The Teacher Can’t Transmit Enlightenment

Do you have any comments on the concept of “guru’s grace” or ‘shaktipat guru’; the idea that some teachers are able to ‘induce’ experience in seekers or ‘transmit’ knowledge or ‘spiritual power’? Numerous reports of this sort of thing abound in the literature, and I myself have experienced something along these lines many years ago from a “mystical teacher” I followed for a couple of years in 1978-1980. I wonder what is actually going on in this sort of incident. Is it just 100% psychology at work, pure self-deception? Such “transmission” experiences can often be the seed or catalyst that spurs further effort on the path. There are so many examples of an aspirant “feeling something” in the presence of a teacher or guru that it seems inappropriate to just dismiss such claims outright.

It is true that some teachers can “induce” experiences in seekers. The teacher’s ability to do this might be called a “spiritual” power in the sense that is seems both extraordinary – i.e. something most people can’t do – and mystical – i.e. beyond the normal range of mundane or worldly occurrences. The qualitative effect of this energy transmission on the seeker might, as well, be referred to as “spiritual power” in the sense that it powers up one’s mind-body-sense complex – most specifically the subtle body – in the same way that an influx of warm air heats up a room or the blare of dance music livens up a party.

Mystical and magical as shaktipat, the transmission of “spiritual energy” or the “descent of grace” seems to be, it is fundamentally a phenomenon that is rather commonplace and familiar to all. It is no secret that energy affects energy, that, for instance, weather conditions affect one’s body or that the mood of someone with whom one is interacting affects one’s own. Indeed, it is for this reason that most – if not all – spiritual traditions advise one to be mindful of the company one keeps, both in terms of one’s own thoughts as well as other people.

In this sense, examples of shaktipat abound in popular culture. Sex symbols such as Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Madonna, and Marilyn Monroe incited thousands of fans with emotional reactions ranging from attraction to admiration to unalloyed lust. Power mongers such as Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Tse Tung as well as peace warriors such as Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela ignited in their countrymen intense feelings of respect, loyalty, and purpose. Spiritual titans such as Jesus, the Pope, the Buddha, and Ammachi are said to bestow blessings upon, invoke transcendental experiences in, and inspire the unwavering faith of countless devotees.

In more ordinary terms, if you have ever fallen in love, been motivated by someone who believed in you, or had your hurt feelings soothed by a friend, then you have essentially experienced shaktipat.
The shaktipat we speak of in terms of spiritual awakening seems different from these mundane forms of energy transference because it can, depending on its degree of intensity, induce extraordinary experiences, uncommon insights, and/or a sense of expansion that reaches beyond the boundaries of one’s conditioned notions of time and space. As awe- inspiring, powerful, mind-blowing, or beautiful as these epiphanies may be, however, they are essentially no different than any other experience in terms of substance and shelf-life. In other words, they are nothing more that apparent objects that arise, abide, and subside in awareness. They are transient and temporary, ephemeral and impermanent. In short, they do not last.

More significant is the fact that experience itself does not transmit knowledge. Though it can be said that experience is the container of knowledge, most often in the case of spiritual epiphanies one is so entirely overwhelmed by the experience itself that one is rendered incapable of analyzing or inquiring into it as it is happening and so fails to glean the knowledge it has to offer. Furthermore, most often the mind of the one having the experience is still riddled with ignorance concerning its true nature and would, therefore, be incapable of correctly interpreting the experience anyway.

The bottom line, in light of what has been said, is quite simply the basic fact that no teacher can transmit enlightenment.

But if the teacher is not transmitting enlightenment, then what exactly is going on, and – perhaps more to the point – how is what’s going on happening?

The phenomenon of shaktipat involves three essential factors: 1) the teacher’s reservoir of “spiritual” energy, 2) the student’s expectation and/or readiness, and 3) the “group mind” that surrounds the event.

One’s reservoir of “spiritual” energy – i.e. the amount and quality of the spiritual power one has at one’s disposal – can be cultivated by means of tapas. In the Vedas, tapas refers to both the “inner heat” created by the practice of physical and mental austerities and the ascetic practice itself that is voluntarily carried out to achieve spiritual power or purification. The practice of tapas is intended as a yogic discipline through which one can purify the body in preparation for more exacting spiritual practices that lead to moksha or liberation. But tapas can, as well, be used as a means of developing siddhis or special esoteric powers. There is both external tapas, such as fasting, restricting the intake of food, holding difficult and sometimes painful bodily postures, meditating, and living in seclusion, and internal tapas, such as contemplation, confession, and repentance of sins. Essentially, the practice of tapas calls upon one to conserve one’s energy by harnessing it, so to speak, through physical and mental discipline and refusing its dissipation through any outward expression. Over time, one essentially becomes a highly-charged “spiritual battery” that can energize any instrument – or person as it were – to whatever degree such is capable of conducting that energy. If a teacher has done a great deal of intense tapas during his or her sadhana or spiritual practice through which he or she has accumulated a ready supply of subtle energy, then he or she can, to a greater or lesser degree, infuse others with that energy and give them a glimpse or experience of their own expansive nature at will.

The student’s own degree of “spiritual readiness” also plays a role in this transmission. Depending upon the level of purity one has cultivated either through spiritual practices undertaken during one’s present lifetime or in previous lifetimes, one will be more or less able to conduct the teacher’s charge and, thus, will have experiences characterized by a greater or lesser degree of intensity, expansiveness, and lucidity. Moreover, one’s expectation indubitably affects one’s experience. Though quite obviously experience doesn’t always accord with one’s intentions, wishes, or assumptions, the more primed one is with expectation the more likely it is that such desire will “project” itself upon or manifest through one’s experience. For particularly “sensitive” individuals, this more or less subconscious imaginative capacity can serve to not only color but also create experience.

The atmosphere created by the collective attitude or “group mind” can also wield a powerful influence upon the flow of energy between the teacher and the students. It is a readily observable fact that a field of energy characterized by a specific emotional quality can be established by a gathering of like-minded people holding a similar intention. Hitler’s Nuremburg rallies provide a dark example of this phenomenon, the frivolity of a rock concert a lighter one. Equally apparent is the influence such a collective mind-set can have on an individual’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Such is the basis of peer pressure.

Shaktipat cannot be attributed solely to some special power wielded by the teacher, nor can it be credited wholly to the student’s imaginative capacity. Rather, it is a curious mixture of both. Whatever the case, shaktipat is nevertheless nothing more than an object or phenomenon appearing in awareness (which is satyam or real), and is, thus, by definition, mithya or only apparent – i.e. dependently real. And that which is only apparently real and, thus, by nature limited cannot produce something that is absolutely real and, thus, by nature limitless.

This is not to say that shaktipat has no value. One’s awakening to the sense that there is something more to life than meets the eye and the inspiration to undertake or continue the journey toward enlightenment and liberation can be initiated or reinforced by such a transfusion of energy from a person who has cultivated a store of subtle power as the result of his or her own spiritual practice. And such, no doubt, is a great stroke of grace.

There are several potential drawbacks with regard to shaktipat that render its value in terms of sadhana or spiritual practice at best questionable and at worst of no practical value.

For the student who is enamored of spiritual experience – and who but the most mature seeker isn’t, especially at the point in their spiritual development when he or she is most likely to receive shaktipat and put an inordinate share of stock in its merit? – the allure of such an altered state is irresistible and the penchant to repeat it almost invariably becomes his or her top priority. In no time one develops a vasana for such experiences, and thus, rather than serving to free one from the ultimately fruitless pursuit of object-happiness, the experience has only further enmeshed one in the pursuit of pleasure and bound one ever more tightly to the wheel of samsara, the repetitive cycle of gladness and grief.

Another drawback is that, harboring the belief that the teacher is source of one’s spiritual experiences, one can develop a dependency on the teacher. Inherent in this dependency is one of the most prevalent and insidious misunderstandings concerning the teacher’s role in the student’s spiritual development: the belief that the teacher is some “higher” or special being who eat one’s karma, burn away one’s vasanas, speed up one’s sadhana, and deliver unto one moksha. Such, however, is not the case. The teacher is the teacher. The student is the student. Each is an apparent individual in his or her own right. And no one individual can do the sadhana of another. Each person has their own karma for which to account, each their own vasanas to alleviate. The teacher can describe the route to self-realization, but the student must trek the path of self-inquiry on his or her own.

Taking enlightenment to be a particular type of experience and the teacher to be its catalyst, the student dooms him or herself to the same temporary satisfaction that characterizes samsara. Worse, without knowledge to show for it, as soon as the shaktipat experience wears off one suffers the same feelings of incompleteness and inadequacy and remains stuck in the same state of ignorance as ever.

Overall, the value of shaktipat is relative and ultimately of little importance with regard to self-realization and permanent freedom. Experience itself does not effect emancipation, and the teacher can’t do it for you. Moreover, as the scriptures indicate, there are no experiential qualifications for enlightenment. Knowledge is the result of a prepared mind meeting with a proper means of knowledge. And only knowledge sets one free.

Temporary Realization

QUESTION: 2 or 3 years ago I had a profound realization of the truth of advaita, which stayed with me for many months. I fear that I have lost it forever. Do you think that it can come back?

This question reflects the fundamental confusion concerning the nature of self-realization or “enlightenment” that afflicts 99% of spiritual seekers.

What you experienced was a spiritual epiphany, a flash of insight into the true non-dual (advaita) nature of reality. This is an experiential form of “enlightenment.” Such epiphanies occur when the reflection of pure awareness, which is the substratum of the entire apparent reality and your own true identity, is “seen” in a pure (sattvic) mind.

Such an epiphany may be had again. Or it may not. Either way, it is not of any ultimate importance. Since it is nothing more than an experience, if it does come back, it will inevitably go away. Such is the nature of experience.

All experience, no matter how mind-blowing or profoundly spiritual or enlightening, is nothing more than an object in awareness. That is, all experiences are but temporary phenomena that appear within YOU.

The constituents of experience – i.e. the gross and subtle elements, perceptive and active organs, mind, intellect, and ego – are all objects existing within the apparent reality that has been projected by means of the power of ignorance (maya), and therefore are subject to perhaps the most fundamental law of the dharma field – change.

Even more primary than the constituents of experience just mentioned are the three basic qualities (gunas) – sattva (peace, clarity, knowledge), rajas (passion, activity, projection), and tamas (dullness, inertia, denial) – that comprise and condition each and every object, both subtle and gross, in existence. These qualities reside in the causal body and are essentially the ingredients God (Isvara) uses to cook up the creation. The manifestation and influence of these qualities is, thus, beyond the apparent individual’s control.

These three qualities are constantly fluctuating and reconfiguring themselves, and there is no telling which will be most preponderant at any given moment. The apparent individual can manage these qualities by living consciously and performing certain limited actions that cultivate a given quality – for instance, drinking a cup of coffee produces more rajas, drinking a pitcher of beer produces more tamas, and “drinking” deeply and consciously one’s own breath produces more sattva. But to a large degree these qualities are going to do their own thing and exert their influence as “they” – i.e. Isvara or Bhagavan – see fit.

So, if your mind happens to be in a sattvic state and Isvara, which is simply a personification of the dharma or law that governs the functioning of the apparent reality, deems it necessary that you have another “profound realization of the truth of advaita,” then you will have one. If not, then you won’t.

As mentioned, however, the experience itself doesn’t really matter. Experience comes and goes. What matters is the knowledge it contains and whether one gleans and, thereafter, retains that knowledge or not.

In light of this, you might contemplate why you long for the return of the experience with which you were graced. If it was truly a realization, which implies that you understood or gained knowledge about something, of the non-dual nature of reality, then you would rest content in whatever experience was presenting itself to you at the moment, for you would know that since reality is non-dual everything is nothing other than pure awareness and so no one type of discrete experience is any better or more desirable than another. In short, as a consequence of true understanding you would not desire the “return” of a particular non-dual experience, for you would know that you are already experiencing nothing other than non- dual reality 24/7.

Assuming that you want self-knowledge and the liberation (moksha) that is its result, then you will have to at some point come to terms with the fact that SELF-REALIZATION IS NOT AN EXPERIENCE.

The self – pure awareness – is attributeless. It has no characteristics or qualities. Such being the case, awareness cannot be objectified. And since perception and inference, the primary means of knowledge we as apparent people have at our disposal, only function in response to objects, awareness, therefore, cannot be experienced.

Moreover, retaining the notion that the self can be experienced works in diametrical opposition to one of the fundamental laws governing existence: the subject-object split. The subject can never be the object of its observation. Though, truly speaking, there is neither a subject nor an object in a non-dual reality, if one assumes the point of view of an apparent individual and expects to experience or see the self in the way one would any other object, then in so doing one violates and, thus, negates the very non-dual nature of reality that one is seeking to experience.

Again, the reflection of awareness can appear in a pure (sattvic) mind – and in this way its nature can be known and one’s identity as it can be assimilated – but awareness itself can never be experienced directly.

This is perhaps the greatest source of disappointment – yet conversely the biggest relief as well – and one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome on the spiritual path. Coming to grips with the fact that enlightenment is a matter of knowledge rather than experience is essential, however, before one can recognize one’s true identity as whole and complete, limitless, ordinary, non-dual awareness.

As long as you are dependent upon a particular experience of non-duality, liberation will elude you. Only knowledge will set you free.

Seek Knowledge, Not the Void

Lee: I remember your friends at the James retreat last summer talking about wanting to be “in the void.” What does that mean?

Ted: It is a common misconception in the “spiritual world” that the “void” is the ultimate state of being. Some people even think that the “void” is the ultimate goal, which according to Vedanta is freedom. Because the “void” seems to have no limitation, they equate it with limitless, non-dual awareness. But this is simply a wrong notion.

First of all, there is no such thing as the “void.” What people call the “void” is simply another object in awareness. It is different from other objects in that it seems to have no shape, color, smell, taste, or feeling and in many cases no emotional or ideational content. If such were truly the case, however, how could it be recognized and experienced as a discrete state of being? And if it can be recognized and experienced, then really how “void” is it?

Truly speaking, the content or “substance” of the void is actually nothing other than pure, limitless, non-dual awareness, which is referred to in Sanskrit as purno’ham, or perfect fullness. This fullness is what is symbolized by Ganesha’s great big belly as well as that of the “laughing Buddha.”

Awareness is all that is. Nothing can be added to it; nothing subtracted from it. Appearances – even the appearance of “void” or “nothingness” arise, abide, and subside within its being, but it remains ever the same and is never sullied or in any way changed by the presence or absence of any such phenomena.

Even if we were to grant that the “void” is not an object, this would not negate its fullness. Rather the “void” would simply be a reflection in the mind of awareness in its unmanifest state of pure potentiality.

Note that I said the “reflection in the mind of awareness.” Pure awareness itself is attributeless and therefore cannot be objectified. Since the mind can only know objects, the experience of pure awareness is beyond the scope or capability of the mind. The reflection of the self, or pure awareness, however, can be seen in a purified mind – i.e. one that is not unduly compelled by extroverting desires and fears and is, therefore, quiet and contemplative. It is similar to the way that a reflection of the sun seen on the surface of a still pond accurately reflects its still nature, whereas the flashing and twinkling seen in roiled water makes it seem as if the sun is an active “dancing” phenomenon.

The essential point is that whatever can be perceived or conceived and, thus, experienced – even that which is perceived as “void” – is nothing more than an object appearing in and comprised of awareness. There is, therefore, no such thing as nothing. And wanting to experience or “be in” the “void” is no different than wanting to acquire, attain, or enjoy any other object. Some may find it peaceful, some scary, some simply boring, but contrary to one of the most popular views in the “spiritual world” it is by no means “enlightenment” nor does such an experience constitute the knowledge that permanently sets one free. In short, those that seek the “void” thinking such an experience constitutes self-realization are barking up the wrong tree.

Lee: For the better part of two months, I have felt this complete emptiness. Not forward, no backward, no future, no sense of the past. It’s like the allegory of the cave, I can’t tell what is shadow or what is real, what’s an echo or what is an original sound. Nothing’s real and everything’s fake. I have no sense of how to function anymore in this world. Is this the “void” you friends talk about? And if so, why is it so desirable?

Ted: To reiterate, I have no idea what the “void” is that these other people were talking about. I’ve given you my conjecture concerning their most probable concept and interpretation of it and the most likely reason that they erroneously assigned it any worth in terms of “spiritual” growth and/or self-realization, but the “void” is not something that is given any significance in Vedanta.

Vedanta is concerned with revealing the true nature of reality and is founded upon the discrimination between the real and the “not-real,” or only apparently real. Vedanta defines “real” as “that which never changes” or “that which cannot be negated.” While it is true that since reality is non-dual everything is real in the sense that it is fundamentally the self, it is also true that all objects are impermanent. Only the witnessing awareness in which these objects appear and out of which these objects are “made” remains constant despite the incessant transformation of all the objects.

In order to understand the true nature of reality and one’s true identity as limitless, all-pervasive, non-dual awareness, it is important that one be able to distinguish between pure awareness, that which is changeless and ever- present, and reflected awareness, all the transitory objects appearing or “reflected” in the mind due to the deluding power of maya, or ignorance.

Unlike the Neo-Advaitans and many other misguided “spiritual” seekers, Vedanta does not deny the existence of objects or this world/universe. Quite obviously, these things do exist. How otherwise would we experience them? But, according to Vedanta, these things are not real. In other words, they enjoy no independent existence of their own. If awareness were not illumining them, they would cease to be. All objects, therefore, are only apparently real or dependently real. The traditional analogies that are used to illustrate this point are those of the clay and the pot, the gold and the ornaments, and the ocean and the wave. Just as the pot enjoys no existence apart from the clay, the ornaments none apart from the gold, and the wave none apart from the ocean, so no object enjoys any existence apart from awareness. Hence, Vedanta’s assertion that while all objects depend upon awareness for their existence, awareness (the self) is ever free of all objects. You know this directly from your own experience of deep sleep each night. Despite the fact that all objects – including the mind-body-sense complex that comprises the person you take yourself to be – disappear, you (awareness) don’t cease to exist.

Because we as apparent individuals are so deeply ingrained with the erroneous belief that lasting joy can be found in the procurement of objects – i.e. certain experiences, situations, circumstances, actions, accomplishments, relationships, status, possessions, etc. – it is important that we be able see that these are only temporary phenomena that are fundamentally incapable of producing permanent security, pleasure, happiness, and peace.

The ability to make this distinction allows one to quit the fruitless quest for lasting fulfillment through these ephemeral phenomena, and identify one’s own self – i.e. awareness, not the apparent person – as the true source of joy. This is the knowledge that ends suffering and sets one free.

But this freedom does not take the form of the “void” or any other experience, for that matter. You, pure awareness, are altogether beyond experience. Experience depends on you, while you are ever free of it. Moreover, since you as pure awareness are attributeless – think about it, does the knowing principle “in” you have any form? – you cannot be the object of experience. Despite the most prevalent and powerful delusion rampant in the “spiritual world,” therefore, self-realization is not a matter of experience, but of knowledge. While any and all experience – no matter how mind-blowing or “spiritual” it is – inevitably ends, knowledge, once gained, always remains.

This is not to say that self-knowledge ends all experience. But while karma continues, suffering ceases. When one realizes the essential emptiness of experience, one no longer seeks from it what it is incapable of offering. Moreover, one’s object-oriented desires gradually reduce and eventually fade away, for one can cut out the “middle man,” so to speak, once one has gained direct access – through knowledge, mind you, not having attained or achieved a special experiential state, merged with or dissolved into some celestial entity, or ascended to or transcended any particular realm or place – to the eternal source of bliss that is one’s own being.

This realization of the essential emptiness of objects, however, does not catapult one into the “void” nor does it produce apathy. While it may be initially a rather disheartening or at least discombobulating epiphany, it is also one that once fully assimilated gives one the maturity to undertake effective self-inquiry and ultimately gain liberation.

Lee: Nothing matters. Everything is pointless. Emotions are just sensations that move through me, but they are all painful. Nothing feels pleasant. Everything in my life that I ever cared about is gone. I’ve been forced to drop all attachment.

So right now it would seem that you are at the point where you are experiencing the bankruptcy of object-joy. From what I know of you I’m guessing that this is causing suffering because you are – at least according to what you have told me over the years – wholeheartedly captivated by experience.

If it’s true that you’ve been forced to drop all attachment, then that is actually a good thing since nothing one can get attached to will ever provide the fulfillment they hope it will. It will be even better when the detachment and dispassion isn’t the result of force but of free will based on discrimination and knowledge.

So, to more succinctly answer your question concerning the desirability of the “void,” it is actually discriminative dispassion, which many seekers misunderstand or mistakenly interpret to by some kind of “void” state, that is desirable due to the fact that it purifies the mind and thereby facilitates the assimilation of self-knowledge that ultimately and truly ends one’s suffering.

There are basically two alternatives at this point. You can either slog through the pain with the assurance that it will inevitably change as all objects/experiences do. Or you can use it as a catalyst for self-inquiry, and perhaps expose yourself to the teachings of Vedanta through which your true identity as whole and complete, limitless, actionless, unborn, ever- present, all-pervasive, non-dual awareness will be clearly and irrefutably revealed and through the repeated application of which you will eventually stand with unshakable conviction in your true nature.

Though you might say, “Yeah, yeah, I already get that,” I would urge you to contemplate that assumption, for if you did really get it you wouldn’t have asked the question you put to me.

I’m certainly not telling you what to do, I’m just saying…

I hope these comments help.

Nothing Can Take Away What You Know

Thank you, Ted, for all you have done for me. Your personal responses, as well as the responses on the website have been of great help to me in this process.

Ted: Hi, Trent. I’m glad to hear that Vedanta is working for you.

Trent: James Swartz doesn’t seem to recommend the Brahma Sutras, but I have interest in it; have the Gambhirananda Sankara Bhasya version, and the Sivananda versions, and wonder what you have to say about it. I’m interested in the pillars of Vedanta, and think it must be of some benefit to delve into it. Let me know what you think.

Ted: Even though the Brahma Sutras are one of the “three pillars,” or the prasthana traya, of Vedanta, James doesn’t talk a lot about this work because it is a highly technical text that thoroughly and systematically deconstructs and/or refutes every conceivable argument that might arise in opposition to Vedanta’s central tenets and resolves all doubts that could possibly arise concerning its apparent contradictions, many of which are so subtle that virtually no one but the most seasoned yogis, sannyasins, and pundits harbors them. In this regard, its laborious analysis and explication make for a rather dry read and demand a highly refined intellect and sustained concentration to properly assimilate. It is, therefore, a text that is most suited for those who want to teach.

Moreover, the text begins with the mantra, “Ahtato Brahma-jijnasa,” which means “Therefore, the deliberation on Brahman.” In this context, the word “therefore” is highly significant. It implies that this text is for those who are qualified inquirers. There is no talk in this text concerning the purification of the mind through karma yoga or bhakti or meditation or guna management. It is assumed that those exposing themselves to the inquiries made in this text already have quiet minds and essentially know their true identity as limitless awareness. The purpose at this point is to simply tidy up any and every possible loose end that could cause even the slightest agitation in the subtle body. In other words, one must be qualified to read this text.

By mentioning these factors, I am not trying to scare you off from giving the study of the Brahma Sutras a go. Maybe you are qualified. But in case you find the going a bit slow or difficult, don’t get discouraged. It is a weighty text.

My advice is to focus first on the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads as well as some of the prakarana granthas, or complimentary teaching texts, such as Tattva Bodha, Atma Bodha, Aparokshanubhuti, Vivekachudamani, and Panchadasi, before undertaking a study of the Brahma Sutras. All of these texts as well as audio/video versions of James’ unfoldment of them are available on the Shiningworld website.

Trent: Your responses regarding meditation were very helpful to me, and have brought about a realization of how I am always present, no matter what is occurring within me. This has helped at work, as well as in the practicing of meditation.

One example of how the body is not me, became clear when I was awakened at night while in bed, and realized that when I was taking a stand as awareness, the body would suddenly change positions without any input on my part. It would just change positions, without any mentation, and I was the observer of this action. This may seem a bit lame, but this happened, and I wanted to see what you thought, since I’m basically a novice at this pursuit.

Ted: Such an experience is not “lame” at all. It is a gift from Isvara, or God. It is vitally important, however, that you realize that the experience itself is of little importance. What matters is the knowledge that can be gleaned from it. The experience itself, weird or unusual or inexplicable or spiritual or mystical as it may have been, is no different than any other experience in that it arose in awareness, abided in awareness, and subsided back into awareness. In other words, it was only a temporary appearance/experience — simply a subtle object — in awarenesss.

Moreover, don’t think that the disembodied sensorial quality of the experience was a definitive characteristic of awareness, for awareness has no attributes and therefore no characteristics. So do not fall into the trap of thinking that you are only experiencing awareness — which is impossible for the reason just mentioned — or that your “stance” in awareness must be accompanied by the kinesthetic feeling that you are not controlling your bodily movements and actions.

First, because reality is non-dual and awareness is all-pervasive, you are always standing in awareness, so to speak, whether you are conscious of this fact or not. There simply is no where else to stand, much less a “you” in the sense of a separate, independent entity that is different than awareness who could somehow be standing outside of awareness.

Second, the apparent “you” that does seem to stand in awareness will a vast majority of the time feel as though he is embodied and that he has control of his actions. And thank god such is the case. How else could he get anything done? But even when experience seems extraordinarily ordinary, the apparent you (the Trent character) is just as much the real you (awareness) as when the disembodied experience appears via the mind of the Trent character in you (awareness). In short, there is only one awareness, and you are it. Everything perceivable and conceivable is only an apparent object appearing within you. And while all the objects are you (i.e. depend upon you for their existence), you as self-dependent, self- luminous, self-evident awareness are ever free of all objects.

The bottom line is that no discrete or particular experience defines you. You are you always, no matter what appears “around” or “within” Trent, no matter what he experiences physically, how he feels emotionally, or what he thinks intellectually. The importance of the experience you had in bed was not the experience itself, therefore, but the knowledge it contained. Highlighting, as it did, in a kinesthetic way the fundamental truth of your autonomy from objects, the experience was essentially a reflection of your true nature as unattached, limitless, and innately free awareness appearing in the mirror of the mind.

Such an experience, however, need never take place again if you are savvy enough to imbibe the message it was meant to deliver. We might liken it to receiving a gift. The experience is the colorful paper and beautiful bow in which the gift of knowledge is wrapped. Once the paper has served its purpose, it can be tossed in the trash.

It is important to understand that the mind, which is itself an object in awareness, is not capable of directly experiencing awareness. In moments when the mind is sattvic, or pure — in other words, not agitated by binding likes and dislikes, desires and fears, which serve to extrovert its attention and thereby distract it from the self, or simple, ordinary awareness — the reflection (or, you might say, intuitive knowledge) of awareness shines within it.

Though we think of it as sentient, the mind is nothing more than an inert object. It is essentially a component of the mechanism of the subtle body that only functions when illumined — i.e. enlivened or energized — by awareness. When thus set into motion, it generates thoughts and emotions and initiates actions according to the programming it is provided by the vasanas. The mind — which is basically what constitutes the apparent individual person — is NOT, however, thinking for itself, so to speak. This is not, of course, how it seems to the apparent individual. And even after understanding the mechanistic functioning of the subtle body, the apparent individual — Trent in your case — will continue to feel as though he is assessing circumstances, weighing alternatives, making decisions, and initiating actions. Hence, in practical terms, understanding or self-knowledge does not let the apparent individual off the hook. As long as the apparent individual continues to appear within the scope of awareness and awareness is associated — associated, mind you, not identified — with that particular mind-body-sense complex, the individual will continue to act as though he was a volitional being.

The benefit of self-knowledge, however, is that the apparent individual will no longer take himself to be real and will, therefore, relax and enjoy the show, so to speak, knowing that there is no real consequence in the end. In other words, the apparent individual knows (which is actually awareness knowing through the vehicle of the apparent individual) that he himself is the source of the joy he seeks in objects and that no object/experience can enhance, diminish, change, or impact his essential nature. Liberated by means of this knowledge, the apparent individual is thereafter free to happily enjoy objects without frantically seeking to get happiness from them.

To be clear, it is NOT in the seemingly profound, but inherently impermanent and ultimately petty experiential epiphanies that you want to stand, but rather in the KNOWLEDGE that “I am limitless, actionless, ordinary, unborn, ever-present, all-pervasive, non-dual awareness.” Experiences come and go, but nothing can take away what you know.

Trent: Thank you for all of your help. It is very much appreciated.

Ted: As ever, it is my pleasure.

All the best to you,



Love to you as well,


Heaven and Hell

In Advaita, it is said that the heaven and the hell are mithya. They are just ideas for bhakti-natured people. But Advaita says this world is mithya too. So even though heaven and the hell are mithya, we are still gonna go there just as this world is mithya but it is still real enough for us? I mean the idea of heaven and hell is mithya but it is still as real as this world. So they indeed exist just as this world. Is that the correct interpretation?

As long as you take yourself to be a jiva, an individual person, you will both enjoy and suffer according to the fate of that apparent entity. The important thing to understand, however, is that the apparent entity is just that – apparent. In other words, the person you take yourself to be is not the real you. As scripture states and discriminative self-inquiry into your own previously unexamined – or incorrectly analyzed – experience corroborates, you are whole and complete, limitless, actionless, attributeless, eternal, ever-present, all-pervasive, non-dual awareness.

You are satyam, eternal – meaning beyond both time and space altogether – and inviolable being. You are what is real. Satyam, what is real, has a completely different ontological status than mithya, what is only apparently real. In other words, the real and the apparent exist in two wholly different orders of reality. Such being the case neither has any affect on the other. Though all objects existing within the apparent reality, indeed the arena of the apparent reality itself, depend upon what is real – i.e. awareness, you – for their existence, what is real – i.e. awareness, you – are completely self- dependent and remain ever free of whatever appearances manifest on both the gross and subtle levels of the apparent reality.

While heaven and hell apparently exist – indeed three-fourths of the Vedas (the whole of the karma kanda) are dedicated to instructing the apparent individual how to secure a stay in heaven and avoid a visit to hell – neither has any association with satyam. So while the apparent individual may enjoy or suffer either experience, you will not. For you there is no heaven or hell.

In order for the mind to grasp this truth, it is important that it understand the fundamental nature of experience and its relationship to desire and fear, attraction and aversion. Experience, which is entirely within the realm of mithya, is value neutral. It is not “good” or “bad,” “right” or “wrong,” “pleasurable” or “painful” in itself. Dharma, or universal law, which is a concept essentially denoting the chain of cause-and-effect that maintains the sound working order and “well-being” of the myriad component parts that constitute and contribute to the entire functioning “mechanism” that is the apparent reality, does deliver the experiential consequences of any given action according to the design of the machine, but these consequences are not based on value judgments.

For example, if someone smokes a pack of cigarettes a day for forty years and ends with a case of lung cancer, it is not because inhaling the smoke of burning vegetable matter is inherently “wrong” or “bad.” It is simply the inevitable eventual consequence of violating physiological dharma by subjecting one’s biological system to an continual barrage of tar and other carcinogenic substances, only a limited amount of which the design of that system gives it the ability to process and purge before it begins to break down.

The neutrality of dharmic law would seem to enter an apparent grey area in the context of morality and ethics, but even with regard to actions that violate moral and ethical codes of conduct its essential impartiality holds true. For example, while no one would say that rape is anything less than an atrocity, the horror of the act is intrinsic to neither its physical, emotional, nor intellectual character. If the combative – even violent – nature of the interaction between the two bodies were inherently bad, then many sports, intense forms of consensual sex, surgery, self-defense, etc. would be criminal; it the angry and/or fearful emotional tenor of the situation were in itself bad, then a parent angrily disciplining a child’s inappropriate behavior or fearing for the child’s safety would be corrupt; if the intellectual intent to harm another or too satisfy one’s desire for power were fundamentally bad, then righteous warfare and the will to lead would be depraved. The immorality of rape is rooted in its violation of universal, and in most cases societal and personal values. Because everyone values the health of the body, heart, and mind, so to speak, the intentional violation of all simultaneously is considered a deplorable act, far more so than an act that violates either one or both of the other two and/or is tempered by a less malicious intent or augmented by a benevolent one.

The basic point is that actions, events, situations, circumstances, and people have no fundamental nature themselves. Their character is determined by the values that color the lens through which any given individual or group of individuals view them.

This means that the only significance the concepts or experience of heaven and hell have are with reference to the apparent person. The jiva may very well experience these states, but again you will not.

Let us say then that, from the jiva’s point of view, the interpretation you offer concerning the possibility of experiencing heaven and/or hell would, according to reason, seem to be relatively true, though I must admit that I have no recollection of having visited either “place” myself nor have I heard anyone else offer an irrefutable account of their having done so. Situated smack dab in the middle it, however, is a glaring point of confusion that betrays the fundamental ignorance – not stupidity, mind you, but mistaken understanding of the nature of reality and your own true identity as absolute awareness – out of which the entire issue arises.

You conclude that since the apparent individual, heaven, and hell all fall into the category of mithya, the jiva is “still gonna go there.” This deduction reflects an error in understanding that begs for clarification in terms of both you as absolute awareness – assuming, that is, that you do want to get clear about who you really are – as well as the apparent individual for whom, it seems at this point, you mistake yourself.

As absolute awareness, you are all-pervasive. There is nowhere you can go where you are already not present. You are the non-dual self, and every object – i.e. persons, places, things, sensations, feelings, and thoughts – that appears in awareness, in you, is nothing other than you. We might almost say that everything you experience is you, but that is not precisely true. Due again to your all-pervasiveness, you are technically not an experiencer. All experiencing requires a subject and an object, but since you are non-dual no such split actually exists. That is, it exists in the sense that you experience it, but it has no essential reality. It is nothing more than an optical illusion, so to speak, produced by ignorance, or the deluding power of maya. At any rate, the point is that you remain unchanged, unmoved, unaffected by any and all apparent phenomena that arise, abide, and subside within your being. Hence, you don’t experience heaven or hell; you don’t go anywhere.

From the apparent individual’s point of view, as we have acceded, you may very well experience heaven or hell, but you do not go there. The fact is that there is no “there” where the apparent person could go. The entire apparent reality, including the apparent person, is nothing more than an apparition within the scope of absolute awareness. We might liken it to a dream or an elaborate holographic movie or video game within which you find yourself identified with a particular character. Believing yourself to be this character, you feel as though you are the one thinking the character’s thoughts, feeling the character’s feelings, and executing the character’s actions. You are under the impression that the world in which the character is situated is real. And when the character “changes locations” – say, for instance, takes a plane ride from New York to London – you are fully convinced that you as the character have moved. But have you gone anywhere? Obviously, the reality of the situation is that the composition of the “picture” that includes both the character you take yourself to be and the apparent world “surrounding” him or her has simply transformed. No one has gone anywhere.

As hinted at earlier, the notion that you can go anywhere betrays the underlying assumption that duality is a reality, and that you are separate from the ever-present awareness within whose scope the apparent individual you take yourself to be is appearing and without which your erroneous identification with the apparent individual could not even take place. This underlying assumption is, of course, the fundamental problem that causes all of the apparent individual’s existential angst. And it is out of this angst, essentially the feelings of incompleteness and inadequacy that to one degree or another plague all jivas, arise all the desires and fears and their consequent judgments that color the apparent individual’s experience of life and, thus, cause him or her to “visit” heaven or hell, whether that be in terms of his or her here-and-now present circumstances or in terms of some supposed afterlife.

The truth is that you are limitless, attributeless, absolute, ever-present, all- pervasive, non-dual awareness. When you illumine the macrocosmic gross, subtle, and causal bodies, the universe appears and within it its microcosmic reflection in the form of the mind-body-sense complex that comprises the apparent individual person with whom you as absolute awareness, when under the spell of your own deluding power of maya, identify and thereafter take yourself to be.

When you, through the mechanism of the mind-body-sense complex that is the apparent individual, recognize your true identity and that understanding registers in the mind of the apparent individual, the apparent individual seems to gain the knowledge of its true identity – I say “seems to” because the mind-body-sense complex is actually nothing more than an aggregate of gross and subtle matter and is insentient but for its being illumined by you, and therefore it is actually you recognizing yourself through this mechanism. Thereafter, the apparent individual’s desires, fears, and judgments begin to slacken their heretofore-compelling hold over him or her, and he or she simply relaxes into life and takes whatever comes with an attitude of forbearance if not outright gratitude, knowing that the banquet of agony and ecstasy that had in the past wetted his or her insatiable appetite for experience is not the source of fulfillment it promises to be.

Though early in this inquiry I stated that because satyam, the real, and mithya, the apparent enjoyed two wholly separate orders of reality, neither could affect the other, it is nevertheless the case that when self-knowledge dawns in the mind of the apparent individual there ensues a qualitative shift in his or her experience of life. This shift toward peace and happiness does not define self-knowledge or constitute a state of being that defines awareness and in which one must become permanently established. It does, however, lighten one’s load, so to speak.

At this point, the appearance and experience of heaven or hell is of little significance. Come what may, none of it affects me.