Search & Read
The Seeker Is the Sought
John: Dear Ram, thanks for writing How to Attain Enlightenment. I’m reading it for the second time; the first time I used a highlighter and highlighted about half of it. This second time I seem to be highlighting the other half. So by the time I am done I will have a yellow copy of your book. Ha, ha.
I hope to meet you in one of your events this year and would love to meet you in India (never been); here’s hoping it works out. In the meantime, I thought I would ask a question or two.
As you asked, here is a little background:
I am fifty years old, born in Santa Fe, New Mexico. My family moved around a lot and had a lot of marital issues, etc. My father ruined my mother’s life (she died a brokenhearted death, of cancer) and then he killed himself with a gun. His sister also was a suicide, and his other sister died in a mental hospital in Albequerque. All so sad.
I have five brothers (yup, six sons, no daughters). One is on the autistic spectrum and lives with my wife and me, the others are doing fine on their own. Except for the autistic brother there is no sign really of a familial predisposition to depression/suicide, although we have worried about that over the years, given the history on the father’s side.
Since I grew up in a pretty violent household, I ended up being something of a mute for most of my early days. Very quiet, very (probably pathologically) introverted, full of fear, I guess. Since we moved a lot, I can’t say I ever felt completely “at home” anywhere. But I was happy and did okay in my own way. I lived a full life in my head.
I was in the army when my mother died. I went back to take care of my younger siblings and my father, who was in the process of drinking himself to death. I did what I could to help get the brothers both successfully through college and off and running (and they’ve both done fine and are good, happy men).
In the midst of all that I was always drawn to understanding or “seeking” the true nature of reality. This undercurrent of spiritual exploration has always been a part of who I am. I felt like an inspector; I’d get involved in something (be it astrophysics, Thomas Merton, Christianity, The Gospel of Thomas, Paramahansa Yogananda and the Self-Realization Fellowship, Transcendental Meditation, Zen, channeling, etc.). I always wanted to be swept away in absolute truth and I always wanted to be welcomed into the fraternity of whatever it was I was doing. I wanted something to be true! But the reality was that I always walked away from all of it. There was something that smelled of truth in all of these paths, but I could never surrender and fall into it (meaning, let go of the doubt that it was all bullshit, which is where I usually ended up). No one had a corner on the market for truth, that was for sure.
Advaita was never a part of this. I don’t know why.
After about 1985 or so I was all but done with all of it. From ’85 to about 2000, with few exceptions, I just lived life. It was hard, there were lots of challenges, etc. It was empty. I did okay, got through it, had some successes, etc. but as I said, it was empty. The calling to realization was there, but it was smoke, not fire.
In 2,000, after remarriage I found myself experiencing two profound and unexpected things. The first was an odd, creeping emergence of happiness and peace, like a plant growing, new leaves of happiness started to sprout here and there. This was all new to me, truly. It was not sought. There was no practice. Of course my new life gave me some of that, but a lifetime of negative emotions, fear, doubt, shame, etc., etc. started to lift. Maybe it was just male menopause or something! But I saw the world with fresh eyes.
The other thing was a very interesting and unsolicited call from within to get back to the work of finishing this realization business. I started having a lot of very intense kundalini experiences, which were interesting, powerful and fun. Energy was moving, that was for sure. I returned to meditation practice, changed my diet (still sometimes a carnivore though), was introduced to and started reading the Advaita literature, etc. I studied Vedanta; was not surprised to find how tricky that can be. The Western books I could digest and there were by some good teachers out there, like Ramesh Balkesar, Robert Adams, etc., all from the Ramana root. And of course James Swartz. It was all very interesting and fulfilling to me, but ultimately this solved nothing; my study and practice just created cravings for… something…
Somewhere along the line a year or so ago an important moment of realization happened: I understood for the first time that “I do not exist IN this moment… I exist AS this moment.” No doubt, I had seen that or read it or heard it somewhere before, but it was still a very big deal for me. I understood that in a deep way. This is it. Not an intellectual knowing exactly, although it was, more of a heartfelt thing, if that makes sense. And the word “I” did not refer to this body-mind, it referred to this awareness that I am, in this moment. As I told my wife, I now know that, “Exactly what is, is exactly what is, and it’s all awareness!” (and no, that made no sense to her, but she did get a good laugh out of it). But in all seriousness, I did see the futility of the spiritual quest to get somewhere or achieve something. I get it. Thanks to you and your book, by the way.
So here are a few questions, since I don’t live in any kind of truth-realization.
James: Dear John, I really enjoyed reading your story. You are an excellent writer and your intelligence, sincerity, goodness and humor are much appreciated. Let me see if I can help you clear your doubts.
Your statement that you live as this moment is truth-realization, although the word “moment” isn’t great, because it ostensibly gives the impression that you are not conscious, although it implies that you are the knower of time. It is best to say, “I am objectless, ordinary, unborn awareness, and time lives in me.”
John: I revert to the body-mind entity, doing his time on planet earth most of the time.
James: See the contradiction. How can you live as this moment and revert to the body-mind – etc? This statement reveals a confusion between awareness and the doer. You are both the one living on the planet and the one who knows it. This is true for everyone, the enlightened and the unenlightened alike.
John: I try to bring the phrase that, “I am the awareness that IS this moment,” up as a reminder phrase, as you similarly said to do in your book. It is rich and true to me, but what to do or quit doing in order to finish the work and annihilate the seeker who is still very much driving the ship? I feel like I am in my own way.
James: Just reminding yourself is not enough. As far as doing is concerned, you need to contemplate your mantra and discover what it means in terms of your life here on earth. To save you the trouble of figuring it out, it means that nothing is missing, that nothing can be added or subtracted from you. This statement applies to both you as awareness and you as John, the doer. Your job is to see if it is true. If you can’t see that it is true, then it is wise to accept it as true and relate to the desires and fears that arise in your mind from that point of view until the mind is purified of them. Then it will become clear that you are what you are seeking right now.
Or think about this: If you know you are in the way, are you in the way? I see this statement as the self observing John, the doer, thinking he is in his own way. You can’t be in your way, because the way is you, meaning an idea that you are going somewhere, that there is something to reach. The journey metaphor for enlightenment imposes a false sense of distance between you and the goal you are trying to reach. It doesn’t work, because you are the goal.
John: What is, is. Awareness is the noise, the pollution, the violence, the presence, the epiphany, the priest, the seeker, the killer, the capitalist and the beggar.
James: This is the truth. Everything is awareness, known by awareness, manufactured out of you, awareness. It is the truth, but it is an indirect statement of your identity. It makes awareness seem to be an object. But awareness can’t be objectified. So you need to be able to say, “The noise, pollution, etc. are me, but I am not them.” Understanding the meaning of this statement is liberation.
John: Is there any point to any of it? What difference does anything make? I truly hate the concept of lila/leela. Is that the best we can do in describing our earthly experience? People like to tell each other that we are here for a reason. What do you think?
James: There is no point to any of it. The point is that you are the point.
If the individual wants an explanation, there are two, one from the point of view of the total and the other from the point of view of the individual. From the total’s point of view, there is no point. It is not an individual that is looking for meaning.
From the individual’s point of view, it is to make us realize our true nature. We know this because everything people do is an attempt to free themselves of a sense of limitation. Once this is known, there is no point except to live happily as whole and complete, non-dual awareness, meaning without the belief that desire for objects will produce results that will fulfill you or the fear that they won’t. It is just enough to be awareness, self-satisfied.
It seems that you have eliminated the world as a source of meaning but are a bit stuck in emptiness. Ask yourself who knows the emptiness, the lack of meaning in objects. You will find the self-satisfying fullness of your true nature, awareness. You are that self-satisfying happiness that you described above that came unsolicited.
John: You often hear and read that finishing this business requires the grace of God or the grace of the teacher. What is grace? Is there “something” that is grace? Or is it just another word for luck or timing or randomness?
James: Grace is the result of your pursuit of truth. For example, why did all these teachings and teachers come to you and not to the butcher at the shop on the corner? He cuts animal bodies, so he has a shop full of meat. You have been inquiring for a long time and you got the knowledge you needed at the right moment to move you toward your goal. Everything that has happened to you so far, the unpleasant and the pleasant, is grace. Grace is a grateful state of mind, a recognition that you are the beneficiary of an amazing life earned by your own actions.
It is your current situation. Now, reality – the dharma field – has sent you Vedanta, and you are writing to me to help clear your doubts. This is the highest grace because you cannot complete your quest without self-knowledge. Vedanta is a proven means of self-knowledge. So are you lucky? No. Grace is earned. There is no luck or randomness, although it seems so if you don’t understand the nature of reality.
John: I really appreciate your work. I look forward to meeting you one of these days.
James: Thanks. Appreciation is always appreciated. Yes, let’s meet. Feel free to write anytime. In the meantime, I think you would benefit from reading the satsangs at the website. You can start with the latest and work backwards through the archives. They have proven to be particularly helpful.
~ Love, James