Somehow have been compelled these last two years to study up on non- duality and to ‘practice’ it.
Ted: What is compelling you is you — that is, the real you, which is pure awareness. Though it (though technically it is not an “it” in the sense of being an object) already knows itself (though technically it is not a knower), it apparently works through the apparent individual and thus enables the individual’s intellect to understand its true identity. In other words, you are itching to know your true identity because you know that this Jon character that you have taken yourself to be is not it.
Moreover, because you take yourself to be this Jon character, you believe that you are an independent doer who can study and practice non-duality. The irony is that you cannot study and practice non-duality, for non-duality is not an action that can be done. If reality is non-dual (which it is), then when are you not you? Are you ever separate from yourself? The bottom line is that you cannot do something to get what you already have. You can only understand who you already are, what all of this already is.
I know, I know, you are saying that you don’t feel like you are the self (i.e. the Self, the mahapurusha, the parabrahman, the Supreme Reality, the blah, blah, blah). The language of hyperbole that runs rampant in the spiritual world makes it seem like the self is some unreachable, unattainable, ever-mysterious enigma that can never be grasped. But the truth is that the ordinary awareness by which you know what you know and know what you don’t know is that very same awareness that cradles the whole cosmos in its bosom, so to speak. There is only one awareness. Just as the wave is the same water as the ocean, so the awareness within which you appear as you is the same awareness in which the entire apparent reality — the gross, subtle, and causal bodies — appear and of which they are made.
In short, you don’t have an experience problem. You have a knowledge problem.
Now, the problem with having a knowledge problem, you might say, is that the means by which we gain knowledge within the apparent reality (i.e. this world of objects that we take to be real) — perception and inference — only work in reference to objects. In other words, the eyes see shapes and colors, the ears hear sounds, etc. But you (i.e. pure awareness) are not an object. So our usual means of knowledge do not work when it comes to gaining self-knowledge.
The profound implication of this is that self-realization is not an experiential phenomenon. That is, it is not a matter of seeing lights or feeling one with everything or raising the kundalini or having a permanent smile plastered on your face or any of the other million billion notions of what constitutes enlightenment that are floating around the spiritual world. No experience is permanent for one thing. And more importantly any experience is only a phenomenal appearance within awareness. The seer can never be the object it is seeing and, therefore, any experience or vision of the self is not the self. The self, awareness, is the one “seeing” the objects appearing within it. Actually “seeing” is not the best word to use for this because it implies that the self is an entity that is somehow actively watching the world. It is more accurate to say that awareness simply illumines the intellect in which the objects are recognized. While the knower, object known, and knowing itself are all awareness, awareness is forever free of these three objects. That is, the objects depend upon awareness for their existence, but awareness depends on no objects for its own existence. It simply is whether objects appear or not.
Existence is not something you can practice. It is only something you can know.
I don’t mean to belittle your comment. I do understand what you mean by “practicing” non-duality — at least if what you meant is that you repeatedly remind yourself of the non-dual nature of reality whenever you find yourself identifying with the Jon character. It is important, however, to stress the precision with which we use language. Language reflects the shape of the mind and is in fact what shapes the mind. So the words we use form the concepts that define who we are and what reality is. Vedanta is a shabda pramana (i.e. a means of knowledge that employs sound). This means that through the application of words it removes ignorance and reveals one’s true nature as limitless awareness.
Jon: Have been working with a ‘coach’, a graduate student of Peter Fenner. I have been able to ‘realize’ Self, that is my belief anyway, at times with the work I am doing with him.
Ted: Because you have written to me, I’m going to assume that you want to know the truth. So rather than trying to water down the teachings, I’m going to give it to you straight.
Realizing the self is not a belief. And it doesn’t occur at times. You either know who you are or you don’t. From the email you sent in conjunction with this one, it sounds like you have glimpsed your true identity, you have realized the self. The issue at hand is that this knowledge has not yet become hard and fast. That is, you do not stand with unshakeable conviction in the knowledge that you are whole and complete, limitless awareness. You are likely in what we call the firefly stage. You get a glimpse of who you are and feel light and free for awhile, but that state eventually wears off and you feel limited once again.
This is where the practice that you mentioned earlier comes in.
Though you cannot practice self-knowledge because self-knowledge is not an action, you can diligently apply the teachings of Vedanta, which basically boil down to the vision of non-duality, to each and every circumstance, situation, condition, encounter, and experience with which you are faced.
The problem with many of the modern Neo-Advaita teachers (I don’t know if this applies to yours or not) is that they spout the vision of non-duality and deny the existence of the apparent reality (i.e. the inner and outer conceptual worlds). Though ultimately the non-dual vision is truth, it is nevertheless the undeniable case that the apparent reality does exist. It is not real, yes, but it does exist. And since all seekers are mired in the dualistic apparent reality (if they weren’t they wouldn’t be seeking), it is of little help to simply deny its existence and say that one must transcend it or “see through” it or “drop it” or whatever the latest hip sound bite is.
Vedanta is a means of knowledge that employs a tried and true methodology that serves to liberate qualified seekers. The basis of this methodology is called apavadha adyaropa (i.e. superimposition and negation). Vedanta begins by acknowledging the commonly accepted notions about the nature of reality and then systematically dispels these erroneous notions through a thorough and logical analysis of one’s own experience. In the end, you are not left with a theory or philosophy to believe, but irrefutable knowledge of the true nature of reality and your own true identity. Vedanta is not a cool idea or a comforting belief. It is the science of self-knowledge. And almost invariably people only encounter it when they have reached the end of the spiritual rope and realize that none of the experiential paths or half-baked (i.e. Neo-Advaita) paths works. Yes, each of these paths has a kernel of truth to them, but none ultimately deliver the goods. Vedanta delivers the goods. Provided you are qualified. But even if you are not qualified Vedanta shows you how to get qualified. So the bottom line is that Vedanta is a practical and proven means of knowledge that you can trust.
Jon: It seems, through my reading @ J. Swartz’s website, that he doesn’t think too highly of such people; I assume he is talking about Fenner, Jeff Foster, et al.
Ted: Pretty much just covered the reason for this.
Jon: It also seems like prerequisite is to have this burning desire to know who I am; frankly, for me, it is more one of wanting to get rid of this anxiousness/depression. I’ve done the counseling bit and that has helped and perhaps would be better off doing that but time is wasting and don’t want to waste any more time; feel ripe to do something about remainder of life (even though I am not the doer apparently)!
Ted: This sounds like burning desire to me. But only you know if you want to continue to dip your toes in the water or wade in from time to time or if you are willing to take the plunge. The kindling for burning desire is the realization that nothing in this world can bring lasting satisfaction, peace, contentment, joy, happiness, bliss, whatever you want to call it. The very nature of the apparent reality is constant change, so nothing in it will ultimately satisfy your longing for wholeness, completeness, and limitlessness. If you’ve been struck with this realization, then why continue to fart around?
Jon: Have ordered James’ book so may shed some light on some of this.
Ted: Awesome. Best spiritual book of the 20th-21st Century in my opinion. Read it slowly and don’t skip around. It follows a logical progression, and you need to sign on to the logic step-by-step. Take your time. And feel free to contact me anytime with any questions you might have.
Jon: Read your bio: interesting stuff; you really have seemed to have landed successfully and become Self-realized. Guess there is hope. Have to admit to some envy.
Ted: You’re in the same “place” as me. You just don’t know it yet. We’ll get there if you choose to embrace self-inquiry.
Ted: Take care, my friend.
Jon: Hi once more,
Ted: Hello back.
Jon: Wanted to clarify that I do feel I’ve been helped with the non-dual sessions; I feel, experienced, at times, that, in this moment, there is no such thing as Jon; i.e.; I can’t find him…
Ted: Whose writing this email?
Jon: …thus all ‘concepts’ e.g. lack, spiritual or otherwise, simply is non- relevant; how can anything be more than This, inexplicable, ever -present, never not present, Awareness.
Ted: I get what you mean, but self-knowledge actually embraces both the real and the apparent. We can’t just completely dismiss the apparent reality. It does exist. It just isn’t real.
Vedanta defines reality as that which does not change, that which can never be negated. We can’t say that the apparent reality (i.e. gross “outer” world and subtle “inner” world) doesn’t exist because we experience it.
But it is not real because no speck of it is permanent.
Vedanta and, for that matter, self-realization is based on what is called atma-anatma-viveka (i.e. the discrimination between the real and the apparent, the self and the not-self). Since my karma has brought me into manifestation, I best know how to deal with the “surrounding” world, how to distinguish myself from my myriad appearances. In this way, I won’t look for the source of happiness/peace in the wrong place. I won’t expect things that are only temporary to provide me with permanent joy. I can cut out the middle man, so to speak, and revel directly in the joy that I am.
Ted: The best to you as well.
Jon: Hi Ted,
I appreciate your response; you’ve addressed my questions with intelligence and it helps me to clarify some things.
It seems like there may be ‘practice’ in this path also but will withhold comment until get better understanding while reading the book.
Wonder if you would tell me a bit more about James Swartz; on first glance he comes across, at least to me, as a bit arrogant with a good size ego; am not sure a humble, enlightened man would put on his web-site; “Click here to read more of my amazing journey.”
Thanx again for your reply.
Ted: Hi, Jon.
Indeed there is practice involved in self-inquiry. The difference between the practices prescribed by Vedanta and those of, say, yoga is that those prescribed by Vedanta are not practices intended to produce an experience of the self or some altered state or any other discrete state that is taken to be “enlightenment.” The self is not a state. The self is the awareness in which all states appear and disappear. Yogic practices, on the other hand, shoot for what is called samadhi (i.e. a transcendental state of bliss, expansiveness, oneness, etc.). Such a state is often taken to be “enlightenment” or self-realization and then becomes simply another object that one attempts to re-experience, often with the hope/belief/expectation that one will one day become permanently established in it. Given that all states are subtle phenomena appearing within and conditioned by the parameters of the time-space continuum, no state is permanent. Hence, no state or discrete experience defines the self.
As I mentioned previously, the self is not an experience, but rather the “light” which illumines experience. It takes quite a subtle mind to “see” or understand this.
The practices prescribed by Vedanta are, therefore, for the purpose of purifying the mind and neutralizing the binding vasanas (i.e. likes and dislikes, desires and fears) that compel one to pursue objects (whether physical, emotional, or mental) that one believes will fulfill or complete one or give one permanent peace and happiness. These likes and dislikes extrovert the mind and distract it by focusing its attention on the “outside” world so that it cannot turn “within” and see the self. They also color one’s interpretation of experience with various tints of belief, opinion, fantasy, desire, fear, etc., rather than allowing one to see clearly the true nature of reality. One’s mind has to be relatively calm and composed in order to make an effective inquiry into one’s being. Once one understands one’s true identity, one no longer cares much about evoking, enjoying, and maintaining any particular state of experience. One sees that one is actually untouched by experience. Experiences come and go, but I always am.
As far as telling you about James is concerned, I’ll just say this: he is authentic, honest, humble, compassionate, and human. He knows who he is and knows how to show you who you are. He doesn’t prance around trying to impress people and make a big show of his understanding. He certainly doesn’t try to fulfill anyone’s erroneous fantasy of what a holy man or self-realized being is or should be like. When you come to know who you are, you understand that all such notions are a bunch of bullshit.
You are the self and the at the same time you have a character — complete with virtues and vices — with whom you are associated and through whom you apparently interact with the world. Despite its bad reputation among various branches of the spiritual world, there is nothing wrong with the ego. As long as you appear as an apparent someone, you will have an ego. And truly speaking the ego does not stand in the way of the self. It is only another object appearing within awareness. The ego only becomes problematic when one identifies with it and takes it to be one’s self.
But the ego you are referring to is that aspect of the personality characterized by pride and perhaps even arrogance. In this regard, I would say that James is confident, but not arrogant. When you know the self, after all, you understand there is nothing to be arrogant about, no other to feel better than or superior to, because there is only you. So when James refers to his journey as amazing, he is simply calling a spade a spade. It’s nothing personal. His character has experienced an amazing journey. He’s just as amazed by it as the rest of us, which is not to say that it is any more amazing than those journeys experienced by the rest of us, but just that it is one amazing journey among many, the most important aspect of it being that it culminated in self-knowledge. Would it be arrogant for LeBron James to say that he is a good basketball player? Or for Stephen Hawking to say that he has a good grasp of quantum physics? Honesty and confidence should not be confused with arrogance.
Anyway, that is my two-cents. Check out James’ book, website, and videos. See for yourself. Maybe he doesn’t fit your concept of a “humble, enlightened man,” but maybe your concept of humility and enlightenment are off the mark.
I will conclude by saying this. James is an honest man and you can trust him. He will not steer you wrong. He is not in it for money, sex, fame, or power. His life is essentially a jnanam yagna (i.e. a sacrifice of knowledge).
As he says, Vedanta saved his life and he is offering the wisdom he received from his guru to those seekers who are truly interested in gaining self-knowledge and liberation. His life is actually one of humility and service.