray. They think that the teaching could be
misunderstood or misinterpreted by the plebs to justify their
own undisciplined lives. They hold that only a
is eligible to attain liberation in order that the societal
equilibrium is not upset by charlatans.
But unfortunately, people get lost more in symbolism and
exhibitionism forsaking the real message of Advaita – to give up
everything not only at a gross physical body level but also at
the mental level. The shAstra-s,
grantha-s (monographs and special treatises) on Advaita
never place any restrictions on who could attain liberation.
Scriptures themselves give many examples of liberated
individuals of all age groups, both ladies and men, from all
walks of life – householders, traders, rulers, illiterates,
manual workers and even demons.
Sage Vasishta, in fact, ridicules the blind adherents of
tradition. He cautions us to avoid such traps of beliefs
in the name of tradition. He decalres: “Some persons stick to a
dug well simply because it was inherited from their forefathers.
They manage to live with the brackish water of the well
foregoing the sacred sweet river waters existing nearby to them.
Such people are of low understanding. These people
are destined to remain ignorant!”
In the Buddhist tradition, many of these renunciates are
dependent on their sustenance from dana. Are not these
contemporary non dual professional teachers muddying the waters
concerning money and this ancient system of teaching?
Also, inadvertently taking the food right out of the mouths of
these traditional teachers and making the pickings even
Ramesam: To be honest, I have no acquaintance with
Buddhist traditions and monkhood. History tells us that
Buddha himself observed strictly certain principles - eating
food obtained by begging and not begging food from the same
house. He insisted on his bikhus too to adopt this tradition
only to inculcate in them the quality of non-attachment. So the
noteworthy point here is the emphasis on the development of
dispassion and detachment.
Now you are raising in your question the issue of sharing the
overall cake available in a competitive climate by the
practitioners of Non-duality, the fraudsters taking advantage of
the restrained and more disciplined seekers and such other
matters from the viewpoint of ideal or optimal economic
management of the resources.
If the Non-dual message is truly understood, who or what is
there to say this is correct or that is incorrect? Non-duality
says “yes” to everything because there are no parts in it.
The world which is nothing but Brahman is indivisible. It is
Oneness. Judging the world based on some arbitrary contextual
criterion of good and bad and desiring to have only one type of
world to the exclusion of everything else is still viewing
things from an empirical standpoint of a ‘separate person.’
If a seeker is intensely gripped with Self-inquiry, he/she will
know that Consciousness Is All and Consciousness is the one
doing everything and there is no scope for anything other than
Consciousness to be present anywhere. So Consciousness will
appear taking the form of whatever food or other requirement of
that seeker who is again none but Consciousness Itself in the
form of the seeker.
How do you see this? Is a conditional prepaid donation dana?
What is the difference with a "voluntary donation" or with
charging a conditional prepaid donation? I ask this because some
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However, without the "donation" being prepaid, there appears to
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One Hour Session $125 - Prepaid
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Three One hour Sessions at $115 or $345 Total - Prepaid
Ramesam Vermuri: To call "pre-paid" amounts a
dAna (= donation) is a preposterous euphemism.
Strictly speaking, giving away (parting with) things that are of
no value to one, donating disposable goods/monies, charities
aimed at gaining social prestige/status, or giving done under
compulsions etc. are not called 'dAna', if I remember right the
I would like to quote Swami Krishnananda of The Divine Life
Society regarding (i) Expectation on the part of the giver and
(ii) Why human beings at all are encouraged to give in charity.
When you give charity to somebody, do you give it thinking what
that man will give back to you? That is like a brother-in-law
giving to a brother-in-law. It is not charity. If a father is
educating his son under the impression that he will take care of
him in old age, he is not doing any charity. It is some kind of
social work or family work. Total joy has not gone. He expects
something. If charity is given with the expectation of return,
it is not charity. When you arrange a banquet, a large feast, it
is said not to invite only your friends because you know they
will also invite you to a banquet one day. This is no good. If
you give a banquet to your own relatives and invite all your
friends and relations, know the motive behind it. Your ego
swells more and more on account of the expectation of a very
good result. If you arrange for a function in your house and
your relatives come and pour gifts upon you, they will also
expect you to give the same when they arrange for a feast or a
function in their own homes. Otherwise, what will they feel?
“This fellow has not given anything.” This is not charity; this
is not giving. This is not spiritual action at all. Hence, mere
giving in a mechanical or commercial way is not to be considered
as charity. Thus, the Bhagavadgita doctrine of duty, giving,
participation, is minus expectation of a recompense that will
Human beings are greedy. They want to grab everything. Hoarding
is their basic nature. "I want a lot of money"; "I have got a
lot of land and property"; "I want to keep it with myself"; "I
do not want to give anything to anybody". This is how they
think. So, to them 'Da' meant Datta – 'give in charity'. Do not
keep with you more than what you need. Do not take what you have
not given. Do not appropriate what does not belong to you. All
these are implied in the statement – be charitable. Charitable
not only in material giving but also in disposition, in feeling,
in understanding and in feeling the feelings of others. So, to
the human beings this was the instruction – Datta, give, because
they are not prepared to give. They always want to keep. Greed
is to be controlled by charity.
I may also add here that:
like that of Manu spell out for the guidance of the society the
broad principles behind such injunctions like charities etc.
2. The to-do instructions in terms of actual practices are
derived from the commentaries and interpretations by accepted
authorities on the above shAstra-s.
(charity, donation) is classified into four types.
iii) Inferior and
iv) The lowliest.
4. The superior dana is one when a donation or charity is made
without any sort of expectation of fruit/reward.
The medium type is one when a donation is made with a desire for
obtaining "merit" (punya).
The inferior type is one when donation is given seeking worldly
The lowliest one is when a donation is made to cause trouble to
5. Donations (charities) are made principally because of four
reasons: a) Out of
(giving up any claims of ownership) b) Out of desire for
comforts c) out of love (like a mother for its child) and d) out
of fear (like paying the ruler).
6. A Guru is never supposed to impart Self-knowledge for a
price. If the Guru is so destitute, he may seek food when the
body needs it with total indifference whether one gives or not -
i.e. no blame if he does not get it nor thanks for one who gives
7. A cost marked upfront for teaching Self-knowledge will amount
to be a "charge" only and cannot be a donation.
8. Because of the social structure and cultural difference of
life in the West, a Guru may collect necessary funds for
carrying on with his/her life and for imparting the teaching but
just enough to do the job, but not for amassing. If one does
hoard wealth, it amounts to using his/her knowledge like any
other worldly profession - he/she loses his/her own progress on
the Path of Knowledge.
What about traditional gurus?
Ramesam Vermuri: First off, I want to point out certain aspects
which do not get highlighted - particularly about the so called
globetrotting, image conscious, empire building Gurus who call
themselves "traditional", but hive off with their own pretty
outfits and petty ambitions at the first opportunity. It applies
to many Indian Gurus - including the very popular ones whom you
make a mention of.
"Traditional" refers to carrying out a particular lineage of a
Guru-disciple tradition. If they are to carry out things in the
name and methods of their Guru, why is it they have established
big organizations and nurture huge retinues of sycophants and
obedient pupils? The less said the better - the same sort of
questions can be raised about those traditional gurus similar to
the doubts expressed about the Western Gurus by you.
What about the karmic aspects of this? Some of these non dual
teachers tend to speak about it on an absolute level and say
"charging happens". “Charging is being-ness” or “charging is
aliveness”. That sort of thing. Is this a form of
not taking responsibility for the empirical decision of
charging, vis a vis not charging?
As if the "God is doing the charging" and “God is also enjoying
the money”. On an absolute level, yes this is true of
course. This also ties into the question of free will.
Ramesam Vermuri: It is disingenuous if these teachers knowingly
paint their actions in Non-dual mumbojumbo. They are cheating
themselves in their belief that there is "no one" doing it.
If the "individual" within them is so truly annihilated, they
will not be even conscious of the fact that there is another who
is ignorant and seeking a teaching from them. They will lose all
sense of differentiating objects and they will not be even
conscious of their own bodies (something like the sixth stage on
the Sevenfold Knowledge Path of Sage Vasishta).
Most commonly, a teacher will be able to teach only in duality.
Obviously this means that he sees himself to be distinct from
the other, the student. It means he has some trace of "ego" in
him. A totally egoless individual will see neither anything to
communicate about nor any body to communicate with. When a trace
of "ego" is still left, the ego goes with a gross body and
there is a need
to take care of the gross body.
An individual without ego will live with whatever comes by
"effortlessly" as Bhagavad-Gita says (yadrucha
lAbha santushTah). Effort means intentional action and such
action in turn implies ego. So, indirectly, the level of
"effort" can be used as a parameter, if one has to assess
oneself on the path.
Now let us see what's with this business of "karma theory". You
know very well that karma theory is a fiction - a fiction to
satisfy an inquisitive mind. When and if an in individual has a
clear understanding of the Advaita teaching, one can see that
things happen from moment to moment, there is no one to do. (We
can go into it in detail separately why this happens 'moment to
moment' and how).
The fact is each individual lives in his/her world. As Rupert
puts it so well, it is not seven billion people seeing one
world; it is rather one Consciousness seeing seven billion
worlds. So the world I see is the world of my imagination, my
fantasy. There is no 'other' creating this world for me. If I
see a cheerful world, well, that is the world I created. If it
is a cheatful world, well again, that is my illusory world. If
there is a Byron Katie with a billion dollar house, well, she is
within my world I created by my fantasy. I am the
hiraNyagarbha of my world. My world ends with my awakening.
Whom can I blame when there is no other?
The question of free will comes only when I imagine myself to be
existing as a separate entity. When there is no other, and all
is One, there is no free will. It is for this reason that the
ancient Indian scriptures describe even "ignorance" as Brahman.
When all is One, there cannot be some separate entity
I often give the example of a man. There are hands which look
different from legs or nose, eyes differing from ears etc. But I
do not see these parts and get confused if a hand is covered or
folded or lifted. I see only the totality of the man as one. So
also the totality of the world is One - why to fragment it and
see the separate limbs?