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Is Meditating on the I-Sense Good?
Julian: Dear James, we met during tea time when you recently gave a talk at the School of Practical Philosophy in Cape Town.
I asked you something about the feeling of “I” and how it relates to what is observed in the world since my deepening experience was that the feeling of “I” somehow was the world. After a bit of discussion, you stressed that I was making the mistake of looking for enlightenment experientially and that I should read your book How to Attain Enlightenment, which I have now done carefully (and intend to go through again in a month or two after letting it settle for a while).
This is where I think I am/what I understand:
I know that I am asleep. What knows I am asleep is more awake.
James: Yes. That what would be you, awareness.
Julian: Enlightenment is not an experience since all experiences come and go, even “high” ones. I was indeed looking for enlightenment by further and further refinement. According to you and others who seem to talk from authentic experience, enlightenment is rather a deep kind of ever-present knowledge of being “whole and complete, actionless awareness.”
James: Yes. That is correct. Experiences don’t last. Experience lasts but it is awareness already so you can’t get it or experience it as an object.
Julian: None of my thoughts are absolutely true. This is known directly in meditation.
James: They are not true when you are out of meditation either, Julian. True means “permanent.” True means “stands alone.” Thoughts don’t stand alone. They depend on each other and they depend on Isvara, on karma, etc.
Julian: The world is brahman, but brahman is not the world. Or using Maharshi’s statement “The world is illusory. Brahman alone is real. The world is Brahman.” The truth of these is sensed and the profoundness of these statements is still sinking in during reflection.
James: It came from Shankara: brahma satyam jagan mithya. Limitless awareness is the truth, the world is apparently real.
Julian: Enlightenment as an “event” has not yet “happened for me” although there has been considerable “preparation”: stripping, dropping away and opening (words are tricky here). The seeker is still there although there is the sense that all that is needed is here right now, in this moment, which means that the seeker is superflous and probably obstructs.
James: No, it does not obstruct. Seeking obstructs. The seeker is mithya, apparently real. It stays after moksa, first as a finder and then as a functional ego useful for negotiating in the apparent reality. Moksa is just knowledge, knowing that the apparent seeker/finder entity does not in any way compromise the existence of awareness. It is because you are awareness that you know that Julian is seeking, that he has not found. It means that you are already moksa, i.e. free. Free of what? Free of Julian. He is an object known to you. He is you but you are not him. Moksa is not something that happens. It is the hard and fast understanding that you are free. Julian will never be free. He is just a construct, a thought, dependent in every way on Isvara.
Julian: The kind of understanding needed is not of the mental kind (since my thoughts are not really true).
James: Wrong. It is definitely the mental kind. It is the mind that thinks it is not free. It needs to be disabused of this notion. It seems you believe that something experiential has to happen beyond the mind to set you free. You, awareness, are already free. But owing to avidya you believe that you aren t. You believe it as the mind. So the mind needs knowledge, not you, the self. You are what knows that Julian doesn’t have moksa.
Julian: So the non-real doer “I” continues to meditate, just being aware of the great silence in which all things happen, accepting everything as it is.
James: See yourself as the knower of the great silence and you are free. Just as Julian is known to you, so the great silence is known to you.
Julian: There is reflection on statements of “truth” (like “I am pure, actionless awareness, whole and complete”), there is deep questioning (like “Who is the one questioning?”) and there is a kind of patient waiting for the moment of grace in which true understanding may happen, though it is known to a level that the meditator, the one reflecting, the one questioning and the one waiting, have no essential basis in reality.
James: See your thinking. You are waiting for something to happen. You will wait a long time, I am afraid. Why not accept yourself as the knower right now and assert your identity?: “I am freedom. I am free.” This is true understanding. As long as you want something other than you to confirm your freedom you will not be free. You are free now. Understanding is understanding. “I am free” is true understanding. Nothing is required but to own your nature.
Julian: And above all, all is well no matter whether there is enlightenment or not. Yet something wants to awaken. I write to you since there is the sense that that is what should happen following our little conversation and perhaps you have a pointer or two to share.
James: You are what is aware of that something that wants to awaken. You are right to leave it to Isvara. This is something that is not up to you either as Julian or as awareness.
Julian: I think you will understand. We battle to see our own structures and some “outside” help can be invaluable.
James: I hope this helps in the battle, Julian. It is a lot to take on board but please think about it. You are very close to what you seek. If you give up the idea that something has to happen, you will be there.
Julian: Thank you, James, for your response. I suspect your email is more important than I can know and am pondering it deeply.
I was once told by my teacher (now several years deceased) that if I just remained “with the sense of I, something might happen.” This follows the teaching of Nisargadatta, I guess, which also was very helpful, for a while, but may not be now. You might have some strong words to say. ☺
James: Not strong words exactly, just common sense. First, anything that happens will unhappen. Experience is a decaying time capsule meant to deliver knowledge. How do you know that you will interpret the experience in the only way that will set you free – by extracting the knowledge “I am awareness and the not the experiencing entity.” People who believe experience will set them free almost never relinquish the status of the experience. They think that liberation is an experience, that it is going to add something to the experience. It will only add a memory. It will not add permanent happiness.
Ask yourself who is remaining with the I-sense. It won’t be you, the self, because you are the witness of the one remaining with the I-sense. And if you take yourself to be the one that remains with the I-sense, how will you remain with it when another vasana comes up? And what exactly are you remaining with? Only a thought of “I.” It is good to stay with the I but what I are you remaining with? What does the I-sense, which is just a thought, refer to? The I-sense is just a sensation, a subtle feeling, that comes when you locate the place within where awareness touches the causal body. What good does it do?
Julian: So there has been the idea of “something happening” and waiting for the happy day. ☺
James: Moksa is about you, the one to whom happenings appear, not about what happens to Julian.
Julian: You say, “You are free now. Understanding is understanding. ‘I am free’ is true understanding. Nothing is required but to own your nature.”
You seem to imply that moving from avidya to understanding is not an “event,” not “something that happens.” The understanding can simply be claimed/owned now. The “mind” is wondering what this means, and as to the nature of understanding. By “understand is understanding” you mean that it is what it is and is unknowable beyond that? Just like myself? Am I understanding?
James: You are what stands under everything, i.e. awareness. Yes, moksa is not an event although it may seem like it when you become completely convinced that you are awareness and not Julian, the experiencing entity. “Stands under” means “observes.” Nothing exists without you as a witness. So you are the basis, the support, for Julian and Julian’s experiences. Moksa is just claiming it. You already are it because reality is non-dual awareness. So there is no option other than to be it. But when you think you are the experiencing entity you take a stand in bondage because the experiencing entity is always bound to experience and experience is dualistic, so you experience positive and negative things endlessly without control because Isvara produces experience, not the experiencing entity.
Julian: That which I am is aware of the mind wondering…
This line really makes me chuckle: “You will wait a long time, I am afraid.” How funny!
~ With love, Julian
Thank you for taking the time in your deeply insightful replies to my emails. I do understand that you are in quite some demand.
I don’t really know what good staying with the subtle feeling of “I” does but it has led to an abiding feeling of being deeply rooted in being, a sense of boundless peace, an openness and expansiveness, a lessening of the sense of being a particular limited entity, a blurring of the I itself. Less Julian, more awareness, I think. This can only be good.
Most of the time the Julian-experiencing entity still dominates the identification. So many cracks are seen in this view, that there is the knowledge that I am not that, yet I don’t yet stand under the knowledge of being free, being pure awareness, in an abiding, hard and fast way.
Why not? It is a good question and perhaps not up to me, as you say. Rather, it’s up to Isvara to decide on the “hard and fast” timing. Seems all a bit insane to continue to stand under something that is clearly full of holes. C’est la vie.
Sitting in the car here now, looking out across the school sports field, there is the thought “I am non-dual awareness and nothing happens unsupported by awareness” yet the the experiencing-entity-Julian view is there too and tends to dominate the “standing under.”
You wrote something like “be the knower of the great silence just as you are the knower of Julian, and be free.” Pondering…
Your replies have been re-read several times, pondering deeply, and there is indeed much to ponder. Statements of truth like “I am freedom, I am free” play in the “mind.” For a few days this week the world is seen from the intriguing possibility of being pure awareness. Then avidya sets in again and the sleep deepens… and the knower of the sleep quietly knows.
It’s an in-between place and has been for a while. Thank you for your help.
James: Thanks a lot for this email, Julian. People have been telling me that they have been meditating on the “I-sense” for many years but no one ever explained the benefit clearly till now. As you say, it can only be good. I will post this at the website as it will be of benefit to others.
The experiencing entity need not go. Nor need one not identify with it. One need only see the identification. In the seeing the seer becomes clear. Then you stand, as you ever have, as the non-experiencing witness to the experiencer and the knower of the identification.
That’s right: let Isvara decide the hard and fast timing and enjoy Julian and his life.
~ Love, James