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The Self Is Not a State
Christopher: After reading a lot of material from James Swartz, I feel like he and other like-minded people might understand what I have been experiencing and possibly understand where I am at. I would be very grateful for any guidance I may need to refine my understanding. A short description of my current state is at the bottom of this email. In case you have time for some context/history, I will begin with that.
After ignoring spiritual pursuits since my teenage years when I went through what I now refer to as “my hippie phase” I met an incredible girl who came to interview about a room I was renting. She was incredible, and I knew I wanted to rent the room to her. She has lived with me for the past six months, and with each conversation we had I was left with days’ worth of contemplation. I am 32 and was very intent on a life of success in business. I did complex work well and began to form my identity more and more around that.
Through her I was reminded of the beautiful potential of humanity. Everything she did and believed reverberated with grace, and the gap between the way she and I were living was stark. This served to call to my attention how truly far I had fallen into compromising who I was (something I didn’t remember or even question).
After making some changes in my attitudes and approach to certain elements of life, I asked for her advice. She suggested simply making an effort to be present.
I have been convinced since the first month of knowing her that if enlightenment exists, she most certainly is enlightened (although she never practiced or learned, she has always just known whatever she knows… this is something we don’t talk too much about and I have too much respect for her to pry, and she keeps much of the spiritual nature of herself private. All I have picked up has been in bits and pieces).
Beginning two months ago, I started approaching things in earnest. I have been blown away by how quickly things have progressed. Unlike my younger years, I now found that it was not nearly as difficult to quiet my mind and remain present. In that state it became much more apparent to notice “what” and “when” something affected my emotional state and noticed the little things throughout my day which created little fears. I learned a technique for dealing with the fears and found levels of serenity I hadn’t known. Last month I truly began to commit to understanding and experiencing enlightenment.
I felt like this could be possible given how surprisingly easy it was to make the earlier changes and how incredible the effects had been on my happiness (and everything about how I approached life – no more working all the time, etc.). Also, an experience I had made me feel that the experiential side might be accessible as well. To understand the experience, first know that I love my roommate. She is only 23 but is the wisest and kindest person I know. That love is 80%-90% need-free and non-romantic due to the incredible person she is, but I must admit that I would happily explore a romance if she desired it. One night as I was examining my feelings about her and how she may never have a romantic desire, I realized I didn’t mind. I knew that I would always love her regardless of ever getting anything. This feeling became its own reward. All the love I felt for her filled up my own heart, and I knew that simply giving love without any need for reciprocation would provide all the love I ever needed and is a more pure kind of love than any other. I began to focus on each person in my life and mentally cultivate the same love for them. I was filled with bliss and could not sleep.
Several intense epiphanies happened when I entered unique state, and my feelings are best represented in the following description.
My initial experiences were incredible moments. Now they are less incredible in that they are no longer strange to me and last throughout much of the day, but what started as simply “WOW” is still deepening in richness.
It happens more and more for longer and longer where I suddenly feel like I’m waking up from reality into a dream world and in that dream world everything is perfect and I feel like I’m home. There is nothing that needs doing, nothing at all. Everything is personal, like everything is me (I don’t know if that is still ego remaining or not), every sound and sight is as beautiful as an orchestra or work of art, and I feel like they are wrapping me in tranquility. People feel like they are me but still seem very distinctly themselves, but it’s like they are all siblings I have loved my whole life (it’s still not clear, there is some nuance or subtlety I can’t distinguish yet). There are moments where they come alive. I see this spark that is so beautiful, but before they even notice it it’s gone again and they forget, they play the role again. These roles do nothing to diminish their perfection, but they cause themselves so much pain in these roles. I want them to join me and see that this is their world but I don’t know how and I am still just getting acquainted. People around me don’t know that it’s perfect, that they’re perfect. That’s the only imperfection in this state.
I greatly appreciate your time. Thank you!
Sundari: Hello, Christopher. Thank you for this great email, well-written and expressed. I have attached an email I wrote yesterday to someone who had a very different life to yours, but he has nonetheless had a similar experience. We have many people who have similar experiences, which vary from the gentle arising of awareness in the mind to full-blown, out-of-this-world, “seismic” spiritual experiences. James himself had so many epiphanies and experiences that if he wrote about them all no one would believe him. He did write a book on his life though; it is available at the website, called Mystic by Default. It is a great story and it is the mild version of what he actually experienced. I would like you to read the attached email carefully and then write back to me.
What you describe in this email is the classic “awakening” to Christopher’s real nature, which is whole and complete, unborn, unchanging, non-dual awareness. Awareness does not awaken because it never slept but it feels like that when it starts arising in the mind. The lady you mention, as with everyone and everything else, is just you, awareness, or your true self, apparently appearing in another form. She embodies and reflects back to you the purity and beauty of your own true nature, as awareness.
The love you are experiencing is called parama prema svarupa in Sanskrit, which means pure, unconditional love, and it is not an object of feeling although it generates feeling. It is your nature, and it is unlimited, meaning it does not modify to anything and is modified by nothing. No one gives it to you and no one can take it away from you, because it is you.
This experience has put you into savikalpa samadhi, which is also a Sanskrit term which roughly means a state of being where you see everything as non-different from you. In this “state” Christopher, or the ego, is still there, which means thought is taking place. This feels intensely good to the mind and one experiences the bliss sheath, anandamaya kosa.
The problem with this experience is that it is an experience – and it will end – because all experiences happen “in time” and end in time. Vedanta is about that which is real, which is defined as “that which is always present and never changes.” The only thing that fits that definition is you, awareness. Everything else comes and goes and does not last.
If you really want to change your life permanently, this is the knowledge you need to extract from the experience:
You are the one who knows what you are experiencing, you are not the experiencing entity.
Vedanta’s main premise is that people do not have an experience problem, they have a knowledge problem in that they are ignorant of their true nature as awareness. We are always experiencing something, so there is nothing “wrong” with experience; however, most people are totally hypnotised by the experience and do not realise that its sole purpose is to deliver knowledge. If the knowledge from the experience is not extracted and assimilated properly, i.e. it translated fully into your understanding of who you really are and how reality functions, the knowledge is sooner or later lost. This leaves you hankering to have the experience back. This can become a vicious cycle, which in the end leaves you frustrated or disillusioned.
Vedanta is not a spiritual path as such, it is the science of non-duality, and it explains how reality really functions, based on knowledge, not experience. And most importantly, it has a valid means of knowledge that works and enables you to translate the knowledge effectively into your life. This is where Vedanta differs from other paths, as it is both a means of knowledge – a pathless path – and a path of action, meaning that it provides tools and the instructions how to use them which when applied rigorously and with dedication will remove ignorance and its effects. It is the knowledge that underpins all other paths. It will set you free but you have to “do the work.”
Vedanta is unlike any other teaching you will find and it requires that you start at the beginning, sign on to the logic and then submit the mind to a regular and dedicated spiritual practice. It is the purest teaching there is in that it is independent of any person or person’s opinions; it is the irrefutable logic of your own unexamined experience. Vedanta has worked everything out and does not come “from” the mind of man. It comes from consciousness/awareness so that the object, Christopher, which is a name for the self under the spell of ignorance, could gain knowledge of the subject, awareness. It is called “revealed knowledge” (apaurusheya jnanam). Vedanta is about you, awareness, not the person Christopher thinks he is. It offers freedom from the person you think you are.
While the approach you are now having to yourself and life in general through the inspiration of this young lady is working to redefine your priorities, you must have come to Vedanta for a reason. Vedanta only comes to people who are ready for it, and if they are not, the knowledge will not stick in the mind. This is because it is counterintuitive for most minds and challenges everything you thought you knew about yourself. You say you have been reading James’ material at the website, but from the way you have expressed yourself and the language of experience you use, I am not sure what your understanding is in terms of self-knowledge.
Depending on what your motivations are and what values they are based on, Vedanta works to set you free of the person and proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are not who you thought you were. If you just want to live a happier life and are not interested in moksa, which is freedom from the person (or ego/mind, same thing), not for them, there are teachings that will definitely assist you with this. Vedanta has the “whole package,” so to speak, and there are yogas that are designed just for samsaris, or people who are interested in having a “better” life “in the world.”
If you have a strong desire for moksa, then this requires the practice of all the yogas, meaning self-knowledge, or jnana yoga, karma yoga and triguna vibhava yoga. It is too much to go into here; I suggest that you read the email I attached and we can continue the discussion after that. If you do want to go further after this, you need to start at the beginning with Vedanta. I can help you with this if you would like my help, but to start with and if you want to benefit fully, you will need to put everything you thus far thought you knew or believed on hold. You need an open mind to hear the teachings, and once you have heard them then you can look at your stuff in the light of the teachings and not the other way around.
I don’t know if you have or know what a sadhana is (spiritual practice) but you will need a dedicated approach to exposing the mind to self-knowledge if you really want to understand what is happening to you. So if you have not read James’ book How to Attain Enlightenment we insist that you start there. Start from the beginning and don’t skip until you understand what it is saying. It is one of the most important books you will ever read, and you will not find a better book on Vedanta for the Western mind.
We also strongly recommend that you read the e-satsangs posted on the Web and at least 30 minutes of James’ video material a day. Start with Self Inquiry and proceed from there. We have tons of material available at the ShiningWorld website. It is a goldmine of the most precious information anyone could be fortunate enough to be exposed to.
Your lady friend is the source of inspiration for self-inquiry, which is very good if you see it as such and if your motivation for self-inquiry is to understand who you are. If your motivation is to be more “like” her, or worse, to have a relationship with her, you have a problem. Vedanta teaches that moksa, enlightenment, is freedom from dependence on objects because you have negated them as value-neutral and you know that the joy is in you, awareness, not the object.
With regards to your friend’s advice to “be more present”: while this may help to calm the mind temporarily, it is not a teaching and at best it will get you to revise some of your attitudes to life and help you to be less self-absorbed. It cannot set you free of the person, which means it cannot put an end to existential suffering.
This is because you cannot “be more present.” You can only realise that you, awareness, are the only thing that is always present and never changes. There was never a time when you, awareness, were not present because if that were so Christopher would not be here or he would be six feet under. You were present before Christopher appeared as a body/mind/entity and you will be here after he is gone. This is why Vedanta calls awareness ordinary, because it is always there, all the “time.” You are never not aware. Freedom from the doer/person/Christopher is understanding this.
If you take yourself to be the body/mind/entity then you could say that, relatively speaking, Christopher could be more “in the moment,” so to speak. But even that does not pan out if you think about it logically. Looking at what Vedanta defines as real – what does “in the moment” or “in the now” mean? They are not teachings and certainly will not free you of the burden of doership. Both are inconstant and change before one can pin them down. Both require time and space, which are both constructs and like the body-mind-intellect are objects known to you, awareness.
That leaves you, awareness, the knower of the now, of the moment, of the one who is “being more present.” You are the eternal moment – you cannot be “in” it any more than you can be “more” present.
~ Om and prem, Sundari