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Wake-up from Reality

Buddha Circle

diet coke, buddha, the all-is-one

When discussing this philosophy from foreign parts written in a foreign tongue, difficulties in hermeneutics lose entire concepts in translation & misinformation abounds. It’s particularly true reagarding descriptions of the practice of meditation-since the states of consciousness practitioners seek by not seeking have not been commonly experienced or understood  in the west until recently.

Western psychological terms such as individuation and self maybe similar to eastern spiritual terms on the surface, but they are not interchangeable and may in fact refer to totally different processes, qualities and aspects of the psyche. Gadamer’s concept of horizonverschmelzung, the hermeneutic merging of horizons, is extremely important for those who examine cultures, fields and concepts outside of their personal experience or expertise.

Jung has been accused of falling short of true understanding of eastern philosophy and spiritual practice (Maocanin 57). Jung may have looked to the East for independent proof and verification of his own thinking at times, but in his foreword to The Spiritual Teachings of Ramana Maharshi, Jung shows great respect for and awareness of the inherent difficulties in this undertaking.

He wrote “the philosophy of the East, which is so very different from ours, represents to us a highly valuable present, which however, we “must obtain in order to possess.” (Jung Foreword x). Jung seems to refer to the concept of being partially converted in order to receive the present. I agree that it is important to “grok” what you are studying. I confess that if I had to pick a religion or a truth to proselytize this philosophy of non-dualism, advaita vedanta,  and practice would be it. If I could study or do nothing else but pursue this line of enquiry for the rest of my life I would do so gladly. For those unfamiliar with this term or philisophy, I will expain the fundamentals of Advaita Vedanta philosophy and the method of enquiry taught by Ramana Maharshi and its horizonverschmelzung on my western psyche.

The sages of the East dismiss the empirical “reality” that the religion of scientific materialism is based upon, as pure illusion or Maya. They explain that it is our delusion that renders us unable to perceive the true nature of reality. Seeing from a dualistic perspective creates the world of opposites, for when we claim the existence of a separate “I” we project the separation everywhere.

By believing that we are separate we automatically superimpose a multiple world of creatures and objects upon the one, undivided reality the Existence which is Brahman. The illusion of a separate ego and world depend upon each other. When the ego-idea dissolves in transcendental consciousness, then the appearance of the world shall vanish (Shankara Crest 19).

Our everyday experiences may lead us to believe in the existence of the ego and its complexes, these are mental/emotional constructs and not necessarily the foundation of consciousness or being. The sages of the east persuade us to believe, to have faith, that the concept of “ego” is a theory and idea, and not reality.

Shankara explained that the ego-idea arises from a lack of discrimination between Maya and Ultimate reality/Brahman (Western 1). The ego-idea must be lost for Brahman, eternal bliss, to be experienced. Accordingly, spiritual masters seem to believe that trying to improve the ego is a waste of time that would be better employed in meditation. As a result, sages do not endorse the practice of psychotherapy over sitting in meditation.

Once you know and dwell in the true seat of  being, there is little value in analyzing the imaginary problems of you ego. Why waste your life looking at all of the pretty veils that obscure your true nature when you could be abiding in eternal bliss?

Our fascination with and attachment to our egos renders the practice and philosophy of Advaita Vedanta very intimidating to all but the ripest of souls. If only there was a way to experience bliss without dropping identification with the ego, westerners would have bought it already! Many people like myself have attained glimpses of the truth, but when faced with the possibility of enlightenment we become afraid and retreat into our minds. It is frightening for the mind and the ego to be convinced to approach their annihilation and obsolescence (Wilber No 146).

The price of Self-realization is the pre-existing sense of self. It seems insane to reject the peace and bliss of our true nature, and natural that we should eagerly embrace it. But the imaginary concept of thought and identity called the ego is a tough habit to break.

According to Shankara, a great Advaitan sage, the world is only thought. In Shankara’s philosophical system, aspirants are taught to use non-dual perception to see through the myriad things of the world to the true nature of reality, which is the Self. The term Self, in Advaitan philosophy, means Brahman; Self and Brahman are one and the same. Sunyata a “synonym for non-duality,” describes this quality of swollen-emptiness, something that which appears swollen from the outside, but in reality is hollow and empty (Maocanin 14).

Many different words and terms are used to describe this ineffable awareness, or state of consciousness beyond words: silence, sat-chit-ananda, and being who you are. The Advaitan view of reality is that Brahman alone is real, and what appears to be the universe is unreal. Advaitan philosophy introduces us to a radical way of perceiving existence: When the world and the individual self are rightly perceived they dissolve into Brahman.

I first read Advaitan philosophy in a Hindu Religions course in college. This philosophy made sense to me intuitively and immediately after taking that course I began to have insights and peak experiences into the true expanded nature of reality. These insights significantly altered my consciousness and my view of the world. I spent several years trying to integrate them. I had somehow transcended my personal awareness beyond the appearance of the opposites to a blissful state where I apprehended the true nature of reality.

After experiencing this higher state of consciousness, I awoke with the memory of the awareness but felt as if I had fallen to the bottom of a mountain with no clear path back to the top of the mountain. I took my peak experience as the answer to why I am here and the apogee of my existence. I was graced with that experience, but with no teacher to help me contextualize it. I sensed that I had had a divine vision that offered me a peek of awareness many steps beyond my personal consciousness.

My entire world view, my former concepts of reality and self were irreparably altered. Initially I chased “peek” experiences trying to get back to the garden without realizing that waking up spiritually is a never-ending process and my alarm clock had just gone off. for the first time.

Ken Wilber puts these peek experiences into context:
“A glimmer, a taste, a hint of the nondual—this is easy enough to catch but for the Nondual traditions, this is just the beginning. As you rest in that uncontrived state of pure immediateness or pure freedom, strange things start to happen. All of the subjective tendencies that you had previously identified with–all of those little selves and subjects…they start burning in the freedom of nonduality. They all scream to the surface and die, and this can be a very interesting period” (Brief 235).
I sought spiritual masters and found a tradition I could be initiated into—Reiki. I learned how to align with the consciousness of unconditional love, rei, and channel it energetically as ki. Reiki teaches non-dualism in action, and with the guidance of my teachers and spiritual practice helped me integrate the tremendous influx of visions, energies and insights that were rapidly altering my psyche. I applied most of my time and energy to spiritual practice and study and watched my life gradually transform.

Serendipitously, I attend the Works of Wisdom Book Club at Borders bookstore. There I met Neil, my next spiritual teacher and guide. Neil is sadhu, with straggly long white hair, a sparse mustache and pointed beard, with no job and no visible means of financial support. and few possessions except books. He walked the streets of town in a furry Russian cap with a book tucked under his arm. Neil held satsang with his “disciples” in all-night cafés, amidst the buzz of bottomless cups of coffee and the thin smoke of hand-rolled cigarettes.

It was Neil who introduced me to the teachings of Ramana Maharshi, Gangaji and Paul Brunton. I read the books he recommended, and although I believed the teachings, I remained unclear about how to deal with the world. Although I believed the concepts, I found it challenging and confusing for me to live in the illusion of the world. As Wilber wrote: “Contacting the Higher Self is not the end of all problems but the beginning of the immense and difficult new work to be done . . .” (Brief 315).

I learned Ramana’s legend from my teacher and later found this story repeated in books about the saint. It is said that in 1896, when Ramana was 17, he suddenly became gripped by a sudden and excruciating fear of death. The otherwise healthy young man felt certain that he was going to die on that day. At one point he said to himself, “now death has come.” He lay down in his bed and embraced death; he simply stopped resisting it. Ramana decided to emulate death by holding his breath and making his body rigid to confront his fear, concluding, “I must be the spirit that transcends the body. I am the deathless spirit.”

Ramana’s realization of his true identity was an immediate and intuitive flash that persisted. Ramana stated unequivocally, “there is no doubt the universe is the merest illusion” (Self 6). For Ramana, the veil of separation was lifted and he perceived the true nature of reality in which he is, as we all are, at one with Brahman.

What was unique about Ramana is he that he saw through the veils on his own with no formal training or teacher; he was never initiated into an established order. After his initial realization, Ramana tried to reconcile his new wisdom and awareness with the wishes of his family and requirements of school, he found he could not, and left home on a pilgrimage to for Arunachala. His deep oneness with Brahman was apparent to many and eventually an ashram developed on that site at Arunachula.

Ramana’s silent presence awakened people and made real the possibility of spontaneous self-realization. Though he rarely spoke, he did write some works such as answers to questions and dialogues as well as hymns to Shiva. Followers report they were awakened to their true natures just by basking in the deep silence of satsang with Ramana. He taught his students that the individual self is actually one with the Ultimate Reality. He told his students “the universe exists only in the same sense that the sun’s reflection on the lake exists. If not for the sun, there would be no reflection, and if not for the ultimate Reality there would be no universe” (Ramana Be 30).

The method embodied by Ramana Maharshi is amazingly simple and efficacious: to sit still and ask the question “Who am I?” The true answer is no answer. Beyond all answers is a state, void of qualities, with no adequate description. It is an experience of seeing through all separation to identification with the source. Even among the company of other Indian saints Ramana is considered to be a spiritual genius and teacher of incomparable purity. Ramana’s the path of Knowledge is so simple and so clear: merely inquire “Who am I?” with the awareness that beyond all qualities is the ground of all forms of our being Brahman and this is our true identity. Dis-identification with all thoughts that arise is true spiritual wisdom. The seeker uses discrimination, neti-neti, to negate all qualities except the awareness of Self/Brahman (Ramana Who 2). I am not my body, my desires, my emotions, or my thoughts. After negating all things, Ramana said “the awareness which alone remains–that I am, the pure center of awareness, an unmoved witness of all these thoughts, emotions, feelings and desires (Wilber No 128-29). This method does not leave the ego intact, and after it has eliminated all gunas, qualities, it will vanish. Ramana promised “the thought “Who am I?” will destroy all other thoughts and like the stick used for stirring the burning pyre, it will itself in the end get destroyed. Then there will arise Self-realization (Ramana Be 59).

The question “Who am I?” points to a specific state of awareness and that leads one to see through the apparent existence of this world and the I, rendering the ego, transparent. When thoughts or emotions arise in your awareness don’t resist them just dis-identify with them. They are not your thoughts, let go of ownership and observe them in the awareness of who you are and they will burn off naturally in the fire Brahman/Self. This question “Who am I?” is informed by the awareness that we are not our bodies and that any thought and any quality is an illusion. There is nothing to do or say except remember and experience union with Brahman. Ramana advised:
What ever thoughts arise as obstacles to one’s spiritual discipline the mind should not be allowed to go in their direction, but should be made to rest in one’s self which is the Atman; one should remain as the witness to whatever happens, adopting the attitude Let whatever strange things happen; let us see! This should be one’s practice (Ramana **).

Ken Wilber’s No Boundary and A Brief History of Everything are amazingly insightful philosophic syntheses of eastern and western consciousness concepts that addresses and compares Taoism, Buddhism, Advaita Vedanta and Western Transpersonal psychology practices and concepts. According to Wilber, the non-dualist is never totally “Enlightened.” Enlightenment is an ongoing process where new forms arise and each one is a test, an opportunity to be seen as a manifestation of the Source (Brief 238).

Questions often arise and they too will disappear when you pose the question, “Who is asking this question?” If you know your true nature these question will not arise (Ramana Be104). Questions are pitfalls and are generally a way of thinking about doing the method with out surrendering to it. Frequent traps of the mind and ego are reflected in concern about how long the journey will take. Ramana’s reply echoes through the ages: “As long as there are impressions of objects in the mind so long the inquiry “Who am I?” is required (Who 4). Another common pitfall for beginners on the path is the paradox of continued existence and how to stop chasing enlightenment as some achievable, yet somehow still out of reach, goal. The extraordinary and altogether paradoxical secret is that the Final Release is always already accomplished, “ever-present from the very beginning and at every point along the way”(Wilber Brief 305). Practice means being one with the all-that-is and dwelling in that, realizing that you always are one with Brahman. You are one with spirit the empty ground/source of all form. The intention of this inquiry is to make evident our true identity. This goal is accomplished though the total cessation of identification with the I/ego/body and thoughts or sensations of any kind. Identify with the all that is–Brahman, and to never forget that, never loose awareness of who you truly are. Ramana believed that “there is no better way of validating and acting from the awareness of the all-that-is except by abiding in it…for a wise man stays in the shade, one who knows the truth, does not leave Brahman (Who 6). Simply cease resisting the direct experience of the divine and dwell in that awareness.

One of the great mysteries of this teaching is once you have had this insight do you still exists? And if you don’t exist who is writing your papers? One may participate in an illusory world without identifying with the ego or the body.
Act from the firm conviction “I am the Self” without letting the false idea “I am the body or ego” arise…All of the activities of the wise man exist only in the eyes of others and not in his own, although he may accomplish immense tasks, he really does nothing…[but] remains as the silent witness of all the activities taking place” (Ramana Spiritual 9).
For Ramana, enlightenment is purely a question of identification and awareness of who you are. We may feel free our obligations in the world without attachment because “action and knowledge are not obstacles to each other”(Spiritual 9).

These concepts lose a bit in translation and the terms are not entirely interchangeable. It was important for many westerners to receive the teaching filtered through a western psyche that had distilled the essence of the teaching. It is not necessary to talk about any of the various qualities merely follow the practice but we westerners are very fond of intellectual discourse and philosophy. One of Ramana Maharshi’s most well known western follower was Rafael Hurst whose nom de plume was Paul Brunton. Brunton has been described as one of the first Europeans to “abandon the inbred illusion of superiority” and travel to India as a pilgrim (Journalist 3). In the books The Secret Path, A Search in Secret India, Brunton describes the teachings of Ramana Maharshi and the guru disciple relationship from his own experience as a western aspirant, “writing for those who have felt the truth in intuitive flashes as well as for those who must be argued into it by intellectual reasoning” (qtd. in Feurerstein 1).

I had an opportunity to attend satsang with a teacher in Ramana’s lineage named Gangagji Her teacher H.W.L. Poonjaji, affectionately called Papaji, was a follower of Ramana’s. Gangaji received the teachings of Ramana through Papaji. Papaji named her Gangaji and told her the Ganges needed to flow in the west. Papaji sent her back home to become a teacher and guru in her own right. This was the case with several of Papaji’s more advanced students; he didn’t coddle them and frequently pushed them out of the nest to spread the message in the world. Papaji died in 1997 after passing the torch for Gangaji to carry in to the west. Gangaji’s teaching is her own version of Ramana’s message has a slight Buddhist and Zen flavor and is interpreted by a westerner for westerners. During satsang with Gangaji in Boulder I found myself back on top of the mountain in an altered state of consciousness. What a treat, unfortunately, after this peak experience “Now what?” I was often disappointed by my inability to achieve the highest levels of consciousness at will, or once I disappeared, I always felt coming back I into ego consciousness as a failure. I had a “naïve notion,” as Wilber put it, of instantaneous enlightenment (A Brief 152). After several years of spiritual practice I became aware that if I still had a body and was still asking questions there was more unfolding and learning in store. In A Brief History of Everything, Ken Wilber references Aurobindo several times regarding the process of spiritual evolution “which obeys the logic of a successive unfolding;” and may be accelerated but not skipped over (Aurobindo qtd. in A Brief 152).
Gangaji said, “stop looking to be something and stop looking to not be something …Everything appears in the vastness and mystery of you. This is the deepest secret. This is the greatest gift of all-this gift from Ramana through Papaji. The opportunity to stop midstream, to stop and recognize who you are”(Satsang 2). We seek enlightenment like a wave seeking the shore; it is our nature. Upon reaching the shore, the wave disappears and blends back in to its Source, so too the seeker disappears when we realize who we are. (Wilbur No 142).

Works Consulted
Clarke, J.J. Jung and Eastern Thought: A Dialogue With the Orient. New York:
Routeledge, 1994.
Brunton, Paul. A Search in Secret India. 1935. York Beach: Weiser, 1997.
—.The Inner Reality. New York: Weiser, 1972.
—. The Secret Path. Read by Christopher Reeve. Berkeley: Audio Literature, 1989.
Deutsch, Elliot. The Philosophy of Advaita Vedanta: A Philosophical Reconstruction.
Honalulu: U of Hawaii P, 1969.
Feurerstein, Georg. Paul Brunton: From Journalist to Gentle Sage. On-Line. 10/10/98.
Gangaji. You are THAT! Boulder: Satsang Press, 1995.

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