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You Are Not a Person
Jose: Hello, Mr. Swartz. Please, I beg you to take the time to read this message. I know it’s long, but I feel that I have to share it with you. It’s urgent for me.
My name is Jose Bautista. I live in small city on the north coast of Colombia in South America (Caribbean Sea). I’m going to be honest and straight with you from the beginning. Last year I had various awakening experiences, where everything just stopped for a moment; after these my whole life turned towards finding answers, understanding. A couple of days after these I crashed into the whole Advaita Vedanta teachings, most of it modern non-dual teachings, Adyashanti, Mooji, Rupert Spira, Scott Kiloby, Jeff Foster and many many others; of course I also began exploring traditional teachers, Swami Sudhannada, Swamini Pramananda Saraswatti and a bit of Swami Dayananda; that’s where I got to your message.
Many years before this I had an experience that took me into a very dark existential period of my life. I was working, and like a flash it came, a feeling of not knowing really who I was. For the first time I was seeing my body like a strange object before me. I felt like I was playing one of those first-person video games. This brought many panic attacks and fear of death. I became sick “apparently” with a lot physical pain and headaches. I even went once to the hospital because I was completely sure that I was going to die. After a while I began to have experiences of observing myself while speaking to other people and listening to my mind more clearly. Sometimes I forgot where I was as if I lost reference to my location, and I could see people as empty bodies, almost as mechanical things moving and acting all around.
So I went to the psychiatrist who told me I was very sick and gave me some pills. I had a “depersonalization disorder,” he said, and I believed him. Not entirely, but I did. After this I began reading some spiritual stuff and practicing some meditation and yoga and much New Age stuff. Until last year’s experiences…
The first time I saw you, was at the Conscious TV interview you had with Iain McNay… Immediately I went into your website. At that time I was trying to relate my “depersonalization” of years back with my current experiences, so in a Web forum where you were answering some questions, someone asked about that and you answered something like “these people are meant to be in psychiatric chairs”… something like this, I can’t remember well. So I thought, “What a jerk. He doesn’t know about this, how can he say that, how can he be a spiritual teacher?”…
My experiences got more and more intense at that moment, so I decided to go to India, Tiruvannamalai, and so I did. When I arrived a huge fear embraced me as if I was heading for something completely unknown. For one month I went to Mooji satsangs, and Cesar Teruel also, morning and evening. It was very beautiful.
During the first days, while walking to satsang, suddenly there was just walking, just the trees, the road, but with a different taste, a very bright, fresh experience. As days passed by it got more and more clear. At times I could feel the absence of me, it was a feeling of just an empty body, even at moments there was this one substance seeing and hearing through these eyes and ears, but still a lot of identification with the experiences.
One day I went to have dinner at Amma Rooftop. I saw you there. I didn’t expect that and instantly I thought, “What is he doing here??” You where just at the next table talking with some people about Vedanta, “the true Vedanta and Advaita,” you were saying. “What a jerk,” I said to myself.
So the time came to return to my country. Since then my experience has been like a roller coaster. Sometimes it’s very clear, and sometimes it’s not. It is like living between heaven and hell.
Almost six months now, since I returned from India, for an unknown reason I came again to your website. This time there was a complete different feeling. As I saw your videos at YouTube, I began to recognize something in your teachings that I haven’t seen before.
In a very intense way came this feeling of going into the Vedanta teachings as in the traditional way. I feel that I need to sink into the recognition, but there is very little information about this “stage,” if one can call it like this. Teachers say “Just stay with the recognition, it will do its thing.” Sometimes I feel that I need a space, at least for a while, where I can just melt into this, supported with the correct people and teachings. So I’ve been strongly feeling the pull towards a Vedanta school or a teaching and of course a teacher who can help me at this time. I also feel that there is nothing more I want in my lifetime, just to get established in that presence, understand it and serve it. Now I understand that at those moments I was not prepared for your message, I was very much conditioned and attached to my experiences. Yesterday in your book Mystic by Default I found a part where your teacher told you that Vedanta was the “science of self-knowledge.” That was it… as if I’ve been waiting to hear those words for a long period of time. They resonated completely.
Please, if you will, I would love to have some words from you, some advice, some guidance in this process, in this life, through this recognition. Paradoxically, I feel most teachers are too busy for spending time answering for mails like mine.
The recognition was baby food compared to what teachers call the stabilization… As you know, there is not much information about this process.
~ With much love and gratitude, Jose
James: Hi, Jose. A very interesting story and told with integrity and clarity. It seems you want advice on the “stabilization” of your experience of the self. Is that correct? You want to experience “heaven” all the time and not go from “heaven” to “hell.” Is that it?
You are probably going to think I am a jerk again because I am going to tell you something that you probably do not want to hear, although maybe you do. Let’s see. Vedanta teachers are not afraid to tell the bad news along with the good news. It is okay if you think I am a jerk and write me off again.
You will come back again because you have been bitten by the truth. Anyway, think what you want. I don’t take things personally. Please listen to my argument and think about it. I will not make the whole argument. For that you must get my book and read it carefully and slowly, trying to understand the logic as it unfolds. I particularly want you to study Chapter II because it will show you the way forward.
But what I am going to say now is that you cannot “stabilize” any experience. First, experience is unstable by nature. It is always in a state of flux. Secondly, experience is not under the control of the ego, the person who wants it stabilized. It is controlled by the macrocosmic mind.
All you can do is to discover that part of yourself that is always stable and identify with it. The experiences you had came and went. That is the nature of experience. But they came for a particular reason and you did not discover the reason. If you had discovered the reason you would not be writing me this email. They were telling you something. You did not learn the lesson, because you were fixated on the experiences themselves, not on the most important factor in them.
What is that factor? That is you, the witness of the experiences. You, the witness, did not change during the experiences. You are the “stable,” the permanent, factor in your experiences, both spiritual and worldly. The reason you did not discover yourself in those experiences, although they pointed to you by implication, is because you believe that enlightenment is some kind of permanent experience of “heaven” or bliss or happiness – call it what you will.
You are the permanent, unchanging, non-dual awareness that is watching you read these words right now and is observing the thoughts and feelings you are having as you read these words. This awareness cannot be “stabilized,” because it is already and always stable. I thought it was rather funny that the pill doctor said you suffered “depersonalization” – as if this was a bad thing. In fact the less personal you are, the better. Taking things personally is the whole human problem in a nutshell. The animals have it better than we do. They just take reality as it is according to their natures and don’t make a big story out of it.
The problems you suffered as a result of your positive and negative experiences, you suffered because you took what happened personally. By that I mean you interpreted what happened it in terms of what you believed yourself to be at the time they happened. They destabilized your personality because they contradicted your basic orientatation in life. For example, in one experience you saw your body as an object “out there.” This is quite a shock for some who thinks they are the body.
And the problem that you suffered from the good, blissful experiences – which is that you wanted them back – is because you took them personally. You thought they were about Jose, not about you. They were showing you that the nature of the observer is bliss.
The fact is the self is completely impersonal. You are not a person. So the experiences were showing you this, but you thought it was some kind of psychological dysfunction – when in fact it was just your nature. The experiential view of enlightenment has it that a person is going to “get enlightened” as if enlightenment was some kind of experience that is obtained, like a job, a wife or an automobile. But the self, whose nature is “light,” meaning awareness, is already “obtained” by you. It is you. So how are you going to get it and then stabilize it? You are not. Nobody is going to do it. Nobody has done it. This whole stabilization idea is a myth, unless you mean to stabilize the knowledge that you are impersonal awareness.
The only access to your self is though knowledge, not experience. And knowledge is something that you can count on. Experience you can never trust, because it is fickle like the wind. If you want help from me then you need to understand this fact. I won’t teach anyone who has the experiential notion of enlightenment. It is a waste of my time and theirs. You see the whole argument laid out in Chapter II of my book. In the meantime, you can go to my website and carefully read the satsangs on knowledge and experience.
I hope this has been helpful.
~ All the best, James