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The Materialist View
Note: This is an email that is a previous reply of mine to this person’s email merged with the one that followed it.
Sundari (from previous email): Hello, Nick. I am glad that you had time to reflect on your questions. It is good that you are negating the objects and thus discriminating the self from the not-self. This is a very important practice. However, I would like to ask you why do you think brahman is “inappropriate” for “this” stage of your inquiry? Self-inquiry is about you and only you. There are only two things in existence: you, consciousness/brahman, and the objects in you, which you are always free of. It is that simple.
Nick: Simple… but you already lost me! ☺
Sundari: You must think brahman refers to something other than you. Vedanta is only about who you are. It is a means of knowledge for who you are, so it is never inappropriate. Do you think that it is something that is going to be revealed after a lot of teaching? Or do you think that something will happen to show you a “brahman” that you have never seen? You are “brahman” right now. You call it Nick but Nick is not you. Nick is a name that applies to brahman, meaning you. Brahman just means that you have no limits and never change, that your true nature is simple, ordinary awareness. It is that by which you understand these words right now. Speaking as the self, there is nothing but me, so I cannot “lose” you. And we are the same awareness, so you cannot lose you either – or me. Nick, the apparent person who takes himself be real, can think he has “lost me” but if he knows he has lost me, has he lost anything? You, brahman/awareness, is the one who knows that Nick thinks he has lost me and does not understand.
Nick: Apologies in advance for my tendency to ask question… after question… after question … after question. I’m obsessively thorough when it comes to things that really matter to me. And nothing matters right now more than this!
Sundari: What could be more important than you? Ask away, we have all eternity!
Nick: 1. I thought there was only (ultimately) one thing in existence. But you’re saying that there are two…
2. I don’t understand why you call “brahman” and the objects in “you” one thing. It sounds like two things: brahman and objects in me.
Sundari: Answer to both: there is only you, awareness, or brahman. Nonetheless, the apparent reality, or the world of objects, does exist although it is not real. This is called mithya. As I said before in my last email to you – “real” is defined by “what is always present and never changes.” The only thing that fits this definition is you, awareness. However, one cannot deny the apparent reality, so duality appears to exist. It is only a problem if you don’t know what it is – a superimposition. Just like a mirage on the desert floor is no longer taken to be real when you know it is a mirage, even though you still see it when you know it is a mirage.
All objects are made out of you, awareness. There really is no “in” or “out” of awareness, because awareness is all there is; it would be more accurate to say “within the scope of” awareness. Maya makes the impossible appear possible: there is only awareness – but when maya operates, awareness seems to have forgotten itself and the creation appears as the effects of ignorance – the apparent reality, or the “world.”
Before the projection of maya there is only you, pure consciousness/awareness, or brahman. Maya is a power that exists in you, awareness. It projects Isvara, the Creator and the creation, the apparent reality with an apparent Creator. The creation, or apparent reality, is made up of the three energies, or gunas: sattva, rajas and tamas. Sattva is intelligence, the knowledge that directs evolution (it shapes matter). It is the subtlest manifestation of sat, awareness, or your true nature. It is the creative, thinking power in you. Tamas is the heavy, dense substance of matter, your body and dull states of mind. Rajas is the energy required to transform matter; it is the mode of passion, or desire. It is the busy, active state of mind. The gunas are the substance of creation and make up Isvara.
In maya, the apparent reality, or creation, there are two forces: knowledge and ignorance. Ignorance creates involution, which is the identification with matter or objects. Knowledge creates evolution, the attempt of consciousness to disentangle itself from matter (i.e. from identification with the objects).
Awareness, you, appearing as Isvara, the Creator, is not contaminated by dullness and activity, rajas and tamas respectively. Along with Isvara and the gunas, which comprise and control everything in the creation, maya creates the individual, which Vedanta calls the jiva. What this means is that everything that is taking place in creation is happening because the gunas are the doer, not the individual jiva (Nick), or you, awareness.
The jiva, or individual, which is the self under the spell of ignorance identified with the objects, thinks it is the doer. But it is the gunas that are causing everything to unfold the way it does. The individual does appear to have limited free will but in actual fact this “free” will is also governed by the vasanas, which in turn are governed by the gunas. So, no one is doing anything really. The creation is the way it is because it is the way it is. No one knows the mind of Isvara, because only Isvara has all knowledge. The individual only has knowledge of the objects it has contact with. Isvara is running the whole creation, which is a field of laws, or the dharma field.
So everything is perfect the way it is; Isvara has it all programmed and takes care of everything. Seen from the limited view of the individual, it seems like everything is degenerating and humankind has got “worse.” Many opinions and theories abound about this, from the scientific to the philosophical and the spiritual. People talk about consciousness “arising” or becoming “more aware” or “waking up.” Consciousness is all that is, it is the substrate for everything and it cannot become more conscious or more aware, because it is unchanging, ever-present, whole and complete. Nothing exists without it.
Consciousness is always free of everything. It cannot “wake up” because it never slept. One cannot “become” aware; you can only realise that your nature is and always has been – awareness, through the application of self-knowledge to the mind, which removes ignorance of your true nature. All of the theories about evolution may have some truth to them, looked at from the perspective of the jiva. From the self’s perspective, in the big picture, it does not make any difference one way or the other. The belief that things should be different or better is a limited view and a great cause of suffering.
Maya, total ignorance, creates samsara, which is the belief in duality. People who are totally identified with the body and the objects have no knowledge of their true nature as non-dual, actionless, unchanging, ordinary awareness. Samsaris, or people who think they are people and doers, are nonetheless the self under the spell of ignorance. Duality causes suffering, so samsaris, driven by desire, seek relief with the pursuit of objects to complete them. They create religions, distractions and addictions of all kinds in a vain attempt to end the suffering. This attempt to find a greater meaning is something all people have, even those who seem most depraved and lost. It is built into the creation to seek the self, whether one knows that they are doing this or not. The spiritual path is full of seekers looking for answers; very few of them become finders. The ones that do become finders are the ones that come to Vedanta, because it alone has a proven means of knowledge to remove ignorance of one’s true nature.
There are some people though who seem to live life relatively free even though they do not have knowledge of their true nature as awareness. These people live untroubled lives and seem not to need to seek anything. They are not free, in that they still identify with the body and the objects, but they enjoy happier lives than the average samsari. These people are the dharma-followers who have no mumuksutva (desire for freedom) but who live impeccable lives nonetheless. It is up to Isvara what karma one comes in with; this is what is meant by one’s “vasana load.”
Nick: 3. What are the “objects” in me? This term has not come up yet in my Vedanta readings.
Sundari: The objects are the body, mind, intellect and the thoughts, feelings, sensations and actions taking place in your awareness. All objects are made up of thought; thoughts are made of awareness and occur “in your” awareness. I don’t know what you have been reading, but this is the key to self-knowledge and Vedanta: understanding that there is only me, awareness, and that all the objects arise “out of me” and that I am always free of them.
This is the basis for discrimination between self and “not-self.” Once self-knowledge removes ignorance and reveals your true nature as unlimited, whole and complete awareness, you then realise that EVERYTHING is you.
First though, one has to negate the objects in order to remove the ignorance of your true nature; only then can one see that all is you, awareness. Read the location of objects teaching in James’ How to Attain Enlightenment. This topic comes up in various permutations in almost every e-satsang posted at ShiningWorld, and is the essence of non-dual vision and therefore moksa.
Sundari (from previous email): So if you cannot define brahman, why not try defining you? Who are you? Nick is an object known to you, so are you Nick? Nick, being an object, is inert; he will never be “enlightened.” He apparently exists, because the light of awareness shines on him, making him seem “real.” He is not real. Self-inquiry will simply remove the ignorance that conceals this fact from you – you are the self under the spell of ignorance appearing as a jiva by the name of Nick.
Nick: I’ve been doing “who am I?” inquiry a lot, starting about a week ago. I find it enormously helpful. My brain/mind loves to grapple with problems, to analyse, to strive to understand essences. And “who am I?” is very fertile.
Sundari: Who is doing the “who am I?” inquiry a lot? The brain is inert – it is an object known to you. It cannot analyse, strive or understand anything. It is not Nick’s brain doing self-inquiry, although it appears to be that way. It is you, awareness, under the spell of ignorance shining its light on the instrument called the brain in order that it may see its own reflection. This is what inquiry is – allowing self-knowledge, i.e. Vedanta, to do the work for Nick.
Nick: After years of systematically dismantling my I/ego (through self-reflection inspired by Krishnamurti, Buddhism, etc.) I rarely “buy into” the reality of Nick. For the most part, I see Nick as a (compelling) fiction, a set of intertwining stories. But… I’ve noticed that when emotions rise my sense (often unconscious) of the reality of Nick resurrects. A trigger fires (fear of this or that) and the “spell of ignorance” resurfaces. It’s at this point that “who am I?” really yields results.
Sundari: Nick is nothing more than a particular vasana load that appears to have incarnated into a “body-mind” entity. This entity appears to have a story; it is just a series of impressions created by Nick’s contact with objects. This body-mind-intellect (BMI) with its particular story is what most people take to be real and who they are. You seem to have already worked out that Nick and his story is no more than an idea – so who is it that knows this? What triggers Nick are not “his” vasanas. All thoughts and emotions are the result of the gunas at play at any given time. They do not belong to Nick or to anyone else, nor do the vasanas. He did not make himself the way he is, Isvara did. The gunas are always there, conditioning the subtle body, and as long as you think you are a doer then it’s happening to you and you suffer. You need to start applying karma yoga and triguna vibhava yoga – this is “the work.” Both James and I have written about the gunas. James has written extensively on them in his book and in countless e-satsangs. This is why Vedanta is so powerful.
Although Vedanta is not a “spiritual path” – as it is the knowledge that underpins all paths and its aim is liberation from the doer, not for the doer – as stated above, it offers a valid and irrefutable means of knowledge. The essence of Vedanta is the karma yoga attitude, which is what differentiates it from other teachings. This means of knowledge has been worked out by thousands of seers over thousands of years and is not the opinion/belief/experience of any one person or set of people. It works. Apply the knowledge – there is nothing like it – of this you can be certain.
Sundari (from previous email): So which I is making the statements and asking the questions below? It is not Nick. From this perspective, it is ridiculous to say that there is any “appropriate” stage for the self under the spell of ignorance to be seeking to know itself as brahman, because it has always been doing this. It’s the only game in town and everyone, even the most seemingly depraved and lost soul, is the self under the spell of ignorance seeking to know itself in some way.
Nick: That’s a nice way to look at it.
Sundari: It’s the only way to look at it, if you want freedom from Nick and the end of suffering.
Nick: A friend used to talk about the brain/mind being the perfect instrument for enlightenment, that it was in fact “designed” for enlightenment. This confused me, because mind seems like such an impediment to enlightenment, so capable of playing Nick, fooling itself into believing fiction is reality. But he said that every mind yearns deeply for completeness, wholeness… and it is this yearning that eventually leads to enlightenment.
Sundari: The brain is inert, Nick; it is value-neutral like any other object known to you – it is dead meat. It is not capable of enlightenment. It is not the mind that yearns for enlightenment; your friend has at best indirect knowledge of the self. It is you – the self under the spell of ignorance, brahman, or whatever other name you want to give yourself – that desires to know itself. Refer to above where I wrote about Isvara and maya.
If your friend had direct knowledge and knew he IS the self, then he would know that enlightenment cannot be attained. The ego/Nick/the brain will never be enlightened. When the mind is exposed to self-knowledge it kills off and removes the ignorance which is veiling your true nature – awareness. Vedanta is like a virus that infects and destroys ignorance.
Self-knowledge does the work, not Nick or “the brain.” Enlightenment is just a word. The self is not enlightened or unenlightened; it is not “the light” either. It is the one that knows enlightenment, unenlightenment and itself, the light. It is self-effulgent, self-knowing, meaning awareness does not need anything to know itself and as it is not an object, it is beyond perception and inference and cannot be known directly. The effect – Nick or any object, cannot know the cause because the cause is subtler than the effect.
You are trying to rationalise the self with the ego/mind which will never produce anything other than frustration. You are trying to fit Vedanta into what you think you know. Give it up, it is a waste of time. Take a look around you, see the madness and the futility in the overabundance of so-called spiritual paths. Most are entirely experience-based and offer at best a feel-good notion of the self or a grand epiphany (which ends, leaving the seeker – well, seeking), and cannot deliver the knowledge required to remove self-ignorance.
This is why the self evolved Vedanta; it is the king of all teachings because it has the power to remove ignorance so that the light of the self can shine in a pure mind. If you want Vedanta to work for you, put all your beliefs in storage somewhere, pending the results of your self-inquiry. Assume that everything you know is wrong or at best only partially true. This is why purification of the mind through self-inquiry is essential. If you have not read James’ book How to Attain Enlightenment, it is a must. Start at the beginning, sign on to the logic and don’t skip. Don’t move ahead until the knowledge has lodged in the mind.
Sundari (from previous email): This is the basis of non-dual vision. Non-duality does not have a problem with duality, it just knows it is an apparent duality, not a real one, just like ignorance is only a problem if you don’t know what it is. “Real” is defined as “that which never changes and is always present,” i.e. you, brahman/consciousness. You are right that the self cannot be described or defined. It is definitely known to you though, because without it you would be six feet under. It is the only thing that is and always has been present. No brahman, no Nick. And it will be known to be you when self-knowledge has removed the ignorance of who you are, revealing the self. It is the one that knows that the Nick-person thinks it might or might never know it is brahman.
Nick: Yes, I’ve heard this logic before. For example (paraphrasing Shankara), eye sees form, mind sees eye, brahman sees mind. But what feels much more intuitive to me is: eye sees form, mind sees eye, mind creates thought-based “observer” who “sees” mind. In other words, the brain/mind observes/knows (to a limited extent) itself, through introspective thought. This process need not entail any “outside agency” such as consciousness/brahman. Thus Nick (in the form of Nick’s mind thinking) “is the one that knows that the Nick-person thinks it might or might never know it is brahman.”
Sundari: Think about what you just wrote. You are saying that Nick is real and has an independent existence from consciousness – how is this possible? This is irrefutably and most observably not possible; how would a corpse be capable of thinking, pray tell? It is the hypnosis of materialism, the thinking of those who believe duality is real. With all due respect, Nick, this “chemistry is destiny” argument is pure ignorance.
“Outside” of whom? There is nothing but you, awareness. If you really are doing self-inquiry and negating all objects, then you will know that you can negate everything except you, consciousness. Consciousness is the substrate for everything; even science knows this now with the studies on the unified superstring field theory. The brain is inert, Nick, get that. It cannot and does not think.
Sundari (from previous email): Your questions are phrased in the language of indirect knowledge, from the point of view of an individual (jiva) who thinks it can know or not know the self. Vedanta is direct knowledge: the individual who knows it is not an individual but the self and stands in awareness as awareness. Vedanta is the self talking to the self, not the self talking to an individual, or ego. It is the self apparently experiencing and knowing the ego (Nick), not the other way around.
Nick: This is what I’ve been thinking of as “the leap of faith.” There are other more plausible (to me) explanations of reality. My current favourite is that everything is the product of emergence: a small set of simple low-level “rules” that, in combination, yield complex and unpredictable results: emotions, feelings, thoughts, life itself. In this way of looking at reality, there is no overarching principle, no brahman. Things just happen, actions derive from the grand combination of low-level rules. Electrons seek protons/neutrons, atoms seek other atoms, molecules other molecules, sperm seeks egg, egg seeks division and specialisation, life seeks pleasure and ending of pain, etc.
Sundari: You are not far off here with this thinking. But the way you state this truth does not seem to take into account the one who makes the rules, consciousness as Isvara, the Creator. It sounds to me like you think that the rules make themselves. It sounds suspiciously like the materialist argument. Again, refer to above where I write about Isvara. Vedanta calls it the dharma field, with Isvara as the Creator operating maya. This field is run by universal rules, or dharma (samanya dharma), and each individual has to interpret these rules accordingly; this is called visesa dharma. Each individual subtle body, or jiva, is born with a particular nature, called svadharma. This is determined by Isvara, which is a name given to awareness once maya is projected and the creation seems to come into existence. See above in my explanation on Isvara. As stated there, this dharma field is made up of the three gunas, and it runs everything.
Each individual jiva incarnates with its particular vasana load given by Isvara and henceforth conditioned by the gunas. There really is only one jiva, or subtle body, although it appears that there are many. To understand the dharma field and how it operates, you need to gain a good understanding of the gunas. The only way to liberation in the dharma field is through karma yoga; this is the understanding that you as Nick are not responsible for the results of your actions and so to surrender them on a moment-to-moment basis to the total or macrocosmic mind, which is you, awareness, operating as Isvara, the apparent Creator. Faith in this knowledge is the “leap of faith” Vedanta speaks of. It is not blind faith in “something,” it is faith pending the results of your self-inquiry. The difference between normal action and self-inquiry is this: no action is capable of an unlimited result because all actions are limited. The result of self-inquiry, however, leads to self-knowledge, which can lead to the removal of ignorance and the realisation that your true nature is unlimited.
Nick: It is this leap of faith – brahman is the actuality “behind” mithya, or the world of form – which I cannot make. I’m not forcing myself not to make it, it just doesn’t come. And it is this leap of faith that I have decided to “put on the back burner” so that it doesn’t adversely affect my learning of what Vedanta has to offer.
Sundari: There is nothing to “come,” Nick. It is just something that you need to understand. Brahman is behind the idea that Nick cannot make the leap of faith. The problem is very simple. Nothing exists unless it is known to exist. Could you have a thought if consciousness was not behind the thought? No, you would be dead. Conciousness, you, need to be there or brahman/consciousness/you can’t be known to exist nor can “anything” else. Everything you say or think depends on the simple fact that you are conscious. The only issue is whether you are limitless (which is the meaning of the word brahman) or whether you are limited. At this time you think that brahman – you – is limited by its ability to understand that it is brahman. It is actually best to take the word brahman out of the teaching because people think that it refers to something other than them, meaning awareness. But the whole teaching of Vedanta says that you are brahman, meaning awareness.
Faith is faith that the teaching is true, not faith that something will happen that will make you accept the teaching.
You are starting all your thinking from the wrong premise, i.e. that you do not know. If you start with the premise that you do know that you are awareness and not the “Nick” construct, you will see that the whole Vedanta teaching makes perfect sense.
Your thinking here is the thinking of a doer, the one who thinks “he” can achieve liberation by “his” efforts. It cannot be done. If you persist in this way of thinking, then I recommend that you put Vedanta on the “back burner,” because you are not ready for it. The leap of faith is not something you do! It is simply committing yourself to self-inquiry with the understanding that everything you know or think you know is incorrect and subjecting the mind to self-knowledge, trusting that it will “do the work.” If you already knew everything you would not be suffering and would not have come to Vedanta. You would be happy being the way you are, so why bother with it?
What has to be there is the burning desire for freedom FROM NICK AND ALL HIS “STUFF” and NOT FOR HIM. This is why Vedanta is so insistent on the qualifications for moksa. You need to read the qualifications very carefully in James’ book and track yourself on all of them. If you are not ready to hear Vedanta it will not work, because Nick will be in the way.
Nick: Thanks very much, Sundari! I am looking forward to your comments. If you don’t have the time/interest to respond, that’s fine; I know I can be a handful… ☺
Sundari: No problem, Nick, we always have time. ☺ You are no more of a handful than anyone else, really; it is the same voice that speaks out in all the e-satsangs we receive and the replies we give to them.
Nick: I’ve been using IS (existence) as a way to get a feel for brahman. Everything IS. You ARE, I AM, tree IS, thoughts ARE, universe IS, etc.
IS is attribute-less (except for the attribute of IS-ness). IS is eternal (as long as anything IS, IS is). IS is unchanging (things that ARE change, but IS-ness doesn’t).
Is this a useful “way in” to brahman for me at this point in my Vedanta studies? It certainly *feels* useful, resonates. ☺
~ Thanks, Nick
Sundari: Are you an “Is”? Who are you? You say “I am.” Is the am-ness in you and the is-ness in brahman not the same – existence?
What is the nature of your “I am-ness” and that “is-ness”? It is chit, chaitanyam. In other words, consciousness/awareness/brahman.
All brahman means is that consciousness/awareness has no limits. Limitless means that it never changes and nothing affects it; it is not impacted by any experience or anything that “happens.”
“Is” is brahman, it is sat, your true nature. Your thinking is indirect knowledge, but a good place to start. There is no “into” brahman, because “Is”/brahman is all there is. We strongly suggest that you drop the word “brahman” entirely and use the word “awareness” in its place, as you seem to be stuck thinking it is something other than you, awareness – something that you can “gain.”
~ Om and prem, Sundari