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Cathy: Dear James, I’ve watched all the videos from Westerwald 2014, and I’m reading How to Attain Enlightenment and your newsletters with the excerpts from your new book, but I still have some questions that I can’t work through by myself (seemingly).
1. In one of the sessions at Westerwald, you seem to say that there is nothing you can do about your health even when you completely understand that you are the self, but in Mystic by Default when you had been stung by a scorpion, a naga baba was able to change your body quite drastically; and if it’s to be believed, it was found after Gurdjieff died that most of his organs had ceased to function some years before his death. As the body is energy, it would seem logical that it could be altered from vibrating at one particular level to another? Is it possible?
James: Yes, but it is the exception rather than the rule. And it is not something that a jiva does consciously. It is always Isvara contravening Its own rules for some special spiritual reason. If you compare the millions seeking miraculous cures with the handful that find them, you can’t help but conclude that it might be wise to seek a more conventional solution or to accept the situation. If there were some science to it, then we would have many miraculous healers and miraculous healings would be as common as conventional medical healings. And as far as I know, there have never been follow-up studies to see if the healings lasted.
Cathy: 2. In session 15 of Westerwald you talk about the question “Who am I?” and seem to say that it is pointless. Before I came to your classes (for which I am very, very grateful), I worked my way through many other teachings, particularly those of Ramana Maharshi who left instructions on self-enquiry and the question “Who am I?” – although what he truly meant by that has been the subject of many discussions and books.
Sri Ramana says, “The thought ‘Who am I?’ will destroy all other thoughts, and like the stick used for stirring the funeral pyre, it will itself be burnt up in the end.
“Then there will be selfrealization. When other thoughts arise, one should not pursue them but should diligently enquire: ‘To whom do they occur?’ It does not matter how many thoughts arise. As each thought arises, one should enquire with alertness, ‘To whom has this thought arisen?’ The answer that would emerge would be ‘to me.’ Thereupon if one enquires ‘Who am I?,’ the mind will go back to its source; and the thought that arose will subside.”
James: Yes, this is a valuable inquiry. I see a couple of problems with these words, however. The statement “would emerge” might make the inquirer think that he or she had to wait for the words “to me” to happen before the mind “goes back to its source.” But logic indicates that thoughts only occur to you. This leads to the question “Who or what is the ‘me’?” Ramana means that the “me” is awareness but it is equally true that thoughts seem to come from the jiva. So how does one know if one is the jiva or awareness, “the me”? Furthermore, one need not wait for the answer because an inquirer can apply the knowledge “I am awareness” to any thought consciously and the thought will subside. Scripture and the testimony of sages like Ramana can be trusted – awareness is the “me.” It is true whether or not it comes from “within.” Finally, the thought will subside even if no thought is applied or if the inquirer waits for an answer because no thought lasts forever. And what happens if the answer does not emerge? Very often people ask this question and get no answer. Or if some other answer emerges?
Also, we need to ask if the “mind going back to its source” is actually moksa and the thoughts subsiding is moksa. It may be an epiphany but is it moksa? And what is to prevent a mind that has gone back to its source from going back to whence it came? Or what is to prevent the thoughts from starting up again? The implication is that moksa is nomind. Many people realize they are awareness only to have the mind fall back into ignorance and many realized people, like Ramana, had thoughts. The mind is notoriously fickle and always under the sway of the vasanas. What comes goes, and what goes comes. Thoughts can be very useful insofar as we can’t do any action without a preceding thought. In fact, you are awareness irrespective of where or when the mind goes or comes. You are awareness whether or not your mind is thinking. It is certainly a desirable experience when the mind rests in its source but the only thing that will keep it there is the hard and fast knowledge of the nature of “the source.” And if this knowledge is hard and fast, does it matter where the mind rests? Yes, it is great to realize the self and quiet the mind, but the mind needs to understand what the self is in terms of its existence in the apparent reality. I would ask myself, “Who observes the mind and who observes ‘the source’?” To see the mind going back to its source, you would have to be something other than the mind and the source and their “merger.” That “who” is you – simple, ordinary, non-dual awareness.
Finally, what thoughts need to be “destroyed?” Do thoughts stand in the way of awareness? You are awareness and you think. The thinking does not negate you. So the thoughts that need to be destroyed are thoughts that stand in the way of your appreciation of your nature as awareness, i.e. thoughts that you are limited. Will merging the mind actually destroy those thoughts? It may, but they will return once the mind leaves the self. Self-knowledge will destroy thoughts of limitation. That is why there are Vedanta scriptures. They teach what knowledge and ignorance are, allowing the inquirer to banish limiting thoughts. But even limiting thoughts need not be a problem if you don’t identify with them – which you won’t if you know they are ignorance. They will just be seen as unreal.
Cathy: I still find it quite useful to say “Who am I?” to myself because it brings me back to being awareness and utter stillness. I watched a lot of Papaji before going to Ramana, and his thing seemed to be trying to show people that they are That – not this, not that, but That – but there appear to be no real instructions of how to understand That!! I was pretty lost before coming to your teaching of Vedanta and I really thank you for making this available.
James: That’s right. It is one thing to understand in some kind of experiential way that you are “That” but how do you make sense of it? You need a context in which the understanding can take place – the big picture, as it were. This teaching is experience-oriented and doesn’t take Isvara into account, in this case the vasanas which affect the mind and which can easily prevent understanding. Vedanta provides a context in which self-knowledge can take place and become rooted. It gives the mind tools to root out the ignorance on its own.
Cathy: 3. Is it possible to realise who you truly are if you are not able to attend your classes in person? I am watching as many videos of your teachings as I can, reading your writings, contemplating and asking Narayanaya for help; is it possible that this will be enough? It sounds a bit feeble but there are circumstances make it difficult for me to travel. I live in the UK and just missed your two days here in April because I signed up for your newsletter at the end of April – just too late! If you come back to the UK, I will certainly make every effort to come to your classes but out of the UK is problematic.
James: Yes, it is, assuming your qualifications are up to speed. I wasn’t sure that it was possible when I first put up the website and wrote the books and started filming, but I get several emails a year – maybe 10 or more – from people I never met who did not attend the teachings physically who said that Vedanta ended their seeking. Some people like the videos better because they can go over and over the teaching until they understand. There are some people who hear the teachings in person who realize their nature as awareness and there are many that don’t. It is all a matter of one’s qualifications. Having said that, Vedanta sadhana will qualify you if you are diligent. You might consider getting the Vedanta Full Set of videos and working your way through them slowly. They are on the website and very cheap. You get 110 hours of teaching for $200 which works out to a little over one quid an hour. I have a new book coming out soon which is basically the same as How to Attain Enlightenment but it may make the teaching a little more accessible, so watch the website.
Cathy: Thank you so much for your reply and for answering my queries so clearly. I’ve watched your class about Isvara and the samsara chakra, and I’m reading through some of your answers to questions about Ishvara. At the moment I realise that I don’t really understand Isvara but I’ll keep studying and looking at what you have said before asking you any more questions about It.
James: Understanding Isvara is the key to moksa. It is the connection between the jiva and the self, awareness. It is a rather subtle and complex topic and needs a bit of contemplation. Yes, just keep at it. Isvara will make sense before long. The more diligently you inquire using Vedanta as the means, the more easy it is to understand. The most important qualification is your interest. Feed it. You will not regret it.
Cathy: I’ve found what you said about the question “Who am I?” extremely helpful and it clarifies the whole issue of working in that way with thoughts and mind. I’ve been following your suggested words of “I am awareness,” and have had wonderful spaces of being awareness and understanding that everything that appears to exist is just in awareness and is awareness. Fantastic! I’ll keep working with that and rereading what you have said. I have spent so many years fighting with my mind, it is so wonderful to understand that this is not the way. What a relief!
I feel very happy that people have reached the end of seeking through your videos and writings, and obviously hope that this will be so for me. I don’t truly know if my qualifications are up to speed but I’ll keep asking Ishvara to help; and if it is at all possible I will buy the full teachings as soon as I can.
Thank you again for taking the time to answer me so fully. I really, really appreciate it.
~ With love and all best wishes, Cathy