Search & Read
The Value of Inference – No Direct Experience of the Self
James: Hi, Mandy.
Sorry for the delay but I’ve been teaching for one month in Europe and just flew to South Africa, where I’ve been resting my poor brain for the last few days.
Mandy: I feel utter gratitude to you and all your work. Thanks to your amazing website, I have your teachings at my fingertips – no doubt a lifelong effort to amass as much material as you have. I certainly have benefited – I’m so very grateful. Thank you.
May I run something by you? There are still moments of confusion, where identity is on objects, not on me, the awareness principle, the illuminator of all. And so I tried to apply some discrimination and contemplation on the topic. I recently finished Edwin Faust’s commentary on Vivekachoodamani (fantastic!!), and it was a wonderful exercise for me to go along with the commentary in negating the five sheaths as I read it. That made me think: I’ve negated these five sheaths many times; why then is there still a sense of an I-object?
James: You presuppose that the “I-object,” the body-mind-sense complex, shouldn’t be “there.” But it makes no difference to you, awareness, if it is present or absent, because the “I-object” is not opposed to awareness. People think that the presence of the “I-object” – the body-mind-sense complex, otherwise known as the perceiver/feeler/thinker entity, or the experiencing entity – can’t co-exist with awareness, the Self. But it does, just as tables and chairs co-exist but don’t hide the wood of which they are made. They exist alright, but they are as good as non-existent because they don’t have any impact on the wood. They are just wood appearing in two forms. Whether existence/awareness appears as an experiencing entity as it does in the waking and dream states or whether it is absent as it is in the deep-sleep state, awareness is always present and untouched. Vedanta calls the “I-object” mithya, apparently real. Apparently means not real. So you are awareness plus a person, meaning you are always free of the personal self when it is present.
It seems you believe that the statement “I am whole and complete, unborn, ever-present awareness” needs some kind of experiential proof. It doesn’t. Thinking it does indicates a failure to accept inference as a valid means of Self-knowledge. There is no direct way for a jiva to confirm the statements of Vedanta, because the Self is not an object of jiva’s experience. It is the knower of jiva’s experience, including the non-experience of the Self.
So the most important qualification for liberation is shraddha, faith in the scripture, which uses inference to “prove” its statements. Where there is smoke there is fire. Where there is a jiva there is you, awareness. You never see the camera in a picture but you can count on the knowledge of the camera because there is never a picture without a camera. So you have to claim your identity as awareness based on the teachings, not on some kind of experience. If you claim it on the basis of an experience, then you will unclaim it when the experience is no longer present because the knowledge will depend on an unreal object. Or you will feel like a fraud when disturbing experiences arise because the experience of your existence/consciousness is never disturbing, because it is unborn, ever-present bliss. Knowledge is always valid because, in the case of the Self, it is always present and unchanging. You are never not present.
Mandy: At that point, I looked at thoughts more closely (I understand they are inert, that I, awareness, illumine them, but there was something “sticky” there) and focused on what you have called “deliberate thinking.” As I looked at that closely, it became evident that there is not much deliberate about any thinking, including that called “deliberate thinking.” Deliberate thinking would require that I “think before I think,” something that we just don’t do.
James: Didn’t you deliberately think before you wrote this email? Didn’t you deliberately “simplify your life to minimize agitation”? Deliberate thinking is an appropriate use of your free will as a jiva insofar as you think of yourself as a jiva. If you look at the mind from Isvara’s point of view, however, no thoughts are deliberate, mechanical or impulsive. Thoughts are. They borrow their isness from you, awareness.
Mandy: Then I considered if the “sticky” object-I (i.e. a sense of I identified with some object) was the “chooser” of focusing attention from panoramic awareness to the specific topic of deliberation (such as the words for this email or the thinking required to solve a mathematical equation). Again, I was not able to find a “chooser” who would narrow the awareness from panoramic to localized on a specific topic. What would that chooser look like!?
James: The chooser looks like the one who wrote this email. There is only one chooser, the Self, awareness. The question, however, is: Does the chooser think it is an actual chooser or does it know that jiva is not a real chooser, i.e. that its choices are predetermined by the set-up, i.e. Isvara, the world? Choosing is a role awareness plays when a jiva is present. In the absence of a jiva, deep sleep, for instance, there is no choosing, because there is no jiva present. But the Self-realized Self knows that it is not actually choosing, whereas the Self-ignorant Self thinks it is actually choosing. In deep sleep the Self is definitely present. It’s interesting that you accept inference for the presence of the Self when you wake up because you know that you had to be present when your jiva wasn’t or you couldn’t have awakened, insofar as “you” don’t wake up and decide to wake up when you wake up. But you don’t accept inference as the basis of Self-knowledge when you are awake, even though you are the Self when the waking and sleep states are present.
Mandy: At that point, my mind went blank. Not only was there no “I-jiva” in any of the five sheaths, there wasn’t one either under so-called “deliberate thinking” or under apparent “choosing” to narrow/focus awareness on a specific topic. Of course this leads me to me awareness, the illuminator of all, as you say that which cannot be negated. The buck stops here. It is in this silence where I find my ultimate identity, whereas I just can’t find it in any of the appearances that I still at times seem to be “stuck to” (body, mind, thoughts, apparent choices, apparent free will).
James: Okay, but if you rely on silence, which is an experience, to confirm your identity, then who are you when there is no silence? Silence is as dumb as a loaf of bread. It doesn’t tell you that you are awareness, because it is not conscious. It is an inert object, known to you, awareness. You, awareness, reasoned that you are awareness by using inference, which is a valid means of knowledge whether there is silence or the absence of silence.
The jiva is the Self. There is no actual difference, only a seeming difference when you include the body and mind when you use the word “I.”
When you are willing to say, “The buck stops with me,” not “here” and understand why, then you are free.
Mandy: Would you be so kind as to comment on, correct or confirm these statements? Do you see any fault in this reasoning?
There are times where I am absorbed in something (e.g. a telephone call, an email, a text) that even the jiva is obviously not there, and only in retrospect I can see so clearly that this jiva was a puppet acting out some actions under some automatic power. At other times, there is the illusion of autonomy, of free will, of choices, but when I look for the owner of those choices or free will, I can’t find that one; all I find is an apparent set of objects that I awareness illumine.
James: Yes, the jiva isn’t there but you are.
Mandy: I feel like I’m at the edge of a precipice; it’s a bit “dizzying” – slippery – I get it and I don’t get it, then I get it… I continue to study Vedanta many hours a day and have simplified my life to minimize unnecessary agitation and disturbance. In any event, I won’t take any more of your precious time.
James: The reasoning is fine. Good for you! You answered your own question. There is you, awareness, and apparently illumined objects, in this case the Mandy-object. If you need an owner, you can blame it on Isvara insofar as Isvara, which is not the same but not different from the Self, is the “part” of you that generates the presence and absence of objects.
~ Much love, James