Mysticism, The 1981 Perth Lecture Series

About This Remarkable Series

It is not without some irony that the Perth Talks in 1981 were entitled ‘Mysticism’ since, Swami Venkateananda had for many decades sidestepped using the term, even went out of his way to avoid using it, except to poke fun at its use as a marketing tool meant to promote interest from those looking for magical shortcuts in an attempt to sidestep the arduous, more traditional life-long yoga practices of the East. It’s somewhat less than likely that he himself gave this title for the series. Much more likely is that someone in Australia, hoping to increase attendance, decided that giving the series the title ‘Mysticism’ would stir up interest and increase the attendance. In any case, however, we happily find Swami Venkatesananda using this opportunity to set aside all the misapprehensions regarding ‘mysticism’ and reframe and redefine ‘mysticism’ as the quest of the realization of truth. In so doing, Swami Venkatesananda using the opportunity to draw upon his own Vedic and Vedantic scholarship, using texts such as The Bhagavad Gita, various significant Upanishadic texts as well as the Yoga Vasitha, his own life-long experience as a yogi as well the important sayings and practices of other great yogis such as Ramana Marharshi and his own master, Swami Sivananda, to illustrate the importance as well as the difficulties involved in the realization of Truth.

A lot of us who have studied yoga have a knee-jerk negative reaction every time we hear the term ‘Mysticism.’ In view of what it generally means and how it is generally exploited commercially, that is no surprise. What’s really so wonderful about this series of talks is that allows us to see “mysticism” through the eyes of an honest and sincere yogi whose dedication to Truth was his life-long companion. The result is a series that many experienced yogis will find to be a much needed addition to the body of knowledge about Mysticism, to not only what it is not, as we generally hear from skeptics, but what it should and must be if it is to be genuine and transformative.

Talk 1. Setting The Stage For Inquiry

“They ask you to realize it (the Truth) because you are seeing something else. You are seeing a piece of paper (with the word) sugar written on it. You think that is Sugar. The truth is that this is a piece of paper with ink spilled on it. ‘But where is sugar’? Ah, that’s it! That’s when the inquiry starts!”

Talk 2. “Seriousity” Initiation of  The Inquiry Into Truth

“Last week we saw that mysticism is defined as a special revelation or an experience of the truth as distinct from an idea of the truth. To read definitions and descriptions of cakes and sweets is one thing. To put a small piece into one’s mouth is another thing. Quite another thing. This truth is not a particular type of experience or the experience of a certain thing called ‘God’ or ‘Atman’ or whatever term you use but it is the spirit that looks for the truth in everything and every experience.

It does not need therefore change in one’s residence or country, going from one place to the other, going from one religious phenomenon to another, going from one set of beliefs to another, one hairstyle to another. All these you can do. I am not saying that these are useless. But mysticism doesn’t demand any of these. But, it does involve, not demand, it does involve a certain total seriousness which has a great element of curiosity in it. Therefore I call it Seriousity. It is not serious only, but it is a healthy blend of seriousness and curiosity which makes it Seriousity.”

Talk 3. Viveka & Variagya The Truth & The Living Truth

“We have been looking into this phenomenon of mysticism as a relentless search for the Truth. Truth is not in any special, metaphysical or philosophical sense, but the Truth as Truth; not as a description or a definition, or an opinion, but the Truth. Unfortunately, we are so loaded in our brains that doesn’t seem to make any sense at all. Is there a Truth apart from descriptions, definitions and opinions?

Do we not know the Truth? No. We have read the labels. What is the difference? The difference is, again, when you know the truth, the truth shall make you free, instantly! If this action is not there, then the perception was not there. If action is not there, the perception is not there, was not there, has not been there. And if the perception was there, correct perception, the action is the other side of the coin. That is where it becomes the living truth, not a bunch of words, but, it becomes the living truth. I’ve seen this and therein there is the action.

So, the perception of this truth, not intellectually, but as one might say at the gut level, at the life-force level is called viveka, wisdom. You can call it what you like: self-knowledge, knowledge, wisdom, in Sanskrit viveka. And its own counterpart, the living-ness of this truth is called vairagya.”

Talk 4  The Recognition of Bondage

“Before we proceed further, it is good to remember, or remind ourselves that mysticism or mystical experience or what we have been discussing these past few Saturday afternoons is not an intellectual game, though superficially it does appear to be concerned with your intellect. The quest of truth is absolutely nothing to do with an intellectual approach. The intellect cannot possibly approach this truth. The truth that intellect approaches is itself its own production, its own product, which is called reasoning. All these may be very important, essential in our lives but not for this. In order to understand the truth concerning anything in life, the intellect has to be set aside and the truth investigated. Who investigates and what investigates; we should probably come to that during the course of our discussion.

This is something extraordinary! It's not the brain, it's not the mind that discovers this truth. The mind puts the disc over, covers the truth. Mind is history! History is the mind! All your past is loaded into that mind, and the mind can never have a new experience, an experience of the truth, of reality. So what we are investigating as mysticism has nothing whatsoever to do with 'intellectual gymnastics' as my guru Swami Sivananda used to call it. Intellectual gymnastics may be necessary in other fields but not in the discovery of truth, not in the discovery of any truth! It's not just a truth that is supposed to be an extraordinary phenomenon. No, no. You cannot apply your intellect and resolve the truth concerning our relationship. You cannot apply your intellect or your brain to experience the truth of a spoonful of sugar. It is something that must reveal itself.

The first and the most horrifying truth that you discover at that ;point is that you are caught, you are trapped. You are trapped by your own mind, by its habit of covering … truth… with a disc coming with labels. You are not allowed in your immature state to pass beyond the realm of labels. You cannot have one single experience without instantly the mind labeling it. You are not allowed to have one experience where you can continue to wonder. This is bondage. Bondage is not something which involves ropes and chains . This is bondage. This is the bondage that the mystics are talking about. They are not talking about a silly and gross thing called ‘attachment’, 'I am attached to ‘him’. That is very elementary. I'm attached him. The day after tomorrow I won't be attached. I’ll be detached. I probably hate him. These are all elementary principles. When they talk of bondage they talk of the habit of the mind to create labels and identifying these labels, or mistaking these labels, for the truth.”

Talk 5. Are There Factors That Trigger The Search For Truth?

“What is it that inspires us to embark on this quest of truth, not merely switching from one place to the other, one lifestyle to the other or one point of view to the other. All this is a waste of time, as far as the quest of truth is concerned. You can change your hairstyle, you can change your address. You can change your name. All these may be useful in one way or the other, but it does not help us in our quest of truth.

Once this whole edifice is shattered and you realize that one view is as good or as bad as another view, and that the brain is capable only of points of view, it is then the true natural goodness arises and evil drops away because it has no motivation. How is this? Who inspires us to engage ourselves in this quest? Believe it or not, it is a certain healthy suspicion of the truths that we have accepted as true in our lives.”

Talk 6. Stepping Onto The Path - Introduction To Freedom From Bondage

“Is it possible to discover the truth in a relationship, while a relationship is in progress without taking a stand point? That is called 'a fresh mind.' All our yoga practice and meditation, and all the rest of it have just this one meaning: Can you find this fresh mind? Can you find the mind that does not have a prejudice—it’s a big question, this one—and one which is not cluttered with definitions, and which is therefore, not disturbed, which is therefore not turbid, muddy.

What is the mind without the clutter of definitions? What is the mind without the turbidity of distractions, points of view, opinions, thoughts, notions, ideas? A mind without all these is no mind, even as dehydrated water is. You have some idea of dehydrated stuff, of milk, for instance, powdered milk. You have some idea of dehydrated potatoes. What is dehydrated water and where do you keep it? The mind that is freed of all these, of prejudice, — let’s put it in one word: prejudice — is dehydrated water. That is what they call ‘God’. That is what they call ‘Truth’. The Truth is not elsewhere. It’s in you. In the very approach to the realization of Truth, the first step is the realization of Truth! It it’s not there, it is here! And therefore it is not a goal; it is there. The very first step is Truth. You need not go one step further.”

Talk 7. The Yoga Vasistha’s Four-Gated Mansion of Moksha

“In what we have termed this mysticism, which is revelation, revelation of the truth, and everything, as everything, whatever that might mean, there are no means and no ends, which is true of all spirituality, all religion, true religion and yoga. There are no means, no ends, which is fairly confusing. Because, the mind has been trained to regard life here as sequential. This happens, and then that happens. Then that happens and then that happens. Once you have adopted that view (that) one follows the other, inevitably you regard the second as the result of the other, the first. And, the first as the cause of the second: 'These are the means, and that is the end.' All this arises from the first error in regarding life as a sort of sequence of events, or revelation as a sequence of events. There are no sequences here. Every step is the totality, but not as a step. This is their problem.

When you talk of a revelation of the Truth, the wiping of the mirror, the seeing of the image, the revelation of the image, it is not as though this leads to that.It is not as though the wiping of the mirror is the means and the seeing of the image is the revelation. The wiping of the mirror is the revelation."

Talk 8. Standing On The Precipice: Mysticism Is Not For The Chicken Hearted

“This Truth is not realized by one who is weak; not physically weak, not economically weak but psychically weak. One who is afraid to let go, one who is afraid to walk along the precipice. If you’ve ever done that you would realize that only in that situation are you totally alert. If you and I walked along the precipice somewhere, physically, (you know) that is the only place where you are totally alert. But unfortunately, we are scared of it.

What you do is of no consequence, is irrelevant to the search, because the more you do, the more you are flowing away from the center. Can you do nothing? That you cannot do either. You cannot do something called doing nothing. Even then, you are struggling, struggling to restrain yourself, tie your hands and feet to the bedpost. Hmm? Give up? That’s it!

Get there! Get to the precipice! And, give up. Not before! If you give in or give up before you get to the edge of the precipice, then you lie down on the floor, then you will never know, you will never know the depth of the valley, the beauty of the valley. Go there and give up. Then you will know.”

Talk 9. Tat Twam Asi

“When we embark on the spiritual quest, we are often motivated by a certain concept called 'the spiritual quest'. We have known images. Spirituality is so and so. One puts on a special dress  and adopts a special hairstyle, a special lifestyle and we hang a nice little poster, one side telling us what to do in the other side telling us what not to do. That’s it. That’s the spiritual life. But, as you enter spiritual life, really, one by one these images crack and they disintegrate.

Am I practicing yoga in order to excel (over) others? No. Then I am not practicing yoga at all. Am I being virtuous in order to excel others? No, then I am not virtuous, I am vicious; I’m aggressive. All these things drop away when the real spirit of the spiritual life is awakened in us.

It is then that virtue finds a place in your heart, wholeness finds a place in your heart, and you realize that none of these things need motivation. Then perhaps you realize that even activity needs no motivation at all, that life is full of activity, and it moves. There is action. There is activity. Why should I spoil it with some sort of a motivation? When there is no motivation, there is no disappointment; there is no frustration. The mind is calm and we are then ready for the vision of truth. Truth, not in a very special sense, but the Truth concerning a free moment of our existence. What am I? What are you? What is this world into which we have all been thrown?

And you are that, what you sought. And, you are the discovery! This is one of the greatest declarations of the Upanishads. It has been commented on. Enormous commentaries have been written on this. They are a bit more confusing than the three words that appear in the text: Tat Twam Asi

‘I am that’. Then the student, quite on the threshold of the discovery of Truth suddenly finds all barriers melting away. That is when you really learn how to love.”

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