The Intuition Network, A Thinking Allowed Television Underwriter, presents the following transcript from the series Thinking Allowed, Conversations On the Leading Edge of Knowledge and Discovery, with Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove.


JEFFREY MISHLOVE, Ph.D.: Hello and welcome. I'm Jeffrey Mishlove. Our topic today is "Self-Acceptance" -- accepting and understanding our selves, our deep selves. With me is Swami Dayananda, member of the Order of Sanyasins, or spiritual renunciates. Swami Dayananda is the author of several books, including The Value of Values, Who Am I?, and Commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita. He is a teacher of Vedanta, a spiritual tradition that dates back several thousand years to the ancient Vedas and Upanishads of India. Welcome. Swami.


MISHLOVE: It's a pleasure to be with you. You know, it seems, and you describe as we look at our daily life -- normal society, all around us -- you've suggested that all of our human activities are motivated by the lack of self-acceptance -- a search for wholeness, a striving to be something that we think we are not.

DAYANANDA: Yes, that is true. And it is evident in anybody's pursuit, whether it is an Indian or an American, a man or a woman, a young man or an old man. You see that there is always a struggle on the part of everyone to be different from what I am, from what one is. And so that attempt to be different itself stems from a self-non-acceptance: all is not well with me, and therefore I have to be different. And in order to be different, we try to manipulate situations to our own likes and dislikes, so that we can be acceptable to ourselves. Therefore all the time one seeks self-acceptance. This problem is a fundamental problem; I see it as a fundamental problem. And therefore the solution is only in oneself, and it cannot be elsewhere. Because if I am the problem, because I am not acceptable to myself is the problem, therefore I am the problem. If I am the problem, then nobody else is going to be the solution. So I am the solution. And therefore, if I am the problem, then I should see that I am acceptable to myself. If we can proceed further in this, any positive thinking is not going to help me, because positive thinking is sometimes good, but then the negative thinking is also as valid. What I don't have is as true as what I have. Therefore if I look at myself with reference to what I don't have, what I want to have, I'm going to be depressed. Therefore, any amount of change on the part of myself is not going to change me fundamentally, because if I am a limited being in my vision, and any change I bring about, any personal embellishment or external changes I bring about, I'll see myself still a limited being. It's simple -- like a finite sum plus a finite sum is always a finite sum.

MISHLOVE: In other words, people, when they set goals, say, "If only I had a new suit, everything would be fine. If only I remodeled the house, things would be perfect."

DAYANANDA: Yes, that's true. And once you remodel the house, then afterwards something else starts. And so the problem is not exactly what I lack. That I lack is the problem. That I'm wanting is the problem. What I want differs from person to person, so my own upbringing, my own needs, and my own likes and dislikes determine exactly what I want. The problem is that I want, and that problem is not going to be solved by fulfilling of your wants. And so, if I'm a finite person, a limited person, a limited being, wanting, no matter what change I bring about in my life, I'm going to be wanting all the time. Therefore the process of becoming is not going to help me. It's what I said -- a finite sum plus a finite sum is always a finite sum.

MISHLOVE: It sounds like more than a problem. It sounds like what I might call a dilemma; we're caught in time, in a way. You used the word becoming. We're always becoming. It seems as if existentially there's no escape.

DAYANANDA: There's no escape, therefore either we accept the helplessness, and accept our lot and get along seeking, or we look at ourselves differently. Perhaps there's only one solution possible. If by a change I'm not going to be different in my own vision, in my own light, in my self-estimation, I'm going to be wanting, perhaps I am looking at myself wrongly. Perhaps I am not wanting at all. I look at myself wrongly, and then try to solve a problem which is not there. Therefore Vedanta is this -- that it wants you to look at yourself, reexamine yourself. So you assume a problem, then afterwards you begin solving. That assumption itself is questioned: Am I wanting? So you question that very fundamental notion about myself -- am I wanting?

MISHLOVE: Am I really lacking in anything, or is this part of the illusion?

DAYANANDA: Yes. Illusion or erroneous notion, to use a simpler expression. It may be just an error. I may be looking at myself wrongly; I have taken myself for granted. Because I find we have learned over years, in one's own lifetime, each one has learned to question anything I come to know either perceptually or inferentially, because we have burnt our fingers, having concluded, and then we found our conclusions wrong, and therefore we have become very wary, become cautious, we always take everything with a pinch of salt. And always there is the probability; the concept of probability governs all of our knowledge pursuits, which is very healthy. But when it comes to oneself, everybody takes oneself for granted, because I think that is the only thing which is self-evident, and everything else is evident to me.

MISHLOVE: Our culture seems to be imbued with this problem that we now call lack of self-esteem. We all have sort of bad opinions of ourselves.

DAYANANDA: That's a psychological problem, and that is essentially everybody, whether he is an Indian, in all cultures. So everybody starts with low self-esteem. When you say, "I am a mortal," that is low self-esteem. Within that "I am a mortal," within the fact that I am a mortal, that I am subjectively aging, that I am a man of limited knowledge and limited powers, this limitation is centered on oneself, a sense of limitation.

MISHLOVE: Most people would just call that realism.

DAYANANDA: We question that, we question that. That is a fundamental problem, and again, low self-esteem is a problem which is a psychological thing. But then, that time-limited being, of limited knowledge and limited powers, etcetera, which is a reality, which is true, but which is also not true. And that's what I want to say.

MISHLOVE: The great insight of Vedanta, as I understand it, is that the nature of the self is equivalent to the nature of the universe.

DAYANANDA: Yes, the nature of the universe. In fact the nature of the self is the reality of the universe. And therefore we can say like this: that if you look at the whole situation, two things are really evident. One is, things become evident to you by various means of knowledge
-- that I am sitting in front of you because you see me; that I am talking to you because you hear me. Otherwise there is no way of my revealing my distance to you. You have to apply your eyes and your ears to reveal me, and again, inferentially, so we gather a lot of knowledge. Therefore the Swami's existence becomes evident to you, because you have the means of knowing me. And similarly anything -- a particle exists, an electron, if you say it is, that electron is because it is evident to you. You have a means of knowing it. And thus about the existence of the universe and its complexities, etcetera. So all these become evident to you. You are the person to whom these become evident. Even your psychological life becomes evident to you.

MISHLOVE: Becomes an object in my awareness.

DAYANANDA: Becomes an object in your awareness. Suppose you go see a psychiatrist, or someone goes to see a therapist, and then talks about his current problem. Then he traces the problem to the person's past, his childhood. Then the connection is given, which is again inferentially, so it becomes evident to the person. Therefore, even your psychological life and all memories become evident to you. So in fact your own ignorance, your knowledge, everything becomes evident to you, and you can never say this is or this is not, and that's what is not. Both these statements you can make; only then they become evident to you. And those statements are as valid as the means of knowledge. How valid is your means of knowledge? And so the statement is not going to be valid if the means of knowledge through which you have come to a statement of a fact, if that itself is defective. Now, in the process tell me, what is it which is self-evident? That is only yourself. You have to be self-evident, and to you things become evident. Therefore the only thing in this universe in this situation is yourself being self-evident, and everything else becoming evident to you -- known and unknown things; known things, things that are unknown to you, things that exist, things that don't exist. This is, this is not; therefore we reduce everything to one word; one word is things that are not evident to you. Only one word, anatma. Anatma means that which is not self-evident, and which becomes evident to you. And atman is self-evident; I am self-evident. What opinion can I have about the self which is not subjecting itself to my observation? And I have umpteen opinions, and I say that I am a limited being, as though the self is observed by you, and then you are making a judgment about it. In fact the self is not available for any opinion; because the blessed thing is self-evident, I make opinions about that, because whatever I am connected with, the self is immediately connected with, like the body or the mind or senses, and nobody else claims that anyway.

MISHLOVE: You seem to be saying, if I can paraphrase you briefly, the opposite of Descartes' point of view. He said, "I think, therefore I am."

DAYANANDA: That's how he started. Literally he didn't say that. So he started with, "I think that I am." Then later he concluded, "I am, therefore I think."

MISHLOVE: That's what you seem to be saying.

DAYANANDA: That's what I'm saying. Because if you say, "I think, therefore I am," suppose I don't think? Between two thoughts I don't think anyway, and therefore, between two thoughts I should cease to exist. If I cease to exist after one thought, then who is going to have the next thought? So that's evidently not true, but it's nice to begin with, "I think, therefore I am." In fact the other way it is about, "I am, therefore I think" -- what I say, even though I am a self-evident person and I am not available for objectification, and I dare to make judgments about myself, which Vedanta questions. All these judgments are unwarranted, and therefore you have to know yourself differently.

MISHLOVE: This great insight that I am, and that all the universe is contained in that awareness --

DAYANANDA: That is the step we have to now take. Now, once we have the problem settled -- I mean, what exactly is the problem? The problem of self-non-acceptance implies a notion about the self which is not acceptable to me. No positive thinking will change it. If that is understood, then the question is, that notion that I am not acceptable to myself because I am a limited being -- limited in knowledge, limited in powers, limited in my pervasiveness, limited in time -- so this limitation that I cast upon myself, we say it may be wrong. And I proved that it is wrong because you have no way of making an opinion, a judgment, about yourself, because the self is not available for such objectification and opinions.

MISHLOVE: It transcends all attempts at objectifying it.

DAYANANDA: Yes, because it is self-evident. Transcendence does not mean it is not available. It is the only thing which is self-evident, and it doesn't require to be known in an epistemological sense. It is not something that I have to objectify in order to know, like you are knowing me, that a Swami is sitting here close to me, is because you are seeing me. A similar situation; you don't reference to the self. Now let's proceed here. Now, if this is so, then the question is that the universe contains, etcetera; that it contains the universe, etcetera is the thing to be discovered. And that is called the teaching; Vedanta is this teaching -- is unfolding about the self. Now, first negating what I am not -- with the negation of what I am not, my notions also get negated, because all my notions are point of view, based upon. So what I think that I am, even though I am not -- if I say the body is myself, then you can say I am white, I am black, I am man, I am woman, I am old, I am young, I am Caucasian, I am Polynesian, I am Negro. You can have a number of notions. Then again, in this culture you've got other things: "I am blonde." I am blonde means I am equal to the color of the hair. Now, another fellow says, "I am bald." This is amazing. At least the woman has called the color of the hair, and this fellow doesn't have the hair, and he says, "I am bald." So that means I have nonexistent hair; I don't know what it is. But anyway, these are all notions based upon your own understanding and appreciation of your physical body. The thing is, the body is anatma -- that means it is evident to you. If it is evident to you, then how can you say, "This is me"? You can say, "The body is me," but I am not the body. See, sometimes the equations are funny. Like suppose an actor, A, plays the role of a beggar, B. Then the B is the A; there is no role without the actor. Therefore B is the A. But that doesn't mean the A must be B. So A is not B. So the body is myself, because I am very much with this body. There must be some reason for it. There is an explainable reason, too; but the body is an observed fact. And similarly -- see, if the body is white, the body is white; if it is black, it is black. "I am black" is to take the color of the epidermis, the pigment. When you say, "I am black," you say, "I am the pigment of the skin." So that is a funny equation.

MISHLOVE: In other words, as soon as I try and define myself, and say I am this or I am that, whatever my definition is has already become an object in my consciousness, and therefore it cannot really be me. It can only be something that I perceive.

DAYANANDA: Yes, that's true. So the physical body you perceive, and its attributes you take onto yourself, only because the self is not evident.

MISHLOVE: And that's a logical error, is what you're saying.

DAYANANDA: Yes, it's a logical error.

MISHLOVE: But which we always seem to make. We fall into that error all the time.

DAYANANDA: It's a perceptual error. It's a judgmental error. That the body is black is true; perceptually it is true. But the judgment, "I am black" is a judgmental error. Like even, "The sun rises in the eastern sky," that is true; "Therefore it travels all the time" is an error in judgment. And so here perceptually, that the body is black, that it is weak, that it is fat, is true; but "I am fat" is a judgment. That means I am equating the body, which I objectify, as myself. To proceed further: similarly, if I say, "I am blind," I equate the eyes as myself. Eyes themselves are available for my perception -- that they see, that they don't see; my ears hear, they don't hear -- and these senses themselves are subject to objectification. And similarly, if I say, "I am restless," or something, the condition of the mind and myself become one and the same. And again, an observed mind cannot be the basis for a judgment.

MISHLOVE: Even restlessness becomes an object in our consciousness, and therefore can't really be us.

DAYANANDA: Yes, how can it be? Because if I don't know the restless mind, then I can't say I am restless. If I know the restless mind, I cannot say either. I cannot say that I am restless, and therefore the mind is also an observed fact. Memories are another type of thinking, the recollection; we call it chittam. Any doubt, we call it manah; emotion, manah. And then any decision, any deliberate inquiry, like what we are exploring now, it is called buddhi. So that is also available for my perception, and therefore even my ignorance is something that is known to me. Therefore, I cannot say I am ignorant; it is only a point of view. I am ignorant from the point of view of ignorance of what I don't know.

MISHLOVE: In other words, you could say, "There is ignorance," rather than, "I am ignorant."

DAYANANDA: Yes, you can say it, as long as you mean it -- "I am ignorant," with reference to what I don't know; "I am knowledgeable," with reference to what I know; "I am a liker," with reference to what I like; "I am a disliker," with reference to what I don't like." So with reference to what I am, so there exactly is the thing that one has to discover. So this is what we call first negation. So after ignorance, I negate. So in the negation, you are negating the whole universe, really speaking. So ignorance and knowledge, and the objects of ignorance and knowledge, all of them are negated. That's all the universe is about -- what you know and what you don't know. And therefore what is left out is only a self-evident being, a self-evident person, and that is a conscious person, minus all these appelations, qualifications, added from different standpoints. So I become then a self-evident, conscious being, a self-evident, aware person, and that person is free from gender, and we go one step further, free from number; there is no number.

MISHLOVE: In other words, there is one self, one awareness that permeates all objects, all existence.

DAYANANDA: It must necessarily, that is true, because if I am a conscious being, then I am a conscious person with reference to what I am conscious of. But with reference to myself as I, I become the abstract form of that very conscious being, which is what you say, consciousness, in that I am awareness. As awareness, it has no form, it is not subject to time. I am aware of time; I am aware of space; I am aware of everything in time-space framework. As I as awareness, it has no particular form spatially; therefore it is not limited. Timewise it is not limited, and therefore time is I am there, awareness is; space is, awareness is. The whole universe, whatever you think of, is, awareness is; awareness is, without any of them. Now I can dismiss time; my awareness is. In sleep, time goes; I am not gone. And for a split second, time goes; awareness is. So awareness is the content of time, and awareness is the content of space, the reality of space. Awareness is the reality of the time-space framework and everything that exists in time-space. Therefore you are the only person that is there in this world to be reckoned, and everything else shines after you. We have a nice verse in the Upanishads, if you will permit me to say. It's in Sanskrit, so it's nice to remember that. [Recites quotation in Sanskrit.] So there: "The sun does not illumine, the moon doesn't illumine, much less the stars, not even the flashing blinding lighting, and what will talk of this flame? When you shine, when the eye shines, everything shines after. Because of that shine alone, everything else in its various forms come to light. One shines by itself, and everything else comes to light, or comes to shine, after that. Therefore you are the only self-shining person, and you are the whole, and there is that holy experience whenever you are happy." Whenever you are happy -- suppose I make you happy now. So me and you, both of us become one. And the moment you think, "I wish the Swami came in a suit," then there is a separation between you and me.

MISHLOVE: So there's a difference between the intellectual realization of these truths and the ability to maintain and to hold that, to live that awareness.

DAYANANDA: That implies clarity. One good thing about this is, the self is not a matter of memory; therefore you have to get clarity of this vision, and that is what Vedanta is about.

MISHLOVE: And all of the years of study and training that go into that process. Well, Swami Dayananda, it has truly been a joy to share this half hour with you.

DAYANANDA: Thank you. It was nice talking to you.

MISHLOVE: Thank you very much for being with me.

DAYANANDA: Thank you.


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