Bede Clifford

Bede Clifford

This is the first of an ongoing series written by Bede Clifford. Bede is a student of Swamini Atmaprakasananda. He comes to Vedanta from a background of Theology, Philosophy, Sociology & Psychology.

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This is a series. To start at the beginning, click here.

Being a Student of Vedanta Part 4

When we talk about depending on the scriptures we really need to see what this really means. Swamini told me that the scriptures are like a mother. They look after us. This was strange to me because I was brought up Roman Catholic and it was more of a weapon of coercion to keep me in line. The threat of hell fire and and the rules to obey to avoid it were contained in the scriptures.

The idea that the scriptures were a way of seeing was an entirely new thing for me. One such way of seeing was that behind all my suffering was my dependence on people and situations for my happiness. We can easily accept this as a philosophical proposition where we agree with it or not based on our intellectual background. But agreement is not seeing in the Vedantic sense. Because mental agreement is not based on listening, awareness and discrimination it is simply a mental reaction. If I said to you I think the republican party is the best party to run the country you will find agreement or disagreement will arise automatically without awareness or our faculty of discrimination coming into play. I could say you are the Self, distinct from the mind body complex and give you the reasoning behind this and you can agree with it or not depending on your intellectual or religious background. The Vedantic vision arises entirely from a different context than these mental reactions of agreement.

What I started to do after that first phone call was whenever I noticed myself getting upset I would pause and consciously and deliberately look at the situation from the scriptural standpoint that this suffering was a result of my dependence on people or things for my happiness. Now you can’t do this sort of practice without committing to it. You won’t commit to it unless you see the value of it. You won’t see the value of it unless you discover it. You won’t discover it unless you see it. You won’t see it unless it is unfolded by someone who sees it this way and helps you see it this way yourself. You also need someone who knows how to unfold it in the right way otherwise you won’t see it in the first place. Once you have seen it you have to actively depend on it if you wish to establish this way of seeing in your life. What we are looking at here is constantly shifting from looking at our lives from our own standpoint , which SEEMS so true and real, to looking at our life in the light of the scriptures. If we do not depend on the scriptures this way we will study Vedanta but continue to look at ourselves, others and the world in the same way. There will be no change in our vision because we are looking at our lives from the context of our own standpoint not from the context of the vision of the scriptures.

What would happen was that something would happen that I became unhappy about. At the beginning I would forget to pause and look at in in the light of what Swamini had unfolded to me. But the more I did this the more I remembered. We only learn in the real sense when we assimilate experience in the light of the teaching. This makes the teaching clearer. The initial understanding is not complete it is a starting point. The more I paused in the middle of an upset and consciously looked at my upsets as another expression of my dependence the more I saw my upsets from an entirely different light. And strangely enough the less upset I got. You see when I get upset with people my attention is riveted on them and what they have done. But here is the thing. When we reawaken to the vision of the scripture, right in the middle of our upsets this vision gathers us up and lifts us beyond our upset. We are still in the same situation but seeing it in an entirely different light. Swami Dayananda calls this a cognitive shift. The more we depend on the scriptures in this way the more we live in the light of the Vedantic vision.

We can only learn by assimilating experience in the light of the scriptures. To do this we have to rely on the standpoint of the scripture to look at ourselves, others and events. We still very much live in the world but from an entirely different context. Try this. The next time you are upset. Pause and consciously and deliberately recall an understanding you were given in class that is relevant to this present upset and look at this event in the light of this understanding. Bear in mind you don’t have to transform how you see this event because the understanding you were given will do that. This is what is meant by dependence. This understanding is a gift from the lord and will lift you above your upsets if you rely on it not yourself. I am going to say more about this later . But at this point I just wanted to start on the practical meaning of relying on the scriptures and how valuable this is. There is nothing that beats practice so long as it is the practice is in the context of understanding.

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