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Mat: I’ve been listening to your Vedanta DVDs for the last three hours. It’s my sadhana, I guess. I can’t get enough. I hear it a new way every time I go through a series, James. Is this odd? I know who I am, but I still want to do nothing but self-inquire. People go sit in caves for years AFTER recognition, like Ramana, right? Didn’t you do that? I guess there is nothing wrong with my being in my cave a lot and being immersed in the self, Vedanta and assimilating the new perspective. But if you have any comments I would love to hear them.
James: You think you are bad, what about me? I am still in the cave forty years later. What else are you going to do with your mind? Vedanta rocks! It’s only odd for the little bit of samsari left in you. We were odd when we popped out of the womb. The world will never understand. Go for it.
I actually feel sorry for the secular spiritual types who get who they are.
By “secular spiritual types” I mean the Neo people who replaced God with enlightenment. It makes sense because religion’s doctrines are so obviously primitive, no rational person could accept them. But without understanding the value of the world and their apparent selves they threw the devotional baby out with the bath because it is dualistic. Now they are just enlightened, but they have nothing to love but their enlightenment, which is the ultimate ego trip. You get bragging rights, you can proudly say, “There is no me!” But there is a me, just like there always was. So what does the no-me do now? There are books for these finders telling them what to expect once they are enlightened: After Enlightenment, the Laundry and The End of Your World, for example.
If you got your moksa through a rich tradition like Vedanta you have a whole culture to immerse yourself in, one that can feed you the rest of your life. The best the Westerners can do is hang out a shingle and teach based on their own experience. Otherwise they are left with the spiritual equivalent of burgers and fries.
In India teachers like Osho and Papaji are contemptuously referred to as “export gurus,” meaning that they were so inferior they were not good enough for local consumption. So they are shipped off to the foreigners who wouldn’t would know the real thing if they saw it. Enlightenment is not a big deal. Culture and dharma are.
Life just gets interesting when you know who you are. You can develop and culture your mind spiritually. The Neos more or less look to Ramana as their idea of an enlightened being – God bless them – but they assume that he had some kind of special realization that shot him head and shoulders above the rest. It is not true. If he realized the self, he realized what everyone who realizes the self realizes.
He was great because he kept at inquiry and made a lot of himself. He cultivated his mind. He learned the Yoga and the Vedanta scriptures, etc. He lived a life of pure meditation and devotion to the self. He wrote scripture. He wrote devotional literature. His lifestyle was totally sattvic. He didn’t hang out a shingle and give satsang with a poor seeker sitting in the hot seat pouring out his or her troubles while scores of spiritual voyuers watched and waited for the great teacher to effect some sort of miraculous experiential transformation. Most of the Neos would not know a pure mahatma if they saw him. These old-style guys are a breed apart. They kept their heads down, and if any recognition came it was because they worked on themselves tirelessly and communicated what they knew in a simple, straightforward way. They had culture.
Mat: I’m so glad I asked you about being in the Vedanta cave. It’s making more sense. It’s pure love. It only seemed problematic because of my prior brainwashing: if there was any more navel-gazing or even assimilating after realization, then, according to the Neos, it is proof that you are not realized (“no one to assimilate”). So my interest in continuing to assimilate this knowledge throughout the apparent “bodies” and into the living of the apparent life – well, this is all really frowned upon! After all, once you know you are not the person, that’s the end, they would say.
Ramji: Yes, the point is that once knowledge happens you are not asking questions about who you are, trying to figure it out. It is clear. From that point on you simply manage the mind with the knowledge until it (the mind) dies.
Or not. You can let it be a mess too, if you want. But if you do, you know it is a mess and you don’t pretend to speak wisdom nor do you violate dharma. There are no rules for jnanis. This does not mean that jnanis will violate dharma. Knowing who you are means that you are dharma. Moksa is not a license to violate dharma. It would be impossible because the knowledge of who you are corrects you, irons out the kinks in your personality, aligns your thoughts, words and deeds with your nature.
You can’t abstract Neo-Advaita from Western culture. Even the initial Papaji people who brought it had no idea of sadhana, apart from listening to satsangs, which were not proper teachings. Basically, they were having a spiritual party of their own in India, living like colonials or tourists. They did not love India and the life of renunciation, introspection and purification. If they loved India it was because they were out of the caste system – their own and India’s – and it made them feel free to have fun. Their idea was that you got your enlightenment out of the way quickly so you could not be a person and do what you wanted to do. ☺
They had no idea of sanctity or purity, because the gurus they had been exposed to were secularists, very venial secularists. Leave off his teachings – which were a mixed bag, knowledge and ignorance holding hands and cobbled together from voluminous reading, not his own experience – but Rajneesh was a world-class self-indulgent scoundrel – a Zorba the Buddha (party hearty on your way to moksa!). And although Papaji was marginally better insofar as he actually taught them the word “non-duality,” he was greedy and sex-hungry, and when you get right down to it all he had was a bit of bhakti, powerful shakti and an outsized ego.
Neo-Advaita is secular spirituality, emphasis on the “secular.” It is all about seeking and finding, like a treasure hunt. And what do you do when you strike gold and “get it.” You just remain the idiot you were before and do what you did before – but it is okay because you are not that idiot. There is nothing wrong with it, but it is just kind of cheesy and fast-foody, like Western culture.
Mat: The knowledge is total freedom, true. Nothing is needed. But when I view the subtle body now or the gross physical body, there is so much taking place in terms of those apparent forms becoming aligned with the knowledge of who I am. And it’s all so incredibly beautiful, an amazing expression of pure love. I guess the point is that these bodies appear in me, and they are not non-existent, they are capable of reflecting the self. In the dance of appearances appearing in me – because of me – those forms have funny ideas, but they are not cut off from me and from having those ideas uplifted and beautified, not because it is “needed,” but just for the love of it.
Ramji: I love you, Mat. You express yourself so beautifully. Life is devotion and the work we do is devotion – for your sake and the sake of the world, which are non-separate.
Mat: I think the Neos are confused about these points because they don’t have the whole picture, and the result is that it is all very cold.
I pasted in for you some words from a Neo’s website that was sent to me via a third party. I made some comments.
The Neo: The whole point is to know what you are. It should be clear after some research and consideration that this is the critical issue in all spirituality and philosophy. If there are some basic doubts on this, you must do some reflection to understand why this is the key issue. The fundamental doubt about who and what we are is the basic ignorance and is what drives all suffering and seeking until it is at last resolved. Once you are clear that this is the key point, then the question “What am I?” is raised and pursued with all vigor and intensity until full resolution. It is up to you to find what is your abiding nature.
Mat: No means offered. Just “up to me.” Big help!
James: Know what you are? You are awareness. No need to inquire about it. What needs to be known is what it means to be awareness. Once you know that, the work begins. You will take to sadhana – and/or sadhana will happen and you will feed it (no problem being a doer!) because you understand the value of self-knowledge in terms of your apparent life.
It is amazing that he cannot see that someone who does not know is not going to find out by finding out. Presumably, the seeking has been going on indirectly or directly lifelong. Westerners in general hate the idea of being taught. They think they are so special and intelligent, and once they have an epiphany or two their sense of uniqueness and vanity takes over and they proclaim themselves enlightened. I don’t know who this person is, but his knowledge is indirect.
“Indirect” means that the teacher talks about the self, points to it or tells the inquirer what to do, often with the idea of giving the inquirer some kind of epiphany, some insight into his or her nature. Nothing wrong with it, but there is a lot more to this whole inquiry business. But with Vedanta, assuming you are qualified, you just surrender your mind to the teaching and the self is revealed directly. This teacher can probably only teach this way – not just because he does not have a valid means of knowledge at his disposal – but because the people coming to him are not mature. The problem with this kind of teaching is that the qualified ones like yourself (and there are quite a few these days) are stymied. They are mature enough to see that the emperor has no clothes, but still no way forward.
We teach indirectly too, so I am not saying that there is anything wrong with indirect knowledge. But notice how this teaching is aimed at the doer. They will say there is no doer and then they tell the doer to find his or her abiding nature. If a person is qualified, we just teach him or her what the abiding nature is. It becomes quickly apparent when the words are heard properly. The self hears its name and responds with understanding. The experiential aspect is moot because the self is always experiencing itself and whether or not the doer experiences it or not is unimportant, since the doer is just an idea anyway. The idea with his teaching is to get the doer to experience something he has not experienced.
The whole “I am not a doer” teaching is completely misunderstood. It doesn’t mean that you can’t do – what choice do you have? – only that you appreciate the fact that you – either as awareness or as the doer – are not the author of your actions and giver of the results. Doing does not stand in the way of awareness.
In fact it takes a lot of doing to keep your mind open. If you slip into evaluation mode, you will not hear what is being said. In fact moksa is for the doer. He needs to be free. There is helpful doing and unhelpful doing. Helpful doing is keeping your mind open to the teaching. It is often very hard work. Unhelpful doing is allowing your mind to evaluate the teaching. The idea in Vedanta is that you evaluate your ideas in light of the teaching, not the other way around.
The Neo: A clue is that your own being is not coming and going to you. That which appears and disappears in experience cannot be what you are, because your presence clearly precedes and survives these appearances. Another way to approach is to understand that what you are cannot ever leave you. In other words, you cannot lose your own fundamental existence. Therefore the question gets down to looking in experience for that which never changes. Actually, a bit of looking shows that there is only one thing that meets this qualification. So the whole search is immensely simplified. This never-changing thing and your own being, or true self, turn out to be one and same thing (non-duality). At that point, you are looking directly into what you really are.
Mat: Wow, from what vantage point? From outside?
James: Yes, quite: from what vantage point? It is all beautiful up to the very end where he has you looking into what you really are. And even that is correct. He is talking inquiry, jnana yoga, “fixing the mind on the self,” to quote Ramana. Fair enough, but what’s next? He does not know what is next, because this is the point where a teaching is needed to prove to the inquirer that the one who is looking and what you are looking into is the same. You cannot just tell a person that the subject and the object are one. You have to show them. All of our teachings reveal the identity between the subject and the object. When you pay attention, you cannot help but see/know/experience it. He knows this, but he cannot teach it. He can only talk about it.
And even if the looker does realize experientially, how is he going to evaluate that realization? The intellect will still be there making something out of what he sees. It may be correct. It may be incorrect.
This kind of teaching is indirect knowledge. It amounts to little more than the religious approach; you are forced to believe it in lieu of a teaching with revealing words. Telling you to look hard is an injunction, not a teaching.
You also need a lot more than a clue. You need a proper teaching. Indirect knowledge is a little like an Easter egg hunt. Guru: “There are eggs to be found.” Seeker: “Where?” Guru: “Somewhere on the property.”
The Neo: And instead of doing this via the intellect, it is by direct and immediate experience, non-conceptually.
Mat: Oh, here we go. It’s about experience, not knowledge. I’m beginning to see that he does not understand the impact of the fact that experience always changes.
James: It is absurd because the whole teaching is conceptual. What he does not understand is that experience and knowledge are one. Experience is the container and knowledge is the contents. There is no contradiction. See the belief, the duality. “Only conceptual” means that non-conceptual, i.e. experiential, is good and conceptual is bad. Neither is good or bad. The value of both knowledge and experience needs to be understood.
He should really read my book. But this won’t happen. It would require going back to the drawing board. Probably there is too much invested in being an authority. It’s always a problem when you set out to teach because if you don’t have all your ducks in line and people start following you, you have to maintain the ignorance you purvey. I know one influential ex-Neo whom I admire greatly, who was teacher but who realized that he was not clear and went back to the drawing board, discovered Vedanta and was released with very little effort.
Mat: This person was taught that the intellectual approach is wrong, but I don’t know what that is based on. What’s wrong with intellect? You can clearly state: experience always changes, but knowledge is always steady. And there is no support for this statement, so it is out there as if it’s right.
But there isn’t any basis to anyone bashing a knowledge-based approach. Oh, wait, I remember now, he says it’s “conceptual.”
James: There is no more difficult trap to get out of than the “I am enlightened” or “awakened” trap. I am sure he thinks he is enlightened, but to say “I am awakened/enlightened” is also just conceptual. Behind the guise of helping, the ego’s (that isn’t an ego) biggest desire is recognition. Awakening is experiential enlightenment without the most essential ingredient – knowledge.
The Neo: This is what I am encouraging you to do with all vigor. Everything else is ultimately a waste of time unless it somehow leads you to this recognition.
James: As you mention above, Dan, there is no methodology. This approach amounts to waiting for something to happen by grace. Guru: “There’s gold in them thar hills!” Seeker: “How do I find it?” Guru: “Dig vigorously.”
Mat: Certain things are very good, but it’s mixed in with confusion. Now I can see it pretty clearly.
James: Yes, it is knowledge and ignorance sitting side by side and there is no appreciation of which is which. Discrimination, inquiry, is the way and this person lacks it. He will counter that discrimination is merely intellectual. There is no way you can educate these people.
Mat: This is anti-knowledge-based realization on the grounds that it is “conceptual.” This person is hung up on experience, even if it’s a little higher level than “enlightenment is about having a groovy experience!” He is saying that experience is how I know the self, right now, and that’s okay. But he neglects to acknowledge that experience is a changing object in me. I also can’t believe he’s still mixing in things like “…you are looking directly into what you are…” – HUH?
James: He needs teaching. You cannot figure it out on your own. If this person was open-minded, I could straighten him out in a few sessions. But it will never happen. Once you get it your mind shuts down and stops inquiring. That is part of he Neo-Advaita belief system. It is completely in harmony with human nature. We all want Easy Street, so we are going for something that does not require any effort. Self-inquiry is an effort in the beginning. But once you know who you are and how to inquire, it is a lot of fun. What else are you going to do with your mind once you know who you are? Cook up schemes to make samsara work for you? The mind needs a noble project to keep it from being consumed by its likes and dislikes, to insulate it from boredom. I can understand why people who wake up often experience depression, boredom, confusion, etc. if their awakening happened outside a great spiritual tradition like Vedanta.
Mat: I’m still debriefing about this, so I hope you don’t mind if I spill it out. I can’t tell if he is a “this-baba” or not. I’ve been in the room with people like that – Unmani is one of them – all wide-eyed, saying “It’s this…” and gesturing to the room – and all the poor suckers who paid $20 to get in are looking around all wide-eyed, like, “wow,” and saying, “I’m really in the zone,” and stuff like that. He seems to be brighter than most of these folks.
James: I agree, but he is too clever by half, as they say over here in Blighty. But then in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. I suspect he is dying of boredom, sitting on his finder’s enlightenment throne with nowhere to go and nothing to do except talk about moksa. I have a certain sympathy for the Neos, actually, because they are ignorant of the whole Vedanta sampradaya. They read a few books and make uniformed opinions. Vedanta is a huge welcoming tree for seekers and finders alike. A person who stops at finding is missing out.
I’ve never heard of Unmani, but I know the type – the Zombie Zonies! It seems lost on them that you can get in the zone at a football match or a rock concert. It’s all experiential.
I know, I should pack it in on quarreling with the Neos. They are not worthy opponents. But it turns out that my criticisms are very helpful. I regularly get emails from seekers who have benefited from Neo-Advaita (it’s all good!), but outgrew it. If you have that burning desire, your discrimination will become sharp and you will see though inferior teachings. We can get away with it because we are not teaching our experience. We are teaching Vedanta which is the essence of the distilled experience, i.e. proven, irrefutable knowledge – of all the great seers that went before.