Corridor, by van Gogh
This month's contents:
Yoga: Hatha, Shabd & Raja by Richard Rose | Poems by Shawn Nevins | Responses to the Call for Papers: How can a person know if he or someone else—a prospective teacher—has successfully completed the spiritual search? | Humor
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The following article was originally printed in the 1979 TAT Journal (Vol. 2, No. 3) and includes a tribute to Paul Brunton, the man who made Ramana Maharshi known to the West as well as in India.
There is something both magical and absurd about yoga, ingredients we find in all spiritual work; but then we find something absurd only, and not in any degree magical, about the simple calisthenics which westerners perform for reasons of health.
I can remember my own reactions to yoga, forty years ago when I first encountered a few books on the subject. In those days the public libraries kept very few books that pointed toward "pagan" influences.
I think my first book was one by Yeats-Brown. He talked mainly of the lotus posture, and of standing on his head. Every child wants to stand on his head at some time or another, so that the thought of an adult wishing to stand on his head might appear to most as being an unconscious return to childhood. And most of us would like to find an exercise in magic that is simple and effortless, or nearly effortless.
I later obtained books on yoga which contained more details. I found many postures and mudras in these books, and found that a whole way of life was connected with the word yoga, which involved vegetarianism, body-cleansing and celibacy. I must admit that I never tackled all of the yogic positions, and some of the body-cleansing routines—such as the rectal inhalation of water and the swallowing and reclaiming of yards of gauze—had no meaning for me. I did learn to sit in the lotus posture because it was a comfortable position for prolonged meditation, and I was able to stand on my head for a half hour at a time. I have no logical reason for the head stands. It may have been because of some subconscious, childish urge, but I prefer to believe that I was trying to experiment with the posture in order to measure its benefits.
As my reading progressed, I discovered that there existed another form of yoga called raja yoga. It was the yoga of the mind, and this form appealed to me. I sensed or rationalized that I was not cut out for years of squatting and concentrating upon the body and its well-being. I wanted to go directly to the problem of ultimate survival, if such existed, and I felt that statistics left little hope for any ultimate survival for the body, even though its "chakras" might be developed, and its muscles and tendons were disciplined.
We cannot help but note that hatha yoga is widely practiced while raja yoga is not so well known. I encountered one of the first books that Paul Brunton wrote on the subject of yoga and was overjoyed to find that he paid hardly any attention to hatha yoga but went right to the heart of things, namely the place that yoga has in regard to contemplation and higher realization.
However, I think that I know the reason for the wide interest in hatha yoga, both in India and in this country. When a person first approaches the "mysteries" or the psychic sciences, his first inclination is to plunge into a study that will link the physical body to the soul, or to physical immortality.
We are reluctant to admit at first that the body just cannot be saved, or extended forever. And when we find that no magic in India or Tibet will enable us to live forever, or even for two hundred years, our scientific minds must turn to the next best thing, which is the discovery of that part of us which we might call a soul, and from there check our chances for spiritual security.
But once again our enquiry tends to be scientific and mundane—at least in the beginning. I remember that I went into Spiritualism while still in my teens, hoping to establish contact with the dead.
I wanted to talk to the dead to find first-hand, testimonial proof from the best authorities on death. I think everyone wants to determine the contact point between the mundane body and a being (the soul) which may have no form. We wish to see with our eyes and feel with our hands, if possible, like St. Thomas [i.e., the "doubting Thomas" of the New Testament -Ed.]. We might not realize it at the time when we venture into hatha yoga or Spiritualism, but we are trying to use our body, and material associations, as point of reference.
It only occurs to us later that we might attain some point of essence-awareness, and then use that as a point of reference to reappraise this physical dimension.
In India, there is a prevailing mood to accept the soul as defined by teachers and ancestors, rather than define it personally, or try to reach a consciousness of it. So that the Indian student of hatha yoga does not talk too much about a soul. And the teachers of raja yoga do not try to locate it as much as to hint that it is "that which is." Everything else is either illusory or secondary.
There is a vast nether land between elementary hatha yoga and the most profound forms of raja yoga. Hatha yoga, we find, is not all gymnastics. It also involves the kundalini, and the chakras. And the training of our kundalini is supposed to lead the seeker to a raja yoga state. And simultaneously with mental yoga we find many a "master" following hatha yoga postures, and perhaps performing witnessable miracles in this medium of Maya and illusion.
The chakras are said to be spiritual centers, not just ganglia. The kundalini is a veritable serpent of power, and if it refers to the power of a particular gland (gonad), you will pick up such inference only by the description of the rising serpent of sex-energy. Incidentally, I am inclined to believe that the serpent mentioned in Genesis is the same power of sex, which can obviously be misused, indicating that when it is misused it must be crushed. Charles Fillmore, in his book The Twelve Powers of Man, finds pretty much the same message in the tale of the paradisiacal apple.
Next we hear of a spiritual nectar that somehow leaks out of the brain to the detriment of the soul. Paul Brunton, in A Search in Secret India, interviews a yogi by the name of Brama, who tells him that there is a tiny hole in the brain where the soul resides, and that part of the vital life force rises from the bottom of the spine and moves up toward the soul's abode. This rising energy is the equivalent of kundalini. Brama stated that if a yogi were able to bring this vital energy up through a valve in the bottom of the soul's resting place, then that yogi might conquer death, or prolong life indefinitely. We see in these statements that this yogi places great credence in the concept that the contact-point of body and soul has been located, and the tempting concepts about physical immortality preclude any doubts or enquiry about the soul's proof of existence.
Paul Brunton asks the young yogi if there is not a finer form of yoga than hatha yoga, and Brama agrees that his form of hatha yoga is but a prelude to the yoga of mind-control.
Brunton moves on politely. We find in the next interview some of the most profound statements on mind-yoga, statements which I paid little attention to when I read them thirty years ago, because I did not have a sufficient understanding of the goal of raja yoga, and consequently could not see the wisdom in the replies which came from the "Sage who never speaks."
Brunton had made a clumsy appeal for enlightenment through verbal exchange. The Sage replied, "You have thought yourself into your present ignorance; now think yourself back into wisdom, which is the same as self-understanding. Thought is like a bullock cart which carries a man into the darkness of a mountain tunnel. Turn it backwards and you will be carried back to the light again."
Ten years ago, having forgotten all about reading Brunton, I came to the conclusion that man must reverse the processes that led him into his ignorance or confusion. We are reminded of the Cave of Shadows in Plato's Republic, in which the seeker has his back to the real light. And at that time I wrote of the reversal of the vector of man in order to reach his source, and the implementation of direct mentation instead of logic and scholastic wisdom.
Back in 1934 when the book was published, Brunton was practically the sole American source for information of any worth about Indian spiritual movements. He could have easily filled his experiences with some interesting fiction and we would never have known the difference. To the contrary, I find him very honest and correct, but I could not say this about him until the 'fifties, when I encountered teachers from some of the groups he visited for the writing of this single book.
In the early 'fifties I was initiated into a sect whose roots go back to Agra and Dayalbagh. When I joined them, I had forgotten all about Brunton's Search in Secret India. Now, many years later, I pick up the book again and am amazed to see that it was all there, and had been there for the ten years that elapsed between my reading it and the opportunity for joining the sect and getting first-hand information.
The sect in question was the Radha Soami sect, and the chief guru at that time was Charan Singh. With them, I encountered the term "shabd yoga" for the first time. This is the yoga of listening. The theme behind it might be said to be the development of the hearing faculty until the person can distinguish the sounds or music of higher planes. (Once again we find the searcher looking for a body-contact-point with another dimension.)
I think that the reason Brunton's account in Chapter 13 did not register more indelibly in my mind at the time was my unfamiliarity with shabd yoga then, and also my lack of interest in the conversation recorded by Brunton which he had with Sahab Maharaj on the subject on the economy of India and Dayalbagh in particular.
I have always been of the conviction that the politics and economy of our environment cannot interfere with the energy needed to untie the Gordian knot of ignorance on spiritual matters. Later, of course, I was to learn that hunger and oppression are conditions under which any form of spiritual work is negated or lessened.
I can see now that Brunton was impressed by the poverty of India, perhaps even sorrowed by it. I would not have picked this up about him if I had not paid a visit to Cairo. My first impression of Cairo was that of a place which I should leave immediately, if I wanted to get out of it alive and uncontaminated. However, the longer I stayed there, the more I grew to love the poor people. I worried my guides and the hotel clerks with questions about poverty, and with suggestions. I only talked about philosophy to the residents once. This happened at the temple of Luxor, when a large group of students approached me and asked me for my ideas about God [see footnote]. I found more purpose to passing out pencils to the children, and in giving piasters to very plain-looking women who sat in the dust with their children, trying to sell little packets of spices.
In regard to the shabd-yoga sect, I later found that about the time of Sahab Maharaj there was a schism in the Radha Soami sect. I was initiated into the other branch. Both branches claimed to be the real heir to the line that began with Soamiji Maharaj, or Soami Shiv Dayal, in 1861. These branches were known as the Dayal Bagh and the Soami Bagh. Schisms occurred if a guru failed to leave a legal heir to his property and the ashram. And it is evident that their desire to inherit may have been greater for some than the desire to perpetuate a true system.
Of course the high point in A Search in Secret India is Brunton's meeting with the Maharishi of Arunachala, also known as Ramana Maharshi. Two chapters are devoted to his association with Ramana, and yet as the years passed I carried little with me from the reading until I had an experience of my own. When this occurred, I looked about for words to describe the strange trauma I endured and the even stranger realization which followed the trauma.
And oddly enough, I encountered a small tract by Ramana Maharshi, or by one of his disciples, and in it he described not only the experience but in simple symbology explained the difference between lesser and major illumination. (This is his likening of Kevala Samadhi to a bucket lowered into a well, and that of Sahaja Samadhi as being the river that flows into the ocean and returns no more.)
In Ramana's camera analogy he gives, in a capsule, the method of finding self-knowledge. Indirectly, I have Brunton to thank for all of this. I am sure that hundreds of thousands of people have read Paul Brunton's books, but I doubt if he ever became wealthy from his writings, because his audiences would have been a slow trickle. That which made his contribution worthwhile was that the trickle has lasted for forty years, and it may grow stronger.
I find a thread of honesty in Brunton's books, and this thread will secure his fame. Occasionally he found that previous assessments were incomplete, and he did not hesitate to admit that his previous enthusiasm led to hasty praise. So that he remains valid and is a worthy authority on a subject that is difficult to appraise, much less master.
Note: Rose said he was surprised when a group of college-age guys came up to him at Luxor and asked, seemingly out of the blue, what was God. Rose had just noticed a carving over one of the tombs showing a sun with rays coming out from it and a hand at the end of each ray. He told them that their ancestors had known the answer, and he pointed at the carving, which became featured as part of the cover design for his book, The Direct-Mind Experience.
First published in the TAT Journal Vol. 2, No. 3. © 1979 Richard Rose. All Rights Reserved. See the TAT Journal Archive page.
Open your window
Without lifting a hand,
Look with attention.
"I was never here."
Winter-dry stalks of grass
I am not opposed to the asking of any question. Asking allows one to reason through a problem. However, questions work both ways. They often indicate a lot about the thoughts going on behind the asking. In this case the question provides a wonderful opportunity to really look back at one's self. Not just at the surface to provide an answer but at the very asking itself. Who or what is asking?
"How can a person know if he or someone else—a prospective teacher—has successfully completed the spiritual search?"
Those questions requiring self analysis are most beneficial in progressing on the path to self realization. And so this one is. However, in this case I suggest we look at the other end of the equation. On the surface it makes perfectly good sense to ask this question. Ostensibly the answer would keep one from making some kind of mistake. But let us ask ourselves: What would be the nature of that mistake? Could it be the mistake of continuing to work on our spiritual growth when all is done? Or perhaps the mistake of not setting up shop and teaching others our newly found profound wisdom?
It begins: "How can a person know...." well, by its very definition knowing means just that—Knowing. When one knows something, then there is no question. So what is really being asked here? Could it be whether one's belief is true or not? Let's reword the statement: "I believe that I might have completed my spiritual search, but I am not sure." Often belief and knowing are used interchangeably. However, there is a world of difference between them. Belief is not the same as knowing. In fact, when you really think about it, "belief" amounts to little more than a projection and illusion that we create, perhaps stemming from something that we were told or taught or an assumption based on who knows what. It does not necessarily originate from a genuine personal experience. What is really being asked is "When we believe that we might have 'completed the spiritual search' (i.e.: attained 'enlightenment') how can we convince ourselves that we have?" If you have to ask yourself whether you know, you already have your answer.
In whatever form instruction from those teachers generally recognized as having true knowledge is manifest, one consistent injunction is made: to set aside falsehood in any form (beliefs) and the attachments and desires from which they spring. The search is, in fact, the effort to realize and know Truth—the absolute and profound difference between believing (projecting) something and Knowing something. Knowing is an absolute. In short, Knowing has nothing in common with belief.
What does it mean to have "successfully completed the spiritual search"? The question itself presumes a great deal and implies an understanding and knowledge of what the end point is (if there is in fact really an end point). If you have not gotten there, how do you know what there is like? This is one of the very real obstacles on the path to understanding, the subtle implication that we already know what "enlightenment" is. If we believe we already know what the end point is, we will inevitably seek to find it. And, we generally find just what we are looking for, warts and all. This is precisely why spiritual teachers stress "not seeking" as a fundamental aspect of a fruitful spiritual path. Don't chase the illusion!
A dedication to Truth is necessary for a successful spiritual search. A person must be willing to face the truth of their situation. The term brutally honest is not called that for nothing. Honesty, particularly that for ourselves, often feels brutal. So what would be bruised by honesty? Could it be the ego? Again we find if any question remains within the individual as to whether or not they have attained "enlightenment," then they have the answer. They have not reached the journey's end—and so it goes. Honesty with one's self as to belief or knowing is the only valid criteria. The only person that can insure or prevent you from realizing your own true state is you.
Which brings us to the next part of the question as regards a prospective teacher—an apt question. Obviously one does not want to waste time and energy fruitlessly listening and following a teacher who does not know what he/she is talking about or, worse yet, is deliberately misleading his/her students. So how do you know? Well you don't. The fact is, there are countless systems, teachers and offerings for every taste you might imagine. If you want to learn how to become wealthy or powerful or how to impress your friends and neighbors by levitating and reading their minds, or how sex can lead to the highest spiritual realization, then there is an instructor for you.
One who is seriously searching must learn to use discernment. There is no doubt the ultimate responsibility for who or what you choose to listen to lies with you and not with the instructor. So how do you safeguard yourself? Well, first off one must learn to be honest with one's self. Ask yourself; what are my true motives? What am I really trying to accomplish? When you are ready to learn any Truth regardless of what it might mean or not mean, then your growing discernment will point you in the most beneficial direction. By the time a person begins to ask themselves "How can I be sure this or that particular teacher is appropriate to listen to?" they have already begun to use discernment in their search. More significantly, they have already begun to question themselves and everything around them. And this is a most important aspect of the path—the questioning of one's self. If you set your desires and attachments aside and open yourself to honesty, you will see the truth or falsehood that stands behind the words uttered by a prospective teacher.
One aspect alluded to in the proposal statement was the fulfillment of ego death. This is a criterion by which I evaluate both prospective teachers and systems as well as myself. Do they exhibit evidence of egoic motivation? Do they exhibit evidence of desire and attachment in their actions and words? There have been those times when I have experienced profound life altering realizations that I know are essential to understanding the nature of Reality. I too have asked the questions posed in this essay and I have come to realize that when I question whether or not I have accomplished the "goal," I found it was the ego to which I was still responding. It is the ego that calls understanding into question. As long as one responds to an egoic sense of self, the work continues. The ego lies, and if we listen at all to the ego, we are being influenced by and identifying with those lies. In that case we are, in fact, living a lie.
And that brings us to the final aspect of the original question posed this month. After all the realizations and experiences, what seemingly must occur? Ancient as well as more modern teachings specifically describe a death of self. Obviously they are not speaking of a physical death. So what is self? What does a sense of self do? Our egoic sense of self is what separates us from all else. Self is dualism personified. Self is Ego.
We have heard the words so often that they have become clichéd: One with all things; nondualism. These words are an attempt to describe a state of being completely different from what is considered "normal" or at least common. So ask your self, what is the one thing that stands in the way?
In our efforts to grow spiritually, we all labor under a lifetime of habit and misinformation. We struggle to recognize these things so that we can then set them aside. Make no mistake, it is hard work. I realize that there is little comfort in these words. But then, the spiritual path is not meant to be comfortable. It certainly disrupts the cozy illusion in which we have participated so willingly, albeit unwittingly. No, it is about Reality and that simply is what it is.
Most of us have observed in some fashion the capacity for self-delusion in others, and any serious practitioner of self-inquiry has also observed—often with surprise and distress—examples of self-delusion in their own life. So it is understandable that the question arises of how does one know the degree of realization (or delusion) in oneself or another.
My attempt to answer, or rather comment on, these questions is based on defining the spiritual path as one's journey to discovering who and what one ultimately is, i.e. self-definition. The spiritual search ends in the discovery of what remains when all that is not your true Being is taken away. You do not willfully shed the false, so the words "taken away" are used deliberately. You look, and when you are ready to accept that which prevents you from seeing (fear), the false falls away. Looking beyond the very core of what you take yourself to be requires a shock or accident concurrent with your intense, unselfish looking.
No matter how often individuals have heard the term "reverse vector" applied to the search or that the spiritual path is subtractive, the automatic and unconscious direction of their mind—of their very individuality—is additive. Every experience results in a reaction of instantaneous interpretation that the experience affirms and magnifies their individuality, or denies and diminishes that individuality.
Such a mentality is in a very poor position for evaluating its own progress on the path, let alone the attainment of another.
I've written somewhere else that one cannot really lie to oneself, that one only looks away from the truth because one is not ready to accept it. In our heart we know the difference. We have only to look in earnest. In this sense, the spiritual path is a journey of acceptance and a willingness to have a look, directly and honestly, at just who and what we really are—and are not—and it takes time, for it is really the process of dying—and who willingly rushes to embrace that?
Nisargadatta was quoted as saying: "He who knows himself has no doubts about it. Nor does he care whether others recognize his state or not."
Someone who does not know themselves is in no position to judge the spiritual attainment of another. The best they can hope for is to make an accurate intuitional assessment of that person's sincerity, friendship and capacity to help them in their search. The reliability of their intuition is dependent in large measure on the degree to which they know themselves and can be unselfishly honest with themselves. Their evaluation, either way, of the other person has no bearing on the fact of the other person's state. Therefore it is more important that one look at oneself than to be preoccupied with proving or disproving the status of another and whether they are self-deluded or not.
There is an underlying assumption, held by convention, that self-realization automatically makes of the person both a teacher and some sort of epic character whose entire life thereafter takes on epic proportions. Along with this comes a whole laundry list of personality traits and behaviors that are applied as a test of whether someone is self-realized or not. These assumptions are erroneous and come from a mentality that believes spiritual realization somehow increases the individual.
The individual who was the trigger for Richard Rose's realization was not even an active seeker, let alone a realized teacher, so one should not equate efficacy in evoking realization in one's self with the state of self-realization in another or rule out the value that any specific individual may have to you in your attempts to see yourself clearly.
Richard Rose once told me: "Enlightenment doesn't change the fact of who you are in the world. A whoremaster could realize the Absolute, after which he'd still be a whoremaster. Oh, I ain't saying he'd have the same attachment to being that character as before. In Zen you hear that before Enlightenment the hills are hills and the valleys are valleys; in enlightenment the hills are no longer hills and the valleys are no longer valleys; then after enlightenment the hills are once again hills and the valleys are once again valleys." (Note: To argue that this saying limits enlightenment to a mere experience in time is to miss entirely the point that this saying makes.)
Another common assumption is that self-realization must bring happiness and joy—even physical health. This comes in part from the use of the word Bliss in many Eastern writings. Apparently, the Indian term translated as "bliss" in English does not mean "intense, unbroken, happiness" as I think is the most common interpretation. From the context I see it used in, I conclude it means a state that is beyond both joy and sorrow—a state that is unaffected by the swirl of relative experience and its accompanying emotions. Bliss would be equanimity at one's core—the result of the knowledge of one's true Source and the result of both knowing and experiencing oneself to BE that Source—even all the while experiencing the tumult of one's life's circumstances (karma) and the emotional reactions that belong to the personality and the body. (The Zen teacher Pulyan, in response to a question regarding what his system was, replied: "You want a process that 'enhances.' What does that mean—gives you joy & pleasure. This will NOT!")
Having said all this, I feel comfortable in laying out these characteristics of someone who has realized their true nature, beyond which I don't think one can generalize.
1. They have witnessed and experienced their own non-existence and so have solved the problem of life and death in regards to themselves.
Not merely as discursive conclusion—though I acknowledge that such tail-chasing could precede and precipitate a final realization. In that case, I would say that any such discursive thought process was merely the experience—not the cause—that coincided with the process by which the individual's awareness disassociated from that which was not the Self. When the body-mind dies and is dissipated, when motion which is all of the content of consciousness ceases, something remains. It is No-thing—but the word "nothing" connotes absence and denial, and that which remains is quite real—the only real being—alive but beyond life and death—and is all that is. Hence, Richard Rose also said that it was Everything. The dreamer, by virtue of the very nature of his source, has seen his dream nature. This seeing itself is but a reflection of the Source, for the Source doesn't see or hear—it simply IS.
2. They live with two simultaneous points of reference.
One point of reference is relative, which I would describe as awareness-illuminated experience; the other is absolute and impersonal and beyond experience, i.e. awareness independent of any object. The former is the point of reference of individuality that has peered back through the mind, back through individual consciousness, and in doing so left that individuality behind, revealing a different point of reference that is anterior to that individual and from which individuality itself is witnessed as an experience—an event, a movement apart from eternal stillness. Paradoxically, only the latter point of reference is real. Language breaks down because such expressions always suggest or inject the notion of the personal, i.e. an individual experiencing or witnessing. In reality the personal only exists as a dream, and the dream character has an experience of realization and lives in that experience; all the while there is a persistent background of impersonal awareness, an abiding sense of That which alone is real and in which the personal is a fleeting reflection. (Pulyan replied to a question on this very subject: "This is a paradox to make the angels weep!! Since you are 'God' & nothing else it is God realizing himself in this time-space episode.")
3. They are permanently changed.
This change is not necessarily visible to others. No matter how they live their lives and what happens to them, there is a perspective that cannot be lost. I call this perspective "seeing from the other side," and it is the background of all their experience. The quality of their awareness is changed—not their Being, since that which they truly are is beyond change. The reaction of the personality to this change in awareness is highly varied and, for me, explains the wide divergence of vocabulary and actions among those who have written convincingly about their realization.
Nisargadatta provides us this succinct description of Self-Realization: "… A state of pure witnessing, detached awareness, passionless and wordless. It is like space, unaffected by whatever it contains. Bodily and mental troubles do not reach it—they are outside 'there'—while the witness is always 'here'."
There is no doubt in one when this witnessing occurs as to its finality—though one may be dumbstruck and poorly equipped for explaining it. There may even be a period of adjustment for the personality. It is unexpected—and these words do not prepare you for it no matter how much you might think you understand them, no matter how well you have learned the language of the literature—so I see little chance for enduring self-delusion here by him who is honest with himself. One would have to ignore the fact of their own mortality throughout their entire life and the question it presents them—and one day will present them one final time: "Who am I?" and "What is this existence?" and "What comprises me?" and "What remains when body and mind perish and are dissipated?"
My experience is that if a man is established in union with God, he perceives both the internal and external world as one. "All is One."
Cosmic Consciousness implies the person does not "lose" himself in the object he perceives at any time. He is firmly established in unity whilst existing in the world.
God Consciousness is the next stage, whereby the person perceives even the minutest detail of external existence whilst remaining in the internal state described in Cosmic Consciousness as a oneness with God.
Finally, complete enlightenment comes when the person perceives beyond the finest detail of external perception and sees it as one with the internal state of one he's already established in. "All is One" - this is referred to as Unity Consciousness. The ego is completely dissolved, but the individual personality of the person remains, based on the thalamus of the brain.
There is a book called the Neurophysiology of Enlightenment by a guy called Wallace about this.
Personally I would prefer to be established in it than talking about it :-). But it's nice to get a finger on it.
In the realm of spiritual seekers, many and varied are the conceptions of what the Final Realization will be. Most of these are meaningless discussions of symptoms rather than any serious attempt at understanding the final state, much less becoming It. The projected outcomes of these students are as varied as the different schools and teachers in which they place their trust. Given this Gordian Knot of thinking and feeling, fueled by ego, and projected by unexamined minds, what can one do, and expect? How can a serious seeker find assurance that they are on the right course, and how can one be sure that they themselves, or someone they know and trust, has had the Final Realization, a Total Answer?
First off, the final judge must be the person themselves. In order to pass beyond the duality of the finite mind, we must be aware of the trap of putting yet one more level above us. This is a never-ending game of the mind. There will always be someone out there who claims to have a higher, more complete, more total realization than what we, or our teacher, may have found. Only in our Selves can we rest. The trap of endlessly judging levels of attainment may be a way to keep our own spiritual ego afloat, but is a dangerous distraction if taken as the quest itself. We must press on within, and leave the fate of others to themselves.
The above said, there still remains the problem of the mind's ability to fool itself with its own projections. Driven by ambition, mental laziness, and fear of the Unknown, we may unconsciously decide to claim realization by virtue of these desires and fears, and take an easy out. How can we check and compare our own level of spiritual attainment and not be misled, by our mind or the minds of others? Let us take a look at the stages of spiritual becoming, and hope that the words herein will serve as a guide to keep our vector moving and on track.
There are three states or levels of being that we find in this search, before reaching what might be called the final or absolute state. The first may be called the level of experience. The second, the level of union. The third, the level of becoming.
The first level, that of experience, may be likened to someone in his room watching a television, and being identified with the characters in the dramas as they unfold on the screen. Losing contact with himself, he has become hypnotized into believing he is a character in the TV. The freedom he began with, that he was (and still Is), the innocent observer, has been lost, traded for the mind-motion of thought and feeling projected into the plastic box in front of him. He places his highest value on the screen-character with the most motion and energy, in relation to his upbringing and education by other screen characters. The more the characters move and are dominant (whether positive or negative does not matter), the more energy is expended and the bigger the reaction that is drawn from the person. His innocence and detachment have been replaced with the sense of motion and thought, and the thrill of losing energy. Now that he is inseparable from his role in the drama, he places a high meaning on the feeling of belonging, which he now values as part of his very definition. He has fallen deep into sleep and is dreaming the life he thinks he lives, a mere ghost in a box of motion, emotion and thought. He will evaluate a mystical experience in much the same way. If the experience has much motion, much release of energy, and if the character involved succeeds in his tasks, whether positive or negative, he will place a higher value on him and claim his identity for his own.
This level is very basic and body-oriented, having to do with visions of power and ego and control over the environment. Any mystical experience or contact with spiritual systems or teachers a person on this level has will be interpreted from this level. It constitutes no real change, or becoming, in what might be called the basic animal man, who, perhaps frustrated in his ambitions in normal life and society, has chosen a path of lesser resistance through fantasy for the fulfillment of his animal urge to power and dominance. He is the level of the mind and its motion, with which he is wholly identified. Fear and desire drive his every move, and he is firmly engrossed in his dreams.
The second level is only found through the disastrous failure of the first, combined with a serious inner commitment the seeker must have previously made to finding the truth about himself at any cost. Given this commitment, he will sooner or later be rudely shaken awake from his dreams of fantasy and forced to face the facts about himself. For a true change to occur, a true failure of the first level's ego must be brought about. His sense of personal identity, which is rooted in the fictional characters in the box, one after another, must be cut away. The resulting trauma will be in proportion to the size of the ego that was created. The symptoms of this collapse, meaning emotional and mental trauma, are individual and should not be taken as the change itself. The possibility of the inner witness coming closer to the surface is the only important matter. The man then becomes identified with not just the individual character(s) on the screen of the TV as it continues to hold him entranced but now becomes identified with everything that enters the universe-box from the projecting Light. His sense of self expands to include all the characters in the drama as he gains a sense of unity with all the many dots in their coordinated dance across the screen. He may feel exalted and full of love for this picture show and imagine this union to be the end-all of possibility. His very sense of exaltation, of still clinging to a higher and lower, with his remaining sense of being a 'being," give him away. The experience, though of a greater level than that of the first man, is still relative. He still believes himself to be a thing apart, in contact with another, though higher, Thing apart. The very idea of existence, of himself and anything else, is still intact, and unquestioned. His new profound experience is just that, and it fades into a memory, though the conviction may remain. He soon finds himself back in the position of the first man, in motion and identified, subject to the environment for his feeling and concept of himself in the moment. Only in his memory and understanding is there a change. His perspective is still that of a man, a human entity, alive and living in a now conscious Cosmos, with which he is united.
For the man of union to Become, he must again suffer a complete disaster and have an impossible bit of good luck, to boot. Through somehow seeing the still remaining dual nature of his mind, he may find the hint within that there is something of the intuition, which led him this far, still in contact with him. He may see from time to time that he senses he is somehow behind himself, apart and unconcerned with the "thing" that he previously called "I." He may even experience moments of "headlessness," in which he looses his usual sense of "self" and instead sees the world without the noisy filter of his mind. He may even have the intuition that the secret to Becoming lies in this detachment and not in the blissful union he values so much. This detachment has yet to become a steady factor in the present moment, but he begins to sense that the unaffected yet somehow aware screen, the very capacity for existence, and not the mind-made images that run across it in an ever-changing flux, is his true nature. That the Light and the screen it illuminates are but two different aspects of the same thing: Himself. Intuition now plays the bigger part, with reason and logic now only functions of the practical aspect of his environment.
Many little hints may come to him now, and if he is lucky enough to place a value on them, and follow them, he will continue to move. Most of these hints are along the lines of what has been called "headlessness" or the "listening attention." He may find he is observing without labeling or judging. That he is now free, for a moment, to gaze upon the world without knowing what he sees. These moments may be accompanied by a strange feeling of peace or silence, which he may come to know as the quiescence of his mind. Here, the former work on fear and desire come to fruit, as one cannot look into the Unknown if any vestige of fear or worldly ambition are still dominant. The sight of the world without the mind's interpretation can be frightening for those still attached to its false security. By continuing to look within, he may sense that the Light he feels is not only healing him but has a direction, a Source. If he travels back far enough to merge with this Source, he may find It to be the opposite of the "world" and hence come to the possibility of triangulating the difference between Samsara and Nirvana, and so coming to Himself as that which contains, and simultaneously is, All.
This return to our original nature extracts a high price, but only to the ghost in the plastic box. The ego, which has evolved from identification with the character on the screen to that of the ego of the spirit united with its source, now has died. For the original awareness, this is release, yet it finds itself to be unchanged and knows it has never been any different. To friends and family, the symptoms of this final ego-death may, or may not, be visibly dramatic. The trauma of release is indicative of the size of the ego that dies rather than of the nature of the underlying Reality. Any value we place on the size or spectacle of the resulting trauma of others may be due to our own need for distraction and longing for continued sleep in our pride as sincere seekers. Facing our own coming headlessness is much more difficult than ruminating about the possible symptoms of the decapitation of others. Much of what may have happened in another's becoming may not have been made available for our personal viewing and consequent judgment.
The worded description of this final state is something that has caused much consternation in seekers and teachers alike through the centuries. Perhaps the best that can be said about it is what it is not. It is not an intellectual conclusion reached through deduction, no matter how astute. It is not a feeling-state, no matter how sublime. It is something we receive, though we give it to ourselves. We become It, rather than "get it" and then know we have never not been It.
In most schools, words such as awareness, witness, absolute and void are used to describe the causeless state, which we seek to become: an aware witness, void of any other qualities; an unbiased, empty Observer, having no cause, but being the cause of Itself, alone; a conditionless yet aware state that is itself unconditioned and not witnessable by other than itself, there being nothing other than Itself. Any description one hears which adds a word or words after "I am" is not a description of the Self but, at most, a description of a symptom or view. Be very wary of those who claim unending Bliss and Peace, for any relative state calls forth its opposite and is subject to change. You, and only you, will come to know what your final state is, and then, later, you will struggle to find words to describe it.
If we really want to know the truth about enlightenment and find out where those who claim to be illumined actually stand in relationship to it, we need to find the strength of character to persistently scrutinize our own experience in light of their living example. Also, we need to spend as much time as possible in the company of those who seem to be abiding in that condition. And if we can do this, the answer to the important question you raised will slowly but surely begin to reveal itself. But—and this is the most challenging part of it—you have to be ready for the answer.
What does that mean?
It means that, one way or the other, it’s probably going to be too much for you.
Why do you say that?
Well, if you find out that the teacher is authentic, you are in really big trouble—because then what are you going to do? Will you be able to handle the fact that living, breathing, enlightened consciousness is staring you right in the face, beckoning you to lose yourself forever in its majesty? Will you have the courage to surrender the fears and desires of your own ego in light of the blazing glory of the teacher’s attainment? Or if you discover, for one reason or another, that they’re not authentic, that there is some impurity within them, what are you going to do then? Are you going to use their imperfection as an excuse to avoid facing the impure motives that are still very much alive within you? Will their failure empower your own devious ego and make it easy for you to turn your back on the call of your own Self and escape into cynicism?
I don’t think I quite understand your point.
My point is that no matter where the teacher is at, in the end, it’s always up to you to make sure that you don’t compromise your own highest potential.
~ Excerpted from a submission by Kelly Blazes of the Cohen organization, from "Living Enlightenment."
When I asked myself, "How can I know if I have successfully completed the spiritual search?" it raised a second and more probing question: "To whom would I even pose such a question?" Obviously, I would hope to ask someone I believed to have successfully completed their own journey. And then came the question, "But how can I know if they have successfully completed their spiritual search? How can I know if this is an awakened Master?"
The answer came: "You can't."
Perhaps the questions should be, "What evidence have I that I am moving forward on my spiritual path?" and "How do I know this one I have been led to follow is a trustworthy guide?"
By some grace, I learned early on to not put my complete trust in any teacher, believing them to have fully attained. The spiritual path, strewn with casualties of those who were mesmerized by gurus with less than complete integrity, was evidence enough to realize that it's not wise for anyone to surrender fully to another, nor is it even necessary—even though many may try to convince you otherwise.
The best we can hope for in this lifetime is a trustworthy guide, one who can admit that they are just a step or more ahead of us.
Have there been trustworthy guides in our midst—those who are eons ahead of us? I believe so. Are they still among us? I believe so. But there is only One True Teacher - -your own inner guidance, your very own Consciousness in it's purest essence, that from which you can not be separated.
If you are lucky enough to find a teacher who can point you to your own withinness, to teach you how to Listen, you will know it. Stay with them until you find the assurance to know it alone, then thank them and be on your way. If they are a true teacher, guru, guide, they will celebrate you into your own freedom.
How can you know if you have been led to your own inner guide and that you are moving forward in your spiritual search? The answer might be in these questions:
Have you tried to change your thinking from: "I really don't like that situation" to "I really don't like my perception of that situation"? Do you ask to see things as they really are?
Have you recognized that your entire life has been a case of mistaken identity? Did you have the courage to laugh when you saw it and rest in gratitude for the realization? Do you look forward in joyful anticipation to those little revelations that show you where you have been seeing incorrectly? Are you asking to be shown?
If you can answer "yes" to even one of those questions, you are not only answering the right questions, you are making great strides on your spiritual search.
The most I can hope for is to see a bit more clearly today than I did yesterday . . . open to the possibility of a continual experience of Being, a living experience of that which came once as a child, an unexpected glimpse one winter night.
I call it "Seeing Through the One Who Sees" and it went like this:
It was during one of our cold clear midwestern nights. The backyard was heaped with snowdrifts glistening in the light of a full moon. I rubbed my hands together to stay warm and watched as my father removed his heavy binoculars from the case, adjusting them for the narrow face of a seven year-old.
In our family, we never spoke of things like sacred rituals or rites of passage. You just sensed when something was about to happen, and you let it. Even so, I doubt that he understood the immense significance of what was about to take place for me.
He helped me focus the eyepieces on the round cratered surface rising above us. To me, the moon had never been more than a far-off object circling the sky. No amount of childish searching for the face on the moon could have prepared me for the shock of this brilliant white image that came blazing through the lenses.
There, for the very first time, was something that had been there all along, an enormous and wondrous sight with dimension, shadows and light, and details of unbelievable beauty.
I stared in helpless silence until the awe and wonder of it all could no longer be contained. It was then that something unexplainable broke through.
First, a rush of warmth and stillness, then as if being lovingly plunged into liquid space while some vast unseen lens was brought into focus, all sense of separation between the moon and me dissolved. No more "a moon and a me," but rather a timeless witnessing in which all my thoughts effortlessly ceased to exist.
After what must have been only a moment or two, I became aware of a longing for more, and instantly I was back, binoculars in hand, a child looking at the moon. I didn't understand what had just happened or why it had seemed so organic and intimately familiar. I only knew that it had somehow left me feeling naked. Maybe that's why I never mentioned to my father or to anyone else what had really happened that night. What exactly does one say about an experience for which there are no words?
It would be many years before the mystery would gradually begin to unravel. The answer was waiting in the writings of teachers like Sri Ramana Maharshi, Joel S. Goldsmith, J. Krishnamurti and others. Each imparts the message in their own way, but all have caught the vision that there is no observer, that there is nothing to observe, that there is only Observing. Or in the words of the poet Wu-Men, "One instant is Eternity. Eternity is the Now. When you see through this Instant, you see through the One who Sees."
Have the courage to give up the search for the awakened Master.
Gangaji speaks of how the exploration of THAT is never ending and ever deepening. Toni Packer said the same thing, as no doubt have others. Is there actually an end to the spiritual search for our potential teacher to have reached?
This question also reminds me of the old one regarding the less than exemplary behavior of some supposedly enlightened teachers, and how this relates to their effectiveness. Gangaji indicated that the awakened person's personality and history have not been wiped out; and that behaviors are not related to the depth of the person's realization, or to their ability to transmit, teach or share.
Seems to me that those of us who remain trapped in everyday reality have no chance of perceiving with any certainty the depth of an awakened person's realization. Like the behavior problem, the answer may be to simply go with those who attract, who FEEL "right." In the end, it's intuition and inner knowledge, is it not?
I am looking forward to others' answers to this question, in the hopes that someone has a better road map than I have!
How do you know when your spiritual path is finished?
Perhaps you have to see a white light,
be tremendously happy,
or profoundly sad,
or pass a certified enlightened teacher's quiz.
All such things are of the realm of time and motion. A "thing" being any physical or mental manifestation—any experiencer and all of experience.
A final spiritual realization, a realization of the Absolute, is death. Death to every single thing. That statement allows no escape, no ifs, ands or buts. The Absolute is a place without place, beyond every thought, every manifestation, where there is no you, no this or that, where every word that attempts description falls completely short because there is no witness, and no thing witnessed—only an impersonal One with no other.
Such finality is worth every effort.
If a thought is ultimately the projection of an apparent resistance in the flowing knowing, then is a thought just a "punch in the Gnosis"?
If creation is a process of starting with a Unity (like a block of cheese), making a division, identifying with the parts, and then repeating, does mundane life sometimes have a bad smell because "God is cutting the Cheese"?
~ Anonymous, a.k.a. John B.
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