Q: For the better part of four decades, I was on the hunt for spiritual experiences that would ‘expand my consciousness.’ I now realize and understand that only Self-Knowledge can provide lasting peace, and any experience is something that comes and goes in time and therefore can never be a permanent condition. However, I still find it very difficult to drop the search for a Big Bang event, after which I can safely say: “Ok, now I am enlightened for sure.”
What is confusing about this is that there are so many teachers who seem to have a pretty clear grasp of nondual teaching and still speak in terms of what happened during their awakening or enlightenment event. Francis Lucille, for example, talks about his experience in Eternity Now. (“For a few moments, the pure I-thought seemed to vacillate, just as the flame of an oil lamp running out of fuel, then vanished. At that precise moment, the immortal background of Presence revealed itself in all its splendor.”) Franklin Merrell-Wolff provides an amazingly clear description of the ‘Recognition’ events that happened to him after studying Shankara. Ken Wilber talks of having been consciously aware for 11 straight days, even through deep sleep, etc. Clearly, Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj both went through Big Bang type spiritual awakenings, and of course, there are numerous other similar reports by various sages and gurus.
Recently, I came across a work by Michael Langford, titled, ‘The Most Rapid and Direct Means to Eternal Bliss’, in which he recommends a specific meditation technique. After 27 years of various Yoga and spiritual practices which proved fruitless, he discovered the method of ‘awareness watching awareness’, and promptly woke up and obtained the result he was after. The method basically consists in sitting quietly for a couple of hours a day, with awareness watching awareness, as the most direct means of finding the I-sense and abiding within it. He says that over time, there is an opening and deepening of bliss that takes place, etc. We also have the talk by Maharaj of “sitting with the I AM” for three years, and “then I realized.”
I guess my question is twofold: are any of these methods of self-inquiry via sitting in meditation worth pursuing, or am I still fooling myself in looking for the Big Bang? And if so, how do I drop this lust for a major transformative event?
A: The impossibility of a non-dual ‘experience’ and the distinction between knowledge and experience in advaita have already been discussed in other question & answers (See 78, 151 230 and 309 for example) . But it is such a common misunderstanding that it bears repetition:
It is not the case that one gains ‘intellectual understanding’ and then has to go on and gain anubhava – the ‘experience’ of something that will provide the actual ‘enlightenment’. If you understand and fully accept the tenets of advaita – if you have heard the teaching (shravaNa) and had all of your doubts removed through asking question, further reading etc (manana) – then that is it. It may take longer to ‘internalise’ all of that (nididhyAsana) and for it to become the background to your entire outlook on life, but there is nothing more to be done.
What more could there be to do? You are brahman because you always have been brahman. It was just that you did not appreciate it. You were ‘experiencing it’ all of the time without realizing it. Once the ignorance has been removed, you know it. Where could there be a question of experiencing something else? There is nothing else!
In my experience, meditation is useful. But its value is in conditioning the mind, since it is in the mind where enlightenment takes place. But unless the knowledge is there, stimulated by the appropriate input, nothing will happen. I.e. meditation cannot be a means to enlightenment on its own. If the truth has already been heard and considered then maybe the stillness of mind brought about by meditation will allow the ‘event’ to occur. But the meditation is only providing more conducive conditions. In the case of Michael Langford, assuming he is enlightened, this may just have had something to do with the assimilated knowledge over the previous 27 years!
My own experience and belief is that there need not be any ‘event’. It may simply be realized one day that there are no more questions and no more doubt. Further reading, discussion, etc. may help consolidate this and help answer others’ questions but it does not ‘add’ to the truth, which is already known. In what, in any case, could a ‘transformation’ consist? Who would be transforming into what?