Interview with Dr. Vijai S. Shankar
by Dr. Jan Kersschot
Impressions of a Satsang
JK: I was informed that Dr.Vijai S.Shankar would be spending a few days in Belgium for the first time. A woman from Holland called me and insisted that he was very special, his intelligence as sharp as a knife. I was told that he was as loving as Ramana Maharshi and as 'sharp' as Nisargadatta Maharaj. And that he left the medical science to talk about Advaita Vedanta. So, I thought, I want to meet the man and do an interview. That Saturday, I came to the house (half an hour drive from Brussels) where he was staying. I went up to 'his' room, where he was sitting in Lotus position on his bed.
VS: Dr. Shankar was merely sitting. He was not in a Lotus Position and asks if you really know what a Lotus Position really is.
JK: I did not meet him alone a few of his devotees stayed with us during the interview, sitting on the other side of the bed or on the ground.
VS: Your description of the others present at this meeting as ‘Devotees’ is merely your opinion. Dr. Shankar asks if you actually asked any of these people if they were devotees of his or not. Also, did you ask Dr. Shankar whether in fact he accepts anybody as a devotee at all?
JK: He pointed a chair to me, in front of him.
VS: A chair was offered without any pointing.
JK: As in his other interviews, Dr. Vijai Shankar likes to criticise the interviewer's questions right from the beginning. He does not allow any presumptions about himself, and points out any realm of a dualistic or personal point of view immediately. That seems to be his way of dealing with questions. And he is clear about what he says.
VS: Likes and dislikes are fruits of a fragmented approach to life. If spontaneous responses from Dr. Shankar can be misconceived as expressions of a personal preference on his part there is much room for enquiry. It is very important to be able to recognise the difference between criticism and clear examination. All questions are based on unexamined assumptions and your questions were treated as such.
JK: After the interview, we had lunch together, and that was to me the best part of the day. The food was really delicious, and it reminded me of my own trip to India now about 10 years ago. I realised more and more what a friendly and warm-hearted man he was. I also told him how lucky he was to be surrounded by such nice people. They really take good care of him. We were talking about the delicious Indian food, prepared by Kalpna and Samantha, and about his projects to go to South Africa. He said to me that his mother and his brother had been his real teachers.
VS: This was actually never mentioned at this time
JK: And then suddenly he whispered me in the ear, things like, "forget about the mind, be like a child." And then we just went on eating and talking. Sitting next him at the table felt as if we had known each other for years. Kalpna invited me to come to Satsang in Bruges, that same evening. She said that it would give me a broader impression of Vijai. It started at 7.30, and I think about 40 people showed up. Some of the people had visited Vijai in his house in Texas; they all seemed very enthusiastic about their visit. While Vijai was seated, a woman from Holland introduced Vijai as a 'realised person,' [in Dutch: "een gerealiseerd persoon"] which I thought was a description completely in contradiction with what Advaita Vedanta is all about. There may be holy people, saints, teachers, masters, magicians, seers, gurus, I know, but nobody (no body) is ever enlightened, because enlightenment is seeing that there is nobody there to get enlightened.
VS: It is better to see that Vijai makes no claims for himself. What is said about him by those close to him as well as what is said by those further away is always merely witnessed. The prospect of Enlightenment is attractive to a mind, which thinks it doesn’t have it. Those same minds sometimes think that others have what they lack. The taste of Enlightenment is absolute freedom from such childishness. Ask yourself how you came by this perspective which you raise here. If indeed there is no enlightened person then be clear who it is who is objecting to the statement that such a phenomenon exists. The concept of unenlightenment is an infinite labyrinth where the only way out is SEEING the damage the concept itself can wreak. All are already enlightened and have merely forgotten it
JK: But the audience seemed not to care that much, and I didn't say anything either.
VS: For the sake of integrity it is best to speak for oneself only. You have no way of knowing that the others in this gathering had any particular attitude or not. JK: I must say that I was also disappointed to see the 'usual' Hindu memorabilia, like photographs of Gurus (Sai Baba, Ramana Maharishi, Nisargadatta Maharaj) and reproductions of some Hindu Gods.
VS: Are you sure the pictures are Hindu memorabilia? ‘Usual’ is a trick of the mind employed to defray a reasonable accounting. Do you perceive where the cost of this attitude is occurring. How far have you come that you still do not recognise disappointment as a judgement? Can you not see that everything is always in its appointed place at all times? See where the disappointment arises and be glad in the contemplation of why the pictures did not object to you!
JK: I do respect some people for what they have said (especially Ramana and Nisargadatta), and nothing is wrong with respecting your teachers. But I don't see any reason to bring their photographs all along, and put them on the table.
VS: Have you ever enquired the ‘reason’ for the appearance of anything including yourself? Maybe there is just a relative reason. In any event do you see the absolute redundancy of asking ‘why’ in the first place? There is no other place that anything can be which is already here, so why attempt differentiation. Know the freedom from distinctions.'
JK: Admiring people as spiritual hero's is not so much accepted in today's Western culture, and quite common in India, I know.
VS: Advaita will not fit into any culture whether Western or otherwise. On the contrary every culture or lack of it will always fit into Advaita. Be careful that you do not stay fixed on the assumption that the pictures you saw represent the admiration on the part of anybody of anyone as spiritual hero. There is no room in Advaita for accepting and rejecting anything.
JK: However, this evening was not announced as an introduction about the Vedic tradition but an invitation to Truth. If everything is One, if the essence of all this is about the uniqueness of Consciousness, then there is only one Consciousness (not two or more), and there is no need to admire or cultivate anybody. It is the same Consciousness anyway!
VS: To truly recognise the ‘Uniqueness’ of Consciousness is to recognise the uniqueness of consciousness AS everything. It is not that there is One consciousness rather that there is ONLY Consciousness. What is all encompassing cannot exclude anything. To include all appearances of Consciousness is freedom from division whereas fantasies of exclusion create a norm of seeming duality that disturbs the fantasy figure only.
JK: I did not expect such a scenario from a medical doctor a former scientist who is said to be talking about nondualism.
VS: Were you only allowing yourself the potential of agreeing or disagreeing with what you heard? Can you postulate another possibility? An expectation is a tacit declaration that something, which is missing now, will be here later or not. This is not Advaita.
JK: His talk was about the dealing with fear, absence of peace as Vijai pointed out. He also pointed out that there was no fear 'in the now' and that the mind is always creating escape scenarios. He explained all these issues in detail, with a lot of enthusiasm. I think it took about an hour and a half. Sometimes, the talks were interrupted by someone singing or playing an instrument. The way Vijai did his talking was very much 'schoolteacher like', making drawings and writing down on a drawing board all the time. He really explained things into detail and his pupils seemed to like it. He definitely is an intelligent man. And he got quite humorous at times, too. But to me, he didn't touch the essence of Advaita that particular evening.
VS: What meter were you using that night to determine whether the ‘Essence’ of Advaita was touched or not. Wouldn’t you already have to be aware of that essence to recognise it? Ego is a reductive reflex so the search for essence seems natural. Advaita is not an object and has no essence to recognise and it is for this reason that you assume a mantle of disappointment. It should be a cause for celebration though since Knowing reveals that in Advaita everything is essential to itself. As a reflex which attempts to divide, differentiate and reduce the ‘Essential’ wholeness of Being it is proper to admit that the dissolution of the Ego REVEALS rather than touches the so called ‘Essence’ of Advaita. This reflex which is the Ego is responsible for your regarding the singing and playing which took place that night as an ’Interruption’. Where is the room for an ‘Interruption’ in the Singular Flow that is Being? The ‘Essence’ of Advaita is the acceptance of everything without exception. This is freedom from fear. See that the opportunity for seeing the Essence of Advaita presented itself that night but that you were otherwise ‘Occupied’.
JK: And there was no 'resonance' as one can sometimes witness in Satsang.
VS: Anything that disturbs the mind is resonance. Resonance is not a sign or symbol of anything but disturbance. A Feel Good Factor experienced in Satsang is evidence of a bloated Spiritual Ego.
JK: Maybe he does talk about the essence of nondualism at other times.
VS: Where there is fear there will be the notion of Doership. If the notion of Doership is present one’s awareness of the ‘Essence’ of Advaita is occluded and the appearance of Duality arises. Ponder this.
JK: But his audience seemed to like his subject and the way he explained things, and that's the point. And maybe they really captivated a vibration or an insight that was not meant for me. He definitely is a special and interesting man. To the reader, I would say, "If you really want to know, check it out for yourself."
VS: Vijai knows that all his audiences will go away and make up their mind about him. As long as he knows this his voice will continue to be heard in Satsang until those that have made up their mind about him and what he says have realised that by doing so they were always missing the point!!!
JK: After Satsang, it was announced that afterwards Vijai is also going to Germany and Sweden. And that he would be back in Holland and Belgium next year. Later on, trips to other countries e.g. South Africa are expected.