Q.403 – The enlightenment perspective

Q. If you have the time (and inclination) I would really love to get some clarification on exactly what you mean when you write “There is still a personal self after enlightenment; it is just that it is now known not to be who I really am; it is simply a ‘reflection’ in the mind.”

As stated I would tend to label what you seem to be calling “enlightenment” as a transpersonal perspective, not a transcendent one. But as I said earlier, words are terribly slippery and do not necessarily covey the same meaning to the recipient as they do to the sender.

For example I absolutely know (and it is far more than simply an intellectual “knowing”) that I am not “Cate” – my personal identity, name, desires, dreams, experiences, thoughts and opinions. And yet I would hardly call myself enlightened.

My experience (and what a joke it is to phrase it like that since it is not “my” experience at all. But that’s the most convenient grammatical way to put it) is that the bliss of union arrives with the absence of “me” altogether. Oneness arrives with “my” departure. There have been hours and days and even weeks when the perspective of any sense of the personal self has disappeared altogether. The personal memories of Cate were there and available for use, as was the personality, but there was no shred of what I would call a “personal self” remaining.

A (Dennis): I wouldn’t have thought to put it like that but yes, enlightenment IS a ‘transpersonal perspective’ as opposed to transcendent. There is already only Consciousness, and you are that ALREADY. How could you be anything else? (There is nothing else.) So the problem of the unenlightened person is that they do not know this. To ‘become enlightened’ is to realize the truth of this. This is to realize that who-you-really-are is not the person or the mind. But this does not negate the appearance of body and mind.

So, if you ‘absolutely know this’, then you are enlightened. Denying that is simply giving in to mental habits of humility or whatever. (Of course, I don’t suggest that you go around claiming to be enlightened; this is not the sort of statement that is appreciated by most people!)

Experiences of bliss etc have nothing to do with enlightenment.

13 thoughts on “Q.403 – The enlightenment perspective

  1. Dennis: ‘This is to realize that who-you-really-are is not the person or the mind. But this does not negate the appearance of body and mind.’

    Just to expand – or comment – a little on that point made by Dennis about the person or the mind, I just read the following from the Intro to ‘The Principal Upanishads’, by S. Radhakrishnan:

    ‘The basis of the individuality of the ego is vjñana or intelligence which draws round itself mind, life and body. The ego belongs to the relative world, is a stream of experiences, a fluent mass of life, a centre round which experiences of sense and mind gather. At the back of this whole structure is the Universal Consciousness, Atman, which is our true being.’

    This, I think, puts the ego or person in its right place and does not go counter to what Dennis has written. There is a tendency among many non-dualists or Advaitists to, not just minimize the importance or value of mind or personality (or ego), but to deny (proscribe!) it altogether (I have been guilty myself of this for quite some time). Aside of that, I like the way older writers express the truth or truths of Advaita Vedanta. The first edition of the book mentioned above was printed in 1953.

  2. Hi Martin,

    I, too, had quite a high opinion of Radhakrishnan until I read his commentary on Gaudapada. I quoted this in ‘A-U-M’:

    And not everyone thinks that the work is profound. Radhakrishnan, in his classic two-volume work ‘Indian philosophy’, makes the following astonishing statement: “The general idea pervading Gaudapada’s work, that bondage and liberation, the individual soul and the world, are all unreal makes the caustic critic observe that the theory which has nothing better to say than that an unreal soul is trying to escape from an unreal bondage in an unreal world to accomplish an unreal supreme good, may itself be an unreality.” And he goes on to point out that: “If we have to play the game of life, we cannot do so with the conviction that the play is a show and all the prizes in it mere blanks.”

    No doubt he was extremely intelligent, knowledgeable and a good writer but a true Advaitin…?

    Best wishes,

  3. “If we have to play the game of life, we cannot do so with the conviction that the play is a show and all the prizes in it mere blanks.”

    You are quite right Dennis. He didn’t understand life. He should have read some Shakespeare.

  4. Dennis,

    I’m not sure I can quite agree with your perspective of analysis re:Enlightenment. While I understand the ‘model’ that you are using, TV constantly posits an ‘other reality’, Brahman. This would be an Eternalist point of view and would be difficult for many to buy into. However, you do go on to say that everything is Brahman. I take this to mean that our ordinary perceptions of all phenomenon, including states of mind, to be nothing but Brahman. That the essential nature of all manifestation is not different than the unmanifest. A statement like this, I can embrace and reminds me of a passage from Longchenpa’s ‘The Precious Treasury Of The Way Of Abiding’, which I quote:

    “the basic space of the vajra heart essence is the spontaneous presence
    of everything.
    All phenomena are forever embraced within the larger scope
    of spontaneous presence.
    The decisive experience is, by its nature, that of spontaneous
    Within that spontaneous presence, which has no specific nature
    and cannot be divided into outer or inner,
    all phenomena manifest naturally, are neither confirmed nor refuted,
    neither come nor go.
    The infinite expanse has no division into above or below.
    It is thoroughly indeterminate and completely unrestricted.
    It cannot be characterized as some “thing,” for it is inexpressible
    and beyond imagining.
    Because phenomena are originally pure in essence
    and spontaneously present by their very nature,
    they are free of the limitations of the four alternatives—
    existence, nonexistence, affirmation, or denial.
    This is the nature of nondual awakened mind.”

    Dzogchen teachings such as this, never separate appearance and non-appearance, manifest and unmanifest, mind and no-mind, samsara and nirvana. All dualities resolve themselves into the basic space. Space is a metaphor for awakened mind, or intrinsic awareness, Rigpa. Rigpa is not a thing nor a state of mind. Presence is another term often used but does not point to a particular sense or feeling. Emptiness is not empty of anything. To seek any of this is to live in duality, accepting or rejecting, and denying the basic space of awakened mind.

  5. Anon,

    It may be nice to know that Dzogchen agrees with Advaita but, as I pointed out before, visitors come to this site to find out about Advaita; they may be interested in other non-dual philosophies but they would look elsewhere for details. I also have to say that your quote seems unnecessarily verbose and complex. Is it really any different from saying “Everything is brahman and the awakened mind knows this”?

  6. Dennis,

    Diversity is fully accounted for in what I quoted. There is no existence of Brahman in Dzogchen as something that ‘stands apart’ from appearance. In a sense, you have this backwards. There is only appearance that is already perfect the way it is. There is no ‘ultimate reality’ in awakened mind. You seem determined on positing an absolutist concept. This is why I mentioned yours as an Eternalist philosophy. Eternal is a dualistic concept that is not entertained by awakened mind in Dzogchen. Your view is not very different than Christian theology of godhead and its Eternalist view.

    Why you think I agree with you shows me that you haven’t understood what Dzogchen is saying, and that you are trying to fit what I quoted to your Advaitic beliefs. At least make an attempt to understand the differences, so there can be a sensible discussion. Thank you.

  7. One more thing, Dennis. I said that in Dzogchen, there is no existence of Brahman that stands apart from appearances, but there is also no existence of Brahman that stands within appearances. All is empty of anything existing. This is why the term space is used as an analogy to describe the nature of awakened mind.

  8. Anon,

    Please understand I am not interested in what Dzogchen says. I don’t wish to have a discussion about the differences (or similarities) and, if visitors are interested, they can visit a Dzogchen site. I will leave these comments in place but any future posts on the subject will be removed.

  9. Yes, I know you are not interested, but others on the site are interested and have questioned me about this. However, I will abide by your request and will not post here anymore. Best Wishes………

  10. Quite recently I asked Greg Goode whether there is an essential difference between the emptiness (or nirvana) of the ‘emptiness teachings’ and the non-duality of Advaitic teaching: Brahman – or awareness – is all. I quote the final part of what he sent as a reply:

    ‘If we can’t prove “same” or “different” from the doctrines, then perhaps we can try to look beyond the teachings altogether. Indeed, one might say,

    “Forget the teachings! Let’s get beyond them!
    They are only human creations. Let’s look more
    deeply at things as they really are. Can there
    really be any difference between emptiness and

    Indeed, what happens if we set aside all teachings? Since the teachings are deep and thorough, by setting all of them aside, we’ll also be setting aside all conceptual systems and all bases of comparison. But then, without systems or bases of comparison, we won’t be able to say either “same” or “different.” We won’t need to make these assessments. In this nonconceptual space, our hearts can rest together.’

  11. Yes, that is all very fine and good(e), but those who are presently in a state of self-ignorance need a teaching methodology to get them to the point where they can set them all aside. This could be traditional or Direct Path Advaita, or Dzogchen. Gain the Self-knowledge first; then we can talk about resting in a non-conceptual space. At this site, we endeavor to use the teaching of (principally) traditional Advaita to achieve this.

  12. Martin,

    Thank you for the excerpt from Greg’s reply.

    I too fully support, as all of us including you here do, that we should “look more
    deeply at things as they really are.”

    And as we dwell deeper and deeper, we can “feel” viscerally that emptiness (of Madhyamikas) and Awareness (in Advaita) share the same ‘descriptors’ — featurelessness, formlessness, timelessness and transparency.

    But taking a step or two further, we can also “feel” (I don’t know a better word for this intuitive non-referential and experiential grokking) that Awareness is something which IS whereas emptiness is IS-not.

    [We find similar vibes at taittiriya II-vi-1: “If anyone knows Brahman as non-existing, he himself becomes non-existent. If anyone knows that Brahman does exist, then they consider him as existing by virtue of that (knowledge).”]

    Secondly, can blank non-self-effulgent emptiness be sensitive to “know” (itself or other) ?

    Finally, I understand from the literature (just for record) the main difference bet. the two as follows:

    “there is this great difference between them that, the advaita accepted by the Bauddhas is derived as ‘advaitam is not dvaitam’ (na dvaitam iti advaitam), and denotes void which is the opposite of dvaita and is the absence of dvaita without any substratum, while the advaita accepted by advaitins is derived as ‘where there is no second’ (na vidyate dvaitam atra), and denotes absence of a second thing (dvaita) on a substratum, Brahman indicated by the absence of a second.”

    Hope the above things provide some clarity.


  13. On second thoughts, I have to agree with DENNIS. Greg Goode just published a ebook, ‘After Awareness’ which may be more suitable for PhD students of non-duality than for freshmen or intermediate. Shankara himself divided students between mature/highly qualified and ‘mediocre’, even though, presumably, he wrote for everyone. In this, I think each one has to, ought to, assess him/herself as to (level of) competence, etc.. No one will use the above two-fold classification nowadays. Certainly, not the ‘Neo-s’.

    RAMESAM, thank you for a useful clarification concerning differences between Buddhist (or Bouddhist) voidness and Advaitic substratum.

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