The Enlightened Person

swartz_essenceHere is an extract from the final chapter of James Swartz’s new book ‘The Essence of Enlightenment’. I haven’t read it all myself yet, but dipping into it at random shows that it is every bit as good as his ‘How to Attain Enlightenment’. It has, for me, his hallmark style of forthright, clear, informative writing, adhering to traditional teaching derived from scriptures and as interpreted by modern sampradAya-s. He has no qualms about bluntly (even brutally) exposing mistaken views but leaves the reader feeling uplifted, and with a much clearer understanding of even the most difficult topic.

12 thoughts on “The Enlightened Person

  1. Dennis, if you don’t mind me saying so, Swartz’s piece really is a rather confused, convoluted, rambling piece of writing.

    Let’s try to follow his thesis point by point:
    1. There is no such thing as enlightenment, and there are no enlightened persons because we are just limitless awareness appearing as humans.
    2. (1) is not understood by many people – very few indeed. The majority who think they understand are just deluded.
    3. Lets reiterate the non-existence of an individual and no enlightenment.
    4. Vedanta doesn’t dismiss the person (presumably therefore it admits the person?) but tells this (non-existent) person that he ALSO has a more ‘spacious’ identity. (At odds with (3) then?)
    5. Enlightenment – which does in fact exist and – is the loss of ignorance of this spacious identity.
    6. Vedanta is the classiest most profound means of self knowledge – don’t waste your time with other / ‘modern’ stuff.
    7. (Having said that you and enlightenment don’t exist . . . )We now need to explain to (the non-existent) you what enlightenment / freedom is. But before we do . . .
    8. Most teaching is bad, unless it follows the prescribed topics, including necessity of devotion to Isvara (somehow implies duality doesn’t it?)
    9. Bad teachers just have enlightenment sickness and imagine that they have transcended themselves. So lets have a diversion about them, because all they had was an epiphany, and didn’t follow the one, true method. (And thereby implicitly lets extrapolate to other teachers who don’t follow the one true method, but have not been shown up to be false yet?)
    10. It [the pseudo-guru’s version of enlightenment] ‘amounts to splitting the ego into a transcendental self and a self to be transcended’. (Sorry? Exactly what has he been describing in the previous paragraphs?)
    11. Closing classic of “You are awareness and awareness is apparently other than what it perceives, meaning that what it perceives is itself”. What? How exactly does that follow, unless you understand the stress on the word ‘apparently’ in the sentence

    Vedanta’s thesis is really straightforward. And with Ajata vada, everything else (karma, rebirth, reflected consciousness, etc etc) just amounts to mental models / constructs to try to explain “relative” reality but have no valid proof in themselves, apart from ‘scripture’. Not sure why Vedanta needs to be more complicated than this – apart from justifying a professional lexicon – and a professional class that are uniquely qualified to express this insight to non-existent pupils.

  2. Three Cheers Venkat.
    That’s a very cogent and logically expressed Post. Thank you.

    I am given to understand that some of the gurus teach (of course bolstered by some impressive Advaita lingo in Sanskrit) that “You are enlightened if you can know that the world is mithya and a brahman lies behind it.” They cite the example of Sun rising in the East. Even after we know that the Sun does not rise but it is the earth that moves, we continue to see the Sunrise in the East. Did Shankara or any of the former Sages use this analogy in their teachings? Why is it that such a clear example not seen or popular in the scriptures? I am pretty sure that the Sun must have had been rising in the East in the Vedic times too. Why then do the Vedantins always talk of snake on the rope?

    2. Though it is a bit out of the context, (and pardon me if my information is incorrect), I am told by some correspondents of mine that certain teachers declare their pupils as ‘enlightened jnAni-s’ if they understand that the world is unreal. Such teachers further certify those pupils to be eligible to impart Advaita to others (of course, without forgetting to sprinkle a few Sanskrit terms).


  3. “One day as I was passing the Panchavati on my way to the pine-grove, I heard a bullfrog croaking. I thought it must have been seized by a snake. After some time, as I was coming back, I could still hear its terrified croaking. I looked to see what was the matter, and found that a water-snake had seized it. The snake could neither swallow it nor give it up. So there was no end to the frogs suffering. I thought that had it been seized by a cobra it would have been silenced after three croaks at the most. As it was only a water-snake, both of them had to go through this agony. A man’s ego is destroyed after three croaks, as it were, if he gets into the clutches of a real teacher. But if the teacher is an ‘unripe’ one, then both the teacher and the disciple undergo endless suffering. The disciple cannot get rid either of his ego or of the shackles of the world. If a disciple falls into the clutches of an incompetent teacher, he doesn’t attain liberation.”

    Source: Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna

  4. “Why is it that such a clear example not seen or popular in the scriptures?”

    Ramesam, surely you jest? Copernicus was born in 1473. 🙂


  5. I have to agree with the observations made by Venkat and Ramesam (the example the sun and its rising apart, which I have not actually grasped). That excerpt (chapter) is unclear and/or confusing, which I find surprising; I think mostly due to the mixing of planes (vyavahara and paramartha), besides being dualistic through and through, as Vekat conludes. I will just give a few examples:

    ‘everyone is enlightened, meaning each of us is illumined by awareness, ‘in the light,’ so to speak… ‘ TRUE BUT TRITE, EVEN TAKEN IN CONTEXT.

    ‘insentient objects are enlightened according to this definition because insentient objects have meaning only if they are known to exist and they can be known to exist only if consciousness illumines the knowing faculty, the Subtle Body.’ INSENTIENT OBJECTS ENLIGHTENED? OR IS IT THE MIND?

    ‘spirituality is a samsara like none other’ MEANING?

    ‘If I am awareness there is no way to conclude that I am special or unique. Or perhaps there is: since there is only one of me, I am unique’. CONFUSING BECAUSE OF MIXING OF ONTOLOGICAL LEVELS.

  6. The excerpt is from the final chapter of the book, so much has been explained prior to this! I assumed that, since the majority of readers were relatively advanced, this would not pose too much of a problem.

    James Swartz is a rarity amongst teachers, in that he is knowledgeable in the ways of traditional teaching, yet uses a language familiar to everyone, in phrasing that is not arcane. (I like to think that I do the same in written form. That is certainly my aim!) Perhaps the penalty of doing this, and in omitting Sanskrit terminology for example, is that the precision of tradition is lost. (This is why I use so much Sanskrit in my own writing, to try to avoid this danger.)

    However, I believe that the benefits probably outweigh the dangers, in that his style appeals to so many. His meetings and online ‘gatherings’ are increasing in popularity, such that texts like the Panchadashi and VIvekachudamani are reaching seekers who might otherwise never have attempted them (or even heard of them). He does not give ‘one-off’ satsangs and I get the clear impression that most of his ‘followers’ are long-term. Thus, any imprecision or maybe misleading elements should get cleared up in due course. And is that not intrinsic to tradional teaching also (adhyaropa-apavAda)?

    Best wishes, Dennis

  7. Swami Kaivalyananda of Panamana Ashram, Kerala, India in a recent article said as follows basing his essay on the commentary of Shankaracharya on brihadAraNyaka mantra III-iv-1:

    “Delusion as of now exists and all sAdhana-s like prANAyAma etc. are done on the supposition that one has to attain the Consciousness. But the unconditioned Consciousness being our essential SELF, It needs to be only known that we are always free of delusion. Though we speak about aparokshata, or Atma sAkshatkAra, it is spoken as a courtesy. Just as delusion is a specific action of Consciousness, discrimination is another. The shruti guides us to the subtlest form of discrimination and helps us to negate all that veils the Pure Consciousness which is also called as brahman or Atman.”

    He further explains how Shankara defined the word aparokshata (im-mediacy), which is the same as Atma sAkshAtkAra (intuitive perception of the Self) as per the Swami, giving an example. He says:

    “The knowing of an object, book or table is sa-upAdika i.e. through various mediums. Therefore, it cannot be aparoksha or im-mediate knowledge. Pure knowing or pure knowledge is without depending on any mediums. To perceive a book, we need eyes (akshi), the mental mode (chitta), and the object (viShaya) like the book etc. And above all this, we need the knowledge. The knowledge of an object such as the book in this instance is gathered with the help of various mediums, inhibited by conditionings, such as space, time, instrument of perception (karaNa), the distortion of the mind-stuff (chitta) and the very object itself. Therefore, knowing or knowledge in the ordinary sense is never aparoksha (im-mediate).

    However, knowledge or Consciousness in its essential nature is pure knowing, without being conditioned, fragmented or constricted by the various mediums. In this normal knowing is chitta-vritti or thought or chitta-pariNAma (modification of the mind-stuff). All the knowledge of objects (viShaya-s) is a transformation of the chaitanyavat-chitta or mental stuff plus Consciousness. This is what is ordinarily called knowledge, a knowledge which is dependent on, or channeled through various mediums, vikshepa-s (projections) and vikalpa-s (distortions). However, in and through all this, there is definitely the sphuraNa or illumination of pure knowledge i.e., Consciousness, because Consciousness in its absolute nature is aparoksha (IM-MEDIATE).

    There is such a thing as upAdirahita i.e., pure knowing without any of the mediums and that indeed is aparokshatva or im-mediate knowing.”

    IMHO, Enlightenment is that im-mediate Knowing.


    P.S: I can e-mail the entire article (two parts) on request.

    And BTW, with apologies to Dennis, “Enlightened person” is an oxymoron! The ending of the “personality” (persona (L) = a mask = the sense of “I am a separate person”) of the individual is in fact Enlightenment as I think I explained elsewhere.

    [PPS.: The sentence in the third para above is modified by me on the 23rd May 2015, thanks to Martin who kindly pointed out that Shankara bhAshya-s did not use the word ‘Atma sAkshAtkAra.’ ]

    • Hello Friends,

      I am a new entrant and I have been reading the discussions here and found it interesting and subtle. I am also writing a blog on moksha for the last few months, based on this pure knowing or drik. If we know ourselves as the drik, then no drsyam can limit us. Moksha means the drik has to become our natural state meaning the drsyam (ideas, thoughts, sensations) cannot suppress or distract our drik nature. Though we are basically the drik and without drik there is no drsyam, our past tendency forces us to believe in the intermediate “I” or drsyam due to which there is struggle like cat on the wall. So it is the constancy of pure observation and thereby the detachment from this intermediate “I” in action, which may be called moksha. In due course, the momentum of “I” may become insignificant. The aspect of James Swartz I like is that he drives everyone back to the true Self.

    • Valuable words indeed, thank you! Might it be possible to post the entire article (in two parts)? If you think not, then please do email them.

      Regarding the term ‘enlightened person’, I still maintain that this is perfectly valid. I agree that Self-knowledge entails the knowledge that who-I-really-am is not a person but this knowledge occurs in the mind (akhaNDAkAra vRRitti is a vRRitti). And it is only the person who has a mind – brahman certainly doesn’t. Self-knowledge is not the ‘death’ of the person; this only happens when the body dies, on the expiry of prArabdha. The person (who is now known not to be ‘I’) continues as name and form of Consciousness.

    • re satshastkara (intuitive perception of the self), it is my understanding that, unlike what is said above, that term never occurs in the B Bhashya (or in any Bhashya?), and pertains to Vacaspaty Misra and Mandana’s school. I am ready to be corrected. Thank you.

      • Dear Martin,

        I made a search with the words “Atma sAkshAtkAra” on the Shankara bhAshya database of Sringeri math.
        As you said, no records were shown.

        However, other forms of the word sAkshatkR like ‘sAkshAtkaroti svamAtmanam’ etc. were used by Shankara. But more to the context, in the sense Swami Kaivalyananda was explaining the word “aparoksha,” one can see that Shankara says in his bhAshya at brihadAranyaka up. III-iv-1: yat sAkshAt avyavahitaM aparokshAt agauNaM brahma …
        Shankara’s commentary on Bhagavad-Gita verse IV-35 also has the words sAkshAt Atmani.

        In a sensu stricto, the way I wrote the sentence does convey a wrong meaning that Shankara used the word Atma sAkhAtkAra. Therefore, I edited that sentence in my earlier post, expressing thanks to you for pointing it out.


  8. Dear Ramesam

    Thank you for that post – and please do either post or email the article you mentioned.

    This is what Murugunar / Ramana had to say about ending of personality and direct/indirect knowledge, in Guru Vachaka Kovai (from Michael James’ translation), concordant with your point:

    354: Do not doubt with fear what will happen when you completely lose your individuality [jivabodha]. The true state of Self will then itself be yours, just as one will permanently remain firm on the ground when one loses one’s hold on the branch of a tree.

    357: If we scrutinise properly, the state of ‘I’-lessness is our Real State of Consciousness, in which the inertness of the fleshy body is fully removed. Does one not survive the loss of individuality [in sleep] without being affected? Know the truth by abiding in the state of Wakeful Sleep [ie turiya or jnana].

    529: The fire of desires of the jivas will be extinguished only by the direct [aparaoksha] experience of the pure Self-knowledge, in which all the vasanas of the ignorant mind are dead. If the thirst and heat of the physical body could be quenched and cooled by a mirage, then the spiritual thirst [the desire for moksha] could also be quenched by indirect knowledge [paroksha jnana].

    878: Self alone is the real eye. Therefore Self, which is known by itself, alone is the real direct knowledge. But insentient people who do not have Self’s sight, claim the knowledge of alien sense-objects to be direct knowledge.

    From Sadhu Om’s commentary on v.878:
    People say that the knowledge of the objects of this world is direct knowledge [pratyaksha aparoksha jnana]. However the world seen directly is known only through the medium of the mind and the five senses. Self, the knowledge of one’s own existence, is a more real and more direct knowledge than the knowledge of any alien object. It is only after there is the first knowledge ‘I am’, that the knowledge ‘the world and all else exists’ can come into being, and hence no knowledge except ‘I am’ can be direct knowledge; Self alone is the ever direct knowledge.


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