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Awareness Is the Most Ordinary Thing, and the Jiva Is Always Limited
Sundari: Hello, Michael, I am glad you wrote back and am happy to help you. I have replied in point form below.
Michael: Dear Sundari, it has been about a month since you sent me all the important information to help me on this path. Here is an update. Also, I need much more help, I think.
I have read every article you sent regarding karma yoga, guna yoga and the practice of self-knowledge (also watched several videos), trying to look back to see what has happened (or not) since eight years ago when I first understood that what was being pointed to in all the teachings was “awareness/consciousness.”
Although that understanding was there and has been there since then, the actual translation into daily living to rid this “jiva” of suffering has not happened.
Sundari: This is a common problem with many seekers, i.e. the expectation that things will be different or that self-knowledge will miraculously change their lives. The effects of ignorance take as long as they take to be completely removed by self-knowledge; prarabdha karma (the momentum of past actions) takes as long as it takes to play out. There is no way to rush this process, but you can hold it up by creating expectations about how and when it “should” happen.
This is why Vedanta offers a valid means of knowledge, the practice of self-knowledge as a “toolbox,” so to speak, a methodology which works to remove ignorance if applied rigorously to the mind. I have attached an exchange I had with an inquirer about this. If moksa is truly what you are after, self-inquiry must be more important to you than anything else. And knowledge must be put into practice, i.e. karma yoga applied at all times with every thought, word and action, plus using any one of the many practices, such as taking a stand in awareness as awareness, and proclaiming the opposite thought when a thought to the contrary arises in the mind. Or ask yourself every time you use the word “I”: Who is speaking here? From which perspective am I looking at this issue? Is it the jiva that thinks it is a jiva, the jiva who knows about awareness, are the jiva that knows it IS awareness?
Be consistent with these practices. Freeing the mind from ignorance is the hardest thing you will ever do. Assuming the qualifications for moksa are present, it takes total commitment to the truth if freedom from existential suffering is what you are after.
Make a list of all the qualifications (which you will find in How to Attain Enlightenment); track yourself on them daily. Make a fearless moral inventory; see what you are invested in because our values are what underpin all our vasanas. In order to self-actualise, all binding vasanas must be seen, understood – and dissolved in the light of self-knowledge. This is where triguna vibhava yoga comes in: Track the gunas, see how they are playing out in the mind, first by identifying them and then by dis-identifying with them, as awareness. This takes repeated practice and it does not mean that the vasanas disappear. They are just not binding anymore, which means that you do not have to act on them.
Do not expect Michael to be perfect, because that is irrelevant to moksha and impossible to achieve anyway. He has a particular character (conditioning) and history given to him by Isvara. Freedom from Michael means not only that you know that he is not your primary identity and are therefore free of “his” conditioning. It also means that Michael has to follow dharma in order to find peace of mind, which means his life has to fit his nature, svadharma.
Take an honest inventory of your lifestyle, such as diet, your relationship to money, what kind of work you do, where you live, whom you associate with and are in relationship with, sex, entertainment, etc. If you are not living dharmically, you will not find peace of mind. Your life has to be congruent with the truth and has to serve the truth, not the other way around. I have attached an article I wrote on this as well.
Michael: Briefly, the first four years were tied up in children problems and the next four in health issues (still ongoing heart problems). The mind was fully occupied with occasional thought of, “Why is this happening? My true nature is consciousness.” Obviously, I had no clear understanding of the whole teaching, and how the jiva relates to the field of experience (Isvara). Fast forward to now: I am awareness. Although I keep telling myself this whenever some suffering thought arises, I feel the knowledge has not sunk in yet. These are the issues.
Sundari: Self-realisation is an experiential term. It is also where the work of self-actualisation begins. Self-realisation is an experience, and because all experience occurs in time, no experience can become permanent; all experiences will end. Experience is therefore not real in the light of Vedanta’s definition of what constitutes real, being that which is always present and never changes. Only awareness fits that definition, meaning one can “lose” one’s self-realisation if the knowledge “I am whole and complete, actionless, unchanging, unlimited, ordinary awareness” is not fully assimilated, and you understand what that means for the jiva. It is one thing to know that your true nature is awareness, which is called indirect knowledge. It is quite another to live free of the person and as the self.
We are always experiencing something. In fact, we are only ever experiencing awareness but if ignorance clouds the mind we think awareness is something we have to gain, so we seek experience. We then chase after objects (experience is an object) because we believe we are incomplete without it. This is the cause of all suffering. Vedanta’s defining principle is that only self-knowledge and not experience is capable of removing ignorance. Knowledge can be gained through experience if the knowledge experience is meant to impart is understood and assimilated. However, unless experience is understood in the light of self-knowledge, it will be interpreted by one’s conditioning, and the knowledge it offers will be contaminated.
Self-actualisation is the consistent, total application of self-knowledge to one’s life. To be self-actualized means, (1) that one has fully discriminated the self (consciousness) from the objects appearing in it (all objects, meaning all gross objects as well as one’s conditioning, thoughts and feelings – all experience); and (2) that that knowledge has (a) rendered the binding vasanas non-binding; and (b) negated one’s sense of doership.
Unless self-knowledge translates fully into the life of the person, it cannot be said that self-actualisation has taken place because the person will still be identified with certain aspects of being a person. In other words, binding vasanas and the sense of doership or egoic belief in separation will still be causing agitation in the mind. To repeat: In order for existential suffering to end and for awareness to be one’s primary identity, the person needs to be free of the idea of being a person in order to live free as the person. What is the point of self-realisation if the mind is still under the tyranny of its likes and dislikes (vasanas)?
One can only fully actualise self-knowledge when you have understood the identity between awareness, Isvara and the jiva. This is where most people get stuck (or come unstuck) in their self-inquiry and it is why many self-realised people do not self-actualize. Understanding Isvara is the key. If you need help with this, you are welcome to write to me; we spoke about this in our last exchange. This is probably one of the most important teachings in Vedanta and this is why I sent you the articles on this teaching in our last exchange. Isvara is your environment and everything in it, including you. I have attached another short article on this for you.
Also very helpful is to remember this: There is really only one person or subtle body, appearing as many; it appears as if there are individuals who are all different. However, the one individual appears as basically three types of individuals or jivas:
1. The jiva who thinks it is a person with a name, a history and an address. This jiva is called the doer or the human being, the one identified with objects (including all experience).
2. There is the jiva who knows about awareness, but it does not know what it means to be awareness. This jiva has indirect knowledge and is often called a self-realized jiva. This jiva has had an experience of being awareness but has not actualised self-knowledge, so the knowledge is not firm and ignorance is still present. This is the one who re-identifies with objects or still seeks experience because the vasanas are still binding and doership has not been fully dissolved.
3. And finally, there is the jiva who has permanent direct knowledge because he/she knows that their true identity IS awareness and they know what it means to be awareness – while still apparently manifesting as a jiva or individual. This means that self-knowledge translates fully into ALL aspects of the person’s life. This is the jivanmukta, the self no longer under the spell of ignorance or the self-actualised jiva or person.
Another big problem in the spiritual world is that seekers believe that self-realisation or enlightenment will make the person limitless. It will not. As awareness you are and always have been limitless. As the person called Michael, you are and always will be limited. Removing ignorance of your true nature does not mean that you change as a person, or that you have to become perfect or “holy.” The person never leaves the apparent reality and the apparent reality is limited. The person is fine the way they are; they do not need to be perfected. And Isvara’s world is perfect the way it is, all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. The person just has an ignorance problem because it thinks it is the person.
Being fully self-actualised means that you know that the apparent reality is not real, only you are, so you no longer seek objects to complete you and you no longer seek to change yourself or the world. If you do make changes it is from the standpoint of peace of mind, not because you are looking for more, better or different. You are already whole and complete. An object is anything other than you, so your contact with objects is all that changes. You no longer do anything for happiness. You do what you do happily because you are already happy, and to maintain peace of mind, your primary goal. This does not mean that life is always wonderful or great; it is often not. It is what it is and how it is, and is not up to you as the person, even when you know that you are really awareness and unlimited.
Your life as a person belongs to Isvara and Isvara’s creation continues as “before” your enlightenment. Prarabdha karma will still play out; people get sick, have accidents, disappointments and the body will one day die. As awareness, you take what comes as prasad, dispassionate about results because you are not identified with being a person and you know that Isvara (awareness plus maya or the gunas) takes care of the Total, not the person and not pure awareness, paramatman. You are at peace, irrespective of what is happening or not happening in Michael’s life.
When you know you are awareness, duality does not disappear; it is just known for what it is: A superimposition onto non-duality. It is like the mirage on the desert floor – still seen even when you know it is not real. You are no longer deluded by maya and you enjoy the objects for what they are: Sources of temporary and temporal happiness. You do not expect them to give you what they are incapable of giving you (lasting happiness) because you no longer need anything. You know that the joy is in you, awareness.
Michael: My awareness is so so ordinary and not any different from 10 or 20 years ago. This seems to be the biggest problem: I want/yearn to have one small mystical experience or epiphany!! The mind has so much yearning for this!
Sundari: Awareness does not belong to anyone – it is not “your” awareness, as there is only one awareness and we are all it. The whole point of self-realisation is to see that awareness is the most ordinary thing there is because it IS all there is. Your biggest problem is not that you have not had an experience of awareness because awareness is all you are ever experiencing. Your biggest problem is that you think Awareness is something “out of this world,” something so special that you need a “special experience” in order to experience it instead of understanding that awareness is what you are. And you are always only ever experiencing awareness. Chasing after an experience of awareness is one sure way of remaining bound to ignorance because if you believe that awareness is something you can gain, then you have not understood the teachings and the mind is not ready for self-knowledge.
If what you really want is to have an experience because believe that there is something “out there” that will give it to you, then Vedanta is not for you. Forget about self-inquiry and go fully into the world seeking experience to fix you. There is no right or wrong about this, it is just a question of what you want most. And we all want what we want until we don’t want it anymore. When you have had enough of seeking experience and you have finally and irrevocably understood that you are never going to find what you are looking for because you are what you are looking for, and no object is capable of giving it to you or completing you – because YOU ARE already complete – then resume self-inquiry.
The biggest problem in the spiritual world is this belief: The insidious and hard-wired idea that awareness is something other than you, and you need to do something to gain it. You cannot because you cannot gain something you already have. You can only lose the ignorance that keeps you from knowing this fact as the truth about your true nature.
No action on the part of a limited entity is going to produce a limitless result, so there is nothing you can “do” about it. What you can do is subject the mind faithfully to self-inquiry, exposing the mind rigorously to the scripture so that self-knowledge does the work of removing ignorance. You cannot remove your own ignorance. You have to do your part though (self-inquiry); knowledge is not just going to fly in to the mind on its own accord. You are not going to be struck by a lightning bolt or the grand epiphany that puts an end to all seeking. There are no short-cuts. Only the long cut, but freedom is worth anything it takes.
Michael: Other than smoking some illegal substance, I don’t know what to do! (I don’t drink or smoke and rarely drink tea or coffee.) There have been one or two times when there has been clarity and slightly expanded vision, as if seeing more than usual (all at once).
Sundari: Give it up, Michael. The only “expanded vision” you need is self-knowledge. No experience is necessary to experience the self and seeking experience keeps you tied to the wheel of karma, of suffering. It is like a man dying of thirst, but he is standing in a lake of the purest, cleanest water, crying for water! Do you see how silly that is?!
Michael: Most of the time, however, the vasanas keep coming up, and I keep trying to do karma yoga (as and when I remember).
Sundari: Of course, the vasanas will come up; they are part of Michael’s conditioning given to him by Isvara. Unless and until he understands his conditioning in the light of self-knowledge, those vasanas will be binding and will keep tripping him up. Doing karma yoga “as and when” you remember is a half-hearted approach to moksa. Unless you want liberation more than anything else and commit yourself to it 110%, then expect half-hearted results. Awareness does not mind if, as Michael, you are free or not, because as awareness, you are already free. According to awareness, there is no problem because nothing ever really happened. However, the apparent reality may not be real but it does exist because you experience it. So if you want Michael to be free and to end his suffering, then you need to get pretty serious about your sadhana.
Michael: There have been emotions like guilt/remorse for what has happened in the past (quite strong). Then forgetfulness of my true nature happens and attention is fully occupied with that emotion. Seems still like tamas and rajas reign supreme!
Sundari: Emotions like guilt and remorse are tamasic and when tamas takes over the mind, it does forget its true nature because the mind is dull, clouded. Usually rajas (projection/desire/extroversion) works hand in hand with tamas, denial or dullness. When emotions become your way of thinking, then the intellect is in the employ of the emotions and that is a sure recipe for suffering. There is nothing more unstable and unreliable than the information we receive from emotions. Your discrimination needs work, Michael. As stated several times now: Moksa is the ability to discriminate you, awareness, from the objects that appear in you (Michael, his story, all objects) at all times and to never confuse the two again.
Michael: Sometimes I feel just spending time (face-to-face) will help a lot with someone like you or James. I do not have the option to do that now. Any help will be greatly appreciated.
Sundari: Face-time does help, so if you want to arrange a Skype satsang we are happy to do so, as we offer them by donation. It is not strictly necessary though, as there is so much material available on the ShiningWorld website. Have you read the e-satsangs section? You will find every question you could ever think of answered in many different ways posted there. Keep reading James’ book, watch as many videos as you can – do what it takes if freedom is really what you are after!
Michael: I apologize for this long email. Please reply at your convenience. I’d like to add just one more thing: I strongly feel that the Nobel Prize for Peace should be given to you and James! And for the foreseeable future as long as this great teaching continues!!
~ With great gratitude and sincere thanks (a million times over!), Michael
Sundari: Thank you, Michael, you are very kind!