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Interview with non duality magazine.  PART 1






Terry Coe has been a student of Pujya Swami Dayananda since 1989, attending courses at Arsha Vidya Gurukulum in Saylorsburg, Rishikesh and Coimbatore.He studied Sanskrit at Arsha Vidya and other locations and has taught workshops in Sanskrit phonetics at yoga studios in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. He is currently conducting weekly classes at AVG on Katha Upanishad and a Bhagavad Gita Vichara Group as well as various outreach activities. In addition to Sanskrit, Terry speaks German and Russian, and is a professional German-to-English translator.



NDM; Can you please tell me about the rishis, who were they exactly and how they attained this knowledge. For example, were they ascetic yogis, did they meditate; these are the kind of specific details I could not find anywhere.

Terry Coe:  The Vedas donít give details on exactly what the rishis themselves did in terms of spiritual disciplines, but as teachers in the Upanishads, they describe to others the method for gaining self-knowledge.The method involves systematic inquiry under the guidance of teacher, resolution of doubts regarding the means of knowledge and the conclusions reached through those means, and contemplation upon the lessons learned. It is said in the Upanishads that the rishis received the teaching from the Lord himself and then became teachers. There are also stories in the  Puranas, books written after the Vedas in order to teach this knowledge through stories, a sort of mythology. There stories evolved about these people, as well as about the deities, Shiva and others. These are illustrative stories, meant as aids to the teachings, part of the teaching methodology, and therefore not to be taken literally.

As for the rishis themselves, the word ďrishiĒ comes from the root ďrishĒ, meaning to see or to know. They were the knowers of the Vedas. The Vedas come to us through the rishis.

Now one could ask, where did the Vedas come from? According to tradition, the Vedas are not a human composition.  They come directly from the Lord himself. Then how did the rishis receive it, did they just sit and did he talk to them? Thatís how itís depicted, for example, in the story of Dakshinamurti, an avatar of Lord Shiva in the form of the first teacher, teaching these first four rishis. Through their practices, these rishis, who were yogis, ascetics, developed their minds to such a degree of subtlety that their vision was untainted by any mental impurities. But they still had to be taught, there had to be a source other than themselves because no matter how subtle oneís mind may be, one cannot stumble upon the truth of oneself. It has to be shown by a teacher, using the proper method. And the first teacher must be one who was never taught, the one who is by nature all-knowing. That can only be the Lord.

To give an analogy, television is happening here in this room right now, but you donít see it. Why? Because you donít have a receiver. What is a receiver? Itís something that is subtle enough to pick up the electrical frequencies that are already here and present them to you in a ďgrosser formĒ, namely as visible images. That is what the rishis were, they were receivers. Their minds were so subtle that when the reality was revealed to them they could ďseeĒit, in other words understand it clearly, and what came out of them were the mantras of the Vedas.

So they were passing on something that they knew directly. That is why we call them rishis. Then the words flowed out of them in a steam. If you look at the mantras in the Vedas, they just flow. Thatís what the rishis could do because their minds were at that level of subtlety.

As to specifically who they were, the Jaimani Brahmana of the Sama Veda talks about and names seven rishis. In the depiction of Lord Dakshinamurti, we name four rishis. There are various names given to them, but all of these names are like the name ďShiva.Ē You had a question about  Lord Shiva, whether Lord Shiva actually manifested as a 16 year-old boy to these rishis and taught them. All these names are not personal names, like Mr. Shiva, Mr. Sanatkumara, Mr. Brahma, and so on. These are significant names that point out an aspect of reality. For example, the word ďshivaĒ means auspicious, friendly, someone who is there to help. That indicates one aspect of the Lord. Similarly, if you look at the names of these rishis, they are reveal an aspect of the reality that they saw and knew as themselves.

So as to what specific practices they actually performed, there may be stories about it, but itís something that happened so long ago there is no direct record. Thereís no historically verifiable way of knowing whether it happened in one way or another, so we simply accept the tradition as a starting point.

The sculpture of Lord Dakshinamurti is at  the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam temple at Saylorsburg, PA


A view of the upper Ganges area of Rishikesh in the Himalaya. Regarded by tradition as the abode of Vedic rishis


NDM: Ok, I actually have a follow up question on something you said. When did this Vedanta tradition actually begin?

Terry Coe: The Vedas are said to come along with creation itself. This is because Veda means knowledge, and if we examine things systematically through the teaching, the Upanishads themselves tell us that the nature of what we call ďthe worldĒ is knowledge. So it has knowledge as its basis, as both efficient and material cause. This knowledge is embodied in the teaching of what we call the Vedas. So itís beginningless. It comes along with the creation itself. Thus the question of placing the rishis in a historical context, did they exist 5,000 years ago, 1,000 years ago, and so on, is beside the point. There isnít any time for them, really.

NDM: Ok, so that kind of ties into this next question on the cycles of creation. Kalpas. What are these cycles?

Terry Coe. The Vedas talk about time using different units because the time spans are so huge when we talk about the creation of the world,or the life cycle of a devata, or Brahmaji, the creator of the universe.  We measure it using a unit of time called a yuga. There are four yugas: Satya Yuga, Treta Yuga, Dvapara Yuga, and Kali Yuga.  Many people are familiar with the name Kali Yuga. So starting from the end, Kali yuga is 432,000 years long. Dvapara Yuga is double that,or 864,000 years.  Treta Yuga is three times Kali Yuga, or 1,296,000 years. And Satya Yuga is 4 times Kali Yuga, or 1,728,000 years.  These four yugas together add up to 10 times 432,000, or 4,320,000.  The completion of one thousand cycles of the four yugas is one kalpa. One kalpa is considered as 12 hours or one half-day in the life of Brahmaji.Two kalpas is 24 hours of his day. So two kalpas equal 8,640,000,000 years, or one day of Brahmaji.  Brahmajiís year is 360 days, and he lives for a hundred years.  So when you do the math, you come out to somewhere around three hundred trillion years. Itís a huge number. The main thing to remember is that creation is cyclical, not linear. There is no beginning point.


NDM: Ok then would the rishi would appear in each kalpa, each cycle?

Terry Coe: Yes, in each cycle of creation, the Vedas and the rishis appear again. They are there in every cycle of creation. 

NDM: So would it be fair to say that 5,000 years ago. Approximately more or less they appeared in this cycle?

Terry Coe: There is no way to know that, since the Vedas are an oral tradition. Thereís no way to date them. In their present form as we know them,the Vedas are said by some scholars to date back at least 5,000 years. There are many disputes about this, however, and itís really all just speculation.

NDM: Ok, so where would you say we are in this cycle, if they appeared approximately 5,000 years ago?

Terry Coe: Some people say we are in Kali Yuga, but Iím not the person to ask about these things, since Iím a student of Vedanta, not astrology. The astrologers have their own debates about where we are. In fact, Pujya Swami Dayananda himself has said that he believes we are not in Kali Yuga at all, but are instead in Dvapara Yuga.

NDM: Itís not clear

Terry Coe: Itís not totally clear.

NDM: Ok.

Terry Coe: Generally, people will say we are in Kali Yuga now, and Kali Yuga started at the time of the Mahabharata war, which dates back to anywhere from 5 to 10 thousand years ago, depending on whose numbers you believe.

NDM: Ok, then we got another few hundred thousand years of this to go then. (Laughs)

Terry Coe: Yes! Iím just pointing out the position that this canít be Kali Yuga because in Kali Yuga, the teaching of Vedanta is not available, or not readily available. In other words, nobody studies the Vedas in Kali Yuga. Not that theyíre not there, but just that theyíre not readily available. Thatís why the Hare Krishna movement emphasizes chanting ďHare Krishna.Ē There is an Upanishad called Kali-Santarana Upanishad, which means the Upanishad for crossing over Kali Yuga. Because the question is, how do you get through Kali Yuga if nobody studies? How can you get moksha if you donít know the Upanishads and come to gain this knowledge? They say that the only thing you can do in Kali Yuga is to chant the name of the Lord, and the mantra to be chanted is given in this Upanishad.  The mantra is ďHareRama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare  / Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare.Ē Thatís the mantra, this is where the Hare Krishna people get this from. Of course, they changed it around! They start with ďHare Krishna, Hare KrishnaĒ because they are devotees of Krishna, not Rama.  But the mantra itself starts with Rama. Rama was an avatar of Vishnu who came prior to Krishna. In any case, their thought that since the knowledge is not available in Kali Yuga, all you can do is be a devotee and chant. In fact, the knowledge is available! Thatís Swamijiís argument, namely that you canít say we are in Kali Yuga because if we were, this teaching wouldnít be out there as it is.

NDM: So the one following Kali Yuga, isnít that the Satya Yuga?

Terry Coe: Again, there are different ways of looking at it. Some say that it goes from Kali Yuga back to Dvapara Yuga, like a pendulum going back and forth rather than going from Kali Yuga back to Satya Yuga.  There you have to consult with someone else. Iím not at all well versed in this, because in Vedanta study we donít talk about it much.  Why is that? Because the Upanishads will ask, why are you talking about time all the time? (Laughs) When you start to question the basic reality of the entire creation itself, you can forget about yugas. Yugas are something for the astrologers. I donít pay much attention to it, so Iím sorry I canít give you more details. Besides, I donít have a head for math! (Laughs)



NDM: Ok, so going back to the story of creation and Gaudapada?

Terry Coe: Gaudapada was the author of the Mandukya Karika, and he was Adishankaraís grandguru.

NDM: Yes he had the ajata-vada or the doctrine of no-origination. How does Shankaraís view differ from Gaudapadaís doctrine of no origination? Is the way Shankara talked about this the same way as ajata-vada?

Terry Coe:  Yes, thatís the message of Vedanta. Ajata-vada is the ultimate teaching, and thatís why itís in the fourth part of the Mandukya Upanishad.  The Upanishad doesnít start with ajata-vada because if you start there, you have no where to go! Ajata-vada literally means there was never any birth, and thus no death, which means no change, which means no limitations of time or space. In other words, nonduality, ďone without a second.Ē  But when I start out in the inquiry, I see myself faced with this world, and so how do I account for it? The Upanishads will generallystart there. They will say something like ďin the beginning, Brahmaji was there and he said.Ďlet me become many.íĒ Or in the case of the Mundaka Upanishad, it says that Brahmaji was the first among the devas, and he created the world, then taught this. He created everything.

NDM: So how did he create it? 

Terry Coe:  There is a model presented that employs the principle of the five elements and the three gunas, which interact to make this world manifest. Itís a big topic.




NDM: Why does it go through all of this?

Terry Coe: As I mentioned, when the inquiry begins, I see myself as an individual, faced with a world. I have to account for that world somehow.  If the teacher just comes to me and says that the world you are talking about isnít there, then instantly I will object,ďWhat do you mean? I see it! Its here, I see it, what do you mean itís not here?Ē  So you canít just give the message to somebody like that. Nobody can absorb that.

So the Upanishad goes along with us at first. It says, OK, yes, you see a world, and it came from the five elements. Thatís what itís made of.  And then it tells how it all came about. It has to do this, because you believe you were born in this world, and therefore you have certain duties to do. Thatís where all the karma, religious and social duties, comes in. So you do these duties.  Thatís the first part of the Vedas, the karma section.  You have to go through this. The Upanishad comes later, you canít instantly jump to ajata-vada.  (Laughter) The Vedas gradually lead you to this. Ultimately, the vision of ajata-vada is the vision of advaita Vedanta, because advaita means there is no second. ďDvaitaĒ means duality, and the ďaĒ is a negating prefix.

Then the question arises, ďIf there is no second thing, then how can anything be born?" Because the one without a second canít have any birth, canít have any death, or any attributes. If it has attributes, then it is limited in space, and thus limited in time. if itís born, that means itís going to die. So you have to knock all of that off. But it has to be done methodically. If itís not done methodically, then all kinds of confusion comes in. People start getting weird ideas, such as ďI as the individual  ďIím real, but this world is unreal, and therefore I can do anything I want.Ē Very, very dangerous.

NDM: Solipsism?

Terry Coe. Yes, it creates dissociation.

NDM: A depersonalization?

Terry Coe:  If a person says, ďthe world is unreal, but I am realĒ, and by ďIĒ they mean the body, mind, and ego, then they are still stuck in duality. Then they can use this as justification for all kinds of actions that may hurt others because ďwell, theyíre not real, anyway.Ē  Itís an enormous problem, so the Vedas have to tread very carefully. Thatís why the ajata-vada is the last part of the Upanishad.


NDM: Ok, so the next question about shunya and nirguna Brahman. What would you say is the difference between these two?

Terry Coe:  (Laughs) Yeah, they can look very similar. The word shunya means zero, emptiness, nothingness. But that brings up the whole issue of what you mean by ďnothingness.Ē There is no absolute nothing-ness. Nothing-ness is absence. And absence always has to be absence of something! I can see that there isnít an elephant in this room. Thereís an absence in this room. Absence of what?  Absence of an elephant.  But complete absence, absence of everything means that there is nothing here at all. If you say that nothing exists in the world, there is nothing here, then I will ask you who is perceiving the nothingness in order to make that statement? In other words, there has to be something. You could say there is nothing else.  But if I ask the person, ďDo you exist?,Ē that person canít say, ďI donít exist." The very fact of making the statement confirms that you exist.  Thatís the difference between nirguna Brahman and shunya.  Nirguna Brahman means Brahman without any attributes, unlimited by space or  time.  Nirguna Brahman is existence itself, ďawareful presence,Ē if you will. Existence is awareness. And awareness-existence doesnít have any limiting attributes. Existence can manifest as anything, like a chair or a table. Now here you could object and say that the table-ness or chair-ness is a limiting adjunct of existence, but is it? Because if I look closely at what the chair is, mentally ďbreak upĒ the chair, I see that what is there is wood. Wood is.  If I break up the wood, fiber. Fiber is. If I break up the fiber, molecule is. If I break up the molecule, particle is. That ďis-nessĒ can attach itself, so to speak, to all of these because is-ness never comes or goes.  The form in which it manifests may change, but existence doesnít have any attributes to limit it.  Thatís why nirguna Brahman means ďwithout attributes.Ē Brahman doesnít have any attributes, and therefore Brahman is all attributes.  All of this is Brahman, in fact. And it is aware, because there is no difference between awareness and existence.

But if you say shunya, if you say ďall of this is nothing,Ē there is an inherent contradiction in that.


NDM: Ok. What about the word emptiness, like nama rupa, name and form?

Terry Coe. Yes, we talk about nama, which means name,and rupa, which means form. All the attributes are really just name and form, they have no independent existence.

NDM: Lets say for example how the Buddhists would say this is all empty, as with a superimposition of name and form. Like what you were just saying.

Terry Coe. Yeah, itís very close. Thatís why I say opposites look very much alike, itís very, very close.  In fact, we go along with the Buddhists a long way, until we come to that final fork in the road.  The final fork in the road is that we say this is all a superimposition. Itís empirically true, but not intrinsically true. If I say ďtable,Ē a table is not intrinsically true. A table is a name and a form, yes, but it depends upon something else for its existence. Whatís that something else? Wood, fibers, and so on. You can follow it all the way down, but if you ultimately say that this ďsomething elseĒ is nothing, then how can there be perception of a name and form in the first place?

NDM: OK. What Iím trying to get at is the use of the word nothing over emptiness. I know a lot of Buddhists use the word emptiness over nothing. I think nothing may be a kind of mistranslation. They mean emptiness of name and form.

Terry Coe. If you say that the ultimate reality is emptiness of name and form, meaning it does not have name and form as intrinsic qualities, then thatís Vedanta.  But when one says emptiness of name and form, there is still an existence that is empty of name and form. What is that thing thatís empty?  Emptiness is an attribute, and hence requires something else.



NDM: Well, ultimately, everything is going to be an attribute of awareness or consciousness. Or ďis-nessĒ, so itís all an attribute of that.

Terry Coe: In that case there is no problem. Thatís exactly what Vedanta says, namely that awareness-existence has no inherent qualities. All qualities are simply an appearance. Put that way, you could say that it is empty, ďvoidĒ if you will, of all qualities.

NDM:  Attributes?

Terry Coe: Of all attributes.

NDM:  Whatís that other word they use, upadhi?

Terry Coe: An upadhi is something which, when placed in proximity to something else, appears to lend its attributes to that other thing. The classic example is a crystal. If I hold a red cloth behind it, then the crystal appears to be red. Why? Because the upadhi, which is the cloth, appears to lend its attribute, in this case the color red, to the crystal, which itself has no such attribute. So if the reality that sustains this world is really void of characteristics, if it doesnít have any qualities at all, why does it seem to have qualities? Whatís the upadhi?  Where is the upadhi that gives all the qualities to this quality-less existence?  The mind is the upadhi. Ultimately, thatís the only upadhi, because thatís what makes this world appear to you. If the mind is not here, like in deep sleep -

NDM: There is no world.

Terry Coe:  No body and no world. Then you wake up, the mind becomes active, and boom! Thereís a world.  Mind is the upadhi. (Laughter).

NDM: OK, so Gaudapada himself acknowledges this when he says there ďThere are some (shunyavadins) who uphold non-dualism (advayavada) and reject both the extreme views of being and non-being, of production and destruction and thus emphatically proclaim the doctrine of no-origination. We approve of the doctrine of no-origination proclaimed by them."

Terry Coe. Correct. One can say ďno-originationĒ because there isnít any real origination at all. This is what we mean when we use the term ďmithya.ĒIt means that thereís not any creation in a real sense, itís simply an appearance.  You canít categorically say the world isnít there, because you see it. But you canít say it is there, because if you try to count it separately from its material cause, you canít. Itís like trying to count the pot separately from the clay. Thereís nothing there except for clay.

NDM: Dependent reality.

Terry Coe:  Yes, dependent reality. In the clay pot example, all thatís there is clay. And that dependent reality doesnít originate anywhere except in your mind. Thereís no origination for it because it isnít really there at all. But still, it appears. Thatís why the Buddhists and Vedantins are very close.  People accuse -

NDM: The mahayanas. (Laughs)  accuse some Advaita Vedantins of being hidden Buddhists.

Terry Coe. Well, it depends on which school of Buddhism, because there are so many different schools!

NDM: Not Theravada.  Mahayana.

Terry Coe.  Exactly. I donít know enough about Buddhism to know the finer points of these different schools. But if expressed in the way you just expressed it, I would say ďHey, no problem.Ē

NDM: They say the same thing.

Terry Coe: If that is their position, then we are saying the same thing.




NDM: Ok, can you tell me about the causal body? What is this?  For example, is it in the DNA?  Or something else that can be verified in some way?

Terry Coe. We talk about the three levels of existence, or ďbodiesĒ for the individual. These are the gross body, the subtle body, and the causal body. These are nicely defined in a book called Tattvabodha, which is sometimes attributed to Adi shankara. Whether itís really Adi shankaraís work, or the work of another guru named Shankara, we donít know. He defines the gross body as consisting of the five elements (space, air, fire, water, earth) which have become visible by undergoing a process of combination, called ďgrossification.Ē Here,one-half of one element, for example water, is combined with one-eighth of the other four elements to become visible water, and so forth.  Your gross body, visible to you and to others, is subject to the six-fold changes of potential existence, birth, growth, transformation, decline, and death. This also includes the DNA, of course.

Then the subtle body consists of the five
elements in their subtle form, which constitute
sense faculties, the five faculties of action,  the five pranas, or physiological forces, the mind, and the intellect. That is the subtle body. Your own subtle body is visible to you, but not to others. For example, that is why the optometrist has to ask you whether your new glasses work. He canít see what you see, only you know whether you are seeing clearly! And no one can see your thoughts, either.  So the subtle body is that which is not detectable by any means of measurement or verification, but you know it is there because of its effects, i.e. the body is alive, not dead.

He then defines the causal body as that which is in the form of indefinable, beginningless ignorance, the cause for the other two bodies (gross and subtle), ignorance of oneís own nature, and having the nature of nondifferentiation between the subject and object.

So ultimately the individual is anirvacya, meaning you canít definitively classify it. Mithya is like that, like the pot. You canít classify it. You canít say definitively what it is. Thatís the first part of the causal body.  Then it is of the nature of beginningless ignorance,avidya. It is the source, the cause of these other two bodies, the subtle and the gross. Its defining characteristic is ignorance. It is the Atma, the Self, identified with this mind/body sense complex. It is ignorance.  Thatís what the causal body is. 


NDM:  Plus Karma and samskaras?

Terry Coe:  All those come because of ignorance. The sequence is Ė ignorance leads to a feeling of limitation, because being identified with this body, I feel that Iím limited and thus insecure. And I canít handle that limitation, so I have a desire to do something to get out of that feeling of insecurity. This gives birth to all desires, which are desires for fulfillment, peace, happiness, love. Theyíre all the same desire, really, but because we donít understand that, we think that the external objects, people, and situations are going to give us that fulfillment, peace, and so on. And desire leads to action, karma, and then you get the results of karma, which then causes another birth. It just goes on and on. It didnít begin. Notice that he says ďanadiĒ, beginningless. Itís beginningless ignorance. Thatís why, if asked ďWhen did this start,Ēwe say that it didnít start.

NDM: Ok, so if we eliminate DNA.

Terry Coe. Yes, DNA is part of the gross body.  You can see DNA.  The subtle body is what you canít see. The gross body is what you can see, and the causal body is that which causes you to identify with this gross and subtle body. It is that root cause of identification that causes the whole problem. Samsara. It comes from that root cause.  Thatís why we say ignorance is at the root of everything. 

NDM: Ok so would you say that the causal body can be verified in a scientific way somehow. Is it a substance like an ether, soul. How does it reincarnate from one life to the other?

Terry Coe: The causal body doesnít reincarnate. Itís the subtle body that reincarnates.  The causal body is not in the individual. The causal body is the ignorance itself, and the idea of being an individual is the ahamkara. The person, that jiva, is identified with the subtle body. So thatís what reincarnates.  The subtle body.

NDM: Ok so the subtle body then is what has all the karmic imprints?

Terry Coe: Yes. We call them vasanas or samskaras, and they are in the subtle body from birth to birth. Thatís where the jiva comes from. It is Atma associated with this ignorance.  And that association through ignorance is the causal body. But itís not a body in the sense of when we think of a particular individual. Itís what lies at the basis of the individuality itself, which is ignorance, because there is no individual.

The idea of being an individual itself is the causal body.

NDM: Would you say the causal body is like an unconscious world mind, so to speak? Is it a ďsuperconscious mind,Ē like Carl Jung described?

Terry Coe: Well, the mind itself is part of the subtle body, and hence a product, so to speak, of the causal body. That includes both the conscious mind and any subconscious, unconscious, or in the case of Carl Jungís theories, superconscious mind. The latter could be equated with the mind of the Lord when it manifests as all knowledge. This is then part of the subtle body, but not the individual subtle body. It is the subtle body at the cosmic level. As Kathopanishad states, ďAs it is here, so it is there,Ē in other words, every aspect of this manifest universe at the micro level has its equivalent at the macro level. There is an individual mind with individual intelligence, and thus there is also a cosmic mind with cosmic intelligence, in other words, all intelligence, all knowledge. When the Lord manifests as the cosmic intelligence, the name given is Hiranyagarbha.

NDM: So, would it be correct to say there is one causal body for the whole thing?

Terry Coe: Yeah, because there is only one cause for the whole thing, namely ignorance.

NDM: Ok, so this same causal body runs through all of it.

Terry Coe:  Yes, there is no division in it.

NDM: Its just there.

Terry Coe:  Itís just this huge crystallized mass of ignorance, if you will. (Laughs)

NDM: Avidya.

Terry Coe. Yes.

NDM: So how does maya play into the causal body?

Terry Coe: Good question.  You see yourself as an individual, and you see this world.  You have a body made up of these elements. The five elements, both gross  and subtle. Likewise, you are facing an external world that is made up of gross and subtle elements. These are all brought into manifestation by some force outside of you as an individual. You are aware of the world and its forms, and you are aware of your knowledge and aware of your ignorance. At the level of the whole, this force is called maya.  At the level of the individual, we call it avidya, ignorance.

Maya is that force which makes all this appear. It has two aspects, namely covering and projection. The counterpart at the individual level is like when you see the rope and take it for a snake. You see something is there, but you donít see it as rope. The knowledge of rope is covered, as it were, and in its place the idea of snake is projected onto the rope by the mind. That is ignorance at the individual level. Maya does the same thing at the cosmic level, covering the reality of nonduality, and projecting endless names and forms.

NDM: There is something that isnít clear on the causal body for some reason. I have read many different takes on it. Iím wondering whether each teacher interprets things a little differently from each other. I mean how much leeway is there for interpretation for all of this.  Are they supposed to differ a little bit?

Terry Coe. No, the teaching should be consistent. This is why it is called ďsampradayaĒ or a teaching lineage. The word literally means ďhanded down well,Ē in other words, handed over clearly from teacher to student. What I quoted to you there from Tattvabodha is the teaching, and comes directly from the shruti, the Vedas. The causal body is simply ignorance of oneís nature, and that ignorance has no divisions in it. Nirvikalpa means it has no division, no differentiation.  Its not that you have a causal body and I have a causal body. There is one causal body, and it happens to be ignorance. Ignorance of what? Ignorance of the nondual reality, which causes the idea of division. This in turn ďcausesĒ the subtle and gross body, so to speak, and the subtle body is that which reincarnates. The causal body canít reincarnate because itís the underlying cause for the whole thing, for the many subtle bodies. So it doesnít change. It is beginningless ignorance. That is the only way in which it is described.

NDM: Ok so the subtle body reincarnates, have you come across any scientific evidence or proof that it actually reincarnates. How would Vedanta explain that?  Or would this be more like a belief based on the scripture alone?

Terry Coe: Ultimately, Vedanta is going to say there is no reincarnation at all because you were never born, and you are never going to die.  This is the ajata-vada. The thought that you were born and are going to die is based on an idea of limitation in time and space. Time and space are also mithya. So we just donít deal with reincarnation at all. What reincarnation, whose reincarnation?

NDM: Ok, then what about the karma, samskaras that reincarnate. How do you explain that?

Terry Coe: Again, what is karma? Who is doing the karma?  You see, we can address this on two different levels. Iím playing with you a little bit here.

NDM: On a relative level then? 

Terry Coe: On a relative level, as long as you take yourself to be a doer, an actor -

NDM: Enjoyer.

Terry Coe. Yes an actor/enjoyer, as long as you take yourself to be an actor and enjoyer, then karma is there because you need to perform action to fulfill your desires, all of which are meant to relieve the unacceptable feeling of limitation, which Pujya Swamiji calls being a ďwanting person.Ē And then the results of those actions will accrue to you. Punya, papa, karmic merit, karmic demerit, whatever terms you want to use. So thatís going to cause certain experiences on your part. But you are not going to be able to enjoy the fruits of all of them. So after this body falls, another body is going to be created because of the unfructified karma. Now you could say, why should I have to come back? Well, you were born because of karma.  It is karma that brought you this body, so it is karma thatís going to bring you another body. And how many births have you had? Beginningless births, because the Vedas say there is no beginning. The idea of a beginning is unsustainable and unprovable. You have had an infinite number of births, so you have infinite amount of karma to exhaust.

NDM: So, ultimately on an absolute level there is no karma.

Terry Coe: Right, there is no karma at the absolute level, thatís why we have to be in the relative level when we talk about karma.  I could wipe out all your karma in an instant. Just look at it through ajata-vada, and itís not there.  But then we donít get anywhere in the discussion, so we have to stay in the relative level when we talk about karma. (Laughter)

So why do I perform karma? Karma means action, in the sense of intentional action. Breathing isnít considered karma, because the body breathes by itself, but if I choose to pant and breath fast, then thatís karma. Karma is driven by desire. You want to get something, hold onto something, get rid of something, or keep something away. One of those four. Karma is driven by desire, and desire is driven by a sense of limitation. I want to have something, be something that I am not. Now why do I want that? Because getting that thing will satisfy this sense of limitation in me.  When I do get that thing, then relative to that particular object or situation, my sense that I am a limited being will be suspended for the moment.  The problem is, what about my sense of limitation relative to all the other things?  Then that kicks off the cycle again.

What Vedanta does is to show that one needs to inquire into the very notion of limitation itself. If I start questioning whether Iím really limited, then Iím questioning what is impelling me to have this desire in then first place. I canít choose not to have desires. Desires are natural to the person so long as one takes oneself to be an individual.  Questioning whether Iím an individual or not is getting to the root of things, which is ignorance. Karma all stems from that core ignorance. And how long has that ignorance been there? Itís always been there.

NDM: Ok, so it goes back to the Rishi question again. How were the rishi able to overcome this karma? Where they born karma less, did they have karma-less desire? (Laughs)

Terry Coe: (Laughs) No, they had to be taught. In the tradition, we say that they were taught by Dakshinamurti, the Lord himself. First they had purified their minds. That was intent, they had to do that. In Mundaka Upanishad, there is a very famous mantra, where it states that having looked around and gone through all life's experiences, one may see that what one truly wants is something that cannot be gained through actions. Actions are by their nature limited, and can produce only limited results. What one is looking for is an unlimited result, and therefore something that isnít created through action. Any ďcreated happinessĒ depends on a particular person, object, or situation. And it always ends. I want happiness that doesnít end. If it doesnít end, then it canít begin! So what Iím looking for is something thatís not created. If itís not created, then it must already be here. And if its already here and yet Iím not aware of it, then there is ignorance. It means I have something to learn.  The person who sees this clearly is then no longer interested in external pursuits, because they have seen though these illusions of transitory pleasures that really have no value,because they donít deliver what the person really wants. Even though all oneís life, the person has been going for those things, now the person going to change their focus.  And for that, what does one do?  One goes to a teacher. 

 Part 2 of this interview with Terry Coe to be continued in volume 7.  Fall/winter 2012

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