A flash of insight alone is not enough for most. It results in an ‘awakening’ that may stick around for a while, but eventually it flickers, coming and going, switching ‘on and off’ and causing its own suffering.
In order for the insight/enlightenment to become stable, a process to weaken and remove the habitual tendency to identify as a ‘self’ is usually required.
And even that may not be enough. Even the book reading and understanding of the path may not suffice. Why? Because the mind is ridden with ignorance, this sense of ‘me’, it often trips itself up unknowingly, despite its best efforts, perpetuating suffering for many years to come.
Hence the potential importance of a teacher who embodies the teaching. Here doubts and methods can often be cleared up in a flash (or maybe a fizzle!).
My next satsang/meeting is in Kingston upon Thames, UK tomorrow (Thursday) 7pm. Please come along if it feels right for you. See link below for how to join.
The week after will be an ONLINE meeting which is open to people who live both in the UK and elsewhere. Details are on the same link.
Question: In my experience, waking up is a preliminary step. The real work happens in manifesting that awakening in everyday life, and that is the most difficult part. Otherwise, there is a disconnect between the awakened state and everyday experience. What do you think?
Tom: In my experience it depends on the way awakening happens. I think what you call awakening, I call insight. What you call manifesting in everyday life, I call purification post-insight. Insight refers to seeing through the illusion of separation and doership and no longer believing happiness lies in gross or subtle objects. Purification refers to a process in which the habitual tendencies that are based on ignorance (ie. a lack of insight or belief in separation and seeking to derive happiness from objects) are let go of and removed.
The essential insight(s), once realised, doesn’t change, but the habitual thought patterns, behaviours and felt levels of suffering do change, and they change gradually over time for most people. Insight is like seeing something that is already here but was overlooked. It can occur like a flash, and when seen, it is realised that things were always this way but it just wasn’t acknowledged or understood to be so.
Purification is different. It is a process, one that takes time as the body-mind catches up with the insight. Purification can occur both prior to and after insight, but is generally only able to be complete once insight has occurred. In Vedanta this process is what is usually meant by the Sanskrit term nididhyansana.
However, purification is not necessarily the most difficult part – that varies from individual to individual, depending on how purified their minds were prior to insight occurring and the context of the awakening. For some it can be a very natural unfolding of the insight that occurs by itself and without prompting. For others it can be quite a difficult process in which a more formalised sadhana has to be continued in order to weed out the vasanas/habitual tendencies that are based on the root ignorance of separation and looking for happiness is objects.
This purification can also be seen as a process by which morality is instilled into the body-mind and through which ethical behaviour manifests. When the egoic I-centred tendencies fall away or are rooted out by post-insight sadhana, then what results is a naturally more ethical body-mind entity.
Either way, I do acknowledge this post-insight process is an important part of the spiritual path, and without it, in my view, the awakening/enlightenment is not complete.
This Thursday in our ONLINE meeting we start another run through ‘The Structured Teachings’. As many of you already know, this way of teaching is proving to be highly effective with several attendees already ‘getting it’ in recent months, ending their seeking and watching their suffering slip away…
We start with the basics and gradually build up from there. Eventually we go beyond all verbal teachings. The aim is to create crystal clarity, dispel the confusion that exists in the spiritual market place, and allow each and everyone of you to understand and realise the Freedom that already is here for yourself. Not to just have a conceptual understanding, but actually have a genuine lived realisation for ‘yourself’.
There are many ways to this, beliefs are not required and you can discover all of this for yourself. The Structured Teachings take you through this, step-by-step.
Starting this Thusday 20th July online (8pm UK time) and the following Thursday 27th July in Kingston UK (7pm)
Often enlightenment is taught as being some kind of experiential shift. But is this true? This post will attempt to explain and illustrate how it all works. So is enlightenment an experiential shift? Yes and no. The essential factor that changes occurs in the mind. Fundamentally the experience doesn’t change. What changes is the way experience is understood. Understanding is the key.
Let me illustrate this with an example:
eg. If you realise that Father Christmas doesn’t exist, and that he never existed, it will dramatically change the way you experience Christmas: the days before Christmas will feel different, it will feel different going to bed on Christmas eve, and it will be a different experience seeing your presents in the morning under the Christmas tree.
Now, is this an experiential shift?
Well it may seem that way, but actually what has happened is that a belief/thought that was once taken to be true is now seen to be false, and that understanding in turn has changed the way we experience the same set of events.
I italicise ‘same set of events’, as the raw sensory experience of life remains unchanged both before and after enlightenment. All that changes is understanding, and that change is at the level of the mind/thought. Understanding is the key.
To put it more simply perhaps, the experiential shift, if it occurs at all (it may not), is a symptom of right understanding, which is the essential underlying cause.
How this affects teaching enlightenment
Now, if a teacher who is genuinely enlightened does not understand what has happened to them, then they may teach that enlightenment is some kind of experiential shift. Because that’s how it can feel. This may happen if if they have not come to this realisation through a teaching such as Buddhism or Vedanta, both of which explicitly emphasise understanding on the level of the mind as being central, or if the teacher has not sufficiently analysed their experience well enough in order to teach it effectively. When the latter happens, the results is often a very vague teaching which is imprecise and difficult to understand. This reduces the effectiveness of the teaching.
This brings me to another point: just because someone is enlightened, doesn’t mean they can teach effectively. A comparable example is just because you can speak English, doesn’t mean you understand the grammar, syntax and other rules and techniques that are often very useful in teaching someone else English. This understanding of grammar, for example, greatly increases the efficiency of the teaching.
The same goes for enlightenment, the end of suffering: there are many beautiful techniques and lovely teachings that mean that the teaching works much more effectively at sharing this wonderful Understanding.
I think there is a relationship between self-development and realisation of freedom, although they are certainly not the same thing.
Developing a peaceful, happy and emotionally intelligent mind can aid realisation. It is also often a side effect of realisation.
Far from being new age gibberish, this is the received wisdom of most genuine traditions aiming at liberation
When I first started teaching I tended towards just direct pointing. I quickly realised there are a whole host of reasons why people were not getting it, or if they were ‘getting it’, they quickly ‘lost it’.
I began to understand the value of emotional work, of heart opening, of regular spiritual practices, of becoming more sattvic – ie. the value of the progressive path (as well as the negatives too, eg. the reinforcement of a sense of doership/ego).
Remember that consciousness/awareness, if you want to use that concept, doesn’t need any teachings. Freedom is already here, totally and completely. It is only the mind that needs teachings.
A relatively uncluttered mind in need of little emotional work may respond to direct pointing, whereas sometimes some decluttering needs to occur first.
The basic point is not to suppress/run away from/escape from emotions and feelings, but to allow them to come and go, and to understand any underlying false assumptions that may be present and fueling them.
Basically, there is usefulness and skill in feeling emotions without labels, but there is also a usefulness in labelling feelings too.
Both these skills contribute towards emotional intelligence and healing, none of which is necessarily required for Freedom to be realised, but which is useful nonetheless
If emotions are not deeply felt, there is risk of emotional bypassing.
Emotional work may need to be done either prior to or after awakening, otherwise unnecessary suffering and destructive tendencies will continue on a relative level with the body-mind in question.
We need to learn to feel without labelling feelings, so we can genuinely contact our emotional reality.
We also need to be able to accurately label our feelings and understand what we are feeling and why.
We also need to see how all feelings come and go and do not define us.
Freedom is already present.
Emotional intelligence is a useful skill for the body-mind, both prior to and following realisation of freedom.
Awareness needs no teachings, only the body-mind caught in ignorance needs these corrective teachings.
These teachings are only for those who take themselves to be a doer-entity. If that is seen through, then the teachings are unnecessary.
Having said that, emotional intelligence is a useful skill for the body-mind regardless of whether Freedom has been realised or not.
Even when the doer-entiry is seen to be non-existent, old emotional patterns of responding may still persist due to their past momentum/habit.
Atma Bodha is a short text attributed to Shakara and was written approximately 1400 years ago. It literally means ‘Self Knowledge’ (atma = self, bodha = understanding or knowledge) and it outlines a methodology to lead a seeker from suffering to liberation. Incidentally, bodha is the same root word that forms the word Buddha, which means ‘the one who knows or understands’.
It comprises a class of scriptures called prakarana granthas. Prakarana means ‘procedure’ or ‘task’ and grantha means ‘text’. Taken together prakarana grantha means ‘instruction manual’. These instruction manuals were written for those who do not have the capacity or time to read the voluminous traditional texts such as the vedas and upanishads or for those who were looking for a synopsis of their vedantic studies, and so give us a summary teaching which we can practically apply to our lives.
Ramana Maharshi thought this text important enough to translate it from Sanskrit to Tamil so that Tamil-speaking locals who could not understand Sanskrit could still benefit from its teachings. In his introduction to his translation, Ramana describes Shankara as the one who brings forth enlightenment. Similarly in the Inchegarei Sampradaya, the lineage to which Nisargadatta Maharaj belonged, Shankara is considered an enlightened sage and his writings are studied as a matter of course.
1) Firstly viveka, or distinguishing between what is Brahman and what is not. Brahman is identified as the unchanging subject and the world of objects (ie. the body, mind and world) is said to be not-Brahman. This is an artificial duality that is temporarily set up in order to counter and remove the deeply ingrained belief in the doer-entity or ego (ahamkara). We will see how this duality is later resolved into non-duality and furthermore into non-conceptuality.
2) Once the subject-object distinction (viveka) has been properly made then this knowledge or understanding is to be practised. This is done by the practise of identification with the subject, Brahman, and turning away from the phenomena that arise in our awareness.
3) Eventually, after long practice of this, the doer-entity that we once took ourselves to be is seen to be an illusion. This ignorance is removed.
5) Everything is ‘resolved into Brahman’, not literally, but in the way we label reality. Before, at the first step of viveka, the unchanging subject was considered Brahman/Atman and the changing world of objects (the mind, body and world) were said to be not-Brahman/Atman. Now ignorance is removed, everything is seen to be Brahman and the duality set up by viveka is removed.
I have often seen people talk and write about various levels of reality. Typically, they talk of the level of the absolute and the level of the relative. On the level of the absolute, everything is one, so they say. Whereas on the relative level, the level of being a person different rules apply. On the relative level differentiation exists, we talk to each other, we love one another, we get annoyed and irritated, we buy fast-food from time to time, and yet ultimately, at the highest and truest level we are told this is all oneness.
Well let me start off by saying that I reject the notion of levels of reality. I think reality has various aspects, but not levels per se. Now this may seem like a minor difference, a play of semantics if you will, but let me explain the difference.
Talking about the same thing in different ways
When I say reality has various aspects, all I really mean is that there are various ways you can talk about reality – actually there are various ways you can talk about anything. That doesn’t mean there are different levels of reality.
Lets take a simple example: lets take a human body. You can talk about a human body in different ways. You can talk about it in terms of its size: you can say it is big, small, medium. You can talk about its age: is it a young or older body. You can talk about it in terms of organ systems such as the cardiovascular system or digestive system and how they function and describe the body that way, or you can talk about its anatomy and how various parts of it fit together. You can talk about the body’s name and culture – eg. maybe it is called John and it comes from the United Kingdom, you can talk about its occupation. You could talk about its fashion sense, its muscularity…
…ok ok, hopefully you get the idea: there are different ways you can talk about things. There are different conceptual frameworks from where we can view the body. And this is true for anything. We can talk about a pebble in terms of its age, size, geology or how good it would be to skim on a lake’s surface. We can talk about a lake in terms of its scenic beauty, how choppy its water are, its phosphorus content, or remark how it is all made up (mainly) of water.
Now, how many levels does a body or a pebble have? It doesn’t actually have any levels at all – there is only one body or stone (in the above examples) – it’s just that we can talk about them in various ways. In the same way there are no levels in reality, just different ways of talking about it.
No particular conceptual framework is intrinsically higher than another
Also note that no particular way of talking about the body or a pebble is intrinsically better that any other way. It just depends on what you want the conceptual framework to achieve. For example, if you want to skim a stone on the surface of a lake, then it’s less useful to talk about the geology of the stone, and more useful to look at it in terms of its shape and size with respect to achieving your goal (skimming it across the lake). You can’t legitimately claim that one way of viewing something is intrinsically higher and another way is lower, which is something you often hear when talking about ‘ultimate reality’ or the ‘highest level’. It just depends on how well the way you are conceptualising and viewing the object(s) in question fits in with your goal.
It depends on what you want to achieve
Similarly, it is not necessarily better to talk about the body in terms on physiology or organ systems compared to it’s occupation or fashion sense. As previously stated, it just depends on what you want to achieve. If the body has a disease, then understanding the physiology and how to correct any imbalance or defect in this is useful. Conversely if you are going out on a first date, then perhaps a degree of fashion sense would be useful.
No paradoxes, no contradictions
Also there in no contradiction in talking about a single object in different ways depending on the context. There is no paradox that a stone has both an age and a shape, or that a river is a single system made up of a variety of different things, all of which are in motion. There is a consistent underlying reality that underpins the various ways we talk about it. No contradiction or paradox at all.
Different ways of talking about the same experience
Remember, what we are talking about here is our experience of reality. Our reality is our experience – that’s all we know. We can talk about how everything we perceive is non-different to our consciousness, and we can also talk of how things interact within this consciousness, and the rules and consequences thereof. These are just different ways of talking about our experience and our experiences. No particular way is higher or lower, and there are no actual ‘levels’ that exist apart from our conceptualisations.
The description is not the described
We can chose how to conceptually carve up and talk about our experiential reality in order to achieve certain specific aims. To that end these conceptual maps are useful and often necessary. However we must not mistake any particular conceptual map of (our experience of) reality for reality, just as no particular way of describing the body is the body itself.