Tom: Is there even such a thing as Moksha? Even to speak of Moksha is more ignorance, as it implies some entity that can be liberated, or something to be liberated from.
However…In more conventional terms we could say there are no levels of Moksha (as there is only Moksha), but there are various levels of ignorance. So all apparent levels of realisation appear in maya/are illusory/are based in ignorance.
Gaudapada in his commentary of the Mandukya Upanishad hints at this: see the first 2 verses I quote from him here together with my commentary: Advaita Vedanta: Gaudapada’s Method
There are also different types of Moksha, apparently (meaning from the point of view of ignorance), such as jivanmukti and videhamukti and numerous other classifications in the scriptures. But in essence we don’t have to worry about these as this is just more book knowledge. The scriptures and sages (such as Ramana) remind us that this is really more ignorance for the mind. Instead, keep it simple and just keep on with your basic Sadhana:
1. Be still (raja yoga)
2. Know who you are (jnana yoga)
3. Adore your God-Guru-Self (bhakti yoga)
4. Give thanks for all that comes your way (karma yoga)
Note – all of the above leads to a peaceful open indestructible stillness (Mouna or Atman/Brahman)
5. Dissolve into Divine Love (Moksha/Advaita/Bhakti/Jnana)
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Disciple: Is the aforesaid Self-experience possible, even in the state of empirical existence, for the mind which has to perform functions in accordance with its prarabdha (the past karma which has begun to fructify)?
Ramana Maharshi: A Brahmin may play various parts in a drama; yet the thought that he is a Brahmin does not leave his mind. Similarly, when one is engaged in various empirical acts there should be the firm conviction “I am the Self”, without allowing the false idea “I am the body, etc.” to rise.
If the mind should stray away from its state, then immediately one should enquire, “Oh! Oh! We are not the body etc.! Who are we?” and thus one should reinstate the mind in that (pure) state. The enquiry ‘Who am I?’ is the principal means to the removal of all misery and the attainment of the supreme bliss. When in this manner the mind becomes quiescent in its own state, Self-experience arises of its own accord, without any hindrance. Thereafter sensory pleasures and pains will not affect the mind. All (phenomena) will appear then, without attachment, like a dream. Never forgetting one’s plenary Self-experience is real bhakti (devotion), yoga (mind-control), jnana (knowledge) and all other austerities. Thus say the sages.
Disciple: When there is activity in regard to works, we are neither the agents of those works nor their enjoyers. The activity is of the three instruments (i.e., the mind, speech, and body). Could we remain (unattached) thinking thus?
Ramana Maharshi: After the mind has been made to stay in the Self which is its Deity, and has been rendered indifferent to empirical matters because it does not stray away from the Self, how can the mind think as mentioned above? Do not such thoughts constitute bondage? When such thoughts arise due to residual impressions (vasanas), one should restrain the mind from flowing that way, endeavour to retain it in the Self-state, and make it turn indifferent to empirical matters. One should not give room in the mind for such thoughts as: “Is this good? Or, is that good? Can this be done? Or, can that be done?” One should be vigilant even before such thoughts arise and make the mind stay in its native state. If any little room is given, such a (disturbed) mind will do harm to us while posing as our friend; like the foe appearing to be a friend, it will topple us down.
Is it not because one forgets one’s Self that such thoughts arise and cause more and more evil? While it is true that to think through discrimination, “I do not do anything; all actions are performed by the instruments”, is a means to prevent the mind from flowing along thought vasanas, does it not also follow that only if the mind flows along thought vasanas that it must be restrained through discrimination as stated before?
Can the mind that remains in the Self-state think as ‘I’ and as ‘I behave empirically thus and thus’? In all manner of ways possible one should endeavour gradually not to forget one’s (true) Self that is God. If that is accomplished, all will be accomplished.The mind should not be directed to any other matter. Even though one may perform, like a mad person, the actions that are the result of prarabdha-karma, one should retain the mind in the Self-state without letting the thought ‘I do’ arise. Have not countless bhaktas (devotees) performed their numerous empirical functions with an attitude of indifference?
Is there any way of adoring the Supreme which is all, except by abiding firmly as that!
We need a ‘double teaching’ as we suffer from a ‘double ignorance’. We could say the teaching has two wings to it, one for each aspect of ignorance. Let me explain: you could say ignorance has 2 steps:
Ignorance step (1) – Structural Ignorance: identifying as this or that. This creates a false notion of self, also known as ego or the jiva. This is also known as a limiting belief or identifying as being a limited entity. The most common form this identification takes is the thought-concept ‘I am the body-mind’. ie. we take the body-mind to be our primary identity. This limited identity is the ego or jiva.
Ignorance step (2) – Functional Ignorance: that ego/jiva, sensing it is limited, vulnerable and incomplete, then seeks pleasure and security in the world of objects. This seeking tendency eventually becomes ingrained and habitual and these habitual egoic tendencies are known as vasanas in Sanskrit.
In Step (1) we create the structure or form of the ego, namely ‘I am the body-mind’. Step (2) represents the movement or function of the ego in which the body-mind entity then goes on to seek security, pleasure, as so on, and is also afraid of death, misfortune, ill health, etc, and so suffers.
So we have described the ego’s form (1) and function (2), or its structure (1) and movement (2).
A ‘Double Teaching’
Each of these aspects of ignorance usually have to be tackled and resolved, so there are two aspects or ‘wings’ of the teaching. Most teachings that one comes across usually focuses only on one of these two wings. This is because on a practical level it is more difficult to teach both together, and many are unaware of how these two aspects of the teaching fit together. But when we do bring both together, the teachings tends to be much more potent in actually pointing the way directly to Moksha/liberation.
So, what are the two aspects of the teaching? Structural ignorance (1) is rectified by insight or knowledge teachings, and functional ignorance (2) is resolved by purification teachings.
Insight teachings basically point out the belief ‘I am a body-mind’ is a false limiting belief. When seen, the illusion of separation and doership naturally fall away. Insight is also known as knowledge, gnosis or realisation
So why do we need the purification teachings then? Well, for most, due to the strong habitual tendencies to identify as a body-mind, the ‘I am the body-mind’ concept keeps on arising and egotism is continued. Without a spiritual practice to remove this habitual ignorance the egotism usually quickly returns and with it suffering also returns.
Examples of Insight Teachings
Insight teachings include negating teachings such as ‘You are not the body-mind’ and ‘You are not the doer’. Sometimes they take on affirming forms such as ‘You are That’ or ‘You are Brahman’ or ‘You are Pure Consciousness’, etc.
In order for insight teachings to work, usually the mind needs to be relatively calm so that there is enough mental space for the insight to arise through an in-seeing into the nature of every-day experience. Therefore it can be useful to practice calming or purification practices prior to insight.
Limitations of Insight Teachings
Insight teachings by themselves, which tend to be spoken or written teachings or ‘pointers’, can be very freeing but usually do not lead to full realisation/liberation unless the egoic vasanas/tendencies are already very much diminished. Usually, whilst insight is present all is apparently well, but then though daily life the egoic vasanas rear their head and wreak havoc. This leads to flip-flopping in which one alternately seems to ‘get it’ then ‘lose it’. For most, without purification, the insight remains fairly superficial on the level of the mind. I regularly come across many seekers in this predicament, where suffering continues and the approach is predominantly intellectual. What is required is purification, usually devotion, surrender, mantra and prayer – all the things that the stereotypical ‘western rational mind’ is often repelled by.
Examples of Purification Teachings
I have spoken and written about this more extensively elsewhere (eg. here and here) but these are essentially practices that calm the mind and reduce seeking, agitation, addiction and other egoic tendencies. From a more traditional perspective the cardinal purification teachings are devotion, prayer, gratitude, mantra recitation, meditation, hatha yoga and other things such as mindfulness practice and adopting a health diet and lifestyle. Simpler forms of purification are simply to relax, be still, accept whatever happens, surrender practices, etc, etc.
Purification teachings enhance the ability of insight and also allow insight to deepen and be more stable. Therefore traditionally devotion, mantra recitation, yoga and meditation are all considered to be essential foundational practices to purify the mind and enhance the ability of Self-Realisation to occur. Similarly, purification is usually limited without insight. ie. unless the belief ‘I am the body-mind’ is removed, purification will not be as effective. This is because it is this limiting ‘I and the body-mind’ belief that gives rise to the sense of incompleteness and vulnerability that fuels these egoic tendencies.
Limitations of Purification
Like insight-only teachings, purification-only teachings, which tend to be practices, can be very freeing of themselves. Unless the sense of being a limited entity (ie. structural ignorance) is already very weak, purification alone tends not to lead to liberation. This is because the limiting notion ‘I am the body’ goes unchecked and perpetuates itself.
In Vedanta, these two aspects of ignorance are known as the two Shaktis (energies or powers) of Maya:
1. Avarana Shakti – also known as Avriti Shakti, this is the veiling energy of Maya which prevents us from knowing ourselves as limitless Brahman. We therefore adopt a limited notion, namely ‘I am the body-mind’. Avarana Shakti keeps us from discovering our true nature and shedding this wrong knowledge or ignorance. It is related to Tamoguna. You can see that this is another way of talking about what I call Structural Ignorance above, but in a slightly different way.
2. Vikshepa Shakti – this is the projecting power of Maya. Once Avarana Shakti has veiled our true identity as Limitless Brahman and we (seemingly) take on the limited identity of the body-mind, the Vikshepa Shakti projects forth a body, mind and world in which the limited body-mind (ie. ego or jiva) can roam, seek, fear and suffer. It is related to Rajoguna. I hope you can see how this notion is related to what I call Functional Ignorance above.
In Shankara’s Vivekachudamani (see here for a summary by Ramana Maharshi), a full teaching is given that explains the above shakti’s: in the first portion of the text the knowledge teachings are explained and in the latter portion the focus is on meditation or nididhyasana. I also talk about this more here: False Enlightenment.
Is there really a double ignorance?
If you look closely, these two aspects of ignorance are deeply related and are not separate at all. Most seekers will tend towards either knowledge or purification in the first instance, and only when some headway is gained on that particular aspect of the teaching will they intuitively be drawn to the other less-explored aspect of the teaching
So, in practical terms what should I do?
Essentially, follow your heart – it will guide you. You will know, if you listen to that ‘voiceless voice’ within what teaching is right for you right now. Perhaps you need to listen to a teacher or read more. Perhaps you need to practice devotion or surrender. Perhaps both. If you remain truly open in both heart and mind and do not overly cling to fixed conceptual views, your Heart will lead you home and attract/bring into your experience exactly what you need.
That said, as a general rule, I encourage regular attendance to Satsang or a similar meeting in which these teachings are repeatedly given. The mind is resistant and egotism/ignorance is deeply ingrained in most, and so regular contact with a teacher you resonate with is usually very important. This alone can save many months or years of erroneously seeking in the wrong direction. In just a few conversations with seekers I have often been able to quickly point them in the right direction in a matter of minutes after having had a real-time interaction with them, although obviously this is not always the case. Please see my meetings page if you are interested in attended an Online Meeting or In-Person meeting with myself.
Devotional practices and mantra recitation can both be extremely powerful. I often call them spiritual bulldozers as they are able to plough their way through years and years of egoic vasanas with relative ease compared to insight style teachings in many cases. My experience is that many with a Western scientific mindset (which in many ways is my own background) do not readily resonate with these practices, especially if they have had negative experiences of organised religion. However, there are ways these practices can be explained to allow even fairly atheist seekers benefit from these teachings.
Lastly meditation and stillness are also usually essential for the teachings to penetrate the deeper layers of the body-mind and root out egotism/ignorance at a deep energetic non-verbal level.
Summary and Ego Tricks
One trick I have noticed the ego-mind does is that is tries to avoid the above by use of clever reasoning. Whilst sometimes this logic is reasonable and sound, in most cases it is the ego trying to perpetuate itself and claim knowledge and experience for itself.
Sometimes the mind will say ‘I do not need to attend Satsang as I know everything that will be said’. I met someone for a 1 to 1 just recently who had heard and read all the teachings multiple times and was growing weary of it all. They felt there was no point to asking further questions, but on some level knew that there was something missing. Through a direct interaction we were quickly able to see where the sticking points were. This was only possible as the seeker in question was open to this possibility and maintained contact and dialogue with me even though their mind was saying ‘I know all this already’. The seeker was also open to their heart which guided them, in their case, to arrange a 1 to 1 with me.
In summary, listen to your heart with an open mind. The True Guru is Within. For most, having a teacher is essential. Consider listening to knowledge teachings (eg. attending satsang), and undertaking devotional practices, mantra recitation and silence/ meditation.
Question: How is it possible to develop the Supreme-Enlightenment Mind?
Huang Po: Bodhi [enlightenment or enlightened mind]* means nothing to attain. Even now, just as you allow thought to arise, you get nothing. Thus, realising that there is absolutely nothing to attain is the Bodhi Mind.
The realisation that there is nowhere to abide and nothing to attain is the Bodhi.
Therefore, Shakyamuni Buddha [the original Buddha, also known as Gautama Buddha] said ‘…there was really no Dharma [teaching or method] by means of which the Tathagata [the Buddha] attained Supreme Enlightenment…’
If you have found a spiritual or non-dual teaching that makes sense for you, or if you think you have ‘almost got it now’, know that it is way off the mark! This doesn’t make sense! 😂 Non-duality or advaita doesn’t make sense! Liberation or enlightenment doesn’t make sense! It cannot be understood!
What’s more – no learning is required. It just is! It is everything. It is ‘what is’. And ‘what is’ works all by itself without need for a ‘me’ or ‘you’. Simply THIS in its totality, beyond all concepts and including all concepts.
But words, even the most precise and wonderfully erudite words, may only give a flavour, an indication of what they are pointing to.
You CAN get quite a good conceptual understanding of liberation- eg. just THIS, as it is, empty of belief in separation/me/subject-object, empty of the personal stories, but allowing everything/all without exclusion (you can substitute in your own personal understanding of non-duality or liberation here if you like).
But the words and concepts are not it – they are never it. They are (initially at least) for the illusory ‘me’ that believes it lives in time and space and has free will. The ‘me’ now thinks it understands, and this conceptual understanding allows the perpetuation of this illusory ‘me’ as well as the concomitant suffering.
…yes, where the ‘me’ is, suffering follows…
There may, however, and apparently, be a ‘transmission’ beyond the words…’one Guru enlightening another Guru’ (not that there are really two)…and the ‘me’ may totally and completely collapse…it is Mystery…it is Grace in Action…what is left cannot be understood at all! It is Self-Celebrating and it doesn’t need to be understood.
…but, paradoxically, there is also no need for any transmission, no need for any collapse, no need for a ‘moment’ – for THIS cannot go anywhere or be lost – it is already whole and unfractured – it is already complete and not lacking a single thing – it has never been lost, and always IS whatever IS.
I am That,
That unchanging eternal Consciousness,
That which is intrinsically different to and untouched by the myriad phenomena of body-mind-and-world,
That which does nothing, but in whose presence all is done,
That which is beyond the grasp of the fickle mind,
That which is beyond all experiences of bliss and suffering,
That which can never be known,
But always IS.
Yet all this is Me,
The all-pervading Vishnu,
Radiant with Blissful Love,
Loving all and everything,
One with all phenomena,
The nature of Love,
Worthy of Ceaseless Devotion and Gratitude,
Bright and ever-whole,
Ever-pristine and peaceful,
Always intuitively known by simply BEING,
Effortlessly present and ever-free.
Questioner: Usually this understanding stays for a while and then again gets muddled or covered by personality and it’s needs. How do we keep going back to the clear state…Although there is nothing called going back.
Tom: This is not a trick question: what covers up the ‘clear state’?
Q. The personality and it’s story.
Tom: Does it really get in the way? If so, how? If not, how?
Q. It’s like a forgetting of the clear state and thinking of ourself as a personality and the story it carries. This is taken as real and suddenly we are captured by it’s momentum unless some teaching or saying re-points to the clear state again. There is forgetting of the clear state.
Tom: Exactly. There is your answer. The force of habitually taking yourself to be a ‘me’ or a body-mind is ignorance. Letting that subside or seeing through that is enough. Eventually the habit will reverse and ignorance won’t reappear. It never really appears anyway. Namaste.
Q. Hypothetically speaking, if you were to start seeking Liberation all over again, what potential mistakes would you avoid this time?
Tom: I would relax more, much much more, and trust my own intuition in Silence, knowing that I already know this, what I am looking for is already totally and fully known, not with the mind, but intuitively effortlessly ‘known’. It is nothing else but my very BEING.