False enlightenment



The mere understanding that ‘there is no person’ is not by itself enough. The mere understanding/seeing or knowledge ‘there is no separation’, ‘there is no doer’, ‘there is no separate self’ is by itself not enough.

For suffering to end, the self-referential habitual tendencies (vasanas) which originally arose from the belief in separation, these vasanas must also end. These vasanas are those addictive tendencies which aim to seek fulfillment in experiences and things (ie. in objects).

Seeing ‘there’s nobody here’ is seeing through the illusion of separation. However the functioning of self-referential addictive vasanas may continue due to the deeply established force of habit, and so the suffering resulting from these on the phenomenal level continues.

Once the illusion of (separate) self is seen as an illusion*, one must still remove the vasanas**. How? We are advised simply to ‘be still’.

…one must still remove the vasanas. How? We are advised simple to ‘be still’.

There is an apparent contradiction here, for if the separate self is seen through and seen to be false, then who or what is being still? Well, when the vasanas arise, it is really the sense of/belief in separate self that arises, out of habit, which means that although the individual person has intellectually been seen to be non-existent, it is actually the person who knows this. The person is the ignorance, which means that the ignorance has not been fully rooted out. ie. ignorance is still present.

So, insight (into no-self) having been attained (in the mind), now we are advised to be still in order to purify our minds of the vasanas. Shankara famously wrote: vasana kshaya moksham, which means ‘destruction of the vasanas is Moksha (liberation).’

Ask yourself:

-Can the ego make the ego still?
-Can thought still thought?
-Can we become effortless through effort?

The answer is no. Knowing this, be still.

Allow what comes to come, allow what goes to go. See there is nobody here. As the vasanas/ego/sense of ‘me’ arise, allow them to fall again.

Be still.

Note that being still is not doing something. It is not trying hard to be still – that is just more effort. Rather ‘be still’ means not adding to this, or rather to stop seeking and grasping, letting things be as they are, no longer looking for fulfillment in objects.

Being still is not doing something

The above reasoning and this last sadhana (spiritual practice) of stillness is beautifully expressed in the classic Advaita text Advaita Bodha Deepika, which was recommended by Ramana Maharshi as a manual for Advaita. The text takes the seeker through all aspects of the path. see here for a short excerpt:

The Ultimate means to liberation

Similarly in Buddhism and Zen we see the same teachings. See here for an example:

Zen: The sure way to enlightenment

*traditionally the Vedanta path is threefold. Firstly the teachings are heard (sravana), then they are comtemplated upon (manana) and their truth is realised/ignorance is removed. Then lastly the vasanas or habitual tendencies which originally arose due to ignorance are purified (nididhyasana).

**Many people stop after manana, once the truth has been understood and realised (in the intellect). The scriptures warn us that whilst this realisation can bring great peace and relief, and can be mistaken for full realisation/enlightenment, this is not the end of the journey, for the belief in a jiva/limited entity is still intact. Even without trusting the scriptures, by simply being aware of and open to what is happening, it can be seen that unless the addictive self-referential vasanas are allowed to arise in stillness, then without being taken up and acted on, allowed to then dissolve and die, the self-created suffering and self-centred (potentially destructive) behaviours on the phenomenal experiential level continue. Being still is simply a natural way of allowing the ignorance-based conditioning to naturally arise and fall away of its own accord.



22 thoughts on “False enlightenment

  1. Hi Tom,
    Is Being Still an experience? If so am I again in hot pursuit of a sustained experience? or am I simply in need of a sustainable and clear understanding of my experience? The understanding that I am Ultimately Still but forever still moving in and out of form which is sustained by Stillness?


      1. I guess you could say being still is an experience, but really it is pointing to not acting out egoic tendencies to (1) identify as a limited entity and (2) search for fulfullment in gross or subtle objects. Noticing that which never changes is a good start – it is called viveka in sanskrit, but without being still the vasanas (habitual tendencies) together with the ego and ignorance remains. This is why the emphasis on being still is found throughout the great or genuine spiritual traditions/teachers.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Understanding can come with a great feeling of liberation, but not be more than an intellectual experience.

      Look at it like this; we all have a mental model of reality, our personal reality and the greater reality in which we exist.

      In the usual model, trees and rivers and mountains, the earth,
      the material “stuff “ we encounter constantly, is real and independently existing.
      And we partly composed of this “stuff.”

      Then we realise, “ I am that which sees all this stuff, and I am also that which sees all the mental, emotional and intellectual happening that I thought to be “me.”

      But this flash is instantaneously converted in an intellectual understanding, it becomes a part of the mental model of reality that we carry.

      But there is a much deeper “realisation” where the mental model is absent, and in fact all phenomena are absent.
      The world is absent and “I-as-a-person” is absent.
      Consciousness is present but it is consciousness devoid of content.

      To think that one is enlightened after seeing that one is consciousness, even while the world continues to appear, is a great mistake, and it does not bring bliss, ananda.


  2. This is perhaps the best explanation that I have come across about the difference between traditional advaita and the so called neoadvaita advocated by some recent Western Advaita teachers, who, surprisingly, claim lineage from Ramana Maharshi and Shri H. L Punja.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dear Tom , a very strong force is at work concerning our relationship Master / Disciple.
    These last few days I have been feeling a tendency to be weary for no reason at all in spite of a wonderful moment I am living due to a very deep understanding of your teachings and how it is affecting my life. Then without asking you anything , you wrote this article called False Enlightenment that is exactly what I needed to hear now.
    I am not an enlightened person and would be a fool and ignorant to pretend to myself such a thing.
    I have been a true person to myself all my life but the outside world and lack of emotional and spiritual structures got the best of me and I am happy and grateful to be able to say how much I appreciate the fact that since very recently my life is changing in every aspect radically and I kow that I am not a victim of my dark side ( ignorance ) anymore.
    I feel victorious over my negatives influences from the past and I know that I am living a different experience in a different and new sphere having passed from darkness through a portal towards light. This is not enlightenment , it is a setting me free from old negative atavic strong roots and it took a lifetime of search for the healthy , balanced , beautiful , revevant, and so on…. me to get ahold of my physical and spiritual truth.
    This is what is happening now. It is not a rebirth but I am rather incarnating in life a new moment in harmony with the universal truth.
    The sensation is that everything is happening in a way to give me all I need to emerge as I feel in my innermost self.
    I can say that I have never been as happy as I am at this moment and it is not something that comes and goes because at the least feeling ot weariness or negativity, I am able to choose the positive feelings and ” incarnate” the graceful inborn child /person.
    I feel that I was ready to live this moment when I met you and you helped me to see many things I could not see before, could nor understand , could not experience before.
    Life has a new dimension now .
    Eternity is now and it asks me to lapidate the newly found diamond.
    May gratitude and love not be mere words limiting deeper aspects of what you helped me to realise.

    Liked by 2 people

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