You Can’t Practice Non-Duality

Hi Ted,

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.

Best regards,


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.

Best regards,


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.

Best regards,


You Are That Because Of Which The Knower Knows


I keep coming back to this question: As the jiva is an upadhi how can it ever claim to be That?

Ted: Sri Sri Karmayogaji, my friend. It is good to hear from you.

Vedanta uses the analogy of the wave and ocean to clarify this issue. Though each wave is an upadhi (i.e. limiting adjunct) with regard to the ocean, both the ocean and the wave are nothing other than water. So, in more personal terms, while the apparent individual person referred to as Darin is a limited upadhi, the “substance” of which it is made is nothing other than the same pure awareness of which the entire apparent reality is made and in which it exists and, moreover, that is “beyond” or “prior to” and thus untouched by the apparent reality altogether.

The doubt here is rooted in a fundamental misidentification. Before reading further, take a moment and contemplate this. You will probably figure it out. If you can’t, or simply want to verify the result of your inquiry, read on….

Darin: That, the Self, Awareness, is all pervasive, eternal, unqualified, unconditionally free.

Ted: Yep. And is there ever a moment when you can say that you are not yourself? Is there ever a moment when you are not aware (think about this one carefully)? Are there objects appearing of which you are unaware? Has there ever been a moment when you did not exist? Can your being be defined or “summed up” by any particular object, gross or subtle, appearing “within” it?

Any lingering doubt at this point is rooted in a fundamental misidentification. Before reading further, take a moment and contemplate this. You will probably figure it out. If you can’t, or simply want to verify the result of your inquiry, read on….

Darin: How can I, Darin, ever admit to that?

Ted: Hmmm…who are you?

Remember the basis of self-inquiry — and indeed the very essence of Vedanta — is atma-anatma-viveka (i.e. the discrimination between the real and the apparent, the self and the not-self), which playfully put boils down to “what I see I cannot be.”

This Darin character whom you insist on taking yourself to be is actually nothing more than an object appearing within you, pure awareness, the all- pervasive, eternal, unqualified, unconditionally free self.

Remember…the self is not the body (sensations and actions) nor the mind (emotions) nor the intellect (thoughts). You are not the body nor the mind nor the intellect. You are the self. You are the witness. You are pure awareness.

Darin: When I am not That.

Ted: Yes you are. You just think you are not because you are identifying with the upadhi (i.e. mind-body-sense complex) that constitutes the character referred to as Darin. Your assuming the identity of the Halloween costume and forgetting who you really are.

And now I know you are thinking, “But even if I say/believe/know myself to be the witnessing awareness behind the mask, I am never able to escape the limitations of the costume.” In other words, you are wondering why even when you know you are all-pervasive awareness you still don’t see and know and experience everything everywhere at all times.

The resolution of this doubt lies in a careful contemplation of who is asking the question.

You, the self/pure awareness, already know who you are, so you, the self/pure awareness, are not asking the question (not to mention the fact that you, the self/pure awareness, are actionless and thus incapable of doing any asking). Ignorance in the form of an apparent person referred to as Darin is asking the question. As we have already established, this apparent individual is an upadhi, a limiting adjunct. That is to say that it is basically a machine whose components carry out their functions when illumined by awareness. In other words, you shine on the mind-body-sense complex and the senses perceive, the mind coheres and doubts, the intellect deliberates and discriminates and decides (based on input from the causal body), the mind now emotes, the active organs react/respond, and the ego erroneously assumes responsibility for the whole “kit n’ kaboodle.” Because the whole process is bound by the limits of its mechanism, the senses will not perceive the sensations taken in by another mechanism/upadhi/mind-body-sense complex, the mind will not feel the emotional response of another, the intellect will not think the thoughts of another, the active organs will not be able to act through another, and the ego will not assume the identity of another.

It is essential to remember that you, the self/pure awareness, are not doing any of this. You simply illumine the mechanism and thus set it into motion. Its perceptions, emotions, thoughts, and actions are not yours. You witness them. But even that witnessing is not the witnessing associated with Darin, which consists of thoughts about the situation. You are simply the witnessing awareness in which all these functions appear. In other words, you are not the knower in the sense of the apparent individual who serves the function of the knower within the knower-knowing-known trinity that characterizes relative knowledge (i.e. knowledge of objects) within the context of the apparent reality. Rather, you are that because of which the knower knows.

When you withdraw from your identification with the upadhi of the individual person in deep sleep, for instance, or nirvikalpa samadhi, you do resolve into your all-pervasive, eternal (i.e. beyond time and space), unqualified, unconditionally free nature. But whenever you are identified with a particular individual you will be limited by the scope of that particular mechanism/upadhi/mind-body-sense complex.

Now, you might very well be thinking, “How come I can’t identify with one upadhi and then withdraw from that upadhi and “enter” another and retain the memory of the previous upadhi?”

The resolution of this doubt boils down to basically the same reason as resolved the previous doubt. Whether it would theoretically be when moving from one upadhi to another within the apparent context of one lifetime or doing so within the context of multiple lifetimes, which is the idea many hold concerning reincarnation, the chitta (i.e. relative informational memory) of one individual person cannot transfer to another as each mechanism has its own set of components (i.e. body, mind, intellect, and ego). And, again, awareness is not thinking, feeling, or doing any of this; it is simply illumining the entire apparent reality/macrocosmic mechanism in which all this action is apparently taking place.

Darin: I am limited. Temporary. Small. Conditioned. Dependent. And powerless for God’s sake!

Ted: No you are not. Darin is.

Darin: This understanding of my source does not change my nature.

Ted: I know what you in your identification of yourself as Darin mean here, but hopefully the explanation provided above has clarified that you are not Darin. You are the source of Darin. You are pure awareness out of which Darin manifests and back into which he will one day resolve.

Though you did not intend it this way, the wording of this sentence, nevertheless, suggest two points concerning self-realization that are worth mentioning.

First, even after you have realized your true identity, lingering doubts may continue to arise for a while due to prarabdha karma (i.e. ingrained habits based on past actions that have already been set in motion this lifetime and have to play out until completely finished). These doubts, however, will simply be seen as appearances within the scope of awareness and thus will not be seriously entertained or accepted and therefore will not cause suffering. Eventually, the seeds of such thoughts will be completely “burnt” by knowledge and such thought will arise no more.

Second, knowing who you are does not change the personality and experience of the character you are playing. Knowledge does affect experience and therefore Darin may make different choices and have different responses to situations and encounters than he may have had before. But to a large extent Darin will continue to experience life as Darin — warts and all. Darin doesn’t need to become a saint. Darin can just be Darin. The difference will be that you will know you are not Darin and therefore not suffer Darin’s slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Note that you will experience them. You simply will not suffer as a result.

Darin: So how can I ever say I Am That?

Ted: Because you are.

Much Love,


Ted: Love to you as well.

When You’re No Longer Interested In The World

Hello Ted,

Ted: Hi, Trent. Good to hear from you.

Trent: Thank you very much for your response to my message. It was great to hear from one who could provide some re-assurance for what has been going on mentally, regarding the pursuit of this knowledge. I hope you’ve been doing well.

Ted: Glad I — or rather Vedanta — could help. And, indeed, I have been doing well.

Trent: The videos by James Swartz on Vivekachudamani have had a lot of impact, and in the last one, he was talking about how if you’re no longer interested in the world, it indicates that something is right with you, rather than wrong.

Ted: That is definitely true! And I understand the context and the general intent of the comment, which is entirely valid. It is good to bear in the back of your mind, however, that from the point of view of the self there never is anything “wrong” with you.

First and foremost because you are the self, pure awareness. And since there is nothing other than you, all comparative dualisms are rendered moot.

Second, the apparent individual that is labeled Trent is entirely Isvara’s — God’s, the universe’s — creation, and thus the relative, dependent “you” is nothing more than an “avatar” playing out its programming at the behest of the Great Gamer God.

This second circumstance, however, neither negates your apparent free will as an apparent individual nor your responsibility for living in accordance or suffering the inevitable consequences for not doing so. In other words, though Trent — as well as Ted and everyone else — is essentially, to extend the metaphor, a high-definition computer graphic an integral part of “your” programming is the function of free will. Within the context of the virtual (apparent) reality, “you” seem to have the ability to objectively assess situations and deliberate over the plethora of data “your” perceptive organs have presented to you and ultimately decide how to respond to any given circumstance. And it is a condition of the game design that “you” will make such decisions. Thus it will seem to “you” as though you are perceiving and deciding, doing and enjoying according to “your” own independent volition. If we were able to examine the deep structure of “your” psyche (i.e. the programming of your character, or the store of vasanas in your causal body), we would be able to see that all of “your” interpreted perceptions, decisions, and responsive actions were the offspring of your vasanas (i.e. likes and dislikes, desires and fears).

Moreover, because “you” are programmed the way “you” are, “you” will make decisions and execute actions that are for the most part either dharmic or adharmic. In other words, “you” will act either in alignment with the fundamental moral laws that govern the apparent reality — or, in terms of our analogy, that are the rules of the game — or act in ways that violate those laws. The results that “you” then suffer or enjoy are the wholly impersonal consequences of “your” actions and how they impact the flow of energy through the field of experience (i.e. the apparent reality) rather than rewards or punishments doled out by some personal God for “good” or “bad,” “virtuous” or “sinful” actions respectively.

According to Vedanta, there is no personal God. The Great Gamer to whom I referred earlier is simply a personification of the field of experience.

Isvara — the Vedantic name for God the Creator — is simply pure awareness wielding its inherent power of Maya (i.e. ignorance). Though there is no rational explanation for why whole and complete, limitless, actionless awareness would wield such a power, suffice it to be said that if omnipotent awareness did not have the power to apparently delude itself it would not be all-powerful. Nor would there be any apparent “creation” in which we could find ourselves floundering about trying to figure out who we are. What a barrel o’ fun, eh? This is most likely where the idea that the apparent reality is God’s lila (i.e. dance or sport) comes from. Romantic as it is, this theory can, of course, be nothing more than a myth, based as it is on the initiatory circumstance of a personal God desiring to alleviate its boredom, none of which would be reasonable nor could be possible given that pure awareness is attributeless and therefore inherently actionless.

The point of my digression is simply this: though free-will, from the absolute point of view, is pure fantasy, it is nevertheless a built-in function of the apparent “you,” and therefore “you” must execute it wisely in accordance with both the design of “your” character and the rules of the game.

That said, I wholeheartedly second James’ idea that a dissipating interest in the world indicate something is “right” with you — assuming you are a serious seeker seriously seeking moksha (i.e. liberation or freedom).

When you realize that the apparent reality has nothing to offer in terms of lasting happiness, you naturally lose interest in it. The only reason the apparent you was interested in it in the first place is because the accumulation of vasanas that have “created” you — for who are “you” other than the package of likes and dislikes, desires and fears that constitute “your” personal identity? — sought a field in which they could roam “freely” and hopefully find fulfillment and permanent happiness. Much to the chagrin of the little cherubs, they found the pursuits of worldly security, pleasure, and virtue to be as insubstantial as cotton candy. Delicious as it promises to be, it dissolves into a sickeningly sweet slime the moment you bite into it that fails to satisfy and leaves nothing more than a bitter aftertaste in its wake. We no longer hanker after experience once we know it to be hollow.

Trent: I’ve been going through some depressive states relating to not having any interest in the world, other than relating to Isvara’s natural world. We have two dogs, a beautiful yard which has a wonderful canopy of trees, wildlife that also live there.

Ted: I understand. The depression has a two-fold cause.

First, we have invested so much faith in the idea that the world can fulfill us that it is a bit unsettling to finally realize that it cannot. She looks so beautiful, but once we pull a Scooby Doo maneuver and rip the mask off we find she is nothing more than a common criminal, a scoundrel conning us into believing we are limited little needy worms rather than reveling in our true nature as whole and complete, limitless, actionless, all-pervasive, non- dual awareness.

Second, what appears to be depression is actually a kind of existential boredom. We have occupied ourselves for so long with the daily “to do” list of actions that we hope will bring us happiness that we don’t what the hell to do with ourselves now that we know there is nothing we can do.

And regarding the joy you are finding in “relating to Isvara’s natural world,” it is interesting to note that since no mineral, plant, or animal in it suffers the curse/enjoys the blessing of free will — all animals other than humans behave according to their programming, which is why all members of any particular species look and act almost exactly alike — nature operates completely in harmony with dharma (i.e. natural law). You are probably intuitively tuning into the natural order of things. And, once again speaking in terms of our gaming analogy, since your character’s mind is no longer extroverted by its desire to defeat it opponents and advance to the next level, so to speak, “you” can appreciate the exquisite beauty and awesome majesty of the game’s graphics as they are spread out around “you.”

Trent: Other than that, Vedanta seems to be the only interest that I have presently. I realize that it requires patience, and discipline to hang in with the pursuit. I don’t really have any questions; I guess I’m after some comments regarding this type of reaction to the teaching. Maybe you experienced something similar? It seems strange, since I used to have a great amount of enthusiasm about music; have a degree in it and all that; now it really seems like nothing, compared to the pursuit of the hard and fast realization of who I really am.

Ted: All I wanted to be when I was a kid was a major league baseball player. I worked out 4-5 hours a day, year-round hoping to fulfill that dream. Later, after it had collapsed, I put the same level of enthusiasm and focused effort into acting, art, and writing. None of that worked out either.

The “pay off” of these efforts, however, was that I learned patience and discipline, and when I applied those virtues to self-inquiry under the guidance of a qualified teacher, rapid progress ensued.

Count your blessings. It may be that after you become fully established in your true identity that you will again seek to express yourself through music. If not, then the discipline you developed through studying music will serve you in rediscovering the true source of the joy you were looking to find through music all along.

Trent: The knowledge really seems to be intermittent. If I listen to a talk it has a great impact, but the next morning, it seems like I’m back to being this person who has to go to work and do the usual stuff.

Ted: Yep. That’s how it is, folks. For everyone. As James says, you build this house brick by brick. There ain’t no shortcuts. You are overthrowing the tyranny of erroneous, self-debasing notions that has held power in your mind for lifetimes. As you said, it takes patience, discipline, diligence, and a deep, deep, deep desire. Just stick with it. Keep listening to the talks, keep reading scripture — especially James’ book, and keep in contact with me — or any other qualified teacher — when you have questions. Don’t give up.

You’re on the right track at last.

One tip — although Vedanta has a whole arsenal — is to ask yourself who is seeing “you” “being” this person who has to go to work and do the usual stuff. You, pure awareness, are never not present, so the answer is always an immediate “experience” of your own presence. You, pure awareness, is watching this Kent character do his thing. Enjoy the show, while always remembering that you, pure awareness, remain untouched by it.

Trent: Anyway, it would be great to hear from you again regarding what I’ve put down here. Hopefully it makes some sense!

Thank you; all the best,


Ted: All the best (which is always what is) to you as well. Take care, mi amigo.

The Self Can’t Avoid Itself

Hi Ted,

I want to thank you for your well thought out reply to me and for putting into words so well what I also have intuited, and that is that the afflictions “I” suffer are in fact merely appearances and that the real “I”, awareness, am not touched by them. I know it will take some time for this to in fact become reality in my experience, but meanwhile, I find it very easy, especially on good days, to be the aware observer and everything within the field of awareness, both inner and outer, as data.

Ted: I get what you are saying, Amelia, but it also seems like an opportune moment to stress the importance of language within the context of Vedanta. Vedanta is what is termed in Sanskrit as a shabda pramana, which means that it is a means of knowledge (pramana) whose vehicle is sound (shabda). In simple terms, this means that Vedanta relies on words to convey its message. Because the self, awareness, the true you, cannot be objectified, it — you — cannot be known in the same way one can know a person or a thing or an experience or a feeling or a thought. All of these can be “seen” or experienced either visually or by means of the other sense organs. Relative knowledge — i.e. knowledge of objects — is gathered mainly through perception and inference. In other words, we either directly experience the object or we make inferences (logical informed guesses) based on the clues at hand. For instance, we can either directly perceive a fire burning before us, or we can infer that a fire is burning because, even though we don’t actually see the fire itself, we see smoke rising beyond the tree line and we know that smoke is only produced by fire. The self, pure awareness, however, has no attributes and, therefore, despite the fact that it is never not present — how else would you know that you exist, much less anything else, unless you are aware? — can be neither perceived nor inferred.

This is where Vedanta comes to the rescue. Vedanta is referred to in Sanskrit as apta vakya, which means “the testimony of a reliable witness.” Despite what some people think, the ancient rishis (seers) didn’t think up Vedanta. The insights or knowledge that constitutes Vedanta was revealed to them. They “saw” it or “heard” it. In other words, Vedanta is not a man- made philosophy. It is the revealed wisdom that has come directly from the self to help the self free itself from the apparent ignorance it has inexplicably imposed upon itself. It’s a weird situation, I know, but there is a way out. Even though, as mentioned, we can neither directly see the self nor infer its existence based on perception-based data (i.e. the smoke that indicates fire), we can gain an understanding of our true nature through the words of Vedanta. In other words, Vedanta acts as a word mirror that reveals our true nature through the implied meanings of the words employed for that purpose. Though we cannot see the self, the words ring true and remind us of our true nature because essentially it is a matter of the atman (the term used to denote the self, pure awareness, when it is associated with a particular apparent individual entity) recognizing its identity with brahman (the term used to denote the absolute or universal nature of the self, pure awareness).

The point is that words are vitally important in Vedanta and need to be used both consciously and with precision if one is to realize one’s true identity. So, when you say, “I know it will take some time for this to in fact become reality in my experience” it is important that you recognize (or at least contemplate, which will enable you to eventually recognize) that your identity as awareness is already the fact, the reality, of your experience. The only reason you are able to know you are having experience is because you, awareness, are aware of it. Similarly, when you say, “I find it very easy, especially on good days, to be the aware observer” it is again of vital importance to recognize that you are already, always have been, and always will be the aware observer. Speaking in terms of becoming or being something that is somehow different from what you always are suggests that you are not already who you are, which is not true. Moreover, both “becoming” and “being” in the sense that you are using them imply that the self is an object — in this case, a state or way of being — that is different than or separate from you and that you can attain, acquire, or achieve it through an action. The irony, however, is that you can’t do something to get what you’ve already got. You are the self, whole and complete, limitless, actionless, ordinary, unborn, all-pervasive, non-dual awareness. When you get this, you get that there is nothing to get. In other words, the “getting” is a matter of understanding, not acquisition. We are so conditioned to seek experience and to think that self-realization will be some experience, that despite its utter simplicity we struggle with simply accepting that we are already the self. We don’t become the self by means of Vedanta. Vedanta simply removes our ignorance and reveals to us what we have always been all along. Of course, just because we understand the movie on the screen is nothing more than flickering light doesn’t mean the movie stops or that the images cease to appear as people and places and things. In the same way, just because I know who I am doesn’t mean the apparent reality that I refer to as “my life” suddenly disappears in a blazing flash of light or that the events apparently transpiring within it change in any significant way (though they might). Self- realization is simply that. I realize, know, understand who I really am rather than continuing to be suckered into believing I am some small, inadequate, incomplete worm. To reiterate the initial point, language is vitally important in assimilating this understanding and making it one’s own.

As I previously mentioned, the price of freedom is constant vigilance. Observe your words, whether they be spoken, written, or thought. Make sure that you are using them wisely. That is, make sure they are truthful representations of who you really are rather than a mindless repetition of assumed conditioning. Excuses are acceptable no more. Now that you know you are not the objects appearing in you, it is your responsibility to apply that knowledge — assuming you want to be free. Challenging as it can be at times, it is time to take a stand as awareness. So, think, speak, and act accordingly.

Amelia: Your understanding of the difficult emotional states of PTSD was quite correct. I can see that maintaining vigilance during those episodes will be my real work.

Ted: This is sound understanding, Amelia. Though you can’t do anything to become who you are, you do have to do something — remain vigilant, practice karma yoga, continually expose yourself to the teachings and contemplate their implications in terms of your life, apply the opposite thought when you catch the mind playing its old tricks — to purify the mind of it’s conditioned, habitual way of thinking and reacting. Note, however, that by purifying the mind I don’t mean you have to “kill” the mind or eradicate every single negative or limiting thought. Do the best you can to manage the mind, and when it reaches the appropriate degree of purity it will naturally recognize the light that has always been shining within it and will cease its identification with the objects on which that light — awareness, you!!! — is shining.

Amelia: I have an added dimension of awareness with the dissociative disorder.

Ted: Again, I think you mean awareness in the relative sense here, but it is worth calling attention to your use of language within the context of our discussion here. To be clear there, there are no degrees of awareness — assuming by awareness we mean the self. The self is the self. Awareness is awareness. You don’t gain more awareness when you know who you are. You simply understand that the ordinary awareness by which you know what you know and know what you don’t know is the unchanging, limitless, consciousness/awareness in which the entire apparent reality — both its gross and subtle aspects — appears and of which it is made.

Amelia: This body was subjected to multiple types of abuse from both parents in utero up to about age 8. In order to survive I left my body and had no memory of many of the events until age 43 when memories started flooding into my consciousness. In previous times this type of thing was called multiple personality disorder. Nowadays they call it DID, or dissociative identity disorder. The ironic thing is that we all suffer from DID in the sense that we have all dissociated from our true identity to take up a false one, don’t you think?

Ted: Good point . . . and I like your wry humor.

Regarding the childhood trauma that Amelia suffered, you might be interested to know that Vedanta doesn’t require that we process all our past “stuff” before we can assimilate the truth. Though past experiences no doubt contributed to and/or reinforced our conditioning, the experiences themselves are no longer present — i.e. they are not happening now — and therefore only have the power to affect us that we continue to give them through our thought patterns. I’m guessing you know this already given that you referred to the one who suffered those traumas as “the body,” but it is worth contemplating this idea in order to lay the effects of the conditioning to rest if you haven’t already done so.

I’m not a psychologist and have little scientific understanding of the “anatomy” of conditions such as PTSD and DID, and I’m not suggesting Vedanta can cure those conditions. What I am saying is that you don’t necessarily have to look at your present reactions to life in terms of past traumas. Vedanta says the essentially our present suffering is a result of not getting what we want or not avoiding what we don’t want. Again, our likes and dislikes, desires and fears, were born out of and/or shaped by our past experiences — and, therefore, it may or may not be helpful to gain an understanding of their cause — but basically they manifest now in terms of “triggers” in our present environment that correspond to our preferences.

The import of this understanding is that it frees us from having to be slaves to our past circumstances and experiences. Moreover, it reveals that the key to overcoming the negative effects of the conditionings that were instilled or sustained by traumatic events is self-knowledge. Once you know that you are not the body or the mind or the intellect — and certainly not the phenomena influencing them — and, thus, not the apparent person who apparently suffered the apparently traumatic events, then you are empowered to let their influence go. Or, perhaps more aptly put, you simply no longer identify yourself as the one who is conditioned by them.

Then, whether their influence continues or not, you are not bothered by it in the same way as when you thought you were the one suffering their influence. Often, this cognitive shift is enough to change the intensity and/or appearance of their influence or even quell it altogether, but, of course, there is no guarantee. If you have stand confidently in the knowledge of your true identity as pure awareness, however, then even should the “pain” continue, suffering ceases.

Amelia: I have a mild case, only two ‘alters’ or alternate personalities, very young ones that carry traumatic memories, one containing fear and the other anger and hatred. I do my best to see these as just more data, but many times the emotions color my whole being. I know I sound like I’m on a self pity trip but I am just explaining what DID is and how it can affect the “host” personality. I can see from the Vedanta perspective, the host personality, or Annie, and all the other alters have no difference, in that they are all objects of awareness and are not who I really am.

Ted: This analysis is quite interesting in that corresponds directly with the Vedantic teaching concerning the three gunas, which are the three basic qualities that intermingle and combine in various configurations to comprise every aspect of creation, the apparent reality. These three qualities are sattva, rajas, and tamas. The nature of sattva is light, clarity, and knowledge. The nature of rajas is heat, passion, desire, activity, and projection. The nature of tamas is darkness, dullness, inertia, sloth, stupidity and denial. These three qualities not only comprise the “outer” world, but they color every aspect of our subjective experience — i.e. thoughts, feelings, memories, perceptions, fantasies, desires, fears, interpretations, judgments, etc. — as well.

It is quite obvious that these three energies are playing out a complex experiential drama within your being. Fears are related to aspects of reality with which we don’t want to deal, and thus the “fear” aspect is tamas. Anger arises due to thwarted desire and hatred is the immature projection of blame on an “other” which/whom we believe was responsible to a greater or lesser degree for our not getting what we want, so the anger/hatred aspect is rajas. Discrimination and dispassion are essential ingredients of the ability to see oneself as the substratum of pure awareness that is ever-untainted screen upon which this drama is unfolding, so you as awareness are sattva.

The fundamental problem associated with the gunas is the disturbance caused by excessive rajas and tamas. In order to have enough calmness, focus, and clarity to engage in successful self-inquiry, one needs to have a predominately sattvic mind. The chief characteristic of rajas is projection, and so too much rajas extroverts the mind and prevents it from turning within to find contentment. The chief characteristic of tamas is denial, and so too much tamas clouds the mind and prevents its apprehension of the subtle nature of the self. Moreover, these two qualities are insidious bedfellows, that work in tandem to sustain ignorance. The excessive activity and agitation caused by rajas leads to tamasic states of exhaustion, inertia, and sometimes apathy.

This is not to say that rajas and tamas are all bad. We need — and actually cannot avoid having — a bit of both qualities in our system. Rajas gives us enough get-up-and-go to take care of our responsibilities and realize our ambitions (yes, you may very will still have ambitions when you know who you are, you simply won’t be driven by them or seek lasting happiness through their fulfillment). Tamas sees to it that we can sleep and gives us enough grounding to maintain a degree of practicality in our approach to life. As mentioned, however, a predominately sattvic mind is necessary for the assimilation of self-knowledge.

James devotes two whole chapters of his book to a more detailed description of these qualities and their influence as well as providing practical tips for balancing and managing them in a way that supports self- inquiry. I strongly suggest you pay close attention and give ample consideration to the information in these chapters. Coupled with the application of self-knowledge, an understanding of the gunas might provide you with affective means of more effectively preventing and/or dealing with stressful circumstances and the consequent arising of excessive rajas and tamas.

Amelia: I don’t know if I will ever find lasting peace and happiness but I am sure motivated to try with everything that is within me.

Ted: Motivation is a huge factor when seeking freedom. Vedanta calls this factor mumukshutva, or burning desire, and says it is among the most essential qualifications of a student. It seems like the time as come for the self to recognize itself through you. Trust in the teachings of Vedanta, vigilantly watch your mind, and apply self-knowledge to every experience of Annie’s life. As you are essentially the self telling yourself it’s time to reclaim its true identity, the self has no choice but to respond. The self can’t avoid itself.

Thank you for your wisdom and your caring,


Anytime, Amelia.

Best regards,


The Apparent Action of Actionless Awareness

Garuda: I am not clear about the relationship between Brahman, Maya and Ishwara. Maya is said to be inherent in Brahman. Like Brahman, it is ever existent. Ishwara is said to be a product of Brahman and Maya. However, while the universe is governed by Maya, Maya does not govern Ishwara. Ishwara governs Maya although he is a product of Maya. This is confusing.

Ted: Brahman is simply the name given to pure awareness. Brahman means “limitless” and so is an appropriate name to denote the self as pure awareness. Brahman, awareness, is beyond the scope of the three bodies – the gross, subtle, and causal bodies (sthula sharira, sukshma sharira, and karana sharira). In other words, Brahman is the “fourth factor” (turiya), to use a term from the Mandukya Upanishad, or the pure awareness in which the three bodies appear and of which they are made. In this sense, we can say that the three bodies are Brahman/awareness/the self, but Brahman/awareness/the self is not the three bodies. That is, Brahman is the essential substance of the universe, but while all objects – gross and subtle – in the three-bodied “creation” depend upon Brahman for their existence, Brahman is unobjectifiable and self-existent and, thus, ever free of all objects.

Maya (ignorance) is a power within Brahman, awareness. Because it is a power inherent in Brahman and, thus, essentially none other than Brahman in the same way that the wave is nothing other than the ocean, Maya is beginningless.

In conjunction with this issue, it is worth mentioning that unlike Brahman, Maya does have an end. Ignorance is removed, ended, eradicated by self- knowledge. That is to say that while Maya on a macrocosmic level does continue to influence the apparent reality/universe throughout the millennia until the pralaya (the periodic cosmic dissolution), the jiva’s (apparent individual’s) avidya (individual or microcosmic ignorance) ends with the assimilation of the knowledge that I am whole and complete, limitless, actionless, ordinary, all-pervasive, non-dual awareness.

Though Brahman is actionless due to its all-pervasive and perfectly-full-and- therefore-desireless nature, when pure awareness illumines or – to put it in personified terms – “wields” Maya, we call this “creative entity” – again employing personification – Ishwara.

For right understanding, it is essential to get clear on a couple of factors involved in this description of how the Creator creates, so to speak.

First, it is important to understand that Brahman is not the creator. Brahman is simply actionless awareness. Brahman is the light of consciousness that illumines Maya and, thus, “enlivens” the apparent power of ignorance that projects the “dream” universe or apparent reality. It is this illumination that we, due to the limited vehicle of inherently dualistic language, refer to when we say that Brahman “wields” its power of Maya.

Therefore, while in one sense it can be said that Ishwara is a “product” of Brahman and Maya, this creator God is not actually an independent entity or being. Neither Ishwara nor Maya are actual independent entities capable of executing volitional actions. These “entities” are simply personifications of the inherent power of what is. Though it is difficult for us to comprehend, awareness simply is and this apparent universe is what “it” appears to be when seen through the lens of ignorance. Nothing is actually anything other than awareness and, moreover, nothing is actually happening.

Which leads us directly to the second factor about which we must get clear.

The second factor that is important to understand concerning the creation is that it is not a creation at all. The word “creation” implies that something new has been added to the mix, so to speak. But there is nothing other than Brahman or pure awareness; Brahman or pure awareness is the substance-less substance of the apparent reality. Due to its attributeless nature, it is formless and can, therefore, appear in the guise of any form – gross or subtle – that Maya projects “upon” it. Vedanta uses the famous analogy of the rope that is mistaken for a snake to illustrate how “creation” occurs. Just as the snake can never be said to really exist, it does appear to exist and its appearance does have experiential consequences for the ignorant individual who misapprehends the reality of what is actually before him.

For all intents and purposes, the terms Ishwara and Maya are synonymous and represent the macrocosmic causal body – to put it in impersonal terms. Again, Ishwara is name we give to Brahman’s “wielding” of Maya, or pure awareness’s illumination of ignorance. In this sense, Ishwara and Maya enjoy the same status and, therefore, one doesn’t govern the other. To muddy the waters a bit, however, it bears mentioning that Ishwara is also used interchangeably with Brahman. In this sense, then, we can say that Ishwara controls, wields, or governs Maya.

It must always be remembered that Maya is insentient and is simply the power of ignorance, which makes the universe appear real. Moreover, as has been pointed out, Maya is not actually a thing. That is, ignorance does not enjoy anything more than a dependent existence in relation to Brahman/Ishwara. If it were an actual entity that shared the same ontological or existential status as Brahman/Ishwara, it couldn’t be removed or eradicated. Since it is only a mistake, however, a misapprehension, it can be erased through understanding.

That said, there is verity to the idea that Ishwara is a product of Maya in the sense that the whole concept of a Creator is only brought about through ignorance, which thinks and makes it appear as though a creation has actually taken place and that there exist both solid and subtle manifest forms. This is why Vedanta says that the self is even greater than God. Taken as the wielder of Maya, God or Ishwara – as well as Its supposed creation – is only a concept appearing within pure awareness, one’s true self.

Garuda: Secondly, did Shankara deviate from the teachings of Upanishads? The invocatory verse in Ishopanishad, Purnam idam, Purnam adaha, Puranat, Purnam utpadyate seems to indicate that this world is born out of that Brahaman. Shankara does not seem to agree with this view. According to him, the imperfect limited world cannot emerge from unlimited, perfect Brahman and the world is only an illusion created by Maya. What is the correct position?

Ted: Shankara did not deviate from the teachings of the Upanishads. To have done so would invalidate his teachings. The genius of Shankara was his ability to reconcile the apparent contradictions that are set forth in the Upanishads. If you review the previous explanation, you will see that Brahman, actionless awareness, does not actually create anything. The whole universe is an apparent reality that has no more – and no less – substance than a dream. It is all an optical illusion – which does not mean that it does not exist, mind you, but only that it is not real, for its existence depends upon awareness – effected by the inexplicable power of ignorance, a misapprehension that is the uncaused effect of Maya.

In fact, nothing ever happened. Awareness simply is.