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The Lollipop Idea of Enlightenment
Jay: Hi, James. I would like to convey to you my appreciation of your generous offerings in the form of the Vedanta teachings. I just finished listening to Vedanta retreat Westerwald 2014 at YouTube. I totally enjoyed your teaching ability, style and mastery of the subject matter of Vedanta.
I have a very similar background except I didn’t do the business success story. My story is a total disaster caused by deep suffering since childhood growing up in New York City, which forced me through many twisted streets of samsara and caused me to run to India in 1971 in search of the guru. The karmas of this body-mind kept me seeking for a very long time and I followed one spiritual path after another for many years. Mostly I was an intense meditator. The funny thing about it was I was mostly sitting with attention on the self throughout all those years. The problem was I didn’t have the knowledge of the immovable background that witnesses all things arising and falling. This was mainly because my earliest teaching for 15 years was Tibetan Buddhism, which through my ignorance caused me to believe there was no permanent self and I really didn’t exist. I had this lollipop idea of enlightenment, which I believed would set me free and bring profound bliss. ☺ The many deep inner experiences I went through in these many years were remarkable and keep the desire for enlightenment ever burning in my ignorant mind.
The saving grace of God was deeply in my heart in the form of a knowing that no matter how great the inner experiences were and no matter how long they lasted they did not transform my daily life. It was always a disaster. To my credit I was brutally honest with myself and knew that I these remarkable experiences didn’t bring me to the enlightenment I was seeking. I had done acid in those early 1960s years also and I had many remarkable experiences on them, but meditation was even more remarkable because they had no negative effects like drugs do.
My convoluted seeking finally led to Advaita in 1996. By hook or by crook I had the great good fortune to meet my sad guru Ranjit Maharaj in Bombay. I was given the knowledge of his tradition, which did reveal understanding of parabrahman. My master’s form disappeared in 2000. I got to sit at his feet for about five months in total. Most of the time I was locked into “what is free of everything.”
Since 1999 I have spent all these years in being steady within the self, although my life didn’t reflect the inner freedom, and emotionally my jiva basically was a mess. So on my own I have been churning within everything and nothing. The difficulty was that although I received from Maharaj absolute knowledge, the whole Isvara/jiva complex and the relative world… what you call the apparent reality… and how it relates to the self was lacking in my understanding… I had a rudimentary knowledge of gunas, elements, etc. but I ignorantly dismissed it all as illusion that ultimately didn’t matter. I understood that everything happened according to previous actions done in ignorance but I had no interest in life, because I was safely situated “prior to everything.” But my life was at the empty whims of fate; it went up and down. Grace kept me digging deeper into Truth because Truth isn’t complete until my outer life reflects it accurately. I didn’t love other people, so conflict arose. I did have total love of self (awareness), which was unshakable with a steady conviction that it is the only reality.
After listening to you, James, missing pieces of the puzzle easily fit into place. This is why I am writing, to express my gratitude for offering the teachings.
There is a point I would like to clear up. Maharaj used the teaching model of the four bodies: gross body, subtle body, causal body and super-causal body, which was the witness of the causal body… My experience is that witnessing of the causal body, which is like seeing empty space without a form, does happen.
Even the space between two thoughts is a witnessing of the causal body. I think I heard you say that we can’t directly experience the causal body… In a way this is a curiosity now because I see and understand that everything is myself and yet I am prior to and untouched by everything, unchanged by anything. You helped me to break some final cords of identifications with appearances in your explanation of Isvara (causal body) being the seeds of identification. I couldn’t understand this before and I was mistaking my absolute nature and getting caught in identification with my apparent self. It’s been a point of investigation for the last 15 years. I have always been a slow learner, but I do get there in the end!
James: It seems you have. Good for you. The misleading words “super-causal body” refer to the self. I think it is instructive to look at the implied meaning of your statement “my experience is that witnessing of the casual body, which is like seeing empty space without a form, does happen.” It implies that this witnessing “happens,” i.e. that it is an event.If it appears as an event it is an epiphany, i.e. the jiva is suspended momentarily and you see as the self sees. The problem is that you don’t know it is the self seeing, so you think it is the jiva seeing, and you assumed that the self “happened.” We call this superimposition, projecting the jiva on the self. It happens because of a prior superimposition, a projection of the self on the jiva brought about by maya. Maya reverses the relationship between the self and the jiva, so that the self seems to be an object and the jiva, the object, seems to be the subject. So sometimes Isvara gives you a glimpse of the actual relationship, but unless you have had the benefit of Vedanta you probably won’t understand that you are the self.
The spiritual world presents enlightenment, i.e. freedom, as an event, something to be anticipated, cultivated and to be experienced by jiva. Your words “does happen” implies that witnessing of the causal body also doesn’t happen. But witnessing is the nature of the self. It always “happens,” meaning it never began and it never ends. There is one causal body that appears as two: a microcosmic causal body, i.e. jiva’s karma, and a macrocosmic causal body, i.e. the totality of all karma and vasanas. But both are witnessed by the self, the original non-experiencing witness. It is not causal in the conventional sense of the term, because it doesn’t cause anything. It is in a different dimension of reality from the world of experience, so the world has no effect on it. Maya is the cause of the world and it is something that is (1) other than the self and (2) other than the world of experience that it produces. The correct Sanskrit words for this fact are “sat asat vilakshanam.” However, since you can’t have maya without awareness and you can’t have a world without maya, you can say that the self is the cause. But we usually add an adjective and call it the “uncaused” cause to make sure that the inquirer knows that it is outside the apparent chain of causation.
I also feel it is necessary to question the word “body” with reference to the self. “Body” implies a name and a form. The self has no name and form. It also implies creation, i.e. birth and death, but the self is unborn and undying. So on both accounts – cause and body – we have to not give Ranjit a gold star as a guru on this point because he didn’t make it clear, which it seems resulted in a somewhat longer stay in ignorance than you perhaps had bargained for. Still, in the end you seem to have got there with flying colors, thanks to your perseverance and the glories of Vedanta.
Jay: I would like further clarity, it may be the way I am expressing my words that are clumsy. Let’s have another go.
James: Yes, your words are not precise. At the level on which we are speaking, they need to be precise. I won’t go through a critique of Ranjit’s language. I think that you weren’t systematically taught Vedanta by him, starting with the proper terminology. As you say, he was pointing at the self aka brahman but not unfolding the teachings in a systematic manner.
This kind of teaching is only for very advanced adhikaris, i.e. highly qualified people, basically sanyassis, who are following dharma and have little or no karma. If there is some shortage of qualifications, the complete teaching including karma yoga, dharma, Isvara and jiva, satya/mithya, gunas, etc. is necessary. The reason ShiningWorld is so successful is that I have removed most of the points of confusion brought about by the many Sanskrit terms that have appeared in the Vedanta sampradaya over its long history and tried to separate the teachings from its cultural roots, although I love India and Hinduism. I am not criticizing your guru, but there is a definite lack of appreciation of the immense sophistication of traditional Vedanta by both Western and Indian people alike. Almost all teachers say they are teaching Vedanta – the word lends gravitas to their ideas – but almost no one except Swami Dayananda and his disciples unfold the complete traditional teaching as it is intended to be taught. Most Indian mahatmas did not go though the patashala/yagnashala tradition properly. They may have got moksa, but as teachers most of them pick and choose the Vedanta teachings that resonate with their experience and that they understand. Anybody can point at the self. How is anybody who has not been properly taught going to properly teach? Also, I can tell by the way you use words that yoga, i.e. meditation, has impacted on the way you heard or read the teachings. Fortunately, you were able to sort out most of it. When you said that my statement that the objects appearing in awareness existed but they weren’t real clicked for you, I know that you finally understood the essence of moksa.
Yes, most of the confusion created by your words is semantic and not a fault in your understanding. You will find it a lot easier if you forget the way Maharaj used words – this is not in any way to denigrate his knowledge or “his” teaching – but the way he used them creates too much confusion. Read my book The Essence of Enlightenment and the whole teaching will become crystal-clear. I have only included the essential Sanskrit terms.
James (from above): The misleading words “super-causal body” refer to the self. I think it is instructive to look at the implied meaning of your statement “my experience is that witnessing of the casual body, which is like seeing empty space without a form, does happen.” It implies that this witnessing “happens,” i.e. that it is an event.If it appears as an event it is an epiphany, i.e. the jiva is suspended momentarily and you see as the self sees.
Jay: No, not an event, only if attention focuses inward away from thoughts, etc. then the knowing of, I have always been introverted type looking within, earlier was very spacey…
James: The sentence does not make sense. You don’t complete the first idea and then you begin with a statement about your jiva. It seems you don’t understand what I said. You say “witnessing is a happening for the jiva if attention is turned inward.” Yes, but the jiva witnesses objects in the world if it is not turned inward. If it is turned inward it witnesses the reflection of awareness in the subtle body, never pure original awareness. I was speaking from the point of view of you, pure original awareness. Witnessing is the nature of awareness. It does not matter if the mind is turned inward or outward. It is known to be introverted or extroverted by you, the self, which is neither turned inward or outward because you pervade everything. So you must be more careful when you write to compose your sentences carefully.
Jay: Maharaj would say, “Why are you trying to understand that which doesn’t exist?” So I gave up the inquiry into Isvara and creation of apparent objects completely. I know now this was a mistake.
James: This statement of Maharaj is misleading. If the body or any object for that matter doesn’t exist, how can you experience it? It exists, but it is not real. I am very happy that you understand the distinction. If you take his statement to be a fact, then you will have to believe that enlightenment is some kind of state where no objects are perceived. But the self has no problem with apparent objects, because they are in a different order of reality. Duality does not contradict non-duality. What he meant is that the body isn’t real, but he used the misleading words. It is the most common error in the Neo-Advaita world. What he meant is that appearances have no self-nature, because they are never the same from one moment to the next, so you can’t really say that they exist as they appear to exist. They are anitya, impermanent. But they do exist. A movie exists, but it is not real. Dream exists, but it is not real, meaning always present and un-negateable.
Jay: Although when not in the waking state… let’s say deep sleep state… there doesn’t appear to be knowing of deep sleep while in deep sleep, which I am not clear about; why, if my nature is self-illuminating, isn’t there knowing in deep sleep? I always understood that there is no differentiation of anything other than it’s all the same substance without any form to distinguish. Like space trying to know space, it all the same, so it wouldn’t know anything else but itself, no need to know anything, because it all no-thing, the same…
James: There is one knower appearing as two knowers, two witnesses: the self, limitless awareness, and the reflected self, the person. The person is not present in deep sleep, so it can’t know. The self is present in all states, so deep sleep is known by it. You are confusing the two witnesses. Space is a good metaphor for understanding non-duality, but as you express it, it doesn’t work for explaining the relationship between the self and the objects that appear in it. It should be understood like this: although space and the object in it are one, they are not the same. Space includes the objects, but the objects do not include space. Or the objects depend on space, but space does not depend on the objects. But space is inadequate as a metaphor for the self because it is not conscious, whereas the self is conscious and the objects aren’t.
When you say your nature is self-illuminating you mean the jiva, but the jiva is not self-illuminating. It is dependent reflected awareness (pratibimba) and it shines on an off depending on the state Isvara is manifesting at any time. Its light is inconstant, as the gunas transform it.
You need to read my book. It will clear up any lingering doubts. I have attached a digital copy. If it doesn’t, then write to me, my wife or one of the other teachers, and we will happily clear up the remaining doubts for you.
Jay: Awareness has been the conscious, unchanging self-knowing for me since I realized awareness as self in 1996 (of course it was the case before, when I didn’t pay any attention to it, i.e. when I was ignorant). So since 1996 I didn’t understand the linkage between awareness and why the appearances were in a state of disturbance at times.
James: You probably didn’t understand it because you thought the self was an object to be known. The self is not an object to be known. It is the ever-present, self-aware witness of objects. The jiva is never aware of it, except as an idea. In the case of your statement, it knew that you were ignorant when you didn’t know you were ignorant. Although your language is imprecise, it seems to me that you do know who you are but your knowledge still needs a bit of work to tidy up the loose ends.You are lucky to have found traditional Vedanta. It only comes when a person has exhausted all the other options, including non-traditional Vedanta. The next paragraph convinces me that you are definitely on the right track.
Jay: Let’s say now my day-to-day life can go like this: a disturbance can appear (let’s say fear) which is experienced as a feeling of vulnerability, unsteadiness around the chest area. The self witnesses this and in no way does (my experience) have any impact on self (awareness).It’s known witnessed/experienced and it passes. Awareness/self is not changed by any experience or appearance, they come and go, self doesn’t come or go; it is constant.
James: This paragraph is absolutely correct. It is self-knowledge. Now, the only issue is this: Is “the self” you? Or is it an object known to you? The way you speak about it as “the self” implies that it is an object. If it is an object known to you, it is not moksa. This may be a problem of semantics, although when I put together all your statements, discount the way you express them and take into account the last paragraph where you say that life is good, it seems your self-knowledge is firm. Anyway, moksa is “I am the self. I know myself without the aid of a body and mind.” If you can say that with confidence and know what it means, then you are the self. You are moksa, free. You can’t say that you are enlightened, because the self was never unenlightened. All you can do is say, “I am limitless, self-knowing, ever-present, unborn, unchanging, ordinary awareness.”
Jay: This is how it is… the karmas in this life have been and still are intense sometimes. On the other hand, my karma is driven the burning desire to be free, which as been the case from childhood. These days experience is a much more easy ride, with much peace and love. My life for a long time has been simple and on my own. It’s not my plan, it’s the karma connected to this form.
James: I’m happy to hear that. I enjoy your emails. But as I mentioned, please read The Essence of Enlightenment. That is really the qualification for me to write satsangs. Otherwise, I have to start all over with everybody and this is not possible, as there are too many people who want teaching these days. If you write to the other teachers you should also have read the book.
Jay: Thanks so much. I have understood all that you said in your mail and the YouTube German retreat talks. It’s all clear self-knowledge. My expression of this knowledge is confusing. There is no doubt in my understanding, nor that I AM the Eternal Awareness without any modification, this is steady knowledge and what is always, always was and always will be. I am not within apparent time/space. You have helped tremendously to clear up some points.
The ignorance was the belief that mind needed to be completely destroyed, meaning constantly empty of content, which is delusional! Along with this was the idea that the intellect should not think anything. Now I understand that my intellect thinks and my mind receives conditioned content from previous impressions that were formed from ignorance and knowledge. This is no problem, because I am always eternally present with the rising and setting of all experience, not limited by anything, not stained by all appearances that come and go, not separate from all appearances that are my self in temporal form. I am all, complete and whole!
James: It is indeed delusional that the mind/intellect needs to be destroyed, considering the fact that it in no way conceals the ever-present self. Only human beings can be so oblivious to common sense. The only way out of samsara is right thinking – knowing what knowledge is, what ignorance is and that “I am the knower of both.”