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Thinking My Way to Enlightenment
Phillip: Good morning.
I’m sure you know that feeling when you HAVE to write to someone.
Well, I should like to firstly tell you that I have been continuously reading “that” interview between James and whoever it was who was interviewing him. The interview was titled The Teachings of Ramana Maharshi, and each time I read it I have many “aha” moments; not the “aha” moments indicated during the interview, but my own brand of “aha” moments as I clear many of the misconceptions in this mind.
Briefly, I became interested/fascinated by Ramana Maharshi around 45 years ago, then shortly after discovered the Vedanta Society of Toronto (where I live). Seven years after my first meeting at the Vedanta Society I was initiated by my guru, Swami Bhashyanandaji. Another stroke of good fortune is that I had an upa guru “assigned” to me by Swamiji. His name was Aravinda Menon, and he became my spiritual older brother.
Over the years my spiritual (I dislike this overused word) life ranged from a number of Western realized beings (including Franklin Merrell-Woolfe) to Zen. Then about six months ago what seemed to be a very small event occurred that sent me in two directions, as it were. The first was a renewed interest in the Divine Mother, and the second, a reunion with Ramana Maharshi, via a wonderful book by David Godman.
Then just the other week, I happened upon the website of Peter Holleran, who was extremely patient with me as I asked many questions of him and got links to an enormous number of websites, including your own.
Again, let me say that what James said to his interviewer was so incisive that I couldn’t believe my good fortune at having been introduced to his thinking. I’m specifically (but not exclusively) interested in the use of the intellect in the inquiry. Franklin Merrell-Woolfe also explained his use of the intellect in his “recognition” of the Self, and it was interesting to see what James had to say about something which (as he indicated) seemed to have been “forbidden.” Now I have to look closely at how I can effectively use what is considered (by some) to be a fairly substantial mental organ.
Sundari: I am not entirely clear what your question is. You seem to be asking about using the intellect as part of Self-inquiry, and if that is the case, the answer is: of course. What do we have an intellect for if not to use it for discrimination? If you have read James’ books, particularly How to Attain Enlightenment or The Essence of Enlightenment, Chapter II in both cases, he explains very clearly the difference between experience and knowledge. Vedanta is a knowledge-based teaching, which requires a very subtle and prepared intellect to assimilate. If the intellect is run by emotional patterns it is not capable of discrimination, which is one of the main qualifications for Self-inquiry.
The Yoga-based teachings try to present the idea that thinking is the problem and the only way to negate the ego is by not thinking, but that is ludicrous. Even if it were possible to stop thinking, which it is not, the intellect does not stand in the way of the Self, nothing does, not even the ego. The only problem with the intellect is the kind of thoughts that run the mind and the identification with them.
Some people, especially those who are invested in their intelligence, believe they must either improve their thinking or that they can “think their way to enlightenment.” That is not how Self-inquiry works. For Self-knowledge to obtain, the mind must be purified and qualified, and the teachings must be properly unfolded by a qualified teacher. Self-knowledge is the fruit of Self-inquiry, which requires the right kind of thinking, explained in depth in many of our satsangs and James’ books. But Self-knowledge itself is not something that requires mental activity. Self-knowledge OBTAINS when the mind is sattvic and refined enough to assimilate it, and when this takes place, ignorance is removed BY Self-knowledge, NOT by anything the ego, or doer, DOES.
While it is true that having a sattvic mind capable of reasoning clearly is usually a great help to Self-inquiry, it can sometimes be a hindrance when people get too attached to their ability to think well. Very intellectual people are prone to this egoic delusion. Neither is Self-knowledge dependent on recirculating the thought “I am Self-realized.” Once that cognition takes place, the deed is done, and as James is fond of saying, once you are pregnant, do you need to keep thinking “I am pregnant”?
So while the initial modification of the mind does take place (vritti jnana) and is needed (that is why we do need to be qualified for knowledge), it does not need to be wilfully maintained. Once Self-knowledge is firm, it is not a function of memory, because it is known to be who you are.
However, as pure awareness (svarupa jnana) is not opposed to ignorance, so preparation of the mind, which is made of thoughts, is required. There are eligibility requirements that reveal to us the areas that need improvement. But Self-knowledge itself is not a product of thought and no longer requires thought, once it has removed all ignorance.
Phillip: What I am now looking at is my hanging on quite tightly to my ability to “think,” mainly because as a (retired) engineer, this has formed the basis of my ability to hold a job. But when I sit in what passes for some kind of meditation, the sharpness of my mental apparatus seems to take over and kill my intuitive faculties.
So I recently decided to reread some of my Zen books. Zen has what looks like a different outlook on meditation (“just sitting”) and I felt that by dulling the sharp blade of my intellect somewhat, I could “just sit” without internal commentaries (unemotional ones, mind you). Still a work in progress.
I originally came upon Zen because of my involvement in the Japanese martial arts, wherein the time allocated to intellectually-based thinking is likely to get you killed. I won’t go into details, but the works of D.T. Suzuki are my main sources of Zen information (if one can call it that).
A few other little things: Bhagavan was heard to say, “Be as you are” (as opposed to “be who you are,” if there’s a subtle difference), if I’m not mistaken. To me this says that one has to be exactly as one is from moment to moment, warts and all, which in turn means that one has to observe one’s vasanas, (importantly) admit to having them, then accept their effects as they happen. Thus denial is not a way out of the vasana conundrum.
I hope I’m not going around in circles at this point. At the moment I’m trying to avoid reading any more books. I would like to “just sit” effectively for a while with my intuitive faculties rising to the front. Then I can with ease get some more books to help me further.
See what this intellectual approach can do to a person????
Sundari: Your basic problem is that you do not know the difference between object-knowledge and Self-knowledge. You think they are the same, and they definitely are not. The difference is important. Knowledge of objects is object-based, not subject-based. You can think brilliantly in terms of object-knowledge, but that does not serve you if Self-knowledge is what you are after, which is why very intelligent people are often very identified with their intelligence and have trouble letting go of how they think. They think it is who they are. But “intelligence” (sattva) is just an object known to the Self, as are the other two gunas: rajas and tamas. Vedanta requires that you learn how to think in a completely different way.
Without consciousness, there is no intelligence possible. The Self is the only subject, everything else is an object because it is known TO you. If you know something, it cannot be you. Therefore Self-knowledge is not an object to obtain, because it is WHO YOU ARE. How can you gain something you have always had? You cannot become more conscious, only less ignorant. Self-knowledge “lifts the veil” by removing the ignorance covering the mind, making it incapable of knowing its true nature. Only when Self-knowledge is firm do you know the difference between ignorance and knowledge. Until then, be sceptical because everything you think you know is subjective, and at best, ignorance mixed with knowledge. At worst, it is just plain ignorance.
Self-knowledge is always good because it depends on the nature of the Self – which is always present and unchanging. Self-knowledge is not based on knowledge gained through learning, personal experience or opinion, although it may confirm all the above, depending on our level of maturity as an inquirer. And no other knowledge can negate Self-knowledge. Lastly, it is true in all three states of consciousness: waking, dreaming and deep-sleep states.
Object knowledge – which is based on experience, feelings, beliefs and opinions, is always changing. There is immutable knowledge within mithya (such as the laws of physics), but even that can be negated as only apparently real because the whole Creation is apparently, not actually, real, “real” being defined as “that which is always present and never changes,” which can only be applied to the Self, the ever-present subject, or witness. Our subjective interpretation of experience is not knowledge unless it stands up to three immutable factors:
1. Object-knowledge stands independent of our experience, feelings, beliefs, opinions;
2. Knowledge of objects (subtle and gross) is not knowledge unless it is true to the object. If it is “my” knowledge, then it is my interpretation of an object (pratibasika, or subjective reality), which is not necessarily knowledge. Ignorance (or my point of view) causes me to see or experience objects in a certain way because of “my” conditioning. People believe that ignorance is knowledge because they believe that what they experience is knowledge. It may be knowledge, but it may not be;
3. Object-knowledge is true in all three phases of time: past, present and future.
Regarding Vedanta, Self-knowledge: as I said in my previous email, you cannot think your way to enlightenment without the help of a qualified teacher, because your filters stand in the way. They will interpret what you hear or think you hear. There is nothing wrong with the intellect, it is perfectly designed to do its job. When it comes to Self-knowledge, the problem always is the filters of belief, opinion and emotion that cloud discrimination. Additionally, as the non-dual teachings turn everything you thought you knew on their head (or they should if you are doing Self-inquiry correctly), there are seeming paradoxes in the teachings which must be properly unfolded.
“Just sitting” is fine, but know that just sitting, like silence, is not opposed to ignorance. Self-knowledge is not just going to fly into your head. It requires work, which is dedicated Self-inquiry with a valid means of knowledge, which carefully and methodically unfolds the teachings, unfolded by a qualified teacher capable of wielding the teachings. It requires the right kind of thinking, the kind that is guided by the teachings, not your filters. Zen teachings may well help you still the mind in preparation for Self-inquiry, but they offer no systematic valid teaching capable of removing ignorance of your true nature. The same with meditation. These are tools that are very helpful for mind purification, but they do not take the place of Self-inquiry.
The teachings of Vedanta are knowledge, not experience-based and are deliberately taught in a progressive way to manage all doubts that are bound to arise. Ramana said a lot of things in different ways depending who he was talking to and their level of understanding. He was not a teacher of Vedanta and said so himself, although he was undoubtedly a great mahatma. Much of what he said if taken out of context or not properly explained can lead to confusion.
~ Om, Sundari