Authenticity, Vulnerability and Courage
In the Vedic Spiritual Studies Program at Vedika Global where I am a student member, Āchārya Shunya taught us about the importance of Authenticity, Vulnerability and Courage. She said that the authentic self can be defined as what is revealed when we consciously accept all parts of ourselves, darkness as well as light. Vulnerability can be defined as the willingness to have a soft relationship with our authenticity. True courage is the willingness to be vulnerable while upholding our authenticity.
Āchārya Shunya explains the meaning of these three words in depth as follows.
Being vulnerable means accepting our human experience and acknowledging that we have an ignorant self called the ‘Jīva’. Upanishads or Vedic spiritual texts, are asking us to love that self which is living in this confusing world. It takes courage to live here on this worldly plane of existence and withstand the constant flux.
What is courage? Does it mean to show a brave face to the world and to constantly hide the vulnerability within us? Modern self help books might recommend this form of courage, but Vedānta explains courage in a very different way. It is asking us to accept ourselves completely as we are today. Our ‘Jīva’ is not perfect, hence we should not fight/hide from our weaknesses/lack of knowing, but remain vulnerable to where we are right now. Since most of us do not accept ourselves, we get angry with our ‘Jīva’ for not being perfect and also on other unaware beings.
Vedanta says that it is due to ignorance of our absolute ‘Self’ that we are born on Earth. It is during this birth that some ask the question, “Who am I?” and take on a spiritual journey to discover our true nature. On this path, we will encounter ignorant and dark areas within us, but at the same time we should constantly remind ourselves that there is also light within us. Vedanta is asking us to accept this package and remain vulnerable on this path. It is important to recognize that it is only when darkness is removed can light be seen. Hence we should have a soft attitude towards our learning self and give it the gift of knowledge and time to grow.
Sometimes the fear of being judged or misunderstood stops us from being vulnerable especially in close relationships. In those moments when there is a sense of dejection or angst with close relationships, an honest conversation with a soft attitude encourages the other person to open up as well. Such situations can also arise in a workplace. An open communication within a team leads to more learning and better work. Suppose we are stuck in a work related problem and due to our fear of being judged we do not discuss it with our colleagues. This will lead to delay in work and others might think that we are not putting in enough effort. Lack of clear communication on our part can lead to misunderstandings. Instead of keeping to ourselves, if we discuss our problem with a colleague, knowledge exchange will happen and a good solution can be arrived at in a timely manner.
All of this leads to a courageous living. It reduces angst, inner damage or suffering that can come in the future to us due to our present misdeeds (karmic damage) which we may commit due to ignorance. There is a famous saying that when we point one finger outside, there are four fingers pointing towards ourselves. Hence change in outer circumstances starts with a change within. When we look within and recognize the areas that need work while remaining non-judgmental towards ourselves, we will search for solutions and open up new pathways for reception of knowledge.
We have different parts to us but that is not our absolute ‘Self’. We are walking on the path to the absolute ‘Self’ and on this path we need to give room to feel our feelings. For example, when we accept our vulnerability in relationships, we accept that there are zones for growth in our human experience.
Let’s take another example, that of a student teacher relationship. In my Vedānta class with Acharya Shunya, we learn about how to purify our mind, our being, how to deal with the challenges in life so that we can reach the ultimate goal of human birth - recognizing our true spiritual nature. Can that be achieved through pretense? If we are feeling broken or hurt, and at that time our teacher asks us as to how we are doing, and we always reply “All is great!” then can there ever be a student-teacher dialogue? When my teacher opens the class to questions and a student takes courage to be vulnerable and share something from their life where knowledge could have helped them, a student-teacher interaction happens which leads to great learning for all. Progress can only happen when we accept that yes, there are weaknesses and they need work. Hence it is important to accept all parts of ourselves and be soft with us as well as other beings who are also struggling on this planet. This is the journey of the ‘jīva’ in quest for our true ‘Self’.
The author Vidya Deepa Gupta is a student of Acharya Shunya, and serves as a core volunteer, supporting in the A/V team and leading the Hamsa Dhwani, a special mantra chanting group.
Learn more about how you can study Vedanta with Acharya Shunya in her Vedic Spiritual Studies Program.