Search & Read
Self as a Felt Experience or as Intellectual Knowledge?
Peter: Dear Ramji! Our communication is so light that I am drowning in the light, so I want to meet you in person. The understanding (that I am the self) is quite clear to me. Because one is what one is, IT can’t be an experience. I think that knowing who I am is too easy. I think it cannot be so easy. It must be a felt experience. Somehow I am missing the full conviction that every thought and feeling unfolding in consciousness is just the mind. I somehow think they belong to me, the one who believes in thoughts and feelings. It feels to me that if the full conviction were there I would not indulge my thoughts anymore.
Ram: That’s right. So why isn’t the conviction there? Perhaps the problem is that the believer in the thoughts and feelings has not realized that the pursuit of certain experiences and/or the cultivation of certain thoughts and feelings will not bring lasting happiness. I would say that he needs to come to a point where it is completely clear that there is nothing anywhere, inwardly or outwardly, that can either add or subtract happiness from him. In Vedanta this is called viragya, dispassion, and is based on viveka, discrimination. Such a person has lived enough life to know that whatever experience brings is limited and will therefore not set one free. So this type of person stops chasing experience in any form – including the so-called spiritual experiences. Even if you have a powerful spiritual experience it always fades, leaving you feeling limited and incomplete once more.
In Vivekachoodamani and elsewhere Shankara says that viragya is one of the most important qualifications of enlightenment. It means you do not care one way or the other what experience brings. You are happy when you feel good and you are happy when you feel bad. It does not matter what you feel, because feelings always change on their own. You are not in control of them.
To accept the impersonality of the mind is a great blessing because it sets you free and allows you to change your relationship to the mind, not the mind itself. When you have shifted from someone who is dissatisfied with the mind and who wants to change it to a wholehearted acceptance of the mind as it is, you feel confident to deal with the experiences it generates and your reactions to them. It is no longer an enemy. You don’t move toward anything nor do you run away from anything.
I think the absence of this feeling of confidence is what you mean when you suggest that the full conviction is not there. If this is so, then on the other side of the mind there is a belief that something might happen in this world that would make you supremely happy or set you free. So you keep hoping, paying attention to what’s happening in your life, looking for the magic to appear.
When dispassion happens understanding is possible. But until it is there, the unfulfilled part of you will not be able to accept the fact that you are whole and complete. Vedanta is not saying that you will become whole and complete. It says that you are whole and complete already, even when you think you aren’t, and that all is required is to remove the belief that you are limited and incomplete. This is why it often says in the scriptures that enlightenment is very easy. But it also says that it is very difficult – if you have not developed this dispassion.
Let’s look at it another way, on a more subtle level. You say you would not indulge anymore in any thoughts. Why? What power do the thoughts have to compromise your happiness? The thoughts don’t think you. You are the thinker of the thoughts. So they depend on you, not you on them. Therefore you are free of them. If you feel that you need to be free of the thoughts before you will be happy, I think the only way you are going to attain that state is to physically die. I’ve met more than one hundred enlightened people in my life and I never met one who didn’t think. The self, the I, is the watcher of the thoughts. You cannot be what you see, at least on the relative plane. So there is a built-in gap between you and the thoughts. You can journey across it from your side and identify with the thought if you wish, but no thought ever made the journey across the gap to visit you. If you inquire in this way you will see that you are already free.
Finally, let’s look at the idea of enlightenment as a felt experience. The reason it needn’t be a felt experience is that you already have all the self-experience you need. If this is a non-dual universe made up of nothing but consciousness – you – then everything you are experiencing every minute is the self: the food you eat, the air, your wife and kids, the thoughts and feelings in your mind – literally everything and the experience of everything. Perhaps you believe that enlightenment puts you in some special state where you no longer see the world around and have to deal with it. But if you are enlightened you would continue to experience the same things you are experiencing now. You have to feed the dog, love your wife and kids, and pay the bills. But – and this is the important part – because you know that it is all you, you are not dissatisfied with it.
Peter: I need help in this area. I feel ashamed to show some “missing links” when on the other side everything is so clear.
Ram: Well, it is to your credit that you can discuss your missing links. How are they going to get resolved unless you can see them differently – from the self’s perspective? You are the self. This is a fact. But the mind does not seem to want to be it. So the understanding that lies behind the mind has to be changed. One’s ideas that are not in harmony with the truth of oneself need to be changed. The ideas that are simply incorrect need to be dropped. It is only the incorrect notions one has about oneself and the world that create dissatisfaction with what is. The guru is just someone who helps you get your thinking straight. He or she is the self and knows it, so his or her mind thinks from the self. By communicating with such a person you learn how to think about yourself correctly. You learn to identify erroneous beliefs and opinions, and most importantly you learn that you can live happily without them. You see in front of you someone who thinks clearly and hangs onto nothing. So you get confidence, the full conviction, that you can also do this. It is generally more difficult the longer one has been in the spiritual world, because one picks up a lot of spiritual ideas that seem to be much more useful than the worldly ideas. So the person develops a kind of spiritual identity. But this identity is just an overlay, another better ego on top of the existing ego. The Buddha’s Diamond Sutra was addressed to monks who had been on the path for a long time and who had picked up a lot of erroneous notions. The diamond was the teachings meant to cut through these spiritual myths.
To examine one’s erroneous notions takes an open mind – which you seem to have. Many years ago I had an ashram in San Francisco, and there was a young boy, who was eight at the time and used to come in for the chants and the meditations. He listened to my talks very carefully, and was a very nice kid, very bright and innocent as boys and girls of that age can be. One day, it was a Saturday afternoon, I was sitting in the back yard reading the paper, and he came over (he lived next door) and sat down. So I asked him what was happening and he said, “Now, tell about this self. I want to know what it is.” And so I spoke for about five minutes and he woke up. The reason he got it – and he still had it fifteen years later when I last saw him – was because he was the self and he didn’t have any idea that he wasn’t the self – unlike most adults who have built up this false identity over many years and who don’t feel comfortable without it. It made perfect sense to him because my words directed his mind to something that was right there – something had always been there in his experience and something that would always be there, so he didn’t forget.
Anyway, things here are just the same as when we last spoke and I am just the same as I’ve been forever, so there is nothing much to say beyond this. I hope your business thrives and the situation at home improves. It’s a great pleasure to receive your emails and to communicate with you.
~ Much love, Ram