The word akhaNDAkAra means ‘form of the whole’. AkAra means ‘form, shape, appearance’; akhaNDa means ‘entire, whole’ (a means ‘not’, khaNDa means ‘broken, deficient, fragmented’). So, what happens on enlightenment is that the previous mental disposition of believing ourselves to be separate and limited is replaced by the realization that we are the unlimited whole – brahman.
This realization takes place in the mind of a person at a moment in time but the irony is that, once it has occurred, it is then known that who-we-really-are is timeless and mindless.
Swami Paramarthananda tells a story about a game he used to play as a child. He and his friends would take a child into a room that was entirely empty and they would place pillows about the room and stand the child up against one wall. He was told to memorize the positions of the pillows and then they blindfolded him. He was then told that he had to cross the room to the other wall without touching any of the pillows. The other children then watched as he very carefully edged his way forward. Whenever they laughed, he would retreat and move sideways before trying again. Eventually he reached the other wall and was allowed to remove the blindfold. He then discovered that all of the pillows had been removed before he began and that he had been moving across an empty floor trying to avoid non-existent objects.
And Swami Paramarthananda says that mokSha or liberation is like this. As seekers, we make our way through life trying to avoid all the pitfalls of self-ignorance and arrive at the other wall of self-knowledge and enlightenment. But when we attain enlightenment, we realize that there never were any obstacles to begin with. In a sense, the ignorance was non-existent – the truth is that tat tvam asi, ‘thou art That’ already.
Ramana Maharshi has a similar story:
“Our real nature is mukti (liberation). But we are imagining that we are bound and are making various strenuous attempts to become free, while we are all the time free. This will be understood only when we reach that stage. We will be surprised that we frantically were trying to attain something which we have always been and are. An illustration will make this clear. A man goes to sleep in this hall. He dreams he has gone on a world tour, is roaming over hill and dale, forest and country, desert and sea, across various continents and, after many years of weary and strenuous travel returns to this country and walks into this hall. Just at that moment he wakes up and finds he has not moved an inch, but was sleeping where he lay down. He has not returned after great effort to the hall but is and always has been in the hall. It is exactly like that. If it be asked why being free we imagine we are bound, I answer ‘Why being in this hall did you imagine you were on a world adventure, crossing hill, dale, desert and sea?’ It is all mind or mAyA (the world illusion).”
[Quoted in the book ‘Be As You Are. The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi’, edited by David Godman, Arkana 1985. ISBN 0-14-019062-7] Buy from Amazon US
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- Enlightenment is not about ‘experiencing the Self’ – otherwise everyone would be enlightened. It is not about experience at all, it is about self-knowledge – the direct knowledge that you are already that which you seek. (See 25 – 97.)
- Nor is enlightenment itself an experience – experiences come and go. Enlightenment is not temporary – once it happens, that is it. Consequently, if you had an experience and wonder whether you are now enlightened, you can be sure that you are not. Also, there is no need for a seeker to try to recapture a ‘good’ experience, thinking that it was somehow closer to enlightenment than the usual ‘bad’ experiences. (See 102 to 104)
Wayne Liquorman uses a good metaphor to explain this, which he records in his book ‘Acceptance of What IS – A Book About Nothing, Advaita Press, 2000. ISBN 0-929448-19-7’. Buy from Amazon US Buy from Amazon UK
You may be familiar with those old ‘grandfather’ clocks which have a pendulum as the motive force and this pendulum often has a weight on the shaft that you can move up and down to alter the frequency of the swing. He imagines this pendulum swinging from one side to the other, with one extent of the swing representing happiness and the opposite representing misery. Or one being health and the other sickness, or any of the other opposites to which the body-mind is prone.
He says that when we are completely identified with this process, we are equivalent to the weight being as far down the shaft as possible, swinging through the maximum degree of movement, from ecstatic to the depths of despair. If we become more aware of what is happening and therefore less identified with the body and mind, the weight is as though shifted further up the shaft and thus the arc measured out by each swing is less and our emotional ‘swings’ are less intense. Sometimes, our detachment can be such that we observe all of the excesses of life around us but are quite unmoved – this is equivalent to pushing the weight right to the top of the shaft, where there is scarcely any movement. But this remains an experience. Wayne says:
“This experience may last five minutes, or ten minutes, or a day, or a week. Maybe it’ll last a month or six months. If you’re very, very lucky it could last quite a while. But what’s crucial to understand is that this experience at the very top of the pendulum is an experience in phenomenality, even though it’s impersonal. It is still an experience. It has substance. It has characteristics. You can say it’s great. Therefore, there’s something there. That means it exists in phenomenality. And anything that exists in phenomenality has one basic quality to it: it’s subject to change, it will change. It carries within itself the very seed of its opposite.”
‘What goes up must come down’, as they say, so that such a ‘high’ is inevitably succeeded by a low. Because enlightenment is not an experience, in terms of the metaphor, anywhere on the pendulum is still identification with being an experiencer in the world, even if this is that of an observer near the top, rather than a participant near the bottom. Enlightenment is rather the ‘positioning’ of oneself at the fulcrum of the pendulum. He goes on to say:
“Now the fulcrum is that upon which the pendulum moves. The fulcrum is crucial to all the movement. Without it there is no movement. But the thing about the fulcrum is that nothing happens there. There is no movement there. There is nothing going on. There is no subject-object relationship, which is what movement is. There is just the Oneness.”
This, then, is the metaphor and many seekers seem to think that there actually is a radical change from seeing the world as separate and dualistic, literally to seeing the ‘oneness in everything’. But it is not quite like this. When we wake up from a dream, we no longer see the dream creation at all and know it for what it was – a creation of our mind. But the world is not a creation of our mind. It is, if you like, a creation of the cosmic mind – Ishvara. Just as the sun still appears to rise and set, even after we have acquired the knowledge that this appearance is caused by the rotation of the earth, so the world-appearance continues after enlightenment.
Enlightenment is the acquiring of the Self-knowledge that the non-dual brahman is the sole reality; that the world is mithyA; and that I, the jIva, am non-other than brahman. (This is the translation of the sentence that sums up the teaching of Shankara: brahma satyam, jaganmithyA, jIvo brahmaiva nAparaH.) Afterwards, the appearance of the world continues but I know, without the shadow of a doubt, that it is all simply name and form of brahman.
This was the always the case – before enlightenment as well as after. Nothing has actually changed. There were no pillows in the room that I was crossing in the journey of ‘seeking’. But, as far as my mind is concerned, the outlook has totally changed. It has taken on ‘the form of the whole’ and I now know that I was never a separate entity in an alien world. I now know that I am ‘everything’.
One might be tempted, then, to say (as some neo-advaitin teachers do) that there is not really any problem at all. After all, it is true that we are ‘already free’. But there is a very real problem, namely that we believe we are ‘bound’. We think we are the aging, ailing body or the mind losing its acuity and memory. We believe that happiness will only be gained through becoming rich, meeting the ideal partner and so on. As it is usually put, we are ‘identified’ with these or with the roles that we happen to be playing in life. Enlightenment entails the realization that I am not ‘a man’ or ‘a writer’; not a body or mind but simply ‘I am’.
(Read Part 2…)