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Practical Nididhyasana: What Does Self-Luminous Mean?
James: This is a satsang with a self-realized person who is in the final stages of nididhyasana. His self-knowledge is firm, but there are a few lingering questions. It is a very technical Vedantic discussion, only suitable for advanced inquirers.
John: Hi, James.
I would like to sort out this inquiry I have had going for a long time, which is that my self-awareness is self-luminous, self-knowing and knows itself by itself within itself. I find it true when in the waking and dream states.
James: The self-evident luminosity of you, awareness, is not conditioned by any of its states. It “knows itself by itself” before the Creation appears in it.
John: Well, I agree that “I Self” isn’t conditioned by any changing states; this is self-evident. “Before Creation appears in self, it knows itself” is a statement that is in the Vedas. But how can this be validated? Who can really be witness to that statement before Creation?
John: James, are you conscious of self while in deep sleep, not by inference but by direct knowing? This has been a confusing point; I once heard Robert Adams say that he was always conscious in deep sleep.
James: Did Robert mean Robert, the waking-state entity, or did he mean awareness when he used the word “Robert”?
John: Although the standard argument is that I know that I am conscious awareness in deep sleep through inference when the waking state as a memory from of deep sleep.
James: Why, “although”? Isn’t inference enough for you? What you don’t seem to understand is that the self is always “experiencing itself.” What are you experiencing except your self? Why do you need to know yourself from the standpoint of the waking-state jiva when you are actually experiencing yourself in every state?
Isvara set it up that the intellect is switched off during deep sleep for a good reason: the waking-state entity would go mad after a while owing to unremittent rajas. See how silly it sounds to say “I am conscious when I sleep”! What would be the point of sleep if the waker, which is the “I” under consideration here, was awake? The statement doesn’t make sense from self’s point of view either, because there is no Maya in the self, so there is nothing for it to be conscious of.
What could be the possible advantage to either the jiva or the self to have the jiva awake when it is asleep? Waking and sleep are just vrittis, thoughts. Sleep only exists for you when you are thinking about it. When sleep appears, you, the waking-state jiva, aren’t there to think about it.
In any case, you can’t deny that you are present and enjoying yourself in deep sleep as prajna jiva, the deep sleeper, which is as much a real entity as the waking-state jiva; in fact it is more real, in the sense that it is the root jiva from which the dreamer and waker emerge in sequence, like a tadpole emerges from an egg and a frog emerges from a tadpole. If you weren’t there and didn’t know it, you wouldn’t be irritated when the neighbor’s kid turns on his boom box at 3:00 am.
The notion that you are enlightened if you are “awake” when you sleep is one of the biggest enlightenment myths foisted on achievement-oriented, status-conscious egos since the beginning of time. It is magical thinking, not supported by scripture. If your Self-/self-knowledge is firm in the waking state, this idea will never arise, because there is no logic to it. The whole point of the three-states teaching is to indicate the constant presence of you, limitless awareness. Why would anyone want their jiva to know who they are in the deep-sleep state?
It would have been interesting to ask Robert Adams if he ever had a normal night’s sleep. If he said yes, then the whole question is moot because the non-dual experience of his jiva, which is behind this “awake while asleep” notion of moksa, would be intermittent and his enlightenment would be suspect.
This idea is one of the most insidious guru cons of all times. Osho and many others played this card to make their devotees think they were somehow special jivas. If you claim something impossible for your jiva, like, “I am an avatar,” it tickles the fancy of ignorant people and they are inclined to worship you.
I’m not saying Robert was a charlatan, only that we don’t know exactly what he meant by that statement. He may mean that the one who is awake is the self and sleep is the object of knowledge, which is not necessarily duality if he knows that sleep is mithya, not satya. A person who reads such a statement without knowledge of satya and mithya will be amazed and befuddled because he or she thinks sleep is real.
In any case, the waking and sleeping methapor has certain problems when is it a not known that it is a metaphor for knowledge and ignorance, not a statement of experience.
I think the statement “the self is always experiencing itself” is the fly in the ointment of this argument. It is intended to negate the idea of experience, i.e. duality. But it is dualistic language, so someone can get the wrong idea. The implied meaning of a dualistic statement can be non-dual. To say that it is experiencing itself without the aid of a body and mind is an oxymoron because you need duality for experience. So the implied meaning of the statement is that the self is. It is existence. It is consciousness prior to experience, so the idea that it experiences itself like a jiva experiences its experiences is moot. This non-knowing existence/consciousness becomes a knower, however, when Maya creates the jiva.
John: It’s not that my mind doubts the eternal existence of my self, it’s that there is no knowing of self-swareness while deep sleep appears. Therefore, if this is the case then when the subtle and gross bodies resolve into the causal body at the death of a body, I would still exist but without awareness of existence. This is the main thrust of my inquiry! This would hold with the idea of Parabrahman (without attributes) being prior to consciousness, Brahman with attributes. I sense these debates have gone on through out the Vedic periods and still do.
James: First, Parabrahman is non-different from Brahman. “Para” is an adjective meant to indicate the limitless nature of Brahman, the self, existence/consciousness. Nothing is prior to Brahman, Parabrahman, existence, or consciousness, because they are all synonyms. The “prior” idea only makes sense when when we take Maya into account, although it takes no time to generate an appearance. This is why we call Maya a “projection.” Projection isn’t a perfect word either, because it implies time, but it is better than “becomes” and other action words.
You missed my point about the non-eternal jiva, the eternal jiva and the self. If you ARE the self, you know that you know and experience who you are without the aid of the three bodies and that the death of your non-eternal jiva is only the death of a thought, no more important than the knowledge of hamburger.
If you are only a person who knows that he is the self (we call this indirect knowledge), then you are out of luck when you die and the next non-eternal jiva you become will have to go through all the seeking again because self-ignorance will remain. You need to study the second chapter of the Gita. There is no death, apart from the thought of death. This whole doubt is cooked up because you think death is real (satya), not seemingly real (mithya). If it is mithya, who cares?
But again, we have a language problem revealed by the appearance of the pesky word “of” in your statement “there is no knowing of self-awareness while deep sleep appears.” Of course there isn’t, because the self cannot be objectified. “Of” implies duality, a knower and and object to be known, i.e. deep sleep. The doubt, which is your mind, by the way, is not legitimate, because the one for whom self-knowledge is a blessing – the waking-state jiva – is not present in the deep sleep and prajna jiva does not have an intellect, so self-knowledge is not possible there anyway.
But the knowledge is actually there in Isvara: it is just not manifest. This is why a waking-state jiva whose self-knowledge is firm doesn’t lose it when he goes to sleep. It remains unmanifest and becomes manifest when the waking state and the waking-state jiva is again created by Isvara.
John: While the waking state appears, I am self-evident to myself as self, not as an object appearing in my awareness, but as I AM, which is total beyond description. I am unfathomable. This is the experience/non-experience that isn’t really an experience, because there is no change whatsoever or any boundary; this is a subtle conscious knowing (without feeling, thought or sensation) of itself, which is I. Untouched in any way, this is my abode.
James: The paragraph above is knowledge. It makes me understand that you are self-realized and that this satsang is about clearing up some residual doubts (nididhyasana). The “I AM” is present in deep sleep. However, the word “while” in the second paragraph in the second line of page 3 negates the fact that it is present in deep sleep. There are no states without the presence of the “I AM.” The duality continues with the word “abode.” It is not an “abode.” It is you. You have no abode. Everything abides in you.
John: I hav no doubt about my limitless existence/awareness. My inquiry again is why this does not hold to be true while in deep sleep state. I don’t believe anyone is aware while in deep sleep; that’s why you prove awareness in deep sleep via inference.
James: Well, prajna jiva is aware. It experiences ignorance and bliss. But you are right about inference. Inference a valid means of knowledge in every way equal to direct perception. Refusal to accept inference prevents moksa because the waking-state experiencer can’t validate the ever-free nature of the I AM without the help of inference and the words of Vedanta.
John: My guru, Ranjit Maharaj, had no use for mithya at all, since his teacher Siddaremeshwar taught along those lines. Hence you have the teachings also of Nisargadatta, who also was a disciple of Siddaremeshwar. Their teachings were Vedanta but not along the same traditional lines of your lineage. The bottom line really is whether one is set free of ignorance of their real self and are stable as pure awareness.
John: It all seems very funny really because the “eeal I” as been my self all along; it only appeared that the reflected idea of my self was confused by identifying itself with thoughts, feelings and gross body of a person. Thanks to you, I understand the mechanics of the subtle body and where identification was rooted. When, however, the deep-sleep state appears, I don’t know anything, including my self-nature of awareness.
James: Yes, if you are the non-eternal jiva. It is not present, except in potentia in the deep-sleep state.
John: It is true that when the waking state again appears I do know that I experienced bliss and ignorance in deep sleep, so there had to be an experiencer there.
James: Yes, a non-experiencing experiencer, original self-luminous consciousness. The self is not a knower until Maya is operating. If there is a deep-sleep state, Maya is operating.
John: Yes, but I suppose the deeper meaning of “self-luminous” needs more explaining. I take it to mean maybe it shines on the state of deep sleep, making a subtle impression on prajna, so when the waking state appears, the memory of deep sleep is known to the intellect via prajna memory vasana. In this way, pure awareness isn’t really a knower, it’s a source of illumination. That power is eternal without a separate source, so when knowing happens in the subtle body, I, awareness, am not really a knower directly, rather I need the intellect to reflect knowing. But further it still isn’t clear, because I am self-aware as I Am without the reflection, again the same inquiry. Why doesn’t this hold true in deep sleep!?
James: The words “when” and “need” belie an incorrect knowledge of yourself. “When knowing happens,” it has no effect on you, awareness. Knowing is Isvara’s province. By “knowing” you mean knowing of objects, in this case deep sleep. Atma Bodha says, “When awareness illumines a thought in the intellect, the experience of knowing is produced.” The “I” doesn’t “need” knowing. It is the principle that makes knowing possible. Maya is the hardest concept in Vedanta.
You say the awareness “makes a subtle impression on prajna,” but this is not true. It’s good you used the word “maybe.” There is no actual connection between awareness and prajna jiva, which is mithya. Satya has no impact on mithya, i.e. Maya, nor does mithya have an impact on satya. Maya is totally inert. When matter appears, awareness seems to be sentient. And the self, which isn’t sentient or insentient, seems to be sentient. The self is that because of which the sentient and the insentient are known. Prajna is the seed jiva and is not endowed with memory. Memory appears when the subtle body appears in the dream state.
But even though your knowledge about prajna and its relationship to the self is wrong, you come to the right conclusion. You say, “I, awareness, am not really a knower directly, rather I need the intellect to reflect knowing.” This is true.
Then you go right back to ignorance with the statement, “But further, it still isn’t clear because I am self-aware, as I Am without the reflection, again the same inquiry. Why doesn’t this hold true in deep sleep?!”
Self-aware for whom? Until Isvara/Maya presents deep sleep and the deep-sleep jiva, prajna, to Awareness, there is nothing for awareness to know. So it “illumines itself,” which apparently doesn’t mean anything, because the word “illumines” spliced between “it” and “itself” is a dualistic statement. You could say it illumines nothing, but that doesn’t mean anything either to a waking-state jiva, except that awarenness stands alone without the help of Maya, which is important information, insofar as awareness’s solitary status is tantamount to freedom. You are free and blissful because you are existence/consciousness, not because you are self-aware as a waking-state jiva. Again, the self and awareness are non-different. It is only meaningful to say “I am self-aware” in the context of Maya, which supplies the apparent duality.
The problem words here are “I am self-aware as I am.” It does not mean the “I am” is self-aware, because the I AM, awareness and the self are not different. “I am self-aware” means I exist as limitless consciousness. When you understand that I am limitless consciousness means “I am free of Maya altogether, that I don’t need anything to be ‘I AM,’” then you are perfectly free, which means you are perfectly satisfied with yourself. The irony is that you always know that you are the “I AM.” But since you don’t know that you know, you need Vedanta.
John: I do know I as self-aware in waking because of the fact everything is appearing and disappearing on my unchanging self-awareness.
James: Well, you, meaning the waking-state jiva, don’t know that awareness is “self-aware,” but you do know that awareness exists. But this is not known by direct perception, only by inference. The fact that things appear and disappear implies the existence of awareness, but it doesn’t tell you that you are awareness; for that you need scripture.
The “I as self-aware” is a clumsy statement and needs analysis because “self-aware” implies duality. In this statement you have objectified your self. The self is never an object. It is the objectless subject. The self-awareness of you, the self, does not depend on the appearance and disappearance of objects (see above), because it is prior to the appearing and disappearing of objects.
John: Yes, I agree self-aware I IS what doesn’t come and go. I am my self without any appearance or disappearance, abiding as I Am.
James: Yes. You are the I Am, existence/consciousness.
John: I do recognise that my self is without attributes of knowing which belongs to the subtle body. Ultimately speaking, the subtle body is my self also while Maya operates. All that happens is that the ignorance of my real nature is removed from my intellect. This “I am” is not a jiva.
James: Yes again. This whole satsang is not about you trying to know the self or not knowing that you are the self; it is about your ability to express clearly who you are as a waking-state entity. Vedanta is actually quite easy to teach from this perspective: everyone does know that they exist and that they are conscious, which are non-different. This is what the words “self-aware” mean, as I said above. They just don’t know what it means in terms of the waking-state jiva.
We need words to get rid of ignorance but language is dualistic, so we are a disadvantage when we want to reveal non-duality, hence this satsang, which is basically linguistic analysis. If I say, “I AM,” I only need to know what “I AM” refers to because no action is stated or implied; there is no verb. But when I use a verb, for instance, action is implied. Self and awareness are the same thing, but the words are different. In common parlance, the word “self” includes the body and mind, which are not aware, so a doubt can arise. If I say, “The self is my abode,” I am conveying duality. To make non-dual sense, I should say, “I am my abode.” But this causes a doubt too since it is our experience that me and my dwelling are different.
John: But without the subtle body, I, awareness, doesn’t know itself through revealing itself to itself, which can happen via the sattva guna’s revealing nature.
James: Wrong again, for the reason mentioned previously: prior existence. You are now switching to the jiva point of view, which makes the “I am” appear as an object. But the statement about sattva stands.
John: This is the same point of the inquiry as above. The jiva is only a reflected appearance in my awareness, when the mind takes the shape of objects if there is a detached freedom from what appears, it’s pure awareness that knows via the intellect. If, however, there is a binding of attachment, likes and dislikes, this is the reflected I, jiva, playing like it is awareness; these are subtle activities of the subjective world of human beings.
The conundrum is: as the pure self without Maya operating or within deep sleep while Maya is operating, I don’t know myself, so how can I be self-conscious without Maya?
James: The problem here is the meaning of the words “self-conscious.” Does it mean that the self is conscious or that the self is consciousness? Without Maya the self is not conscious. With Maya it seems to be conscious.
You are just going round and round, John, superimposing the non-eternal jiva on original consciousness/existence. You are making it too complicated. Think of it this way: in deep sleep, the waking-state jiva is not present, so you don’t know – can’t know – that you exist, because you don’t have an intellect. You are prajna jiva there, so you only know/experience the bliss and ignorance of the tamasic aspect of Maya.
John: All I can say is it is not my intention to be going around the merry-go-round. If what I wrote above still seems like I am going in cycles, I don’t know what else to say. It seems more like a paradox that is beyond the capacity of mind, which is a finite instrument wanting to understand a much more subtle infinite principle!
James: That’s right. The “you” that is trying to understand can’t understand it unless that “you” has fully assimilated the teachings of Vedanta. If you have, you won’t want to understand it, because it is a meaningless inquiry, a paradox, as you say. This is why wise people don’t think about experience or knowing. They leave experience and knowing to Isvara. Who cares what you experience and know? Only the jiva, which isn’t you. Since Isvara has jiva’s back, jiva’s fears and desires are as good as non-existent, so there is no reason to care about them.
John: This further begs the question: if I am free of ignorance due to jiva’s karma, then when in this current appearance this form dissolves, I remain as pure awareness, I will not know existence/awareness.
James: You are not free of ignorance due to jiva’s karma, you are free of ignorance due to the absence of self-ignorance.
But the last phase beginning with “when…” is correct. The non-eternal jiva dissolves at death, as it is just the product of birth. Anything born dies. But, if the knowledge “I am the I am” is fully assimilated, then you know you are existence/consciousness without the help of the jiva. And even while the jiva lives, it is liberated while alive (jivanmukti). You understand that you never were the jiva that is now trying to reason out the question of its awareness. Although that jiva apparently exists now, it is as good as non-existent, i.e. it is “dead” now. Its life is merely a reflection of you, pure original awareness, in the mirror of the subtle body.
John: I agree with the above; my awareness, existence, isn’t dependent on jiva. The reasoning is taking place via the intellect by ironing out unconscious seeds of ignorance that have no power to influence my awareness. It’s all the Mayic play of my so-called part called my “apparent” life.
James: Maybe this will help. The way I solved this problem almost fifty years ago was to make my knowledge of Vedanta perfect because no human being with even the slightest trace of dualistic thinking can sort it out. So I traded “my” intellect for Vedanta. The realization that I needed to let go of every “personal” concept came about one day when my guru, in response to a similar inquiry of mine, said, “I am a Vedanta computer. I have no intellect of my own.” Failure to recognize what doubts are appropriate is a failure of understanding. The means of knowledge is perfect. You can’t second-guess it. Well, you can, but it only leads to more confusion.
John: I always deduce this down to: since there is only my pure self as it is, there is no way that I would know anything.
James: Yes. However, when Maya is operating, then you, pure original consciousness, “become” a pramata, a reflection capable of knowing objects, including itself as an object. You becomes apparently self-aware as a jiva. Human jivas are unique in that they are aware of themselves and can know in what sense they are and are not human jivas and in what sense they are original consciousness.
John: It would be like space trying to know another section of space. It wouldn’t able to, because there is no difference. My self, being even more subtle than space and being free of space and time, there wouldn’t be knowing of even my self.
James: Yes, it would be “like” that, but no, there would be knowing “I AM,” which I always know, as the self. You can never say that you don’t exist.
John: But self-aware without Maya, there wouldn’t be any knowing of itself, because it would all be the same substance; that’s what I meant by space knowing space; there are no distinctions of any kind, nothing to know. But I agree that while in the waking state, I AM self-knowing as I AM without a reflection. This is the point: Why doesn’t this hold true in deep sleep?
James: It does, but “I AM” does not transfer to the prajna jiva. Transferring “I AM” to any jiva is called adhyasa, superimposition. The “knowing” you are talking about is “self-knowing,” which means existing, “consciousing.”
There is “self-knowing” without Maya. That is the whole point. If there is no self-knowing without Maya, the self is not free, because it will depend on some other factor to know itself.
There is only awareness. It is “self-aware” before Maya enters the picture. The problem is only words because your self-knowledge is good, but it is still subject to doubt. Since they imply duality and you are relating to their implied meaning, there seems to be a contradiction. The implied meaning of the words “self-evident, self-existent, self-luminous, self-knowing” is you, awareness, not an experience of knowing. Did anyone ever tell you that you exist? Did anyone ever tell you that you are aware? Never. Why? Because it is self-evident. No knowledge is required. This is what direct knowledge or “self-knowing” means.
John: This leads to when knowing would subtly appear through a motion, and I suppose that is Maya in play with gunas.
James: Yes (see above). Your statement is clumsy. I had to work hard to divine the meaning. I think you mean, “Knowing is a subtle action caused by Maya, the play of the gunas.”
John: So the next question is that Maya would seem to be an eternal aspect of awareness.
James: Maya is eternal, but it is not an “aspect” of awareness. Awareness is non-dual so it has no aspects, properties, qualities, etc.
John: Which would mean that Maya would be an attribute of awareness, which is negated by Vedanta, which states awareness is without attributes.
James: Correct, although Maya is not an attribute.
John: I take it to mean that really Maya is unexplainable; it can’t be an attribute of self, because self is without attributes. As I heard you put it, it neither exists nor non-exists, and is only understood by its effects. I suppose it boils down to this: an imagined projection can make the impossible appear possible. I like the saying, “I, jiva, am the son of a barren woman.” How can this woman, being Maya, give birth to a real son? Ranjit Maharaj says that Maya is that which doesn’t exist, full stop. That’s why the bottom line is it all an illusion!
James: Well, an illusion exists or we wouldn’t have a word for it. We only invent words for existent objects. I like Vidyaranya’s words for it: “appearing non-existence.”
John: You need a whole teaching for the intellect to make sense of the whole picture, so it can be at peace within Maya’s dream. The bottom line is my self, pure awareness, is real existence prior to time and space and, irrespective of the fun and games that Maya causes, I remain true to my self!
James: You “remain” true AS the self, not “to” the self. See the perspective. The locus of the “I” is shifting, but it hasn’t quite shifted completely to the self. Vedanta is “the knowledge that ends the search for knowledge.”
John: On the mind level, the underpinning is the fear that, without the appearance, I have no knowing I exist. This of course is the problem with nihilism. Since I have had a heavy involvement with Buddhism in this life, I would assume that I have had a strong attachment to this teaching for a long time in other lives. So hence this strong inquiry to understand to be free of these concepts.
James: The jiva is never free of concepts. You, original pure existence/consciousness, are always free of concepts. So freedom is just a matter of knowing which of these you are. Both are you, but you are not the jiva. It is an object that presents itself to you, and hence can’t be you.
John: Yes, this is clear; the gold isn’t changed by the name and form it may appear to be, it still remains gold; this is the real truth. Your teachings of Vedanta are a great help to my intellect in polishing off the lingerings of ignorance.
James: Understand what Vedanta says about your prior self-luminosity, and your inquiry ends.
John: Yes. As the saying goes, ignorance has no beginning, but it can end when applying the correct knowledge. So my wish is that your understandings of the above inquiry may shed the light of knowledge on these ancient doubts, to assist my mind to break through the ignorance.
James: It is my wish also.
John: In a way, eventually this inquiry will resolve itself. I have seen this happen many times. With inquiry, the resolution appears to the intellect in the time of God’s choosing. In any case, I happily stay abiding as I Am, free of all and yet loving all. Wonderful joy, what a Great God Show this dream is!
~ Much love in ocean-loads