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Knowledge and Experience: Energy and the Self
Kumar: Dear James, thanks for your answers. I think I am not doing a good job communicating what I am thinking. I need to be more precise in my writing.
For starters, I am not looking for any particular spiritual experience to free me. I realized during your teaching in Berlin that any experience happens in awareness, and adding or subtracting experience is not going to be of any help. I gave up chasing experiences a while ago.
James: Okay. It must be a language problem. One needs to be very precise when talking about these things. This is where Vedanta is so valuable. We need impersonal scientific words whose roots are directly related to what they indicate. And if one understands the basic structure of the teaching and sticks to it when communicating, one’s words will be easily understood because they will be properly contextualized. But if someone picks up appealing terminology here and there and rambles from one topic to another without obvious logic, communications become idiosyncratic and lose their power.
Kumar: I am the last person to think that my experience is special. Compared to the spiritual porn out there, my experience is surprisingly benign. If I understand statement (a) above, then the second statement is irrelevant.
My sadhana every day is to read Chapter II of The Essence of Enlightenment. Trust me, I have spent more time on this than I would like to admit.
James: That’s good. Failure to understand the distinction between experience and knowledge is the number-one impediment to moksa.
Kumar: The things I am struggling to understand are:
How does one communicate this sort of knowledge in scientific terms? What exactly is happening in the brain and the mind, which is an emergent phenomenon. I don’t expect an answer from you on this, but as a scientist, I think about this often, since I work with doctors all the time. Hence the question on the mind-body-Self connection.
James: You communicate with scientific terms – aka Sanskrit or English words derived from Sanskrit, and you use Vedanta – it is called brahma vidya, which means “the science of consciousness.” The same thing happens in the brain when you transmit Self-knowledge that happens when you transmit worldly knowledge, but the words of Vedanta take the mind to the Self, existence/consciousness, instead of to ephemeral objects, i.e. discrete experiences. So they produce a different kind of experience and knowledge.
The brain is just an instrument of which the mind is the conscious organ. Nobody knows “exactly” what is happening in the brain except Isvara. Science will not figure it out, just like they will not figure out the Higgs boson or what love is. The best they can do is infer that it exists. They can’t figure it out, just like we can’t figure out the results of actions, because the field of action – existence itself – is too complex. And there is no actual line demarcating the interface between pure consciousness and subtle matter or between subtle matter and physical matter. There are no instruments that can explore that interface and get direct hard and fast knowledge. Furthermore, the brain is not real. It is just a gross instrument that is constantly modifying to circumstances, mostly chemicals. It behaves differently in different people according to the energies playing in it, the gunas. And ultimately, when the scientists do get it all figured out, so what? The vasanas will continue to drive it and people will continue to suffer. Humans seem to delight in pursuing things that cannot be known. Inscrutability is a fact at that level.
I understand what you mean by “scientific” but people with materially-oriented minds are not interested in Self-knowledge. They are not qualified to understand consciousness/existence, because they are totally under the control of the senses and the mind. Their faces are turned away from the sun. They are looking at matter.
Kumar: I know you define knowledge as something that cannot be negated, which I agree with wholeheartedly. Let’s break down this knowledge versus experience, using my experience in the retreat as an example.
a). Knowledge is communicated through words from James.
b). What are words? What exactly is a word? It is a concept/arbitrary definition that we as humans (James and Kumar) agree on.
c). For the listener (Kumar), the word is a vibration on the tympanic membrane in the ear, which is then translated by the brain. This is a physiological experience. If you block my eardrum, no transmission of knowledge.
d). The word/words/sentences received in the brain is/are now compared to previous experiences/understanding and the brain catalogs this information. (Brain does not equal the mind.)
e). This information content is caused by neurotransmitters firing in brain. No neurotransmitters, no thought, and you are brain-dead.
e). Somehow this knowledge affects the mind, and the Self is revealed. We know that enlightenment can happen only to the mind/subtle body, and not to the Self, since the Self is already free.
What I am trying to say with this train of thought is that, if you actually break it down, the difference between knowledge and experience is completely artificial. At the fundamental level, all distinctions fade away and all you see is emptiness or energy, if you want to put a positive spin on it.
James: That is true, but knowledge does not affect the brain. It affects the one who sees the emptiness. You only care about the brain because you care about the one who sees the emptiness. You don’t think about digestion, because the effect of digestion is that you live. You are interested in life, not the digestion of food. You drink the Coke, not the bottle. What does it matter how it happens? Even if you understand it, you have no control of it. It happens and it has a huge impact on one’s life. You can never resolve the meaning of anything in the apparent reality, because it is an apparent reality. It has a conditional meaning, one that is always changing, one that has different utility according the needs of the one who is investigating it. As soon as you disconnect the brain from consciousness, you don’t have a brain. Whatever it means is totally subjective. It will only be what you want it to mean. It will never mean what it is, because it is not real.
Kumar: Siddharameshar Maharaj and few others (Ramana included) talk about allowing the shakti to reveal itself in the “heart space.” When I was around you, it was pretty obvious that you had manifested the shakti in the heart space. I am not familiar with any Vedanta teaching that talks about it, yet you are able to allow the manifest to reveal in your heart space as shakti. This is a distinct energetic feeling. I don’t know how this can be a knowledge issue?
James: It is not a knowledge issue. It is pure experience, what is happening all the time in every sentient being. It is the interface between pure consciousness and matter. That vibration is the vibration of life. It is revealed by words. They direct the attention to it. It is also revealed when the mind is under the influence of sattva guna. Unfortunately, the subtle body is not influenced by sattva alone, so the experience is not always available through experiential means, whereas it is always available when ignorance of the Self is removed. This shakti that the spiritual world is so enthralled with manifests in everything all the time. Complete morons and worldly people feel it from time to time. Lovers feel it intensely.
But it is actually wrong to say that I “allow” it to happen. “Allowing” implies agency, as if I was some kind of great yogi who had control of the shakti, which is one of the most seductive spiritual myths because it enhances the idea of ego and control, not negates it. Self-knowledge has negated my ego, sidelined it, as it were, so the shakti manifests clearly.
Kumar: If knowledge manifests itself as energy and causes energetic shifts in the body, then it means that knowledge and experience are not as separate as most people believe. However, as a beginner and to understand the Self, the knowledge/experience distinction is critical.
James: That’s right. They are not separate at all at the Self level. They need to be separated at the transactional level, however, or you will never get to the Self “level.”
Kumar: I hope this explains my position a little better. I am not looking for any more experiences, because it will not make any difference to who I am. I know that 100%, so please don’t worry about me losing this essential insight. The seeker and the sought are one the same. The Self is the non-experiencing entity.
Kumar: My questions are coming from another place. Doubt is the wrong word for it.
James: It’s my problem, Kumar. I had my guru hat on. To tell the truth, I am a one-trick pony. I am only interested in Vedanta. Any and all samsaric things bore me – no offense. All knowledge resolves in Self-knowledge eventually, so I just sit Self as the Self and enjoy. For me there is no brain – I never saw mine and as far as I am concerned I don’t have one or if I do, I can’t see it working, so it is of no interest, just like I can’t see my blood circulating. It means nothing to me. The only meaningful thing is the experience of myself experiencing myself as bliss, quite independent of the body, and of course the understanding that I have to do nothing to experience it, nothing to maintain it, and that it can never go away, because it is me.
Kumar: This is brilliant. Obviously you have thought about these things in detail. Thanks very much for all your help.