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Is Spiritual Experience Required for Moksa?
Carl: Hi, James. I have been going through your DVDs from Tiruvannamalai last January, and they are excellent, but a question came up for me. I know that knowledge versus experience is a tricky subject and I think I have the correct understanding, but I just want to clarify it. The last time we talked in person you mentioned that I gave the impression that I was looking for a big mind-blowing experience. After thinking about it for a while I came to the conclusion that it is probably a misunderstanding, and I think I found out why after listening to one of your DVDs. The following quote is from your DVD on “stages of enlightenment,” and I think it is very similar to your autobiography, which is where I got the idea.
“You realize there is no happiness outside and you turn inward and inquire. At this stage, as you seek you start to feel better, you get clearer, you have experiences of non-duality, wholeness and completeness. And you feel something inside that is wonderful. You know something is there and from time to time you touch it – although it cannot really be touched. This contact stimulates you and the more you experience it the more you seek to know what it is you are experiencing. You go deeper and deeper within yourself and find more and more peace until eventually it becomes clear that there is a self-luminous self. As you meditate on it the veil that separates you from it gets thinner and thinner, so it seems like you are closer and closer. In the next stage, what Ramana calls inquiry, your mind gets locked on the self’s reflection in your pure mind. It is wonderful. You become obsessed, don’t care about anything in the world and may not even be interested in eating. What you see and feel – the light of awareness – is amazing! And at some point you understand the light you are experiencing is ME. That thing that has been watching me all along and observing me and filling me with awareness, that’s me. Then as a result of the knowledge there is a “click,” a shift, and you are no longer the mind looking in at the self, you are the self looking out at the mind looking in at you! And time stops and you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you can never go back to who and what you once thought you were.”
I have read many accounts similar to yours and I interpret the quote as saying that seeing, experiencing and locking onto the self is beneficial to self-realization (I assume that many vasanas get burned this way too). So when we were in Tiru and said I wanted to see the self, this is what I meant. I understand that it is not self-realization itself, but that it is beneficial to the path. Self-realization is a shift that takes place through understanding. Am I analyzing this correctly or did you mean something else? Thanks very much for taking the time to answer my questions, it is very helpful to clarify these issues while studying Vedanta.
James: Hi, Carl. Very nice to hear from you. I am not completely sure what I meant at the time, to be honest – I was probably trying to find out how you saw the spiritual path – but let’s go through the relevant parts of the experience/knowledge argument and see if it does not clear up your doubt.
Everything in samsara has a potential upside and a potential downside, including “seeing, experiencing and locking onto the self.” In my case it was all upside because it resulted in freedom. When I understood that I was the self, this kind of experiencing stopped.
But this kind of experiential enlightenment can also have a downside, to wit: you can associate the self with the experience and assume that moksa is a state of experience – as you know. It is just a phase when the mind is turned inward – in yoga (joined) to the reflection of the self in a sattvic mind.
When as a consequence of the knowledge “I am the self” a shift of orientation from the ego’s point of view to the self’s point of view takes place, there is no need for the mind to be turned inward, and the intense experiential aspect stops. Then the mind is neither inward or outward. It is resolved, meaning still.
From reading my description of my experience it is quite possible to draw the conclusion that this kind of experiencing is required for moksa, that without it liberation will not happen and therefore to long for it. But this kind of path need not happen at all for knowledge to take place. There is no mention of such a requirement in the Vedanta texts. Ramana, for example, needed only one small contrived epiphany to get the knowledge.
In my experience about twenty percent of those who get the knowledge have followed the yogic path like I did, and the rest don’t, although most have some kind of insights or short-lived epiphanies from time to time that build up their faith. In the last year about ten people have been set free by the teachings, including my wife, and none of them to my knowledge went the yogic route like me. They all had the qualifications, however, particularly a burning desire for freedom. And they all lived simple lives of inquiry and only required teaching to gain the knowledge.
I just posted a new batch of e-satsangs at the website, and there are two or three from people in the occasional-epiphany category who were set free by the teaching, two whom I never personally met but who got it through the book, website and occasional emails to me. Here are the titles: A Ripe Fruit; How Cool Is This; Melinda’s Moksa and The Closer. There is a very interesting one in one of the recent archives called The Glass Ceiling, and I have copied in another beautiful one below.
While the path I described seems to be very interesting, it has its ups and downs like everything experiential. By the way, yes, many vasanas get burned up. The most important thing to understand is the fact that you cannot set out to follow this path and expect it to bear fruit. It is something that has to happen to you. Isvara has to create the circumstances and you have to be ready to go along with them. It was right for me because I was a drop-out. I had the time and the money to pursue it totally. It wasn’t easy. The description above does not do it justice. It is just a general outline of the whole yogic journey. Teaching, however, is quite easy, assuming a qualified sattvic mind.
The point being that you should not long for this kind of experience. If you are meant to go that route Isvara will create the circumstances and you will be compelled go along with them. If it happens, cool. If not, you have to assume that the path you are on is the right one. There is one caveat, however. It is possible to use the idea that it is all Isvara’s will to remain in circumstances that are not conducive to your dharma as a seeker of freedom.
How would you know if this path was for you? You will feel a very strong and persistent sense of renunciation, a disgust with the world. It needs to be strong and persistent. Many people drop out and try to go within prematurely when life circumstances are very challenging, in which case the yogic path does not bear fruit. The email below was from a man who was in a very wordly situation for a very long time, who had a strong spirit of renunciation, but who hung in there waiting for retirement a couple of years down the line. He was a karma yogi who had had many epiphanies and who was fed up with them. Then as you can see, one email set him free.
I hope this answers your question.
~ Much love, James
Tom: Hi, James. I think whatever needed to happen has happened. I went through your reply forensically and I got it. The bit about “if you know you are ignorant, are you ignorant?” was crucial. Upon reflection, I think I may have got it about two months ago when I had the epiphany that bugged me, but it didn’t register consciously in the intellect at the time. Your email was the trigger. That’s my reading of the sequence of events, so to speak, though it isn’t particularly important in itself. Ironically, what annoyed the ego about that epiphany was the feeling that I was a kind of puppet on a string, receiving all these insights, but then apparently sinking back into ignorance, and intensified by the contrast with the purity of the knowledge experienced in that particular epiphany.
Another part in your email that was pivotal was “Knowing who you are does not mean that Tom and Tom’s vasanas need to be in harmony with who you are. It takes time for Tom to catch up with what you know. Tom, the intellect, is a reflection of you in maya. One of the last obstacles to freedom is the idea that Tom, the experiencer, should experience things differently when he knows who he is. But it is not Tom that knows. It is you, the self, that knows. You are the awareness of Tom and what he experiences.”
I know it’s going to take a quite a while, maybe a long time, for the knowledge to stabilise, but so be it; I know who I am. The prarabha stuff has to run its course, and that includes the less-than-pretty stuff in the mind. But I am free of the stuff. I know the magician’s tricks and that understanding will grow. I will continue with self-enquiry. It’s the karma that manifests as my daily work environment, which leaves me physically and mentally very tired, that may slow the work of consolidation. But I am free. Tom is an object in the awareness that I am and so is Tom’s tiredness. I might never have got it if you had not sent the reply you did. I owe you a debt of gratitude I can never repay. You had confidence in me when I didn’t. That’s love. (I may even be able to forgive you for your rants during some of the recordings… well, eventually; that comes under “advanced work.”)
Sometimes thoughts pop into my mind like mini versions of the statements of self-identity in the Ashtavakra Gita, and I know with certainty that they are true, that they describe me, they are facts. I am That.
Self-knowledge is not a big deal, but it is a nice deal, so to speak. (I might copyright that one.) Looking back on the last approximately two years, a lot of my self-enquiry work was done while commuting on public transport to and from my job or during coffee breaks. At night and weekends I was frequently too tired. (And a couple of subtle vasanas had to run their course.) This lack of quality time, coupled with what may have been a bit of an addiction to the idea that I would have to work at it for many, many years and study satsangs and the standard texts constantly before liberation occurs had left me battle-weary. I can remember about a month ago wanting freedom so much that I almost wept. Thank you for facilitating the understanding I now have. You’re a miracle.
There’s an “eternal student” in me, so I will continue to study standard texts. So you may have to endure many convoluted comments and even more convoluted questions in future. Study now has a kind of relish. I may even succeed in forgiving the Indian translators for their crimes against the English language.
Congratulations on your marriage and I hope you and your wife have many, many years of happiness together. You truly, richly, comprehensively deserve it.
“I am indeed That eternal knowing and bliss, Shiva, love and pure consciousness.” ~ from Shankara’s Atma-Shatakam/Nirvana Shatakam
Thank you, James, from the depths of my heart, from the depths of my soul.
James: Hi, Tom. When I read your letter I realized you did know, you just didn’t know you knew. This happened in May with another fellow. He offered to drive me from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and during the course of the long drive he told me his whole story and I realized that his self-knowledge was perfect but that the ego had become addicted to seeking and imagined that there was still a long, hard slog ahead. So I told him he already knew who he was and I told him why. It was quite a moment driving along at 70 miles per hour on the freeway – the silence, the radiance, etc. – and the surprise at how simple it is.
I am very happy for you, Tom. You deserve it. Grace is earned. You have lived your life with integrity and this is the result. I am honored to have participated. If I can be of further service, please write.
~ Love James