Q. 426 Flow

Q: In response to my question “Can one ever KNOW that reality is non-dual?”, Ramesam wrote: “Yes, when you are in ‘zone’, (the flow of Mihály Csíkszentmihályi).”

I’m a big fan of flow, know it quite well, teach it in fact to my students. I’d like to know what your take is on flow, specifically: Do you agree with Ramesam, that being in flow is knowing that reality is non-dual?

– Is being in flow a desirable ‘state’ according to Advaita Vedanta? In other words, if, as often happens, I spend most of the day in flow, is this a ‘good thing’ for my Advaitin development?

The reason I ask is because I’ve wondered a bunch about the difference between pure awareness and flow. Flow is very goal oriented; pure awareness is not. Also, when in flow, you are deeply aware of that which you need to be aware of to keep flowing (holding a conversation, skiing a narrow downhill trail, etc.), but you are typically NOT aware of your awareness. In fact, if you become aware of your awareness, you’ll probably lose the flow, get tripped up in the conversation, fall down on the trail, etc. It’s as if you were completely lost in the activity.

So, is flow a less desirable state than pure awareness? Or some other state that Advaita recommends?

A: I came across Csíkszentmihályi when I was writing ‘How to Meet Yourself’ and of course the feeling of ‘flow’ is recognizable. And it is a great feeling, obviously invaluable for sports and other activities. It represents single-mindedness, concentration etc – the control of the mind and senses – dama, shama etc. And it is in this sense that it has some relevance for Advaita – mental preparation to make one ‘ready’ for taking on board self-knowledge.

But that is as far as it goes. It has nothing to do with actually knowing that reality is non-dual. In fact, I would suggest that the vast majority of people who know about ‘flow’ have no interest (and have probably never heard of) non-duality. They are interested in its value in furthering their materialistic ends (by this, I don’t mean obtaining objects but improving their sporting achievements or whatever). If one also has spiritual ‘ambitions’, then pursuing flow could even be counter-productive. It is said that mokSha has to become your sole, overriding aim in life to the exclusion of everything else if you are to succeed in this life.

So your assessment is correct, except that you do not really become ‘aware of awareness’. The non-directed stillness of the mind in deep meditation is the nearest you come to such a thing. nirvikalpa samAdhi has nothing as its object whereas, as you say, flow is invariably goal-oriented.

Finally, Ramesam said that it was possible to know that reality is non-dual when you are in the zone, not that being ‘in flow’ is knowing it.

Q. 425 Truth and reality

Q: As I see/feel it, Truth (with a capital T) is a human concept, and like all concepts, is not real (except in our minds). “What is” is simply “what is” … period, end of story (literally).

Advaita Vedanta seems to say that Truth (Brahman) is real, that it is in fact the only reality.

  1. Are the two assertions above incompatible? (I have the feeling that, ultimately, they’re not, because the Truth I’m talking about is a concept and Brahman is not.)
  2. If they are, is my take that ‘Truth is a human concept and therefore not real’ a deep obstacle (perhaps even a show-stopper) to my studying Advaita?

A: It is not possible to talk about brahman/reality because it is non-dual and without attributes (see Q. 328). You need to accept/appreciate this. But of course, as part of the process of removing self-ignorance from the mind, we do need to ‘as if’ talk about it. And we do this via pointers, negation and so on. All of these are concepts and have to be dropped IN THE END. But, in the interim, we make use of them without worrying about the fact that they are mithyA.

The other point is that words are very slippery things and different people can understand different things. The word ‘sat’ can certainly mean both ‘reality’ and ‘truth’ (as well as ‘existence’). Whether or not you regard these as synonyms may cause you a problem of the sort you describe. But the word ‘reality’ is as much a concept as the word ‘truth’! These are the sort of things that twentieth century Western philosophers argued about. Don’t worry about it! Gain Self-knowledge and you can then happily drop all the concepts, or simply use them as appropriate when you want to talk to someone who doesn’t have Self-knowledge!

Q. 424 Paradox of the Illusory Self

Q: I’ve read your wonderful book, Back to the Truth, and much from your website. I’ve learned so much from what you’ve offered, it’s impossible to thank you enough. I do have a question that continues to arise again and again. Though simple, it’s never quite answered head-on. It’s hard to phrase it in a single sentence, so here goes: 

Sometimes it seems that nondual teachers are simply saying “Did you notice you’re conscious? That’s what you are.” There are many such teachers, as I’m sure you are aware. Some, similarly, seem to say that realizing there is no person is all there is too it, everything else stays the same. Meanwhile there are many many accounts of realization that include an understanding of the nature of consciousness, of seeing he world of objects as empty or transparent, and many have said that the mark of realization is an awareness that does not go away (or seem to go away) during deep sleep. These understandings seem beyond no-self.

So when an instructor says something like “who wants to know” or “who wants enlightenment” I get very frustrated. I get it that there is no person that wants to know. Maybe I don’t get it enough (certainly not experientially), but just dropping the idea of a self and saying “yep I’m conscious, I’m aware” does not lead to these other powerful understandings, or deeper truths. 

Body minds that have realized no-self still go on through life with a few desires and interests that they try to satisfy (Ramana Maharshi reading the news, for instance). This body-mind is interested in big Truths. So why tell me that seeing through the self, knowing that I am aware (or awareness) is enough? There seem to be another, bigger, even more interesting truth to be discovered. 

So, I guess a simple way of asking my question is: Paradoxes rise from a illusory self seeking to see through itself. but they don’t arise from a body mind (or even an illusory self) seeking to understand oneness, consciousness, the universe, etc. I assume we have to see through the self to realize the rest, but why do so many seem to ignore the rest? Continue reading

Q. 423 Logical proof

Q: Is there a logical proof that all souls are multiple personalities of the same self, and of what therefore  to do?

A (Dennis): ‘No’ is the simple answer. If there were, scientists would not still be looking for the origin of consciousness in the brain! It is rather that there exists a body of knowledge from those who have realized that this is how it is. ‘Teachers’ draw on this, together with their own experience, to explain things to seekers until such time as they realize the truth for themselves. To one who has been through this process, there is no problem in understanding that this is perfectly acceptable. To one who has not, however, it seems quite unacceptable and not really any different from the ‘faith’ of religions.

Incidentally, the phrasing of your question indicates that you do not appreciate the ‘bottom line’ message of Advaita. There are no individual ‘souls’ or ‘personalities’ and nothing to ‘do’ in reality. There is only the Self – and you are That (already). You just do not realize this. I.e. all that needs to happen is to remove the ignorance that is preventing you from seeing what is already the case.

Q. 422 loka-s – ‘planes’ of existence

Q: I’ve just started reading about advaita and Hinduism and wondered about the concept of loka-s. Are these physical or mental places or do they not really exist at all? What do Advaitins believe now, after 2000+ years of advancement of scientific knowledge?

A (Dennis): Advaita is a ‘gauged’ teaching – the teacher aims to address the present level of understanding of the student. This is why the seeker should always try to find a traditional teacher and should not merely attend random satsangs given by non-traditional teachers travelling around the world and probably staying in one location for no more than a week or two. A ‘course’ of traditional teaching may take a lifetime and would certainly be expected to continue for a number of years.

The way that it works is that the teacher provides an explanation that is suitable for the seeker at that time, and advances the latter’s understanding. Later, that explanation will be taken back and a more sophisticated one provided in its place. The methodology is called adhyAropa-apavAda. The teaching of loka-s etc is an ‘early’ one, and was aimed at Hindus who were used to worshipping gods, believing firmly in reincarnation and so on. Continue reading

Q. 421 – Creation and lIlA

Q: I ‘understand’ that Brahman is Eternal, Changeless, Being, Its the mAyA aspect that is puzzling. Why create an illusion and then ignore it thru dispassion, observation, witnessing, spiritual practice, etc… the very thing you (Brahman) made for your play of a world/dream you now must awaken from. I have often pondered that Brahman did not make/create the world but the mind/Self did thru a type of mis-creation a false identification. Does this make any sense?

A: The ‘final’ message of Advaita is that there is ONLY brahman (i.e. really, really ‘non-dual’). Ideas such as mAyA are part of the interim teaching to help lead the mind to that final realization. Eventually, they have to be dropped. brahman did not create anything – there is no world as a separately existing entity – it is all only brahman. So yes, as you say, the apparent separation is effectively generated by the mind as a ‘false identification’. Read the adhyAsa series that I posted – http://www.advaita-vision.org/adhyasa-part-1/ – or better still read my book ‘A-U-M: Awakening to Reality’, which is all about this ‘final message’.

Q. 420 – Honoring the truth

Q: I have heard a teacher say that, if you have listened to Vedanta / Upanishads teaching, you have heard the truth; if you do not honor this  by continuing to deepen the listening, there are the following consequences : you will not hear the truth for thousands of lifetimes, and have to be reborn starting again from plants, insects and so on. Can you shine some light on this please?

A (Dennis): What you have heard is nonsense. The most important requirement for pursuing Advaita is what is called mumukShutva, which means the ‘burning desire’ to discover the truth. Once you have that, you are going to continue seeking anyway. The other requirements are things such as a still mind, ability to concentrate and discriminate, ability to control the mind and senses so that your attention is not easily distracted, being prepared to put provisional trust in what is said by the teacher.

The theory of karma says that your actions will have lawful consequences in this life or the next. But this is all interim teaching anyway. The ‘bottom line’ is that who-you-really-are was never born in the first place and is already perfect, complete and free. You just don’t realize this. Hence the requirement for finding and listening to a qualified teacher.


Q. 419 – E.S.P.

Q: I can hold an object that I know nothing about in my hands and start meditating .Within about 10 minutes I receive images related to the object, such as where it has been, who previously owned it, sometimes where it came from. At times I have visual images of walking through the original building or house where it previously belonged. I would like to know what this is called; is it dangerous; should I perservere and try to expand this experience? Is it valuable or beneficial to practice it?

A (Dennis): It’s called psychometry. (Wikipedia: Psychometry (from Greek: ψυχή, psukhē, “spirit, soul” and μέτρον, metron, “measure”), also known as token-object reading, or psychoscopy, is a form of extrasensory perception characterized by the claimed ability to make relevant associations from an object of unknown history by making physical contact with that object.”

It has nothing to do with Advaita, which is about gaining Self-knowledge – the knowledge that there is ONLY Consciousness. Pursuing this ‘ability’ will not help; indeed it will almost certainly take you away from Self-knowledge, down a blind alley, if you like. True (and worthwhile) meditation is about cultivating a still, quiet mind and the self-discipline to control that.

Q. 418 – When enlightenment occurs

Q: “You cannot experience brahman. But everything you experience is brahman (since brahman is all there is).”

1. Are both assertions true?

2. My understanding (based on both being true) is that you cannot experience brahman directly, but you are always experiencing it indirectly via vyavahara/mithya objects. Very much like Plato’s cave and Kant’s phenomena/numina, you experience shadows/phenomena … not the dinge-an-sich/numina which casts the shadows. 

My Advaita is rusty (shoving vyavahara and mithya together into vyavahara/mithya is probably not kosher) … but is the gist of my understanding right? Continue reading

Q. 417 – Value of practices

Q: Knowing that you have extensive knowledge regarding various pathways to enlightenment, I would like to ask your views, if you have any, on the combining of Holotropic Breathwork with perhaps Vedanta.

I have done some Breathwork in the past, and have had some energetic and some emotional experiences, for which I had no knowledge base to anchor my experiences to (to borrow the explanations I have heard from Vedanta).

Now that I am aware of the conceptual explanations (at a basic level) for reality (e.g. James Swartz’s videos, Rupert’s videos, Pure Light of Knowing meditations, etc.), I wonder if the ‘jarring’ of my energy / emotional bodies might trigger the internalizing of the knowledge that is perched in the mind, ready to ‘colonize’ my ….?? (Awareness, Intellect, Mind, …??) and create an awakening experience that will stick if I continue my sadanas.

A (Dennis): The bad news is that I have never heard of Holotropic Breathwork; the good news is that this does not matter as far as answering the question is concerned.

‘Enlightenment’ means Self-knowledge. And knowledge is the ONLY thing that can bring enlightenment. Actions of whatever kind will never do so, because action is not opposed to ignorance. Also, any ‘awakening experience’ is incidental to the gaining of Self-knowledge and not necessarily indicative of it. You can have the most amazing experience (as a result of drugs for example) but remain totally ignorant of your true nature.

Unless you can think of some mental ‘purification’ that may result from this ‘breathwork’, I would ignore it to be quite honest. Meditation is good because it does aid in control of the mind, improves mental discipline, increases stillness etc. All these are pre-requisites of a mind ready to assimilate the teaching so will be of use to most spiritual seekers.

Look into Shankara’s sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti. The ask yourself about any potential ‘practice’: “Will it help bring about any of these elements?” If the answer is clearly ‘yes’, then by all means take it up. Otherwise, direct your efforts to something more fruitful!