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What Does “No Doer” Mean?
James: Dear Douglas, this is a lovely email! I enjoyed it very much.
Douglas: Well wishes to you and Sundari! It has been a while since we exchanged emails (That Dissatisfied Voice e-satsang #24 published with your October, 2013 batch) and I wanted to tell you your replies were truly helpful. Thanks again for taking the time to respond. I know it fills your days to keep up with all the activity generated by your popular book and your approach to teaching Vedanta via traditional methods. My hat is off to you for somehow sailing through major heart surgery and then picking up right where you left off like nothing much happened. From the limited perspective of this jiva, I'm glad you’re still around doing what you do!
James: Me too, Douglas.
Douglas: Since I was last in touch, I have been on the Residual Vasana Roller Coaster, a hell of a ride! You’re right. The real work is self-actualization. Not only is enlightenment not all it’s cracked up to be, it can actually be a royal pain in the ass. I refer to the hard part, trying to make binding vasanas unbinding, which is rather a trick since there is no doer. I suppose I’m in what you call the “firefly” stage. Some days nothing can touch me and I know who I am with deep clarity. Other days I wish I could hit “rewind” and start over, or just plain not be awake at all.
James: Yes, the self-actualization idea creates a definite paradox. How can I actualize the knowledge if I am not a doer? As usual, the resolution requires a bit of knowledge, to wit saying that there is no doer means that there is nothing to actualize insofar as “no doer” means that there is only awareness and therefore no vasanas to manage or eliminate and no person to be troubled by them. But “no doer” does not mean that there is no doer when we take maya into account because maya causes awareness to apparently identify with the body-mind entity which is part of the action mechanism, the samsara chakra, and you become an apparent doer. But it is not apparent to you that you are an apparent doer. You take yourself to be a real doer and this makes the vasanas seem to be real. And this causes a lot of trouble. When it is abundantly clear that you are not a doer thinking you are awareness, but awareness being awareness, it means the doer’s knowledge is firm and the doer doesn’t try to actualize anything because he or she knows that the knowledge does the purification, the doing. How does that look? I just got a beautiful email from a friend that is relevant.
“It has been about a year since things clicked into place and I don’t think I have had a bad day during that period. Not every moment is brimming over with bliss and there is intermittent physical pain I could do without, but that does not seem important. Even when vasanas are doing their thing it’s not really significant; they don’t have the same coercive quality they once had and the knowledge kicks in virtually automatically. There is a natural, quiet joy that seems to assert itself without any trigger. Most of the time there is no need to affirm my self-identity because being the self is just a fact, just as I don’t have to remind myself that grass is green; it just is. Doubts briefly arise sometimes but they are just objects and I treat them accordingly. Nothing can touch fullness and that’s a fact – and a nice paradox.”
Douglas: One of the main things I wanted to tell you is that Mystic by Default was awesomely fucking good! I daresay it helped me even more than How to Attain Enlightenment, and that is saying something since the latter was immensely helpful too. You have the stones, my friend. I hitchhiked around the US in the late ’70s for a couple of years, but never did try it overseas. I too had my share of crazy adventures, drug-fueled odysseys, and dropped a lot of acid back in the day. Grew up in the ’60s/’70s, so I read much that was familiar to me and laughed out loud at your escapades. I feel you are truly a kindred spirit.
I first wrote you on the theme of being generally pissed off that I hadn’t been able to generate the grand spiritual experiences I sought, samadhi, cosmic consciousness, higher states of initiation and all that. I read the Knowledge and Experience PDF you pointed me to, then your autobiography. Here was my reaction to the latter: “Ha! No wonder I m not getting any epiphanies. James has been hogging them all to himself! But this is a man who’s had every experience in the book, yet he’s still saying (adamantly!) that 1,000 such experiences will not make you enlightened. Point taken. I need to thank him for saving me another 30 years of trouble.”
James: Ah, yes, the number one obstacle to enlightenment reared its ugly head once more: “I need an incredible, mind-blowing experience to solve my problem.”
Douglas: Something that really helped is learning you had taken psychedelic drugs and had epiphanies thereby, but did not discount or reject those experiences out of hand. I’ve always assumed trance-type experiences associated with LSD, mescaline and cannabis didn’t really count, so to speak. Gotta do it the hard way. Live in a cave, eat berries and do pranayama 10 hours a day. Yet, like you, I’ve had some amazing experiences catalyzed by those entheogenic substances. Stopped all that long ago, but still find cannabis helpful for various ailments and a lot less harmful than prescription pharmaceuticals.
James: Every intense self-induced experience is an attempt to experience the self. Some succeed, some don’t. They are as useful as your ability to understand what they mean.
Douglas: After I stopped thinking in terms of expanding my consciousness…
James: A wise move, Douglas, insofar as consciousness was as expanded as it will ever be when you tried to expand it.
Douglas: …and getting into samadhi at will, I started rethinking things and realized I had been bitching for no reason anyway. I’ve HAD spiritual epiphanies, some real barn-burners in my 20s and 30s in particular, and for some stupid reason thought I needed more, bigger and better such experiences. The path I was on is like doubling down on your bet after losing at the tables in Vegas, hoping to make it back on the next roll of the dice. I see now that trying to climb a spiritual ladder only reinforces the sense of being a separate individual and leads to more existential angst, not less, and it does not provide peace or true satisfaction. Hell, most of those really intense trances were more like NDEs or spiritual panic attacks than enjoyable experiences. A few of those times I actually thought I was dying. It was no fun to go through. Who needs it?
James: It is clear that you finally figured out the value of spiritual experiences. Like all experiences they have an upside and a downside. If you are seeking freedom, it behooves one to appreciate the downside.
Douglas: Then, naturally, Isvara being a perverted joker…
James: You have that right.
Douglas: …after I had completely given up on epiphanies, a nice one came along! I was sitting at the kitchen table, about to resume reading a book, and a wave of bliss descended upon me, from the crown chakra down to the lowest, a nice little kundalini experience. I could barely contain the ecstasy, it was so intense. Admittedly, there was some THC involved…
James: I understand and am sympathetic. However, you should leave the THC bit out if you want to impress the spiritual crowd. ☺
Douglas: …but trust me, that had very little to do with it. I m a very experienced pothead, have been high a zillion times – and never felt anything quite like it. “What’s this?” I asked myself. “Just go with it,” came the inner prompting. Not nirvikalpa samadhi, certainly, just bliss on tap for a few moments. I have felt bliss before, but this was different in that there was no me interfering with it. There was nothing standing between the bliss and the experience of it, and then came the insight (knowledge) that I AM THAT BLISS. Wow. If that is what I go to when I die, if that is what I am made out of, then it’s all cool. I’m fine, and all is truly well.
James: Well, yes. However, it may have escaped your attention that if there was no me interfering there would also be no me after death and no experience of bliss. Being bliss is somewhat different from experiencing it. But yes, you are fine and all is truly well, bliss or no bliss.
Douglas: Yes, I know it was just an experience that started and ended in time, but it was rather like a bright flash of lightning that briefly illuminated a landscape of frozen perfection. Isvara came along and said, “Okay, here you go, mate, just a taste.” It left as quickly as it came, after all of maybe 10 minutes total, and for a day or two I tried to get it back until I realized what I was doing and let it go.
James: It is amazing how pleasure creates a powerful vasana on the spot. That pesky Isvara again.
Douglas: By the way, sometime before the above happened I read something in your PDF on knowledge and experience that really blew me away. One of your correspondents wrote that all philosophies, religions, trances, rituals, techniques, NDEs, OBEs, epiphanies, etc., ALL exist only in the waking state. I had already been through the Mandukya Upanishad a couple of times, but for some reason this person’s crystallization of it really clicked for me. Bang. Thunderbolt. Yes! I have been following an elaborately constructed system for four decades (i.e. Western occult methods) but it says nothing about who I am when I am dreaming or deeply asleep. How could I have overlooked such an obvious thing? One-third of my life, ignored by virtually all spiritual systems other than Vedanta, and it’s the third I look forward to most and to a large extent prefer to the other two-thirds!
James: Cool. The Mandukya is the cherries, as they used to say in Idaho sixty years ago, at least in my town which was full of cherry orchards.
Douglas: So I am now officially a Mandukya junkie.
James: You could do a lot worse. I love it too: its utter simplicity and the revelation of the unexamined logic of one’s daily experience.
Douglas: The three-state analysis does it for me. Utter simplicity. To borrow a term from algebra, there must be a lowest common denominator to all three states. The LCD is, quite simply, awareness, and no matter whether there be any sort of object for awareness to be aware of. That is all I am, raw primordial awareness, so I get now why you throw in the modifier “ordinary” when you talk about it. Okay. Big deal. The rest is just the view from a window that doesn’t really exist anyway. But what a show!
Getting back to the Residual Vasana Roller Coaster: once I started picking at the tendencies, I found out those suckers are rooted way more deeply than I had thought. Some of them are hardwired, as you point out. One of the worst for me has been the whole artha/wealth/security thing. I m not a greedy person, and figured a nice house wasn’t too much to ask for after 35 years of toil. Bought a house in 2010, a lovely place with a great view. Unfortunately, my business income (I’m a self-employed financial consultant) basically vanished right afterwards. I’m looking at having to sell my dream home soon and move again.
James: Sorry to hear that, Douglas. Maybe you should take Daddy Warbuck’s advice to one of Orphan Annie’s poverty-stricken suitors: “Harumph! Why don’t you go out and inherit a factory, boy!”
Douglas: What a lesson. I haven’t felt a trace of financial security since I bought the house but have still had a super hard time letting go emotionally.
James: It’s a tough lesson. Vedanta 101: financial security does not make one secure. Sorry, mate.
Douglas: I mean, it’s a nice place! So I’ve had to take my ego out back to the woods and beat the crap out of it repeatedly to get past this horseshit.
The problem is that it punches back ferociously, causing me insomnia, anxiety, you name it. Ridiculous, I know. When I was 19, I had a backpack, a sleeping bag, maybe $100 to my name all up and was happy as a lark. That security illusion is a tough one, I think, because it goes back to our cave man survival instincts for hearth, home and safety. I’m getting there though. I’ve learned. There is no security in bricks and sticks, and no need for security anyway.
So here’s a question for you: if I have an anxiety attack but don’t actually feel it in terms of fear or concern, and instead just witness it dispassionately as some physiological thing happening with the food sheath/body, does that count as progress?☺ This actually happened to me a few months ago. I just watched the whole thing: accelerated heart rate, shaking legs, the usual “something is terribly wrong, maybe I’m having a stroke or heart attack” thoughts and feelings that accompany an anxiety attack, but I did not attach to any of it emotionally or otherwise. Huh? That’s strange, I thought. My body seems to be having an anxiety reaction. Guess I’ll just have to go along for the ride. No big deal. What’s on TV? It was very weird!
James: Yes, all emotions are just objects, no more meaningful than a stone or a closet wall.
Douglas: Hope to meet you someday in the jiva-meat-tube-flesh, perhaps even Berkeley this summer if you’re still doing that one.
~ Love and light
James: I’d love to meet you, Douglas. I am doing Berkeley. Please come.
Douglas: PS: Any tips for dealing with insomnia? I think you mentioned someplace you feel lucky if you get five or six hours. Sounds familiar! But Sundari said in one of her e-satsangs that James has mastered sleep. Dish, please!
James: Words of wisdom from the Master: Take a nap in the afternoon. Otherwise, up the physical exercise, don’t repress the sleep-thought, indulge it. This only works for people like me who have nothing to do. Eat tamasic foods in the evening.
Thanks for your quick response. Glad you enjoyed my rant. The email excerpt from your friend was very helpful and encouraging, thanks. When that person wrote the vasanas don’t have the same coercive quality they once had, I do understand, as this is how it seems on my good days.
“James: I understand and am sympathetic. However, you should leave the THC bit out if you want to impress the spiritual crowd. ☺”
LOL, okay, I will be sure to leave that part out next time I am trying to impress a roomful of seekers with my spiritual stature. Then again, I do live in Southern California and can think of at least 420 reasons why plenty of seekers here would just go toke up right after satsang, if not before and during. So it all depends on who you’re trying to impress. ☺
“James: Well, yes, however it may have escaped your attention that if there was no me interfering there would also be no me after death and no experience of bliss. Being bliss is somewhat different from experiencing it. But yes, you are fine and all is truly well, bliss or no bliss.”
Thank you, but no, this didn’t actually escape my attention. That’s why I said it wasn’t nirvikalpa samadhi, etc. It was just a clearer view of the sheath-of-bliss than I usually have, that’s all, no big deal. I do realize that even the anandamayakosa is also just another layer of avidya anyway. Still, it was pretty cool and I think I better understand now why Steve Jobs reported last words were, “Oh, wow!”
“Douglas: Hope to meet you someday in the jiva-meat-tube-flesh, perhaps even Berkeley this summer if you’re still doing that one.”
“James: I’d love to meet you, Douglas. I am doing Berkeley. Please come.”
I will try to make it up there to Berkeley in July. My wife will probably be glad to be rid of me for a few days anyway!
“James: Words of wisdom from the Master: take a nap in the afternoon. Otherwise, up the physical exercise, don’t repress the sleep-thought when it comes up, indulge it. This only works for people like me who have nothing to do. Eat tamasic foods in the evening.”
Thanks for the words of wisdom, and the humor. Nothing to do… LOL. Right, you just travel the world teaching Vedanta and answering emails all day. Nothing much. ☺
~ Namaste, Douglas