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Nobody Is in a Non-Dual State
Michael: Hi, Ram. First off, thank you very much for responding to my last message. Having been making my way through your seemingly infinite collection of satsangs, I realize how busy you are serving the greater good. Your dedication is amazing!
I’ve basically made your books and your website my summer reading, and what a summer it’s been. I spend significant portions of every day reading and rereading your material, trying to assimilate the knowledge. I’ve also watched all your YouTube videos, though I’ve yet to order your DVDs (I think this is the next step). This wasn’t initially the plan, but the more I learned of Vedanta the more it makes sense to me. Prior to discovering your work I had been immersed in Buddhist thought for years (in a very American way, or as my friend calls it, bourgeois Buddhism), which led me to Vivekanda’s yoga books and Nisargadatta and Ramana, etc.… a trajectory I see reflected in a lot of people who write to you.
Needless to say, your explanations strike me as the most logical, the most precise and the most simple I’ve encountered. When that’s coupled with your down-to-earth personality, it makes me realize you don’t have to be a drooling, perma-smiling, slow-talking, guru-type to transfer knowledge.
But now onto why I’m writing. I feel I’m relatively qualified for your instructions: I’m dispassionate yet eager, intelligent yet not coldly intellectual and there’s no fear of delusions of grandeur or overly romantic ideas. As a thirty-five years old with a young son, a girlfriend (his mother) and a deep-seated desire to thrive in my writing career, I think the worst you could accuse me of is being a rajasic householder-type. I keep trying to incorporate karma yoga into my life, as described in your book. It’s tricky for me, but I’m getting better. I find that in many ways maya finds a way to remind me that karma yoga is the only way because without it all you’re left with is a heap of disappointments punctuated by brief spurts of success (if you’re lucky).
James: Very nice to hear from you, Michael. I am so happy that you are finding Vedanta your cup of tea. Thanks for the biographical info. I also appreciate your writing skills. Before I get to your questions, I want to encourage you to stick with the karma yoga – it is invaluable for cleaning up vasanas.
Michael: I do have a question about creativity though. When it comes to writing, I often find part of the joy of the art is in seeing how different people’s personalities are reflected and distorted in their work. So how does awareness of the self affect creativity?
James: Awareness of the self doesn’t necessarily affect creativity, Michael, although it may. If you know you are the self with complete confidence, you are endlessly creative. Every action is beautiful, spontaneous and true, and you have access to the mythic level of reality, which is where the essential art forms, the archetypes, are stored. This is not necessarily because you know who you are, but because knowing who you are makes the mind sattvic and it is sattva that is responsible for creativity. There are many who are not aware of the self nor do they know they are the self, but they have unconsciously evolved sattva over many births, making them naturally creative. Rajas and tamas are the enemies of creativity. “Writer’s block” is simply a rajasic/tamasic state that prevents sattva from reflecting awareness in the mind, impeding the creative process.
I said in the first sentence that awareness of the self may affect creativity. By that I mean that when you discover the self and the knowledge is indirect – you are aware of the self as an object – you may be very creative for a considerable period, but the creativity will eventually wane. This is because awakening to the self is invariably inspirational and creativity flourishes with inspiration. Inspiration is pure sattva. You are “breathing inward,” and the energy stirs up the images in the mythic dimension and brings them to the conscious mind where they can be manipulated.
Michael: Also, when it comes to self-inquiry, I’m still a little confused. Is it something we should be doing throughout the day? I don’t mean formal meditation – but should someone like me be booking time to just… think and inquire?
James: Yes and no. Inquiry is going on all the time. It is the nature of the self to inquire. So, no. As you said above about your disillusionment with Osho, who, I agree, was a total scoundrel (he did more harm to the spiritual world than anyone in recent memory because his “Zorba the Buddha” approach was basically dishonest and his life was totally adharmic), eventually the desire to know returned, like hunger after a bad meal.
Having said that, yes, but not necessarily the way you envision it. The raw need to inquire should be guided by a proven means of knowledge, like Vedanta. There a huge spiritual hunger in the West these days but no proper way to channel it. Neo-Advaita tries, but it is half a loaf at the very best – well, maybe a quarter of a loaf. So I think what you are doing – studying scripture, i.e. my website – is very good. The idea is to build an inquiry vasana that won’t quit. Once the karma yoga has smoothed out the bumps in your life and you have a good understanding of Vedanta, then you will be able to inquire as you go about the business of life.
By “inquire” I mean applying discrimination to the mind as it presents “issues.” Normally, when a desire for something other than freedom arises, you will be tempted to pursue it. But once your mind is sattvic – turned inward – you can dismiss the fears and desires on the spot. At this stage you are burning the remaining vasanas with a direct application of the knowledge “I am awareness,” not indirectly with karma yoga, although karma yoga should be applied when a desire or fear slips past the barrier that inquiry presents.
Michael: Also, I think I understand that enlightenment itself in basically a shift in perspective (albeit a big one), but does this affect how one relates to one’s thoughts? In non-duality thoughts are awareness… but does that change how we perceive them? Do enlightened beings become as lost and entangled in thought patterns as anyone else?
James: It is a shift in perspective and the essence of the shift is that it permanently alters your relationship to your thoughts, feelings, etc. It brings the thoughts out front so you see them for what they are and you have an easy option to act on them – or not. As we say in the tradition, they are rendered non-binding. In a normal person the thoughts appear from “behind” and because of the vasanas they tend to induce action – which is not good. When you are established in the self as the self, there is a “gap” between you and the thoughts, so you are not moved by them. And because you know that you don’t need anything and that there is nothing to fear, you are not enthralled by them.
Michael: I love to go for walks and inquire, and though I realize this shouldn’t be experiential, I nonetheless pass through waves of lightness – I’m guessing this has more to do with relief from body- and thought-identification than anything else.
James: Yes. It is sattva. From the way you use words and the way you observe yourself, I can see a lot of sattva in you. The more you inquire and the more simple your lifestyle the more sattvic you become and the greater the likelihood of epiphanies. The experiential stuff is good as long as it is a result of the assimilation of some truth.
Seeking experience is not good, because it comes from emptiness.
Michael: I would never claim to be in a constant state of non-dual awareness, but I have glimpses.
James: Nobody is in a state of non-dual awareness, Michael, myself included. Reality is non-dual awareness and you are not separate from it. You are non-dual. You cannot experience non-duality as you experience objects. Everything you are experiencing at any moment is non-dual awareness. So non-duality is only something that can be understood. It is knowledge. The epiphanies come when the mind is sattvic. But even when they are there, you are not in a state of non-duality. You simply observe an experience the mind is having when it is in sattva.
Michael: Perhaps it’s just wishful thinking, but I feel like I’m on the fringe of understanding. I hope with your help I can clear up who I am once and for all – what a joy that would be!
James: I think that is true. Vedanta is like Mariano Rivera, the closer for the Yankees. When the team is ahead, it comes in and gets the last three outs.
Michael: Thank you so much!