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RAMESAM VEMURI
Interview with non-duality magazine.  Part 2

 

NDM:  Did you ever formally study traditional Advaita Vedanta?  

Ramesam Vemuri:  I should at the outset say that other than as a matter, perhaps, of curiosity, me or what I did is utterly inconsequential, not to be considered important. I never studied Advaita formally under a Guru-Sishya sampradaya (tradition) nor did I pursue any particular teacher or ashram.  In fact I feel repulsed to “follow” any organized system that upfront demands obsequious obeisance, dictates a belief structure, creates a hope and promises a distant carrot.

My spiritual inquiry, if I may use that term, has been more like the pursuit of research in science – define the problem as it arises, do a literature search, then investigate, check and cross check to the extent possible and so on.  In this process I was exposed to Zen, a wide variety of teachers in Advaita (from traditional to Direct path to Neo) and also bits and pieces of other systems. Undoubtedly there is a greater influence of Advaitic thought of the ancient Indian texts on me simply because they are some of the finest philosophical texts based on logic and were also the more readily accessible resources for me.  I am truly indebted to each one of them and also to the innumerable people who helped me in arriving at a clear understanding.

NDM: Is there any particular method or study out of all these various ways that clicked with you over the others?

Ramesam Vemuri:  Never give up questioning even in the face of an apparently convincing answer. Keep wading through the jungle (of information) until a clear meadow is in sight and you begin to feel the fresh breath of air just like that at the daybreak after a stormy night (sorry for the mixed metaphor; but hope you got the picture!).

NDM: Why exactly do you feel repulsed to follow any organized system that demands obsequious obeisance exactly?  

Ramesam Vemuri::  A Philippine friend of mine used to quote a proverb.  If you want the bird in your hand to fly high, you have to loosen the grip of your fist.  There cannot be free inquiry when you are already told to fall in line with a system.  An open wondering mind is a pre-requisite for new discovery.

Let me quote from Scientific American, July 2010 about a recent research paper (www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-willpower-paradox&page=2) :

"[T]hose with questioning minds were more intrinsically motivated to change. They were looking for a positive inspiration from within, rather than attempting to hold themselves to a rigid standard. Those asserting will lacked this internal inspiration, which explains in part their weak commitment to future change. Put in terms of addiction recovery and self-improvement in general, those who were asserting their willpower were in effect closing their minds and narrowing their view of their future. Those who were questioning and wondering were open-minded—and therefore willing to see new possibilities for the days ahead."

Supplication or obedience to an authority or subjugation or deference to a power is a poor translation of the surrender that happens with the collapse of an individuating 'self.'  One cannot impose by force upfront the lakshana (quality) that automatically comes with the attainment of lakshya (goal), particularly in this peculiar situation where lakshya and lakshana are one and the same!

Any extraneously imposed discipline requires a rigid disciplinary structure, an adjudicating authority and a policing mechanism.  These systems then acquire a life of their own and struggle for their survival and perpetuation.  They adopt all the tricks of the ‘ego’ in creating a “personality” for themselves ultimately proving to be counterproductive and detrimental to the very ‘death of ego’, the ostensible purpose for which they have come in the first place!

NDM: Have you read the Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power by the way? Here is a short pdf from a chapter from this book.  Assault on Reason.

www.joeldiana.com/downloads/guru_papers/gp-Assault_Reason_col.pdf

Ramesam Vemuri::  Thanks John for the Link.  I have not read the book.  I do vibe with questioning any authority, however spiritually high it is rated to be – not out of derision or disrespect but not to be impeded in my own search by second hand wisdom handed down with a diktat to follow.

Most of the Gurus whatever color robes they come draped in – black, orange, white, pink, yellow and so on – are concerned with human ‘relationships.’    Some of them treat Oneness as a theory from which societal ‘apps’ can be derived and in the process they build up empires of their organizations, expand with imperialistic ambitions, develop loyal colonies and be lost in a plethora of monetary and material problems – all in the name of transcending those problems.  Advaita teaching is not aimed at groups.  It is an individualistic inquiry, deconstruction of one’s own imaginary world sublating into an ineffable Existence-Consciousness-Infinity.

NDM: So without a teacher/guru of some kind, how does one navigate a path through this non-dual jungle? How did you do this without falling into all the traps like getting stuck in the absolute, or only seeing half the picture and the other pitfalls?

Ramesam Vemuri::  Non-duality is not the jungle.  Non-duality is clarity.  Information on it, about it and around it is the jungle! 

One of the derivative meanings for the Sanskrit word Guru is, as you may have known:  the dispeller (ru) of darkness (gu). In the ancient times when knowledge is transmitted through oral tradition, a human Guru (dispeller of darkness or ignorance) was necessarily required because the Guru was the only information source. Each Guru developed, used and expanded certain terminology to explain the Truth as realized by that Guru to a lineage of his disciples.

Fast forward to the present day.  We have now multimedia storage devices as information resources and satellite communication technologies for its dissemination.  These do dilute the mandatory requirement of a human Guru (dispeller of ignorance).

The more important question is how do we manage with the information ‘overload’ and distinguish the grain from the chaff. 

 No acid tests are available. No guarantees provided.  No Bureau of Standards certifications.

I do not know how it happens, but normally some or other information source becomes accessible when a seeker is seized with an intense yearning. Maybe because information is everywhere or whatever.  You resonate with the information that opens up before you and keep moving with your inquiry.

NDM. How does one know if one is deluding oneself without some outside source, authority, validating the persons understanding and knowledge and experiences?

Ramesam Vemuri:  Tests, validations and approvals by an external agency can certify an acquired and accumulated knowledge and expertise. 

Suppose there is a TV antenna that beamed several programs in the last one hour in different languages.  Can there be a test to know the “understanding, knowledge and experience” of the antenna?  The antenna does not hoard any knowledge.  The seeker is like the antenna.

It is quite possible a person may be wallowing in his/her delusion.  Advaita does not have a British Pharmacopeia or an American DSM to prescribe a standard line of therapy. (In the strictest sense of Advaita, ultimately everything as ‘Is’ is okay; nothing needs to be changed! So no prior manuals of remedies.)

If a particular individual is unclear, gets a doubt at one time or other, it is (s)he who has to define his problem and probe deeper into it. No advocate to hold a brief on his behalf.  No proxy to ask and seek solution.  Each individual seeker has to himself pose his question as it arises and he will find the solution. (The surprise is that the “questioner” is the problem; not the content of the question!)

NDM : Do you see we are living in a time of the end of the traditional guru. or the cyber guru, giving email satsangs, or the universal guru that speaks one language only. English.

Greg Goode  says: No longer can people believe that liberation speaks only Tibetan, or that the world was created from holy Sanskrit syllables. People are saying, "If it can't be said in my language, then it isn't so universal after all." Even as recently as thirty years ago, seekers of self-awareness had to trek to India or the Himalayas to see someone who could impart a message of liberation. These days there are many routes:  Barnes & Noble, Borders, Amazon, Yahoo, Google, mobile phones and BlackBerries"

www.heartofnow.com/files/other.writings.html

Ramesam Vemuri: Any stored information will always be something of the “past.”  It can never be in the present like a live teacher is.  A storage device conveys what is merely stored.  A live teacher may be able to convey more than that in interactive mode and by interpreting the info in a more contemporary manner.

For example, ocean and waves was an ancient metaphor for Brahman and world.  In the mid 20th century cinema and film projection was cited.  Present day teachers talk about computer screen and the documents on it.

Every new generation may come with new questions in the light of their own backgrounds because the Advaitic search is for the “Unknown” and not what is known at a given point of time.  A static dead information device cannot meet such growing demands. 

Thus while a live teacher may not get replaced totally, the seeker may be able to pursue his inquiry in greater physical comfort in the cyber age.

NDM: Also what about this sensitive money issue that seems to hit a raw nerve when ever its raised. 

Is there anything right or wrong with doing this?  Is there any thing right or wrong with making a few , rupee's on this ancient non dual teaching?  What is your take on this controversial and almost taboo question?

Ramesam Vemuri:  First of all no question need be a taboo.  If a particular doubt posits itself as a stumbling block, well, it should be attended to.

The ancient Indian system advises a student to redeem his indebtedness to the teacher by rendering service, by payment in kind or cash or in the absence of any other means of repaying, by passing on the wisdom obtained by him to others after taking Guru’s permission.  This obviously shows the necessity of some accepted social structural norm to preserve and propagate the knowledge to to others.  Does this mean that the ‘wisdom’ is on sale or available for prostitution by the highest bidder?  Moreover, a seeker had to be eligible to receive the wisdom, the most important criterion being his single minded unswerving devotion for liberation in exclusion of any other desire (including food, clothing, wealth, status etc.)

 The ancient sages also foresaw a danger in throwing open the knowledge for one and all because it can be detrimental to the very health of the individual and the society if it is misunderstood and/or incompletely understood.

For example, if everything is Brahman, is it okay to feed dog shit to a hungry beggar?  Or because all is One and there is nothing like right or wrong, is it okay to go on chopping off the heads like the Queen in Alice’s wonderland?  Is not one accountable for a crime as per Advaita?

The point is one has to stick to the full course of Self-inquiry, right up to the very end – the end being he, his separate individuating ego with all its desires, plans, wishes, needs etc. etc. is completely dissolved.  When that happens a spontaneous morality will shine in him, not the acquired or assumed or imposed social order. 

As declared in the Upanishads and repeated in Bhagavad-Gita, such a man is feared by none nor is he afraid of anyone.  He harms no body nor does anybody harm him.

Such sages were the conscience keepers of the nation state whose rulers always sought their guidance and advice (by visiting their forest dwellings if necessary) in the governance of the country.

The social fabric too was designed to facilitate the development of the individual through four stages of life – learner, householder, forest dweller (for contemplation – a recent research paper, incidentally, says life in forests contributes to good health) and renouncer .   A supportive economic rubric was built as if the entire nation state is one organism.

Under those circumstances what for are the green backs or red francs required by a Jivanmukta?

Now the cyber-guru has thrown open free access to the knowledge without the support structure and promises of misleading (in some cases at least) permanent happiness even in the absence of some ground preparation.  Have we reduced it to the gimmicks of market forces and ad campaigns?

NDM: If one is pure actionless non dual awareness, A Jivanmukta, then who is doing the spending of this money that is earned through the teaching?  Who is the doer/enjoyer/spender/earner?   Would a so called Jivanmukta, or a so called arharant be interested in making some rupees from this knowledge? 

Ramesam Vemuri:  We have already seen that a full blown Jivanmukta who does not have even the consciousness that there is a separate body with limbs for him would hardly need any money.  His life goes ‘effortlessly’ taking things as they happen, eating whatever is available, sleeping wherever possible without any sense of possessions, ownership or doership or experiencership claims.

But as we have also seen there is a time gap between the attainment of firm abidance in Brahman and obtaining Knowledge about Brahman.  He is not totally unaware of his body and the need to feed it during this intermittent period. How will he survive in this phase?

The guiding texts in the traditional system of teaching for the three stages of Listening (shravana), Reflection (manana) and Contemplaton Meditation (nidhdhyasa) are the Upanishads, Brahmasutras and Bhagavad-Gita respectively.  Thus Bhagvad-Gita is the life-strategy manual to answer any questions regarding one’s actions in the third phase.  That was the system followed in the olden days.

But we are now in instant coffee days.  We want instant enlightenment and instant permanent abidance in Brahman.  Unfortunately we are unable to shed the accumulated baggage of habits and thought patterns equally instantly!

We have the super structure but lack the lower floors.  Driven by market forces, we would like to have our own USP and wear our wisdom as a distinct ornamentation.  We put it up for sale to make both ends meet.  In the process we forget that we are back in the game of the worldly miasma.

[In this context, I really wonder how the reclusive Annette Nibley who does not seem to hold satsangs and retreats survives and how she gets medical insurance paid in a country where falling sick is scary. Truly a saintly lady.] 

NDM: Ok, what about the belief in karma? Reincarnation? Whatever the incorporeal essence is that some believe transmigrates.   

It is known in different spiritual traditions; "the most sacred body" (wujud al-aqdas) and "supracelestial body" (jism asli haqiqi) in Sufism, "the diamond body" in Taoism and Vajrayana, "the light body" or "rainbow body" in Tibetan Buddhism, "the body of bliss" in Kriya Yoga, and "the immortal body" (soma athanaton) in Hermeticism.  

Karana-Sarira - causal body, subtle body, Jiva, Atman" and "Purusha"  in Vedanta.  Budhuta, Linga Sharira in  Theosophy.  Rudolf Steiner's Anthroposophical teachings usually referred to the Etheric and Astral Bodies. American Indians and indigenous peoples from around the world refer to this as a spirit, animism, or guide.  

Others like James Hillman call this psyche.  These are the various etheriall bodies that some believe contain samskaras, or sin and so on?  Do you believe that such an ethereal essence or a thing exists?  

What are all these various traditions talking about or pointing to exactly?

Ramesam Vemuri:  When we discussed ‘samskaras and vasanas’ in Part – I, we have seen how we invented those explanatory fictions.  Karma is no different.  Transmigration and re-birth are further stories to back up the fiction of karma.  (please see:    www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/teachers/karma_ramesam.htm

The three bodies you are referring to – gross, subtle and causal – correspond to the three states of awake, dream and deep sleep.  They are said to be made up of finer and finer substance.  It is said that the grossest part of the food you eat is excreted.  The grosser part goes to make the physical body.  Finer material goes to make the subtle body and the finest the causal body.  You can draw your own conclusion on what all this would mean.

In the olden days dreams were a complete mystery.  They belonged to the mental body (subtle or manomaya kosa) made of up mind-stuff of the mental world.  The mental was said to be accessible only to yogis and gods.  It was believed to have its own life even after the death of the physical body.  Thanks to the modern research, we have much better picture of dreams now.  Of course the last word is not yet said.  But we are able to pierce through some of the mystery.  We may even get a handle in future to control our dreams (see: www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-to-control-dreams).

That being the case, do you still like to go along with all these bodies and stories?

Further, when we understand that nothing is really born, nothing has a birth, where is the question of re-birth?

NDM: What would you say is the difference between "crazy wisdom" teachings and simply being crazy?

Ramesam Vemuri:  I do not know what is “crazy wisdom” teaching.

NDM: I would like to ask you about non duality awareness and dissociative disorders such as derealization and depersonalization.  If you look at this list of symptoms below, how different are they from what you described earlier concerning Jivenmukta?

Continuous or recurring feelings that you're an outside observer of your thoughts, your body or parts of your body .

Numbing of your senses or responses to the world around you

Feeling like a robot or feeling like you're living in a dream or in a movie

The sensation that you aren't in control of your actions, including speaking

Awareness that your sense of detachment is only a feeling, and not reality

 How would you make the distinction between someone who is self realized, and someone with a dissociative disorder of some kind?

Ramesam Vemuri:  There is Cotard’s syndrome too wherein an individual claims that he is dead because he does not possess a body!  They even do self-endangering acts that could prove fatal because they feel they have no body.

Our ancient scriptures too say that sometimes it is hard to distinguish a mad cap from a highly realized individual.  That is why any assessment by an external agency is said to be impossible about the realization status of an individual.

While neuroscientists do have some knowledge of the pathological state of the brain of sick individuals, we have absolutely no known record of the brain scans of a realized man.  It is high time we should build up this information base. 

NDM; Next question;  – R.D. Laing said "True sanity entails in one way or another the dissolution of the normal ego, that false self competently adjusted to our alienated social reality... and through this death a rebirth and the eventual re-establishment of a new kind of ego-functioning, the ego now being the servant of the divine, no longer its betrayer."

In the west, when this happens it is referred to as when an ego collapses, fragments, or disintegrates and when the shadow and archetypal contents flood in from the personal and collective unconscious causing psychosis, or a psychotic break from reality.  

In the east, its considered Self-realization or God-realization, seeing the face of God, Shiva and so on?  

How do you make the distinction between a psychotic break like this here and a satori or awakening experience? 

Ramesam Vemuri:  Any of the psychological phenomena, hallucinations, lack of control, inability to filter diverse and dissonant signals coming to the brain (schizophrenia) are all related to the activity of the mind.  So also visions etc.  These have a clear signature in the brain.  Orgasmic or epiphany states are also clearly seen in the activity of different cortical regions (see: Pleasure of Sex vs. Bliss of Self in Brain Scans, Religion Demystified, 2008, p: 86-88).

In contrast, Advaita is about when the activity of the mind is zeroed.  As per the metaphor provided by the sages, still wind is Brahman.  Moving wind is world.  Movement is work done.  It is energy expensive. Still wind is Consciousness.  Movement is mind. Still mind is Consciousness.  When mind is still, the cognizer, what is cognized and the process of cognition become one.  It is interesting to see the scan of such a brain.  This has got to be different from epiphany.

NDM. Do you think it is wise for someone to make self evaluations, self assessments, self enlightenment claims and assertions, with it being thoroughly questioned, tested, investigated by someone who knows the ropes, has been there and done that so to speak?

 Ramesam Vemuri:  To make self-evaluation and self-assessment is advised in Advaita.  Because he is still conscious of a ‘self’ within him to do it.

But not claims and assertions of self-enlightenment!  A claim to do so is an oxymoron.  The very loss of ‘self’ is enlightenment.  Who or what is there to make a claim then?

An external agent, as we have already discussed, can at the best provide some pointers as and when a question is raised by that specific individual.  It is up to the individual to see the “moon” in the direction of the finger.

NDM; Is entrusting someone's eternal soul just as important as entrusting someone's mind or physical body to a doctor for an operation?   I ask this since there are many snake oil salesman out there, masquerading as gurus? 

Ramesam Vemuri:  Is there an “eternal soul” that you possess? And does that “eternal soul”, if any, need a fixing?

Or are all such beliefs the marketing of the snake oil salesman?

NDM; How should someone make a decision like this? 

Ramesam Vemuri:  If you are going by the metaphor of handing over your body-mind to some doctor: A “You” sitting here do not surrender to other “something” there in Non-dualism.  If you and the other are two distinct entities to be related by ‘surrendering’, it is dualism.  Jivanmukti does not exist in dualistic philosophies.

NDM; How do you know if a guru is legitimate or not if they do not belong to some kind of tradition and have been thoroughly tested by their own teacher?  For example, I could even say I was a guru, anyone can make this claim?

Ramesam Vemuri:  This is an age-old question, much discussed even in the Indian scriptures too.  There are innumerable schools of thoughts and equally highly competent individuals in each line.  The advice we find in the scriptures is that a seeker should explore what appeals best for him, find a knowledgeable man in that line and discuss with him in detail.  The seeker then may adopt the method of approach that resonates with his heart.  If, by chance, he finds later on that that particular teacher was a fake, he should leave that teacher and find another.  There need not be any feelings of regret or guilt, for what he needed at that time perhaps was just that – what he got!

Some sages suggest that the Guru need not be a fully realized person to communicate the teaching.  In fact Sankara says that some of the Jivanmuktas may not even teach because they do not find an ‘other’ to impart knowledge.

After all, it is only Consciousness making all the appearances – what difference does it make whether it is a small wave, a large one, one that crashed midway or aborted even before the swell? A small wave or a big one, a guru or a disciple, a fake or genuine one – everything arises when I begin to cognize them and assign a reality to them. A separate individual making efforts, trying to change, seeking, running after something is a fantasy.  There is nothing else other than what is, there is no other.  And that ‘what is’ acquires the name of the world when ‘you’ separate yourself as a remote ‘viewer’ and begin to see the world. If you are not conscious of a ‘you’ watching the world, no ‘you’ is created. What is not created need not have to change.    

NDM: Do you think some sort of guru test could be devised, to measure the gurus knowledge about enlightenment, as well as teaching it?

Ramesam Vemuri:  The sort of industrial mass scale manufacturing model of assembly line production, quality tests, setting standards with tolerance ranges, franchising the technology for replication may be inapplicable to Advaita, its core message being there is only One, no other.

Having said that, I would also like to point out, as already expressed in Part –I of our discussion, it will be interesting to investigate if a ‘footprint’ of the absence of doership, universal care, Deep Sleep with Awareness (Yoganidra) and such other markers can be found in the ‘brain’ of a Jivanmukta.  Maybe someday an organization will take up this research work!