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Signs and Gradual Changes?
Conrad: I am reading The Essence of Enlightenment (after How to Attain Enlightenment), among other books. But mostly, life’s experience seems to help most now, such as the death of a cousin, the first of my generation, with love, silence and beauty.
I have the impression that the free-floating anxiety as I experience rather often since a few years (I am free of it now, during/after my morning meditation) is, on the one hand, a sign of the gradual freeing from the identification with the jiva/person, an “uncramping.” Also, one the other hand, it seems to be a sign of getting more sensitive/sattvic/vulnerable (e.g. picking up fear in my personal environment). Can you comment?
Shams: My first comment is that apparently you’re still thinking about yourself as a person. For instance, you say, “I am free of it now, during/after my morning meditation,” although you are not free of things “during” or “after” anything. You are always free of objects, including the idea of time (as time is just an idea). The signs and the gradual changes are only important in the world of experience, but are not reliable signs for anything, as experience is always subject-dependent. These means that experience will be always variable, depending on the subject. The thing that we are speaking of in Vedanta is object-dependent, because the interpretations or the different perspectives of the subject don’t matter; knowledge will be always true to its object. It’s like arithmetic: the experience that you get while you are trying to solve an operation won’t change the truth: 2 + 2 = 4. To solve it, you only need the knowledge. When you know it, maybe you will feel more relaxed about your next math class, among many other emotional indicators, but the only important sign is that you know it. Experience will change, while knowledge will be always dependent on truth.
Firm knowledge will bring some changes in the person’s life (as any new factor that enters a field) but, ironically, the mind that is still occupied with the signs of knowledge most likely is not getting it, and for sure it’s not living its benefits. Maybe one of the main gains that knowledge brings to jiva’s life is that it stops caring too much about improving experience. At least it understands that no experience will make it adequate and whole, which is the secret desire of any mind seeking for experience. The only thing that will give complete and constant adequacy is the knowledge that you already have it. Maybe you feel sattvic today, but let me assure you that rajas and tamas will come back, and knowledge won’t certainly change that. The nice thing about self-knowledge is that you will know that you are free of the gunas.
The “signs” that you talk about are good in terms of gunas but, in this stage, understanding will be much more useful for you. You are ready for it, but your focus on experience is a burden that should be seen and released. When you say, “…the sense of being free grows,” you forget that you are also free of “the sense of being free.” If it was the opposite, you wouldn’t be limitless, as you would still be limited by the possibility of losing that sense, which of course will happen. Anything that appears (and all the experiences, including the sense of being free) will disappear. But you are free of it. That knowledge should be applied to the mind in order to keep removing the thought born of ignorance.
Conrad: About the “gradual or not” aspect of enlightenment: on the one hand, it seems to be gradual, a falling away of ignorance (not spectacular, etc.). Still, it also seems to be something very distinct to me (as a 99% solar eclipse is no eclipse, as they say in Japan). I strongly have the impression that both are true, still seem not really to understand in what respect. Can you comment?
Shams: A friend told me an anecdote. He said that one day he was having a coffee while reading the news. When he finished his reading, an old man approached him and asked him for the newspaper. My friend agreed and gave it to him, but soon the old man realised something: he already had a newspaper in his hand. A little confused, the man laughed and apologised to my friend. He had completely forgotten it! However, now that he knew it, he obviously didn’t need another newspaper. His search for a newspaper had ended, not because he got a new one, but because he got the knowledge that he already had it in his hand. Now he was free of the seeking.
The situation of the quest for adequacy is pretty similar. As with the old man, the knowledge should be absolute, otherwise we cannot call it knowledge. Either you know that you had the newspaper all the time (that you are limitless, ordinary awareness) or you don’t know it. There are no half measures, no gradual knowledge in this case. Maybe it could be a moment when you are beginning to remember that you have a newspaper because maybe you bought it ten minutes ago but you are not sure. Well, there is no special gain in saying that the mind, where the ignorance is maybe going away, is partially enlightened. Enlightened or not enlightened, that label belongs to the ego. Once the knowledge of the self is firm, identification with the person is gone, so the idea of being an enlightened individual is untrue, as you are the light. So this is the non-gradual aspect that you address, because enlightenment is not a gradual thing. It’s hard and fast understanding. Maybe the ignorance is gradually disapearing, but that is not gradual enlightenment. That doesn’t mean anything at all, because we are talking about an object that is not real. Of course, if you keep focusing your attention on it, it will be very important, but you’ll still be missing the point.
Knowledge is something completely reliable because, as we said, it’s true to its object. In the case of the example, it’s true to the newspaper in the hand. In the case of the self, it’s true to you: you are obvious, you are the only thing (but you are not a thing) that is, where all the other things apparently arise, you are clearly completely free and self-revealing. So where’s the gradual aspect of moksa? In samsara (the world of experience that apparently appears as an object in front of you) everything is gradual because everything is changing and every object contains its opposite. As James says: “Even though the self is simple, non-dual awareness and can be easily known because it is you, when the apparent reality – life – is taken into account, things are not so simple. If we take life into account – our bodies and minds and the world around us – self-knowledge becomes a multifaceted body of knowledge. Remember, the self is all there is, so knowledge of the individual and the world is also self-knowledge. In this sense it is like any other developed body of objective knowledge – the more you know the better.” As a person, having the firm knowledge about your nature should bear some consequences in life. Self-knowledge means freedom from the person, not for the person, but that understanding should bring relative freedom to the person too. Otherwise, what use is it? In this case, the fruits that the jiva harvests from the knowledge that it is only an object will be gradual and relative because the jiva is part of samsara and will never escape from it, although it can enjoy some advantages from what he now knows.
But first – let’s focus on knowledge. I invite you to start looking at what you know and not at what you feel or how you react. Intellect is more subtle than the emotions, the ego and the actions, so when the ideas about existence change, everything else starts changing for good. But you have to go to the root and stay there for a while.
Conrad: And since about two years, at times I experience a soft, high, sharply-pitched sound (in my ears). Its feels a bit like an increased energy flow. Can you maybe comment on these kind of experiences ?
Shams: It could be the kundalini, the inner shakti or energy, that suddenly is awakened in the subtle body. In your case it’s certainly awake, because you are inquiring about the self. That is increased because the mind is getting more introverted, so it starts looking inside, rather than projecting its attention on the “exterior” world. As I said above, this attention can be turned even “more inside” because to keep inquiring and being occupied with these changes of the subtle body is still experience-focused. The goal here is to learn the language of knowledge and make a complete discrimination, separating you from objects. Those experiences and every other possible change in Conrad will always be an experience (as Conrad himself), an object in you and therefore not you. Why still look at it? Why not start looking at you? Yes, looking at you as You, not as an experience. Talking about the bliss, the clarity, the calm, those are just indications of you, reflections in the subtle body. You are the knowledge, and experience has nothing to do with you.
Maybe ignorance is falling away, as you said, but this interest in looking for signs in experience is a sign itself: it indicates superimposition of duality onto the non-dual, i.e. ignorance. Once you see that the snake is a rope, you can no longer see the rope as a snake. That is knowledge. Why keep bothering whether the mind has this or that new or old characteristic? It will still change until it dies. Look for the One that never dies, the Unborn, the non-created. Go beyond time and space, where your mind can never reach. Realise that you are it, free of any limit, eternal, whole, ordinary awareness. Recognise that knowledge is for the sake of knowledge and the experiences related to it are just by-products, little apparent specks that only signify one thing: you, you, you.