Search & Read
Is It “Both/And” or Is It “Either/Or”?
Ben: Hi, Ramji. Understanding awareness… me… is so easy. Trying to understand the relationship between me as awareness and this worldly “reality” raises many questions and needs more effort and clarification!
In reply to your answer to my question, I understand how “mind” and “apparent individual” can be used interchangeably, but they are not the self. When you say that ignorance causes you to identify with the apparent individual, does this “you” refer to awareness or to the “mind/apparent individual”?
I took “you” to mean awareness. I, awareness, identify myself as jiva, an individual living entity. To say that the apparent individual identifies itself as an apparent individual is tautologous. Something else has to identify itself as the apparent individual. That “something else” is me, awareness associated with a form and afflicted with ignorance.
James: This is correct.
Ben: Here is my thinking about your statement that moksa is for the mind as well as for the self. Is it correct?
The mind/subtle body is an inert instrument. When associated with me, awareness, it APPEARS to be conscious and functions LIKE a conscious instrument. The one using the instrument is me, awareness, afflicted with ignorance. So who needs moksa? Me, awareness afflicted with ignorance.
The mind is like a large telescope. When it is switched on, the telescope itself does not see the stars. It is the astronomer whose star-ignorance is overcome with the help of the telescope. Awareness activates the mind.
James: I know what you mean, but the way you express this truth gives the impression that awareness is a doer. You should say, “In the presence of awareness, the mind is activated.”
Ben: When self-knowledge removes the mind’s ignorance I, awareness, recognise myself as awareness. So moksa is for me.
Why would the mind need moksa? The mind can never be me, but I can appear as the mind. The mind always remains an object in my presence even though it arises from me. It is me and it is not me. I am different from it.
The finite always remain finite and no amount of “finites” can make infinity. The Upanishads say that the mind cannot “go there,” cannot “reach there.” Only I, awareness, can be aware of myself as awareness. A mind, even when activated, cannot be awareness; it is always only an instrument and will always remain an instrument.
So the mind does not need moksa. Moksa is for me, not for the mind. Is my understanding accurate?
James: Yes and no. It is for the mind and it is for the self. It is for the mind when you think you are the mind. But it is actually for the self – although you don’t know it when you think you are an ignorant mind. You are looking for an absolute, an either/or. You say “moksa is for me, not the mind.” Yes, it is for you, but if you are you, then you don’t need moksa, because moksa is your nature. So moksa is not for you at all.
Ben: You say the mind is eternal and you also say the mind is relatively eternal. Which is it? I take eternal to mean “always present and unchanging, unmoving, beyond time and space.” You once defined eternal in Tiruvannamalai as “not modified by anything.”
The mind seems to be eternal relative to the physical body. The physical body lasts only one birth but the subtle body lasts for the whole macrocosmic cycle of time. The leaves of a deciduous tree last one season but the tree continues. So the tree, relative to the leaf, is eternal. But the tree is also temporary, relative to the earth in which it is rooted.
The Creator and the creation are temporary with reference to limitless awareness. It is free of the Creator and the creation. So the mind appears to be eternal, but is only relatively eternal. It will cease to exist one day. It is not like the eternal-ness of awareness. I am awareness.
James: Well, it won’t cease to exist. It will cease to appear. The non-appearance of an object is not the non-existence of the object. But yes, what you say is true from consciousness’s perspective. But from jiva’s perspective it is “relatively eternal,” which is as good as eternal. The teaching about the timelessness of the mind – and it wouldn’t reappear if it really disappeared (it just went unmanifest), so it is eternal because it is a power in consciousness and consciousness is eternal – is intended to make the jiva understand that the absence of mind is not moksa. It is one of the most common enlightenment myths.
Ben: You say that the self… awareness… in a form, i.e. as jiva, is simultaneously aware and ignorant, not just ignorant. I cannot remember hearing it put this way. The discussions have always been on ignorance and removal of ignorance, “from the darkness of ignorance to the light of knowledge,” that as a seeker I begin ignorant and need self-knowledge to remove the ignorance. All the indicators were that I am either ignorant or not ignorant: either/or. When a bulb in a dark room is switched on, the darkness goes away immediately.
I thought about your phrase above and now can understand that awareness and ignorance are not mutually exclusive. It is a “both/and,” not an “either/or.” The example that helped me was “twilight.” It is a “both/and” situation: it is both light and darkness, not just light nor just darkness, not either/or. In twilight, it is possible to both see and not see.
James: Awareness does not have problem with ignorance. You can’t be ignorant unless you are aware. But the example you present – knowledge and ignorance – is not apt, because they are opposites because they are in the same order of reality, whereas awareness and ignorance/knowledge are in different orders of the one reality.
Ben: So what you are saying is that before self-knowledge I, awareness, was both aware and not aware, both “I know I am awareness” plus “I do not know I am awareness.”
James: NO! I am not saying that. Awareness cannot be not aware. I’m saying that awareness is not the opposite of ignorance, nor is it the same as knowledge. Awareness is always aware. There is no “before.” You are missing the most essential ingredient.
Ben: Knowledge and ignorance are simultaneously mixed together in jiva. It is contaminated but not completely contaminated. Twilight is not complete darkness. Some light is present but is “contaminated” with some darkness. After self-knowledge, there is only pure awareness operating in that same form, but with just the knowledge “I am awareness.” The “I do not know” bit was removed by knowledge.
James: Yes. The jiva is confused about what is knowledge and what is ignorance.
Ben: Looking back on my life as Ben, I can honestly say I really did not have any inkling whatsoever that I was awareness. That means I was ignorant, in fact completely ignorant of who I am. If this is truly the case, then the removal of ignorance through self-knowledge makes it an either/or. Either I am ignorant or I am aware, which up to now is what I thought Vedanta said.
James: It is a good thing you said “thought” because that is not what Vedanta says. You are always aware. Sometimes you are aware of ignorance, sometimes you are aware of knowledge and sometimes you are aware what ignorance means and what knowledge means, sometimes you are not aware of the distinction between them and sometimes you are aware of something else altogether. But when you are not aware you are aware because you can’t not know something unless you are aware.
Ben: But with the understanding of “both/and” and with the example of twilight, I can appreciate what you mean. The clue was contemplating the meaning of “mixture” meaning “not completely ignorant,” not one or the other but both simultaneously. This seemed to go against my past experience, but then I was operating as a “mixture,” so could not analyse clearly. Yes, Vedanta is counter to experience. I trust Vedanta over my experience.
James: Yes. Good thinking. Although you attended the class, you didn’t hear the teaching from Panchadasi on the nature of jiva. Jiva is a mixture of matter and consciousness. It doesn’t know if it is consciousness or matter, so it is confused.
Ben: On further retrospection with this understanding, even when I was identified as Ben and thought I was completely ignorant, awareness was present. Proof? Ben was alive, able to move, perceive, think, emote, witness, etc., all symptoms and signs of the presence of awareness activating the puppet “Ben.” Thus even when I did not know I was awareness, awareness was present, I was awareness. This proves again that it is a “both/and” status of existence prior to self-knowledge.
Ben: I asked Swami Dayananda how the self can be limitless consciousness and think it isn’t, but he didn’t answer, but now with our discussion it is simple. When I am associated with a human form, I, awareness, am unaffected by anything, neither by ignorance nor by knowledge; I am unborn and limitless. As pure awareness, I do not need any teaching; I do not need a mind. But when I am associated with a human form and ignorance is operating I forget who I am. I am apparently contaminated by ignorance. But ignorance goes with self-knowledge. Ben continues to be Ben until his karma ends. It could also be said that what changed was ignorance: it was present but is now gone while I, awareness, continue. Both ways work.
It is ironic that Vedanta stresses logic so much... yukti... “the unexamined logic of one’s experience.” Yet at the end, it is faith in the teaching that leads to the breakthrough and clarity of understanding.
James: Yes. You have to trust logic instead of your beliefs.
Ben: You often use the phrase “as good as.” What exactly does it mean? Does it mean “not really ignorant but like ignorant”?
Thinking about it, the example of twilight helps again. Twilight is as good as darkness, but not really dark. It can be taken to be “as good as” darkness because objects are poorly defined and therefore are “as good as” not seen. Twilight could also be taken to be as good as light. It depends on which viewpoint one comes from. If coming from daylight, it is the twilight of dusk and increasing darkness. If coming from night, it is the twilight of dawn and increasing light. Yes, twilight is a good metaphor for the fact that “awareness is simultaneously both, affected by ignorance and not affected by ignorance.” It is a case of “both/and” and not “either/or.”
James: Although the world and Ben exist, they are as good as non-existent because they have no effect on you, awareness. They can’t affect you, because they are in a different order of reality. They are apparently real (mithya), and you are real (satya).
Ben: The famous mantra, asatoma sad gamaya; tamasoma jyotir gamaya; mrityorma amritam gamaya (“lead me from the unreal to the real, from darkness to light, from death to immortality”) seems to suggest an either/or, not a both/and.
I wondered why they used the word unreal (asat). How can something non-existent, like a circular square, the horns on a rabbit or the child of a barren woman affect someone? To be affected by something, that “something” has first to exist, be present. “Asat” means it does not and cannot exist at all, so how can it affect anything? We do not have to be concerned with asat at all.
James: Yes.That is why we use the word “mithya.” It is not asat, unreal, but it is as good as unreal because it has no effect on you, awareness. The “darkness to light” teaching is dualistic. It is important to engender faith in someone who is in the darkness. Twilight is “beyond” light and darkness because it is something that contains both.
The words “exist,” “unreal” and “apparently real” need careful parsing.
Ben: Yes, it is amazing that I, awareness, could get clouded at all, but with this human form, I was. Such is creation. The shift from “mixed” awareness to freed awareness does make sense; it explains my prior suffering, dissatisfaction, sense of incompleteness, etc., yet there was always a desire for satisfaction and completeness and away from suffering, etc. Both are present concurrently, “mixed together.” With self-knowledge I am at peace because with ignorance removed, I recognise peace is my nature, even while in this form and experiencing all kinds of events, pleasant and unpleasant. This shift is what Vedanta tries to achieve through its teaching.
James: This is the truth.
Ben: There is a very easy way to make vasanas non-binding: be grateful to them and befriend them rather than dismiss or “fight” them.
How does the attitude of gratefulness to vasanas work? The example of the game of squash came to mind. The fast-moving ball is my attention. The wall is the vasana. The ball bounces off the wall and comes back to me. My attention bounces from the vasana back to myself. So every vasana is a wall or platform to bring my attention back to me. “Thank you, vasana, for reminding me of myself.”
With this knowledge, there is even a subtle pleasurable tingling sensation all over the physical body too. This must be the effect of sattva guna. Of course with knowledge this experience is not necessary. It seems to arise spontaneously with the knowledge. If it does, fine. If it does not, fine too.
And what is so special about recognising and being pure awareness... as the greatest pleasure and infinite satisfaction, I am always present and available, as myself, here and now, even without an object, even without a vasana, not dependent on anything or anyone. What freedom! True enjoyment.
This approach of course requires shraddha, trust in the teaching, which states that I am always satisfied. Only then will it work.
Another method is to know that vasanas belong to Isvara, not to me. “Thanks, but no thanks, Isvara, you can have them back! I know they do not give lasting happiness.” Free again.
Of the two methods, I find the first approach more helpful: vasanas remind me that I am always full. With the second, there is the possibility of a blankness or emptiness remaining after not identifying with the vasana. It will return. There is nothing like knowing my nature is the best satisfaction itself. Yum!
Thank you, Ramji.