It's Never Late to Be Who You Might Have Been
Whenever we are psychologically attached, we lose our emotional sovereignty. We become who we are not. We become dependent upon the very objects and people we are attached to for our quota of happiness. And we pre-conclude that our life will become meaningless and empty without those objects, achievements, relationships (ducks) lining up exactly as we believe will please us.
Exploring deeper, what causes attachments in the first place? To desire is natural. The ancient Vedas explain how to be healthy, our desires must be non-binding, so that our desires are preferences not gut wrenching, consciousness altering "wants".
Self-ignorance gives rise to unhealthy cravings or urgent desires called ‘vasanas’. These are not mundane desires, but powerful ones that hypnotize us. They carry unconscious thunder, sweeping aside conscious resolutions, ambushing our joy. Three Vasana types are: (1) World vasana – we give away our power to the world, spending our life trying to win recognition, approval and acceptance (2) Body vasana – we spend all our time procuring pleasure from food, sex, luxuries and excessive comfort and 3) Knowledge vasana – we constantly gather degrees, information, facts and words to feel smart.
Vasanas Cause Restlessness
We believe that vasana fulfillment will make us more acceptable, likable, expanded versions of ourselves. Alas, they make us attached, restless, greedy and ultimately deeply sorrowful. They also make us dislike ourselves as we feel deep inside us that we are not enough, we don't know enough and we don't have enough (money, things, etc)...we are flawed. Vasanas lie at the root of low self-esteem and they are also the reason we put on masks and become...who we are not. We may spend our entire lifetime chasing, accumulating and showing off our vasanas...but sadly, we would leave our truth, potential and soul far behind.
Can illusory clothes ever cover the nakedness of our spiritual self-ignorance?
Vasanas Bind Us with Thick Ropes of Attachments and Aversions
Vasanas are like super-sophisticated illusions that arise in myth-reality, the ignorance in the mind. We could even say that they form the mind when it is ignorant. Gaining true knowledge, we come to recognize their lack of worth, and can consciously give up vasanas. Then the seed of unconsciousness will dissolve and the true Self, unfettered, will shine forth.
We are all slaves of vasanas that put us in bondage. They seem to emerge out of nowhere and make us needy. They are powerful wants, and can make us hypnotized chasers of desire until we become alerted to their existence by reading spiritual books or listening to our Guru’s teachings. These addictive desires arise from our own unconscious (myth reality-filled) mind.
Most human beings cannot resist or suppress vasanas, owing both to a weakness of will and to their charged nature. Soon, we may have enjoyed one too many scoops of ice creams, one too many lovers and one too many afternoon naps. We may even be reeling from the side effects, like indigestion, yet we may not stop due to the restlessness caused by vasanas!
Vasanas are the root cause of mental restlessness, anxiety and sorrow. When a vasana manifests (say, for ice cream), the mind will activate and refuse to quit until it attains the object of desire (ice cream). All thoughts, overt and covert, will flow towards the imagined happiness from eating ice cream until it is obtained. Replace ice cream with any object that makes you blindly want it – your lover, a promotion, or an afternoon nap!
Nevertheless, Vasanas leave us dissatisfied. Nothing is ever enough.
When we don’t apply Self-knowledge, and seek to fulfill vasanas anyway, as most of humanity does, even our healthy desires can turn into vasanas. For instance, my enjoyment of chai could become an addiction I carry forward in next lifetimes as a vasana. Vasanas are maximally dangerous and trap us in the wheel of birth and death, demanding gratification lifetime after lifetime.
Even if we have a Guru to help us, like I did with my Guru and grandfather Baba, and my students have in me, it takes individual effort towards honest self-inquiry and persistent effort in the laboratory of your own life to break free of the disease of samsara. Patience, too, is required. What is the hurry, anyway?
Impatience to be enlightened – that is likely another vasana we may want to see through.
The Buddha has beautiful words to share on this topic:
“Like one pointing out hidden treasure, if one finds a man of intelligence who can recognize one’s faults and take one to task for them, one should cultivate the company of such a wise man. He who cultivates a man like that is the better for it, not worse.”
Since our vasanas always feel important to us, we are fortunate if someone like our Guru or mentor points out to us that we are in a ‘vasana overdrive’, since most likely, that same single vasana is responsible for unimaginable sorrow. The Upanishads say that unfulfilled vasanas at our time of death force us to take on a new body, simply for the fulfillment of our vasanas. The same vasana likely has been responsible for countless births in the past, and unless seen through and scorched in this lifetime through knowledge, it will be responsible for countless more births in the future!
The ignorant ego, riding on our vasanas born from this ignorance, flapping the wings of aversion and attraction, take us hither and thither, up and down, along straight roads, curvy trails and dead-end alleys of this universe. Urged on by our perceived separateness, we poor things think my fulfillment, my happiness, or my wholeness is just one more vasana fulfillment away, waiting to greet me with open arms once I manage to attract what I want, and avert what I don’t want!
Lacking the bigger picture of divine will, most of us become further entrapped into believing our ego and its grim scenario of “missing the bus”, “walking down the aisle with the wrong one”, “doomed for life”, or even “happily ever after.” An attached, vasana-filled mind builds up its ignorant forces, goes to classes and workshops, prays and manipulates, schemes and hollers, kills and promises undying love only to get what it prizes and keep at bay that horrible thing it has an aversion to. What a life!
Attractions and aversions solidify our view of external reality, dividing the duality “out there” into concrete packages of “better” and “worse”. The disconnected, segregated, island-like ego believes it is simply a matter of picking, choosing, pursuing and enjoying the “right” package, and everything will be rosy thereafter. Meanwhile, we have astrologers, good luck charms, even candles and mantras – since we simply can’t trust what will unfold on its own in Brahman’s super intelligent dream creation. We keep working at it.
Under the spell of vasanas, the human mind starts discharging the dual processes of likes and dislikes. Vasanas are at the root of the self-created suffering process. We are attached to attracting what we want and avoiding what we don’t want (or don’t want to deal with), so we develop aversions. Under the spell of body vasana, we want youth, and are adverse to the idea of old age. In fact, we believe, “It will never happen to me!” We like attending baby showers, but dread funerals. We are attracted to good weather, and avoid extreme hot or cold; we are attracted to relationships and companionship, but develop aversion to being alone.
Learning to Operate from Beyond Vasanas
Currently, in my own life, thanks to Self-knowledge acquired from my teacher, I enjoy the approval, love and appreciation of many people, my elders, such as my father and uncles, colleagues, friends, cousins and of course my students and disciples worldwide, who look towards me as their role model.
Nowadays, even people who once critiqued me send me congratulatory friendship notes. How did I achieve this? Was I hot on the trail of vasanas myself?
In my case, so-called approval, awards and recognition have come not because I looked outside me for what people wanted, but because I dared to blossom into who I am and go beyond my own vasanas (that had bound me at one time, to a lesser or greater degree.) Today, I have become an authentically trained, yet out-of-the-box, somewhat unconventional Guru of deeply traditional wisdom I uphold with pride and deep attention to the tradition. Yet, through all this, I try to remain myself and follow no preexisting (vasana-driven) mold.
I am more informal, share openly about my life and challenges through my own inner darkness, versus projecting only a perfect personality with a ‘born to uplift others’ narrative. Rather than projecting myself as a 'goddess' outwardly, my inner goddess laughs wholeheartedly in public, shares my own vulnerabilities and how I overcame them with the knowledge I am imparting (so it fortifies my student’s hearts), to convey my ‘whole strength’. A term I coined brings together two very important aspects of human spirituality: enlightened vulnerability © (I am writing a book on this term, so I have copyrighted it for now!)
I seriously believe that, knowingly or unknowingly, we the community of religious and spiritual teachers may have – inadvertently – divided up the world into two classes of human beings, the spiritual haves and the spiritual have-nots.
The haves are ‘enlightened’ and everyone bows to them. The have-nots are miserable and they always must bow down. But any sincere teacher must accept that despite wisdom filling our being with more and more inner light, our vulnerable self, our ego, is still alive, so long as we are in this body. It is my belief that we become better role models and we serve better if we dare to reveal our vulnerable side, too. That’s what I do today, fiercely, passionately and with genuine heartfelt humor, too. I teach and uplift by embracing my ‘enlightened vulnerability.’
I could not have arrived at my beliefs and unique style of imparting timeless wisdom and become gradually who I was meant to become...if I had continued watching outside me from vasana-driven mindset (let me do what others are doing), since teachers from my tradition are often men, not women. They are often withheld and choose to remain private about their personal lives, not engaged or more open like I am. They are often monastic, while I (and my lineage) are householders (grihasta sadhu parampara) and deliberately stay engaged in the world and relationships. They do not share personal matters. I am open and share what I discern will uplift my students and bring us closer as human beings sharing the same existential challenge of ‘self-forgetfulness’ in maya, and not as if on two sides of the maya-illusory divide, of spiritual haves and have-nots.
Can I be the teacher I am meant to be, to let the Supreme Reality flow the way Supreme Reality wishes to flow through me? All daisies look the same from afar, yet if you look closely, no two daisies, no leaves, nor even faces of twins, nothing in this world is a replica. It is all vividly original.
Supreme Intelligence is an artist par excellence. It is the source of infinite creativity, and that is our true nature, so how can we allow ourselves to bend out of shape copying each other in unexamined vasana (compulsions), like mass self-hypnosis, merely to like our egos more?
As a Vedic master and lineage bearer, while I uphold and guard scriptures and traditions, I also uphold who I am: Pure Consciousness, Existence, Bliss, the Self. If I did not do that, then clearly, I’d have merely held onto the worlds, and not to my ‘truth’ they wish to introduce me to.
In my early days in America, I looked towards other ‘swami’ type people from my country as potential role models of how to be a teacher in the west (or even western teachers who taught eastern wisdom). Most are undoubtedly beautiful beings, and yet, the more I looked at them, the more I started questioning the need to look at them, since even if they were ‘impressive’ people, it was their truth, their path, their choices they were expressing, not mine.
Looking at then would feed only my body, world and knowledge vasanas (I must dress like them, I must behave like the most popular ones, I must collect the biggest band of disciples, I must also know everything they know, I must teach what is the popular topic nowadays). Instead, I am who I am and who I was meant to blossom into - the unique me.
Thankfully, when we have knowledge seeds from an authentic knowledge source (my Grandfather, my Guru Baba, in my case who regularly discoursed from the Upanishads in public and went over concepts one-on-one with me), they come to our aid, and we’re never disconnected. I literally remember feeling like I was a doing a disservice to my inner being, or somehow forcing clouds to cover my inner sun by looking for even a minute outside myself, instead of listening to my quiet inner voice.
This is why today, I am who I am, and many call me an original teacher. That is true, because I never did emulate what others are doing, teaching, writing, selling or proclaiming on their websites. Though I publish books, articles and blogs, I rarely read anyone else’s (besides the original Vedic texts) to write mine. You may call this deliberate intellectual illiteracy; I call it spiritual fullness. Perhaps it is because my teachings come from my inner fullness, and not for gathering illusory fullness (vasanas), that my teachings and writings are so well-received and move people to claim their inner joy, too.
I have connected with the Veda, source wisdom for humanity, and I feel literate in a unique way (thanks to my Guru).
The last I checked in with myself (which is this very moment), happily, I don't have knowledge vasanas (unconscious cravings) to keep checking out what else is 'out there' to add to my spiritual resume. I teach students in my Vedic Spiritual Studies program to do the same: to settle down with me or whatever teacher they finally feel drawn to learn from, and stop window shopping for gurus.
Go deep into spiritual study, surrender to the higher Truth that reveals itself from within rather than graze at countless books, videos, spiritual teachers and traditions around the world, one after the other, which gathers even more vasanas in the process. Embodying vasanas, we go farther and farther away from who we might have become, if we were to let go of compulsions, cravings and scripts and begin leading our life from inner direction, simplicity and acceptance of whatever is arising in the moment...organically.
Let your true Self guide you from within, rather than allowing vasanas alone to drive you externally.
One is released from all sorrow upon realizing the Blissful One,
who encompasses the whole Universe
and who hides in all beings as their very Self.
- Svetasvatara Upanishad, 4.16
From the beginning of my spiritual journey after landing in America decades ago, my filters were on early. I carefully nurtured my own seeds from Baba, of a truly freeing knowledge that does not beget illusions, but ends them.
Pure Existence had already ensured that, through Baba’s voice, the beautiful Veda will be revealed to me in its true depth, not merely as ‘words’ I memorize and eulogize. Pure Existence ensured that through my life challenges, the deaths I faced, the disharmony and total confusion upon experimenting with life as a married woman and more trials and tests, I applied this knowledge. Life became my ’designer laboratory’. It was up to me what chemicals (thoughts) I mixed to experience my inner joy or become sorrowful (by chasing joy outside). When we are vasana free, we can give ourselves the freedom to experiment, play and even change our mind, without needing to uphold our attachments and aversions. It was a matter of trusting my own process. When I did that, approval was hard to deflect. My life today is full of thank you cards, flowers, handmade garlands, appreciative tears, grateful smiles and heartfelt bows. Deliberately sidetracking compulsive scripts (vasanas), I told myself ‘I AM ENOUGH UNTO MYSELF’ repeatedly. Let me create from this inner okay-ness what is meant to be created. Let me flow this first inside me and see what happens outside me…
This is how, operating beyond vasanas, I created an award-winning program of Vedic education, imparting wisdom of Advaita, Ayurveda and Yoga, like none other in the whole world, entirely emerging from my heart (where my true, scriptless Self lives), and from having watched Baba be a vasana-free being himself. The only way I can describe my program was as a “Harry Potter School of Vedic Wisdom”… with truly magical, out of the box, paradigm shifting courses.
My book “Ayurveda Lifestyle Wisdom” chronicles the healing magic and inner miracles, body, mind and soul that happened through this program and the positive trends it set in Vedic teaching worldwide. I have approval from others today, but it came from my own inner approval first. Not because I chased it even once; because, by not being world or knowledge vasana-driven, but Self-driven, I have infinite spiritual self-approval inside me. I really like myself today, and you can, too, if you start side-stepping vasanas.
Saying no to world vasana doesn’t mean saying no the world itself. I, too, have a worldly life that I enjoy. I even have social media handles in my name that my students set up for me. I have learned to use many of them (yes, I confess not all of them yet) to connect with like minded souls (can I be worldlier than that?). But all of it is organically emerging, without any of the attending inner pressure that vasanas generate. My actions come from inner fullness, not from a place of needing to get somewhere. For many years, I did not even have a business card to my name, and I was still the same teacher to my students, who collected around me anyway.
Seeing through vasanas, and laying them aside, does not mean everything will magically fall into place. If challenges come, at least if we have an ‘attachment-free’ mind, we can face them with greater equanimity. I did not create more confusions, anger, grief and delusory narratives, nor get entangled in even more likes and dislikes! I could ride the ups and downs of my life’s work, with knowledge that stillness, a sense of okay-ness and permanence needs to express itself inside me, where it belongs, in my Self, and not always outside me. So, I control what I can, and not what I cannot.
We can naturally control the mind that is deliberately made calmer and manageable, since it is more anchored in knowledge of Pure Self. Our circumstances are often beyond our control; we cannot manipulate them, other than doing our best.
When the mind is calm, body is happy, too. In the last ten years since I founded my wisdom school, I have not missed a single day, due to even a slight cold or cough. Everything is in a state of flow, since I flow inside me; to do that, we simply see through myth beliefs and lay them aside. What else is left but the flow of Pure Existence?
A mind that is relatively vasana or compulsion and projection-free is more and more in touch with Self (Divine All-ness). I receive downloads of ideas, inspirations and sheer joy through all of this. Each time I hit a roadblock, I look within rather than at what others might do in similar situations. Then, it’s not a challenge, but a signpost from God (Supreme Reality) that it’s time to let go, detach and create something even more blissful, beautiful and original.
Once, I closed a program in Vedic medicine that I’d run successfully for years. I realized that I had allowed too many cooks and the various expectations of volunteers, managers and advisors to get into the recipe, and this training program was slowly catering more and more to external worldly (professional) standards than to my joyful spiritual standards, from where I’d first seeded it. I had never chased world vasanas, but the world (and its standards) had crept into this program, anyway.
Before closing it, I completed all my commitments, then took responsibility and closed it without an iota of doubt, guilt or apology. All such negative emotions only show their tyranny where vasanas with their typical attachments and aversions exist, and I had no attachment to prove I am ‘perfect’.
All I can do is live quietly in the knowledge of my inner perfection in an imperfect, changeable and illusory world where circumstances change quickly, and remain still, as an observer within. I will tend my inner home to keep it vasana-free, but if the world creeps in anyway, imposing upon me what I did not sign up for, maybe packaged as necessary “standards and compliances”, I will let go of what does not sit right with my deepest nature and knowingness. You can do the same. Shame is never necessary.
The wind gathers the clouds together and the wind itself scatters them. So too, the mind creates bondage and also creates liberation from its own thoughts.
Adi Shankaracharya in Viveka Chudamani, verse 173
My mind freed up and celebrating my inner sovereignty to make all new choices and negotiate new expectations, I seeded another program in place of my previous Ayurveda program. It is a much more expansive, magical, deep Ayurveda immersion program, another original offering shining with the light of my Divine Truth, from my heart.
My only standard is getting acquainted with the sorrow-free Self, and healing the body and mind, from inside-out, using the amazing twin sciences of Ayurveda and Yoga, recipes, cooking, chanting, play and a healthy perspective of Advaita! This new program helped dissolve a lot of sorrow-giving beliefs immediately, and facilitates a much deeper health, the real, abiding, joyful kind.
This time, I had my office type a written mandate on my behalf and circulate it. As a spiritual community, we are now collectively alert to staying even closer to our mission of awakening health and consciousness, eschewing outer standards while remaining committed only to our own inner truth and the pure Vedic path.
A lesson learned in a pure mind that’s vasana-free transforms into wisdom and becomes a dewdrop of joy! Because we are attachment-free, we are not wasting energy asking ourselves, “Why did we allow this to happen?” or “What were we thinking?”
Now, we are simply creating history and successful graduates. We have moved on to even more joy, new creations, and all new reasons for celebration. Can you, too, give yourself permission to strike new vasana-free contracts and agreements, once you take stock of your own life? What did you say yes to in a hurry, that may need to be re-negotiated?
While self-ignorance binds us (in samsara), Self-knowledge sets us free.
The teachers, staff and I are all having fun, too, in our self-valued freedom. So much inner joy (Ananda) gets reclaimed, when we dare to move vasanas (should’ves and could’ves) away, and follow our own inner heartbeat.
And schools that want to follow more pedagogic “professional standards” should follow those standards happily, and not try to copy what I am doing. We are all different expressions of one beautiful Supreme Truth. One is not better or worse; we should be unapologetically different, original and true to our Self. This is one good way to bid world vasana goodbye – by being more of who we are, doing ‘our thing’ and trusting that more.
The difference between a modern-day interpretation of doing ‘our own thing’ and the ancient wisdom-based Vedic “doing our own thing” is that we ideally must never do ‘our thing’ in a narcissistic manner, positioning the ego to uphold individualism to the point of selfishness or even eccentricity, without caring about our impact upon the whole. Such a position is more delusory than ever, and even more vasana-driven.
Hedonistic self-gratifiers who seem to not care for the world, its values and time-tested ethical traditions can appear to us (when we are naïve) as ‘free spirited’ or powerfully daring ‘revolutionary souls’, but often, they are ultimately in the grip of all kinds of vasanas. Such minds almost always give off hints, or we can see red flags, if we look closely with the eyes of knowledge, of the existence of an underlying delusory mindset, seething with snakes of attachments, false beliefs and projections of great personal power, when inside they feel powerless.
What greater delusion can exist than a belief that one body can get away with all the happiness, leaving all other bodies behind gasping for happiness, when the truth is that we are all connected at every level, and in fact, share one common Self? We even recycle matter, energy, oxygen, water, light – everything is shared, even ideas, sorrow and hope.
Can we throw garbage on one end of the planet and hope it will not catch up with us on the other side of the planet where we live? Yet, this is what first world countries do when they dump their industrial waste on fourth world countries. What a delusion! Are they not aware we are all dwelling on one planet, or is it considered 21st-century wisdom to simply buy time before we annihilate ourselves? We can’t simply pet the animal on our lap while converting all other animals as a ‘product’ of our food chain and not care how they are treated. In the Vedic tradition, this is called shortsightedness.
To be truly vasana and sorrow-free, we must uphold Dharma, or higher universal values, like compassion, non-violence, truth, compassion, fairness, etc., that benefit all of us, alongside our impulses to do our own thing, even noble and spiritual things.
Whenever we talk about following our true nature (not following vasanas), we need to think beyond our immediate gratification and what will make us happy quickly to what will make our bigger Self happy, in a win-win, holistic, organic and sustained way.
The knower of Self begins to own the joy, as well as the suffering, of other beings (humans, animals and plants) as his own. This is Dharma.
The Bhagavad Gita, 6,32
In accord with this important idea of Dharma, even though I had wanted to close my Ayurveda program much earlier, I allowed it to run for three more years, with my full attention and support, until all students had graduated successfully and we completed our ethical agreements to everyone (and ourselves). In the Vedas, the ‘I’ is always a ‘We’, and 'our thing' is never going to be a cause of sorrow for another, since we all share the same Self.
With profound love and joy,
*This is an excerpt from Acharya Shunya's forthcoming book tentatively titled "Everlasting Joy." Sign up for her mailing list to receive updates on the release of this new book.
Acharya Shunya is a Vedic lineage holder and teacher of nondual wisdom from the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, along with the Vedic sciences of Ayurveda and Yoga. She is the spiritual preceptor of a global community of truth seekers. She teaches out of her wisdom school, Vedika Global, based in Emeryville, California, USA and lectures worldwide. She is the award-winning author of Ayurveda Lifestyle Wisdom (Sounds True, 2017), voted among the Top 10 Books in Alternative Medicine by Health Line (2017). To find out more and explore studying the ancient wisdom from Vedic seers with Acharya Shunya, visit her official website maintained by her students: www.acharyashunya.com.