Q: 2 or 3 years ago I had a profound realization of the truth of advaita which stayed with me for many months. I fear that I have lost it forever. Do you think that it can come back?
A (Shuka): If you think you lost it, please understand you never had it in the first place, even for the 2-3 months that you think you had it. For, Advaita is not an experience, it is an understanding. The classical example used to illustrate this is a story about ten boys who cross a river. When the ten arrive on the further shore, one of them counts but nine in the group, obviously neglecting to include himself. A passer-by, noticing the consternation of the boys, counts them and finds all ten present; verbal testimony immediately dispels the previous ignorance. Once the boy has realized he is the ‘missing’ tenth person, he can never lose himself thereafter, for the truth is ‘he was never lost’. So also, it was always Advaita, however, due to ignorance which results in wrong identification with one’s body-mind-sense-complex, a person is lost. On being pointed out by the śāstra (scriptures) through a guru (teacher) that his real nature is indeed different from what he has been thinking, he gets the knowledge of his original nature, that he was ever free. All this problem is caused because of the usage of the phrase self-realization instead of self-knowledge. If you are serious about your pursuit, study from a sampradāyavit, a traditionalist, who knows how to handle the words of the śāstra, and employs the prakriyā (methodology) as a teaching tool rather than as a system; all and sundries will only compound the confusion. My best wishes to you.
A (Ted): This question reflects the fundamental confusion concerning the nature of self-realization or “enlightenment” that afflicts 99% of spiritual seekers.
What you experienced was a spiritual epiphany, a flash of insight into the true non-dual (advaita) nature of reality. This is an experiential form of “enlightenment.” Such epiphanies occur when the reflection of pure awareness, which is the substratum of the entire apparent reality and your own true identity, is “seen” in a pure (sattvic) mind.
Such an epiphany may be had again. Or it may not. Either way, it is not of any ultimate importance. Since it is nothing more than an experience, if it does come back, it will inevitably go away. Such is the nature of experience.
All experience, no matter how mind-blowing or profoundly spiritual or enlightening, is nothing more than an object in awareness. That is, all experiences are but temporary phenomena that appear within YOU.
The constituents of experience – i.e. the gross and subtle elements, perceptive and active organs, mind, intellect, and ego – are all objects existing within the apparent reality that has been projected by means of the power of ignorance (maya), and therefore are subject to perhaps the most fundamental law of the dharma field – change.
Even more primary than the constituents of experience just mentioned are the three basic qualities (gunas) – sattva (peace, clarity, knowledge), rajas (passion, activity, projection), and tamas (dullness, inertia, denial) – that comprise and condition each and every object, both subtle and gross, in existence. These qualities reside in the causal body and are essentially the ingredients God (Isvara) uses to cook up the creation. The manifestation and influence of these qualities is, thus, beyond the apparent individual’s control.
These three qualities are constantly fluctuating and reconfiguring themselves, and there is no telling which will be most preponderant at any given moment. The apparent individual can manage these qualities by living consciously and performing certain limited actions that cultivate a given quality – for instance, drinking a cup of coffee produces more rajas, drinking a pitcher of beer produces more tamas, and “drinking” deeply and consciously one’s own breath produces more sattva. But to a large degree these qualities are going to do their own thing and exert their influence as “they” – i.e. Isvara or Bhagavan – see fit.
So, if your mind happens to be in a sattvic state and Isvara, which is simply a personification of the dharma or law that governs the functioning of the apparent reality, deems it necessary that you have another “profound realization of the truth of advaita,” then you will have one. If not, then you won’t.
As mentioned, however, the experience itself doesn’t really matter. Experience comes and goes. What matters is the knowledge it contains and whether one gleans and, thereafter, retains that knowledge or not.
In light of this, you might contemplate why you long for the return of the experience with which you were graced. If it was truly a realization, which implies that you understood or gained knowledge about something, of the non-dual nature of reality, then you would rest content in whatever experience was presenting itself to you at the moment, for you would know that since reality is non-dual everything is nothing other than pure awareness and so no one type of discrete experience is any better or more desirable than another. In short, as a consequence of true understanding you would not desire the “return” of a particular non-dual experience, for you would know that you are already experiencing nothing other than non-dual reality 24/7.
Assuming that you want self-knowledge and the liberation (moksha) that is its result, then you will have to at some point come to terms with the fact that SELF-REALIZATION IS NOT AN EXPERIENCE.
The self – pure awareness – is attributeless. It has no characteristics or qualities. Such being the case, awareness cannot be objectified. And since perception and inference, the primary means of knowledge we as apparent people have at our disposal, only function in response to objects, awareness, therefore, cannot be experienced.
Moreover, retaining the notion that the self can be experienced works in diametrical opposition to one of the fundamental laws governing existence: the subject-object split. The subject can never be the object of its observation. Though, truly speaking, there is neither a subject nor an object in a non-dual reality, if one assumes the point of view of an apparent individual and expects to experience or see the self in the way one would any other object, then in so doing one violates and, thus, negates the very non-dual nature of reality that one is seeking to experience.
Again, the reflection of awareness can appear in a pure (sattvic) mind – and in this way its nature can be known and one’s identity as it can be assimilated – but awareness itself can never be experienced directly.
This is perhaps the greatest source of disappointment – yet conversely the biggest relief as well – and one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome on the spiritual path. Coming to grips with the fact that enlightenment is a matter of knowledge rather than experience is essential, however, before one can recognize one’s true identity as whole and complete, limitless, ordinary, non-dual awareness.
As long as you are dependent upon a particular experience of non-duality, liberation will elude you. Only knowledge will set you free.
A (Sitara): Such experiences are valuable because they work like appetizers to stimulate your hunger and thirst for knowing the truth. Nevertheless there are two ‘buts’ connected with them. The first: They cannot be called realizations in the sense of enlightenment because, by definition, enlightenment will stay. So, the good news is that you did not lose enlightenment, simply because something that went away in time must have been other than enlightenment.
What you lost was an experience. And this is what happens with every experience: at some point in time you are going to lose it, simply because it is the nature of experiences to come and go. The same experience will not come back ever but maybe a similar one.
So, “Do you think that it can come back?” Enlightenment cannot come back because it cannot be lost in the first place. An experience similar to the one you had, however, could happen again. But even though it might have been very pleasant, I do not think that repeated experiences of that kind are desirable.
This leads to the second ‘but’: the one who has such experiences is the unenlightened one and he/she is going to take the feelings, sensations, insights etc., which make up the experience ‘for real’, meaning he/she believes that “this is how enlightenment has to feel”. This idea is a grave mistake and will lead you astray. The more of these experiences you have the more ideas about enlightenment can catch hold of your mind. Just as the experience goes, let go of all ideas that what you had was a taste of enlightenment. It was not; there is no such thing as a ‘taste’ of enlightenment.
An experience of the truth of advaita is like the reflection of the moon in a lake – it may be very beautiful but it is not the moon and will never become the moon. Depending on the circumstances – leaves on the water, clouds in the sky, trees around the lake etc. – the reflection may even look quite different from the original moon. Enlightenment is the discovery of the original. Do not crave another reflection.
Be sure: enlightenment does not feel like anything, it is the simple knowledge of who you are. Just go on seeking this knowledge. You need to deepen your understanding, no experience will help you with this.
A (Ramesam): A more satisfactory and correct answer to this question can be given only if the full context of the situation and the nature of the past “realization” described as ‘profound’ by the Questioner are known. In the absence of the full information, one can only talk in general terms and the Questioner may examine whether what is given below is applicable to him/her or not.
First and foremost, we have to appreciate that the ‘profound and full realization of Advaitic Truth’, if it is really understood once, is NEVER lost. After all, ‘what you are’ is already Brahman. What you are can never be lost. What happens in realization is the veil covering up this truth gets lifted. Therefore, two possibilities arise in a situation like the one posed in the question:
i) The seeker may have misunderstood an emotional or experiential high or an altered state of the mind as ‘profound Advaitic Truth.’ Or,
ii) The Truth, though realized, may have been tentatively eclipsed because of the forceful return of the mind along with its habitual pattern of reactions to the events in daily life.
If it is the first case, it means that the seeker is looking for the replication of an ‘experience’ that (s)he had had in the past. And in the game of expecting a recurrence of that ‘high’, he is missing the present “Presence” or what IS the Now.
What is present Now is Brahman. That Now itself is Consciousness (with capital “C”). Brahman is not a piece of memory; Brahman is the historyless ever present totality in the Now.
When an ‘experiential high’ happens, an ‘experiencer’ is still present within us. He is the claimant of ownership or agency for experiencing the high; he fondly remembers it and desires its recurrence. The ‘experiencer’ is the separate self or the ego (the me-ness). This ‘ego’ is the one who desires the replication because the experience is considered to be pleasant/enjoyable. As long as the separate self (ego) lasts with its overt or covert claim of ownership for an action, it is not True Realization because the separate self does not exist in true Realization. In fact, what is called as ‘enlightenment’ is the “collapse of the sense of the separate self.”
When the separate self is lost, all events and situations that happen are welcomed with equal ‘indifference in an unconcerned manner’ without any let or hindrance because no-thing is happening for any ‘one’ who is sitting there judging the happenings as ‘acceptable or rejectable experiences.’ Such indifference is equanimity and is also called the true ‘Love.’ ‘Effortlessness’ is the key word governing the life of a the seeker in this stage in the sense that he does not make any effort with the aim of obtaining a desired specific end result, nor does he perform motivated actions.
If it is the second case, it may be happening because the mind is not fully reined in. For a ‘knower of Truth’ (‘brahmavit’), who is in the beginning stages on the Path of Knowledge, it takes time to be able to abide unceasingly as Brahman. In the ancient system of teaching Advaita, the final message of ‘All Oneness’ is not imparted to a seeker until the wayward mind is fully disciplined through various techniques of control and exercise. In the modern times, the final teaching is freely available to everyone and anyone. And it is easily understood at an intellectual level without the necessity of any prior preparation and fulfillment of eligibility conditions. So the mind refuses to accept its own dissolution, and in combination with the body, resists to accept all happenings. The mind tends to come back with a vengeance because of the force of habit in its operation. We have cultivated the mind for years and years for a certain type of behavior and it does not change in an instant. Hence it is now doubly the responsibility of the committed seeker to bring his/her mind in alignment with the True Self-Knowledge absorbed by him/her. The key operational technique for such a seeker is to counter the ego, whenever it raises, with ‘egolessness’ and to practice relinquishment (vairagya) of ownership and doership.
Further, it helps to remember that enlightenment is not something profound, it’s just the ordinariness of life in the “NOW”!
A (Meenakshi): My friend, I am happy that you are on the search for truth but ‘realization’ is not an event in time. The self is beyond time and space; so it can never be contained and confined by them. Any experience that one has, will have an end, for, anything that begins in time, also ends in time. What one experiences as a result of meditation is something that happens in time. It definitely has its positive effects but it certainly does not amount to knowing the truth firmly. The ‘realization’ is to ‘know’ that you already are the whole and eternal. How can the eternal be known in the matrix of time and space?
Even if it comes back, dear friend, please know it only to be a passing experience. If on the other hand, you want to know if knowledge will ever happen, then yes, knowledge happens in the mind and it removes the errors, wrong notions that we have carried. Once the errors are gone, there is nothing else to be done, we ARE Brahman. We do not BECOME Brahman; we know ourselves as the WHOLE with conviction.
A (Dennis): Once you discover that the earth rotates about its axis, giving the impression that the sun rises and sets, no one can take that knowledge away from you (unless the mind itself is damaged). If your ‘profound realization’ was firm knowledge and not just a strong conviction, then that knowledge would still be unshakeable. It is, however, normal to have to continue reading, studying, discussing, teaching etc, following realization if you do not want the clarity of that understanding to fade. All of this is discussed in the questions relating to sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti and jIvanmukti.