Enlightenment (Part 3)

(Read Part 2)…

Simply wanting to become enlightened is of no use unless one understands that this means the acquisition of Self-knowledge. Swami Dayananda explains this:

“With so many concepts of mokSha available, a mere desire for mokSha is not good enough. It must be converted into jij~nAsA, a desire to know. This is very important. This conversion means recognizing the fact that mokSha is in the form of knowledge, which is to be gained here in this life. So mokSha is not later or elsewhere.

“Conversion of one’s desire for mokSha into jij~nAsA implies a certain cognitive change. To begin with, one has some idea about mokSha, which may not be more than a belief. When one thoroughly exposes oneself to the teaching, there is the possibility of discerning that the mokSha is in the form of knowledge alone and not in any other form.” [vivekachUDAmaNi – Talks on 108 Selected Verses, Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Sri Gangadharesvar Trust, 1997. No ISBN. Purchase from http://books.arshavidya.org/]

As I have put it elsewhere:
“The Self is already ‘enlightened.’ There is nothing that can or need be done to alter this fact. The problem is simply the mind and, in its ignorance, the identification with something limited, be it mind, body, role or whatever. Accordingly, to remove that ignorance, knowledge is needed and this process is all at the level of mind in the phenomenal world. When sufficient knowledge has been acquired, the ignorance is dissolved and the mind realizes that already existent truth. But nothing has actually changed.

“Possibly a metaphor from the Zen tradition is as good as any, describing enlightenment as ‘the gateless gate.’ From the viewpoint of the seeker, there appears to be a gate through which one must pass in order to ‘become enlightened’ but, from the viewpoint of the ‘realized man’ looking back, there never was a gate. Enlightenment is gaining the knowledge that we are already free.

“Believing that we are not enlightened, we are necessarily imagining enlightenment to be a ‘state,’ something that will be achieved or gained at some future time (if we are good, practice meditation regularly etc. or if we meet the right guru who will somehow transmit the knowledge to us). But we have already seen that Advaita defines reality as that which is not bound by time. It must already be the case and therefore cannot be a state. If, during the process of seeking, we encounter novel states of heightened awareness, mental clarity and so on, these can have nothing to do with enlightenment.” [Back to the Truth, Dennis Waite, O Books, 2007, ISBN 1905047614.]

The pramANa, the source of this knowledge, is the scriptures – the Upanishads and the texts written by AchArya-s such as Shankara. And someone familiar with these texts (and ideally someone who is themselves enlightened) is needed to explain them and answer questions. Many modern teachers disparage the scriptures. How can reading these possibly be of any help when it comes to something like enlightenment?

Here is how Stig Lundgren justifies this:

Q: Reading a book about swimming cannot make you an expert swimmer. How, therefore, can reading the upaniShad-s make one enlightened?

A: This is not a valid analogy. It is true that you cannot learn swimming by just reading books on how to swim. This is because reading or hearing about swimming does not give you direct knowledge about swimming. But the upaniShad-s actually give direct knowledge on Atman, and this is clearly pointed out by Adi Shankara.

I guess you are familiar with the story about the Swami and his disciples crossing a river. When arriving on the other shore, the Swami counted his disciples and it turned out that only nine persons had successfully crossed the river! He counted all his disciples over and over again, concluding: “There is one missing. We are only nine people, and it should be ten!” Then a stranger walked by. He overheard the conversation, and said to the Swami: “But there are actually ten persons. You have forgotten to count yourself. You are that tenth person”! From the uttering of these words, the Swami at once realized that he was the tenth person.

Well, the words of the stranger gave the Swami direct knowledge about himself as the tenth man. He didn’t have to put this knowledge into practice or anything. The very understanding came immediately by the words of the stranger. shravaNa gave him perfect knowledge, because he was the tenth man from the very beginning. He did not become the tenth man.

This is also the case regarding the knowledge of Atman. You are Atman, you are not becoming Atman. But due to avidyA you are wrongly identifying yourself with your body, your senses, your feelings, your thoughts etc. shruti gives you direct knowledge of Atman, because it enlightens you on what you actually are, not what you are about to become. Realizing your true nature (Atman/brahman) is not about creating anything. j~nAna is just dispelling your superimpositions and thereby your misconceptions.

You surely have to swim in order to learn swimming; you have to practice and not just read books on the subject. But this is because learning how to swim is about gaining something which was not there from the beginning. You have to get outside of yourself, so to speak, in order to learn how to swim. Swimming is not your true nature, and this is the reason why just reading books doesn’t work when learning how to swim. Books on swimming are not sufficient, because learning how to swim is not a matter of dispelling the ignorance of something which was there from the beginning.

Gaining knowledge about something is usually a matter of a subject (you) learning about something external (swimming, or the taste of sugar). But regarding knowledge of the absolute (Atman/brahman), the case is different: You are about to realize your true nature, and hence there is no such thing as subject and an external object. You are realizing yourself, you own true nature.

Perfect knowledge rises when avidyA is dispelled. It is not a matter of getting control over your thoughts, feelings etc. You can attain perfect control over your mind, but you will still be ignorant of your true self, Atman. Knowledge is not about getting perfect control of the mind. The mind is actually within the realm of avidyA, and accordingly brahmavidyA implies the dispelling of mind! Hence, the expression “the mind is under complete control” is valid only when you are still ignorant and within the realm of avidyA.

Adi Shankara says that samAdhi is subject to the same conditions as deep-sleep: You are ignorant before sleep/samAdhi and when you wake up (or come out of samAdhi) you will still be ignorant. SamAdhi does not dispel avidyA. In his adhyAsa bhAShya (preamble to brahmasUtra bhAShya), Shankara says that avidyA = adhyAsa = mithyA j~nAna (false conception or error). Hence, dispelling avidyA is the same as dispelling your superimpositions and wrong knowledge of the Self. According to Shankara, this is the purpose of the upaniShad-s. So, shruti is the pramANa – not samAdhi, thought control or the like.

[Read the complete discourse at http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/teachers/scripture_stig.htm]


Some Questions and Answer on Enlightenment from the website:

Q: May I ask about an aspect of Advaita which regularly puzzles me? In an earlier answer on your website you state that “Enlightenment is of the mind, the self-knowledge that destroys the self-ignorance takes place in the mind.”

It may be that I am confusing absolute and relative realities, but are you implying that there exists a state of self-ignorance which needs to be replaced by a state of self-knowledge? … and that this is a mental process occurring over time?

If Brahman is All, would that not include all apparent ‘states’? Is not apparent ‘self-ignorance’ also an expression of Oneness? Would not any attempt to move from one state to another (or indeed the statement that there are two states) be an expression of dualistic thinking?

I agree that the concept of ‘enlightenment’ is of the mind, which results in an apparent ‘seeker’. Are you of the opinion that we are all ‘liberated’ but as yet don’t know it … and that through some sort of teaching, we can attain to this knowledge? 

If the Ultimate state of Awareness is our Present state of Awareness, there is clearly no way to cause or produce that which is already the case – and even if we could, the result would be finite and dual. As Eckhart stated, if we imagine God can be found in a particular state of consciousness, then when that state slips from us, so God slips with it.

A: You are right – this is the sort of confusion of paramArtha and vyavahAra that often occurs when speaking about enlightenment. At the level of vyavahAra, which is where all of this discussion takes place between (apparently) separate persons, self-ignorance is the normal condition of most minds. With the benefit of good teaching, this may be supplanted (in the mind) by self-knowledge. When this occurs (in time), we say that the person has become ‘enlightened’.

You are also right that, ‘self-ignorance’ is “also an expression of Oneness”. Since there is only brahman, this must necessarily be so – from the pAramArthika standpoint. But this does not preclude changes of state at the level of vyavahAra. It simply depends upon where you ‘take your stand’. Advaita ‘encompasses’ dvaita. Apparent duality is simply misperceived non-duality.

You ask: “Are you of the opinion that we are all ‘liberated’ but as yet don’t know it … and that through some sort of teaching, we can attain to this knowledge?” This is a confusion of terms again – hence the difficulty. Yes, we are already free – i.e. we cannot be ‘liberated’ but no, most people are not already ‘enlightened’. Accordingly, it is perfectly meaningful that self-knowledge can be taught and can lead to enlightenment. Enlightenment is the realisation that we are already free!

Q: I’ve just been enjoying your book ‘Enlightenment: the Path through the Jungle’. You say that enlightenment is an ‘event in the mind’ but isn’t the seeing-through of the illusion heart-based rather than intellectual? And surely practice is what brings this about? Ramana Maharshi advocates asking ‘Who am I?’ to achieve this.

A:  Yes, you are right that practice is necessary. I don’t think I said anywhere that it isn’t. What I said is that practice in itself cannot lead to enlightenment. Since enlightenment is an event in the mind, the mind has to be in a suitable state for the event to occur. It won’t, for example, occur in the mind of someone whose mind is full of worry, desire, fear or whatever. The purpose of practice is to learn how to control the mind, give attention, exercise discrimination etc. Without some preparation (practice), there is no chance of gaining self-knowledge. The other aspect is that, although with some practice, it is possible to gain self-knowledge, if the practice has been insufficient, there will be no ‘fruit of knowledge’ (jIvanmukti). I.e. although the person may become enlightened, there will be none of the ‘good stuff’ associated with this – peace of mind, fearlessness etc.

The knowledge that ‘I am brahman’ is not something that can be gained from any experience or any of the usual sources of knowledge (perception, inference etc.). The pointers to this fact come from the scriptures. When ‘unfolded’ by a competent teacher, it is possible for there to be direct apprehension of this truth (since we already are That).

The second point is regarding your ‘heart’ concerns. This is a red-herring. The reason that many teachers have become hung-up on the ‘heart’ being the centre for the ‘self’ (or however you want to put this) is that, at the time that the Upanishads etc were being written, it was believed that the mind was located in the heart. (Shankara confirms this in his commentary on Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3.9.20 “Heart refers to the intellect and manas (mind) taken together”.) The fact is that enlightenment takes place in the mind (which is where the ‘light’ of Consciousness is ‘reflected’). Self-knowledge then replaces self-ignorance and that is all there is to it. (!)

If you accept the bottom line of advaita, namely that the reality is that there is only brahman, then it follows that we are already That (as the neo-teachers keep telling us). Nothing we can do will liberate us because we are already free. So what is the problem then? We don’t know this fact. We know that we exist and we know that we are conscious but we don’t know that we are unlimited. Ramana advocates Atma vichAra – investigation into the Self. An element of this is asking ‘Who am I?’ but simply repeating this like a mantra is not going to achieve anything. What is lacking is Self-knowledge and some external teaching is required to provide this. Of all the means of knowledge available to us, the only one that can provide this knowledge is shabda pramANa – scriptural knowledge, ideally imparted by a teacher. Yes, it is the ideas in the mind that bind us but the mind is also where the self-knowledge takes place that brings enlightenment.

Q: But Ramana says that Enlightenment (Self-Realization) is the dissolution or destruction of the ‘I’-thought in the Heart. Don’t you agree?

A: It is not precisely like that.  The ‘I’ thought is the reflection of Consciousness in the mind. This continues after enlightenment and, indeed, until the death of the body-mind. What enlightenment brings is the knowledge of this. Before, one thinks ‘I am this body-mind’; after one knows ‘I am brahman; this body-mind is simply name and form of that same brahman’.

Q: Have you ever actually attempted a sustained Ramana-like Self- Enquiry practice?

A: Not as such, no. But then, as noted above, this practice is an aspect of Atma vichAra. I think that its main attraction for many seekers is the idea that doing this on its own circumvents the need for following a traditional path and I believe this notion is mistaken.

Q: Isn’t the argument which says that direct experience is not necessary, or cannot bring about Self-Knowledge, really a ‘clever’ trick or ploy engaged in to avoid exposing  the lie which our identity is usually based on – i.e. ‘personal self’?

A: No. Don’t you see that, if you accept that the Self is non-dual, it is a contradiction in terms to talk about ‘experiencing the Self’? Who would experience what?

Self-enquiry means investigation into Self, not independent investigation. (An obvious point perhaps but one which may often be assumed to be otherwise.) As Swami Dayananda pointed out, asking ourselves ‘Who am I?’ is only going to return the answer ‘the same old fool’.

The seeker begins with the mistaken belief that he is a jIva (independent soul with a body-mind-intellect). And he really believes this so that investigation is going to be from this standpoint. Compare the rope-snake metaphor. We mistakenly believe that the thing ahead of us is a snake. If we begin our investigation from this standpoint, we are going to be looking into types of snake, occurrence, characteristics, precautions, poison remedies etc. and none of these are going to lead us to rope-realisation.

According to traditional advaita, the only pramANa (means of knowledge) for Self-knowledge is shabda pramANa, which means scriptures and guru. They are needed to point us in the right direction – away from the snake and towards the rope.

The ‘Question and Answer’ section of my website contains the following questions relating specifically to Enlightenment: 11, 19, 39, 45, 46, 68, 69, 78, 105, 106, 129, 151, 152, 160, 161, 168, 177, 179, 184, 187, 191, 194, 202, 205, 221, 222, 223, 236, 239, 240, 247, 270, 278, 290, 296, 303, 328, 333, 339, 348, 366, 369, 386, 389, 403, 412, 414. As you can see, it is one of the topics of most concern to the seeker! (Which is hardly surprising, of course, since it is their objective…)

“Enlightenment is coming to the end of the search for enlightenment.” –    Greg Goode

“The plainest and simplest way of putting it is this: ‘I had mistaken myself to be a thinker, doer, perceiver, and enjoyer. That misconception has disappeared.’” –    Atmananda Krishna Menon


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