My name is Annie. I’m 26 from the UK. I saw your email on James Swartz’ contact page. I hope its okay to get in touch.
Ted: It is definitely okay. I am here to serve.
Annie: As a brief background I was a practicing Shingon Deshi for several years in my early 20s. I later joined Treeleaf Zendo, the online Zen Sangha. I moved then to Neo-Advaita after reading a book on Ramana Maharshi, and later to Robert Adams, Edji and Rajiv Kapur. I was inspired by Osho’s answer to a question on aloneness, but having a suspicion there would be criticism of Osho elsewhere I ended up discovering James.
Ted: I can relate to your quest, Annie. Mine involved a bit of exploration of various gurus too. In fact, I did the Edji thing not long before I found James. Though I encountered many great insights into the truth, the problem with all these paths was that none ever offered a road map out of samsara. They stated what the Truth is, but any realization of the Self was always expressed in experiential terms. That is, I was always left waiting for that one big explosive realization that would zap into a state of oneness or enlightenment or whatever. But no matter how many experiences I had, none would ever remain to stay. This is the essential problem with thinking that enlightenment is some type of feeling or state. Any such experience is no more than an object, albeit a subtle one. In other words, any experience is no more than a fleeting appearance within awareness. It may linger for a longer or shorter length of time depending on who knows what exactly, but due to the ever-changing nature of the apparent reality (i.e. the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ universes) no object ever remains permanently. The good news is that enlightenment is not a matter of experience, but a matter of knowledge. And Vedanta is a time-tested means of knowledge that provides a practical roadmap that can guide you out of delusion.
Annie: The past few days I’ve been reading James site, whilst waiting for his book to arrive.
Ted: Good for you. You’ve come to the right place. James’ book is the really the only modern English text that explains the methodology of Vedanta in a way that is faithful to the scriptures. It is not necessarily a ‘feel good’ read because he has to deliver some pretty frank truths in order to disrobe one of ignorance, but it is inspirational and provides a clear methodology through which you can understand the teachings and know how to apply them in your life in order to purify your mind and realize your true identity as the Self or pure awareness.
Annie: I’m very new to this, but one question has immediately come up for me, and id like to ask about before I begin James book, is what right now in my experience is ‘awareness’ and ‘consciousness’? When I saw these words used by James my heart sank because I’ve really struggled in the past to understand not their definition, but what they really really refer to in my direct experience.
I get trapped in the mental picture of their concept, and was hoping you could guide me to see exactly what they are, whist I’m sat here at the laptop.
Here is a paragraph ill take as the example to show how I look for them:
“Awareness is very simple. It is that because of which you know and feel and experience things. It is both the things you experience and the awareness in which your experiences take place. This is why it is called non- dual. That limitless light of awareness is what we really are, not the body or the limited person we believe ourselves to be. To see yourself as a limited being is called duality.”
Ted: Another way of saying this is that awareness is simply that because of which you know what you know and you know what you don’t know.
Ironically, the problem with understanding who you really are as awareness or what awareness really is is that awareness is so familiar to us that we don’t even notice it. Truly speaking, there is never a moment in which you are not awareness. It is because of awareness that you know you exist. Because awareness (i.e. The Self) is so often referred to using such grandiose terms as ‘supreme consciousness’ and ‘parabhraman’ and ‘beyond the beyond’ and say that it is more effulgent than a million suns and all that we tend to think that it is something we can never know or experience, or that it is some ‘other’ experience that we have to cultivate or achieve and then maintain. But the truth is that THE awareness to which all such hyperboles refer is nothing more (or less) than the simple, ordinary, everyday awareness in which all your thoughts, feelings, sensations appear.
And what do you have to do to acquire, experience, and maintain that?
The fact is that you can’t do anything to acquire, cultivate, or maintain awareness because awareness is simply what you are. The only thing you can ‘do’ in regard to awareness is recognize it for what it is and thereby remove your ignorance about your true identity as awareness. Vedanta is the means of knowledge that arms you with the tools that enable you to do this. It doesn’t produce enlightenment; it simply removes the ignorance that clouds your appreciation of your true identity as awareness.
Annie: What’s happening right now is I’m sat on a chair in a room with lots of objects. By ‘I’m’ I mean this body, I always feel in a body behind eyes, because it seems to be the centre whenever there’s waking.
Ted: This is because you as all-pervasive awareness is identifying with the limiting adjunct of the body-mind-sense complex that constitutes the character of Annie. In Sanskrit this limiting adjunct is called an upadhi, and it can be demonstrated through the following analogy. Image that I am holding a green-colored glass that contains water. If I were to ask you what color the water is, you would say based on your direct observation that the water is green because that is how it appears when viewed through the ‘lens’ of the glass. So, even though awareness has no shape or color or sound or smell or taste, when it identifies with the upadhi of the body it appears to assume the characteristics of that body similar to the way the Invisible Man appears in the form of the clothes he wears (not a perfect analogy, but hopefully you get the idea) AND it also is seemingly limited by the scope of the ‘lens’ of that particular body (i.e. What it is able to perceive and feel and know through that particular mind-body-sense complex). Weird that unlimited, non-dual awareness would assume such a limited sliver through which to experience, but that’s what it does.
Annie: If I wanted to find/feel/intuit ‘awareness’, what exactly am I looking for?
Ted: You don’t have to find, feel, intuit, or look for it in the same sense that you observe an object or feel an emotion or identify a thought because pure awareness is not an object that can be seen or known through the senses. Of the terms you suggest for the way in which awareness might be indirectly apprehended by a pure mind, the closes is ‘intuit’. As mentioned, awareness cannot be seen because it is not an object and has no attributes.
You can, however, know it to exist because you know you exist and that existence is nothing other than awareness.
Annie: If awareness is the things I experience, can for example I look at this lamp, the laptop, or my cat, and intuit it? I always thought things were made of matter. Is matter the same as awareness? Or is it more I’m walking around in a big hologram, and the whole thing is like a lucid dream? When I look at my cat, is that myself as a cat looking back?
Ted: Good thinking, Annie. The answer is ‘all of the above’. In a way. What is essential to understand is that everything in creation, everything that you experience is you (i.e. Awareness), but that you (i.e. Awareness) are not any of it. In other words, all objects depend upon awareness for their existence, for if they do not appear within the scope of awareness they cannot be said to exist, BUT awareness (i.e. You) are independent of all the objects in that awareness (i.e. You) not limited or defined by any of them and awareness’s (i.e. Your) existence does not depend upon their appearance within it (i.e. You). Consider the state of deep sleep, for instance. When no objects are appearing in awareness, do you cease to exist? No. Annie does, yes, but you (i.e. Awareness) does not. If you did, you would not be able to report upon waking that you slept soundly.
Annie: A sticking point I always have is that if everything is made of gold, and I’m really the gold, how come the body is always in the centre, and I can only see the front of everything else, not the back? Experience in waking always seems to be a human body experience. If I was everything else too, why do I only ever get a human body perspective?
Ted: This was covered above in the explanation of the limited adjunct of the mind-body-sense complex and how it conditions the absolute awareness due to the power of ignorance.
Annie: There does seem to be another way of considering things, that the body/mind/thought phenomena is just another object right now.
Ted: Right on!!
Annie: In which case my ‘always from the human perspective’ issue is solved in a way, because I could say that there is a human perspective arising here.
Ted: Yes, carefully consider the following question: Are you are the individual mind-body-sense complex through which you are experiencing life, or are you the awareness observing life through the lens of the mind- body-sense complex?
Annie: Life loses its importance then, it could be of no importance, just arising.
Ted: Yes, it is just an arising. That doesn’t mean, however, that it has to lose its importance, if by importance you mean that it is something that doesn’t matter and needn’t be bothered with and whatnot. True, life doesn’t matter in that it is nothing to get your undies in a bunch about (i.e. Stressed out by), but once you know it to be nothing more substantial than a dream you can still revel in the enjoyment of it. The difference from the way you experience life before self-realization and after is that you are no longer compelled to act because you believe something in the dream can complete or fulfill you, for you understand that no appearance in the dream brings anything more than temporary happiness but that your very nature as awareness is happiness. A more full explanation of why this is the case is explained in the first chapter of James’ book. Read that over and over until you fully understand why joy cannot be found in objects.
Annie: As its the human doing all the ‘thinking’, ‘experiencing’ and ‘doing’, emailing you, and what I really am cant be experienced, then is my job, experiencing Annie, to just chill out? Learn all I can about how Annie functions, watch it, and relax?
Ted: You’ve got it. If you really want liberation, however, relaxing doesn’t mean doing nothing as Annie to gain the knowledge that removes the ignorance that keeps you currently thinking you are not free. Keep exposing yourself to the knowledge and diligently apply the teachings.
Every moment of every day. Stay vigilant. When you catch your mind thinking that you are a small, inadequate, incomplete, individual person, remind yourself of who you really are, which is whole and complete, limitless, action-less, ordinary, non-dual awareness.
Annie: Am I going to keep waking up into ‘Annie’, until the body dies? Ted: Yep. Unless you change your name, that is:).
Annie: I’m thinking and writing as Annie right now, but I’ve got to be honest, I think one day ill live as the Self instead, that’s not right though is it? The Self is already here, and this entire ‘I’ / Annie phenomena is no problem for it at all. So without tinkering at all with sensations of ‘I’, what’s experiencing it? Would that be right, to isolate it?
Ted: I’m not sure what you mean by ‘isolate it’, but your spot on about the rest. You won’t one day live as the Self because, as you say, you are already the Self. You don’t become the Self by way of the spiritual path and all its practices. The practices are only meant to purify the mind, meaning to rid it of all its erroneous notions about who you are. Understand, however, given how deeply and for how long those notions have been ingrained in your mind, it may take some time for them to die out, so don’t freak out if they continue to rear their ugly heads for awhile. Just observe them for what they are — appearances in awareness. Nothing more. When the villain appears on the movie screen you don’t feel threatened as a member of the audience because you know that it is just a character in a film and moreover is of a totally different order of reality and so cannot touch, taint, enhance, diminish, change, or affect you in any way. You can verify this by examining your own direct experience of life. Despite all the changes your body, emotions, thoughts, circumstances, etc., have undergone, have you, the one witnessing all these changes ever been affected or changed? Yes, Annie has morphed a million times, but isn’t there that aspect of you — the essential you, the self, the one you really mean when you say ‘I feel’ or ‘I think’ or ‘I believe’ or ‘I know or don’t know’ — that has always remained the same?
Annie: The Self. If it can’t be experienced, why has it got a name, the Self? It makes me think it’s a new thing, or a new super body.
Ted: True, the Self is not experienced in the same way you would experience an object, but it can be experienced in the sense of understanding that it is the only experience you actually ever have. In a non-dual reality, which this is, there is only the Self, and so everything you experience 24/7 is the Self.
Annie: In my head I’m pretty sure it has its own persona, like God.
Ted: This is not correct. The Self is pure awareness and, thus, has neither attributes nor a persona. Furthermore, the Self is beyond God. God is simply a concept appearing in the Self, for only by awareness is the idea of God known. How’s that for a mind-blower. Not exactly what the church has to say, eh? But think about. According to Vedanta, God is the creative force and in fact the whole created field of the universe. And where does the creation appear? In awareness.
Annie: Can I confirm, the Self isn’t a thing at all; enlightened people still wake up in bodies? What then is ‘the Self’ referring to?
Ted: That the Self is not an object is hopefully clear by now. The Self is nothing other than whole and complete, limitless, action-less, ordinary, non-dual awareness. But, yes, enlightened people still wake up in bodies.
This is due to what Vedanta calls conditioned superimposition. The analogy of a mirage in the desert clearly illustrates this phenomenon. Just because you know that the lake appearing before your eyes is not real doesn’t mean that it disappears. You will not rush toward it thinking it will satisfy your thirst, but you will still see it. This is how enlightened people see the world. They know it is only an apparent reality that no object in it will bring lasting happiness, but they still enjoy its appearance.
Annie: I’d like to rid that phrase of the idea it’s a thing. The word ’emptiness’ doesn’t inspire this ‘is a thing to become’ effect quite like the word ‘Self’.
Ted: I understand your inclination to rid the Self of its association with being an object, and if the word ‘emptiness’ helps you do that then by all means use it as a tool. Understand, however, that the Self is not empty.
This is a common notion held by the Buddhist traditions, but with all due respect it is not correct. The Self is, conversely, completely full. In fact, this fullness is what is symbolized by the giant belly of the laughing Buddha.
The Self is that in which all exists and of which all is made.
Annie: To be honest I struggle so much with wording and the mental pictures and concepts they bring up I’ve taken to skipping words such as awareness or Self with my eyes when I read so I can intuit what it the rest is referring to rather than imagine it all in my head. James wrote something along the lines of ‘it arises out of you’, and that felt quite direct, because sat there on my chair it was like he was saying all this right now is arising out of me. That was quite powerful to consider just sat in a chair.
Ted: But what James says is true. All is simply appearing in you. Not Annie, but you, for even Annie — her body, her emotions, her thoughts, the entirety of her experience, both gross and subtle — is only an appearance in you (i.e. Awareness).
Annie: I’m not sure exactly what I’m asking now, that’s a lot of individual questions. This particular struggle with understanding what I’m reading in my own experience has been going on for so long, the questions have backed up and become jumbled.
My basic question is: Is there a technique whereby I can read James book and instead of reading it like a picture story, see -exactly- just sat there in my kitchen, what it means directly? My fear is words such as awareness, consciousness, Self and God, are so conceptual to me I’m going to miss the point right here and now, and get frustrated again. Is there an acceptable list of alternative words for example, so you can use the ones that rattle you most?
Ted: Hopefully, a careful consideration of my responses will help you overcome any hang-ups you might have about the words ‘awareness’, ‘consciousness’, ‘Self’, and ‘God’. You can use other words if they work for clarifying your understanding, but don’t get too hung-up on the words you use to point to awareness or the Self. Once you understand what awareness is, then whatever word you use will be an effective pointer.
Kind Regards, Annie
Ted: Please feel free to keep in touch if you have any further questions, Annie.
Kind regards in return,
Ps. I suffer from sleep paralysis and getting stuck in lucid dreams, I have done since I was a child. It’s not uncommon for me to wake up in the wrong bed and go about my day as vivid as waking several times, before waking up in waking in the right bed. So it’s quite easy for me to recognize the fleeting nature of identity, memory, and environments to wake up in. This isn’t mentioned much, if at all, in books. If you knew of any resources where I could read more about that, I’d be really interested. I’m interested to know if waking body and waking universe is indeed the primary real one, and the rest are just my brains attempts to create waking for me (when I’ve woken up but my body is still paralyzed). In which case ‘Annie’ is the one identity, and ‘Annie’s brain’ creates the dream worlds for me (Doctor would argue this). OR is it that ‘I’ slip out of ‘Annie’ and into ‘World 1’, ‘World 2’, ‘World 3’ etc, each new world taking on a new life story, memories, and identity. See what I mean? ‘Annie’ and all her memories are born only as I come into waking. So when I say ‘I’ do I mean ‘Annie’ or that which comes in and out of ‘Annie’? Why then do I always come back to waking, it must be primary? …I’m just awareness though right- all this phenomena is experiencing itself?
Ted: The best piece of advice I can give you concerning these questions is to read James’s translation and explanation of the Mandukya Upanishad that is posted on his website at www.shiningworld.com. This scripture thoroughly examines the three states of experience — the waking, dreaming, and deep sleep states — and clearly distinguishes these from ‘the fourth factor’ (i.e. Awareness) that is the ever-present witness of the three states while at the same time remaining completely untouched by them. You will find this text if you go to the Publications page on the website and then scroll down to the bottom of the column on the far left side of the page and click on Mandukya Upanishad.