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?
A (Dennis): Glad that you have found the book and website useful – always good to hear! I do notice that you refer to ‘Back to the Truth’ specifically. This was an attempt to express the truth through the words of many teachers, rather than specifically through my own understanding. Thus, if you want the latter, ‘Book of One (2nd edition)’ is the better book. I will, however, try to answer your specific question.
The ‘bottom line’ teaching of advaita is best expressed by Shankara’s summary: brahman is the truth, the world is mithyA, the jIva is none other than brahman. ‘Enlightenment’ or ‘Self-realization’ is the irrevocable gaining of this knowledge, all doubts having been eliminated. Whether you are subsequently totally serene and blissful is not directly dependent upon this knowledge but on the mental preparation that preceded it. Your life continues. Desires and aversions continue in an attenuated form, but you are no longer too much perturbed whether or not they are met. Again, the degree of ‘too much’ depends upon prior preparation or continued ‘devotion’ to the truth.
It is the mind of the person that realizes this. It IS the person who ‘wants to know’ and it IS the person who gains enlightenment. Part of the realization is, indeed, that the person is mithyA. But that does not alter the empirical experience. (c.f. you still see the sun rise, even though you know that it is actually the earth rotating.)
I don’t really understand your phrasing of the question about paradox. The problem is really one of language. In a sense, it is language that it is the cause of all our seeming problems. It is fortunate that, through advaita, language can also provide the solution! (Now that is a paradox!)
Q: Hearing this helps so much: “It is the mind of the person that realizes this. It IS the person who ‘wants to know’ and it IS the person who gains enlightenment.” There is a similar line in your book and when I read it I assumed there must have been a typo or a left out word. I had heard so many times that the ‘I’ cannot realize itself since it’s non-existent, so I couldn’t believe I was reading it right. But I have always had the following thought (when hearing neo-advaitins say such things): If there never was a self, then all the things that we thought were a self are still there to understand the truth, even if that truth is that the person that knows is not a person. I think you are basically confirming this.
There is one very simple part of my question that you did not fully answer, largely because I garbled how I asked it. Let me try to put it another way, even though it’s simple. I have read of many interactions where the seeker finally gets it when being pointed to awareness. In one case, for instance, a seeker meets John Wheeler at a Satsang. Wheeler asks him two questions. First, “Do you exist,” then, “Are you aware.” The seeker is then enlightened and is even so ‘done’ that he then leaves the Satsang. But I don’t know from such stories if he means simply that he realizes that he is awareness (if more completely than before) or if he now ALSO understands what I think are essential things: that all sentient beings share a single consciousness, that consciousness does not come from brain, that there is no death. Is he now, from this simple pointing to awareness, aware during deep sleep?
Put another way, does seeing through the self simply let you know there is no self (with possible benefits, such as bliss and an easier way through life) or does it necessarily reveal brahman, the oneness of consciousness, etc? I mean, if the only goal is to see through the self (and life stays the same) then I could imagine being ‘done’, stopping seeking. But if deeper truths are necessarily a part of it, how can I not think that there is something to get that I don’t have?
A: There are quite a few misunderstandings in what you say here. It may well be better for you to read Book of One first and see if any questions (along the lines of what you are asking) still remain.
One particular concept usually clarifies the confusion regarding ‘existence of the self (with a small ‘s’). It is that of chidAbhAsa – reflected Consciousness. Read these two articles on the website: https://www.advaita-vision.org/chidabhasa/ and https://www.advaita-vision.org/continuing-reflections-on-reflections/.
Understanding that you exist and are aware is NOT enlightenment! I referred to Shankara’s summary. You have to understand that Consciousness is the non-dual reality, that the universe is only name and form of Consciousness and that the essential ‘you’ (Atman) is this same Consciousness. You must have not a shadow of a doubt that this is the case. Only then can you claim to be enlightened. Also, no-one is ‘aware during deep sleep’, not even Shankara! And no-one ‘sees’ brahman. How could they when there is ONLY brahman?
The route to a total realization of this is usually gradual, requiring lots of interim explanations. The only reliable source is scriptural unfoldment from a qualified teacher.