Search & Read
Third-Rate Teachings About Enlightenment
Ram: Dear Peter, here’s my attempt to make sense of this satsang. It was hard work. The person is not a good communicator. It seems he’s inspired, but is unclear about the self and the relationship of the self to the ego and the world. And it is quite clear that he is caught up in the whole “experience” idea, that he has not realized that the problem is understanding (although he’s trying to give it), not lack of spiritual “experience.” The writing is so bad in some places that I’ve made some corrections to make the idea clearer. Mind you, this is not an attack on this person. It is a critique of certain “spiritual” ideas that need carefully examination.
The confusing nature of the language stems from the fact that this person has probably had some sort of spiritual awakening outside of an established spiritual tradition where the language dealing with enlightenment has already been purified. So he is using language he picked up from reading and the satsang world, cobbling it together in a very personal way. He probably has something useful to say, but I think that the average person, like my friend Peter, would just end up being confused by it – as I was. I tried to be fair and dig out the kernel of truth – which wasn’t always there. Anyway, there is quite a bit of useful information about the self and the path in my replies, so I think this satsang will be helpful. The part on surrender at the end is probably worth considering, since it flies in the face of conventional wisdom:
The guru: Suppose through the Grace of meeting some really kick-ass practitioners you were given totally unimaginable glimpses of something that you couldn’t even begin to imagine was possible, and tried to explain it to someone (but that the explanation) created mental pictures that led to a false sense of I-understanding.
Ram: I suppose what the person is referring to when he says “totally unimaginable glimpse of something” is the self. I wonder why he presents the self as an “unimaginable something.” Why refer to the self in this way when there is nothing more obvious and experienciable than one’s own self? When you do inquiry on this “unimanginable” thing it turns out to be ordinary awareness. I don’t think this way of presenting the self is helpful. It makes it seem quite unobtainable and unknowable.
The use of the word “given” in the second line seems to suggest that this person is a shaktipat guru or has been influenced by the teaching of a shaktipat guru. He thinks “kick-ass practitioners” – which probably includes himself – “give” the experience of the self to others. Perhaps he has associated with shaktipat gurus or read a lot of Da Free John’s works. It is true that self-experience does seem to come through gurus, but it also comes in many other ways. It is also true that every experience we have every minute – every downright ordinary experience, including eating and sleeping – is self-experience, so why make it seem like something extraordinary unless you were, by association, trying to make yourself look extraordinary?
Finally, what qualifies a “practitioner” to teach the self? A practitioner by definition is a doer, someone who is trying to get certain results through karma. A practitioner can teach practice, but not the self. You may become a self-knower when you let go of the doer, the practitioner. Or not. I’m not saying that spiritual practice isn’t valuable. It is. It can produce the kind of mind that is capable of making an inquiry, understanding the true import of scripture and the words of gurus. But it can just be another lifestyle, one that is designed to make someone feel good.It in no way guarantees discrimination or self-realization or even dispassionate inquiry.
The guru: Unless of course they had some seriously clear feedback from someone that could kick their butt every time they thought that they were getting it and trying to “self-guru” themselves. What happens when you suddenly recognise that the fundamental recoil that
Consciousness does when it experiences matter (like a human body through the senses) is because it assumes and deduces through appearance that consciousness is inside this vulnerable little piece of meat called “me as a human”?
Ram: The concept that the guru is meant to “kick butt” is romantic nonsense. The guru should help you understand where your thinking about who you are is on track and where it isn’t, and with a skillful use of the means of knowledge help you knock off your ignorance. Perhaps this is what he means by “kick butt.” But if there is any “butt” to be kicked you need to kick your own butt when you understand that you have been seeing things incorrectly. If you expect someone else to discipline you, you aren’t ready for enlightenment.
The only way it works is if you carefully think about your own views and see if they jibe with scripture and the words of qualified gurus. If you just accept that you are limitless awareness because someone else said so, you will not be enlightened but only entertain a belief that you are. Enlightenment is only enlightenment when you have removed your own ignorance. This is the purpose of inquiry. After the guru has done his or her job, it’s your job by contemplating on the words of the guru to shed your ignorance. The guru is valuable, to be sure, but in the end it is up to you.
However, I agree with the idea that “self-guruing” doesn’t work in the beginning stages. This is so because the one who is trying to grasp the truth is not a dispassionate thinker and will tend to “believe” what his or her prejudices dictate. The best source of wisdom is the scripture. But it easy to misunderstand it too. So you need someone to help. On the other hand, you need to be able to check up on the guru too, particularly nowadays when every Tom, Dick and Harry asks us to believe he is enlightened and to uncritically swallow his words. A good case in point is this guru’s statement “What happens when you suddenly recognise that the fundamental recoil that Consciousness does when it experiences matter (like a human body through the senses) is because it assumes and deduces through appearance that consciousness is inside this vulnerable little piece of meat called ‘me as a human’?”
The person making this statement needs to make it clear what consciousness is because the way it stands (with his use of the capital “C”) it is entirely incorrect. Consciousness does not recoil when it experiences matter. From the self’s point of view there is no matter. What human beings call matter is just consciousness perceived through the senses. The senses make consciousness look like it isn’t consciousness, hence the term “matter.” The second bit of ignorance being propagated here is the idea that consciousness would recoil. In a non-dual reality – which scripture says this is – there is no recoil, because there are not two opposite principles, spirit and matter, interacting with each other.
Nonetheless, if we take the capital “C” away and interpret the word “consciousness” as the subtle body, the ego-mind entity, the statement could make sense. He is correct in that the self is not limited to the space within the body. In fact the body is a form of consciousness that is pervaded by consciousness. In other words, the self is limitless, not conditioned by the body. The body, on the other hand, is completely conditioned by consciousness insofar as everything it experiences is the self and without the self it has no existence.
But one never actually recoils from “matter,” because matter is value-neutral. What one recoils from is the idea that matter is somehow dangerous. This stems from the belief that spirit is good and needs to be embraced and matter, its opposite, is bad and needs to be avoided.
The guru: What if you suddenly experienced by sheer Grace that the body IS Consciousness and that everything perceivable is also Consciousness… even before and whilst it is appearing… and left you with the recognition that “you” as you “know” of yourself are only a contraction… and that all your history and patterns are imaginary stories about a contraction in space.
Ram: Here you have wisdom and ignorance side by side. What is said about the body is true. It is the self. What needs to be known, however, is that the body needs to be rejected as “not-self” until the self, pure consciousness, is known as it is in essence, that is, without its forms. When this is clear and the knower has identified himself or herself as the self, then the body is understood to be the self.
Calling the ego/mind a “contraction” is imprecise – if that is the sole definition of the ego. This term was popularized by Da Free John and has gained a lot of currency in the so-called “spiritual” world. The ego is not a contraction, because it is nothing but an idea. Ideas, being inert, do not contract. To move they would have to be conscious. The body-mind may “recoil” when a fear thought arises in consciounsess and is taken to be real. When you are ignorant of the fact that you are whole and complete, ordinary, actionless awareness, you may try to keep the body and mind from contacting the world. Or you may embrace the world because you think that it has something that will make you happy. In this case, the ego is an expansion, an extension of consciousness. It is just as ignorant as the contracted ego, however. The so-called ego (in this case, the self apparently under the spell of ignorance) is capable of any kind action, reaction and non-action depending on the nature of the (self-) ignorance it is suffering. I think the reason thinking of the ego as a contraction is popular is because many spiritual types are completely incapable of contacting the world in such a way that they can get what they want from it. So they run away – contract. If they had been skillful in getting what they wanted they would be driving SUVs, living in tract mansions and not listening to the gurus.
But let’s give our guru the benefit of the doubt. What he says about the a samsari’s self-knowledge is correct – all self-views – except the view that one is whole and complete – are “imaginary stories.”
The guru: What would happen if, in that second, you saw the modern wave of “understanding” the answer to Ramana’s question “Who am I?” virtually always reinforced that sense of “I am not the body,” that “I am some cloudy, unperceivable being, consciousness or soul ‘inside’ the body”? And then the sobering realization dawns on you that you will NEVER understand it all enough to “work it out,” “solve the problem” and become “happy.” And then realising that that is the answer!
Ram: It took me quite a while to figure out what he was saying here. The words are so confusing I didn’t bother to fix them. I think he’s speaking about the disappointment that people experience when they are incapable of sorting out the difference between the body and the self – which is a legitimate concern. But the conclusion that the question is not solvable is “the answer!” is silly. Whether this is the guru’s view or he is just expressing this view is hard to tell. It is silly because if you inquire carefully with the help of scripture and a qualified guru you can sort it out. The scripture, which sorts out the body and the self, is nothing but the testimony of countless people on this subject.
The guru: That we are actively constantly but subtly recoiling from Life that leads to the awful feeling that something is missing… and that sets us up in a never-ending loop of “looking for way out.” How the hell do you explain that without creating more ideas, plans and strategies to get out of a problem that we create in the first place??
Ram: This statement is basically true, but the cause of the feeling that something is missing is the non-understanding that one is whole and complete, ordinary, actionless awareness, not the “recoiling” from life. One recoils because one doesn’t understand who one is.
Surrender, Ego Submission
The guru: Without ego submission to Real help (which is extremely distasteful in our society) most “teaching” seems to do more harm than good.
Ram: He’s right about the way society sees “submission to Real help” – but this is not a bad thing. In fact society is a lot wiser than most of these gurus. And he’s right about how most of these satsang gurus and New Age people are confusing themselves and others. The irony is that he can’t see how confusing his own words are.
I’m always suspicious of gurus who put inquiry in terms of “ego submission to Real help.” In this context it is very difficult not to think that what he means by “Real help” is himself. Ego submission to anyone is foolish to begin with and particularly foolish to someone who claims to know something you don’t. Why? Because if you don’t know what enlightenment is, how do you know if the guru has it? And in this day and age where you can actually pay good money to take a course that prepares you to be a satsang guru, isn’t it wise to question everything the gurus are saying? Everyone wants to be a guru these days – it’s easy street.
In terms of a spiritual path, I don’t believe that surrender, or in this case submission, is useful at all – unless what is meant is keeping an open, discriminating mind – which has nothing to do with anyone else, particularly gurus. The reason ego-submission is not relevant to the spiritual path is because the self is something to be understood, not something to be surrendered to. When you understand it as it is and you see that it is you, how does surrender come into the picture? How can you surrender to yourself? This would depend on there being two “yous” – which is not possible. When you see this surrender idea, you are usually talking bhakti and yoga, not jnana, Vedanta.
The whole point of enlightenment is to remove the notion that you are separate from anything. You can only surrender when there is something other than you to surrender to. So asking someone to surrender to “Real help,” unreal help or any kind of help is actually only reinforcing that person’s belief in themselves as a limited being, an ego. This “ego-surrender” is similar to prayer – you pray to God as someone or something other than yourself – until you realize that God is you. If you “surrender” anything, it is your ignorance – when the teacher or the scripture or your own inquiry makes it clear what the self is. The person speaking here is a clever fellow who probably has been inspired by some sort of vision of the self and is out to let the world know what it is all about – to “help.” These “helpers” are dangerous people, particularly if they are asking for ego-surrender. I would imagine that his audience is young and immature – people who are not successful in the world, “contracted” people, who are very confused, not only about who they are but about the nature of life itself. It is only such people that are willing to let go of what little common sense they have and swallow whatever an apparently powerful, knowledgeable, inspired person has to say. The Buddha said, “Believe nothing you have read or anything you have heard, even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own common sense and reason.” Mature, successful people, people who think for themselves, know better. I’m not saying that gurus like this are not useful – it is all useful insofar as everything is just the self enlightening itself – but when we speak of “surrender,” or in this case “submission,” which is an even worse idea – we need to have a look at the guru’s contract – to see what is actually involved. Does it entail giving our money to the guru? Does it involve submitting to the guru’s sexual impulses? Does it involve working like a slave in the ashram twenty-four hours a day to clean up one’s karmas? Does it involve mindlessly accepting whatever the guru says?
The guru: Then perhaps the only thing that can really be of use is the attempt to give people a bodily feeling-recognition of what uncontracted openness feels like in a human body and see if they take the bait in an invitation to surrender and let the “hiding-in-the-corner-of-what-I-experience” be sacrificed through the action of real service and love communion.
Ram: This statement lets us know what is really going on. This fellow thinks he is giving an experience that will cause people to surrender – to him – or some abstract ideal. It shows a lack of understanding of enlightenment. It is typical of the yogic path – the path of experience. Actually, the “only thing that can really be of use” is through a careful and skillful use of the means of (self-) knowledge by a qualified guru and patient inquiry by oneself.
“A bodily feeling-recognition” is just a temporary experience, one that will not remove one’s sense of limitation, except perhaps temporarily. In fact he makes it clear that after your “bodily feeling-recognition” you are still going to be a person, someone who “will take the bait,” someone who will “surrender” someone who will still be a doer, someone who will be loving. Fair enough, but this kind of thinking is just a big seduction aimed at lonely people who want to belong to something, little people who want to make their lives meaningful by being part of a common endeavor. In fact there is no bait to take, because there is nothing to be gained here. You are the bait.
There is nothing to surrender unless it is your ignorance, nor is there anyone or anything to surrender to. Either you know who you are or you don’t. Real service is not an action. It is an understanding, a state of mind.The only way you will ultimately serve yourself and the world is to let go of the concept of yourself as a doer, as a servant.
The last idea is this fellow’s biggest seduction, one that universally appeals to a small, immature, insecure mind. What is it? That you are going to get “love communion” once you have the “bodily feeling-recognition from a guru” (let’s call it an epiphany), have “taken the bait” and “surrendered.”
But you are not going to get “love communion” in this way or in any other way – because you are love. As long as you think of yourself as a separate, incomplete person stuck in the body, you are going to crave love. The best these gurus can do is promise you that you will be loved by a community of like-minded souls. The popularity of this teaching is actually more a statement about the incredible spiritual bankruptcy of the materialist cultures than it is a statement about the spiritual path.
~ Love, Ram