Joseph Emmett: Intellectual Yoga – Below the Line with James Beshara

Key Takeaways

  • “Attach, you lose. Detach, you gain.”
  • Two must reads:
  • The universe is largely left up to chance and the control you think you have… much of it is delusion – so chill out
    • LET GO – realize you’ll get to a much better destination if you can learn to detach from whatever life throws your way
  • The joy of success lies in doing the work
    • Greatness is born out of the grind – embrace it
  • A Vedanta (one of the world’s most ancient spiritual philosophies) Teaching:
    • Within the body there are two “equipments”: the mind and intellect
      • The mind = feelings, emotions, likes, dislikes, and attachments 
      • The intellect = the ability to think, reason, judge, decide, and analyze
    • Avoid becoming a slave to the mind by strengthening the intellect. Here’s how:
      • 1) Question EVERYTHING
        • Always be asking – “Why am I doing this?” or “What am I doing this for?”
      • 2) Don’t take anything for granted
        • Be alert to how things are and how they change
      • 3) Visit the intellect gym
        • Reflect on the ideas in the The Bhagavad Gita and Vedanta Treatise: The Eternities in a very meditative way
  • A quote from Alan Watts to ponder:
    • “The Big Bang is not something that happened 13.2 billion years ago… we are the Big Bang. It is still happening. We just happen to be 13.2 billion years into it.”
      • (This is why many think the ultimate pursuit of life is connection)

Books Mentioned

  • To learn more about Vedanta check out Vedanta Treatise: The Eternities by A. Parthasarathy (AKA Swamiji)
    • The book, which took 20 years to write, is an attempt to compress 5,000 years of wisdom into one concise text 
  • Swamiji is also the author of The Holocaust of Attachment
  • Essays in Zen Buddhism by D.T. Suzuki
    • “The moment I read about the concept of satori, the instant enlightenment he talks about people having… I realized this ‘issness’ is an experience, a becoming, an awakening…. a state of being”
      • “I can’t describe how titanic this shift was. It shook my world.”
  • The Bhagavad Gita by Eknath Easwaran is one of the core books of Vedanta 
    • Both James and Joseph highly recommend it – the book reads largely as a narrative and contains a TON of wisdom
  • David Brook’s new book – The Second Mountain
    • One of the main points – find a purpose than transcends yourself

Intro

  • Joseph Emmett is a modern day monk who’s spent 10 years studying Vedanta in India
  • “Attach, you lose. Detach, you gain.”
    • This is the phrase that James stumbled upon on a pamphlet during a hotel stay in Southern California, advertising a talk to be given by Joseph Emmett
  • Joseph does a lot of work with the Vedanta Society of Houston
  • “Whatever you’re attached to, that attachment actually repels it from you” – James
  • James calls Joseph “the most carefree, stress-free” individual he knows

What is your world view?

  • This is a question Joseph likes to ask to get to know people, especially on long flights
    • He jokes that he’s a “world view analyst”
    • The most profound answer he’s ever heard:
      • “The world is governed by subjective laws of life and living, just as external nature is governed by external laws.”
  • Joseph adds – “Your world view is actually a baseline for how you walk out the door in the morning. Everyone has one.”

Comparing Western and Eastern Philosophical Thought

  • “The Western philosophies are excellent in ethics, moralities, personal freedoms, and democracy and all these other concepts that have to do with life in the world. Eastern philosophy, AKA Vedantic-based philosophy, tends to not be as limited to just the world and this waking state of consciousness that we experience. It takes into account, much more deeply, the dream state of consciousness and the deep sleep state of consciousness.”
    • As background – Vedanta is the most prominent of the six schools of Hindu philosophy
    • Eastern philosophy also takes into account what’s known as the 4th state of consciousness (AKA spiritual enlightenment – which is related to transcending the “waking state”)
      • Joseph adds – “It’s not just about life in the world. It’s about something beyond this state of existence.”
    • “We call Vedanta yoga for the intellect”
      • “Vedanta is the systematic, disciplined effort to put your head onto the transcendent, the infinite, the eternal, whatever you want to call it, as an exercise in and of itself”
  • To learn more about Vedanta, check out Vedanta Treatise: The Eternities by A. Parthasarathy (AKA Swamiji) (the book come up quite frequently during this interview)

The 3 Stories That Changed Joseph’s Life | Story #1 – Growing in Love with the Question: “What was there before the universe?”

  • Joseph began pondering the question when he was just 10-11 years old
    • “I wasn’t sitting there banging my head trying to get an answer. I just loved the question…. The question put me into a calm, simple, and still state of mind. Of course, there’s no answer.”
      • James add – “There’s something so profound about being able to ask a question and know you don’t need an answer”
  • This also relates to how Joseph would answer the question mentioned above – “What is your world view?”
    • One answer he has for this – “Nothing is something”
      • “The ‘issness’ is not something we can negate… the fact that something ‘is.'”
      • Similarly, in music, the spaces between the notes are just as important as the notes themselves
  • Let’s wrap everything together:
    • To try to imagine nothing before the universe came to exist is still a version of something

The 3 Stories That Changed Joseph’s Life | Story #2 – A Book That Shook Joseph’s World

  • During his senior year of high school, Joseph got a job at a coffee shop – his boss recommended Essays in Zen Buddhism by D.T. Suzuki as a must-read
    • “I got that book and it was a crux point for me. Until I read it, this reality, this being, this ‘issness’, this thing I loved to think about… was still a ‘thing.'”
    • “The moment I read about the concept of satori, the instant enlightenment he talks about people having… I realized this ‘issness’ is an experience, a becoming, an awakening…. a state of being”
      • “I can’t describe how titanic this shift was. It shook my world.”

The 3 Stories That Changed Joseph’s Life | Story #3 – Meeting Swamiji

  • Joseph attended college at Washington University in St. Louis
    • While there, he has a strong will to “find out how to live a life that takes one in a direction of a higher state of being”
      • But, as most of his classes were solely focuses on taking in as much information possible… this wasn’t very helpful
        • “We read The Bhagavad Gita in 4 days in one of my classes. At the ashram we spent 2 years going over The Bhagavad Gita, 7 days a week, 4-5 hours a day, reflecting on its many verses.”
          • As background, The Bhagavad Gita is one of the core books of Vedanta – James has read it twice now
          • The book reads largely as a narrative and contains TONS of wisdom
  • In his sophomore year, Joseph went to a talk on campus given by a swami from the Vedanta Academy (and Indian ashram) – Swamiji
    • A swami is simply a teacher
    • “25 seconds into it, I knew this man was talking about this whole philosophy from experience”
      • Swamiji explained he operated a school in India where he taught people the way of his knowledge – Joseph knew he had to go study with him
        • Sure enough, Joseph ended up taking a leave of absence from school and did just that, beginning a 3-year deep dive into all things Vedanta

A Day in the Life at the Vedanta Academy

  • A little background first:
    • Ashrams are Indian monasteries
    • They’re largely charitable organizations, supported by various donors
      • A large percentage of students don’t pay to attend (although there is a suggested donation) – “You can walk into that place with the clothes on your back and everything is taken care of””
    • The main point of ashrams – to make it as easy as possible to liberate the minds of those there to enable them to achieve higher thought
      • Food is provided, there are uniforms, you can easily walk to a gym, etc.
  • Every day ran 4 AM – 9 PM
  • Each day started with tea, yoga, and exercise
    • “If you visit in the early morning around 7 AM, you might think it’s a sports institution”
  • Students eat 3 meals a day
  • There’s multiple study sessions/lectures throughout the day
    • Swamiji taught a great deal about the The Bhagavad Gita
    • Swamiji also gave multiple lectures on a book of his own, Vedanta Treatise: The Eternities
      • The book, which took 20 years to write, is an attempt to compress 5,000 years of wisdom into one concise text 
        • James says it’s an easy read (given the subject matter)
        • A cool fact – not a word of the book (or any of Swami’s other books) were written after 6 AM
        • “I believe the book will be considered, 100s of years of now, one of the major milestones in the Vedantic tradition”
    • “We move very slowly through the knowledge taught and there’s a LOT of time to sit and reflect”
  • There are also quite a few group discussions thrown into the routine

Let’s Get Real

  • The universe is largely left up to chance and the control you think you have… much of it is delusion – so chill out
    • “It’s laughable how little impact, if you zoom out far enough, we have on these things” – James
    • LET GO – realize you’ll get to a much better destination if you can learn to detach from whatever life throws your way
  • In many ways, your strengths are your weaknesses
    • How so? – A certain strength may produce a ton of the misgivings and shortcomings you experience
      • As an example, if you’re great at envisioning the future… the thing that’s likely to cause you the greatest amount of psychological pain is when that future is altered from what you thought it was going to be

It’s All in the Work | An Important Lesson Joseph Learned From Teaching Vedanta

  • Joseph has organized many of his own talks/classes to teach Vedanta throughout the years
    • However,very often, no one shows up
    • But that’s okay – “The whole thing is to serve the cause, the cause of making Vedanta available to the world, without attachment… without worrying whether people come or don’t come. Understand that the success is in the work. The peace of mind is in the work you’re doing…. and not anywhere else.”
  • Joseph adds:
    • “People aren’t knocking down the doors to sit and study and reflect on philosophy. It’s always going to be a small percentage… It’s not something that has an instant gratification associated with it. In fact, it can be dissociating to really stop and question everything we view our life as. It’s not typically a comfortable thing.”
  • James comments:
    • “The work that we’re doing is so rarely self-justifying. It’s always a symbol or bridge to some other thing we want. Therefore, like a bridge, it’s so transitory.”
      • Ex. Doing X, Y or Z because it’s going to lead to some other thing you really want
  • Check out Robert Smith’s commencement speech at Morehouse College
    • “It’s mind blowing, you’ll love it, watch the whole thing” – Joseph
    • Cliffs – Robert offered to pay off the debt of every student in the graduating class
    • A line from his talk:
      • “You need to know nothing actually replaces doing the work. The usual scenario is that the successful entrepreneurs spend hours, days, years… toiling away for little pay and zero glamour. In all honesty, that’s where the joy of success actually resides. Greatness is born out of the grind – embrace it.”
        • Joseph adds – “The only way this works is when the motive for the work is self-less or unselfish. Then the work becomes a refuge.”

Getting Practical |A Vedanta Teaching

  • Every human has a body
    • Within the body there are two “equipments”: the mind and intellect
      • The mind = feelings, emotions, likes, dislikes, and attachments 
      • The intellect = the ability to think, reason, judge, decide, and analyze
    • “If the intellect and the mind are equal, the intellect can govern and direct the mind… basically guide it. The mind by itself has no guidance system.”
      • If you want to be innovate/disruptive (or even disciplined) – you need a powerful intellect (otherwise you become a victim to the mind)
  • “In short, don’t be a slave to your mind”
    • “Stress pulls people in 100 directions. Because their intellect is weak, the mind is just running amok.”
  • How can you develop intellect?
    • 1) Question EVERYTHING
      • Always be asking – “Why am I doing this?” or “What am I doing this for?”
    • 2) Don’t take anything for granted
      • Be alert to how things are and how they change
    • 3) Visit the intellect gym
      • Reflect on the ideas in the The Bhagavad Gita and Vedanta Treatise: The Eternities in a very meditative way
      • What about meditation? – It’s more just relaxation, it won’t strengthen your intellect

Don’t Catch the Attachment Bug

  • Swamiji is also the author of The Holocaust of Attachment
  • Vedanta preaches that attachment is a virus you can catch and re-catch
    • “That’s true for me. I can be at a lunch with friends and feel going into it that I’m in a strong intellectual place and then completely catch it like a cold because of someone’s success I have jealousy over” – James
      • “If I go 3 or 4 weeks without thinking about all this, not reflecting on attachment, I’m for sure to catch that cold”
  • Joseph loved James’ first interview with Eric Ries
    • One of his favorite insights – “The most important quality of a successful leader is non-attachment”
    • James adds – “He’s easily one of the deepest thinkers in Silicon Valley”
    • (Joseph also really enjoyed James’ chat with Justin Kan – check out the Podcast Notes)

Our Ultimate Pursuit is Connection

  • “I’ve always felt that our ultimate pursuit is connection” – James
    • Why is this the case? – Simply put, there was once a point when we were all connected
      • As Alan Watts has said – “The Big Bang is not something that happened 13.2 billion years ago… we are the Big Bang. It is still happening. We just happen to be 13.2 billion years into it.”

Additional Notes

  • “The moment you know what you’re looking for, the problem is half solved”
  • James and his wife attend church every Sunday
    • “It’s a really reflective point in my week and a really important part of my routine”
  • For more on Swamiji, check out Gwyneth Paltrow’s interview with him
  • One of the best places to learn about different philosophies? – YouTube lectures
    • James is a huge fan of Alan Watts 
      • “He’s probably going to be seen as one of the most influential philosophers of the 21st century”
  • You can take Swamiji’s 3-year Vedanta course online
    • Joseph is currently re-taking it
  • Check out David Brook’s new book – The Second Mountain
    • One of the main points – find a purpose than transcends yourself
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