Hasta La Vista, Baby

Hi Ted,


Hope all is well, (can it be any other way really?)


I am looking for some verification to a recent conclusion. Recently there have been some questions arising regarding maya and awareness. These questions have been preoccupying the mind and hindering the understanding, I am unlimited awareness.


Are these questions, which have now been answered, acting out a deeper reluctance to completely assimilate the knowledge I am awareness, not the apparent Individual? It appears this way because once the questions are answered, there is a sense of, ‘we’ll you understood that anyway’ and it feels like the question was a distraction.


Many thanks,




Hi, Robert.


There is a very simple answer to your question.


That doubts and distractions arise in the mind is quite natural. The tendency (vasana) to think of yourself as a limited, incomplete, and inadequate individual has become so deeply ingrained in the psyche (subtle body) after years–actually lifetimes–of unquestioning acceptance that it will not immediately abandon the sinking ship of which its been captain for so long.


Because of the tenacity of ignorance, incessant meditation on the self and repeated application of the teachings to each and every circumstance (even a thought arising in the mind can be considered a circumstance, for it is an object of experience) is imperative. This is the point at which the character of self-inquiry is no longer exploration, discovery, but rather a matter of constantly reminding oneself what has been found (i.e., understood). This work of turning realization into actualization is referred to as nididhyasana. It is the third aspect of self-inquiry and the final phase of the assimilation of self-knowledge. This is the point at which you finally have to take a stance in awareness AS awareness.


In this regard, two things are worth mentioning.


First, you might have to “fake it ’til you make it.” Inauthentic as that may sound, it is not wholly without basis. You’ve made a thoughtful inquiry. You’ve deeply contemplated the teachings. You’ve patiently worked out your doubts with the help of a qualified teacher. You know what the truth is. Now you are simply contending with an errant ego making a last ditch effort to save itself from inevitable doom. Given these circumstances, “faking it” is simply a matter of standing up to the little bastard and refusing to buy into his bullshit anymore. In the words of the Terminator, “Hasta la vista, baby.”


Second, once you have assumed your true identity as awareness with unshakable conviction, it really doesn’t matter what thoughts arise in the mind. All thoughts will be seen as insubstantial objects, ephemeral phenomena floating through the mind. Just as clouds have no effect on the essential nature of the sky, so thoughts have no effect on the essential nature of “I.” You are the ever-untouched witness of all thoughts. And, as the Vedantic scripture Drg Drishya Viveka (“The Discrimination Between the Seer and the Seen”) irrefutably reveals, the seer can never be that which it can see. Thus, while thoughts depend on you in order to be, of all thoughts you are ever free.


Fear not, my friend. In the spirit of Krishna’s advice to Arjuna, fight the fight; fell the foe. Or better yet, simply recognize its phantom nature and thereby refuse it any foothold in your mind. Stand fast in your true nature as whole, complete, limitless, actionless, ordinary awareness.


All the best,


The Paradox of The Real and The Apparent



Thanks for your response.


I’m afraid your argument does not stack up in terms of internal consistency or vedanta.


You say “cultivating thoughts that align with the true nature of reality that the jiva is liberated from both dependence on objects for happiness and the inevitable suffering…” begs the question who and how are thoughts cultivated.


Ted: Thoughts are not actually cultivated by an independent volitional entity or person, per se. As I mentioned, which you point out later in this response, thoughts enter the subtle body (i.e., mind) unbidden from the causal body. Due to awareness’s erroneous identification with the subtle body, which is not a real identification but rather a trick that awareness apparently plays on itself through its inherent power of maya (i.e., ignorance), awareness experiences these vasana-induced projections (i.e., thoughts) as its own. In other words, when awareness under the deluding spell of ignorance takes itself to be a person, it experiences the subtle objects arising within the scope of its being as its own personally generated thoughts.


I know it’s a paradox. But that’s maya for ya. Maya is said to be that which makes the impossible possible. It is impossible that awareness forgets itself. It is impossible that there exists anything other than awareness. And yet that is exactly what seems to be.


Julia: That implies an agent that cultivates ‘true’ thoughts where an agent does not exist.


Ted: If there is no agent of thought, then who is it that is doing all this apparent thinking? Who is it that formulated your question? Quite obviously an agent of thought exists. The agent is nothing more than an apparent entity, a projected superimposition on awareness that is made of awareness, and thus it—the projected name, form, and function of the projected object—is not real. Nevertheless, its existence is irrefutable. How else could it be experienced?


Your argument is like saying that the pot-ness of a clay pot doesn’t exist. And by extension it implies that once clay has assumed the form of a pot it somehow ceases to be. In other words, followed to its logical conclusion, your argument would seem to suggest that if awareness appears in manifested form, neither the form exists due to the facts that the form doesn’t comprehensively define awareness and is actually nothing other than awareness (which is, of course, true) nor does awareness exist due to the fact that if the form is actually nothing other than awareness and the form is non-existent, then by extension awareness must be non-existent (which is, of course, not true).


Julia: And in any event, latter in your missive you yourself say that “thought is not under the control of the jiva as thoughts arise unbidden from the causal body.”


Mandukyakarika 3.31 also points to enlightenment where a ‘personal’ mind ceases to act and be free from all idea of cognition. “All these dual objects comprising everything that is movable and immovable, perceived by the mind (are mind alone). For duality is never experienced when the mind CEASES TO ACT.”


Ted: But what does “CEASES TO ACT” mean? If it simply means that it doesn’t think, then all one has to do to be enlightened is either go to sleep or be in some brain-dead state of being.


Of course, it is true that duality is never experienced when the mind CEASES TO ACT. How could it be? The only thing that perceives/experiences duality is the mind. This is the reason that we don’t experience objects when the mind has withdrawn into the causal body during deep sleep.


The scripture can’t seriously be suggesting that “enlightenment” is a state in which no thoughts obtain. If that is the case, then there is no such thing as permanent “enlightenment” or what the scripture calls moksha (i.e., liberation). All states are nothing more than subtle objects and thus are subject to the limitations of time and space. Hence, no state is everlasting (i.e., permanent) or eternal (i.e. altogether beyond the parameters of time and space).


The implied meaning of the words of scripture is that the thoughts are known to be essentially nothing other than pure awareness. By analogy, you can look at look at the images flashing on the movie screen and marvel at their life-like quality, yet you never forget that they are nothing other than modifications of light.


Additionally, when you (i.e., awareness associated with the mind of a jiva and thus experiencing itself as both the apparent entity and its apparent thoughts) realize that the thoughts arising “within” you are actually spontaneous vasana-inspired projections sprouting from the causal body, then you no longer identify those thoughts as your thoughts. Thus, you (i.e., the apparent individual person) are not thinking; your mind is not acting. Thinking is simply happening due to the fact that you (i.e., awareness) are illumining the subtle body, and as a result the mechanism of the subtle body, which is comprised of the components of the mind, intellect, ego, and memory, performs its functions of perceiving, thinking, emoting, and instigating action.


Again, we find our mind mired in a paradox. For neither are you (i.e., pure awareness) acting nor are you (i.e., reflected awareness) acting. There is no entity acting at all. And yet acting seems to be taking place.


Julia: Further modern science is now suggesting that thoughts about choices / actions arise AFTER the decision to act has been made. So in that sense, thought really is redundant. And after all, what is thought apart from words and concepts that flow through the mind. Consequently thoughts may not be necessary to act without acting.

Ted: Yes, the experiments of Benjamin Libet in particular demonstrated that the mind is already made up before the apparent individual makes it up, so to speak. This correlates exactly with what I mentioned concerning the source of thought being the causal body. It is actually more accurate to say we as apparent persons are being thought than to say we are thinking.


Of course, the apparent individual is not doing anything. The entire mind-body-sense complex and the causal body as well are nothing more than inert matter. So the apparently sentient person is actually incapable of thinking or acting. Only when illumined by awareness is the three-bodied machine that constitutes the apparent individual person set into motion.


Though no one is actually thinking or acting, acting is impelled by thoughts and thinking as an action is comprised of thought. We are not in control of our thoughts nor the choices concerning action those thoughts compel us to make, but that is not to say that thought itself ceases. The conscious choice concerning action may arise after the “decision” has already been made, but the thought that makes the choice conscious and sets into motion the process of action nevertheless arises. That is simply the way the mechanism of mind works. In Vedantic terms, we can say that the vasanas sprout in the mind as our desires and fears and compel us to act at their behest. Though the vasanas are actually the impetus of our thoughts and actions, it seems to the apparent individual as if he or she is thinking the thoughts and deciding to do the actions.


In any case, whether before or after the fact, so to speak, thought is involved.


The wise person simply knows two things concerning thought: 1) The “fabric” of thought is nothing other than pure awareness, and 2) he or she is generating the thoughts (i.e., the thoughts are not his or hers, but Isvara’s). Thus, the mind ceases to cognize objects, so to speak, for all apparent objects are known to be nothing other than awareness. And the mind ceases to harbor the idea that it is personally or independently cognizing or thinking, for it has registered the understanding that there is no doer doing anything, that doing (i.e. action) simply happens when awareness illumines the three bodies—which are nothing other than pure awareness itself and only appear to be separate due to the deluding power of maya, which awareness for some inexplicable reason wields on itself—despite the fact that awareness is actionless.


Very weird. And yet that’s the way it is.


Julia: You also note:
“This doesn’t mean that experience—including thinking—ends. It means that the jiva’s intellect knows that as pure awareness the jiva is free of all experience. Thereafter, as long as prarabdha karma remains, life for the jiva goes on. Awareness remains associated with the mind-body-sense complex, but no longer identifies with it.”


To say that a non-existent jiva’s intellect knows it is pure awareness implies a separate entity that knows something. If a jiva is non-existent then so is its intellect. So what is there to know that it is pure awareness? If it is just a thought, then this thought is just conceptual words that are arising in awareness. Then to say that awareness identifies with the mind-body-sense complex is also bizarre. How can awareness identify with anything? It is just passive and attributeless; to identify with something means that there is a thought arising in awareness that says “I am that body-mind”. It is the absence of that thought-feeling through all the three states, that is liberation.


Ted: Yes, what you say is true for the most part. Again, the jiva is not non-existent. If it did not exist, it could not be experienced. It is simply not real, for it is neither permanent nor does it have any independent substantiality. In other words, its existence depends entirely upon awareness. We can’t say the wave doesn’t exist, but we recognize that the wave is nothing other than the ocean and that, moreover, without the ocean there ceases to be any wave.


Liberation is the unshakable conviction that I am not the mind-body-sense complex or, for that matter, anything perceivable, conceivable, or experienceable. No matter what apparitions appear within the scope of my being, none affect my essential identity in any way nor, for that matter, are any of these apparent entities actually anything other than me. Despite the fact that they seem to be.


Julia: So Vedanta says awareness just is. On that screen of awareness, thoughts arise that identify with one particular locus, which is the maya.


Ted: Thoughts are insentient entities. They don’t identify with anything. Awareness identifies with thoughts through its association with a particular mind-body-sense complex when conditioned by its own inherent power of maya (i.e., ignorance). Maya itself is not a location, but the mind-body-sense complex, along with the entire manifest universe on both the gross and subtle levels, is the projection of maya.


Julia: Therefore liberation ensues when such erroneous thoughts of identification and separation fall away.


Ted: Exactly. Just as you say, thought itself doesn’t end, but all identification with thought ends.


The bottom line of this whole issue is that, as the Mandukya Upanishad clearly reveals, you are already thought-free by nature.


You, pure awareness, are the fourth factor—not state, mind you, but factor, for all states are by definition experienceable objects and are thus impermanent—that is the constant presence throughout all states of experience. You are the “light” in which all states, objects, thoughts, emotions, sensations, ideas, beliefs, opinions, memories, fantasies, interactions, encounters, and events appear and are thus made known. You, however, remain entirely untouched by any and all experience. Though thoughts appear in you, to you, you are not the thoughts, but rather that which sees the thoughts. And, as is irrefutably established through drg drishya viveka (i.e., the discrimination between the seer and the seen), the seer can never be the seen.


But please don’t take my word for this. You can verify the veracity of this assertion though an honest examination of your own experience. Consider all the thoughts, feelings, and sensations (i.e., all the experiences) you ever have or even right now are experiencing. Have any of them changed you in the least? Certainly, they have affected the apparent person referred to as Venkat. But have they actually had any impact on you, awareness? Are you not now the same awareness as you have ever been? Is the “light” in which all the apparent phenomena that Venkat has experienced any different now than it ever was? Think about it. We can cut down the forest, build a house on the land, decorate the house any way we wish, move the furniture about, hold parties, offer prayers, play music, burn incense, argue, laugh, cry, and make love within its walls, but is the space itself ever affected? Does the space itself ever change?


If the mind is subtle enough, the reflection of its limitless, stainless nature will shine within it like the sky’s reflection in a still pond. You will recognize though the instrument of the mind that which is altogether beyond the scope of the mind, that in which the mind, replete with its innumerable thoughts, appears. To paraphrase Ramana Maharshi, through knowledge alone is the self attained.


Of course, the very idea that “enlightenment” or liberation is an attainment is the crux of the issue presently under consideration. Pure awareness is non-objectifiable and thus entirely unavailable for experience. Hence, it is not some object, feeling, or state that can be attained or obtained. It is the “field” of being in which all objects, feelings, and states appear and upon which the existence of them all depends. Unless awareness is, no object or experience can be. Moreover, the absence of objects can only be known if awareness is there to know it (think of deep sleep). Thus, whether objects appear “within” it or not, pure awareness always is. Whether thoughts appear to you or not, you—thought-free awareness—always are.


Actually, the idea that liberation is something that the jiva can achieve or attain is simply the ego’s attempt to co-opt “enlightenment” or liberation and claim it for itself. Ironically, what in truth should be the realization that one is not the person one takes oneself to be thus becomes just another accomplishment for which the person takes credit. This is the reason Vedanta says that liberation is not for the person, but from the person. The truth revealed by scripture and through self-inquiry is that you are not the apparent individual person, but rather pure limitless awareness. Once this understanding is fully assimilated, the presence of the apparent person and his or her apparent thoughts is no longer a problem. Consequent to one’s ability to discriminate between the real and the apparent—which, by the way, is the proper interpretation of the “neti, neti” teaching propounded in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad rather than the nihilistic denial of the existence of the apparent reality—one is freed from existential angst. Though pain and pleasure (i.e., experiences of apparent objective phenomena) persist, suffering ceases. This is what is meant by moksha.


Julia: Finally I have to say that this infatuation with traditional teaching methodology of Vedanta as the only proved method of liberation and asserting that any other approach would require ‘a miracle’ sounds worryingly close to evangelical christianity saying that it is the only path to god.


Ted: Yeah, I thought that comment might ruffle your feathers a bit. But fear not, my friend, traditional Vedanta is not the only means to liberation. In fact, many more have probably realized the self outside the tradition of Vedanta than within it. I actually made the comment more out of sympathy with what I thought was your burning desire for liberation. I spent almost two decades following a decidedly devotional path and several more years reading Ramana, Nisargadatta, Wei Wu Wei, both the Krishnamurti boys, and a host of Neo-Advaitans and grappling with vague and contradictory ideas concerning “enlightenment.” It wasn’t until I encountered traditional Vedanta that the same apparent contradictions that you bring up were finally laid to rest due to a logical and systematic unfoldment of the implied meaning of the words of scripture by a qualified teacher. I think if you read either or both of the two books I suggested in my follow-up reply, you will see the difference between the satsang approach as opposed to a systematic unfoldment of the teachings.


The great thing about Vedanta is that it is a complete teaching. It doesn’t reveal the real at the expense of the apparent. It embraces both aspects of reality, yet at the same time shows their underlying singularity.


I do apologize for the flippancy of my comment and the fanaticism that it may have implied. Vedanta is by no means evangelical. We are not here to convert you or get you to accept anything that you are not able to verify through the logical analysis of your own experience. It is simply difficult to “see” the truth when we are conditioned by ignorance as we all are. The teachings of traditional Vedanta are simply an option that you might want to check out since it is the oldest “enlightenment” tradition known to mankind and has a pretty solid track record of setting qualified seekers free. You are a sincere seeker and a mature adult, however, so you are able to decide what is valid and what is not.





Best to you as well,



Why Does Awareness Suffer?

Hi, Ted:
Thanks from the bottom of my heart for taking the time to share with me your thoughts about my topic (…and nightmare: suffering).
Before providing you with my reactions to your comments, please keep always in your mind that I am not trying to be mean or smart … I am trying to be honest according to my guts feelings, trying to remember the best that I can the beautiful things that I read from Wei Wu Wei, Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj. Although I don’t trust my intellect anymore … I still keep reading these authors just in case that a miracle happens, making me understand what so far is just only smart readings.


Ted: A miracle is what you will need in order to reach any kind of resolute understanding of the nature of reality and how to function in the world as a liberated being if you read only Wei Wu Wei, Ramana Maharshi, and Nisargadatta Maharaj. Sounds utterly blasphemous in the non-dual world, I know, but while undoubtedly these gentlemen were brahmanishtas (i.e., self-realized beings; beings who had gained self-knowledge and moksha, or liberation), none were shrotriyas (i.e., qualified teachers of Vedanta). They had no teaching methodology and did not know how to unfold the implied meaning of the words of scripture nor guide a student through a systematic investigation and logical analysis of the student’s previously unexamined experience that would reveal pure awareness as the substratum supporting all experience.
Julia: Ted, when I read your reply the first time, all my alarms went on (remember: alarms equal warning guts feelings). Why? In your answer, you use the word “apparent” fifteen” times… and for me, the suffering of seven million people that vanished into smoke in Auschwitz, cannot be related to anything closed to apparent. Please, notice that neither I am Jewish nor a political person with an agenda. No at all: I am using Auschwitz (i.e. concentration camps) because for me is kind of a magnifying glass highlighting the pain and misery of the human race. I can give you another example: a little girl, 5 years old, is kidnapped from her backyard, sexually assaulted and then finally murdered with a knife … only five years old … can you imagine her terror, her pain, her misery, her isolation, confronting her horrific death alone? You can find Auschwitz around any corner … you don’t need to go to Poland.


Ted: Your issue with my use of the word “apparent” seems to stem from a lack of understanding with regard to what this term means within the context of the teachings of Vedanta.


It is true that reality is non-dual and, thus, awareness is the only “thing” that exists. But for the purposes of analysis, Vedanta divides existence into two fundamental categories: the real (satyam) and the apparent (mithya).


The term “apparent” does not mean that whatever subject it qualifies does not exist or lacks importance within the context of the manifest universe. It simply means that while the objective phenomenon referred to as apparent is existent, it is not real.


When we say that something is not real, we mean that it has no independent substantiality of its own. In other words, its existence is dependent on something else. The logical analysis of experience irrefutably reveals that the existence of all objects in the manifest universe—in fact the existence of the entire manifest universe itself—is entirely dependent on awareness. Remove the “light” of awareness and no objects, events, people, sensations, emotions, or thoughts can be known. And only by virtue of being known can something be said to exist. By analogy, we can compare the manifest universe, both its “inner” aspect (i.e., thoughts and feelings) and its “outer” aspect (i.e., the seemingly surrounding world of tangible objects), to a dream. Just as the dream world is depends for its existence on the mind of the dreamer, so the manifest universe depends for its existence on pure awareness.


Moreover, Vedanta defines “real” as that which is permanent, unchanging, always present, and non-negatable. Therefore, given the fact that under analysis every objective phenomenon on both the gross and subtle levels of being is in a continuous state of flux, the entire manifest universe, including all the people, objects, events, thoughts, feelings, ideas, beliefs, opinions, memories, and fantasies—that is, in Nisargadatta’s words, everything perceivable and conceivable—is nothing more than an apparent reality.


The apparent reality operates according to the law of karma (i.e., the inviolable law of cause-and-effect) and is governed by dharma (i.e., the universal physical, psychological, and ethical laws that imbue the manifest universe with a sense of order).


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. In Western terms Isvara is referred to as God-the-Creator.


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.


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.


The bottom line of this overview of the dynamics of the apparent reality is that there is essentially no doer doing anything. The apparent individual is actually an inert machine, so it is not executing actions on its own. And pure awareness—due to its all-pervasiveness, which allows it no context within which to act; attributelessness, which affords it no instruments with which to act; immutability, which makes it incapable of action since action is defined by change; and perfect fullness, which renders it desireless and thus entirely unmotivated to act—is not doing anything either. All that can be said is that when awareness illumines the three-bodied arena of the apparent reality, action happens.


There is no reason why the apparent reality is the way it is. It simply is this way. For some unfathomable reason, awareness seems to be playing a grand game of hide-and-seek with itself whereby its own inherent power of maya (i.e., ignorance) seemingly causes awareness to forget its limitless nature and assume the appearance of limited objective phenomena. In other words, maya conceals the limitless nature of pure awareness and then projects upon the “blank screen of being” the movie of the manifestation.


Julia: In your reply, Ted, it seems that we agree upon Awareness being partless, actionless and all pervading. Everything is Awareness so because of this unity, I infer that free will is disregarded because, within Awareness, it cannot be an agent with a different agenda. Remember, the only thing that IS is Awareness.


But you say:
“Due to the limited mind-body-sense mechanism with which you, awareness, have associated in order to have a human experience, your scope is limited.”


Why does Awareness need to associate with a mind-body-sense mechanism to have a human experience? She is everything, including any experience. If Awareness is the only thing real, why does she need to create such a mechanism and then wrongly associate with it? I say wrongly because then Awareness APPARENTLY forgets its attachment to this mechanism…why does she forget? And if Awareness forgets, it is not apparent… Either IT forgets or IT doesn’t. It seems that the word apparent is being used as a filler filling an unexplainable gap. And after ITS attachment, Awareness will use the whole life trying to destroy this APPARENT association (i.e., awakening).


Ted: As previously explained, awareness doesn’t need to do anything. Again, there is no satisfactory explanation for why things are as they are. They simply are that way. If limitless awareness were incapable of apparently deluding itself, it wouldn’t be limitless.


Having said that, however, think about your question. Given that for some unknown reason awareness does have a human experience (though technically awareness itself is not an experiencer, since experience requires the dichotomy of experiencer and experienced object and from its perspective there exists nothing other than itself to experience), how else would awareness have a human experience except by associating with an apparent human being (i.e., mind-body-sense mechanism)?


And apparently forgetting its true identity as limitless awareness?


Vedanta says that awareness only apparently forgets its true nature because it is not actually awareness that forgets—or, for that matter, remembers—anything. Awareness is not a personal entity that thinks. It is the “light” that illumines thoughts, which are nothing more than objective phenomena appearing within the scope of its being that are “sculpted” by the vasanas out of the “clay” of the gunas. Awareness “knows” itself all along simply by virtue of being itself. It seems to forget its true identity when it identifies with the limited upadhi of a particular mind-body-sense complex, the mind of which has been programmed to think of itself as a limited individual. We might liken it to the experience of getting really wrapped up in a movie or a video game. We don’t actually forget we are the person watching the movie or playing the game, but we so closely identify with the character and the events transpiring that we think and feel right along with the character we are watching.


Julia: But suppose that Awareness DOES associates with a mind-body-sense mechanism to have a human experience…


Ted: Pretty obvious that it does.


Julia: …Because Awareness has the choice to associate…


Ted: Again, awareness doesn’t choose to associate with the mind-body-sense complex, as awareness is not a volitional entity. What we personify as choice is simply the affect of maya’s inexplicable presence. That is, due to ignorance, the association takes place.


Julia: …I imply


Ted: I don’t mean to sound like a jerk, but just to be clear what you mean is that you “infer.” Infer means to draw a conclusion from the evidence at hand. The evidence implies something, which you then infer.


Julia: …that Awareness, being everything that IS, then Awareness is also the experience, the experiencer and the experiencing…


Ted: Close, but not exactly. The experience, the experiencer, and the experiencing are awareness, but awareness is none of these. What is means is that while all three aspects of experience depend on awareness for their existence, awareness itself is ever free of experience and objects. Experience and objects can only appear within the scope of awareness. Whether experience and objects appear or do not appear, however, awareness always is.


Julia: So Awareness creates the characters in the movie, creates the plot of the movie and becomes the screen where the movie is being projected, being also the light that makes the whole process possible.


Ted: Awareness doesn’t create. Awareness under the spell of ignorance appears as the manifestation. As previously mentioned, awareness conditioned by maya-upadhi is referred to as Isvara, or God-the-Creator. Awareness is the “light” that illumines the movie projected by Isvara/God/maya/ignorance.


From the ultimate perspective, it is true that everything is awareness. But awareness is not the names, forms, and functions that comprise the apparent reality. The apparent reality is only a projection. It has no substantiality. It is a subtle point, but that is why maya is said to be “that which makes the impossible possible.” It is impossible that awareness is anything other than what it is, but it appears to be so.
Julia: So, according to my original questions, Awareness is the little Jewish kid marching to the gas chamber … Awareness also is the SS guard closing the door of the gas chamber … Awareness is also the gas chamber itself and Awareness is also the Zyclon gas used to exterminate the little kid.


Ted: Yes, so to speak. But technically these phenomena are awareness, but awareness is not them. That is, they do not define awareness. We can say a pot made of clay is clay, but it is not equally true that clay is a pot, for clay can take myriad other forms or no form at all.
Julia: I know that we need the whole universe to be created in advance if you want to make a simple apple pie. Well, same here: the Zyclon gas, the gas chamber, the little kid and the SS guard existed potentially in Awareness until the time was ripe for them to get all together in the same picture and played the roles according to the script concocted by Awareness.


Ted: Awareness doesn’t concoct a script, but your statement does raise an issue worth unfolding.


All the circumstances and experiences of the apparent individual person’s life, including his or her suffering, are the inevitable consequences of his or her past actions (i.e., karma). Thus, harsh as it may sound, the abused child and the Holocaust victim are both experiencing the effects of actions set into motion at an earlier time, perhaps even during a previous incarnation. This is not to say that as individuals these people are personally responsible for their suffering and deserve the horrors being visited upon them.


Despite the romantic notion of there being a particular individual “soul” transmigrating from body to body throughout innumerable lifetimes who is evolving and growing as a personal entity until one day he or she finally attains saintly perfection, this is not how it is. The subtle body, which is what the scriptures describe as the transmigrating entity, is not exactly a person, though we tend to think of it as such through its association with a particular mind-body-sense complex. Rather, the subtle body is more accurately conceived of as a bundle of vasanas that have grouped together, so to speak. As described earlier, these vasanas are essentially the desires that cause the apparent person to incarnate. In other words, the subtle body or vasana bundle associates itself with a particular mind-body-sense complex whose circumstances provide those vasanas with an appropriate context in which to play out. Those vasanas that remain unexpressed at the end of a given incarnation then remain grouped together as what we call the subtle body and are ejected from the physical body at the time of the apparent person’s demise. These vasanas then reside in a state of dormancy within the causal body until a newly seeded mind-body-sense complex presents itself with which they can associate and through which they can seek expression.


Thus, it is not the person we currently see before our eyes who is reaping the consequences—or rewards—of his or her so-called past actions. The present apparent person is simple experiencing the karmic consequences cultivated through the subtle body that is now associated with the mind-body-sense complex that constitutes the person’s form.


All suffering is rooted in self-ignorance. The condition of ignorance with which a person is born, however, cannot be said to be that particular person’s fault. Ignorance is hard-wired into us by maya. In fact, ignorance is our ticket in the door to the grand experiential extravaganza that is the apparent reality. The only reason we desire objects and experiences is because we are ignorant of our inherent wholeness. Because we believe we are incomplete and inadequate, we seek objects and experiences that we hope will complete us. Though we did not choose to be ignorant, we nevertheless find ourselves riddled with desires due to the erroneous notions we have about our innate insufficiency.


As long as the person remains ignorant, the vasanas associated with the individual’s subtle body run the show. In the form of desires, the vasanas influence the individual’s every action and impel him to try to satisfy them. Moreover, when the pressure of vasanas or desires is strong enough, they can even compel the individual to transgress dharma (i.e., violate universal ethical law) in order to get what he or she wants. This is where the real trouble begins. Such obsession is what leads to the moral atrocities that we see occurring all around us.


In any event, no person is entirely responsible for his or her actions, as he or she didn’t choose his or her vasanas. Moreover, the events that occur are not from an ultimate perspective volitionally orchestrated actions. Rather they are the inevitable outpicturing of the vasanas. By analogy, we might liken any event to a mixing bowl into which are thrown various ingredients. The ultimate concoction cannot help but be the inevitable result of the combination of those ingredients.


This is not to say that we shouldn’t act to prevent transgressions of dharma or to rectify situations where such violations have or are occurring. Nor is it to say that a person who violates moral law should not be held accountable for his or her actions. Nor is it to say that the individual should abdicate the modicum of free will with which he has been endowed, refuse to work on his character flaws, and resign himself to the control of his whims and fancies or, worse, his compulsions and perversions. Understanding the impersonal cause of action simply gives us a platform from which we can view the world with compassion. It does not give us carte blanche to do as we please. Nor does it provide us with an escape hatch by means of which we can avoid the karmic consequences of our actions. What goes around will unavoidably come around.


The fact remains, however, that what is happening in the world on a grand scale—both the beauty and the abominations—is beyond our control. Things happen as they do because things are as they are according to the nature of the apparent dualistic reality. By definition, duality is characterized by the play of the opposites and, thus, includes both good and bad, right and wrong, beauty and ugliness, love and hate. In the absence of either side, the coin cannot exist.
Julia: So, I still have my burning question unanswered: I don’t question death…


Ted: You should. There is no such thing as death. Sure, the apparent individual transforms back into elemental form, but awareness remains unchanged. Altogether beyond the parameters of time and space, which are themselves only the subtlest objects arising within the scope of awareness, awareness is subject to neither birth nor death. Think about it. Awareness is never not present. In order to say there was a time when it was not, awareness would have to have been there to see that it wasn’t. Thus, the belief in death resolves into an illogical absurdity.


Nevertheless, within the context of your point, I grant that the apparent individual does cease to be.


Julia: I question the way of dying, implying misery, suffering, animalizing a person until he/she is not any more recognizable as a human being with only a way out: suicide….


Ted: I’m not sure I follow your reasoning here. I’ll assume that you are referring to particular instances when individuals choose to kill themselves.


Julia: How do you explain this suicide? Is Awareness killing himself/herself because the pain is not tolerable anymore?


Ted: Awareness is not a volitional entity who chooses to or is even capable of executing actions. Awareness illumines the subtle body (i.e., mind) and whatever vasanas reside therein, so to speak, express through the vehicle of the mind-body-sense complex. The machine runs according to its program. If the program tells the mechanism to abort the mission, then the mechanism may very well do so.


To reiterate, however, as Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, awareness neither kills nor can be killed.


Julia: In summary: if Awareness is everything, is Awareness also Auschwitz? If positive, could Awareness be considered as a perverted part of Awareness? But Awareness is partless…


Ted: Yes, awareness is everything.


Thus, from the perspective of its role as Isvara (i.e., God-the-Creator-Sustainer-Destroyer), it takes responsibility for all that occurs—the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly.


But, again, though all apparent phenomena depend on awareness for their existence, of all objective phenomena pure awareness remains ever free.




Thought-Free Means Free From Thought

Hi, Ted.


Vedanta says that we are just pure consciousness, which projects the world and the jiva, and the body-mind of the jiva subsequently believes it is a body-mind that is separate from the world, and does not realize its identity with pure consciousness. You imply that understanding one’s own true nature frees one from the compelling desire to seek fulfillment through objects and the endless frustration caused by their inability to provide lasting satisfaction. But surely ‘understanding of non-separation’ is just another thought that arises on the screen of consciousness, and admittedly delivers some freedom from suffering to an apparent jiva. But the jive’s thoughts are still there, albeit ones of conviction of non-duality.


Isn’t liberation something more, as per Bhagavan Ramana, JK and Nisargadatta? Specifically, thought itself coming to an end (not through force), such that pure consciousness just is. As such, words cannot touch it. Then there is just wei wu wei, inaction in action. This can be the only freedom that is talked of.


Ted: The understanding of non-separateness is a thought, but it is the ultimate thought, we might say. It is the single thought that is in harmony with the true nature of reality.


Assimilation of this understanding delivers more than “some freedom from suffering to an apparent jiva.” What does “some freedom” mean anyway? By definition, freedom means “boundless.” The idea of enjoying “some freedom” is a bit like being “a little pregnant.” You are either free or you are not. Think about it.


At any rate, assimilating the understanding of non-separation ends awareness’s maya-induced identification with the mind-body-sense complex and thereby liberates the jiva from the erroneous idea that it is an individual at all. Hence, there remains no jiva who suffers.


This doesn’t mean that experience—including thinking—ends. It means that the jiva’s intellect know that as pure awareness the jiva is free of all experience. Thereafter, as long as prarabdha karma remains, life for the jiva goes on. Awareness remains associated with the mind-body-sense complex, but no longer identifies with it.


Despite its vilification by ignorant “seekers of enlightenment,” there is nothing inherently bad about thought or wrong with thinking. Thoughts are only apparent objects whose fundamental substratum is awareness. There is no reason to obliterate thoughts altogether (which is impossible anyway given that thought is not under the jiva’s control, but rather arise unbidden from the causal body). Thoughts themselves are not the problem. Wrong thoughts are what give us grief. Thus, we don’t need to remove thoughts. We simply need to correct them.


It is by cultivating thoughts that align with the true nature of reality that the jiva is liberated from both dependence on objects for happiness and the inevitable suffering that results from the failure of ephemeral phenomena to deliver lasting happiness and permanent fulfillment.


The idea that moksha, liberation or ultimate inner freedom, is a thought-free state is one of the biggest misconceptions in the spiritual world. Moreover, it makes absolutely no sense.


First of all, liberation is for the jiva. The self, pure awareness, is already free. If the jiva does not recognize its inherent freedom though thought, how will it be known?


Second, if all that liberation amounts to is a state in which no thoughts obtain, then we should all be liberated already because we have all experienced deep sleep. But, obviously, the experience of the deep sleep state didn’t solve the problem. Why? Because the intellect was not present to assimilate the knowledge contained in the experience of limitlessness or non-separation. The obliteration of the boundaries that define thought doesn’t eradicate ignorance. Only knowledge can remove ignorance. And knowledge requires thought.


Third, if we were to grant that liberation is the elimination of thought, then we have effectively rendered it unattainable and stripped all meaning from the term jivanmukta. As mentioned, thought is not under the control of the jiva as thoughts arise unbidden from the causal body, which is essentially Isvara. Moreover, thoughts are an integral aspect of the mind-body-sense complex, which is basically a mechanism that manufactures and processes experience via thought. Hence, in the absence of thought the jiva, which is essentially nothing more than a thought itself, ceases to be. Such is the point made in the Mandukya Upanishad about the deep sleep state.


In addition, the very beings that are held up as icons of mental vacuity—Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta Maharaj, JK, among others—all walked and talked and interacted with the world just like any other jiva. Obviously, the content, quality, and perhaps even quantity of their thoughts differed from the run-of-the-mill samsari, but these self-realized beings were not brain-dead zombies by any means. Think about it. There are books filled with their thoughts.


As long as prarabdha karma remains, thought will obtain. The self-realized jiva simply knows he is entirely free of thoughts in the sense that he is not identified with them and knows that no thought has any affect whatsoever on his essential nature as pure limitless awareness.


Finally, “thought-free” is not a characteristic of pure awareness. Pure awareness has no characteristics, qualities, or attributes. Pure awareness is thought-free by nature. Thoughts are only apparent phenomena arising out of, abiding in, subsiding back into, and comprised entirely of nothing other than pure awareness. Hence, from the point of view of pure awareness, there are no such things as thoughts per se. There is only awareness.


Thus, when the jiva knows his true nature to be pure limitless awareness and has assimilated the “understanding of non-separation,” he realizes that despite the appearance of objects within the scope of his being, awareness alone is.




Vedanta Must Be Verified By You

Hello Ted

The books you recommended arrived (along with a few others they recommended) and while I haven’t read them cover to cover I have done some serious delving and they’ve been very useful – thanks!

I’m still obsessively researching AV – I spent almost every moment of my weekend doing so and that’s pretty much been my life of late!

Ted: Was James Swartz’ book, “How to Attain Enlightenment,” among the books that you ordered. If so, that should be your first read. If not, set aside the other books and just read the Intro Articles and FAQs sections on my website as well as the document entitled, “What is Advaita Vedanta?” that is available under Publications on www.shiningworld.com. The questions and concerns you raise throughout this email suggest that you don’t yet have a sound understanding of what Vedanta is all about. At present, it sounds like you are more interested in the historical aspects of Vedanta and with that the injustices that prevail in Indian society be rectified. There is nothing wrong with these interests or concerns, mind you, but they are not the province of Vedanta.

Vedanta is a means of knowledge for that which is not available to the means of knowledge, direct perception and perception-based inference, with which human beings have been endowed. Vedanta is not a philosophy. It was not cooked up by people and is not a compilation of people’s conjectures about the meaning of life or the nature of reality.

Vedanta is the revealed wisdom “seen” by the ancient rishis (i.e., “seers”) in deep states of meditation or contemplation. Subsequently, it has been thoroughly vetted over thousands of years so that all that remains is the essential truth revealed through various experiences. Thus, Vedanta is a systematic analysis of one’s own unexamined experience that removes the erroneous notions one has about that experience and reveals the underlying reality of all experience, which is limitless awareness.

In this regard, Vedanta is a science. Its concern, however, is not the material world, but the substratum of awareness that supports all objective phenomena. It is a science in the sense that it is based on careful scrutiny, logical analysis, and its revelations are repeatedly verifiable. If the teachings are unfolded properly for a qualified student, the student will invariably “see” (i.e., understand) exactly the same thing that the rishis or “enlightened” beings have seen throughout the ages since the beginning of time. Thereafter, the student will not have to believe anything. He will have “seen” the truth for himself. Self-knowledge will automatically remove ignorance, and moreover will continue to obtain even after any transcendental experience or epiphany has faded away.

Morton: I still haven’t come to any firm conclusions. One of the big things I like is that it claims to use knowledge to undo ignorance – I really like this concept. Like acid eating away at a calcified blockage. I also like how the relative self is seen to ‘extrude’ from the true self, which resonates very deeply with my own instincts.

Ted: It resonates because it is the truth of your being…which is technically not “your” being, but being itself, so to speak…the eternal being/awareness (i.e., satchitananda; sat=being, chit=consciousness, ananda=bliss or endlessness) that is your true nature.

Morton: I also love the analysis of deep sleep – awareness needing an object to become memorable experience – this insight is genuine genius and I’m not sure I ever would have thought of it on my own.

Ted: I’m a little unclear about what you mean here. Awareness is self-luminous and wholly independent of all apparent objects. So it does not need an object in order to know itself. It knows itself by virtue of being itself.

If what you mean is that it is only by means of reflected awareness appearing as objects that the intellect can “experience” pure awareness as a form, then that is correct.

In any case, deep sleep is an experience. Even though no objects obtain due to the fact that the intellect has temporarily resolved into the causal body, awareness is awareness of itself during deep sleep. Were it not, the apparent individual would not remember that he had slept soundly, for you can only remember something that has been experienced. In this case, the intellect—and thus, by extension, the apparent person—doesn’t experience any discrete objective phenomena, but awareness remains ever aware (i.e., ever existent).

Morton: Because of the denial of certain perceptions of self…

Ted: What perceptions are you denying? And who is it that is denying them?

Morton: …I’m still keeping an eye open to the possibility that the AV mindset is a psychological defence but have no idea yet if that’s true.

Ted: The “AV mindset” means what? And what is the mind defending by means of this mindset?

There is no “AV mindset.” The understanding that I am limitless awareness is not an idea or belief that you adopt. It is a truth that you “see” or understand. You either know it or you don’t. If you don’t see this truth it simply means that you are not qualified. This is where spiritual practice comes in. In order to prepare the mind for the “vision” (i.e., understanding) of non-duality, there are various yogas or spiritual practices through which you can neutralize the mental agitations (i.e. the extroverting desires and fears) that cloud your ability to see the underlying truth of your own experience. Vedanta does not ask you to believe anything that you have not verified for yourself in light of the methodology of self-inquiry.

Morton: I also find it hard to square a rejection of free will with attempts to spread the word. If everything is predetermined anyway – why bother?

Ted: As long as you take yourself to be an individual, you do have a modicum of free will. And you have to use it wisely in order to free yourself from the samsaric pickle in which you find yourself.

Even if you accept the truth that free will is essentially a farce, predestination reveals itself through the vehicle of the apparent free will of the individual. It’s a subtle issue to comprehend, so if you cannot take it on board at present don’t worry about it. If you want to delve into the subtleties of the issue, you can read my article titled, “The Cycle of Life and the Illusion of Free Will.”

In either case, however, the bottom line is that the apparent individual does indeed have apparent free will. Thus, the apparent individual must make the appropriate choices in order to obtain the object of his desire. If that object be a worldly item, experience, achievement, state of mind, or whatever, then the apparent person should do the things that will most likely produce the result he is after. If the “object” is self-knowledge, then the apparent individual needs to engage in self-inquiry and cultivate the lifestyle that will most effectively facilitate or allow for the assimilation of self-knowledge.

Morton: One thing that has disturbed me is the realisation that some of the so called Traditional Advaitan teachers are inaccessible for one-to-ones unless you have paid them money in some way – eg for a retreat. This runs in the face of what I think teachers on salvation should do, notwithstanding the reality that they have to protect their time somehow.

Ted: Putting aside the ethical nature of the circumstance, notice that your judgment is based on what you (who? awareness? Morton? Mom and Dad? Etc) think “teachers of salvation” (whatever those are) should do. In this regard, you might contemplate who or what gave you or how you gained the authority to decide how things should be. Despite the fact that droves of people bitch about the way things are and feel things should be other than the way they are, the world has been the way it has been for as long as it has been and it seems to keep on ticking along quite well. I don’t mean to suggest that we should turn a blind eye to injustice. I’m simply pointing out that it is important to be willing to examine our ideas, beliefs, opinions, desires, and fears in light of what is. Vedanta reveals that our whole problem of suffering is based on such erroneous notions. Thus, we should leave no stone unturned in our inquiry.

Morton: I’ve never had a priest from a church turn away my request for a one-to-one discussion. Money is always my number one ‘cult alert’ warning light. I was turned away by Rupert Spira…

Ted: Just to be clear, Rupert is not a traditional Vedanta teacher. Rupert, along with Francis Lucille and Greg Goode, teach a method referred to as the Direct Path that corresponds with Vedanta but doesn’t present Vedanta’s full bouquet of teachings. It is basically for highly qualified seekers whose minds are quite refined and subtle.

Morton: …who I approached asking about the possibility of one day meeting him one-to-one after going to one of this talks last week. He, along with James Swartz and Frances Lucille, I would put in the category of respectable modern-day TA teachers. If Rupert does this (and James has recommended one of his books in one of his YT videos)…

Ted: James does endorse Rupert as one of the few modern teachers who provide some logic to support his teachings. He has also said that Rupert, Francis Lucille, and Greg Goode, all seem to be honest and ethical teachers. Just because James says this, however, doesn’t mean that he is an expert on their lives. He can only speak from his experience. Just as you must speak from yours.

Morton: …then what am I supposed to think?

Ted: You are supposed to use your discretion. Vedanta doesn’t tell you what to think. It delivers the time-tested knowledge of truth and then leaves it to you to decide what to do with it.

If a teacher rubs you the wrong way, or you feel disinclined to respect that teacher, then trust that feeling. To be clear, I’m not saying that Rupert’s behavior is ethical or not. I don’t know Rupert. I’ve heard he is a good guy. But, like I said, you are an adult. Use your discretion.

Having said that, however, you should understand that Vedanta is not the teacher. Vedanta is the teachings. The teachings are what do the trick of removing ignorance. Though it is preferable to have a teacher who walks the talk, so to speak, if the teachings are unfolded correctly even an “unenlightened” or unethical teacher could pass on the knowledge that sets you free.

Morton: Also, for these events his site says that there is a ‘Registration fee’ of £10. Well my name wasn’t taken and there was no registration. It was an entry fee. Why the need to dress it up in fancy, non-truthful language?

Ted: Ever looked into the cost of renting space for publicizing a retreat? It would be wonderful if we were functioning in a society that supported the dissemination of spiritual wisdom, but we are not. Which is probably a good thing given the amount of bullshit out there that passes for spiritual wisdom. Anyway, it’s rather unreasonable to expect Rupert (or any other teacher for that matter) to jet around the world on their own dime simply out of the goodness of their heart or, worse yet, based on the arrogant conviction that they are offering “salvation” to the lost souls of the world. I can’t speak for what Rupert does with the money he collects, but it could be that the fee is necessary to cover practical costs rather than lining his pockets. Personally, I do agree that the teachings themselves should be available free of charge.

Morton: He also mentioned which of his retreats still had places left at the end of his talk and how nice it would be to see us there. And books and DVDs were for sale at very enhanced prices. It all smelt wrong, despite the flowers he puts out each time he speaks.

Ted: As mentioned, use your discretion. But, again, I wouldn’t hold up Rupert Spira (or any individual teacher) as the model by which to measure the timeless teaching tradition of Vedanta.

Morton: I also continue to be suspicious of the Guru model as what better way to ensure power over people then to teach them that they need you.

Ted: Good suspicion to harbor. This is a huge pitfall for spiritual seekers.

As I mentioned, however, Vedanta doesn’t ask you to grovel before a guru or buy unquestioningly into the party line, so to speak. Vedanta is the science of self-inquiry. It does ask that you place provisional faith in the teachings in order to give them the opportunity to work. But ultimately it asks you to believe nothing that you haven’t verified for yourself. And, of course, once you have verified the teachings for yourself, the whole issue of belief is off the table. You don’t have to believe in something you know.

Having said that, Vedanta does say that you need a teacher. If you could have cracked the code of the true nature of reality yourself, you would have done so by now. The whole reason you have come to Vedanta is because you are ignorant of your true nature. This being the case, if you try to interpret the words of scripture on your own, your interpretation will invariably be skewed by your ignorance, and you will fail to grasp its intended meaning. Thus, you need someone who can reveal that which virtually all seekers fail to see on their own.

As mentioned, Vedanta is a means of knowledge that reveals that which is otherwise unavailable to our God-given means of knowledge (i.e., direct perception and inference). Because limitless awareness is attributeless, it cannot be apprehended as one would apprehend an object. Thus, our only means of knowing the self is Vedanta. In other words, the nature of self-knowledge is understanding rather than experience. Understanding may come through experience (though most often the knowledge contained in the experience is missed due to one’s preoccupation with the sensorial titillation of the experience), but understanding is the key that sets one free from ignorance.

As a means of knowledge, however, Vedanta is based on words. That is, the scriptures upon which the teachings of Vedanta are based provide a “word mirror” in which one’s true nature stands revealed. Words, however, are inherently limited. They are only able to denote objects that have delineable boundaries by which they can be distinguished from other objects. Pure limitless awareness, however, has no characteristics, qualities, or attributes by which it can be defined. Therefore, Vedanta is not concerned with the direct meaning of the words of scripture, but rather their implied meaning. Hence, a qualified teacher is necessary to unfold the implied meaning of words in order that those words may accurately reflect the true nature of the self.

The Vedantic model for the teacher-student relationship is that of Krishna and Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita. In essence, it is a relationship characterized by friendship and mutual respect. In fact, the teacher is the servant of the student, for Vedanta is not an evangelical religion and a proper teacher will only impart the teachings to a student who has asked for guidance.

Morton: I still have big trouble conceptualising Ishwara. Along with Jiva, Atman, Brahman and Avidya – these seem like core concepts to me and while I can get my head round some of them, the concept of Ishwara seems impenetrable.

Ted: In personified terms, Ishvara is awareness wielding its inherent power of maya (i.e., ignorance) and in so doing assuming the role of God-the-Creator. Of course, awareness is not an entity with a personal will nor, due to its all-pervasive and perfectly full nature, is it capable of executing action. However, when awareness “mixes” with its own inherent power of ignorance, it appears in the innumerable forms and functions that comprise the apparent reality (i.e., manifested universe) on both the subtle and gross levels.

To put it in impersonal terms, pure awareness conditioned by the limited qualities of omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence is Ishvara. Ishvara is also referred to as the macrocosmic causal body, the pool of pure potentiality in which the “blueprints” of all the forms, functions, and phenomena of the apparent reality abide in unmanifest seed form. Plato referred to this the “realm of ideas.” Because all phenomena, both subtle and gross, “materialize” out of this realm, it is said to be the cause of the universe and is personified as the Creator.

Jiva is the apparent individual person, or for that matter any apparent individual being with a subtle body.

Atman is the name given to denote pure limitless awareness in its microcosmic association with the apparent individual. It is like the space inside a pot as opposed to the entirety of space that pervades and surrounds the pot.

Brahman is the name given to denote pure limitless awareness in its macrocosmic aspect. It can be likened to the totality of space in which all pots and their apparently separate pot-spaces abide. Thus, it can be seen that there is essentially no difference between atman and Brahman.

Avidya is microcosmic ignorance. Whereas maya is the ignorance that apparently deludes pure awareness as a “whole” and thereby makes awareness appear to be all the objects comprising the apparent reality, avidya is the ignorance that causes the apparent individual person to think of itself as such and fail to recognize its true nature as limitless awareness. In addition, maya accounts for God’s creation, which is the empirical reality that we take to be the surrounding world, while avidya accounts for the individual’s vasana-influenced and values-based interpretation and consequent experience of that world.

Morton: I’m a little wary of the temptation towards synchretism that could have impacted Adi Shankara the more I learn about the religious climate he was born into. The conspiratorial view that he crushed incompatible world views together in order to resurrect Brahmanism, his own religious tradition, does seem to fit the evidence. He and Gaudapada seem to have disingenuously incorporated major aspects of certain Buddhist schools (eg Nagarjuna’s ajata concept) that were threatening them, without crediting them with these influences. And I don’t understand how he authenticated the Vedas while assimilating the popular Jainist and Buddhist principles of non-violence and anti-ritualism. If Adi Shankara had never existed and Brahmanism and all its social evils had not been re-enlivened, might India be a more sane place today? I’ve been to India and was sickened by many of the things I saw there and I am more or less convinced they are religious in origin.

Ted: This sounds like a concern that should be addressed to a professor of comparative religious studies rather than a teacher of Vedanta. I am not an expert in the historical evolution of Vedanta as such. I do know that the Vedic tradition is the oldest “spiritual” tradition known to man and that the teachings of Vedanta, whose topic is self-knowledge rather than samsaric success, are revealed wisdom that is not the property of any particular religion. It is said that Buddhism is a “chip off the tooth” of the Veda for this reason. Gautama was actually rebelling against the corruption he saw occurring at the hands of the Brahmin priests when he broke from Vedic tradition and initiated the movement that has become known as Buddhism. There was never really a problem with the Vedas themselves, but with erroneous interpretations of its wisdom and corrupt applications of its concepts. The focus of Vedanta, however, is altogether beyond the worldly (whether it be this world or those in the celestial realms) concerns of the Vedas.

Vedanta is not a self-improvement program designed to perfect the apparent individual or bring “salvation” to the world as a whole. Vedanta is a means of knowledge whose purpose is to reveal the true nature of both the individual and the world and thereby alleviate the suffering caused by ignorance.

Morton: My biggest single concern so far is that Adi Shankara legitimised the scriptures as fully valid and revealed, whereas modern critical textual analysis shows them to be riddled with inconsistencies and outlandish, unbelievable reports of events. If this chink in Adi Shankara’s teachings exists, then surely the whole lot has to collapse as an integral set.

Ted: The legitimacy of Vedanta can be verified through its application to your own experience. “Modern critical textual analysis” is executed by ignorant scholars (no disrespect intended) who are not qualified to unfold the implied meanings of the words of scripture. This, again, is why a qualified teacher is necessary. Admittedly, the scriptures are riddled with apparent contradictions. But Adi Shankara’s commentaries actually have basically resolved them all. As mentioned, words are incapable of definitively denoting that which is without attributes or limitations. Thus, some of the expressions used to indicate limitless awareness seem to contradict other expressions. But when properly unfolded, all apparent contradictions resolve in the light of knowledge. For instance, the scriptures say that the self is at once bigger than the biggest and smaller than the smallest. Literally, of course, these two conditions cannot simultaneously co-exist. When the statement is understood to imply that the self is all-pervasive awareness, then its essential truth is understood.

Morton: So… that’s where I’m at so far!! My knowledge and insight is very inchoately formed and I’m sure my own thoughts on all this are riddled with holes.

Ted: Save yourself a massive headache, and read “How to Attain Enlightenment” before proceeding any further :-).

Morton: I’d love to hear your thoughts but as I said before I’m sure you’re busy so no worries if you don’t have time to share them :o)

Thanks for all your detailed responses last time. I took them on board and rather than bounce back on those again I thought I’d start again with a new set as my mind has moved on since then. In no small part to having got my questions answered last time.

Thanks again


All the best to you,



Only Understanding Eliminates Ignorance

Hello Ted,


I read with interest your article about the Absolute Self becoming the apparent person.


I was curious if the Guru you met in 1989 was Swami Chidvilasananda (Gurumayi).


I have been on the Siddha Yoga path since 1975 and seem to understand less every year, which might be a good thing.


Best wishes,




Hi, Alex.




Siddha Yoga, as far as I was ever able to tell, has no teaching other than to offer seva, meditate, chant, attend satsang, and donate money…and hope that one day one of those grand glorious transcendental meditative states (which seem to be rather few and far between) finally catapults you once and for all into some everlasting realm of “Blue Pearlishness.”


Sorry to sound cynical, but there was never any logical analysis of experience that led to any understanding. Hence, when the experiences wore off—as all experiences do since they are nothing more than subtle objects conditioned, as all objective phenomena are, by time and space—so did the “enlightenment.”


Anyway, the point is that Siddha Yoga—at least as it is presented and generally understood—is all about experience. Just read the advertisements for those nominally priced weekend retreats (Intensives) that invite us to “Experience the Self” and whatnot. I gave it my best shot for over 20 years, but it never did the trick. And now I “see” why.


Experience is not the answer. Ignorance of our true nature is the problem.

And only knowledge can remove ignorance. And only knowledge remains after experience ends.


When I was finally exposed to the teachings of traditional Vedanta, I was finally able led through a logical examination of my own experience and was thus able to verify for myself the knowledge it contained. Thereafter, I no longer had to believe the words of the Guru or trust that one day my samskaras would burn out, my ego would die, and I would realize the self. Now, I know without a doubt who I am.


No matter what I am experiencing.


In fact, what I know is that experience has nothing to do with me. I am awareness, and all objective phenomena are simply objects appearing within the scope of my being. All objects and events in a dream are fashioned out of and thus depend on the consciousness of the dreamer for their existence while the dreamer remains wholly untouched by these phenomena. In the same way, while all the objects and events that occur both within (i.e., thoughts and emotions) and around me (i.e., worldly experiences and interactions) depend on me for their existence, I am ever free of all objects. Whether–and, for that matter, whatever–objects come and go (i.e., arise and subside within me), I always am.


It is one thing, however, for me to tell you this and quite another for you to be led through a logical analysis of your own experience by a qualified teacher so that you actually “see” your true nature, assimilate the knowledge, and thereafter stand unshakably in your true identity as whole, complete, limitless awareness.


This process is what Vedanta calls self-inquiry. And it needs to be taught.

In other words, the words of scripture that provide the basis for the logical analysis of one’s own previously unexamined experience need to be unfolded by a qualified teacher. If one tries to interpret the words of scripture on one’s own, one’s ignorance will cause one to interpret the words incorrectly. As a result, one will remain as stupid as ever.


Language is inherently limited. Words can only denote objects that have “boundaries” by which they can be delineated from other objects. But the self, pure limitless awareness, has no such boundaries. Thus, no word can accurately and comprehensively define, denote, or describe it. It is through unfolding the implied meaning of the words of scripture that the teacher removes our ignorance of our true nature.


In this regard it is important to understand that self-inquiry neither produces the self nor gives you an experience of the self.


Producing the self is a logical impossibility since whatever is produced is only an object appearing within the self, not to mention the fact that the self is self-dependent, unborn, beginningless, and eternal, entirely “beyond” the limiting parameters of time and space, which are actually only the two subtlest objects that seemingly condition its limitless nature.


The idea that the self can be experienced is equally absurd. The self is limitless awareness. “Limitless” by definition means that it has no attributes, qualities, or characteristics that could be experienced. Of course, one might argue that in a non-dual reality everything is essentially the self. This is true and such is the case. But this circumstance is not dependent on self-realization or the inducement of any particular experience or the maintenance of any particular state of mind. What is revealed in the light of this understanding is that you are already “experiencing” the self

24/7. No particular experience is any more the self than any other. Hence, no specific experience (such as merging with the Blue Pearl) is necessary to “enlighten” you or establish you in the self. You are already the self. In a nutshell, this is the fundamental message of Vedanta, the essential truth revealed through self-inquiry.


Thus, Vedantic self-inquiry does not give you anything. It simply removes your ignorance about your already existent nature as limitless awareness. What you will be left with is simply the knowledge of your true identity. And this knowledge cannot be taken away nor does it dissipate. For, unlike relative knowledge, self-knowledge is not dependent on memory.


Self-knowledge is not something you have to remember, as is the case with the facts-and-figures that constitute the knowledge of information. The self is not a bit of objective information (i.e., not an object identifiable by its characteristics), but your subjective identity. It is not something you need to remember because it is not something that once known can be forgotten. You can forget something that is not always present, such as the quadratic equation that you haven’t encountered since high school algebra class, but you cannot forget something that is always present.


And you are always present.


In fact, you are the only “thing” that is always present. Think about it.

Was there ever a time when you were not? Sure, there was a time when the body was not here, but what about you, awareness? Again, logical analysis comes to the rescue. There obviously cannot be a time when you were not present, for in order to identify such a time you would have had to be present to experience your so-called non-presence.


The point is that understanding is the nature of self-realization, not experience. Knowledge is the key that sets you free. For, as mentioned, only knowledge remains after experience has ended. In this regard, it is not so good…assuming you want self-realization, or what the scriptures refer to as moksha, or liberation…that you are understanding less every year.


Experience may be helpful if it inspires you to seek the truth that lies beyond its surface appearance and even more so if you are able to cull from it the knowledge it contains (which is highly unlikely due to our inborn condition of ignorance). It can be equally detrimental to your spiritual growth if it entices you to seek to repeat or sustain particular experiences and to define “enlightenment” in terms of experience.


The scriptures—including the Guru Gita, which is touted in Siddha Yoga as the one indispensible scriptural text—define the ultimate goal of life as moksha or liberation. Moksha is freedom from dependence on objects for peace and happiness. Since they can be known, all experiences are objects to awareness. Thus, moksha is freedom from experience. This doesn’t mean you need to avoid experience. It simply means that you understand that the joy you seem to derive from particular experiences is actually coming from you, for joy is the very essence of your nature.


Joy only seems to come from objects because it is in that moment that we obtain the object of our desire—and for as long as the object obtains as we wish it to be—that the desires that agitate the mind subside and our inherent joy floods forth. Hence, our joy neither arrives with your obtainment of an object nor leaves with its departure. The joy is your inherent nature. It is only experienced, however, when the mind is free of the agitation of desire.


It would seem then that desire is the problem. Hence the reason that so much emphasis is placed on burning away the samskaras, the impressions of our past experiences that manifest as our desires and fears. Vedanta, however, says that we need to dig deeper into this matter and investigate the cause of desire. Simply getting rid to the symptom will not cure the disease.


Vedanta reveals that the cause of all desire is ignorance. Because we do not know that we are whole and complete as we are, we seek objects that we hope will complete us and provide us with permanent peace and happiness. Thus, in order to effectively remedy the problem, we need to acknowledge its true cause and eliminate ignorance by means the process of self-inquiry that results in self-knowledge.


Siddha Yoga is a path of (i.e., a seemingly endless quest for) experience.

Vedanta is a means of knowledge that ends the quest for the self by revealing your true identity as the self, an understanding that thereafter obtains in spite of any and all experiences.

Bhakti Is the Basis of Brahma-jnan

One of the chief critiques often hurled at Vedanta is that it is merely intellectual, that it is dry and devoid of heart. This critique, however, is wholly unjustified. In fact, the very foundation of Vedantic self-inquiry is bhakti, or devotion.


It should be understood, however, that truly speaking love, the purest form of which is devotion, is not in its essence the exhilarating emotion it is romantically portrayed as and in whose name intimate relationships of diverse character are universally pursued. Love is simply focused attention. On an exoteric level (i.e., within the context of vyavaharika satyam, the seemingly dualistic empirical reality), we love what we pay attention to. In other words, the focus of our attention betrays or indicates what we love. On an esoteric level (i.e., from the perspective of paramarthika satyam, absolute reality or pure awareness), we can simply say that we are love, that, in fact, love is all there is. For love is attention, and attention is awareness. And since what we are in essence—what indeed everything is in essence—is awareness, love is the essential nature of reality, the “substanceless substance” that is the universal self.


Thus, even dry old pedantic Vedanta is love.


In practical terms, love lies at the heart of Vedanta as well. Only by virtue of focused attention will one be able to imbibe and assimilate the teachings that reveal the true nature of reality. For one thing, the non-dual nature of reality is counter-intuitive due to the fact that maya, or ignorance, projects such a convincing virtual dualistic reality. Additionally, the overlay of conditioning that we as apparent individuals are subjected to from every sector of the apparent reality—parents, school, community, church, government, and media—is so intense that we need a strong constitution, what Vedanta calls mumukshutva, a burning desire for freedom from ignorance, in order to withstand and overcome the constant barrage of obstacles that we as seekers of self-knowledge inevitably face on our quest for understanding and truth. This burning desire can only be characterized as love. In fact, it is essentially the self, limitless awareness, whose nature is love, seeking to know itself through the vehicle of the antahkarana (i.e., mind or intellect) of the apparent individual with whom it has become associated due to the power of maya. Therefore, self-inquiry is nothing but the self engaging in an apparent love affair with itself, an affair that is consummated by the knowledge that negates any and all sense of separation and reveals the singularity of all existence.


It is in this sense that jnana and bhakti are one.