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Self-Realization and Other Awakenings by Ed Muzika, a Review
Vivek: I have enormous respect for the author for the time and effort he has put into finding the self but sadly the book offers no proven methodology to help the seeker find the truth. There are multiple contradictions in the book regarding Vedanta and the author confuses Samkhya and Yogacara philosophies when he is describing his version of how the three bodies (gross, subtle and causal) bodies interact. He also seems to believe that enlightenment is an experience and is a matter of making an experience permanent. This is completely contradictory to what Advaita Vedanta teaches, and surprisingly what Ramana taught. Ramana Maharshi was very clear in saying that only through knowledge is the self known.
The author also misunderstands Siddharameshawar Maharaj’s use of terminology. Siddharameshvar sometimes speaks of the universal play of consciousness as “brahman”– meaning “saguna brahman,” to use sage Shankara’s distinguishing of “manifest reality with qualities”– whereas Siddharameshvar reserves the term “parabrahman” for what Shankara calls the “nirguna brahman” or “unmanifest, quality-free reality.”
I am also surprised on the lack of emphasis on morality in the book. The Buddha emphasized sila or morality in his teachings. The story of his teacher Robert Adams having sexual relations with his women students in appalling to say the least. I doubt Ramana Maharshi or Nisargadatta Maharaj behaved in this manner with their students. It seems to be a uniquely Western way to justify immoral behaviour, having one’s cake and eating it too. Enlightenment does not give you the right to abandon ethical rules. Vedanta speaks of two orders of reality, the ultimate and the provisional reality. When you are enlightened, both orders of reality remain.
Another odd idea, often repeated in the book, is that the reader is somehow encouraged to believe that thinking is bad, which probably comes from Zen approach so common in the West. Ironically, in Vedanta one of the key requirements to find the self is viveka, which means discrimination. Without a discriminating mind, one cannot separate truth from falsehood.
Vedanta as a philosophy is time-tested way to help the seeker find the truth and is validated by centuries of seekers following the path. The Upanishads were vetted by multiple seers and are a robust enough to stand the test of time. One man’s insight cannot be greater than the accumulated wisdom of centuries.
Mark: But contrary to what you write, the kind of self-inquiry given in the book (the focus on the sense of “I am”) IS based on Nisargadatta’s own introduction and recommendation to those who wished to pursue self-inquiry. So you’re incorrect in saying as you do that there’s “no proven mothodology to help the seeker find the truth.” And maybe he doesn’t state it clearly in the book but on his website he DOES make it clear about the distinction between awakening and liberation (to address your criticism that he’s equating enlightenment with experience and then claiming to make the latter permanent). And based on his own Buddhist background, he would KNOW that to be a false equation anyway.
Vivek: My comment was on the I-sense teaching. For starters, the I-sense is a subjective experience and can mean different things to different people. How do you know what you are feeling is the I-sense? How will you compare the feeling with someone else’s experience?
And even if you find the I-sense and trace it back to the source as Ramana, Maharaj and a few others have suggested, what knowledge will you extract from that experience? Tracing the I-sense back to the source lets you know that the seeker and the sought are one and the same but what about it? It does not make you free and cannot be equated with enlightenment. The I-sense teaching is a preliminary methodology to get you in the ballpark but has nothing to do with enlightenment. And it is not an Advaita teaching, despite what people in the West like to believe, but more likely a Puranic teaching.
And before you ask, I traced the I-sense back to the source just as Maharaj and Ramana suggested. It was an interesting experience inasmuch as it removes the duality associated with the observer and the observed but I had to find Vedanta to extract the knowledge from that experience.
I am not aware of any Buddhist text that discusses the difference between knowledge and experience. Can you please point them out to me, including the paragraph number?
Mark: Well, I certainly have no quarrel about the value in Vedanta, having recently just read James Swartz’s How to Attain Enlightenment and finding I was in close agreement with a lot of what was said. Nonetheless, based on my personal experience since undertaking self-inquiry in the style or manner prescribed by Nisargadatta, the “I am” is a “sensed” feeling which may not have even been all that different from the sort of meditation I had previously done (i.e. vipassana) except that the feeling is more, shall I say, prominent or appears in the foreground (as opposed to the background during my previous sorts of meditation). I can’t speak for others where their experience is concerned though. And while you claim that the practice/technique “does not make you free and cannot be equated with enlightenment” does that then mean you reject the role it had in Nisargadatta’s own awakening after a three-year commitment? Such an awakening would not have automatically created enlightenment as such but was cultivated over time, something he himself noted when he stated that enlightenment was definitely not a “state” and that the realization of such was in itself “enlightening.”(Because, of course, a truly enlightened being would know how transient certain induced states are and would know they hardly characterized what enlightenment or self-realization is all about).
As I reread what you wrote, I think we might be in more agreement than either or us would think since your own experience with the “I am” sense got you in the “ballpark” but further work was needed to continue on the path to self-realization.
Vivek: I agree with you, Mark, well said. Having studied Zen for 10 years, the I-sense teaching was refreshing to say the least. I spent some time with Anadi, formerly known as Aziz Kristoff, in Almora, who helped me solidify the I-sense so it was permanent in a way. After that it was just a matter of persistence, tracing the I-sense back to the source. As you know well, there is no “source” to speak of but it is a useful exercise nonetheless. “Gets you in the ballpark” is about right.
James Swartz is my teacher and it took me a year of solid work studying Vedanta before I could extract the knowledge that “I am limitless awareness” from my I-sense experience. Our dialogue is on his website and is entitled SuperSatsang.
It is an interesting question on where the I-sense teaching originated. It is not found in the Upanishads or the Gita. The only reference I could find it was in Tripura Rahasya which is a Puranic text. Maharaj, Ramana and Atmananda all taught some form of this meditation but I cannot find any teacher before them who taught a version of the I-sense teaching. By some quirk of fate this teaching became very popular in the West.
Personally, I prefer the I-sense meditation to vipassana or Zen shikantaza. Depending on your personality, it is a quicker path to liberation, assuming once can talk about these things in “time scales.” My only concern with this teaching is that it might be not a suitable teaching for everyone. The difference between traditional paths and specifically-tuned paths is that traditional paths are more accommodating of diversity. Everyone can join the fold and practice it in one form or the other despite large differences in personality. The I-sense path requires an extremely obsessive mindset and love for meditation/introspection. This might be not for everyone.
Pleasure talking with you. Wish you all the success in your endeavours.
Mark: Indeed, it would seem that a primary prerequisite for the “I am” practice is having a mind predisposed toward introspection, something Ed also points out in his website.
But at the time I made the “transition” to this prescription for self-inquiry about six years ago, I was intrigued by a YouTube video I saw and then obtained a CD from one of Nisargadatta’s students, Stephen Wolinsky, and it was essentially a series of short meditations of what he called “the nonverbal I am.” At the time I felt I’d reached an impasse with Dzogchen and thought of simply giving it all up forever, so the timing was critical here.
It would seem that Nisargadatta’s own teacher Siddharameshwar would have been well-steeped in the practice since Nisargadatta certainly credits him with having done so along with the complete allegiance and trust that he instilled in him. But prior to Siddharameshwar, it could have well been a well-established practice/technique in their tradition.
Vivek: Siddharameshar Maharaj taught traditional Advaita Vedanta. If you read Master Key to Self-Realization, he is teaching traditional Advaita Vedanta, and starts from the description of three bodies. The technical term for the I-sense is jiva-atman, the connecting link between the subtle body and the self. In the two years that Nissargadatta Maharaj took notes of Siddharameshwar’s teachings (early 1930s), there is hardly any mention of the I-sense teaching.
In Tripura Rahasya there is exactly one paragraph devoted to the I-sense teaching.
The point being, that unless this teaching is understood in the context of Advaita Vedanta, chances are that it will lead into a dead-end. The I-sense is a useful tool within the context of the teachings of Vedanta; divorced from Vedanta it loses its utility. Maharaj and Ramana were both familiar with Vedanta and studied the texts associated with it. This body of knowledge has been available since Vedic times.
Actually, as James Swartz told me when I first met him, if you study Vedanta the I-sense teaching is irrelevant. It depends on your personality, I guess.
Mark: Does that mean then that the practice of the “I am” is irrelevant to James because it hasn’t any kind of guiding perspective in which it would show its value? This was, for instance, why when beginning meditation I soon immersed myself in Buddhist literature and Buddhist-oriented retreats (i.e. vipassana, Dzogchen) so it would have that kind of framework (though I hasten to add that a practitioner can easily succumb to conceptual scaffolding, as did I).
Vivek: That is probably correct because in isolation the I-sense has limited value as a teaching. As a technique it is relevant but not as framework to understand Vedanta. Advaita Vedanta starts with the premise that reality is non-dual and works backwards using logic to show that it is true.
They key is separating the non-experiencing witness (awareness) from the experiencing witness. This is brought about by application of Vedanta through a teacher who is skilled enough to wield the teachings. Once you can separate the non-experiencing witness from the experiencing witness, you would be considered self-realized and can actually begin self-inquiry.
Self-enquiry is the application of this knowledge to the mind so that it drops its limited concepts about the self after which the person can be said to completely liberated. There is no shortcut to this process. Ramana spent 20 years after his initial enlightenment experience in caves to practice self-enquiry and remove all dualistic descriptions of the mind. Same thing with Maharaj and every other genuinely enlightened person. There is no simple way to remove the residual karma instantly.
Paraphrasing yoga, you can do sadhana before enlightenment or after enlightenment but there is no not doing sadhana. Obviously, it is a lot easier to do sadhana once you are self-realised.
Buddhism is basically Samkhya and Yogacara philosophies melded together. Buddha was born in Kapilavastu, the birthplace of sage Kapila, the founder of Samkhya school of thought. This is distinct from Vedanta in the sense that Vedanta believes that enlightenment is not a discreet experience of the self but more application of self-knowledge to remove ignorance. This debate has been going for over 2,000 years.
I personally believe that the knowledge that you are the self will stick in a pure and still mind, so meditative practices are helpful in that regard. However, samadhi does not equate to enlightenment. A discriminating mind honed to a razor-sharp precision is a critical requirement.
In the West, for some odd reason, thinking is not encouraged, in most cases to cover a teacher’s inadequacies and lack of understanding. Getting to enlightenment is fairly easy once you have a good methodology and a critical mind.
DISCUSSION WITH ED MUZIKA
Ed Muzika: I am not Vedantin and I am not Zen. I am talking of an incarnate spirituality, of being God in the flesh and realizing that through love.
Nor did I ever say Robert had sex with his students. He flirted with women for his own reasons which were clearly stated in the book. People who ought to know better, and who have read my book, continue to misrepresent what I am teaching.
Some of them state that I profess to teach about final or ultimate awakening, then spend too much time talking about emotions, the body, energies, etc. which they conclude have nothing to do with any ultimate awakening. In point of fact, in my opinion that there are multiple paths and multiple awakenings, and depending on how you define “self-realization,” there are multiple self-realizations.
Nor do I believe there is anyone who has completely understood, mastered, revealed, or opened every aspect of himself or herself. I think self-discovery is unending, or can be unending, except that certain paths, such as Nisargadatta’s Advaita are self-limiting because for him, all of the manifest universe, the body, mind, emotions, energies, external world are unreal because they are transient, and only the unchanging Witness, the subject of all, is real.
With such an attitude there is no energy behind self-exploration because anything that can be seen, heard, felt, tasted, smelled, thought of, imaged, is transient and thus not real, thus not worth paying attention to or understanding.
This is my own teacher’s point of view, and one I profoundly disagree with. This sort of dead-end or final enlightenment, for most, is a complete dead-end, resulting in a multidimensional being believing that all he or she is, is the Witness, parabrahman, and all else is illusion. I see multiple paths to multiple goals and multiple “realizations.” To me, everything is me and is real, and is personal in the sense that I am the “owner” of the manifest world, its shepherd and protector.
I profoundly disagree with any teacher who self-proclaims himself or herself as being more enlightened, awakened or advanced than all other teachers.
Having spent over thirty years in the field of psychology, I am well aware of how most “spiritual” people have used spiritual theories and practices to “disappear” emotional and developmental problems. I see a very large percentage largely unable to articulate what is going on inside of them emotionally because emotions have been downplayed in favour of realizing emptiness, or the Void, or the clear, self-lighted, Consciousness, or bliss, or experiences of inner energies, lights, etc. coupled with ideas of how special they are spiritually as a result of their endless inner explorations which have sedulously avoided emotional exploration.
Even those who have spent years in psychotherapy often trade openness to feelings for insights about themselves and their pasts, or current attainment of functionality as a result of therapy. They really lack an ability to be open to their emotions and instead talk about them. Then there are many, many people that use techniques to “process” emotions like fear, depression, anger, etc. by letting them “pass through” their self of Self. They become “possessed” by a continuous process of processing emotions, physical problems, etc. that essentially, again, they have become active witnesses in complete control of their emotions rather than have them flow freely.
If they feel lonely, they process this feeling until it is gone. If they feel needy of another, they process this feeling until it is gone. If they feel angry towards another, rather than express it to the “other,” they process the feeling until it goes away and no real contact has been made with the other. They want to feel only love, and love of a special kind – love that is universal, impersonal, unattached and unconditional rather than the rather “messy” love with many facets that most feel towards others, which is “flavoured” by romantic love, sexuality, possessiveness, attraction, projections, protective, sibling or parental love.
Emotions are not everything but they extremely important for those who talk of an ultimate awakening or enlightenment which will make them self-contained and independent of need of any other human or animal. They are important in the sense that powerful emotions motivate their search for transcendence of emotions. If you try to feel such people with your heart, you reach but do not touch them. They are not emotionally solid and tend to be detached, aloof, and self-contained.
So I teach openness to everything within oneself, starting with repressed emotions, progressing to internal energies, increasing acquaintance with “shakti” and the energetic and emotional linkages to the world, until the manifest self, the atma jyotin, reveals itself to itself which, to this point, only believed he or she was human, and had no access to or knowledge of the divine within oneself.
This is the kind of awakening and self-realization that is best for today’s individuals as well as for society itself, in the sense that psychotherapy has made us more aware of the impact of repression and denial on our health and flexibility, and has allowed us to construct models of the self that augment and challenge the Eastern models.
Modern Vedantins and Buddhists would have us believe that modern psychology, psychoanalysis, psychiatry, etc. have nothing to add to thousands-of-year-old healing traditions. This is because their proponents know little of modern psychology.
This is the kind of awakening and self-realization that is best for today’s individuals as well as for society itself. It is part of a larger movement today away from Vedantic transcendentalism, to what Francis Bennett calls “incarnational spirituality” or reowning our humanity, our human/divine incarnation as sentient beings.
Readers can now download this book for free from my website WeAreSentience.com.
Vivek: Ed, I agree with what you are saying but it is nothing revolutionary, in my opinion. Advaita/Zen in the West has been equated with nihilism or some version of it because of a profound misunderstanding of its roots. Advaita Vedanta cannot be divested from Indian culture.
Adi Shankara was a tantric adept and so were many of his disciples. Same with Nagarjuna who was the founder of Madhyamika. Bhakti, as you well know, is never seen as separate from knowledge in Indian culture. Adi Shankara’s hymn Bhaja Govindam is a perfect manifestation of the union between bhakti and jhana. Ramana Maharshi loved animals and spent a lot of time feeding the animals in the ashram. He cried when his cow Lakshmi died. If he really thought emotions were irrelevant and repressed them, why express them so freely during his life? Maharaj emphasized chanting and worshiped his previous teachers every day during his life; why bother?
For readers unfamiliar with tantra and shakti, I would like to add that Ramana spent about 10 to 15 years under the tutelage of a tantric crazy-wisdom teacher, Sheshadari Swamigal, after his awakening experience at the age of 16. Maharaj’s teacher was a part of Navnath Sampradaya which has a strong tantric component. The teaching of shakti was always a part of tradition.
I have met many Advaita and Zen teachers in my lifetime and found them to very personable and lovely human beings. I see no evidence of repression that you talk about.
However, many Western Neo-Advaita and Zen teachers exhibit psychotic tendencies, Ramesh Balshekar, Gangaji, Genpo Merzel among the many. If your criticism was against Western pseudo-Advaita, I can buy it but authentic teachers in any tradition never exhibit these tendencies. How can one? Enlightenment means that one is actionless awareness. Emotion is an arising in awareness, why would an enlightened person suppress it?
Please do not take my points as personal attacks on you. Your article on the I-sense along with Sadhu Om’s teachings helped me trace the I-sense back to the source. It took me three years of serious practise but your map was very useful guide and I am immensely grateful for your commentary. I found Vedanta after that to clear up the final misunderstanding but could not have done that without understanding that the seeker and the sought are one and same.
~ Tat tvam asi, Vivek