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Experiential and Non-Experiential Bliss
Terry: Dear James, firstly, I would like to thank you for all the time you devote to helping people become free of this burden of feeling inadequate and limited.
I have been reading your work for some weeks now, and it is really resonating with my current understanding. I spent about 15 years as a heroin addict and spirituality was not central to the life of hospitals, crime and the institutions in which I lived. For the last five years I haven’t drunk or taken a drug, and life both externally and internally has shifted dramatically, as one might expect. I have friends, a good relationship with my family, I am finishing a university degree and will hopefully start a master of science degree in addiction counseling and psychology in September.
When I first got clean, I had no joy left. I was 30 years old, but had nothing but shame and pain to show for it. About a year into my recovery, after having sought God through religions and several practices, I found a book in a second-hand bookstore called Be As You Are, the title of which gave me a sudden insight and an experience of the nature of my being. Then, as you might imagine, I tried to get it back, only to get it and lose it again. I read almost every book imaginable on non-duality, mysticism, etc. and kept getting experiences that I thought I would manage to get to stay with.
As I have moved on through much pain and suffering (even although life had improved in every way, seeking was making me unable to live) I have come to know that experiences, although useful at times, can be a hindrance. Moreover, they come and go and are as such ultimately real only relatively. What happens now is that there is much less resistance to the changing phenomena and as a result when I feel like rubbish or have a cold, I don’t immediately start thinking that I am losing it (I still do, but it happens a lot less). I know that what is lost is not It. I remain. That’s why I love your emphasis on this not being an experience but a knowledge. I also like what you say about confidence, as what seems to be the case here is a lack of confidence in the knowledge of my nature.
Sundari: Dear Terry, James asked me to reply, as he is sick. He checked my reply and gave it the thumbs-up.
The spiritual world is full of seekers and very few finders for many reasons, the main one being that the seeker is not qualified for moksa. Your situation is typical of people who find their way to Vedanta. Most are usually at the end of their rope, knowing there is nothing left but freedom. Many things can hinder a seeker at any stage, not the least of which is residual shame or blame for their life choices and experiences and the unresolved pyschological conditions that arise as a result of these choices.
Vedanta will not help much with deep-seated psychological problems, as it is for dispassionate people, hence the qualifications. You seem to have developed dispassion, and the burning desire for freedom which is one of the most important qualifications. But perhaps you have some residual issues regarding your addiction that you have not processed. This could adversely affect the confidence you require to make the knowledge that you are non-dual awareness hard and fast. Look to see of you have fully forgiven yourself for these choices, keeping in mind that you did not consciously decide to make a mess of your life. It just happened when you followed the pleasure principle.
The whole point of experience is the knowledge that you gain from it. It is not that knowledge is opposed to experience, as we are always experiencing something. Realising your true your nature as whole and complete, unchanging, ever-present awareness is one thing. The hard part is actualising it in the world. What use is self-knowledge if it does not make life enjoyable?
Terry: As you point out, I know what I am intellectually since coming across Ramana’s teachings, moreover when I have ways of realizing bliss by a subtle diversion of my attention. This has only happened over the past six months, since I started recognizing the fact that I am aware of my own awareness. When I do that or recognize the feeling I AM that Nisargadatta spoke of, I enter into bliss.
Sundari: Knowing who you are as awareness takes place in the intellect. The self is already enlightened. Vedanta is a proven means of knowledge based on irrefutable logic, i.e. it is always true. The experience of bliss that is felt when the ignorance of who you are is removed by self-knowledge is the experience of your true nature. However, it is not a feel-good state. It is the total peace and contentment that comes with knowing who you are and the end of existential pain. All feelings are objects and as such occur in you, awareness, which is unaffected by them. This includes the “feeling of bliss.”
Terry: My doubt is that although I can access bliss, which is many a seeker’s dream, I still feel fear, obsessions and so on.
Sundari: When you know your true nature as awareness, you don’t need to “access bliss,” as you know you ARE bliss. When you realise your nature as bliss, there will still be some negative conditioning in your unconscious mind and this will play out. Your vasanas will still be there. Because you are awareness, these left-over feelings will gradually disappear because you will not identify with them and keep them alive. With the practice of karma yoga and the light of awareness shining on them, the vasanas will become non-binding. This will also make firm the knowledge that you are not the doer. In maya there will always be something that conditions your subtle body (Terry), as that is the nature of maya. This will not bother you, as you will know that all thoughts and feelings are only objects appearing in you, awareness.
On the experiential level, however, what might be interfering with accessing bliss more consistently could be related to unresolved issues connected to some unintelligent choices, i.e. guilt and shame (see above).
Terry: At the same time I know that the bliss is just an experience, albeit a pleasant one. I just feel that this has to be more than about attaining some blissful state even if it were permanent. I want to know what I am and realize what you speak of. Otherwise this is just another buzz like heroin, but without the harmful consequences.
Sundari: Yes. You have great discrimination. Enlightenment is not about feeling good, although the bliss of knowledge allows you to feel good regardless of what your emotions are doing. Discrimination is very important, as it is very easy to get addicted to the “feeling of bliss,” which is often a trap for seekers.
The high that comes from substance abuse always revolves around an attempt to hold onto the experience of limitlessness, which, as you know, is not possible. You can only realise your true nature AS limitlessness. All other attempts, even mind-blowing epiphanies, are little more than “just another buzz without the harmful consequences” if you do not know yourself to be limitless.
Terry: Any suggestion would be welcome, as I would be happy and willing to do what is suggested. Maybe this is gradual and I am deepening in this knowledge, but I worry that I may be settling for less than the truth.
Sundari: It is gradual and it does “take time” to deepen the knowledge. Ignorance is persistent and aggressive, so you will need to commit to your inquiry. Your desire for freedom needs to be stronger than any other. Dedicate your whole life to it. Make your life your sadhana. Read the scriptures, sign on to the logic of Vedanta and don’t give up. If you are qualified, there is nothing else for you to do.
Remember, you can’t settle for less, because you are the truth and Vedanta simply reveals this fact to you.
Read How to Attain Enlightenment by James if you have not read it. Keep reading it. James has a huge range of material on DVD and MP3. Read the ShiningWorld website, as all the e-satsangs are regularly posted there. Stay in touch, and most importantly, practise karma yoga on your feelings.
~ With love, Sundari