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There Is No One Inside
Sean: Dear Mr. Swartz, I found you via the Stillness Speaks website. I watched a segment of your interview with Chris Hebard, and appreciated your directness. I have demonstrated the ability to get to the nuts and bolts of things, so it is no surprise to me that I find myself in the world of direct inquiry and your communication.
To cut to the chase, I have always looked at the world with a sense of peculiarity. At a time when I was seriously asking questions of myself and life something would shift. I can tell you that many tightly-held beliefs were simply destroyed, and from that day forward I would not abuse myself (mentally speaking). Life had most definitely changed. That is not to say that my suffering ended, but life would be light and my perspective was such that I have simply been kind to myself ever since. However, it was very clear to me that these beliefs were the cause of trouble, and without these beliefs I still was. That got my attention, and started the questioning in earnest. Since then life has presented ample opportunity and situations to question myself and life. To date, sitting quiet and listening to life has been my best teacher. The number of recourses to turn to is limited here in the US. To compound that, my BS meter is fairly reliable.
I read Dharma Combat at your website and was struck by your comments about the West. I struggle with interpretation. The difference in the meaning of a word now from just fifty years ago can be quiet different, not to mention the failures in translation. I have been left of my own accord to work things out. I say that not knowing if that aids or hinders inquiry. My guess is both. I also resonate with your reference to a friend who experienced altered states for many years and did not have a reference to evaluate them. I have an ear for this inquiry, but no reference. Where I live does not appear to be a hotbed for the non-dual, and hopping a flight to India is not an option at this time. One is left to Web-searching and reading, but most I just sit quietly.
I am grateful for any direction!
James: I am not completely sure what your doubt is, but I think it centers around the interpretation of the words of scripture and enlightened (or apparently enlightened) beings. If that is correct, it is a very important issue because if you are trying to get direction, you need to interpret the meaning of words correctly so that you can move forward. Unfortunately, an individual’s interpretation is only as good as his or her knowledge or ignorance. And a person would not be looking for the meaning of the statements of scripture or reading the books of gurus, etc. if he or she knew who he or she was. So there is always the danger of scurrying off down a tunnel with no cheese at the end.
There is a solution, however. This is where Vedanta comes into the picture. It provides a way of looking at yourself and your body-mind and the world that helps you interpret the meaning of words objectively. It would take me quite a few pages to explain it in enough detail to make sense, so I suggest you get a copy of my new book which goes into this question is considerable detail, particularly in Chapter III. You should read it from the beginning, however, and not skip to Chapter III which is entitled “The Means of Knowledge.” I think if you read the whole book you would have a very solid foundation for interpreting scripture, analyzing your epiphanies and removing obstacles. Once you have read it contact me if you have any questions and I will try to clear them up, either with an email or by Skype or the phone.
Sean: I became somewhat familiar with the teachings of Vedanta following an experience that was beyond my limited understanding of the nature of life. I found myself reading works about Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta. These communications came across my path and seem to speak to what was exposed in this experience. I come to these teachings just as I found your information, via websites, books, etc. These communications either speak to me or they don’t. I won’t hook my wagon to just any communication; there is a lot of spiritual minutia out there. You seem to have clarity about this and speak to this. What is most important, the teacher or the teaching?
James: A purified scripture, a qualified teacher and a qualified student are necessary. They are all equally important.
Sean: Can one be guided toward realization and liberation by the teachings in a book?
James: Yes and no. A good scripture can put you in the ballpark, but it will not take you all the way, because the reader will unconsciously interpret the words according to unexamined beliefs and opinions and not get the pure intent, the implied meaning, of the scripture. So at some point you need to be taught.
Sean: Is inquiry enough?
James: If it is guided by scripture and you are qualified.
Sean: Is a relationship with one who is realizes required? The answer I have heard to this is yes.
Sean: If so, what does that mean, and what about access, more specifically, the lack thereof? Am I out of luck because there are no realized teachers in the part of the world I find myself and my life circumstances do not permit travel? I guess I am just trying to settle my relationship with a teaching and a teacher, and the lack of access. I am clear that realization is an inward pursuit, but is there an efficient relationship to a teaching and a teacher?
James: If the intent is pure and intense, God will set it up for you to meet a teacher. It is quite easy nowadays with telecommunications being what they are. When you get done with the book you can also get the DVD set if you think Vedanta is for you. It is almost as good as having a teacher, particularly in the beginning. I have many friends who watch them over and over and read the book like it is the Bible. They report that this method works. Then we can meet or Skype and the doubts get cleared. It is a process. A few people realize through an impersonal communication, but there needs to be a live, realized person on the other end of the phone. By and large dead gurus don’t work. For others, it sometimes takes many years, even though we meet regularly. It all depends on your eligibility.
Sean: I hope these questions don’t appear frivolous. They may not reflect any dept of self-knowledge, but are nonetheless questions that have been working on me. I did not come to any of this by following a spiritual path or belief system other then asking myself questions about life, and asking questions about an experience that revealed something more true and fundamental than the life I had been living. Quite honestly, I have been hesitant to explore any path.
James: Well, Sean, count yourself among the lucky ones. The “spiritual” types who have been on various paths are the most difficult to teach. They have all kinds of silly ideas which they believe amount to knowledge and they are attached to them. It is a big mine field out there. If you are uncontaminated by the modern seeking world, you have a leg-up on the rest.
Sean: I see quite clearly that this life and world occurs before this unchanging Presence. Why is that I feel more like a fish flopping around the beach in frantic need for water, then this still, unchanging Presence? It is tiring and I am growing impatient, yet this too is seen in this Presence! Is there an end?
James: You are the end. It is not something that is going to happen, so to get out of this seeming ocean of samsara you should identify with the presence. Then you will not feel like a fish out of water. Identification with the self is the end of suffering. But identifying with self is hard work, owing to the tendency to identify with the body-mind entity. Still, what else do you have to do? Breaking the identification is like breaking any addiction. You need to be alert and pay attention to your mind. Whenever you see that you are caught up with the limited “I” switch your attention to presence and contemplate on the meaning of being presence. When you see beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are the presence suffering ends because as presence you are the end.
Sean: I am on my second meditation through your book. I am taken with the directness of Vedanta and your communication of it. My gut and insights have suggested the truth is not something more but less (in the sense that nothing needs to be added), something so obvious that it is not apparent.
James: That’s correct, Sean. In Vedanta the self – the truth – is called the “royal secret” in the sense that it is hidden in plain sight. It is wrongly assumed that it is tucked away in some faraway heaven or concealed in some inner state and therefore remains unknown and unappreciated.
Sean: I am going out on a limb and say a glimpse of non-dual reality was seen couple of years ago while healing from a potentially limiting trauma (and a couple of other simultaneous life-altering events). The chance of some permanent limitation was very real. During a lengthy recovery process I had ample time to contemplate how I would be impacted and it was clear that the sense of Being (the animating life) was completely unaffected. This was curious. This quickly led to noticing that the body was an experience of Being, and if that was the case for something as intimate as the body, so is everything else. Then what is Being? I have not left this inquiry since.
James: You are very fortunate, Sean. I’m sure at the time the trauma was not a cause for celebration, but see the effect on your understanding. I know many people who would give their eye teeth to know for certain “I am not the body.” It is really the foundation of inquiry and all the texts go at this notion at the start because until it is clear that the body exists for the “I” and not the other way around, one’s understanding cannot mature.
Sean: Vedanta, as you have laid it out, speaks specifically to this. The number-one thing I take away from the book is clarity and assimilation.
James: This is the whole point, Sean. The real issue is not whether or not the “I” exists, but the implications of understanding the nature of the self in terms of one’s apparent existence.
Actually, everyone does know the self, but there are certain confusions about it and its relationship to itself in terms of the body and mind and the world that need to be clarified. Freedom is just the knowledge that allows one to know how the self and the apparent self are related. In the modern teachings they are thought to belong to opposite orders of reality so that if you have a mind/ego you cannot have a self, the idea being that if you destroy the mind/ego you can “gain” the self. But it is not a two-way relationship. Awareness stands prior to and “above” the apparent self, so there is no conflict between them.
Sean: As I was reading the significance of self-knowledge I was relieved. My mind is always working on this. Why contemplate or why would one attend a satsang if self-knowledge was not valuable for the reflection of self?
James: Yes. The contradiction between modern teachings dismissing knowledge as merely intellectual and the plethora of words on the topic of the self by the selfsame teachers is obvious to anyone with a lick of sense. When your contemplation is guided by an invalid means of knowledge it will not bear fruit.
Sean: I also come away from the book knowing I need to look at my effectiveness at inquiry while in silence. I can quickly forget and get lost in drama until I recognize I am lost. I will continue to read your book and I will continue to inquire. Any additional direction would be welcome and greatly appreciated.
James: The key here is the simplicity of your lifestyle. If you have a very simple, sattvic lifestyle and your relationships are in order, it is easy to apply the knowledge when the mind becomes “lost.” I really can’t offer you anything more at this time, because you are obviously on the right track, but if any problems occur feel free to write.
Sean: I have got to say I was not expecting the confirmations. Doubt likes to sneak in from time to time, but then I notice I am aware of the doubt – and on and on. I do have to express my gratitude for you taking the time to respond. Other than a couple of quick email exchanges, I have not discussed inner recognition with another soul since the first epiphany got the insight ball rolling almost twenty years ago. It took all of a day to learn to keep my mouth closed about such things. The electronic nature of this communication, though not face to face, is coming from the recognition of self as best I can and I know I am hearing the truth in your communications. This is good. Should you find your travels taking you to Central Florida, please keep my email handy. I would enjoy meeting you. Or perhaps I will find my way to a satsang. In the meantime I will continue to inquire, look to the book, the literature at your website and perhaps pop an email every once in a while.
Okay, I need to put this all on the line and flush out what has been working on me for years.
I am not schooled in a spiritual community or a tradition of any kind, but I am not green to my inner relationship and inquiry. Perhaps many people are this way, but I have questioned life as long as I can remember. I mentioned in a prior email that a trauma led to seeing that Beingness was not impacted by that trauma. A piece of information not mentioned in our exchange was that I experienced a shift twenty years prior to that where I went from being lost in my personal drama to being aware of my drama, beliefs and my thoughts. I think it is fair to say, unbeknownst to me, I have lived a karma yoga life to one degree or another. The result is I have an objective relationship to thought, if not a quiet mind, that led to the initial report about Beingness. That is not to say that my vasanas are clear, but many troublesome ones have been worked out. I live as quiet a life as someone with a small family can. I don’t know how any of this actually came to be, but here I am.
In our last communication to you I had mentioned that I feel like a fish flopping around and grasping for water. As I work through your book I seem to recognize much of what you speak to, though I would not be able to articulate it in the same way. Then I seem to not be clear about any of this, and maybe I am not. If that is the case I need to know that too. How do I assess where I am in all of this? Is it possible that I am at the bottom of the barrel and I can see that it is empty?
You are perhaps the most knowledgeable and well-versed on inquiry and matters of self that I have had the opportunity to exchange communications with. In the marketplace of spiritual masters, though I have a good deal of respect for a couple, it is apparently out of my financial reach. The precision of Vedanta has my attention. In fact I find the precision a comfort. I continue to read the book and explore your website. I think I have listened to the movement of LIFE very well to this point, but I sense that additional clarity is in order. In fact it would be a dishonor to the Grace by which I come to see these gifts in my life if I did not carry them through.
I would be extremely grateful for any direction.
James: A very interesting letter. Several things you said in the first paragraph caught my attention. The first is your statement “I experienced a shift twenty years prior to that where I went from being lost in my personal drama to being aware of my drama, beliefs and my thoughts.”
Sean: One afternoon life spun up in front of me in such a way that it basically destroyed how I understood reality to be. I awoke the next day and everything was quiet. I remember walking around whistling just to hear myself. I don’t have much memory of how long I was completely quiet. I would say a week or two before random mind activity returned. I could clearly see I was aware of it. That has not changed.
James: This sound suspiciously like self-realization. You no longer identified with what was happening to Sean and your thoughts became objects.
Sean: Much of the drama of life and how the world impacted me greatly fell away, and my relationship to myself became kind. I can’t say that I challenged the belief of personhood until recent years; however, the story of me faded.
James: The subsequent statements read like the textbook symptoms of self-realization. You say, “unbeknownst to me, I have lived a karma yoga life to one degree or another.” I don’t know if the karma yoga attitude came before or after the shift you mention, but it doesn’t matter. I have always looked at the world with peculiarity. At the time I was questioning my place in the world. I was angry.
If it came before it probably set up the shift and such an attitude would automatically as a result of a permanent shift in perspective from the ego-self to the witness. The most obvious symptom is “an objective relationship to thought.”
Sean: Yes, that was a stark change. Now, I have gotten burned from time to time over the years by losing myself to much to the drama, but rarely consumed.
James: Only the self objectifies thought. A person, the body-mind entity, identifies with its thoughts. And finally, it seems the binding vasanas have been neutralized by this shift and the karma yoga attitude.
Sean: Note the comment about getting burned from time to time. ☺
James: This is almost a complete definition of self-realization. But something seems to be missing. Before I say what I think it is, let me ask a question. You mention Beingness twice in the first paragraph. What is your relationship to Beingness?
Sean: When I experienced the trauma I could see that if I lost the ability to walk that I was okay. There was no less Beingness, no less aliveness, and I could not find anything about the body that could change that, except for dying. Then I could see that if the body was an experience, even dying would have to be an experience.
James: If it is something other than you, then what is missing is the identification with Beingness because enlightenment is the understanding “I am being. I am consciousness.”
Sean: Well, the fact that I don’t have a quick and clear response must indicate this to be so.
James: This should answer your question “How do I assess where I am in all of this?” Yours is a very interesting case because it seems from the way to report it, that you are actually experientially enlightened because you fulfill the major criteria, but you don’t seem to know it.
Sean: One source of confusion is that life is still a roller coaster because I see everything in front of me life is not nearly as personally engaged, but some vasanas are still active. I would not think that would be the case if one were enlightened.
Ram: Not necessarily. There are vasanas for the enlightened as well as the unenlightened. It is all in your relationship to them. Do they burn you or do they consume you? If they consume you, then you are not enlightened. If you retain your sense of “Beingness” when they erupt, they are not binding. An enlightened person can and does have non-binding vasanas. Why? Because they are the result of actions done before the realization “I am Beingness.” They manifest, but they do not fundamentally change you. They are like water running off a duck’s back.
Sean: In general, my disposition over the years has been to look at my relationship to what was showing up at any given moment. The funny thing is it is usually petty annoyances that could sneak up on me. Big things never really bothered me. Disturbances hit my radar pretty quick, I saw them for what they were, did what needed to be done and moved on. I will say that I got caught up in the static of family life, and that brought upon the most extreme disturbance since that initial shift: three years ago I simultaneously experienced the physical challenge mentioned, the threat of financial ruin (both personally and the economic system), the end of a twenty-year career (letting go of the identify that goes along with that) and learning of and experiencing the impact of an alcoholic spouse. All at once, just about everything worldly I had considered solid became fluid. I was very present to the sense of overwhelm. As things became white-hot emotionally, I called upon everything I knew spiritually and asked myself how best to be in all of this. The answer that came was to stand in it, do what was necessary (most importantly, be there for the family) but be willing to watch my life burn to the ground if that was to be the case. Did I get consumed? I cannot tell you for sure. Everything was so turbulent that I was hyper-aware of what was happening, but at some point I had the wherewithal to tell myself to stop and stand in it.
Did I get burned? I didn’t, but my worldview sure did. I don’t know what is real anymore. Life has not been the same since. When the “known” becomes unknown, what is left in the wake?
Ram: Painful as it was, it is good if you realized that nothing in this samsara is real. This the most important moment in one’s spiritual life. Most just try to put the pieces back together, but the wise learn the lesson and move on because they understand that what is truly valuable – you – never gets destroyed. There is no solution in samsara, Sean. It is shifting sands. It is a zero-sum game.
But maybe you do and just have a small doubt. Your last statement in the second paragraph is the most provocative. You say, “Is it possible that I am at the bottom of the barrel and I can see that it is empty?” Is this your way of saying that you are Beingness, awareness? The operative words to me in this statement are “bottom” and “empty.” Does “bottom” mean that you are awareness, the foundation or substrate of Sean’s life, the one who objectifies thought?
Sean: “…the foundation or substrate of Sean’s life…” I LOVE THAT. If I have a meditation, it is to sit and go there.
James: That is the most important issue. What should I stand on when life’s shifting sands do not provide a foundation? There is only one answer– awareness. It is always present, rock-solid, the support of everything.
Sean: Well, when I look inside I don’t find someone. Empty. Bottom = the end of not knowing.
James: That is because there is no one there. Does “empty” refer to your nature as devoid of form?
James: That is correct. Then you could only “see” the emptiness if you are awareness.
Sean: So I might be simply confusing the recognition of beingness with that which is aware of beingness or aliveness? Oh, boy.
James: Yes, indeed. You – awareness – illumine beingness and aliveness and the confusion between them.
Sean: So if you don’t mind, I would be interested to know what you actually mean by this provocative statement: “You are right about Vedanta. It is very precise. Everything rides on the ostensible and/or implied meaning of words.”
Ram: It means the difference between knowledge and ignorance can easily ride on the meaning of a single word. For example, to say “I am ‘in’ the self” can convey either ignorance or knowledge. To say “the self is ‘in’ me” conveys a different understanding. To say “I am the self” conveys another meaning. Any one or all of these statements can be true or false depending the context. If you understand the big picture – the whole teaching – you can understand the meaning of any statement.
Sean: I get that.
James: That’s all you need to get. Problem solved, case closed. But if it’s not clear, keep writing.
Sean: I am very thankful this interaction!!
James: My pleasure, Sean.