Experience Does Not Define Your Nature

Hi Ted,

I want to thank you for your reply and for emphasizing the importance of correct language in this pursuit of understanding and expressing the Truth that I already am. I can see that one word wrongly used can create smoke where there in fact is only clarity.

Ted: Yes, language is the cornerstone of Vedanta’s effectiveness. Due to our conditioning, the overwhelming majority of seekers are expecting self- realization to be an experience. No blame, as it is only natural. And, moreover, due to the fact that language can never capture or comprehensively describe the self, even the language of the scriptures is often experiential — i.e. it speaks of “merging” with the Supreme and “attaining” the self and whatnot. In many places, however, the scriptures make it clear that self-realization is a matter of knowledge. Even Ramana Maharshi, who despite being a self-realized being was not an effective teacher, said that it was by knowledge alone that liberation was gained (and notice how even that statement makes it sound like the self is something to be gotten). But think about it logically, how can your self be something other than you (not Annie understand, but you, awareness)?

James has a e-book available on the shiningworld website that deals extensively with this issue. It would be definitely worth your while to read because this issue is one of, if not THE biggest hurdle to overcome for virtually everyone. Even when we intellectually understand the idea, the conditioning still runs deep, so the expectation for some kind of experience — even seemingly ordinary experiences like being happy or feeling light or thinking only pleasant thoughts — is one of the most important tendencies to monitor. It’s not that a peaceful mind, positive emotions, and/or pleasant thoughts are bad — certainly not — and they are obviously great aids to self-inquiry, but they sabotage freedom when we believe them to define self-realization — that is, think that we are only “in touch” with the self when we are having such experiences. As you are probably catching onto by now, it is the adamant contention of Vedanta that such is not the case. Experience does not define your nature. You are the self even when you feel like shit. You are the self even when you are pissed off and depressed. You are the self even when you think bad things about yourself and others. Your experience may not be as pleasurable and, moreover, may not as clearly reflect your true nature as when you are peaceful and happy, but you are no less the self.

Amelia: Even though I know my true identity is pure awareness, I still detect a sense of I-ness associated with it, hence the expectation of feeling peace and happiness.

Ted: There will always be a sense of “I”-ness. The “I”-ness is the ego, which is a necessary function within the subtle body if you are going to inhabit a body and play a character in the drama of life.

There is a stupid notion that has assumed a position of great prominence in the spiritual world that one has to kill the ego in order to get enlightened. It seems to suggest that if one retains any association with being human, then one is definitely a dim-witted spiritual poser. Some even go so far as to speak of themselves in the third person in order to demonstrate how detached from the ego they are. Pardon my French, but it’s a bunch of fucking nonsense. Actually, when one is putting on such an act, it is a sure sign they don’t know who they are and that, in fact, the ego has co-opted their “enlightenment” an is claiming it for itself, as if the person — which is the ego — has achieved something. Truly speaking, enlightenment has nothing to do with the person at all. Self-knowledge, which is what “enlightenment” really is, is liberation from the person, not for the person. In other words, enlightenment is not a matter of somehow ceasing to exist as a person — for the show must go on! — but rather a matter of no longer taking yourself to be the apparent character that you seem to be playing. The character is still you, so to speak (an appearance in and made of awareness), but you are ever free of it and thus untouched by its antics.

Besides you can’t “kill” the ego. Who would be performing the execution? The ego. But the ego is not going to kill itself. Why? Because the only reason the ego does anything is in order to enjoy the fruits of its actions, and if it kills itself it won’t be around to enjoy those results. So, hey, let’s give the subtle body a little credit where credit is due. It’s capable enough to navigate the apparent reality and even create things like planes, trains, and automobiles, computers and great works of art; it can probably figure out the logical inconsistency of killing itself.

Amelia: I may be oversimplifying things, but from what you tell me, from the Vedantic view most of my apparent problems are based on wrong identification, on both a gross and subtle level. I can see that I have identified myself as conditioned by the past and that has prevented me from really examining and accepting the falseness of that belief, in light of what I really am.

Ted: Essentially, yes, this is true. Like I said, however, I am not a clinical psychologist and don’t know to what degree the disorders which the apparent you suffers can be managed and overcome simply by the application of self-knowledge. Remember, you have to be qualified to fully assimilate self-knowledge. Maybe therapy or chemicals are even necessary to balance the system. I don’t know. You strike me as being a mature and qualified seeker, but I don’t really know you on a personal level at this point, so you will have to judge for yourself whether or not you need supplement your practice of self-inquiry by any such means. But at a fundamental level, all suffering is rooted in only one cause — ignorance of one’s true nature. When you know you are not any of the things appearing within the scope of your awareness, then you are free.

Amelia: I hadn’t made the connection with my alters and the three gunas. That was very insightful and helps me see that “I” have the upperhand so to speak if I can maintain a sattvic approach to dealing with the other gunas.

Ted: Yes, this is the one sliver of free will that you do have. Though you can’t choose what happens “to” you and you can’t control what the result of your actions will be, you can choose to act in accordance with what you know to be the truth about yourself. This is actually all that really matters anyway, because when you know that you are the source of all joy, then it doesn’t matter what happens to you or whether your actions produce the results you desired or not. Because your happiness is not based on a happening, you will remain happy — read this to mean peaceful, content, confident in your true identity, calm, and perhaps at times even overtly joyful rather than superficially giddy and giggly — no matter what happens.

Amelia: In the past they would temporarily take over until “I’ was able to return to equilibrium. I will read the chapters on that subject in James’ book and do what I can to maintain calmness, focus, and clarity. I have maintained a sattvic lifestyle for many years, being a vegan, meditating, and practicing hatha yoga. But I can see now that the mind hasn’t been disciplined. I am motivated though to use my mind in the correct way with the correct view and will keep reading Vedantic literature to support that view.

Ted: Excellent choice, my dear!

Amelia: This brings me to a question. Does it help to have people around you who are also practicing self-knowledge through Vedanta or is it a situation where he who travels alone travels the fastest? The reason I ask is because I have head of self-inquiry intensives involving small groups of dyads where there are claims of much improvement in realization as compared to doing it alone.

Ted: Yes, the company you keep is quite important and can be a great aid or distraction to self-inquiry depending. Of course, essentially the “journey” is to be taken alone. But, if you truly think about it, how many of you are there? That said, my suggestion is to cultivate solitude as much as possible, but don’t cling to it. A supportive group can be a great aid. Be careful, however, because though their are a lot of people spouting non- duality these days and many who claim they are “practicing” Vedanta, there are very few who really know what they are talking about. Most are caught up in the Neo-Advaita movement, which simply says that neither you nor the world exists so you are already enlightened and free to do whatever you like. This is, at best, a misinterpretation of the teachings by a lazy person who doesn’t want to have to do any spiritual practice to purify the mind so it can assimilate self-knowledge, and, at worst, a misrepresentation of the teachings in order to justify adharmic, or immoral, selfish, or otherwise questionable behavior in the name of spiritual truth. This is actually what constitutes true blasphemy.

Vedanta respects people and does not have a litany of “thou shalt nots” to seekers have to adhere. So you are free to do spiritual practice in any way that you find beneficial. My advice, however, would be to stick with the understanding of Vedanta that James (and shiningworld) presents because it is in full accord with the scriptures and has come from an impeccable tradition that stems back to the beginning of time. Other great teachers are Swami Dayananda and Swami Paramarthananda. I especially recommend reading Swami Dayananda’s nine-volume Bhagavad Gita Home Study Course. There is a link to his website under the “Publications: Recommended Sites” heading on the shiningworld website if you want more information about the course.

Amelia: Thank you for being such a good mirror for me Ted. You are an excellent teacher. If I am wearing you out with all my questions please let me know and I will stop.

Ted: You are not wearing me out, Amelia. This is what I’m here for. Contact me anytime you feel the need.

With much gratitude and appreciation,

Amelia

Om and prem,

Ted