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The Experience of Enlightenment
Bettina: Dear Ramji, you nearly managed to spoil my delight in cheese sandwiches with your drastic description on page 107 of your book. Fortunately, I recovered from it.
Ram: Sorry about that. Just see them as the self and eat until your heart is content.
Bettina: I am spending day after day with your words, and of course some thoughts and reflections come up. So after a long break I would like to ask you for your comment on some things (and anyway, I miss your satsangs).
In your book you repeatedly talk about the experience of the SELF, for instance, in Chapter V, page 155, where you say: “Eventually even the idea ‘I am limitless awareness’ dissolves into permanent knowing EXPERIENCE of oneself as the SELF.” [Capitalization is Bettina’s.] How does that work? What exactly do you experience?
Ram: It just happens. You just keep the mind continually meditating on the self – like you are doing. When strong vasanas come up, you don’t act on them, just let them pass. As you hold the mind on the self you are always thinking about it – as you are doing. And then at a certain point you understand that the self, which up to this time has been perceived as an object, is me, the subject. It doesn’t feel like anything. Well, that is not exactly true. It feels like a resolution, a relief. It is an understanding that results in the feeling that you don’t need to do anything ever again to get something that you don’t have. Up until this point you have thought of yourself as incomplete. But now you realize that this is not true, so you let go of all aspirations.
It sounds like that is what is happening with you. You are completely happy. Your doubt is that the happiness is coming from the objective situation, but it isn’t. It’s coming from you – for no objective reason. It is uncaused. What’s keeping you from fully appreciating it is the belief that circumstances have come together to make you happy. When you remove this notion you will see that you are the happiness.
Bettina: What exactly do you experience, the knowing or the SELF?
Ram: They are the same. You are always experiencing the self. It is not possible not to experience the self. And the knowing comes right along with it. When you experience a tree you know the tree. The knowledge arises simultaneously with the experience.
I think maybe the problem is that you have been seduced by the view that enlightenment transforms your experience radically. It doesn’t. You will keep right on experiencing things the way you have always experienced them. But your relationship to experience changes. You just let it unfold as it will without worrying about what it will bring. You will be free of existential anxiety. Yes, this is a change in experience, but it does not change the way your vasanas outpicture and the way you experience reality.
Bettina: And how do you get there from where I am, just knowing, or even better, just believing (you) that I am the SELF? When I believe or know, how can I definitely know something I cannot experience?
Ram: You are experiencing the self all the time. It is you. You cannot say that you are not experiencing you. Who is writing this letter? Who is asking the questions? Who is thinking and feeling?
It is you, the self. There is no Bettina experiencing anything. What you call “Bettina” is just the self. You think Bettina is somebody and the self is something else. There are confusions in your mind because you believe that the self is one thing and it doesn’t seem to fit with your idea of Bettina. But Bettina is just a name for the self. She is not a unique person. Is your body made of any different elements from anyone’s? Do your pranas function differently from others’? Does your mind think and feel is some totally unique way? Are the vasanas you experience experienced by only you? Is the life in you different from the life in everything else?
What you call Bettina’s body-mind is just the self functioning through itself in the form of energy, nature. Experience is universal because it is the self experiencing itself through the not-self.
Bettina: When I believe or know, how can I definitely know something I cannot experience?
Ram: If you are experiencing it all the time then you can know it. You don’t know it for what it is. You think or believe it is something other than what it is. This is why when you get it you have a big laugh. You realize the joke is on you. You may even feel ashamed because it is so obvious – and you overlooked it for such a long time.
Bettina: Okay, when I believe that I am the SELF, how do I deal with the contents of my mind, being grumpy, for instance?
Ram: This is where sadhana, practice, comes, in. As a seeker of the self you have made a vow that you are not going to put energy into unreality, so you simply dismiss the agitation as not-self and let the mind clear of it.
Now, you’re a clever one and I can feel you thinking, “But you just said that everything is the self, so my agitation must be the self too, so why is it a problem?” And the answer is that it isn’t a problem if you know you are the self. But when you don t, when you are believing you are, then you need to separate the self in its formless essence from its changing forms, i.e. the agitations in the mind, the not-self.
This “not-self” teaching is only a temporary teaching. It allows you to negate your dualistic views which will allow you to cease identifying with the mind/body/ego bundle. Once you have discounted these things, as you you realize that you are pure awareness, the self, and simultaneously with this realization you see that the not-self is also the self.
Bettina: Do I in any way give attention to it, asking myself why I am grumpy, what I am missing, what I could need or change?
Ram: This is helpful if you come to the right conclusion. If you think it through you will realize that you have gone with it so many times and it has not produced happiness or has produced only temporary happiness, so you understand that following it is a dead-end street. It won’t get you anywhere. So you just dismiss it.
Or you go right to the heart and ask, “Who is this ‘I’ that is having a problem with this?” And then you see that it is Bettina and you just dismiss her, since she is just an idea. Or you see that the “I,” the experiencer, is the self and you abide in that, meaning you realize beyond a doubt your limitless nature.
Bettina: Or do I just register it and let it be there together with all the beauty I see around me and everything else that is going on in my mind?
Ram: This is best. You understand that it is the self operating in a negative mode and you accept it, appreciate it, enjoy the ironies and contradictions it suggests. I’m always having a nice laugh at my mind.
Bettina: And wait for it to change – or not even that! Know it as “not me” and leave it alone? Yes, when I think about it, this seems a good and wise approach – what do you say?
Ram: I say yes! Now you’re thinking! This is the value of the not-self teaching. The agitation is the self, but it is non-essential self, so it can be safely ignored or dismissed or happily endured.
Bettina: I am irritated by the discussion about SELF and NOT-SELF: I know that it’s just a pedagogic approach, but whenever I read things like “What changes is not me, what doesn’t change is,” (page 173) or “…if IT (the SILENCE) is the absence of thought, it is the SELF.” I think, “The SELF IS EVERYTHING: it is the unchanging AND the changing. It is the unmanifest AND the manifest. It is the silence AND the sound. It is the Silence AND the thought. It is unmoving and ever unaffected AND it is the suffering AND the pain AND the joy and bliss…” It is everything and beyond everything, isn’t it?
Ram: Yes, this is correct. As I pointed out above, when you get to the realization that it is all the self you don’t need to discriminate the self from the not-self. The teaching does not apply. Maybe the not-self teaching is irritating because you are beyond it. You are self-realized.
Bettina: And in fact its not graspable anyway, is it? So how can I know it?
Ram: You can know it because it is you. Do you exist? Do you know that you exist? How do you know? Because you exist. The knowledge and the existence are the same. To grasp means to know or understand.
Bettina: It’s beyond knowledge, isn’t it?
Ram: No. What is all this about if it’s not about self-knowledge? I ll repeat what I said above. You can know it because it is you. Do you exist? Do you know that you exist? How do you know? Because you exist. The knowledge and the existence are the same. To grasp means to know or understand. There is a strange notion that there are two kinds of knowledge, intellectual and experiential, and that self-knowledge is experiential. This is not true, because you are experiencing the self all the time. So you do not need a special kind of experiential knowing to experience it. You know it the same way you know anything in physical or psychological reality. What is called intellectual knowledge is actually just belief. You have heard about something but you haven’t experienced it, so you believe that it exists. When you experience it then it becomes knowledge.
Bettina: In fact all we can REALLY say about it is IT IS! And yet we know it. How does that work?
Ram: You’re thinking is excellent, Bettina. Keep it up. You’re about to finish your sadhana, I think. In answer to this question I’ll repeat what I just said a third time. You can know it because it is you. Do you exist? Do you know that you exist? How do you know? Because you exist. The knowledge and the existence are the same. To grasp means to know or understand.
When you say “it is,” is that known or unknown? It is known. It is knowledge. That you are is known.
Bettina: Because we ARE it?!
Ram: See, you came to the same conclusion. If I had read to this point before replying I would have saved myself writing it and all I would have had to say was yes.
Bettina: If it were true that the SELF was no-thought I would always be light years apart from IT.
Ram: This correct. But the Self is the awareness of thought and no-thought. It is the thoughts and it is the no-thoughts, but it is free of thought and no-thought at the same time. Thought is the self at a secondary order of reality. It changes. You, the pure self, do not change.
Bettina: I am always thinking, almost always about the SELF. And I feel mostly quite at ease with all these thoughts and emotions… I don’t feel that any of these distance me from IT.
Ram: They don’t. They are in harmony with it. But they couldn’t distance you from it – because they are you. The come out of you, consciousness, and subside back into you.
Bettina: And yet when I am grumpy…
Ram: Let’s stop here. The “I” is not grumpy. The “I” is the awareness of grumpy. If you can dismiss this “I” you don’t need to worry about the grumpiness, because the grumpiness belongs to the small “I.”
Bettina: …and yet when I am grumpy the thought “this is just a mind-state, it’s not me” can help.
Ram: Yes. It’s a valuable practice. It should become second nature so that as soon as mind thinks “I am grumpy” the next thought is “The ‘I’ is not grumpy.” This practice is called pratipaksha bhavana, applying the opposite thought.
Bettina: But at the same time, when I think about it, it doesn’t seem true. “This is happening and because it is happening, it is ME! It’s a mind-state, it will change, where is the problem?” seems more accurate or adequate. And in the end, these are all just thoughts…
Ram: Yes, in the end they are, but they are very important thoughts. I’m very impressed with how your thinking has refined. It is quite sophisticated. Before long you will be able to remove all your own doubts. Remember, enlightenment is not getting some incredible state. If there is an incredible state it is you already. It is simply the removal of the doubts one has about oneself.
Bettina: I am totally happy (because of this and that…).
Ram: You should stop with “happy.” As I pointed out above, the happiness is not in the object, the happiness is you.
Bettina: I feel so incredibly privileged.
Ram: This is the thought that is meant to kill the whining and complaining Bettina. Don’t forget it.
Bettina: Do you remember the quote on the back of Swami Suddhananda’s book “…a person, who is happy for a reason, is not a happy person”? I still hear you laugh when you read this. Now, I have countless reasons to be happy, living in this beautiful, peaceful place, surrounded by friendly people and shining, abundant nature, doing exactly what I want to do… and so I think, “Maybe I am not a happy person, I am just happy for reasons.”
Ram: Who makes the reasons right? You. The right reason is “I am.” When “I am” is the reason, every situation is perfect.
Bettina: Right now I feel everything is good and perfect and exactly how it should be – but what if I was confronted with real suffering? When I see a person in rags, without nose, hands and feet or a starved, dying dog in the street, can I still think this is perfect?… while I write this, the thought comes, “YES! I have to include this because it’s ME! I don’t have to say it’s perfect, I don’t have to say it’s awful, I just have to see IT IS!, and because it’s ME, I will feel it… Yes!…” And when Wolfgang leaves the light on when he leaves the house, I scream.
I wish you could visit us here, maybe you would like it too.
Ram: Yes, I would like that. Let’s see how it goes. I’m coming to Europe in the spring, so maybe we can meet then. In the meantime, keep up this sadhana. It is working.
~ Much love, Ramji