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Self-Knowledge Acquired in a Past Life
Mathew: I thought you might like to know about the forthcoming book, Stranger in the Mirror: The Scientific Search for the Self, by social psychologist Robert V. Levine. (link)
Sundari: Thanks for this link, very interesting. If only Levine knew what the self is – that it is the only thing that is not fiction.
I like this quote, which is an eloquent and apt description of mithya, unbeknownst to Levine:
“Transformation is the human condition at virtually every level. Physically, our cells are unrecognizable from one moment to the next. Cognitively, our self-perceptions are equally changeable: A single glitch can make us lose track of a body part or our entire body – or to confuse our very self with that of another person. Psychologically, we switch back and forth like quicksilver between incongruent, sometimes adversarial subselves. Socially, we appear to be little more than an ever-changing troupe of actors. And, culturally, the boundaries of the self vary wildly around the world – from the confines of one’s body to an entire village.”
Levine is clearly totally identified with being a person, has no knowledge of the vasanas or Isvara; in short, like most scientists, he has no self-knowledge.
The problem with science is that it represents the mind’s best effort to figure out the objective truth of the material reality within the confines of the apparent reality. It cannot step outside of the apparent reality without self-knowledge. Science does not and cannot take maya or Isvara into account, therefore does not have the means to discriminate between what is real and what is apparently real. Science thinks objects are real. Vedanta has no quarrel with science as a means of knowledge for objects. But it is not a valid means of knowledge for consciousness, because science is flawed, a prisoner of a methodology that is based on perception and inference of objects alone. Even if science approaches understanding the self like Levine does, it is still attached to its epistemology, the senses. It is thus limited to interpretations or assumptions inherent in its methodology. Accordingly, at best it can only objectify consciousness, seeing it as something we have instead of who we are.
Science is great, one cannot but love it because the scientist is Isvara too. But even if science is grounded in consciousness, without self-knowledge it cannot provide any real answers to the riddle of existence or make any difference to existential suffering. Vedanta is a science of consciousness but scientists invariably dismiss it as spiritual nonsense. You can approach consciousness with the intellect but you will only get to the doorway of self-knowledge and no further. Isvara is very strict about such things! You will not get through the door until the intellect has been trained to think differently and the mind has evolved to want different things or Isvara will not give you a pass. To want different things, the mind has to be purified. And to think differently, you need to be taught. To be taught, you need the right qualifications and a qualified teacher.
It is interesting to see how close and yet how far science comes to the truth but still misses it because of the power of maya.
Mathew: As a both a science and medical writer and a lover of Vedanta, I thank you for your insightful response: “You can approach consciousness with the intellect but you will only get to the doorway of self-knowledge and no further. Isvara is very strict about such things. You will not get through the door until the intellect has been trained to think differently and the mind has evolved to want different things or Isvara will not give you a pass. To want different things, the mind has to be purified. And to think differently, you need to be taught. To be taught, you need the right qualifications and a qualified teacher.”
There are those who are fortunate enough to be taught and those who are not. Through meditation and informal prayer, I became self-realized in 1970 without any teacher. At the time, I was 16 years old. A year earlier, I was told that I didn’t qualify at all for the teachings of Vedanta and should just forget it! Yet after two years of personal self-inquiry and meditation, by any description you care to mention, I had moksa. Following deductive spiritual reasoning, it was like an act of logic opened the “door.” It is only in the last few years that I have begun to understand what happened and what I came to know. After reading the experience of Ramana Maharshi and recognizing it as so similar to my own, I began to search for other descriptions, which eventually led me to Jim (Ram). Knowing the truth, I can tell who has the teaching correct and who does not. So far, I have yet to find anyone else who conveys the teaching correctly and in so much detail, right down to the three gunas, which I found in moksa as the operating principles behind the “show” and in the same colours as I witnessed them. Unbeknownst to most, the teachings are far more literal than figurative. But then who would believe it?
Sundari: I could not agree more with you, James is, in my opinion, the most inspirational and qualified teacher of Vedanta on the planet. Anyone who has the good fortune of finding him is blessed indeed. Certainly I have him to thank as my teacher.
It is possible for moksa to obtain without being formerly taught if the mind is highly qualified. It is very rare though, and in most cases some residual ignorance still needs to be cleaned up. You must be an adhikari and have “come in” qualified, with very little cleaning up to do.
Mathew: I have reason to believe that the teachings were acquired in a previous life. Why else would I have spoken Sanskrit in my search for moksa? In any case, I still need the teachings James offers to live fully in awareness and burn off my remaining vasanas. Words can’t begin to express my gratitude. If I had to attribute my “experience” of moksa to any one thing, I could not. I recall that meditating daily led to a more sattvic mind, which in turn led to enticing hints of something greater to come. In the short span of two years, there was beautiful inner music, the single note of what sounded like a flute, the resounding AUM, the opening of my chakras, the loud bang with the opening of my crown chakra and the union with a female being, which made me feel whole. All of these experiences brought me to pray to God to guide me to what I referred to as the light as I began each meditation, all the while contemplating the thought that “I and the Father are one” and that “I am That.” As used to say, it might sound crazy, but I’m becoming more conscious of consciousness itself. Finally, as I somehow got on to dismissing thoughts and emotions as objects in an effort to distinguish who “I” was, it became obvious that I was consciousness itself and my mind shifted to awareness itself. The short version of what seemed to happen next is that I found myself in what seemed to be a timeless light bulb.
In my early days of spiritual seeking (circa 1968), other than James’ own teacher, no one provided the teachings in English. I remember when his teacher visited my home town of Vancouver, BC, Canada. By the time I came to know what it was he was teaching, he was gone and I was too young and poor to follow him. I used to say, “Give me a teacher who can teach me from the Upanishads.” Everyone told me it was extremely advanced and that I would have to first learn Sanskrit, but I disagreed. I yearned for the subtleties of the scripture. After moksa, the text could be understood, but there were seeming contradictions that I knew only a proper teacher could explain. Better late than never, I can finally say I’m getting that from James.
Sundari: It seems that you were fortunate enough to have the qualifications in place to assimilate the knowledge your experiences were meant to deliver – the truth of your true nature as consciousness, the knower of the experiencing entity. What usually happens for most inquirers who are not yet qualified is that they get sucked into seeking more experience to validate or confirm what the experience was meant to deliver. As it must be clear to you now, self-knowledge does not feel like anything, not even finding oneself in “a timeless light bulb,” because you know yourself to be that which produces light for all light bulbs. Knowledge and ignorance are just objects known to you.
As I said, you were blessed to have your prayers answered with the best possible teacher. You must have punya karma!
Mathew: It helped to understand the ways of the ego and to avoid the pitfalls it entails. In the end, self-realization of the awareness that we are was so obvious that for a short time, I honestly wondered if most had not become realized. The truth is far more subtle and simple than most people know. Due to the natural tendency of the mind to complicate matters, coupled with a lukewarm desire for the Truth, the game is rigged.
Sundari: Yes, it does seem so very obvious that awareness is all there is, does it not? The simple question, “How do I know what I know or know what I don’t know?” should be enough to provoke inquiry – but sadly, the power of maya to delude is vigorous, to say the least.
I am not really sure what you are referring to by “it.” The game is rigged if you look at it from the jiva’s point of view – there are no solutions in samsara. Each mind is subject to maya and conditioned by its load of vasanas, so programmed to live a certain way. As a jiva identified with being a person the best you can hope for is relative peace of mind achieved by living a dharmic life based on values that are in accordance with the field of existence.
“Your” jiva overlay clearly had resolved much of its karma, so “came in” less conditioned by maya. But seeing as there is no such thing as a personal jiva and only the eternal jivatman, so what? Past lives have no meaning, as awareness. As awareness, you are free of the jiva, conditioned or not. There is nothing special about being an adhikari, unless you are identified with being a person.
Mathew: By the practice of dismissing objects while meditating and building a case on what I gradually realized to be true, the shift happened. What the intellect related in the mind was a golden-white light brighter than the sun and my self as what I had often seen depicted as Brahman: a being with more than one face, directionless and timeless. I would add that my inner guru provided guidance along the way. It also helped that I developed a trusting relationship with the divine within me and asked it to show me the truth and answer my questions. That was only possible after I became firm in the knowledge of my inherent inseparableness from God (Isvara) after several years of inquiry and meditation.
Sundari: You use experiential language quite often and there is some duality in your description of self-realisation above. I am not sure if I don’t pick up some doership as well. By “the divine within” I presume you mean self-knowledge. This tendency is normal when inquiry is new and it seems clear that you are referring to the early days of your inquiry. It can even happen (and usually does) when inquiry has not been guided by a qualified teacher. The tendency of the mind to think in experiential terms is built-in because it’s all experience for the jiva. Clearly, self-knowledge was assimilated and brought you to the right place all the same, as you realised that the you who had “an inner guru” or a “divine within” who was the one and only awareness/Isvara.
Mathew: To perceive the self as an object entirely misses the mark. At one non-duality site, I read of a teaching to expand one’s awareness. Awareness can be realized, but it can’t be expanded.
Sundari: Cleary. Neither can one become more aware. One can only become less ignorant. To truly self-actualise there is no getting around dealing with mithya. Moksa is the ability to see it all as self while discriminating self from the objects that arise “in” you.
Mathew: I would say that coming to know your nature as awareness or consciousness is the first step. Fully realising the self and learning to abide in that is another matter. I know of no other direct means than Vedanta and the teachings that James has so skillfully conveyed in English. The three gunas, the explanation of maya and Isvara, and more can be fully appreciated after moksa. Before moksa, they can only be accepted on the basis of trust or experience. Before anything else, however, one must first learn to still the mind and develop sattva. For most, that will take several years of daily meditation combined with a deep desire to be free and to know.
Sundari: Yes, I could not agree with you more here as well; there is no teaching that offers a valid means of knowledge other than Vedanta. Some teachings offer bits and pieces but not the whole means of knowledge, so invariably miss the mark (such as Neo-Advaita and even to some extent the Direct Path teachings). Even Buddhism, which is good for purifying the mind, keeps most inquirers stuck in mithya, trying to improve the doer. The worst are the majority of teachings, which teach ignorance as knowledge.
And, yes, indeed, it’s all about freedom for and as the jiva. One cannot really develop sattva, as it is the nature of the mind when not contaminated by rajas and tamas. One can only balance rajas and tamas so as to cultivate their positive (sattvic) qualities – meaning sattvic rajas and sattvic tamas. Sattva has its very definite downsides too – in a way more binding than rajas and tamas. We call it the Golden Cage of Sattva. One of the most common sides of the downside of sattva is intellectual or spiritual superiority because one is more qualified or has had more spiritual epiphanies. Intellectuals are attached to the way they think. They are proud of their minds and have invested so much in them. They are identified with their own cleverness, thinking it belongs to them and have a (usually unconscious) need for validation. This is very common in the spiritual circus and we come across it fairly often. We call it enlightenment sickness.
Another typical sattvic trap can be taking a stand in awareness – which sometimes turns out to be a little tricky because the ego is attached to the idea. The split mind watching itself has a slippery tendency to claim to be awareness. “Stand-taking” is done with the mind and can lead to a kind of self-hypnosis that makes the jiva think it is the self without the full understanding of what it means to be the self. Of course on the basis of logic alone (is there an essential difference between one ray of the sun and the sun itself?) the jiva can claim its identity as the self but only when it’s knowledge of satya (what is real) and mithya (what is apparently real) is firm. It is one thing to say “I am the self” as the self and quite another to say it as the jiva, or ego. The self’s experience of itself is qualitatively different from the jiva’s experience of the self as an object or as objects.
As the self you are beyond the gunas. Sattva, like all things in the apparent reality, is an object known to awareness: it is a state of mind that is purely experiential and therefore does not last. It certainly will not free the person from dependence on objects or end the subtle existential suffering that comes with it.
Mathew: Experiential language is the only way to convey what the jiva experienced. The sense of “the divine within” was later known to be the self. As a jiva, among other experiences, it helped that I began to see a golden light in meditation because that greatly encouraged me to continue inquiring.
Sundari: Yes, that’s true. And what is most important is that the self-knowledge is assimilated from experience and language becomes the language of identity, which it has for you.
Mathew: I have never seen sattva described as “sattvic rajas and sattvic tamas.” Upon reflection, however, it rings true, the three gunas being operational in the doer.
Sundari: The nature of the mind is sattva but all three gunas are always present in the mind (and everywhere else in creation) at all times, with one of them usually predominant. Rajas and tamas are only a problem when they are out of balance with sattva, and sattva is only a problem when clouded by rajas and tamas. All three gunas have an upside and a downside. We need all three gunas to function in the apparent reality; without rajas nothing would get done; the question of course is how and why it is done – meaning with or without the knowledge that we are not the doer and there is nothing to gain from experience. Sattvic rajas is behind calm efficiency, focus and positive motivation. Without rajas we would not have the drive to do anything. We would either be zoned out with too much sattva or so tamasic that we can’t get out of bed. Not all desire and passion is a bad thing. Krishna says, “I am the desire that is not opposed to dharma.” We need a strong desire, or vasana, for truth, for instance in order to pursue self-inquiry. Sattvic rajas is responsible for quiet, measured, unhurried efficiency, organisation, productivity, competence, professionalism – any action that requires skill without the neurotic obsessive and frantic behaviour typical of unbalanced rajas. Sattvic rajas is also characterised by self-discipline – but not the white-knuckled determination to beat the mind into submission to achieve whatever goal it has set for itself; additionally, it produces a mind committed to excellence, but not perfectionism.
When tamas is in balance with sattva the mind is positively and realistically motivated, has its “feet on the ground” with the accommodation, patience and endurance to weather all life throws at it – and it has no problem sleeping or with the ability to relax, take it easy and enjoy life. The downside of sattva is mentioned previously.
Mathew: I can well recall the day when I realized that the sattvic “experience,” while most enjoyable, was itself a trap. At the time, I had read the term in the Upanishads, but didn’t understand it. With further inquiry, I realized that it was only a reflection of awareness and one of three principles by which thought and matter were made manifest. I perceived a dark, slow principle with a black colour, another moving fast, with a red colour, and a third with a white colour functioning at a high pitch. I clearly perceived them in moksa as I inquired about what was running the material body. In other words, the intellect remained functional, although I realized it was in itself an object, whereas the self is knowing awareness.
Sundari: Beautifully described.
Mathew: As I explained in a letter some years ago to James, at first it was frightening. I thought I had died and had to check that the body was still breathing. I also thought that perhaps I had lost my mind and would never be able to function normally again! What brought me to write was when I read that Ramana Maharshi described the same fiery red, spinning wheel that I saw and that stopped. What I didn’t know was that the “experience” is called self-realization, or moksa.
Sundari: And of course as an experience even as significant as the one you describe above, unless self-knowledge obtains in the mind, it ends and so does “enlightenment.” Self-realisation is an experience. Actualising self-knowledge is not – although self-knowledge can be gained from experience if the mind is qualified. Clearly your mind is, and self-knowledge did obtain for you.
Mathew: Intellects love to argue for the sake of winning. A highly intelligent Buddhist friend of mine vehemently argues that I merely had an out-of-body experience, but I completely disagree and refuse to argue about it. Long before self-realization, I had plenty of the state of no-thought and no “I” that she insists is enlightenment, but she doesn’t believe me. The fact that I was only 16 years old at the time only makes it worse. Yet I knew others who were about the same age as me who also “experienced” moksa and the state she insists is true enlightenment beforehand. I suppose that after her decades of study and association with Buddhist teachers, including some very famous ones, she finds it difficult to accept that mere teenagers in the late 1960s could possibly know much of anything.
Sundari: That is a wise approach. There is absolutely no point in trying to get through to a mind that is not qualified for self-knowledge. As Krishna says, “Do not disturb the minds of the ignorant!” Just nod politely and defer from making any comment. This kind of mind will believe what it wants to believe, as it has no ability to discriminate. You know what you know and it needs no explanation to anyone.
~ Much love, Sundari