4.1.1 Discrimination – Viveka

This sub-module is based on the teachings of Swami Viditatmananda, Swami Paramarthananda and James Swartz.
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In this sub-module we will discuss the very first qualification for Vedanta called Discrimination. We will explore the following topics:

1. What is discrimination?

2. How to differentiate between the permanent and the impermanent?

3. Why we shouldn’t expect lasting security from the world?

4. How discrimination arises in us?

5. What can give me permanent security?

6. How to practice discrimination?

What Is Discrimination?

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The word “discrimination” has certain negative connotation because we’re used to hearing about racial discrimination, caste discrimination, gender discrimination etc.

But in Vedantic jargon, the word “discrimination” is used in a positive sense. The word discrimination is translated as “Viveka” in Sanskrit.

Discrimination in Vedanta means a sense of right judgement, right understanding, discernment etc. Now the question arises, discrimination between what? Normally discrimination is between two things.

What is Vedanta asking us to discriminate between?

Discrimination is the differentiation between permanent and the impermanent, between eternal and the ephemeral, between the real and the apparent.

Discrimination between things permanent and transient consists of the discrimination that “Brahman (Self) alone is the permanent substance and all things other than It are transient”

15th century Vedantic text

Separation or discrimination is required when two things are mixed up with each other and, sometimes, they are mixed up in a way that it is not very easy to separate them.

The kind of Viveka that is being discussed is that which requires a certain subtle perception. It is easy to discriminate between day and night or white and black, but it becomes difficult to discriminate between one shade of white and another.

In life, the permanent and the impermanent are mixed up with each other in much the same way.

Differentiating Between The Permanent And The Impermanent

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When we look at the universe, we see that the entire creation exists in time and space. There is no object outside of time and space. Which means that every object is subject to birth and death.

So, I can say the entire creation is impermanent. This impermanence is an intrinsic part of every aspect of creation, be it things, people, situations or relationships.

Thus there is no permanent object, permanent person, permanent situations and most important of all there is no permanent relationship.

Sreyas and Preyas approach the human being. Having very clearly considered them, the discriminative (person) distinguishes them.

Katha Upanishad

Sreyas means that which is permanent and lasting and Preyas is that which is impermanent and ephemeral. Sreyas is happiness of the Self or internal happiness, and Preyas is happiness derived from sense objects or external happiness.

In life, we constantly come across Sreyas and Preyas. It requires a certain sensitivity to appreciate lasting happiness as opposed to the impermanent, ephemeral happiness in the objects and achievements of the world.

Every moment presents a choice between the permanent and the impermanent. The impermanent comes in the form of various situations, opportunities, and pleasures, while the permanent is ever there as the very Self.

As long as the mind is full of binding likes and dislikes, the impermanent alone attracts the mind and we do not choose the permanent.

There is an inner voice, which gets totally suppressed on account of the noise made by the demands of external things. The permanent or the Self has an opportunity to register only when the intensity of the chatter of likes and dislikes is subdued or lessened.

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Should I Expect Security From The World?

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If I know there is no permanent thing in this world, should I expect lasting security from the world? How can an impermanent thing give me permanent security?

Therefore right judgement is to never rely upon the world to give me lasting security or support.

That does not mean the world is useless or I should reject the world. The world can give me a lot of things, and I can use the world for a number of things. The world can give me entertainment, education, opportunities to employ my individual skills and opportunities for growth.

However leaning on the world for security is not wise.

Swami Paramarthananda likes to compare the world to a cardboard chair. A nicely designed cardboard chair can be used as a display item. We can use it, but we cannot lean on it. That’s not its purpose.

The world is like the cardboard chair. We can use the world for our purposes, but we can never lean on it i.e. depend on it for our security.

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The Beginning Of Discrimination

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Our perception is that everything in this universe is constantly changing, impermanent, and perishable. However, when we are exposed to the scriptures, we begin to see that there is something in life above and beyond that which is perceptible, visible, or experienced by us.

We become aware that change, impermanence, or flux is not the ultimate truth of life and that there is a Nitya-Vastu, a permanent or lasting reality to life. Thus, the first thing that arises in a discriminating mind is Nitya-Anitya-Vastu-Viveka, discrimination between the permanent and impermanent.

The study of the scriptures enables us to acquire the ability to reason. This important reasoning ability helps us to analyze and discriminate.

But why would we be prompted to pursue the study?

Why should we dedicate ourselves to the pursuit of the study?

It is because of an inner feeling that there is something permanent in this life, a lasting peace or happiness, which arises on account of listening to or studying the scriptures. This kind of feeling or awareness is the beginning of Viveka.

What Can Give Me Permanent Security?

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To get lasting security and support I need to depend on a permanent thing. What is this permanent thing?

It is Brahman, the Self.

The Self alone can give me permanent security and support. This understanding is called Viveka or Discrimination, the ability to discriminate between the real and the apparent.

The Mundaka Upanishad says that Brahman is permanent, all-pervasive, appearing in different forms, and subtler than the subtlest. It says that the nature of the Self is pervasive like space, unborn, and eternal.

We find that happiness lies in permanence and not in impermanence. There is a permanent or changeless reality, which is of the nature of happiness. We gain a general overview as a result of the study of the scriptures that there is something eternal, changeless, permanent, and beyond what we perceive or experience.

We realize that what we are seeking in life is something lasting or permanent, not just happiness and security. We are seeking lasting happiness and lasting security.

Only the Self or Brahman can provide lasting happiness or lasting security.

These concepts may not be clear initially, but we do become aware of them through the scriptures.

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What You Are Seeking Is Brahman Alone

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Vedanta says that what you are seeking every moment in your life is Brahman alone. You are seeking joy and happiness that is free from all limitations.

All of us want unqualified happiness; we don’t want a time-qualified happiness that is available at one time and not at another; we don’t want a place-qualified happiness in which we are happy only in a given place and not any other, and we don’t want happiness that obtains only in one situation and not in another.

In fact, we don’t even want to make an effort to be happy. If we had our way, we would wish for a happiness that is effortless as well. And besides, not only do we want unqualified happiness, we also want to be aware of it.

It is said that we are totally happy in deep sleep, but we not aware of it! Therefore, we want an effortless and unqualified happiness of which we are aware.

An analysis of what we are seeking reveals it to be Brahman. Brahman alone fits this bill. Brahman alone is unqualified with reference to time, place, or condition and, being the very Self, the attainment of Brahman is effortless.

Brahman is of the nature of Awareness and is, therefore, conscious happiness. It is Sat, Existence, and exists in all the periods of time.

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Practising Discrimination

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A discriminating mind intelligently avoids petty dramas, conflicts and indulgences of daily life. To the discriminating person life is a tragicomedy to be acted to the hilt, no doubt, but of no lasting importance. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

James Swartz

A discriminating mind sees its likes and dislikes (Raga-Dvesha), fears and desires as transitory. It does not unduly affect its actions.

It knows that any action cannot give it lasting happiness, so it does not have undue expectations from the results of any action (Karma Yoga). So it’s very selective in its actions. The result is a tranquil mind.

The definition of discrimination is “the 100-percent conviction that the Self alone is real and that objects are apparently real.” With this definition in mind, a discriminating mind turns attention away from the world of objects and back to Awareness, the Self, over and over, until attention rests steadily on the Self.

Until discrimination is perfect, a person will get caught up in the world of appearances and suffer.

This Viveka or discrimination is very important because it determines our priorities in life. Whatever we understand to be the most important is what we will want to have and our efforts will be directed towards that goal.

If we understand the Self to be the most important, our efforts will naturally be directed towards knowing this Self. Therefore, this discrimination is extremely important.

An interesting thing is that Vedanta begins with Viveka and ends in Viveka. It begins with discrimination, which is initially a vague idea, and culminates in the discrimination that becomes a reality.

There must be discrimination in life. We must always be thinking people, reasoning people, and analyzing people. We should not take things for granted or simply do things because other people are doing them. This necessarily brings about Vairagya or dispassion, the second qualification which we will see in the next sub-module.

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1. Discrimination or Viveka is the 100 percent conviction that the Self alone is real and that objects are apparently real. Discrimination is the sense of right judgement and understanding to differentiate between the permanent and the impermanent.
2. The impermanent comes in the form of various situations, opportunities and pleasures, while the permanent is the very Self. A mind full of binding likes and dislikes is attracted only to the impermanent and cannot know the Self.
3. We should not look for security from the impermanent objects of the world. Only the Self can give us permanent security and support.
4. A discriminating person sees his or her likes and dislikes, fears and desires as transitory. It does not unduly affect their actions. We can cultivate discrimination within us by repeatedly turning the mind away from the world of objects and back to the Self.