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Two Teaching Methods
Note: This excellent summary of two teachings that reveal non-duality was written by Ted Schmidt, who has been a student of Vedanta for about a year.
The Direct Path Approach
As propagated by Greg Goode, this method of object-analysis resolves all objects into witnessing awareness by demonstrating the following: (a) the objects we identify and think we are experiencing through sensory perceptions are essentially nothing more than specific sensations that do not constitute the entirety of the object with which we associate them. For instance, the hardness we feel on our rear end when sitting on a wooden chair does not constitute the existence of the entire chair; only by way of our expectation and inference does the entirety of the chair become our experience of “reality”; (b) the specific sensations experienced are essentially nothing other than the sense organs themselves, since each is dependent upon the particular sense organ through by which it is perceived or experienced. The independent existence of any sensation cannot be verified by any other means than the particular sense organ by which it is experienced, and therefore no sensation can be verified to have any independent existence; it is only when a given sensation arises in awareness that we experience what we call seeing, hearing, tasting, touching or smelling; (c) the sense organs responsible for sense perceptions are essentially nothing other than witnessing awareness. The independent existence of the sense organs cannot be verified as if they were tools that were lying about waiting to be used by awareness; rather each sense organ is a unique mode of awareness by way of which a particular type of perception occurs. Moreover, since without awareness backing it up no sense organ can do any sensing, it can be seen that the sense organs are dependent upon awareness for their very existence. Only witnessing awareness is free of dependence upon anything other than itself for its existence. The ultimate conclusion of this analysis is of course that everything experienced (including the apparatus of experience and the experiencer himself/herself) is nothing separate from or other than awareness “itself.”
The Vedantic Approach
Through an analysis of the location of experience, the same resolution of all perceived objects into awareness is demonstrated. This method is based on an examination of the mechanics of perception. Light strikes an object and our eyes thus perceive the object and an image registers in our mind. Though the object we perceive seems to be “out there” separate from us, the reality is that “it” (the image of it) is actually manifesting in our mind. Since there is no gap between the mind and awareness, the fact is that everything we perceive and experience is appears in, is not separate from and essentially is awareness. Simply put, the location-of-experience analysis demonstrates that all objects are only experienced in the mind and that the mind is not separate from awareness, and so essentially everything exists within and is made of and is therefore dependent upon awareness.
Upon consideration of these three inquiries, a question arises concerning Vedanta’s location-of-experience analysis.
How is it that the supposed object that the light struck and thereby caused our eyes to perceive and register an image of in our mind exists in the first place? (Positing the existence of an object for the light to strike establishes a dualistic context that is not falsified simply by saying that the image of the object registers in the mind and is thereby rendered one with awareness.) Moreover, where did the light, the eyes, etc. come from? In essence, if there are no separate independent objects, how did any of this process of perception take place?
According to my understanding, the following are the possible answers that could be offered in response to these questions:
1. Each jiva projects his own “holographic world movie,” so to speak, and thus all experience is really a projection rather than a perception. This explanation, however, does not account for why all sane jivas identify any particular object as the same object, that is, how it can be said that experience is true to the object when there really is no object “there” to be perceived in the first place. This explanation is erroneous, moreover, because the jiva does not have the power to create the entire world (jagat) out of its own being. Though the jiva can be said to have the power to create, that power is limited to the ability to “create” its own experience of the universe through the interpretative projections dictated by its vasanas that it superimposes upon the it. Furthermore, this explanation basically reduces the vision of non-duality to solipsism, which fails to remove the jiva’s apparent identity as a separate independent individual identity, and therefore remains mired in a fundamentally dualistic point of view (so okay, that one rules itself out).
James: Yes, this is correct. Jivas don’t create the objects, Isvara does. They unwittingly allow ignorance in the form of projections to interpret the objects incorrectly. It really does not matter if the objects are “out there” or not. It does not matter if they exist or not. It only matters how they are understood. Vedanta accepts ignorance and the way it creates objects. We do not have to prove they do not exist nor do we have to destroy them. If you can use the objects to turn the jiva’s attention to the self, the status of the objects will be known by default – as apparent objects, not as “non-existent” objects. It is wrong to say that the objects do not exist. You cannot experience something that does not exist. They do not exist independent of awareness. The purpose of the location-of-objects and other teachings is not only to negate the objects but to reveal the subject, awareness. So whether the objects are actually out there or in the mind, the self is revealed as the non-experiencing witness as you lead attention to it. Until the attention is led to awareness it is confused with the objects. Once it is known, the status of the objects is clear by default. The Direct Path teaching shows that there are apparently no objects apart from consciousness, but what does it do to explain the continued existence of the objects once they have been shown “not to exist”? In fact they do exist, as mentioned above. They just aren’t real. You will not take them seriously if you know that they are not real. And you do not have to actually destroy them, because witnessing awareness is not covered by them. So you use them to lead the attention to awareness. The method is called arundhati nyaya, after a certain star that cannot be identified because it exists in a cluster of similar stars. So you take a tree and using the branches lead the seekers attention from the larger branches lower on the tree to the small branches at the top and then locate the star with reference to them.
Ted: 2. The light and all the other components of the example as well are Isvara’s projection. In broader terms, the holographic movie that we perceive as the physical world is the projection of Isvara’s vasanas. Within the context of this projected apparent reality (jagat) and the universal law (dharma) that governs its functioning, the apparent process originally described in the prakriya of the location of experience (i.e. light striking an object that then registers as an image in the jiva’s mind) seems to occur, leading the inquiring jiva to the ultimate conclusion that all experience is taking place in awareness and is, moreover, not separate from awareness. The non-dual nature of reality does not depend on the image of some independent object registering in the mind and thereby becoming one with the jiva. Rather all components of this apparent circumstance are the one universal awareness from the get-go. In other words, the object and the subject (jiva) have been the same awareness all along. Along these lines, it could be added that the initial object that was struck by the light comes from the same source as the objects in a dream do. As above, so below, so to speak. Just as the jiva’s projected vasanas create the jiva’s microcosmic personal dreams, so Isvara’s projected vasanas create the macrocosmic dream world.
Ted: 3. The whole location-of-experience prakriya must be understood as an analogy that is used as a “thorn to remove a thorn” in the student’s understanding of the nature of reality rather than as a scientific explanation of how creation actually occurs.
James: That is right. We are not trying to explain creation for the creation’s sake. We are just trying to take the piss out of the doer by revealing the nature of Isvara. This sets the doer up for knowledge. A qualified inquirer needs only to separate the knower from the five sheaths for moksa. It doesn’t matter who created them or why – only that they are apparently limiting adjuncts, upadhis.
Ted: In this sense, the analogy serves to offer a way of explaining a spontaneous arising/appearance within awareness, which is nothing other than awareness itself appearing as that spontaneous arising/appearance due to the power of ignorance (maya). All components in the analogy are nothing more than ideas spun, so to speak, by the body-mind-intellect [BMI] machine (to use a little Chinmayananda lingo) to explain its apparent functioning “amidst” the undifferentiated potentiality or chaos that is pure awareness.
James: No. They are not spun by the BMI machine, they are spun by the scriptures to get the BMI machine to quit struggling and set it up to understand its nature. They convince it that it is not in control so it will relax and become contemplative.
Ted: I think I did not make the “BMI machine” idea clear. When I mentioned that all of the components of the location-of-experience prakriya are spun, so to speak, by the BMI “machine,” I didn’t mean that the analogy was produced by the BMI “machine,” but that the components of the light, object, eyes, and mind for that matter, are all products of the functioning of the BMI “machine” that, once it is charged by awareness, performs (not as an independent doer, since it is insentient, but simply as a mechanism enlivened by awareness) the function of producing all the apparent objects that appear in the apparent reality. In other words, the BMI “machine” is basically a spinning wheel for Mama Maya (ignorance). Put another way, it is the film projector that projects the film of the apparent reality once it is charged with the electricity of awareness. The analogy itself then is, as you commented, spun by scripture as a way of getting the BMI “machine” to quit its struggle as the “doer” and understand its true nature.
In this way, I see the BMI “machine” as a mechanism through which ignorance projects the apparent reality. And it is a “machine” that is designed to self-destruct in the sense that its functioning (at least from the viewpoint of the jiva) progresses toward an inevitable “awakening” through which it understands its true nature, and thus ceases to be deluded by the projections that naturally occur through it while it is enlivened by awareness.
James: Okay, I misunderstood because it was not clear. Now it is. I am very impressed by your understanding. You will make a great Vedanta teacher one day.
Ted: The bottom line is that it is essentially awareness that has deluded itself (though I know that awareness “itself” is never deluded) through its masterful wielding of the power of maya and its consequent association with the BMI “machine,” and it is awareness “itself” that reawakens (though, again, I realize that awareness “itself” never slept) to its true nature when it disassociates with the BMI “machine” and revels in its true identity as the attributeless self.
One last note: I totally agree with your comment about the mistake Greg Goode made concerning the deep sleep state being the self. This bothered me when I read the book as well. Other than that, I found the exercises quite a nice complement to the teaching methodology of Vedanta (which is, as you have written, hands-down the best “path” to self-realization!!!!).
I look forward to hearing from you again when you next get a chance.
~ Love, Ted
Ted: The following is an elaboration concerning some of the finer points involved in the second explanation above, that of the universe being a projection of Isvara’s vasanas:
As has been stated, in the location-of-experience teaching the initial object upon which light shines and is thereby reflected in the mind is simply a projected vasana of Isvara.
Another way of saying this, a more scientific way, is that the object is a product of the stimuli that exist in and are essentially made of macrocosmic consciousness. In other words, the object is the abstracted (i.e. selected, or “taken out from”) representation of some thing which does not really have any independent or physical existence other than as stimuli or unmanifest energy. This is, you might say, a more subtle version of the Big Bang theory of creation. In this case Isvara (i.e. the Creator, or God) projects a field of pure potential energy or stimuli that remains in a state of unmanifest chaos until individual jivas begin “connecting the dots,” so to speak, and thereby abstracting holographic images (complete with sensorial characteristics) that constitute the universe (jagat). In short, Isvara projects the universe, including the jivas, out of its own being and then within that projection the jivas “perform” the process of abstraction that gives shape to their world and their experience of it.
James: Not exactly – sort of. The unmanifest is not chaotic. It is totally ordered and structured. It seems to be nebulous from the jiva’s perspective because it is beyond perception. The jiva doesn’t really connect the dots. It just pursues its fears and desires, which makes reality seem confusing to it. Maybe it eventually wises up as to the nature of the objects. The teaching connects the dots for it.
Ted: In Isvara’s initial projection of stimuli there must be some subtle patterning of energy that accounts for what images will be or can be abstracted at certain “locations” in the space-time continuum that serves as the arena for the manifested universe. If this were not the case, then each jiva would arbitrarily see or experience whatever he or she independently projected (or which of his or her vasanas were projected) on the screen of his or her consciousness at any given moment. This of course would disallow any semblance of agreement between individual jivas concerning what objects were being experienced at any given time and place, and thus render any coherent organization and commonality of life experience impossible. Though it is certainly the case that each individual jiva’s vasanas interpret, or superimpose, upon his or her perceptions in a “personal” way that “creates” a “personal” experience of any given perceived object that might very well differ from any or all other jivas’ experience of that same object, such is a more subtle level of “creation” than the manifestation of the physical universe itself. An interesting aspect of this set-up is that the denser the physicality of the object, the more common agreement there seems to be about its properties, characteristics and qualities. For instance, more people would agree about the details of a red Corvette that was parked in front of them than would agree about the nature of love.
James: Good. This is correct.
Ted: The subtle patterning of energy in Isvara’s initial projection of the stimuli from which the universe is abstracted is one aspect of universal law (dharma). This patterning, or organization, is the fundamental reason why things are as they are, why phenomena appear as they do, why things work as they work, why objects function or behave as they do. In other words, this is the reason why particular things have particular qualities, characteristics, abilities and limitations. For instance, this subtle patterning of energy accounts for why people can’t fly like birds and why they can’t walk on water and why one apparent jiva cannot willfully move the limbs of another apparent jiva as he or she can his or her own. Though there are reports of people having violated the fundamental laws of nature and having overcome such apparent limitations, the overwhelming majority of the jivas and other objects are constrained by nature to abide by the laws that govern at least that aspect of the apparent reality we call the universe. In metaphorical terms, having associated itself with the limiting adjunct (upadhi) of an individual jiva (or any given object, for that matter), awareness must play by the established rules of the game it created for itself.
Ted: Speaking of metaphor, it must be ultimately be understood that this whole explanation of the dynamics of creation is nothing more than an analogy employed to express the spontaneous projection within and of consciousness due to ignorance. In other words, it is an elaborate concept used to explain that which really has no explanation or at least not one that can be understood by the mind, for the mind itself is nothing more than an object within consciousness, and as such is an effect of consciousness, an effect that is moreover both grosser than its cause and insentient. In and of itself therefore, the mind can never comprehend its cause.
James: This presupposes that the mind is conscious, but it isn’t. It is just a mirror-like structure that consciousness uses to know itself in the form of objects. But the basic idea of a metaphor is good. The Vedantic method of teaching is by superimposition and negation. We accept the way jivas see it and then destroy the way they see it by revealing the hidden logic of the creation. It is foolish to challenge the jiva. It will just react. So you agree with it, schmooze it. If it thinks there are objects out there, you accept it. Then step by step you undermine the belief.
Ted: Okay, so that’s it. I have also attached two chapters from a document I am putting together for myself based on your presentation of Vedanta to which I have added a couple of experiments from Greg Goode and some complementary points from Swami Dayananda and Swami Chinmayananda. I would greatly appreciate it if you would assess my understanding and explanation of the topic of non-duality as I have expressed it in this email and in the attached chapters, and let me know whether it jives with your understanding and is an appropriate reflection of the teachings of Vedanta.
James: I am at 8,000 feet in the Italian Alps and have a very slow internet connection via an iPhone hotspot, so I cannot download the document. Rest assured I will read it when this seminar ends. I have only about ten days of teaching in the next three-and-a-half months and will have plenty of time in about a week. I look forward to reading it. I liked your summary of Greg Goode’s book. It is an excellent book but he makes a very stupid mistake on page 178 or nine when he says The Direct Path says the sleep state is the self and subsequently calls it an “interval.” I am going to write him about it. And believe it or not, I am almost ready to read your comments on Ramana and Nisagadatta. I am running flat-out these days and there is quite a lag before I get to things. But it is almost at the top of my to-do list.
Ted: As ever, thank you so much for the duty that you are performing in teaching a valid understanding of Vedanta. The bottom line is that after 25 years of searching for an experiential form of enlightenment, your presentation of the teachings finally liberated me from all the bullshit that so often passes for wisdom. Vedanta, through you, saved me from myself, that is, what I thought was myself. Ha, ha!!!! So, hallelujah, sri jagadguru master Ram! Jai! Jai! Jai!
In other words, thank you, James, from the bottom of my heart.
~ Love, Ted
James: You are most welcome, Ted. Grace is earned.