Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Consciousness: The Key to Non-Duality

Like clay in the modifications of clay, like gold in the modifications of gold, like thread in woven fabrics, so is the Infinite, the all-preceding, all-pervading Consciousness. It is without origin, without end, unchangeable and present in all phenomena. Ananda is the essence of all happiness flowing from Consciousness, the oceanic bliss in which all creatures are grounded.” (Anonymous, Sarvasāra Upanishad)

“To desire something other than this immediately present Consciousness is like having an elephant at home and still look for its footprints elsewhere... Thus it is that if you do not understand that everything comes from Consciousness, it will not be possible to achieve Buddha-hood... If you do not see that your own Consciousness is actually the Buddha, Nirvana will remain hidden.” (Padmasambhava,
Self-Liberation Through Seeing With Naked Awareness)

“Through Her own Will, Consciousness unfolds the universe on the canvas that She Herself is... When this is fully seen, the mind – by turning inward – is expanded and revealed as
pure Consciousness... By thus realizing your innate potential, you absorb the entire universe within yourself.” (Rajanaka Kshemaraja, The Recognition Sutras
)

Non-Duality and Idealism
As the quotes above indicate, Consciousness plays a central role in the main forms of Eastern non-dual spirituality, namely Advaita Vedanta (first quote), Buddhism (second quote) and Shaivite Tantrism (third quote). Why? Why is Consciousness the key to non-duality? The short answer is: because, according to these traditions, our entire reality – i.e. everything we can experience and understand – exists only in Consciousness. All things, material objects no less than thoughts and feelings, can appear to us only in Consciousness. In this way, Consciousness is all-embracing, the Whole,
the Brahman”, the “One without second,” as the Upanishads say.

If you then realize that you
are that Consciousness, that you are the One in which all things appear, you will see that you essentially coincide with the Whole, that you are the all-embracing, boundless space in which everything takes place. Everything is One; and that all-embracing One is Consciousness; and that Consciousness is you at your innermost core. This realization is the seed of Enlightenment, the realization of your true nature and the liberation from suffering. Your essence can no longer be touched by the things and events in the world, because from now on you know yourself as “That” which precedes the world, namely the Consciousness in which the world appears.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)
In philosophy, the idea that “everything is Consciousness” is known as Idealism – an idea that is also found in Western philosophy (in philosophers such as Berkeley and Kant and the contemporary thinker Bernardo Kastrup). The opposite view, Materialism, says that ultimately everything consists of matter, i.e. atoms, molecules, quarks, photons, etc. According to Materialism, Consciousness is nothing more than a by-product of material-mechanical processes, such as Darwinian evolution and electrochemical activity in the brain. Idealism, on the other hand, states that what we experience as material objects is ultimately nothing more than that: a bundle of experiences in our Consciousness, sensory sensations that are (mistakenly) interpreted by our mind as objects existing outside of us. So where Materialism says: “Matter produces Consciousness”, Idealism makes the inverse statement: “Consciousness produces matter”.

Materialism: A philosophy of despair and conflict
The debate between Idealism and Materialism may seem abstract and academic, far removed from everyday life, but on closer inspection the opposite is true. From the Scientific Revolution in the 16th and 17th centuries onward, Materialism has steadily grown into the dominant worldview of Western civilization. As such, Materialism has exerted an enormous – and very harmful – influence in our culture. It is not for nothing that
the word “materialism” is synonymous with greed and the exclusive focus on material possessions. The most important cultural consequence of scientific Materialism has undoubtedly been modern individualism, an extreme form of the dualistic belief in the reality of the separate ego.

The seemingly separate ego experiences itself as detached from – and at odds with – an indifferent outside world, in which it must struggle to maintain itself. Materialism naturally leads to belief in separation because this philosophy sees Consciousness as a by-product of the brain. In that case, Consciousness is by definition tied to an individual and mortal body, and thus different from individual to individual. In this way, Materialism is in large part responsible for the suffering that the dualistic belief in separation entails: egoism, greed, exploitation, feelings of inferiority, hatred, abuse, violence… These are all thoughts, feelings and behavioral patterns that originate in the conviction that I – as this person, with this body and this mind – am nothing more than this individual being, separate from the other people around me, separate from nature, separate from the Universe, separate from the Divine...

Thus the Advaita teacher Rupert Spira (2017: 2) calls Materialism “a philosophy of despair and conflict, and, as such, the root cause of the unhappiness felt by individuals and the hostilities between communities and nations”. That is why the debate between Idealism and Materialism is not just theoretical and academic: ultimately, the fate of Western civilization is at stake here. The choice between Idealism and Materialism is the fundamental choice we have to make between universal unity and harmony on the one hand and the destructive effects of competitive individualism on the other. This is a particularly weighty choice in the light of the impending climate apocalypse and the continuing hardening of both society and international politics.

Non-duality not an intellectual game
Now, we could put forward a whole arsenal of theoretical arguments in favor of Idealism and against Materialism – for example, the fact that Materialism fails to explain Consciousness (which is known in philosophy as “the Hard Problem of Consciousness”), or the constitutive role of the observer in quantum mechanics, or the old epistemological argument that we cannot know anything outside of Consciousness (an argument found both in Western philosophers such as Berkeley and Kant and
in Eastern traditions such as Yogacara Buddhism and Shaivite Tantrism). From a theoretical perspective, such arguments are of course very important and – in my opinion – ultimately convincing.

But when it comes to Enlightenment through non-dual Consciousness, these arguments are less relevant. Non-duality is much more than just theory, and certainly not a purely intellectual game with philosophical subtleties. Non-dual spirituality is primarily about the
living realization of Enlightenment by directly experiencing the existential truth behind Idealism, i.e. by discovering oneself as the one Consciousness underlying everything and everyone.

This also indicates the
main difference between Western Idealism and the non-dual spirituality of the East. Although both see Consciousness as the ultimate reality, Western Idealism remains stuck in purely theoretical arguments and does not penetrate into the experiential dimension of Enlightenment, the direct intuition of non-dual Consciousness. Whereas it is precisely this redeeming experience that is the central motive of Eastern spirituality. In Advaita, Tantra and Buddhism, philosophical theory and rational argumentation are certainly not lacking, but they are secondary to the practical pursuit of Enlightenment. In his classic book Philosophies of India, Heinrich Zimmer aptly describes this difference between Western and Indian philosophy as follows:

“India [...] has had, and still has, its own disciplines of psychology, ethics, physics, and metaphysical theory. But the primary concern – in striking contrast to the interests of the modern philosophers of the West – has always been, not information, but transformation: a radical changing of man’s nature and, therewith, a renovation of his understanding both of the outer world and of his own existence; a transformation as complete as possible […]. The attitudes toward each other of the Hindu teacher and the pupil bowing at his feet are determined by the exigencies of this supreme task of transformation. Their problem is to effect a kind of alchemical transmutation of the soul. Through the means, not of a merely intellectual understanding, but of a change of heart (a transformation that shall touch the core of his existence), the pupil is to pass out of bondage, beyond the limits of human imperfection and ignorance, and transcend the earthly plane of being.” (Zimmer 1953: 4-5)

The Eastern contribution: Consciousness is not individual
In the following, therefore, I will not go into the many arguments that can be given for Idealism and against Materialism. Instead, I will focus on one specific argument from Eastern philosophy about the fundamental nature of Consciousness – an argument that directly touches on the experience of Enlightenment. It also addresses one of the main objections raised by Westerners when confronted with non-duality. As said, non-duality is about discovering yourself as the one, all-embracing Consciousness underlying everything and everyone. For most Westerners, that’s a rather absurd idea, trapped as they are in the – ultimately Materialistic – belief that Consciousness is always individual, because always tied to an individual body.

For Westerners, the Materialist assumption that Consciousness is in one’s head, and in particular in the brain, is very natural; it’s what they are brought up with. As said, if Consciousness is in the brain, then Consciousness is by definition of an individual nature, tied to an individual body. It is striking to see that even Western thinkers such as Berkeley and Kant have – despite their Idealism – not been able to escape this Materialist assumption of the individuality of Consciousness. In this respect, Eastern philosophy shows a very different and, above all, more consistent picture. For if we start from the plausible idea that the Consciousness necessarily precedes the phenomena appearing in it, then the strictly impersonal, pre-individual nature of Consciousness follows automatically.

After all, everything that characterizes you as you – your body, your thoughts, your feelings, your character, your social position, your country, your culture – all these things are objects perceived by Consciousness and
are therefore preceded by Consciousness. Consciousness is not in your head or brain, on the contrary: your head and brain are, as objects of experience, in Consciousness. Everything that individualizes us, everything that makes us into different individuals – bodies, thoughts, feelings, personal histories, etc. – all these things appear in Consciousness, which as such precedes all of them and is therefore not defined by any of them. The entire talk of “individual consciousness” is nonsensical.

It is only through Consciousness that can we see, feel, perceive, think, understand objects. Consciousness itself, therefore, is not one of those objects – that is to say: it is not a thing itself, and in that sense it is a kind of nothing, a “no-thing”. As Nisargadatta puts it: “Resolutely reject what you are not, till the real Self emerges in its glorious nothingness, its not-a-thing-ness.” (2009: 503) By thus realizing the true nature of one’s Consciousness, one ceases to experience oneself as a particular individual, limited in space and time. Rather, one transcends space and time, which are now seen as mere appearances in Consciousness. Thus Nisargadatta again: In reality time and space exist in you; you do not exist in them.” (2009: 196)

A widely used metaphor in Eastern philosophy is that Consciousness is the Light in which everything can appear. Of course, this is not about light in the physical sense of the word (a stream of photons), but about the ‘spiritual’ Light in which all objects (including photons) become manifest, i.e. perceptible, knowable and understandable. Therefore, Consciousness itself cannot be perceived or understood as an object: the pure Light in which all things appear cannot itself appear as a thing. In that sense, Consciousness itself is completely featureless, indefinite and formless.

Consciousness: a limitless void
Properties are always determined and as such different from other properties. Red is red because it is different from other colors, long is long because it is different from short, warm is warm because it is different from cold, and so on. In philosophy, this is often expressed in terms of Spinoza’s statement that “omnis determinatio est negatio”, that is, every determination (of a property) is a denial (of another property). In that sense, each property is necessarily finite because essentially limited by other properties. But properties can only appear to us in Consciousness, which is why Consciousness itself is without properties: it precedes all of them. Consciousness is therefore not finite as properties are: it is infinite, limitless...

This already shows that all individuals share the same universal Consciousness.
We have seen that Consciousness – as a condition for the appearance of objects – must itself be completely indeterminate and limitless, a kind of infinite ‘no-thing’ that precedes all ‘some-things’. But how many of such ‘no-things’ – how many indeterminate and limitless Consciousnesses – can there be? It is obvious that only one can exist. Because suppose there are several. How then do you compare them to each other? How do you compare multiple ‘no-things’? Clearly, this is impossible: these ‘no-things’ do not have any properties that can be used for comparison. Hence: there is only one Consciousness.
 
Put differently: if we were to say that ‘my’ consciousness differs from ‘your’ consciousness, then they must somehow have (different) properties. Our consciousnesses must then be limited in some way, for then there must be some kind of boundary between ‘my’ consciousness and ‘your’ consciousness. But how is that possible if Consciousness is indeterminate and limitless? Of course, you are aware of different things than I am. For example, you eat an apple while I drink a cup of tea; you feel cheerful while I am sad; you think of your grandmother, while I think of the pain in my back, etc. But these differences all concern the objects in Consciousness. That which perceives these objects, i.e. Consciousness itself, is exactly the same for both of us: featureless, boundless, formless... Seen in this way, I cannot distinguish ‘my’ Consciousness from ‘your’ Consciousness. The whole difference between ‘mine’ and ‘thine’ dissolves in the limitless void of pure Consciousness.

The “neti, neti” formula
Let us return to the fact that properties can only be determined in relation to each other, by differing from each other. This accounts for the famous phrase “neti, neti” (“not this, not this”) which traditionally denotes Consciousness in the Vedanta – an expression that is already found in the oldest Upanishad: “
With what means can one perceive that through which one perceives this whole world? About this Self one can only say “neti, neti”.” (Brihadaranyaka, 4.5.15)

This double negation indicates that Consciousness is not characterized by any property, therefore not by any property
A or by the opposite property non-A (from which A must differ in order to be A). For example, if I merely said “Consciousness is not large”, I would leave open – due to the relational nature of properties – the possibility that Consciousness is small. It is to exclude this possibility that the phrase “neti, neti” is used. Through this phrase it becomes clear that Consciousness is completely beyond the relational dimension of mutually limiting properties – as the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (3.8.8) says: it is neither gross nor subtle, neither short nor long”, and so on.

Th
us, the non-duality of Consciousness does not just mean that there is no longer any subject-object duality (although that’s the main meaning of it); it also means that Consciousness is essentially beyond (or before) the dualities of our empirical, property-determined world. Consciousness is neither cold nor warm, neither large nor small, mind nor matter, male or female, good nor evil, etc.

The “groundless openness” of the space of Consciousness
Clearly, we are reaching the limits of language and conceptual thinking. How can one talk and think about something that has no properties, something indescribable, something ineffable? To meet this exigency, Advaita, Tantra and Buddhism empl
oy various metaphors to indicate the non-objectifiable essence of Consciousness. We have already got to know one of these metaphors, namely the Light in which all objects become visible, but which itself cannot be seen as an object.

A closely related metaphor is that of the empty sky or space in which material objects can find a place. That space necessarily precedes all objects and is therefore not an object itself. In that sense one can say that Consciousness “gives space” to all phenomena – or rather: it
is that space, that indefinite and infinite openness in which everything can appear. Enlightenment is about experiencing oneself as this infinite space in which everything happens.
 
Thus Nisargadatta often used to ask his visitors questions like: Have you ever felt the all-embracing emptiness in which the universe swims like a cloud in the blue sky?” (2009: 330) The Dutch Advaita philosopher Douwe Tiemersma, who also happened to be one of Nisargadatta’s students, aptly spoke of the “groundless openness”, i.e. the boundless and open space of Consciousness that is “groundless” because there is nothing outside of it and that therefore does not depend on anything (it is its own ground, one could say).

Of course, this is not about space in the scientific sense of the word, i.e. not the geometric space of mathematics or the physical space of physics. These spaces are objects
in Consciousness, since they can be studied scientifically. As such, they presuppose an even more fundamental space, the space of Consciousness in which they can appear as objects. In that sense, Consciousness is “the space behind space” or “the space around space”, i.e. the indefinite and groundless openness in which the geometric and physical spaces can first come to appearance. This is what the Chandogya Upanishad means with the following remarkable passage:

As immeasurable as the space around is this space in the Heart, which contains both the earth and the sky, both fire and wind, both the sun and the moon, both lightning and stars… Now, what is called space is that which generates name-and-form (nama-rupa). That in which they are grounded – that is Brahman; that is the Immortal, that is the Self.” (Chandogya Upanishad, 8.1.3 & 8.14)

Consciousness and Enlightenment
The last sentence of the above quote – “that is Brahman; that is the
Immortal; that is the Self” – points to the importance of the non-dualistic view of Consciousness for the ideal of Enlightenment in Advaita, Buddhism and Tantra. To begin with, we have to see that this indeterminate and limitless space of Consciousness is our deepest Self, or rather our deepest I. For the third-person form of “the Self” can create the dualistic impression that it is about something apart from us, standing over against us, a divine He, while the point is precisely the non-dualistic insight that we are “That” ourselves. After all, I am aware of all my experiences, feelings and thoughts. I am the observer to whom the world appears. I am the subject to which all objects appear but who can never become an object itself. In short, I am that featureless, boundless Consciousness that underlies and precedes all phenomena.

The seeing of this is what Enlightenment is, Awakening, the liberation of suffering. All experiences, thoughts, feelings appear in Consciousness, but they do not touch Consciousness; it remains featureless, formless, unmoved – just as a theater remains unmoved by the drama that takes place in it, or as a cinema screen is not touched by the film it displays. As the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad says, Consciousness is “
the one who is beyond hunger and thirst, beyond sadness and confusion, beyond old age and death” (3.4.2).

Although Advaita, Buddhism and Shaivite Tantrism place slightly different accents and use different terminologies, the essence is always the same insight, namely that you are primarily this non-dual Consciousness and not one of the limited phenomena that show up in Consciousness. In a following post I will elaborate on the relationship between Advaita, Buddhism and Tantra. The superficial differences that indeed exist between these traditions should not obstruct our view of the liberating core message they have in common.

References
-Heinrich Zimmer,
Philosophies of India, edited by Joseph Campbell, 1953, Routledge and Kegan Paul.
-
Nisargadatta, I Am That, edited by Sudhaker S. Dikshit, translated by Maurice Frydman, Chetana, 2009.
-Philip Renard,
Non-Dualisme: De Directe Bevrijdingsweg, 2005, Felix Uitgeverij (p. 103 for the Padmasambhava quote).
-Rajanaka Kshemaraja,
The Recognition Sūtras, translated and annotated by Christopher Wallis, 2017, Mattamayūra Press.
-Rupert Spira (2017),
The Nature of Consciousness: Essays on the Unity of Mind and Matter, Sahaja Publications.
-Wim van de Laar,
De Upanishads, translated and annotated by Wim van de Laar, 2015, Uitgeverij Nachtwind.



Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Non-Duality and the Problem of the Ego

According to non-dual therapists, the dualistic attitude to life is naturally stressful. The ego, i.e. the conviction that one is a self-standing individual, separate from the outside world, is physically experienced as a contraction of the muscles, resulting in tense breathing, tension in the chest, in the throat, at the back of the head and around the eyes. In the dualistic attitude to life, we literally contract our bodies into individual, separate units, standing over against an – at best indifferent, at worst hostile – outside world. A world in which we have to struggle in order to maintain and assert ourselves.

Non-duality as ultimate relaxation
This
feeling of contraction into a separate individual begins when we are still very young and builds up as tension and stress throughout the rest of our lives. No wonder the phenomenon of burnout takes on epidemic proportions in our hyper-individualistic and competitive societies! In the experience of non-duality, however, all this stress disappears, as we then experience ourselves as one with the world. The sense of separation simply falls away. Hence the great therapeutic value of non-duality.

In the non-dual experience, the sense of separation between “me” and “not-me” disappears,
and so the restless urge to be an ego, a self-standing individual, is abandoned. In the non-dual experience, the ego experiences its own dissolution in the Cosmic Whole, dissolving like a lump of sugar in a hot cup of tea. This feeling of letting go is experienced physically and emotionally as a great relaxation. The dissolving ego heaves a great sigh of relief, similar to the last breath of a dying person: “It’s over...”

With this difference, of course, that you don’t really die. On the contrary, you are reborn in
to a liberated state, freed from the suffering inherent in the dualistic attitude to life. In the non-dual experience, one returns to the state of cosmic unity we all experienced as babies, albeit that one now experiences this unity consciously, as an adult. We become ‘self-conscious babies’, as it were.

The oceanic feeling
That feeling of absolute oneness with your mother, while you
were still in the womb, and later, after your birth, the feeling of being carried in the arms of your parents, that feeling of total safety and surrender, of undivided unity and love, what Freud called the “oceanic feeling” and described as a “sense of oneness with the universe” that primordial feeling is what we lose when we grow up and internalize the dualistic attitude to life, thereby becoming ego’s.

We then learn to see ourselves as separate individuals, each with his / her own
supposedly free will and moral responsibilities. We start to see ourselves as self-standing individuals who must meet the dualistic expectations of society. In this way, we lose the primordial bliss of cosmic unity we experienced as babies. But we never lose the memory of that bliss. And that, in short, is why we suffer – in the sense of “suffering” that plays such a central role in Eastern spirituality. We suffer because, above all else, we want to return to that original state of blissful oneness and because – in the dualistic attitude to life – we can never have that bliss again. So we want the impossible. That’s to say: we want the impossible as long as we think we are separate individuals.

The secret of human desire
From a non-dualistic perspective, this is the secret of human desire and the problem of the ego. Seemingly separated from the Cosmic Whole, we feel ourselves radically incomplete, radically insecure. And then we try to fill this inner emptiness by looking for something outside of ourselves, something that will make us whole again. That’s why we can’t stop buying useless things and chasing desperately after wealth and success, love and sexual pleasure, physical health and beauty...

In the dualistic attitude to life, we think: “I
f only I could buy that new car...”, or “If only I could find the right partner...”, or “If only I could finish my education...”, or “If only I could have that breast augmentation...”, or: “If only I could find the right guru...” in short: “If only I could acquire that elusive something X, I would be happy, for then I would be complete, then I would be fulfilled.” But, as we all know deep down (even if we don’t like to admit it to ourselves), life simply doesn’t work that way.

The inner void left behind by the Cosmic Whole which we apparently lost as we grew into separate individuals – that void can never be filled by anything other than the Whole itself. Trying to fill it with things outside us – a nice car, a breast augmentation, social success, a loving partner, the right guru – is the same as trying to fill a sieve with water. That’s what suffering is: trying to retrieve the Whole while remaining a separate individual.

Samsara for skeptics
In this way we can understand the cycle of samsara without having to stick to the ancient Indian belief in reincarnation –
a belief that many people today see as unscientific superstition. The cycle of samsara can simply be understood as the cycle of dualistic desire: any attempt to become whole again by chasing something outside ourselves will inevitably fail and will therefore revive this desire for wholeness. That’s what the cycle of samsara is: the unceasing reproduction of dualistic desire, because nothing finite and material can ultimately satisfy us.

Only the Whole can do that. Only the non-dual consciousness,
where we realize our original oneness with the Whole, can stop the samsarian cycle of desire. This end to dualistic desire is Enlightenment, Awakening, the Liberation of the Suffering, or – as Buddhists say – “Nirvana” (which literally means “blown out”, like the blowing out of a flame, thus pointing to the extinction of dualistic desire).

This emphatically does not mean we become completely
without will! As if from now on we are ‘perfect saints’ who no longer have desires. It is only the dualistic desire that falls away in the non-dual experience, the desire to heal ourselves, to become whole again, by seeking something outside of ourselves. That kind of desire falls away in non-dual consciousness, because we then realize we have never left the Whole in the first place! Then we are finally free to really enjoy life and all the beautiful things and people around us, because then the dualistic urge to possess is no longer felt.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Quotes from Ramana Maharshi


The following quotes are taken from Talks with Ramana Maharshi, 2001, Inner Directions Publishing, Carlsbad, California. These are the passages that struck me the most when I read Talks, the ones I found particularly illuminating in my spiritual search. I publish them here in the hope that they may benefit others as they have benefited me. Om shanti om! 


Abide as the Self

“There is no greater mystery than the following: Ourselves being the Reality, we seek to gain reality. We think there is something hiding our Reality, and that it must be destroyed before the Reality is gained. That is ridiculous. A day will dawn when you will yourself laugh at your own past efforts. That which will be on the day you laugh is also here and now.” (101-2)

“Everyone is the Self by his own experience. Still, he is not aware; he identifies the Self with the body and feels miserable. This is the greatest of all mysteries. One is the Self. Why not abide as the Self and be done with miseries?” (126)

Brahman is the world


“The world is illusory; Brahman alone is real; Brahman is the world.” (ix)

“D. What does Maharshi think of the theory of universal illusion (Maya)?
M. What is Maya? It is only Reality.
D. Is not Maya illusion?
M. Maya is used to signify the manifestations of the Reality. Thus Maya is only Reality.” (13)

“The aspirant (abhyasi) starts with the definition that that which is real exists always; then he eliminates the world as unreal because it is changing. It cannot be real; “not this, not this!” The seeker ultimately reaches the Self and there finds unity as the prevailing note. Then, that which was originally rejected as being unreal is found to be a part of the unity. Being absorbed in the Reality, the world also is Real.” (33)

The world “is unreal if viewed as apart from the Self and real if viewed as the Self”. (408)

Everything exists within you

“The Self does not move. The world moves in it.” (173)

“There are no objects without the subject; that is, the objects do not come and tell you that they are, rather it is you who say that the objects exist… Find out what you are and then you understand what the world is.” (292)

“Owing to the idea “I am the body,” the separate objects are seen as if lying outside. Know that they are all within yourself.” (376)

I Am that I Am

“D. Is there thought in samadhi?
M. There will only be the feeling I Am and no other thoughts.
D. Is not I Am a thought?
M. The egoless “I am” is no thought; it is realization. The significance of “I” is God.” (150)

“Wakefulness passes off, I am; the dream state passes off, I am; the sleep state passes off, I am. They repeat themselves, and yet “I Am” remains.” (160)

“One should not think “I am this – I am not that”. To say “this or that” is wrong. They are limitations. Only “I am” is the truth.” (164)

“To be the Self is the same as seeing the Self.” (251)

“The whole Vedanta is contained in two Biblical statements: “I Am that I Am” and “Be still and know that I am God”.” (255)

“Your duty is to be, and not to be this or that. “I Am that I Am” sums up the whole truth. The method is summed up in “Be Still”. What does “stillness” mean? It means: “Destroy yourself.” Because any form or shape is the cause of trouble. Give up the notion that “I am so and so”… Aham aham (“I-I”) is the Self; Aham idam (“I am this”) is the ego.” (276)

Bliss, the self-tasting sugar

“Some contend that the sugar cannot taste its own sweetness and that a taster must taste and enjoy it. Similarly, an individual cannot be the Supreme and enjoy the Bliss of that state; therefore, the individuality must be maintained on the one hand and Godhead on the other so that enjoyment may result! Is God insentient like sugar?” (140)

“Consciousness is the only truth… Its very nature is Bliss. Bliss alone is. There is no enjoyer to enjoy pleasure. Enjoyer and joy – both merge in it.” (159)

“There is happiness at pleasant sights, etc. It is the happiness inherent in the Self. That happiness is not alien and afar. You are diving into the Pure Self on occasions, which you consider pleasurable. That diving reveals the self-existent Bliss. But the association of ideas is responsible for foisting this bliss onto other things or happenings. In fact, it is within you. On these occasions you are plunging into the Self, though unconsciously. If you do so consciously, you call it Realization. I want you to dive consciously into the Self, i.e., into the Heart.” (177)

The body is only a part

“In the beginning one has to be told that he is not the body, because he thinks that he is the body only. Whereas he is the body and all else. The body is only a part.” (126)

“The jnani says, “I am the body”; the ajnani says, “I am the body”; what is the difference?... The ajnani’s “I” is the body only. That is the whole error. The jnani’s “I” includes the body and everything else.” (164)

“To identify oneself with the body and yet to seek happiness is like attempting to cross a river on the back of an alligator.” (298)

Ignorance

“Identification with the body is dvaita. Non-identification is advaita.” (34)

“The fact is that you are ignorant of your blissful state. Ignorance supervenes and draws a veil over the pure Bliss. Attempts are directed only to remove this ignorance. This ignorance consists in wrong knowledge. The wrong knowledge consists in false identification of the Self with the body, the mind, etc. This false identity must go, and what remains only is the Self.” (172)

“D. What is avidya?
M. Ignorance of Self. Who is ignorant of the Self? The self must be ignorant of Self. Are there two selves?” (179)

“People ask: “How did ignorance (avidya) arise at all?” We have to say to them: “Ignorance never arose. It has no real being. That which is, is only vidya (Knowledge).” (206)

“The ego is simply wrong identity of the Self with the non-self, as in the case of a colorless crystal and its colored background. If the background is removed the crystal shines in its original purity. So it is with the Self and the organs of cognition.” (299)


“Inasmuch as you say you are ignorant, you are wise.” (300)

“Illusion is itself illusory. Illusion must be seen by one beyond it.” (342)

Self-inquiry

“That which is born must die; that which is acquired must be lost. Were you born? You are ever existent. The Self can never be lost.” (14)

“The quest “Who am I?” is the axe with which to cut off the ego.” (102)

“One has only to remove the transitory happenings in order to realize the ever-present beatitude of the Self.” (123)

The Self is “the survivor after suicide” (256).

“How does one know the world to be transitory? Unless something permanent is held, the transitory nature of the world cannot be understood.” (265)

Self-realization

Self-realization “is a matter of fitness of mind” (9).

“The “I” casts off the illusion of “I” and yet remains as “I”. Such is the paradox of Self-realization. The realized do not see any contradiction in it.” (23)

“After realization all intellectual loads are useless burdens and are thrown overboard as jetsam.” (24)

“Self-realization is […] realizing the Self as the limitless spiritual eye” (25).

“The Self is certainly within the direct experience of everyone, but not as one imagines it to be.” (95)

“Realization is to get rid of the delusion that you have not realized.” (333)

“The fact of your existence is also your realization.” (375)

“The world may appear or disappear – that is to say, one may be awake or asleep – but the awareness is unaffected. It is one continuous whole over which the three states of waking, dream and sleep pass. Be that awareness even now. That is the Self: that is Realization – there is Peace, there is Happiness.” (389)

“Self-realization is only a euphemism for elimination of ignorance.” (397)

“D. Does not the realized man continue to live just like a non-realized being?
M. Yes, with this difference: that the realized being does not see the world as being apart from the Self. He possesses true knowledge and the internal happiness of being perfect, whereas another person sees the world apart, feels imperfection, and is miserable. But, otherwise, their physical actions are similar.” (385)

Sleep

Maharshi speaks of “that undifferentiated happy state which is sleepless sleep” (53).

“Deep sleep is only the state of nonduality. Can the difference between the individual and Universal souls persist there? Sleep implies forgetfulness of all differences. This alone constitutes happiness. See how carefully people prepare their beds to gain that happiness. Soft cushions, pillows, and all the rest are meant to induce sound sleep, that is to say an end to wakefulness.” (140)

“Bring about deep sleep even in the waking state and that is realization.” (149)

“One is always only in sleep. The present waking state is no more than a dream.” (161)

“There is full awareness in sleep; there is total ignorance in waking.” (229) To which one of the devotees responded: “So it is an experiment in somnambulism.” Which extracted a laugh from Maharshi.

Samadhi means sleep in the waking state.” (282)

Beyond effort

“For a realized being the Self alone is the Reality, and actions are only phenomenal, not affecting the Self. Even when he acts, he has no sense of being an agent. His actions are involuntary and he remains a witness to them without any attachment.” (8)

“The actions are not mine; therefore, their results cannot be mine, either.” (48) 

The present difficulty is that man thinks he is the doer. But it is a mistake. It is the Higher Power which does everything and man is only a tool. If he accepts that position, he is free from troubles; otherwise he courts them. Take, for instance, the figure in a temple tower, where it is made to appear to bear the burden of the tower on its shoulders. Its posture and look are a picture of great strain while bearing the very heavy burden of the tower. But consider this. The tower is built on the earth and rests on its foundations. The figure (like Atlas bearing the Earth) is a part of the tower, but is made to look as if it bore the tower. Is it not funny? So is the man who takes on himself the sense of doing.” (52)

“There is a state beyond both effort and effortlessness. Until it is realized, effort is necessary.” (96)

“D. My work demands the best part of my time and energy; often, I am too tired to devote myself to Atma-chintana [concentration on the Self].
M. The feeling “I work” is the hindrance. Inquire: “Who works?” Remember: “Who am I?” The work will not bind you. It will go on automatically. Make no effort either to work or to renounce work. Your effort is the bondage. What is bound to happen will happen.” (186)

“Whatever one does after the ego has vanished is akarma (actionless act).” (283)


“A passenger in a train keeps his load on the head by his own folly. Let him put it down; he will find the load reaches the destination just the same. Similarly, let us not pose as doers, but resign ourselves to the guiding Power.” (301)

“When egoity ceases, actions become spontaneous.” (363)

Beyond thought

“The intellect derives light from the Self… How can the reflected and partial light of the intellect envisage the whole and the original Light?” (52)

Atman is realized with mruta manas (dead mind), i.e. mind devoid of thoughts and turned inward. Then the mind sees its own source and becomes That. It is not as the subject perceiving an object.” (72)

“It is as difficult for a jnani to engage in thoughts as it is for an ajnani to be free from them.” (96)

“We seek to reach the goal with the ego, but the goal exists before the ego… take no notice of the ego and its activities but see only the light behind it. The ego is the I-thought. The true “I” is the Self.” (100)

“The Self is the unassociated, pure Reality, in whose light the body, the ego, etc. shine. On stilling all thoughts, the pure consciousness remains.” (128)

On meditation: “It is like giving a piece of chain to an elephant to hold in its trunk. The trunk of the elephant is usually restless. It puts it out in all directions when taken out in the streets. If given a chain to carry, the restlessness is checked. Similarly with the restless mind.” (243)

“What does it matter if the mind is active? It is so only on the substratum of the Self. Hold the Self, even during mental activities.” (312)

“It is like the sun towards the world activities. The Self always remains actionless, whereas thoughts arise and subside.” (369)

“Such inward seeking is the path to be gained by man’s intellect. The intellect itself realizes after continuous practice that it is enabled to function by some Higher Power. By itself, it cannot reach that Power… It is thus plain that the purpose of the intellect is to realize its own dependence upon the Higher Power and its inability to reach the same. So it must annihilate itself before the goal is gained.” (398)

“D. But thinking is necessary even for realization.
M. That thinking is aimed at the elimination of all thinking.” (410)

Shiva and Shakti

“Mind is only the dynamic power (shakti) of the Self… There is no difference between matter and spirit. Modern science admits that all matter is energy. Energy is power of force (shakti). Therefore, all are resolved in Shiva and Shakti, i.e. the Self and the Mind.” (185-6)

“The objects are thus Consciousness and forms. But the ordinary person sees the objects in the universe but not Shiva in these forms. Shiva is the Being assuming these forms and the Consciousness seeing them. That is to say, Shiva is the background underlying both the subject and the object, and again Shiva in Repose and Shiva in Action, or Shiva and Shakti, or the Lord and the Universe. Whatever it is said to be, it is only Consciousness whether in repose or in action.” (349)

“The Self makes the universe what it is by His Shakti, yet He does not Himself act… It is like the sun and the world actions.” (363)

To the movies with Ramana

“Scenes are projected on the screen in a cinema show. But the moving pictures do not affect or alter the screen. The seer pays attention to the pictures and ignores the screen. They cannot remain apart from the screen. Still, its existence is ignored. So also the Self is the screen on which the pictures, namely activities, are going on. Man is aware of the latter, ignoring the former. All the same, he is not apart from the Self... The Self comprises all. It is the screen, the pictures, the seer, the actor, the operator, the light, and all else… Imagine the actor in the picture asking if he could enact a scene without the screen. Such is the case of the man who thinks of his acting apart from the Self.” (228)

"fire burns away everything...
but the screen remains unaffected"
“So many pictures pass over the cinema screen: fire burns away everything, water drenches all, but the screen remains unaffected. The scenes are only phenomena, which pass away leaving the screen as it was. Similarly the world phenomena simply pass before the jnani, leaving him unaffected.” (362)

Renunciation and surrender

“It is enough that one surrenders oneself. Surrender is to give oneself up to the original cause of one’s being. Do not delude yourself by imagining such a source to be some God outside you. One’s source is within oneself. Give yourself up to it.” (140)

“Renunciation is non-identification of the Self with the non-self.” (173)

“The Self is simple renunciation. The Self has renounced all.” (186)


Hints for the seeker

“Telepathy enables one to see and hear from afar. They are all the same, hearing and seeing. Whether one hears from near or far does not make any difference in the hearing. The fundamental factor is the hearer, the subject. Without the hearer or the seer, there can be no hearing or seeing.” (13)

“Silence is unceasing eloquence.” (14)

“Eagerness must be equal to that of a man kept under water trying to rise to the surface for his life.” (24)

“What is it that exists now and troubles you? It is “I”. Get rid of that and be happy.” (33)

“Look, the Self is only Being, not being this or that. It is simple Being. Be – and there is an end of the ignorance.” (38)

“The mind is the rider and the breath the horse. Pranayama is a check on the horse. By that check, the rider is checked.” (46)

“Suffering is the way for realization of God.” (77)

“Become the Subject and there will be no object.” (179)

“God is perfection. His work also is perfection. But you see it as imperfection because of your wrong identification.” (188)

“The Self of the advaitins is the God of the bhaktas.” (190)


“Because you identify yourself with the body you think the Guru, too, to be somebody. You are not the body, nor is the Guru. You are the Self and so is the Guru.” (199)

Samskara is samsara.” (207)

“The body is the Cross. Jesus, the son of man, is the ego or “I-am-the-body” idea. When he is crucified, he is resurrected as the Glorious Self – Jesus, the Son of God! “Give up this life if thou wouldst live.””(298)

“Willpower should be understood to be the strength of mind which makes it capable of meeting success or failure with equanimity. It is not synonymous with certain success. Why should one’s attempts always be attended by success? Success breeds arrogance and man’s spiritual progress is thus arrested. Failure, on the other hand, is beneficial, inasmuch as it opens his eyes to his limitations and prepares him to surrender himself. Self-surrender is synonymous with eternal happiness. Therefore, one should try to gain equipoise of mind under all circumstances. That is willpower.” (310)

“The Supreme Being is unmanifest and the first sign of manifestation is Aham Sphurana (light of “I”).” (408)

The entrance to the Sri Ramana Ashram near Tiruvannamalai in the South-Indian
state of Tamil Nadu. It was here in the years 1935-39 that Ramana conducted the talks
with visitors to the ashram that formed the basis of the book Talks with Ramana Maharshi.




Monday, June 24, 2019

The Movie of Life: Understanding Advaita through Film


In the old days a movie theatre used to be known as a “bioscope”. From the perspective of Advaita, this is a beautiful word, loaded with meaning. “Bioscope” is a combination of the Greek words “bíos” = life and “skopéō” = I look at. So, when I’m at the cinema, I am looking at life. Now, according to Advaita, you are always at the cinema, namely, the cinema of Consciousness, witnessing the movie of life. Thus, ever since Ramana Maharshi, film has been a beloved metaphor among Advaita teachers.

The peaceful screen

Especially the relation between screen and film is frequently used to clarify the relation between Consciousness and the phenomena appearing in Consciousness. Just as the screen is not dependent on the main character appearing in the movie, so Consciousness is not dependent on the person we are so intimately aware of. In other words: C
onsciousness isn’t personal, because the person is just one of the countless objects appearing in Consciousness. Consciousness is trans-personal, the Universal Self underlying everything and everyone.

All our thoughts, feelings and sensory experiences appear in Consciousness, but do not touch it. Consciousness remains unmoved, just as a movie screen remains unaffected by the film appearing on it. It doesn’t matter what kind of film it is – war movie, romcom, slasher movie, porn flick, historical epic, psychological thriller – the screen in itself remains the same: empty, colorless, spotless, receptive to all images. In the same way, Consciousness can host all possible experiences, thoughts and feelings, but is not affected by them.

There can be intense sadness, but the Consciousness perceiving this is not sad. There may be happiness, but the perceiving Consciousness is not happy. There may be confusion, but the Consciousness witnessing this confusion is not confused; it is rather absolutely clear. Whatever appears in Consciousness, the latter always remains the same: pure, empty, light, spacious, boundless, open to all possible phenomena. As the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (3.5.1) puts it: Consciousness – the Self, the Atman-Brahman – is “the one who is beyond hunger and thirst, beyond sorrow and delusion, beyond old age and death.” Thus, Ramana Maharshi used to say that E
nlightenment is like realizing you are the movie screen and not what appears on the screen:

The burning house from Lynch's Lost Highway.
"So many pictures pass over the cinema screen: fire burns away everything; water drenches all; but the screen remains unaffected. The scenes are only phenomena which pass away leaving the screen as it was. Similarly, the world phenomena simply pass on before the sage (jnani), leaving him unaffected." (Maharshi 1955: 457)

The self-aware screen

From the viewpoint of Advaita, however, the comparison of Consciousness with a movie screen is not entirely perfect. After all, this analogy leaves a number of separations intact, namely, between the screen, the projected film images, the projector and the popcorn-eating audience. To make the film metaphor better suited for Advaita, we should add that all these elements are one. That is to say, Consciousness is like a television or computer screen that produces the film appearing on it and is simultaneously its own audience, i.e. the screen perceives itself. Rupert Spira in particular uses this metaphor of “the self-aware screen” to great effect. His book Being Aware of Being Aware is almost entirely built around this metaphor:

“Knowing or being aware is in the same relationship to all knowledge and experience as an aware screen would be to a movie. Unlike a conventional television screen that is being watched by someone sitting on a sofa, the aware screen of pure knowing […] is watching the movie of experience that is playing upon it… However, just as the screen tends to be overlooked during a movie due to our fascination with the drama, so […] awareness itself usually remains unnoticed due to the exclusive focus of our attention on the objects of experience… Just as the screen never appears as an object in a movie, although it is fully evident throughout it, so knowing or being aware never appears as an object of knowledge or experience and yet shines clearly within all knowledge or experience.” (Spira 2017: 15-17) 

Identifying with the main character
As the quote from Spira indicates, the medium of film is also suitable to explain the Advaitic view on ignorance (avidya) and how it works, i.e. the mechanism of superimposition (adhyasa). Ignorance, according to Advaita, consists in the fact that we, as Consciousness, confuse ourselves with what appears in Consciousness, especially the person whose fortunes and travails we experience from within. Superimposition means that we project the properties of the perceiving Consciousness – such as immutability – onto the perceived person, with the result that we suffer: after all, body and mind change constantly, eventually they deteriorate and in the end they die…

George Costanza realizing
his essential nature as the
popcorn eating witness
of the movie of life...
Something very similar to superimposition happens with a good film: we sympathize with the main character to such a degree that we feel what he or she feels. We become excited when the main character is in danger, we get angry when he or she is treated unfairly, we feel romantic when he or she falls in love, and so on. In this way, we temporarily forget who we really are, the popcorn-eating viewer slumping on the couch. Likewise, in ignorance, we forget what we really are, the witness (sakshin), as we confuse ourselves with the fascinating life we are witnessing. And so we suffer: we see the ups and downs of the main character in the movie of life as our own ups and downs. Enlightenment, to repeat, is the liberating insight that we are not – or not just – that character, but first and foremost Consciousness, the spotless white screen on which (and to which) the film of life appears.

Point-of-view shot
It is a legitimate question, however, why film should be better suited to clarify the nature of ignorance than, say, theatre. After all, with a theatre play you can also sympathize with the protagonist to such a degree that you forget you are only a spectator. In addition to the film metaphor, therefore, Advaita teachers also sometimes use the comparison of Consciousness with a cosmic theatre that writes its own plays, creates its own decors and actors, and is its own audience as well. Ramesh Balsekar, for example, says: “Consciousness has produced this play. Consciousness has written the script. Consciousness is playing all the characters. And Consciousness is witnessing the play. It’s a one man show.” (Balsekar 2006: 245)


Nevertheless, film has a great advantage when it comes to understanding how ignorance works. Film has the extra dimension of camera work, which allows the director to play with the perspective from which a scene is shot. This playing with camera perspective can make empathic identification with a movie character almost irresistible. This holds in particular for the so-called point-of-view (POV) shot, where the camera takes the position of one of the characters: the viewer sees what the character sees. The hero runs through a city centre in a wild chase, grabs his gun and finally shoots the bad guy; with a POV shot, you see the scene almost literally through the eyes of the hero. Remaining an impassioned spectator is then nearly impossible.

With POV shots, you are irresistibly pulled into the character from whose perspective you see the scene unfold. In the light of Advaita, we could say that Consciousness is the most brilliant film director who uses only POV shots. Thus, we continuously see the film of life from the main character’s perspective – and we not only see it, we also experience smelling, hearing, feeling, thinking and willing from that individualized perspective. In that sense, conscious experience is the ultimate POV shot, including all sensory and psychic modalities. This makes for a very compelling movie, vastly more so than anything Hollywood can hope to produce. Complete dis-identification with the main character in the film of life, then, is almost impossible.

But not completely impossible. Overcoming ignorance becomes possible to the degree we see through the illusion of identification with the main character in the movie of life. And seeing how POV shots function in film is a great help in this. Just as a POV shot is in the film you are watching and is not your perspective on the film, so the individual perspective of experience is not a perspective on experience but in it. The perspective of experience seems to be the perspective of the perceiving Consciousness, but in reality the perspective is ingrained in the experience which is neutrally perceived by Consciousness.

In short, the perspective is in the observed, not in the observer. The observer himself is without perspective or – what amounts to the same thing – the observer perceives everything from “God’s point of view”. For Advaita, after all, God is Consciousness, Atman is Brahman. In Brahman’s cinema there is only one spectator, watching an endless film with countless main characters.

Embracing the movie of life
The film metaphor, however, must not be misunderstood. Its meaning is not that we are merely screen and spectator in one, that is to say, pure Consciousness, as if we have nothing to do with what appears in Consciousness, the movie of life. As if we have to give up all identification with the main character and every involvement with the other characters in that movie. Sometimes Advaita seems to advocate such cold detachment, but ultimately that’s not what Advaita is about.

To make film an even more suitable metaphor for Advaita, then, we also need to eliminate the duality between film on the one hand and the screen-spectator on the other. That is to say: what appears in Consciousness is ultimately not separate from Consciousness itself. So, instead of a conventional film screen on which the images are projected from outside, it is better to compare Consciousness with a television or computer screen that itself produces the images appearing on it. In a similar way, the film of life is an expression or manifestation of Consciousness itself. As soon as this is recognized, the cold detachment that Advaita at first seems to suggest suddenly tilts into its opposite, into all-embracing love. Francis Luc
ille, the teacher of Rupert Spira, explains this dialectical turn as follows:

“It is necessary to make this distinction because we usually identify with an object, a fragment. We don’t think “I am the table, I am my clothes, I am my car”. However, we do think “I am my body and the rest is not me”. In order to remove this identification the Advaita tradition uses a two-step process. In the first step it says “You are not that which is perceived, you are the perceiver”. In this step we reject everything that is perceived as not being ourselves. We reject the table, the car, the clothes, the body, and the mind, and this leads us to the experience of pure consciousness. Then, as the universe of names and shapes reappears, it is understood to reappear in the light of consciousness, out of consciousness, as a projection of consciousness. Therefore, the second step is: “Everything is consciousness. Consciousness is the source and substance of everything.”” (Lucille 2006: 109)

When we realize “I am that Consciousness”, the cold detachment of the first and negative phase turns into the all-embracing love of the second phase, as if you suddenly find yourself embracing the entire world with your consciousness – which, in a way, is indeed the case. You realize that your essence, pure Consciousness, manifests itself in all phenomena, being “the source and substance of everything”. You literally become the Love that lets everything be. In a sense, you are again your body and mind, but to the same extent that you are the entire universe. The limited identification with the body-mind is exploded to cosmic proportions and becomes identification with reality-as-a-whole. You are no longer that singular main character in the film of life, from now on you are the film as a whole, with all its characters, dramas and changing stages – a film which you now experience as the most intimate expression of your deepest essence.

References
-Francis Lucille (2006), The Perfume of Silence, Truespeech Productions.
-Ramana Maharshi (1955), Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Shri Ramanashramam.

-Ramesh Balsekar (2006), Consciousness Speaks, Zen Publications.
-Rupert Spira (2017), Being Aware of Being Aware, Sahaja Productions.