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Consciousness Is the Mirror
Harold: Good morning!
I went to Oneness University in India two summers ago, and it helped me realize I am not my thoughts, but it didn’t stop me from being angry, anxiety-ridden and miserable most of the time. I was high one day and then low the next, etc.…
Sundari: I am not at all surprised the “Oneness University” did not offer any lasting relief from suffering. It is a profit-based, bogus outfit that has cobbled together some “New Age” slogans under the guise of the “Indian spiritual mystique,” posing as genuine non-duality teachers and teachings. The people behind it have been exposed to be corrupt, yet amazingly it still prospers. There is always a place for this because of the nature of ignorance. As the mind is so hungry to know the self, at best this kind of thing will give the mind a taste of the bliss of experiential knowledge. Sadly, as all experience takes place in time, all experiences end. And when they inevitably do, the “you” you think you are is still there with all its identification with its conditioning, all its problems and all its suffering. Knowing no better, the mind is convinced that there is something wrong with it instead of seeing that there is something wrong with what it believes to be true – namely that it is incomplete and needs something to complete it. So it goes chasing after yet another experience, believing that freedom is something that can be gained, that the elusive joy must be in the object. For clarification, an object is anything other than you, awareness, this includes gross objects like the body to subtle objects, like thoughts and feelings. All objects arise in awareness, are made up of awareness and have a dependent existence on it, although awareness is always free of all objects.
There is a big problem with this thinking, as the self, awareness, cannot be gained, because it is who you are. No action (not even a supposedly “spiritual action”) taken by a limited entity can possibly produce a limitless result, which is moksa. As awareness is the subject and not the object, the means at our disposal for knowing anything – perception and inference – are insufficient, because the subject is subtler than the object. So, as awareness is not an object of knowledge, it can only be revealed to be one’s true nature by a teaching capable of removing ignorance from the mind. The one and only solution to suffering is self-knowledge. And self-knowledge (Vedanta) has to be taught to a mind that is qualified. Only Vedanta offers a valid, independent means of knowledge capable of freeing the mind permanently from ignorance. Vedanta is not based on the opinions or beliefs of anyone. It is simply and irrefutably the knowledge that underpins all other knowledge and is the truth with a capital “T” about you. This is why it is called the knowledge that ends the quest for knowledge. If you are ready to put an end to seeking and become a finder, Isvara has brought you to the right place; you need look no further.
What Vedanta says about you is simply this:
There is nothing wrong with you as a person or with your life. Your only problem is that you have a knowledge problem caused by the deluding power of maya, producing the hypnosis of duality, the identification with objects. Freedom from suffering comes from the firm and unshakeable understanding that you are whole and complete, non-dual, unchanging, unlimited, actionless, ordinary awareness – and not the person. The person, their conditioning (the habits that run the mind – vasanas), their thoughts and feelings, their life and their environment – are all objects known to you.
The tough part is this: just cognitively knowing this to be true will not free the mind from suffering. To be free, the mind has to be qualified to understand what freedom means for the person; and it has to translate into the life of the person on a moment-to-moment basis.
Harold: …and I can’t stand being me anymore.
Sundari: It is a blessing to get to the stage where the mind is so tired of being identified with its story and conditioning, of existential doership. This means the qualifications for liberation must be firming up. It’s time to ask the most important question of all:
“Who is this me that I am so tired of? And if I know this me – how can it BE me?”
Harold: I read James’ autobiography, which is incredible, and am now up to watching the YouTube video Practicing Vedanta, Part 11 where the mirror is discussed in depth. It’s been revelation after revelation after revelation. Amazing. Thank you for putting material like this out there.
Sundari: You are indeed blessed to have been led to James and ShiningWorld, as there is no better teacher for moksa on the planet than James.
Harold: Question: I am the mirror; the objects (thoughts/feelings/body/material world) appear in my awareness (mirror), which is my real self?
Sundari: Yes, all basically correct – except it is not “your” awareness. Awareness does not belong to the individual. It is the true nature of everything – there is only one awareness, and we are all it. When maya appears and with it the world of objects, the individual (subtle body) appears, and because of the deluding power of maya it identifies with objects, thinking that awareness is something other than it – and that all objects are also “other.” We call this the self under the spell of ignorance. Dedicated self-inquiry into the true nature of the mind with a valid means of knowledge under the tutelage of a qualified teacher will destroy the notion of duality – if the mind is qualified.
The mirror metaphor is a good place to start with one’s inquiry into the self, if you understand that the “I” you are referring to in your statement above is your true nature, awareness, or the self. However, metaphors never correspond exactly to the object they represent. The main idea is that there is no separation between your image in a mirror and the mirror. You can’t find a gap between them.
There are two kinds of screens: one that reflects its own light and in that light (like the light of a computer screen) objects appear and disappear. This screen has its own light. Then there is a screen, like a movie screen, which is like the sun and the moon – i.e. the screen does not project its own light but borrows its light from the projector, like the moon “borrows” its light from the sun because it does not have any light of its own.
Everything reflects light, but a mirror reflects light clearly, as it is, so it is the source of the light in the metaphor. The clearer the mind (reflective surface) the more distinct are the objects in it. Even though all objects arise in awareness, it is not as easy to see some objects as awareness, because they are obscured by ignorance. The question to ask is this: How far are objects from the mirror? Do they pop out, stand apart? No. The reflection in the mirror and the mirror are non-different – as is the image in the mirror and the object creating it.
The point is, if the mirror (mind or reflective surface) is clear, the self as the object reflected in the mirror can be clearly known as an object of knowledge/experience – even though it is also known that the self is not an object but who you are. In non-dual reality, experience and knowledge are the same. There is no obscuration in a clear mirror (a pure mind free of ignorance), because one knows all objects are you (awareness) but you are free of the objects. Awareness is always the only thing that can never be negated.
Harold: James says we don’t get rid of the jiva. It’s always there (which was another huge revelation because I always believed the “thought-feeling” had to be destroyed). So I have financial obligations, two boys in college, mortgage, car payments, etc.…
Sundari: Indeed for better or worse we are stuck with the jiva, so best learn to love it as it is. The “no mind” idea and the destruction of thoughts and feelings (even if it were possible – which it is not, because they come from the causal body and not from the person) is a common trap in the spiritual world. The mind is not the problem – identification with the mind is the problem. Another common myth in the enlightenment game is that enlightenment is another object to obtain and when it is the jiva will be different, better. The person may or may not be better – but what is the point of trying to perfect it if it is not real? One only needs to understand the person, where “their” conditioning arises from so as to render it non-binding, and dissolve its sense of doership through karma yoga.
The free person will still have its Isvara-given character and tendencies; it will still be a pain in the ass to itself and others sometimes. It will still suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, feeling joy, pain, loss, grief as well – as well as the constant bliss of self-knowledge. It still has to pay the rent, take care of its duties and karma in the world. Self-knowledge is not a panacea for all ills that plague the person. It simply reveals that, as one’s true nature is awareness, you are the knower of all objects – including “your” karma, meaning the karma as the person because for awareness there is no karma. It is the ability to discriminate awareness, you, from the objects that appear in you. The important thing to understand is that moksa is freedom FROM and FOR the jiva – ONLY. As awareness, you are already free.
Self-actualisation, living the knowledge as a free jiva, is quite another matter from self-realisation, which, as stated above, is the experiential or cognitive realisation of awareness – and which many people take to be moksa. Realising that your true nature is awareness and not the self is where the “work” begins. Removing lifetimes of ignorance is not going to disappear overnight, even for highly qualified minds that have very little karma in the world. It seems so simple, but self-knowledge is the subtlest, most counter-intuitive and hardest thing for the mind to grasp. It cannot be stated enough that there is no way the knowledge will be assimilated if the mind is not qualified. And, if the means of knowledge is not properly taught, the mind will more than likely interpret it according to its inborn conditioning, so moksa will not obtain.
I strongly suggest you make a list of all the qualifications necessary for self-inquiry. You will find them all in James’ books, available in the ShiningWorld shop. You can also find them for free in the thousands of pages of e-satsangs at the website or in the many free YouTube videos. The place for you to start with a fearless moral inventory, establishing what values underpin everything for as the person. Next are the qualifications, then comes karma yoga. You will not get anywhere without the application of karma yoga in your day-to-day life.
You can also use the search function at the website to search for answers to your questions. We highly recommend to all new inquirers to read as many of James’ books as possible, slowly. Sign on to the logic and DO NOT skip. Watch as many of the videos of James teaching as possible. If you are truly sick and tired of the existential suffering of the jiva, do whatever it takes. Self-inquiry requires a burning desire to be free of suffering.
Harold: I am awareness. Then thoughts come up… Do I let go of the thoughts, feelings, actions, words that don’t serve me, others and the greater good, and bring up and ride the thoughts/feelings/actions/words that enable me to pay my bills, develop new accounts, manage situations at work or home??? All the while being awareness? Is that the process?
Sundari: Ask always: Who knows these thoughts/feelings/actions? Who knows the person managing situations, has to pay the bills, etc? If you know something, it can’t be you. So the first step is to identify with the knower and not with the person. This will not make the karma of the person disappear, but it puts a whole new spin on what it means because one understands it is only apparently real – meaning not always present and always changing. But the knower, awareness, is always present and never changes. To understand the origin of the thoughts and feelings and to dissolve them, the teaching on the three gunas (Isvara) is imperative. The gunas are the three forces that underpin, give rise to and run everything in the apparent reality. They all have very predictable thoughts, feelings and actions that arise from them. The gunas are roughly synonymous with the unconscious, or the causal body. I suggest that you start at the beginning and take it easy. What you need to concentrate on right now are your motivations, qualifications and karma yoga. One step at a time, there is a progression of assimilation that needs to take place for self-knowledge to stick. James always says slow and steady wins the race.
When moksa has firmly obtained in the mind one usually does “feel” good all the time, but one does not depend on feeling good or having things go your way, because you know you are that which makes everything good, no matter what is going on in the jiva’s life. The “feeling good” of knowledge does not actually feel like anything. Experiential bliss is an object known to you and you are always blissful, whether or not experiential bliss is present. In fact you could be sick, in pain, half-dead, broke, jobless or stuck in a situation you do not enjoy but cannot change – and be totally blissful because who you are is not influenced by what is or is not going on in your environment.
That said, when self-actualisation is firm (the doer is permanently negated and all binding vasanas have been permanently rendered non-binding), one has resolved all messy karma and is no longer chasing objects. One is simply doing one’s duty as the jivanmukta, following dharma – and, most importantly one takes action ALWAYS with the karma yoga spirit, consecrating every thought word and deed to Isvara on a moment-to-moment basis, taking all results as prasad, a gift.
The busy show that the world presents to the mind does not end with moksa, but what does end forever is the need for the world of objects to bring you anything. You still enjoy objects for what they are, knowing that what they have to offer is limited and never last – and best of all, you don’t need them to be happy. One makes contact with objects happily, not FOR happiness.
Harold: Thank you! I really appreciate your assistance. I seem to be confused here.
Sundari: You are most welcome, Harold. It is always good to welcome aboard another inquirer, and to be of service; that is what we do. Feel free to write if you have a doubt, and expect the mind to be confused at first. Vedanta is a radical teaching.
Harold: I can’t tell you how unexpected and overwhelmingly welcome your response is. I am grateful for the time and effort you put into your response. It was totally and beautifully unexpected. With gratitude, I want to say thank you!
I have read your responses over and over as I continue to absorb the knowledge. I need a teacher. I cannot continue to live my life as is and seem to have one foot in the dark and one in the light, metaphorically. Music, movies, my kids, food, exercise, attachment to positive experiences as well as aversion to negative experiences have all faded in intensity. I seem to be in the middle somewhere. I am probably explaining very poorly.
I need someone “qualified” to guide me. What should I do next? I do not trust other schools/systems/teachers. I don’t know any Advaita Vedanta teachers in the New Jersey/New York area. Even if I did, I wouldn’t know if they are qualified or not. Is it too much to ask for you to guide me? Is it possible, with me living in New Jersey and you across the country? I will attend the events in June or August in the USA. Is there someone you would recommend? I really don’t know where to go next nor the best way to realize the self.
Your suggestions would be appreciated and accepted. But again, I have to tell you that your response just blew my mind. James’ autobiography, the online satsangs, his books just seem to ring true for me. Thank you again and please let me know your thoughts on what’s next for me.
Sundari: You are most welcome, Harold. I am happy to be of service, and yes, as I said before, you are most welcome to write to me. While there are definite benefits to being in the presence of a qualified teacher, it is not absolutely necessary. It is good that you are planning to attend a seminar in the USA.
You explain yourself perfectly, and what you are going through is very typical once the mind begins to understand that there really is nothing in the world to gain. At first this seems very depressing, but hang in there. As people we are all a mixture of spirit and matter – light and dark, if you like. When we reach this stage nothing in our lives satisfies us anymore, it all feels empty. This stage will pass once self-knowledge starts clearing up the shadows that obscure your true nature as ever-whole, shining and radiant awareness. Just remind yourself when these thoughts appear in the mind that this too will pass – and most importantly, the emptiness is known to you so it is NOT you.
It is clear from your email that you have the most important qualifications required for self-knowledge, the main one being a burning desire for freedom from ignorance and the suffering that ensues from being identified with the person/experience. You have gained dispassion by realising that there is nothing to gain, that life in the world of objects is a zero-sum game. This is a great blessing and a gift of grace, even though it is tough to go through. As James is fond of saying, Vedanta is the court of last appeal for those fortunate souls whose karma prepares them for moksa, freedom.
Now, you do need to be properly taught. There is a very good reason why Vedanta stresses the importance of a teacher. Ignorance, or the non-apprehension of the true nature of reality, as non-dual is hardwired and very tenacious. As stated previously, the mind is conditioned to think a certain way and because non-duality is counter-intuitive, unless the mind is guided in its exposure to Vedanta, it will interpret Vedanta according to its conditioning, or vasanas. There are apparent contradictions within the teachings, which are not real contradictions and need to be resolved by a qualified teacher. Teachings and teachers abound who teach according to their methods and experience, but this is always flawed and limited because unless a teaching is independent of the teacher, it will be contaminated by his or her beliefs, opinions and experiences.
The best thing you can do right now is to follow the 12-month teaching course that we are offering at the ShiningWorld website. It is based on the same material in James’ first book How to Attain Enlightenment and also his second book The Essence of Enlightenment. The second book is much simpler and easier to follow. Start from the beginning, go slowly and carefully, sign on to the logic and follow through. James has worked out a methodology that starts at the beginning and takes you right through, if you follow it. Serious inquirers make self-inquiry their most important focus. It is at the centre of their lives. It takes total commitment to self-knowledge to free the mind of ignorance.
I don’t know of other qualified Vedanta teachers in your area, although I know that there is a Dayananda Ashram in Pennsylvania that to my knowledge hosts regular teachings. It’s a great pity that you have just missed James’ seminar in Connecticut last weekend, but he will be back there in September. Check events at our website for all details, soon to be posted. I can also recommend that you get in touch with Katherine Silvan in Connecticut, who organised the seminar. She is a wonderful person and her knowledge is pretty clear and firm. She is going to hold regular meetings, showing James’ videos and opening discussion of them. It will help you to have some Vedanta buddies who have all gone through the same or similar process.
~ Love, Sundari