All-Pervasiveness is Not an Experience

Hi Ted,

I’m clear that I am awareness (and intellectually 90% certain that I am actionless).

Ted: It seems that you are standing right at the threshold, so to speak, of assimilating self-knowledge, David, so it’s time to play a little hardball. I’m going to call you to task a little bit. I hope you don’t let it ruffle your feathers, but instead take it in the spirit it is intended. It seems like there is only one tick left until the alarm rings and you snap out of the dream once and for all.

If you are clear that you are awareness, then how can you be only 90% certain “intellectually” that you are actionless? I’m guessing that by “intellectually” you actually mean “theoretically,” which would indicate that your knowledge is still only a belief. This is fine as starting point — shradda or faith is one of the essential qualifications for self-inquiry — but let’s see if we can help you gain full clarity.

If you were clear that you are awareness, then you would be certain of your actionless nature. Your present circumstance might be likened to space — assuming it could think and talk — saying that it is certain it is space, but is only 90% sure that it doesn’t do anything. Space is the context in which doings are done, but space itself doesn’t do anything. It can’t do anything. Within the context of the analogy, it has no attributes or characteristics with which to do and it’s all pervasiveness leaves it no room in which to execute an action nor any other entity or object upon which to act or with which to interact. Moreover, since it contains all that exists, it lacks nothing and thus harbors no desire to obtain anything, which is the essential motivation behind all action and in the absence of which no action would be initiated.

You — pure, limitless, attributeless awareness — are the eternal “space” in which all even space obtains and, thus, are entirely incapable of action for the very same reasons just mentioned.

Since you have no attributes — no body and hence to active organs, no mind and hence no emotions, no intellect and hence no thoughts — you have no “tools” or “instruments” with which to execute an action.

Due to your all-pervasiveness, there is no context in which you can execute an action. Since you span — or, to put it more accurately, are — the entire expanse of the universe in both its gross and subtle aspects, there is no larger “arena” within which movement can take place. Movement, however, is intrinsic to action. It is in fact its defining characteristic, for in the absence of movement or change there is no means by which to measure the occurrence of action and hence no action can be said to have happened. Moreover, the non-dual nature of your all-pervasiveness precludes the existence of any other entity or object upon which to act or with which to interact. Intrinsic to all action, however, is the existence of at least two objective phenomena, for as just pointed out the movement of the doer can only be measured in terms of its relationship to a second entity or object. What is more, since the seer, which is pure awareness, can never be the seen, including the relative seer, which is the apparent person we take ourselves to be, who is nothing more than another object appearing within you, the “supreme” seer or pure awareness, you are ever “outside” all action that the apparent person you take yourself to be is apparently performing.

Finally, because you are the “container” of everything that is — and, for that matter, everything that is not as well — you are whole, complete, and perfectly full. Though the apparent individual person with which you are identified and through the “scope” of which you are viewing the manifest universe — both its gross or “external” aspect and its subtle or “internal aspect — has limited knowledge, limited will/desire, limited ability to act/accomplish, and limited existence in terms of time and space, you as the pure awareness within which that apparent entity — not to mention the whole host of objective phenomena comprising the manifest universe or apparent reality — is appearing are limitless.

David: And that I am viewing the world from only one point (David) at only one time (now).

Ted: Yes, this is true. As just mentioned, this is because you, pure limitless awareness, have are associated with the upadhi of a particular mind-body-sense complex, and due to this association, which is the condition for incarnating as an apparent individual person, you are apparently limited by the scope of that upadhi.

An upadhi is a limiting adjunct or conditioning agent that causes the thing it is conditioning to apparently take on its attributes. The classic example used to illustrate this phenomenon is that of a clear crystal taking on the red hue of a rose that is set next to it. James uses the example of water appearing to be green when seen through a green tinted glass in which it is contained. In both cases, the conditioned object — the crystal and the water — have not actually taken on the color of the conditioning agent, but they seem to have due to their proximity to that agent.

It is in this way that pure awareness seems to become a limited independent person. Through its association with the mind-body-sense complex, pure limitless awareness assumes the limited capabilities, knowledge, and vision of the mechanism. This is all fine and good in itself, no different you might say than an actor playing a role. The problem arises — and suffering ensues — when the actor no longer simply associates with the role, but identifies with it. In other words, when you, pure limitless awareness, buy into the self-induced (ironically, maya or ignorance is a power in you after all) ruse that you are an separate, small, limited, inadequate, incomplete, perhaps even sinful, little person, then you suffer. Due to your identification with the limited scope of the mechanism with which you have associated, you forget that you are the limitless awareness looking through that scope.

This last point is especially important. Many people believe that when they realize their true identity as limitless awareness they will suddenly become omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, that they will know everything, including the thoughts in other people’s minds, and will be able to do anything, even deeds that defy the physical laws governing the manifest universe. This is pure fantasy. The upadhi of the mind-body-sense complex with which you are associated will ever maintain its limited nature. And as long as you are associated with it in order to play the particular role a particular constellation of vasanas emanating from the vast reservoir of vasanas within your being requires in order to play out, you will be subject to those limitations. Though you are the awareness which “contains,” “surrounds,” and “pervades” all that is — in fact, simply put, is all that is — through your association with the mind-body-sense complex you seem to be separated or cut off from the rest of yourself or the entirety of your being. By analogy, it is like the space within a pot thinking it is different than the space inhabited by and surrounding the pot. Space is limitless space no matter what obtains within it. It is not made of parts. There is no “this space” as opposed to “that space.” Space is space. Similarly, awareness is awareness. There is no “small, separate, individual awareness” as opposed to “big, inclusive, universal awareness,” though it seems there is.

The bottom line is that through your association with the mind-body-sense complex referred to as “David” you are limited to the scope of “David’s” mechanism. You can know your true identity as limitless awareness, but you will only experience “David’s” thoughts and emotions and you will only be capable of doing the deeds of which “David’s” mind and body are capable.

The freedom that is the goal of self-inquiry — i.e. moksha — is not a matter of being of the apparent individual being able to know everything and do anything. The freedom comes with the realization that as pure limitless awareness one is not a knower or doer at all. The apparent individual person apparently knows things and does things. Or more accurately the mind-body-sense mechanism manufactures sensations, emotions, and thoughts — i.e. experience — when set into motion by awareness — i.e. you. You, pure limitless awareness, are simply the illumining factor that enlivens the machine and the “light” in which the machine itself as well as all its products are known. Moreover, while all the objects and experiences, all the “products,” so to speak, depend upon you for their existence, you are self-illumining and thus ever free of all objective phenomena.

This you can see for yourself through a close analysis of your own experience. You can begin the analysis from the perspective of the apparent individual person you seem to be. Look to see if you have ever experienced or known anything outside your own awareness. Once you realize that you have not, the idea may arise that the apparent individual person you seem to be is the creator of the entire universe, that everything is only a projection of that particular person’s mind. But this is not how it is. Remember, you are not the person. You are awareness. Though you may not — cannot — know the contents of another apparent individual person’s mind due to your association with the mind of the apparent person you seem to be, you are nevertheless the awareness in which all mind’s — and by extension their contents — obtain.

This can be a bit tricky because we so closely associate — most often identify — with the mind. That is, we believe the mind is an essential part of us. The mind, however, is only an object within us — that is, within awareness. What makes the circumstance even trickier to untangle is the fact that it is the mind that thinks, not awareness. Awareness simply is. Even though we sometimes call it the “supreme knower,” which is different from the “relative knower” who is the apparent individual person we take ourselves to be, such is only a term used to imply or indicate its nature due to the fact that no inherently limited word — for words can only denote definable objects — can accurately and comprehensively describe it. Because we take ourselves to be the knower, however, we think that knowing our true nature should give us access to all the knowing instruments — i.e. every apparent individual’s mind — at once. But this is not how it is. By analogy, though it is all-pervasive space, the space inside the pot can only know the contents of the pot.

Now, because it is only the mind that thinks, when we say we know the self or know our true identity as limitless awareness, it is not actually awareness registering the thought. The thought is a reflection of awareness appearing as a thought in the mind. Awareness “sees” or illumines the thought, but is not the thinker of the thought or the thought itself. The apparent individual person is the “thinker” or “relative knower” of the thought. That is, the thought — i.e. the knowledge or understanding — is exclusive to the mind of the particular apparent individual experiencing it. Any apparent individual’s realization of his or her true nature is, thus, known only to him or her. Were this not the case, one person’s realization would immediately cause the occurrence of self-realization in everyone.

The point is that the “patch” of awareness associated with a particular mind-body-sense complex is only going to “know” the experience of that particular mechanism. Thus, the apparent individual who understands that he or she is actually limitless awareness and thinks that he or she should therefore transcend the limitations of his or her own apparent individuality is only an apparent individual due to those apparent limitations. When those limitations are transcended, as they are for instance in the state of deep sleep, the apparent individual ceases to experience him or herself as such. The conscious recognition within the intellect of the apparent individual of his or her true identity as limitless awareness can, therefore, only occur through awareness’s association with a particular intellect, and thus no apparent individual will ever consciously transcend the limitations of it defining mind-body-sense complex and become experientially omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent.

All this is to say that while you will know yourself to be limitless awareness, you will still experience “David” as a limited person.

David: Per Vedanta Self includes all points and all times.

Ted: Yes, all objects appear in you. Not David of course, but you, pure awareness.

David: While I am a singular viewpoint I am clearly not present to myself as that Self. I experience myself as a minute, located, part of the awareness of the cosmos.

Ted: Yes, as explained, this is because of the upadhi or limiting adjunct with which you, pure awareness, are associated as a condition of assuming the role of a human being.

David: Is there an experience of being all-self that has led Vedanta to assert that I am all? Or is there an argument for this?

Ted: We’ve covered the basic argument. All the prakriyas or teaching methods of Vedanta make the same essential argument — that you are both whole and the whole, that you are pure, limitless, actionless awareness — and through the irrefutable logic of adhyaropa-apavada or the analytical methodology of superimposition and negation they remove all possible limiting conditions and reveal your true identity. All the methods are variations of atma-anatma-viveka or the discrimination between the self and the “not-self,” which is the essence of self-inquiry and the key to self-knowledge. The most famous of these methods of analysis are the discrimination between the seer and the seen, the analysis of the three states of experience, the analysis of the five sheaths, and the discrimination between the cause and the effect. Each of these methods as well as several others are described in detail in the “Knowledge Yoga” chapter in James’ book, “How to Attain Enlightenment.”

Though you, the attributeless self, cannot be objectified, it cannot be known directly as one would know an object. However, its reflection can be “seen” in or its limitless nature can be known or understood by a pure, still mind. While this understanding spontaneously dawn on one through repeated exposure to, meditation upon, and application of any of the teachings of Vedanta, one particular method that is highly effective in giving one a sense of his or her limitless, all-pervasive nature is the analysis of the Location of Objects. The basic logic of this analysis is laid out in James’ book and he walks you through it at some point — usually several times — in virtually every series of talks that are available on the Shiningworld website. What the Location of Objects analysis reveals is that all the objective phenomena that seem to exist “outside” you are actually appearances within your mind and thus there is no separation between the objects and the mind. And since there is no separation between the mind and consciousness, there is actually no separation between the objects and you. The objects seem to be other than you when you adopt the mind-body-sense mechanism or the apparent individual person you take yourself to be as your reference point. But when you realize that even the person you take yourself to be — the whole complex of body, emotions, and thoughts — is nothing more than an object appearing within you, pure awareness, then you “experience” or understand your all-pervasive, non-dual nature. And the best part is that when you “see” this, you no longer have to take it on faith. Despite all appearances, you know without a doubt that you are limitless. Thereafter, just as the image of a mirage continues to obtain even after you know it contains no water, so the apparently dualistic reality will continue to appear as it always has and you will continue to experience the limitations of the mind-body-sense complex in the same way as you always have. No longer will you think the apparent objects are separate from each other or from you, however, and no longer will you identify with the mind-body-sense complex even though you will remain associated with it.

The initial hurdle is getting over the idea that you are the apparent individual person you seem to be and ceasing to view things from that perspective.

The next hurdle is getting over the idea that you are going to experience all-pervasiveness or non-duality as you would an object. You will not ever experience all-pervasive awareness as an objet because by its very nature it is non-objectifiable. It is subtler than all objects as well as the instrument of the mind with which they are perceived and by which they are known.

Ultimately, you will know limitless, all-pervasive awareness — i.e. recognize or “re-cognize” your self — not as an object, but as your own self-evident existence. Due to the limitations of the upadhi of the mind-body-sense complex, you are not going to know all the objects obtaining everywhere at once. That is the province of Isvara or God — i.e. the macrocosmic or total mind. You will simply know that your very nature is the “light” by which all objects are known and thus upon which all objects depend for their existence, but whose own self-luminous nature ever “shines” independent of the presence or absence of objects.

In the simplest and most practical terms with regard to the experience of the apparent individual person, it is simply that by which you know what you know and know what you don’t know.

It seems to me that you “get it,” David. You just need to let go of that one last hankering for experiential enlightenment. Re-read the chapter on knowledge yoga in “How to Attain Enlightenment” and keep contemplating the logic. Eventually, it will produce a shift in your perspective and you will see that you are not Andrew looking at awareness or even attempting to look from the viewpoint of awareness, but that you are awareness looking in at and, having adopted the limited scope of Andrew, viewing the “surrounding” world from Andrew’s perspective. Then, you will “see” or know without the slightest doubt that everything is within the limitless awareness that you are.

David: Thanks Ted!

Pain Obtains, Suffering Ceases

Hello Ted,

Having spent time with the Gita, both Dayananda’s course, and Paramarthananda’s lectures, I had a question about duhkha, specifically what is on pg. 368 in Vol. 2 of the Home Study Course. This is something that has come up in James Swartz’ lectures, regarding the body and physical pain. The quote: “The body may experience physical pain, but there will be no duhkha because the mind is tranquil.”  Mental suffering not being there, I can understand, but a tranquil mind will not prevent the body’s nervous system from functioning. Consequently, the pain will be there. Is this a subtle distinction, which has its basis in non-identification with the body? This is something I’ve not quite grasped. With work stresses/suffering, the karma yoga attitude neutralizes without problem.  That’s a mental identification problem. But when it’s a physical issue, it seems to me it would be different. Being the “knower of the pain” would not take it away.

Ted: It seems to me that you have grasped the issue, Kirk. The word duhkha refers to suffering. There is a difference between pain and suffering, as you seem to understand. The body will continue to experience pain after one has gained self-knowledge and thereby become free of suffering. So for that matter will the mind, but we will address that later. Pain is a sensory response to trauma undergone by the material elements, both subtle and gross, of the mind-body-sense complex or the sharira traya, the three bodies. All three of these bodies — causal, subtle, and gross — are the product of maya or ignorance and, thus, all are aspects of the apparent reality. As such, all three are composed of the five elements. The only difference among them in this regard is their degree of density.

The causal body is the subtlest of the three bodies and is composed of the five elements in their causal form. In this state the elements are essentially nothing more than potentialities in the same way that the tree is a potentiality in the seed. In other words, we might say that they exist as “ideas” or “knowledge” or what Plato referred to as archetypes. Another way of understanding it is that the elements in causal form are essentially the three gunas — sattva (clarity, light, knowledge), rajas (passion, desire, projection), and tamas (dullness, inertia, concealment) – that are the three energetic constituents or building blocks of the apparent reality.

The subtle body has more density to it than the causal body and is composed of the five elements in their subtle form. Here, the potential elements have assumed subtle form and are combined in myriad ways according to the more complex archetypes or blueprints that constitute the knowledge upon which the formation of objects is based, which is located in the causal body, and thus they appear as images and sensations within the mind. At this stage, the objects composed of the elements are available only subjectively. In other words, the images and sensations in each person’s mind are known only to that person. There is a subtle distinction with regard to the subtle body that is important to understand in terms of sorting out the “pain versus suffering” issue. While we do refer to the subtle body as the mind (antahkarana), there is a distinction to be made between the “body” or “hardware” of the subtle body and the subtle objective phenomena whose appearance it facilitates. The “body” or “hardware” of the subtle body is composed of the functional components of the mind (manas), intellect (buddhi), ego (ahamkara), and memory (chitta). The subtle objective phenomena these functions facilitate are the sensations, emotions, and thoughts that continuously arise and subside within our being.

The gross body is the densest of the three bodies and is composed of the five elements in their gross form. Now the elements assume tangibility in order to manifest as items that are available for transaction to all people who encounter them. In other words, everybody within the vicinity of the object can experience it.

Of course, everything in non-dual reality is connected — though “connected” is not the right word since there are not actually two things attached to one another but rather a singular substantive appearing as myriad independent entities — and thus the elements are linked to the intellect through the mind. Therefore, the conditions to which the elements are subjected, so to speak, register in the intellect as pleasurable or painful and some variation of experience corresponding to one or the other of these two general categories is had. For instance, within the category of pleasure one might feel anything from a tickle to an orgasm, and within the category of pain one might feel anything from a itch to a torn ligament. While the sense instruments, which are composed of gross elements, are located on the gross body, the sense organs, which are composed of subtle elements, are located in the subtle body or mind.

Because these types of sensations emanate from the gross instruments, so to speak, they are not under the control of the mind. They are the by-product of Isvara shrishti, or God’s creation — i.e. vyavaharika satyam or the empirical reality. They are simply a built-in aspect of the physical component of the mind-body-sense complex and, thus, are not subject to subjective tampering, so to speak. That is, the mind cannot directly alter the body. For instance, you can’t just decide not to see and, thereby, instantly induce the condition of blindness. Thus, as you say, “a tranquil mind will not prevent the body’s nervous system from functioning. Consequently, the pain [or pleasure] will be there.” Just as a change in software does not change the hardware of a computer, so the state of one’s mind does not change the raw sensory experience registering in the mind via the sense instruments.

What the intellect can impact is one’s subjective experience of the raw data presented to it by means of perception. Objects and experiences themselves do not come with ready-made labels that indicate their value. Putting aside for the moment…NOW TAKE THIS NEXT BIT SLOW…samanya dharma (the universal physical, psychological, and ethical laws that govern the operation of the apparent reality), the observation and application of which by particular individual’s, each of whom has a unique svadharma (personal nature), in specific situations, which is referred to as vishesha dharma, always requires subjective interpretation itself…WOW, WHAT A MOUTHFUL THAT WAS, HUH?…there isn’t some cosmic rulebook that tells us which objects and experiences are good and which are bad, which are right and which are wrong. Relatively speaking, these determinations can only be made in light of one’s goals. For instance, if I want to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, so to speak, and feel every emotion in the marrow of my bones and continuously chase objects in samsara in order to feel intermittent periods of joy and sorrow, then the teachings of Vedanta and the practice of self-inquiry are not good. If I wish to end suffering and not be swept away by every emotion that arises within my being, then Vedantic self-inquiry is good.

Granted, you could make the point that what everyone is really seeking through even the most “worldly” pursuits is the end of suffering, and hence there are universal values and codes of behavior that serve that purpose and thus can be considered good or bad, right or wrong, a point which is indeed ultimately true — although even then…HERE WE GO AGAIN…the matters of svadharma (one’s personal nature) and vishesha dharma (the subjective interpretation and application of samanya dharma, or universal ethical law, within the context of variable situations) still makes this a rather complex issue, one in fact about which Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita “even the sages are perplexed”…WHEW. With reference to the topic at hand, however, we are speaking in terms that include the general mindset of the collective whole of humanity, the entire gamut of individual persons endowed with apparent free will, most of whom are concerned only with pursuing security, pleasure, and virtue, and only a small subset of whom seek freedom.

In any case, the point is that one’s subjective experience is the consequence of one’s values. And one’s values are determined by one’s vasanas (the impressions of one’s past experiences that constitute one’s conditioning), which reveal themselves in the form of one’s likes and dislikes, desires and fears. We cannot directly affect the vasanas, for they are phenomena of a subtler nature than the intellect, which are stored in the causal body, or what in this context we might refer to as the subconscious mind. We can, however, affect them indirectly through the use of our apparent free will. In more specific practical terms, we can either choose to indulge our desires and thereby simply perpetuate their hold over us, or supported by the logic of Vedantic self-inquiry we can choose to adopt the karma yoga attitude with regard to our actions and their results and thereby gradually neutralize the binding power of our preferences. In this way, while our experience of pain persists (though it is usually reduced — at least to a certain extent — in proportion to the degree of our dispassion toward it), our suffering ceases.

As mentioned, there is a difference between pain and suffering. Pain is the result of trauma experienced by the body whereas suffering is a matter of existential angst brought on by a deep-rooted sense of incompleteness and inadequacy that is experienced in the mind.

Pain is easy to understand in terms of the physical body. I bark my shin on the coffee table and the sense instrument that records kinesthetic sensations sends a message to its associated perceptive organ in the mind and I have the apparent experience of pain in my leg (I say “apparent” because the experience of pain is actually occurring in the mind). We also experience pain in the subtle body as a result of its subjection to emotional or intellectual trauma. For example, if I am involved in a romantic relationship with someone I love and that person breaks up with me, I will feel the pain of missing the person, of no longer experiencing that intellectual and/or emotional rapport, of no longer having my sexual needs satisfied, of feeling rejected, etc.

Suffering occurs when I believe that the pain I am experiencing is actually affecting me, that I have been wounded, damaged, reduced, or somehow diminished by its cause and/or influence. If I believe I am incomplete and inadequate and that I need to obtain or hold on to some object in order to be whole or “good enough,” and I fail to obtain the object or end up losing it once I have obtained it, then I feel that I am “less than” or that I have been diminished. Initially, this is perhaps easier to understand in terms of the subtle body. If I don’t know that I am whole and complete, limitless awareness whose very nature is love and joy, and I feel that I need the love of another person to validate my worth and thereby supply me with a sense of satisfaction and happiness, then if or when I lose that person’s intellectual approval, emotional affection, and physical intimacy I feel that I am incomplete, that I am a loser, that I am worthless, and I suffer accordingly. In terms of the physical body, if I am attached to or define myself in terms of a certain condition of health or comfort or functional ability and that condition is impinged upon, modified, or altogether withdrawn, then here again I feel incomplete and inadequate and consequently suffer.

To illustrate the point, I’ll give you an example from my own life. When I was a kid, the only thing I wanted to be in life was a major league baseball player. All of my thoughts and activities fed that dream. I not only played baseball during the season, but also engaged in daily workouts year round specifically designed to enhance my baseball skills. I played baseball board games (No computer games in those days. Dates me a bit, doesn’t it?), watched baseball movies, read baseball books. Basically, I walked, talked, and ate baseball. Then, during spring practice of my freshman year in high school, I broke my arm. The injury sidelined me for the entire season and though it didn’t end my playing days, I had an epiphany at the moment it happened in which I realized I was not going to ever play professional baseball. I cried myself to sleep that night not because of the pain I was experiencing in my arm, but because of gaping wound in my heart for which at that time I had no fix. My whole identity at that time was wrapped up in being a baseball player. In the absence of that identity, I didn’t know who I was or what mattered to me. Though the physical pain was intense, it was the associated emotional turmoil due to ignorance of my true identity that caused me to suffer.

Anyway, having said all that — which I think was much more than you bargained for 🙂 — the bottom line is that self-knowledge will not entirely alleviate pain, but it will bring an end to suffering. Pain is a phenomenon of the body — even, as pointed out earlier, on a subtle level — and is the effect of maya, or macrocosmic ignorance, while suffering is a phenomenon of the mind and is the effect of avidya, or microcosmic ignorance.

Kirk: Your help has been very much appreciated, Ted. My wife and I used one of your saved responses beneficially, when issues with my father reared their ugly head just recently. Very helpful!

Ted: Glad to hear that the teachings have helped. Your application of the teachings is equally important, so kudos to you and your wife.

Kirk: All the best,

Love, Kirk

Ted: All the best back atcha :-),



Free Choice: False or Fundamental?

Loved what you wrote. Even after reading a few paragraphs, I said to myself, “Aha, I recognize this.”


I’ve been listening to Paramarthananda for three years now, and teaching about the joy of being adequate (from Introduction to Vedanta by Swami Dayananda).


I teach a course in Eastern Religious Thought at Bryn Athyn College in Pennsylvania, and have my students read The Bhagavad Gita for Daily Living by Eknath Easwaran–also a great teacher.


Here’s my question: Paramarthananda says there is no grace without effort, and no effort without grace. I understand this to mean that we must always make efforts, but when we are aligned with God, our efforts are effortless. We love to do the right thing. And although are still making choices (effort), they now come naturally and spontaneously (grace).


But a good friend of mine, who also studies Vedanta, likes to say that free choice is an illusion–although it is a necessary illusion at the beginning of our spiritual development. Other friends (students of Swedenborg’s teachings) insist that we always retain free choice because this is what makes us human. It is a necessity–not an illusion.


So, is free choice an illusion, or is it central to our fundamental humanity?


Thanks for your help!


With all best wishes,




Dear Richard,


There are several points that need clarification in order to sort out this issue.


First of all, what is grace?


Often, grace is thought of as the benevolent hand of some grand being in the sky who is orchestrating miraculous and inexplicable events in our lives in order to give us what we want – as opposed to “God’s will,” which is the term we use to placate our frustration when we don’t get what we want or what we think is “right.”


Vedanta does not see it this way. According to Vedanta, grace is the quite predictable result – provided, that is, you have the omniscient vision of Isvara, Bhagavan, or God, which are names by which we refer to our personification of the macrocosmic or total mind, and can see the entire web of factors influencing said result – of the chain of cause-and-effect that emanated from the action the apparent individual person has executed or offered into the dharma-field or the manifest universe.


Swami Paramarthananda’s statement that there is no grace without effort reflects a proper understanding of the law of karma by which the manifest universe operates, one of the fundamental principles of which is that action ultimately produces results after its kind. Due to the punya (merit) and papa (demerit) that is accrued in one’s karmic account as a result of each and every action one executes, one inevitably is revisited with experience whose nature corresponds directly with the spirit and intentions of one’s previous actions. As it is said, what goes around comes around. Hence, when one puts forth effort toward the goal of self-knowledge, one is eventually visited with the “grace” that affords one the opportunity for exposure to the truth and enhances one’s ability to understand and assimilate it.


Paradoxical as it may seem, the second half of Swamiji’s statement, the assertion that one can make “no effort without grace,” reflects the fact that the apparent individual is not in charge of the result of his or her actions. All of the karma, or action, that takes place in the field of experience is dictated by two factors: 1) the gunas – i.e. sattva (purity, beauty, intelligence), rajas (passion, activity, projection), and tamas (dullness, inertia, concealment) – or the three qualities that in various mixtures comprise everything in existence, and 2) the vasanas – i.e. the impressions one is left with as a result of experience, which depending upon their quality form and eventually manifest as an individual’s preferences, likes and dislikes, desires and fears, and when reinforced through repetitive indulgence become “binding” and compel one to behave at their behest rather than at the directive of dharma. Both the gunas and the vasanas originate from the macrocosmic causal body, which we might liken to the blueprint of the giant mechanism of the manifest universe, and therefore are in fact brought into manifested form and visited upon any given individual as the result of the natural design and functioning of the field, or, in personified terms, as the result of Isvara’s will or divine grace.


When we understand that all the karma or action we seemingly execute as apparent individual persons is actually Isvara in the form of the vasanas functioning through us, then, as you say, “we are aligned with God” and “our efforts are effortless,” for we know that we are not the doer. Ironically, it is only when we know that we are not the doer that, as you state, “we love to do the right thing” simply for the sake of its being the right – i.e. most appropriate within the context of the situation – thing to do.


In order to uncover just exactly why this is the case, and just exactly why our choices so “naturally and spontaneously” present themselves in all circumstances, it is worth engaging in a closer analysis of the nature and operation of the dharma-field.


The dharma-field is so termed because it is governed by dharma, the host of universal physical, psychological, and ethical laws that ensure its overall balance, harmony, and wellbeing. We can liken the dharma-field to a gigantic intelligently designed machine comprised of myriad components that contribute to its functioning.  These components are essentially the upadhis, or limiting adjuncts, the names and forms, that constitute the costumes, we might say, that disguise absolute awareness and make it appear as all of the gross and subtle objects that inhabit the apparent universe. This machine, moreover, has a built-in self-regulating capacity.  In other words, it is fluid and in a constant state of flux and is, thus, able to self-adjust in order harmonize, heal, or re-establish its balance no matter what “anomalies” might occur within its field of being. In other words, whatever actions are effected within it are absorbed by the field by means of its ability to reconfigure itself in such a way as will accommodate the results of those actions and yet maintain the overall balance and well-being of the whole system or field.


Although the immediate affects of any given action may appear to be unjust or throw the system seemingly out of balance, the adjustment made by the system itself will serve ultimately to “dole out” the appropriate karmic consequences to the apparent doer or perpetrator of the action, and in this way the apparently disturbed or disrupted balance of the system will be reestablished in a way that is in the best interests of the total and, thus, since one is part of the total, in a way that ultimately serves one’s own best interests as well. For this reason it is said that dharma always protects those who follow it.


When one knows that one is always taken care of by the dharma governing the universe and that moreover all of one’s choices are ultimately dictated by Isvara, then one is able to trust that all will be well no matter what results ensue and simply go with what one’s conscience is telling one to do in any circumstance. Simply put, one does what needs to be done with the best intentions and understands that whatever results ensue from one’s choices will ultimately be in the best interests of all concerned. By analogy, we might say that all of us are at once both advisors and constituents of the Lord, and that our choices and consequent actions constitute our opinion concerning what should be done, which invariably is what we believe will grant us the most immediate personal benefit with reference to our goals in life – i.e. any of the various forms of security, pleasure, or virtue for samsaris or worldly people; moksha or freedom for jijnasus or seekers of self-knowledge. Having humbly cast his or her vote, so to speak, by means of his or her thought, word, and/or deed, the spiritually mature individual subsequently accepts whatever results ensue as the omniscient Lord’s infallible “judgment” regarding what is best for each and every aspect of the kingdom. In other words, I offer my two-cents concerning what I believe should be done, and the Lord – i.e. the lawful operation of the dharma-field – responds by showing me what is actually in everyone’s best interest – including my own. Sometimes the Lord’s response corresponds with my own vasana-driven personal opinion, and sometimes it does not. In either case, I know that I am always okay, that dharma is always protecting me. The ultimate welfare of the apparent person I seem to be is ever being served, and, moreover, no objective phenomenon has the slightest affect on pure awareness, which is my true nature. Such being the case, there is no reason for a mature individual to foist his or her personal will on any circumstance or interpret the value of any given situation in terms of his or her personal desires and fears. There is no reason, as is said, to upset the apple cart, no reason to break the rules in order to get what one wants. No matter what action a situation calls for or what result ensues, it all amounts to essentially the same thing. Thus, the mature individual naturally and spontaneously serves the situation. He or she loves to do what is right.


Ignorance of our true nature is the only reason we transgress dharma. Due to our erroneous notions of inadequacy and incompleteness, we pursue various objects in the vain hope that these objects will complete us – i.e. provide us with permanent peace and happiness. Though no limited object is capable of producing a limitless result and thus liberating us from the sense of limitation, the temporary joy we experience when we do obtain the objects of our desires tricks us into thinking that the joy is coming from the object when actually it is actually our own intrinsic contentment welling up from within us when the mental agitation caused by our condition of incessant want momentarily abates. Having mistakenly assumed that the object is the source of our joy, we quickly develop a vasana, or desire, for that object, which consequently becomes more and more deeply ingrained in us each time we pursue and/or enjoy it. Eventually, these vasanas, which are essentially our likes and dislikes, become so deeply ingrained in us that we no longer have control over our taste for them. Rather, they become cravings and eventually attachments and addictions that take control of us and compel us to act at their behest. It is when such binding vasanas have completely taken charge and coerce us to satisfy them at any cost that we are willing to violate universal values. Despite the fact that we know what we are doing is inappropriate and in some cases even potentially harmful to either ourselves, others, or both, we are willing to follow through with our adharmic – i.e. unethical or immoral – action because our unresolved sense of incompleteness and inadequacy, to which we hope satisfying the vasana will put an end, coupled with our repeated indulgence of the desire has made the vasana virtually irresistible.


An interesting aspect of our make-up as human beings, one that speaks to the intelligent design of the universe, is that we have a built-in sense of dharma, an instinctive sense of right and wrong, which is essentially based on the standard of mutual expectation. In other words, we know that the way in which we hope or expect others to treat us is the same way we should treat them. Essentially, dharma boils down to the principle of non-injury. All universal values are fundamentally based on this principle. Even criminals are encoded with this value, which is the reason they resort to stealth while committing their crimes and go to elaborate lengths to cover them up. They know what they are doing is wrong. Even in the case of the most hardened criminals, we almost invariably discover that their warped view of the world and their seeming disregard for morality is rooted in abuses and injustices to which they were subjected as children. Their subsequent immorality is not rooted in amorality, but rather in the anger they harbor over having been defenseless victims of what they intuitively know were atrocious violations of universal ethical values.


Guilt is our “dharma-violation alarm,” so to speak. Simply enough, when we fail to do what we know is right, we feel guilty. Though, depending on the magnitude of the violation, we may be able to deny, repress, or rationalize our feelings, our mind will most certainly suffer some degree of agitation that will prevent our enjoyment of inner peace. When, due to ignorance, however, we have not personally assimilated a universal value – that is, we have not fully understood the value of the value in terms of our own life, have not seen the benefit we derive from adhering to and upholding it through our own behavior – then we have little problem acting out of accord with what we intuitively know to be right. Once we see that peace of mind, which of course includes a guilt-free conscience, and ultimate inner freedom, which is essentially freedom from dependence on objects for our happiness, is the underlying goal of all our human pursuits, then we see the personal value of universal values and, thereafter, naturally act in accordance with them. In other words, when we no longer feel compelled to obtain objects in order to feel fulfilled, then we have no problem sharing and caring and generally playing by the rules. We know that dharma will take care of all our essential needs, and that the fulfillment of no gratuitous desire can give us the freedom we’ve already got. Thus, while we continue to conduct business as usual, so to speak, apparently pursuing goals and seemingly making choices, within ourselves we rest content with the way things are.


Which at last brings us to your question concerning whether free choice is an illusion or a fundamental aspect of being human.


And the answer is…as it always is in Vedanta…




It depends on the perspective from which you are viewing the issue.


On the one hand, your Vedanta friend is right. Free will is an illusion, but nonetheless a necessary concept for a seeker at the beginning stages of the self-inquiry. If an apparent someone still functioning under the spell of ignorance simply adopts the attitude that there is nothing he or she can do to get free, then he or she will ever remain an apparent someone doomed to perpetual suffering within the context of samsara.


On the other hand, therefore, your Swedenborgian friends are right. Free will is central to our humanity. That is, though in reality we are nothing other than limitless actionless awareness, our identification with the mind-body-sense complex is what makes us appear to be limited volitional human beings. And though the mind-body-sense complex is itself nothing more than an inert mechanism, it is equipped with a component called the intellect that performs a function that seems from the apparent individual person’s point of view to be free will. Moreover, of all the apparently sentient beings inhabiting the manifest universe, only human beings enjoy the capability of exercising their apparent free will at any more than a rudimentary level. In this sense, it could be said that free choice is “what makes us human” or is at least a central characteristic of our apparent humanity.


Essentially, there are three perspectives from which to consider the issue of free will – that of pure awareness (Brahman), that of God (Isvara), and that of the apparent individual person (jiva). In order to explore these three perspectives in more detail, I am copying below the text of an essay I wrote titled “The Cycle of Life and the Illusion of Free Will.” Let me preface your reading of the essay by saying that free will is not an illusion. It is experienced and can apparently be wielded by the apparent individual person. At a fundamental level, however, it is not real. There are two reasons for this. First, free will is an observable/experienceable action and is, thus, nothing more than an object appearing within the scope of awareness, which is the sole reality. Second, when traced back to their source it becomes clear that the choices made by means of it are neither initiated by a sentient entity nor are they wholly free in the sense of being spontaneously made by a sentient entity. In simpler terms, what appear as choices are under close analysis revealed to be predictable responses to the “program” operating or playing out through a particular mind-body-sense complex.



The Cycle of Life and the Illusion of Free Will



Stricken with the disease of ignorance and taking ourselves to be small, incomplete, and inadequate beings riddled with myriad limitations, the most fundamentally troubling of which is our undeniable mortality, and intuitively believing there to be more to this existence than meets the eye, some “bigger picture” of which we are part, some greater cause to which we contribute, we human beings are driven, consciously or unconsciously, by a penchant to act purposefully and in accord with the meaning of life. Though most people wander aimlessly through life giving little, if any, consideration to what might be its underlying meaning and their place in relation to it, quite a number of people are consciously trying to “find their purpose,” fewer who have identified their purpose are actively exploring ways to give it expression, while a small handful are actually executing their plans in the here and now. Unsettling to virtually all, and downright abhorrent to some, is the idea that life may have no particular meaning, that there may be, in the end, no ultimate purpose. Only in terms of some grand goal or overarching plan would this volatile carnival of pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, ecstasy and agony seem to have any point.


Inextricably bound to the idea that, though we might not always, if ever, have a clear understanding of what it is, there must undoubtedly be a meaning to life is the notion that human beings have been endowed with free will in order that they might use it to ascertain and act in accord with life’s purpose. To that end, whether they believe that purpose to be the establishment of some utopian existence on Earth or the enjoyment of a pleasurable afterlife in heaven, many people ascribe to the idea that God has given man free will in order that one might choose, for better or worse, one’s destiny. Some would go so far as to say that one’s capacity to make choices and act either in accordance with or in violation of “God’s Plan” is fundamentally what gives life its meaning.


Seen in this light, several questions concerning free will suddenly take on particular significance.  First, do human beings actually have free will? Second, if we do have it, to what degree exactly are we able to exercise it?  In other words, is our free will limited? Third, assuming we are able to exercise it, in alignment with or in service of what purpose should we exercise it?


In order to satisfactorily answer these questions, we must examine them from three distinct perspectives: that of the absolute reality, or limitless awareness; that of Isvara, or the creator God; and that of the jiva, or the apparent individual.


From the perspective of the self, limitless awareness, the absolute reality, the answer to the first question is short, succinct, and to the point, and it eliminates in one fell swoop the necessity of answering either of the other two. Since the self is non-dual awareness and is, thus, everything that is and is, moreover, inherently desireless, due to its complete fullness, and actionless, due to its all-pervasive presence, nothing, from its point of view, is actually happening. Since nothing other than itself actually exists, there is no universe, there are no people, and there is neither an historical timeline of events nor an experiential present moment. All such objects are rendered obsolete when considered in terms of their essential nature. In this context, which technically is not a context, the whole notion of free will is obviously a moot point.


Isvara is the name used to personify the macrocosmic causal body, which is the subtle storehouse of all the vasanas, or impressions (in this context, the conceptual building blocks for creation rather than the individual’s likes and dislikes, which arise later as a result of experiencing the objects fashioned out of these impressions), that constitute “creation,” or the manifest apparent universe. Isvara, or the macrocosmic causal body, is brought about by the curious conjunction of absolute awareness and its inherent power of ignorance, or maya. Though there is no explanation for how, given that absolute awareness or reality is non-dual, or why, given that absolute awareness has no desire, this conjunction occurs, it seems, in experiential terms, that when absolute awareness wields it power of ignorance it seemingly falls under the spell of that ignorance and apparently forgets its true identity and thereafter manifests as the relative universe. Hence, the equation of Isvara and the macrocosmic causal body, or the body that causes the appearance of the manifest universe.


From Isvara’s perspective, many events are taking place and innumerable people are performing actions. Rather than the collected exploits of a vast array of volitional individuals, however, it is essentially Isvara alone who is overseeing, orchestrating, and enacting all that occurs on both the gross and subtle levels of the field of experience. Hence, here too there is fundamentally no free will for the apparent person.


The field of experience, or the apparent reality, can be likened to a gigantic intelligently designed machine with myriad components that contribute to its functioning.  These components are essentially the upadhis, or limiting adjuncts, the names and forms, that constitute the costumes, we might say, that disguise absolute awareness and make it appear as all of the gross and subtle objects that inhabit the apparent universe. This machine, moreover, has a built-in self-regulating capacity.  In other words, it is fluid and in a constant state of flux and is, thus, able to self-adjust in order harmonize, heal, or re-establish its balance no matter what “anomalies” might occur within its field of being. In other words, whatever actions are effected within it are absorbed by the field by means of its ability to reconfigure itself in such a way as will accommodate the results of those actions and yet maintain the overall balance and well-being of the whole system or field.


Although the immediate affects of any given action may appear to be unjust or throw the system out of balance, the adjustment made by the system itself will serve ultimately to “dole out” the appropriate karmic consequences to the apparent doer or perpetrator of the action, and in this way the apparently disturbed or disrupted balance of the system will be reestablished in a way that is in the best interests of the total.


All of the karma, or action, that takes place in the field of experience is dictated by two factors: 1) the gunas – i.e. sattva (purity, beauty, intelligence), rajas (passion, activity, projection), and tamas (dullness, inertia, denial) – or the three qualities that in various mixtures comprise everything in existence, and 2) the vasanas – i.e. the impressions one is left with as a result of experience, which depending upon their quality form and eventually manifest as an individual’s preferences, likes and dislikes, desires and fears, and when reinforced through repetitive indulgence become “binding” and compel one to behave at their behest rather than at the directive of dharma. Both the gunas and the vasanas originate from the macrocosmic causal body, and therefore are in fact brought into existence and visited upon any given individual as the result of the natural design and functioning of the field, or, in personified terms, as the result of Isvara’s will.


Nevertheless, by all appearances, the apparent individual does seem fully capable of exercising his or her free will in order to fulfill his or her desires and/or act in accordance with dharma. And, therefore, from the perspective of the apparent person, free will not only exists but is, moreover, an invaluable tool that potentially enables one to navigate successfully the unpredictable field of the apparent dualistic reality


Though the apparent individual does seem to have the capacity to strengthen or weaken his or her vasanas solely by means of his or her free will, however, there is more going on with regard to this process than meets the eye.


What is actually happening is a result of the universal dharma, or natural law, that governs the life cycle of all manifest objects in the apparent reality. As Krishna explains in the Bhagavad Gita, “those who live in a body experience birth, childhood, youth, old age, and death” (Ch 2, v. 11).  While Krishna was referring specifically to human beings in this statement, the essential premise informing the five-phased cycle he describes is equally true for any object, sentient or insentient. Everything “created” or that comes into manifestation undergoes some kind of growth (or perhaps, as the case may be with regard to insentient objects, increased usage or “breaking in”) that peaks at a certain point and then begins a gradual or more rapid decline that culminates in the object’s ultimate demise.


While vasanas are not sentient themselves – actually no object is, all sentiency solely due to the insentient body of the seemingly sentient object being illumined by awareness – they are an integral aspect of the sentiency attributed to living beings. We might liken them to subtle organisms the live by means of the vehicle of their host. At any rate, the vasanas are born out of Isvara and traverse the same life cycle as all other objects. For this reason, we might say that the vasanas have a life of their own, so to speak.


As a particular vasana grows, develops, and strengthens, the particular apparent person, or mind-body-sense complex upadhi, with which that vasana is associated and expressing through will be increasingly influenced by that vasana and ever more blatantly exhibit the tendency that is its manifested consequence. In other words, the person will behave at the vasana’s behest.


As a particular vasana declines, decays, and weakens, the person’s compulsion to act at the command of the vasana will gradually abate and his or her behavior will be increasingly characterized by what seem to be volitional acts of resistance to the influence of that vasana. In other words, the person will refuse to indulge the vasana’s demand.


Though on the surface it seems that the apparent individual riddled with the vasana is consciously choosing to indulge or deny it, this is not in reality the case. To the contrary, the vasana’s present level of vitality is the primary factor determining the individual’s behavioral decisions. What looks like a person making choices concerning his or her actions is actually just the vasanas spontaneously expressing themselves in accordance with their current station in the cycle of life.


This process is quite complex considering the innumerable vasanas influencing one’s mind-body-sense complex, but the fundamental mechanism that determines the apparent individual’s thoughts, words, and deeds is essentially quite simple. Though, as mentioned, the vasanas are not sentient, but when illumined by awareness they are the sparks that ignite the apparent individual’s apparent choices and subsequent actions. The process impelled by the vasanas natural life cycle leads to the illusion of individual free will because the degree of influence asserted by the vasanas prompts the apparent individual through whom they are expressing to make whatever choices he or she appears to make with reference to a particular goal, which is itself determined by the vasanas as well.


The conclusion to be drawn from this inquiry is that the apparent individual is definitely not the doer. To the apparent individual, however, the process heretofore described feels like free will, and thus from his or her point of view it amounts to the same thing.  Hence, the apparent individual isn’t off the hook. He or she still must pay attention to his or her inner promptings and respond to them in the way that he or she deems most appropriate. Ironically, though determined by the vasanas, one’s destiny is revealed through the mechanism of one’s apparent free will.  In other words, one’s apparent choices betray one’s causal program. Paradoxically, therefore, pre-destination and free will are, for all practical purposes, fundamentally the same thing.


Hope this helps clarify matters.


All the best,




Wield Wisdom with Discretion

Hi Ted.

The past two months have been pretty hectic, but I’m at the point where I have no belief or feeling of being the doer anymore. Over the first month after my awakening, my mind (or more precisely, the mind I am apparently associated with) got really depressed. There were very loud thoughts that said awakening had not actually happened, that suffering would continue, but none of those thoughts could distinguish the knowledge of who I am. Eventually the mind got tired of being miserable, and since then things have been more peaceful.

Ted: Yes, the mind, which is essentially the ego or the belief that one is a separate, independent entity who is characterized by any number of attributes, including ignorance and “enlightenment,” is a pesky devil, so to speak. It really wants to claim the game for itself. The reality, however, is that it has no actual substantiality or identity of its own. It is nothing more than a concept, a notional identification with a projected mind-body-sense complex appearing within you, awareness. It is actually neither ignorant nor will it get “enlightened.” It is an insentient “hunk” of gross and subtle matter to which an identity has been assigned and assumed due to ignorance. In short, it has nothing to do with you, awareness, so let it perform its little pouts, let it throw its little tantrums, let it lament its various miseries, while you, awareness, play the Rhett Butler role and tell it, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

The mind getting tired of being miserable is a sign that the binding vasanas are being neutralized. Once they know they will no longer get their way, they tend to pack it in and go away.

Martin: Thoughts arose that I should make a website or something to talk about Vedanta, and I almost did a few times, but I always backed out of it. There are more pressing things in my life than sharing Vedanta, and I should at least get a firm hold on this jiva’s situation before it starts blabbing to others.

Ted: Good decision. Lay low concerning the construction of a website and taking the message to the people until there no longer obtains even one iota of doubt. At the same time, if someone notices your calm demeanor or senses your peaceful mind and wants to know the trick, you should feel free to speak the truth as you know it to be. Vedanta is not an evangelical religious path, but it is not a secret to be kept from potential inquirers. Just be genuine and humble. Remember, self-knowledge does not put you “above” anyone else — for one thing, there is nobody else — but simply constitutes an understanding of the true nature of reality and, thus, the true identity of all apparent individuals. If you can help another see their true identity as limitless awareness, which is and can only be the same awareness that illumines all, then by all means offer them some insight.

Martin: I chose not to share the story of my awakening with anyone else, but after two months I decided it would be okay to tell my best friend. I have nothing to be ashamed of, after all.

Ted: True, you have nothing to be ashamed of, but “uh-oh” the kid has gotten a hold of the matches, so to speak.

Martin: The conversation with my friend went pretty badly. She became confused, and then angry, and then guilty.

Ted: That the conversation went badly was to be expected. Unless I am making a wrong assumption, it doesn’t sound like she asked you about your newfound knowledge. You decided to tell her. There is nothing wrong with this decision, per se, but non-dual wisdom is mind-blowing and can be quite overwhelming and even downright disturbing — more, in fact, than I ever imagined — to those who are not “at a place” in their spiritual journey where they are ready to hear it. It can be pretty discombobulating, after all, to find your entire identity exposed for the sham that it is. If I’m not the person I’ve devoted my entire life to being, nurturing, satisfying, and improving, then who am I, what am I supposed to do, and who the hell is supposed to do it? This is why Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, “Let not the minds of wise unsettle those of the ignorant.”

Martin: Since awakening my emotions have been a lot more intense; I experience them as physical sensations which are then labeled good or bad by thoughts (Is this common?).

Ted: It is common. As you cultivate a more sattvic mind, you become more sensitive to the disturbing effects of rajas and the dulling effects of tamas.

Martin: I feel empathy for her, of course, so all of her rajas had an irritating effect on my body too. But, even though it was irritating, I didn’t resist it. I think I finally understand what you meant by the difference between pain and suffering.

Ted: Yes, you simply witness what’s taking place within the scope of your being. You experience it, but you know it’s not you. Or more precisely that it is you — in a non-dual reality, after all, everything is awareness — but you are not it in the sense that you are not limited or fundamentally affected by it in the least. It is not our experiences, per se, that take such an emotional toll on us, but our identification with our value-based interpretation of those experiences that causes us joy and sorrow.

Martin: I wasn’t expecting my story to cause so much pain. If I had known beforehand, I could have saved us both some irritation. I’m writing this email to ask if you have any advice on how to keep waking life running smoothly. Mistakes are inevitable, to the extent that time exists, but I would still really appreciate it if you could share any knowledge you have about the mistakes recently awakened people make and how to avoid them. The apparent individual still has to apparently function, after all.

I don’t know if you have any advice besides continuing the yogas and self-inquiry, but I also didn’t know how dramatic it could be to tell someone you’re awake. Whatever the answer is, thank you very much!

Ted: The best advice I can give you in this regard is to read the chapter titled “After Enlightenment” in James’ book “How to Attain Enlightenment.” It enumerates a host of issues that arise for the newly “enlightened” and how to deal with or avoid them altogether.

In conjunction with your rereading that chapter, the best advice I can offer is to understand that Vedanta is a comprehensive teaching. It gives you complete self-knowledge. In other words, it gives you the knowledge of both your true identity as limitless, non-dual awareness and your apparent identity as the mind-body-sense complex or seemingly limited individual person referred to as Martin. As this universal entity, you have at your disposal two channels, so to speak, by means of which you can view reality. When you seek enjoyment, education, or the opportunity to offer service you tune into the “worldly” channel or the channel of the apparent reality. When you seek lasting support and permanent peace and happiness you tune into the “self” or “awareness” channel. The ability to appropriately switch back and forth between these channels according to the needs of the present situation is the essential discrimination that constitutes the actualization of self-knowledge.

Moreover, though self-knowledge does have an undeniable affect on one’s experience, life after “enlightenment” will neither necessarily nor apparently seem any different than life before “enlightenment.” That is, the prarabdha karma slated to play out during the present lifetime will continue to play out as it will and the universal dharma-field — i.e. the totality of the apparent reality — will continue to function according to the same dharmas — i.e. physical, psychological, and ethical laws — as it always has. The only fundamental difference will be in your relationship to the ephemeral phenomena arising “within” and appearing “before” or “around” you as an apparent individual. In essence, your sense of doership will have been eradicated by the knowledge that you are not the apparent individual person you seem to be and all binding vasanas will have been neutralized by the understanding that the consequences/results of all actions are nothing other than Isvara manifesting in such a way as will serve the best interests of the total — which, by logical extension, includes the best interests of the apparent individual you seem to be. The latter affect allows you to accept all things as they are and, thus, enjoy a quiet and contented mind. The former affect allows you to abide in the ultimate inner freedom that is your true nature as limitless awareness.

The bottom line is that while you as awareness enjoy moksha, or ultimate inner freedom, you as an apparent individual person live in a way that accords with both your personal svadharma (i.e. your unique personality) and universal dharma (i.e. universal ethical values) — assuming, that is, that you wish to enjoy a relatively peaceful lifestyle. As Zen master Dogen said, “After good manners [i.e. living in accord with dharma] enlightenment is the most important thing.”

Martin: Sincerely,



Ted:  All the best to you,