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(Manny is a friend of thirty years who is having difficulty adjusting to the change in my circumstances.)
James: Dear Manny, yes, things went extremely well in Tiruvannamalai – a big crowd that kept growing like fungus in the tropics – extremely gratifying – extremely lucrative. The only downside was that Isabella caught a respiratory bug and has been suffering considerably until a few days ago. It’s good we discouraged you from coming, as she was not well and I was pretty tired after looking after the spiritual needs of all those inquirers for three weeks – six hours a day of teaching the most advanced Vedanta text. So it has been a busy time.
I read your letter with interest, but it put me in a bit of a quandary because I don’t know exactly which filter though which I should read and respond and whether I should address the ostensible or the implied meanings or both.
On the topic of friendship I can understand your feelings. It may seem that fame and fortune and love have gone to my head and I don’t have time for my old friends, and in a way that is true, although it will never be “Manny who?” when you call. But it is not really like that. I love you just the same and I am the same person I always was, more or less. I didn’t solicit my present circumstances although I embrace them dispassionately as I always have. Fame has its peculiar demands. It’s good fame and I respect it.
It is more difficult to address the spiritual issues you raise because you are not approaching me as a guru. From what you say it seems you are a bit guru-phobic. Fair enough. For me to address them adequately your orientation toward spirituality would have to be somewhat different. I don’t want to insult you and tell you that while you have certainly done yourself proud in terms of your approach to life, when I look at your words through my understanding of spirituality – “the knowledge that ends the quest for knowledge” – you are missing the essential point because, as you say, you are issue-driven and sociologically-oriented, not moksa-driven. By “moksa” I mean freedom from the belief in the reality of the world and the reality of one’s apparent Manny/Jim self. I think you actually take the world and the Manny-guy and the Jim-guy to be real – again, fair enough – whereas my view is that the world, Manny and Jim are at best rather flimsy ideas superimposed on the radiance of me – awareness.
But the difference in our orientations makes it virtually impossible to engage in a communication on the essence of Vedanta at this time because for it to work you would have to understand what I mean when I say that Jim and Manny are flimsy ideas – projections, really – not real people. I think you think you are Manny and I am Jim. It may look like I am Jim, but I have been dead to Jim for a long time. Hence my appeal to the many people out there who understand what it means to say that the world is not real and not really worthy of mention. At best it is light entertainment, as are our ideas of ourselves as “people.” I’m pretty sure this is where we part company spiritually because it seems to me that Manny for you is someone who is proud of his uncompromising dedication to the truth as he sees it. Mind you, Manny, there is not an ounce of condescension in these statements. The people that occupy my time almost exclusively are people who are totally fed up with belief that the world and the people in it are anything other than apparently real. How does one bridge the gap between people who don’t think they are people and those that do? It is rather like trying to communicate with someone in the waking state when you are in the dream state. They are different realities – what applies in one does not apply in the other. No blame.
I think, rather than reply to specific statements, which I started to do but soon realized wasn’t working owing to the difference in our orientations, I would offer you my latest book, which I have just finished and which is now with the editor. It is really head and shoulders above what I have written so far, commentaries on Vedanta’s most advanced text. The idea is that maybe you can get a feel for what I am trying to say. I don’t have a lot of confidence that you will understand it as it is meant to be understood – no blame – owing to your orientation. The reason I say this is because Vedanta is not one of those things that allows itself to be interpreted, although intellectuals have been making feeble attempts since Badarayana’s time. It needs to be revealed.
Up to a point you can understand it through your own experienced-based filter, and in terms of some of the rudimentary concepts you have acquitted yourself well, but basically you need to be qualified, i.e. understand the zero-sum nature of the world and the unreality of one’s conditioned identity, and you need to be taught for it to work. And since you apparently take the world and the Manny-guy to be real, and since you are guru-averse and seemingly not solely committed to moksa, you will probably come away with your own take on it, which is not the point of Vedanta. You are entitled to your own truth, but not your own facts as far as impersonal means of knowledge are concerned. The point is that for Vedanta to work you need to understand what it means to say that the Jim-guy and the Manny-guy and the world itself are not real and that there is only one self and that it is limitless awareness and it is you. It is my total confidence in this knowledge that accounts for the life that you see the Jim-guy presently acting out.
I really hope you will not be offended by this email. It is my attempt to bridge the gap that I think you are feeling with reference to our friendship. As I think I said before, Vedanta doesn’t work if you don’t understand what it is. It is not a point of view, a philosophy that one can criticize or evaluate in terms of one’s beliefs and opinions. It is like the eyes. If the eyes are open and the mind is behind them, knowledge takes place. If not, not. You can’t interpret it. You can’t read your way to enlightenment. You can’t pick and choose what fits into your idea of yourself and the world and claim that you know who you are, assuming you accept Vedanta’s view of enlightenment – which I do. It doesn’t work that way. You can only suspend your personal orientation and humbly and consistently expose your mind to it by hearing it taught and then reflect on what you believe about yourself and the world in light of what you have heard. The next step is even more difficult: discard those conclusions you have come to that are not in harmony with this truth “the self alone is real, the world is apparently real; the individual self and the self in everything are non-separate” – until you can see clearly that you are only awareness and have never been anything but. Jim’s experience and his interpretation of it are worth nothing to me or to anyone else. I see as the self sees because I am the self, not this apparent person apparently writing this apparent letter to an old friend.
So this, I think, is the disconnect you are sensing. In the old days I had the time and the inclination to pretend that I was Jim and to relate to the world as Jim, but those days are gone, not because Jim willed it but because Isvara willed it. I would have carried on with the Jim-charade forever, but in 2007 I realized that I was at the end of my life and that I had something to say and that I should write it down and that maybe one day somebody would find the manuscript among the few possessions that I left behind and that it would see the light of day and be of benefit to others. That decision has had consequences. Did I make it or was it made for me? It depends on what you know.
Anyway, if you want a copy of my new book and you promise to read it carefully, suspending Manny in the process, maybe the lights will go on. If they do it will reinvigorate our relationship. If not, I fear that you will continue to feel the disconnect. Both Isabella and I are one-trick ponies, Manny, as are you with your passion. We are Vedanta-obsessed and find worldly discussion and personal points of view boring in the extreme. We are not interested in society and culture and politics and religion and art and all the intellectual stuff.
You are certainly welcome to join the satsang, but only if you understand what Vedanta is all about. It has nothing to do with Jim or Manny or Isabella; those filters are fine for navigating the world – or not – but they don’t work in the rarefied atmosphere of Vedanta. I hesitate to think how you will take this statement, but Vedanta is a kind of very exclusive club. I remember one time many years ago you said something to the effect of, “Vedanta’s all well and good, Jim, but there are only twenty people in the world who might understand what you are saying.” And you were kind of right. But it seems that there are a few more than twenty. The webmaster said we get 10,000 new hits a month and that ten percent of the people spend between thirty and forty minutes on the site. One hundred people flew from all over the word – Brazil, Australia, Latvia, Europe, America and Asia – to hear the teaching, not me. People are ready to hear the teaching. It has nothing to do with me. I am just the guy that works the levers. Basically, I’d say you are ready to hear it because the go-it-alone approach, fraught as it is with a certain kind of self-reliant vanity, stops working when you get to the end of your journey.
It was very difficult for me to write this because you may believe that friends need to keep it light – but I have to be honest. They last thing I want to do is to offend people, particularly people I care for. The very fact that I have to write this letter means that you don’t really understand who I am. I know I look like Jim and I walk like Jim and talk like Jim, but the Jim you see is not the Jim I am. Why not request a copy of my latest book Inquiry into Existence, read it without prejudice, see if you are interested in what Vedanta defines as moksa and come to Bend for a few days later in the summer to discuss it with me? I don’t have a lot of confidence that you will, because you have built your life on a similar but basically different premise and I suspect that you are probably attached to the understanding of yourself and the world that you have so diligently and patiently acquired.
The enlightenment game is a little like boiling water. Water is still water at 211 degrees. It turns to steam at 212. You can get right to the top of the spiritual world on your own, but the last degree usually takes a bit of help. In any case, I wish you well with everything – always have and always will – but it is easier for me to communicate with people who are not quite so sure that they have the spiritual option all figured out. Why not be one of those people?
I detached the friendship concern from the rest of your letter and in the spirit of friendship have replied to your questions as best as I can. Unfortunately, it will sound a bit gurugic.
Manny: This goes to the root of why in the first instance thirty years ago I related to the way you were communicating your subject, why it was of interest – as a means of knowledge, if you like. Of the essence was that no gurus, no disciples, no structures were ever involved – there was and only was and always was just knowledge, and that’s what for twenty years was being debated – a totally pragmatic process. You might have put a word to that knowledge and called it Vedanta, but the context of “the debate” was always fundamentally empirical and practical, something very real, before and beyond words, rooted in the essence of life and its events. After all, what is Vedanta? Is it a complicated intellectual game like chess or go that defines its own terms, makes its own rules and comes to its own conclusions divorced from reality? Is it self-referential or is it about real stuff?
James: Here is the introductory paragraph to my new book Inquiry into Existence: “If everything is consciousness/awareness, then experience is consciousness/awareness and we should be able to realize our nature as consciousness through an analysis of experience. Vedanta establishes self-knowledge on the basis of an investigation into the unexamined logic of our everyday experience.”
I don’t know where you got the “no gurus, no structures” idea. It is completely incorrect. Vedanta only works if it is taught, and it is a “structure” for sure. It is a completely logical teaching with a definite methodology that needs to worked on the inquirer. The no-guru idea is an idea that you wanted to hear. It fits very well into your rugged individualist philosophy. “No thanks, Dad, I can do it myself.” I wonder if this idea didn’t come from being the younger brother of the titanic and colossally aggressive Roger and the son of a very domineering, opinionated man. You would have to have been out of your mind not to shut down to instructions if your karma threw you in with that lot. The most important thing I learned in life did not come from my own experience. I was taught.
Manny: Somewhere in the chapter on essence that you sent to me, you said something like the radical change in your life “was more or less imposed upon me.” Similarly, I could say that “awareness” was imposed upon me by a circumstance of some personal difficulty many years ago. As for the “awareness” in itself, you either have it or you don’t, it either happens or it doesn’t, you either learn it or you don’t. Presumably, this was more or less the basis of your guru’s words, “Let not the wise unsettle the minds of the ignorant.”
James: Vedanta says, “You are awareness,” as is everyone and everything. There is no question of having it or not. What you mean is “awareness of awareness.” Manny became aware of awareness, the self. This is one of the preliminary stages of enlightenment – indirect knowledge.
Manny: Which was it for me, “have it,” “happens” or “learned”? Probably a combination of all three. I had to have something about me for it to happen, and I thank the stars for that inner strength and to then have the sense to allow it to happen, to let it play itself out, to not get dead-ended in the sense-world, and also to have had a prior basic grounding in psyche and consciousness to handle the process conceptually. From that point on “awareness,” what you have latterly described as the “experiential, silent, witness observer,” was firmly in charge.
Jim: In the last sentence you present the silent witness as an object and Manny as the subject. Vedanta says that you are the silent witness, the subject, and Manny is the object. This is so because awareness cannot be objectified. It is the ever-experienced, non-objectifiable, non-experiencing witness. The shift in orientation from the object to the subject is called moksa, freedom. Freedom from what? From the Manny experiencier.
Manny: The issue at stake is to what extent is consciousness just consciousness and to be apprehended directly as such. And to what extent is it personified through the medium of a guru and therefore known indirectly through that medium? Even though Ramana “self-realized,” he certainly did not deny the latter – in response to the question, “How shall you know… etc.…,” his answer was along the lines of, “Only by the grace of the guru shall you know… etc.”
James: Ramana was not a disciple, as you probably know, and he did not think of himself as a guru. By “guru” he meant pure consciousness. That is the primary meaning of the word “guru” in the Vedic tradition.
Consciousness cannot be apprehended directly as an object. It is the ever-experienced, ever-present subject – you. Manny or Jim are just words that refer to that. So if you don’t identify yourself as limitless awareness, the only access to yourself is through knowledge aka Vedanta, and for Vedanta to work you need a guru.
Manny: The dilemma arises because that which one is to be conscious of is not an objective skill to be acquired like playing a musical instrument or mastering computer language, but is something that one already has. Consequently, I don’t see how one can preclude a variety of ways and means by which that consciousness might manifest itself – for a dancer it would be through physical expression, for an artist through aesthetic creations, for a business person through worldly affairs… etc.…
James: Everything you experience, including the Manny-object, is consciousness manifested. It is always manifest as the objects of experience and the ever-experienced subject – you.
Manny: It’s along these lines that, although I acknowledge that it’s great for you on a personal level and for the many others that may have benefited from your efforts and for the tradition that you have devoted your life to, nevertheless, if the focus is directly on the knowledge itself, I believe it to be correct for me to be partly unmoved by what has happened to you. “Vedanta is Vedanta is Vedanta.”
James: I never thought you should be “moved” concerning what “has happened to me,” Manny. I think people are only concerned about what moves them, not someone else. Still, I’m not sure what that statement means insofar as I am completely unmoved by “what happened to me.” Actually, nothing happened to “me.” Jim’s circumstances changed by no fault of his own and I witnessed the changes, as I always have.
I think the difficulty you are having with “what happened to me” is that you are addressing James – fair enough – but you don’t understand that I don’t see myself as James. James is a secondary identity, an object – only a word that applies to your interpretation of events real or imagined that apparently happened to a particular body and mind over a limited period. So James is really just your projections. You interpret certain things you observed and heard and you have a box in your head where you file James stuff, but it is just your stuff. It is the same for everyone. James exists – sort of – particularly to people who view him through his actions and circumstances, but he is as much an object to me as Manny is, an object that is basically unreal, a mental construct. I observe him. I love him. I’m not particularly enthralled by him. He has been with me for 74 years and, well, he is not that interesting to me – perhaps amusing is accurate – to be honest. One thing I like about this change of circumstances is that I have plenty of very interesting people to relate to so that I really don’t think about James that much. I don’t think you really understand the distinction between pure consciousness/awareness and its reflection in the mind – the person. There is no conflict between them because they are in different orders of the one non-dual reality.
I’m not confident that you will understand what I am talking about, because you have no experience of yourself as awareness minus Manny – although if you thought about the reality of Manny in deep sleep you might come to a different conclusion about who you are. How real can Manny be if he only exists in one of the three states of consciousness? In any case, Manny always comes along with awareness. Manny is pervaded by awareness, like space pervades objects, and you haven’t sorted out which one you are. The platform from which you are writing this letter is Manny. And it seems that you think Manny is real. Vedanta says that Manny/Jim, etc. exist, but they are not real. They belong to a particular ontological category that Vedanta calls “mithya,” neither real nor unreal. Experienciable, yes, but not real. The Mannys and the Jims are dependent for their existence/consciousness on the silent, non-experiencing witness.
I am writing this letter from the platform of who I am – the non-experiencing witness – and I fear that you will dismiss it as some kind of intellectual or hallucinogenic malarkey. You are very much rooted in the earth, Manny, whereas the earth is rooted in awareness, in you. I am probably the first person you ever met who is not a person. “There are more things in heaven and on earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, O, Horatio.”
Manny: I have a couple of techie queries, which I daresay, as per usual, you will swat away on the grounds of, “Let not the ignorant unsettle the minds of the wise.”
Jim: I’m pretty hard to unsettle. Basically, I’m in the ignorance business and nothing surprises me.
There are things that you do not understand about yourself due to a lack of ability to think from the non-dual platform. There is little sense expressing an idea that so far you have been unable to understand, but I will do my best.
Manny: “Limitless-identity” – I don’t know whether this is a term that you still use, but it is one that you used in the American film that was made in 2008. The problem I have with this is that limitless or not, it is still an identity – a discreet personal concept which someone can project their normal everyday selves into. And of course immensely cool and desirable for someone to say that about themselves.
Jim: “Still use”? I teach Vedanta. The words are given by the science. I have to use them. It is not up to me. I am bound by the dharma of the tradition. These words are the essence of Vedanta. They mean that you are the non-experiencing, silent, witnessing observer, not the limited, experiencing Manny-object. If you are qualified and you hear what Vedanta is saying, you do not assume a limitless identity, which I think is what you mean. You discover that you have always been limitless consciousness.
Having said that, there is a stage, once you have understood the teaching but have not yet reaped the result, i.e. freedom from the experiencer, i.e. Manny, where the tradition recommends taking a stand in awareness – as a practice to root out the opposite thought. The idea is that since there is no empirical evidence that there is a “Manny” apart from an irrational belief, the inquirer should take the scripture’s word for it and take a stand as awareness, i.e. think from the non-dual platform, until he has removed doubts to the contrary using the non-dual reasoning of Vedanta.
Manny: As I understand it, “identity” ceases to exist in “pure awareness”? That what the term “limitless identity” really, really means is actually “no identity”? It’s relatively easy to say one has a “limitless identity,” but how very much more difficult it would be for a jiva to say they have “no identity”?
Jim: When one understands the teaching one’s identity shifts from Manny to awareness. Your identity as pure awareness is unborn, so it never ceases to exist. It is not “no identity,” because how would “no identity” be known? There has to be someone there to observe the lack of identity.
Your whole thinking pattern is dualistic, Manny. You are trying to understand the relationship between duality and non-duality from the dualistic platform. There is no conflict between non-dual awareness and the Manny-object – who is firmly rooted in the experiential dualistic reality. Non-duality and duality are not opposites. They exist in separate orders of the one reality, limitless awareness – you. They occupy the same locus. If a person is dreaming a very bright light in a totally dark room, does the darkness of the room hide the light? Does the light dispell the darkness? There is no contradiction. They exist in the same locus but in different orders of that locus. All contradictions are contained within awareness, so they are not in conflict with it.
Manny: Is it Limitless Identity or Without Identity? Or what exactly is meant by the term “Limitless Identity.” Is it not a contradiction in terms ? Is it possible to be limitless and to have an identity?
Jim: It is not an either/or, Manny. A thing and its opposite can be true. Reality is a “both/and.” You, awareness, are neither limitless nor limited. These are concepts that we use to help a jiva that wants moksa develop discrimination. In the beginning you think you are limited in many ways and you suffer on account of this belief. Then you hear that you are limitless awareness and not the Manny-object. You contemplate on this fact in light of the teachings – you apply the logic that Vedanta supplies, logic that you have never been privy to owing to your karma. Eventually, you see what Vedanta is saying. At that point the ideas of limitless and limited no longer apply. How can they apply to you, non-dual consciousness? There is nothing other than you.
You don’t discriminate the apparent “you” from the real “you,” so you have trouble understanding Vedanta. If you understand the apparent and real idea you don’t need Vedanta. It is the essence of Vedanta. You think you are Manny and awareness is something Manny knows. This is just the reverse of the facts. It is called viparaya. The Bhagavad Gita says, “What’s day for a wise person is night for a worldly person.” They are in different orders of reality: the non-dual, the empirical and the subjective. I think you probably believe that the order of reality you inhabit is the only reality and that any other order of reality is – well – not real. How do you know that the reality you experience is actually reality? Because you trust your senses as a means of knowledge? Because you trust your feelings as a means of knowledge? Because you trust your beliefs and opinions as a valid means of knowledge? Because your interpretation of what has happened in the subjective and the empirical realities is a valid means of knowledge?
Manny: Having run the risk of “unsettling the minds of the wise,” this is probably where I’m going to get excommunicated, but I have always had difficulty with the karma yoga stance of “not being in control of the results of one’s actions,” etc., etc. when 99% of human activity is all about successfully achieving intended results. Both you and I are being kept alive by medical science, by a system of knowledge that continually tests hypotheses until the intended result comes from the intended action – hence both you and I are alive and kicking. Etc., etc. in billions of ways, billions of times a day.
Jim: You would have to be communicated to be excommunicated. Although the truth is hidden in plain sight, it is nearly impossible to find owing to one’s orientation. If you were in charge of the results of your action, you would have everything you want, Manny, but you still have self-ignorance in spite of all your self-defined inquiry. You didn’t ask to be born Manny Wills; you didn’t requisition your mom and pop, etc. You didn’t ask for Maria Theresa to leave you or for your adrenals to pack up, or to meet me on the beach at Kovalam. You didn’t plan to get the emails from me that you are getting lately. None of it was planned by you. Things happen. Basically, the only control you have is in how you see them.
Karma yoga means that there are billions of factors that influence the result of any action, not just the appropriateness and timeliness of the Manny-doer’s actions, because life is non-dual consciousness, and there are trillions of conscious and unconscious objects influencing each other. This does not mean that purposeful work is not possible or that success in the world is not possible. It is because the field of karma is a field of laws and insofar as one learns those laws and applies the appropriate and timely actions, the likelihood of getting what you want is greater than if you don’t.
Manny: Perhaps the terms used in the Bhagavad Gita debate are confusing when stating that one cannot control the results of one’s actions, when one patently can.
Jim: The confusion is all yours, Manny. The Bhagavad Gita was never meant to be read. It was meant to be taught. If you actually listen to the teaching with an open mind as it is meant to be taught, you will not make such an uniformed statement. Just being intelligent is not enough to crack the existential code. It takes something more. You are very intelligent, but you are also intellectually arrogant – you think you can figure it out on your own. You can’t. You need “beginner’s mind,” to quote Suzuki Roshi. Since you’re in Japan, it might be a nice read. You got pretty far and you are pretty pleased with yourself, but you still don’t know who you are, because you don’t know what it means to be limitless awareness in terms of this apparent reality.
Manny: The key spanner in the works is the expression “the fruits of one’s actions,” the enjoyment of which one is supposed to relinquish. Seeing as actions are all about the results they are going to produce, it’s very hard to accept this terminology. Why should people not enjoy the results of their actions when that is precisely what actions are for?
Jim: You are missing the point of karma yoga entirely. You read a few sentences without understanding the whole argument and came to an incorrect conclusion. For Vedanta to work in the first stage you have to suspend your point of view completely. In the second stage you dismiss your ideas that are not in harmony with the teaching. It is very difficult because a lot of what you think is knowledge is actually ignorance. And this leads to the third stage, assimilation, which may not take place immediately owing to deep samskaras that need to be rooted out. Karma yoga prepares an extroverted mind like yours to think from the non-dual platform. Perpares it for what? For receiving the teaching. It converts a rajasic extroverted “practical” mind into a sattvic contemplative mind that is capable of non-dual thought. And only someone who understands what moksa is and has a burning desire for it will practice karma yoga. You cannot just bust into the Vedanta world off the street and expect to understand what we are saying. The mind needs to be retrained to think differently.
I’m not sure why I should answer kindergarten questions, Manny, when if you had taken the time to just sit down with the karma yoga video – or read my books, website, etc. –and listened with an open mind, it would be clear to you. Thousands of people with IQs considerably less than yours understand this idea. You refuse to take the time to subject your mind to the teaching in a systematic way and you want me to hold your hand and teach you the ABCs? Karma yoga is not rocket science, yet it escapes you completely because of your doership issue, which is due to excess rajas. It is the basis of the whole Vedic spiritual tradition. You had plenty of opportunities over the years for me to teach you the basics, but you were always too busy doing other things. Vedanta was never much of a priority for you. Now in your sunset years it seems you are giving it a bit more thought. Good for you. Probably you will not pursue it. It seems the life of the culturati is your cup of tea – no blame. I am willing to help, but only if it is your number one priority.
Manny: Is not what this is really, really getting at is that one should be personally detached from the results of one’s actions, good or bad, as they play out in the world? Not because the results of actions cannot be predicted or enjoyed, but because it would be self-delusory to be so immersed in one’s actions as to lose touch with the overview of a greater awareness, with that which is non-attached or non-conceptual by its very nature.
Jim: You are a bit closer on this one, but still no cigars, Manny. Your life is the results of your actions as they wend their way through the dharma field. You are always enjoying the results, but as far as predictability is concerned you are not correct; “probability” is a better word.
Let me be frank with you. It is not fair to the many humble sincere people who are qualified and who have the proper attitude for me to spend my time teaching you the ABCs. If you want me to be your personal guru, then you need to make a serious contribution to ShiningWorld – it has employees now and many expenses – and you need to fit your schedule into mine and come and let me get you pointed in the right direction. But if you want to save your money, then get the videos and watch them in the privacy of your own home – that way nobody would know that you had a guru; it would save you a lot of embarrassment. We are about to launch an online Vedanta course for beginners, intermediate and advanced inquirers. You would have to start with the beginning course. The rudiments are not known to you although I am sure you believe you have the whole thing pretty well scoped.
Basically, you belong in Yoga because your whole thinking apparatus is not prepared for non-dual thought. I’m any day as smart as you are, but I realized at 27 that I didn’t know shit, that all my ideas and experience were useless in the enlightenment business, and I subjected my mind to the discipline of Vedanta and I learned how to think from the non-dual platform and it set me free of Jim. It is not something you can figure out on your own. There is no hint of this ability in your writing or your questions. You wouldn’t expect to understand what E = MC2 means without a lot of training. Non-dual thinking is way more difficult than the dualistic thinking which you and more or less everyone else is conditioned to. It is not conditioned thinking; it is deliberate thinking based on the premise that reality is non-dual consciousness and not the duality that it is thought to be when you rely on perception and inference for your means of knowledge. The great brains of the ages have been stumped on the “Who am I?” issue.
Manny: If so, this then brings into play a whole raft of options and techniques for maintaining that non-attached awareness in its non-attached state. As I am essentially unattached, I take a non-ideological stance towards these various options, and note that the difference between them is rather marginal. Vedanta is okay, Zen is okay – I don’t go for the idolatry, the graven imagery of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity. So I strip out all the ju-ju and go to the essence of the matter, and whatever is then relevant is relevant.
Jim: You may be unattached, but you are not unattached from you. That is the point of moksa. It is freedom from the one who is attached or unattached. You, the self, are associationless by nature. No effort is required to be free of objects.
In any case you can’t maintain that “non-attached awareness” in any state, Manny. Experience is not under the control of the doer. It is controlled by Isvara. And secondly, who is going to maintain it? You are awareness. It is your nature. How will “you” maintain it? You think awareness is a state of mind. It is the knower of any and all states. See your orientation. You think you are a doer, somebody who is going to maintain something. Honestly, Manny, you would be better off with Yoga. Yoga is for doers. Vedanta is for qualified inquirers. This is why Krishna teaches Arjuna yoga after he has taught him Vedanta – he didn’t get it.
Manny: Taking off on the flight from Delhi to Benares in August 1972 and looking down at the mad mosaic of India, I had the thought, or the thought occurred to me, that I don’t care how India gets out of its economic situation, capitalist or communist, any way, as long as it escapes its dire poverty. So I’ve always had a very strong unattached streak in me, or is it that consciousness has always manifested itself to me in an unattached way?
Jim: The non-attachment is the manifestation of your nature as consciousness. The non-attachment doesn’t belong to Manny. Manny definitely has his attachments, his vasanas.
Manny: To finish off, you might remember the previous argument about values, that the problem with values is not values themselves, but the personal attachment to them – and has not this attachment caused a huge history of destruction, unabated to the present day?
Jim: It depends on the values, obviously. Values in harmony with non-dual dharma need to be upheld. Dualistic values cause conflict.
Manny: When one thinks about it, Jesus Christ’s comments on this are very apt. The seemingly simple expression, “Let him that is without sin cast the first stone,” has to be one of the most advanced thoughts on the way different values relate to each other. “Love they neighbour as thyself,” is out of the same stable. What they are really, really saying is, “Yes, anyone can love themselves and what they do and assert their rights so to do, but can one extend those same rights to ‘the other,’ to ‘thy neighbour,’ to the one that is completely different from oneself? And that if that person asserts their rights to be attached to their values, by what logic should another be denied the right to be attached to theirs? Let him that enjoys their rights not say unto others, ‘You cannot have the same rights.’”
Jim: People whose values contravene universal values can exercise them if they want – at their peril.
Manny: Putting it another way, if the criticism of others is that they are over-attached to their values, then unattachment has to start at home, which raises the huge issue of how can one be unattached to that which one values most?
Jim: More dualistic thinking, Manny. See the issue. It is a contradiction if values are real, but values are not real; they are apparently real; they only apply in the subjective reality. They don’t apply to consciousness nor to the empirical reality. If you are awareness, you are unattached to what Manny values. When you are born, you are ignorant of your nature as awareness. You think you are the body-mind – and you are given a name, which always only refers to the experiences of the body-mind. At the same time there is a “part” of you – the self – that witnesses the body-mind/Manny-person. It never changes. It is value-free. Or put it this way, it is the ultimate value because without it Manny and his body and mind don’t exist. If you are the ultimate value, you have no need for values. However, the apparent person with this knowledge will impeccably follow universal values.
Manny: Lastly, to quote Adam Smith, the eighteenth-century Scottish economist and philosopher who dubbed materialism as “trinkets of frivolous utility” and who would surely have known nothing of the Indian spiritual tradition:
“The first thing you have to know is yourself. A man who knows himself can step outside himself and watch his own reactions like an observer.”
Jim: Yes, but he was not talking about awareness. He was talking about the jiva entity. If you think about it, you haven’t solved the problem by “stepping” out of yourself, because what have you stepped into? You can’t step into the self – limitless awareness – because you are it already, and even if you weren’t a finite doer, a “stepper,” couldn’t take an infinite step, which is what would be required to step outside one’s self. This is a huge problem created by Buddhism and other so-called enlightenment traditions because all it does is split the mind into an observed and an observer, leaving the jiva intact as a limited entity. You step out of yourself by understanding that the self you think you are is not real.
Manny: Thank you for listening.
Jim: Like I said at the beginning of the last letter, it is difficult to know what hat to wear when I am listening to you. You don’t like the guru hat, but obviously I am wearing it in this one. I am assuming that you are an inquirer and I am telling you what Vedanta says. Don’t take it personally, although it is addressed to you personally because you take yourself to be a person. Try to assume that I am impartially applying the teaching to your (rather difficult) case. It is probably lost on you that the style of teaching in the Bhagavad Gita is friendship. Krishna and Arjuna are old friends. But Arjuna doesn’t understand who he is, so Krishna is forced to tell him because he asks. It is not always pleasant to hear, because it runs counter to cherished beliefs, particularly the idea that the jiva is the self. As we are we are equals, Manny, but as far as enlightenment is concerned I’m the expert and you’re a novice. You have never subjected yourself to the discipline. A disciple is a disciplined person. But the discipline of Vedanta is not one that you can teach yourself. If you have the aptitude you can be taught. But it is not easy. And old dogs – well, they do tend to have problem with new tricks. In any case, I’m throwing the Manny-canine a juicy bone.
~ Love, Jim