The Cognitive Dead End of Traditional Vedanta
from a correspondent in Tiruvannamalai

[Sarlo: My correspondent, "AC,"  has been on the Advaita path and lived and traveled in India for years. The "expounding" below is adapted from an email conversation and has not been edited into a fully organized treatise form but i believe it stands as it is, as an excellent addressing of the limitations of a "head-only" or cognitive approach to liberation. Matters of the heart MUST be addressed. The primary experiences whereby he came to understand this came during his years with Swami Dayananda, perhaps the leading living teacher of traditional Advaita Vedanta. To correct the perceived imbalance, he invokes the methods of Michael Brown, used not directly for liberation itself but for the TEMPORARY job of clearing out obstacles.]

Don’t be surprised that Dayananda’s teachings do not include heart-processing methods.  Dayananda believes that if scripture (the source books of Vedanta, the shastra) does not mention something, then it is not worth a hill of beans, or a hill of dhal if you're from these parts!  The Upanishads discuss Brahman and atman, and according to Dayananda, this is the end of the story.  While this is the absolute truth no doubt, the fact of the matter is, that until humanity’s fear, anger, and grief are compassionately attended to by each who desires moksha, then liberation from this illusion remains a pipe dream. 
 
While alive in this conditional world, learning how to deal with the relative changing expression of the absolute (which is our physical, mental, and emotional body) is just as important as understanding the absolute truth of who we are.  Dayananda’s teachings on satyam and mithya [** see below] are his greatest contribution as well as seeing satyam all the way through, as he puts it.  Where he lacks however, is appreciating that direct experience of how we are responsible for the quality of our experiences in the relative world is crucial, and that conceptual cognitive understanding is not enough.
 
Even though the Bhagavad Gita (one of the source books of Vedanta, as you probably know) includes Krishna helping Arjuna to deal with his emotional breakdown on the battlefield, the fact is that karma yoga is ineffectual in cleansing the emotional body.  It is effective in developing devotion and gratitude, but until our child self within is directly brought to peace, then its fear, anger, and grief will continue leaking or pouring into our adult self’s life experience despite all the devotion and gratitude that we muster.  Karma yoga is great for bringing more Ishwara into your life, as Dayananda puts it, but until you learn to internalize that love, and learn to give it unconditionally to yourself, you cannot consciously give it to the world.  Instead, you will continue to react from embedded anger, fear, and grief rather than consciously respond from the heart. 
 
In other words, how to internalize karma yoga?  Dayananda misses the importance of this point.  He tells people to go to the Dakshinamurti temple and pray to gather punya, but this is all externalized.  True, it does generate devotion to God, but until we attend to our own heart, by learning to feel what’s within from a point of silent stillness without reacting outwardly from anger, fear and grief, then devotion to God will remain a distraction from our inner turmoil which remains intact.
 
The bottom line is, learning to compassionately attend to blocked energy in our own emotional body that manifests as anger, fear, and grief.  There is no traditional Indian approach that does this, just as there is no traditional western approach either.  We need to buck tradition altogether to activate this ability because all tradition is time based, and all anger, fear, and grief are also time based.  This is due to their being caught in our mental body, which constantly is trapped in a time-based paradigm.  The ego and the mental body constantly think about what happened in the past, and project that into concern or worry into the future.  Michael Brown teaches how to bring balance to the physical, mental, and emotional body by grounding each of them in the present moment, rather than in time.  The thinking mind is then used as a navigational tool to keep us present each moment, rather than being lost in time and space.

Brown uses a multitude of perceptual tools to show people how to directly experience for themselves, that we are not the changing experiences that we go through in this world.  Rather, we are the unchanging experiencer, the awareness underlying them all.  It is one thing to understand this conceptually as all non-dual teachings point to, and it is another to prove it to yourself through direct experience.  This is accomplished by wielding the perceptual tools offered by the presence process because once you transform your relationship with the internal emotional baggage within, then how you respond to circumstances in daily life also spontaneously changes.  Once you bring peace to the causal issues within, peace will automatically have more and more space to flow without impediments, into our outer experiences of life.
 
What Brown calls present moment awareness, is what Eckart Tolle calls the power of Now, what Krishnamurti calls choiceless awareness, what Ramana Maharishi calls the I-I (who we are beyond the changing ego), and what Byron Katie calls the end of the story (of our drama).  It amounts to learning how to experience felt perception, which is directly feeling our baggage compassionately to heal it, by bringing our attention to it unconditionally and not judging it.  This is exactly what the presence process teaches, and then it goes far beyond that, by giving further perceptual tools to permanently reside in the awareness of our heart center once the temporary necessity for healing the emotional body has taken place. 
 
To quote Brown regarding this point, he says “Healing is NOT an authentic use of our energy.  Healing is transitional, it is a temporary procedure of energetic re-alignment.  If we remain fixated with the healing phase of our life experience, we become like a dog chasing its tail.  To be continually concerned with the process of healing is to limit ourselves to being broken human doings instead of evolving into creative human beings”.
 
He continues: “our intention to heal ourselves is misguided.  There is a difference between our Self and our experience.  Our Self is eternal, and therefore is already perfect, whereas our experience is ever-changing and vulnerable to conditions such as discomfort.  It is our experience that may be unbalanced and in need of adjusting, not our Self.  We are not the experience that we manufactured to feel safe and accepted in this world.  Attempting to change ourselves is like moving a radio around a room to tune to a desired station.”
 
Finally, “Healing is the experience that transforms our perceptions into God-consciousness.  Once transformed, we no longer heal.  We create.”
 
Dayananda writes books on emotional maturity and I have studied them and read them numerous times.  They are purely cognitive as are the rest of his teachings.  Yet, it is impossible to think your way out of your pratibandhikas
[** see below].  If that were possible, then his own troop of sannyasis and swaminis that he has trained would by now, after all these years with him, be treating each other with much more care, concern, and love.  We witnessed the opposite there, at his ashrams.  As I mentioned in a previous email, they are as up in their head as is the rest of the world, and perhaps even moreso due to the conceptual (cognitive) emphasis of Dayananda’s approach to self-knowledge.  The way to deal with emotional baggage is to learn to feel it to heal it rather than projecting it outward into drama. 
 
Normally, outside of an ashram setting I could care less how people behave since it is really none of my business when most people of this world decide to remain asleep and ignorant of who they are and how their behavior reflects their inner condition.  Yet within a teaching like Vedanta which is all about the truth of non-duality, it is of utmost importance to learn to take responsibility for our actions and for our own experience, which means to treat others as they truly are: as manifestations of God as are all of us.  Isn’t this the tenet of oneness, of non-duality?  Why treat others like shit?  Unless we learn to spontaneously give ourselves the love that our anger, fear, and grief are the antithesis of, we cannot give it spontaneously to the world.  Vedanta does not teach this.  They bypass the importance of the emotional body. 
 
What [Brown's] presence process teaches is how to be responsible for our experiences AND our behavior from a non-dual perspective.  It is one thing to feel discomfort, and quite another to treat others poorly due to our subsequent projections.  From present moment awareness, feeling uncomfortable (anger, fear, grief, etc.) is NOT even a problem since all emotions are welcomed, inwardly contained, and skillfully transformed as we learn perceptual tools to process these uncomfortable emotions.  Equally important is to no longer project nasty behavior externally onto others as a result of unintegrated emotional baggage.  This occurs less and less, and finally ends as present moment awareness is activated and consciously cultivated.
 
I asked Dayananda in a public satsang at his Coimbatore (Anakatti) ashram how important it is to develop compassion.  He said it is of the utmost importance.  So why not teach camps on this subject rather than just giving this lip-service?  Maybe because it is not covered in the shastra?  Or because it is too touchy feely for a cognitive approach?  Who knows.  But he chooses not to, which is a huge piece of the puzzle missing in our experience. 
 
I have also had lengthy email discussions about all of this with [other nondual authorities].  They too, cannot see past the cognitive thinking mind, the buddhi, which Vedanta so highly cherishes as where self-knowledge supposably dawns, in their opinion.  Yet it is in the heart where transformation truly takes place, not in the thinking mind.  The heart perceives directly whereas the intellect idealizes with its ideas. 
 
The intellect, the buddhi, the thinking mind, the mental body are not causal.  You can introduce to them and contemplate on ideas and concepts (niddhyasana) from here to eternity, but this is fiddling with effects.  You can inform yourself that your atman is Brahman, and that I AM THAT, all This is That, yet why do I feel like shit when I am angry, depressed, confused, or fearful?  It is because the feeling body is causal, not the mental body.  When we learn to directly adjust the emotional body and see the results of this reflected in our outer world, then the quality of our experiences are transformed.  This cannot happen from the mental, only through felt-perception within the emotional.  This is thoroughly explained in the presence process by virtue of the pathway of awareness from vibrational, to emotional, to mental, to physical that all of our life experiences follow whether we are conscious of this or not.  Learning to consciously reverse this pathway is one of the many gifts of the presence process.
 
What it offers is NOT to change how we feel (even if shitty), but rather to get better at feeling by deliberately entering emotional body awareness instead of controlling, or sedating, or running from uncomfortable emotions.  By learning to embrace what we feel, we heal it.  We learn to consciously use whatever we feel as fuel for emotional growth.  This path is for emotional warriors, for those who are not afraid to enter the abyss of their emotional body, who finally see the value of emotional maturity for our conscious path.  It teaches how to entirely be your own facilitator rather than relying on spiritual books and gurus.  Even Brown does not consider himself as a spiritual teacher, but simply sharing his experience and insights for us to discover on our own whether his methods are of any merit. 
 
Dayananda does give (and acknowledge the value of) some practical suggestions for dealing with anger, fear, and grief, such as the serenity prayer of AA.  He also tells people to write down their negative emotions and then burn the letter, and he tells people to give others who you dislike a flower each day to deal with anger towards them  And regarding love, to fake it until you make it in our outer behavior.  However, these are all outward rather than inward approaches to adjusting our life experience.  They deal with the effects and not the causes of our pratibandhikas. 
 
The root of this emotional baggage must be dealt with directly, ie within us rather than fiddling with outer effects, by implementing the emotional cleansing process that Brown teaches as part of the presence process.  It is a simple, direct, and effective causal approach for people who realize that emotional maturity is inseparable from self-knowledge.  I highly recommend Brown’s books and website materials because this is exactly what he teaches.  He is of the highest integrity of any non-dual teacher that I have experienced as of yet, going back to the late 1970’s. 

[And from an email "conversation" which followed up the above writing:]

Sarlo: You have referred to the emotional level as causal, ie as opposed to effects, so that all attempts to deal with "stuff" are not primary unless feelings are processed.

 
AC: Yes, CAUSAL in the sense that the emotional body is more subtle than the mental body and the physical body.  The point being that when our behavior is driven by desire to avoid discomfort that we label as either “fear, anger, or grief”, then these are the causal factors that need to be resolved before we respond consciously to life, instead of reacting to our projections in the world whenever our buttons are pushed. 
 
Truly speaking however, what is actually casual is the vibrational realm, what Brown calls “the trinity of silence, stillness, and invisibility” which is who and what we are.  Yet the peace, the unconditional love, and silence are all felt in the heart.  The thinking mind alone does not have access to directly experience the depths of who we are as spiritual or vibrational beings.  This must be felt.

Sarlo: My way of looking at it is not in contradiction to that but just another angle, and this is that emotions are what give VALUE to any experience, most primitively in terms of good and bad, but of course usually much more subtle than that.
 
AC: Interesting that you use the word “value”, in that “good and bad” ARE value judgments of the thinking mind, of the mental body, rather than of the emotional body. 
 
Brown makes an important distinction between emotions and feelings.  He uses the word “emotion” specifically to mean “energy in motion” (or energy that is blocked). 
 
Our mental body labels unresolved emotions (anger, fear, and grief) as “good or bad” rather than us having a NEUTRAL relationship with them such that we can simply feel that energy, and feel these emotions, instead of remaining in the mental body’s labels and judgments about them.  By compassionately feeling any discomfort unconditionally, we heal it by bringing love and non-judgmental awareness to focus on to it. 
 
Brown usually uses the word “feelings” much differently than “emotion”.  Whereas emotion refers to our outer drama that we project onto our experience of the world whenever our buttons are pushed, “feelings” are more associated not with drama, but instead with our heart’s ability to consciously wield its compassionate attention and intention in a focused manner, first withIN to heal any emotional imbalances, and then withOUT into our experience of the world, to spontaneously share that love with the world around us by virtue of the newfound sense of integration we feel, within, simply by BEING that rather than DOING that.
 
Sarlo: Without value, thoughts are weightless and of no importance, ie cannot be troublesome or blocking or, otoh, very likely helpful. And, as you say, our valuing system is largely unprocessed, and therefore continuously lurking underground and affecting everything, until processed in some way. Etc etc.

AC: The way I see it, the “value” of getting better at feeling, the “value” of emotional body awareness is that by consciously operating from there, we awaken our conscience.  The thinking mind and ego when unintegrated, when they operate without an open heart, only project a con, rather than a conscience. 
 
The key is, realizing that who we are is not our ongoing experience(s) that we have, but that we have the ability to alter the quality of those experiences.  Who we are is pure awareness which is known through felt perception, and when we learn to strengthen our personal will to wield and utilize awareness in a conscious and RESPONsible way (as in RESPONDing to life rather than reacting like pavlov’s dog), then our experience is transformed and liberated.  We are then no longer held hostage by our unconscious mind, by our fixation.  We then are free to be truly creative just as God the creator is, from which our essence is cloned.

** Some Sanskrit terms explained:

"Satyam is that which does not depend upon anything for its existence . . . Mithya is defined as that which depends upon something else for its existence, which has no being on its own but has its basis or being in something else." -- Source = The Orders of Reality, which expounds nicely on this at greater length.

Pratibandhikas = literally, obstacles, in this context those internalized as unconscious tendencies. Googling for "pratibandhi" may yield some results but this is an obscure term. "Vasanas" may be a reasonable substitute.

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