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The Firefly Stage
Johannes: Dear James, I attended your satsangs in Tiruvannamalai this year and also came to your workshop in Berlin this spring. I haven’t felt the need to contact you so far since all of my questions tend to have been answered by reading your book or watching the DVDs. There is, however, something that I would really appreciate your advice on.
I was reading your commentary on Adyashanti and the subtle but important glitch in his teaching that you pinpointed whereby the jiva is seen as looking for the realisation (i.e. the experience) of Oneness, which is looking from the inside out, instead of looking as awareness. This really helped me, as I see that this is what has happened gradually as I returned to everyday life after I first had this breakthrough of seeing as awareness two years ago in Tiru. Everything just flipped around, as if for the first time I was able to see from outside of the matrix.
I find that being busy with everyday life work, relationships, etc. tends to pull me back into seeing from the perspective of the jiva and there is at the same time a frustration that I am again caught in this. Then when I sit in meditation I can often quite easily flick things around and see as awareness so that the jiva is no longer who I am identified as. I understand that the jiva exists within awareness and that this isn’t a duality. I also understand that this makes it possible to act and be in the world and that it isn’t necessary to become an Advaita zombie, negating the ego and feigning only to be pure awareness. I enjoy being in this world, this life, this body… at least, most of the time. The struggle is that even though, admittedly often, with the need of a practice, I can flick things around once I realise that I am caught again in ego-identification, it still seems to me like I am caught up in a duality. I can sit as awareness and this tiny fly speck of ego is there within an infinite ocean but once I get up from my cushion and start to work, deal with the daily life, etc., I somehow lose this. So it isn’t (to borrow Adyashanti’s term) an “abiding” awareness but kind of flip-flops between. I understand intellectually that it should be possible to abide as awareness and still act and be in the world but somehow I don’t get it. As soon as I start thinking, doing, working, relating – it flicks back again to the inside looking out, or I even forget that there is an “out” that I am looking out towards!
I’m hoping that you can point out to me where I am misunderstanding the teachings or give me some feedback about whether this is something that in time and with further practice can be dissolved.
With gratitude for all that you have given me and others through your dedication to these amazing teachings.
Sundari: Hello, Johannes. Thank you for your email, it is nice to hear from you. I am replying on behalf of James as he has just had bypass surgery and he is in hospital. He is recovering nicely but it will be a while before he is able to resume writing.
Adyashanti’s teachings are on the whole pretty good but he still lacks clarity on the distinction between knowledge and experience. Unless one has very keen discrimination, one can swallow the ignorance which is very finely hidden alongside the knowledge.
Yours is the problem of self-actualisation, and we focus on this issue a great deal because this is where all the teaching in Vedanta takes place. As awareness there is nothing to understand or assimilate because nothing ever happened. However, as the jiva living in the apparent reality – which may not be real but which definitely exists because it can be experienced – self-realisation needs to translate into the life of the jiva or it is not moksa.
Your problem is a common one among sincere seekers. Below is an excerpt from an article I wrote in conjunction with James on the very important topic of the identity between Isvara and the jiva. I have attached the whole article to this email.
Self-Knowledge, Self-Realisation, Self-Actualisation and Moksa
Moksa is discriminating awareness from the objects appearing in it. Understanding the Isvara-jiva-jagat identity (aikyam) is of paramount importance because the gunas are Isvara, meaning the environment, which includes the jiva. It is important to not only to discriminate the self from the objects but to actualise what it means to be self-realised in the apparent reality. This is because self-realisation is not moksa. Hear that again.
• What is Self-Realisation?
Self-realisation is an experiential term and means that one has understood that one’s true nature is awareness. However, self-realisation is an experience. It is therefore not real in the light of Vedanta’s definition of what constitutes reality as “that which is always present and never changes.” Meaning you can lose your self-realisation if the knowledge “I am awareness” is not firm.
• What is Self-Actualisation?
To be self-actualized means (1) that one has fully discriminated the self from the objects appearing in it (the dharma field, one’s conditioning) and (2) that that knowledge has (a) rendered the vasanas non- binding and (b) destroyed one’s sense of doership. Moksa is discriminating the self from the not-self. Through discrimination, the jiva, the individual under the spell of self ignorance, understands that it is actually the self, limitless awareness, and not the person it thinks it is. Moksa is for the jiva because the self is already free. This knowledge allows the jiva to live free in this apparent reality. This means that the jiva is not bound by his or her conditioning.
End of excerpt.
To understand the common identity between Isvara and the jiva one first needs to understand both. Please read the article I have attached.
To add to this, here is further explanation of what constitutes the jiva. Until self-knowledge is actualised, the self-realised jiva will experience what we call the “firefly” stage: self-knowledge will be intermittent. The self-realised jiva will vacillate between being identified with being the ego trying to experience awareness and knowing it IS awareness apparently experiencing the ego.
Definition of Jiva
The definition of jiva is awareness with a subtle body. Jiva is a principle, a tattva, not a specific person. It is actually pure awareness, paramatma.
There are three jivas. There is the jiva who thinks it is a person. This jiva is often called the “doer.” There is the jiva who knows about awareness. This jiva is often called a “self-realised” jiva. And finally, there is the jiva that knows it IS awareness. This is the jivanmukta, the self no longer under the spell of ignorance, or the “self-actualised” jiva.
Jiva also manifests as three little jivas according to the state that it experiences:
1. As viswa, the waking state entity. In this state its mind is totally extroverted. It is hypnotised by duality. It chases and consumes experiences. Viswa appears in two forms: (a) free of identification with objects (a jivanmukta) or (b) as a doer (karta), or person, identified with objects (a samsari). Both a jivanmukta, a liberated person, and a samsari, a bound person, have a common identity as awareness.
2. As taijasa, the “shining one,” awareness with a subtle body, illumining the dream state. The subtle body is turned inwards facing the causal body, the vasanas. The experiences it has are just experiences of the vasanas. Jiva is not present in the dream state in the same way that it is present in the waking state.
In the waking state jiva identifies with the doer, so the doer is not seen as an object. It is thought to be the subject. In the dream state there is also identification but the doer/ego can also appear as an object illumined by taijasa, awareness reflected on the subtle body; in the dream you can see the waker going about its business, walking, talking, eating, etc. The doer/ego is a dream doer/ego similar in some respects to viswa but with unique powers. These powers are inherent in the dream state and do not belong to taijasa although in normal dreams it identifies with them. The doer/ego and the events appearing in the dream are just waking state events that have become vasanas that outpicturing as dream events.
3. As the sleeper, prajna, in the deep sleep state. Prajna means “almost enlightened.” It is almost enlightened because it experiences the limitlessness and bliss of awareness but lacks knowledge of what it is experiencing because the intellect is not present in deep sleep.
The subtle body disappears in deep sleep state as does the microcosmic causal body (personal subconscious). The personal subconscious belongs to the jiva and produces the jiva’s karma. The deep sleep state is defined as a state with no mental activity. It is the same for everyone because the personal subconscious is subsumed into Isvara, the macrocosmic causal body. Deep sleep is the presence tamoguna alone. Rajas and sattva are dormant. There is no sense of individuality (ahamkara) in this state because the subtle body of the individual is not there to be conditioned; the ahamkara belongs to the subtle body. (The macrocosmic causal body, another name for Isvara, is the deep sleep state.
Although the nature of both the jiva and Isvara is awareness, both the jiva and Isvara are inconstant factors with reference to awareness. Jiva is inconstant because it changes from state to state and because self-knowledge removes the notion that it is a limited entity, revealing its nature to be pure awareness. Isvara in the role of Creator is inconstant because logic and scripture – which is just science – informs us that it disappears at the end of the creation cycle; whatever is created will be destroyed. Isvara in the role of Creator is eternal with reference to the jiva but not with reference to pure awareness, paramatman, the constant factor.
The dream state has two aspects: waking dream and sleep dream. It is called the pratibasika state, the subjective state of reality. It is jiva’s creation (sristi). It is not created directly by Isvara but is responsible for an individual jiva’s interpretation of reality. In the dream state (whether the jiva is awake or asleep) vasanas influence how reality is interpreted by the jiva. Isvara provides the raw material for the interpretation but not the interpretation itself. Ultimately, it is all Isvara but to get to that understanding – which is tantamount to moksa – the jiva has to understand what it is responsible for and Isvara’s role in jiva’s creations, i.e. projections, so that it can be free of both itself and Isvara.
The individual jivas and what they experience is called the dharma field (Isvara) because it is a field of laws. It is not under the jiva’s control but understanding its nature leads to self-knowledge because it clarifies the relative responsibilities of the jiva and Isvara. A jiva that faces Isvara without fear and total transparency (jivanmukta) is liberated here and hereafter. The jivanmukta understands that although its nature is awareness, the subtle body belongs to Isvara, which means the jiva’s conditioning belongs to Isvara, because the gunas are Isvara. Therefore it cannot be the doer. Hence the importance of karma yoga. You will not negate the doer without karma yoga and you will not fully understand the importance of karma yoga or render the binding vasanas non-binding unless you understand Isvara.
A jivanmukta worships Isvara even though it knows that as awareness Isvara has a dependent reality on awareness because love is the nature of the self. He or she is totally relaxed having understood that Isvara is awareness in the role of Creator taking care of the total. Non-dual vision means that you see everything as non-different from you, even though you know that you are not what you see. Furthermore, it means that you fully understand the three jivas and their respective states. The three jivas and their respective states are known to only be appearances (mithya) in you.
This means that enlightened or not, Isvara srsti, or the dharma field, still apparently exists. The jivanmukta automatically follows dharma because it understands that the dharma field is a field of natural laws that the jiva is subject to, enlightened or not. It is very important to understand that non-duality is not opposed to duality; duality is a superimposition onto non-duality and not real, meaning not always present and always changing. Duality is only apparently real and Vedanta says it has an apparent existence because it can be experienced. When you know that your true nature is awareness and therefore always present and never changing, you can enjoy duality for what it is because you know that YOU are the joy in it. You then see the apparent reality like a mirage: you would not try to drink the water even though you can see it and it appears real. So you can love and touch and enjoy everything without shame or guilt because you know it is all you. You would not harm anything or anyone for the same reason and you will follow dharma because you want to experience peace of mind, which is the true nature of the mind.
I hope this helps.
~ Om and prem, Sundari