Vedanta is one of the most dangerous mind-traps in the world. The entire New Age corpus consists mostly of its derivatives, and if there’s anything any idiot cultist “knows for sure”, it’s that “we are all one”, that enlightened people should not give a fuck about differences between things and people, that karma is some kind of spiritual trash that needs to be cleansed in order to become enlightened, and that one should attain “inner peace”. Together with the “red pill” of Matrix and accepting Jesus as your personal savior, it completes the collection of most overused and annoying quasi-spiritual platitudes.
So let’s clear things up a bit, in a way that will probably annoy some “vedanta experts” who think they figured it out.
First of all, the fact that brahman is the level 0 of reality, and that self-realization of brahman is always a first-person experience that is often accompanied with exclamations like “I am that brahman” and, leaving samadhi, “only He is”, and that the classical vedanta abounds with statements like “brahma sathyam jagan mithya” (brahman is the truth and the world is an illusion), that doesn’t mean that “we are all one”, because where there are “we” there is no “one”. Also, Shankaracharya was wrong thinking that switching into brahman-consciousness washes away personal karma, because it all goes away in the light of true knowledge. It does not. In fact, this belief is caused by an illusion, because in brahman, there are no limitations and ignorance and therefore no karma, but that didn’t just happen when you had this realization. That is always so and always has been so. Experience of brahman is transcendental to your karma and as such has no influence on it, except in a trivial way, that it’s a new experience that can change your attitude and behavior. Realization of brahman is not liberation, because brahman is forever free and unbound, and your realization of brahman, as impressive as it might feel, is merely a temporary window into this reality. So, since experience of brahman doesn’t significantly influence your personal karmic outcomes, and can actually introduce detrimental effects of bloating your ego because you’re so enlightened and you understand everything, I was always averse to guide people towards this experience. Sure, it’s impressive, but it can actually entrench you on square one of spiritual growth. Thinking you possess certain salvation is one of the main obstacles in spiritual life. Failure is always an option.
Second, vedanta is not some kind of a super-egalitarian hippie philosophy. The fact of brahman doesn’t erase the differences between relative worldly entities. You can say “everything is brahman” as much as you like, but before you though that “everything is matter” and it didn’t cause you to believe that a star is the same as a planet or that a fly is the same as an elephant because they are both matter. “Everything is x” statements aren’t worth shit, because they change absolutely nothing in the reality of things. In fact, rather than encouraging such nonsense, vedanta emphasizes the concept of viveka, or discrimination. It’s the ability to discern between the real and the illusory, between useful and harmful, pleasurable and useful, between that which liberates and that which ensnares. If “all is brahman” had any practical meaning, there would be no reason to encourage discrimination, would there? The moment you ask “where, in this vast ocean of things, should I look for brahman?”, you need viveka, and “everything is brahman” is the most useless thing you could possibly hear. What you do need to hear is Bhagavata-purana or the gospels, which were written with the exact purpose of showing people what God looks like in the world, in which direction they should look for Him and how can they know if they made any progress or not. Shankaracharya’s texts are excellent if you already had the experience of samadhi and you want to feel good about yourself, but they’re useless for anything else. If you don’t see the difference between a rock and a gold nugget, or between a tramp and a saint, you’re not enlightened. You’re too stupid to ever start doing anything spiritually useful. Figuring out the difference between a tramp and a saint is the most important ability you can have, because if you can’t tell the difference, how will you ever aspire to be more like the saint? Cultivating respect for the local manifestations of virtue and greatness in the world is one of the most effective ways of advancing spiritually. The ability to recognize the Ariadne’s thread in the maze is the most important thing to have. If you don’t have it, you’re someone’s food.
Third, vedanta speaks of karma in an inaccurate way that is actively harmful. It portrays it as layers of impurities that create illusions and obscure the reality of Brahman. As a result, most followers of vedanta think that if you remove karma you’ll end up enlightened, in a state of pure atman/brahman. That is not so. Vedanta misunderstood the entire concept and Buddhism got it right. The difference between you and a bacterium isn’t that a bacterium has more karma to work out. The difference is that it has almost no karma to speak of. All the sophisticated spiritual substance that allows you to form complex ideas and inhabit a human body is absent in a bacterium, and its “soul” is so insignificant it can only create a slight energetic shadow around a single-cell organism. Compared to that, you are almost god-like in size and sophistication of karma. Karma is, essentially, the spiritual energy that makes up your spiritual body and defines who you are as a person, it defines your relationship with reality as a whole, and, primarily, your relationship with God. What you actually want to do is not remove karma, because that would mean spiritual suicide, not enlightenment. You need to purify your soul and increase its specific energy, because the similar stuff applies to spirituality and physics. You can have something that’s essentially carbon, but in forms of graphite and diamond. You can have good stuff with poor structure, and you can have inclusions of weak substance that would make an otherwise strong crystal fragile under pressure or impact. You can have ordinary gas, and you can have a fluorescent lamp. Your soul-stuff will behave differently if exposed to different influences, and it will change structure and nature if you make choices of different quality. If you choose to be an asshole it will degrade, and if you choose to be kind and supportive to things that are good and beautiful, it will improve. If you’re confident a shield will develop around your spiritual body that will protect you from harmful influences, and if you’re insecure your spiritual body will be vulnerable to various intrusions. Essentially, your attitude, choices and character have enormous influence on your spiritual nature and destiny. You don’t get enlightened when you have no karma, you get enlightened when your karma is an unbreakable clear diamond through which the light of God is clearly seen. You’re enlightened when your spiritual body is the perfect vessel that is filled with the light that is God. The Buddhists call this “the jewel in the lotus”, mani padme. They got it right and vedanta got it wrong.
Fourth, and probably the most annoying thing, is the “inner peace” that is supposed to be attained with spiritual progress. The origin of this nonsense is a misunderstanding of a verse from Yoga Sutra, that yoga is citta vrtti nirodha, which really means “cessation of fluctuations in mind-stuff” and is mistranslated as “calming of the mind”. It has nothing to do with either calming or peace of any kind. What it wants to say is that you need to transform your mind from being a lightbulb into being a laser, collimated and coherent. Collimated means that all photon-paths are parallel, and coherent means that they are all of the same wavelength. It doesn’t mean that you become a hippy. It means you become a weapon for destroying bullshit.
So, what is the point and the goal of yoga? Let’s put it this way. Brahman is indeed the highest reality. This world is an nth order metasimulation (simulation within a simulation within…). What you need to remember is that if you have a computer and it runs the operating system within which you run a virtual machine within which you run another operating system and so on recursively, it all runs on hardware. It is all executed by the CPU and stored in memory. That’s what vedanta wants to say when it claims that all is brahman, it says that all software, no matter how many levels of simulation removed, is actually hardware. There is no software, there is only hardware in all its power and richness of innate ability. Brahman didn’t go anywhere just because there’s maya, and within it the causal reality, and within it the astral reality, and within it the physical reality. It’s like my computer that’s running Windows, and within it Virtualbox, and within it Linux, and within it the word processor. It looks like it’s so far removed from the computer, but the instructions are running on the same hardware. It’s still the same computer. Brahman isn’t a billion lightyears away, it’s here, now. It’s not removed in space or time, it’s removed in several reality-levels. When you’re thinking about how you don’t get it, your thoughts are made of Him. When you’re angry because you’re separated from Him, He is your anger. Yoga is about figuring that out, about aligning and restructuring the energies and reality-abstractions in a useful way. If it looks complicated, that’s because it is. It’s not for stupid people, and that’s why when stupid people try to attain enlightenment, they get fucked up in some cult. Even being smart doesn’t make you immune to fucking up, but being stupid assures it. This whole theoretical framework isn’t something you should memorize; it’s actually not very useful. I didn’t memorize it, I simply pulled it out of my sleeve just like that, like you’d pull a description of a smartphone from your sleeve if someone asked you; you’d probably take it out of your pocket, take a look at it and describe what you see. How did I get there? I followed Ariadne’s thread, one corner of the maze at a time. That’s all it takes.