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In the Is-ness or Are the Is-ness?
Shanti: Dear Ram, thank you in advance for the opportunity to clarify this. I am currently reading your book How to Attain Enlightenment, and enjoying it greatly. I have been a student of Vedanta in the lineage of Swami Chinmayananda, and consider him as one of my gurus. I read about your relationship with him at StillnessSpeaks.com, purchased the DVD there and then the book. It is a very readable distillation of Vedantic principles, and I thank you for that. Having many of these texts at your website is also a treat.
The way I was led to all this is quite mysterious and yet obvious, as it always is. Having practiced the yogas, meditation and allied practices for several years, and exploring other traditions along the way (Zen, etc.), I had come to discover for myself that Vedantic study and my yogic practices were highly complementary. However, despite reading about self-inquiry for years, the “drive” to ask within had not arisen, despite the arising of the witness. In May of this year, during my regular puja and in stillness, there was a spontaneous question that arose: “Who is aware of the witness?” Nothing was planned, it just happened. It seems like, in retrospect, there was my life before that and then after. That quickened something within (now I know what), with inquiry becoming spontaneous and continuous during daily activities. Then one fine day, reading another non-duality book, I opened the book, read the first line, and a “shift” happened – nothing like I had ever imagined, very subtle and very, very obvious. It was kind of embarassing that I had missed it all along. Just is-ness, for lack of a better word. I was in that is-ness for several weeks, and then started noticing the separate self trying to get back into the action – which was of course vasanas that needed more work. So it has been back to chopping wood, carrying water, like nothing has changed. But yet everything has changed – I am in love, not with anyone or anything, just in love, if that makes any sense.
James: Here is what you need to know. You say, “I was in that is-ness.” This is indirect self-knowledge. If you had realized, “I am that is-ness,” the seeking would be over. Well, not exactly. How was that is-ness and you being in it known? It was known by you. How was the shift known? By you. Who observed the separate self trying to get back into the action? You. Who thinks the vasanas need more work? Not you. Ignorance is talking here. Who is aware of the thought that the vasanas need more work? You. Who observes the change to love? You. Who is in love? Kavita. Who sees Kavita in love? You. Who is watching the thoughts and Kavita as Kavita reads this? You. Who are you? Awareness. You are is-ness. You are love. Sat (is-ness) chit (awareness) ananda (love). Moksa is converting indirect knowledge to direct knowledge. Forget the vasanas. They are not the problem. The problem is that you think that enlightenment is some kind of experiential shift. It is just knowledge, “I am awareness, the knower of the known.” Contemplate the words I have just written. It will become clear.
Shanti: Anyway, this is just a background, since you mention at your website that you like stories!
James: It’s a good story. You are almost done with your seeking.
Shanti: In your book you mention the three types of karma and that self-realization nullifies both sanchita and prarabdha karma. I understand about sanchita karma. However, isn’t prarabdha karma the current body-mind entity, with its predisposition to decay and death? Of course the mind is no longer a player as the self, but the body will need to live out its “thing,” won’t it? Ramana, Ramakrishna, Nisargadatta Maharaj, all died of cancer, Swami Chinmayananda of heart disease, his successor also has heart disease. These things cannot be nullified by self-realization. Yes, of course the “suffering” from these are gone. Would you please clarify?
James: Karma is only your interpretation of what happens. Action/change happens endlessly on the gross and subtle levels, but how you see it changes when you know you are awareness. It continues to affect the body and mind, but since you do not take yourself to be the body and the mind, it does not affect you. A jnani is the self, not the subtle body.
Shanti: Also, would you please explain the difference between atman and brahman? In my direct experience, nothing exists outside of awareness, which I am calling brahman – it was first seen as nothing and now is being seen as “part and parcel” of everything, the one that sustains everything. Because no perception of anything is separate from it, that is the only thing that is. However, I don’t directly perceive (through the senses/organs of action), say, your city – everything about that is only a thought, which is also of course arising only in awareness and made up of awareness. Is realizing brahman equivalent to directly perceiving everything everywhere?
James: Definitely not. That power belongs to Isvara, awareness with the maya upadhi. Atman and brahman are just two different words for awareness. Atma is awareness with the five bodies, or the three sheaths. Sometimes it is called jivatman, and brahman is called paramatman. It is a common spiritual belief, nay, fantasy, that impotent egos cook up to imagine that they will become powerful and all knowing when they realize brahman. It never happens. Your equipment, as Swamji used to call it, is not up to it. Awareness is awareness. I have take atman and brahman out of my teaching because it just confuses people who are not familiar with Vedanta.
Shanti: My understanding of atman is that it is really flavored by our conditioning and thinking ourselves as a separate self, but it is actually not separate from brahman. Is this correct?
James: Yes. See above.
Shanti: Sorry for the long, essay-like email. I appreciate your guidance very much.
~ Best regards, Shanti